after the sunday ride has come to its logical conclusion, the sprint for the 30mph signs on the approach to bruichladdich village over and done with, and various designer coffees being supped from the comfort of the red leather chesterfield in debbie's, the conversation occasionally involves itself with our collective lack of a sense of adventure. skittering about on islay's highways and byeways once a week is all very well, but where is our intrepid spirit that would see us discover new horizons and passing places previously unseen?
we must reluctantly admit that the velo club has become a peloton of couch tourists, often discussing the possibilities, yet never ever taking advantage. sure, our sundays could have us nipping up the road to port askaig and boarding the jura ferry for a morning ride abroad and a trip to the relatively close island of arran has even been under discussion; leave on the friday pm ferry and arrive in lochranza in time for tea, then spend the weekend negotiating scotland in miniature.
embarrassingly, discussion is as far as we've ever managed.
no doubt we could all offer concrete reasons as to why that's the case, but you really have to admire someone like anna hughes who grabs adventure by the handlebars and heads off to circumnavigate the coast of the uk mainland, with only the odd excursion to at least a bit of an island. and refreshingly, this isn't one of those meticulously planned journeys where a state of the art handbuilt touring frame has been custom-made for the purpose. nor is anna hughes verging on the edge of a career as a professional cycle tourist.
"Is your saddle too low?" Graham asked as he dished out the eggs?... "Um, I haven't really thought about it." and "Do you have a spare inner tube?" he asked. "No..."
even though i find it hard to believe that someone would head off to ride several thousand miles without a spare inner-tube, there's something rather endearing about the naivety of someone who would.
hughes set off from london figuring that all she had to do was keep the sea on her right on the way up and back down, and provided it was always in sight, what could possibly go wrong? however, while the theory seems remarkably sound, neither britain's road network nor the national cycle route quite works that way. and rather than have a series of hotel rooms or bed and breakfasts booked at strategic points along the way, anna relied more on the generosity of human nature, staying with friends or with a loose network of folks happy to provide a bed for the lone intrepid cyclist. several of those friends met her close to the day's destination and guide her home, or join her on the road from the point of the morning's departure.
what separates this from the realm of mere guidebook is the strength of the author's writing abilities.
"The magnificent Humber Bridge dominated the skyline as we cycled along the Viking Way, a long-distance footpath that follows the river before heading south towards Rutland. We rumbled along the rough gravel track, the water that lapped at its edge brown and murky, the flooding tide swirling over the mudflats. The perfect curve of the suspension cables hung low in the distance and I paused to take photograph after photograph, utterly enraptured by its size, its symmetry, its strength."
this wide-eyed delight at almost each and every feature encountered along the way provides the reader with a decidedly upbeat approach to each relatively brief chapter. those chapters deal with specific sections of the journey, detailing the miles covered along with the places of departure and arrival. encapsulating a four thousand mile cycle trip in a smidgeon over three hundred pages perhaps obviously entailed some judicious editing, some of which my own naivety probably accepted without qualification. however, hughes' ride from oban to arran occupies only three pages (73 miles), as opposed to the 61 miles from south ferriby to bridlington's five pages.
that, however, perhaps says more about the parochialism of yours truly than the scenic perceptions of the author.
geographical nit-picking aside, the joys of taking time out of the humdrum to cycle around britain's coast is not only something that many of us wish we had the cojones to undertake ourselves, but makes for surprisingly compulsive reading. on more than one period of reading, i absorbed a couple of chapters more than planned (i'm often reading more than one review book at a time), just because i was keen to find out if the butler had done it.
my only real criticism of eat, sleep, cycle is the total lack of illustration. despite the quote above attesting to anna's pausing 'to take photograph after photograph', there are none whatsoever printed within the book's covers. granted, the author's descriptive abilities are hardly lacking, but i would have liked to have seen a photo or two.
and what, if anything, did hughes learn from her extended pedalling, aside from the fact that it made her lean and fit? "To enjoy simplicity for simplicity's sake. To not worry about what's around the corner."
eat, sleep, cycle is definitively a feelgood sort of a book. not only for the narrative of cycling around the country, but the generosity of those met along the way. the media would often have us believe that britain is full of crooks, eager to separate us from our possessions at the earliest opportunity. that is perhaps true of some inner-city areas, but it's refreshing to note that not only are we still effectively one country (scottish devolution notwithstanding), but the edges of that uk civilisation still sit comfortably within the latter definiton.
maybe the velo club will finally move off the couch this year.
monday 27 april 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................