Monday, 4 June 2012

Solitude is a wonderful thing

This cycling adventure is turning out to be a heady mixture of crazy connections and opportunities for me and my cycling-round-the-world buddy James. Following our trip to Eton, to visit Hazel and Fred who we met on the trip to Cardiff, we found ourselves driving along narrow, high-hedged, one-car-wide Devon lanes with our bikes in the back of my Ford Ka (the mini of the Noughties) on our way to a 61 mile charity cycle on Dartmoor. The weather was boiling so I hadn't even packed my cycling jacket, speedometer or cycling gloves. ( I am aware that the last two don't relate to the weather - more about disorganisation).

As we turned into the driveway of the beautiful Sandridge Park home of our hosts Rosemary and Mark Yallop, I knew it was going to be a memorable trip. Their home is a beautiful John Nash villa built in 1805 tastefully restored by Rosemary who is also is doing a PhD at Oxford on Italianate villas in England. Her daughter Olivia is heading there next year and was a little apprehensive about being at university with mum.

From the moment we arrived, the Yallops were wonderful hosts. Rosemary plied us with rose, introduced us to more lovely people and encouraged us to walk in the beautiful grounds of Sandridge Park with views across the River Dart. We ended the evening with a barbecue banquet exchanging expectations of the cycle to come. And no there weren't lashings of ginger beer.

Everyone there had come to raise money for Horatio's garden - a therapeutic facility at the Duke of Cornwall spinal injuries centre. Horatio was a pupil at Eton who died in a tragic accident. All his Eton mates called him Dave - a public school thing.

Next morning, over a hearty breakfast I chatted with some of the nine boys who had come down from Eton to take part in the cycle. They were all polite and incredibly well mannered. Olivia very kindly lent me some sailing gloves as a very good substitute for the cycling variety.

When we were invited to join a charity cycle in Devon - famous for its cream and custard and Dartmoor - famous for its prison, its Neolithic stone lines and its peat bogs - I did not think about the endless hills. There is only up and down. But mainly up.

My cycling buddy James had been talking for some time about cycling an event at his own pace. He wasn't sure about whether this would be it. We had a safety briefing and something was mentioned about changing your own punctures. James turned to me and reassuringly promised he would cycle with me. Phew.

Horatio's parents spoke and thanked everyone for taking part to celebrate their son's life. How amazing to have channeled their energy into somethingso positive.

We were off.

Fit 40 year old men were setting the pace. James went for it. The starting line was the last I saw of him. There were now 61 solitary miles ahead of me. I had two mantras in my head. One from my German friend Anke, 'keep pedalling' and the other from my mum 'remember the hare and the tortoise'. I just kept going.

The first 33 miles turned out to be quite sociable. I met a woman who had cycled from Land's End to John o' Groats and a Cardiff couple - the man had trained with Horatio's dad. At the second waterstop the sun was shining and there were lots of people. But that was the last I saw of the human race.

31 miles is not far to cycle by yourself necessarily but when you have already cycled 30 miles and every mile is up. It felt like a long way. A few miles later on the top of the moor I passed a woman enjoying the sunshine sitting on a fold-up chair - there to support the cyclists I presumed. She called as she clapped 'Well done!' and then added slightly less helpfully 'Why are you on your own?'. As I kept pedalling I considered whether she genuinely expected an answer to this million dollar question. I decided then, that when I wrote about this cycle it would be about solitude.

The scenery was beautiful - the desolate moors, stunning panoramas and the occasional Dartmoor pony. (Clearly the inspiration for the 80s plastic favourite- My Little Pony - though I was much more of a Transformer girl personally.) And there is something wonderful about having time to think, time to reflect and be inspired. Although sometimes as the rarely quoted Hollywood philosopher Clare Danes has said “I have a huge, active imagination, and I think I'm really scared of being alone; because if I'm left to my own devices, I'll just turn into a madwoman.”

I cycled on. And I didn't go mad.

The only point where I came close was when I had to brake suddenly on a windy narrow road when a car came around the corner. My only option was to fling myself into the hedgerow which at that point was entirely nettles. Did you know nettles penetrate cycling tops? The man driving generously watched as I ungraciously removed myself from the bank. I assured him I was fine and just humiliated. He reassured me 'Don't worry - no one will ever know'. Exactly. That's what I don't like about solitude.

James took 5 hours 58 minutes to finish. I took 8 hours and 20 minutes -James was there to video my sweaty entry to the Dartmoor car park . There is apparently an African proverb “It is better to travel alone than with a bad companion". So does the fact that there is such a difference in our pace make us unsuitable cycling round the world buddies? If this cycling pace is anything to go by when I reach California James will already be in New Zealand. At the end I was only pleased to have finished and really pleased for James that he'd got to test his legs. We're not racing round the world. It's about enjoying the journey. And as we compared experiences about different spots along the way on the drive home my thoughts could be summed up with this:

“Solitude is a wonderful thing - so long as you can talk about it with someone afterwards”.

No one seems to know who said it but I don't think I could sum up my reasons for wanting to cycle round the world with someone else better. As much as I can share through writing it's very different having someone to share those experiences along the way. It more than doubles the fun.

Hopefully James will get used to admiring the views at the top of hills whilst he waits for the tortoise. After all, 'the Hare' by himself wouldn't be such a good story.

In memory of Horatio who loved adventure
Please donate to Horatio's Garden here:

No comments:

Post a Comment