Smiling!

You can hardly wipe the smile off my face! Just sitting here chilling out in a comfy chair at the end of the day, I’m smiling 🙂 No one’s making me, nothing is happened to draw a smile out of me, there’s just a good humour welling up out of me, and it’s delightful!

I suppose this is what they talk about when they say riding and exercise increase your serotonin levels. When I was unwell, exercise was just torture, even though everyone said how good for you it was supposed to be. I could never understand it! It’s only now that I’ve become fit and can do longer rides that I’m getting some of that effect. Ah well, better late than never!

So, what a great day!

The plan was always for a great day: the Wheel Women Christmas ride! What a cause for excitement, end of year festivities with all the fabulous ladies I ride with at one time or another! Wouldn’t miss it for almost anything!

A bit of a reminder to myself at this time: this is my first Wheel Women Christmas, because I only joined Wheel Women in March! March!! Can you believe it?? I can’t! What kilometers, what skills, what adventures, what misadventures have been gained in barely 9 months! Those who have been there for the misadventures only need these words: velodrome, baby ducks, emergency braking, whoops that hill and corner came out of nowhere! That last one? Today!

What a perfect way to celebrate the year of riding that Wheel Women across Melbourne have had; getting together for a large group ride from Kensington to Williamstown.

[Note: every time I say something like “what a perfect…” and it’s attached to something bike related, it gives me this little jolt, well not jolt, but just a little flashback to March, or was it April, when they told us we were going for a ride, an actual ride not just practicing stopping and starting, and 6 kilometers sounded like a death sentence!!! I have a little giggle to myself now, and have a little moment of wow, how far I’ve come so quickly! Not in a bragging way, just in a ‘Woah! How did that happen?!’ way].

So we gathered together outside Cyclic Bicycles in Kensington. And lucky for me that we did, because Dum Dum Dugan Danika here forgot her helmet! I mean, there are very few essentials in the world of riding, but a helmet you must always have! The day would have quickly soured if Evan from the bike shop wasn’t ready and willing to lend me a helmet! Lucky he opened the store an hour early just for us! A hat tip, and a recommendation that if you’re looking for anything bike related in the general area, he’s your guy!

Riders of all shapes and sizes (I mean that in the best way, and I should know!), and all abilities, with 4 wonderful coaches and great excitement for the day’s activities! There were jingle bells and baubles dangling off bikes, The Tinsel Bike shedding silver Christmas cheer all over the place apparently whenever the brakes were applied, coordinating glistening shoes covers for the coaches, Christmassy T shirts and earrings, and a sleigh bell dinging!! Hard not to get into the spirit with so much effort put in!

We were taking a new route today for me at least, up the hill (!) from Kensington, along the beautiful old Stock Route with cobblestone sections under the shade of huge old peppercorn trees and lined by the original post and rail fences of the stockyards. Then onto the gorgeous riverside bike path that follows the Maribyrong River more or less to Williamstown. I can never get tired of the stunning views we are treated to along this river and out into the bay; really they are such a delight each and every time I ride this way.

And the weather was perfect! It was meant to get hot, but it was overcast so it didn’t heat up and there was a breeze around; ideal conditions!!

So we got to Williamstown, partially along the road this time rather than all on the bike path. I have to say, I did enjoy it a lot more than the path for that section that we swapped because you don’t have to give way and face the rumble strips at every crossroad, it’s a lot smoother and I think I can go faster! Which is always fun 🙂 I know people are nervous of the road, but in that instance I would recommend it! There’s a good sized bike lane and all.

What can I say about arriving in the lush green park in Williamstown, with views of the marina and across the bay to the city?? Need I say more? A champagne toast followed (pink plastic cups!), Lyn’s delicious rumballs then a Christmas speech, and an award!!

This part I am so stoked about! Because…drumroll…I was the recipient! I am so so touched, and thrilled, and encouraged, and heartened by Tina and Tracey and Alicia and Deidre’s choice, and inspired to keep going further and further! What an absolute honour, and of course it would never have happened if it weren’t for Wheel Women and the hard work these 4 ladies put in to keep us riding safely and enjoyably every week!!

The award was for courage and bravery! Warrior status! And it even included a quote from this here blog!! Amazing!! I’m just thrilled over and over!! It’s incredible to have people believe in you, and see the effort that you put in and respect that effort! Every skill I’ve learnt from them has given me the ability to develop bit by bit. I never saw myself going this far from the beginning; I couldn’t see how I’d ever be able. Pottering around the suburbs was more of my vision. But I’ve got the momentum now, so 2016, let’s see what you have in store for me and my bicycle!

As if that didn’t cap the day off as pure amazing, we then had the arrival of Santa!! Dear Ray who is a great friend of all Wheel Women and brings life to every party, had dressed up in a great Father Christmas outfit with huge black boots and all, and was ready to distribute the Kris Kringle gifts! His wife Lyn had to go first, because she was his favourite, said Santa, then we all lined up for our gift and a kiss! Then Ray gave us another delight for the day, his alternate Santa hat that turned on, and the top and the bauble danced around on his head while it sang carols!!! We were in stitches laughing, loving his enthusiasm!! What a great friend, to give us so much Christmas joy!

All that was left was to head to the cafe for eats, drinks, chats and laughs galore! I do so love these ladies who have added such a great social aspect to my life from when I was bored stiff at home alone 5 days a week, right through til now when I’m working half time. It’s such a pleasure to meet up again at the next ride, and pick up right where we left off!! LOVE YOU ALL!!

Well if all of that doesn’t leave me smiling for weeks I don’t know what will! Of course our moods being fickle and subject to sudden change without notice, that won’t be the case. But tonight, I’m smiling!

Thank you to each and every person who made it so!

Oh, I did forget one thing. The award? Came with prizes! All of them exactly what I would have wanted for Christmas!! A Wheel Women riding backpack (now I’m part of the crew! Jokes), a solid high quality bike lock (YAY, out with the old fuddy duddy one!), bright rear and back lights (perfect because although mine allow people to see me, they don’t show me the path ahead!) and the smallest, most adorable set of tyre levers and patch kit!! Absolutely perfect! Couldn’t have picked them out better myself! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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Victory Part One

[Written 20th June 2015]

Victory is mine blog post

Okay that’s not going to be my title, way too grand and pompous for my usual style. But today was a victory and I want to talk about.

I was meant to restart work sometime last week. It was always a vague plan of sometime after the Queen’s birthday public holiday. From the time I took back my authorization to get a police check and stat dec to say that I wasn’t an awful criminal the suggestion was it would take the HR department about two weeks to prepare the contracts. Oh, and by the way, the hospital executive have just put a halt on recruitment until the end of the financial year! We may sneak in, we may not.

So it didn’t happen last week, and it wasn’t looking super likely for this week either. So my plan? Bike ride as much as possible until I go back to work! It is still amazing to me that I, in the dead of winter, in shall we say frigid conditions with rain and bleak outlooks and low teens temperatures, would be keen to get out there and get cold and exert effort! Crazy! Yet it turns out that my week is built around it! I would NEVER have thought that this would actually come to be in my life!

I mean, yeah, they said exercise was good for you and helped your mood and did wonders. I got started at the gym after moving back to Melbourne when I was beginning to put on weight in a vain attempt to keep that at bay. I did enjoy the classes, another women’s only special, and afterwards I loved that I’d been able to do it. My post-gym face made it into a couple of my ‘100 happy days’ posts. I made an effort to get to my classes after work, which was a tight squeeze, and then when I wasn’t working anymore I tried to get there and do the solos workouts my friendly coach had designed for me. But the cardio stuff sucked! I’ve always been good at weights and they are my preference. But right then, with the weight I’d put on and as the sedation overcame me, cardio was just a punishment! So I put the gym on hold, and it stayed there. My psychiatrist agreed that I shouldn’t be pushing myself with the gym and suggested walking each day.

Walking. Okay, seriously! I have a green, leafy park that I can get to, walking, in less than two minutes. It’s one of the awesome conveniences of where I live. Theoretically. There’s a beautiful walking loop made from perfectly poured, on camber concrete with an inner spongy lane perfect for running. It has marked distances and revolves around a pretty little lake with ducks and a foot bridge, a community exercise area always in use and a children’s playground. Perfect.

Two minutes to the park. Five minutes to the hospital, twelves minutes to the train station and supermarket. That’s my house.

But I don’t like walking anymore!

I used to walk up hill to the train station to get to work every day, from October 2013 to March 2014, and I just did it without thinking. Then I walked around the hospital all day often clocking up half my daily step count and a couple of kilometres. I’d often take a walk for 20 minutes under the Moreton Bay fig trees to chill out at lunchtime which was lovely, travelling from Commercial Road to Toorak Road and back, then walk back down the hill again to get home. My Fitbit got to 10,000 steps every single day and often quite a bit more. I was doing great physically and was in the shape of the last 10 years! I’d just spent more than 18 months up to August 2013 exercising and dieting my way to 78kg which was a 15kg effort that I was very proud of, and got me within a few kilos of my ideal weight! So I was enjoying my hard work.

But as I got sicker, my motivation and energy flagged and I started putting on some weight, and that morning uphill walk was taking me longer and was getting harder. I started to dread it! My breathing was way harder than before, my heart felt like it was about to hit the absolute red line or die altogether, my legs rubbed and chafed and turned to jelly mush, and I just didn’t want to do it anymore. Besides I had to conserve energy; I had the whole day still ahead of me!! I didn’t want to walk; I wanted to catch the bus. Once I did, there was no turning back. I would wait 15 minutes at the bus stop for a 7 minute bus ride that was full to overflowing where I sweated up a storm in the crush of body heat, rather than walk 10 minutes home, even though it was downhill. At that point, it didn’t matter whether it was uphill, downhill or neutral; I hated it!

I’m working on this. I wear shorts or leggings, I take my time, I breathe it out, I remember that my heart is actually a surprisingly resilient muscle and no one has ever yet died from it jumping through their throat into the open air and flying away! That last one is difficult and takes a lot of mantra-like chanting inside my brain! I will not die, I will not die, and I will not die.

We did an impromptu walk with friends a couple of months back. It was described as an easy walk, but that was their opinion not mine. They set a cracking pace over difficult terrain and I wished I was dead! Halfway through the caring mother figure asked me quite seriously if I was going to have a heart attack!! I was so red in the face I probably looked like I would in fact explode, I was dripping sweat, my feet and legs hurt…la, la, la; it wasn’t that much fun, apart from the scenery.

Cue the bicycle. It came to me, I now realise, at the perfect moment in my journey. I’d seen an ad for She Rides earlier and instantly dismissed it. The fact that when it came back around on Facebook, or email, or something else, I actually considered it, showed that I was in a place in my recovery where I was starting to open my very closed mind to the idea and possibility that starting gently into some exercise could really be something I could a) do, and b) maybe, somehow, I don’t know but people assure me I could, actually enjoy! So I tentatively put out some feelers. I’m not a committing person! I have to do a lot of thought before I jump in, and even then it’s more of a slow trip and fall that accidentally turns into a jump!

Ask my husband: we went out for 7 years before I “jumped” in! At least we got through the whole itch thing first. In that last year when it was blindingly apparent that of course we’d be together forever, and no sinister cosmic plan was floating through the universe waiting to hit us with its deadly and devastating bolts, or anything along that drastic and dramatic plane of thought, I gave my husband a model snail. I told him please wait, I’m getting there, I’m coming; it’s just taking me a while! That’s how I am, but I’m working on it. I can impulse buy now, not that I’m sure that’s a good thing! There are shops in Shepparton where I grew up probably sick of the sight of me, coming back for the third time to try on the same pair of shoes “just to see” if they were any different from every other time! Procrastination is what it’s really called, and it has gotten the upper hand of me in a lot of my life, but I’m working hard to crush it!

Blackburn Lake Santuary

A great day out today with my hubby at the Blackburn Lake Sanctuary. A good friend recommended this park for bird watching and wow, it was amazing! We saw more birds than I can show here, so many little flitting miniature birds all over the place. A lovely older lady was there bird watching and pointed out a few for us, most notably the grey fantail which was awesome to watch, dancing and fanning its tail feathers.

What a beautiful place, and I feel so glad that it has been preserved down through the many years of development of Melbourne to be a sanctuary not only for birds and animals but for people to enjoy the unspoiled bush and to see these creatures in their native environment.

We will absolutely be going back! Thanks for the recommendation, Jeanette! We spent a happy day spotting birds all over the place and thoroughly enjoying the clear weather, sunshine and crisp autumn day. Couldn’t have been better!!

Despite my tiredness and slowness and dragging of feet there is always something magical about catching a glimpse of each bird for the first time, hearing the call and tracking it down, or suddenly coming across it in the path, or spotting it high up in the tree! It really gets me going and speeds me on for a few minutes, gives me a burst of energy for a little while and distracts my brain completely from anything else going on in it. I smile, I laugh, I exclaim and all of that is positive feedback to my brain that things are going well! I’m sure it must do something for my serotonin levels.

Photo credit is split about half and half with me and my hubby; can’t take full credit!

For the bird watchers among my readers, please take a look at the little bird third from the bottom below the duck – I need some help identifying this one, can’t quite decide based on my guide book. Thanks in advance!!

flowering blossoms, gum tree, eucalyptus, eastern spinebill

Fabulous flitting Male Eastern Spinebill amonst the flowering gum blossoms

eastern spinebill, eucalyptus, gum blossoms, male

Male Eastern Spinebill in the blossoms with throat on show

rainbow lorikeet, taking flight

Gorgeous Rainbow Lorikeet taking flight

grey fantail, tail feather

Grey fantail showing off its tail feathers – hard to catch so blurry picture!

spotted turtle-dove

Beautiful Spotted Turtle-Dove

purple swamphen

Blueish Purple Swamphen stalking the log

dusky moorhen, rushes

Dusky Moorhen in the rushes

laughing kookaburra, eating, branch

Laughing kookaburra sitting on a branch eating something gross!

black raven, little raven, australian raven

Glossy black Raven – either Little Raven or Australian Raven

rainbow lorikeet, yellow chest

An unusual Rainbow Lorikeet with a bright yellow chest

Australian Magpie

Pair of Australian Magpies fighting to be fed bread by hand

beautiful caramel and silver grey duck

Beautiful duck with caramel colouring and silver grey top feathers

unknown bird

Help wanted – not quite sure what this bird is??

[Addition: a very kind reader has given us the answer to our question!! The bird above is the White-browed Scrubwren, most likely the south-eastern form. Thank you very much!!]

red wattlebird

Red Wattlebird as seen from underneath

pacific black ducks

Pacific Black Ducks through the morning mist

eucalypt tree, new growth

Fallen eucalyptus tree shooting new trees

pink flowering gum blossoms

Pink flowering gum blossoms