February TCR Prep

1030km. 12000 metres of climbing.

Started with a rest week and a pilates class.

An aborted 200km audax in the snow.

Some longer and faster road commutes.

Some indirect wiggling about cyclocross commutes on beautiful mornings.

A loaded ride to Kent and back for a family birthday party.

Weekly swims and a short pilates routine every couple of days.

A damp and windy 200km audax a couple of counties away.

Reilly frame ready for the sprayers.

Template sent off to Wildcat Gear for made to measure frame bag.

A few more bits and pieces bought – silk sleeping bag liner, head torch, an extra dry bag.

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Can I be bothered…?

It’s dark when the alarm goes off. I think to myself “I can’t be bothered today” and doze off again thinking about getting the train to work a bit later. Something in my brain makes me get up five minutes later and fall out of bed into my cycling kit. I laid it out ready on the floor last night when my resolve was stronger. Out on the street I flick on my lights and pedal up the hill. I weave through quiet streets until I cross the dual carriageway, the boundary between the suburbs and the downs. I open the gate and spin the pedals, the rear wheel struggles for traction, squirming around and spinning on damp grass and chalk. My legs feel useless, I should have stayed in bed. I look to my left, daylight is coming, golden light drifts over the hills, tufts of mist stick out of coombes and hollows, silence surrounds. My spirit rises with the sun. I wish my legs felt the same. I scramble and trudge through mud and flint up to the ridge. I turn towards the rising sun. It’s warm, too warm for this time of year, I remove my gloves and unzip my jacket. Across the Beacon, too early for the ice cream van. Along the ridge, through more gates. So many gates. My legs seem to have remembered what to do, my speed picks up. This is glorious. Turn right through the trees. Follow the fence line to the vanishing point. Bounce down the steps to the side of the dual carriageway again. I start to climb up to the ridge on the other side, rear wheel slipping and sliding, no grip, legs start to complain again. A cloud sits atop the hill, I zip my jacket back up and climb higher into the cloud. I know there’s a radio mast just there but it’s obscured by the grey. Over the crest I speed down the gravel track, before altering direction yet again, another gate, say hello to the dog walker. Descending out of the cloud into the valley mist weaves in and out of the trees, sunlight filtered through water vapour and branches. I’ve never seen the valley look so beautiful. I’m riding fast now, by feel rather than sight. That magical moment when everything works together, flow. I lock up a wheel and slide into a gate. Ha! This is brilliant. I carry on riding a bit too fast, a little bit out of control, I’m going to be late for work. One last hill and then I really must turn for work. One last hill. Damn job, I want to keep riding all day.

In a parallel world I’m watching these hills pass by a train window. Longingly gazing at them. Frustrated.

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Mapping Out

I look at the map, planning a ride, following yellow and white roads, the quiet ones, linking them up, matching arcane symbols at junctions and hilltops with the key. Unfurled across the floor I crouch over the flat piece of paper surveying a land where the only ridges are the straight folds of the paper, the antithesis of reality where nothing is level or regular. I read the contour lines to find the real ridges, the crinkles and curves of the landscape. In my mind’s eye I superimpose my own symbols and codes; cafes I like, climbs I don’t, the fast swoopy bit, there’s a pothole just there. Previous rides are embedded in the map in water stains, scuffed and torn hand made folds added where folds of manufacture and packaging obscured places or disturbed the flow.

However a map is a contained world, a distillation, a reality codified into a flat image. A minituarized flattened world where conditions are constant, fixed in time, a blueprint. Always daylight and always dry. Out there seasons turn and weather changes, things are always the same but never the same. Veils of history, literature, art, drape across the landscape, paintings seen and books read. Yet more layers lie on top, things I’ve been told – anecdotes, rumour, reputation, stories told over cups of tea and slices of cake in favourite tea rooms. Riding with friends over the years their knowledge has melded with my own, “Do you know that lane?” and “Have you been along here?” are mixed in to my own memory map, differing histories stirred together. Layers interlock and weave around each other, boundaries and edges blur and become indistinct. All these things get pushed and pulled into a route that will keep me interested for the hours that I will ride it. Fragments build into a coherent whole.

Where indoors I trace a line across a piece of paper and through my imagination outside I’ll cut through air dense with remembrance and fuzzy recollection. One day it will be a headwind to fight , another a friendly tailwind. The repetition of action, legs spinning, and motion empties my mind, lets it drift elsewhere, thoughts and memories sneak up on me. Some memories weigh heavy, others flash around my head light as snowflakes. Fleeting glimpses, things caught out of the corner of my mind trigger thoughts, the here and now combined with there and then. Then I’ll snap out of reverie, become lost in the moment, the feeling of air on my face, taking a good line around a corner, speeding down a hill, the metronome of my breathing, the ache of effort in my legs. I concentrate on the here and now until other thoughts bounce around my head and collide. Previous instants blend with the moment, my mind inextricably links the present, past and future – rides remembered and thoughts of rides yet to happen. Time and space bend and scrunch like the folds of the map, places far apart instantaneously touch, ever so briefly, just for a moment, connections between places and times appear and disappear.

Another time I’ll ride with no route plotted or thought about, no map to hand. Meandering without purpose, wandering for the simple sake of wondering. No destination to reach, simply to move through space and places, no point, just lines. Local roads ridden so frequently there’s a fluid ever-changing map in my head to reference. I plot and replot as I ride, remembering some place else or happening across a lane I’ve not ridden for a while. I’ll re-route myself, change my mind, recalibrate that map in my imagination. Familiarity with place means no need to worry about where I’m going or how I’m getting there. I’ll end up where I end up. I may pass a lane that I’ve passed a hundred times and never ridden along. I’ll turn into it and follow wherever it leads. How lost can I get close to home? The worst that can happen is it leads somewhere unfamiliar but I won’t mind, it’s just somewhere new to add to the grid in my head. Sooner or later I’ll happen across somewhere I recognise or come across a signpost to somewhere I know. Or perhaps I won’t, maybe it will lead somewhere else entirely. My repertoire expands, like adding words, or phrases, or even whole pages to a never ending book. One where passages loop back on themselves, motifs repeat, stories build. Ready to be added to the next time.


Winter Wonderland

snowsurrey-134654We can’t feel our fingers or toes but we are surrounded by the whiteness of an overwhelming silence. Mist and snow have muted the woodland around us. Last night messages bounced back and forth discussing whether to attempt the planned 200 kilometre DIY audax or not. The decision to set off from Brighton and see what confronted us when we got over the South Downs has turned out to be the correct one. Fortunately for us it seems everyone else looked at the same forecast and decided to stay at home. The lanes are damp but not icy and for the last few hours we’ve had the North Downs to ourselves. Riding into the hills was like climbing into a snow dome. Every now and again someone gives it a shake and fat fluffy snowflakes flurry around us. Swooping through and around the hills snowflakes dart past, and stingingly into, our faces, buffs are pulled up, peaks tugged down. Our route loops back and forth to catch classic and favoured climbs, diving into darkened holloways to navigate between them, retracing wheel tracks now and again. We bag Ansty Lane, Leith Hill, Whitedown, and Coldharbour Lane before deciding, due to the cold and likelyhood of daylight running out before we can get home, to miss out the loops that take in Combe and Barhatch lanes. We clamber over the Greensand Ridge one last time and drop back into the damp green of West Sussex and head back to the coast.

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