Another bullet of a fly whips my cheek. Wind licks away a stream of tears, but I refuse to stop. The road recoils like a snake into the shade, trees drop treacherous twigs to catch my tyres. A chaffinch, collecting fluff for its nest, retreats as I twist through the minefield of freshly laid tarmac blobs. An approaching car takes a wide corner but I hold my ground and force it back across the line.
The roundabout is congested with cars loaded with bike racks. Black beetle taxis scuttle along as their passengers wind down windows and record the blurred scenery on smartphone screens. Fallow does, speckled with white, graze in the long grass and the collective flitting movements of ears and tails becomes hypnotic. The outer deer spring up and cause a ripple of panic in the herd, before settling down further inside the group.
I sprint away up the track, passing the great tree trunk split open and showing its hollow belly. Sandy rushes swallow the hillside, and young bucks with freshly grown velvet horns lay hidden in the long grass. Fat crows land on their flanks and are brushed away, yet return again without resistance.
A target up ahead. I pump my legs like pistons and switch through my gears automatically. Click. The road is sucked up beneath me. Click. He disappears beyond the bend. Click. He reappears in my sights. Click. I’m hanging behind him – he turns his head – I’m already gone.
The road opens up, and a red stag crowned with bone brings the traffic to an unnerving halt. I sneak through the gaps, drawn closer to him. I stand poised with one pedal up, and my red skin quickly cools. In the autumn, the sound of clashing wooden swords had lured me into the woods. I cowered behind a tree as a pair fought on a carpet of bronze tawny leaves, their eyes flashing white as their heads twisted into the impact, shaking their maned necks in rage.
The familiar wrought iron Roehampton gate points back home, but I swing my handlebars away from it and launch back into the park. The cafe teems with lycra clad enthusiasts who trot on hard shoes. Runners pad across the grass as small shetland ponies ferry children across the road. By the stream, kites dangle in the clouds and young lovers lazily chase their wet dogs. A man rollerblades in the opposite direction, striking down ski poles at every push.
A peloton steam past, leaving both me and their spit trails in their wake. I push my legs to keep up with them until lactic acid seeps in. I fall back, but my face creases into a open smile. A fly zips in.