Like most avid cyclists in the UK, I take my regular permited dose of exercise most days, taking advantage of the fine Easter weather, and going for a circular ride from my home, never straying more than about 10 miles (16km) from my house. And there is a growing number of people doing the same, both old-time roadies and newbies alike, enjoying the relative quiet of the traffic-free roads, and the burgeoning wildlife all around us.
In my ‘off-duty’ moments (and there are many of them during this lockdown period), I frequently gaze out of our front window at the two wild cherry trees just coming into flower, and I am reminded of the day I arrived back from Japan in 2015, having completed the end-to-end of the country, and enjoyed several days following the famous ‘sakura’ (the cherry blossom season) from south to north.
I remember thinking then, as I gazed on the riotous blossom of our own cherry trees in mid-April of 2015 on my return from Japan, that I actually had a mini-Japanese ‘sakura’ on my own doorstep, but like a lot of travel-addicted romantics, I had to go chasing it on
the other side of the globe.
Now, with long-distance travel curtailed for an indefinite period of time, when travel romantics like me will find it hard to justify most forms of recreational travel that include long-haul flights to far-off destinations, when all the while, if we could just change the way we think about our more local destinations and try hard to look for ‘the extraordinary in the commonplace’ and the ‘diamonds in our own backyards’.
As I continue to struggle to develop this attitude of mind, I think of my not-so-distant ancestors, most of them living in Ireland, who were so poor and limited in their resources, they would seldom have strayed more than 5 miles from their homes, and then only to go to the local markets and cattle auctions. If you are a cyclist like me, are you going to allow yourself to be locked into frantic spinning sessions on Zwift or Peloton inside your garage or conservatory, or are you going to get out into the wide-and-wonderful, breathe in lungsful of scented spring air, and find your challenges in the local hills and your thrills on the inevitable descents?
Think about it.
Good to feel the warmth of the sun piercing the multiple layers of insulation……is this the real beginning of spring? The countryside has that air about it, pendant catkins and developing sticky buds tell their story, even the bird life is being lulled into a frantic bout of nest building.
Where does the truth lie?
Well, no longer ‘bound’, but already there. After two long recovery sleeps (from the transatlantic night flight rather than the tour of Florida), my dear wife, Jenny, who was missing her role as trusty stoker, successfully read my mind, and popped the suggestion: “Why not go for a tandem ride?”.
Well, she always scores a bull with that kind of suggestion. She could sense I was going to head out on the bike anyway. After all, today has been the meteorological first day of Spring (note the use of upper case) and, quite surprisingly, the weather gods had heard somebody’s prayer, and given us a bright sunny day.
Of course, the first day of Spring also happens to coincide with the feast day of the patron saint of Wales, St David. The Welsh diaspora across the world will have celebrated the memory of this 5th century saint by eating a lamb and leek dish called Cawl, and will have raised a glass of St David’s ale (even though the man himself was teetotal). If you saw anyone sporting a leek or daffodil on their lapel…..yes you got it…….. they were Welsh……and proud of it.
So we turned a pedal or two in his honour, enjoyed a light lunch overlooking Grafham Water (wondering if it was cormorants we could see in the distance), passed dozens of cyclists grinding their way around the Wiggle ‘No Excuses’ Sportive, spied the wind turbines 15 miles away at Chelveston from every angle (these things do dominate the sky-line)………and covered a respectable 17 miles in the process.
This was the beginning of more rides to come in 2014……..