Cyclogeography

Inspired by Jon Day’s concept of “cyclogeography”, this mini-series, published to coincide with the 2017 Tour de France, features writing that uses the bike to explore literature, landscape, history, and myth.

“ISLANDS HAVE NOT ALWAYS BEEN ISLANDS: Cycling Europe in the Summer of Brexit” by Mark West:

“The morning we left Germany and snuck back in to the Netherlands and bumped down into Belgium, we couldn’t find a border anywhere even though we were looking. Somewhere near Aachen there’s even a monument to them, to the three that converge there on the outskirts of a town also known as Aix-la-Chapelle. I write this watching the 2017 Tour de France wind its own way along these roads, a multi-national caravan waved through border-points. We didn’t see the Aachen monument, nor did we realise we’d left Germany until we’d gone three miles and found ourselves in a Dutch town. Later, disoriented by the beauty of the Limburg forests in a rainstorm, we lost ourselves in luscious green country lanes, and found ourselves bumping down a horse path at 45 degree angles, passing bemused hikers, into the town of Voeren, which was in Belgium. No border signs had been visible.”

“THE TRANSCONTINENTAL RACE” by Ricky Egan. A moving piece about riding from Belgium to Istanbul: 

“I’m riding again and I can feel the comforting pressure of two ham and cheese baguettes in my jersey pockets, my legs are good and I will eat up some k’s today I’m sure. The road signs now quote place names in Italian and Slovenian, I’m getting close. I start to see signs for Prosecco/Prosek and miss home thinking of friends. I feel them right next to me, I think to myself or maybe speak to myself, it’s the same thing when you’re alone, “guys look, it’s PROSECCO!”, I’m really laughing and we’re all really there. Except, they’re not and I’m not, instead I’m cycling a kilometre to the west of it and this isn’t a tour it’s a race so I continue on to the Slovenian border. Not the first moment of dissociation during this and it’s not the last.”

“THE ZENNOR ROAD” by Henry King, who follows the poet W.S. Graham through Cornwall:

“Graham’s poems, in particular, are marked with footprints, as in “A Walk to the Gulvas”. English verse has, of course, traditionally been measured in feet, and the most common English metre, the iamb (de-dum, de-dum, etc.), has the steady alternation of walking. But there are reasons to think that poets might take cycling as a prosodic model instead. While riding a bike one’s feet still alternate, but without a steady thump; the motion is more fluid, always slowing and speeding up; and with a bit of momentum one can coast along effortlessly. A poet like Graham, who tends to go by feel rather than fixed metrical forms, might find in cycling an analogy for free verse. Whizzing under the cloudy summit of Zennor Hill earlier in the day, I’d thought of his lines in “Dear Bryan Wynter”: “The house and the whole moor / Is flying in the mist.” If anything feels like flying, it’s standing on the pedals and freewheeling down the hill you just spent an hour climbing. (At one point I came even closer to flying, when my brakes locked and I skidded across the wet tarmac.) But the amateur cyclist in West Penwith also knows the iambic slog of pushing a bike up the final yards of a crushing incline, as I’d had to do once in the course of the morning.”

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