Setting off that morning, my heart was a little low along with my energy. I had just battled my way up the now infamous Park Road, an ordinary hill at any other time of day other than first thing. My automatic response at reaching the top saw me turning left where the road relents. A second short climb places you on Hatherleigh Moor with views across to Dartmoor’s brooding mass and Bodmin Moor in the far distance.
As my breathing settled down to something akin to normal, I looked at the sky. It was cobalt in colour with wisps of cirrus clouds dancing in from the west. Bad weather was out there and heading this way, but it wouldn’t affect me today. The temperature was at dragon level, well that’s what I called it when my daughter Lydia was still small. Condensing breath looks just like fiery smoke to a child. I heard a giggle echo through my memory. That giggle was attached to my smile muscles, making my face grin from cheek to cheek as I remembered the joy of watching my young daughter grow.
Reaching a plateau, I was taken by surprise. Out across the valleys fog hunkered down in the dips while the high spots poked up toward the sunlight. It was inverted. This happens when temperature rises with altitude gained, rather than falling. It creates a low dew point where fog forms and get trapped in the valleys and leads to inspiring vistas like the one now laid out in front of me. These are the moments I cycle for. The same moments I climbed and flew for. Moments when I feel utterly open, free and at one with the world. These are the fleeting glimpses of something special, when all the bad things fall away and I let nature cosset me in its big gentle hands.
As I rode down into the valley the mist began to evaporate. The scene that had greeted me so lovingly on Hatherleigh Moor would shortly be gone for the day, a precious memory for those who were lucky enough to see it. As the fog cleared the warmth increased. My head was clear and my lungs working well. My legs complained a little, but not enough to pay them much attention.
A tip for others who suffer from asthma: When it’s this cold I often find that a couple of puffs on my inhaler (reliever) before I leave prepares my lungs for strenuous riding. A follow-up blast when I return home helps keep the shock of transitioning from cold to warm to a minimum.
I was riding for the pleasure of it. There was no agenda, no shopping to be hauled home or training to be done. This was cycling for the sake of it and cycling to simply be out in the world, seeing what it had to offer. It’s become my favourite way to cycle, mindful, open and steady. I’ve spent enough of my life working out, working up to and working through a variety of things. If I don’t tax myself too hard, my body will play ball for a good few years to come. I will still ride long distance as that is what I enjoy, but it’s time to kick back somewhat and slow down the pace.
The sun was now fully up. I could feel the warmth emanating from it, even though it was December. Perhaps part of that was just a memory of the summer, late this year, but still very welcome when it finally arrived. With the weather forecast suggesting a sharp deterioration over the next week, I thought it best to ride while I could. The initial cold was now long gone, my body all but steaming from the effort of cycling over Devon’s lumpy landscape. My grin relaxed into a soft, relaxed smile, waiting patiently for the next surprise, if there was to be one. You see, you never know what will happen when you ride, what will appear and what will have disappeared.
There are buzzards and voles, stoats and pheasants, squirrels and rabbits and even alpacas and stags. All manner of birds and flowers line the hedgerows and if you add in the four seasons, nothing ever remains the same for long. You never know what will pop up next. There is a herd of wild deer as well as the deer farm herd. They roam around this area, occasionally jumping the hedges and charging across the road right in front of you, so you better beware. Buzzards appear suddenly and silently, usually low down, before disappearing again cleverly, through the branches of trees without even a rustle. How do they do that? How do they miss all those branches with their wide spanning wings? I don’t know, but I love to watch them as they sail higher and higher on thermal currents and touch the very sky itself until they are just a speck.
I soon see several people and dogs that know I come this way frequently. Some of them stop and talk, others smile and wave. The old sheep dog in Monkokehampton always comes over to say hello when I pass, and I always stop to do the same. It’s symbiotic, we both need it and enjoy it and a smoothed head seems to make for a happy pooch. Eventually he will walk away slowly, on aged legs that don’t want to chase sheep any longer. These days he lies in the doorway watching those that pass with half a beady eye. His work days are done; it’s time to soak up any sun he can find.
Elsewhere, a coach blocks the road while its contents, a myriad of funeral goers, all march off to pay their respects to a person whose time on earth is up. I wondered if they had been hired, rent-a-mob style. Traffic waited impatiently, some drivers getting cross. How dare somebody die and hold them up? I cycle along the pavement behind the procession at a polite distance, only to find my road blocked by an elderly lady who doesn’t seem to know which way to go. Until she remembered, she seemed to need to remain diagonally across the road stopping anything else from passing by. The poor coach driver looked confused from being in the middle of a small Devon village with a vehicle that doesn’t fit in any way whatsoever. I felt for him. He was just doing his job.
Of course I manage to squeeze past, feeling smug and full of thank you madams as the elderly woman finally reversed back again, into a parking space. And then I’m free as a bird. The gentle downhill sees me tearing down the road, possibly exceeding the speed limit, and grinning like trike rider should when the opportunity arises. The hedges flash past in a blur. Life a few inches from the ground is much more exciting than I can ever tell you.
There’s just two more hills ahead to climb before I can semi-zoom down towards home. There is still a further hill, a blip, a steep blip, but that can wait until it arrives. It’s best to remember the downhills and the rest can take care of itself. A tearing rush and a crawl upwards see the worst of the first hill over, but the road still climbs gently. Then another rush of adrenalin, a much bigger one, as I descend as fast as I dare, screaming around a corner in the hope that I have enough momentum to make the steep section of the second hill disappear without the need to pedal hard. Down I go. Down through the gears: 9,8,7,6….1 I’m still on the middle ring and I shall stay there as I climb back up to Hatherleigh Moor. Shut up legs, as a certain road rider used to say.
I was getting near the end of the hill when I saw a man in the distance walking toward me. I didn’t think anything of it. As I approached him, he crossed the road. I presumed he wanted to talk to me about Kermit, my recumbent trike. Instead, he walked up to me and stated, “You shouldn’t be riding that on the road. Nobody can see you.” I was aghast. Surely, he had seen me, or I would have run him over? “Yes, they can,” I retorted with a friendly smile. His reply, getting to sound a little angry, was, “no they can’t, I’m telling you.” I was a bit taken aback by that. Did he think it was luck that kept me alive? I countered with, “I’ve been riding in all road conditions: country lanes, city streets, and suchlike for four years and I’ve never had a close call. In fact, I get treated better on this than I ever did on my bike.”
He wasn’t going to quit. “Bikes are high and you can see them. This is far worse.” I was sorely tempted to ask how he knew we existed, if he couldn’t see us, but I bit my lip. I should add that I was wearing a dayglo yellow jacket with the trike adorned with flashing lights front and rear, and a flagpole with a dayglo orange flag on it. The pannier has a triangular reflective patch on it and my road craft is good as well. He wasn’t going to have it and started another rant, at which point I said “must go, have a good afternoon,” and left the scene as quickly as my legs would allow. He was still muttering away as I rode into the distance.
Like I said earlier, you never know what will happen when you take your bike out of the shed, kitchen, or in my case, hall, to go riding. With 2018 just around the corner, why don’t you find out for yourself? I’m sure you won’t regret it and it will help you feel more stable in an unstable world.
Happy New Year to all of you. I hope 2018 is everything you can imagine.
Until next time, keep on Riding2Recovery.