Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Good, bad and downright ugly memories of my first 2000 miles

I passed a milestone this week. Nothing unusual about that. There are lots of the things on the roads round here, most of them useful only if you intend making an ambitious trip along the A-roads to Chester or London.
 
This one was different, though. This milestone was a numerical one, on my bike computer. Having watched the odometer like a hawk in recent days, I finally reached 2,000 miles.
 
Now I know that for 'real' cyclists, 2,000 miles is nothing. Heck, you probably do that in a month. For me, though, it's a mountain climbed. It's 2,000 miles of falling off the bike; of feeling so tired after my first 20 mile trip that I was in bed by lunchtime. It's new lanes explored, new friends made, new places to ache.
 
It's 80,000 calories. That's almost 750 (two-finger) kit-kat bars. Even I haven't eaten that many.
 
Having celebrated my 2,000 miles with a hot chocolate, I was in reflective mood.
 
Hot chocolate can do that to a person.
 
Looking back on the highs and lows of my post-Olympic pedalling, I recalled the euphoria of completing the London to Brighton ride this summer. I remembered taking part in a surreal tortoise-versus-actual-hare race along an otherwise empty country lane. The hare had me beat on the climb but my weight advantage took me into the lead downhill. 
I remembered all the times I have cycled myself happy. Science geeks tell me it is endorphins. I prefer to believe it is the feeling of sunshine on my back, the scent of wild flowers in the hedgerows and those euphoric moments when the music in my head matches the spinning of my feet.
 
A lot of the highs AND lows were provided by other road users. This is something that is occasionally overlooked in reports about 'bicycles and cars'. I'm not a bicycle, any more than the person forcing me to take evasive action as they reverse out of their drive and into my path, is a car. Describing us thus, depersonalises us and suggests that our humanity is defined by the wheels beneath our feet.

Just because I ride a bike doesn't make me think or behave exactly like every other cyclist. Equally, it is absurd to assume that people are all the same simply because they drive a car. One of those people is me, too.
 
I've come across some wonderful, considerate motorists on my travels. There are those who pause at the top of a hill even when theirs is the right of way, to let me huff my way to the top of the climb instead of forcing me to attempt a hill-start that will end in disaster.  There are others who stop, mid-way round a roundabout, to let me enter the traffic. Some HGV drivers will even 'block' other vehicles and ensure me safe passage.
 
By far the majority of road users go out of their way, quite literally, to give me space. Remarkably one lady motorist, stopping like me to use town centre loos last week, even volunteered to wait outside and guard my bike when she found me hopping up and down on one leg attempting to fasten a too-short lock around stubby railings. 

During one of my all too frequent puncture episodes, the driver of a 4x4 stopped, reversed and asked if he could give me and the bike a lift home.
 
I always but always, thank motorists. I usually get a smile in return and it's not unknown to have a kiss blown through the windscreen. Remember the wind is probably flattening my wrinkles.
 
But by golly, there have been some prats.
 
My personal lows include a pair of boy racers who accelerated and swung into floodwater, laughing like hyenas to see me coated in the resulting spray. More numerous and directly dangerous though are the elderly motorists, to whom I am all too evidently invisible.
 
In cities, heavy goods vehicles present a terrifying hazard. Here in the countryside, even the heaviest are outweighed by the threat posed by an army of pensioners on their way to the post office. 
 
I'm attuned, now, to a certain kind of small car. It will be neat, clean and slow-moving. It will glide serenely  onto roundabouts, its pilot looking neither right nor left. It will pull out of side roads without a glance at the screaming cyclist and on the busier main roads its nervous driver, white knuckles gripping the steering wheel, would rather press me into the hedge than risk moving out towards the central white line.
 
Just a glimpse of a Nissan Micra is enough to have me twitching for the brakes.
 
I support the call for cycle space in cities and the efforts to reduce the times that lorries and cyclists are forced to share the busy roads. To that I would add, though, a requirement for mandatory tests of eyesight, reaction times and driving skills for every motorist over 70. Testing should be free. For those over 80, it should take place annually.

I know that these motorists value their independence but I value mine, too. And to be blunt, I want to be independent on a bicycle, not a wheelchair.

My first 2,000 miles on a bike have left me stronger, mentally as well as physically. I've gained confidence both on and off the road and I've got bags more energy. The determination to go further, climb higher and keep pedalling have helped me believe I can overcome other obstacles in my life, too. I might not be a better cyclist but as a cyclist, I'm a much better person.   

3 comments:

  1. Well done on your achievement. I still remember the feeling of hitting smaller milestones than this.

    Like you I've had offers of help from motorists and thankfully declined. Most drivers are amicable on the road, some are very nice and the a small few are tossers.

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  2. First read of your blog and I love it.
    You do get a strange feeling that certain cars are going to cause you problems as soon as you see them
    I'm getting very close to hitting the 2000 mile mark for a year, 135 miles to go. Last year I did 260 miles so a nice big jump.
    Feel free to follow my progress at www.cyclingfromfattofit.blogspot.co.uk and I look forward to more post like this one.
    Dave

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  3. Thanks so much Toby and Dave.
    I'm so pleased you like the blog Dave - yours looks a lot more professional! Keep going with those 135 miles, just think how incredible you'll feel at the end of the year. The only problem being, what's your target for 2014?!
    Toby I love your quote about drivers and I couldn't have put it better myself. A small few...they really are, aren't they?

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