Time for a cuppa: Brittany, France, 2014

I’ll start with an apology. WordPress won’t currently upload my pictures so I’ve had to use old ones for this post. It’s been quite a few weeks since I last posted on here. In that time we’ve seen a new year begin and an old one recede into the realms of history. I’ve written several articles that I intended to post and then deleted them, unhappy with the content. There just hasn’t been anything going on that I’ve really wanted to talk about.

2014 will always sit in my memory for two big changes that I made to my life. The first was changing the way I ride. Michele and I left behind the upright position we’ve used since we first threw a leg over a bike as children for a more relaxed and amenable recumbent position. The addition of a third wheel to my vehicle was purely coincidental, bringing my total number of wheels to five when I’m touring with my trailer (Trevor). Some might think that I have a fetish for mending punctures but I can reassure you I don’t. Any rabbits or pheasants reading this should be aware that with five wheels and different width wheel bases on the trike and trailer I’m almost certain to run over you should you choose to play chicken with my trike.

The other big change, and one I’ve kept quiet for reasons I’m sure you will all second guess, is that I’ve given up smoking. I didn’t plan to do it. It wasn’t done in Stoptober, and I had given it little thought until I woke up one morning and wondered what I was doing rolling tobacco first thing in the morning. I always knew this day would come along at some point. Needless to say it’s not been easy, but I’m nothing if nothing determined. I formed a coalition with some Nicorette lozenges and I’ve managed three months to date. I’m feeling suitably proud of myself for getting this far. I’m using hardly any lozenges now and am sure the worst has passed by. I don’t want to write lots about it, just to say that it’s been a long time coming and a further sign of my improving mental health.

Monkey can’t wait for summer again

Christmas gave me several things as presents. First-up, and on the recommendation of friends, were two, lovely, double ended stuff-sacks from Alpkit, Yes, I know it sounds weird to get excited about stuff-sacks, but I do. I’ll be trialling these heavy duty bags during my riding this year, a year where I hope to cut back on the weight of kit I’m hauling around. I’ll let you know my thoughts as I go. Father Christmas also brought me a wide ranging virus that’s taken about four weeks to shake-off. This wasn’t all that popular with my body or mind but I couldn’t return it without a receipt so I had to wait for it to get bored and move onto another unsuspecting person.

The combination of not smoking and Christmas chocolate/alcohol has seen me gain a few kilos but I’m quite sure it’s not getting worse and that the cycling I have planned will see it receding slowly over the next few months. Experience suggests that with each year after the age of forty it takes longer to get back into the kind of shape you want to be in. If you’re wealthy this doesn’t apply to you as you can have all the fat liposuctioned away and then dress in expensive sports clothes that suggest you did it by going to the gym.

Both Kermit and Celandine got gifts this year. Kermit is now sporting a pair of lower carriers. These allow me to fit a small pair of front panniers close-in behind the seat which means better steering when loaded. I can still carry the large panniers on the rear rack if I wish to but are more likely to use the trailer for big journeys. Michele’s trike, Celandine, has had its seat raised by around 60mm. The beautifully crafted seat riser from Azub was fitted in minutes and is a work of art in its own right. The main purpose of this was to help Michele’s circulation so her feet don’t go numb over time, a common recumbent problem for some people. It has the added bonus of making it easier to get into and out of the trike. Getting in can be something that can be more like a fall than a graceful sitting down while getting up again, especially when pointing uphill, can be a real workout for us over fifties. From first impressions both these modifications are doing a good job.

But it’s not just us getting all the treats. The town where I live, Hatherleigh in West Devon, is getting a new cycle way that will eventually link us to the Tarka Trail at Meeth. Once complete, which may be a while; this section will allow you to ride from Braunton in North Devon to Hatherleigh without using a road. There will also be an extension from Braunton, northwards to a couple of miles shy of Ilfracombe. When completed, the traffic-free section will extend for some 70km, nearly half of the Devon coast to coast and almost all of the northern section. What an achievement that will be. Add in the Granite Way and the big traffic-free section south of Tavistock and the coast to coast becomes an extremely impressive and important UK cycle route.

Great Western canal: Tiverton, Devon, UK
Great Western canal: Tiverton, Devon, UK

Another long section of the Tarka Trail, from Torrington to Meeth, is getting a major makeover. It’s been cleared of all the trees that were threatening to fall onto it as well as being widened with new chicanes replacing old gates. Ditches have been cleaned out and pot-holes filled. Some large areas will be resurfaced to finish it all off. This has needed doing for a while and is nothing more than what you would expect for a trail of national importance like the Devon coast to coast, of which the Tarka Trail forms a major part.

The areas around the old gates have been tarmaced over to make a much more user friendly system in conjunction with the chicanes that replace them. These make it much easier for families and those with disabilities to use the trail, as trikes, buggies, horses, and mobility scooters, can all easily pass through the new barriers. Thumbs-up to Devon County Council once again for pushing all these things through and for recognising that access is as important as provision.

From a personal point of view I’ll be interested in seeing whether there is any increase in illegal usage now the gates have been removed. I’ve always been an advocate of removing the gates and reporting any misuse rather than banning half the population because they can’t navigate the barriers through no fault of their own.

All in all these alterations and improvements will increase the joyful experience that the Tarka trail already is. I know that the owners of Yarde Orchard Cafe are excited about the changes as it directly affects their business. It also provides another chapter in the book I’m penning about my relationship with the Tarka Trail over the last five years.

My 2015 health has started much the same as most other winters over the last eight years or so. I seem to plunge into depressive episodes without as much as a bye or leave. I pop out equally suddenly leaving me wondering what the heck is going on and never knowing from day to day, or even hour to hour, how I feel. It’s an extremely trying process and one I could liken to an emotional see-saw. I’ve documented these periods extensively through this blog over the years. Toing and froing like this leaves me with nowhere to go as being alone, being with people, exercising, and not exercising, working and being quiet, all seem to have the same effect: utter exhaustion and bewilderment.

I do know it well enough to know that I can and must tread carefully. I tiptoe through this minefield trying not to step on a bomb that will throw me into complete despair. Sometimes I manage it successfully and at other times with the feeling that I just can’t move for fear of exploding.

I use the drugs I have to balance this out: Temazepam here and Diazapam there. I use them infrequently but they are always on standby just in case. My daily antidepressant: Trazadone Hydrochloride steadies the daily ship. It contains a sedative that helps me to sleep and stay more level than I can without it. I also take great care to manage my asthma from week to week as this can have also make me feel flat and tired, adding to the problem.

Many people are unnecessarily afraid of antidepressants. Their reputation is probably born of old-school side-effects, horror stories from other users, and such like. Most modern anti-depressants are much less addictive than they used to be and can be tailored to your needs. If you tell your doctor that they seem to be having negative effects then they should be able to adjust the dose, change the drug, or as mine did, pass you up the ladder to a psychiatrist who can assess you for a different medication. My own view is that if you need them then it’s foolish to reject the idea on a notion of them not being good for you. I’ve had some pretty dark times and am sure the anti-depressants I take have helped me through by assisting my body and mind to rest and recuperate.

One of the new chicanes that replace the old gates on the Tarka Trail, Devon, UK
One of the new chicanes that replace the old gates on the Tarka Trail, Devon, UK

The problem is one of balance. You don’t want to feel dumbed-down, unable to function. But you do want to feel less pain and anguish, or in my case less noise in my head. It does seem to take some trial and error to achieve a balance but you can do that with your doctors support.

While it’s feels much more difficult to exercise through the winter it’s imperative that I do that in order to maintain fitness, to gain a sense of being alive, and to stay mindful. Not going out at all is never positive beyond those terrible days when you can’t face the world. A short walk and saying hi to a few strangers can improve your day enormously. It’s called normal social contact and I try to make sure I at least walk to the shop each and every day even though I rarely buy anything.

On those days when I get out and cycle I always feel better as a result of doing it. It isn’t just the physical exercise but the interaction with nature and a letting go of the stresses that build up when I feel trapped at home. This affect wears off after a few hours at home but provides me with enough endorphins to take the edge off the day.

I’m lucky to live where I do in such beautiful countryside but I used to enjoy cycling in Southampton, especially around the city when I lived there. I’d ride down steps and through underpasses, around parks and along cycle lanes. It was a kind of mini urban adventure to go and explore parts of the city I didn’t know. Most places now have somewhere where you can pick up a traffic-free trail of some kind to saunter along for a while. As long as you dress accordingly you soon warm up and the weak winter sunshine can feel like a sauna after days of sitting around getting cold in your house.

One of my mainstay therapies is to cook. I know how difficult this can be and I still struggle daily with having to do it when I’m feeling low. I’ve learned over the years that I can make myself do this task and that once I start I will begin to enjoy it. It takes just a few minutes to create a simple soup like Leek and Potato for example but the reward is huge in comparison time spent preparing it. Once you’ve made it you will have some for the next few days or to place in the freezer for when you feel too ill to bother. I try to do this with my main meals as well by cooking more than I need when I make a spaghetti sauce, curry, or a casserole etc.

Lost in France :)
Lost in France 🙂

When all else fails I resort to my bed or the bath. The warmth I feel from the duvet as it presses lightly on me is akin to being cuddled. Add in a hot water bottle and it becomes my safe refuge until the storm passes by. I go through periods where I take a bath every day just to luxuriate in the warm water which has a similar effect to the duvet. by doing this I’m telling myself that I care about what happens to me.

If things get too much call a friend, doctor, anyone, and talk to them. I often find that in stating how bad I’m feeling to another person that it alleviates the pain and helps me to get through.

Next time I’ll outline my plans for the coming summer’s trike adventures.

Until then, stay safe…………………………………..