Occasionally, just occasionally, I find my mind and body to be in harmony with each other, and the environment. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I try to make the most of it, and today was one of those perfect moments.
Regular readers of this blog will know of my previous form with the Fred Whitton ride. It’s safe to say that over the past couple of years I’ve suffered on this, quite a lot. And so I did the only sensible thing, and entered again for this years ride, just to confirm that I’m not getting any fitter, and the Lake District isn’t getting any flatter. And so, over the past week I’ve been attempting to get some miles in on the cycle, to try to shock some early year fitness into my aged carcass, which is still recovering from Christmas gluttony. By and large, the rides have been pretty character building rather than actually enjoyable. I mean, I enjoy the feeling after the ride, and the anticipation of the ride, but there’s not a whole lot of fun in grinding along into a Fenland headwind complete with driving rain, slithering around on a carpet of mud that has been thoughtfully spread across the road by the local farmers.
Today, however, was different. The wind had dropped. The temperature was down a few degrees, but the sky was gin clear. The roads have dried out a bit. I kind of knew it was going to be a Good Ride pretty much from the off, but I didn’t realise quite how enjoyable it was going to be. I span lazily out of town, not really thinking too much about how fast I was going, just avoiding potholes and homicidal tractor drivers. After a few minutes I was off the main road, and had a wonderful moment when I realised that I was laughing aloud. I mean, properly laughing. Not just thinking of txting ‘LOL’ in response to a video of a cat dressed up as a shark sitting on a vacuum cleaner. This was genuine, completely unexpected joy at just riding my bike on a nice day, the kind of feeling that you see in children all the time. The low winter sun wasn’t doing a great job as far as the temperature goes, but I think was at least partly responsible for the feeling of boundless enthusiasm and energy. I decided to give my legs a workout, so attacked the bottom of the only hill around here with rather more gusto than usual. I kept an eye on my heart-rate monitor as I hit the hill. 165… push… 170… push harder… 175… I could hear my breathing becoming heavier. 180… legs hurting now, but don’t let it go, keep pushing… 185… Ahead of me an F15 from Lakenheath screamed past, afterburners ripping apart the air, shattering the stillness. I visualised the enormous air intakes, greedily devouring the cold, thick air, feeding the engines… 185… starting to feel dizzy, gulping as much air as my lungs could use… 190… every shred of me wants to stop this, but I’m still in control, the top of the hill is only metres away now… 193… waves of pain and nausea fill me as I slump over the crest of the hill, totally spent.
Once I’d regained my composure (which to be fair, had taken a bit of a battering on the way up the hill) I took stock of the situation. My senses felt more alive than usual, the same cold air that I’d been grasping at on the way up the hill now felt cool and refreshing. The first draught of a cold beer on a long ago summer afternoon in my youth. The noise of the F15 had now gone, replaced by birdsong. High above, a solitary kestrel hung, still, silent, watching the ground. My whole body was tingling. My mouth was filled with a metallic taste as a result of the previous few minutes exertion. Sadly my heightened sense of smell alerted me to the presence of a large pile of manure in the field I was riding past. Dammit, it was *so* nearly perfect.
The memories of this moment will fade with time, no doubt. But the urge to use my body while I’m still able will remain. And if I get an entry into the Fred Whitton ride this year, I’ll try to remember this as I hit the ramps at the bottom of the Hardknott Pass, to prepare myself for the onslaught ahead.