Today, in a parallel world, I am riding London Wales London, a 400km audax. I am nervous about starting what I couldn’t finish last year, and almost stay in bed when my 4.45am alarm goes off. But I get up, and meet my club mates and audax friends. We ride together, we ride apart, we eat everything in sight. We fill each other’s bottles and snaffle extra biscuits for later. We chat about random nothings to keep each other alert during the night riding. We savour the tailwinds and mutter at the headwinds. We sweat slowly up the hills and glide down the descents. We shift about on our saddles to ease aching body parts. We think the final control will never come, but eventually we finish with the sun rise. We’re exhausted, moments of elation spent during the ride. We hug.
Today, in the real world, I am riding around Oxfordshire for a couple of hours, by myself. I whoop in delight at every friend I recognise also out on a bike. I smile at every person out for a ride who is just discovering, or rediscovering, cycling for pleasure. I smell the rapeseed fields and the farmers spreading their crops. I am accompanied by red kites for most of my ride, the beat of their wings scattering dust devils across the road. I savour the tailwinds and mutter at the headwinds. I marvel at the empty motorway. I distract myself from the noise in my head with the monotonous motion of pedaling. I am grateful for the air in my lungs. I return to my flat.
I am experiencing lockdown in the UK from a position of privilege. I am safe at home, I am still in employment, I can still ride my bike and walk in the woods. I can see and talk to my friends and family online. I try to be kind to myself.
Today, I lost a friend. One of those really good friends from another time in your life that you don’t keep in touch with as much as you should. I forget that the pandemic doesn’t have a monopoly on dishing out heartache. In times of grief it is a natural human reaction to come together with loved ones. To comfort each other, to hug, to hold. Grief in isolation is a torment. I can’t begin to imagine what it’s like for his family. To not be able to say goodbye properly; the funeral will be, like everything else at the moment, online.
Today, I can acknowledge how lucky I am, even when I don’t feel lucky. I can appreciate the slower pace of life and the quiet focus of a reduced world bubble, even when I want to rage against the injustice. I can take comfort in knowing that the mountains will still be there when we can group together again, even when it can feel like that time will never come. I can stay at home, safe, alive.