A helicopter chops the air just above us as we pedal to work through the lush valley. With a hospital close to our home we often hear the thwack of blades as patients are transported. Dede, on her city bike carrying a pannier on its rack and a backpack over her shoulders says: “the sound of the helicopters always take me back to the World Championships and Olympic Games as they fly low over the peloton, filming the race. If I close my eyes, I’m in the bunch, full of anticipation, nerves, excitement and racing for a medal.”
Decades after retiring, the bike race and the joy and peace of cycling remains in us. Like most cyclists, our riding is limited to the weekend, commutes to work or the occasional hour or two early in the morning when it’s still dark and the birds aren’t yet chirping. We use the free minutes we have to stay fit, to feel alive with the rush of speed and surge of endorphins an effort provides, and to organize thoughts and emotions.
In Annemasse, France, where I lived as an amateur racer decades ago, my friend Raphael filled his need to ride on his commute home after a day’s work at a local factory. In the evening darkness, on a 1950’s Peugeot with racks, mudguards and generator lights he would ride up into the Alps. In his workclothes and boots, with a heart rate monitor strapped around his chest, he would pump out efforts following the beam of his headlight as it cut through the darkness. He never told his mom about his rides fearing she would worry about him riding at night and bring them to an end. It didn’t matter what bike he rode, or what clothing he wore as the effort is what had value.
Riding home through the city park in the brisk cold wind, my route lit by my headlight, I push hard on the pedals. The contents of my pannier begin to rattle on the bumps as my speed increases. I’m alone on the path, the cold and darkness, keeping people away. A stag appears in the beam of my light and then scurries into the bush. The city above me, beyond, the ravine in which I ride hums with the traffic of commuters, stuck in their boxes, moving slowly, many aggravated. But, I’m free, and in the moments I have, I imagine I’m racing, chasing a finish line. My breath increases with the effort and the lactic acid seeps into my muscles. I’ll feel it for five or, maybe, ten minutes before I arrive home, but those pedal strokes will somehow put things straight and bring the work day to a comforting close. I no longer have training programs to follow, or metrics to upload, but simply fill the spaces in my days, when I can, with a surge up a climb or a thrash through the trails.
With each passing year and hour in the workshop, my father’s ethos creeps deeper inside me. For decades, he found his solace while building his fitness as he looped around the cricket pitches in our local park. Without a significant climb to develop strength, the resistance of riding over thick grass and woodchips did the job. To prepare for the Raid Pyrenean, a brevet across the Pyrenees and over 18 mountains from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, he rode the fields each morning and ran a long flight of stairs for an hour, or so, before heading to work. To find a little bit of extra inspiration in the early morning, I’m sure he imagined he was chasing the icons of his generation, Coppi, Bobet, Bartali, Koblet as they raced over the northern cobblestones or Alpine passes. Covered in wet grass and flecks of dirt, he arrived at the shop. With a quick shower and a cup of tea he was ready to begin the work day.
While at university, and retired from racing, Dede found fitness riding everywhere she could on her 1960’s Juenet mixte-style city bike. We were living in Boulder, Colorado and she rode her bike to school daily regardless of the weather. In the depth of winter, her frozen bike was thawed in the shower of our apartment so it would function the following day to get to school. Between classes, she would pedal across town or up the mountain to clear her mind and squeeze in some exercise. When she had time in the early mornings she rode or ran. It was on those rides she rediscovered a love for the sport that had faded. When I returned home, she was as fit as she had ever been. When spring arrived, her desire to race had returned and she began to come out of retirement to pursue an Olympic medal.
It’s in the in-between, where fitness can be found and flurries of thought or angst can be calmed and refocused. In the little pockets of the day joy often lies.

3 thoughts on “Carving Out Pockets Of the Day

  1. Love this article.
    It is the in-between that I am missing.
    A 2024 focus!
    thank you and all the best of the Season to you and your family

  2. The Ravine trails system is a world away from the City we live in. You can ride for many hours with the city a faint buzz in the background above you. Occasionally you get a glimpse of the thousands of vehicles moving at a snails pace on the DVP, Lakeshore or the Gardiner. During shoulder seasons the only others on the trails are some walkers and some dog walkers. We are lucky to have these in our City

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