58 Days In Memory’s Universal Flux Cycling around Britain Part IV

In 58 days over the summer of 2011, I cycled 4,110 miles around the coast of Britain.

A decade later, in the foreshortened world of 2020, what better time was there to set out on a journey I’d always promised myself I would one day retrace?

But now, ten years older and wiser, instead of cycling over 70 miles a day for two months straight, I’m covering 40 miles a day in bursts spread over four years.

Edinburgh from Salisbury Crags

My 460 mile ride from Kings Lynn to Edinburgh was part four of what will become an eight-legged journey and my arrival into the Athens of the North marked my fifty-eighth day on the road.

Following Southern England in 2020 and Wales in 2021, I’m now about 60 percent of the way around the island…

Map made using Jonathan O’Keefe’s Strava Multiple Ride Mapper. If you’re really interested, you can also explore the ride in more detail on Komoot.

… Or am I?

Looking at the gaps in the journey already — the northeastern tip of East Anglia, the north coast of Devon and Cornwall, the Black Country, the Welsh heartland, and, not least, Grimsby — I’m wondering: shall this ride ever be complete?

Putting aside even the geographical lacunae, I feel the flux of the universe as my feet touch the pedals, every atom in the stream growing, flowing and dying on, even as I race down the road in pursuit.

‘The Road goes ever on and on, Down from the door where it began. Now far ahead the Road has gone, And I must follow, if I can.’ (JRR Tolkein)

This whole trip may be nothing more than a vain attempt to defy Heraclitus and ‘step twice into the same river’.

Everything flows and nothing abides; everything gives way and nothing stays fixed.

The way up and the way down are one and the same. In the circle, the beginning and the end are common.

Into the same rivers we step and we do not step.

Not wanting to get too deep on you, but the only thing holding this ride together (and perhaps my whole being) is the weak bond of memory — or at least the illusion of such a memory.

Building The House Of Illusion And Memory

As hard as my leg muscles have worked, my memory works six-fold, constructing from the basement to the attic, storeys upon storeys, as it traces back and forth between 2011 and the 2020s.

Topographical

Despite the passage of a decade, I’m amazed to find that I recognise many of the places I travel through.

Not exclusively the remarkable places either: I vividly remember cycling out of Middlesborough on a hot day in 2011. The broken concrete of a disused airfield, the abrupt silence of the birds and a sandy track between trees.

Leaving Middlesborough on Sustrans NCN Route 1

This time around, I knew what turns to take, running ahead of my GPS, marvelling at all the little blue Sustrans signs that were then my only guide.

Autobiographical

The circumstances of my nan’s death that led to my leaving on that cycle around Britain eleven years ago and what has become of me since that first journey.

Comedy writer, uncle, outdoor instructor, cyclist-at-large, skateboarder and surfer.

All shared with friends and loved ones, some here for good, others passing through.

Episodic

In 2011, I stayed in Newcastle with an old friend from childhood.

John taught me a lot about comfortable cycle touring: padded shorts for my long-suffering behind, glucosamine for my knees, handlebar ‘bull horns’ for hill climbing and to ease the ache on my shoulders.

This time around, John rode with me for 12 miles either side of his new home in Whitley Bay. Now it was my turn to share a decade’s worth of tea and cake touring experience with him.

Courtesy of the incredible Mister Ridley’s Parlour, a former bowling pavilion decorated in outrageous Victorian splendour in Ridley Park, Blyth

Flashbulb

Vivid memories of emotionally charged events. Like crossing the border into Scotland on 29 July 2011:

I cover the two and a half miles to the border with all the vigour of a man who’s just eaten an entire packet of Jaffa Cakes.

My overwhelming feeling at leaving England is elation.

For a hundred yards, I am in no man’s land. Ahead is a sign that reads, Welcome to Scotland; behind me a sign says, Welcome to England.

The last town in England: Berwick upon Tweed

I scan the foxglove hedgerows for some Scottish significance, in roadside flora, fauna or filth: none.

The significance I seek is on the inside: I feel the spreading butterflies of adventure.

I am a stranger here, in a strange land. The harder I smile, the harder the sun shines.

Procedural

Even the familiar motor skills required for climbing onto a fully loaded touring bike and pushing the pedals is a function of memory, laid down since childhood.

Every element of touring now is a rhyme from a decade of adventure. Pack up your bike, put up your tent, McGuinn. You ain’t going nowhere.

Going nowhere from Craigmillar Castle Park, Edinburgh

Collective

Interdependent and embedded among our personal memories are collective memories of our political, social and cultural milieu.

In 2011, it was impossible to escape the political landscape of scandal and austerity. War in Syria, Tony Blair on trial and police murder in Tottenham.

In 2020, of course, every interaction was marbled with the course grain of the pandemic.

This year, I lost count of the number of gardens, fences, windows, walls, rooftops that flew the flag of Ukraine.

As the muscle fibres in my legs stretch, break, grow and wither, the greatest survivor of this never-ending adventure is memory, creating meaning and character in every episode that I commit to words.

Thank you for reading and sharing these memories. Special thanks to the Shearers for their help in making them in the first place — have a wonderful dino-wedding!

Serving suggestion

Published by

David

David Charles is co-writer of BBC radio sitcom Foiled. He also writes for The Bike Project, Thighs of Steel, and the Elevate Festival. He blogs at davidcharles.info.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.