TDA Reports From The Field: Scottish Pandemic Reflections By Bike
Jen Reid worked with TDA Global Cycling as the medic on the 2019 Tour d’Afrique Cycling Expedition.
Just over a year ago I was standing on the beach in Cape Town, holding my bike over my head, having completed the Tour d’Afrique from Cairo to Cape Town. The solitude of hours on the bicycle, nights under the stars bush camping in my tent, travelling through some phenomenal landscapes and the challenges and joys of being an expedition medic had been some of the most valuable and amazing experiences of my life. Throughout my life my bike has been like a donkey to me; a peaceful carrier that transports me mentally and physically to many places.
After the expedition I moved to Sweden to do a Master’s in Global Health in Stockholm. Again, this proved to be one of the most incredible times of my life; I learnt so much, my mind was opened to new perspectives and I was surrounded by inspiring, stimulating and curious classmates from all over the world. In March 2020 I had the opportunity to travel to Cambodia as part of my research into flooding. While there, the global pandemic began to escalate. Just as borders around the world were rapidly closing and flights being cancelled, I managed to make it back safely to Europe in the nick of time. I spent the spring in Sweden writing up my thesis. Close to nature and the waters of the archipelago, even amidst the pandemic there was a sense of freedom. I lived in a beautiful apartment and was lucky to live with some wonderful flatmates and close friends. I re-found the love for my former sport, rowing, and some of my favourite moments in Sweden were rowing in the evening sunshine, with only the sound of the water, and amongst the greenery of the Djurgården trees.
In May 2020, after completing my Master’s, I was able to get back to Scotland and I have resumed work in the Accident and Emergency department at my local hospital. I returned to a very different home country to the one I had left, one where there has sadly been many cases and deaths from coronavirus, and, although slightly eased, a country still very much in lockdown. As an expedition doctor, with experience in extreme and uncertain environments, I am used to and quite enjoy dealing with obstacles but the lack of freedom of lockdown is certainly tough. The thing I have found hardest, more than donning the sweltering PPE in the hospital, more than people stepping back from me as I walk down the street and more than not being able to invite a friend into my home, is not being able to go to stay with or hug my parents.
My saviour, through writing up my thesis in Sweden and in lockdown in Scotland, has undoubtedly been my bicycle. Cycling makes me feel free. On my journey back to Scotland, armed with three bags, a huge old map of Scandinavia and a newly acquired pair of skis, I could not bring my bike back with me. There is a fantastic bicycle shop and charity in Edinburgh who build up and give new life to old donated bicycles. On my first Saturday back in Edinburgh I went to the shop and queued for over two hours in a long queue to try and pick up a bicycle. I was very fortunate and got the only second hand bicycle left in the whole shop, an old Dutch bike. It is fun to ride and I have already taken it on many adventures around the city. With only three gears I’m sure it has been ridden up more hills than it has ever been up before!
Just like the long cycles on the Tour d’Afrique, the pandemic has offered a slower pace of life and some time for reflection, particularly on what and who are important in my life. Friends from far and wide have been there for support and offered unquestioned kindness, and hopefully I have returned the kindness too, as we all try to find our way in this new uncertainty. This July I was due to be the medic for the South American Epic expedition (now rescheduled to 2021), cycling the length of South America. For now, I dream of future adventures in the mountains, on my new skis and on the bike. When I go to sleep at night I often think how lucky I am; to have had the experiences I have had, to work in the health profession, to have such good friends around the world by my side and to be healthy. Lockdown has allowed me to dedicate some time and energy to one of my greatest passions, painting. When I am not in the hospital or on my bicycle, I am enjoying some treasured introvert time to be creative and enjoy my home in Scotland.
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