Rather than find out what happens when you overstay your American Schengen Zone allotment of 90 days in a 180 period, I took my little mini truck and hopped a ferry across the channel to the UK. A ten day stay would earn me enough time to finish off my season in Nommay, France for one last world cup.
I’ve been to the UK before, precisely ten years ago. It was summer then, and I was much further west but I did bring a bike with me. The story of me riding to see Stonehenge 60 miles away and ignoring the obvious need to return another 60 miles while having never ridden more than a planned century, is a favorite “major fail” that I, to this day, enjoy sharing.
As expected on that day, I didn’t quite make it back smoothly: I got exceptionally lost, ran out of daylight, was aimlessly riding roads with no shoulders sans lights, didn’t know where I was staying(!) to head back to, ran out of food and water and ended up in a McDonalds begging them to print me off a Google map so I could see where I needed to go to get “home.” I spent an hour or so earlier in the day attempting to navigate off of a set of wind turbines that unbeknownst to me rotated with the wind to face the opposite direction. I was sick the entire rest of my trip to England and spent it on the couch with chills and a fever. If I had ever needed to learn the same lesson of realistic endeavors, proper preparation, and heartfelt self-care again I wouldn’t consider myself very perceptive.
Ten years later and I am much more versed in the art of training in unfamiliar locations. I bring a backup battery to charge any devices that go flat as a precaution and mapping is much more robust. Still, it takes a bit of time to get familiar with the flow of a new area, what roads are uncomfortably busy, which ones look like roads but really are muddy logging trails that end in gates, and which are ones that are gated to start with and not passable.
The backwards (to us non-island folk) roads in England are of course a consideration but the reality of that concern comes less from being on the uncomfortable side of opposing traffic and more centered around the reality that the road is only wide enough for one entity to proceed. This means you generally ride in the center of the pavement and rely on instinct to get you to your respective place of safety should traffic suddenly appear. With the tendency of English roads to feature thick hedges that originate millimeters from the edge of the right of way, more than one scary moment ensued where I dove right around a blind right corner into oncoming traffic. If there ever was a reason to sport American flag apparel, I feel like this might be the time.
Regardless, I’m continuously impressed with the willingness to share the road that I find amongst the Britons. Based presumably upon necessity rather than a campaign such as we have in America to “share the road,” not one car has expressed frustration at me holding them up on any degree of byway. The irony is not lost when there is quite literally half the available space for users to travel upon.
Race season is generally so compact and so intense that much time is spent recovering and regrouping for the next competition. Whatever I’ve been doing these past years has not been working out for me, I feel as though I come into the season with a varying bit of fitness but a semblance of fitness (a consequence of the summer of riding), none the less. Throughout the season this declines and by the conclusion I’m flat, have made few gains, suffer from a progressively bigger hit on my confidence, and marvel at the hopelessness of salvaging any result I consider respectable.
I saddled up to the week in the UK with little regard for what the ride efforts would consist of. I chose destinations, I rode sans power, I opted to not get frustrated when I arrived home to discover my heart rate had not recorded. I got lost, I overdid my days, I left a few marks on Strava, I didn’t pause for rest. My ATL skyrocketed, my legs started to feel like they belonged to a cyclist again. But mostly my mind cleared. That isn’t to say that the moment I shrug into a one-piece race suit again the familiar patterns won’t come back, but anytime I gain awareness I feel like if I’m not more capable as a consequence, at least I can help others to be so.
I’m ready to wrap up the season, if not because of reoccurring injuries, an intense need for vitamin D, waning fitness, or the need for a reset; then because the future is always exciting with its promise of opportunity, of trying again, of doing it differently, of doing it better. I’m not ignorant to the fact that each year I tackle the same brutal pastime with a slightly older, more battered body amongst a more fearless and increasingly younger group of competitors. Experience and determination are my weapons and they are mine to continue hacking away with amongst the skill, fitness, fearlessness, luck, and aggression that defines this crazy sport.
Even with definable objectives satisfaction will not automatically come just because specific targets are met, those with lofty ambitions find that deep down there’s more going on than the immediate aspiration. The best prognosis is to embrace the journey and to be appreciative of how that journey changes your perception of the world around you. In part, my readiness to go back is due to that change. The lens in which you see the world is altered by each new experience but the only measure to this adaptation is to revisit your baseline, to return home.