Date: Friday 30th October - Sunday 1st November, 2015
Distance: 292.4km | Elevation: 2,423m
Start kms: 8,261.1km | End kms: 8,553.5 | % complete: 85.5%
Jersey, the island I grew up on and the place I still call home despite having not lived there for nine years, is not a big place.
In fact, it’s tiny — 45 square miles to be exact. Eighteen years of living there means that there’s very little of it that I haven’t seen.
However, to ride its lanes is to remind myself of two of the somewhat paradoxical joys of cycling.
The first is the reassurance and comfort found in riding through a well-known spot.
Setting out before sunrise three days in a row doesn’t necessarily require a cast-iron determination or unwavering discipline. It tends to just mean laying my kit out on a chair the night before and fetching my bike from the garage. Both go a long way towards providing an early morning nudge to honour the agreement I made with myself the previous evening.
Waking to the sound of my alarm and the low-lying mist of a cool November morning, putting on my arm warmers and getting on the road was made infinitely easier by the fact that I wouldn’t need to engage my brain in any major way. There was no route to follow, no turn-by-turn directions being dictated from my handlebar stem — no matter where I found myself, I would know where I was. Letting my legs take me where they could, I simply dropped my right knee and lent to the left or swung to the right with the curve of the road if and when I felt like it, seeing where it took me.
That turned out being the majority of the island over the course of 72 hours.
Much of it was covered alone, some of it with my dad and parts of it with a very old friend. Between the chatting, the reminiscing and the occasional ice cream, I drunk in the sights, sounds and smells I’d encountered countless times before but that still felt in some way new. An impulse turn would bring me to a forgotten, sun-lit nook I’d neither seen nor thought about for years.
Reaching a fork in a road, I followed the road less travelled and found myself passing through never before seen surroundings and, for a short moment, I found myself lost. Everything was unfamiliar: the narrow, gravelled road, its verdant hedgerows, the new view down onto the coast and out to sea.
That would be the second joy and creator of the paradox: even when you think you know a place, you don’t. There is always something left undiscovered, hidden and waiting to be found.
The feeling can’t have lasted for more than a few seconds before I recognised my surroundings and was able to place myself exactly.
Every time I return home, I ask myself why it is I left. The surroundings are beautiful and the pace of life is enviable. Plus, there’s the draw of always being by the sea.
I’m not ready to move back yet — London still has its claws sunk firmly into my skin and, with its promise of the incessantly new and constantly different, it shows no sign of loosening that grip any time soon.
But three days at home was a nice reminder that, whilst London offers the opportunity to see a little of a lot, there’s something innately satisfying about knowing a lot about a little.