Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Last of the Summer Sun

I love the late summer, when the harvest is in and stubble fields glow gold under the bright blue skies. Just weeks from turning to brown, trees at their ripe greenest, add depth to the countryside colour. Beautiful England in all its finery, even the flat lands near me are attractive, when the sun shines and branches are in full leaf. The wind is low, so the sound of the big roads doesn’t travel, accentuating the feeling of calm, making near silence. People don’t tend to come out on hot sunny afternoons, they’re in their gardens, at a friend’s, maybe at the pub getting their money’s worth, the heat giving the beer a helping hand. Wherever they are on a hot British afternoon, they’re not on the streets or back roads. The lack of wind prevents the spread of whatever noise people make, it prevents the sound of the not so distant motorway reaching out and spoiling the calm.

The sound of my cleats clicking into my pedals spoils that silence, and I set off for a long and doubtless sweaty ride. Through the housing estate, passing no-one and onto country roads less busy than normal. One sound rides with me: I love the sound of tyres whooshing on tarmac. The hum of my chain running over chainring and sprockets, the occasional click of gears. The sound of a simple machine working well is the sort of thing only really men enjoy. Through empty roads and past the glorious golden fields I spin, with only a vague idea of where I’m going and how far I’ll ride. I’m riding for the sake of it, like a child discovering the beauty of the big wide world, that adventure can be found in discovery itself, I ride on with satisfaction in my heart.

The first time I check I find I’ve already done 21 miles and, despite the heat, I still feel fresh. The few cars I see pass me wide or let me go, there’s none of the normal impatience so often experienced by British cyclists, unusually it seems that the still warmth has a calming effect. Eventually I find myself on the circuit of next week’s road race and I notice a new noise. My breathing. Spots of sweat stain the lenses of my sunglasses, and drip onto my cycle computer. Up the short hill I had remembered to be longer, then parallel and over the new dual-carriageway, then into the next still village, where I stop and check the map, turn left and carry on. Having seen what parts of the course I wanted, I up the pace and head through what passes for undulating countryside in these parts.

So it goes on. Villages, pubs where drinkers watch me glide past, bumpy roads, still air, clicking gears and an increasing burn in my legs, the legacy of the previous night’s wine. I stop to fill my bottles at my regular bike shop and at a friend’s house for a quick chat, before the final few miles finish me off.

After 70 miles I’m home. For a few hours to come my legs will remind me of the effort I’ve put in. Despite the heat, I crave my normal post ride snack of toast and coffee, but that can wait. I hang my bike in the garage, and sit on the front lawn, draining the last water from my bottles, savouring the last of the summer sun.

Even Cambridgeshire looks half presentable on a summer's day