The Bike and Other Stories
Cycling adventures around London, New York City, and Berlin.
Geoffrey Armes
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Second Sunday in Advent
Geoffrey Armes - 2020-12-06 23:44:22+01:00

Cold. Sun had graced the morning, and with the family I'd walked a Christmas Tree home. But it was time, time for the reckoning. I'd moaned all week about weather and work and reasons not to go out, well, here was the opportunity. True, the clouds were down again and the air dampening by the minute but I had no excuses. The body, if not the bike, needed the attention. I got the layers on, made sure I had all the stuff – bite to eat, juice, tubes, levers, tool, phone, cash, identity documents, one use rubber gloves, you know, the stuff – and no more excuses, left.

Actually felt decent, the wind had turned and was on my tail, pushing me through the silent streets, urging me towards the forest. Arms cold but legs and torso fine, fingers and toes, well fingers and toes are they ever warm on a winter ride? I wondered how many others I would see, this late, this weather, this day.

As I rode, I debated how far I could go. I was late, of course, but had spent much of yesterday muttering about needing a longer one, at least longer than the 30k dashes to which I'd been confined earlier in the week. I was outside now, and things felt different, there was no way I was going down to the bridge, and then back around ebay, whether hammering or spinning, and that was a debate too, I needed to be warm but I didn't particularly want to suffer. Now there's a joke – you want to ride in winter and avoid suffering? That's like telling God you want to be born human but not suffer.

I was kind of getting the pull to head north, through the Siedlung where Jens lives and then back down via the hill. I'd get some distance in in, especially if I returned that way and the wind would be favourable. But, if I was indecisive surely that was a limiting choice, better to head down the Krone to where at the bottom you had choices, like, maybe you would want to do the bridge after all, or something similar. Southward it was, immediately regretted as the wind seemed to head down the rise at the mouth of the Krone, making things, hard. I needed hard.

At the bottom, feeling grim, I fell for the simplest route with the option of a longer return anyway, and promptly got caught on a descent by a guy who almost immediately stood up. Not questioning why as I wanted to ride alone I passed him and pushed on, the steady rhythm of the legs, enough to sweat but not enough to well, suffer. The steady chill of the wind was another matter, hands were not happy but functioning well enough. Just before I hit the hill I heard voices behind and was again overhauled by the same guy, but this time with his colleague in tow. Now I understood why he'd stood up earlier. They passed me, gunning for the hill and I did not feel in any state to do anything about them, even though his colleague, wearing jeans I noted, was already slipping back. Williberg was asserting his authority. I kept pace on the climb, unwilling to suffer, or suffering enough but up top I couldn't help but gain and eventually pass on the undulations below and this time opted to push on, away, quickly. As I did so I noticed the light spraying off the solid water of the lake on the left and realised that was the picture of the day – I'd take it on the way back.

Oh you are coming back this way are you? I questioned myself, a decision seemingly made already by me and for me without my noticing. Hmm.

I kept going, urgent, blindly skipping past Postfenn towards the more brutishly steep but shorter Angerburger Allee. I'd dance up it, right? Wrong, as I turned it was an immediate baulk, and a heavy limbed slog was the method, out the saddle, in, and cars today for some reason passing uncomfortably close. The road bent and steepened, and wind began to course down, threatening to halt me. I've never been stopped on a hill. I've never. I'm getting old. The sky is grey. The clouds are low. The road has flattened. Good. I can rest. There's a car behind, can he pass? No. Better up the pace then. Work. Suffer. Turn the corner and the road is two way and wide, the garage is on the right and I am top of the world, watching the highway traffic stream between Berlin and Spandau. With a decision to make. No decision. Decision made earlier. I'm going back the long way.

I stopped, adjusted my hat the brim of which had been falling forward unrequested and assessed the frozen state of my thumbs before pushing on, wondering for the second time that day if I'd taken the wrong route. There's still time to turn back, I argued but there's a picture to take I'd promised myself. Some driver chose to overtake me at a speed barely quicker than mine as we reached the junction at the bottom, always annoying and in this instance slowed down my turn and then there I was, out the saddle pretend dancing home. Here were the photo angles but the light had gone, the sky thick, the water glum, and the rider needing rhythm out matched the diarist photographer pushed to the hills and the long ride home. Up down round and around gasp for air, tuck on the descent, just keep moving, where is the assistance, in the summer I'd be travelling 10k per hour quicker here, nod to the guy opposite wonder if he is suffering because I am. There's crud caught between the front wheel and the brake again, on this endless damp lumbering drip tank of a debris strewn bike path of a day, heading north, heading home, praying nothing goes wrong because surely I couldn't handle it. Of course you could, it is easy. Don't wanna.

At the top of the Krone it's time to empty the bladder, switch on the lights as long before sun down the darkness has fallen and stretch the leg that has been protesting the heavy weight work of the last 8k or so. Getting older. Don't want to ride with anyone now, as I don't want to compete and want to stop when I need to do so without bugging others. I grab a small stick, shove some of the debris out and then a guy on a mountain bike descends from the trails just ahead of where I've pulled over.

“Is everything well?” quoth he, and of course it is but I have to clean up the bike here and he laughs and says yes he has to give his a good scrub, pointing to the mud and tree debris, well, it's a mountain bike say I, no wonder and he admires my bike and seems to know more about it than I do. The 2006 model? he asks. And yeah, winter, cold, and bike cleaning, part of it right, to be expected? I can only agree then he wishes me a cheery second Sunday of Advent and moves on, and I get to pee.

As I ride off, lights flashing, I think, oh that was Jens, surely. Or not? I'll (probably) never know.

Later that evening, snow hissed then fluttered its kiss on the ground and rooves of Berlin, silenced the traffic and enhanced the children's delighted cries. There'll be no road bike for a couple of days.

Berlin 2018