Date: Sunday 23rd August, 2015
Distance: 18.7km | Elevation: 380m
Start kms: 6,340.0km | End kms: 6,358.7km | % complete: 63.6%
Destinations: New Cross
“Cycling is about getting outside and into the elements and you don’t need to be listening to Queen or Slayer in order to experience that. Immerse yourselves in the rhythm and pain."
So The Rules state.
And it’s true.
On the weekends, it’s an easy one to follow. New and unexplored roads. Familiar runs to be conquered once again. Flanked by friends. Sun. Wind. Sometimes rain. On the good days the elements and your surroundings push you on. On the bad days, they at least provide a distraction.
Then there’s the commute.
It beats forcing your way on to an over-crowded tube carriage. It’s wildly better than sitting on the top deck of a bus willing yourself to stop sweating. Placed next to standing shoulder to shoulder with an overworked, overheating, overly-moist city worker, the bike wins every. single. time.
But there’s no getting around the fact that it’s the same 9km of road twice a day every day.
Thanks in no small part to my mild Strava obsession, I’ve compounded the monotony of my commute in the last fortnight.
Front loading the kilometres at the beginning of the month has put me in a position where I am tantalising close to completing the not-insubstantial climbing challenge of 11,000m in 31 days.
But not close enough to do it with my eyes closed.
The 9km stretch of tarmac that takes me from New Cross to Clerkenwell via Old Kent Road, Blackfriars Bridge and Farringdon Road isn’t quite enough. I still need to find an extra 200m each day.
Enter Jerningham Road, approximately 50m of vertical a mere two minutes form my house. At the end of each day, you’ll find me somewhere between its bottom and the roundabout at its top, replete with trainers in place of cleats and an oversized backpack, doing hill repeats.
If that wasn’t enough, I spent the first 40 minutes of my Sunday making the ascent and descent over and over and over again.
Never has the temptation to plug myself into some music or a podcast been stronger.
"I know these roads”, I tell myself.
“There’s little difference between putting something in my ears and blasting something out of a car stereo”, I try to justify.
“If I use my iPhone headphones, I’ll still be able to hear everything around me”, I rationalise, trying to convince my inner prude.
I won’t, though.
For one, it’s easy to know a road, but it’s difficult to know the vehicles on it and near impossible to anticipate what they are going to do. My eyes go a long way towards keeping me upright, but there’s barely a day that goes by where I don’t need every sense I have at my disposal to get to work or home safely.
There’s also the small aural delights that I’d otherwise miss: fractured conversations, a familiar song from a nearby car, a surprisingly strong swear word delivered to an aggressive driver from an unassuming source.
Ultimately, it’s about something simpler and mildly pretentious: clarity and reflection.
Away from the distraction of my computer, my mobile, my desk phone, my colleagues, my friends, Netflix, books, my music collection, the news, Ira Glass and his ever-interesting anecdotes — almost everything — there’s little to occupy (or monopolise) my mind.
That allows me to process the days events, be they upcoming or past.
It provides an opportunity to organise my thoughts. It gives me a chance to mull-over problems that have presented themselves throughout the day, offering 30 to 60 minutes of freedom for them to float to the front of my mind and then off to the back again as they see fit.
It means that I arrive at my destination with a clearer and more focused mind.
It’s character building.