A wave in my belly. A jolt in the saddle. The gentle lift and drop of my arms on the handlebars. Tiny shudders in the wheel and then release: smooth, floating. Straining eyes scanning over blue outlines, faint edges, hints of objects and borders that keep me in a perceived straight line. A slip of the wheel, the spin of something hard and the sound of a falling rock. The only time I’m grateful for a car being behind me is now, when their headlights briefly illuminate the road ahead and the shapes become trees, the delicate lines become curbs and for a few seconds, I can see what lies ahead.
This is the unique sensory experience of cycling at night with bad lights.
It is both fear and exhilaration. Panic and calm. Though, if they were in a fight, fear and panic would probably win.
We have been in Switzerland for just over a week, staying at Adi’s Mum’s house. Most of that time has been spent “recovering”, some of it partying and the rest on small day-trips. Today, in a bid to offset all of the chocolate consumption necessary to become truly acquainted with Swiss culture, we cycled to the nearby town of Solothurn. We enjoyed it so much, that we ended up staying there way past our bed time and thus undertaking the risky business of night-cycling to get home.
The 20km ride there was fun and breezy. It was strange getting on my bike without my panniers. The frame felt flimsy and light and my brain had to adjust quickly to the absence of so much weight. My muscles also took time to reassess the situation and were aching strangely, as if opening up old wounds. Once again, the ride was sunny and bright and we followed the way of the river Aare. We briefly stopped in the town of Wangen an der Aare, which struck us as a typical Swiss looking town (not so remarkable since we’re in Switzerland, but it’s nice to see a country conform to your images of it every now and then).
When we got to Solothurn, we went to a restaurant popular with “the stoners and wasters”; Adi proudly informed me as we slumped comfortably in chairs in the sun and sipped beer with the best of them.
I asked Adi lots of questions about when he used to live here; what he used to do, what it was like etc. I like doing this, piecing together his history. I get excited about finding out the little gems of someone’s life, when he remembers something and talks of it warmly. Adi doesn’t remember everything, but he’s a great storyteller. He describes the character’s of his friends in few words, but in such a way that I get a sense of them and look forward to meeting them. The other day, I finally met some friends that he had talked much of before in England and it was funny because they already felt really familiar.
We cycled around and Adi showed me bits of the town. We looked for the house where he used to live with a bunch of hippies when he was younger, a shabby little thing where they didn’t pay much rent. The house was in front of a block of offices and they used to sunbathe on the roof and watch all the people inside working. Now it was gone, made into a car park for said offices.
Adi was eager to show me the most beautiful place in Solothurn, so we cycled to the hermitage, St.Verenaschlucht. It was late afternoon and we got off our bikes and walked the winding little path through the canyon, past trees and streams and over rocky bridges.As twilight approached, tealight candles were dotted around atop bits of bark and grooves in the rock face, sparsely lighting the way to the chapels and beyond, to a restaurant. It reminded me of an enchanted forest, a place where fairies might live. I would happily go there and situate myself in some little crevice in the rock and read for a few hours if I lived in Solothurn. When we reached the restaurant, we had a cup of tea with cream.Outside it was getting dark, all the beauty of the hermitage had melted to black and we knew it would be one of those rides home.
The earth was shaky, the path unpredictable and the tealight candles were few and far between. We slowly got ourselves out and into the main streets of Solothurn, then onto the intermittently lit cycle paths and roads where we followed our noses and bad headlights all the way home…30 miles.