I pedal from home out to the discarded millstones beneath the Edge. The sunset burns orange out West. I take the old tram way track under the Edge slipping and sliding in the snow on my not very fat bike. With the dimming of the weak sun I sense the temperature start to drop too.
I’ve come out here to order my thoughts. To medi-pedal-tate. Be in this moment on these two wheels so that all that other shit can be stayed. Even if only for a few hours. Open. Space.
An evening of down and back ups begins. Down to the foot of the Long Causeway. Before the value of millstones crashed, hundreds of tons of them made their way down this track to trains far below, and markets further afield. In daylight you can look back along the edge and see millstones left abandoned. The market collapsed that quickly. Abandoned. Round. One, along from the Plantation, has a face on it like the Smiley from the late 80’s acid house culture.
Cold. Zips up. Buff down over cold lugs. I’m losing the natural light. Artificial lights don’t allow me to read the ground as well. The shine off water is discernible in daylight from that off of black ice. The difference matters. A lot.
Up to Stanedge Pole. Nobody around. I sing for my own company. I turn round. No point heading East down to Redmires. Too cold for ravers down in the woods, but the lay-bys will be occupied by doggers and dog walkers. One wrong flash of my dynamo light down there and my Saturday night could go awry.
Back across the worn way. Down to Dennis Knoll Down Coggers Lane.
The smell of the cold is replaced by the smell of the edges of human life. Noses work well in the cold. Woodsmoke first. Diesel somewhere. First glimpse of one of them massive televisions as I whizz past a farmhouse. The back of several heads on a sofa, the owners of said heads staring at something a few feet away with the size and light signature of that spaceship that E.T. got back in to when he went home.
Then cigarette smoke. Then a street light. A fox briefly (seen not smelt). A car pulls straight out of a drive a few feet in front of me. The dash for his korma more important than my karma. Why on earth would anything be coming down his road at this time of night ?
Garage. Hot chocolate. Growlers (they’re mini pork pies if you’re from south of the Tees). Chocolate. Squinting at bright lights. Being looked at as if I have just walked out of the aforementioned spaceship. Perfume. The tack tack tack of stilettos. Normal people doing normal Saturday night things.
It’s hard enough gong back up six hundred feet without trying to digest two pork and pickle growlers on the way.
Up. Along. Back down.
There’s no perspective to inclines in the dark. They’re bounded by the stretch I can see in the bike light. I think I find them easier.
There’s nobody about. It’s proper cold now. Avoiding the ice up white lines in the middle and edges of the road, and the stretches of black ice, means I’m confined to pedalling in narrow strips of tarmac. Concentrate. Be here now.
And back down.
I begin to read the dark road as if i were water. Where would i stop. Where would i flow from and to. Which side of the track is North. What is the camber doing. And where it stops, and stands, and it is the North facing side, and there is no camber, that is where the black ice lives. Quarter of a turn. If i haven’t unclipped in quarter of a turn, i’m going off. And i mustn’t let both wheels be on the black ice at the same time either. If i unclip then, then i have two wheels and two feet on the stuff. Throw in an incline and i’m going back down it. Like the wrong way on an escalator. Like Torville and Dean drunk. Like a Charlie Chaplin sketch. An owl hoots laughingly at the reflective human break dancing beneath it pushing a steel horse up sheet ice on a dark night.
It’s dark and it’s getting really quite cold now. I choose another track. Past the church. Past the vineyard. Past the Aston Martins. Plural. Isn’t one enough ? Past Carhead Rocks and back up to where I’ve been twice, or is three times, already tonight.
Another gritstone edge. A Reese’s White Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup. No shares.
A quick zip down the Burbage Valley gravel. Cold. Dark. Concentrate.
Tarmac. Cars. Main road. Gritted. Fast. Round the ‘Surprise View’ bend. I don’t descend all the way this time. I hang a right and climb again. I smell horses and then see them, swaddled under coats, in the field opposite. Another lane that the gritter didn’t reach.
If I continue up and down these lanes on this cold night I sense I might be tasting tarmac.
Back up and a stop. Not too long as I chill immediately. Do all cyclists sing to themselves when alone in the dark ? There is no moon but the snow lights the ground. The last hill up towards the County boundary, and home, is a black line sliced through white fields. Nobody. Nothing.
‘ … this could be Rotterdam, or anywhere, Liverpool or Rome, ‘cos Rotterdam is anywhere, anywhere alone. Anywhere alone ‘
Up. Out of the saddle. Play the piano with my toes making sure all ten are present and correct.
In the dark I feel the County boundary. The surface changes. Wheels sing a different song. Heart gladdens as there is now a forty mile an hour descent on a pristine carpet of tarmacadum almost all the way home. Or there would be on another day. The road is banked by ploughed snow, and the melt is freezing. Holding back the steel horse from racing home. Beneath me, a few miles away, the city is lit up in its bowl. I free wheel towards it, as fast as I dare …..
Words & pictures – Tomo Thompson