Mid Devon at its finest
Mid Devon at its finest

It’s been fine in Devon now for over two weeks. This late summer warmth has been aiding my efforts to get my cycling back on track after a difficult year. I’ve begun to explore again rather than take the obvious routes between the places I tend to travel to. It’s reminded me of how much I love being out on my cycle and helped my health inordinately by giving me a much-needed double-boost of exercise and sunshine.

Once I packed away the thoughts of camping, settling on simply being out, I have found the kind of riding that has been missing. My routes have grown in length and duration and I’m feeling fitter than in a good while. My fears in being out have receded with practise, replaced by the knowledge that I know what to do in the event of a wasp-based incident.

I have cruised both alone and with Michele, meeting people and talking cycling and life, but the thing that has lifted my spirits is that it has given me the energy to try to move things along another step in my day-to-day life. I’ve taken stock of where I am and have made decisions concerning where I want my project to go in the next couple of years. Based on those thoughts I have a seedling plan for another ride in 2015 that is based in the UK. I also have more direction for my writing and are exploring ways that might actually earn me a few pennies into the bargain.

The emotional waves that have governed 2014 are still there but I’m no longer drowning in them. This has undoubtedly helped by the return from her summer break of my therapist and the knowledge that I can seek her support again. There’s nothing like a break in our meetings to throw me off-line for a while and reinstating our weekly meetings reassures me that it’s worth continuing the exploration of my mental health under her guidance.

After medication, support of friends and professionals is perhaps the most important aspect in helping people to manage and cope with long-term conditions. The individuals who are ill know their symptoms and  patterns and also know that they have limited time each day where  these don’t govern their daily lives. What they don’t know is who will support them when they feel desperate and who will help when they are most vulnerable. Support of health professionals is almost nonexistent and many people, myself included, can easily feel abandoned in a big and scary world without help, barely able to cope.

Over the hills and far away
Over the hills and far away

For some of those people it means that their lives become untenable and suicide can feel like the only option. In a week where Wednesday was National Suicide Prevention day it seems appropriate to remind people that they can help. If you notice that a friend isn’t posting on Facebook, Twitter, etc, as they normally might, give them a call or send them a message. A friendly voice or message can be enough to save lives. Alternately call around and say hi to them. The impact of somebody showing a little compassion can make a world of difference when your illness constantly leaves you thinking that life will never get any better.

It can equally difficult for those suffering poor mental health to say yes to invitations. Not knowing how you will be from hour to hour makes it difficult to plan ahead with any confidence. Sometimes its easier to avoid going out than to risk it and then find that you need to go home again halfway through dinner or a film at the cinema. It isn’t that people don’t want to take part. They often say no as they are frightened of being judged when things don’t go to plan. Ask yourself how you react when things in your life don’t go to plan and you have to ask for help from others? It isn’t easy is it? Now imagine how it feels to live a life where you have to ask for help or support constantly. Can you imagine that?

I’ve been through a long period where I’ve felt that I have nothing left to say. A period where I feel that nothing I  do makes any difference to my situation, so why bother? It’s only when I get out riding again and the depressive illness begins to recede that I can see clearly that it’s the insidious nature of my illness  getting in the way and not that nobody cares about what happens to me. The illness pushes me further and further from the real world, replacing my sense of belonging with one of despair. At those times, a phone call from a friend or even a mention on Facebook makes a big difference to my day. So how about it? Let’s try to support our friends, fellow sufferers, and carers, as and when we are able. It’s unlikely that we will all be enduring a bout of illness at the same time.

As a depressive episode lifts it can feel as though you have been reborn. When I get out and cycle the world is a wonderous place, full of joy, colour and surprise. My mind opens, absorbing it as though it’s the last time I will ever see it, and my souls begins to feel rich with life again. It’s diametrically opposed to those days when my mind turns inwards and eats away at everything I’ve built up, urging me to destroy it all and hide away. The contrast is so stark that I  feel I can liken it to being released from a small prison cell for the first time after many years of capture.

Romansleigh, Mid Devon
Romansleigh, Mid Devon

For me it explains why I felt the need to get out and camp. I felt I had to make the most of having been released. In reality my mind wasn’t used to the freedom it now felt it had and so it rejected the idea of being away from home, even for one night. By accepting that  I have found I can go and explore close to home and further away, returning at night to my safe haven. It’s also helping me accept that I love my home and that it isn’t the aforementioned prison.

In the last two weeks I have begun to do more jobs around the house. Some of those jobs, like sorting out all my cycle tools and spares, having been waiting for years for me to tackle them. I now go out knowing that I love the place I return to and that it represents the safe house I need when things get rough.  In turn this reminds me that not everything is fluid and unstable any longer. Although there are long periods of instability with which I struggle I have built some fairly solid foundations on which to base my new life. In time it will be that fact that helps me to move forward.

A series of rides from my house have taken me across familiar territory for most of this year. I needed that reassurance of knowing I have completed the rides I have undertaken previously. As I said earlier the last couple of weeks has seen a seed change. I have begun to want to explore places I don’t know again. I rode a sortie out towards Bideford, some on familiar lanes and some brand new. To be out in the middle of Devon without worrying about whether or not you can finish the ride you’re doing takes confidence.

Yesterday I took this newly re-found joy of exploring to another level. I decided to ride to Barnstaple without going on any roads I had previously used. This would entail riding out into the boonies, the heart of Mid Devon where it can feel as though you are lost in space. I studied my online mapping (Ordnance Survey 1:50,000) and plotted an intricate route through the many lanes, that lead nowhere in particular, until I had joined the town I live with South Molton and eventually Barnstaple.

I then took a postcard and wrote out the abbreviated directions. I’m developing a way of not needing to rely on pulling the map out every five minutes and don’t want to resort to GPS. Apart from the fact that I can’t afford one I feel they detract from the sense of adventure I get when I reach the point where I’m unsure of where I am in relation to anything else. If you ride north from where I live you enter a world of steep, long, inclines, the kind of which I was unsure I would ever be able to ride on my trike. All the ridges here run from west to east. When you travel you feel like a rabbit, you only pop up occasionally to see the view as you reach the top of yet another hill. From there you see a little further, usually to the next hill, before slipping silently down into a warren of tiny lanes, some only a little wider than my trike. Surrounded by hedges and with grass between the front wheels you continue, blindly trusting the directions you scribed earlier, and almost always surprised when you happen upon a small rural community that you highlighted on your route card.

Conkers.
Conkers.

And so it was yesterday as I headed for Eggesford and the end of the terrain that I had knowledge of. Without a GPS or cycle computer you have no real idea of how far you have travelled. Time becomes distorted, even elongated, as you crawl up the next of many hills as steep as 25%. Repeating the process and only seeing fields containing horses, cattle, or sheep, is in itself disorienting, and in that space I find absolute peace and tranquility.

The joy of reaching a village perched atop a steep incline is an amazing experience, especially when you have never seen it previously. Even more amazing is the fact that your route card seems to be leading you the right way. I have to admit a couple of sneaky looks at the map, but I haven’t used the card idea before so I’m still learning the best way to give myself the information I need that helps me to navigate.

It was a lovely day when my tyre went flat. I’ve had a series of punctures recently. The hedges have been cut and the Schwalbe tyres I’m currently using have minimal puncture protection. I’ve just bought some thicker tubes in the hope of staving this off but secretly I know I will end up with Schwalbe’s fabulous Marathon Plus tyres for the front wheels at some point. I just want to wear the current tyres out before I get fed up with mending punctures. As I sat replacing the tube and mending the puncture I felt as though I was in heaven. Nothing came by as I worked, drank and ate.  The world was tranquil and beautiful and my mind began to feel the same.

The long, downwhill, finishing straight...and relax
The long, downwhill, finishing straight…and relax

Without  distraction, cycling was once again showing me how to live without distress. There are no performance goals in my rides, other than arriving somewhere at some future point, or getting up the next hill as best I can. I can get lost both literally and emotionally in a simple world where I feel I belong. On each and every ascent my concentration was absolute. It was the same on the fast downhill sections. In between I sauntered along, spinning the gears and enjoying the scenery. Grounded in those moments I can cope with the world, and more importantly my own mind.

How good it was to feel my heart working and my lungs sucking in air as efficiently as they are able. How enabling it felt to crest those steep hills and stare at the vista beyond. For me cycling is priceless. It feels so honest. It levels me, shows me what is important, introduces me to things that I would never see if I were driving. Most of all it surprises me with what I can achieve after a year where I’ve felt it was all getting too much. What would I do and where would I be without it?

Until next time…………………….