My World Shrinks in Winter



My world shrinks in winter. I guess this is partly because I’m getting old and my reluctance to travel far from the crackling blaze on the hearth only increases with the years. It is also because there are simply fewer daylight hours to go anywhere and do anything, And, in the case of this winter at least, it is partly because the weather is so furious and foul here in the Black Mountains.


I rarely go abroad in winter. Quite often, I don’t even make it across the Severn Bridge into England. In fact, there are periods – and this is when my wife gets really worried – when I even refuse to go as far as Abergavenny, three miles south of our home. My world shrinks to the house, my office – a cabin in the woods below the house – the local pub and my bike routes in the hills to the north.

I don’t mind my world shrinking. In fact, I quite like it sometimes. In summer, I generally talk too much and as Carl Jung said, ‘I need many days of silence to recover from the futility of words.’ I spend more time with my kids. I sleep more. I read more.

I definitely cycle less. I do still get out on the bike almost every day but when the nights are long and the weather is violently filthy, I tend to go on one of two short routes that start and finish at my door, routes that I have refined in the decade I’ve lived here. The road ride is an out and back: it simply goes up the Grwyne Fawr valley for 12km and down. The mountain bike option follows well-drained forestry trails and sections of singletrack through the Mynydd Du forest: the route is 9km long and the elevation gain is 320m: I scrape out my lungs on the way up and usually manage to give myself a fleeting fright on the way down. I take my spaniels for company. They are both lovely rides: on a good day, the Black Mountains have the intimate magic of toy scenery, invented by a child.

I am writing a new book. Spending eight or more hours a day in my cabin building sentences out of plain words, sentences that presume to burrow beneath the sameness of things, makes my brain ache. There are times when I feel my brain knocking against my cranium, begging for air. ‘Cabin fever’ hardly portrays it: ‘brain rabies’ is a better description.

There is something calming about the familiarity of these rides. Sometimes I take my Garmin and see how I’m doing relative to other times of the year. Usually, I don’t bother. Usually, I just ride. I have written previously in these pages about how I cycle to empty my brain, and how I ride for the void. This is particularly important in winter.

The one matter that I will consciously allow to occupy my mind and disturb that void, is summer. Where will I put down my tyres this year? Where will I roam on two wheels when the sun is high and the days never end? This year is looking good. I’ll be guiding several trips in Europe with Bikecation as well as cycling in the UK as much as I can.

It’s a fine 2015, two wheel timetable. It is enough to keep hope burning as I labour up and down the Black Mountains in the mist and rain. As long as I know my world will one day get bigger again, it can shrink all it likes.

Author: Rob Penn

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