CYCLE FRIENDS

CYCLE FRIENDS

Friendships are unique. You have the one you cry with. The one you laugh with. The one you drink with. The one you often end up in trouble with. Then, there’s the one you cycle with. These friendships are built on a base of long, sustained hours together, emotional journeys both physically and emotionally, and a constant sharing of pain and food (two things that we often keep to ourselves). These friends see you at your worst and at your best, and often the distance between the two is only one hill apart.

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We don’t ask ‘does my bum looks big in this?’. We just take a photo and show that, 99% of the time, it does. #foreverbuttphotos

We know each others coffee and breakfast preferences and can reel them out with military precision.

We often spend all day together. Waking up ridiculous early to meet, rather than stumbling in stupidly late (sometimes both).

We rarely see each other with our hair down and make up on. When we do, we don’t recognise each other. 

The constant new roads, landscapes and coffee shops often create stories we annoyingly relay in front of people who weren't there. 

We get to know each other quicker than usual because as soon as you start pedalling, there’s no filter to what stories you tell.

We show our loyalties by taking a turn on the front, strategically slowing down the pace or using bad chat as distraction. True ‘cycle friends’ know there’s a sensitive time and place for each. 

We're at our most creative when deciding the name for our Strava upload. 

We believe that seeing each other at 6am during the week is absolutely normal. 

We pee in a bush. And not because we’re drunk in the middle of a festival field. We’re sober, on the side of a main road. 

We talk about things like chamois cream... And saddle sore. 

We suddenly think wearing matching clothes is a team necessity not a fashion tragedy. 


To the girls who are not just my ‘cycling friends’, but are now some of my best friends: thanks for the plans, the purpose and the endless photographs that are forever unflattering. Together we’ve dealt with life problems, punctures and my pathetic sulks when we end up off-road. Whether it’s the up and down of a lane or of life, I’m glad I’m wearing your often strange but forever hilarious friendship ring for the ride. 

FEMALE SUPERHEROES

FEMALE SUPERHEROES

The female cycling community is small yet mighty. It’s women questioning routine and finding the courage to be uncomfortable whilst discovering more about the world and themselves. Over three consecutive days - Regents Park with The 5th Floor girls, racing at Hillingdon against Cat 4 women and a 70km Hertfordshire loop with Sarah - I was reminded that these ‘normal’ women are anything but, and are experiencing life in a way that deserves to be heard. 

Friday 0630

Whilst London was sleeping, we were riding to Regents Park. Sitting on the top tube waiting for the traffic lights to change, I spotted Sophie, knowing she’d beat the cold weather, inner demons and the end of week exhaustion to be there. It was the same excitement as when you used to knock for your friends, but instead of ‘after school’, it was ‘before work’ playtime. Squad assemble.

Friday 0715

We were riding laps, two abreast. I was next to someone I’d never met before, discussing ambitions for racing and plans for the year. Meeting and making new friends as an adult is tough. We deem it too daunting or embarrassing (coming from the world that thinks Tinder is perfectly acceptable). Cycling breaks those barriers.  

Friday 0730

I heard about the morning routine everyone had to honour to make sure they could complete training whilst getting to work on time. Prioritising, and finding purpose, from their 0600-0900 not just their 0900-1800.

Friday 0815

We rolled up to Workshop Coffee, faces covered in mud, taking over the seating area as we began unlayering and pausing our Wahoo GPS devices. It’s comrarderie courtesy of caffeine, whilst commuters look on with confusion. I'm sure they were thinking 'Is that the cycling equivalent of the Taylor Swift squad?!’ Yes. But this is one squad where anyone is welcome.

Saturday 1145

I turned up to the race surrounded by women unpacking their carefully assembled race bags. From food in tupperware to chamois cream we hope hadn’t exploded, a silent kudos is shared appreciating the success of making it to the start line amidst all the internal and external barriers.

Saturday 1230

The unglamorous toilets set the scene for last minute faff. One of the women helped me as I struggled to pin my number on (good start KPP). A humbling act of consideration before competition. 

Saturday 1320

During the race, we worked together to bridge the gap between the rider who attacked. A moment where complete strangers have each others back, and the unspoken thank you (a nod of the head) connects you with humans in a unique sporting way.

Saturday 1400

The post-race adrenaline high gives you permission to be positive. We shared compliments and congratulated one another on an experience only we had shared.

Sunday 0800

I met Sarah for a Hertfordshire ride. It was cold and it was early, yet we’ve trained ourselves to accepting this as normal. Surrounding yourself with great people expands your view on the world, and suddenly you realise your new ‘normal’ is much more than that.  

Sunday 0930

We took turns on the front, supporting each other when we were both depleted and broken. Experiencing these extreme emotions on the bike makes us more caring people off the bike (which hopefully balances out the ridezilla that appeared when I was hungry and pathetic half way up yet another hill). 

Sunday 1130

An endurance style breakfast of eggs, avo, mushroom, tomatoes and toast finished the ride. Instead of exchanging pointless gossip, we exchanged the salt and pepper and ideas for our next ride. Cyclists may suffer, but it results in moments of deep gratitude and contentment. An emotional pattern that becomes addictive amongst those that have experienced it.

Women change the world daily. They can often be unsung heroes, with full time jobs, who are finding time to better themselves and reduce the distance between other females. It’s a vast world but when we ride together it’s a friendly one. 

So to the female superheroes, the wild ones with wardrobes that can sometimes prioritise lycra over the little black dress, your strength is infectious and I’m proud to spend these moments surrounded by you all. Keep riding, keep finding and keep saying no to being normal. 

THANK YOU FESTIVE500

THANK YOU FESTIVE500

The final km of the Festive500 is the moment we expect to feel the greatest. But before that happens, you clock up stories, lessons and moments that can sometimes go unnoticed whilst fixated on the finish line. The spirit of Festive500 however, lies in these seemingly normal moments and appreciating them for being much more than that. 

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Thank you Festive500, for: 

1. The constant prepping. Is everything charged, cleaned and is breakfast ready? Prepping gives me purpose.

2. The excuse to ride with inspired people, like Helen, Plum, Janine and Lorna (even if Plum made me pump her tyre up before realising she had a gas canister). 

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3. Eating porridge from tupperware at 0700, even though I was still full from the roast the night before.

4. Eating the roast the night before, savouring it even more because it was Festive500 fuel.

5. Not having to decide what to wear in the morning. The lycra was already laid out. 

6. Discovering new coffee shops and feeling complete contentment when they had a place for bikes and a working toilet.

7. Allowing me to spend the rest of my day in joggers without family judgement. I’m a Festive500 athlete - I’m recovering.

8. Providing me with enough morning headspace to be a better person in the afternoon around loved ones.

9. The empty roads. Everyone was too busy watching The Royal Family or online shopping. 

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10. Giving me experiences, including that time we shared snacks 75km in or the time I was surrounded by snow capped trees with no feeling left in my hands. Good stories. 

11. Asking a lot of me in six days. In return, it simplified me. Each morning was to ride, no other decisions apart from ‘where to’ was needed.

12. Encouraging me to hunt out new routes. Even if one was off-road and utter shit. 

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13. The pendulum of pedals everyday. It was meditation without the need for crossed legs. 

14. Contentment that comes after a long ride, like the time we sat with a hot drink watching Dr Strange. 

15. Being part of a global Festive500 community. Rides are easier when you know thousands of cyclists across the world are doing it with you. 

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16. Unwrapping the tinfoil from my homemade flapjack (thanks sis). I was in a low place and the oats tasted like tiny, coconut flavoured, pieces of heaven. 

17. Sipping gin and tonic like it was medicine. 

18. Seeing houses on Christmas morning with the lights on, knowing people were unwrapping presents and drinking Bucks Fizz. 

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19. Riding past sheep and remembering how oddly endearing they are. Especially the one that walked to the gate as I was taking a picture.

20. The flat whites. 

21. Not having to worry about speed. Every km was equal, even those painfully slow ones against the headwind.  

22. Helping me sleep soundly because my eyes were so tired from the cold.

23. Not giving me any punctures, especially when I was off road. The lack of feeling in my hands and phone signal would have made for a savage situation.

24. For the waves and nods from other riders, instantly connecting you with strangers. 

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Whether it's Festive500 or your weekend ride, embrace the mundane moments not just the glory. Even though we should all celebrate achievements, you might find that noticing the small pleasures is where real happiness and fulfillment on the bike lies. As is true, you might say, for life. 

DIARIES FROM FESTIVE500

DIARIES FROM FESTIVE500

When December arrives, it's not the Coca Cola advert cyclists are eagerly waiting for. It's the Festive500 challenge finally appearing on Strava. Every year since 2010, Rapha has challenged cyclists all over the world to ride 500km between Christmas Eve and New Years Eve.

Along with 70,000 other riders, I signed up. 

Riding 500km provides a novel amount of headspace, so during the six days I documented thoughts from the roads. 
Below are those diary extracts. 

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24th: The wind and the Wirrals
Ride: 110km
Remaining: 390km

1. Wind is like the mind. It cannot be seen, but it can be powerful or ultimately destructive.
2. Riding by yourself is good meditation at xmas. Giving you the headspace to make you a better person when you are back with loved ones.
3. Dog walkers who hold their dogs as you ride past are unsung heroes.

Lows: Cross winds are shit. Knees are aching. Arms are sore from the tight grip to avoid being blown into the road.
Highs: The power of a collective effort. Other people taking part in F500 accelerates the possibility of achieving. Broken the 400km is good for the head. Roads I’ve never ridden before - looking at things with new eyes, just like children do. 

25th: The Santa Dash
Ride: 30km
Remaining: 360km

1. Every ride has a start, a middle and an end. Whether that’s 30km or 110km, that emotional journey is the same.
2. Don’t rush a bike ride. Just like anything in life - it never works. You miss the enjoyment.
3. Get out on xmas morning. It expands your world view before, quite rightly, focusing on your precious few.

Lows: Knees. Head wind. Hunger from the day before setting in - soon to be sorted with Christmas roast.
Highs: Driving past houses seeing the excitement and energy of xmas morning. The value added from progression - seeing the km’s clock down is incredibly fulfilling. 

26th: The Four Seasons
Ride: 70km
Remaining: 290km

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1. When you ride a km, you’ve done it. It can’t be taken away. That’s why it feels so fulfilling and simple. Every km is an achievement which can’t be undone.
2. The importance of post ride routine. The thought of my jumper, birkenstocks and food is enough to keep me going.
3. Riding solo means you have to constantly find ways to change your emotions. Riding past sheep and shouting ‘oh hey gurl’ at them was one success story.  

Lows: Riding against cross winds is scary. At 5km in, I was tempted to turn around and go home.
Highs: Seeing the sunrise. Walking over to the sheep and seeing them staring at me as if they were interested in what I was up to. Still managing 70km even though the weather was horrific. The chocolate avocado.

27th: The Wirral Tour with Helen
Ride: 108km
Remaining: 182km

1. People say it takes 21 days to form a pattern. After four, I’ve created one. Getting up, preparing and riding is now a routine I’ll be sad to say bye to.
2. The power of people. Today was the first ride with another human - 108km is much more enjoyable whilst listening to Helen’s stories and being energised by each others energy. You’re not only lifting km’s, you’re lifting spirits.
3. I learnt that Helen rode Rapha Manchester to London whilst breast feeding at every food stop. What an incredible woman.

Lows: The wind had turned to cold. Lost all feeling in left hand. Our favourite cafe being closed.
Highs: The flat white. Sharing our experiences from Rapha Manchester to London. Enjoying home made flapjacks together. 

28th: Liverpool to Manchester Off-Road  
Ride: 70km
Remaining: 112km

1. Explore your city at different times of the day - you'll be surprised what you learn. After five days, I feel like I know more about the world.
2. The sunrise. We’ve seen it many times in our lifetime but it never loses its magic. Riding reminds us to appreciate the small pleasures. 
3. The energy from other people. A small nod, wave and eye contact from other riders reminds me of the energy we generate between each other. Together stronger, even when complete strangers.

Lows: Didn’t sleep well. Ice. All off-road. 70km of being scared and going 17km average. Hated 90% of it. Emotionally drained. It was like a cyclocross race that never seemed to end. The moment you are not even half way through and you’re already cooked. Too cold to drink, eat or stop for coffee.
Highs: The red sunrise. Finish line meeting my sister and mum. Getting through my fears and sitting down with a celebratory halloumi omelette. Showering and putting on my birkenstocks. 

29th: The Windsor Winner  
Ride: 117km
Remaining: 0km

1. This too shall pass. Whether you’re having a great ride or a tough one, it will finish. Pain doesn’t last forever, nor do climbs or solo miles. Push through. You’ll get to the other side eventually and be a better person for it.
2. The pendulum rhythm of pedalling teaches us a lot. It reminds me to be considered and consistent. Whether that’s riding, talking or working, be considered and consistent.
3. I should have chosen the cinnamon toast not the brown toast.

Lows: Losing feeling in hands and feet. Sorting Plum’s puncture for over 30 minutes - thinking we wouldn’t have time to ride back.
Highs: Seeing Richmond frosted over. Enjoying a hot cup of tea and toast at the half way point. Picking up a rhythm and pace on the way back. Feeling warmth as the sun came out. Exchanging stories about our travels. Knowing I’d finished 500kms. 

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Total: 505km
Days: 6
Punctures: 0
Strava Proof

Ego v The Cyclist

Ego v The Cyclist

Your ego. The unfriendly fella that stops you from doing a lot of things that your heart wants to. Whether we realise it or not, we are in constant battle with it. And often we lose before even stepping into the ring. 

The loud voice of my heart made me sign up to the Hillingdon Winter Series. I felt stuck in my training and wanted to commit to something that gave me purpose, even if my ego was against the idea. If I waited, I would never race. Instead, I'd constantly be in a yo-yo cycle of enthusiasm and then self-doubt, hoping one day I’d wake up and be ready. That’s not how it works, kid. ‘Being ready’ is fictional. In taking action you find the truth. 

Signing up to your first race is split into two chapters. The pre-race and the race itself. I can confidently say, the former is the scary part of the story and where the ego is at its loudest. 

“I know how scary it feels and pushing yourself to that start line is frankly the bravest thing ever” - Gem Atkinson

THE PRE-RACE

Panic
Fear
Doubt
Confusion
All those great feelings. Each one strong enough to stop you from arriving at the start line. Whether it’s a panic of embarrassing yourself or letting others down, the pre-race is cursed with the poison of ego. I was so fearful that I only told a handful of people I’d signed up.  

You beat the odds and arrive at race day. However, so does your ego.

Scanning the ever glamorous car park of amateur sport, you’re convinced everyone is stronger than you and better prepared. The Sherlocks amongst us know no judgement can be made on such limited knowledge. But the ego hates Sherlocks because facts are less scary than the stories we make up ourselves. Thankfully I had my good friend (and now coach) Gem and my sister Lucy with me. First enemy of the ego - loved ones. They can speak words that silence the self-doubt. They can also apply leg rub and see you at your most vulnerable (in bib shorts and bra whilst shovelling down overnight oats) and not judge. 

“Low expectations. High acceptance” - Rob Saunders

THE RACE

3,2,1. The race began.
Full focus. And focus is the second enemy of the ego. 

Empowerment
Speed
Tactics
Competitiveness
Achievement

Each time I rode past Gem and Lucy (aka the ultimate cheerleaders), I felt a sense of connectedness that empowered each pedal. After one of the riders attacked, we formed a chase group that worked together to try and bridge the gap. A few hours ago, my best tactics were the ones I applied to food before I drank another gin. Here I found myself communicating with other riders, moving myself into the right position and attacking. After a few school boy errors on the sprint finish, I took 4th place. It had been an amazing 45 mins and I knew as I crossed the finish line (and nearly took out the boys race - I’ve still got a lot to learn) that 4th place was only half of the result. I’d also beaten my ego. 

Your goal is against yourself so as long as you go out there and go for it, you win” - Joe Carby

A new challenge shouldn't be feared. Be scared of your ego. For not moving forward is what's truly frightening. If you can recognise your ego and not believe what it has to say, you’ll enter a new chapter of your life. One that is full of hidden rewards and worthy lessons.

The race is what people focus on, but the event (and result) is only one part of the challenge. The decision, the commitment and the power to pin a number on is the true strength and the muscle that is hardest to train. The secret? Until there is an invention that silences our ego, the only medicine is to just fucking do it. Because the final enemy of the ego? A master that never listens to it.

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Photography: Gem Atkinson

BE MORE STUPID

BE MORE STUPID

I'm a northerner. I thought I knew what the cold was. I knew nothing.
Germany hit -7 this week and I was the stupid one in bright pink overshoes attempting to take on those elements. 

WHY

The pain of cold is easier to handle than the pain of being useless.
Essentially that’s why. I’ve not been able to train much recently, and I convinced myself the cold would be easier to cope with than another week of feeling like a pathetic human being who can’t ride a bike. 
Of course it was also for the training, the views and the opportunity to do something that most people would say is stupid. Most people are right. This day, I felt like being stupid. 

WHAT

It was a 68km route. Mostly flat with a few bumps to get the chamois out the saddle.
No stop planned in.

HOW

One of the biggest barriers of riding in the cold is knowing what kit to wear. 
Like a good night out, success starts with the wardrobe. 
- Rapha Winter hat and helmet
- Rapha Winter snood
- Rapha merino Base layer
- Long sleeve brevet windproof jersey
- Souplesse Winter jacket
- Rapha Winter tights
- Two pairs of gloves
- Socks
- Rapha Winter Overshoes
Load the route, back pockets filled, dial up the stupid and roll out.

30km in and I was riding across landscapes that were covered in white with temperatures hitting below -7. No other cyclists on the road. No other people in sight. Just me and the bike, searching hopelessly for the feeling I’d lost across my entire body. It was 3 hours of torture, sprinkled with wonderfully aesthetic views. 

I thought about a lot during those 3 hours; why was I much fitter a few months ago, why did I eat so much last night, why did I send that message, why do I prefer smooth peanut butter? Not much logic, but that’s not what empty roads are built for. They’re for letting these odd (and often stupid) thoughts in and pedalling whilst you try to understand them. Giving you headspace that most people crave but never find.  

Why am I riding in the cold? A question that didn't yet have an answer as my little finger became unbearably painful and as I tried to get a drink but my water had turned to ice. Why am I this stupid? 

It may have been a stupid idea. It took me a few hours to warm back up once I returned. I felt shattered the whole day and my eyes were stinging from the weather. But these ideas are often the ones that make you feel anything but stupid afterwards. You feel like you know something about the world that others don’t. Experienced something and witnessed views that others won’t. You have a content feeling that may not exist in those who chose the easy option that morning. You find many answers to those why questions you asked yourself. 

It’s quite possible that stupid ideas lead to disaster (see previous blog post).
But it may be that sometimes they lead to wiser and more interesting people. 
What’s normal becomes boring. 

So thank you bike, for making me more stupid. 

40KM DRAMA

40KM DRAMA

Any given ride is like ordering a coffee from an unknown cafe; it can go perfectly smooth and you finish it feeling energised and inspired. On the other hand, it can go tits up and leave you disappointed and with a terribly bitter taste. Today was the latter. I set out to ride 140km with 2,000m of climbing but ended up sitting on a curb, only 40km later, in -1 degrees waiting to be picked up. Despite the excessive planning, today’s fate was to be a teacher not a training ride. 

Below you’ll see the headlines of how this student went from effortlessly gliding through the German forests, swooning over the autumnal trees and affirming how wonderful this sport is to scaring the locals as I sat in more lycra than people in a derelict village felt comfortable with, feeling all the shitty feels as I tried to figure out how to get home. 


0-10km

Filled with porridge and enthusiasm
Quiet roads
Wonderful lanes
Snow, but not enough to effect the ride, just enough to feel like a badass for being out
Hopeful and happy 

10km-20km

Road closure ahead
Walking 15 minutes up hill across a muddy field
Bike on shoulder pretending it’s cross (just being cross instead)
10 mins spent taking shit out of my cleats so I could clip in again
Annoyed but entertained

20km-30km

First puncture
Longest inner tube change in history
No feeling left in hands
No friend to laugh with
Onwards to the first hill with a tyre as deflated as my energy levels 

30km-40km

Hill amazing. 15% middle section
Second puncture on the descent
No more inner tubes
50km from home
No such thing as Uber
Limited phone signal
It’s -1 degrees
Shit. The. Bed 

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I set off on a 20 minute walk, desperately trying to find someone who speaks English or enough signal to make a call. Gorgeous setting around me, but when you’re in trouble an aesthetic tree is not going to drive you home. I managed to find enough 3G to whatsapp a friend who could pick me up. After sending my pin location, I made friends with the icy curb for the next 45 minutes whilst waiting for the superhero, armed with hoody and joggers, to arrive. 

As the snow fell down, survival mode kicked in. I ate my remaining energy bars and told a passing driver that ‘alles gut, danke’ as he looked at me worryingly. All was not good, and the pain in my hands was becoming unbearable (I couldn't even type, so whatsapp updates to my boyfriend looked like code). I stood up and went for one more walk, stumbling across a little shop that opened at 1100. It was 1055. They looked at the state of me and welcomed me in. After realising they didn’t speak English, the only German I could muster was ‘Kaffee, bitte?!’. I’ve never been happier to hear the words ‘Ja’ as they began prepping the dish water filled polystyrene cup. Who cares, this is one shit coffee that will taste like an artisan poured flat white. 

I had planned to arrive home late afternoon cold but fulfilled. Tired but energised by the training. As I stumbled in at midday, pushing the broken bike forward, placing my mud caped shoes on the floor, and looking into the mirror at my mascara smeared face, I realised I was not the legend I thought would be returning home. 

Cycling, you’ve taught me that you can achieve a lot in this life. You can plan hard, work hard and be a better rider and human being. You’ve also taught me that life isn't always designed to go to plan. The only way to even have a chance of being consistently content, is to let go of the outcome and embrace what every ride (and every plan) teaches you.

You may have rebelled against my plans today, but I’ll be back for another class tomorrow. To be safe, it will probably be on the turbo. 

Ride on. 
 

IN THE CITY

IN THE CITY

Since touching down in German town, I’ve officially become a City wanker. I mean rider. That person you see with a bobble hat on, musette over their back and a lock wrapped around their waist. Looking hipster, feeling cold. There’s a skill in city riding, which I’m quickly learning. You may not need lycra or food stuffed down your back pockets, but do you need trousers that don’t dig in and an observant eye for finding places to lock your bike. 

WHAT CITY RIDING TEACHES YOU:
 

1. Most of my jeans are too tight.

Ever since the era of skinny jeans, most of us own too many jeans that look like they’ve been painted on. Coupled with a baggy shirt or jumper is acceptable (an outfit I often turn to), but sitting on a bike and trying to turn right whilst my muffin top turns left is not. Get a high waisted pair, or don your favourite pair of boyfriend slouch jeans.

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2. Most bags are style over substance.

That satchel you love or the slouch bag that goes with you everywhere, leave at home. As soon as you're on a bike, they’ll slip, fall and become more of a nuisance than the too tight jean problem you’re having. My current overly used accessory is my Rapha musette. I do love being a backpack wanker but when you’re riding only 10 mins for a coffee fix, minimal musettes are perfectly designed. 

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3. Lock it up.

We’re all accustomed to leaving the house and thinking ‘phone, purse, keys’. Time to add in another: ‘bike lock key’. I’d advise choosing a lock which makes the whole additional life task easier. I wear hiploks. Their name is a wonderfully simple way to explain what they do - a lock you wear across your hips.

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4. STYLE IT OUT.

Thankfully the good design folks at Rapha have created a city range that features design aesthetics of everyday simple clothing, but the technical benefits to help when riding. Roll ups on jeans, side pockets in jumpers and cuts that are complimentary to the bike position are to name but a few. No longer do you have to turn up to the pub and start the conversation with ‘Sorry about my ‘mid life crisis’ wardrobe, I’ve travelled by bike’.

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After riding for hours on the road, the focus normally on kms ridden and speed reached, there is an endearing and honest appeal to city riding. You’re pedalling slower and seeing your city with fresh eyes. Outside of the obvious benefits of getting places fast and saving money on transport, you’re also using travel (a time which often causes people to stress out and tut heavily to the person in front), to play. To be free. To be a child again. To appreciate the simple beauty in riding your bike, oil stains and all. 

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SICK OF IT

SICK OF IT

I wrote the below piece a few months ago (when I was down and out with illness) but never posted it. You spill out your thoughts with enthusiasm, willing the documentation of it to heal the un-wanted emotions. But then vulnerability appears and speaks louder. Forcing me to hit 'save' rather than 'publish'. 

Last month I was on a hugely unwelcomed rest duty with a pulled muscle, and revisited all of the same thoughts. It's quite humbling really, knowing we have this circle of emotions we live in where every thought is recycled. 

Based on that, and the fact today is World Mental Health Day, it felt right to now post this piece. Scary - as it always will be to open your diary - but if it helps a few people to better handle the shit brigade that injury brings, then viva la fear. 

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Originally wrote in in June 2016:  

What a difference seven days can make. This time last week, we were rolling out from Dudley on our final stretch of a two day cycling adventure. Spirits were high and negative thoughts were extremely few and far between. I’m now sitting ill on the couch, having to cancel both rides that were planned this weekend, and it’s experiencing positive thoughts that feels extremely rare. 

I’m not good at doing nothing. Not only am I missing out on moments with friends that we’d planned together, but there's a haunting unease that I'm not getting fitter or stronger on the two days you expect to do just that. We all have busy lives and the weekend usually offers up a blank canvas of time to do everything that makes you happy. When that’s taken away, what I’m left with is a silence that is only filled with thoughts I normally cycle away from. 

I’ve built an identity and purpose around riding. It’s a hobbie that answers to so many of my human needs, that I struggle to find another way to fulfil. After this weekend I’ve realised I’m not good at handling the uncontrollable. I spend hours each day planning ahead so I can fit in time to be better, and when that’s taken away from me, it seems like everything else falls with it. 

I’ve been ill, but what’s polluted me more is the constant stream of negativity I’ve been feeding myself. From anger and frustration to a general blanket of flatness over everything I do. I’ve been disappointed and fuelled most of my decisions with ‘fuck it.’ Which, I’d like to make clear, is not a productive decision making process.

I’ve got many friends who have experienced illness and injuries. When it’s not you, it’s easy to be supportive and talk through the usual coping mechanisms. You can be pragmatic when it’s other people. However, when it’s you, and your emotions and demons are part of the story, being a pragmatist feels impossible. You speak to yourself in a way you would never dare anyone else - you become your own worst enemy. And the last thing you want to do with an enemy, is spend time with them. Unfortunately being house bound and ill means you can’t get away from its shit company. 

Days are limited. I go through my life with this attitude as a way to wake up earlier and fit more in than most deem necessary. People ask why I wake early - it’s not only to use hours in the day that otherwise don't exist, but it’s to give myself piece of my mind that I am part of something. The discomfort of an early morning will forever be less painful than the feeling of not achieving. I’m now listening to my friends talk about the rides they are on, coffee they are drinking, laughter they’ve shared and moments that I deeply hate missing. It's FOMO (fear of missing out) on a whole new level. 

All or nothing. A stupid but very common way of handling things. I could have used this time to relax both physically and mentally but instead my body aches from the introduction of nothing and I've mentally exhausted myself by questioning everything. The mind is powerful thing and this weekend it got the better of me. A friend once rightfully said 'There's a big difference between using cycling as a way to improve your mental heath, and not feeling mentally well if you don't cycle.' That line can often blur.

It’s important to have hobbies but it’s also important to know how to cope when things don’t go to plan. I’m not good at the latter. It's my sketchbook and pens I often turn to for cheap therapy, but its my internal space that I need to make more colourful. Accepting the moment, being kind to myself and letting go of feeling lost when you lose one small part of who you are. Our lives are built around buckets - work, family, friends, health, hobbies. I have the most incredible family, boyfriend, friends and community around me. They all provide a happiness that you can't replicate on a bike and it's sometimes too common to forget that. 

Onwards to being better at coping. Because life goes on, even when you can’t ride on. 

Photography: 35mm that didn't go to plan. 

LEARNINGS FROM GERMANY

LEARNINGS FROM GERMANY

After two rides in Germany, I've realised it's definitely not London.

The big learnings so far:

1. Show me the money.

A very small amount of places take card. Always have euros on you. Very odd when you're used to London and being able to pay using your phone, even to buy a pint of milk. 

2. Where's the peloton? 

Normality in London is being party to a lycra festival at every set of traffic lights. Not in Germany. During a 65km ride I didn't see a single road cyclist. It's quite empowering until that quickly turns to paranoia. See next learning. 

3. A constant state of panic

Am I meant to be on this road? Where should I position myself in the lane? Is that huge sign warning me to stop or buy a pretzel? You have a continuous stream of fear filled thoughts about whether you're doing something wrong. Thankfully, the drivers aren't shy to notify you when you are. 

4. Lose yourself 

You will get lost. Then you will dig deep to try and use your GCSE German to find your way. Even harder when I realised I didn't do GSCE German. 

5. In the City 

When the cycling traffic light is on green, cars can still turn right. Even though we have priority, this felt unnerving at first in the busy city centre. Keep an eye out for those not expecting to see lycra. Which I imagine, based on learning 2, isn't many. 

After getting completely lost today, realising that the route was full of road closures, finding gravel dead ends, riding too close to a motorway and discovering quickly that it is definitely deep winter in Germany, I made it back to the flat safe. There's nothing like an adventure into the unknown, to make a flat that was completely new 3 days ago, feel like home and the most familiar and welcoming finish line. 

Onto the next ride. This time, I'll have a friends piece of advice in my back pocket: 'Umleitung means diversion if that helps, KPP?'

Strava route.