One month on, we asked Matt Wood to share his reflections on 'Ride the Change; and on the linkages, learnings and connections between the ride and global climate action.
I was recently part of the Adventure Uncovered/Brake The Cycle ride to COP26 – “Ride the Change”, cycling an average 115 km (73 miles) per day from London to Glasgow in late October. Almost 200 other people joined, some for one day and some for the whole week. Many of the riders work in sustainability and the main aim was to raise awareness around the importance that COP26 be a success. We need to rapidly decarbonise to avoid the worst impacts of climate change and have a chance of achieving the Paris Accord goal of max 1.5°C warming.
On the second evening in Coventry, we had an open mic Soap Box, where people took to the stage to introduce themselves, what they’re doing and why they were on the ride. I didn’t take the mic myself, but while I was listening to the inspiring and enthusiastic people who did speak, I was thinking “I’m just here to ride and meet people!”
'Let’s be honest, it’s been a really sh*t five years, hasn’t it?'
Don’t get me wrong, I’m completely on board with the aims of the ride – I’ve worked in sustainable energy for 12 years, I don’t own a car, rarely fly or eat meat and have retrofitted my home – but let’s be honest, it’s been a really sh*t five years, hasn’t it? Trump and Brexit, followed immediately by 18 months and counting of COVID (not to mention all the climate related bad news and disasters). It’s hard to maintain your energy levels and motivation when everything around you seems to be going in the wrong direction. I’ve certainly flirted with burnout and in some ways the first lockdown was personally quite a positive experience – long warm days, less travel for work, focusing on simple things like bike rides in the countryside (on empty roads!) and walks in the park. The second lockdown during a long, cold, dark and wet winter was much less fun though!
So my main aims for Ride the Change were a) to have a proper break from work and life – riding for up to 12 hours a day will completely empty your mind of anything other than the beautiful autumn scenery and simply trying to get to your destination before it gets dark! – and b) to learn to be social again with other like-minded and supportive people (the people I met on the ride are the first new people I’ve met since early 2020). I’m happy to say that I achieved both aims, and apart from needing a day or two off to recover from various sores, cuts and bruises, I would have been happy to carry on riding!
'My top tip: focus on the things you can control and don’t let the rest control you. And go for a bike ride.'
I think we need to be very mindful of our mental health, especially in the sustainability sector where people are heavily emotionally invested in what they’re doing and the need to accelerate action. But despite the urgency, it’s a marathon not a sprint (what’s the cycling version of this phrase, “it’s a Tour de France not a 1-day Sportive?”); we will fail if we don’t do enough to address the climate and ecological emergencies, but we will also fail if we collectively burn out. We each need to find ways to deal with the stresses of the Climate Change Age. My top tip: focus on the things you can control and don’t let the rest control you. And go for a bike ride.