The cycle of memory

I’ve been out on my bike quite a bit lately; yes, because of lockdown, but mostly because the weather has been so good. I’ve certainly cycled more this April than I did last year.

I rediscovered the joy of listening to music on my rides, because it had been mostly my habit in recent times to listen to podcasts. I think I switched to podcasts after one very bad struggle up a mountainside in France when a very gloomy bluesy song came on and it drained the last gumption from my legs.

You’ll be thinking, why don’t you do a playlist for bike rides? But I’d get bored, and I don’t work that way. I like the music to tell me what mood I’m in. Still, I remain alert and ready to skip those gumption sapping tracks.

Before the switch back to music, I did still listen to quite a few podcasts on my rides, and I’ve noticed all over again a strange phenomenon, that certain podcasts seem to create indelible memories associated with certain stretches of road. And it’s not the ones you’d think: not my favourites, by any means.

The first example dates back a while, and the memory of it comes to me on a stretch of road in Vescemont in France. It’s a village I ride through regularly, a long false flat that leads up to a final deadly kick at La Planche Le Prêtre, followed by the sweet sweaty relief of a downhill stretch. The podcast that always comes back to me as I ride along this stretch of road is Episode 40 of the Criminal Podcast, “Pappy”, which dates from April 1 2016. So it would have been the Easter school holidays. Strava informs me that I did a 21km loop on Saturday April 2, and it took me just over an hour. It was early in the season, so I surely struggled. I usually do.

That April, 2016, I only managed two hours on the bike, and 39 kilometres. The following year? Zero hours and zero pence. 2018: four hours. 2019: six hours.

Can you tell what it is yet? In April 2020, I have spent 12 hours on the bike, and had any of those hours been spent in Vescemont, I would have thought about Criminal episode 40: “Pappy”, which is about an American whiskey, Pappy Van Winkle, and the extraordinary criminal activity it inspires.

My latest indelible podcast memory now kicks in when I cycle down a stretch of road near Whittlebury. It passes through woodland, or what used to be woodland before a recent apocalyptic felling.

Whenever I’m there, or approaching it along the A413, I now think about an episode of Invisibilia, “The Reluctant Immortalist”, from, yes, 3 April 2020. This pod is about a scientist who was studying hydra, which is a genus of small, freshwater organisms who can regenerate, breed asexually, and which seem never to die of natural causes.

Neither podcast was all that interesting to me, although I obviously didn’t switch off. But something about them, and the road, and the spring, perhaps the sights and smells and sounds of April, has seared these episodes into my brain.

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