My constant fantasy is falling off the map and disappearing. Just a pair of bikes and days to fill. I once did that…
Lake District photography from Spring ’09
Life in the city is madness. Too much information. Too much stimulation. Too many worries. Too little sleep. Too many fears. Too few smiles.
The Ultimate Urban Fantasy: Escaping. Going off map. Flushing the phones and leaving. No laptop. No lists. No tasks, bank statements, bills or difficult conversations. See you. Bye. I’m off. *Bzzzt*
I did that once. It was beautiful.
I’d just walked out of a job running an American animation company. The pressure was enormous. I butted heads with the owner every day. I was doing conference calls at 3am on a Sunday morning and waking up shaking. Massive, stupid, unnecessary pressure to earn money I couldn’t enjoy. So I did what I’d never done before, I walked. Told them to shove it. It was too much of a relief to be scared.
So here I was, off my box with stress and fatigue. London had lost its allure. I was a bastard to be with, miserable. A shell that just slept, ate, drank and stressed. So my dear, kind, long-suffering Emmalou said I should do what I’d always fantasised about doing, and disappear. So I did.
A week in the Lake District in mid-March 2009. Two bikes, a pile of kit, a box of energy bars, Far From The Madding Crowd (yes, I’m that obvious) and a room in a country pub with great food.
It took me three and a half hours flying up the M6 on a grey Monday morning to get there. Playing techno too loudly and singing along to soul tunes. First stop a supermarket. Bananas and a bottle of Lagavulin. Then I walked until it was too dark to see. Fish and chips. Bed by nine.
The next day I settled into a routine that I’d stick with. Wake up (no alarm) whenever, eat huge breakfast, cursory look at map, get kit on, ride for four to eight hours. Drag myself last few miles home, shower, eat by roaring fire in pub, pint, lie on bed, glass of whisky and Thomas Hardy’s evocative landscapes. Repeat.
No Garmin. No set plan. Coffee & cake if I fancied. Ride until I drop or just lie amongst the daffodils staring up at the clouds. It was all up to me. It was, frankly, incredible.
Eat, sleep, ride.
I talk of clouds, but actually there rarely were any. Incredibly for the rainy Lake District, it was a beautiful sunny eighteen degrees the entire time. I rode in short sleeves and came back with a tan. That doesn’t happen in JUNE let alone March. The week was blessed.
I had my titanium road bike with a triple for the outlandishly steep climbs, and a carbon hardtail MTB. Each day I’d alternate between long road rides around Lake Windermere and up Kirkstone Pass, or mountain biking around Grizedale trail centre. A full-on XC race MTB is not the best ride for those trails, I should have brought a full-suss. But it didn’t matter. It wasn’t a race. I could and did do what I liked. Just riding for riding’s sake. So I ambled here, sprinted there, jumped, North Shored, descended, pottered and grimaced as much as I liked. Usually all of them until I dropped. Ecstasy.
I just told that lamb a funny story. It was a bit naughty. Mum wasn’t happy.
And no calls. The reception was crap. I only kept the phone for emergencies. Each night before yet another fine pub fish & chips I’d let Emmalou know I was ok and check she was too. I’d have to ride to the top of the hill above the pub in the dark, ignoring the werewolves, to get reception. I had disappeared. I was off the grid. I was alone.
I’m one of those weird people (weird, or is everyone like this to some degree?) who seeks intense human contact and loves being around people, but conversely craves total solitude. I’d worked myself into a stress box before I’d given my notice, talking to clients, animators and staff all my waking hours. I had no more sociability or enthusiasm left to give. That wasn’t fair on Emmalou, particularly. I needed to reset. So the only talking I did for this week was to order food and to exclaim to myself at beautiful bits of Cumbria.
Cycling is the perfect aid to disappearing.
I still fantasise about that week. The purity of some bikes and a day with nothing to fill it except wherever the wheels take me. The only intensity being the beauty surrounding me and the effort in my legs.
Its a huge luxury that I may never again achieve. I’ve a baby boy on the way in January and Vulpine only gets busier. But I work for myself and I love what I do. That difference is immeasurable.
But still, every night before I fall asleep, I imagine the quiet clean solitude of a mountain and the tall trees. And I ride.