The yellow bicycle is unwell.
Her wheel rims are rusted, her skirt guard held on with plastic cable ties.
She has suffered more punctures than she deserves (at one point there was more patches then original tyre on her back wheel)
Some of her spokes are missing and she has a distinct rattle of unknown origin.
My guess is it comes from the rear mudguard fixed many years ago by inserting a sponge between the stay and the actual guard. Mr Monet Mends my Bike.
But it may be something more sinister. Something internal. A cracked hub. A loose shimano brake cog.
And who knows what the creaking noise is when I turn the pedals! ( Though I suspect that noise might be more human in origin, emanating from my right knee, the one I have recently learned has no cartilage left in it).
Now there are those who feel I have been neglectful of the yellow bicycle’s maintenance.
But I have treated her no differently than I have treated myself.
We believe quality of life is better than quantity.
The yellow bicycle has lived a good life and seen many things that she may not have seen living with a more careful person
Cycling not only paved roads but mountain tracks and small boirins, across beaches and even along clifftops.
She has been hauled over ditches and dykes,
lowered into sea faring boats.
She has slept out under the stars, camped out by the sea.
She has lept across tree roots and swerved around potholes.
She has seen horses and donkeys close up, watched dolphins caper, Hawks in flight.
And once a man wandering naked through trees.
It is early morning on a sunny autumn day.
The tree’s are letting go their leaves for another year.
Fluttering like a myriad of amber and yellow butterflies they float and drift, landing on the still water of the canal.
But not all.
Some don’t quite make it and instead form a golden covering on the uneven surface of the tow path.
A sort of yellow brick road.
And cycling along this yellow road is a woman on a heavy Dutch style bike. (which coincidentally is also yellow!)
She has been up since cockcrow and has quickly settled into her usual even pace which is only disturbed now and again when she is forced to swerve and avoid the roots of the trees.
These wayward gnarled ‘ropes’ have the habit of breaking the surface of the path as though doing so to make their way thirstily towards the water.
But mostly all she has to do is keep turning the pedals.
She hums contently to herself.
Without warning a twig, catching itself in the spoke of her bike causes her to brake and she dismounts and wrenches it free.
This gives some new leaves the opportunity to land on her head and entwine themselves in her hair.
As she is brushing them out with her fingers she sees a movement further along the canal.
A man walks out of the trees and crosses the path.
He is naked.
Without looking left or right, he poises for an instant on the canal bank before diving in.
The woman is stunned. She pulls the last leaves from her hair while considering her dilemma.
Should she cycle quickly passing him before he starts scrambling out or should she wait where she is, her yellow bicycle camouflaged by the drifts of leaves, until he has finished his swim and gone?
Afraid that he might be planning to stay in the water awhile, she opts for the former, and cycling speedily, bounces carelessly across the potholes and tree roots.
As she draws level with the man who is now swimming in a slow measured way, she calls out ‘Bonjour’.
Just to show she is not a prude.
And on she goes through the twirling leaves, leaving the man and his nakedness behind.
But as the canal path improves and a stretch of solid pale gravel comes under her wheels and she doesn’t have to concentrate on avoiding pot holes, she wonders at her reaction.
Why did she hesitate before passing him? Indeed why did she call out a greeting?
And then a memory from the past pops into her head.
A young woman is cycling a black upright bicycle along the wild Atlantic way.
The small wooden trailer attached to her bicycle containing her tent and gear, bounces jauntily along behind.
Starting her journey in Donegal, a few weeks previously, she has many miles under her wheels by now and having already passed through four counties is presently in her fifth. Galway.
It is a pleasure to cycle these roads. They are mostly empty of traffic, with vast bogs that career off in each direction ending under the brooding mauve mountains.
At one point she spots a group of tiny figures. Bending and straightening as they cut and spread a bank of turf.
A wisp of smoke curls up, white against the dark blue of the mountains and the smell of burning turf reaches her. They must be stopping for lunch, she thinks, lighting a turf fire to boil the kettle on.
Feeling hungry she decides she’ll stop for her own picnic soon (the makings of it lie in her front basket),
She can see a flash of blue ahead appearing now and then as the road twists and turns.
The lakes at kylemore would be a good place.
A green Cortina car passes her slowly.
She pays no heed but rounding the bend, she notices the car pulled in on the side of the road just beyond a clump of rhododendrons.
Now she is a naive sort of woman. Seeing good in everyone but her female instinct is strong and kicks in.
On high alert, she picks up speed. (not an easy task with the trailer) and keeping her eyes on the road ahead, cycles as fast as she can.
As she draw level with the bushes, she catches a glimpse of him out of the corner of her eye, standing facing the road, his trousers down around his ankles.
She flies past so speedily that the flasher becomes a flash.
Continuing at a steady pace all the time listening for the sound of a car approaching from behind, she ditches the idea of having her picnic just yet and also forgoes the idea of camping that night and decides to instead to head for the hostel in killary harbour.
It will be ten years ago this April since I was diagnosed with a metastatic malignant melanoma (it had metastasized to the lymph nodes in my groin)
That small mole removed from my calf five years previously was not benign (as histology had incorrectly shown at the time).
Oh the drama!
I thought I was going to die.
but I didn’t. (obviously)
And following successful surgery and treatment I decided to celebrate my recovery by I cycling across France. From the Atlantic to the Mediterranean
I thought I made the journey to prove my effected leg was still able to turn the pedals of the yellow bike.
But looking back I realize that I wasn’t good at taking time out for myself.
I needed an illness as an excuse.
And not just any old illness!
It needed to be a colorful one.
Don’t be a victim in your story telling. (I read somewhere)
Get your shit sorted before telling your story.
Come out the other side and begin to see the funny side.
I have decided that in my 62nd year and on the tenth anniversary of my diagnosis, that, even though I love bright colors, I don’t need them to prove myself.
Welcome to the dark blue bike on whom I hope to continue to have many journeys with colorful stories to tell.
P.S Of course the yellow bicycle and I will continue to limp along for many more years to come.