Updated: Jan 16, 2020
When you picture yourself riding your bike, what do you see? Either in dreams or day dreams. Do you see yourself riding in a bunch, riding alone, sprinting , toiling up a mountain? Are you smiling in the sun or teeth gritted against the wind and rain? I ask because more often than not I see myself alone on unknown roads. I can't tell anymore if this is a hangover from my trips over the past two years or if this was my default before that. I honestly can't remember. Now it seems that when I imagine rides, I am always riding alone. Which is odd because I love riding with friends and family. More often than not on Friday I see messages and posts from friends asking who is out riding on Saturday, where they will meet, what speed and what distance they are planning. Someone will post up a route or even a link to GPX file for others to download to whatever their device of choice is. Despite the fact I love the Sunday club rides I do, I mainly turn down a Saturday ride with others. Mostly I just don't reply to the open invitations and when someone specifically asks I'll say I can't manage the timing or I'm not in shape to ride the distance or pace planned. Even though I know my friends would accommodate me, I still decline. This often takes some explaining when I pass those same friends on the road later that day and in that moment we pass I see the expressions saying 'I thought you said you weren't out'. Now that I think about it, it's even odder because I'm often bored alone on my bike, so you'd think I'd welcome the company. This evening I've been trying to figure out why, while sitting on my indoor trainer. Yes, I can see the irony of a bloke sitting in his garage staring at the wall trying to work out if he prefers to train alone thank you. Firstly there is genuine fear still that I won't be able to keep up or that I'll manage, but struggle so much I won't enjoy it and I'll curse myself for letting someone else dictate the pace. Last year on the first group ride for the Festive 500 for example, I was uncomfortable from the start and dropped off the group after less than 30 minutes. They were never more than 2 minutes ahead of me down the road, but I just felt better managing my own pace. if I had tried to keep pace I would probably have overdone it on day one and never completed the challenge. Then there’s just the practical considerations of time and place and even just route choice. It’s not always possible to fit in with what suits others. There’s also the question of not wanting to socialise on the ride: I often just need headspace and want to think things through without the need to chat. I know that makes me sound like a miserable git, but riding my bike is a route to mindfulness and meditation, but without all that new age crap and slogans from upbeat social posts. I don’t need inspiration thanks very much, just a bit of perspiration will do the trick. But the occasional solo ride isn’t the same as choosing to be alone for days on end. Some how though it's the stories of solo suffering that are interesting me most these days, from the podcast I did last year with Andy Fogg about the Transcontinental, to websites about cycle touring and Instagram posts of someone's over laiden bike on a remote mountain pass. These all seem like amazing adventures, but the chances of me doing the full bike packing thing seem pretty limited - I'm not even sure if Rapha make sandals, so what would I wear?
Right now I am wrestling with the ideas for this year's Long Way Home. I have about five alternatives in mind. For one of them a mate has volunteered to support me in the second half, something I am grateful he is even considering (imagine giving up some of your holiday time to support someone else's daydreams?). The other options are all very much one man and his bike efforts. I have been toying with the idea of posting the options here on my blog and letting readers vote, but I fear that enough of my cycling friends are bastards who will pick the hardest route just for a laugh. Especially after they read this post and find out what an unsociable git I am.
What is ringing through my head are the words of my wife when I asked her opinion on what I should do next: 'you have to get out of your comfort zone again by making it harder, further and unknown' or words to that effect.
Two weeks. 2,000km.
That's as far as I've got in my thinking.
Back to the day dreaming.