It’s a fine line – to exercise or not. Outside, the sun lowering, the bank of clouds dulling the light, the day almost over. Yet inside, where I’m working at the computer, such lethargy … I can hardly bear to think of moving. Just take the mountain bike and ride twenty minutes up the rail trail and back again, I tell myself. I coax myself the same way when I’m writing – just write for ten minutes – and then put down the pen to find forty minutes have passed. I remind myself it’s always thinking about it that’s the hardest.
It’s after 4.30, the air cooling, and no-one else on the trail. The gravel road leads flat and straight into the distance. Sometimes farmers shift sheep along it or locals walk their dogs. I push on the pedals, every turn an effort. How unmotivated I am, how unambitious, even slovenly I feel. I make myself do a minute of fast riding to get my heart rate up. There’s no enjoyment in the effort. I look at the apple trees instead.
Apple trees have grown beside the railway line where, back in the days of trains, people threw cores out of carriage windows. Now the railway line is a cycling trail, and in season the trees provide welcome fruit for cyclists, an abundance of spray-free heritage fruit. Two trees I pass still have garlands of yellow fruit hanging on, and sparrows jouncing around in the bare branches. In all this bare-twig winterness, to see the trees, like apple-lit fairy trees, is to see the resoluteness of nature.
On Reef Road, the section that was scoured out by a recent flood has been repaired. There are cars on the main road across the paddock, but here on the trail I’m safe. My bike’s the only mode of transport. No trucks coming too close to me, no cars overtaking as another car approaches. There’s a freedom to riding like this, the whole wide trail from which to choose my own track.
Near the corner of the main road, the track lifts, a gradual, train-able rise. I begin to appreciate what’s around me: the sabled flanks of Mt St Bathans, the white Hawkduns up ahead, the woolly flock of wethers grazing the tawny grass and grey matagouri. I stop at a small bridge and wait a while for the sun to come out. The stream burbles – still rushy with water and the banks of grass flattened in a wide channel from the flood. Birds in the bare willow singing, and in front of me it’s all downhill back to the village.
I’m in top gear, speeding, no worries about trucks or potholes. How fast I am, swooping between fields, past the sheep and the paddocks with new gravel seams. At last the sun drops below the cloud, blazes a brightness across the valley, lights up the rocky tors on Rough Ridge and gives an orange warmth to the bare poplars. It’s what makes riding near sunset so spectacular. Homewards now, heart beating warmly, to a fire of willow logs, my mind keen for the page again, and the sun gold and pink on the Hawkduns.
This is an edited version of a piece originally published on Jillian’s blog about cycling. Read the whole series here.
Jillian Sullivan is an award-winning author for children, young adults, and adults. A mother of five, a grandmother of eight, a teacher of the ‘Hero’s Journey’ in New Zealand and America, a cyclist, lime plasterer, and owner-builder. Her latest book is the memoir A Way Home, on building a new life and a strawbale home in Central Otago.
Jillian’s article on Corpus about being a carer can be read here: A Privileged Job.