Updated: Mar 25, 2020
There I was on a hot summer evening in Soho having just finished a great coaching session with a client, heading to the nearest tube station to take the London underground home and thinking to myself how much I didn’t want to get into an unbearably hot, stuffy and overcrowded tube carriage.
So I stopped in the street, thought for a moment and hit on the idea of cycling home using the public cycle hire scheme we have in London. It would be a lovely way to enjoy the great weather and as it’s pretty much downhill all the way the ride wouldn’t be too taxing!
The bikes are normally blue but this summer there’s a limited number of yellow bikes to celebrate the Tour de France coming through London and as I arrived at the bicycle stand there was a special yellow bike among the blue bikes. I felt like Charlie finding the golden ticket in a chocolate bar and took it as a good sign.
As soon as I set off I immediately felt a joyful freedom as the hot evening air caressed my skin. (You’ve probably guessed by now that I’m a hot weather summer person!) London does have hot weather in the summer but you never know when it will arrive or how long it will last, so it always feels like a special treat. I cycled through Trafalgar Square taking in London at her best, the spectacular architecture luxuriously framed by soaring, majestic London plane trees. Although I was surrounded by people in the busy city I was a self-contained bubble; it was time out by myself without any distraction from mobile devices which were safely out of reach in my bag.
The next landmark was Waterloo Bridge which affords the most spectacular panoramic view of London across the river Thames. Now one thing about the public bikes is that they’re heavy and the gears are slow so it’s absolutely impossible to ride fast. As I lumbered over Waterloo Bridge I became aware of dozens of cyclists whizzing past me on their super-fast racers, heads down missing the view and the experience, their minds focused on reaching their destination as soon as possible. I felt lucky that I was on the slowest bike, head up, enjoying the slowness and the wonderful view. I felt physically elated by the experience and by how fortunate I felt in that moment.
Soon enough I was home where the utopian journey did have an imperfect sting in its tail; the bike docking station was completely full! But I was in such a great mood from the ride that I wasn’t going to let this inconvenience ruin it. I took a deep breath, checked my frustration and set off towards a nearby docking station with an open mind; what more might this magical journey be about to give?
Sure enough the forced detour took me up the local high street; there was a launch party in the courtyard of White Cube the local art gallery and the street was buzzing with people enjoying the summer evening. After I successfully docked at the next docking station the short walk back to my apartment took me through the local park: the final gift of the journey had been to remind me how much I love my local neighbourhood.
As I walked through the park I thought about the combination of factors that had contributed to the wonderful experience I just enjoyed:
Spontaneity in seizing the moment
Switching off auto-pilot and breaking a habit by not catching the tube
Enjoying time out by myself
Being forced to slow down by the cumbersome bike
Being removed from the distraction (or temptation!) of mobile devices
Fully appreciating my surroundings by being present in the moment
Seeing that a small set-back added to the overall experience
This article was first published on The Huffington Post: In Praise of a Slow Ride.