If you spend a lot of time on the bike, life starts happening while you’re on it. For me, cycling is a wonderful escape from the stress and worry of daily life. A beautiful abstraction from money, work, worry, shopping, whatever.
Apologies for the long absence. The Real World outside cycling has been happening.
If you spend a lot of time on the bike, life starts happening while you’re on it.
For me, cycling is a wonderful escape from the stress and worry of daily life. A beautiful abstraction from money, work, worry, shopping, whatever.
While riding you may like to ignore a phone calls, or you may choose to take them. I usually ignore them. I don’t want to break the spell and all too often I’m pushing myself too hard to answer it coherently! So I wait until I have to stop.
Two weeks ago I did exactly that. I heard my mobile go on a fast descent…Easy choice. Then I heard it again going up a long climb. I was breathing too hard and I didn’t want the others to think I was REALLY rubbish when I came up many minutes behind! Ignored.
But then it rang as soon as I got off my bike at the cafe stop on Boxhill.
Bang. It was my father-in-law, Bob, and he was dying. So I abandoned my friends and flew off again.
And this is where the title comes in. This is not a search for sympathy, rather an interesting, introspective look at what happens when life happens to you on the bike, and well, you’re stuck. Cycling isn’t as important as love and death. The really big things in life supercede any cycling trip.
So cycling takes on a very strange, unpalatable flavour when you do it not out of joy, but out of fear, sadness, concern and necessity. Cycling for me, beyond my closest relationships, is my greatest source of joy. And it isn’t pleasant to turn it into a grim task. It taints it.
So I start tearing down into South London. Do I jump the red lights? Do I take risks? I decide no. The first thing a first aider is taught is not to risk yourself and add to the victim list. A little over the top, but I had to tell myself to get back fast, but in one piece, your wife needs you intact.
I rode the 18 miles back home like a time trial. I hurt like hell. I wasted myself. It was difficult to think ahead and plan what to do, but I anticipated the inevitable. I was going to walk through that door, stinking, sweaty, gasping for breath in stupid bright lycra racing gear and clippy cloppy shoes, and my wife isn’t going to want to give me that calming loving quiet hug she was so desperate for. And so it was.
I talked through the basics, as I ate and drank feverishly, shouted instructions from the hasty shower and packed a bag as full of food as clothes. It is not ideal to nurse someone close to you through one of the most traumatic events of their life, whilst feeling dizzy with hunger and hardly able to walk without grunting. We can look back and laugh now! Ho ho ho….hum.
Omalos Plateau, Western Crete
A similar thing happened to me on the Omalos Plateau in the mountains of Crete on the 26th of June 2008. The Omalos Plateau is a huge, eerie crater at high altitude. I’d climbed for 2 hours and was munching an energy bar and looking forward to the long descent to the sea, when my mobile went. Unusually for me, perhaps because I didn’t really like this place and there wasn’t a human for miles, I answered.
It was my Father telling me my Stepmother Emily had died. It wasn’t a shock, but equally, as these things often are, it was somehow unexpected. I said comforting but banal and useless words to my Dad, and set off fast. I climbed out of the crater and began to hammer down a very technical, but beautiful descent, some 1800 metres drop to the sea.
I don’t know if it was the circling vultures (no really) or just a moment of lucidity, but I realised I was in Crete, and he in France. Why was I trying to get back so fast? What was the point? And that’s when mortality and fear hit me like a brick.
I love road descending. I got good at it through experience and learning to blank my head and just ride. Like catching a ball, you don’t say "put your hand out, pull back as it lands, clasp"…etc. You just do it. But this descent suddenly became hell. I was terrified of crashing. Of them contacting my wife late at night after finding the hotel card in my pocket. I was scared of dying. And something so simple became a nightmare. I was over-thinking each squeeze of the brake, each pothole avoided, each non-existent potential tractor round corner. I hated that descent.
I rode back nice and slowly, with aching arms from uncharacteristically yanking the brakes. And that night we toasted Emily as the sun set and I thanked lady luck for my wife and our safety.
Emily Hussey-Pryor on our wedding day
I hope you never have such experiences on the bike. But do carry ID and a phone.
To those we’ve lost and to life.