Monday, November 10, 2008

The Escape Artist

Cycling became my new home. The small society of racing cyclists offered another noble cause to fill that vacuum, without the ideological baggage. In cycling I found a way to recreate the sense of direction that had abandoned me when the Party softly imploded. But where the communist cause had been about constant refining of means towards endlessly postponed utopian ends, cycling, with its satisfying circularities, presented itself as an ideal project: one in which the means and ends were identical. (Matt Seaton, The Escape Artist, p136)
I've just read Matt Seaton's novel The Escape Artist. More than anything else, the book highlights the strange obsessiveness that comes with cycling and ‘the decision’ to be come a racing cyclist. For the outsider, cycling is a very strange obsession involving massive sacrifices in time and energy knocking up countless kilometres while others are out having fun, gaining valuable sleep, or attending to more serious responsibilities. What outsiders don’t see is the narcotic dimension of pushing oneself to the limits in the quest to become stronger and faster. The paradox of this obsession is its incompatibility with any other kind of life. To become a good cyclist, one has to get the kilometres in the legs that leaves little time for much else. Cycling simply becomes life. For the competitive cyclist, time off the bike it marked with a sense of guilt as one watches one’s precious fitness disintegrate while others improve. To be a racing cyclist, one has to be a monomaniac:
But cycling does nothing if not make one single-minded and dogged (or perhaps the doggedness and monomania are already embronically within those that choose cycling). (p176)
The Escape Artist is essentially a story of coming to terms with a cycling addiction and slowly withdrawing from it. Its a novel that I'd recommend to any amateur cyclist. In real life, Seaton went on to become the first cycling columnist of The Guardian newspaper.

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