After today I'm convinced that Spring is my favourite season. It's early April, when it could easily be snowing, but the weekend has brought seamless blue skies and warm sunshine. I've been out for a long ride on my bike in the Yorkshire Dales, which I can only describe as sensationally beautiful at the moment. Almost overnight we seem to have gone from winter to summer! Everything is tinged with green; the trees are in full blossom; the daffodils are at their dazzling peak, no more beautiful than when picked out against the backdrop of an ancient drystone wall. How many times have the seasons revolved like this? How many cycles has this metamorphosis completed amidst the same idyllic countryside? The breathtaking fecundity of nature is simply enthralling. I'm left feeling immensely privileged to live where I do and have this amazing landscape on my doorstep, and to have the fitness to be able to experience it so richly, in this rather intimate way.
Mind you, that fitness doesn't come easily. It's hard won. Today was pay-back time for a lot of hard graft through the winter months. There were times just a few weeks ago when the commute back home from work, in the cold, sometimes in the wet, always in the dark, was wearing a bit thin. But I found myself being driven on by forces almost beyond my control. After what was often a ten hour day at the office, I was still turning left instead of right at Dick Hudson's to take the longer and hillier route home. Why would I do that? Today I found out.
For some, the training is all about performing well in races and events, and that certainly used to be the case for me in respect to running, and still is to some extent now with the cycling, but, most of all, it is about being fit to enjoy these long days out in the hills on beautiful days like today. There is this simple, indescribable joy about the rhythm of cycling around here, climbing steeply out of one Dale and descending quickly into another. Atop the hills you can retrace your meandering path through the landscape, and it's always impressive how quickly the bike eats up the terrain. I often stand in awe at the tops of the passes at just what our bodies are capable of. Today's ride was clocked at 92 miles, and all that was achieved on just a small slab of flapjack, a slice of coffee cake with a pot of tea, and two litres of water. It's a pretty efficient machine, the human body.
This ride really had a bit of everything, starting up Wharfedale to Buckden with my Earlybird mates, enjoying some banter, and some drafting, then on my own, in meditative mode, past Cray, over Kidstones to Thoralby and Thornton Rust and Askrigg, then over into Swaledale with the awesome descent into Muker, then back over Buttertubs to Hawes for that cake and tea, before the ridiculous climb up Fleet Moss into a freshening breeze. This is where the ride turned from pure enjoyment of the scenery to become a physical challenge, sort of equally enjoyable in the masochistic way that possibly only other cyclists can appreciate. Having ridden 40 hilly miles the day before, the legs were starting to feel heavy, so the final phase of the ride was really about digging in and finishing in good form ... which I did. It was very satisfying to complete the last few miles at a respectable pace and pass a few people on the final little hill at Nesfield. I may wax lyrical about the spiritual dimension to cycling, but, at the end of the day, I'm ego-centric enough to thoroughly enjoy creaming a few other riders with 90 tough miles in my legs!
Days really don't get any better than this.