Looking in on a (quite) different world19th March 2010
St. Patrick's Day was a few days ago and it seems to have heralded a sustained onset of spring this year with birds singing their hearts out and daffodils attempting to take over from snowdrops on the roadsides. A work colleague took to his bike for the first time this year on Monday after having being prevented from doing so by his asthma acting up when his lungs are hit by the cold air that has stayed with us for so much of this year. Needless to say, it's his legs that are now making him pay for his exertions after that long layoff.
Speaking of layoffs, I haven't been out walking in hill country for a while now and the general springiness has set me to considering the possibility of such an escapade. That hiatus doesn't mean that I have been inactive because I have been commuting on my bike for much of the last few weeks and even fitted in a Sunday ride to Northwich by way of Gawsworth, Astbury, Goostrey and Davenham. Much of the time, I was on quiet country lanes while following NCN 73 after a fashion so I got to enjoying the sunlit ambience of the rolling Cheshire countryside. A missed train (it might have been asking too much of me to cycle back from Northwich to Macclesfield again) afforded a chance to find my way around the town of Northwich itself, a potential source of confusion for anyone who hadn't been there before, before exploring a little of its nearby wetlands and woodlands. One of the disadvantages of a cycling excursion is that you are sharing roads with other users who travel much faster than you do and have other things on their minds too. Fellow cyclists are not a problem at all but you need to keep your wits about you when it comes to motorised traffic.
While cycling along quieter country lanes does burn off tensions piled on you by the world, there is something special about going for a walk in the countryside that makes switching off the pressures of life and tuning on the theatre of the skull so much easier. For much of the time, it's only the matters of navigation, weather and the time that is available that you need to consider. Since most of us don't fancy road walking and tend to avoid it, motorised traffic becomes removed to a world far away while we really are immersed in remote countryside.
That mention of road traffic brings up another point: discovering route ideas for a day out on a bike that keep you away from busy roads as much as possible. In these traffic congested days, they take some finding and, even then, you could find yourself on a confusing rat's nest of small roads that forbid you from going into autopilot (not that it's a sensible thing to be doing, by the way). In the brief amount of time that I have spent perusing cycling magazines at a newsagent, none really have grabbed me when it came to route ideas. Whether that is because the ones that kept coming to hand contained more about mechanicals and other matters that didn't interest me so much is another question; even with hillwalking, outdoors gear is very much a functional interest for me and I very nearly stop looking when what I have satisfies me. That's not to say that there aren't guide books out there and I already have a few that I should consult more often but it feels as if I could end up with an entire cycling library if I'm not careful.
Thinking about it now, I am inclined to wonder if I need to work out what sort of cycling I'd like to do. Pure mountain biking might sound as if it tallies with my love of hill country but I cannot say that I enjoy the thoughts of careering downhill completely dependent on the effectiveness of cantilever or disk brakes for stopping me. That still leaves open the idea of a cycle into a Scottish glen for commencing a walk but a walking magazine might cover that possibility anyway; whatever else you have to say about it, Trail magazine has been known to feature the occasional route like this. Leaving that aside, I am led into the exploration of those quiet lanes and the countryside that surrounds them. Of course, I first have to find them…
Even with this uncertainty of thinking, I went and joined the Cycling UK, an organisation pondering changing its status from club to charity. With what has been going on with The Ramblers and the forthcoming demise of the Nevis Partnership, I can see how arguments about the CTC Trust being a government contractor can come into being. However, that's all in the background and the bimonthly Cycle magazine might have a role in letting me in on ideas for excursions and where I want to take this cycling thing. Naturally, any organisation representing cyclists will cover everything from the realities of everyday commuting though to cycle touring and bicycle maintenance but a little broadening of horizons never hurt anyone.
Of course, all this talk of cycling doesn't mean that the hiking is about to stop. In fact, I have just such an excursion in mind for the coming weekend to break up any semblance of a rut that might be forming. For now, I'll say no more but hope to let you know what happened afterwards.