Whoosh 21 Day 2
September 11th, 2021
Day two 70.6 miles Six hours 25 minutes 389 metres of climbing
The moral about following the lead of the wrong people was obvious. On Friday morning, day one of the 2021 Whoosh ride, on the outskirts of Reading I decided to accelerate and catch up with a group of apparently faster riders up ahead. But, when I reached them and started exchanging small talk, I realised they were from an entirely different group – and, worse still, following a different route.
By contrast, Saturday’s ride, from Hayling Island to Salisbury, illustrated the power of being together with the right people.
The lesson was, in some ways, a revelation for me. Thanks to a mixture of an anti-social nature and lack of other people with whom to cycle, I have done most of my cycling alone. That means, of course, that I can set my own pace. But I have to do my own navigation – and setting one’s own pace can be hard work.
The advantages of travelling together were obvious from the moment the Whoosh riders set off on Saturday morning from Hayling Island. Heading north along the island, we faced a stiff headwind. I began to notice that one rider was tucked in close behind me. It turns out that being nearly two metres tall makes one a convenient windbreak, cutting down on the effort of other riders. We drew together in groups, saving effort as we pedalled against the wind.
The terrain was similar for much of the first part of the ride. We took three ferries – from Hayling Island to Eastney, Portsmouth to Gosport and Warsash to Hamble-le-Rice as we enjoyed views of Portsmouth Harbour, drinking in its natural beauty or, in my case, boring fellow riders with insights on the businesses of the various shipping companies whose vessels lay offshore.
Leaving Southampton, however, I began to experience another form of comradeship. As the road made its first climb, the group of which I was part began instinctively to work together. Some of us accelerated, encouraging others to keep up the pace. We also waited periodically for those left behind.
I failed to bring a holder to mount my mobile phone, showing the online map, on my handlebars. But I soon worked out which riders had the best idea of the route. I followed their online directions while also keeping an eye out for the tiny National Cycle Route signs that flagged up some vital turnings.
This world remains a fallen one, even when one’s on a bicycle. As the ride swept through what bike race planners would call “lumpy” countryside between Winchester and Salisbury, some people missed turnings and the groups fragmented.
But I and two other riders egged each other on through the end of a tiring day. The roads were quiet and the wildlife was plentiful. I’d say the scenery was breath-taking but, frankly, on a sunny day that took in 389m of climbing and 337m of descending, there at times wasn’t that much left for the sweeping vistas of the English countryside to steal.
It struck me as I scaled one of the later climbs that the lesson in the power of cooperation was appropriate. Both the charities for which the ride is raising funds - Tumaini Medical Centre in Kenya and London-based First Step Trust – represent efforts to leverage collective effort to resolve problems individuals cannot tackle alone.
But my thoughts were mostly more straightforward. I reflected mainly on how it hurt climbing the hills but I made it up them, I knew, faster than I would have managed alone. I loved the excitement of speeding down the hills afterwards, wind in my face, concentrating on nothing but the road. It felt a fine day to be alone on a bicycle but also part of something larger.