Ride on: cycling through a pandemic

I stood on the verge and photographed the sunrise-silhouettes of the trees and the ridge line of the hills. A moment of stillness in a world of upheaval.

A gravel bike silhouetted against trees and hills at sunrise.

The UK had just been locked down to try and halt the terrifying progress of the Covid-19 respiratory disease, and I was out at dawn to take my one permitted dose of daily exercise. Soon I would turn for home, where my family and I had shut ourselves off from others to try and avoid catching and spreading the virus.

A loud cough behind me jolted me away from my thoughts. What on earth? Who was coughing out here, miles from the nearest village? A month of worsening headlines and media stories about the potentially gruesome symptoms of Covid-19 had made me paranoid about hearing people coughing. Now here was someone right behind me with a chest infection. Who was it? I spun round.

It was a sheep. I saw her, standing at the fence of the field – watching me and chewing grass. My pulse slowed. I was still the only human around. This, barring the slight sheep scare, was what I needed. A brief escape from the world, a taste of the freedom I took for granted until so recently.

Fortunately, as everyday life came to a halt, the government had realised the value of cycling. It was promoted as a safe way for essential workers to get to their jobs, and a good way for everyone to take their daily (solo) exercise. Bike shops were allowed to remain open as others closed.

Keen to avoid people, I’d set out at dawn to do a short loop over the Malvern Hills and into Herefordshire. It was a strange ride. Although it was the most beautiful of mornings, I felt eerie and uneasy – jumpy whenever I sighted another human being, even in the distance.

As the miles passed, the rhythm and effort of pedalling gradually settled my nerves. And by the time I climbed back over the Malvern Hills into Worcestershire to head for home I was starting to feel at ease – more glad than ever of the opportunity just to go and ride.

Reflecting on my morning, I didn’t know how the pandemic, or the disruption it was causing to our society, would play out, but I knew I would do one thing to help me through it: ride on.