Cycling week 46
A truncated cycling week, with some jetlagged rambling.
I started writing this cycling week from the airport in Dubai, on my way over to Frankfurt for the book fair. A thing I’ve discovered – and which I’ve always suspected but never let come into full focus – is that I’m a bad traveller, especially when by myself. I drop things all the time. Explode packets of sauce on myself. Seize up in fear when I find that I need to take a train from the airport to the gate. Feel rage and disbelief when I see how tiny the teacups are in a cafe. Establish a complicated pocket system in my bag and then immediately forget where everything is, and panic when I can’t find my earplugs. Worst of all, a mean side of me rises up, and I become horribly critical of others. On the plane from Sydney, when the food trolley was coming round, the man sitting next to me said, ‘Potato frittata,’ and the particular way he said it jolted me awake, scowling. At the gate, a woman was pacing back and forth yelling into her phone, ‘Can ya hear me? Are ya there?’ while static blasted back at her over top of a man shouting the same questions, and I had to go and move somewhere else and do a ‘loving kindness’ meditation. (I’ve downloaded a meditation app where a Scottish man burbles vague bits of wisdom. The loving kindness meditation asks you to imagine others enfolded in a soft glowing light, as you repeat: ‘May you be happy … may you be healthy … may you be safe … may you be peaceful.’ I bought Wi-Fi on the plane from Dubai to Frankfurt and saw the election results and listened to the meditation again and dissolved, in the easy weeping way of the long-haul flight, every time the Scottish man said ‘May you be safe’.)
It feels like a real failure to be a bad traveller. Like, a deep incompetence, somehow. If I could have a superpower, apart from stopping eating when I’m full, it would be the ability to move through the world seamlessly, immediately understanding etiquette and signage and public transport systems and crowd behaviour, and to go eagerly and hungrily out into it, rather than cringing, mapping my way at every turn, shoulders like steel pylons. When I think of a good traveller I think of an old friend, James Purtill – I remember meeting up with him in London years ago and he said that earlier that day he’d been walking along when some guys playing football in a park yelled out to ask if he could play, they were short of a player, and he ran out immediately into the game.
Anyway, although they’re now a world away, here are some things about last week’s routine bike rides.
An earlyish ride to work on a spring-ish day. Leg was aching after running (I use the term loosely) along Transient on Sunday.
As I flew down Glasgow I passed a man and woman talking, both of them wearing the big backpacks of the early walker. ‘I just wanna say, what were you thinking, Grant?’ the man was saying, as the woman guffawed.
After work I zoomed down the hill for necessary beers then rode home afterwards up the hill. The red light runners were out on Karo Drive, sprinting desperately through like streakers on a rugby field. Every time I see them, it’s like seeing some strange species that probably should have died out centuries ago. At the bottom of Raroa the footpath was blocked by the cycle lane construction, and I know that technically I shouldn’t ride on the footpath anyway – so I went on the road instead, and it was freaky how unsafe it felt, to be inching upwards with my little lights on as cars tore by so close. I used to ride this way all the time – there was a time when I was a road purist and always refused the footpath – but it’s bananas how bad that road has been.
On the ride to work a fleet of school boys on scooters went tearing down Raroa, pumping their fists and yelling out of their helmets. In Kelburn I got stuck behind a bus with a big ad for underwear on its back. The picture was of a beautiful woman, a rugby sevens player, in undies, standing in a paddock. I couldn’t get past the bus, and I felt awkward waiting right behind it, trying to avoid the gaze of the woman, as if some sudden intimacy was being required of me, and I resented how the ad seemed to be asking me to appraise the woman’s body, to have opinions about it as I was on my bike going to work, and I just didn’t want to have any opinions but they were beginning to form, rise up out of the sludge, against my will. I started imagining how the ad was conceived – how the team behind it would’ve talked to the rugby sevens player about the look and feel of the campaign and how they all agreed it would be a nice respectful wholesome photo featuring her standing in her undies in a paddock, which would then be carted around town through rush-hour traffic.
After work I zoomed down the hill for writing group. Outside the pub, an elderly man was having an altercation with someone who was sitting in their car. ‘I’m a pedestrian,’ he was crying. ‘This isn’t a road. When were you gonna give way to me? When were you gonna give way to me?’ He was pleading, not letting the driver go.
A slow ride home. Blossoms glowy, moon out. Thought about stopping to take a photo for this blog, because I never have enough pictures, but I didn’t. Exhaustion. Red light runners again. But Raroa Rd was feeling better: there was a new shiny smooth bit that takes you off the road and onto the path – a shared path, now. There is something so hospitable, so kind, about a smooth bit between a road and path to allow an un-bumpy entry; in that shiny seam, you know the makers of the cycle lane were thinking about the over-sensitive tyres of the cyclist seeking a smooth passage uphill.
In the Cycle Wellington Facebook group there have been reports of tacks scattered over the Newtown cycleway. I want to know who it is putting the tacks out, and can almost imagine it being anyone at all – a nice elderly lady, an IT worker, a poet, just some guy at a loose end one night, etc.. But I really want to know, even though knowing would do no good.
On the morning ride my pannier bounced off as I went through a pothole, and my keys went flying out of a pocket and into some weeds, never to be found again.
On the rest of the ride to work, impatience seemed to be pulsating in the air. Once you feel the impatience, it’s hard to tune it out. It comes through in cars following too closely, nudging out to pass at all costs, even on pedestrian crossings – a sense that you must go as fast as possible or be swallowed.
Rode into town again after work for errands. A miserable freezing wind on the downhill. And then home afterwards, riding in a tired blur. My leg has been hurting again this week, so I’ve stepped up the foam rolling again – but the problem with the foam rolling is it requires a bit of energy and knuckling-through, and in case I haven’t complained about this enough, I’m knackered. What would be ideal, I think, is some kind of foam-rolling machine, like the roller inside a pasta-maker, into which you could feed your legs and then process them via a simple hand-crank.
The morning ride to work. I was tired and grumpy from too many nights trying to catch up on work and feeling that I was simply getting further behind, so I barely took anything in on this ride, except for when someone close-passed me at speed on Raroa. A bitter rage came surging up and I screamed ‘Shithead!’ Yes, bad behaviour, and a bad choice of expletive, and the rest of the ride was a bitter tug-of-war between my enraged, indignant self and my ashamed, slightly more reasonable self.
At lunchtime I rode into town to run more errands and then did a slow, tiring trudge up the hill, panniers dangerously overstuffed again, to finish the day out at home.
I’d had hopes of doing a golf-ball ride in the morning before my flight in the afternoon, since it was probably the last decent ride I would get in for the next couple of weeks, but I realised, for once, that I just needed to conserve energy. So, sadly but sensibly, this last day was a no-ride day.
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