I love a commute that initially sets off deliberately in the wrong direction and then loops almost back home some time later, before reluctantly turning for work. Between me and work there is a chunk of coast, a river valley (three if I venture west or further east before heading for the office), some woodland and some hills. A lot of hills, if I so wish. Depending on which bike I grab heading out of the front door I have choices; bridleways, chalk paths, farm tracks, a concrete path squeezed between the cliffs and the sea, fields, river banks, woodland singletrack.
Some actual roads too but they are not so much fun, too many cars and just a bit crap if not verging on dangerous. I don’t ride these routes too often if I can help it. I don’t need to be constrained by urban tarmac anyway. Perusing the map I consider the dotted lines across the spaces empty but for contour lines. Then there is all that squiggly stuff through the woods that’s not on any maps other than those in my head. If I can afford to waste some time on the way in I can start combining this bit with that bit, maybe throw in that little bit there too, and a myriad of choices opens up. On the way home these are the head emptying rides, decompression, fresh rather than conditioned air. It’s not often that I’ll ride the reverse route for the ride home. In fact I don’t need to ride the same way for days on end, weeks even.
Anyway, why save the fun rides for the weekend when you can squeeze them into the working week too? It might be raining at the weekend. Admittedly this time of year it could well be raining anyway, and almost certainly dark when I leave home. Those days when the sky is clear though, oh my, how good are those! Watching starlight fade into the dawn, the planets the last to pierce the blue, catching the sun peek over a distant horizon, hills gently laying their shadows across the coombes, ridge line trees casting long dark echoes of their shapes down hillsides. Stopping for a moment, to simply listen; to birdsong, to waves lapping at the shingle, to the silence of the valley. Those are fantastic, glorious mornings. The only problem on these days is the fact I do actually need to go to work. Those days I could simply keep riding to the next ridge of hills. There’s always the ride home though, sunsets to be chased.
The sky doesn’t need to be clear though. Days where the sky hangs low, shrouding the hills in mist can be just as stunning, or when it slumps like white blancmange in the valleys and the nooks and crannies between the hills, inverted days, clear on the tops, mizzle below. There is something just as special about these days. A landscape changed, familiar but different, things usually missed seen because the usual is hidden. I might not want to be out for so long on these days, the cold and the damp eventually penetrate into my skin and bones, but they are worth a detour over the Downs.
Some days the shortest, easiest line to the office beckons, either the legs aren’t willing or I need to be in early (and not covered in mud). Functional rather than enjoyable. Most days though, I’d happily follow wherever my imagination leads me. I’d rather sit at work with legs aching under my desk than with sad eyes gazing out of the window, longingly at those chalk hills, just over there.