Another week has flown by in what feels like a blink of the eye. With the nights still getting longer I am left sensing that I should grab any opportunities that come my way, whenever I’m able. I only manage a few hours of daylight each day, squeezed in between the large amount of sleep that my mind and body seem to require. It can feel quite odd when time spent asleep outstrips time spent awake. My waking days seem almost entirely dark. I rise quite late and sleep in the afternoon for an hour or two. It can feel like perpetual night-time. Add to that the lack of natural light, caused by dark skies during the day and being home can get quite grim in winter.
This makes it even more important to grab the daylight hours that are left and to do something with them. I try and do housework and such like when it’s dark, and I sit at my laptop and write earlier on or later in the day, whenever I am able. Doctors appointments and shopping runs are the bread and butter of my cycling, as is a quick spin around the block consisting of several local villages and roads used in the Tour of Britain a few years ago.
If I meet these markers, I’m not too bothered about getting out anywhere else. I’m still only riding relatively short rides, and while I try to get out three times a week it isn’t that important in the scheme of things. I get other exercise from walks around the local vicinity, which is hilly and demanding, as you well know by now.
This past week was a prime example. The weather was what I can only describe as mixed. Shower dodging is quite normal for this time of year and frontal rain arrives whenever, and as often as it feels like it. Occasionally you get a lucky break. The rain falls into patterns that mean it is mostly wet overnight and early morning and you get to ride in dry conditions during a couple of hours in the afternoon. Sometimes, it stops before you rise, allowing you to go straight out, prior to the predicted rain later-on. This only works if you can persuade your tired body to move, and that can be quite a challenge.
And so it has proved this week. I had a 0920, doctor’s appointment, ten miles away. I had to force myself to get up regardless of whether I cycled or not. Setting the alarm for 0630, I got a rude awakening when seemingly harmless marimba tones of my phone shook my sleeping world apart the following morning. I wanted to shut my eyes and forget the rude awakening, but my desire to ride overruled my hearts desire and my heads confusion. It made me sit-up and swing my legs out of bed. If I had to go to the doctors early, I would at least find some benefit from it.
I got up this early to allow me time to eat and drink something before heading out. It also takes a while for my mind to get going and I trick it by giving it an hour or two of relative peace before I do anything. This trick works reasonably well. Once I have had this waking period my mind doesn’t complain too much when I demand that it goes riding at silly-o’clock.
It was still dark when I started getting things ready to leave. My trip to the doctor would also be a trip to the shops. This meant remembering the things I needed to take to do that. Panniers, tools, tube, pump, lock, cool bag, etc. I donned my Merino wool top and winter leggings, along with a stretchy fleece, Sealskin socks and a dayglow jacket. I checked I had spare batteries for my lights, stretched an unwilling body and set off into the dawn.
It was cold enough to play dragons breath. One of my daughter, Lydia’s, favourite games when she was a child. I set the panniers on the rack and Sat back in my comfy reclining chair. I felt so at home that I straight away felt at ease with my decision to ride. Leaving the close, my lungs filled to capacity with the cold morning air as they endeavoured to supply my muscles with the much-needed oxygen they were demanding.
Then I was in Park Road, that nasty little hill that I always complain about. Picking a low gear, I dawdled upwards, trying to cause my sleepy legs as little distress as a steady, 15% hill can first thing in the morning. As ever we slowly rose up toward Hatherleigh Moor for the umpteenth time over many years I noticed the change in light. It was no longer dark, and the light was rapidly improving.
Upon reaching the moor I stopped in astonishment. The sun was just creeping up over the horizon. I fumbled around clumsily, trying to find my camera as the giant orange orb slowly rose above the horizon, cascading light across Dartmoor and setting the trees alight with colour. The sky exploded, clouds suddenly etched in gold and purple sky lighting my way. Reds and yellows seemed to outline everything and the world, in that short moment, looked so beautiful that getting up, setting alarms, tricking my body and mind and everything else took a back seat to this burgeoning drama. I took pictures and looked on, astonished. I had seen this scene many times during my lifetime, but today it was unexpected by a sleepy mind that was trying to manage pedalling at an ungodly hour (in my terms). I just stared, rooted to the spot.
Then it was gone. The light increased to the point where everything became normal again. I sat back down feeling as though I’d been filled to the brim with a magical substance. With that I set off for the doctors. Whatever else happened today, this was surely the highlight. Maybe even for the week?
Shopping was hauled home via the hill at Abbeyford Woods that leads away from Okehampton. On getting back I sprayed the mud from Kermit, unpacked the shopping, ate some lunch and fell asleep for a couple of hours. On waking it was almost dark. Had I just dreamed what had happened? I don’t think so. I checked my phone and there was the evidence. All there in the form of photographs. The morning light shone into my eyes again and I smiled. Sometimes, getting up at death o’clock can be incredibly beneficial. I stored the information away carefully in my mind, already thinking of when I might repeat this experience in the future.
As it happens, the following day dawned wet and quite windy. It was forecast to stop by lunchtime. To be honest, my legs were glad of the rest after yesterday’s early start and shopping expedition. It was just as well because housework was beckoning me in the form of cleaning and clothes washing. These are all things we would like to ignore, but I have a routine and I do try to stick to it as tomorrow it might all feel impossible again.
By afternoon the sun was out. I dragged myself, and Kermit into the cool breeze and softening light. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be out again, but it seemed too good an opportunity to miss out on. With heavy legs I pedalled away from home, up Park Road, again, and off towards Okehampton on sodden roads. The further I went, the more the evening light dimmed in a diametrically opposed display to that of yesterday morning. From Okehampton to Monkokehampton I rolled along quietly and without undue distress. Some of the downhills on this road leave me grinning like a Cheshire cat and marvelling at the ability of Kermit to round corners at speed with wonderfully accurate handling.
It’s both exhilarating and fun, perhaps even more so than on a bicycle? All the time the sun dipped and the sky darkened. I also dipped, down into a small wood having already climbed out of Monkokehampton once. I shot like a dart into the darkness and then ever-so-slowly climbed back out into the remains of the light and the day. My experience was now fully reversed. I rose up to Hatherleigh Moor as the sky dimmed.
Colours ran all around changing the hue of everything from houses to trees. I again stopped and stared in wonder as the world, my world, caught fire. Once more I took photographs. I watched until the show was over. Clouds drifted across the suns path, shutting down the light display and returning me suddenly to a colder world with fast-failing illuminations.
As if to underline what had happened, the temperature plummeted, hurrying me home to where I could find warmth and comfort of a hot shower. Park Road is so much fun in this direction. Yin and Yang. After that I went straight to bed for some much-needed rest. For the second day running I had been treated to something special, a display that only nature could provide. As my eyes dimmed, and the final light of the day leaked away, I could feel myself being held in a warm blanket of thankfulness. And with that I drifted away into a late afternoon snooze.
Until next time…………………………………