As I’m off on holiday this week and am doing more sunbathing than writing, here’s a ride report from earlier in the year when things were a wee bit frostier.
Ice Cold in Essex
I’d postponed the 7.30am start by three quarters of an hour in the misguided hope that the temperature would somehow be radically improved, but February is February and all things move slow this month.
Me included it seems.
In the end an 8.15 start was no warmer but at least it was still dry and, in town at least, there were few signs of ice on the roads. There was snow though – small and short-living its true, but still snow nonetheless – and for the first few miles I felt glad that I’d left ridiculously large tyres on the bike. Yeah, I thought, once we get out of the metropolis and hit those iced-up country lanes I’ll be glad of these bad boys.. I’d also be glad of the extra socks, overshoes, arm-warmers, long sleeve jersey, neck warmer, 3 pairs of gloves (not all at once), hat, jacket and gilet. I just stopped short of bringing the hip flask of whisky but actually regretted that later. No two ways about it – it was bloody cold..
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It was the pre-ride cup of tea that set off my reveries this morning. Or rather, more specifically, it was the lack of a readily available teabag that got me thinking about childhood smells just before I left the house and which gave a theme for my ride today. I’m not really one for coffee so I always have a cup of tea before I cycle, except that this morning the teabag tin was empty. No worries; there was a new box on the shelf and as I took off the cellophane wrapper and transferred the contents I was greeted by one of my favourite smells in the world. Fresh, loose tea. Even in a box of teabags you get a small amount of loose stuff which sits in the corners. That’s the bit I love. It reminds me of my grandmother’s kitchen and of the tea chests we used to move house when we were young. So my head was full of olfactory thoughts as I set out on my usual Saturday morning ride.
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I really enjoyed cycling in the rain that shrouded our morning route out into Kent yesterday. It was a light, misty rain; the sort where the smell of the wet leaves hits you harder than the raindrops themselves.
I get a completely different feeling about being part of the landscape when it’s raining. Whether cycling through country lanes or just walking in the park, the wet world draws you further into itself and fully envelops you, physically connecting you in ways that it doesn’t when the weather is bright and dry. The extra noises, smells and touches that rain brings makes me feel more aware of the space I’m moving through, even if vision is reduced. A touch of rain gives an extra dimension to cycle rides, even those on familiar routes, that is generally worth the mental strength needed to get yourself out of bed and into it.
As we approached the beginning of the climb up Beddlestead, the crest of ridge was completely closed-in by low cloud and the ascent should have been grim, unrewarding work. But when the radio mast finally loomed out of the grey veil and the climbing was almost done, I found myself thinking I’d never enjoyed that stretch more. This time I hadn’t conquered the climb; I’d been a part of it.
Over the top the dark edge of the weather front was more apparent and promised that we would have better weather for our return but for now the dripping trees kept the roads slick and we descended in cautious silence. On the exposed side of the hill the wind was more apparent and soon we saw evidence that it had obviously been much stronger in the night. Just off Pilgrims Way, not far from a section flooded by a burst water pipe, we saw blue flashing lights further up the lane. Our first thought was of a car accident in the twisty road, or that someone might have come off on the gravel patches which litter that descent, but when we arrived we found two fairly sodden policeman looking blankly at a tree that had shed a huge bough right across the road. We were able to squeeze past by the hedge on the far side and as we did the sun came out fully and quickly warmed what the wind had begun to dry. It was as if we were passing through a gate out of the watercolour-like lands back into the dry. By the top of the next short climb the earlier feelings of connection with the landscape had passed too and we rolled the rest of the way back to town as passengers on the landscape rather than parts in it.