These last few days have brought with them blue skies and a warm sun, the likes of which we in the UK cannot take for granted as even the height of summer here does not necessarily mean more than 2 warm sunny days strung together at a time. My brother (and fellow Talking Tread) Sam reports that we’ve stolen his Californian weather, and that it’s grimmer than the Yorkshire Dales back in Sacramento. Well, we’re just borrowing it, okay? You probably need the rain anyway.
I left it until mid-afternoon to go for a ride yesterday, and decided – possibly unwisely – to try a couple of hills. I took a route South East through Cheltenham, whose pavements were thronging with shirtless chavs, and started the steady climb out of the bowl of our town up London Road, which I picked for it’s gentle drag which never takes you by surprise. And much to my happiness, it didn’t take me by surprise at all. I turned right near the top to get off the main road and onto a very quiet lane with smooth pavements, then left to take me South East toward Withington village.
Then I almost burst into tears. In fact for about half a mile, it was all I could do to keep my breathing under control. It’s a little hard to explain why, it’s not my first ride since starting with the back treatment, but I guess it was the first one that reminded me why I ride. It’s pure joy. The sun, the Cotswold countryside, smooth tarmac, the speed, the drivers smiling at me (it occurred to me afterwards that I might have had an enormous grin on my face without realising, and that the drivers were just returning it). Once I’d regained myself, I broke into an all out sprint, Cav-style in the drops, down the arrow-straight hill to Withington. So much fun.
However the route I planned for myself was to turn right on Withington High St, back up the hill. I might have underestimated this climb – the last time I did it I was riding with two friends, and I was fitter than both, so I slowed my pace to ride the gradient with them, resulting in what felt like a relatively easy ascent. I guess I’d convinced myself that I could ride as slow as I liked, keep my heart rate down. But the climb was about twice as long as I’d remembered, and twice as steep. It winded me, I crawled up it, but I didn’t stop. A small victory.
And then, again, a beautiful downhill section – this one somewhat more terrifying than the last – through the woods on a thin strip of tarmac peppered with pot holes deep enough to smash your carbon laminate wheels to shit and send you flying into a tree. Winding turns where you pray there’s no one coming the other way. You know, the kind of barely-driven-on country roads with accumulated gravel piles down the centre of it, which you occasionally have to ride over at speed because it’s better than hitting the pot holes. I emerged onto the main road shaky, my knuckles white. Just as I’d forgotten how much I loved to ride, I’d also forgotten how much nerve I must have built up to fly down roads like that, cause I know that wasn’t the scariest of them by far.
From that point on I was able to relax, get into a rhythm. The road gently climbed back up to the bowl edge of Cheltenham, with one last steep kicker before rolling down Leckhampton hill and back into town, setting off the LED 30 mph speed gun sign.
It wasn’t really a long ride by anyone’s standards. Not anyone who reads this site anyway – but for me it felt like a watershed. A shift between cruising round the flat lanes, my ass struggling to get re-acquainted with my super hard racing saddle, trying to remember why I loved doing this so much, and then the shift to realising exactly why I love this so much.
I think it has something to do with hills.
(my ride is here)