Thursday, October 02, 2008

road miles

We had barely been on our summer cycling holiday for a few hours when a message pinged into Carbonlite’s in-box. It was a request from a TV company making a ‘new iconic British road movie.’ Would Carbonlite be interested in sharing his views about alternative transport to the motor car? Would he? Several long texts later he had given his opinion on the car versus the bike to a very happy researcher.
“They’re very good but you’re too keen.” I tell him, reading back through his texts. She’s going to ask you to be on her programme and then stitch you up like a kipper on a tricycle.”
Carbonlite grabbed a bicycle off the car roof and started to load it with luggage. “No she won’t, she’s just doing her research,” he said. Her enquiry was a timely one as we were just leaving our car in a car park in Portsmouth for six weeks while we cycled across Northern Spain.

Carbonlite’s correspondence had obviously made him think. In fact he started to get quite evangelical. For the next six weeks, he pushed his message on all of us, as we pedalled up and down the hills of Spain.
“Cycling is such a positive alternative to travelling by car. It brings you back into contact with the elements, terrain, the natural world, your physical being and other people.”
“You’re quite right,” I agreed on the first week of our holiday.
On the second week he pressed on with his argument. “There is no insulation, no tin box, no protection from the sun, rain, storm, wind. You feel the weather and know what it is. You know the terrain more intimately too; feeling the rise and fall of the road, noticing the slow drag, that gentle run down, that hill you never sense in the car.”
I nodded, despite the fact that the hill I never sense in the car was taking me to the brink of exhaustion.
On the third week he really got into his stride as he cried, “Feel your legs working, your heart pumping, the air in your lungs! Feel yourself growing stronger on this hill.” By now even the Carbonlites started to put their fingers in their ears and hum loudly as they pedalled. But Carbonlite carried on regardless, sure only of one thing; the superiority of bike over car.
“On a bike you are part once more of the social world of pedestrians and that special club of other cyclists amongst which there is a camaraderie you don't get amongst drivers – the passing nod, wave or hello, a recognition of someone else who is willing to make an effort to get where they want to go.”

On our return, the car was waiting, but it was a few days before I got around to using it. I’d completely got out of the way of it. And when I did use it, I found I agreed with some of Carbonlite’s sermon. Ok the car was both convenient and fast, but where was the feeling of the wind in my hair and my connection with the land, with the weather, with the road? I felt like I was pinned in to a tin box, and hardly used it for the rest of the week.
Instead I rigged my bike up with baby seat and carried on biking. I hardly noticed the hills coming into the village. I hardly felt the miles. And I was saving money. Even a short ride to Deerslet tea rooms was saving me both petrol money and carbon emissions. Carbonlite on the other hand having cycled 1000 miles with ease, cricked his back on a bus while trying to accommodate a lady with a generous girth. Now he couldn’t cycle at all, and had to drive everywhere. Suddenly I was the queen of green and he was the lowly peasant.

The TV researcher got in touch to ask if he’d be on the programme, as predicted, a request he politely declined. He mentioned this fact as he was getting in the car to visit the osteopath, wincing as the torn ligaments in his back gave him grief.
“Want a lift?” he said?
“In that tin box? No thanks,” I replied hopping onto my bike.