The Cycle Diaries

The Cycle Diaries

‘Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity.’  ~ William Wordsworth

May 2019, I returned to my native Dartmoor.  I was nearing forty, felt like a total failure and considered the world in general to be both banal and depressing.  Spending time around nature helped alleviate a sense of despair, which I found rather curious.  I began exploring various woodland trails, first by foot and then by mountain bike.  This evolved into the idea of writing an existential poem aiming to capture an impression of authentic being unearthed via an experience of unbridled joy in the midst of Dartmoor’s mysterious landscape.  Each canto represents a ride written on location that I typed up when I got home.  I allowed myself to correct certain errors for clarification, but otherwise each canto (or ride) is written as it was in my notebook.  I liken the method and presentation of The Cycle Diaries to Jack Kerouac’s Mexico City Blues though I consider the overall aim to be quite different.

Below is a selection from the 25 cantos.  Paperback edition is available to purchase here.

Canto I

Young girl on a horse,
I slow down
after passing the village fete
I reach the edge of the wood
check the RockShox
80/20 in favour of the hare –
following the online advice
and we’ll see how it goes.
Warmth of the sun
pierces through shadows
from the over-looking trees
as the track winds its ascent,
I’m feeling annoyed
but as I near the top,
I see a gate –
one from the video, great,
this must be it!
The tannoy has given way
to woodland sounds
rabbits and squirrels
scurry along
birds chirp
amid the swaying breeze,
sweat pours from pushing
up the hill, now,
the fun begins!
Gliding down a wide track –
loose rocks, twigs
littered with leaves
I turn down a narrow
technical descent
new bike, first ride,
twice my feet are
required to stop me sliding –
I intended to do this
descent at a later date!
No matter, I reach the
main path again.

(Click here for a reading of Canto I).

Canto VII

Today is very warm,
the ground is dry,
the air is still,
sweat pours into my
I can taste
sun cream – yuck!
Vast woodland is patrolled
by wood ants
tetchier than usual,
I feel a pinch,
I reach down to flick
it away and crack
my funny bone on
the seat – ‘Fucking Cunt!’
as I always do
(God knows why),
my own clumsiness.
Fortunately for me,
I have only the ants
for company.
I flick it off
and as I push
further up the tree-lined
more appear on my shoes,
ankles, shins – one even
makes it to the brake lever!
Seated in the shade,
a fly lands on my
mud-splattered leg,
the coolness ends near
a gate, beyond which
a fritillary gently glides
towards the woodland
concealing the next descent.
Butterflies and bees set down
upon the brambles,
my helmet gently sways
from the handlebars
as a summer breeze
subtly weaves its way
around us
while a rock teaches
to silhouettes jostling
under the sun.
Two butterflies dance
and disappear into the grass
beneath a backdrop of
azure and fluffy splashes of white,
shadows stretch out over distant
hills as the sun peeks then
retreats at the playfulness
born from its solitude.

Sunbeams follow the downward
looking branches
extending into the depths,
amid an oasis of light
a small fish swims
against the gentle current,
passed over by fallen leaves
and spots of foam,
it eyes its lunch
skimming merrily
over the ripples
that slowly fade
into reflections of stillness
disappearing beneath the trees
with whom the Teign converses
via infinite hues of green and
brown with hints of copper
and yellow
to where leaves dance
above its delicate song
concealing perpetual secrets.

Canto XIV

Mist draped hills
retreat among the drizzle
as the fog quietly
drifts past the on-looking
trees reaching out to
the rain under a
hidden sky.
A fly rests on a
leaf above the
deadwood laid amid a
scattering of sharp stones,
splintered along the deer
path running adjacent
to the undulating mud
track, by a
precipice lined with crooked
bark, rising above the top
of the woodland gradient
greeting sounds of the river.
A bird flies through the mist
its silhouette dances
on a dense backdrop
of white and grey palettes
then disappears, like a fleeting
memory, into eternal forgetting.

Reflections gaze up from
meandering ripples concealing
depths withdrawn from
the curiosity of
outstretched leaves. The
river unhurriedly glides by
rocks dwelling in perfect
stillness along the bank.
The wet sand falls into
the shallows beneath the
subtle bristling of woodland
in the breeze amid
a light pitter-patter
of rain.

Canto XXI

Joy is an elusive
path to resistance
in a ‘now’ robbed
of dreams,
living paycheque to paycheque,
seeking solace from the
hypocrisy and condescension
of privilege
and the perpetual theft
sustaining insatiable clichés,
the worst thing you
can do
is try to become it.
advocated via the obnoxious
banality of popular culture,
this singular ‘dream’ is taught
in every school,
lauded by parents and politicians alike,
when we discover the
viciousness that lies behind
its mythology,
we fail to create
a more beautiful dream,

Seeing a break in
the morning’s constant downpour,
I ride out into the
quietude that follows
heavy rain.

© Copyright 2023 Percival Alexander