Winter into Spring

Tuesday the 12th of February saw me take to the bike for a forty minute ride in a desperate attempt to blast away the cobwebs and force some oxygen into my stalled brain. Work has been hectic of late, which for a self-employed person is of course brilliant, but it does mean my riding time is sparce, right at the point when my waistline indicates it should not be.

redwood tree and bikeAs I pedalled out of the village I attempted to formulate some sort of plan for riding. A time trial? An attempt on my personal best average speed? A pootle? Of course, the pootle won out, though I threw in a couple of sprints in an attempt to convince myself I was getting fitter. Leaving the chill in my wake I hit the A36 at speed, hands on the drops, high gears, the wind whistling through the vents of the helmet and roaring in my ears. By the time I turned off to Dilton Marsh I had reached the point where it was too late to go back and get my wallet in case I needed food to stave off the dreaded ‘bonk’. No matter, with the sprint out of the way I could take the rest of the ride at a leisurely pace and a sensible cadence.

The light was absolutley beautiful, bright and clear, but somehow slow. The sun, preparing itself for Spring, stretched out and gently flung its beams across the earth, sending light dawdling across the landscape, almost rolling over itself as it happened upon hedges and furrows in the frost-cracked fields, wrapping itself slowly around shattered elms at the roadside. The ferocity of the winter storms collapsing with a sigh into the outstretched arms of Spring. Again the hedges were alive with birds, their chatter swelling through the lukewarm air, forcing life into the ice-rimmed road shadows still claimed by Winter.

This was a day made for cycling to lift the spirits. It seemed to me that the earth itself turned beneath the tyres, compelled by the revolution of my cranks to continue its slow tumble through space, guiding the earth’s orbit towards the waiting, welcoming sun. This is why I ride.

At Southwick I pulled into the chruchyard to examine a young redwood, at its mighty base the first flowers of Spring had emerged. Redwoods are, I think, my favourite type of tree. I do not know why this is, perphaps it is their sheer size juxtapozed with their soft bark and relative fragility that I find so pleasing. Even this giant sleeps through Winter, the sap reduced to a sluggish crawl. But now this behemoth, though small for his species, was shaking off the frost to begin another year of incredibly fast growth, for though he towers above all other trees in his vicinity, he can be not much more than one hundred years old.  If left untouched and unchecked he will keep growing, perhaps for another 2,900 years or so. Then, even he must succomb to his winter.

The wheels keep turning.

Published in: on February 18, 2008 at 1:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Conference of the Birds

I actually completed this ride a week ago, but have been so busy that I haven’t had time to blog about it. Last Tuesday, the weather was good. Crisp and bright with very little wind. I took a deep breath and set off on the Lemond Etape for what would be my first proper ride since September. There was a lot of water on the road, throwing up a thin sheet of spray around my feet, the tyres rolled over the surface with a continuous hiss, underlaid with the crunch of tiny stones, dislodged from the banks by the recent flooding. Here and there, they settled in curious drifts in the middle of the road, surrounding a larger pebble or a bank of mud. The roads had become microcosmic estuaries, replete with channels of still and flowing water, miniature eddies and currents over the tarmac.


Over the hedge to the right of me, a flock of crows rose restlessly into the air, the beat of their wings made audible by the sheer numbers of birds. Here and there rooks pecked at the sodden clay, harsh calls filled the air. As I came to the junction crossing the main road, a magpie cackled out it’s warning cry, a sound akin to a box of matches being shaken.

Away from the relentless hum of the A-road, the lanes were peaceful if wet. Through the denuded hedges I could glimpse acres of muddy fields punctuated with the occasional oak tree, it’s stag-horned branches stark against the winter sky.

Once the initial chill had faded, and the thermal top had kicked in, the ride rapidly became hugely enjoyable. It felt fantastic to be moving again, standing on the pedals to provide a burst of speed towards Rudge, I could feel my legs waking up, the muscles protesting a little. Weirdly the knocking in the cranks seemed to have stopped, that removed the fear that the bottom bracket was suddenly going to shear off.

Into Dilton Marsh, I eased off the pedals and pootled through. Passing by the church I heard what seemed to be a buzzard call, very close by. It seemed a little odd, slightly lower that the usual kreeeee. Looking for the distinctive shape of a buzzard in the sky, my eyes rested on a male blackbird at the top of a small fir tree. As I watched, I saw it’s beak gape and the low-pitch buzzard noise came out again. By now I had drifted to the kerb and stopped. With one foot on the pavement I stood and watched the little mimic. I knew that blackbirds could pull off some good impressions, in fact I have a CD with a recording of one mimicking a modem of all things, but I’d never really heard it in the wild before. I continued on, but I hadn’t gone far out of the village when a brilliant flash of white feathers on the right caught my attention. I pulled over again and watched five Little Egrets circling low over a network of ditches by the long straight out of Dilton. They wheeled round gracefully with barely a flap of their wings. My bird book, published in the 1980s has these beautiful birds, part of the heron family, as migrant visitors to our shores, but now there are many breeding pairs and they have moved far inland. I hoped they would circle close to where I stood so I could get a photograph of them, but they drifted further away before settling gently on the ground and out of sight.

Further along the road two cars going in opposite directions were about to converge exactly where I was riding. luckily a handy layby presented itself and I simply steered into it without loss of speed. The car overtaking me gave me that really lovely unofficial thank you sign, by flicking first the left indicator then the right. I have used that signal myself a few times, it’s a nice way of saying thanks to someone who has just let you out of a junction, it’s not easy to say thanks when your headlights are facing the opposite way to the direction of the person you want to express thanks to. Perhaps it was just the fact that I hadn’t been out cycling for a long while, but the little gesture really made my ride for me. By the time I finished, I had managed to eke the ride out to twelve miles or so, every mile saw hedges festooned with birds. They darted out in front of me, shot past me at head height, scattered before my wheels and burst from the undergrowth in an explosion of feathers and noise. I can’t recall ever seeing so many birds on one ride. my guess is that the relentless rain had curtailed their feeding, so now with a bright, clear day, they were making the most of the opportunity to get some food.

There’s a couple more pictures from the ride to be found at the Highway Cycling Group Flickr page, here.

Published in: on January 29, 2008 at 11:57 pm  Comments (1)  
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