Cycling the Border: ‘Gloom will happen, but we always hold the power to make ourselves smile’

Daniel Stewart shares his thoughts after completing his 668km cycle along the Border

Daniel Stewart: ‘Adventuring makes my heart light. I hope writing about it, makes yours too.’ Photograph: Lily Duffield

Daniel Stewart: ‘Adventuring makes my heart light. I hope writing about it, makes yours too.’ Photograph: Lily Duffield

 

If you’re starting to read this, it’s already too late.

Gloom has smothered everything. The United Kingdom is destined to become weaker leaving the European Union. The Celtic Tiger trembles over the whip of an economic backlash it is helpless to acquit. A wig-headed freak is leader of the Free World. Nigel Farage is still in the public eye.

However, the sun still blesses the horizon.

Four-hundred-and-fifteen miles (668km) around soft-bordered Northern Irish climbs, cliffs and coastlines have been conquered. From Margaret Thatcher to leather jackets, thick white lines to blue moon moments; I’ve captured colour among the clouds, grown grateful from the past, and warmed by the people who make the Emerald Isle gleam.

A personal note passes me by.

Chugging along

I’m 14, on the morning of my first road race. My father and I are chugging along in his red Mazda Premacy. The box-shaped motor gently rises up Orlock, his tired daze, fixed to the road.

Unblinking eyes move from passenger dashboard to my father’s face, as he continues to stare out on to the route ahead.

“This is it, Dad. I’m not settling for average; I will be the best. I will be a professional cyclist.”

For a glance, peripherals traverse to frontals. His eyes soon return to the road.

“Okay, son.”

He’s heard the professional runner, footballer and rugby player before. His face doesn’t flinch at the cyclist.

Little did he know, in six years, his younger son would not only travel around Europe and achieve this goal, but would also come to relinquish it.

March 5th, 2016

Readying myself with an easy session before a local Irish race, I lick my lips at the upcoming European cycling calendar: I was lean, fit and strong.

On the outside.

Well-tuned legs start to make the rollers whirr as I get up to speed, fluffing them up for competition. A crack and a clang and I can’t pedal.

The chain jams, but it’s different. I can’t get off and fix it. Not when the noises dash down my throat, into wheezing lungs, stabbing my heart deep. A crack, a rift, a gap, a hole. I explode, throwing the bike down in fury. Blinded in rage, everything blurs. Salty tears burn cheeks, my heart shrivels up. Frantically searching for comfort, I run upstairs and crawl into bed.

Hours later, I’m lying in a tear-soaked cycling kit.

“I can’t do this.”

I wanted to escape, and I still do. Gloom will happen, but we always hold the power to make ourselves smile. It doesn’t have to be a week-long trip around your homeland, or a liberal rant you pray will be crammed into a national newspaper; it can be as simple as going for a walk, or reading something to help take you away from this crazy, yelling, barbarian, circus, called Earth.

Forget the pot-bellied chimp plastered in and around these articles, I leave you with this vivid image: not of a stupid boy, but a smart, sophisticated woman.

Manicured fingers

We’re in the fifties, perched on a Chesterfield chair in rich burgundy, to match her lipstick. Long legs cross, a white cigarette glimmers out of an elegant holder nestled between manicured fingers.

Blowing a few “Os”, a sideward glance fixes on you, the viewer. Piercing blue eyes search into your soul, and with a Hollywood smile, she delivers the message of the series, of Brexit, of adventure, and the future.

“As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands. One for helping yourself, the other for helping others.” – Audrey Hepburn.

Adventuring makes my heart light. I hope writing about it, makes yours too.

- Daniel Stewart cycled along a well-established hiking route which loosely followed the Border, as well as the North Coast.
Stage 1: Belfast to Portrush
Stage 2: Portrush to Pettigo
Stage 3: Pettigo to Armagh
Stage 4: Armagh to Portaferry
Stage 5: Portaferry to Belfast
Stage 6: Mission accomplished

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