We’ve had the year’s longest day. It seemed, during the long, hard winter, to be taking ages for spring to arrive. And now, so suddenly it seems, the summer solstice has been and gone and we’ve started the slow slip down the year’s other side. The best of days hopefully remain ahead, but it’s certainly time to make the most of them, to get out and ride. In the northern hemisphere this is the apex of the cycling year – opportunities for daylight cycling peak as the sun stays longest in our sky.
Flo spent the shortest night at a friend’s house. Bobby, after racing two evenings on the trot, craved rest. But I couldn’t let summer’s solstice pass without a ride, especially when a cloudy day made way for evening sun. Sue agreed, so together we rode nine miles out to The Redwell Inn for our tea. We’d raced the night before too, so rode gently; it was good to feel tiredness and tightness clearing from our legs.
We rode up river to the Crook o’Lune, and from there began the steady climb north-east towards the pub. This is a favourite stretch of road. The Lune’s valley drops away to one side and the Keer’s to the other as you climb, and as you rise there appears before you the most spectacular panorama of England’s highest ground: farthest away, to your left across Morecambe Bay, stretches a saw-like line of Cumbrian fells, which give way to the Howgill’s unmistakeable humps; then straight ahead, like you’re aiming at them, rise Yorkshire’s Dales, and finally – to your right – squat Lancashire’s moors. You feel you’ve got England’s finest scenery completely to yourself, and sometimes I think how to ride the road once would be worth the price of my bike; yet I’m lucky enough to ride it often.
Is there a finer drink than that earned from cycling, enjoyed outdoors as the sun slips slowly out the sky?
By cycling we put ourselves into nature. We appreciate the countryside because we pedal through it. The roads belong to us because we assert our right to ride them. The land is ours because we ride across it. Cycling is potentially open to everyone, and so too the countryside. These roads and this land, my roads and my land, could be everyone’s road, everyone’s land.
From a car, speeding fast past through it, nature might seem not quite real, almost like a construct. Cars separate us from our world. But from a bike we know our place much better, that we’re fully of the world. There’s no screen to protect us, and we move quickly upon a skinny frame of metal attached to remarkably spinning wheels. We’re knocked by wind, beaten by rain, shone by sun. We snake along lanes, beneath trees, below hedges, under changing skies. When cycling there’s a permanent privilege to being so close that you become part of this precious living world. Of course it’s not all roses and birdsong: we’re sometimes hit by insects (poor things!), or offended by the sight and smell of creatures killed by cars; and love it or loathe it, we’re forced bodily to respond to what from a car remain vague and abstract topographies. Cycling we greet the world as it is, warts and all.
As a sociologist I seek to explore and understand the world, as an activist to critique and change it, but by bike I confront it up close and accept it as it is. Investigation and judgement take a back-seat – when cycling we dwell in pure, elemental place. And so by riding we come to appreciate the world more fully. Riding is raw, truthful and above all, real.
We returned to Lancaster the way we’d come, though it felt different now – not only were we going the other way, but the sun had dipped below the horizon, the temperature dropped. The longest day was drawing to a close, and the twilight wove midsummer magic, casting us under its spell.
One year it’d be good to ride continuously from sunrise to sundown on the longest day, or another to ride through the shortest night. They’re adventures for the future, to add to the reassuringly long – more than a good life-time’s long – rides-still-to-do list.