I have to start off by giving credit where credit is due: the weather has been really quite good the last two weeks! I know we’ve had our differences in the past, the weather and I, but it really has been lovely. Granted it’s still March, so I wouldn’t recommend getting the lounge chairs and tanning oil out quite yet, but it has been dry and relatively warm.
After the long and wet beginning to the year, I find myself feeling guilty if I don’t get out and enjoy the beautiful days that come along. So, in the last couple of weeks, I have managed to get out on my bike a couple of times and explore the English countryside.
I have an interesting relationship with my bike. In a way, it’s just like a significant other. I have come to rely on it for so much; to go shopping, to take me to the train station, etc… It’s how I get around. Like any relationship, when life gets busy and you are focused on other things in the world, it’s easy to take a relationship for granted…or in some cases, even resent it.
The bike was starting to get creaky, gears were slipping, brakes were wearing, and so on. Also, being on a bike when it’s cold and wet, only exacerbates those two undesirables. On a bike, the cold air is always colder, and you manage to hit about 500% more raindrops than you would walking. So, yes, I was starting to resent my bike.
Fortunately, the sun came out and I had a desire to get as far away from my apartment as I could, as cheaply as possible. The best option, of course, was to take my bike out. So, I oiled up the chains, tightened up the breaks and set off one day last week, in a generally Southern direction. I didn’t have an agenda or a specific route, so whenever I came to a crossroads, I made an instinctive decision and went with it…usually this was the side road that looked less traveled (not because of how poetic that sounds, but more because there’s less traffic…or both).
I came across a couple of interesting places and just generally enjoyed the lovely weather and countryside. But more importantly – and as weird as it sounds – I fell in love with cycling again. Quality, intimate time spent together can really help a relationship. Of course, we still have to do the mundane things together, like getting groceries, but now its with a mutual appreciation. So, now I’m going to become a marriage counselor…
WIGHT IS THE NEW GREEN
This new “bike love” coupled with the travel bug which I mentioned I had caught in my last post inspired me to get out again as soon as possible.
Do you ever hear a random, sometimes nonchalant comment about something, or someplace and it just captures your imagination? It happens to me all the time. It happened to me with the Isle of Wight about 6 months ago, and it has stuck in my mind since. As you may have guessed, that was to be the stage for my next lap of the Tour de Sean.
On St. Patrick’s Day, I awoke early – roughly the time I had been accustomed to going to bed on that Feast in recent years – and made the early trip down to Southampton on the train, where I then boarded a Ferry over to the Isle of Wight.
By 10:15 I was on the Island ready to go! When I was planning my trip I wasn’t sure where I was going to go. Should I go across the Island? A half loop? Oh decisions, decisions. Anyway, I saw that there was a bike route more or less around the Island that looked manageable. I estimated that it would be a little bit over 50 miles round trip and if I got tired or it was late, I could just cut across to shorten the trip. For reference, 50 miles is a good 10-15 miles more than I’ve gone out to do in one day. I was confident it was completely manageable, but knew it would be tiring.
As it turns out, I hit the 50 mile marker about 3/4′s of the way around the Island. Oops, don’t ask me for estimates.
The trouble was, I was torn between following the signs for the bike route – which were slightly sporadic in the first place – and finding an adventure down some side street. I also felt this centrifugal force pulling me out towards the coast as well. So, more often than not, when the signs pointed me inland I would take the opposite road staying along the coast. It’s an Island at the end of the day isn’t it…How lost could I get?
It turns out that I did a bit of hiking as well…through a jungle…with my bike on my back. Essentially, I got lost.
Luckily, there was no one around, so I didn’t have to compromise my manhood and ask for directions.
All this shenanigans was due to road closures. When you are on a bike, you automatically turn into a bit of an anarchist. You’re not restricted to the dullness of pedestrian life, but off the sidewalks road signs when inconvenient don’t really mean that much either.
Someone recently posted on facebook “pedestrians don’t like drivers, and drivers don’t like pedestrians, but everybody hates cyclists” (or something to that effect) and I would admit there’s some truth in that.
But I digress. The point is; however, no matter how many “Road Closed” signs I read, I still refused to turn around. I would think, “surely there must be some way through for an innocent biker like me?”
In some cases there was such a path, but not everytime; not this time! So cruising down a quiet wooded road (3 road closed signs later), I finally get to a point where the road is closed! Like severely closed; steep rise to a cliff on one side and a steep wooded hill on the other. It was probably about 2 miles back that I saw the last major turn off and turning back is like admitting defeat, which I am too stubborn to admit.
surveyed the situation and saw a little footpath just down the hill to the left that looked like it might just meander parellel to the road for a little while. So, I thought, why not follow that and pop back up in a few hundred yards and find the road again.
Perhaps not the best idea.
I muddled down the path for a while, sometimes carrying my bike over my head and kept going up to check for the road…which apparently wasn’t closed, but had rather disappeared. I guess they just didn’t have any “ROAD DISAPPEARED” signs on hand. In any case, it became apparent that there was some serious landslides in the area and that was the reason for the missing road.
Again, instead of turning back, I stubbornly pushed through this thickening jungle on this treacherous landslide, feeling all but lost – but smiling at the thought of my lunacy. Eventually, but not without a few moans of desperation, the road did appear again. It was easily the most difficult half mile on the trip.
I still have no idea if it saved any time or not, but it makes for a good story.
The rest of the loop went smoothly. I made a nice stop at a pleasant Benedictine Abbey called Quarr Abbey and saw a number of nice beaches and quaint waterside towns rising up from the water. I won’t bore you with anymore details at this point, but pictures are below.
All in all, I ended up cycling 70 miles!
There is something therapeutic and almost spiritual about cruising along on your bike on an empty road. They way you can swiftly move forward, all on your own power; while simultaneously leaving difficulties behind and attacking new ground. Sure, you face challenging hills that can slow your pace, make you huff and puff, and wear you down; but if you keep pushing, you get to the top and it’s a brilliant moment of achievement!
More often than not, you are awarded with a brilliant view of the valleys below; behind you can see what you have already achieved and before you the horizon presents a new challenge. Then on top of that, you get to go down the other side and that feeling of momentum and pace with which you move, with almost no effort makes you appreciate all the hard work that has come before.
The road ends up leveling off at times as well, with only gradual and steady ups and downs. I actually find these times the most productive. You aren’t setting records, but you are consistent, mile after mile chalking down a steady pace. It’s during these intervals that you are building up the resolve to attack the next challenge, the next mountain; with its beautiful views and the wonderful sense of accomplishment that makes life worth living.
And that was my St. Patrick’s Day this year. Wight was my green.
ON THE PITCH AGAIN
I meant to write more about this, but got so excited writing about my biking adventures that I lost track. I’ll give you a brief rundown. I’ve played 4 games with Thatcham Town in the last 2 weeks. It all started pretty abysmally with 2 poor losses, in which we didn’t play well at all. Then finally, we managed to turn things around in the third game and won 3-1 after a very good second half performance. In the last game, we ended up losing again to the 2nd place team in the league, this time only 1-0. It was a tight encounter though and a much better performance all around. It was certainly not a step back from our solid victory earlier in the week.
I have been playing well, but definitely improving every game. The 6 weeks off definitely made me a bit rusty. However, after an injury to a teammate in the second game, I have been playing in a less favored position at defense. While I’m still playing well there, its not as fun as playing a more attacking role. For now as long as the team continues to improve form, I’m happy to do a job there. I even managed to get our Man of the Match award in the last game, which was nice, but you would always prefer a win.
Just like being back out on the bike, it’s great to be getting back out on the pitch. I’m slowly falling in love again. I’m still down in the valley, trudging along through the flats, trying to make it to the mountain. It will be a long challenging journey to the top I am sure, but it will be worth it!
You might say I came to a road closure and had to get off my bike and carry it through a jungle recently, but the most important thing is that I’m back on it again and moving forward.
Until next time, Go head first!
PS: Yes, for those wondering, I was extremely saddle sore at the end of the day!