Awake at just after 6am this morning, glancing at the digital clock by the side of the bed, my instinct was to get up, get breakfast, and get out on my bike for an hour and a half, clock another 20 miles before Emma was even awake.
But I decided against it today, because I’m aching a little, and it wouldn’t be wise. I played football for the first time in about a month on Thursday evening, and it left me a little stiff. Today we’re due to spend a couple of hours on our allotment for the first time, digging it over and planning what we’ll plant and where, and I’m anticipating this could be quite tiring; probably too tiring if I do 20 miles first thing.
But the main reason I decided against a Sunday morning cycle, the main cause of the leftover fatigue in my muscles, is that fact that yesterday, with Pete (brother-in-law) and Pete (colleague) I cycled a 50-mile loop from Exeter down the river Exe and the coast road to Teignmouth, up the west bank of the river Teign to Newton Abbot, and then through Kingsteignton, Chudleigh, and over Haldon Hill via Old Exeter Road back to Exeter. We ascended 200 feet out of Dawlish, 300 feet into Teignmouth, 290 feet into Newton Abbot via Milbur, and then to a peak of 824 feet at the top of Haldon, according to Pete (brother-in-law)’s GPS tracker. It took us four and a quarter hours, at an average speed of just under 12mph.
I’d not done a serious ride, with ascents, for about a fortnight – since before going to Spain. The day after I got back from Spain I went out at quarter to seven, cycled to Dawlish and back, and then went out past Broadclyst and along the back of the airport, intending to do 40 miles. I hit the wall about 32 miles in, and the last six were torturously slow; I didn’t make it to 40. I couldn’t. I think the wall was made of olives, bread, jamon, and cerveza.
I wasn’t really into cycling as a kid. I don’t think I had my own bike properly until I went to university and bought myself a red mountain thing with suspension, which, with hindsight, was wholly inappropriate for the type of riding I was doing (to and from university, all on roads or tarmac cycle paths). Before that I had an inherited Grifter; we lived at the top of the cliff in Dawlish, and cycling in any direction meant going downwards first, and ergo upwards last, which was not an appealing prospect on a cumbersome bike with three practically useless gears, so I tended not to cycle at all.
When I moved back from university I brought the red mountain thing with suspension with me, and I cycled to Exeter on it a couple of times, up and along the river, on Saturdays, after I’d met Emma, because I was in that first flush of romance, and I wanted to see her, if only for a moment, in the record shop where she worked. Then I put it in the garage, and never looked at it again.
Nine years later, just married, Emma and I decided to get bikes via Cyclescheme, and I chose myself a Marin hybrid, intending to cycle to work and maybe occasionally down to Double, or perhaps even Turf, Locks, on sunny summer days, for a relaxing pint. But then I realised that, when you live by the river, and mile upon mile of almost unbroken cycle path (part of National Cycle Network Route 2) is on your doorstep, cycling can be a lot of fun. When I also discovered that I could track my cycling using the GPS on my iPhone, and log my trips, and count my miles covered… well; I’ve cycled 1,600 miles in the last 12 months, almost by accident.
At first this was almost all along the river; 7-10 miles pretty much every other day, hit the cycle path and go for 35 minutes, an hour, in the evenings. Occasional longer rides out to Dawlish or Exmouth and back. But I’ve built up, aided by the competitiveness of Pete (brother-in-law) and my boss, who’s training for John O’Groats to Land’s End, and now a 26-mile ride seems average. The two Petes and I did a 42-mile round trip one Saturday before I went to Spain, up to Cullompton, across to Ottery, and back, fuelled by malt loaf.
I prefer flats to hills. Some cyclists see hills as challenges; love the exhilaration and the sense of attack. I’m not so keen, a hangover from the Grifter, perhaps. I’d rather hit the road where it undulates gently, and keep a consistent pace. Although, saying that, I enjoyed hitting the downward part of Haldon Hill hard yesterday, pedalling through it and finding the bottom a minute or two before the Petes, who took it slightly more sensibly. But the ascent was hard. I don’t like to plan a route, either; I like a sense of discovery, I think. Other than setting out to go towards Totness (obviously we thought better of it at Newton Abbot), we had no idea where we were going yesterday, especially on the return leg, through Chudleigh.
I’m at the point where I’m lusting after new bikes now; drop handlebars, lighter frames, carbon fibre front forks; something that can take me further, faster, but still have a pannier with a malt loaf and my camera slung onto it for full days out. I want to plan a couple of trips around the camera, taking in spots I want to photograph; the china clay quarries beyond Kingsteignton that we zipped past yesterday for one, a couple of follies and old industrial brick buildings for waterworks that I see in the distance sometimes.
I’ve tried running, and I hate it, but I love cycling. I feel a bit foolish for not realising this until I was in my 30s.