Making motorway minutes count

It is said that travel broadens the mind and I would heartily agree in almost all circumstances bar one. Gill and I have just spent three hours driving down to Gloucester on the M6 and M5 and despite the best efforts of Radio 4 I can’t help but feel as if I have just lost those precious hours of my life forever. There is something absolutely unique about the tedium of motorway driving despite the fact that the volume of traffic requires constant vigilance. I made a concerted effort today to get something positive from the experience but it wasn’t easy.

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I could make the same journey in any other way and get something from it. Walking the 200 or so miles would be a serious adventure over a couple of weeks and it would leave a legacy of valuable memories. Cycling the same distance over three days would be a real challenge and provide a great sense achievement and satisfaction. Even driving via smaller, quieter roads would make an interesting day out with stops for lunch and afternoon tea. On a train I could have focussed on a good book or the radio without compromising my safety, or that of other travellers. Then there are the many eccentric options such as roller skating, skateboarding or maybe travelling by pogo stick. A flight in a microlight would turn the journey into a thrilling experience or maybe it would be possible to navigate by canoe or narrow boat. Anything but the motorways.

I understand the importance of motorways and their contribution to the efficient transportation of both goods and working people but boy oh boy are they boring. For me the driverless car just can’t come soon enough.

I can think of a positive slant on today’s experience though. Whilst the journey may have felt like a waste of three hours there is, at least, a valuable lesson to take from the experience. It reminds me of why it is so important to treat not just every day but every minute as if it was your last. Put another way, if I was told I had three hours to live I wouldn’t be making a bee line for the M6 or any other motorway for that matter.

I’m sure there were plenty of people on the road today who would completely disagree with me, even some who enjoy motorway driving but the message remains the same. When you are forced by circumstance to do something boring and apparently pointless you can at least use it to remind yourself how precious every minute really is. I may feel like I wasted the best part of two hundred minutes this morning but isn’t that all the more reason to treasure all the ones that follow?

Living with potatoes

I have decided that hills are better than flatlands for cycling and potatoes are boring but sometimes have to be endured.

I obviously have too much time on my hands at the moment. Gill has found a job and is out all day and I haven’t and I am at home. The days are long and it’s a challenge to spend eight straight hours looking for work. My thoughts turn to this time last year and I find myself recalling a blog I wrote about signs of spring. It was one of the most popular pre-tour pieces I published and it drew analogies between the life cycle of leaves on a tree and our forth coming journey. There was talk of the leaves nourishing the tree long after they had withered and fallen to the ground and our adventure nourishing us long after our return.

Signs of spring

Signs of spring

The final sentence however came as a crushing blow to my negative frame of mind. It read simply;“Who knows what we might be planning then?”

I am sad to say that then is now, and we find ourselves planning very little. In fact the situation I am in is almost identical to that of this time last year, but without the prospect of the most exciting trip of my life to look forward to. I feel as if our life changing journey has achieved nothing more than to provide me with some nice memories for my old age. Surely I must have learned something from it.

Time to go for a walk and do some soul searching.

As I walked I found myself thinking about a part of the trip when we were cycling through Lincolnshire. The roads were flat and rather boring and the scenery was potatoes. (I may have just used potatoes as an adjective but humour me for a moment). On both sides of the road were acres and acres of potatoes. Endless symmetrical rows just coming into flower. I recalled very clearly that all the flowers on one side of the road were white and on the other side they were pink. That’s about as exciting as it got.

There are lots of potatoes in Lincolnshire.

There are lots of potatoes in Lincolnshire.

At times like this it’s easy to become focused on negatives. You start to notice that your backside is uncomfortable, your wrists ache and you fancy a pint but it isn’t in the budget.  I even asked myself what on earth we were doing. What was the point of this trip? I found myself desperately trying to think of anything interesting to prick the boredom bubble. Aren’t potatoes related to tomatoes in some way? I’m sure I read that somewhere. And are the leaves poisonous or did I dream that? The sameness of the situation grinds you down. In this kind of terrain your eye is often drawn to the horizon, desperately searching for change. Anything to confirm that the whole world isn’t really made of potatoes. It may come in the form of a church steeple or the silhouette of woodlands on the skyline. These things give you hope but what you are really looking for is hills. Hills mean change. Hills mean variety and entertainment and a chance to stand on the pedals and relieve that aching bum.

Those hills or mountains will come of course. The land is never flat forever and no matter how far away they might be, you know they will appear eventually. When they do finally interrupt the flat, boring horizon you are presented with a choice. You can rejoice in the prospect of more interesting scenery or you can focus on how far away they are and how much longer you are going to have to put up with this drudgery. That is when I realised that I had learned something useful from what we did. Today’s lesson: Don’t focus on how far way the mountains are but on how spectacular they look and what fun you will have when you reach them. I became aware that I am sitting at home thinking about how many more fields of potatoes I will have to endure before I get to the mountains.

It also forced me to acknowledge that there are quite a few church steeples and woodlands on the horizon to focus on while I am waiting. I have an interview tomorrow and other work related irons in the fire. Further ahead there is the Cycle Touring Festival in Clitheroe to look forward to in May and beyond that who knows what metaphorical mountains we might climb.

I feel much more positive after that and now I am going to get the tea ready. Now what did I say we would have tonight? Oh yes, I remember. I’d better go and peel some potatoes.

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