This sleep was on 1st January so by rule 2 it just about squeaks in.
I have always been dissatisfied with NYE parties, the build up, the pressure to have the best time, getting utterly rat arsed due to the previous points. This year I decided I would spend it in a bivi bag, on a hillside.
Folded out the Cheltenham OS map and started following contours to work out where would have the best views and was impractical enough for car based pedestrians. Settled on Cleeve Hill. A decent two hours away so I could eat before and after and simply take sleeping gear. Decided on my grandads touring bike with it’s dynamo hub, my only credible option seeing as my other front light had died in the rain and the replacement was still in transit.
Here is the entirety of my directions:
Zoomy to Cheltenham downhill
R fork before houses
O 2, 1, 2, 1
L fork @ A40
R @ T
(1km) L fork @ two gates
SO @ Road bend $ Cotswold Way to top
Setting off at 9pm, my excitement jumped into life with the light as the front wheel started spinning. Sure battery and LED technology make dynamos somewhat redundant in the ever accessible U.K. but nothing replaces the mindless joy of generating your own electricity and the security that you can pedal into as many sunsets as you like and still be in your own bubble of light. This bubble is what keeps attracting me to riding at night. Centre of my world, all that matters is this moment.
The cold wind rushed against my bare knuckles and I cursed myself for forgetting gloves but decided to pedal harder and embrace the bitterness. This was the first time I’d ridden a loaded bike in a while and the familiar uphills felt steeper because of it. Blood was soon steaming through me and I grinned through gritted teeth as I took in a sharp breath. As wonderful the eerie woods were it was differently wonderful to emerge to the streetlights of Cheltenham. I could feel the anticipation on the streets, the small groups of teenagers on their way to a house party, the distant pops and wizzes of fireworks as parents of young children brought on the end of their party before bedtime, the flashing remains of Christmas.
I must have miscounted my roundabouts as I ended up at the A40 at an unfamiliar junction but quickly corrected from my phone. It was all uphill from here. I soon left the twitching city behind and was enveloped once again in my cloud of solitude. Not being able to see the intimidating hill ahead meant I just kept pedalling. There was one point that it got so steep that my light began to flicker as I wasn’t generating enough power for it. Not something I had considered about a dynamo, but it spurred me on.
I quite like setting off into the unknown and had no idea how rideable my final 5km would be but had time to walk it if needed. After a well trodden style area it was slick but firm grass that kept me pedalling with my wits about me. The rolling nature of these hills and the shadows my point source light created meant that it often looked like I was about to ride over the edge of the world, only to find the gentlest of gradients.
That first glimpse of the view you have earned is always special, this came with added punch as the forest cleared and I was blasted with a gust of wind and the glowing cityscape. I love the story an exposed tree tells, branches combed into place by the prevailing wind, a semi-permanent weather station, displaying movement whilst being completely stationary.
I passed the silhouettes of a couple of bobble hats, then the amber glow of a cigarette, I wasn’t quite alone but the common goal silently united us as we moulded ourselves onto the side of the hill and waited. Gazing over this metropolis I came to quite a satisfying realisation; whatever mankind does to the climate over the next 20, 50, 100 years, this hill will still be here. This wind will still be blowing. The world we are destroying with our convenience and consumption is only our world.
There was absolutely no doubt when midnight hit. The sky erupted in a cacophony of chaos. My eyes darted around trying and failing to soak it all in as my mouth hung open in awe. It was a dynamic mixing pot of colours, bubbling away, overflowing into explosions. Not knowing where the next pulse would come from added to the exhilaration. It was so intense as each display built up to its own climax, then another, then two.
Gradually it subsided and I was able to pick out individual displays again, counting the 5 seconds from flash to bang as the sound travelled. One magnificent one kept going for almost half an hour, it was at least 15 seconds away so potentially Worcester. My unspoken companions started drifting back to their warm beds so I decided to find my own. Zoomed around aimlessly on the common for a bit, shooting along the flowing grass paths still giddy from the fireworks, then realised that anywhere was as good as anywhere else so promptly stopped and rolled out on the bouncy tufts.
My sleep was intermittent due to the cold. I didn’t help myself by losing my blanket, only to discover when left that it was the uncomfortable clump of grass beneath my head. Gave up at 5:30 and decided nap the rest of my quota at home.
Cycling through the abandoned streets of a city when everyone else is asleep always feels so sneaky. I treasure these moments for their scarcity. The low fog was thin and wispy so if felt as though I was dashing through crowds of ghosts going about their nightly business. The ending of trips is rarely dramatic and triumphant, this was no exception. I cocooned myself in my duvet with a cuppa and watched the sky transition from black to grey for the first time of the year as the adrenaline drained and exhaustion took over.