In planning our future long distance rides in Australia, Vietnam, Cambodia, New Zealand and Japan we’ve traced a route on our maps with a winding line that can measure the length of time we need to travel. The list of countries and distances looks exhausting even before we’ve turned a pedal. We know, from other cycling adventures, not to overestimate the number of kilometres at the start of a journey when we’re tired from finishing work and packing to depart. This, combined with our untested fitness, can make the beginning of any cycle trip difficult but this time there should be no need to rush.
Our planned routes and timelines allow for a gradual start. We plan not to ride more than 60-80km per day letting our legs and cadences find themselves as we pedal. There is no need to ‘push’ all day but if there is a fair wind behind we might go a bit further or complete two days in the space of one, giving time elsewhere to stop and linger. I imagine when we’re pedalling in the outback we might stop to camp in ‘nowhere’ and just decide the following day to stay put. We’ll potter about, write our journals, sketch a bit, and eat and rest before continuing. I’m looking forward to this kind of day when we take stock of where we are, being content with the moment and place we’ve arrived in.
On the various cycle routes around London it always seems so frenetic to ride even when I know the roads so well. Recently, I’ve tried to alter my navigational strategy of ‘what I know’ to ride to ‘what I don’t know’, to find out new routes and places in the capital. This alternative was inspired by a period of running, as if in a hamster’s wheel, around Chestnut Park. To avoid the repeating tedium I began to run elsewhere, exploring the side streets and roads off the park down which I’d never travelled. I discovered lots – a local library which I joined, other small corner shops, green spaces, pocket sized allotments, wonderful graffiti, the house with two dildos on an upstairs window, a pedestrian route into a small cul-de-sac, a front garden art installation and a corrugated iron chapel.
So accordingly, with my recent new commute to a construction site near Victoria station, I’ve searched out an alternative route from South Tottenham. The journey takes me across Green Lanes and then up behind Finsbury Park and Kentish Town before dropping me down to Camden Market and onto the Regent’s Canal towpath taking me around to Paddington, crossing Edgware Road and Connaught Square and on into Hyde Park, down into Belgravia and finally Victoria. It is a good 16km (10 miles) and avoids nearly all heavy traffic. The best bit is the towpath which passes through London Zoo. Occasionally, as I pass on my rides, I hear the odd grunt or smell from an exotic but unseen animal which momentarily transports me to the African savannah from the early morning mists along the canal’s waterside. All of this I would have miss if I’d not bothered to explore another route and had continued to follow the bus lanes into town.
The pencilled lines on our maps act as our initial guides to our journey, their trajectories helping us to spin off to find other kinds of ‘Zoos’. For now they simply organise our time, distance and direction, so we know where we might like to go when we start to ride. The lines trace roads, tracks and pathways, across contours and towns that we do not yet know or recognise. For now, we can only just imagine these places and it is this which is of course their attraction – to actually go and find out what they might be like.