Bravery In The Fading Light

The coldest night of the year so far, followed by a very slow-to-warm-up day – blighted by lots of patchy cloud. It wasn’t quite that foul uniform blanket of grey that’s enough to depress anyone, but it was doing its best to bring you down.

I suppose in my defence I can say that riding in cold weather has played havoc with the general chronic sinus-related grief I’m cursed by, so my wariness about going out when it is in the low 40s Fahrenheit, or lower, is justified.

So it was that I rolled out at around 2pm, just as it reached 46F, with the intention of getting in a 40 mile trip.

I don’t go well in the afternoons. I don’t really like riding after lunch at all. Needs must – it’s a full week this week with a patchy weather forecast too. And in truth I did OK for the most part, but at about 30 miles the light started to drop rapidly and I had to make a judgement about whether to keep riding with just a couple of small ‘safety lights’, or whether to call it a day and call on a friend for a lift home. I went for prudence and called Charli; I carried on riding and we met up at about 33 miles. It was very dull by then, and the decision was the right one. By the time we pulled in to my place it was, well, late dusk and dusk is probably the worst time to be out on the roads – it’s a far more dangerous light than when it’s properly dark.

So, why this humdrum tale? I thought the unbidden considerations that just turned up in my mind as I was wondering whether to stop or not were interesting, albeit in a not very satisfying way. For a start, I don’t think anyone would ever call me proud but I was wondering whether I’m somehow failing for giving up. I wondered, too, whether I was being somehow cowardly or a bit of a wimp, but I’ve never thought prudence was cowardly nor the prudent wimpish.

Initially I thought the question to consider is where do those thoughts come from; why do I give them any mental time when I know I disagree with them. But really, I guess, that’s easy enough to answer: ‘macho values’, for want of a better shorthand, are all too commonly held desirable, particularly for males. On the whole they’re stupid but that’s never stopped a notion from having currency.

Perhaps a more interesting angle to ponder is why I was happy to ‘fail’ and ‘wimp out’. I’m not sure what the answer is. Maybe it’s age and the lessons of experience, but I’m not sure I’d have behaved any differently 20 years ago. Perhaps it’s rooted in the way I’ve rarely felt the need to prove myself to anyone other than myself – I just never have. (For that matter, I’m not interested in competing with others either; the only person I ever feel a need to beat is me and all the limitations I come with. If I beat someone else at something – so what?)

Perhaps I’m really very macho; perhaps it would be more sensible if we all recognised that knowing your limits, knowing what’s prudent, knowing when to stop as well as when to carry on, is harder than just ‘toughing it out’ or ‘carrying on regardless’. Perhaps.

And then you read of someone like Tommy Godwin, who in 1939 set the record for the most miles ridden in a year – a record that still stands. His utterly staggering 75,065 miles – yes, seventy five thousand – makes any notion of effort, endurance, bravery or anything else on my part that I might even vaguely think of as laudable into a permanent and very deep shade.