Having studiously avoided the lemming run to the South West on Superspeader Saturday, I venture out somewhat tentatively to see what the roads hold in store. The weather reminds me of the Ayrshire coast, with a vicious Westerly blowing clouds across the slowly clearing sky. At least the tailwind is welcome.
Up Brickyard Road towards West Hill I suddenly realise, with the sudden increase in traffic, just how close the A30 is at this point. Where previously I had been aware only of a body of trees, the noise and flashing colour of traffic now makes me it see it is little more than a thin screen, six or seven trees deep at most. A lark flies suddenly from the hedgerow and darts ahead of me for a second before escaping to the fields, as desperate to escape the metal crowds as I am.
As any cyclist will tell you, any creak or clank from a bike inevitably sounds like it is coming from the bottom bracket. And if you happen to have a Trek BB90 press fit, chances are it is. So it is that for the past couple of months I have laboured long and hard replacing bearings (even went so far as to fit a Token Ninja bb), switching cranks and pedals, fitting new chainrings, cassette and chain… just about everything you can think of. Even got a new saddle after discovering the Specialized Toupe had a completely broken shell (apparently it’s A Thing… thankfully… I’m surely not THAT heavy). Sometimes the creaks would disappear and the first 20km would be quiet before the noises crept back in, amplifying with the distance. So today I thought, okay, let’s switch out the back wheel for one that’s six years old. Because, you know, maybe it’s the wheel…
It’s the wheel.
So sure, the old wheel is a bit out of true and I’ve got mis-matched tyres for a while, but it’s not until you find the distraction of a creak gone that you realise how delicately it was making you pedal. The clouds might be gathering in the hills around me, but mentally it’s like a great weight has been lifted.
Despite the headwind home I detour via Thorverton and Raddon for a few additional kilometres. Sprinting up the inclines through the village of Langford I pass the sign for Langford Park Luxury Care Home and once again cannot help but think of Prefab Sprout. Coincidentally I have not long finished watching the excellent ‘I Am Not Okay With This’ on The Netflix, which features a terrific scene soundtracked by perhaps the most well known single from ‘From Langley Park to Memphis’. Hot dog, jumping frog, Albuquerque indeed.
This week has been one of warm temperatures and winds that switch direction by 180 degrees during the day. If I had my time to myself this could have meant planning a route where I might have a tailwind most of the way around. Instead I’m riding to school when, even at 11am, there is still a headwind, knowing that in the four hours before I can start for home again, it will be a headwind once again. Feel certain this is allegory for These Times.
Home again from school, the temperature sensor on my Garmin hitting the 30 degree mark. The strong headwind might be a pain to the legs, but at least it stops that heat from boiling my head. Ahead I see another cyclist and as I close I see he is wearing a black Bretagne Seche jersey. I catch and roll past him on the short rise out of Bickleigh, exchanging what I hope is taken as a cheerful hello. Clearly, however, the notions of social distance etiquette have been thrown out the window, as I sense him latching onto my back wheel for a tow along the valley. Up the rise to Jenny’s Portion he’s still there, so at the top of the rise I flick left and onto the Silverton lane, figuring I’d rather more metres of hills in the heat than giving tows to strangers.
The valley road to school has suffered from subsidence near Ashleigh for years. It feels like the last couple of years in particular have seen permanent placements of temporary traffic lights and various workings as engineers strive to find a solution. In recent months the road has been closed entirely. Riding past today I see the results of the significant deforestation of the hillside, stacks of tree trunks piled like enormous matchsticks amongst tinder dry ferns.
My bicycle is creaking and clanking, sounding the way my 54 year old body feels. At the hight of one of the hottest days of the year I have decided to detour from my usual flat valley ride home from school, venturing up into the hills and onto the farm tracks that dip and dive across the steep-sided valleys that surround Cadeleigh and Cheriton Fitzpaine. Across the main Crediton road at Stockleigh Pomeroy I decide to take the lane up to the summit of Raddon, a climb I have previously only ever ridden in the other direction. In the open valley there was a cooling headwind, but here, hemmed in by towering hedgerows and a blistering blue sky the atmosphere is airless, breathless, like super-heated molasses. Around another bend the tarmac pitches up close to twenty percent and I feel what little strength I have left desert my body. The physical desolation feels perversely heavenly.
It has been too easy to slip into negative thoughts in recent weeks; the hope for better tomorrows of April and May lost in the swirls of madness. Still, there remain glimmers, like the bus that gives the hazards flash of thanks as I slow and wave the driver past at the Ruffwell. Perhaps some people are now kinder and more thoughtful. Well, at least it is pretty to think so.
Thunders storms have cleansed the air, leaving it freshly laundered and sharp to taste. Climbing towards home I ride through the luxurious depths of the Ashclyst forest, where the still dampened track spits mud on my legs and bicycle frame and unknown birds cackle in the hidden, endless depths of shadow.
The last time I nipped through Whimple I was saddened to see that the flower bed that hosts the village sign had been stripped of its colour. Today I am delighted to see that a replanting process has taken place and that it is once more back to its usual resplendent state. Order has been restored to the ‘verse.