Early Days
Early Days, before I could exercise.

It struck me writing the last post, that the piece of kit I really needed to talk about is myself. I’m the engine for this journey, and it’s been quite a journey to get here. If you’re thinking that I must be really fit and ready to go, You’d be wrong. I’m probably as ready as I’ll ever be, but not ‘ready’ as such.

It’s complex to expalin, but I’ll try because it’s important in the context of the ‘Ride2Recovery’ idea. From Christmas to now, things have really fluctuated. Some days good but others feeling like I’ve never ridden a bike at all. This is my normal, what I have to judge and work with everyday. The new drugs are helping me sleep, but whilst I awaken brighter, I sort of go around below par for most of the day. Some of this is winter, and some of it is normal viral stuff that happens at this time of the year. Some of it, is the way my mind is right now, and that’s the difficult bit.

Taking on a challenge when you can’t train in a ‘conventional’ way is really interesting as you have to judge every ride, every effort you make in terms of how you might feel over the next few days. Riding always initially makes me feel better, after that it’s a bit ‘wait and see’. I have a sport degree and some knowledge of how I might train and what I need to do. Outside of that, I make it up loosely, as I go along!!

You might think that after nearly one and a half years, I’d have it sussed? Trouble is, it’s just too variable, so what I have to do is be realistic and careful when I push the envelope. Any ride, on any day, could be a gentle, steady cycle enjoying the scenery, a complete pump, working everything full tilt, a hill session, sprints or a technical session. The secret is to try to find what is appropriate on a given day, and then do it. The second secret is to find enough ‘good days’ to build on weaknesses.

Sites like Graeme Street’s excellent ‘Cyclo-Club’ really help. He works with what he calls ‘Everyday Cyclists’ , those with limited time to train. So, the premise is to maximise gains everytime you ride. I try do that as theree is always someting I can do on a given day, so I maximise what I do every time I can, which is slightly different.  I use his drills and ideas to bolster my lack of cycle specific knowledge. I’m not even a member, but still he supports me and many others like me. Thanks Graeme. www.cyclo-club.com

Even after nearly 6 years, when things feel bad, they feel really bad. I cant explain this except by saying that it feels like a different person is present, not me at all. Trouble is, it is me, and I have to learn to like this person, respect him and help him manage the barrage of emotions he brings along. So, the first thing I try to do, is to take this person out riding, not leave him behind. This way, I can feel what is going on and ride accordingly, whatever that means. In Mr Streets words, I’m learning to’ Honour my body’ (and mind). It’s simply a case of being true to yourself and listening to the inner voice we all have.

That is the premise that ‘Round Britain’ will be ridden from. I can’t plan each day. Some will start early and end late and some will start late and end early, some wont start at all, and will be enjoyed lazing about or nosing around. The secret is to never be disappointed with any of them. What I do understand is the myriad of changes I have made to get this far, and I think they are worth sharing.

Totally knackered after a ten mile hill with multiple steep grades

Firstly, Diet. I try to eat healthily. Lots of fish and organic veg and lots of fruit. It doesnt have to be expensive. I shop using the bike and trailer, buy sell by’s and freeze them, simples. It wasnt like this initially. I couldnt cope with cooking much at all, and just ate anything to keep going! Not a good plan, and one that saw me change shape a bit, but after a very highcholesterol test, Isaid I wanted to tackle the resulting high level of said substance myself, rather than using statins. After 3 months, it was well out of the red zone. I used to really go to town on biscuits, crisps and junk, now I don’t want it. Having veg’ delivered, keeps me on my toes, varies what I cook and makes me think about every days food. This is a bonus, as it also encourages me to be creative. I’m also trying to cook things that I can cook when I’m on the road, so that wont be a shock when faced with 2 pans and a single burner. That idea came from the Travelling two website ( www.travellingtwo.com ), a great place to find out about cycle touring, especially if you’re a beginner.

Alcohol went the same way. After the meteor, that was the breakdown this time, struck, I drank far too much, far too often. simple solution, don’t buy it. It worked too and these days, because of the medication I’m on, I can’t drink. Bonus, healthier and wealthier. the really big bug-bear is that I smoke, yes really. Many people who suffer depressive illnesses do, and sadly, there is evidence that it really does help!! All the other horrible things still apply though. This is my biggest struggle, and to date, I have managed to really cut back by not having tobacco with me when I ride, go to the pub (for a Blackcurrant and soda) or when I go out. It’s as much as I can do right now and means that what I used to smoke in a 4 days, now lasts virtually two weeks. Not ideal, but as I say, manageable.

Excercise wise, I obviously cycle, but only around three times a week. Distance and intensity vary, as I explained, but I average around 100 miles per week, regularly. I also do lots of stretching and have taken up Yoga. Finding peace in my head isnt easy and these activities help me find balance and stop me getting too intense or woulnd up when things dont go my way. I also sleep when |i need to. it’s down to around an hour in the afternoon now, but used to be several hours, or even most of the day. Noticing these little changes is how you see your own progress even when there seems to be a lack of it! Yesterday, I cycled a short distance, 11 miles. I felt really rubbish apart from on the hills, where I felt fine!!! Afterwards, I remembered that 14 months ago, this would have been a maximal ride for me, so it was only rubbish in current context and something good could be found by digging deeeper into the memory banks. It also told me I needed to rest, so I did, and things now feel much better.

Felt rubbish all day and rode in the warm evening light, which made me feel great. Funny old world!!!

Practise tours have helped so much in my preparation. Having a hard 740 miler under my belt showed me that I can manage well out on the road, and that I dont fold up. The Welsh tour was the last of three prep’ tours, and the best in evey way. The first circumnavigated Dartmoor and the second rounded the Cornish Penninsular (well hilly!!) All of them started and finished from my home, something I will do in may also.

Mistakes were made, I rode too much in Cornwall, which meant I missed out on people and places of interest. Dartmoor just seemed hard at the time and my sleeping bag etc seemed inadequate for the cold April nights. I hated having no real space to live in, something that never used to bother me. The Teepee I’m taking is light and spacious and solves these issues.

I learned what happens when you dont eat/drink enough and what I need to do to keep me going, and I learned how to talk to people so I’m not ‘alone’ the whole while, I also learned that I’m not afraid when in that world.  The list goes on and on, so if your going to tour, start easy and build up locally first. The key thing though, was learning that I can do it, and I love it. Mileages arn’t important, so I don’t chase daily averages. All I have to do is to get up, pack up (something I can do completely within the Teepee), eat and move on. The peace of being out in the fresh air camping and cycling increases my energy levels and feelings of well being. When I need to rest or back off, I do. Sometimes this is just sitting in a field looking at the view, and sometimes it’s a day or two off the bike, eating, reading and resting. One day off, for three riding, seems to work well for me, not too intense and I’m  never far away from the next rest. In Wales, I had a really jaded day, so the next day, I just stayed put and the ‘problem’ melted away.

Just to give this a little perspective, I’ve spent 6 years learning to manage basic day to day things most people take for granted. Increasing my personal ‘life bubble’ has been done in, sometimes, tiny steps. Faltering and reeling backwards to hide, then, luckily, getting back up with the help of an excellent Doctor and Therapist, and many friends. This is a new beginning, a rebirth, as I said before. It’s still wafer thin and susceptible to all manner of pokes and prods from the big world outside.

Inspirational Devon. On Sustrans ‘Granite Way’ near Okehampton

Round Britain and Ride2Recovery have become a kind of  job, that I can pick up and put down as and when I want to. I don’t have to do it at a given time or for set hours. There are detractors who think I cycle all the time and they pay the bill for it. I like to think that I’m trying my best to move forward and regain some self respect. It started out as a crazy idea, and now the Round Britain ride is almost upon me. ‘Ride2Recovery’ was the idea of a friend and supporter who believes, as I’m beginning to, that it can be a series of rides, expanding as I slowly recover. The very notion of this would have seen me running for cover a year ago, but now, I like the idea, I can explore it, and begin to look further ahead than tommorow.

www.justgiving.com/Graeme-Willgress