They Know What You Did Last Summer
In perhaps a premature burst of optimism, I ventured this morning into my long neglected drawer of lightweight cycling clothes. Stuffed with the likes of un-fleecelined shorts, gauzy-fabricked jerseys and teensy-weensy ankle socks, it was a drawer that had sat undisturbed since last September. And, opening it now, I was taken aback by the stale, concentrated smell of... I don't even know what, as it wasn't just one thing I could immediately identify. It was the smell of cycling-last-summerness.
Certain that I'd laundered it all before putting it away, I inspected each garment now, sniffing it critically. Clearly all the clothes had been washed. They were free of body smells and exuded that sheen of cleanliness which disappears as soon as an item is worn. But the fabrics must have retained some trace of specific scents - scents now amplified, having lain together in a small enclosed space for months, undisturbed.
The clothes now in a pile in front of me, I sat on the floor in a semi-meditative state, transported by their collective aura to the long, warm summer days on the bike. Leaning in with my eyes half closed, like a connoisseur at an expensive perfume counter I tried to discern the individual scents. There were notes of Boudreaux's Butt Paste and hints of dried sea grass. Organic midge repellent and rotten banana peel. The sickly sweetness of Shot Bloks, sun-melted into their wrappers. Sun-baked peat moss. And then, a subtle yet lingering undercurrent - metallic, almost like blood or sweat yet somehow devoid of the biological... It took me a moment to figure it out: Coins! The jerseys all reeked of the pocket change they had stored on every ride, warmed by sun and body heat to release their coiny essence deep into the fabric's fibres.
Before the fragments could take the form of memories, I had the overwhelming sensation of re-experiencing, in a bodily, visceral way, all that I had done on the bike the summer prior, and all at once. Impossible to process into a comprehensive sequence, the jumble of sensory information spilled out in front of me, like the pile of clothes itself. Sweaty face, hot sea breeze, sticky tarmac, stretches of bog, emerald water views dotted with islands, endless conversations in the endless gloaming, endless pedaling.
Preparing to throw it in the wash on a refresher cycle, I carried the armfull of clothes downstairs, then double-checked the pockets. Sure enough: washed out receipts I'd forgotten to remove, a packing list of some kind, a scrap of paper with written directions, a faded ice cream wrapper, a 50 euro-cent coin, a 20 pence coin, a hair elastic, salty sand granules flecked with bits of seaweed, a tiny key. Out of a shapeless memory-mass, details began to emerge: dates, faces, place names, plans, spoken phrases.
Coming back to any object after a long absence can feel a bit like re-entering a once-familiar house that had not been lived in for some time. There is an excitement to it. But also a carefulness. Because we are aware, on some level, that the ghosts of past experiences reside there. With bicycle-related objects, I have noticed their power to evoke these ghosts - good and bad - seems to be particularly strong. And perhaps it is the physicality of all things cycling that is the cause of this. If the cycling experience enhances our senses, can it also enhance our memories?
Suspecting the answer is yes, I am almost reluctant to ruin the spooky magic of it by rinsing my warm-weather clothes. On the other hand, the sun is shining. I want to believe it will soon be time for shorts. And time for new summer experiences.