I needed a day out. A day when I’m not sat at home wondering where everything will lead. Today was that day, even though it didn’t feel like it when I got up. To be honest it doesn’t often feel like a good day and during most of this year I’ve just tried to accept that carry on as best I can. There has been no great journey, no adventures of any kind, just the day to day slog of trying to get through the days and weeks. There has been changes in medication, mostly successful, and ongoing investigations into other aspects of my ever-struggling body and mind. But they haven’t led anywhere that feels different to the place that I started from.
Anybody out there who has ever experienced poor mental health will know what I mean. You’re permanently tired, worn from the constant battle, from glamming yourself up (mentally), putting on your bright face and going out and face the world. You don’t really want to but the alternative is doing nothing and there are times when that just won’t do at all.
Today, I woke to my alarm and levered myself out from the warm comfort of my bed at 8.00.a.m. It was freezing cold out and frost clung to every leaf, branch and blade of grass that I could see from my window. I had just shy of two hours before I needed to leave. You could be forgiven for thinking that that is a lot of time to drink some coffee, eat some toast, clean my teeth and get out the door, but I can assure you that you are mistaken in that.
The first half hour disappeared in a foggy grunge as I tried to shake off the feeling of still being asleep, but in a vertical state. As the coffee, toast and jam worked its magic, I began to look at Kermit, who was sitting quietly, not daring to say a word, in the corner. I remember thinking to myself that I would be riding him shortly and while the thought didn’t repel me in any way, it seemed a little fantastical.
The next hour was spent scuttling around like those funny little robots on Red Dwarf. In the process, teeth were cleaned and my cycling outfit put on. I collected panniers, pump, spares, coat, jacket, hat, gloves and a newly rediscovered balaclava that I bought in my motorcycle days. None of this was done consciously, but I’ve done it so many times, that even on mornings like this, I just do it.
The other good aspect of being semi-conscious is that it never properly registered just how cold it was outside before I carted Kermit out and unfolded him, noticing the ice on the road and the dragon’s breath from my own respiration. Being semi-numb to cold is good. I wish I could bottle it to sell. I got as far as thinking that it was minus something, but the something didn’t matter. I have three wheels and that makes staying black side down much easier than with a bike in these conditions.
Merino shirt, micro-fleece, winter jacket, woolly socks, windproof gloves, winter bibs, helmet, lights and shoes all fell on in some odd ritual of thrashing arms and unwilling mind. Eventually I reached the point of no return and after stretching I had two choices: leave, or melt from the heat building up in all those layers. As I sat down on Kermit’s welcoming seat something inside flicked a switch. I became a cyclist and, as it was now seemingly unavoidable, I set off for Okehampton.
Climbing Park Road, I twiddled and diddled on tiny gears, my legs whirring away and my lungs gulping in large quantities of freezing air. This was warmed slightly as it passed through my balaclava and my respiratory system was glad of that fact. Had it not I sensed that my lungs might easily have frozen closed, and that just wouldn’t do, would it?
I entered a world of fog and mist, the early morning inversion holding all the cold air in the valleys. The trees and bushes along my way were all frozen, a forest of whiteness and bright, shining, crystals. I was in Narnia, at least it felt like that. I hoped the Snow Queen was still asleep and headed for Jacobstowe along lanes that crunched even much more than usual. My lights flashed brightly, miniature lighthouses that I hoped would keep me safe. The air was otherwise completely still giving me the sense that the world had stopped spinning and time was stationary for a while. I was the only thing moving on the planet.
My legs kept doing their thing, not strong, but not weak either. They just carried on as they have learned to do and I could therefore relax as the large Imax view of the world slowly changed all around me. Downhill, the cold bit deep, trying to penetrate my layers, but it was never successful and I carried on all cosy warm inside my cocoon of clothing. I even took the time to feel sorry for the deer at the farm where they live as they huddled around a cold stack of cold hay in the feeding trough.
When the sun burst through on one hilltop it was as though the world and I all woke up and began to move again. The light was so strong that the trees, and their remaining yellow leaves, shone like glittering treasure from the now dripping branches. The frost was slowly disappearing and the top of distant hills now protruded from the fog like islands dotted across a white, still, ocean.
My eyes, bombarded by this sudden flourish of colour and light, would have jumped for joy had they not been frozen firmly in their sockets, but my mind began to sing out loud at the place, the view, the suns warmth and everything today encompassed. There was a moment of realisation that I was alive and that cycling was a wonderful thing. I was feeling something emotional and positive, and that is a good sign because I was beginning to wonder if I had left those emotions somewhere and forgotten where to find them. And just like most other things that I misplace, I found them where I left them all along.
And the joys continued, interspersed with a long talk with my doctor and the weekly shop, courtesy of Lidl, these interruptions did nothing to spoil the day. By the time I was homeward bound the sun was blazing down. I rode the steep hill up to Abbeyford woods, my panniers heavy with their own treasures, and bordered on enjoying it. This hasn’t happened for quite some time and it felt like a minor celebration.
Somewhere along the roads and lanes of the last few years I’ve given up pedalling downhill, preferring to take in the vista and to feel the air rushing past as Kermit gathers momentum. I was now so relaxed that I felt I could ride all day. Hills came and went, breathing rose and fell, along with my heart rate and the world felt peaceful, as did I.
Given the effort it took to leave the house this morning, I was quite surprised at the turn of events once I did. Sometimes I ride in a fog and at other times, like today, I surf a wave of smiles and constantly changing scenery that keeps bringing me back to the conclusion that I’m lucky to have cycling in my life, however far or near I feel able to roam.
Until next time……….