Cycling · Research · Sport

Week 33: Day of Research and Cycling to Ely

I received an invitation from Matt Lemming to his house for a dinner party with several other Gates Scholars on Wednesday afternoon. Given time after work, I rode down to his house on the other side of town, where he had prepared a wholesome meal of curry. We sat around and discussed many a topic; at some point I was explaining various things physics. Overall, it was a greatly appreciated break in routine.

On Thursday, I had been having some trouble with a calculation I was doing, and was mildly frustrated upon finishing up for the day. Walking through town that evening, I ran into Joanna, who was also lamenting an unproductive afternoon. After a short chat, and later a bike ride through some of the meadows in Cambridge, I asked to come around for the evening to take my mind off things. We prepped dinner with supplies from the nearby Waitrose, and spent the evening relaxedly watching Joanna play her Skyrim.

Friday morning brought with it a real tennis training session with Krittika. Being students of the University, we get a great deal on access to the coaches and the courts, and were taking every opportunity to capitalise on the opportunity. This time around, we were coached by Scott, one of the professional coaches at the club. At this stage in our development, every hour of practice brings notable improvement; by the end of the session he had me playing shots off the main and rear walls, where the ball doesn’t spin as one might expect.

A short period of work later, I had went down to St John’s College, which was hosting the Gates Annual Day of Research. This event is a conference-like afternoon where scholars present talks on their research. Because we are all from such a wide variety of fields, often the talks are about things I don’t often consider, which can make them more exciting than some departmental seminars. The first session was a series of open-panel Q&As, discussing issues related to online privacy in the context of political campaigns. After a short break, there were a series of talks on various topics, ranging from impossibly difficult piano compositions to attempts at solving food security issues to the politics of navigating inter-oceanic canals. Each of them was interesting in their own right, and it was great to hear about things outside of my field.

The final sessions were closed-panel Q&As on various topics; I went to one on the future of medicine, but later wished I was at the one on feminism (it sounded very interesting listening to people I spoke to after). We were then served canapés and mingled around for a while; conversations drifting in a myriad of directions.

By the time Saturday rolled around, I was keen to get back on my bicycle. Often after big events (like the Tour de Yorkshire ride recently), it can be difficult to find motivation to do the shorter rides in the local area. So this time, I decided to ride to Newmarket, Suffolk, a 33 km ride east of Cambridge. While the roads weren’t all that new to me, I had the benefit of a tailwind or crosswind for much of the ride. Combined with the flat profile, it meant that I recorded my fastest ride since being in Cambridge.

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That afternoon, I met with Jacqueline and Annalise for a planned afternoon of not working. We started by riding along the river, stopping at Tesco to pick up some lunch things. Here, we spied on all of the college rowing teams out training. It was a nice, warm day and before we knew it, we arrived in Waterbeach, a town just north of Cambridge. We sat down in a park overlooking some medieval knights practising their swordplay, and over lunch we were happened upon by Kevin, which was a pleasant surprise.

Faced with the decision to ride back to Cambridge or on to Ely, we decided to keep riding on. The problem was, there was a mile where the bike trail was disconnected. I looked at the map, and saw that to resume the trail, we could cut along the edge of the river. What looked on the map to be a reasonable path turned out to be a bridle trail; essentially a single-track mountain bike route with a narrow path, high foilage and a rough, unsealed surface. We slowly made progress along the route (with one of our party falling into a bush of nettles) and a mile own the way found ourselves at a lock, where we could haul our bikes over the river. The narrow track continued inland past the Cambridge Polo Club, and eventually the sealed roads resumed.

We rode on, as the path weaved its way through the fen-land. Some of it was quite beautiful, with birds flying overhead and highland cattle grazing in the fields. We stopped at the Wicken Fen Nature Reserve cottages, and the associated café to eat through the rest of our lunch. Onward we rode, and soon enough, we could see the tall tower of the Ely cathedral in the distance. Slowly, it approached, and before too long we were in the town of Ely riding up the hill to the monument. I’d heard stories of the cathedral, but wasn’t quite prepared for how large it was. We took the time to explore all sides of it, but the inside was closed off for a special service. We had the last of our food and drink in the park on the hill, before loading into a train back to Cambridge.

On Sunday afternoon, I went down to the St John’s playing fields where the Gates social officers had arranged for a game of ultimate frisbee. Though not many turned out, we nevertheless enjoyed ourselves chasing the disc up and down the field. After, there was the proposal to use the bright and sunny afternoon to go punting. However, the Darwin punts had all been booked out, so we went to the Trinity punts instead. Annalise and I were joined by Jacqueline and some of Annalise’s Trinity-based friends as we made our way up and down the river past the old colleges. A particular highlight was another boat also doing laps of the river with an old guy sat in the front singing whatever tune came into his head.

The day finished that evening huddled around the television watching the Eurovision Song Contest, something which is greatly followed back home in Australia. Of course we delighted at all of the stereotypical Eurovision moments (e.g. wind machines and crazy back-up dancers), but on the whole I thought the calibre of the event was somewhat lower than the 2016 version. None of us really thought that Portugal was a deserving winner and so went home bitter.

 

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