Down by the River

I arouse from my heavily sedated state. For the second time. My Brother who has brought me a cup of tea two hours earlier is heading out of the house for a run. Its nearly 10am. Jetlag. I lug my lead-weighted body down the stairs and see the bacon already cooked and another cup of tea steaming on the kitchen side. Its good to be home. Nothing to do but eat vast quantities, drink tea, and ride my bike.

Hmm, yes. Ride my bike. Its raining outside and I’m not surprised; I could hear it lashing the windows when I was still in bed. I feel my cycling clothing, left by the Aga overnight, and its still wet from the sodden ride yesterday. I settle into my bacon sandwich and hope that it will be dry enough to ride in half an hour.

As time slips towards midday, I finally get the courage to get changed and hit the road.

Living in the bottom of a steep and verdant valley, there is no option other than climbing up a hill to get out. My sleepy mind had baulked at the idea of heading out into the grey windy day, and as such I had massively over dressed. Its warm and sticky outside. The humid air seems to have caught hold of the rain before it could hit the ground – its so thick with moisture that I feel like I’m battling it, as well as gravity.

My aim of five hours of pedalling, I realise, is rather ambitious. Not for distance or energy but it occurs to me that it will be completely dark in four. So I head over the big ridge of hills which mark the start of Exmoor National Park, and down towards the Estuary. The Tarka trail might be one of the heaviest used cycle paths in the country, but today I would rather battle recreation cyclists and dog walkers than possessed drivers on narrow wet busy roads. The Tarka trail hugs the riverside for 32 miles around the Taw and Torridge estuaries. Its main benefit, other than the fantastic sea breeze and views across the coast, is its lack of hills.

The wind blowing off the sea is at the perfect 90 degrees to me riding. I lean towards it and quick find a steady rhythm. The occasional stray dog is subdued by its owner, or scared witless as it realises I wont be slowing from my steady 18 mph.

It seems that the average speed of most cyclists along these paths is more in the region of 10 mph. The look of sadness and disappointment of the faces of some cyclists is priceless: Kitted in brand new Christmas apparel, handlebars adorned with lights and bells and wing mirrors and all manner of other clip on accessories, they’re aghast as I cruise gently by with a smile on my face. They struggled to pilot their hydrid racers against the gentle wind, the extra pounds of Christmas festivities put on over causing too much resistance.

The random 10 year old – let loose by his parents to pedal like crazy – sees me coming and sprints into a fury, holding my wheel for a minute or two. I encourage the youngster to sit in. Alas, the furious base pace is too high and he fades away.

Unlike Colorado, where a 60 mile ride can take you into the depths of nowhere, my ride pedals through many communities. The small cafe on the river in Fremington was bustling with pension aged custom. Instow, with trendy pubs and restaurants, was abuzz with middle aged men in nice cars ferrying their families out for a meal followed by a stroll on the beach. I felt like a was steamrollering past these places, just catching a glimpse of the personality of each little hive.

Past Torrington and everything starts to get quiet. Away from the coast now, the river winds its way into the country. The valley sides get steeper and greener, and the families are replaced by lone dog walkers – the type that are out here every week through the year. The smooth surface of the paths becomes a little greener and narrower; not by design but from the moss and lichen which blankets every available surface.

I look at the clock and realise its just gone 2:30 in the afternoon. In the mood for exploration, and legs feeling warm and full of energy, I am hesitant to turn around, to head back through the maze of seaside community, but I know that if I don’t I will not be back before the thick blanket of northern darkness falls.

I turn around and do it all again.