The weight of the world
Slips off my shoulders
And into my back pocket
As the road tilts
And the universe shrinks;
Wrenching the pedals like bolts long rusted in,
Chain strained into a steel girder,
The newton-metres packed like powder
Into every joint and tube.
Forget the top
My heart and limbs from tearing loose
This yard of chalk-bleached, frost-cracked road
This shard of telescoping time
This roaring in my ears and chest
Are all I know and understand.
A welcome stepping-off
And reconnecting with the world.
For no other reason than I felt like it, today’s 30-mile outing included the steep, narrow road (known as a bostal in these parts) that zig-zags up the north face of the South Downs to Bo Peep. It’s a cul-de-sac, ending in a car park on the South Downs Way: to the south, there are wide views to Brighton and the English Channel; to the north, a notch in the hills frames a slice of the Weald. I haven’t ridden it in several years – and after a mile I remembered why. The whole 1.5-mile climb has a rather underwhelming average grade of about 5% (1 in 20) but this kicks up to a shade over 11% (1 in 9) in the second half. (To illustrate the true paltriness of my achievement, the classic Tour climb of Alpe d’Huez is eight miles long, at an average grade of 8% (1 in 12), and is usually preceded by about 100 miles of racing including several other Alpine summits.) I was reduced to walking pace on the final horrible ramp before the top, but somehow managed to avoid using the dreaded gear-of-last-resort. The descent was like being thrown off a tall building, prompting fervent prayers of gratitude to the cycling gods for giving us the hydraulic disc brake. Good vibes all round; and reassuring to know my aging carcase can still be persuaded to do these things. Albeit not very often. N.