July 1st early morning.
Normally when I plan a training ride, I look at the weather forecast and I imagine a route that is going to be wind-friendly. I sneak out into the wind behind hedgerows, or try to find a route where I can tack a bit – wind on my shoulder, rather than in my face. Then, if I can, I pick routes down wind that are open to the elements. Flying on a tail wind, I feel like I might actually be a cyclist. I’m not, but it’s good to pretend.
On the Great Tour, there’s going to be no such luxury. The wind will be where it is, the route is set and I’ll have to cycle what’s in front of me.
So today I decided to find a head wind and see what happened. What did happen was very cool.
There’s a flat plain at the top of the New Forest between Fritham and Stoney Cross. During WWII, there was an airfield up there. Operational from 1943, squadrons of Hurricanes and Mustangs were based there. Gliders used it too. The road now runs for 2km, dead straight, NE-SW along what was the longest runway at Stoney Cross.
That’s where I headed, straight into a 30kph headwind.
When I cycle, I let my mind go where it goes. The rhythm of riding is hypnotic, and sometimes ideas flow.
As it came to me, here’s what happened today:
Thought one: “the key to cycling into the wind is to not give a rat’s arse how fast you’re going”. This is a new thought for me. Normally I’d be disappointed by how pathetic I am, and I’d be pushing harder to quell the shame.
Thought two: “better still: the key to cycling into the wind is to be entirely content with how fast you’re going”. That felt better, contentment versus not caring, versus striving to quell the shame is a bit of a gradient.
So, I let myself be content, and here’s what happened next.
I really noticed how beautiful this bleak plain was. I saw a new born donkey sheltering behind it’s mother, lit by the early light against a dark sky.
I stopped to take a picture. The light changed and it wasn’t the picture I had wanted, but now I was still and paying attention. Off the bike, feet on the ground, heart rate slowing, storm clouds around, I suddenly, unbidden, felt a real connection to the people who had taken off from this airfield. Some of them never landed.
These were people of my parents generation – people that might have defended my dad as he landed troops at D-Day. I let that thought settle; felt a wash of gratefulness for their sacrifices and then set off again.
Two or three miles further across the heath, there is a war memorial at Bolderwood. It’s often decked in a Canadian flag. As I passed there, the beautiful light came back and lit a lightning-struck ghost of a tree, back lit against dark clouds. I stopped again and had another rush of emotion.
Contentment seems to lead to gratefulness.
I shared this later with a psychiatrist who has been helping me get my head straight in order to deal with diabetes – I was diagnosed with Type 1 two years ago and that’s another story. She liked the metaphor of cycling into the wind for the times in life when things don’t present as we might wish. But the idea of acceptance over striving being helpful to one’s wellbeing is apparently nothing new. I think I had heard that. But I hadn’t understood.
Then I shared my new thoughts with Jane too. She’s is trained in Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy. She was pleased I’d learnt something important, but it wasn’t a surprise to her either. I know I’ve heard her talk about the importance of acceptance too. And I’ve been, I think, something like “unimpressed” with the idea? It all sounded a bit passive to me.
But it really isn’t. It turns out that, for me at least, accepting something as it is an active thing. Really active. And surprisingly liberating.
It could just be that by cycling happily into the wind at whatever speed I can manage might make me better at it? I’m interested to see – and I know that I will see. I might even learn to enjoy it as I have already learned to love cycling uphill slowly.
Sometimes I guess you have to learn things at the right time to learn them at all.