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.