The street still sleeps as our frosted front gate closes behind me gently. Crisp air echoes the cleat-to-pedal click. The people of Belfast opt for slumber over fallen sleet. Cycling up the street, I do not.
Now, I live in London, silence is cherished; traffic-free roads are treasured. Rolling past a slumbering Cherryvalley village, my eyes sparkle as the shimmering road ahead ascends.
Up I go, into Gilnahirk hills: The Middle Braniel Road. A present to me, from me. Twiddling fingers on keyboards, mumbling on the telephone, I yearn for this climb every day since I gave up cycling for a living. A maximum gradient of 18 per cent, it has always been the ultimate alarm clock. Heritage, achievement and one of the best panoramic views of Belfast never fail to allure me here.
On this climb, I’m at home.
Tyres crunching and slushing, back wheel sliding; I’ve hit the climb too early in the morning. But I’m only home for the week – life is too short! I cycle on. Morning sun may not warm these roads, but optimism warms my heart.
The ice will have melted on the other side.
Under my tyres, creaks and crumbles grow louder. I fly higher and higher into a blue winter sky, as heaving breaths start to cloud my view of it. Heart pummelling, lungs labouring, I summit my office fantasy.
It would look beautiful if I didn’t have to ride down it. Twinkling tarmac costumed for a Christmas movie rather than two 25mm rubber tyres, moves my heart from chest to mouth.
An engine grumbles behind: an audience to entertain! I must give this downhill ice rink a crack, or my last hurrah will be swept under their bumper.
Ice cycles to school, drifting around snow-filled street corners, demolishing snow-powdered puddles, have all paid off: I’m at the T-junction. Goodness knows how I’ve got here, but I have. Still snarling, water drips off the stalking car’s bumper: Slobbering over the prey that got away.
Grinning, I turn right to move on to the next one.
Christmas has crashed and burned. Family and loved-ones have resumed normality: Ignoring your existence. Fridges lie barren, only tattered tinfoil remains. Back at work and blue, it’s January 2018.
The annoying cliché ricochets around your mind. Slouching on your sofa, sifting through takeaway menu after takeaway menu, you scribble your annual adopted ideology upon every pamphlet.
Why have you not simply thrown them out . . . ?
Don't limit yourself to exercise, explore! Find the madness that gets your heart racing
Gyms are scary places at this time of year. Once an athlete, I still found them a fitness furore. Armed with a memorised session, I fought for the rower, the bench, the yoga mat. The car’s parked up, and I want to be in it again, returning to safety, soon.
It’s understandable to want to start your New Year right, to take on the gym-going wildebeests; but don’t succumb to the maxim on your takeaway leaflets.
New Year doesn’t need a New You. You are great!
Exert self-love into your body and reap the rewards. Don’t limit yourself to exercise, explore! Find the madness that gets your heart racing. It may well be on a Lat Pulldown, but it might also be scrabbling up a mountain, cycling along a coastline, running through a forest . . .
Most of my words were spent justifying a descent down a black-iced hill. There is no argument: It’s bonkers. Instead of writing, I could still be on the Middle Braniel Road, only in a ditch alongside it, my bike in two pieces, a lot more frozen.
But I’m not. I’m scribing, smiling, and reminiscing about it.
My veins pulsed, my mind cleared, I was at one with my bike, and I loved every second.
“No great mind ever existed without a touch of madness.” – Aristotle
In 2018, I’ve found my madness.