ES­CAP­ING COL­UMN Get on your bike and take the (cycle) path to happiness!

In the Moment - - Contents - Words: Sian Lewis / Il­lus­tra­tion: Matilda Smith

Long­ing to shake o the weight of the world for a while? Get on your bike…

“Melan­choly is in­com­pat­i­ble with bi­cy­cling,” wrote James E. Starrs in The Literary Cy­clist, and I would agree. I’m not sure it’s pos­si­ble to be in a t of pique while you’re cy­cling along a coun­try lane on a sum­mer day, the wind in your hair and ped­als turn­ing un­der your feet.

The ef­fi­ciency of cy­cling as an an­tide­pres­sant is backed up by proper sci­ence, too. Stud­ies have shown that rid­ing a bi­cy­cle in­creases the chem­istry in your brain that boosts feel­ings of calm and peace­ful­ness. And the in-the-mo­ment fo­cus re­quired to cycle is a pow­er­ful an­ti­dote to sad­ness – you sim­ply can’t dwell on the past for long when there are hori­zons to reach and miles of coun­try­side to tra­verse.

Be­ing in the repet­i­tive thrall of cy­cling lets your mind wan­der, too, open­ing the way for deeper con­tem­pla­tion. Or just for writ­ing your men­tal shop­ping list, or de­cid­ing which songs you’d choose if you went on Desert Is­land Discs. Ei­ther way, you get some headspace, the chance to hear your­self think. Al­bert Ein­stein even reck­oned he came up with the the­ory of rel­a­tiv­ity whilst rid­ing his bi­cy­cle.

On our beau­ti­ful, green is­land, cy­cling is a bril­liant way to fully im­merse your­self in the land­scape around you too. Es­cape the city of a Sun­day, plan a route on quiet coun­try lanes and cycle tracks and soon you’ll be swish­ing along canals lined with wild ow­ers, past elds of cu­ri­ous cows and, ide­ally, end­ing up at a vil­lage pub for a well-de­served cider or two.

One of my all-time favourite days spent in the sad­dle was a small but per­fectly formed sum­mer ad­ven­ture with my friend Char­lie. We started in Led­bury, an an­cient mar­ket town near the Malverns, and we had a plan – a round trip of 60 kilo­me­tres to Ross-on-Wye and back. The fore­cast was for rain, but we de­cided to laugh reck­lessly in the face of bad weather, sling our bikes in the back of the car and head for the open road. It’d be hard to nd a more quintessen­tially English route than the one we took, me­an­der­ing as it did through Here­ford­shire’s shaded val­leys, up tree-lined hills, through choco­late box vil­lages and past the oc­ca­sional farmer wav­ing at us from a Land Rover.

The sun shone (in your face, weather fore­cast!) and we ate up miles on the wind­ing lanes, call­ing in at dinky ham­lets with names like Much and Lit­tle Mar­cle, Pix­ley and Hole-In-The-Wall, and cy­cling past vil­lage greens where the gen­tle thwack of cricket bat on ball fol­lowed by po­lite clap­ping was the only noise break­ing the lazy Sun­day si­lence.

The birds sang and the ies buzzed – mainly into our mouths as we hur­tled through mas­sive clouds of them.

But we gured ies are a good source of pro­tein, so ac­ci­den­tally in­hal­ing some was ac­tu­ally an e cient form of mid-cycle snack­ing.

The sur­real feel­ing that we might have stum­bled into a past decade – or even an al­ter­na­tive uni­verse – con­tin­ued as we ped­alled past the vil­lage of Fown­hope and saw a huge tree go­ing for a walk. This re­vealed it­self to be the vil­lage’s an­nual Heart Of Oak Fes­ti­val, and a group of lo­cals wield­ing bunches of ow­ers were parad­ing proudly be­hind their berib­boned oak, ac­com­pa­nied by a march­ing band and a clutch of Scouts and Brown­ies. We fol­lowed the pro­ces­sion for a bit – they didn’t seem to mind.

As we left the fes­ti­val be­hind and sped home along empty lanes, I re­alised how happy I felt, and how rosy the world sud­denly seemed.

The next time you’re itch­ing to es­cape from the weight of the world for a lit­tle while, why not get on your bike? I highly rec­om­mend it! You might nd you end up on the (cycle) path to happiness.

Sian Lewis is a free­lance travel writer and the ed­i­tor of The Girl Out­doors (www.the­girlout­, a blog for any­one in search of a lit­tle ad­ven­ture.

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