I’m walking like a cowboy, my knees are socially distancing from each other and my back aches. But I’m happy.
I hadn’t cycled for at least 20 years, probably more. I have a friend who is a veteran cyclist. She cycles everywhere and is so devoted to her steed that she customises it to suit the season. Here are a couple of my favourite versions.
I have often thought it would be fun to get the old bike out again. But dodgy body parts have usually stopped me (TMI. Let’s just say if you lopped me off from the waist up, I’d be absolutely fine). However, since the arrival of my new hearing band and better controlled asthma, I’ve become more daring. I even did Joe Wicks once.
Today, cycling is magical. A glide through dappled light, listening to bird and breeze and distant traffic on the A22 (rarely heard by me) – I’m loving it. It’s like being in a socially distant bubble where your senses are slowed and magnified. I fly between trees, lulled by the wind and the hiss of tyres. Until I round a corner and nearly mow a man with a huge thing in a bag.
“Ooh sorry!” I say. Shopping Man flattens himself against the fence as I wiggle past, one foot on the ground. He hugs his bag tight and I resist the temptation to ask what’s in it.
“Thank you!” I am cheery. He grunts. Note to self: Be more careful of suddenly-appearing people. Also, if I were to sneeze into the crook of my arm on a bike, that would be the end of me. No ditch/ kerb/cliff edge with vertical drop, would be too far away for disaster.
It’s pretty busy in town, almost normal in fact. I wrestle with the padlock, remembering something about not just putting it around your wheel as they can detach it and take the bike. So I wind it through the wheel and around the main body and back again. Feeling pleased, I’m about to walk off when I see I’ve missed the bike rack altogether. For goodness sake!
Post Office man is not wearing gloves. Boots lady is. Is this because she’s dealing with pharmaceutical issues that may complicate the Covid thing? Or because she’s vulnerable? Or is Post Office man an adrenaline junkie? Quite honestly, there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to what happens in shops. So I only pick up stuff I’m buying, hold untouched bits of receipts, use my hand gel everywhere. (It’s too early but one day there will a game based on this – Well done! You hand gelled your cycle helmet! Move forward three spaces).
The ride home is steep near the end but I’m pedalling like a believer. I’m Bradley Wiggins, full of air and grace. My legs are pistons, lungs, uncrumpled paper bags. I pass some walkers and manage to hold in the panting long enough to give them the superior biker’s smile. Until I realise they’re easily keeping up and returning an amused grin of their own. How rude! I pedal hard, lungs on fire, until I crest the hill and leave them behind. Resisting an urge to punch the air (I’d probably fall off), I glide the downhill slope towards home. Breathing is so underrated.
Freewheeling, there are memories of past cyclings – the anxious school girl, the love-struck teen, the young teacher. Ah, those autumn mornings, cycling to work across Bushy Park, frost on grass and ghosted deer. Through the lights, hoping to see the lovely guy I’d met at a carnival planning group. I’d once passed him on my way to work and thought he might like to be reminded of my existence. So much for my stripy scarf and scarlet beret. He never even saw me! (But I did end up marrying him, so all is not lost.)
I turn into our road with those other versions of me, until I brake by the house and they evaporate.
This stage of Lockdown can be a time of reflection, of regret and gratitude. I’m so grateful for these but I could have done that so much better. We take up something new and remember something old; the bittersweet art of ageing perhaps requires it.
But nothing is ever lost, ever, for those who pedal like a believer. There’ll be a breath of wind to carry me. As it did then and always will. He has turned it for good, every time. Faith can be fragile and messy but so can love, friendship, parenting; we still go in for those. And they can teach us how to fly. If we let them, if we listen.
I dismount, feeling slightly trembly and try to remember walking.
Why do they make bike seats so small these days?