The café stop used to be de rigeur. A social event. Sometimes better than the ride itself. The promise of a mid-ride espresso and a slab of flapjack, sometimes a scone, on the odd occasion, rumour has it, a full 10” margherita pizza (I’ll admit that, I have no shame, and I’d do it again). Oh, the luxury. The decadence. The total decimation of any fitness gains.
But Covid put paid to that.
Winter came. We abided by the rule of six, then reluctantly adjusted to the sadness of two, and often we rode solo so as not to burst each other’s bubbles. Cafés shut. Some opened for takeaways. We bought shit coffee in a paper cup and stood in the bollock cold once, maybe twice, before deciding to pedal on, not stop, rejecting a terrible (and did I mention cold) version of our luxurious ritual.
And then came the end of February and that annual treat known in these parts as ‘fool’s Spring.’ That fabled weekend where the sun shines, the birds sing, signs of life appear from beneath the soil and we say “huh…spring-like.”
Not spring, but like.
Most of us remember that this happens once every year and next week we’ll be back to wintry showers and heavy layers of tedious technical clothing. We enjoy the feel of weak warmth on our skin. We remember that sunny rides are a thing and it’ll come. We note that the fields are conspicuously empty of lambs, gambolling or otherwise, and the daffodils are yet to rear their big yellow heads, swaying drunk, like Welsh rugby fans at the Arms Park.
It’s still winter, but we live for the moment.
Enjoy a nice ride but know that this is not spring.
And in the case of me and a socially distanced pal, stop at a takeaway café for a brew and a cake in this new found (and definitely fleeting) warmth. Leaning against a wall, in the sunshine, to enjoy a two-metre chat with some fellow cyclists.
Nattering happily, the synapses in our socially-starved brains firing dull, blinking bulbs in the attic, tracing forgotten neural pathways of social connection. Burning tracks across our brains. For fifteen minutes there was no Covid. Just people sharing a moment and taking about anything but.
“Where’ve you been?”
We packed up and rolled off, fifteen miles to ride home, basking in the simple pleasures of drinking coffee and talking shit mid-way around a bike ride. Then, as the road veered up from the café, we remembered café legs, and the painful refilling of lungs post-rest, and “why does every bloody café in the north of England have to be at the bottom of a bloody hill?”
We’d forgotten about that too.
And just for a day the old normal usurped the new normal and a little light appeared at the end of the tunnel.