After a wonderful trip to Lanzarote last week and a week long catch up with old friends, G and I cycled down to Shoreham yesterday to meet up with one of them, the lovely Lee, for coffee and post holiday gossip.
The weather forecast was generous for a Bank Holiday weekend and with G’s steed ‘Merc’ currently in the bike shop for a bit of tinkering offered the perfect opportunity for a bit of off road action along the Downslink.
The Downslink is a disused rail line following the old Steyning railway line, a victim of Beechings Axe and has been coverted to a pathway for users on foot, bicycle or horseback. It’s pretty much flat and traffic free and leads all the way to Shoreham by Sea.
I’ve travelled the Downslink many times in the past few years from Cranleigh but have not really taken full advantage of our proximity to the coast from Southwater since we moved. It was time to make amends.
G and I set off at a clip and although comfortable, worked hard to make progress on the way down. Neither of us are great time keepers and set off later than planned. So, although we thought we had plenty of time to get to our pre arranged appointment, we weren’t taking any chances. The route was busy so we had to stop or slow down many times for other users but still made it with plenty of time to spare. We even had time for a celeb spot, seeing Sally Gunnell running along the Downslink just north of Steyning where she apparently lives. She had the decency to look knackered when we saw her showing that Olympic champions have to work hard too. It’s not suprising though, conditions were warm and the air full of the moisture of promised rain later making it very clammy indeed.
We had a lovely chat over coffee and then after an hour or so remounted and set off North back to Southwater the way we had come.
Despite promises of ‘taking it easy’ we found our rhythm pretty quickly and pushed on for the return journey. It was great to be back on the bike and feeling strong.
There are a couple of hills in the middle section of the return journey. Although neither terribly long nor steep are challenging partly because of the terrible pot holed surface. The second of the two climbs is long enough to leave one breathing heavy and glad to be at the top once there – co-incidentally this is where we saw Sally on the way down, maybe that’s why she looked a bit puffed.
We had overtaken a couple on the first climb who had dismounted and were walking. They retook us as we stopped for a few moments. We caught them again on the second climb as they got off to walk again. G powered ahead, overtaking both and made it to the top first. The pair stopped for a breather at the top and as they turned to watch me ascend the climb, she turned to G and said ‘how is she doing that?’ slightly put out and referring to my ability to ride up rather than resorting to walking. G made a comment about riding regularly and by then I’d got to the top, he remounted and we carried on.
He told me of the conversation as we cycled along. It was evident she had looked at me and made a judgement based on the way I look without taking anything else into consideration. And certainly, because of a lot of time off training lately, I’m by no means at my fittest. Although I had a good ride yesterday and did feel strong.
At first, I didn’t really know how to feel about her comment. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and it amused me to see that she was so evidently put out.
Of course what she wouldn’t and couldn’t know is the amount of time over the last thirty five years I have spent on a bicycle since I first learned to ride. Riding is a skill like most things and I have more than invested the 10,000 hours needed to perfect it. Fitness aside, I know HOW to ride a bike and that counts for a lot.
Her comments did serve a purpose though. They reminded me just how much I love to ride my bike. How confident, comfortable, balanced and able I feel when I’m on it…. The epitome of being alive.
I’ve written a eulogy to cycling already in this blog, you can read it here. That feeling has not gone (and never will go) away. It’s just that I’d laid those thoughts down, let the bikes get a little dusty and lost myself in the detrius of life for a while. And now? It’s time to get back on the bike.