We are having a hot spell here. A peculiar hot spell that's accompanied by 15-18mph winds, but a hot spell nonetheless. The sun is blazing tirelessly and the 20C temperature feels more like 40. The wind does not mitigate the heat. It's a hot wind. Hot and dry, like a blast from a hairdryer. I am running about with bare legs, bare arms, bare feet, slathering sun screen, drinking pints of water.
Outside the freshly plowed fields turn dusty. The sea grass begins to look bleached. The whin and apple blossoms release their scents in frantic bursts. It is March and April and May all at once, in the course of a week.
In the slanting afternoon light, the farm yard is littered with snoozing barn cats, their furry bodies slack and trembling with pleasure on the hot concrete. I understand them completely. The sun makes me overly relaxed, sleepy. And the countryside scents are mind-altering. It is difficult to work. The cats have the right idea.
On my own this early evening, I had meant to join the local cycling club for a fast and grueling road ride. I intend to go. I am fit for it. But as I start to gather the things I need - the lycra shorts, the water bottles, the shoes, the socks, the helmet, the glasses - I suddenly have a flash of sensation of what it will be like to be encased in that, in the heat, in a group of other riders, and feel terribly claustrophobic, stifled. Before I even have a chance to think things through, I throw on a linen dress instead, sandals. Then I hop on my upright bike and pedal away.
Along the undulating road, the breeze pushes at me from new and surprising directions after every bend. My dress flutters wildly and the sun scorches my skin. I brace against the push of the wind, tensing this muscle and that, to keep my line of travel. But I do this without noticing, distracted by the views in from of me. When did the fields grow so lush? The forests so thick? The blossoms so pink and yellow? The baby lambs so varied in their colourings and so expressive in facial features?
It has been months, I realise now, since I have ridden an upright bicycle for anything close to this distance. This winter had been plagued by winds so strong and so regular, that I had set up one of my roadbikes as a commuter to help me cope, its drop bars and forward lean making it possible at least, if still not exactly pleasant, to ride for transportation in 20mph+ headwinds. And I am grateful for this bike, for the benefits of the aerodynamic position it offered. And yet, it is only now I realise how much I miss each time I ride with my back curled over the bike and my head bent low. The vantage point really is so very, radically different.
After 6 or so miles the road straightens and I enjoy a tailwind. It is almost too easy now, and I fly in my top - third - gear, up a hill, effortless, inhaling wild garlic and something else - an unknown plant that is almost shockingly minty - taking in mountain views, eyes widened. All this makes me so high, I have an inkling it should be illegal.
Having cycled this far, I pedal a tad further and visit a friend, who is home and gives me tea in her garden. Then I stop by the river, take photos. Then I stop at the supermarket and buy too much stuff, forgetting I only have the one pannier today.
The bicycle overloaded, I finally cycle the 10 miles back - much of it in a headwind that is now so brutal I manage to hurt my lower back pushing against it. Thankfully, I only notice the pain once I am home, collapsed on the grass with my laptop, shooing away the farm dog (who is attracted like a magnet to any kind of equipment or gadgetry), too lazy to rise and go back inside for some Ibuprofen.
Ironically, I would not, even today, had been able to ride my upright bike in this crazy wind along these exposed roads, had the roadcycling not whipped me into a shape that's made this possible to accomplish without suffering. So I try to be grateful rather than resentful.
Still I laugh at the sense of betrayal I now feel at having missed so much. What did I miss exactly? It is hard to put into words. Certainly there's the openness of vantage point you get when cycling in an upright position. But it's also that casual, easy feeling, that is there even when it's not in fact easy.
Oh I don't know. Or rather, who cares? My head must be baked to be even thinking this.
I had been out for hours. I reek of maritime pines and rape fields and salty-wet linen, out of which I have no intention of changing. It is this sort of thing, these sorts of sensations and memories, that I'm talking about really. It is this sort of thing that keeps me upright.