The first ride of autumn
Cycling takes the mundane and elevates it to the extra-ordinary. Roads and trails leave their earthbound inertia and are transformed into writhing, pounding pursuits of the ever extending horizon. Action and energy lift the endorphins and the rush of adrenalin pushes the rider into a new realm where everything is anaesthetised. The best line through the corner, the smoothest power transfer on the climbs, these become the quest. Where motorists may mutter, the cyclist flows through like a bolt of malleable lightning. Charging, invincible, strong and -
And in the end the fading comes and is, in its turn, magnified. The first thought of food is the warning sign, and suddenly (metaphorically), the wheels fall off. The slightest incline is a weaving, grinding challenge. The enfeebled brain constantly re-runs which escape route may have the most wind and gravity advantage.
Every time we pull on our shorts, do up our shoes, open the door and roll the bike out this is the holy grail that we unwittingly chase.
The first ride of autumn is the ideal opportunity. The fitness of summer blushes like the apples on the trees and the temperate weather seems like a reward for hours of tiring effort. There is little to compare to the blue skies and golden trees of an Indian summer. Autumn picks out the most choice of shapes and shades like bejewelled archways to a forgotten kingdom.
This is a careless, carefree use of time, a day passes in the blink of an eye. Where winter beckons with rollers, rain and potholes, autumn suffuses gold into the brain to last until the first green shade of spring.
With none of this in mind we set out for Welsh back lanes, looking for hills and relishing the challenge. The calm of the Welsh roads soon settles upon us and relaxes us into the ride. A steady pace becomes a half wheel, and a turn on the front imperceptibly accelerates to a harder push. Refocusing and reclaiming dignity demands a smoothly spun turn to evidence the lack of effort and perhaps suggest a more lively pace. The road dips and we swap chain rings in unison, understanding what the immediate future holds. A dip, a rise, a strong effort over the top and repeat, and repeat.
Switching turns becomes more of a pleasure as maximum effort is rewarded by a short break. The speed is essential to the surge of the ride, and the companionship helps to push the effort for one more kilometre, 100 metres, 1 metre, and a roll to a halt in front of the coffee shop.
‘Two coffees is it lads?’ says the waiter, bemused by our sweaty haggard faces, ‘probably best outside.’
We know now that the best of the ride is behind us. But sometimes life is better than that, and a view over hazy valleys and forests enraptures us over coffee, chips & ham.
As we cool off our thoughts turn again to the road, and we vow a steady start for cold legs. The tractor race puts paid to that, fresh tarmac, fast corners, and long rollers.
But where the lanes and climbs start a different feeling develops. We are not having good sensations. The concentration doesn’t come so easy, the gradients sap a little deeper. The taste of chips, and not delicious chips with ketchup.
We search our minds for more gruelling climbs to belittle the corkscrewing lane, but none seem apparent.
At the top a fast descent awaits, yet we know now we’ve gone too far, the speed isn’t just a surging race on a carbon cloud, but a prayer for more speed, more momentum to launch us weak-legged into the wall of tarmac which awaits.
The mind optimistically surges on, over hills, down hills, bridges, hedges, trees, houses, home, and when we come to, almost no distance has passed. ‘The benefit of long rides’, says Matt, ‘is that when you go out again you know you can get home, no matter what’. Such sage ponderings set us on the right track. A flapjack steadies our resolve.
With more miles behind us than there are in front, we want to savour every spin of the pedals, the woodland towering over us, the battle of self will. But deep within we can feel the comfort of the sofa, the warmth of the bath and the avid attention of an interested audience to appreciate our tales of derring-do.
Tuning back in to the passing road, watching the moving legs that now seem remote, like chicken legs, maybe with gravy, some rice perhaps, rice pudding maybe, with jam, or jam on toast, or beans on toast with Marmite, or Marmite and cheese on toast and baked beans and ketchup. It’s too late, the stomach is empty, the pockets are empty, and above all the legs are empty…