Posts Tagged ‘hills’

Wimbledon Hill and I

Wimbledon Hill has meant many things to me. It has defined my relationship with my bike. And with myself. There are hills that are difficult to get up… But I manage it most of the time. There are hills that only super-fit triathletes would attempt. One of these hills is on the cycle route from London out to Reading. I like to call it The Hill Of Resting because all you can do is get off your bike and rest.

But Wimbledon Hill is different. It is difficult. But not too difficult. If you get into the right thought process, you can just about get up it. If you think you won’t do it, then you might as well not try, because you’ll give up so quickly. But if you can talk yourself into believing you can do it, you’ve crossed the first hurdle.

There are a few things which need to happen to get up Wimbledon Hill.

1. You need to believe you will make it.

2. You need the traffic lights at the bottom of the hill to be on green.

3. You need to look down at the road and not look up to check your progress until you go past the second drain and are in sight of the Cath Kidson shop.

4. You need to stand up to approach the hill but sit down after the first drain.

5. You need to keep your speed up.

Once you have worked this out, you can attack the hill every time, because you have a method. But all it takes is the slightest inclination that your legs ache, or you feel lazy today, or you’ll never make it… and off you climb, feeling like a let down and convincing yourself that next time you’ll do it.

Life is a bit like Wimbledon Hill. Occasionally it is like the Hill Of Resting. Realistically, I will never alleviate world hunger single handedly. It is more than likely that I will end up pushing my bike up the hill, making small efforts here and there where I can but unable to attack the whole thing alone.

But sometimes it is like Wimbledon Hill. It’s hard but going for it and having a method could see you through, so long as you don’t hop off with a faux injury, saying you’ll do it next time.

My efforts to be greener have so far been a little more like a gentle incline, the long slow hill in Richmond Park from Roehampton Gate to Richmond Gate (minus the steep bit at the end, of course). I quite like Richmond Park and a gentle incline is at least heading in the right direction.

But the other day I decided to jump in with both feet and attempt a little Wimbledon Hill. I put my money where my mouth is. I went looking for things I care about, causes and projects that I feel passionately about. While I couldn’t be at the abolitionist march in Austin today, I donated some money to the organisation leading it. I also read up about the British Red Cross and, remembering someone in my neighbourhood who needs help, gave them some money too. I bought two books from the Friends of the Earth website. And in town last night, meeting a friend for dinner, I saw some street musicians and emptied my purse into their guitar case.

I may be a little short at the end of this month but I’m going to ride it out. I felt poorer financially but better for it. Lighter. Like I’d emptied my pockets and now I was more relaxed. The money had been given wisely and I was absolved of the responsibility of spending it.

And that was also my Wimbledon Hill, being ok with giving money away again. I used to do it loads when I didn’t have much, because I didn’t have anything to lose. But then after a while, the bank and the government wanted all that money back. And you have to keep hold of it. Think before you spend. Withhold frivolity. Watch the pennies.

And this past few days, for my one good thing every day, I have given money away in a useful way. And it has been fun. Try it.

The time I cycled to the Cotswolds

A few years ago, my family and I were having a long weekend away in a cottage in the Cotswolds and I was quite recently into cycling so decided to cycle there from London. The journey was about 150 miles and I had two days to do it. I had booked into a youth hostel two thirds of the way along and was very excited. An entire day spent on my bike. It promised to be great fun.

I set out first thing in the morning and of course forgot the snacks I had put aside the night before. So at my first snack stop, an hour or two in, I found a few sweets from a pack of Starburst, an apple and some Softmints. I had a Starburst and a Softmint and wondered if I might die of starvation on this journey.

It was November and the weather was starting to get colder, which was fine by me actually, as I warm up very quickly when cycling, so find it uncomfortable to cycle in summer and nicer in winter. One thing that wasn’t great about cycling in winter, though, was the wind. It made things unnecessarily difficult. This day, it was windy most of the time. Not enough to slow me down but enough to irritate. It was in my face and it was constant.

I took a total of three breaks that day, each shorter than the last as I had less and less left to eat. I demolished the sweets and ate the single apple, savoring every juicy bite.

As I got closer to the town where I was stopping overnight, I saw on my map that I would need to go a few miles down the road I was on then come back the same distance, around the edge of a field, like following two sides of a triangle.

“So,” thought I, “I will cut down the work here and just cross this field. It will be much quicker.”

By this time, 11 hours after first starting out, I was getting quite tired. My bum hurt, my legs ached, my arms and hands were fed up of being outstretched and longed to relax. Mentally, I was getting a bit cabin-fever-y on my bike, constantly checking my mileage, the time, my speed etc.

My quick across-country shortcut, therefore, seemed perfect. I was only a few miles away and just wanted to get there, desperately. It was really dark by this point so I used my bike light and found a path across the field. It was quite a muddy path, enclosed by two rows of hedges. As I bumped along, I was suddenly pitched forward into a little ditch and thrown off the bike. Determined, I got up and started cycling again. Thirty seconds of muddy cycling later, I was thrown off again. I screamed into the wind which, by now, had become loud and fierce. I mounted the bike again, ready for a fight. This time, I didn’t fall into a ditch. Instead, the two rows of hedges ended and I was suddenly out on open field. No longer sheltered, the force of the wind hitting me knocked me off my bike again.

“FUCKING WIND!” I screamed, like a madwoman. “FUCK OFF!”

If anyone had been out walking their dog that evening, they must have thought there was a lunatic walking around.

I started to worry that I would be eternally lost in these fields. They went on far longer than I had expected and I couldn’t see any sign of the road on the other side. It was dark and windy and I was lost and alone, wandering the moors like Cathy looking for Heathcliffe.

Eventually, bumping my way across the fields, I saw a glint of a car light and headed straight for it, my heart pounding. As I emerged from the fields and onto the road, I saw a hill to my right and headed straight down it. According to my map, my youth hostel was down a road off this main one and I would be there in just a few minutes.

Off I went, down the hill, gliding and enjoying not having to cycle. I got to the bottom, looked around and realised I couldn’t see the road I was looking for. I knocked on the door of a nearby house to ask for directions and yes, you guessed it, it was back at the top of the hill, directly opposite, in fact, the path I had come out of the fields on.

So up the hill I went, found the road and, ten seconds along the way, was my home for the evening. I dismounted, at long last, locked the bike up and entered the reception area. By this point, I was ravenous, dirty, exhausted and aching. I was greeted with the news that dinner had stopped 15 minutes ago and no, there was nowhere else to get food unless I wanted to go down that hill again. After some grovelling and begging, they agreed to throw something together for me and I scurried off to change out of my cycling gear.

And that’s when I discovered the windburn. It was everywhere, my shins were especially bad as it meant I couldn’t sleep unless I had them out of the blankets which, in winter, isn’t the nicest thing. As I ate, I found I had windburn on the roof of my mouth and couldn’t quite swallow properly because of it. It was on my knuckles and face and tingled like crazy when touched.

So after my thrown-together dinner of tuna, pasta and vegetables, I sat reading a book, making sure none of my windburn was touching anything. It was very awkward!

The next day, apart from adding 8 miles on by cycling in the wrong direction for a bit, I had a relatively newsless journey, arriving at the cottage in the afternoon.

It was a good thing to have done but, honestly, I’ll think twice before I do it again…!