Lead for a landscape left lunar by the spoil of century old workings to extract the stuff, lead for the dull call of distant guns on the far side of the moor, lead for a heart heavy with the week’s disappointments, lead for the light-sucking greyness of a sky so low you can reach up and touch it.
Daylight is getting to be a bit of problem now, or getting enough of it is anyway. The weather in these islands may have been historically mild for October and for the first few hours of November but right now I’d trade half a dozen celsius degrees for an hour of the day back. After a few days in a windowless room this week, at which arrival and departure happened in more or less darkness, I was reduced to writing ‘HELP ME!’ using letters prized off a laptop keyboard in a rescue-seeking bid of desperation. I regret it now of course, as computers with two ‘e’s are not easy to replace. Saturday mornings now see me staggering blinking into the sunlight like a trembling alcoholic stumbling into an off licence on the cue of the assistant unlocking the door and flipping the dangling ‘closed’ sign to ‘open’, well, err, apparently that’s what they do, I hear. Weeknight bike rides are articially lit affairs now, just me and a japanese LED stuck together in a hostile world like Lee Marvin and Toshirô Mifune in that John Boorman movie, trying to come to terms with what happened to those tortuously recent evenings that lasted almost until morning, trying not to look behind to the blackness just left behind so weekends now are ridden grinning like the just released institutionalised idiot that I am. Judging by the number of bikes out this morning however I think I may not be the only one…
A few months ago I was driving home from work one Friday night and the pass, an unclassified lane between two small villages lying near the upper ends of their respective vallies, was signposted from the motorway exit. There was some bike race or something going on that weekend if I recall correctly and the photograph of the competitors merging with the crowd filling what seemed like every inch of the roadside and much of the actual road as they raced up that little steep bit before the cattle grid just by the muddy lay-by where you can stop and look back over the dale and on a very still day hear the purposeful breathing of riders struggling up the road that heads over the fells in the opposite direction a couple of kilometres line of sight across the river meandering gently across the flat valley floor became perhaps the defining shot of the very very many taken over those two days that the race was in Yorkshire. There isn’t much sign that anything ever even happened now; bunting has been taken down, commemorative parcours-marking road signs have found their way to souvenir-hunters and internet auction sites and road surface graffiti has been pressure-washed or tarmaced from the historical record. The only man-made features remaining on the southern climb up the pass now are the new snow poles, standing incongruously vertical with their blingy shiny new paint in mounds of still damp earth where lie buried the memories of that weekend in July.
Today things were a bit quieter in fact I didn’t pass another person on a bike in a ride of several hours. It was quite windy today it must be said and riding into a stiffish breeze can be discouraging but getting up over that cattle grid, its elevated position in the pantheon of bike racing iconography surely secure and its listing as a historic monument cetainly only a matter of doing the paperwork, and catching the full force of a gale travelling in more or less the same direction as you are is more than consolation for the grind in getting there. I think other than sailors bike riders must go on about the wind more than anyone else. The strategy, tactics and etiquette of riding when the air is anything other than millpond still must fill thousands of pages of books and gazillions of whatever the units of verbiosity for the internet are. Sometimes, after an hour or two battling a headwind the direction in which leaves, rain or snow is blowing, which way livestock is facing and which side of the field they are huddled against the wall, the destination of clouds sailing above you, the massed grassblades bowing down below you begins to make you feel like you can almost see the air currents, as migratory birds can see the earth’s magnetic field, and somewhere unseen a windtunnel operator fella with a white coat and GCSEs is leaning on a big lever turning up the turbine speed and feeding coloured smoke into the airflow whilst laughing manaically. Rainy days and Mondays do always get me down because whatever you do to try and make it better it’s still raining and it’s still Monday but windy ones, where the simple act of turning a corner transforms your whole day, I can deal with.
Saturday was spent indoors Breakfast Club
fashion debating which of us most correlated with which classic saturday detention movie cast members but Sunday was for being outdoors and the hill is as outdoors as anywhere and is also, despite or perhaps because of being one of the most exposed places you can ride a bike for some miles due to its position at the northern edge of Yorkshire’s bit of the Pennines, looking out across the gap in the hills through which passes the main east-west motor highway between my corner of England’s North East and our daffodil bothering cousins over in Cumbria, a road itself sometimes closed to some or even all vehicles on particularly windy days, a kind of default ride if stormy weather is forecast. I could justify this by the fact that there is nothing particularly steep or bendy which might cause a problem to anyone trying to get up or down the hill should the weather take a turn for the worse, or rationalise that the inn at the top provides the chance of last resort refuge should gale, storm or blizzard grow tiresome but being honest it is because being somewhere high and exposed as a big depression scours the hilltops with strong winds is exhilarating and a neccessary counterweight to an existance which so often puts a roof between me and sky. Summer is great: warm, carefree, and the riding is easy but everything comes to an end and every year she does die so beautifully. It is still early in the year of course, a few leaves remain on the trees although not many after today, and temperatures are mild but last night I dreamed of snow.
The Fleak, via Summer Lodge, scene of the famous 2006 Crackpot GPS incident
well, famous if you lived in Swaledale in 2006 and have a fascination as to why people would trust a computer over the evidence of their own eyes, on one of those glorious autumn saturdays that are such a gift to those of us struggling with the prospect of all those dark nights to come consigning weekday bike riding to being a nocturnal activity.