Through the window, as I write, I can see rusty-coloured containers, rusty-coloured cranes and rusty-coloured clouds. We must be approaching Southampton Central.
This week I’ve transitioned from bikes to trains, clocking up over thirteen hours on one or other of these coupled carriages, entertaining myself by reading books about Trainspotting and Breath, or estimating the proportion of mask-wearers in the population.
(FWIW: Mask-wearing varies wildly depending on time and location, from about 30 percent on the morning platform at Bournemouth to an impressive 80 percent on the London Underground in rush hour, before crashing to 5 percent on the train home after kicking out time at the pubs.)
Thank you so much for all the lovely comments on the last two weeks’ worth of stories from Wales. Stories in the Lamplight is already the ninth most-read post in these archives, so thank you to those of you who shared it around.
I’m glad the stories resonated: it feels like passing on the chain of connection, from the lives I crossed in Wales, through my brain, to yours—and after that? It’s up to you.
I passed along a few morsels of bike touring advice to Documentally this week. Tomorrow, he’s setting off on the longest ride of his life and asked me a few questions about route planning and lightweight tents.
As always, my advice feels like nothing more than reassurance that the dream still fits the plan. Quite simply: the more people do this sort of thing, the more people do this sort of thing.
Besides: the student has already outdone the master (ha!) with both the title of his tour—Cycling Hertz—and the generous fundraising he’s inspiring throughout his network.
Documentally and about fifty other cyclists who give a damn have managed to raise over £22,000 for Choose Love with Thighs of Steel this year. That’s enough love and solidarity to run a refugee drop-in centre for three months, or to pay for an expert caseworker to support unaccompanied refugee children for a whole year.
At a time when proposed changes to the asylum system are at risk of criminalising humanitarian organisations like the RNLI—our seaside lifeguards—it is important that we show the whole world that Britain still welcomes those fleeing persecution, conflict and terror.
This money is precious. This money sends a message.
Together with co-conspirator Georgie Cottle, I’ll be cycling more or less the whole 2,400km world record route, all the way from Holy Trinity Church in St Austell on 16 August to the Port of Dover on 18 September.
We leave in less than ten days so I’ve been frantically calculating elevation stats, ordering crates of chocolate and ginger flapjacks, and panic-phoning bike shops trying to source a 22T chainset.
The first four days’ cycling are each over 100km, with more hills than you’d get climbing from the sea to the summit of Ben Nevis. I thought Wales would prepare me. I was wrong.
The white-haired woman across the aisle announces to a disembodied ear that she’s on the train, on the way back from a funeral. A young man in headphones confirms the next stop to the dark eyes, dark curls peering over the seat in front. Two more bikes, belonging to unseen, potbellied cyclists, are strung up with mine in the vestibule, swinging on their meat hooks.
Hiya everyone! This is your onboard catering crew, Angela and Adam. If you’re feeling a bit hot and clammy, we’ve got a selection of cold drinks available. Water, wines, OJ, beers, Prosecco. We’re also happy to have a little chat if you’ve been watching Love Island or the Olympics—with one person at a time in the buffet car.
A funeral, an ear, headphones, dark eyes, potbellies, lifeguards, cold drinks, sweet dreams, used tickets, worn tyres. The seams between all these lives run like laughter lines across the face of our experience.
If you’d like to support this kind of thing, Georgie and I have made a fundraising page. I’ll be writing stories to you right here in your inbox, but you can follow more visual daily updates on the Thighs of Steel Instagram and Facebook. Maybe even on Twitter.
If you live somewhere near the route, we’d love for you to come out and support. Hot tea, custard creams, calf massages, bugle solos. Whatever moves you moves us.