I hadn’t intended to ride this evening. I had already reached my monthly target of 600 miles earlier in the day, but I’ve been out every evening this week, and it just seemed to be a natural post-prandial activity, so at about 10 p.m. I changed into my cycling gear and off I went.
I didn’t feel like trying to go fast. I was full of what is known in our house as “sticky chicken”, an invention of Mrs. Wow’s in which she roasts chicken thighs in honey, garlic and all sorts of other tasty things and serves it with rice and stir-fried veg. So I did the cycling equivalent of an evening stroll.
I headed through Westcliff and to the sea front. I am afraid that there is not a lot of variety to my evening rides. When you live in Southend, unless you are prepared to do upwards of 30 miles, there’s really only one direction to go in: if you want some peace, little traffic and countryside, then it has to be Wakering and Barling. There are several ways of getting there, and my favourite is to cycle the entire length of the sea front and the head out from Shoeburyness to Wakering via Cupid’s Corner.
Tonight the weather was perfect. There was hardly any wind, it was cool but not freezing, and the moon, just past full, was casting a strong shadow. In addition to that, the tide was high, and as I cycled past the flat we rented in Palmerston Road for £7 a week when we were first married in the Glorious Summer of ’76, I thought about those beautiful midnight swims we had when the sun was too hot to go in during the day.
By now my food had settled a little and I was gathering speed, although still not trying to go fast. I had reached the cycle lane on the promenade when suddenly a chap on a mountain bike whizzed past me on the prom. That spurred me on, but I didn’t think I would ever catch him. He shortly returned to the cycle lane and true enough, he was still pulling away. However, we both had to take evasive action as some sort of 4*4 was half blocking the cycle lane ahead, and he kept to the cycle lane and I found myself on the wrong side of the beach huts, thankful that my solidlights were illuminating an area of tarmac that the streetlights could hardly reach.
When I reached the road again, I saw my adversary in the distance, but still riding on the pavement. I kept to the road, on which there was hardly any traffic, and saw him turn down into Gunner’s Park. When I went past the vehicle exit to the park, there he was, a small white gleam approaching from the right, but now behind me. I rode through East Beach again, and now the strength of the moon really made itself apparent. Not only could I make out the bright red button of the bar bag support, but at certain angles I could actually read my computer by moonlight.
I left East Beach and rounded the bend by the military establishment, but as I was going along Peel Avenue, suddenly I detected that there was a cyclist behind me and that he was going faster than I was! I pressed harder on the pedals and glanced over my shoulder – no-one there!
Now I was going along proper unlit rural roads and I relaxed and just enjoyed the ride. The roads were damp with dew, but there was no hint of frost, so I tried riding with my front light off. It was fine – the moon, almost overhead, was providing enough light for me to cycle safely, but I did have the advantage that I had ridden this route probably twice or three times each week for the past eight months or so and I was very familiar with any bumps or holes that I had to avoid. Every time a car came, from either direction, I would turn my lights on again, but that happened less and less as I approached Barling. At one point I reckon I had gone almost two miles with my light off.
Disappointingly, I didn’t see and wildlife of note, but I did hear the piping call of lapwings, and quite pitiful they sounded and it was easy to imagine that they might have been caught by a fox. Once I thought I heard a little owl, but I wasn’t sure and whatever it was that made the noise didn’t repeat it.
I returned home after 19.67 miles, at about a quarter to midnight, and even before my key was in the lock, I could see the dog through the frosted glass of the front door, wagging his welcome, waiting for his late-night walk.