I’ve cycled 120km in one day before. Once, when I was 23.
It was exhausting then, though I didn’t have much weight on my bike and hadn’t spent the previous week cycling five to eight hours a day.
Oh, and I was probably fitter, too.
Eight years later, I thought if there were enough hours in the day, I could cycle the 110+km to Gore today.
I might have pulled it off, as I did leave Waihola at 7:20am. Arriving in Milton less than an hour later, I passed a cyclist with the same bike as mine, heading in the other direction. He stopped to say hello. He was cycling to Dunedin from Balclutha like it was no big thing. Clearly a regular journey for him. He gave me some good advice about routes, and I left with renewed hope about making it to Gore tonight.
Sometime around 10:30am the weather intervened. You can tell there’s a strong headwind when you have to pedal hard to go downhill. Between hills and headwinds, my average speed fell from 18 to less than 10km an hour, not including breaks.
On the bright side, the Clutha countryside is gorgeous, and the trucks became much less frequent as the day went on. I probably had the energy to cycle for another two to three hours. But with the strong headwinds, it would have taken me AT LEAST four more hours to get to Gore.
It was just after 6pm when I rolled into Clinton at barely more than a crawl. I was relieved to find a pub/motel with vacancies. It was actually being outdoors in the high winds that was most intolerable, even more than cycling at a painfully slow speed.
For most of human history, nature had a much greater say over what we did and when we did it. We slept when it was dark, and worked when it was light. We ate fruit and vegetables that were in season. We did less in the winter and more in spring, summer and autumn. When there were extreme weather events, we took shelter and waited it out, and quite often suffered.
The more predictable cycles of the days and the seasons are still embedded in our physical and cultural reality, such as our holidays, even if we have forgotten their seasonal significance (especially in the southern hemisphere). The industrial revolution led to advances in technology that have allowed us to extend our working hours and ignore the natural cycles — but our bodies can’t. Studies have shown, for example, that people who work nights suffer from a number of health problems.
We haven’t mastered the unpredictable side of nature either, though we keep going as long as possible despite horrific weather. In fact, one of the objections to the practicality of walking and cycling is that it doesn’t work in bad weather. We need to drive to work because some days it rains a lot. But wouldn’t it be easier to adjust our schedules to account for the conditions outdoors, rather than use high energy transport systems just to be able to travel at a certain time every day?
Are the activities we currently undertake really so important that we need to work well into the night, or go out in horrendous weather, if it means we will jeopardise our health and safety? Analogously, is growing our fossil fuel based economy so important that we must jeopardise our stable climate?
As we face the many challenges of sustainability, it may be that our economy needs to take more account of nature, rather than just the human clock and roman calendar.
I can’t change the wind, so I’m content with my decision to wait it out tonight, and at least get a good night’s sleep before tackling the last 50km. I’ll still make it to Mataura tomorrow, perhaps a few hours later than I originally planned.