Cycling through the witching hour

At the turning point of the witching hour I set out for an evening ride, I just needed to spin the cranks after hearing about Vinokourov being thrown off the Tour de France. A fast ride out of the village, the feeder lane spitting me out onto the A36, I didn’t know where I was going but as long as the cranks were turning I didn’t care. The sun was under the horizon behind me as I sped into the gathering shadows, very little traffic around. Pretty soon I found myself heading down the gradient towards the Frome bypass, flying insects smacking into my helmet and goggles, breathing through clenched teeth to avoid ingesting unwanted winged protein. More pylons, one steel foot practically on the road by the new Frome Flyer Harvester-style motel thing in the middle of nowhere, always a full car park, I never see anyone there. The light is fading fast as I turn back down the bypass and head now towards Frome itself.

A hiss of airbrakes, flashing orange indicator and a rush of air. Huge artic easing past me, plenty of room on the empty road, nightfreight on the A361. Off right and up Beckington Hill, easier now that I’ve been riding regularly, fast through Beckington itself then right again towards the garage.

The western horizon has cooled to a dull orange tinged with gold; black, wet inky clouds moving in with their promise of rain for the coming night. Now as I speed beneath each street lamp the sulphurous light throws a shadow rider onto the tarmac behind me, moving into sharp relief the angle changes as I cycle towards the next light, the ghost racer moves to my right, now in front, matching me pedal stroke for pedal stroke but going faster before fading into the road and being replaced by the next shadow from the next lamp. For quarter of a mile I cycle with this shadow peloton, each doppleganger riding up from behind and dropping me.

Past the roundabout there is only my bike light to guide me, but as I turn off the A361 onto a narrow backroad the half-moon struggles clear of the cloud blanket and illuminates my route. A silent white ghost crosses my path at head height, Barn Owl. Though I have seen many, the eeriness of its sudden, quiet manifestation shocks me and I briefly forget to pedal. Now pacing a flying bat, the moon giving enough light to see 11mph or maybe 14mph on the computer, things seem much faster in the dark. Beneath the canopy of trees lining the road into the village there is no light save the feeble blue-white disc thrown out by my front lamp, it falls uselessly on the road illuminating only a blur of gravel, eyes scrambling in the darkness for a foothold on any shape the brain can process before I reach it. But soon I am in the village itself, all evening meals and blue static flicker of televisions in front rooms. It’s only half nine but there is no one to be seen.

The gradient up to the house scrubs off my speed enough to comfortably get through the gate and past the bins without putting a foot down. Eight and a half miles, enough to read the internet headlines about the Tour’s latest doping scandal without feeling anger. The brief flame of anger is lost to the road, now there is just that strange breed of disappointment that only comes when you find your heroes have cheated.

Published in: on July 25, 2007 at 9:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

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