How to The Journey

A quick turnaround

The nature of the weather and my schedule means I’m not riding nearly as much as I’d like these days –– generally only about once a week. But, hey, that’s once a week more than I was riding last year. So I guess I shouldn’t complain.
I took Monday off, though. Just to get my head out of work. My job requires that I stare at a computer screen quite a lot, and that’ll mess with your head after a while. I love what I do, and especially what it means, but sometimes I need to get away. We all do.
I work for the UK’s National Parks and my job is to remind Britons how incredibly beautiful, unique and diverse is their tiny little country. That’s the sort of thing a person can forget when he or she gets locked into an everyday routine. Get up, eat, shower, get all your things together, rush to get to work on time, spend all day staring at a computer screen, rush to get home, eat, prepare to do it all again the next morning. It is easy to get lost in all that. Especially at this time of year. For example, it is dark outside when Jenn and I go to work in the mornings; it is dark again when we head home; and more often than not, the time in between is grey, windy and wet. But you need to lift your eyes from time to time. You need to look around and see the great and small beauty exists all around you.
Brecon Beacons National Park
Monday was an opportunity for me to take my own advice. And fortunately it turned out to be sunny. I decided to make a quick run up to Brecon Beacons National Park. In these days when I am riding so infrequently, I tend to suffer pretty bad nerves in the first few miles of a ride. My imagination churns out worst-case scenarios and it takes a while for me to relax.
The nerves were soon enough gone, though, and replaced by cold. As I climbed up through the winding Taff valley a persistent chill set into my bones. My fingers ached. Cold wind found its way up my jacket and through my thin polyester sweater. It was about 3C (37F) at Brecon Beacons Reservoir and I was in full shiver. Once I got onto the A4059 I stopped at the earliest opportunity to put on more layers.
Incredible luck resulted in my stopping at the crest of a hill, overlooking the great cut of valley where the River Taff starts to form. The autumn morning sun made everything golden, the road was black, winding and empty. At its sides sheep grazed, insouciant to my presence.
It was one of those moments that you choose not to photograph because you know that no photo can come close to capturing everything. The freshness of the air, the peace, the scale –– a photograph can’t give you that. It can’t give you the warmth of the sun on my face, nor the energetic chill of standing there stripping off my jacket and sweater in order to put on another layer underneath.
I stuffed a pair of glove liners down my pants to warm them up, then stood clapping my hands to get the blood flowing, and, I suppose, applauding God’s work. “Well done on the Brecon Beacons, Lord. I really like what you’ve done here.”
In thermal shirt, T-shirt, and sweater, I wrapped my scarf around tight and zipped up my jacket. I put on my helmet, tucked the scarf up to my chin, pulled the liners from my trousers and quickly slipped them on. Then the gloves. Everything bundled, I made a few comforting slaps at my chest and fired up the bike.
I took things easy on the way back down. The A4059 was deserted so I puttered along at well below speed, just happy to be wrapped up against the cold and out in such a beautiful landscape. This is why we live. This is why we put up with all the other nonsense. For moments like this.
Brecon Beacons National Park
Before long, I was at the much busier A465, looping back to the A470 and home. I stopped in Merthyr Tydfil to warm up and have a tea, but was home again by 11 a.m. It was a short little adventure –– roughly 90 miles and all over before lunch. But small things can mean so very much.
When I got back, as I was putting up the bike I decided to shoot a quick video (it is only 14 seconds) on my phone to show off a part of the routine of putting my bike away: a side-stand turn.
I keep my bike in a very small garden area that leads to my flat. Getting it there requires a tremendous amount of maneuvering. First, I must push it off the road and down the pavement (“sidewalk” for those of you playing along in the United States) to my garden gate. The garden gate is just a door, which is exactly 72 cm wide. Additionally, it is up a 6-inch step from the pavement.
Getting a 222 kg (490 lbs) bike up a 6-inch step is a little bit of a challenge when you’ve got a head of steam. But it is beyond my ability when done from a dead stop, so I use a little wheelchair ramp to make things a easier. But they are only just a little bit easier.
After walking my bike down the pavement, I have to turn it so it will go through the door. This means doing a side-stand turn onto the ramp. With the bike at an incline and threatening to roll back into the door of whatever car is parked next to the pavement, I have to keep the brake held as I climb on the bike, start it up and ride it up the ramp and through the doorframe. As I do this, of course, I have to turn the handlebars so the bike can wiggle through the frame.
It is an acrobatic procedure that took a lot of practice to perfect. Once into the garden area, I quickly kill the engine so its noise won’t echo against the concrete and annoy the elderly couple whose flat shares the garden space with ours. I collect the ramp, close the garden door, then side-stand spin the bike again so I can chain the back wheel to a steel beam, and so it will be easier to get out of the garden when I next go for a ride.
It’s that last spin that I’ve captured above. I realise the video quality is not that great –– the thing obstructing the view slightly is my wallet, which I used to prop up my phone on a section of wall. Perhaps one day I’ll have Jenn film me going through the whole routine. But I just wanted to show off this little trick, since it always makes me feel cool to do it.