Diary of an ex-ex-writer: It’s not grim up North

     I cannot get over how incredibly beautiful it is here. It most certainly is not grim up north. Or at least not for me, in this particular town, at this particular time. 

     Nor can I get over the absolute joy of the open road. Relatively speaking I have not been road riding for that long. I never got on a road bike until two days before the first COVID lockdown in Andorra with Svein Tuft. Now that’s a story for another time. But essentially, it’s only been three years. There’s a long list of reasons why it took me so long; lack of money, a long-term wrist injury, etc. I’d watched others ride ever since I could remember, but it still felt like a new phenomenon to ride myself. Particularly in such beautiful surroundings. There was one moment today where I struggled for breath, the landscape was so stunning….

….I know what you’re thinking, I was struggling for breath because it was a big climb. That may have been true in some sense, but more than anything I was just breath-taken by what I saw before me. This road was something special, probably my favourite I’ve ever ridden. Something about the gradient, it’s long winding nature and the gentle breeze made me feel more comfortable than I ever remember feeling on two wheels.

It was a journey helped along nicely by the fact that at the start of the road I was cheered on by bin men in their lorry. I could see them for a good hundred meters before reaching them and by the time I got there they were fake rave dancing at me, full on big-fish-little-fish-cardboard-box action. I guess my supremely brightly coloured jersey inspired something in them. They were going crazy shouting ‘go on girl’! I nearly ground to a halt through laughter. I felt like I was in the Tour de France, my own personal Alp d’Huez. I floated on the their joy for the majority of the climb…

…which is funny really, because I cycle to get away from others and experience the quiet joy that comes from solitude. But in the only way a completely random human interaction can, you’re suddenly reminded that humans are absolutely wonderful creatures, when you least expect it. And despite everything we see that’s wrong with the world, there’s so more much right with it. There are so many great people out there. People that make you smile and laugh just because they can. People that make their own day more fun by bringing joy to yours. Men in lorries, that clean up other people’s rubbish and yet somehow seem on top of the world.

I have a tear in my eye when I think about that moment. A brief but beautiful connection. I am often bought to tears by strangers. I can feel overwhelmed by what I can only describe as an all engulfing sense of empathy. It’s hard to explain, because it transcends words. Sometimes I just look at someone doing something completely normal, having a bad time, or having a great time, it doesn’t really matter, and I am overcome by emotion for the wonder of the human race. Maybe on some level I can’t believe we’re all here. Or that we survive day to day. That we keep on trucking when faced with such adversity. Or maybe on some level I feel the pain it took them to get to this moment in their life. I somehow sense that things are very rarely as they seem and that most people have gone through great hardship to get to where they are.

     I rode today with such a full heart. Perhaps because I’d rode a little bit into fitness yesterday and my body was more in tune with Julian (you have to say this in a French accent ‘zhjuulianne’) my bike. Or perhaps because I’d gone with wearing trainers rather than clip-ins after yesterday’s mishap and was enjoying the pure bliss of knowing that at any moment my natural reactions would probably be enough to keep me upright, rather than having to jerk violently to extricate myself from my bike. Or maybe it was somewhere in the dark recesses of my brain the stresses of the last year were actually starting to fade away. I wasn’t consciously thinking about the fact that life had suddenly completely changed and I would never have to be an analyst again. Nor was I consciously thinking about my salary halving or whatever the new pressures that would come my way were. My brain was somehow at peace with it all. That’s the joy of the open road and some good old fashioned suffering on the bike. Everything else just fades away and your head goes somewhere better without even trying. 

     Whatever it was, it doesn’t really matter. I sat by the reservoir eating my prawn cocktail quavers (yes, that’s a thing) feeling on top of the world…

….even the post-lunch brutal climb didn’t dampen my spirits….

…god it was brutal though. I was making sounds I had never heard myself make. At one point I even cheered myself on. I’d been imagining that Matt White was in a car behind me and we were on some training ride for some important race . But then the gradient got so steep imagination wasn’t enough and I just had to actually holler at myself to keep going. How I didn’t see my lunch come up in reverse I’ll never know. Miraculously I got to the top, and it was basically a long and majestic descent all the way home….

…..apart from the brief foray into paris roubaix territory….

….it was an absolute delight….

….right at the end, before turning away from the Peak Forest Canal into New Mills I had one more little sit. I pondered the water and the ferns and the hole in my knee…

…and I was left with one overriding thought, life is simply spectacular. It’s hard, it’s messy, but fucking hell I am so glad I get to do it. Spectacular. Simply spectacular.