Far beyond the evening’s early glow and the late commuter traffic is damping down, there is a cool breeze as I glide down the hill to Corkscrew. I see Mike mad miling from Selsdon past the dog walkers and ipod runners as he eases past the roundabout changing down for the early rise to Layhams. My cleats cleave to my soles and my soul soars as I settle in behind him, we nod, no words are needed we know the route, the pace, the plan, who will win tonight and best the climbs. And on the road where angels fear to tread on Beddlestead, along the Ridge the swirling wind buffets me bump bump bumpy road bump suface bump with Chaucers pilgrims yclept the Miller’s Tale I open the sprint down Clarks Lane and further down and bend double to reduce the wind spring, spotting every tiny road blemish twig and stone past Church Hill the Lord is with me I feel and taste the salty sweat it snakes a line down my forehead briefly pausing to re-group at my eye brow over and through my hair it is caught on my eyelid I blink and shake my head but cannot pause the final slide into my eye stinging and biting seeping into my eyeball and I squeeze my eyes shut yes but there is no respite or relief. Along the Pilgrims Way with the sun flashing through the treees, past the tilled and ruptured brown fields, slip streaming on Mike’s wheel, fingers dancing on the levers, click I change down click leaning forward click, frantic on the pedals, heart beating faster, oncoming Land Rover with clanking hay strewn trailer forces me over to the side, the road rises and curves to the left then right, slow for the junction, sweeping riders rushing past, a slight raise of the hand from the bars acknowledges a fellow rider, plashing brown puddles flick dirty droplets up and coat the frame, feathering the brakes and it is free and warm and glorious yes and the kites are swooping above the fields mice catching and diving yes and my mind is empty, all spare thought focussed on the ride and the day and the past is behind and the future is ahead and I am in the present and that is all that matters no-one will catch me now no watch me go go go yes and a Strava segment coming up, extra effort to pass Mike up up sweat flows freely and stings my eyes again yes and I shall ride this road for evermore, past Ovenden sprint and Cow Poo Corner oh no we have dropped Damien the turn to Hog Trough yes and Chevening cowers behind the trees, pot holes and bumps, drainage ditches, loose stones and gravel unseat the careless yes and we push on the Garmin on its out-front mount betrays the speed, time, distance, cadence, heart rate yes and now the Star Hill roundabout pause yes and wait for passing cars and we ease onto Pol Hill busy, busy impatient cars with a clear stretch of road yes and the trees close by and gloomy, hold that big ring all the way yes and the gradual bend to the left yes and Mike pulls away yes strong and determined 6 feet, 3 yards, 20 feet, my rhythm falters and the road opens up and the gradient eases one extra effort and I will catch him yes though my heart will burst yes but he is gone and clatters through the gears and ups the pace legs whirring yes while I am frantic panting and almost there and he swings round the final bend but I summon one final effort and I can catch him yes I can yes I can catch him yes and I catch him yes and then I pass him yes and yes I say yes and again yes and again yes.
With apologies to James Joyce