Good Frideday

My subconscious is obviously at work — it’s half-past six on Good Friday morning and I’m wide awake. A low dawn sun throws soft luminous patterns across wall, floor, duvet and the severalsome infeasibly large cats who are occupying far more than their fair share of the bed.

The awakening mind prompts again — it’s got a lot to deal with at the moment — some good, some bad and some merely paradoxical. But around and around it whirls all the same. The best medicine for this is the detachment of doing something — anything that requires total focus. This however from someone who, in the general course of things, is quite capable (to choose but two instances) of having malevolent door frames leap out and gratuitously bruise him or of losing the sunglasses that he’s been wearing for the last two hours — without taking them off.

That focus comes though, when I change modes — when I’m skiing, reading compelling books or listening to truly great music. But above all, it comes when I’m on the edge, in that space where enjoyment and survival depend on the interplay between concentration, judgement and execution. And that, for me, is when I’m skiing the high mountains, extreme mountain biking or motorcycling for its own sake. As it’s mid-April, and I’m in Southern England, let’s say it’s going to be a motorcycling day.

First ritual: grinding the beans for the first corrosive espresso jolt of the day. Second ritual: gearing up and polishing my visor, whether needed or no. Then it’s time — camera charged and ready to go. The Duke starts first turn, races briefly and settles down to an uneven rumbling idle as oil, water and metal reach slow consensus on working temperature.

Then off up the road, at scarcely more than tickover, swinging through the village to gently warm up body, mind and machinery. Onto the A287 and there’s the first photostop, as the road sweeps through old Beech woods, down the hill into Haslemere. I loop past the old market hall and pick up the B2131 eastbound — its decreasing radius bends and broken road surface send a series of wake-up calls to my system. This short road Ts with the A283, which then fires me south to Petworth, past the deer park, old house and through the town. It’s still early, so traffic is gratifyingly light, apart from a few other bikes who’ve had the same idea as me.

Concentration dialled-in, I’m spoilt for choice — do I pick up the A285 straight down to Chichester, turn east on the A272 towards Billingshurst, or west on the same road toward the estate town of Midhurst? Whichever choice is made, the roads are stunningly good. Midhurst gets the nod though, the low morning sun behind me throwing my shifting shadow down the road ahead — the tyres are nicely warmed now, and I can feel the edges of the Dragon Corsas grip and squirm as they damp the ripples of the uneven road surface.

I burble through Midhurst, a relaxed old town, made most distinctive by the job lot of mustard yellow paint that’s been used on all visible woodwork.

Speed picks up on the open bends of the A286 as we pass through the rolling fields of the South Downs, before sweeping into the old Roman city of Noviomagus Regnorum — modern Chichester — and a welcome latte and muffin in the grounds of the mediaeval Cathedral. There’s even a heavenly soundtrack laid on – the strains of a Bach organ work float across the cropped velvet grass of the Cathedral close.

Something vaguely resembling a plan — to head over to Arundel and visit the castle — falls foul of contact with the real world, as I spot the continuation of the A286 to its southernmost end, down towards Selsey Bill and the Witterings. Never been and no time like the present. First part is promising — slowish multiple bends flicking left, right, left and, er, left again — that was nearly embarrassing. Then I catch up with hell’s own obstructionists — there’s obviously an Easter caravan rally somewhere down here and there’s a nose-to-sagging-rump queue of fibreglass and chintz boxes being hauled down the road by elderly Volvos — it’s like watching a procession of arthritic snails heading for some mythical nirvanic cabbage patch. I wonder if beer traps work on caravanners? Snail-hopping being no fun at all, I take the first B-road left to Church Norton and Pagham Harbour, park up in the churchyard and go for a wander.

A thousand years ago, this was the main harbour for the region and the Normans built an early castle here, of which only the moat and some earthworks remain — the harbour having silted up centuries ago, now giving a berth only to a wide range of wading birds and the inevitable anoraked birders.

Leaving the olde worlde behind, I briefly dally with the queues of Easter holiday attempters on the Portsmouth road, then flip back up towards Chichester ring road, which spits me out onto the A285, heading back towards Petworth. Here, I’m loping along in fourth and fifth gears, surfing the motor’s low-down torque and admiring the countryside. The pace ups slightly when I see a Ninja behind me, in the statutory Kawasaki luminous green — he’s right with me on the straights, but falls back on the twisties —- I feel my competitive spirit kicking in, but back off as I start to feel my riding become more ragged — that’s not the point of the day.

We both pull up in Petworth for a breather and exchange silent nods. More photos.

Exiting Petworth to the north, I depart easterly from my outward journey to join the sweeping Billingshurst section of the A272, just chamfering the exhaust collectors on a couple of fast entries — sparks leaving brief comet trails in my mirrors. This is one of my favourite roads anywhere — a rising, falling, twisting and redoubling corkscrew trail of well-surfaced blacktop. No photo stops here — I’m too much into the zone to want to break the rhythm.

Outside Billingshurst, I fall in with a Ferrari 355 — like me, he’s not pushing it — travelling just fast enough to make the journey interesting, while enjoying the clear spring light. We trade exhaust notes for a while — his V8 a howling counterpoint to the V-twin bark then, when we close on slow traffic, he dwindles in my mirrors as I hop down the queue of bank holiday campers and overloaded people carriers, excitedly waving kids with snotty noses pressed against the rapidly smearing windows. Clear again, I pick up the fast sweepers of the A29, the Ducati’s relaxed beat rising to a spine-tingling howl as it fires through long-sighted curves, before swinging through north towards Guildford on the A281. The pace is slower now — more white lines through the switchbacks discouraging the underpowered from overenthusiasm. A little patience is rewarded, as the next line of traffic is reduced to distant memory and then there’s a clear run through the woods from Cranleigh to Guildford. Pace medium, the focus on line and smoothness.

A brief hack through the Guildford one-way system — I’m on a roll today and all the lights are with me, so I clear the town centre in a single, multi-apexed sweep — and I’m out the other side, picking up the Aldershot road en-route to the (in)famous Pirbright Esses and the closing of the loop home. I divert briefly to bring comfort to my be-migrained ex — she’s out, and I call her, “Damned if I’m going to let this headache beat me on a day like this — I’m at the garden centre, see you at yours for lunch and hot cross buns”. So that’d better be the semi-direct route home, then. I make a virtue of necessity, though — dodging the A3 traffic jams by taking the back lanes to mine, the final twisting climb from Churt fully extending both suspension and rider on the mid-bend ridges. I roll it off coming into the village and take the drop into my road on the overrun. Parked up, the bike pings and ticks heat-induced harmonies as I head for the front door and the next phase of the coffee ceremony. And the bloody cats are still on the bed, snoring in furry contentment.

It’s been one of those days where the experience has transcended the description — that Zen state of acceptance of sight, sound and feeling in which nothing feels hurried, and which allows perception, anticipation and reaction to drop below the threshold of conscious action. I’ve covered 150 miles and feel like I’ve just got out the shower. That’ll do.

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