Whoosh 2023, Day 3: Aberdeen to Banff, 58.6 miles

It was the turn onto Bellevue Road in Banff that made me break my resolution. It was near the very end of nearly 60 miles’ riding that in the end featured 3,954 feet of climbing. Unexpectedly, Bellevue Road started with a sharp hill.

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” I exclaimed ungratefully as I pressed down on my pedals and urged my tired legs into a final, unanticipated effort.

But I had been pleased with the effects until then of sticking to the vow I had taken on Sunday morning, during a brief service at St Margaret of Scotland, a Scottish Episcopal church in central Aberdeen. At the low mass, which I attended with one other Whoosh participant, a prayer asked that we should be grateful for our unnoticed blessings. Struck by the concept, I decided to be on the look-out for such obscure mercies as I rode with 26 others Whoosh riders from Aberdeen to Banff.

As we started out from central Aberdeen, for example, I realised I had finally, half way through this year’s Whoosh, worked out how to get the Outdoor Active navigation app to keep guiding me, rather than shutting down. That proved useful as wrong turns and misunderstandings separated me from other riders on the complicated route out of Aberdeen. I felt blessed by the ingenuity of the engineers and designers whose skill allowed me to know precisely where I am riding in north-east Scotland via signals from far above in space.

The weather, meanwhile, brought to mind another blessing. A steady, drizzly rain would, other things being equal, have made me miserably cold. But my new Paramo cycling jacket kept me perfectly dry and warm while remaining breathable. My Goretex cycling trousers kept my legs protected.

It is, of course, a reflection of our gratitude that we undertake the annual Whoosh ride to raise funds for charity. We know ourselves to be a privileged group and hope that what we raise offers some blessings to those in a different position. It is particularly relevant amid the current cost-of-living crisis that we are raising funds for FareShare UK and its Grampian branch, which serves the area where we are riding.

On Sunday’s ride, meanwhile, we initially followed an old railway line before switching to minor roads. I gave thanks for firm, non-slippery tarmac after the sometimes treacherous mud surface on the railway line. I then spied, coming from another direction, a group including Aileen and Emily, with whom I ended up riding the rest of the day. As the two set a strong, consistent pace across the rolling countryside, I felt blessed to have such strong, fit companions.

I was surrounded by blessings, however, when I started to pay attention. It looked initially as if lunch would have to be eaten outside in the rain, purchased from a Co-op. But then someone directed us to the tearoom at Fyvie Castle, a National Trust for Scotland property by the village of the same name. Having faced a different prospect, the tearoom’s baked potatoes and – hallelujah! – lavatories seemed like a priceless bounty showered upon me.

I even for a while felt grateful for hills. Navigating the ups and downs of the countryside on nearly deserted roads provoked in me a childlike excitement at the sensation of speeding downwards, followed by the more mature satisfaction of the mostly short but intense ascents.

Yet even the most positive of mindsets has its limits. The climb up Bellevue Road, it turned out, was unnecessary. We had ridden past the Fife Lodotel, where most of us were staying, and were following directions to the overflow hotel being used by two of our party. We turned especially wearily back in the direction we had come.

But the discipline suggested by the prayer came naturally once I was in the hotel. A hot chocolate felt like veritable nectar after a demanding day’s riding. A warm shower felt as if it was cleansing my soul as well as my body.

The joy was intensified by being acknowledged. I can only hope FareShare’s work inspires a similar feeling both for those receiving its help and those providing it.

FareShare UK

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