For the last two years, I’ve significantly toned down my riding between November and February. It’s cold and dark. It’s occasionally icy. It takes a lot of willpower to get out of bed, especially when the road is wet. Which it usually is – either through rain, or dew when it’s clear. I haven’t had the right gear, resulting chilly knees, and wet feet.
But then, I’ve seen other cyclists on Strava clock up the miles, and felt a pang of regret. And so I acquired the gear (despite the ludicrous appearance it lends me), and I’ve tried to keep going out. The rides are shorter, and slower, but they’re there. And I’m still in good enough shape to pick up on the opportunities which come along.
Such as sometime cycling friend, James James Morrison Morrison*, who has a habit of planning a ridiculous ride in the last week of the year. Last year, it was a train trip to Taunton, followed by a cycle home. In the dark. In the rain. Madness. Stupidity. But Respect. And so this year I told him I was in (before knowing what was involved, I might add). Turned out it was something similar, but returning from London instead. And during the day. Still rather mad. Significantly less stupid. Hopefully still some respect. However, on the eve of this trip, I popped over to his to settle details, only to find that bureaucracy on the railways had scuppered the plans. No bikes on the train to London until the New Year.
Well, not much that can be done about that except to take it like a statue, and make an alternative plan. Which in this case was to head out to Coleshill, pick up two others, and do a 100 mile cycle with little to no planning. Sort of a ‘head north-east until half-way tired, and then meander back to the start’. Which is a somewhat different attitude to my usual stance. Normally when I do long rides, they’re Sportives. Which are timed. And despite the clearly stated intention that these are not races, the competitive part of me comes out and tries to go as fast as I can. Am I faster than last year? How do I compare to the rest of the field? I can’t help it. Not that this is a bad thing, of course – it’s just my default position to try to go as fast as I can for as long as I can. It’s fitness, and strength, and endurance. The numbers, the stats, the performance.
On this ride, though, there was no clock, and the other riders (all of whom are significantly better than me) weren’t trying to prove anything. I was just happy I could keep up. And so we tootled around Leicestershire and Warwickshire at around 15.5mph, just enjoying the ride. And enjoy it I did – the sheer beauty of fields and hedges touched by ice, rolling hills and roads winding through obscure villages (including a long-overdue return to the Sheepys) with no tourists, and nothing to attract them even if there were any. The freezing cold keeping most other (normal?) people indoors. It was just the four of us, in the silence of a bleak midwinter, exploring, discovering, relating memories and stories. The only problems were where to stop for a coffee & cake (remarkably few coffee shops in that part of the country!).
So, while part of me is really chuffed with my cycling year, the other part thinks that this ride was the best part of it. I cycled more miles this year than ever before, went the equivalent of 4 times up Everest, went faster, and longer, and better than ever before. But those are just numbers. This ride was just for the love of cycling, and if I ever lose that, all the numbers will be meaningless.
*Not their real names. But close. No Wetherby George Dupree, unfortunately.