It’s started. The Gathering. Outside my house at early o’clock on a Sunday morning.I prise open the door ever so quietly so upstairs wake at a more agreeable hour. The weather has turned for the better, just not turned by much, we’re still wearing tights and full finger gloves. It’s bright outside, cold too, very cold. The cloudless sky means it’s not raining but it’s cold. Most cyclists would take that correlation.
Today’s RB is the Doog. An Aussie triathlete who just when you think he’s gone, blown up, comes right back, he never gives up. His road sense and his bike handling skills however are terrible, it’s safer to be in front rather than following his wheel, but keeping in front is easier said than done with the Doog.
We’re going flat but fast, out along the Thames to Chertsey and back. There won’t be much talking between us, just a silent focus on our pushing up the average speed. It’s not a social ride. It was never going to be this early in the morning. If the pace drops one of us will surge forward to take the wind and push the pace back up, the other does their best to stick to the back wheel, until it’s their turn to repay the ‘favour’.
I need to check the route map as I’m not sure exactly where it is, somewhere just after the smooth bit of tarmac coming out of Sunbury-on-Thames, through the hedge, there are hundreds of swans, a blanket of white feathers on the water. Why? Are they ‘flocked’ together? Can swans ‘flock’ on water or only in flight? They’re definitely not a herd or a pack of swans – so a grounded flock it is.
The problem with cycling fast – obsessing on the average speed – is you can’t stop to find the answer to your questions. Instead that ‘why’ bangs around the inside of your cycling helmet, ricocheting randomly. Maybe the Doog is trying to figure out why too, as he inexplicably swerves across the road.
What’s so special about the bit of Thames just there, just outside Sunbury-on-Thames, just before Shepperton? Why has given way to scrambled hypotheses inside my helmet. Is it calm water, with no current to disturb their rest? Or the perfect ecosystem for swan food to thrive? Or maybe swans just like each other’s company, to gather together – in a sort of swan commune.
I always thought of swans as a compact family unit, mum & dad and 5 or 6 cygnets with a defined territory they share with subjugated ducks. Are they flocked by necessity, convenience or a social bond like humans do? Have they consciously chosen to live together? Or is just outside Sunbury-on-Thames, just before Shepperton some kind of ‘paradise’ for swans that every swan knows about?
I can’t answer any of these questions, what I do know is that I don’t know much about swans and I’ve stop obsessing about average speed which was ruining the ride anyway.
(I’ve since checked my route on Strava.com and I think it’s Shepperton Marina – Paradise for swans).