2015-10-14 14.02.49
High on Dartmoor, UK

Yesterday felt like the first day of spring. It wasn’t typical of February but it was very welcome none-the-less. The complexities of riding regularly and managing my mental health can be frustrating beyond words. Riding in Devon always has plenty of ups and downs, but when they are out of synch with my mental fluctuations it can feel all but impossible to go out. The opposite of that is when everything falls nicely into line and I get what I call a ‘bonus day.’ These are quite rare, but happen enough that I can use them to measure where I am in my physical fitness rather than feeling held back by my mental limitations, which can leave me sensing that there is no point in even trying to go out.

When synchronicity strikes, I have the equivalent of what others call being in the zone. My muscles work as they should. My mind does as I ask, without inordinate complaint and the world feels a much better place. Yesterday was one of those days. I rode a route that is tough in terms of hills and glorious in its scenery. The sunshine meant that even those parts that might ordinarily feel a mite uninteresting, shone like silver. There was a warmth that we shouldn’t feel in February, but it was welcome as I said above. Flowers are springing from the hedgerows and the added colour and new life lifted my spirits accordingly.

Just a week ago, I was reaching for the Temazepam, hoping upon hope that my head would stop feeling as though it was about to explode. I slept and slept, felt woozy and befuddled for days at a time with no signs that it might lift in the near future. But don’t misread this, I didn’t get up and feel wonderful and decide to go riding yesterday. No, I got up, felt woozy, drank coffee, ate breakfast, felt woozy, pottered around, looked at Facebook, felt woozy and eventually decided to force myself to go out. In short, it felt quite forced initially.

It was midday before I left the house and even then, I felt unsure that it would be worth the effort. I have recently re-jigged things at home. It’s part of an ongoing attempt to de-clutter my life and make things how I want them, rather than just having cupboards stuffed with all manner of things I no longer need nor use. Kermit now lives in the hall unfolded. Why it’s taken me almost three years to figure out that I can do this I have no idea. All I now have to do is carry him out and fit the seat, something that feels much easier than navigating my kitchen with a folded Kermit held chest high.

Kermit takes a breather.

You could be forgiven for laughing at this but anything you can do that makes life marginally easier to deal with is worth it in my view. Being easier to get out means I am that bit more likely to actually go. As I have often said, getting out is always marginal as far as my mind goes and any aids to that count. So how did I end up going for a much tougher ride than I envisaged? Basically, I made it up as I went along. I set off on a route I know well. It’s a route I ride at least twice most weeks, but it is also a route that allows me to make decisions as I go. It is like a spine with many other routes running off in various directions from a central core. There is no initial commitment, therefore, I can make it as short or long as I wish.

It’s a bit of a trick. My body and mind think they knows what I’m doing, right up to the point when I make an unexpected turn and take it by surprise. That came outside of Okehampton when I first turned up a hill I haven’t ridden in the last year. And for good reason, it’s hard work and goes on a bit. It also commits me to making a longer ride than usual so my I needed to sneak up on it without alarming my head.

The first clue anybody got was when I chose to use the ‘Granny’ ring. The hill starts at 20% and then backs away, like all Devon hills, to become a long drag at a more reasonable angle. I tried to climb it with as little effort as I could use and to my surprise, my legs and head didn’t yell or scream STOP, as they so often do. Slowly but surely, we rose above the valley, climbing this ridge-like spur until we felt like we were on top of the world. The sunshine blazed down, filling me with warmth and aiding the rare feeling of being alive.

The confidence I gained from this encouraged me to travel further. Now you should be aware that at times you should do this and at others you should avoid over doing it. I find that if my mind feels settled and my legs are okay then I can usually push the boat a bit more. If either are feeling unsure about what I’m doing, then I take the easier option. In this case, everything felt good and so I headed for the edge of Dartmoor at Belstone, a pretty granite village perched on the northern flanks of one of the UK’s biggest bogs.

Complex and interwoven, like our minds.

When the fields turn to moorland and huge blocks of course granite appear in the walls, houses and enclosures, something changes inside me. I feel the age and wildness of it all and yearned for more of it. I was greeted by a flock of sheep who were keen to escape the attentions of a three-year-old who seemed determined to get to know them. It reminded me of my own daughter’s childhood and I pedalled away smiling. Just down the road a lone rowan tree stood out like a beacon, covered from head to toe in bright red berries. I had to take a photograph before continuing.

Passing the village centre, with its age-old hand water pump, wooden stocks, and sadly closed café (It will open again shortly), I found a place to sit and eat at some tables belonging to the local pub and overlooking the moor. The flank of the moor was covered in reds, browns and burned orange colours of dead bracken. The green grass that lie between seemed inordinately bright along with the yellow gauze that is beginning to flourish again. This was all bordered by a pastel-blue sky with wisps of fluffy, fair-weather cloud. In short it was as pretty as a picture, one I duly took to remember it by.

I sat and watched as a group of children played with a radio-controlled car, a jump ramp, and a small digital camera. All three were completely immersed in their film making activities, trying, as always, to out-do one another by jumping the car in the most spectacular manner without crashing it. Behind them, the moor rose majestically, but they could have been in the street outside their house, such was their absorption in the game. I smiled and said goodbye to them before leaving and set off down the long hill that would take me away from this haven.

For the next fifteen kilometres or so, I rode across the grain. What this means in real terms is that cycling becomes like swimming against the tide. Many short, steep, hills came and went, interconnected with longer, more gentle downhills stretches of completely rural road, often with grass marking the centre. The best way to tackle them is to chill-out, relax, spin those pedals and take them as easily as you can. As I progressed, the sections between the hills got shorter and the frequency of the steep bits increased. Just as I thought the balance was getting negative I turned westwards along the grain, a ridge that runs for many miles and one that I could follow easily as it undulated toward home.

Clear skies help to clear the mind.

Now you must enjoy the next section. Mainly downhill, with stunning views of Dartmoor (now some distance away) it feels perfect, right up to the moment you reach the bottom and begin a series of long climb back towards Hatherleigh, where I reside. On a bad day, it feels like a cruel trick as you toil away up this last major obstacle. Today it just felt enough, not too hard, but not easy. It never feels easy, mainly because of its position as the last major hill. You always want it over, to race down the other side before the short, sharp rise that lead in turn to the close where my house is. You just have to ‘grin and bear it.’

Up on Hatherleigh Moor, the sun beginning to sink and Dartmoor partly shrouded in light, wispy cloud, you feel as though you own the world. The smile that came across my face at that moment is still there this morning. The reward for getting it right can be enormous, but don’t push the boat too far or it might sink.

Until next time………………