The alarm klaxon annihilates the silence of pre-dawn. I roll to my right and paw feebly at the source of the sound. It dies an instant death, and my world is at peace once more. This is the moment of truth right here – it could all fall apart now before it’s even begun. It’s the simplest thing in the world, getting out of bed, but I’ve fallen at this hurdle before.
I edge closer to the outer reaches of the blanket, then place a first exploratory foot out onto the floor below. I’m being a lazy wimp, I know that, but still it's a struggle. The rest of my body eventually follows the foot, reluctantly, and I’m out – vertical, if not yet truly alert. It’s all plain sailing from here. I’ve passed the first major test.
I stumble around and find some shorts, then a shirt. Shoes and a helmet lie on the stairs. That’s it – I’m ready. My bike sits by the door, always ready, eternally eager. We stagger out the door into the cool morning breeze, I hoist a leg over the top tube and instinct takes over as we roll out onto the tarmac. Immediately contentment and familiarity set in. It's an action as familiar as breathing now, and being sat up high on the saddle is comforting. I know this thing, I know it so well. There is satisfaction to be had in having made it out the door, coupled with an impatience for the rewards of the road. This, these feelings, are why I ride.
My watch says 5.03am. Light burns at the edges of the world and I shiver in the dawn chill. My bike glides effortlessly down narrow streets by my house, then right onto the main drag. Edgeware Road, a main London parallel, completely deserted. I’m still waking up, but am just conscious enough to enjoy pretending this is London in the post-zombie apocalypse.
I move faster now as my muscles warm up. The sun makes a first fiery appearance, an orange ball of fury rising up over the walls of ‘Mecca Bingo.’ Three teenagers lie slumped on a wall nearby, empty cans of Fosters by their feet. In the distance, down a side road, I see a white van idling outside a house while three men load it with tools. To my left an elderly Indian lady walks one of those dogs that looks like a fat rat. The drunks, the workmen, the old people – this time of morning is their domain much more than it is mine. They live it regularly; I just visit. This morning I am glad I did – the worries and stresses and duties and chores I bother myself with during regular hours of life seem a million miles away from here. This freedom is why I ride.
I ignore traffic lights, another luxury of the spectral hour. I see details on Edgeware Road that I’ve never noticed before - markings at junctions, shapes on the tarmac. I try to remember the last time I ever saw this place without a queue of traffic on it. I can’t – perhaps I never have. After a few miles I pass the megastores – Ikea, Homebase, Staples. The smell of French pastries from the industrial ovens of the Asda bakery is tempting beyond belief, and it takes everything I’ve got to keep going.
Finally the sun breaches rooftops and those first sweet rays of warmth sooth the goosebumps on my arms. The deep blue of the sky fades to a pastel shade, slashed mercilessly by vapour trails from flights going who-knows-where. It's odd, but I feel strongly that I'd rather be here, pedalling past a run-down Cash-and-Carry in North London, than dozing on a trans-Atlantic aircraft at 25,000 feet. The moon appears faint, also high above me, not yet set but still defeated by morning. These small things, they’re mine. I take them in greedily, no-one else around to share with. I think back to all the other mornings I’ve had like this on the road. No cars, few people. Warm air, the uncertain promises of the day ahead. I’ve ridden roads like this thousands of times. It feels like more of a home to me than four walls ever will. This is why I ride.
The concrete fortifications of the city fall alarmingly quickly. There is one roundabout that signals the changing order – on one side a McDonalds, the other green fields. I make the transition and stand up on the pedals to signal acceptance. Suddenly I’m in a very different place. The bowed light of morning projects light shows on the bitumen, dappled and strobed from the overhanging trees. Beyond the hedgerows fields extend to the horizon, rolling gently at will. A rabbit dashes out in front, stops, looks, and dashes back into the thicket from whence he came. Next a fox, then a squirrel. Ubiquitous birdsong is my soundtrack. I ride hard now, wide awake and relishing the movement. Hills come and go and I attack then with all I have. I’m sweating profusely and my legs scream in acidic rage, but I pay them no heed. This is why I’m here. Small towns pass in the blink of an eye – country pubs closed, signs telling yesterday’s news – and always I’m returned back to the greenery of the country. So close to the madness of London life, yet a world away. This is why I ride.
After a couple of hours I reach my destination. The location of no real consequence, and all I do is refill my water bottle and take a picture of the cathedral. Then I turn around and head home. I’m meeting a friend for breakfast at 9am. There’s no time to dawdle. In a few more hours I’ll be gobbling up fried food in a greasy café and watching a million people bustle past the window in one of the liveliest cities on earth. Few will have begun the day like I have. That uniqueness is a comfort and a source of constant encouragement. It is the essence of adventure, the beauty coming from the simplicity, and it’s as easy as getting up early and cycling to somewhere new. This – all of this – is why I ride.
One more thing...
A little while ago I entered a competition run by Discovery Channel UK called 'Make Your World Bigger.' I love the concept - it's exactly the sort of adventurous mindset I champion through my trips. I'm therefore delighted that they chose my photo and caption from the Gobi desert as one of the 25 finalists!
At the risk of sounding like I'm begging (which is exactly what I'm doing...) please would you take thirty seconds to vote for my image? Here's the link -http://mywbcompetition.com/gal.aspx?og=2
All you have to do is click 'Vote' and then also select 2 other images from the 25 (they're all good!) Thank you - it's very much appreciated! #mywb