From A Fair Isle Sweater To Pat Butcher
Imagine if you will, the writer as an acne-ridden teenager all of three decades ago, avidly watching the latest music video of his favourite band, Ultravox. I loved their gaudy, middle European moodiness. Their newest album, however, had more of a Scottish, swirling, skirling bagpipe feel, and the video showed the band embarking on a walking tour on a Scottish island, falling in love with local girls and staying on that distant, mist-bound isle. Thinking back through the fog of time and memory, this was the first time I fell in love with a beautiful place. Although it may have been Midge Ure’s Fair Isle sweater that captivated me.
Several years later, having hankered for a decent bike while a student I bought myself the first of many. This led to a life searching for those beautiful places and occasionally finding them, whether at the top of a Welsh mountain or deep within myself on a muddy winter’s day.
Racing became important for a while. I enjoyed the feeling of being fit, of waking on a miserable autumn morning and deciding whether to take part in a duathlon without needing to train for it. I blagged my way onto a work trip to a marathon, in a game reserve in Kenya, simply by listing my very real endurance racing palmares. They looked far more impressive on paper than they were in real life and the marathon left me with a groin strain which affected me for three months, so karma probably realised what I had done, but it also allowed me to rub shoulders with real celebrities, breakfasting with Ben Fogle and hob-nobbing with Pam St Clement among others. I also met a childhood hero, Tony Fitzjohn, a man who walks with lions. It allowed me to stand in solitude in the east African bush and bask in the peace, the wilderness. Beautiful places, my great love.
Then, with the arrival a family, racing became more difficult. There was less time to train, less money to spend on bikes. ‘Just riding along’ became the mantra. These days I can safely turn up at a handful of races per year and not feel annoyed at feeling fat and unfit. Or indeed looking fat and unfit wearing unwise lycra.
Through the decades I can trace a direct link between Ultravox, through bikes, to Pat Butcher and Elsa the lioness, via sleepy towns in Belgium, hypothermia in Morocco and heatstroke in Devon. I have won races, lost more than I ever won, and ridden pointless routes just because there was an interesting looking mark on a map. My bikes have always remained tools for me, but how many other tools would bring this amount of adventure to a life? Most importantly I have made dozens of friends because of bikes.
I still don’t own a Fair Isle sweater and still haven’t been to the Scottish islands. I do own too many bikes. They have taken me further than just a muddy field, a road or a dusty trail.