Monday, 6 April 2009

Destination Anywhere (or two bike rides for the price of one)

Friday evening and the sun is shining, the birds are singing and everything in the world is All Right.

Well – no actually, it isn’t: it’s been a really rubbish day mostly comprising me sending increasingly angry emails to people who are affecting my ability to leave on time thanks to being so ludicrously inept at their jobs that they make George W Bush look remarkably unlike a bag of spanners (NB: just incase this is not Universal Slang a “bag of spanners” is a phrase used here to denote something particularly useless. I have never understood entirely why, as one would assume a bag full of spanners to be quite useful in the right circumstances)

Anyway – and veering swiftly down the road of sensibility and clinging tightly to the corner of focus – I finally get out of work about fifteen minutes late: not too bad when you consider that I’ve spent the whole day feeling like I’ve been re-incarnated as a Dung Beetle (IE everywhere I look there’s a huge pile of shit to be devoured)

As it’s such a nice day I decide to take the long way home. Recently I’ve been Embarking On An Epic Journey Of Exploration on my journey home and whereas Stanley was quite willing to trek half way across the southern hemisphere just to ask the most bleeding obvious question of all time from Dr Johnson (the only other white-man for 3,000 miles, yet his opening gambit was “Dr Johnson, I presume?”) I have to settle for finding a safe country-road route that will lead to the bridge over the main road that lies between me and my house.

GoogleMaps have led me to believe that the only possible route is to go a very long way out of my way or to try and find a footpath that leads across the fields – but its sunny and my partner is away, so I have no particular rush to get home.

I set out: deliberately turning the wrong way up a road with the word “Hill” in the title. It turns out that the makers of this particular outlay of tarmacadam were not joking – but the views are lovely. Sadly it is at this point that I realise my camera phone is at home – so I can’t share the images with you on this occasion.

Turning back to my usual route through the country lanes I realise that my opportunity to do this is becoming increasingly limited: from November our offices are moving to a much more built up area and I will no longer have access to nearby countryside as an alternate way home.

Most of these roads I know pretty well – I used them for training back in 2000 when I was preparing for a charity bike ride – however, I have to stop and ask two horse riders for help with finding a way through. They recommend an old bridle path (IE path for horses) as a potential route, so I follow their directions, sure in my head that their words “If the horses can manage it then your bike should be fine” will turn out to be erroneous at best.

Sure enough I find myself on a bike-proof dirt road full of horse manure and bumps. I decide to walk – adding half an hour onto my journey as I follow the two mile route. The countryside here is wide and open, the fields full of the promise of the summer to come. A small group of trees overhang a pool in the middle of a clearing and I pause to wonder how many eyes have seen this view before.

Finally, and just when I think it never will, the path turns back into a road and I find myself on the bridge I was aiming for: feeling sad that the path is too unsuitable for regular travel.


Sunday morning and I’m up early. Again it’s a bright, bright, sunshiney day. Someone I work with (I wouldn’t go so far as to say “workmate” as that would imply some level of friendship) has been telling me about a path that is open to cycles not far from my house, so I am determined to find out where it goes to

Anyone outside of the UK may not be familiar with the name of Dr Beeching, but his name is infamous amongst British Train Spotters – as it was his decision to close many of the smaller train lines that existed through the country.

The rights or wrongs of that decision are still hotly debated amongst those that care, but either way it has resulted in a network of public paths that follow the routes where the trains used to run.

I cycle the four miles to where the route begins and turn onto it. It’s a long, straight route with few turns or variations: to be honest I don’t enjoy this kind of cycling as much as I do the twists and turns of the mountainous roads – the endless straight road is much harder mentally.

As I cycle down the route the first of a group of runners come in the opposite direction, followed shortly by a few more. It’s only after the third or fourth group that I begin to realise that they are all part of the same group.

My first clue is the small green booklet they carry in their right hands: four sheets of A4 paper folded in half with a green cover. A range of possibilities flashes through my head: it could be instructions for the route they are following, it could be a record of times and speeds.

My favourite explanation, however, is that they are all keen Amateur Poets who have decided that the best way to enjoy poetry is in the open countryside on a sunny day just after a brisk 10 mile run. The folio in their hands is clearly a collection of poems: perhaps self-penned, perhaps famous. As they push through the dirt and the stones some of the Running Poets seem unable to wait until they reach the other end and consult a quick iambic pentameter for inspiration to keep going.

Sometimes as I cycle I pass under a bridge; fashioned from fading iron. This is where the mud is usually at its most cloying – trying to hold my wheels back. Sometimes I have to swerve quite violently to avoid an unseen pot-hole. Above me I can hear the distant sounds of the traffic – it is the only noise that isn’t natural.

Finally I reach the other end: only to find myself with a conundrum. There is no obvious route ahead. The path ends in a dead end, with only an empty field to the left. At the edge of the field two other riders stand, equally bemused by events.

After a brief discussion I turn around and head back the way I have come, leaving the path at one of the bridges. The roads here are empty save for the cry of the birds, but already I can see the signs of civilisation ahead of me, calling me home.

This kind of navigation, following your nose, turning left or right on a whim or even following someone that looks like they know where they're headed, is something i've come to refer to as "Zen Navigation"

You might not always end up where you intended to - but the results are always pleasing


Argent said...

I really enjoyed this post. I just love the "Running Poets" thing. Maybe there's room for a new Olympic sport here: the 400m relay rhopsody or the triple limerick - the possibilities are endless. Silliness aside, I do enjoy the feeling of traveling WITH you that we get in posts like this. Cycle on!

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Bizarre as it may sound it's not such an unusual suggestion - a few years ago some friends of mine started a regular group called the Cake Riders.

They would go out on long bike rides and then eat cakes at the other end.

Just goes to show :)

This Brazen Teacher said...

Indeed, your slang is far cooler than American drawl. I cannot wait until the opportunity arises to call someone a bag of spanners.

English Rider said...

I loved your vision (and premonition) of the bike-proof path strewn with horse manure. Your view and the riders' are prime examples of "same planet, different worlds"

the watercats said...

lol.. the joys of bicycling.. I remember why I'm one of the horse riders now! It's been nice to meet you on this blogger millarky!.. cheers!

pohanginapete said...

Ah, a classic Hungry Pixies post. Wonderful: particularly loved the dung beetle metaphor (the mushrooms one — "kept in the dark and fed shit" — has worn thin). And "Zen navigation" — I must remember that next time I'm lost. ;^)

What kind of bike do you ride? A mountain bike sounds just the ticket (believe me, I've ridden through enough crap and over more than my share of bumps), but I guess if you're going to have to commute reasonable distances on paved roads, it might not be the best choice if you're short of time.

(Sorry I haven't commented for a while. Life and stuff...)

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Hi Brazen - it can be applied to things as well as people, IE: the job was a right bag of spanners. Please let me know how you get on xx

English Rider - yeah, i try to look at things differently to most people :)

Watercats - thanks for visiting. Never own an animal that is three times the size of you!

Pete - i ride a mountain bike with road tyres. not as fast as a race bike, but a lot more durable. No need to apologise, just keep in touch xx

Lydia said...

Zen Navigation......that's rich! I'm feeling really sad for you that your office is moving away from these trails as a route home.
Must apologize for not including the explanation for the Zombie Chicken Award, which goes like this:

The blogger who receives this award believes in the Tao of the zombie chicken - excellence, grace and persistence in all situations, even in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. These amazing bloggers regularly produce content so remarkable that their readers would brave a raving pack of zombie chickens just to be able to read their inspiring words. As a recipient of this world-renowned award, you now have the task of passing it on to at least 5 other worthy bloggers. Do not risk the wrath of the zombie chickens by choosing unwisely or not choosing at all…

raccoonlover1963 said...

Hi Pixie
The past few years have seen several bike/jogger paths going in. They are the result of defunct railways closing down and where the tracks once lay, are now paved bike paths. We were hoping that it would happen here in our town. The rail east/west bound rail has been closed down for a few years. However, all they did was remove the tracks and viadocks and leave it as is. Either the rail doesn't want to sell the property, or the city/county doesn't want to spend the money for the change over. I guess it's a good thing that this is a small town and it's relatively safe to bicycle on the streets!
Take care and have a great week.

YogaforCynics said...

I tend to feel that, as long as I make it home at some point, with both my body and bike intact (and, admittedly, there've been times when one or both has ended up somewhat less than intact), the ride can be counted a success...Zen navigation all the way....

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Lydia - yes, it's going to be difficult finding a "scenic" route, because all the routes take me through much more built up areas. I haven't forgotten about the Zombie Chickens :)

Lisa - its a shame the paths aren't being opened up near you.

The best town/city for cycling that i know of is Munich in Germany, because everything is 100% integrated - its a commuters heaven. Here there's a big reluctance for cycle paths incase people get hit...but if it was done right then it wouldn't be a problem

Buddha said...

You don't know how lucky you are.
Here in LA bike riding is suicidal, the only way to enjoy a bike ride is to go to a bike path constructed away from the traffic.
Lucky I have one 10 min from my home and a really nice one on the beach, but that is about 45 min from home :(

Anonymous said...

i conclude with Buddha. Here in the Bronx or Manhattan, people ride, but it's mostly delivery men and messengers. Otherwise, biking is how I imagine the cemetary partially makes their income. there are designated lanes for bikes and cars in the street, but neither stay in their lane.

I've wanted to bike as well, but I mean the half-pipe, twist-and-flip extreme sports kind. Although, I also always wanted to bike down a mountain path. That looks cool.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Buddha - i'm sorry to hear that things are so un-bike friendly there. An interesting fact is that in china there used to be special lanes for cyclists - but now that the motorcar is increasingly a symbol of success they are being ripped out.

Samurai - riding on the road can certainly involve taking your life in your hand: even here. I'm not sure i'd be able to do a half-pipe even if i knew what one was!