The bends beneath the blossom
There is a road that stretches lazily out from the driveway of our little house for 22 miles until it hits the sea. It rolls and climbs underneath a canopy of ancient redwood until the final few miles, where a stellar explosion of orange and pink cherry blossom guides it kindly towards the water. Its gorgeous at this time of year. The colours are burnt, vivid and warm. The air is clean, crisp and fresh. When it’s sunlit, it looks like heaven, man. I don’t know why I’m saying all of this. You know it like the back of your hand. You love it as much as I do. We’ve meandered sleepily through the bends on our bikes a thousand times.
I’ve built this sort of routine that I’ve been keeping up for the last 7 weeks. Firstly, I’ve stopped working. I don’t mean that I do a little bit of work, sometimes – I mean that I do not work, at any time. I do not open my computer or answer my phone unless it’s my mother, my sister or Matthew. My office sits dusty and functional. There is an unopened pile of mail on my desk and the sketches from my last project are half finished all over the whiteboard. I pay any outstanding invoices when they arrive but I don’t send out new ones. It’s not really a decision I make actively. I just don’t consider working. It rarely enters my stream of consciousness anymore and I assume that gradually I will forget the memory of it altogether. I have enough money. I don’t need much.
Instead of that, I wake every day at 5.30am and pull on yesterday’s jeans, my boots and rifle around for a clean t-shirt. I float on autopilot down the wooden stairs, through the open living room into the kitchen, where I flick the radio onto a show I found that plays old jazz and has a really funny host that must be 75 years old. I brew a very strong black coffee. While it bubbles and brews noisily, filling the house with a rich, dark aroma, I feed Charlie cat who loops gracefully in and out of my legs impatiently until I’ve given him a can of tuna and some attention. I then make a single honey sandwich on the thick, brown home-made bread that my mother insists on delivering every Monday afternoon. It’s not really about the bread. I think she thinks that she just needs an excuse to come out here to see me. When the coffee is done, I pour it into my flask, wrap the sandwich in foil and throw both into my rucksack. I wrap my neck and mouth with my scarf, turn out all of the lights, let Charlie out for his morning ablutions and lock the door behind me. I slip out into the drive and kick my bike noisily into life. In one motion, I roar out into that same road that we rode together a thousand times, and disappear.
When I first started this routine, I’d just ride. It wasn’t really a ‘routine’ as such – I’d roll slowly and deliberately through the road’s varying graduations, waking up under the trees until I hit that beautiful stretch downwards towards the sea. Of course, it’s too early for traffic up here at that time so I’d rarely see anyone. You know what I’m like. It suited me perfectly. But about two weeks in, I started to commit to it a little more. I started to give it a little more of myself. Every day, I’d ride a little bit harder than the day before. I don’t know why. Then, I started setting myself daily speed tests to outdo the last – and now, frankly, it’s out of control. At this point, I fucking burn that road, man. I destroy it. I watch the speedometer climb militantly towards and then easily past 100 miles per hour every single morning. I am fairly confident that it is impossible for me to ride that road any faster or more aggressively than I do now. The bike will not give me anything more than 107 even though I found the handbook in the attic and it said that it was built to hit 111. But she’s an old machine, so I guess I can give her that. I lean heavy as hell into every corner as if it’s the last I’ll ever take. I’m gutsy and brave with my decisions because I did the maths – at that speed, I’m covering more than 145 feet per second. I’m hurled noisily past anything that might have the audacity to share the same space as me, tearing around them and into the apex of the bend, and level out onto another straight, swaddled by a thick, heavy swirl of deep autumn reds and oranges.
The temperature has dropped in the last ten days and now it’s only a few degrees above zero at dawn. My arms and chest are tender and stiff as the wind and the cold batters my body, and it feels like all of my senses are heightened. The air feels like it’s freezing my lungs. I am completely aware that at any given time, I am one split-second, one spot of bad luck or mechanical failure away from certain death. If the initial impact doesn’t kill me, then my skin will be razed happily from my body by the asphalt, my muscles stretched and torn and my bones shattered as my ragdoll body is thrown towards those solid trees, or into the river, or over the drop of any of those sheer ravines – but I am utterly unafraid. Occasionally, as I force the old bike to maintain such phenomenal pace, draining every ounce of agility from its strong frame, I’m ambushed by a crosswind or an unsuspecting animal that jumps out into my path, and I need to remain completely focused to pull a clever swerve, or we’ll both be killed instantly. I stopped wearing my leathers and my helmet about three weeks ago so that firstly, I’d be lighter, and secondly, so that I’d be completely unburdened by gear. The freedom is unreal – and I’m faster than before. I have to wear sunglasses to keep the wind out of my eyes, though. They help with the glare sometimes too. The sun creeps above the sea on the last four miles in the morning and the light blasts in all kinds of directions across my face through the space between the trees. As a result of all of this, I’m a far, far better rider than I was 7 weeks ago. I’m actually quite brilliant now.
Often, as the bike screams and begs underneath me in fifth gear, I lose myself entirely and I think of you. The noise, wind, momentum and machinery fade quickly and I am left with you. Your heart shaped face. Your golden hair, and the arch of your back. How utterly good and kind you are. Your affection for children, Charlie cat and my mother. She absolutely adores you. Your patience and your laughter. Your perfect cup of tea. How talented you are at painting. How you could do anything with your young life and you choose mostly to give it to others. Your thoroughly absurd dress sense – but absolutely immaculate taste in music. How bad you are at singing, and how hilarious I find it. The wind and sunlight through your hair in the dunes when we walk my sister’s dog for hours on Sundays, jeans rolled up to your knees, strolling carelessly along the shallows of the coast. The first time that I met you — and those first days that I fell in love with you. The weeks we spent living in that tiny box apartment before we moved out of the city — and how I knew I would do anything — without reservation — to share the rest of my life with you. About the way that I love you, and how it’s an absolute, and with no equivocation. In those moments, I am a shooting star, burning through a clawing, crawling version of time that is drenched in syrup and molasses — and I fly through a complete, echo chamber silence with you. And then it’s shattered. I hurtle back into reality as I scream into another bend, tearing like a spirit possessed through the voluntary chaos that I create every morning — 145 feet of bone-shattering concrete per second — a single moment of misfortune away from catastrophe.
I pull sharply through the cadences and the rhythms of the bends beneath the blossom down towards my sister’s house on the sea. She’s given me a key because I’m there so much. It’s usually before 6am when I arrive, and so I park up, let myself in, fill and boil the kettle for her and take her old dog Alfred out onto the beach. Alfie is my best friend and he is almost always the best part of my day. He misses you too. He just doesn’t carry it in the same way that I do.