I extended my birthday celebration into Sunday by riding my last long ride of the year. I rode the elaborately named “Performance Cycles Winter Mini-Sportive” for just over 100 km. It was actually a great riding day for the time of the year, cloudy and grey but dry and cold enough for a cold start, but warming after that. I was apprehensive, as my last sportive was on the 2nd of October; illness made me drop out of two rides.
The start was out of Southrop, near Cirencester in the Cotswolds, from the Cotswold Country Park and Beach. It’s a muddy but ok venue, hardly a beach though there were sculls parked up, with a small group of riders—it’s limited to 150—and I’d better get used to it, because I’ve signed up to ride on this route in January and February. I rode this last January, and it’s a good ride. The start was nearly 60 miles south of us, but rides across the winter are hard to find. And it’s flat: for much of the ride I could have been riding across the Somerset levels. Hills, I’m finding, are harder.
I kept up good speed for the first half of the ride, above 16 mph, but I slowed sharply as we went through hills northeast of Cirencester, and had to push my bike up one hill. Not proud, but I finished on my own legs.
There was a book review in the New Yorker a while back entitled “What do we think about when we run?” (Cycling was a distinct subset.) I think about it a lot, though. Four hours of riding gives you plenty of time to think. Mostly I work on keeping on going, and, at the beginning, keeping up or increasing my speed. But I also thought about walls. As I passed the lovely Cotswold farms with their stone fences, I thought about how stone walls were brought into New England, but how they were adapted to the new world. Here, in England, stone walls are built from cut stone, while in New England, they were places to get rid of the glacial moraine, places to put the rocks left as the glaciers retreated to the north. A different purpose, though similar in separating fields and flocks, but a very different look.
For me, though, one of the pleasures of cycling hard is the difficulty of maintaining thought, the possibility of cleaning out my head. A friend posted a poem on FaceBook by Wendell Barry, “The peace of wild things,” that captures this for me: “I come into the peace of wild things/ who do not tax their lives with forethought/ of grief.” I love the feeling of forgetting, the sense that I’m approaching the wisdom of my greyhounds who don’t worry.
I finished well, and I’ve done nearly 4,500 miles (more than 7,000 km) this year, counting sportives and my daily transportation. A good day’s ride.