Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Something's getting sore on Route No 4

The original Route 4 through Tredegar Park 
All that blogging about (stolen) bikes must have been prophetic because two weeks ago our trusty X-reg Astra was handed the death sentence by the garage and, for the first time in eighteen months, I found myself back on the saddle.

I have to admit to being an intermittent cyclist. I tend to have mad bursts of enthusiasm, like the few weeks in spring 2010 when I decided it was a great idea to cycle to work regularly and duly pedaled all the way to Croesyceiliog (and back) several times a week. Then there was that awful journey home, the day of our big Queen’s High School reunion at Malpas Cricket Club, when the heavens emptied on me and my run-proof mascara ran and ran until I could barely see where I was going. By the time I reached Fourteen Locks I resembled a one-eyed Alice Cooper, squinting desperately and trying to avoid careering off the towpath and into the lock. The whole experience put me off cycling for quite some time, I can tell you.

On another occasion, Harri and I were cycling in the vicinity of Mynydd Machen and I needed to slow down before negotiating my bike through a rather narrow gap in a fence. Now I can do the nifty little manoevres; I can also (just about) click my way up and down the gears. I’m just not so adept at doing both things at the same time; one minute I was happily wobbling towards Harri, the next I was on the floor with a heavy mountain bike toppled on top of me.

The canal towpath is full of wildlife
There were good times, of course, like the time I realised that cycling uphill was infinitely easier in gear 1:1 and the numerous times I’ve free-wheeled down Laurel Drive; however, of late, my love affair with cycling has dwindled and had Harri not had his ‘brainwave’ (that we could cycle to Cwmbran to look for a new car before he started work in Caerleon at 10 am), I’d probably have left it that way.

But Amazon doesn’t yet sell used cars, so we had no alternative but to go searching. So, at ten past eight on the morning after I’d pounded the streets of Cardiff for 13.1 miles, abandoning gel soles, socks and a water bottle along the way, I found myself perched behind the handlebars of my mountain bike about to tackle another half marathon (and a bit), only this time on wheels.

The world goes by a lot more slowly on a bike – it took me nearly three hours to cycle to Cwmbran, look at two cars and cycle home alone via the longer (flatter) route – and once I’d re-acclimatised myself with the gears, I actually started enjoying meandering around Newport on two wheels.

A landmark which tells me I'm almost there(ish)
When you don’t have to concentrate on the road, predict (I think the proper word’s ‘anticipate’) the entirely unpredictable actions of the driver in front, behind, to the left and to the right, then you start to wake up to the world around you, tuning into the wildlife living in the city.

Like the family of swans preening their feathers on the edge of the canal –  mam and dad swan proudly fussing their four grown-up children; the moor hens darting around on their spindly little legs; the grey squirrels, so used to humans that they barely glanced up as I cycled past. When a rat scampered across the cycle path running alongside the River Usk, it was just another factor in a hugely enjoyable morning.

Despite the aching bottom, I decided that I liked cycling after all.

So much so that the following day I was off again, this time heading to Asda, Raven House Trust (where I am now an enthusiastic volunteer), Capel Court (to deliver Dad’s shopping) and finally, home. By now, my confidence was wheelie soaring (sorry!) and I ignored the well signposted Route 4, choosing instead to pedal through Tredegar Park and beyond. Interestingly, this was the route of the intended cycle path but agreement was never reached on the section through the former golf course.

The now very overgrown Tredegar Park Golf Course (yet more land owned by Newbridge Estates, the company which fought so hard to ruin Rhiwderin village and have now turned the century-old allotments into a monstrous housing estate) is familiar running territory for me, but the uneven terrain was tough on two wheels. After struggling across a stretch of muddy footpath, I headed enthusiastically towards an ornate bridge (it looked solid – and flat) and took a sharp left turn, bouncing down a muddy bank towards the Ebbw. It was only after I’d cycled a fair distance over bumpy ground that it dawned on me that I was on the wrong side of the river and the only way to reach Ford Lane would be to clamber up a ten feet wall with a bike on my shoulders or turn back.

It's tough going up, but even tougher bouncing down
You see, that’s the problem with cycling... take a wrong turning, misjudge a gear and you end up having to extricate a dead weight lump of metal out of a tricky situation... or risk falling off!

On the evening of the half marathon the only muscles that weren’t aching were my gluteals... now two long days on the saddle had ensured that my posterior was suffering as much as everything else.

And so... I abandoned the bike and started walking everywhere, which took even longer, especially when your walking companion is Harri and the marvellous Tredegar Arms pub is en route.

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