We’ve been together for a long time, passed through a few places, been tide-lined by sweat and bleached by sun, retrieved from ditches and accused by police. From the depths of Death Valley to the heights of the Andes, from the verdant French wine country to the self righteous rectitude of a Dutch cycle lane. But now due to an ageing decrepitude, retirement is imminent. The navigator has decreed, suggesting that I should introduce the idea to both It and I. I procrastinate, It goes ‘awol’. Like the rusting car that is due for replacement, that rewards by irreparably terminating on the drive to the trade-in showroom, so It has sensed the redundancy notice, and disappeared. A displacement, that with slow time and long bag searches has become a terminal vanishment.
To placate both our feelings, I had intended a noble retirement, a dignified deliverance. Like the glassy eyes of a shot, trophy stag, taxidermied onto a shield, and thence mounted in a baronial hall, so, I had planned a similar conceit. A stuffed tennis cap on an heraldic platter, hung upon an empty bragging wall. There to be surrounded by engraved bosses detailing two decades of shady exemplary service, campaigns across four continents, a clutch of bald tyres and a lifetime of memories.
It’s only with investigation and interview; that the navigator corrects my calendrical myopia: I lose years. It soon becomes apparent; It's first outing coincided with our first cycle trip into France. A tour on a Chinese built mountain bike, using the dedicated European Bike Express, at a time when a campground cost twenty francs and summers were warm-dry. Several more fortnightly trips were to follow, before the purgatory of cycle trans-shipment by ’plane became our favoured method of buying traveler's angst. The years crept around, cycles accumulated, upgrades proliferated, bald tyres were scattered to the globe. Still, It was a nomadic regular, even if now it has been consigned to the dark recesses of a pannier. For the helmet fascists are gaining an ascendancy. Spain, along with others, have enacted a mandatory usage, but with classic Latino logic, allows three exceptions. You don’t need to wear your cabesa; ‘when in town, climbing a hill or on a hot day’. Unfortunately for It, we’re in the middle of winter, out in the open of the Mercian plains, so it’s ’waggy finger’ time from the gringo-bashing Guarda Civil. They claim that it’s for our own protection. They are, of course blinkered, sightless to the peloton of lightless, tabardless, helmetless locals cycling past on their way to work.
Yet it’s not all retrograde. That cap has witnessed a dramatic change in a nation’s and our own personal cycle usage. The proliferation of signed routes, the phenomenon that it is a centre based ‘biking trail’, even to the spawning of acronyms like ‘mamil’. Whilst we have now entered into our second decade, with the freedom from bondage of car ownership, that in large measure has facilitated our extensive cycle touring.
Yet and yet, like much of modern life, It comes with it’s own, personal moral dilemma. A carbon footprint of multiple Atlantean crossings, that I try to greenwash by setting up an audit; balancing flight miles against cycled distance. Sobering equations, as both entries require multiple zeros. 'It' the Cap has been both participant and spectator to it all.
'It' .The Cotton Tennis Cap'
‘Lost on Active Duty'