A simple life

I’m pretty sure that everyone knows what room 101 is, even those who haven’t read Orwell’s 1984. Just in case you don’t, it’s the place where you meet your greatest fears and joy. Fear is what stops most of us from doing the things we want to do. Whenever we decide to take a path we’re uncertain about, all manner of worries and thoughts disrupt the process. Some of these thoughts and feelings are there to help us see the dangers that lie in wait. Others are anxieties about what might happen if we challenge our own boundaries, something I believe we have to do.

This week I’ve been reminded of both my own limitations and those of others around me. I’ve begun to put in place the things that have to be done before I set off on my next adventure. My friend Jason Woodhouse pulled out of the round the world cycle race after some mechanical problems and setbacks. What a big decision that was. Intuitively I didn’t think Jason was ready, certainly from the Facebook chats we had, but I remained silent as he needed to find out for himself. It takes a brave person to admit that now is not the time and stop, especially when charities and sponsors are involved. Jason is still planning to ride around the world, but in a different way. I’m sure he’ll get more from it by not being in a race at the same time, and I want to wish him luck with whatever he decides to do. Sometimes we learn more from failure than success, even though it’s hard to say enough is enough.

After a tough week last week, I’m back on form, clocking my first 100 plus mile week this year and moving towards getting half the corrections done in my book. I don’t really do cycling mileage, but it is a gauge for where I am, and where I need to be for the ride. Half that mileage was done in one hit, and the day I did that I remembered just what it is that I enjoy about riding distances. It was peaceful and tranquil, being midweek, and the Zen like rhythm of riding all day made me feel on top of the world. I’ll remember that feeling when I’m about to leave on my next journey, nerves jangling as they always do.                        

Since getting ill, I’ve found it hard to move away from home for any length of time. Last year’s ride showed me that I can do that for long periods now, something that would not have been possible just six months before. I said previously that our coastline was the limit of what my mind could cope with. I couldn’t stretch that boundary any further last year. The thought of going abroad was still terrifying then. To give a little perspective, I used to find it hard to travel to Okehampton from Hatherleigh to go shopping. It took a lot of work and patience to build towards being away for four months, but the reward was massive.

This year I’m travelling to another country. For most people this isn’t an issue. You jump on a plane or ferry and off you go. For me, this entails much more. I feel as though I’m cutting the umbilical cord to my life support, and that’s why I’ve likened it to room 101. I have a big fear of flying nowadays, as well being away from my homeland and those who support me. This winter I was forced to take a long break from therapy, due to my therapist having to take time out. It showed me how reliant I still am on her and my doctors, as I struggled to cope. I did cope though and there’s strength to be gained from that. I know that in order to travel further afield, something I am extremely keen to do, I need to overcome my fear of flying and being in another country. I discussed it with my therapist last week, how to manage, and what medication to take to relax myself prior to flying.

A tranquil earth and mind

I needed to take the plunge, so Friday saw me sat here booking myself onto a flight from Bristol to Cork for 30/5/12. I then phoned the airline and booked a place in the hold for Irene (and Trevor the trailer). I was shaking before I pressed the confirmation button, but I did. That was all I needed to do, that one small step. Since then I’ve been letting my mind get used to the idea. I’ll probably use some medication before the flight to help with the inevitable panic that will build up. Like you, I know it’ll be fine. I know I’ll get on the flight, but if you’ve ever had panic attacks you will understand the enormity of this for me personally. It’s why this ride is a big step for me to take.

In order to soften the blow, I then booked myself into a charming B&B about 6 miles from the airport. For me, this helps balance the inevitable stress and tiredness that will come from the flight. I even know where I’ll have dinner that evening. By doing that, the flight becomes a small part of the day with other things to look forward to. Prior to the flight I’ll be cycling to the airport from Bristol. This is also planned. It means I’ll have a different focus, other than worrying, before I board the aircraft. It’ll put me in the best possible mindset as my head will still be enjoying the memory of cycling; not thinking about what comes next.

It’s also why I’m starting the ride from Lands End. It will take me a week to ride to Bristol, given my chosen route. That time will allow me to get used to being away, pedaling and camping. It gives me time to adjust to being alone and to remember how to seek the social contact that I will need. It also reconnects me to last year. I did it then so…………………..The flight then becomes embedded in the ride and is a small part of it. Going straight to the airport wouldn’t work for me at the moment. All my rides have started and finished from my home and there’s a really good reason for that. I sneak away gently so I don’t feel torn apart, tiny steps taken tentatively, like a child leaving home for the first time.

I’m only telling you this because this blog has always been a place of honesty. I try to be open in order that others might feel less alone knowing that somebody else goes through this stuff too. These simple strategies are things I’ve learned to do during last three years cycling, and slowly moving away from my home for longer periods. If I don’t feel able to get on the flight, I’ll still have the option of taking a train elsewhere in order to catch a ferry. Therefore, failure is possible with limited potential damage to the ride. That small fact makes it all a much easier proposition, in my mind at least.

Inverpoly Natioanl Park, NW Scotland

Once in Ireland I’ll have six weeks of pedaling to get used to the idea of a sea crossing before having to do it. I’ll go through a similar process to that above in order to prepare myself for that. That will help prepare me for the big crossing to Shetland, which could be quite hairy! Last year I became so chilled out after my first month that I was hardly recognizable. There’s no reason that won’t happen again this year.

Riding2Recovery is a long slow process. I’m learning to be honest with myself and others in a way that I’ve never had to before. I know that if I need help during any stage of this ride that I can ask for it, without feeling ashamed or being afraid of being judged. I’m slowly learning to trust in the world and my ability to navigate it once more. Most importantly, I beginning to trust in other people, rather than shutting myself away in fear of being let down or abandoned. There are no shortcuts in this process and no big secrets. I’ve been lucky enough to have found something I enjoy that’s helped me to re-engage with life, and some amazing people who have encouraged me along that path.

Out of that I’ve found other things, like the writing, mental health awareness work and fundraising. I never thought I’d write a book, but here I am just weeks away from launching my first. Cycling was the first step, the precursor to the rest. I still have no income, but I’m working on it. I still have plenty of bad days, but they pass. Three years ago, I couldn’t imagine cycling anywhere. Today, I can’t imagine not cycling everywhere.