Going Off-road, On An Impulse

The weather today has been dull and mild, after a week of bright and sharply cold winter days. It has been a joy to have proper winter weather, with low sun and crisp, frost-covered grass.

On Monday, I went out early to pick up some paperwork and got to Ryde by about nine. Usually I would have had the trailer on the bike, and have been dragging files and a laptop and a change of clothes, but I didn’t need it for this errand, and the bike felt as though it weighed nothing, freed from its usual burden. It was a good ride over, in glorious weather, cold enough to cause my hands to ache when I got into the warm of the Learning Centre. I collected my papers, did a bit of photocopying, had a cup of tea and headed home.

For some reason, I chose The Sundays for my headphones: Blind.1 It’s a cheesey album, but it holds memories for me, and I was able to let my thoughts drift back in time as I climbed from the valley below the back of Ryde up to the top of Havenstreet: a journey of about two miles that switchbacks over two steep hills. By the time I reached Firestone Copse, I was riding smoothly and comfortably, enjoying the cycling rather than enduring the journey as I so often do when I cycle for work, when I’m struggling with the weight of the trailer or against the clock. As I passed a gate at the head of a path into the woods, I turned, almost without thought, and rode into the Copse.

I don’t recall the last time I rode a bike simply for the fun of it, without being on my way somewhere, with a purpose. I think it would have been about two summers ago, when I took part in a couple of organised events. Since then, my bike has been transport. I’ve enjoyed it, often, but only incidentally.

Well, this Monday, I rode for pleasure. I was probably only in the woods for twenty minutes or half an hour at the most, but it was timeless. I followed that first path until I reached a branch, and kept turning off onto smaller and less well-defined paths, until I was riding down a leafed-over avenue that barely qualified as a track. I remembered a ride in Firestone Copse with a mate, when I had first bought a reasonably capable mountain bike, eight or nine years ago. That had been the Hardrock that I had named Millenium Falcon. It was stolen from our front yard two years ago and I still miss it. Back then, when it was a relatively new toy, Kev had shown me the tracks down to Wooton Creek, at the bottom of the Copse, where a track winds along the shore, in and out of the trees. Now, lost, but in a good way, I supposed that if I kept heading downhill, I’d reach the Creek.

And, soon enough, I did. Too soon, in fact. It has been a long while since I rode a winding woodland path downhill, jumping fallen branches and skipping over roots and winding around trees and stumps. I didn’t hare it down, but let the hill take me and just kicked the occasional peddle turn to get me over small rises and obstructions. But it’s not that big a wood when you’re headed downhill, and even with all the twists and turns, I had reached the Creek after about ten minutes.

The tide was out, and Wooton Creek, as the name implies, is tidal, so it was largely mudflats. I didn’t see any animals, and the only birds were a flock of gulls resting on the water way out in the creek, but the potential of life was everywhere: I could almost hear the heartbeats, scurrying and squeaks of the life hidden in the landscape. The picture above is of the trail I remember cycling with Kev: It was Summer then, but another beautiful sunny day, and the ground, instead of being covered in fallen brown leaves, shone green with the light through a full Summer canopy. I’m not sure that it is any less beautiful in mid winter, though.

I laid my bike down, got my phone out, and took some photos.

The battery on my bluetooth headphones had died on the ride, and the old, slightly tired pop music had been silenced. I had returned from my memories of another time in my life to the beautiful present; the living peace of the sounds of a wood. Far off, around the bend in this last picture, is an hotel, and beyond that, less than a kilometre away, the main Ryde to Newport Road. I strained to hear the traffic, but all sound was deadened by the blanket of peace that trees lay over the earth.

At one time, I would have smoked a cigarette here; I don’t do that any more, and though I miss it, I was glad to be able to cycle hard away from the shore and up, back through the Copse, without the aches and rattles of a smoker’s chest. Lost, I found a little bit of myself, and when I regained the road, I was travelling with pleasure, for the first time in a while, less tired than I have felt for months, and a fraction lighter of heart.

  1. https://uk.7digital.com/artist/the-sundays/release/blind-1180 []

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