And Again, Again

With the temperature in the low 40s F and a horribly strong, cold easterly wind blowing, it was borderline stupid to go out for a ride today. I cycle, above all else, for pleasure.

As it was, while I was out the gusts appreciably strengthened and a few spots of rain appeared in the mix so I headed home on a shorter route through South Oxfordshire than I’d planned. A .75 on the Hengistbury Scale*.

Pigeons hunkered down on a kerb

All you can do is hunker down and wait.

Of course, it’s no big deal. I’ve a home with heating. I can afford the fuel bills. I don’t have to ride a bike. I don’t even have to go out in this weather much by any mode of transport: I work for myself from home. I am barely inconvenienced by it. I know there are – quite literally – innumerable ways in which I could be far worse off than I am, in relation to the weather and in the broader sense.

As always, the problem lies in the gulf between what you know intellectually and what you feel emotionally. If I can find anything interesting to glean from how this weather’s making me feel, it’s the need to focus on that gulf. Without understanding that, ‘know thyself’ is a very distant goal.

*The Hengistbury Scale.

We Are Puny

I’m writing this after a day’s ride was curtailed by some quite foul conditions: heavy rain with a strong wind for accompaniment. (A Full Hengistbury on the Hengistbury Scale*.)

Alternatively, I’m writing this after the day’s ride was curtailed by my pathetic capitulation to some heavy rain and strong wind. Yes, I could have carried on; it wasn’t impassable or dangerous. It was merely unpleasant in South Oxon – somewhere on the wrong side of bracing.

Either way, my tiny, unimportant plan for a decent length ride didn’t happen. Still, I suppose there’s something to be said for being reminded how puny we are.

‘Sandy’, the storm that’s been doing so much damage first in the Caribbean and now in the USA and Canada, demonstrates human puniness with all the impassive, remorseless aplomb ascribable to dear ‘Mother Nature’.

I say there’s something to be said for being reminded of our human frailty but quite what that ‘something’ is, on reflection, I’m not sure. If you feel the need to be put in your place, just look up at the stars. Our puniness in the face of extreme natural events on Earth is one thing; the insignificance of even that puniness in the light of our position in the Universe is quite another.

I suppose the real upshot of it all is that we are unable to fully, truly comprehend or assimilate how feeble or insignificant we are. Instead, hope and resilience and all the similar, generally lauded, qualities triumph, if ‘triumph’ is the right word for the defeat of rationality.

*The Hengistbury Scale.


Rapeseed fields stretching off to the horizon near South Stoke. Clouds lined up to disappear over the horizon and away to who knows where. Today’s ride was mostly in the territory between Reading and Wallingford. When you stop to look, it’s surprising how big some of the views around these parts are.

Photo: clouds lined up and disappearing over the horizon

Clouds marching off to who knows where

I can remember as a youngster riding from Oxford to Reading and being daunted by being able to see the range of hills barring the way – the hills that Christmas Common sits on top of. They’re all too easy to see from when you’re not far out of Oxford. It’s often satisfying to be able to see the ground you’re going to cover – it reinforces a sense of achievement somehow. It can also make you feel awfully tired in anticipation. And I don’t mind admitting that sometimes it can make me feel very small somehow – there’s just me, perched on a bike, exposed and ultimately fairly vulnerable, with just my legs to get me home across all those miles lying ahead.

I don’t know if I’d like riding the really big open territories – parts of the USA for example. That would need a certain mindset which I’ve never had cause to test in myself.

This morning it was a strong north-westerly and I did cut the route short by a few miles – I was simply tired of plugging away in to a cold headwind. (I guess the day measures about a .2 on the Hengistbury Scale.*) However, happy coincidence: solely because of that decision I ended up riding a few miles with an old school friend who I’d barely seen or spoken to for, I don’t know, over 10 years. Fluke can be a wonderful thing.

Horizons, of a sort, loomed large in our conversation too – we’re both living where we grew up as teenagers, and we’re both hankering to move away, one day. There are no imperatives operating on either of us: we just want change – new horizons. Stopping us are the usual things – work and money, friends and family.

What we both have is a long way from being in any way bad. I’m not sure why I find it, I don’t know – reassuring perhaps, or pleasing or something – the fact that we both are very aware of how fortunate we are, but for me that’s a significant and positive thing. But for all that appreciation of what’s good about what we have, we both talked about how we wanted change. On the face of it that makes little sense. I don’t think it’s a case of the grass being greener. I hope it’s not something as base as boredom. I hope it’s not caused by being unable to properly appreciate the familiar.

*The Hengistbury Scale.

Fill Your Boots

Fill your boots … but not with rain. I went ahead, took an opportunity, took a chance, and ended thoroughly soaked and cold. When I was thinking about fitting in 100 miles this week I’d hoped to get 30 in today. Looking at the weather forecast I thought 25 would be fair enough. Looking out the window I figured I’d be happy with 20. I ended up less than overjoyed with 14. (A Full Hengistbury on the Hengistbury Scale*)

The curse of ‘if only’ strikes again. If only I’d gone out an hour earlier, if only I’d not taken that phone call, answered that email, waited until it warmed up a little … if only I’d done something different I’d have stayed dry.

As it was, it hammered down when I was less than seven miles out and when it gets so that you’re cold and wet to the skin, if only in part, then if you can easily give up you might as well. You’re not going to dry out or warm up, and there’s precious little pleasure to be had from carrying on.

‘If only’ is an evil little thought. It can be endless. Me staying dry is neither here nor there. A day or two ago I was watching a TV report about a young lad killed on a night out somewhere south of here – from what I gather, a pointless fight and a needless death. I can all too easily imagine all the ‘if only’ thoughts that crowd in on those that are left behind. I don’t know if that’s just human nature. Maybe it’s just me, but I doubt it – not in those quiet times.

It’s not just ‘if only I or he or she hadn’t …’ though. You need to remember that. It’s just as important to take opportunites. You don’t want to go to your grave thinking ‘if only I had’ either. Fill your boots. It’s a lovely expression.

*The Hengistbury Scale.

A Hard Ride

One day I’ll have an enjoyable ride again … But not today. There are levels of not enjoying it though; today was one of those rides where, on the whole, it was nice when it ended – but it was good to have done it. I didn’t enjoy doing it, but I enjoyed the fact that I did it, if that makes any sense.

A terrifically strong wind and a sky full of rolling grey clouds, coming on top of the lingering remnants of last week’s cough and cold and the fact that I’ve hardly ridden a bike this month made it hard going. I cut it short by about eight miles just because I was tired but that worked out well as it was raining within 10 minutes of getting home. A happy accident. I guess just a .2 on the Hengistbury Scale*.

There’s a small but significant pleasure that comes with escaping something undesirable by chance, through an uninformed or unrelated choice. The feeling of, for once, fate being on your side. It’s daft but real.

On the little lane running along the bottom of the hill from Henley towards Aston I disturbed the biggest flock of chaffinches I’ve ever come across – I don’t know about hundreds of them but certainly many 10s. I don’t know if that’s unusual or not in the big scheme of things but it is in my experience.

*The Hengistbury Scale.

A Bad Ride / Good Guys (Just For Cyclists)

It is very, very rare that I’ll think on a day’s ride as bad. Today’s was a bad ride. Two punctures (Goring Heath and then Checkendon); bad decisions on my part in the light of them; cold; tired; annoyed and fed up.

Maybe Vredestein Ricorso tyres aren’t so good after all. I’d had high hopes for them and the feel of the ride with them has been good, but they don’t seem much of a match for the local flints.

About the only up-side to the day was that four different cyclists asked if I was OK or needed help or spares. It is pleasing to know that the sense of common cause I feel with other riders is shared quite widely. No-one just passed me by.

It should have ranked as a Full Hengistbury on the Hengistbury Scale*.

*The Hengistbury Scale.