a lonely war

You Hills have limits –
sides, slopes, summits –
I can measure and master
by muscle and mechanics.

Not so you, Winds:
without edges or apex
surrounding me, pounding me
tirelessly, full in the face.

But I’ll fight you –
together or one at a time –
with rage and resolve and refusal to quit
wherever, whenever you like.

Better you –
with your physics and physical pain
suffering to savour like single malt scotch
that ends when my feet touch the ground –

than the figments and phantoms
that stalk me inside
and I cannot outride, outwit or defeat
with training, or talent, or time.

Who but us

– the driven, the diehards
the hardy and hungry
the lifers, high-milers
the ones old enough to know better
or too young and eager to care;
the addicts and regulars
gripped by a habit
hard-wired and hard-won
that nothing and no one can break –

glories in going out there in this
when people with brains and ordinary lives
sit inside tutting and shaking their head
glad of the glass between them and the fear.

Who but us
pits muscles and bones
skin, blood and tissue
against fast-moving metal
the rush and the rage
of a world that would rather we didn’t exist.

Who but us
willingly, knowingly
always takes the longest way round
the hardest road home
spinning it out for a couple more miles
a few more minutes stolen and added to life.

The ones who go further
longer and deeper
not really caring if we’re understood
or that none of this makes any sense.

And while there’s a road
miles to be ridden
air to be breathed
who but us
would we want to be?

Going far?

Maybe. Just have to see
How legs and heart
Feel when I start. Could be
They’ll baulk, rebel;
And though I beg and scold, just tell me:
You can go to hell
And we’re not coming.

Then again, could be they’re humming
Like a Swiss-made sewing machine
And strong, serene,
I’ll spin through town, into the great
Wide open; hill and mountain will prostrate
Themselves before me. One way to know:
Get on. And go.

Ride to work

Set out today
To look for a line;
A thought, a word
Picked up on the road
And carried home
To keep a pledge
Made to an empty page.

Only to find
My mind consumed
By the unconscious calculus
Of carving through an off-camber curve;

Weaving down a pot-holed hill
Like a raindrop on a window-pane;

Ticking off long, level miles
With well-drilled diesel diligence;

Hustling over heart-freeze crossroads
Like a prisoner dodging the searchlights’ glare.

An hour’s artless, guiltless pleasure,
My mission and all sense of time forgotten.

Yet on returning
Found that my work was done.

Remount

A lesson learned when I was young: always
Climb straight back on each time you take a fall.
Had it drummed in on sweating, circling days
(With ‘heels down’, ‘elbows in’ and ‘sit up tall’).
They taught me well, those steely souls who forced
Me to get up, brush myself off, remount
And carry on each time I was unhorsed
And tasted dust (more times than I can count).
But now the saddle seems too high; the aches
And pains of years conspire to confound
A hell-for-leather comeback from mistakes
And wrecks, leave me afoot, tied to the ground.
I have a choice: to stand here at the rail
And watch; or try again, and dare to fail.

Recidivism

Fail

I tried so hard to quit:
Did my utmost to hang ‘em up,
Laboured long to let it go,
And strived to make it
Something-I-used-to-do.
I bent my will
To turn a corner
And after ceaseless struggle
Thought I’d found
A different path
And determined to walk it
Without a glance behind.

But everything about
The bike and all the life
That went with it
Just sounded wrong
When put into the perfect tense.

And so
I’ve slipped back into my old ways;
Willingly submitted
To the hard and fast rules
Of the road.

And I have to say:
Failing
Never felt so good.