Friday, 20 December 2013

Ten Thousand Miles

October 2009

In October 2009 I moved from London to my mother's house in Coventry having packed in the job I'd been doing for twenty-one years. I had big plans, making a huge leap in the dark, which began with my selling off a ton of the stuff I'd accumulated over the years - books, comics, and fanzines - all off in the direction of eBay in order to raise funds for the overseas shipping of all the crap that I wasn't selling. I had worked as a postman for Royal Mail since the late 1980s. It had been a physically demanding job, and one that I assumed had kept me roughly in shape - physically if not mentally - so I was conscious of the possibility of becoming somewhat rounder in my new sedentary existence. My Dad had recently taken up cycling, and now had a couple of bikes that he maintained having always been mechanically minded, so he lent me one of these.

I had grown up riding a bike, and can still remember my first - a metallic blue Moulton Midi complete with training wheels. I recall a few weeks of getting used to it, riding up and down outside the cow shed at the farm on which we lived, and then the training wheels came off. I got good use out of it over the next few years, cycling the miles to the villages of Ilmington or Quinton to see my friends Matt and Sean. I was accustomed to autonomous mobility at an early age, and I have a feeling it may have been something of a family tradition. I have a photograph of my grandfather taken during what I presume must have been the 1930s sat upon his bike, a drop-handled racer of a kind I didn't even realise had been made back then; and my father had always had his motorbikes.

Never having learned to drive, I've ridden a bike for most of my life, and during the years I worked for Royal Mail, it was a postman's bike which came with the job - although it had to be specifically requested - complete with a tough reinforced plastic basket on the front. For many years I had one of these bikes, effectively regarding it as the company car and using it to get around London at weekends, to do my shopping and so on. One of those bikes possibly saved my life at one point.

To briefly digress, I was about to begin delivery and had leaned the bicycle against the wall of 565, Lordship Lane, East Dulwich, a house famously painted by the Impressionist Camille Pissaro. I was stood facing the wall, going through the contents of the basket when a car that had stalled in the middle of the road rolled silently down the hill at my back and onto the pavement. The impact crushed the basket of the bike, which luckily prevented the vehicle from similarly smashing my pelvis like a pretzel. I was injured, but not permanently so, and nothing was broken.

So back in Coventry, my dad lent me a bicycle which he had himself bought cheap from a friend also named Lawrence. He'd cleaned it up and added an odometer by which I would be able to measure my speed and distance travelled. I made a fairly arbitrary decision to try for about fifteen miles a day, this being a nice round number and a mileage which wouldn't use up more than two hours at a time or leave me too exhausted. As my mother lived in Earlsdon on the edge of Coventry, this meant there was a lot of scope for exploring country lanes, and I had soon worked out a regular circuit through Cryfield Grange, Kenilworth and the village of Leek Wooton, then back down the old Coventry Road past the village of Stoneleigh. I missed days when the weather was either too wet, icy, or miserable, and I deviated from the established pattern with some frequency, but this remained my default circuit whilst I was living in Coventry; and by the time I moved out and came to live in Texas, I had cycled a total of 3,180 miles.

Settling down to life in San Antonio, I bought a bike at Walmart, fitted an odometer, and carried on, establishing a roughly daily route along the Tobin Trail, following Salado Creek; and - to get to the point - on Friday the 22nd of November, 2013 as I rode to the end of Morningstar Boardwalk, my most recent odometer registered 3,138 miles, meaning I had logged an aggregate total of 10,000 miles since I first began keeping count back in England in October, 2009.

So, over the course of the last four years I have effectively cycled a distance equivalent of London to San Antonio and back, or about three thousand miles short of the circumference of the Earth. As a number, 10,000 seems significant, sufficiently rotund to justify a sense of achievement, a degree of boasting, and a reflective eye cast back along the route. Months prior to October, 2009 I packed in a job I had begun to dislike intensely, disentangled myself from a relationship which was quite probably killing me, and stepped off the metaphorical train ride to what had for a long time felt like a crushing and inescapable future, the perfunctory existence Philip K. Dick described in A Scanner Darkly:

That life had been one without excitement, with no adventure. It had been too safe. All the elements that made it up were right there before his eyes, and nothing new could ever be expected.

I took a blind leap and it paid off, because since October, 2009, I met my wife, moved to another country, got married, had a novel published, and actually began to truly enjoy life. My world has improved beyond recognition in the past four years.

To flail wildly off in a different direction, I have never liked self-help literature or the kind of person who relies too heavily on courses run along such lines. On occasion such things may prove helpful, but for the most part - at least in my experience - they almost invariably serve as substitute for action, a means of fooling oneself that steps are being taken, because the actual steps that genuinely need to be taken may lead somewhere scary, far outside the established comfort zone. That which one must do in order to go forward should usually be obvious to anyone with a functioning brain, even if that which one must do seems daunting. The cliché would have it that every journey begins with a single step, and this is what I have found to be true, excepting that my own first step was a turn of the pedals.

So yes - 10,000 miles.

I did that.

November 2013

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