It’s a fine line – to exercise or not. Outside, the sun lowering, the bank of clouds dulling the light, the day almost over. Yet at the computer, such lethargy inside it seems a bike ride is the only cure. I don’t ring Bartali. If we go together it’s a much tougher ride and I’m so close to not going. Just take the mountain bike and ride 20 minutes up the rail trail and back again, I tell myself. In the same way when I’m avoiding writing a scene. Just write for ten minutes, I coax myself, and often put down the pen and find 40 minutes have passed.
As Graeme Male up the road would say to me about building jobs, it’s always thinking about it that’s the hardest.
It’s after 4.30, the air cooling, and no-one else on the trail. The gravel road leads flat and straight into the distance. Sometimes farmers shift sheep along it or locals walk their dogs. I push on the pedals, every turn an effort. How unmotivated I am, how unambitious, even slovenly I feel. I make myself do a minute of fast riding to get my heart rate up. There’s no enjoyment in the effort. I look at the apple trees instead.
Apple trees have grown beside the railway line where in the early days of the trains people threw cores out the window. In summer the trees provide welcome fruit for cyclists on the rail trail, an abundance of sprayfree, heritage fruit. Two trees I pass still have garlands of yellow fruit hanging on, and sparrows jouncing around in the bare branches. In all this bare-twig winterness, to see the trees, like apple-lit fairy trees, is to see the resoluteness of nature.
On Reef Road, the section that was scoured out by flood has been repaired. There are cars on the main road across the paddock, but here on the trail I’m safe. My bike’s the only mode of transport. No trucks coming too close to me, no cars overtaking as another car approaches. There’s a freedom to riding like this, the whole wide trail to choose my own track.
Near the corner of the main road, the track lifts, a gradual, train-able rise. I begin to appreciate what’s around me: the sabled flanks of Mt St Bathans, the white Hawkduns up ahead, the woolly flock of wethers grazing the tawny grass and grey matagouri. I stop at a small bridge and wait a while for the sun to come out. The stream burbles – still rushy with water and the banks of grass flattened in a wide channel from the flood. Birds in the bare willow singing, and in front of me it’s all downhill back to the village.
I’m in top gear, speeding, no worries about trucks or pot holes. How fast I am, swooping between fields, past the sheep and the paddocks with new gravel seams. At last the sun drops below the cloud, blazes a brightness across the valley, lights up the rocky tors on Rough Ridge and gives an orange warmth to the bare poplars. It’s what makes riding near sunset so spectacular.
On the way home I call in at Graeme and Donna’s to check their flood repairs. There is a new bund in the driveway, new gravel, and inside the carpet re-laid and dry. The fire burning willow, and outside Mt St Bathans in the last of the sun.
The Ida Valley from Reef Road
Rocky Tors catch the sunset on Rough Ridge