A Bike Tour In A Day (Part 1)

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“I feel like I’ve been electrocuted.” I slumped on the leather sofa in my friend’s front room in a quiet London back-street. The words formed in my mind but when I opened my mouth only a discordant groaning emerged. There was nobody else in the room to hear me, anyway; I could hear the clatter of pots and pans that signified the preparation of dinner.

English countryside

I hoped it would be a suitably colossal meal. I’d just arrived after travelling down from the East Midlands. Normally, this would have meant a short ride to the nearest station, a couple of hours on the train and a twenty-minute cycle through central London. But today I’d decided to give the train a miss.

It had been an oddly pressured feeling, setting out on my bike that morning and knowing precisely where I was supposed to end up. I realised that I was somehow much happier with no knowledge whatsoever of the roads ahead, or of where I’d be spending the night. It’s intuitive, isn’t it? If you don’t know where you’re going to end up, then theoretically you have a heck of a lot more options. Nothing’s riding on the outcome of your day.

But this opposes common mentality. We are used to the security of knowledge, the target-fixated mindset of having a destination. The ‘unknown’ requires conscious thought, flexibility, tolerance, consideration, repeated inspection. And we’re afraid of it: we draw up mental lists of what-ifs and easily convince ourselves that it’s better to stick to what we know for sure; minimise the risk of having to deal with something unexpected. No time for uncertainty — too busy for that. It appears to be all-too-easy to get caught up in this current.

I had set off at sunrise and by mid-morning passed a little spot where Tenny and I had wild-camped on our bike ride back home through Europe, feeling a twinge of happy nostalgia. I was following a roughly-similar trail in reverse through the country lanes — my plan was to avoid main roads entirely and create a quiet, rural route on-the-fly.

I stopped for a banana and watched a man standing alone in a field, playing with a remote-controlled model helicopter. The ridiculous buzzing contraption bounced noisily around in the wind, going precisely nowhere, content in its wobbly hovering, The distant pilot landed the thing, spent a few minutes tinkering and filling the toy up with more petrol, and resumed the absurd, repetitive game.

The wind picked up and — lo and behold — seemed to be blowing directly from London. Together with my luggage, this slowed me down considerably, and I spent what seemed like hours crawling up (and down) the low Bedfordshire hills. The temptation to head into Bedford and hop on the train showed its face. With a familiar dull effort, I banished the thought.

A puncture provided a suitable excuse to stop for lunch, and the discovery that the tube of glue in my repair kit had dried up nearly put paid to the whole operation. I salvaged an old patch from elsewhere on the tube and prayed in the name of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle that it would keep the air in my tyre for the rest of the journey.

…Stupid thing! I had carried that damned useless tube of glue 1,600km through Norway and Sweden!