Last week was an extraordinary week, or at least it seemed that way to me. Not only was the weather settled and warm, but I felt strong enough to cycle on three consecutive days for the second week out of three. I’ve not done any long rides since August, and I don’t intend to do many over winter. My physical fitness has lifted to a new level, at least for the time being.
I should admit here that this may be a false dawn, and there have been plenty of those. My mornings have been slow, mushy brain affairs, with plenty of anxiety for a couple of months. My body feels adrenalized all the time and it may be this that is powering my rides.
Either way, I’ve been out enjoying the astonishing Devon countryside, even managing to get completely lost just a few miles from my home down warren-like lanes. I’ve made this analogy before, but riding around Hatherleigh can be like disappearing down a hole and popping up again somewhere else. Once down in the maze it feels like you are underground. There are few references to the world above. You cannot see much of the sun and sometimes only glimpses of the sky are possible. Subterranean cycling could be the next new thing.
Perhaps the polarity of my experiences is what makes it feel so extraordinary when things go well. I’ll never know. What I do know is that I’ve been enjoying the relaxed time on my recumbent trike (Kermit) in a way that hasn’t been present for a while, other than in brief glimpses.
The cooler autumn weather suits me. It always has. As a runner and a climber, I generally performed best between September and May, rather than the summer months. But my rides now are nothing to do with what most people think of as performance. They are gentle, a kind of reaching out to nature to enable me to feel the world and absorb a small part of it into my soul. I still sleep when I return from riding, but it’s a peaceful kind of sleep for the most pa rt, more healing than at other times.
That isn’t always the case. I can awaken in the afternoon feeling dreadful. This often occurs when I ride longer distances and get physically worn down. I have a long-held belief than in this situation I no longer have the mental capacity to hold down the torrent of trauma that I have still got hidden away in a mental cupboard. It starts to leak out around the edges, oozing through the gaps around the door until the door threatens to burst open. At that moment I waken with an unyielding sense of doom that can last for the rest of the evening and even through the night.
This last few weeks I’ve just pottered. An hour or two’s riding at the most. I’ve fetched my groceries, plodded up steep or long hills and zoomed down the other side as though I had to be somewhere important, imminently. I’ve ridden the estuaries around Barnstaple with an ease that is something to celebrate. I don’t always need a challenge. There are plenty of times when being out is enough of a reward.
I occasionally wonder how long it will last, before banishing that thought and returning to the simple pleasure of enjoying it while it does. Isn’t that the whole point of activity if you’re not an athlete? This has all been anchored by the loss of my delightful friend Sue. She passed away in July after fighting a malignant brain tumour for as long as she could, leaving a large hole where her enthusiasm, smile and energy used to sit. We are celebrating her life at the weekend and I can hear her in my mind telling me to enjoy mine while I can. She certainly did. Her life was full to the brim of all manner of wonderful outdoor adventures, some alongside her husband and others, like cycling, in company or solo. I never knew her long enough. I’m not sure you ever could. Sue was one of those people who exuded the good things in life. I’m lucky enough to have absorbed some of that energy and when I next ride a long-distance, Sue will be there in spirit with that infectious smile and boundless enthusiasm.
Sue’s memorial has now passed by. It was such a celebration, with many people from the worlds of cycling, climbing and paragliding. These were worlds that I passionately explored for a large part of my own life, each colliding head on with the devastating effect of poor mental health, which ultimately signified their doom and banishment from my current life. There were also many cyclists present. All had their own experiences and we spent a wonderful afternoon exchanging stories on how we had come to meet Sue, Rick, or both of them. What became apparent was that Sue had touched those around her deeply and that her drive and passion will be missed in many sporting arenas including cycling, running, cross country skiing, sea kayaking, wild camping, mountain walking and many more.
Today I can but smile at my own memories, reflecting on the multitude of adventures that have made up my life. The time spent at Sue’s memorial has had the effect of leaving me feeling extremely lucky to have known her and even more lucky to have lived the life I have chosen, one of seeking adventure and exploring. Sue rode Land’s End to John O’Groats at the age of 72. This was her last major cycle tour before the onset of the illness that would eventually take her life. She remained stoic to the end, always looking forwards. It was one final example to us all that we should make the most of what we have while we still hold power over life.
I will take all these thoughts and memories along with me the next time I’m riding Kermit out into the open spaces of Devon. It’s those special places that recharge my batteries and help me move forward. They alone provide a kind of defragmentation for the mind, clearing the clutter and making space for some new encounters, and experiences, big and small.
I might see you out there? Until next time………………………