To parody an old advert for lawn mowers, why Flymo when you can slowmo? In life do we really want to rush headlong through every day, so fast that the only thing that matters is how much we cram into it? Another TV advert states ‘it’s obvious which way is best’ as a speedboat screams past a swan-shaped pedalo. To me the pedalo wins every time. Seizing the day doesn’t mean moving through it as fast as is humanly possible. Sometimes it means relishing every moment, noticing the detail and absorbing it while it lasts.
I’m one of the lucky ones in that I’ve been forced to make these changes in my own life. For me, there is no option to burn through my days at lightning speed with maximum efficiency. Every day is taken slowly, feeling my way as I go, wondering what is possible and then watching it unfold in front of my eyes like reverse origami. On days when I can’t feel anything at all, and there are plenty, I try not to get overwhelmed by the emptiness and unattainable world of emotion that seems to have fled to a parallel universe. By moving slowly, I increase the chance that tomorrow might also be a good day. By rushing or pushing too hard I can almost guarantee that won’t be the case. So I plod along, sometimes with more purpose than other times, but always with half an ear to what I’m hearing from my mind and body.
The boundaries this has forced me to live with are not easily kicked down. Acceptance of them seems to be the better of all the evils. Why hanker after things that will stress you out when you can live more gently and take care of yourself? I’m not saying don’t push your boundaries, but do ask if you should be doing that right now. Is it because that is all you hear on social media: ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway?’ In a world of ultra-everything, completing a mere marathon can leave people feeling inadequate! It’s crazy.
There is a constant pressure that you must keep increasing your performance, whatever field you are talking about. Further, higher, faster, more. As a teacher, I saw the need in schools to help children to learn to stop, be still, and enjoy relaxing. It was a completely alien concept to most of them, a skill we all need to learn to aid recovery. It gives us the energy to do our best when we do work hard. Perhaps your own healing would be better met by reigning in the desire to escape into the world’s wildest places and replacing it with something gentler, more realistic and more accepting. Only you know the answer to that one.
This year I wanted to ride from early on but my body had other ideas. Whatever was going on in my mind, it was obvious that pushing my body to prepare for a tour wasn’t going to happen. My legs felt exhausted most of the time, hurting when I tried to ride and taking an age to recover. The outcome of this is that I have done little in the way of preparation for a long cycle journey. Not unusual as frequent readers will know, but this year it was worse. Even so, I feel as though I’m more in touch with what’s going on and my limitations. To that end I decided to confine my adventures to UK shores.
To really enjoy the UK you perhaps need to have blinkers on. Forget the major roads, even what we call B roads (secondary roads). Look at your maps and plan on using the countless number of minor roads that are slowly being forgotten by those who are rushing through life at breakneck speed following their sat nav’s orders to oblivion. Taking the slow roads will open your mind, allow you to relax, fill in the space left by working too hard for too long. Enjoy it, soak it up and recharge your batteries, slowly. Think of yourself as solar powered (not easy in the UK at times). Your mind can run down quickly with all the demands upon it and takes a while to properly recharge, ready to start again.
These are the reasons I enjoy Sustrans National Cycle Network (NCN). I should add that it isn’t perfect and can be downright annoying at times, with gates, obstacles and odd surfaces. But for the most part it’s gloriously relaxing to ride on. It’s also the reason that most of this year’s ride will be following various parts of the NCN. There’s something about the traffic-free sections that leaves my senses tingling with anticipation of what may lie around the next corner. They often lead you out of the way, as though they are exploring. Here, the harmony I feel, with nature and within myself, is something that is unequalled anywhere else in my life. By cycling I try to redress the unbalanced and lopsided sense of discord that has governed my adulthood.
I had thought about carrying on north as far as I could go, but something said: don’t do it. Perhaps it’s the thought of midges in their millions. Maybe it’s just a chance to explore places I have always driven and ridden past with barely a thought. Everybody tells me Dumfries and Galloway is beautiful. I think I ought to explore enough to make my own opinion.
So, with a strange mind twist, I shall turn left at Carlisle and at Glasgow continue to Edinburgh. Glasgow has been the place I have always seen as the beginning of my adventures north and not my destination. I want to ride the canal to Edinburgh, visit the Kelpies and stare at the engineering marvel of the Falkirk wheel. From there I can make my way to Berwick-upon-Tweed to visit my old mate Dan, with whom I shared a bagful of climbing, mountain and drinking adventures in my twenties.
Rather conveniently, NCN 68 will take me from there all the way back towards Derby. It’s called the Pennine Cycleway and not only will it lead me down the spine of the Pennines, but it also passes the house of another good friend who lives in the Yorkshire Dales. From near Derby, I can easily head back south-west towards home again.
And that is the whole plan. It isn’t set in concrete and I may change it at any point. I will determine that as I go along.
On hearing the starting gun, I will be out of the blocks like a snail on diazepam. Although my first day is reasonably long, the following three will be short, lazy, suck it and see days with many rests and lots of exploring. I need to change the way I’m doing things. More wild camping and the use of Warm Showers should see to that. I have little money put aside to travel this year, so anything I can do to help will be a bonus. I can tour happily with plenty of normal, social, contact. I certainly don’t want to hide away and see nobody. That, for me at least, would lead the way to unhealthy thought processes, or worse.
So, here we are, almost ready to leave. I say almost because I have a treat on the way for Kermit. What is it? Probably none of the things you will immediately think of. It could be extremely useful in helping to take care of an aging man while touring. I’ll post some photos when it arrives. Until then, you will have to scratch your heads.
Until next time…………………