Monday, March 15, 2010

'I cycled to the Arctic Circle'

OK I didn't, that was 'Dummy Jim'. But I'm thinking of him for inspiration as I start the uphill training towards the Etape Caledonia - a day's 'spin' along 81 miles of closed roads in (hilly) Highland Perthshire. In May, when this ride happens, I'll have had my bike for 20 years.

Getting back on a bicycle after a winter break reminds me what I love about cycling. As far as rhythm and pace go, it's not as meditative for me as walking. Movement and thought are less well matched, but the same sense of independence goes with it; me and the road, blasts of fresh air and a pace that engages me with what I travel through. There can also be occasional speed, and the potential for tea and cake stops if I get the route right. It reminds me of my earliest 'strikings out' on a bicycle as a teenager, at first to get to a horse I wanted to ride and then on solo tours with a tent on the back.

Re-establishing my cycling cadence, easing out stiff limbs after my lengthening rides, has made me appreciate this quote from H.G. Wells, The Wheels of Chance: 'After a day of cycling, one dream is inevitable. A memory of motion lingers in the muscles of your legs, and round and round they seem to go. You ride through Dreamland on wonderful dream bicycles that change and grow.' Cycling literature inevitably brings to mind Flann O'Brien's brilliant The Third Policeman (I'll be keeping an eye on my wall-leaning habits over the next two months).

So who's Dummy Jim? In May 1951 a profoundly deaf 28 year old Scotsman called James Duthie – known fondly to his local community as ‘Dummy Jim’ – cycled solo on a return trip from the small fishing town of Cairnbulg in the north east of Scotland to the Arctic Circle. The journey took three months and cost £12. On returning to Scotland, Duthie wrote about his travels and in 1955 a slim volume called ‘I Cycled into the Arctic Circle’ was published. Sadly the cyclist was killed in a mysterious road accident in 1965.

In 2001, artist film maker Matt Hulse was inspired by the eccentric journal and made a commitment to bring James Duthie’s unique story to the silver screen. A Creative Scotland Award set the wheels in motion, and the film is due to be made in 2010, as well as a cycling reconstruction (re-cycling?). You can follow progress, and support fundraising for the film, on the inventive and entertaining website which involves pedalling hard through the story and all the countries on the way to the Arctic.

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