Bike learning

Last Wednesday I drove out to the Yarra Ranges for a bike ride with Wheel Women.

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You remember Wheel Women? They are the awesome group of women who have teamed up with Cycling Australia to run the empowering She Rides programs for women around Melbourne.

I’ve finished the course and now I’m in that tricky phase after completing any kind of training or education; implementing the knowledge and making changes in my life. But with the great Wheel Women She Rides version it isn’t really a difficulty at all! Each and every week there are several rides posted by Wheel Women for us graduates and other female riders (and occasionally males), and the majority of them suit the level I am at now.

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Not the level I want to get to, or that my husband or friends are at, or that I have been told or feel that I should be at; just the level that I am at. Which is very encouraging to keep on keeping on with regular bike riding.

There are a variety of rides from different starting points with different groups. I participated in the first ever Hawthorn She Rides program, but there have also been programs in Docklands and Knox and Geelong, and I think one in Bayside…don’t quote me on that one. I know the Hawthorn girls pretty well after eight weeks of classes and practice rides and coffees and tech nights together. So I’m always happy to go riding with them. But I’ve also been on a Docklands ride and a Knox ride and one of the all-in rides out at Warburton. And so far I haven’t found a single lady/girl/woman/chick that wasn’t lovely and helpful and kind and considerate. Also encouraging!

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Take the Warburton ride last Saturday. The large majority of the riders started at Lilydale for a 70km round trip to Warburton for lunch and back. In the classes and in my first ride after with the Docklands group (group being an optimistic term as there were two of us plus the instructor!) I’d only done up to 20km; not sure that we’d actually hit twenty. We’d done a 2km round trip to practice starting and stopping and turning, and about the same to practice signalling.

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I’d been terrified of doing really any riding at all before the class because I was, and still am a bit, scared of the effort involved in riding up hills, and that I couldn’t do the distance, being so much less fit than when I last rode. The only ride I’d done in the last two years was an excruciating 5km on the Eastern Freeway trail with my hubby. I wasn’t ready, I wasn’t fit, there were hills and it was just a struggle! It hurt and I wanted to get off and not get back on.

But those first two rides were fine. Then we did a 6km ride into Richmond to the Total Rush store to learn how to fix a flat tyre including taking the wheels off and putting them back on, adjusting the chain and derailleur, taking out the tube and patching or replacing it and putting it back in. That was a great and very empowering session!

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The ride was pretty good but I got too hot going into town from Hawthorn. I always get hot, it’s just a fact of life now that I’m on the antidepressant venlafaxine. I overheat, I sweat, I wipe off the sweat and repeat! I’m so excited for winter! Well outdoors winter, not indoors winter…heaters are the bane of my life!

Anyway, I got hot and that reduces my tolerance for pushing myself. I get exasperated and just want to do anything to get cooler. It’s such an unpleasant feeling, and I hate that people can see all the sweat on my face, and its still my number one side effect to get rid of on my dreamboat wishlist. I’d followed the clothing choices of everyone else with lots of layers including gloves and neck warmer. But I’ve learnt since that in most situations I’m better off in Tshirt and pants. I get hot riding but the breeze goes through my shirt to keep me cool and I’m happy; it works. I take extra just in case, but don’t put it on until I need it.

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Anyway, the ride from Hawthorn to Richmond is a pretty flat ride with a couple of little rises but we’d only learnt gears the week before and I’d had a chest infection and hadn’t practiced. Of course I’d used gears before this course, but not correctly it turns out. Gears makes so much difference when you know how to use them! So being hot and exasperated and still coughing from my chest infection I ditched the 6km ride home and caught the train instead. With a flat phone and scant knowledge of the Glen Waverley train line I somehow got off at the right station and found my way by bike the 2km back to the car. I wasn’t that far behind the others.

But the idea that I couldn’t keep up, and riding was hard had received a boost!

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Luckily the next week we tackled a 14km ride to Herring Island and back that I found easy! From can’t do more than 6km to easy 14km! I don’t know how or why but it happened!

I was worried beforehand, but I ended up chatting to another girl all the way in (the distraction really works!) and at the end I felt like I could have ridden further; I had effort still in the tank waiting to be used! That was a nice feeling.

And for the very first time in years, I felt that exhilaration, euphoria, sense of everything being well and life being exciting that they tell you comes from endorphins! Which was a real revelation! 18 months after my diagnosis of depression/bipolar I finally felt that benefit of exercise that everyone’s been yackedy yacking about! I can see now why they say exercise is good for your mood…but I just couldn’t get anything like that with walking. It was sometimes pleasant but not euphoric. Going to the gym sometimes gave me a taste. Playing squash had gotten me part of the way, but my fitness can’t manage that now. But bike riding really nailed it!

After that ride we rode a longer distance into Fed Square which I managed well, then my Docklands crew ride was 16km, dead flat and along the beach on a glorious day! Perfect!

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So the Warburton ride. I’d made up my mind that I would tackle the 35km loop on the trail from Woori Yallock to Warburton and return. I could have chosen the 20km loop from Launching Place but I wanted to see how I went extending myself. I was reallly enjoying my riding by now, and had proved myself to myself a bit, and was aptly a fitting graduate from the She Rides Confidence program!

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I’d wanted to ride the Warburton to Lilydale rail trail for YEARS but never felt fit enough. And herein lies the beauty of the Wheel Women community. A ride that my husband would do, but which wouldn’t really be as valuable to him as his 100km+ weekend road loop. He would enjoy exploring and the scenery, but I’d feel a bit babysat. I don’t have any other friends who ride right now. And going out there by myself is something I’d never think of! But here is a ready made group of women who also want to ride the trail, don’t have anyone to ride with and we all turn up and do it together! Brilliant!

We were told beforehand what speed range we should be able to hold to keep up with the group. I knew that I could maintain that speed based on previous rides, however I failed to consider the difference between riding on asphalt/concrete and fine gravel; the latter is quite a bit slower! But the leaders put me at the front of the group so that my speed would dictate the speed of the group and I wouldn’t get dropped (a cycling term for being less fit/skilled/able than other riders and getting spat out of the back of the group as they gradually pass you by virtue of their better skills/fitness/abilities!). This still happened to me, twice! But I was never left behind.

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The combination of a slight incline, gravel, starting with no warm up, the group being warmed up and ticking along at a good pace meant the first few kilometres were a struggle! I was maintaining a speed about 4km/hr slower than intended but the first time I was dropped I caught up with the group at a road crossing. I got put at the front but still got inevitably passed one by one as the incline and my quads fought each other! That time I stayed behind for a few kilometres with a very patient partner-of-a-coach tagging me all the way.

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That’s what I love about Wheel Women; they leave no man behind…or whatever the modern expression is. You are noticed, you are part of the group, you are looked out for, you are helped and supported along the way, and if things go bad thay’ve got your back. Although we’ve been taught how to fix our own mechanical issues its nice to know you’re riding with experienced women who can back you up with technical assitance and spare parts.

Speaking of mechanical issues. I went back out to tackle the Warburton trail on Wednesday with the Knox group, also lovely ladies. I rode two easy kilometres to where I was meeting them for the Launching Place 20km loop. My mum and grandma were driving out to meet us for lunch. And lucky they were! As I was waiting I heard the unmistakeable gush of air passing out of the tube valve, and my back tyre went dead flat! Not good, but the group were coming and they could help. Here was a steep learning curve that I needed and won’t forget. The group leader: Where’s your spare tube? Don’t have one. Okay I’ll see if mine fits, no it doesn’t. That’s okay we’ll patch it, where are your patches? Don’t have any. Okay I’ll use mine, start taking off the tyre, where are your tyre levers? Don’t have any…spoken very quietly!

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Oh dear!

And the reason I didn’t have them? So silly! The week before I went in to Total Rush to get all the bits and pieces, but I forgot the $100 Specialized voucher that comes with Wheel Women membership. So I postponed buying until the next week when I would be passing by for my GP appointment. Sadly this ride came the day before that appointment! Missed it by that much!

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Suffice to say I now have all of the above and more! Because the outcome of the day was no one had the right sized tube to lend me, the patch didn’t hold and the valve got damaged and wouldn’t hold any air. The one bike shop didn’t stock my tube size, so they day ended with an emergency pick up from the family, lunch, and a drive home! Very disappointing but I won’t repeat it! 2km total on a lovely mild day with fair weather all round! Dulp!
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But stay tuned for photos of me doing all the mechanical work with my two bare hands while my hubby commentates from the sidelines. You haven’t seen the last of me!

*Much of the photo credit must go to Tina, possessor of the genius behind all that is Wheel Women. Your talent at taking photos while riding knows no bounds! Thanks for documenting my progress in pictures 🙂

Back on ya bike

Today is the 17th of March.

But you knew that.

St Patrick’s day I believe. Not that this ever has much to do with me, or I with it. Just something that’s going on out there in the actual real world.

All that the 17th of March signifies to me today is that it is not the 9th of March. Quite a bit past it in fact. So I’m over my deadline of writing to you all but let’s put that aside and focus on the fact that we’re here! All alive, all well to some degree.

I have in fact been writing in preparation for my deadline but it just wouldn’t go to plan. It didn’t flow, I wasn’t comfortable with it, the stars weren’t aligned. So I’ve been thinking and thinking and getting nowhere. Then today it just started waking up and forming in my head and here we are! Patience is a virtue remember, and I say remember to myself more than anyone else. Patience! So here we go with the brain flow of today.

Today I strapped on a pair. Strong start, right? But we’re going down a different pathway.

Today I strapped on a pair of runners. Sneakers, joggers, running shoes. I got them out of the wardrobe, literally dusted them off! loosened the laces like the shop lady taught me so many years ago, put a foot in each one, pulled the laces tight again and there I was ready to do battle. I will admit now that I checked last night to make sure they were in fact still IN the cupboard! You know, in case it had been so long that for whatever reason they had vanished!

I strapped on a pair of socks; that happened before the shoes. When did I last get out a pair of socks AND wear them? I get them out every time we go on holidays, in case. I never use them. But I take them in case. Every time. Sometimes several pairs. In case I’m active several days in a row. You know, cos that happens! Along with my runners. I take them too; in case. My socks had burrs in them from goodness knows where! Or when. I guess it’s lucky they didn’t have moths in them, or a family of spiders! Spiders would have definitely changed the course of the day! My horror of spiders long pre-dates all the other fears that have developed in my life more recently. And it’s a hard one to conquer! Their legs move and I run, literally, screaming from the room. Could be a good exercise incentive, although repeated episodes of that much adrenaline cannot be good for me!

I strapped on a pair of sunglasses to contend with the overcast drizzle; good choice!
A pair of yoga pants, the only pair of pants left that I can wear without shame and horror at how much of my body doesn’t fit into them!
A bright yellow T shirt that I bought for a casual top when I grew out of all my other casual tops, but which irritates me by not sitting where it’s meant to. But the request was for bright clothes.

The occasion? I’m re-learning to ride my bike! I’ve signed up to have ‘Wheel Women’ teach me and 7 other ladies the Cycling Australia ‘She Rides’ course. We’ll learn about the bits of our bike, how to fix things, how to ride, what essential equipment you need etc. Our course isn’t the beginner course. We’ve all ridden before. Ours is the confidence course, remembering what we’ve achieved before, how much we already know. It’s also about just how much what we learn will help us to become confident in riding again etc.

Because I have been confident in the past, you know. As primary school aged kids we would shoot out of the car as soon as it stopped in the garage after school, throw our bags inside the house (or in the yard, on the garden, near the chook house) and be on our bikes before you could blink. We’d all ridden since we were toddlers on foot propelled solid plastic indestructible stabilised bikes. We’d all progressed up through a trike, a small bike with training wheels then up through a variety of pretty solidly contructed biked until we made it to an actual store built mountain/commuter bike from Kmart! That was a great moment! It had gears, a stand, flat handle bars, a bell, brakes activated by levers instead of feet!

We had a hill in our driveway where the channel had to be broached and a roundabout for cars to easily turn around. So we’d ride flat out from the road to the top of the bridge and the competition was who could roll the furthest down the bridge, around the house on an S bend curve and the ultimate victory was to make it to the gate into the backyard. It was one on one so there were heats for me and the next down to compete and the two little kids to compete. Then there were speed races down to the garage, technical races around the garden beds and so on. I love it all! We did learn to ride classes at school and the big ride day every year with half the school. We rode to school when mum was working, often with the naughty fox terrier tagging along. We’d tell her to go home but she was sneaky. She’d pretend to head home then sneak diagonally across the paddocks while we round around the square and often beat us to school where, of course, all the kids loved her and made a big fuss out of her!

Great days! And lots of fun. Of course I had the odd accident, ironically the first big one was trying to go too slow while Mum with the baby in the backseat caught up. Our whole driveway was gravel so there were of course many accidents where the wheel slipped out or we hit a bump. Then a bigger one when I was riding up Manningham Road to Heidelberg train station to get to uni. I decided to leave the road for the foot path to cross a big intersection, took it on too much of an angle and landed on my chin! That was the confidence sucking one! That was really the death knock for me riding on roads, and even bike paths.

Thus the course. We have 8 sessions of 2 hours and the first one was this morning. And already I’m stoked!

Which is a miracle considering I spent most of yesterday in an absolute stew about it! What if, what if, what if?!

What if I don’t wake up in time?
We’re meant to be there at 10am, that means I have to be awake at 9am at the latest and ideally leave the house by 9.30am. That’s kind of early given my getting out of bed times lately! Despite my consistent bedtime of around 10pm my morning wake up time can vary from 8am to 11am! This is the result of medication sedation, which is consistent daily but it’s so unpredictable in how much and for how long!

What if I wake up in time but I’m really drowsy and not fit to drive the car?
I’ve been minimising my driving lately when I feel I’m too sedated. That means I don’t do long distances, especially when I’ll need to drive home again later in the day. I don’t need a collision to tell me I’m not fit to drive!
What will I do if that happens? Cancel? Then I’d feel like a failure. Go anyway? That could be dangerous. Get a cab? How would I get my bike there? and etc!

What if it’s too hot for me?
Since I’ve been on this particular antidepressant my temperature feels high all the time. I’ve never actually checked if it is higher, but I feel hotter than the average person unless that person is going through menopause in which case we’d make good buddies! When others are comfortable I’ll be wringing sweat from my brow! Which sounds old fashioned and romantic but it sucks, it really sucks! I don’t like sweat beading on my forehead and running down my face or into my hair! I don’t like other people seeing that. I don’t like them seeing me wiping the sweat off. I don’t mind having them see me wave a fan around or sitting in a breeze but the other stuff? Ergh!

What if I don’t have the energy to get on my bike and ride?
So many days I just don’t have the energy for anything! I’ve become very sedate.
How do I know I’ll be able to do it? What if I just can’t and get humiliated?

Also, what if I’m too unfit?
I know the course description says no one is too unfit for them, but my hubby and I went on a 5km ride a few months ago to try to get me back into riding. The scenery was beautiful but I couldn’t hear anything over the sound of my heart beat and breathing!! And it felt bad!
What if I get left behind and its shameful that I’m so unfit at such a young age?

At about the sixtieth what if my husband suggested a Valium and that helped. A lot. Diazepam, it really is a wonder drug used sensibly. It took the agitation and fretting and stressing out of it. The contingency plan from my husband: all I want you to do is show up. Go there with your bike and at that point that’s a win. Stay if you feel like it, if you have to leave early that’s okay. If you can get through the whole thing that’s fabulous.

Perfect! He always knows what to say! My issue in all things is the starting. Getting out of bed, getting out of the house, getting started on a job, getting to a social event. If there was a time warp around the getting ready life would be easier. It’s the mental preparation that trips me up!
Once I’m there, out of bed, out of the house, started, at the event I’m fine! I’ll be yucking it up with everyone, telling stories, hanging out, ready to get the day going.

So I had my back out strategy, which is vital! If I can’t think of the way out of any place or situation I tend to get panicky. But knowing that I can leave whenever I want and having a specific plan for how I will execute the leaving makes it okay to put myself in that restricted position. It’s crazy but it works! Everywhere, every time.

So I’m stoked with how it all went!

The 3 trainers were lovely and there was no pressure. There were only a handful of us so no hoards of unknowns to face up to. 90 minutes was taken up off the bike with instruction and demonstration so that was a big relief! When we did do riding it was gentle and tiny distances. I seemed to be at least at the same level as the other ladies so no more fear of being left behind!

I looked okay in my clothes which made me comfortable; no more squishing into old size 12 and 14’s; from now on regardless of the size I’m wearing clothing that suits my new figure! I was able to do everything I was asked, my bike is the perfect fit for me, and some old confidence and enjoyment of doodling around on my bike kind of seeped back into my heart.

It made me glad that I was on track to rediscovering riding for fun. Not for competition or eliteness but just good plain fun! I’m excited about that!! It’s so important to me these days to have things that are mine alone to feel good about, to enjoy, to feel satisfied with. My bird watching, my photography, my writing and now my riding. This isn’t so I can go on every Saturday monring 5am 100km road ride with my husband, or brother, or sister, or brother-in-law or father etc! This isn’t so I can go all day up hill down dale mountain biking. This isn’t so I can put on an external skeleton and go hurtling down Hotham or Buller in the off season! Definitely not the last one!

This is for me. This is to remember that I have a kife skill in me that can make me feel better about myself, that I can openly and completely enjoy without any reserve, that is all mine, that I dictate and I steer.

Anything that excites me these days is to be treasured!! Held on to and pursued. And I really feel like this is it!
There are 7 weeks to go, and I’m really truly looking forward to all of them 🙂 YAY!!!