Friday, 17 July 2015

Queensferry

Another tough day, with pissing rain, some big climbs and a near constant twenty to thirty mph headwind all the way. All finished off with an even stronger headwind crossing the Forth Road Bridge. However we made good time, which was just as well for my complicated travel arrangements. I am now interrupting my journey to attend my daughter's graduation while my ride companion carries on, his son temporarily accompanying him on my bike.

So this is a halfway point for me in a sense and a chance to reflect on whatever I might have learned.

First, it turns out that the world is quite large, but not incomprehensibly so. Cycling as we have been is not that much quicker than the speed an enthusiastic traveller of previous centuries might  have achieved, given a fit and willing horse. And the pace of our journey would not have been beyond the imagination of even our prehistoric ancestors.

And the thing is that travelling at that pace seems to make you far more aware of how far you have gone, and how much landscape, day length and weather have changed as a result. When you fly you barely notice these things because they happen in the blink of an eye. Even going by train or car isn't the same because during the journey you are insulated from the world.

Making your own way through the landscape though really shows you, not just how much of it there is but how much of it we can explore - how far we can go. No wonder exploration seems to have become something of an addiction for so many ancient peoples. There is something uniquely empowering about it- the sense almost of having potential access to the whole world, if only one took the time to venture out.

The other thing I have learned applies I feel to all sorts of journeys, physical and metaphorical. It was someone like Confucius who said that a  journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, but that is only partly true. Because single steps is all it is really, beginning, middle and end.

The idea of cycling nearly a thousand miles can be a daunting one as you study the maps in advance. But after a few days of actually doing it you realise that the next day, and the next, will just be days, maybe a little tougher, maybe less, than today, but all in all just days.

Similarly when you see a big climb ahead you begin to understand that it is just another climb, and simpler than that, that each pedal turn is just another pedal turn -  no harder or more intimidating than any of the countless thousands you have already done.

What this realisation gives rise to is two feelings. The first is a sort of phlegmatic acceptance that the next pedal turn is not of itself going to either cripple you or finish the ride, so you may as well just do it and stop worrying. The goal of the day is too remote to concern yourself with so you might as well just live in the moment. And, surprise surprise, do that and you actually start enjoying the experience. Sort of.

The second feeling is subtler but more empowering still. Once you can really stop focusing on the goal and the destination, and start instead to enjoy the experience of turning over the pedals (and looking at the view, listening to the bird song, chatting with your ride companion) then paradoxically you begin to find that before you know it the goal has been achieved anyway. You find yourself in your evening rest spot glowing with physical exertion and starving hungry.

Which is a pretty damn fine set of sensations too.

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