I should have known that late October was not a good time to go cycling in sandals but I’d come back from holiday the night before and hadn’t adjusted my thermostat.
It is cold.
To make matters worse, the first three miles are all downhill, littered with traffic lights and choked with commuters so I can’t even heat myself by pedalling harder. I straddle my bike at a red light and shove my hands into my armpits. A truck obscures the green man and, catching my eye, an elderly gentleman asks if he can cross.
I reply and watch him shuffle slowly across the road before standing on my pedals to move off as the light flicks orange.
My mind is whirring.
Beneath the immediate stress of toes that sting with cold and the constant threat of careless drivers and pedestrians in a hurry to get work, there is the omnipresent underlying stress of life. As one half my mind calculates stopping distances, the other half churns through thoughts about work, money, home, the future. I weave through stationary traffic juggling in my mind the same hypothetical situations over and over, getting no closer to a solution but doing a pretty good job of adding to my sense of frustration.
In my rumination I miss the signs and shoot straight past. A u-turn and I’m back on track until doing the exact same thing at the next set of signs, my mind still elsewhere.
It’s a beautiful autumnal morning – a pale blue sky with whisps of clouds and a crisp air not quite cold enough for frost – but I haven’t yet noticed it. I don’t really notice the steady stream of bicycle commuters flying past me in the opposite direction either. I just keep cycling.
Arm out to indicate right.
The sign says No Cycling but it’s downhill and momentum is on my side so I compromise with a postman’s dismount and freewheel on one leg until it hits me – as quickly as the morning sun reflects off the lake’s surface and my eyes register the silhouette of a swan amidst bobbing swim caps – serenity covers me like a blanket. All of a sudden the drone of traffic seems distant and of another place, and the to and fro franticness of rush hour dissipates to irrelevance.
This is the Serpentine. A bubble of tranquility that has surely lost its way and somehow ended up in the middle of London. Its cold water washes away my worries long before I’ve even felt its soothing touch on my bare skin.
Lock bike. Strip clothes. Wade in. Exhale.
Dried off and cycling onwards, my fingers are now icicles and my feet blocks of numbness but at least it is uphill and the traffic has died down and all I can think about is the tingling sensation of a body and mind that has just been treated to some cold water therapy.
So I recently started hanging out with someone who seems to love random/morning/cold swimming and (because I wanted to impress her, obviously) I’ve been partaking. 7 am in The Channel at Brighton (twice) and the pond at Hampstead Heath so far. Does make you feel alive… once you get out ;)
Good effort Rob. I can’t say I do it with any regularity but I’ll certainly keep an eye out for you at the London venues.