Ready to Rumble
Ready to Rumble

A couple of months back I wrote a piece about my love of maps. From the response I got it would seem that I’m not alone. This article on the BBC website made me laugh this morning over breakfast. Take a look at this article: The notion of not noticing Snowdonia as you drove through the mountains and out the other side combined with leaving the UK mainland via a large bridge across the Menai Straits because your sat nav told you to makes me giggle every single time I think about it.

It’s not that I feel superior for having some map reading skills that made me chuckle. It’s more the case that we talk about being connected when we are so disconnected that we don’t register passing right through a Major National Park and onto an island without noticing that the scenery had gone all pointy and then flattened again.

Talking of being disconnected, I’ve not been writing much recently. My ongoing personal mental health battle currently revolves around extremely high levels of anxiety that seem to be present twenty-four hour a day. In short I’ve become completely manic, feeling as though I could run to Australia without stopping whilst being agitated and unable to settle without the use of diazepam, a drug that is supposed to help your mind and body relax.

Even with its help I’ve been waking at death O’clock and behaving like a clockwork toy that’s just been placed on the ground and is whirring around madly looking a little out of control. I don’t like to rely on drugs so I’ve been trying to perform quiet tasks like mending cycles and going out on Kermit to calm the excess energy.

As Michele put it, “being a bit manic’s great for getting the housework done.” That made me laugh and I’ve certainly cleaned a few things that may have otherwise have been overlooked this week. But overall I don’t rate the experience too highly as it inevitably leads to complete exhaustion.

Just overhauled: The Tarka Trailo near Meeth, Devon
Just overhauled: The Tarka trail near Meeth, Devon

My therapist Noelle believes that the extreme anxiety lies on top of the trauma I’ve locked away for many years. Like the skin of a rice pudding we need to poke through to the unpleasant stuff underneath (apologies to rice pudding lovers) in order to allow my mind to release the trauma and place the memories in boxes clearly labelled as closed files. To achieve this we are using a technique called EMDR (Eye Movement desensitization and Reprogramming) to access the trauma in bite sized chunks that I can manage.

I should be clear that the anxiety triggered the trauma therapy and not the other way around. The therapy does cause distress, as your mind tries to reprogram sensations and memories of past traumatic events and life, but you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs as they say. Revisiting places of great pain, even when you started somewhere that felt innocuous in our psyche, is a testing but necessary process.

Noelle explained that mania is often the response to feeling close to our emotional pain. It’s a reaction to get yourself away from the hurt you feel when old trauma rises to the surface, a kind of internal flight response from your own memories, associations, and sensations. I didn’t know this until I spoke to her yesterday  but after talking I realised that was exactly what I had done this week.

Up until Wednesday I had been in increasing emotional pain. I felt terrible when I got up and made myself go shopping in Okehampton using the car. While in the shop I was fighting a panic attack, something I have experienced for some years now. On my return I tried to manage the almost overwhelming sensations bombarding my mind, eventually doing so by going out for a ride. After that I stayed as high as a kite, riding the next day as well and having to force myself not to ride again on Friday in recognition of the mania.

More of this to come shortly I hope.
More of this to come shortly I hope.

This is diametrically opposed to where I was a few weeks ago when every ride felt like I’d never cycled before and each one left me exhausted. I understand enough now that I can recognise these two extremes and take some preventative action. Just a fortnight ago I felt I couldn’t even think about going riding this summer, in stages or otherwise, and now I feel I could ride hundreds of kilometres a day. Neither of these are things to celebrate as both are equally unreal. My job, and the skill I’m learning, is to find the middle ground and to tread carefully. The last thing I want is for my world to come crashing down around my ears as the mania comes to a sudden end, which it almost always does.

any more than I need to.

In amongst all this excitement I’ve been planning a ride that will take me all over the UK in four distinct stages this summer. The Ride of My Life is just what it sounds like, visiting places that have been significant to me during my life as both a child and an adult. For a variety of reasons including finances, time, energy and the need to maintain my therapy, I’ll be breaking the ride into four distinct stages:

1: South Coast: Home to Hampshire (possibly further north into the Midlands depending on time) Last two weeks in May.

2: Scotland: West coast wanderings: From Loch Lomond to the far north, this will include a tour of Skye with Michele as well as some off-road and challenging sorties riding solo. (Last two weeks in June).

3: Midlands, Norfolk and Suffolk: Northamptonshire to the Norfolk coast heading south into Suffolk before returning inland to end at Peterborough, the place where I was born.

A link route will then lead me across England to North Wales for the final stage:

4: Wales: Snowdonia to Home: I’ll be revisiting the place I regarded as home for many years and the place where my lovely daughter was born. Wales holds a special place in my heart. This section will echo my first long bike tour after I returned to cycling in late 2009. (Stage 3/4 will run in one push during August).

Monkey can't wait for summer again
Monkey can’t wait for summer again

This route is a therapeutic journey, one just for me. Given the difficulty of the last few months I’ve decided not to fundraise this year. In not doing that I remove a layer of organisation and work that detracts from the energy available to ride in the first place. I will still be championing the cause of those suffering poor mental health and hope to talk to the people I meet during the journey to try to further reduce the stigma of living with mental health conditions.

If anybody would like to meet up with me for coffee, cake and a chat, or to ride, I’ll be publishing my route, campsites, and timings in advance of each week through this blog and Facebook. This doesn’t apply to Scotland as I’m be going with Michele and it will be our holiday this year. I should warn you that Trikes and bikes don’t make for good travelling companions, so if you come along you might have to be patient at times as I twiddle up the big hills.

I’m still faffing around trying to decide the best to way to carry my kit. In Scotland I’ll be using Trevor, probably with his usual box, but I’m tempted to go light for the rest of the trip as relatively short stages mean I can carry less with me than usual. To this end I’ve ordered a small waterproof duffle that I intend to fit all my personal kit into. Used in conjunction with two small Ortlieb panniers, tucked in under the Kermit’s seat, this should provide plenty of carrying capacity without resorting to the large panniers that sit too far to the rear of the trike for the carrying of hefty goods. I guess it will all evolve as I go so we’ll have to wait and see. I’ll post some pictures when I’m packed up so you can all have a laugh at my expense.

Kermit is getting an overhaul. I’ve ordered three (yes, three) new KMC chains and a new cassette sporting a mega-low 34 tooth lowest gear. I’m hoping to persuade my derailleur to manage this but I won’t know until it arrives. Shimano insist it won’t but they say many things aren’t possible that I know are (See Sheldon for lots of useful info and engineering know-how). With small wheels the derailleur generally has a medium length cage not the long one so fingers crossed please.

Azub T Tris folding trike: simply awesome :)
Azub T Tris folding trike: simply awesome 🙂

We have already changed tyres to Schwalbe Marathon Plus (20 x 1.75″) on the front and Schwalbe Big Apple Plus (20 x 2.215″) on the rear. This has improved comfort and handling on the bumpy lanes where I live and I haven’t had any more punctures (and don’t expect to). I did have to fabricate a new rear mudguard to allow for the extra fat rear tyre but this was well worthwhile.

Other than that and an inspection where I will change cables etc the Azub T Tris trikes seem incredibly robust and dependable. We both love them more the more we use them, slipping into trike mode and cruising around gently. They will always be a little slower uphill due to a little extra weight over a typical two-wheel touring cycle. But if you are one to sit and pedal your bike up steep hills there isn’t much difference as far as I can tell. The added comfort, sense of fun, and lack of aches and pains that aids recovery does it for me every time and I always have a panoramic view of the world and a seat off the ground when I’m camping.

Aside from doing the route in stages and not fundraising there are a few other significant changes. On the first and second stages I will have more time than I need. This will give me the advantage that I can explore and wander off-track, a luxury I haven’t had previously. I can stopover at places because I want to and not worry about mileage etc. This will alter the feel of the journey.

I would like to meet up with  people as well travelling solo and have already been in contact with a few of my friends. This ride will be about relaxing and enjoying the world I grew up in through the eyes of an adult, noticing the changes in the places I have known and celebrating the past and present in a way that I feel cannot be bettered. That means by cycling.

You can tell from the route outline that I have lived all over this small island. Scotland is the only place I’m visiting that I haven’t lived and I’ve had to be choosy about the places I am visiting as so many were significant that I could ride for a year or more. Scotland is included as a place close to my heart where I have climbed, walked, camped and ridden motorcycles. Always significant in my life it’s included because it’s the place where the spark was made, the one that led me back to cycling, as well as being the place that set my heart on fire when I rode around the coast of Britain four years ago and on numerous other occasions.

Until next time…………………………