Today is a horrible day. It’s been a horrible week, longer than a week, frozen in that unbearable limbo of waiting, waiting, waiting on things I can’t control. It’s hateful and it drains me, the way I live right now is unsustainable. Shreds and tatters of my former life strewn around the house I am frantic to leave, the looming presence of things that have not yet moved on to the extent to which I want - need - them to. The multiple people and circumstances that all came together to break my heart so comprehensively still fill these walls, oppressive lack, motorcycle emptiness.
Some days it’s light and easy, the children ground me, my heart is open, my thoughts free to fly. Some days the future stretches out in front of me, unknown but certain, no more of that, definitely not that, but maybe that. Some days I’m peaceful, content, hopeful, happy, giddy even. But not today. Today is a horrible day.
So I decide to go out and have another crack at three laps of Richmond Park in less than an hour. Several things are giving me hope that I can improve on my last attempt of 68 minutes. My fitness overall has improved, although paradoxically I’ve gained a lot of weight and since I rode the 400km Invicta Phoenix audax last month I haven’t been out on my Eastway much. But in the weeks leading up to the 400, during which I was riding far more 200k+ rides than I thought I was capable of, something happened to my legs and I think that something, whatever it is, might still be there. It was certainly there at a track session I went to when I found a couple of turns of speed that surprised me. I felt i could keep getting faster, like a plane about to take off, there didn’t seem a limit to how quickly my legs would spin until they’d done what they needed to do and the only way to go was up.
Also I think I have a bit more of an idea of how to ride at speed, last time I just toiled away in a massive gear and this time I feel like I might use my gears a bit more, oddly enough all the fixed-wheel riding I’ve been doing has given me a new appreciation for my little ring. That, and a conversation with a female friend after 200k in which she managed to tactfully communicate to me that my relentless pushing of a high gear was probably more rooted in anxiety and fear of being left behind than any form of enviable strength or previously undiscovered technique. Had anybody of the male persuasion tried to convey this fact to me I’d have probably set fire to them, coming from one of my own, it was far more of an ‘aha’ moment.
Off I go then, in my finest, and it begins to rain almost immediately and I’m half annoyed I left my fancy new rain jacket behind and half gratified, today I want to really bloody torture myself, if I had more time I’d Everest Leith Hill. I relish the cold needles of rain against my skin, heat generation really isn’t a problem for me these days given the stone (and the rest) of ‘divorce weight’ I’m carting around with me and the equally boiling hot waves of unbridled emotion that appear out of nowhere every now and again, just when I think I’m starting to level out a bit. I can practically see the steam rising off my bare arms.
I take my time getting to Richmond Park and marvel a bit at the Eastway, once the most hellish uncomfortable of rides, now a veritable armchair. It’s taken a fair bit of trial and error, and a fair bit of Duncan telling me I’m wrong about everything and a fair bit of arguing that I absolutely am not, but between us we have somehow created a bike that truly feels like home on wheels. Somewhere along the line I have stopped being ashamed of my generic carbon bling and my perceived lack of worthiness, hastily listing all the things it isn’t, like some kind of giant disclaimer ‘yes I know what it LOOKS like but that’s not REALLY what it is,’ and started to genuinely love and appreciate everything it is. Not for the first time, I wonder how long it’s got left in it. It, like me, has suffered through careless hands.
The rain is going to slow me down, I know this because I’m an anxious descender at the best of times, add rain and I’m basically your nan. Sure enough, once I head off proper I immediately brake my tentative, lurching way down the one decent descent, and I’m frustrated and annoyed with myself. I lose so much time through this pissing about, hanging off the brakes, taking corners like I’m driving a double-decker bus, in fact I probably take corners better in a bus, the few times I’ve driven one I was top notch, thanks. I go on about not being fast but I’m not incapable of generating and maintaining speed. It just takes me forever to settle down and remember I do know how to ride a bike, and in the mean time I have to work harder on the flat and up hills to make up for all the time I lose doing the ‘easy’ bits.
Halfway round the first lap and even though the rain has gone and the sun has made its appearance, I can tell I’m not going to hit my target of under an hour. I’m already wasting too much time flapping round corners, and there’s a bit of a headwind, and I’m just not quite the streamlined speed machine I feel I have the potential to be. The three laps hurt a lot - I don’t remember hurting this much last time - and there are few if any highlights. Noticing that I can ride at a much higher cadence, and understanding that once I start to bounce in the saddle it’s time to change up, is about the only real takeaway I have. Other than that it’s pain, quite a bit of misery, snotty crying, the dark thoughts, and an accident halfway round the third lap that sees all the cars ahead of me begin to u-turn in the far-too-narrow road and slows me down even more. By the time I haul myself up the hill for the final time, I’m actually worried I won’t even make the same time I managed last outing. I sprint for the finish point. One hour, eight minutes, and forty seconds.
I roll home irritable. Some days, shit just isn’t happening. Today is a horrible day. But I rode my bike, fast enough to hurt, for a hour and eight minutes, and in a weird way, that actually means something to me. Where would we be, after all, without sadness, without heartbreak, without pain? At home, watching the walls loom in, safe in a palace of unbreakable delusion, clinging blindly to the myth of security and stability with an inevitably fallible roof the only thing separating us from a constantly changing sky.