2009-02-06 10.38.02
Okehampton, Devon, UK, 2009.

Isobel dropped in yesterday to say hello. She dragged her feet as she passed over Devon and Cornwall causing devastation wherever she touched down. Ferocious winds tore at everything around, ripping up trees, hurling rocks, burying cars in sand and damaging buildings. The sea was whipped up into a complete frenzy with huge waves battering shorelines that most thought of as sturdy defences until the wall at Dawlish disappeared in a storm not dissimilar to this one a while ago.  I had to go out, although I would have changed my appointment had it been any worse, and for once I was glad that it didn’t involve a cycle of any description.

Since 2010 our winters have been just like this one; a succession of extreme storms blown in from the Atlantic Ocean.  There is nothing you can do other than batten down the hatches and cross your fingers. There but for the grace of god……………………… Afterwards, when the savage gales are gone, piles of debris tell the story, along with flooded fields and houses and months of misery for many who, by no fault of their own, got in the way of Isobel’s fury.

There was a calm this morning. It descended overnight, winds decreasing ever-so-slowly as darkness ebbed away to give another day. I opened my eyes to weak sunshine and the threat of heavy showers to follow, my mind almost tricked into thinking I had slept until springtime and woken to another summer of adventuring by trike. Instead, there was a slow dawning in my own head that it was colder, winters day. The draft through my open bedroom window confirmed the fact and almost as soon as I gained a little consciousness hail began to drum heavily on my window panes.

2007-08-22 20.35.09
Summer sun: Isle of Mull, Scotland

I slunk downstairs, coffee on my mind and nothing else. There was no thought of food or what the day might hold and my house had an empty feeling. Michele had to head home while the going was good, as they might say in horse-racing parlance. Devon roads are exceptionally adept at holding large bodies of water after hefty rain, deep puddles that you don’t see until you are almost upon them. With more stormy weather in the offing Michele left as I snoozed in bed.

Sitting in a pub yesterday, therapy complete, eating good food as a small reward for having made it there, we waited patiently for Isobel to pass over. By evening she was still blowing at 80mph in parts of Devon, Dorset and Hampshire but by bedtime her fury was lessening. I went to bed wondering what storms Jennifer or Kevin, or whatever banal names they are given, would be like when they inevitably arrive in due course and alphabetical order. So far each storm has seemed worse than the previous. Kevin, as most of us know, was an obnoxious so and so, as were all of us at that age and that doesn’t bode well in my imaginings.

I suppose it could be Kieran, or Kelvin, Klaus or Kurt, we will just have to wait and see. If they name it Kermit I shan’t know what to think or write, Kermit being my lovely Azub trike. If, by chance, they do use that nomenclature, then it won’t be very representative of my Kermit. Ferocious thrashing around and Kermit are mutually exclusive. He is of a much gentler nature. In terms of cycling he represents comfort and relaxation. More tortoise than hare he is better at plodding than blasting across the country like a hurricane might. There could never be anything depressing about Kermit, unlike those long lines of Atlantic lows. To me he represents freedom, high pressure summer sunshine, escaping the doldrums and large grins born of speedy descents and wonderful views.

Anyway, stuck inside I’ve taken to dreaming, wishful thinking and flights of fancy. I’m hoping that it will lead me toward another adventure. Today, Wednesday, has been lauded as the one good day this week. Sadly, the weather in West Devon hasn’t watched the forecast and as I contemplate breakfast it’s throwing it down outside. A uniform greyness beyond the walls of my house now matches the colourless interior of my mind and I’m finding it difficult to find any enthusiasm for pedalling anywhere at all or even imagining it.

2007-08-27 13.12.02
Summer adventure and discovery

I keep telling myself to be patient, that it will clear, but it can easily feel as though I’ve heard it all before. If it stays like this all morning I shall be resigned to yet another short, wet ride during which my dreams will be limited to the warm shower and hot food that awaits my return. My need to ride, to break the mould of being stuck indoors and escape for just a few hours, is becoming greater than the need to wait for better weather.

And so it continues. Rain or shine I will get out. It’s just the quality and quantity that’s under review. Quality I cannot alter. Infinitely variable and completely subjective it depends on where I go and the conditions that prevail at that time. A brief moment of sunshine can convert a dull and uninteresting view into something spectacular and that is part of the joy. Quantity; do I really want to ride a long way in the rain when I don’t have to? I don’t think so. There is a vestige of brightness out there. Not enough to get excited about but enough to hope that it will improve as the day goes on.

I’m left feeling like the stable door is open wide but I haven’t bolted. I’m waiting, coiled like a spring, desperate to express myself physically in the big world whilst, for now at least, remaining locked inside both physically and mentally. Even flights of fancy need oxygen to grow and when it’s lacking they wither and shrivel taking hope and joy along with them. Years of experience tell me that once I’m out it will be fine and that any exercise is better than none. I know both those things to be truisms but I need the weather to be a little gentler and more forgiving than it has been recently. I need enticing more than I used to do to take that first step.

When I’m playing a waiting game like this I do small things that, when added up, help me to fall over the start line. I prepare food and drink to take out. I pump up my tyres and check that I have the tube, levers, pump and patches that will assist in the event of a puncture. I gather my clothing and other garments like Buff’s, gloves, maps and helmet and make general preparations. ‘It’s a clearing up shower’, I hear my late father’s voice in my ear. Clearing up or not I’m staying put, says my conscience, doing everything it can to root me to the spot.

The battle has to be won with patience, an art I’ve learned, but one that I wasn’t blessed with at birth. The growing pile of evidence that points towards my going out expands to the point where, at some near future moment, it becomes incontrovertible proof that I will take action soon. Deciding in my mind which direction to go provides another delaying tactic and a few more minutes where my mind is preoccupied. If I go west, it will be flooded along the lanes. I know this because it always is after heavy weather and it was a couple of weeks back when I took a chance and ended up all but swimming.  South is the prettiest route but that’s toward Dartmoor where the gloom resides for much longer. East is dull, even on a sunny day until you get a fair way away, which I probably won’t today and north just doesn’t work well from where I live unless you take the Tarka Trail which is probably more Tarka Trial at present.

NCN1 heads for the coast
Summer storms gathering

My conscience says it doesn’t matter which direction and my logic says drink your tea for ten minutes in the warmth of your house and then see what happens. Meantime the clock has moved on almost one hour. The day is ticking away as I procrastinate. Time should have a pause button for when I can’t decide what to do. That would be extremely helpful at moments like this, although I have to admit that without time pressure it’s most likely that I wouldn’t ever have achieved anything in my lifetime. Would you?

I looked up through the sodden window. The rain has stopped and quiet surrounds me as I ceased thinking for a brief moment. Shortly after, a chink of blue appears between the clouds. It looked as though somebody had dropped the sky and cracked it allowing golden light and azure blue to pour in through the hole in the otherwise uniform greyness. And what clouds they were. Huge and majestic thunder storms, giant anvils ready to produce booming noises and crashing lightning bolts, sounds and sights more associated with forging hefty steelwork than mere weather. I watch them floating ever-so-slowly past Hatherleigh, hoping they hold their breath.

I suppose I must have reached critical mass at that point as I rushed upstairs and changed my attire to something more suitable for the task of cycling. Not trusting the clouds to keep themselves to themselves I grabbed my waterproof trousers on the way past and stuffed them into the pannier containing my worldly belongings.

Escaping into the cold air isn’t easy. I need to heave Kermit sky high in order to get through the two doors blocking my way to the real world from my kitchen. This isn’t as easy as it could be, mostly because even though he isn’t too heavy, he is a slightly awkward shape to move around when folded in half. There are marks on the stairway walls to prove it and I even have an old coat I use when performing this operation in the hope of keeping my other one cleaner.

Unfolded, seat, pannier and flag in place, all that remains is to pedal away. I lay back, everything feels so familiar, and set off. The decision to head south and then south west for a while is my only chance of dodging the outpourings of the heavenly bodies that now surround my house like the gunfight at the O.K Corral. I don’t care, choosing to look sideways rather than upwards I avoid their posturing.

2007-08-25 15.04.41
This is just a few patient months away.

Heading south means riding against the grain. All the ridges run west-east, so any route going north-south means lots of climbing. These aren’t monster hills. Long they may be, several kilometres in places, but not too steep once you get up a little way. They are the sort of hill that you cycle up while humming a tune and soaking up the sunshine. Without that vital ingredient, humming felt untoward. Where I normally go left at the very top of one such hill I went straight on. The run down the other side was shorter than anticipated or desired and soon I was climbing again. At the next junction, where I occasionally go left, I went right into new territory.

The reason I usually go left was immediately apparent in the form of a long and initially steep hill up to a small hamlet of houses. All the roads to this point went swimmingly. By that I mean they all had hundreds of gallons of water running down them. It wasn’t deep but was almost continuous after Isobel dumped her possessions here, leaving the fields weeping. I rose steeply on a tiny tarmac ribbon through what was obviously the manicured grounds of a once great house. Trees, all planted for affect, peppered the vista to the south and I had plenty of time to enjoy it as I gained height inch by inch.

As is so often the case in Devon, you reach the top only to find the hill grinds on for another mile. Arriving at the highest point around, which somebody had celebrated by building a huge and out-of-place mast on it, I stopped for a little food, to stretch and to admire the view. The law of Sod chose that very moment to unleash what, up until that point, had been handily stored above my head in the previously mentioned clouds. One drop, two, drops, three drops and bombs away. Bugger.

I tried to be cunning by engaging in the noble art of stopping the rain by putting my over-trousers on. It’s a well-known fact that as soon as you place your legs in these horrible garments and set off, it will stop raining. Lord above help you if you dare to leave home without them. On this occasion it just kept raining. A brief look at the map, which I should add is waterproof, and an escape road is found, quite a big one that heads toward Okehampton. Unsurprisingly it resembles a river bed now with the volume of rain that’s falling. It was an easy decision to make and I as soon barrelling east towards ‘Soakhampton’ as it is affectionately known by us locals.

Arriving at the golf course I turned away from the busy road and made for home. The now torrential rain still hadn’t got the message about over-trousers and continued to pour in buckets. The road sprayed water everywhere and despite the effort of pedalling my body temperature plummeted. There was no longer any view and so it was head down and go for it. Rounding a corner, I came unexpectedly face to rear with a huge articulated lorry that was having a large number of bags unloaded by a man on a tractor.

2011-06-15 21.41.59
Driven by memories of this.

With no room to ride past I had to make a decision. The first bag the farmer removed from the long-flatbed for saw him and his tractor disappear for two minutes before returning. There were twelve bags on the lorry, so assuming he wanted all of them I got off Kermit, lifted him up and trudged sideways through the foot deep and squelchy mud than ran alongside the road. Having my feet go so instantly cold, brown and wet took my mind away from the aching cold in my leg muscles. Joy.

Aside from the one hill that always slows me to a crawl; regardless of mood, ability, fitness or desire, I raced home like a mad thing in an attempt to get warm. Somewhere along that stretch it stopped raining. I didn’t care and climbed the bypass still wearing my over-trousers which in turn kept making the annoying rustling noise that all manufacturers of over-trousers build in.

My house has seldom been so welcome and the blast of warm air that greeted me on opening the front door felt like paradise found. I grinned as I packed away, doing all the same things but in reverse order to going out. I fell into the shower, changed my clothes and on leaving the bathroom I found the sun streaming in through the front windows. It stayed like that until sunset, just before which I strolled into town.

Dartmoor was visible again and the cold air made me feel glad to have got home when I did. A huge storm threatened the moors western flanks and I was glad to be here and not there. Days like this mark minor victories for me in my battle to prepare for whatever I decide to do later in the year. It left me buzzing to have been out, even though it wasn’t all that pleasant. My mind will be thankful for this when the storms comes again and we feel trapped. So my advice is that you should keep on trying and going out, even if it’s just for twenty minutes. Your body will thank you come springtime and your mind will be prepared for anything.

Until next time……………………