For weeks the weather here in Devon has battered us with high winds and rain. Short interludes have provided the only opportunities to ride and I haven’t always been able to take advantage of them for all manner of reasons. I managed a run to Okehampton just over a week ago and the benefits of that were immediately clear.
Setting of in a strong wind, that for once was behind me, I clawed my way up the rudely steep Park Road to Hatherleigh Moor. I felt flat and quite energy less as I clunked down the gears in order to find a place where my body and mind didn’t think I was taking the piss. Settling in a low gear I reached the top where the view opens out and my heart usually sings along to it. Today I felt different in a way that I could only explain as stuck in the back of my head. In this place I don’t notice the things I normally would. I’m more introverted than usual and live almost entirely within. It can feel as though the outside world isn’t there and this was one of those occasions.
I knew this wouldn’t last and pedaled on in earnest towards the charming hamlet of Jacobstowe. I passed the same farmers as I always pass on this quiet and narrow road and took the time to say hello to the deer on the deer farm that were mostly sheltering in a barn out of the vicious wind. There were only two deer in the pens, both males and both grunting in disapproval of the weather, or at least that’s what I believed it was.
Passing through sleepy Jacobstowe I wondered if the people there had all just stayed in bed. It didn’t cross my mind that I perhaps should have done the same. There were no cars, no people, and no signs of life at all. Even the dogs that always race along the farmyard fences barking and baying were noticeable by their absence. Gardens and road were all soddened and new streams ran across my path with a frequency that I haven’t seen for a while. Irene, my Santos Travelmaster bike, splashed through the puddles making squelching noises and the tyres made a quiet hum on the wet tarmac. The only other sounds were those of those of the wind and the almost imperceptible slashing of rain on my cycle helmet and coat.
A short section of steep hill is followed by a long drag up to Abbeyford Woods, the home of fairies according to a friends child who claimed to have seen them. It is a magical place and as I laboured towards it slowly the sun began to peep out of the clouds to say a brief hello. It was at this moment that I popped back into my mind from the back of my head. I noticed that raindrops hung golden on the bushes slowly stretching and elongating before dripping onto the sopping wet ground. Others shone like silver beads in the newly turned on sunlight and I felt suddenly alive again.
Approaching the woods a veil of mist hung over the trees. Nobody walked their dogs and the Police, who play at rioting here were nowhere to be seen. The usual flocks of birds must have glued themselves to their nests as there wasn’t a single one in the sky and the forest echoed with the sound of the wind forcing its way through reticent branches and the creaking of the trees elderly limbs. I was alone in the world, or at least that is how it felt and all this splendour was mine alone to enjoy.
My legs were now on autopilot, my mind soaking up the sound of nature in full flight. I felt free for the first time in weeks as the physical effort pushed away the mental fragility I had been feeling. All too soon it was time to plunge back into reality. For forty minutes I had lost myself in the great outdoors on a micro adventure. The hill that leads back to reality is steep but even in the rain provided a swooshing descent that always makes my face smile regardless of how I’d been feeling previously.
Over the stone bridge I rode as water roared underneath. If the rain continued much longer it would have to find another way to go and as I knew from experience this would involve taking over the road temporarily. Riding into Okehampton from this direction means passing a large depot where lorries lurk. The road soon becomes wide and urban and the countryside in which I had been immersed soon becomes a distant thought. It would still be there on the return journey and I felt a great joy at the notion that I was lucky enough to live amongst all this verdant greenery even if it was a little damp at times.
In a moment I switched from fully relaxed to fully alert. Okehampton may be small but cars are still big and sometimes they have a tendency to forget that fact. Doctor visited, medication collected, and a little shopping done, I set off again. Cars were polite enough and I soon turned onto a strange section of cycle way where you ride in the opposite direction to everybody else. This wouldnt’ normally be any problem but some drivers use the extra width as a signal that it’s okay to park along it. This leaves us cyclist playing chicken with recalcitrant taxi drivers until the road widens into a normal carriageway once more.
Within a mile of being in a town I was back in the countryside weaving along a beautifully open valley with the cool wind in my face. I didn’t care about the wind. Nothing would be annoying today as I felt so glad to have escaped my mind for a short period of time. Panniers full of goodies I headed back up a different hill from the one I had descended to the far end of Abbeyford woods and the fairies that live there. This hill is a cop-out, an easier ascent than the one I would normally take, but given how I’d been feeling for the last few weeks I needed to take the line of least resistance and it’s still a long drag to the crossroads at the top.
The same nothingness, peace, and tranquility, that had occupied me on the way to town still existed on the return journey. The sun shone quite strongly for a while and I could feel its warmth even though it was still January. The wind its best to cajole me into a struggle but the Devon banks and hedges gave me such shelter that I hardly noticed it until I reached Hatherleigh Moor once again. By then it was too late for a fight and a brief and gentle uphill led to a screaming descent before a short hiccup of a hill slowed my return home.
Standing in the hall it was like entering a different place. My eyes were bright, my mind opened by the endorphins and exercise. My house looked and felt brighter as I unpacked my shopping and my mind never dragged me back completely into that place of gloom again despite trying. I knew that this particular period of joy would fade as the chemicals coursing through my body slowly subsided. I also knew that in an hour or so I would be fast asleep from the effort following a bath in which I could relax and soak.
What I didn’t know was that there would be no further opportunity to get out and ride again for the next week. Other commitments and the constant battering of our small island would put pay to that. It matter very little in that moment of joy. I could hang onto this as I have done for many years now until such times as I could go out again.
I felt physically better on this ride than I had since prior to Christmas and mentally there was none of the signs that scream STOP DOING THIS that there had been just a couple of rides ago. I ate and drank water, stretched my weary limbs, and slunk into a deep bath to relax. Within a few minutes my whole physical being went into sleep mode and it was all I could do to stay awake long enough to go to bed.
I have often likened this state to that of a child at bedtime, so tired that I simply can’t keep my eyes open. My bed is my safe place and one I know very well from my long battle with this affliction. My eyes closed within thirty seconds and I slept for two hours. I woke feeling my day was all a little unreal but in my heart I knew it was one of those moments to hang onto in times of despair. We all need these types of memory. Ones that tell us that everything will be okay, or at least better than it has been and I hung this one on a carefully prepared hook in my mind for use when I need it.
It’s February now and the winter is passing if only in terms of increasingly longer days bringing more light. The rain and wind continue to batter our small island and the southwest is suffering more than most. Since that ride several things have happened that are exciting in the world of Riding2Recovery. My energies are increasing again very slowly and I’m beginning to think about what this year will become. I have a seedling of desire to ride somewhere later in the summer and a cycle holiday in France to look forward to sharing with Michele in June.
There are other things afoot as well but they will need another day to write about them. Today I’m remembering that ride, the one that energised me, reinvigorated me, and all the other rides that have had that self-same effect. Cycling may not be for everybody but for me and many other I know it’s a lifeline in a stormy sea.
See you next time