I finally passed my CBT, thanks to an incredibly patient and understanding instructor. A six-am reveille, the nervy panic of getting back on a bike, finding myself glued to my leathers by gallons of sweat from sitting astride an engine in twenty-seven degree weather and seemingly endless physically and mentally exhausting manoevres on the practise pad were all worth it for two hours of glorious driving down twisty country roads in a boiling thunderstorm. There’s nothing like lightning flashes and towering blue clouds over a road lost in heat-haze to add a bit of drama to an otherwise fairly gentle and responsible ride. Also there were chickens in the road, and highland cows, and at least two llamas. And many, many tractors, most of them dragging hay-wagons, one of which was about twenty yards away from turning me into the Late Laminated. The most common instruction in my headset was “Is there not a little green light flashing on the panel?” since my only notable problem, by the end, was forgetting to turn the indicator off after a turn.
I was nervous – Really nervous, nervous enough to keep stalling and not make progress beyond about twenty miles per hour – for about the first ten minutes, then gradually my confidence picked up and I started managing the speed limit (or, in the case of national limit roads, managing about what was sensible on them) most of the time, and had my slow-speed control in the innumerable traffic-calming zones down to a tee (Right down to driving around the speed bumps and potholes) by the end of the session.
It was all managed with two short breaks, more to let the engines cool down and check how I was feeling on the bike than to stop myself falling apart in pain. (Thanks to the one-way radio, I could hear M, but he couldn’t hear me. This is possibly useful, since he would have got a stream-of-consciousness ramble of “Fuck fuck fuck fuck AHAHAHAHAAA THIS IS AWESOME fuck THINGY! what the? COMBINE HARVESTER! ooh what a pretty NOOO I’m not ready for the national speed limit FUCK road full of apples OH MY GOD EVERYTHING IS AMAZING”)
My major problems seem to be stalling at junctions (Always recovered quickly enough that I’m not holding up traffic), not cancelling my indicators (probably an overlearn of “don’t look at the instrument panel”) and not quite having the confidence to pick up speed quickly. I also only had to overtake once, a cyclist, so I imagine that overtaking anything bigger or faster might prove interesting – I opted to stick behind a bus which was pulling away from its stop, since I wasn’t confident how big its blindspot was, and there was a yellow bollard island in the middle of the chevrons. Not a terrible choice, but a cautious one.
Next steps… Well, sensibly, the next step is to re-work out my budget, and buy the remaining gear (Gloves, helmet, boots), and buy, tax and insure a bike. This will, obviously, require a mixture of “Saving up basically forever” and “Taking out a loan”. I can square this with myself because, over time, having a bike will both save me money on bus, taxi and train fares, as well as giving me more flexibility on, well, everything. This is what I wanted it for, really – Freedom. Being trapped by a mixture of public transport timetables and the goodwill of my friends is starting to drive me up the wall.
Longer term – The next step is probably to aim to have my theory test done by Spring, so that I can make the most of the long days and drier weather to do my test in, after having ridden over Winter in much harder conditions. I’ll do the New-Bike-Familiarisation with the same school, pretty much as soon as I get the bike itself, then maybe give it a month before deciding what I want to do about extra lessons. I imagine I’ll want at least a few, if nothing else just to make sure I’m not picking up too many bad habits.
But, all practicalities aside; Being out on the bike gave me the same calm, focused feeling as swimming. That’s something that’s worth spending money and time on. Not sure how I can explain it to anyone who isn’t in constant pain, but having a state in which you can be aware of your whole body without being mostly aware of the pain, and – even better – being aware of how well it’s functioning at the thing that it’s doing, rather than being aware of its complete inactivity. I am not being hyperbolic to say that it’s the active version of the passive whole-body-flicker that a morphine high imparts when you’re lying perfectly still and doing nothing but letting your brain wander through the turquoise lights.
I need more of this. I much prefer the feeling of being energetic and productive than feeling like I’m melting into a pile of feathers.
Of course, now I’m suffering for my hubris. Nobody will be surprised that eight hours on a bike has, now that I’ve allowed myself the luxury of feeling it, taken a bit of a toll on my joints. My hips feel great, but my knees and ankles are stiff, the strength is gone from my wrists, my hands haven’t stopped shaking, and my right shoulder has the familiar “Someone has put a red hot steel ball under my scapula” feeling. So I’ll sleep for a week, and then I’ll go bike shopping.