Memories of summer
Memories of summer

Since I last posted on this blog the lanes around Hatherleigh where I do most of my cycling have changed beyond belief. Just last week they were relatively dry, sheltered by branches supporting leaves that were rapidly changing colour. They have recently bathed me in orange, red and yellow light, like a giant Kaleidoscope. Riding recumbent exacerbated the effect, making me feel as though I was sliding rather than rolling along beneath this natural masterpiece.

In places the road has already succumbed to leaves, mud and mulch around two inches thick, adding to the illusion of being completely enclosed and leaving you with a kind of tunnel vision. The magical transition from autumn to winter is all but complete, leaving branches bare and us with just the memories of our summer of adventures. The autumnal transition lets us down gently, but at the end of it I’m always left feeling bereft.

As I rode yesterday the wheels of my trike squelched and slid showing no signs of the keenness they had previously displayed when we blasted down long hills bathed in the warm, late-summer breeze. Internally I reflected that mood, wondering why I had chosen to go out at all on such a wet day. Above me branches hung with nothing to do until springtime, almost lifeless, waiting. It felt as though I needed to find a little more fun, as though my body still hadn’t had enough miles, smiles or warmth. I wondered if, other than by living abroad, I would ever find enough light and warmth on this small island to satisfy my needs. As for smiles, I’ve been lacking in those lately and we all know the best way to get a smile is to smile first

Squelching along my way I consoled myself with the fact that at least it was only the tyres that were suffering. Had I been on Irene, my trusty upright steed, my feet would have been in a sorry sort of state, my toes swimming in shoes full of luke-warm water. One of the joys of being recumbent is that my feet stay dry and much warmer than when covered in detritus thrown over them by a bicycle’s front wheel.

It’s so warm outside this week which seems wrong given that it’s the middle of November. Some feel that’s a saving grace but I yearn for a cold winter almost as much as I long for summer sun. Proper winter weather makes me smile, the sun glittering down on frosted landscapes. Clear, cold mornings do more to get me motivated for a ride than damp and mucky ones could ever do. Stuck in this, at times, endlessly grey climate it feels almost impossible for me to thrive.  Mild weather all winter and spring and then cold blasting winds until September as we’ve experienced recently doesn’t suit me. “I must try get out more,” I think to myself with little intention of doing so unless I force myself to. I don’t feel drawn out when it seems constantly dull and uninspiring.

Autumn along the Taw.
Autumn along the Taw.

As the leaves finish falling and the landscape attains more and more of a greyish hew I began to wonder. Mild is the word that leaps out at me day after day from my television screen as I probe the forecast in hope of something I recognise as autumn. It seems completely the wrong word to use. It’s more of a positive get-out-of-jail card than anything useful. Perhaps it’s seen as an occasional crumb of comfort against a wall of dull-dampness. Bland would be just as useful and perhaps a little more honest. “Next week is going to be another bland week, one without colour and very little in the way of texture aside from a hammering wind.” I sit and watch my TV as a long queue of Atlantic low pressure systems creep ever closer, as if the UK is a giant magnet pulling them toward us. They even have names now, as if that makes them friendlier. So I sit working, my electricity bill soaring from having the lights on all day, because the law demands we have small windows to conserve energy and my eyes yearn to be dazzled.

Surely the forecasters could vary the language a little with an occasional serene, gentle or soft, words that could be easily thrown in as a replacement for mild. Docile feels so much better than mild, doesn’t it? It’s almost like a rest. “Today will be docile”………………….and breathe out.  I can feel myself relaxing as these reassuring words leave the forecasters mouth. The shipping forecast is a better bet with such an elegant rhythm. It never leaves you dissatisfied, regardless of the actual weather it predicts. At a time when everything on TV has to be some kind of entertainment we should do better than mild, wet and windy.

When I go out I want the landscape to hit me in my face in order that I feel and see the difference from being inside. When it appears flat, grey and dull nothing happens to inspire my inner self and the rest of me just senses that it’s slightly colder than I was inside. Once going my legs soon let me know that it isn’t flat at all, it’s just me. Am I the one who’s flat? I have to admit that I’ve been feeling as flat as the landscape appears during these horribly grey spells.

Once out I begin by wondering; “Where has that glorious vision of Dartmoor gone?” For so long its outline appeared every day, inspiring adventurous thinking and rides of quality. Now, when we need it most, it only appears on the odd occasion. I love the way it dominates the scenery for miles around and when it’s not visible I feel cheated. Absence has its positive side I guess, if only to remind us of how precious each sunny day is.

Part of my current negativity is down to a change of medication, not a different dose but a different drug. The levels of anxiety I am experiencing got to a level where we, my doctor, therapist and me had to act. It’s my mind and not the weather after all. My mind doesn’t do mild. It does extreme, fluctuating and unsettled (another favourite weather reporters word) but never mild. It has an occasional bright and settled spell where my internal weather is serene and man and bike are at one with the world.

October sun. High on Dartmoor, UK
October sun. High on Dartmoor, UK

I’m guessing that my newly found flatness is partly the result of this change: Graeme to Grey-eme. Everything has slowed, from my metabolism to the way I work and see the world. I’m currently as uncomfortable with the new look as the old one, but with changes of medication you have to be patient and see what happens over time. I’m told that it could be up to three months before the true results are showing but its best not to think that far ahead when today has to be faced first.

Some of the flatness comes from seasonal change. It happens every year. I sit at my piano, S.A.D (Seasonal. Adjustment. Disorder) light pointing at my face, my eyes absorbing its warming rays. Like a mini sun I can use it at will, it increases my feeling of wellness by countering the dull weather that tugs and pulls remorlessly at my very being. The atmosphere of the UK and I often coincide in late autumn, both getting gloomy at the same moment as if we understand equally what lies ahead. Fortunately we grow happier by the day as the sun begins to return, life spreading again from the deadness of winter.

For the time being I will keep upping the dosage of my medication until I reach the desired levels. I’ve gone from being constantly worn out, but wired, to constantly asleep, mirroring those small animals that are considering a long nap to get them through winter. How sensible they are? At an average of around 10 or 11 hours a night, plus an occasional afternoon nap, I’m hoping to catch up soon. I have to because it’s making my days so short. At present it feels like there is just about five hours of daylight and I spend two of those waking up. I keep taking my medication earlier in the evening, hoping that I might wake a little sooner. But it’s all to no avail. Try as I might I sleep like a log unless I force myself to wake earlier by setting an alarm.

The long road home

Back in the waking world I have several ventures on the go. I try to always have some work I feel capable on getting on with, something I can pick up and put down at will. My two original books are getting an overhaul: editing, photos, and the like and will shortly see a second edition of each launched. This only applies to the paper version as I’m quite happy with the EBooks. I’m also ploughing through the fabled, but not yet seen, third offering. It’s seemed to be taking an age for me to finish it but it is nearly there now. I’ve just got the cover to sort out and another read through (with the inevitable corrections) and then it will be out and about making its presence felt.

That aside I’ve begun a fourth tome. It will tell the story of my latest venture when I set out to rediscover some of the places I’ve held dear all of my life and to explore the reason for them being so. Some hold priceless childhood memories. Some are places of achievement and others are simply milestones, the kind we all go through in life with an expectation of finding them along the way. I made this journey, one that at times seemed to take me back in time and space, to see what has happened since I was last in places I knew as a child and young adult. I wondered whether they would still resonate the same way to this fifty five year old man as they did when I was six or twenty six years old?

Our memories often tend to be edited versions of the truth, not absolute in their accuracy. This was what intrigued me. So often we are told not to go back, it will spoil our memories. I think this only counts when you return somewhere expecting to find something you lost. My experience was that I found far more than I ever could have hoped for when I set out with more than a little trepidation and some luggage.

Back outside it’s another day. What happened to yesterday? I must have blinked and missed it. It was here when I last looked, although it had darkened in parallel to my mood state since I last noticed.  Dare I risk another ride? Throwing three sheets to the wind, and rain, I set off. Within a mile I felt particularly positive. It felt like a case of bright and settled meets dark and grey and they sat in perfect harmony for a while despite the sharp contrast. What a difference a day makes. The landscape was still the same but somehow nowhere near as flat. The missing dimension was back for me to enjoy. It doesn’t matter whether the changes were internal or external, the overall effect was strongly felt. The only thing that matters is that I got out, and today it felt good.

Any way you choose. They're all good.
Any way you choose. They’re all good.

Visibility was worse than yesterday. Precipitation was steady and Dartmoor still refused to put in an appearance. Tendrils of rain hung on the breeze creating sheets that were impermeable to ordinary vision. Walls of water marching towards me from the distance but never quite arriving. The wind poked fun at me and I felt good for its gentle touch. It wasn’t the cold wind of winter that stabs at you as if it had an icicle in its grasp. This was more of a wake-up kind of a wind with the softness of a cat’s paw. The mulch still squelched but I managed that illusive smile, one that was almost instantly met by a Buzzard taking to the sky in front of me, watching my every move as I returned the favour.

No more orange and yellow tunnels but pastel colour everywhere set against the greyness of the day. Even the dullness felt right, providing a backdrop that made the remaining colours resonate and stand out in three dimensions. Greens, blues, yellow, orange, pink, lilac, there were so many colours. My heart sang despite the rain and wind, my mind absorbed the joy and my legs purred as though somebody had put a tiger in my tank. This is why I make the effort. I’ll try to remember that on darker days.

Until next time……………………………………