The Bike and Other Stories
Cycling adventures around London, New York City, and Berlin.
Geoffrey Armes
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Post Stroke Muse
Geoffrey Armes - 2020-08-30 21:11:50+02:00

On the bike earlier when the weather was grey and the wind stiff enough to make me want to get off and check the machinery because I was sure it is was not working properly, I had moments of questioning why I was there at all.

Later in the warmth of recovery it all made sense again.

One aspect is that the fitness level contributed to my body's handling of the stroke in October.

I'm now feeling close to where I was, physically.

I still feel like an observer as some functions are being remapped neurologically, but basically it is all there. I don't feel close to being exploded into a thousand particles of inchoate energy and light anymore, as I was in the days and sometimes weeks after it happened..

A gift is a new enthusiasm to play guitar. And from the relief of survival flows a drive to be purposeful. In those earlier scattered exploded moments I was able to formulate the reasons I should be back here, so I seek to honour that intention.

2016 February Berlin

To The Bridge Yet Again
Geoffrey Armes - 2020-08-30 00:48:27+02:00

Went down to the bridge, did all the little hills, the 10%, the 8%, saw what you don't want to see which is an accident, nursed my gammy right leg, saw a tree work vehicle at rest, passed many many cyclists ranging from smooth and fast training roadies (I hung out in the wheels for a few k) to family groups wobbling down the Krone...

Brief Encounter
Geoffrey Armes - 2020-08-28 18:54:16+02:00

Just got burned by a guy on a TT bike, well, I stayed with him long enough to see him pull over up the road and puke, presumably from the effort. I kept going. Best ride for a very long time.

Another day in Grunewald
Geoffrey Armes - 2020-08-24 18:58:22+02:00

18 May 2020

Another day in Grunewald when my legs sort of felt apart but managed to structure themselves again for the return, err, leg. The roads were busy, proper warm sun brought loads out, including serried ranks of hipsters who were heading to a rave on the normally tranquil Lindwerder island. Also, as I rounded Postfennn and Angerburgerallee I could hear the crowd roar at Olympia Stadion, the last game of the football season. Me, I kept going, solitary, churning pedals.

3rd September 2020

A grey slab of sky picks out the dark flecks in the cobbles. Autumn is nigh.

Geoffrey Armes - 2020-08-20 21:28:53+02:00

Back in Berlin after a week without bike. Saturday afternoon. Twenty degrees, clouds, showers. Rain jacket stuffed in back – no, rain jacket on back. Get warm first. Sweat, jacket clings to the skin. Harder than anticipated, glad not to be talking. What is wrong with me, do I have a cold?

Down at the bottom, stop, stretch the gammy leg, remove the jacket, pee, decision about where next.

Decision made – bridge – remount.

Gotta move on. Breeze is cold, I am not working so hard but am making steady progress into a wind, monitoring the leg, the chest, spinning, I'm back, back in Berlin, back on the bike, finding my way. Clouds grey overhead. Keep moving, I don't need the jacket. Or do I? No, I'm turning to the houses, the first low hills, taking the corners well, nimble progress, up and away, down again, the little patch of off-road and then the second batch of hill, a long shallow drag just enough to test the legs before descending to the little roundabout that marks the bottom of Moorlake proper. I do those pretty well, the 8%, the Russian church, the walkers, the cars. I'm not gonna scare any other riders but it seems, cautiously, like it might be a good day after all. Cold still.

Bridge. Sunshine. Pictures for Facebook. Back on bike, along by the water, careful of the walkers and family cyclists now, keep turning pedals but stay alert past the cafe/restaurant/coffee stop/toilet we never use and hit the 10% at a decent pace and remarkably, keep going. No traffic, can zig zag, making decent pace, glad I went alone, no one to disabuse me of my fantasies.... but I'm smooth and still able to work once up there and the road gets eaten by my wheels and I'm alright down the highway and the bit where you really need to speed with the traffic if you want to turn with the traffic and I'm first at the light and up towards the forest but the sky is starting to spit and sure enough the spit becomes a shower but I want to get back to the bench where I stopped before before stopping to adjust anything although it is thickening maybe. Maybe. Maybe yes. Keep working forward. Through the rain.

At the the bench and stretch. Again. Don jacket although under the trees maybe I won't need it. Immediately sweat but ride anyway, back up the Krone, past the two little holes, over the ruggedly ribbed section, through Huttenweg and accelerate up the little slope before hitting the patch for an “endspurt,” that I don't really have but I sort of vaguely stand up anyway and the rain has stopped but I keep the jacket on not sure if I am sweating or have a cold or whatever, doesn't matter now, stay alert, cross the main roads and slip downhill towards home, another ride booked, another step in the holding the body well task, now in hand. Sleep later.

The Bonk
Geoffrey Armes - 2020-08-14 23:12:26+02:00

That CTC (Cyclists Touring Club) run suggested by Lou was my first excursion into the Kent Weald, On a freezing foggy day of low visibility and hands sealed to the bars by iced windchill at a 15kh pace appropriate for “sightseeing,” we left the meeting place at an I just couldn't ride that slow pace. Not on such a day as my circulation both blood and foot on pedal about seized up. I could see the hedges and not much more.

I tried to enjoy.

Eventually I found the courage to explain my predicament to our no doubt very decent guide and leader. I couldn't hack it, please don't be offended but I need to get home at a decent I mean faster pace and be warmer as I go, yes I know the way (I didn't but I could follow signs and needed to move move move).

A few days later, back in the shop I told Lou, and begrudgingly perhaps, he opened the door to the Club Run. Hence I found myself early one Sunday morning in tepid Spring sunshine somewhere in Bromley at what I learned to be a standard meeting point with the lads straddling their two wheeled steeds and me more or less having the right gear. Mudguards yes, not sporty perhaps but considerate of my fellows, tights maybe, I do not recall how cold it may have been, and this being the nineteen seventies my “bonk bag,” a loosely based on the professional's “musette” shoulder bag in which I carried my spare tube (I was on pressures not tubulars, if you had the latter then your spare was tied up under the saddle with an old toe strap) and indeed, theoretically my Bonk rations. I also, of course, had a bottle full of water sat in the cage on the downtube.

“Alright, shall we get this moving then?” called some wag in mock authoritarian tones and with similarly mock grumbling our feet found pedals, nimbly kicking into the straps, some clicking if they had cleats as well, all bending at some point to tighten the strap as we went two abreast, out of London, dropping down the scarp to begin the long opposing dip into Kent and the Weald. Frost rose from the grassy fields and surrounding hedgerows, we had the lanes to ourselves. It was Sunday morning; sensible people were still asleep! Legs working, some sporadic conversation and I could feel the first hills push back at me, and loved it.

We pressed on, curving past spring flower loaded lanes as only Britain can provide, past copses, thickets, quiet farm houses, moisture laden verdant fields. The first real climb entered under our wheels and as we pointed upwards a couple of older riders, including our mouthy friend began to slip back. “This is where I fall off lads,” quoth he, his barrel torso rolling, some sweat starting to appear. I felt fine, willing the pace on even, wanting to test my strength further. The ride regrouped at the top, and we descended into some village somewhere that had an open cafe. Bikes casually slung against each other and a wall, no locks required, we adjourned. To my surprise my legs were almost stiff, but I wasn't hungry, which I thought a good thing as I had enough for a coffee and a biscuit, no more. I couldn't have faced the carbo-loading my compatriots were doing at that point, my adrenalin was too active.

When we left my legs protested, but I soon conquered my natural laziness as we began to climb again, a short burst that turned into flatter territory.There was some discussion of routes until someone declared for all, “We're gonna go up such and such a hill,” a name I have now long forgotten, but not the slope that was leg sappingly steep and stubbornly convex as the horizon stayed away and the group split into sweating and cursing riders who couldn't hold the pace of the first few, one of whom, Rafe, I'd exchanged a few words with earlier. A few years older than myself, with experience in his eyes and scrawny legs I could see him bouncing side to side, sometimes leading the group or sitting just behind... I slowly let go and fell into a kind of no mans land between groups, still others scattered grumbling far behind, the front pulling away, this road rising against you forever, the slopes to the side beckoning you down if you failed, legs stilled and unbalanced, slowly toppling away, sun blinking through trees and sweat refracted eyes....

My first taste of real climbing.

Suddenly, finally, I crested the summit, and with the frontrunners waited for the panting ride to regroup. I emptied my water bottle. I also checked my bag for food, although I already knew there was nothing. No matter, we were heading home now.

As later I learnt happens often with these kinds of excursions, the group began to disintegrate once it arrived at the homebound roads. Some turned east towards alternative routes, others dropped off elsewhere or surged ahead or went where ever, I don't know, but unexpectedly I found myself with Rafe as we headed for the bottom of Reigate Hill. We talked a little, I moaned about my abilities, fishing for compliments and hit pay dirt in that I was reminded that I was the second group up the climb earlier. Not bad. We pedalled on in silence. My legs finally began to tire after the distance... but his did not. He seemed to surge, then surge again, but he wasn't, it was my legs weakening, as an emptiness streamed into my body rendering me almost translucent with lack of vigour, I stood up in the saddle once again to catch his wheel, but his legs, trenchant, monotonously kept turning the cranks whereas mine, now starting to tremble, did not. To my horror, he, remorseless, disappeared up the road.

I was alone.

The bike had had enough of me, and let me know definitively by hauling hard on my legs with each pedal stroke, dragging my seat deeper into an already sharpened saddle. Also my arms refused to absorb any more of the road chatter that now was able to shake my entire being. I had to get off.

Pulling over I could barely lift my leg over the cross bar, but somehow managed and let the bike drop. I dropped too, into a grassy verge and spreadeagled gazed at the sky. I'll be alright in a minute, I just need a pause.

Another cyclist rode by, cheerily called something about “That's the good life, take it easy,”. I weakly raised my arm to wave and croak a greeting, but he was gone.

The trees blocked the sun, the grass grew on, minutes that felt like hours passed and I knew I'd probably recuperated as much as possible. Trembling, I brought the bike to the curb, straddled and pressed a wobbling leg into a toestrap. My jelly legs and will urged the pedals to turn, turn again, turn, as I ached my way up the ever steepening road, at a speed almost certainly slower than the slighted CTC ride of a few weeks ago. I was truly bonked.

The Bonk. Hitting the wall. Bike legend. Notoriety. Basically Glycogen loss, blood sugar loss, a crushing emptiness that requires instant carbohydrate loading i.e. eating, to recover. I was 25k from home. Maybe more. I had no food. I had no money. A little bit of legs. How much Will?

I fought for the hill, grappling with every section gained, thinking that I could freewheel down, down into Croydon, maybe get some recovery there, but by the time the road tilted in the right direction my body was on fire again just from sitting on the bike.... I stopped briefly, wobbled to a man trimming a hedge in front of a small suburban terrace house and begged for water. He gave me a strange look but took my bottle and reemerged with the precious liquid. I demurred to ask for food, I could see the confused, maybe less than welcoming countenance of my unwilling benefactor....

Somehow I made it through Croydon, and the only other detail I remember is asking a bus driver if I could get on. I must have paused, waited at the bus stop, in vain of course, as bikes are not allowed on buses, however Sunday empty they are.

When I saw Rafe a few weeks later, I got up the courage and asked him. “Why did you leave me stranded the other day?”

“Oh, I thought 'he knows what he is doing,' and just kept pushing on...”

“Oh...” I had no reply. I must have liked looking like I knew what I was doing.

I've never bonked again, although I've come close. Always take enough food and liquid for the ride, and some cash as well. When that weakness tanks down into your legs, fuel up!

Rain Jacket
Geoffrey Armes - 2020-08-08 00:37:46+02:00

Today was a peculiar day. Rain clouds scudded across the sun, showers then brilliant light penetrated the foliage and presented itself as I attempted to spin the pedals, nursing a not so strong right leg whilst teaching the left to involve itself again.

I say 'again,' because I realised as I was out, yesterday I think it was, that I had to use my legs differently. I threw the question, as I rode, out to the road, to the forest slipping by, to the glowering clouds. “How?”. Or, “In what way?”. And an answer came, in memories of riding decades before, of “Lead with your left. Like you did before.”

It was a music thing, see. Or a music for dance thing. Connecting movement phrases to simple rhythm, the pulse in my leg, setting up a pulse, riding tempo, and deliberately counting with “one,” on the left leg, as the leader, particularly on four and eight count. Even numbered phrases. Threes are interesting. I try them shifting weight across the legs, thrusting an alternative 'one', wondering if somehow, this can help me be faster. Especially going up hill.

Uphill. A village. In Somerset. The flap of sails on beached dinghies, the endless chatter of spinnaker in the steady sea breeze, evoked by the wind in the shoulders of the rain jacket Vincent gave me a few weeks ago, claiming it was too big, that it would fit my scrawny frame better. Reluctantly I concede he is right.

I told you it was a peculiar day. I've been riding in dreams for days. Struggling to stay awake on descents and stay fast on the flat. Humidity will do that. Today by contrast was less logy and enervated. The wind called for action, the clouds above responded, how could I not try? Ride in the present! I sprinted some, nursed the leg other moments, sulked, enjoyed the bluster and meandered my thoughts. Back to fixing the legs.

I used to go faster when I was younger. And not just because I was younger. Stuff has shifted in my body. Football injuries. Hours hunched over badly set up pianos and conga drums reaching for synths. And a stroke. All have left their marks.

So somehow today, a small miracle as I remembered how to ride with both legs, even engaging the left and resting the right.

Today then, I went out, I reversed the route only partly because of the breeze, as I thought about balance. Rain drops occasionally spattered, and the wind was cool, an autumnal August chill. I kept the jacket on, and the shoulders flapped vigorously in the stiff head wind that reminded me of the sea at Uphill, near Weston-super-Mare where we sometimes holidayed when I was small. A relative had access to a caravan, and my family was able to grab a week or two of that access. Days on the beach, when not climbing the steep hill to the old church that dominated the village skyline, or walking the dikes and marshland to the cliff peninsula of Brean Down. And the Donkey rides that waited there.

I had to stop again, stretch the leg. A few desultory mosquitos tried to swarm me. I took a draw from my bottle, organic apple juice and some chokeberry mixed in there as well. It didn't take much to right the leg, but its persistent misbehaviour is concerning. It's not like the strength isn't there, so it's a tendon issue. Maybe. Time to revisit osteopathy. Time to call the bike fit guy. Maybe the saddle needs to go up, or a shoe cleat adjusted. The moody sky threw down a few more droplets. I didn't reach for the camera, as I often do, and kept the jacket on. The sound of childhood holidays accompanied my not fully satisfied push north, the pedals turning the wheels as I sought to forget my legs for a few minutes and just fly, synthesised with the machine, elevated from the quotidian to be alive in the welcome muscular pain of the present. Nobody passed me, I avoided the small but troublesome potholes on the second rise, dealt with some massive delivery lorry that emerged from the trail to the city ammunition dump, and found I had enough in me to make a nice “end spurt,”as my German colleagues say.

An Adventure With Instinct
Geoffrey Armes - 2020-07-30 00:05:15+02:00

I did all the hard climbing at Nikolskoe (that can be a brutal series if you make the effort) and got on the final descent which can be very fast and I often try and make it so, except there is a blind curve halfway down and you do have to stay alert. However I'd decided I'd earned a fast drop, yet…. my fingers were reluctant, feathering the brakes, staying alert. After some inner debate I gave up the struggle and let the hands do their thing, and sure enough as I rounded there was a big white barrier across more than half of the road. Well, I thought, now I know why I wasn't scampering, but even so I pushed on as I'd already spotted the gap in the fence and figured it to be a small diversion. Not so - after some 10 metres or less the road ended - the tarmac disappeared and what was left was builders earth and pebbles and further down a couple of workmen. So of course, given I'd come slow enough I was able to turn the bike, completely reverse the gear profile and start climbing back up again, a kilometre earlier than expected. If I'd come down at 50kph as intended I'd possibly been in some serious trouble, certainly a fright. The first ride in a week, and relatively long and hard and hilly. Fading badly at the end, at 58k I was done, dogged it home.

Geoffrey Armes - 2020-07-17 23:17:11+02:00

11/11 is the appropriate day to visit the Commonwealth War Graves Berlin 1939-45 War Cemetery. Rain, wind, darkness, an occasional shaft of sunlight. Sadness at the stupidity of young lives eliminated before they'd even really started the journey. Just long enough to make mistakes, probably not long enough to start putting them right. Anger that there are still plenty who'd willingly send them out again. Afterwards, I turned the bike towards Grunewald, pedalled furiously down the Havelchaussee, destroyed the hill. Deeply grateful to be able to ride these roads. To live. Bike needs cleaning.

Rain soon scudded across my back, or was it clouds, between sharp slashes of watery sun. The weather angels had mixed messages. The intention though vague, was strong enough within: I was going to the Friedhof for Britischer Soldaten. I hardened myself but also weighed in that I could turn in a couple of blocks and create a circle home and be fine with that the weather held me back. Somehow it felt light enough for that moment to pass, and I consoled myself with the idea that if it was still shitty the S Bahnhof would suffice as a goal. By the time I was closer I was tougher: the Friedhof had to come first, whatever else. I could turn directly for home from there if needed, no need to get on the HavelChaussee and all that stuff. I turned north instead of south on the Krone, passing the quiet houses, no other cyclists until Heerstr when a chap surprised me from behind. Somehow he stayed around until the road that leads to Olympia Stadion. There he turned, and I wondered why he'd go up by the site of the 1933 Olympics today of all days. Maybe a short cut to home I had no idea of. Alone then I warmed to the task, legs rhythmic, mouth lolled open, thoughts stayed, waiting for arrival, travelling on alert instincts.

I'd first thought only to stand near the gate, astride the bike, maybe remove my helm and stay quiet for a while in respectful memory. As I'd done before. But the green slope in pulled and the light metal latch was easy under my gloved hand and I walked up, guiding the bike from the rear as one does, slowly entering the silence and the watching trees. Slowly something still entered me, even as I wandered and took pictures and wondered about those men and boys who lay there, some four thousand of them, lives cut short, obliterated seemingly in service to a great cause, but also in thrall to the endless stupidity of humanity. For I was angry as I teared up in that aching loss, angry at the lost chances. It didn't matter if they would have turned as a bad lot or a good egg, either way, the issue was that they never had the chance to make that choice. Who was the executioner, who has the right to remove this life and this opportunity from us? Surely war is murder is suicide? Who are we to send anyone into the unknown like this?

I put the camera away, signed the visitors book, picked up the bike and heavily, furious through my tears retraced my steps to the road. I thrust the left pedal down, and a surge of energy shivered my body. I crashed the second stroke and the bike sprang as I sprinted to the Havelchaussee. Unexpected sunshine cut the trees and tarmac that still glistened as I sped down the descent into the forest roads and the hill we all call “Willy”, owing to the phallic tower that is a legacy of Imperial Prussia's days of Empire and celebration of Emperor Wilhelm first or second or third – it barely matters in the overall arc of history, and history's wars. Does it? The hill sank beneath me, slunk into the valleys and gullies either side, the ponds shivering as I passed. I calmed at the summit, panting a little, then pushed on for near another couple of hours, steady, vigorous, stable, at peace with myself and the road, deeply grateful for the privilege of being able to do so.

Climbing Like Contador
Geoffrey Armes - 2020-07-09 21:59:46+02:00

A damp day, but cleared enough to ride. I'd been ill all week, acid dyspepsia or a cold or both or under the weatherness, whatever it was time to clear the sloth out of my body and at least, try.

There are pretty backstreets to bring you to S Bahn and the Krone, where everything starts in earnest. By the time I get there, I like to feel good, like I want to ride. Today, as I spun, rounding pot holes, looking right for speeding traffic (there's only the occasional car) I looked to my body for signals, to answer me, yes, this is the right thing to be doing at this moment. Go for it. At the same time I could feel the sickness circulating, my stomach radiating grumpiness. Stop disturbing me.

Head thick with snot, I evacuated a few times, snorting right and left, spitting into the wind with bikie expertise only it wasn't, because as I passed the elegant old church on elegant Bismarckallee I spat, only the wind took the snot and phlegm and detritus and flobbed it on my shoulder or in my stubble, and there I was sweeping it away with these little half gloves also known as track mitts and feeling vaguely embarrassed and disgusted, I did not want to be spotted by the elegant denizens of Grunewald, peering out from the picture windows in their villas.

Something about this episode woke me up, and after this I found I was liking the bike again, enjoying sweeping the corners, sprinting down and up the little rise before the S bahn and then out the saddle swaying my weight to grab some tempo up the Krone itself, a nice tail wind, my upper body finally warmed, legs pumping, warm internally if not on the skin...

It's Autumn, but this was a winter ride in spirit if not temperature or clothing choice. I glugged my juice, kept an eye on the lowering rain clouds, upped the tempo so theoretically I could get some sort of distance done in the hour before sunset and any worsening weather came.

Around by Inselstr there was a lamp on in the forest, also the bridge and the short but steepest slopes of the evening.

I'd been watching a video earlier: “Climb like Contador,” and figured to put my education into action. Up I got, weight forward, slinging side by side, I was going to dance up. To a degree I did, but winded by the top of this little hillock I knew I was no Contador however improved my technique was. Houses shuttered and hunkered, this is a rich corner of Berlin where the houses start with the retired chief of Police and end reputedly with Brangelina (when that was an item?) around the back. I rounded the exclusive circle, thought of stopping for pictures at an abandoned gate with lake behind, but didn't bother. The light had been special on the bridge and I had shot off a couple there for the Facebook. The body was feeling better, maybe sloughing some vestiges of a sodden week away.

No Contador but I conquered the rise into Wannsee, switching my lights on as I passed into the forest, shot off some video as I went hoping to communicate something of the gathering lush gloom of the glistening wet evening but it was a hollow exercise.

The wind was in my face now and I was spinning at 28kmh where on the same stretch coming down I'd been 34kmh no problem,.

Passed a couple of roadies, exchanged curt nods, fingers raised perfunctorily on handle bars, grim work countenance maintained. I got to Halensee, where unexpected evening sun ricocheted off flats and office windows and I stopped to point the camera again.

It was a winter ride in spirit, mostly because it had the kind of peace dropping relaxed tempo high enough to keep warm but not involved with other guys type of feel. Introversion starts to overtake the bike community, even in September.

The ride was over, the sun down as I arrived home, but I hope to at least repeat tomorrow, and knock the crap out of my system.