This week I’ve been immersed in practicalities as my mind settles once more into a less pendulous state. I’ve been concentrating on things that will get me to the start of the next ride, and keep me happy whilst out on the road. I’d like to share a few of the things that have been occupying my thoughts, and most of my time over the last seven days. It’s not as personal as other posts, but it’s as equally important in terms of managing my health. Sorting through these aspects of the ride is like ticking a long series of boxes that all need filling before I’m able to leave. I’m building a security blanket and I don’t want any holes in it.
It’s funny how we get attached to inanimate objects. My Harley Davidson Sportster was just a lump of metal after all, wasn’t it? We enjoyed a trip to Scotland, and several to Cornwall/Dorset, and to me it had a soul. A thumping big heart helped it move along, and for a while we shared our adventures. I bought it after purchasing my house, following my father’s death, and that was another attachment to it. Last time I sold it, I bought it back again. That won’t be happening this time.
In reality, it sat in the shed, rarely ridden. That’s partly because of winter, and partly because my mind doesn’t cope with the noise, speed and physical effort involved, even that of this gentle giant. At the moment it makes more sense to sell it to try to put myself in a better position for my future riding and writing. We all have to make choices in order to do the things we want to do in life. As I waved Charlie goodbye on Thursday, there was a pang of emotion. I feel I probably won’t ride motorcycles again, but I’ll always have many happy memories of a lifelong love of them, and the people who ride them.
By comparison, riding a bicycle is cheap, right? Wrong, if you ride as much as I do, you wear things out at an alarming rate. Those things have to be replaced. If you ride for charity, you have a responsibility to make every effort to raise the profile of your riding, in order to maximise their visibility. Adding sponsors into this equation ups the ante even more. It completely changes the way you ride, and this is the main reason why so many people don’t want to do it, preferring to travel with absolute freedom.
I already have an eye to next year and that’s why my beloved Harley is going to a new home. I have to start earning back some of what I’ve spent. I won’t say exactly how much it’s cost me to get to this far, but it mounts up. The old saying, you have to speculate to accumulate, has never seemed more appropriate. In order to earn, I have to spend large amounts of time, energy, and cash. Whilst on the road last year, I relied on my iPhone for all my communication. It worked, but limited my ability to blog, keep a journal, post photographs, and be in touch with the world. As I begin to move further away, I need to be able to do those things better, for my charity, sponsors, and most importantly myself. Keeping my mental health stable, whilst a long way from home, involves much planning and thought. With that in mind, I’ve been considering taking a netbook with me on this year’s ride for some time.
With a little care, these technologies travel well. Many expedition cyclists and travellers are now carrying laptops in order to communicate whilst on the road. Keeping in touch is an important aspect of my riding. Last year I relied upon telephone calls and the occasional email to balance being alone for four months. Calling and receiving calls from abroad can get to be quite expensive. This year I’m investing in a secondhand iPad and will use email, Skype, and social networks, like Twitter, Flickr and Facebook much more. It will allow you to be more involved in the ride and help me feel less alone when I’m sat in a bog, in the middle of nowhere, in a howling gale.
Alongside this, Janet Hipkiss, owner of Planet Janet, www.janethipkiss.co.uk is building me a WordPress website. The iPad was her idea, and it just happened that somebody I know put one up for sale that very evening. The website will give you much more to look at and get involved in. It will also be much easier to access than a single blog page. In effect, it will be a big window into my world, with links to all manner of sites. I also hope to include an interactive map with tracking, so you can all see exactly where I am each day. This should be up and running before I leave in May.
On the road, I need to be as comfortable as I can. It’s an important part of managing my health. I won’t be taking any more equipment than absolutely necessary, less than last year in fact. This has led me away from panniers and bags, and back to the trailer with a box attached. Speaking to Nick who owns www.carryfreedom.com , I discussed the whys and wherefores of all the options, settling on a secondhand aluminium box that happens to sat be in his workshop. The attraction is simple, in comparison to panniers, it’s much easier to organise a box and keep everything how you want it. It allows me to carry several days’ food as well as my gear. That is something that will become more important as I travel to more remote places, and the wilder parts of Ireland. It’s more expense, but gives me something that will last me years, and be robust in transit.
The last area of equipment I’ve needed to consider is clothing. I’ve ridden for three years in the cycle wear I have. I’m quite a bit smaller than I was and some of my clothes hang on me like a sack. I’m also anticipating some wild weather for this trip. The clothing I choose will make a huge difference to my quality of life, both on and off the bike. None of my current clothing was expensive, it’s functional, and it’s all nearing the end of its life. With an eye to replacing this, I contacted www.endura.co.uk to ask if they would offer the sort of sponsorship they gave me last year. The MT500 jacket I used (and the trousers I hardly used) was superb, and I met plenty of others that felt the same way about Endura’s clothing.
The quality of their garments should mean years of use, maximum comfort and heat control, and a more professional appearance. They are easy to wash and dry quickly, another important factor. Those things make life easier on long trips, and shouldn’t be underestimated. I’ll also be riding with other organisations this year and I’m always representing myself, so this is effectively my suit and tie. The positive result of my enquiry means I am now waiting on some retro-cycling shirts, a fine merino wool base layer to supplement the excellent Rab one I already have, and some baggy shorts that’ll be great both on and off the bike. Thank you Endura. www.endura.co.uk
I mentioned last week that a company called The Eydon Kettle Company www.eydonkettles.co.uk were supplying me with a storm kettle. It arrived this week and I just had to go out in the garden, collect sticks, and fire it up. Memories of days as a young boy at scout camp flooded back as the wood smoke filled the garden. My neighbour thought I was having a barbecue? It’s a very efficient way of heating water, with options of poaching stuff on top of the chimney or barbecuing food on the wee burner afterwards. A small fire is lit in the base, and the flask sits on top. The flask is hollow and has a chimney up the centre, down which you can drop sticks to fuel it. Also known as a volcano stove, it roars away, heating the water in the same sort of time as a petrol stove would. Using this to make my drinks will save a considerable amount of fuel. It’s beautifully crafted and weighs half a kilo. Most importantly, it will slow me down; remind me of why I’m there, on the coast where they originated. Think of the fun of collecting sticks and stuff to burn, and how involving that is in each day. I’m sure it will add to the adventure, and it will travel everywhere with me from now on. So, another thank you for the kindness of others as Polly joins the clan.
All of this sounds incredibly practical, but every aspect of my rides considers the possible impact on my mental health and well-being. By taking the time to consider the various aspect of the ride, and how they affect my health, I’m preparing myself to feel comfortable with the idea of being alone in a bog, thousands miles from where I live, whilst protected by a thin sheet of polyester. I’m nowhere near a point where I simply pack and go. Round Britain had eighteen months of this kind of learning and pondering to prepare me. This time I have three months to get myself into the same position and frame of mind before I leave.
Experience certainly helps. I know what I can do, what I need and what works for me, something I’ve learned over three years. All the things that didn’t work for me or weren’t quite right will be appearing on EBay in the next few weeks. From the middle of April I will even start to eat as I would whilst away. I’ll try out some recipes at home that use just the pans I’m taking with me. It helps me learn how to cook with limited equipment and to remember just how versatile a set it is. This tip came from www.travellingtwo.com a couple who have cycled the world and have only slowed down temporarily to start a family. Camp pizza’s, curry’s, chapattis’, stir fries and stews, will all be cooked at home, reminding me how to do it, and what to look for in the shops as I go.
I’ve spent a lot of time on Facebook recently. Not just for my own purposes, but because I’m supporting somebody else who believes that people should share their mental health experiences in order to help manage and overcome them. Nic Elgey, from Nottinghamshire has set up a group called Suffer In Silence No More. It’s a friendship group where anybody can go and talk openly, without judgment. It isn’t offering professional advice; none of us are qualified to give it. It gives a point of contact for people to be in contact with other, similar sufferers.
I work on the page, watching for incoming messages from anybody who needs us, and then responding. It’s a brilliant idea that isn’t limited to the UK. People can, and do, make contact from all over the world. Nic has a great passion for this and it shows in the brilliant website she is launching today. She has invested a huge amount of time, effort and energy into her project. I think it’s inspirational and will continue to support it in any way I can. The beauty of it is that you find yourself supporting others through a bad day, only to be receiving that support yourself on another. It happens to be her birthday today and I want to wish her a very happy birthday and all the luck in the world with this great project. I’m sure it will be a great success. Take a look at the website at www.sisnm.co.uk Take a look and be in touch. One of us is always around.
Finally, I managed to set up my fundraising page at justgiving. www.justgiving.com/Riding2Recovery is now live and awaiting donations that will support the wide-ranging work that Mind do to help mental health sufferers and their carers.