Cycling week 47
Cycling week returns! Shamefaced, jetlagged again, slower than ever – but with both wheels seemingly on the ground.
What happened was this: I didn’t ride a bike for two weeks. My reason is: I just didn’t didn’t do it. And listen – I’m embarrassed. But nothing can be done now and we will have to accept it and move on. But first let me try to explain myself and tell you my excuses. I was in Frankfurt for the Book Fair, and then in London, and unless you count a hotel exercycle – but that’s not really any kind of experience, let alone anything like a real bike ride; hotel exercycle time should be experienced at a far remove from yourself, like having blood taken – there was no cycling. I sort of tried to cycle by osmosis, by watching cyclists zipping past, and admiring beautiful cycling infrastructure with smooth, plump separated lanes, and envying people on magnificent cargo bikes towing their shopping, children and dogs. Meanwhile, I was walking, or taking the subway like an animal.
I realised I was too scared to ride a bike. That’s at the heart of it. When I’m in an unfamiliar place, my proprioception – sense of my body in space – gets mangled. I have to move slowly through the world, eyes peeled, feelers out, or I think something bad will happen. It was only after having been in the city for a week that parts of the city felt solid and permanent to me rather than an endlessly revolving carousel. At a dinner one night in Frankfurt, I mentioned to somebody that I was feeling guilty about not having been out for a ride, at least for the good of the blog, and that maybe I would try the next day but I was worried I would get on a bike and just immediately crash, and the person pointed out that the crash would be good content. They were exactly right; the one thing this blog is missing is a good crash. But, I reasoned, I had a couple of meetings in London over the next couple of days, and I couldn’t be going around with a broken collarbone. So on my last morning in Frankfurt I just went for a cowardly run along the riverbank.
Back home, jetlagged, I tried to get back on the bike.
I had been up since 3am, and by 7 I felt possessed so I went for a ride to the supermarket. I wobbled through the air like a migraine aura. I could feel my legs moving, flapping around like wet flannels, but my head was still rolling around somewhere in the northern hemisphere. As I tried to lock my bike I forgot the code to the lock, panicked, remembered it, forgot it again, remembered it. The next moment my pannier was heaving with grocery items so I must have gone in and shopped and come back out, and I had a recollection of the check-out operator looking at me weirdly. Rode back home slowly, breathing in slow-motion explosions. Raroa Rd swelled and steepened before me like a giant damp serpent. Got home and lay down.
A no ride day. Jetlag and the inevitable plane cold kept me down.
Crawled to work early in the morning. The sunlight was bitey on the eyes. I wasn’t all there yet. A massive truck with a skip on the back roared past breathtakingly closely, engulfing me in its stink. The road itself felt bumpier than I remembered, or my wheels more sensitive. At the same time it felt nice to be inside the familiar rhythm of the bike, as if my brain had been unspooled everywhere and the motion of cycling was gently respooling (?) me.
My ride home was slow, I think the slowest I have ever ridden up that series of hills, every pedal stroke requiring a great conscious effort. Lungs still feeling like two rusty saws. Saw a G-string lying on the road. Had a nice moment of communion with a dog hanging its head out a window. I was starting to feel my legs remembering leg business, and my head returning to the correct hemisphere.
The morning ride to work featured a gigantic very flat dead rat. It was right around a blind corner and I was too late to swerve and had to go right over top. I rate this experience a 0/10.
I rode into town mid-morning and got stuck behind a cyclist of chaos. It’s usually pretty easy to know a cyclist of chaos when you see one. This one was on a Flamingo bike, helmet in the front basket, seat too low, pedalling cartoonishly fast but going relatively slowly, handlebars blipping side to side, running every red light he could as pedestrians dodged him. At one point he weaved over to the wrong side of the road into the path of a bus, lurching back over to the other side at the last moment. He cycled with both a high level of intensity – energy spraying in all directions like a Catherine wheel – and a powerful obliviousness to other people on the road. I wondered about this guy; maybe I’d read him all wrong and he wasn’t a chaos cyclist after all, just a guy in a hurry, his big square backpack full of important goods. Maybe the urgency of the moment had made him momentarily chaotic and that wasn’t who he really was. Whoever he was, he owned the road.
Today also featured a night ride home, in quiet, cool, springy night air, and this was a pretty good ride.
The morning ride. For the first time this week, into a bright grey morning, jetlag fading and cold lifting, I was enjoying some proper alertness, and, along with it, some of the old rage as I churned up Raroa, passed by maniacs.
Early afternoon I rode into town, and on my way back to work a Vector van honked before passing me closely on Salamanca Rd. I did the outstretched arm of incredulity. Why this honking? Was I too far over to the right? But no – I’d been jammed up right against the bank. What is one meant to do on a narrow fast road, where there’s nowhere to pull over? Is the honking just meant to say, ‘I am annoyed!’ But then what? The honking made me crazy. Did they want me to clamber up the grassy bank and off the road so that they could pass? Did they just want an apology? What good was this honking? I wanted to strangle the Vector van’s horn.
I’ve been thinking lately about what to do when you feel embarrassed or plain anxious about holding drivers up. This is something I struggle with, especially as the rider of a push bike, and especially as a slow coach. I find myself pushing as hard as I can to get out of people’s way more quickly. But I think maybe there isn’t an easy solution. Unless you want to pull over – which isn’t always possible, and although you’ll stop holding one driver up you’ll soon be holding up another one – it’s probably best to accept the discomfort, and strive for some dignity and grace in your holding-someone-up-for-a-few-seconds.
Rode home in a semi-window in the rain, happy to have made it to the weekend.
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