When I arrived here, I fell sideways off the bike right in front of a young couple who did their best not to laugh, such was my fatigue!!!!

The title of this new post is the new title for Round Britain-Cycle for Health. It looks like 2011 is really ringing in the changes. This title was suggested to me by a good friend and supporter of the ride and I really liked it. It says so much more about what the journey represents to me personally. It was that that got me thinking about this post. There have been so many changes in the last year or so and I havnt really ever shared them in a way that helps people understand the what that journey has been so far. I’ve alluded to some of the symptoms of my own Mental Health condition to a point, but the changes in the fabric of my life, and the adaptions that have gone on to get to here are untold.

Round Britain-Ride2Recovery says it all, but it’s the journey to the ride and the journey after the ride that will lead to a full recovery, or as near as I can get. The ride itself is the meat in the sandwich ( the first sandwich) Initially,following this forth and most violent breakdown I wasnt able to do anything. Emotions swam in my head and all I could do was feel them and weather the storm, it was more like a direct meteor strike actually. People told me this would change, but it was hard to see how. After 6 months, I got the knee operation I was waiting for (followed by another, but that’s another story).

This tiny change meant walking without pain, so I did, walk that is. I walked daily, no matter how I felt.  I got on autopilot and went out, a routine as such. I walked and cried, walked and thought, and walked and hurt and occasionaly ran home and hid!! I later began to walk and think, walk and see, walk and feel. I  found places to sit and watch the world, the wildlife and feel the sun on my face. This was  a small change, but significant, although it never felt like that, it was simply a walk that helped  me feel less sluggish.

Sleep was really difficult to come by until I moved to a sleepy hamlet called Throwleigh. There were no street lights and when I landed there, because that’s how it felt, I slept and slept and slept. Granted this wasnt usually at night!! It was sleep though and I’d somewhere given myself permission to sleep in the day, something friends said I should never do because “it’ ll wreck your sleep patterns you know”  and my therapist said I should, but I when I needed to sleep, I was like a child, I just had to. I still do this, and as soon as my head hits the pillow, I’m gone, exhausted. The differnece is I now do an hour of this on some days and I used to do hours of it every day.

It was a struggle to cook, eat and generally look after my self though. Luckily for me, I found a way, again. I planned a menu for the week, and when I felt good enough I shopped, there was always emergency tins and stuff anyway. The menu meant I cooked, at all manner of strange times, but I forced myself to do it!  Nobody said it would be easy, and it wasnt. It’s just as well, because retracing this with my therapist, she told me I’d been a hairs breadth away from her recommending a section for me when I did this.

These tiny things began to add up, and continued to add up as I changed more and more. However, don’t get the idea this was a conscious journey, I just seemed to find a way to manage, somehow, hour to hour, day to day. Looking back I felt I was actually listening to what my mind and body really needed. After all there was no Job, partner  etc to get in the way. All I had to do was keep surviving and as anyone will tell you, time heals, very slowly in my experience.

I had a strong urge to be slower in my life and I felt compelled to listen to the voice. I sold my fast motorcycle and gradually slowed until I was riding a Harley, Mid-life-crisis,-Davidson. Still it felt too much. I struggled, particularly driving the car, in terms of concentration. My mind couldnt do Speed any longer, after a lifetime of whizzing about. So, that’s what brought me back onto a cycle. A trip to Scotland where I saw things I’d overlooked, people touring on cycles moving slowly through the landscape. I was determined to be a part of that again.

Since then, and obviously buying a bike, other changes have happened, just as small, but significant. My cholesterol was through the roof and Doc wanted me to go on Statins. No chance, I decided, consciously this time, to change my diet. It worked and I felt better. Less caffeine, more water, saying no, all helped, especially saying no to people. I began to be a bit more social, talking to people and not running away from the shops in a panic. I went peddaling and met people. It was on my terms and I enjoyed it. If it got to feel a bit much, I’d turn around and go home, usually to bed for several hours. Cigarettes,in my case ‘rollies’ ( & a favourite with depressives everywhere!) didnt go, havnt gone (yet), but I feel they will.

Then, a big change happened, except it wasnt really a change at all, more a rediscovery. If I cycled to a campsite, I would be tired, as you’d expect, but the Mental stuff wasnt any different than if I stayed at home, and I felt better for the ride. This seemed like a bolt of lightning from the heavens. I could do this thing and not feel worse, as long as I stayed behind a certain line that is. Step over the line and it’s’ head above the trenches’ time, but duck down for a while and the sea of emotion begins to calm. once you’ve cycled in the day, all you have to do is wash, eat and rest. Wasnt that what I was doing at home anyway?

That was the time I knew I wanted to do this ride and that I would know after 1.5 years preperation whether I thought I really could. It didnt really matter, because it sparked some curiosity and creativity that I hadnt had in years. So it went on, and still does go on. I can put my head up for longer now before I have to duck again, but the ducking is ok now, I dont hide as much or as long. I take to my bed like a duck to water, as a ‘safe place’  when needed and I’m taking great care to keep this a ‘safe place’ when I’m away. No ‘Ultralight coffin for me’, nope. An american company (Arapahoe Outdoor), I contacted, asked me to help develop an Ultralight Teepee. The new model I’m geting shortly is 6 feet high in the centre and 12 feet acrosswhich means me,  ‘Eddie (the bike), and the trailer can all live in it together,  all for 2.5kgs plus a mossie net.

I’ve written many letters, and everytime a positive reply comes back, I grow a little, a bit more confident, a bit stronger, a bit more of everything. I’ve often heard of the experience of being reborn. I’m not religious and are a bit unsure of certain ‘alternative’ practises, but that is exactly how I feel. I’m growing up slowly and the path I’ve chosen is the right one. How do I know that? Well, ever since this ride came to my thoughts, I’ve always said to myself, “have faith, it’ll work out somehow”. And you know what, it has.

Each day now I listen and heed the advice of my mind and body. Sometimes I push the boundary a little, and sometimes I get to see a big red sign saying ‘back off you fool, and just rest up’, . Round Britain will be a huge challenge, but the preparatory tours have taught me that being on the road is no harder than being at home, as long as I dont get into chasing miles and horizons, at which point, all the wheels come off!!! What does it matter how long it takes, how far I’ve ridden or when I get somewhere? Yet these are the questions I’m asked all the time, particularly by cyclist. I dont have an itinerary, I dont have a daily destination and I dont know if I will ride tommorow or the day after. When do you expect to be in…….!! “Whwn I get there or close I’ll let you know.

It has to be this way for me, and to be honest, I find it really hard to just chill and ride. I do have expectaions, because if I didnt, I wont get round in the time I have. All I’m saying really is I now have the experience to manage and the knowledge understand  that 40-50 Miles per Day is easily possible, and to an extent, sustainable, when taken at a steady pace, but it doesnt matter if it’s 20 or 60 really as long as I stay behind ‘the line’, rest whenI know I’ve crossed it  and most important of all, have lots of fun doing it.

So, by tip-toeing through the days ,and allowing lots of time for R&R, I’m making this new path work for me. I get to make all the decisions and that means I can manage the Mental Health and have an adventure at the same time, I think!!! I wont be sure until I’m out there, but that is where I feel most comfortable, plodding along, taking piccies and drinking in the splendour of the islands called ‘Britain’ along with a few coffees.

next time I’ll be writing about the gear, trailer and general stuff that I hope will see me through 4 plus months on the road.

Please support Sustrans, donate at: www.justgiving.com/Graeme-Willgress and help make the South West ‘the place’ to come and cycle if it isnt already!!