You’re reading How I Cope, a series sharing self-care tips as we all adjust to the coronavirus pandemic.
The bike was an impulse buy. It was early March and lockdown still felt strangely distant, but it was getting harder to ignore the sense that we were heading for something we didn’t fully understand.
When I walked into the second-hand shop I had no idea what I was looking for, and didn’t know any of the right words to describe what I wanted. Twenty minutes later I left, my bank account £80 lighter, with a slightly rusty – but sufficiently solid-looking – set of wheels.
In the hasty hours before deciding to buy the bike I had imagined myself breezily freewheeling through town with a baguette and a newspaper in a basket. In practice that first trip – one overcast Tuesday afternoon – was 90 minutes of clutching the handlebars so tightly I could barely feel my fingers, each wobble on the cycle path a reminder of exactly why I hadn’t taken this up sooner.
But then, tucked away in the South West over the next few weeks, we watched on as life steadily became defined by carefully-laid, socially-distanced pathways. The situation seemed to shift slowly, and then suddenly I was in a government-imposed lockdown in my partner’s flat, living cautiously within strange new limits.
As my world became narrower, cycling out into the countryside – however slowly and nervously I did it – felt like an adventure in itself. My plans for the spring, then the summer, and who-knows-how-far-ahead had crumbled, but this was one thing I was free to do as I pleased. The roads and paths were so quiet in those first weeks that I finally felt I had enough space to explore without constantly worrying about a car pulling out in front of me or a van brushing past too closely.
Suddenly pedalling to the beach or attempting to scale a particularly steep hill took on a similar thrill to the one I’d felt whenever I stepped out into a new city on the first morning of a holiday. Bracken-lined lanes transformed into the sheltered passages of an unfamiliar market; a bag of crisps under a tree into tapas in a crowded square. Cycling furiously away from the city wasn’t just exercise, it was an escape.
Most days of the lockdown have been fine, trying my best to stay busy by working, baking, talking and talking until there’s nothing left to say. But other days I’m climbing the walls, so dazed by the claustrophobia of it all that it’s impossible to sit in one place for more than a few minutes, to focus on anything at all.
I know how lucky I am to be in this position – safe, healthy and side-by-side with someone I care about. But at the same time I’m riddled with anxiety, somehow feeling that I can’t even do a global pandemic ‘right’. I wish our one view wasn’t of a brick wall, am desperately jealous of anyone with a garden and try hard not to think too much about how I live too far from my family to meet and sit two metres from them.
But when I’m coming down that hill I’m not thinking about reporting the UK’s death toll as it passes 10,000, 20,000, 30,000. As I turn down an unfamiliar track I’m not wondering when I’ll see the people I love again. When men in lycra power past me I don’t worry about whether or not I’m falling behind.
I’m just moving forward – left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot – in some quiet anticipation for whatever lies around the corner.