Monday, 12 April 2010

Four Hills Better Than Two

Riding the Downland Cycles’s Spring Sportive (100 mile ride) for the second time brings me to the conclusion that such a generally pleasurable experience, which has within it intermittent but excruciating tests of will, is a simulacrum for the ontology of life, in both its contradictions and its evolution. Downland Cycles altered the route this year, presumably for organisational as well as aesthetic reasons, and perhaps to embody the evolution of a system, a design, and an institution. But what evolved activity other than a sportive, I ask myself, entails the mandatory use of significantly more energy rather than less? To paraphrase George Orwell: ‘four hills good, two hills bad’.

Eleven Thornton riders signed the start sheet in the bleakly cold Canterbury Malthouse yard that April Sunday morning, along with a few hundred others from assorted clubs. We exited the city via the Whitstable road, warming up in the ascent to Blean, and shortly afterwards were pleasantly surprised by the turn-off to Denstroude. But this year, there was no subsequent turnoff to Waterham, Graveney and Faversham. Instead – for the 100 mile riders – there was a direct route to Boughton and the A2-crossing, and then through a landscape of orchards and forest to Shottenden, Badlesmere, and Hart Hill on the A20. Conspicuous by their absence were blue bells under greening woodlands, replaced this year by an abundance of reticent wood anemones beneath grey skeletal trees. A rapid descent to the warm red brick of Egerton, our most westerly point in the ride, brought us to the route familiar from last year incorporating Mundy Bois, Pluckley, Little Chart, and Westwell, to the first feed station at Boughton Aluph. Reinforced by Jaffa Cakes and bananas, we assailed the two-mile climb out of Wye with confidence if not with an equal degree of alacrity, to be rewarded by sunshine and a tail wind on the descent to Brabourne Lees, Smeeth, and Aldington. The westward loop to Woodchurch preceded another evolutionary twist in the original route, to Appledore Heath and Kennardington. Ruckinge Village Hall feed station followed, where indulgence in more Jaffa Cakes and bananas was all but compulsory: a source of energy for the looming labour needed to mount Lympne Hill, Blackhouse Hill, Peene Hill, and Longage Hill, in quick succession.

Such extreme demands on the body’s resources, particularly the enervating sharp left-hand turn three-quarters of the way up Peene Hill, soon dissipated the calories gained at Ruckinge, rapidly multiplied muscle lactic acid, reduced electrolytic metabolism, and left the legs either limp with inanition or temporarily hard and useless with cramp. What greater practical lesson is there in human biology? Sunday’s ride however had a bitter meteorological sting in the tail. The last ten miles to Canterbury were against an arctic wind that froze the fingers and chilled the torso. Willpower alone had to drive bike and rider to the end – the end of this six- or seven-hour ride that is. No morbid metaphor intended.

Eric Bates

April 2010

Richard, Danny, Bob, Don, Kev and Michael