It was actually winter on Thursday morning. I had an appointment in Okehampton with my doctor for which I needed to leave at around 0945. Riding up Park Road, mind and body both agreeing this was no way to start a day, I found myself cussing at the steepness of the hill. Then I stopped fighting, gave into it, relaxed and the world instantly felt better. I noticed sheets of thin ice on the road surface for the first time this year. It crackled when I ran over it, much to my amusement and the cold air I sucked into my lungs was as fresh as clean laundry. Elevated high up onto the moor at Hatherleigh, relieved to have arrived on more gentle terrain, I glanced across to Dartmoor. From this distance, around 10km in straight line, it had a glistening white hew. The sun rose just a little, backlighting the giant bulk of the moor and an orange glow etched every cloud, lighting up the sky in a way that made me smile at witnessing this moment.
My legs now spun, warmed up from the effort to get here and happily doing what they know they are required to do. Turning down into the lanes my view was lost, replaced by water, mud, trees and Devon banks several metres high. What lies beyond them is a mystery as I sit, almost lay, just a few centimetres from the ground on Kermit. I passed by the deer farm but there was nothing doing at all. Recently there has been a crowd of does just staring out of the barn that protect them from the elements, but not today. I had hoped to see their breath condensing as they snorted and shuffled around, but they were nowhere to be seen.
An occasional puddle cracked as we passed over the top but most hadn’t frozen over. Kermit, resplendent with his new and shiny bearings, splashed through these in a celebration of escaping the kitchen where he had been dormant for a couple of weeks due to ongoing repairs. I smiled, just because I could and the sun shone down fixing my mind in a good place.
After the rain and storms and the filthy riding of the last week this outing came as a complete refresher. I had largely missed most of a settled period of weather having taken Kermit to pieces and then having to wait for the spares to arrive before I could rebuild him. I had been out on Irene, but she doesn’t give the same armchair of a ride that I’ve become accustomed to. Riding upright again wasn’t without joy. Being so high was like seeing things for the first time, but I ached in places I’d rather not and many others beside. Outside of that it was fun to be reacquainted with my lovely old friend.
Riding upright, my legs lacked power, just like they did when I first rode recumbent. In a reversal of roles, I wondered how riding an upright might feel had I learned to ride recumbent in my early life and not the other way around. I imagine that I would make all the comments that people aim at poor Kermit without a thought for his feelings or any real idea of what recumbents are like t ride. Kermit will never be a thrilling uphill ride, he’s too heavy. But he compares well to expedition bikes which come in at a similar weight and you cannot argue with comfort of that degree, which, incidentally is much better for a battered old body like the one belonging to yours truly and possibly for long-term physical health as well.
Spinning the pedals, I propelled Kermit rolled along in a lackadaisical and carefree manner. Snowdrops grew in every bank, giving hope that life has not abandoned us completely and will return at some point in the near future. Reaching the next small village I found the major road that passes through the centre to be closed. I knew this to be the case but didn’t know exactly where the closure was. The council in their wisdom have closed nearly all of the roads around where I live, or at least that’s how it feels. The positive of that is that they should be in a better state of repair when they reopen.
A shimmy to my right and then a left turn placed me on the tiny lane that leads up to and through Abbeyford Woods, which are also closed to the public at present, at least to the left of the road. The next section is never closed despite needing a great deal of repair. Every so often a council van stops along the worst parts and a couple of chaps throw some tarmac into the ever-present holes before hitting it repeatedly with shovels or running over the holes a few times with a roller until the repairs look vaguely flat. Two weeks later there is another hole where the tarmac fell out in protest at being mistreated with shovels and the process starts again.
Dodging the holes left by the poor repairs is a major achievement on those occasion when you succeed. Today, a sharp THUD reminds me that I now have three wheels and not two but the frequency of this occurrence is lessening thankfully and even when I fall down a hole the trike’s fat tyres absorb it pretty well . Teeth rattled but still there, we head out again for the higher ground and another view of the now much closer Dartmoor. From my high vantage it appears as a patchwork quilt of greens and browns with a reddish hew about the place. On the lower reaches, stark, stone walls, built in lines, divide it up into unequal shares.
I feel excited at the prospect of getting closer, but prior to that I have a hill to race down and then time to shop before my visit to the doctor, an appointment that will divide my ride into two uneven halves, just like the fields in the distance. Having plodded along merrily but without a great deal of speed, heading down the hill from Abbeyford woods was pure joy. It seemed even better in the knowledge that I didn’t have to drag myself back up it carrying a week’s shopping for once. Today I planned another way, one with views and plenty of other hills to make up for missing out on this one.
And that’s Devon in a nutshell, you can dodge the bullet here, but another one will be waiting down the road. This hill is one of those that you wish you could be sure nothing is coming up. A lovely bend on the steepest part threatens to throw you outwards but you lean cunningly inwards and fly around the corner with half a thought and two big ears for anything that might be coming up it. Grinning maniacally, you tear down the lower slopes, taking care on the bends but going as fast as you dare. Right at the bottom is a narrow bridge, and one you cannot see beyond, especially on the trike. Throwing on the anchors the world slows to a more usual pace and normal service is resumed, aside from the grin which just won’t go away.
Pulling into Lidl’s car park you always feel superior on a bike or on foot. The sweet little bridge that takes you there doesn’t take vehicles; they have to queue on the opposite side having crawled all the way through the town centre to get there. You arrive feeling like royalty in comparison, popping up suddenly amongst the meleé by what feels like a private entrance. Locking Kermit to the railings I enter the shop. It now dawns on me why I didn’t make lunch to bring along. Not doing so provided the perfect opportunity to buy something yummy that would help motivate me to ride a little further in order to justify it. And that’s exactly what I did, completely guilt-free.
Pannier full of goodies, and baddies , we headed off for my appointment at a dawdle. We rode around the houses, passing the one where I briefly lived and I wondered where all that time had gone? Arriving a few minutes early, I locked Kermit to a suitable drainpipe and entered the doctor’s surgery in the full knowledge that my appointment of ten minutes and the acquisition of medication afterwards would take at least an hour from when I entered the building. My doctor is excellent and always gives me the time I need to talk things through. Therefore, I have to allow for the fact that she does this with all her patients and that because she does she is very popular and time gets stretched.
A magazine of vague interest passes the time and when I emerge from the pharmacy the day feels and looks different. Dark clouds have gathered purposefully and are now marching on Dartmoor with a look of intent. It’s a look I know well, one that says; you come up here on the Granite Way and we are going to rain heavily on your lunch. Veiled threats, without the veil, should be listened to, but I wanted to climb the long and tiring hill and I wanted to stare in wonder from various viewpoints along the trail before I headed off home.
Upwards I ground, on a hill that isn’t that steep unless you keep going as far as the Youth Hostel, en route to which it becomes a pig of an ascent and one to be avoided. I should add that if you want to witness one of the best views in Devon, from high above the Army Training Camp, which I do regularly, you have to lump it and sweat it out like a good cyclist, passing the aforementioned hostel and keeping on going for some distance. Luckily for me, the Granite Way sneaks off prior to that and we were all chuckles as we got our breath back and set off along the trail from the railway station knowing we only got winged while dodging another bullet.
The wind, which was strengthening by the minute, blew right in my face and the trail gradually rose, just enough to make you feel the constant nagging gradient. The rain came, got harder and stopped, at which point I rushed into a small clearing, grabbed my lunch and ate it as though it was my last ever meal. Hahaha, the rain never got me, I thought in a way that was the equivalent of sticking two fingers up to the clouds. The wind now accelerated as it funnelled down the cutting through which my trail led me, doing some cutting of its own on reaching me. But it was just a short distance until I left the trail, turning away from the slicing headwind and fleeing for home
The weather realised that I had played a blinder and gave in. As I moved away from the beauty of Dartmoor, the sun returned to shine on proceedings again. Down and down we plunged only to rise again to Thornhill Cross. I couldn’t dodge this bullet but the almost arrow straight hill was only properly steep at the bottom and borderline uncomfortable at the top, with the middle section being as pleasant as a hill has any right to be.
From here the views north were exquisite, all the way to Exmoor in the far distance. I circumnavigated a deserted golf-club, always a good sign and continued on the mostly downhill run that would lead me home. Only once did I reach for the granny ring and that hill, although rude in the extreme, always feels worse because of where it is rather than what it is. I plodded slowly, just above walking pace and then I had a free run to Hatherleigh and the small matter of climbing the hill that forms the bypass in order to find my home.
Moments after I was safely ensconsed inside, the rain pelted my windows as if to remind me that it is still winter and that I had only won this battle. The war would surely continue. I didn’t care. I was too busy digging out the special chocolate biscuits that I had stowed in my pannier after visiting Lidl to take much notice. The most strenuous thing that would happen now would be climbing into and out of my bath. I’d earned that, along with the sleepiness that would take me in an hour or so and the pin-sharp memories of a great day out that would last until I ride again…………………………
Until next time…………………………