Fun and games

I have been having a really happy time lately. Somehow things have been going really well for me. And for the first time I do believe that my bike riding has something to do with it.

I’ve been cynical of the supposed serotonin-increasing effect that exercise is meant to have on a person. I have experienced severe depression and so many people have told me to exercise, encouraged me to exercise, told me how exercise would help, and asked me if exercise was helping, and referred me to endless articles that supposedly prove how exercise should help me and would help me by increasing my serotonin.

I never got it.

I never felt that I was “better” after exercising, and specifically after riding my bike. I think this is mainly because in my lethargy and weight gain, exercise was so difficult to get started and to maintain that the sheer effort of exercise was greater than any benefit that may have been lurking way back there in the background. I didn’t feel a buzz, I didn’t feel elated, I wasn’t flying high or whatever it was that I was meant to be feeling. What exactly was I meant to be feeling, after all? Exercise was meant to increase my serotonin, yeah? What was the effect or end result of that increase in serotonin meant to be, exactly? What would it feel like if I had it? How would I know I had it? Would it be a direct effect? Would it occur at the time or would the effect be cumulative? I’m sure there are some answers out there but I’ve avoided looking at them, because for a good long while my bike riding was harder than it was anything else, and I just didn’t believe in the serotonin thing.

Until now. I haven’t lost any weight as yet, but half a dozen people have told me lately that they think I’ve lost weight; I’m hoping that means I’ve put on muscle and lost fat but time will tell. I’m a lot less lethargic thanks to returning to work, and having a regular schedule, and places to go, and people to see. Regular bike riding has definitely built up some kind of stamina in me, more than I would have had 13 months ago when I did my first ride with Wheel Women, and thought I would die from it! I view bike rides a lot more optimistically these days, I’m happy to say. This is based on my cumulative experience of so many rides; 60 rides in 59 weeks since March 2015, when I first got back on my bike.

This increased stamina has been improved on recently when I did a 4 day bike riding tour with Wheel Women through central northern Victoria. Anyone who is friends with me on Facebook will have seen the photos! To prepare for the tour I rode every day for 3 days over Easter in the week prior to the tour. I did this to prepare for the anticipated soreness I might experience when getting back on the bike day after day, and to try to build up the endurance that I would need on the tour. I didn’t ride long or far, but riding every day really did something. Then riding 62km, 43km, 37km and 28km for 4 consecutive days  on tour built up another kind of stamina. Arriving at this level of stamina has brought my riding up to another level, and since I got back its been like I’m riding on a cloud. I think it’s because the 3 rides I’ve done since I got back to town are less kilometres, bar one 40km ride, and less strenuous, also bar one ride with a few “gentle” hills, but overall they aren’t as tough as the rides I did while I was away and so I’m riding within my limit, inside my reserves and so it all feels easier!

And I love that!

There’s a saying in cycling, and probably in all sports, and maybe in life too that a certain thing doesn’t get easier as you develop your skills in it, you just get quicker at it. But at the moment I’m not only quicker at riding, but it feels like it’s easier too. And that feels awesome! Not all of it of course, hills are still a bit of a nemesis but I’m even going easier up hills! And I’ve changed my philosophy about hills since the tour. We did 40km or so one day that was more or less flat; my ideal situation, I thought. But now I think differently. Flat terrain just means that your legs go up, go down, go up, go down, rub in the middle on the bike seat, chafe from the bike shorts however comfy they are to start with, get tired, have no chance for a break unless you want to slow down, and it all gets tedious! I thought it was ideal, but now I can see the downsides to flat, and the upside to undulating and even hilly!

At least with undulations or little hills, you get a break while you’re rolling down the other side. It can be quite fun actually, a little up then a little rest on the way down. A little extra work for a little less work; it feels worth it. Plus it’s kind of a challenge for this girl from Flatlandria to operate the gears correctly to get up the incline without changing pedal rotation speed…it can be one way to keep your brain going when your legs aren’t loving the effort.

So here I am, having fun and games on my bike 🙂 I’ve even recently bought a T shirt that says ‘I want to ride my bicycle’. And I’m even heading out on my own after publishing this to do a ride that really sucked a month ago, just to test out my new theory that with the new stamina I’ve built up lately, it’s gonna be a whole heap easier, faster and more fun this time.

Wish me luck!

Victory Part Two

[20th June 2015]

Where was I?

Ah yes, bicycle, perfect timing, much enjoyed.

So this week was going to be epic! Until it rained, and rained, and rained. And spoilt my plans! I had my diary set: Tuesday ride from Strathmore, new one for me so that should be fun, Thursday repeat of an earlier ride from Maribyrnong to Williamstown, but hopefully no head wind on the way back this time and so a more enjoyable return! Then there was a ride on Saturday, to follow up our skills session with Bridie O’Donnell, along Beach Road for a road ride. That was a tentative. I haven’t done a road ride in years, and never in a bunch, and not since uni days, and was I really up for it? Definitely a query! In the end I read the updated description and it was for riders above my level so I let that one slide.

Tuesday I was up and at ‘em! This being the most recent morning after the night before when I missed my tablets! So I was firing on all cylinders! Chatty, energetic, ready to kill it on the ride! Etc! But it was cancelled. It wasn’t actually raining but it had been pouring with rain at 3am when I woke up for the day on a short amount of quetiapine-absent restless, fractured sleep! Our leader had been out to check the course and it was wet and slippery. And honestly, I’m having such a good time, and haven’t crashed since my chest infection-induced stupor in week 3 and I’d like to keep it that way. Don’t need any discouragement! So it was cancelled, but there’s always coffee and cake,Whee girls!! So I traipsed across town anyway for a good old catchup! And a divine cookie sandwich!!! I haven’t come across these till now, other than a Maxibon, but these are two yummy flaky bikkies with, in my case, vanilla bean cream in the middle! Very indulgent and just the best! Pin Oak Crescent, Flemington, people, opposite Newmarket Station! Wolf and Hound if I remember correctly! Worth the drive.

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A Butterbing cookie sandwich and coffee at Wolf and Hound – not my coffee obviously

So that was all good, no ride for understandable reasons, and nothing could bring me down that day in any case, so a great day to bear with not getting to do what you hoped! When I say nothing could bring me down, I mean being too scatter brained to bring my phone charger, and my phone going flat from running GPS directed maps just as I got to the edge of my comfort zone and needed directions! But bipolar brain is super human and says, oh well, just drive up Flemington Road; you’re looking for an address in Flemington, you might get lucky! Well now we’re in Moonee Ponds so let’s turn around (not easy to accomplish!) and find a 7/11, surely they sell Melways. No you don’t? But I see a copy there, maybe I can just look up an address? Use your phone, are you sure, really I can look it up? Thanks, you’re a lifesaver, actually look it’s just nearby, 2 turns from here! Perfect, and I’m right on time! Thank you manic bipolar brain, you got through that mishap easy as pie. Of course, it is your fault about the charger…but everything else was great!

Cue Thursday. Restarted quetiapine on Tuesday night. There’s still some in my system, but miss a dose and boy, does the next dose feel like the first one! That first dose gives you the full side effect gammit: drowsiness like I’ve been dosed up with morphine, absolutely stupid after half an hour of taking it, cannot form words or walk anymore! Dry eyes makes them fully red which is just perfect for looking like a slurring, incoherent, stumbling lunatic if you happen to need the loo bad enough to get your eyes open and magically force yourself out of bed! Nose, eyes, mouth as dry as the desert, can’t pee or poop as much and boy is it hard to wake up the next day! Even if you wake it takes all morning for the sedation to wear off. Often I’ve just given up and gone back to bed at 9am, 10am, 11am. So Wednesday was not much of anything! In fact I sat in the same spot for the majority of the day once I finally got up at 11am to get breakfast. Think I did a load of laundry. Watched some Agents of Shield. Played Words with Friends. Ate lunch at 4pm. Tried to get my brain around our Wednesday bible study chapter. Started to think about dinner, then waited for my hubby to come home and make it. Bit of a washout day. But I knew that was coming, so yeah.

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Love this game! My husband isn’t such a fan, reckons I let him win so he’ll keep playing with me…so he stopped playing with me! Always happy to play with new people. This is one of the few activities that helps me feel like my brain isn’t rapidly shrinking!!

Thursday. Plan: repeat ride to Williamstown, without the head wind on the way back, if it please the Weather Bureau! 28 kilometres, gorgeous scenery, good friends, what more could we ask for? The forecast was 13 or something, but I have my neck gator, my head scarf, my new arm warmers, gloves, and a vest and coat to layer over my jersey, so no worries, plus I’m always warm on the inside! Despite the hangover effect, when my alarm went off at 8am I jumped right out of bed! Miraculous! Truly miraculous. The joy of the ride, the pleasure of good company, the scenic delights awaiting; my brain is on full anticipation mode, waiting for the lovely things the day will bring, which will in turn deliver to me those much lauded blessings of endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, etc. It’s the dopamine that has the upper hand if you ask me. Once I finally got to that place of enjoying in my riding, my dopaminergic system started its reward seeking behavior that drives addiction. There, I said it, my brain is starting a powerful connection between riding and good things, and it wants more!

I’d organized to car pool with a friend from the course, the first time Little Miss Independent has let someone else take the wheel and do the driving. A big moment of letting go the control, and making friends! So nice to be trusted to go to someone’s house, meet their family, share an experience together. I’ve always considered myself a bit awkward socially, a bit challenged at making friends and as a little kid especially this was true. I’ve had my own friends, my school friends, and work friends. But I’ve always had my own space, where no one else goes. I’m finding it’s different with riding, because you really share common experiences so we have something together that binds us, and no external person can really share in it because they weren’t there. It’s fascinating to me, to see how this works, and to be a part of it! We share our insecurities, our weaknesses, our doubts in a way probably none of us would fully own out loud in any other situation, and probably not with our partners or other friends. Because in this course it’s okay to be scared, to not know, to be worried. It’s ALWAYS okay to be how you really are and what you really feel and no judgement is even thought of, because this is a place of learning and building up skills and encouragement and doing it together. That’s why we love it!

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One from the archives. Back when I could still fit into my wardrobe, barely, March 2014. Remember I told you my hubby took me for a ride and it wasn’t the best? This is it! A brave smile!

—RIDE CANCELLED— As I’m walking out the door, socks, runners, leggings, jersey, neck warmer, ear warmer, gloves, vest, coat, lights, ready to go to my friend’s house to car pool, my phone beeps. I’ve got my bag with helmet, bike computer, bike mechanic kit etc on my shoulder, I’ve grabbed breakfast, filled up my drink bottle, got the car keys in my hand, bike in the car…cancelled! Cancelled! Ohhhhh. Deflated! But I’m ready to go! But that was the last organized ride for the week that was at my level! But I’m up, and if it was any other day I’d be asleep til 10am while restarting quetiapine, but I’m up! I’m up! Okay, so it’s wet and slippery, but I’m up!

This is no criticism of Wheel Women ride organization! They do an amazing job many times each week, and absolutely made the right call! No disagreement. But I was up! And I wouldn’t be if it weren’t for the anticipation of friends and bike riding. Which is obviously a powerful thing, more than I would have ever expected from myself! So what now? Honestly I was flummoxed, wind taken out of my sails, left without purpose! So I sat down at the kitchen table, stared blankly at the wall and tried to think of what to do! Called my husband cos I was all out of ideas! Couldn’t think what to do next! It really had hit me for six, even though I always knew it was weather dependent. But I was going to go out and tackle that ride anyway, and do better. And now I wasn’t going anywhere! Huh!

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A stunning Williamstown day on another ride

That was a great lesson to me, to find how much I depended on going riding, and expected to go, and could go the extra mile to get to the rendezvous point on time and all organized, because I wanted to go! Here are some powerful abilities that I can harness and use!

So, what to do? Actually I had a pretty flat day, which is so interesting to me, and something I can work on for next time for whatever disappointment inevitably comes. How can I response differently, better, not let myself get so deflated? I was still in a pretty soggy condition when my hubby got home so he set me to think up rides that I could do the next day. It was a great idea, but I parked it on the shelf. Right now though, I’m inspired so I’m going to try to do that, write a to-do list of bike rides for the future so that I always have a backup plan.

Inspired. Me, right now. Why? Its two days on from Thursday, and today I went and did that ride that was planned and cancelled with my husband, and it was great! The weather was cold but sunny, the scenery is always spectacular on that route and we had fun! Then we went and checked out the cyclocross race nearby and I got my fix of bikes and I’m feeling fine! Better than, in fact. It’s 10.48pm and I’m still tap tapping these ideas that were floating in my head while riding. Turns out riding really gives your head space to process ideas!

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Silver gull parade!! These ‘rats of the sea’ are standing guard waiting for the woman to finish her meal and hopefully leave some chips so they can all swoop in and grab the scraps

And that’s not the end of the victory parade.

The following Tuesday our ride was cancelled before the actual day. But I woke up that morning to a text from one of the lovely girls in our group asking if anyone wanted to do a replacement ride. What a genius, and what a great idea, and perfect for feeling like we haven’t missed out. Yes I did want to do a ride, so we met up really close to home and did an 18km ride together. It was a bit tougher than a lot of our other rides with a few challenging hills but we looked out for each other and I felt so satisfied by the time we got back. We had a nice coffee and cake at a cute new café, and I just loved it! Being independent, and able to tackle a decent ride on our own, and feeling like we’re capable and equipped; satisfaction! And it feels like a victory! I still want to do as many organized rides as I can, but what a feeling to be able to run our own ride if it falls through! Yay!!

So on Thursday, when the ride was ‘only’ 13km, we improvised and went the long way back to the cars together to draw the ride out to 24km. Imagine that! After such a slow, difficult start, I now feel a bit cheated if we don’t do 20km! I mention ‘only’ because the leaders would sometime say this to us, it’s only 6km, its only 13km etc. And I would think to myself, only, ONLY?? What are you talking about, only! I’m not at the only stage, every peddle stroke hurts. It was fascinating on Thursday because we rode the first ride we ever did to the bike store, which I thought would never end as I wheezed and sweating and burned my way along the ‘only’ 6km. And this time we got there in 10 minutes, before my legs had even warmed up, and suddenly we were there and I couldn’t believe how it didn’t hurt, or require much effort and we passed it like it was a kilometre from the car park!! That’s progress, and it’s so exciting!!

Beating the weather

Lately my life has been all about learning.

Learning new skills, learning that I can be the old me again, learning that old skills are still stored carefully in my brain waiting for me to dust them off again. Learning to have confidence in myself and trust in my abilities. Important stuff.

There’s a learning point that I’ve been thinking of in particular.

You never know if you never go.

You never know if you never go. This is slowly but surely becoming my new motto.

Instead of staying home just in case the weather is awful, the traffic is terrible, the people are critical, the class is long and boring, the walk is too steep and etcetera, I’m transitioning into a more cautionsly optimistic frame of mind.

Cautiously optimistic is a term coined by my GP and is used when we think we’re have a breakthrough but it could be nothing or it could come crashing down or it might stick. We’re hoping, based on not very much maybe, but we’re hoping.

So being cautiously optimistic would look like saying to myself, what if the weather is lovely, it doesn’t rain, the traffic is a breeze, they are all lovely and kind, I learn lots and the content is interesting, and I manage the walk and have the satisfaction of accomplishment? What if?

You know by now that I completed the Wheel Women-run She Rides program in Hawthorn. By the nature of bike riding the classes are held outdoors. I was happy to be enrolling in the autumn class rather than summer because I get hot easily. But of course the flip side is that autumn can get cold, and as it turns out wet. Wet was something I hadn’t really thought about beforehand but there was a lot of it around!

So every Tuesday for 8 weeks I committed to meeting the group in a car park at 10am to take the class. The classes were held over March, April and May. Other than the first class all of the classes involved some riding around of various distance. So I’d wake up on Tuesday morning and look out the window to see what the day looked like it had in store and what kind of riding conditions were out there.

I have a second storey window that looks west-ish. Probably South-West-West if I remember correctly from school, but it doesn’t really matter. The morning sun, if it is showing, bounces off the new plate glass type multi-storey construction in front of my window a ways away so I can sort of get the gist of east and west. All irrelevant detail really.

Sometimes it looked windy. Sometimes it was raining. Sometimes it looked clear. Sometimes it wasn’t rainy but looked ominous. And to be honest, sometimes it was beautiful and sunny. Somehow the story doesn’t have the same drama when things go well but of course sometimes they go well, and really well!

If I had pulled the pin every time that I thought the weather was going to mean the class was cancelled, I’d only have made about half of the classes. But there was no weather cancellation clause, the rider being that if it was truly too awful to be outside well at least we would all have coffee together and a nice morning anyway.

And you know what? In eight weeks we never got rained on once! The weather was never terrible, just a bit windy or a bit chilly. Now that winter weather has arrived the weather we had for those classes looks even better by comparison! And we had some really nice, lovely, enjoyable days too. Must mention the good days!

One time we had to move our class from the outdoors to the nearby cafe to continue talking about bike gear; but only for the last half hour anyway which may well have been spent the same way on a clear day.

One time we sat in the nearby rotunda and chatted while it dripped around us.

Every time that we went on a ride it rained before, or after, or both and a couple of times it started raining as we got into our cars to go home.

But every time we had a great class, a lovely social event and nice chatting over warm drinks and fun riding.

And the stats have gotten even better: it has now been 13 weeks since the first class and in all that time we have only cancelled one class. That’s it, one class.

We’ve sat in a cafe with our hot drinks until the rain cleared, we’ve had coffee instead of a ride once only, and last Thursday it started raining as we got in our cars!

The forecast has looked terrible, the radar has been worse but I have really learned a valuable life lesson over these weeks.

By treating the situation as non negotiable, it takes away all the umming and ahhing that I usually do, mostly from a sitting/lying in bed position. No procrastination, because it’s an inevitable event.

You are going. I am going. The other girls are going to be there expecting you after having organised themselves and gotten to the meeting point. Our dedicated coaches are waiting for you to show up so you have to go. Telling myself ‘if it’s really bad we’ll just have coffee and it’ll be fun’ got me out the door on the worst days.

And do you know what? That worst day by forecast we did a 14km loop into Herring Island and back, which is somewhere that I’ve wanted to go back to since the summer but didn’t realise there was a bike path that could get me there.

And so this day, and each and every week I have said to my self, and likely to some one else too cos I’m like that, ‘if I hadn’t come, look what I would have missed out on!’

I would have stayed home, probably in bed to be honest, trying to avoid the rain when in fact by going I found out that there was no rain (although it was jolly cold!)! At least not between 10am and 12pm. It was beginning to spit as we got in the car but we did it! A nice flat ride, interesting sights and a surprising location, great company and that feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment that is just so lovely.

To feel like, I’ve really done something today! I wasn’t going to go, I thought it would be awful and difficult but I went (kudos for that), I participated (easy once you’re there, getting started is always the key!) and I had a great time and now I can rest mentally knowing I’ve done something worthwhile for myself and I’ve been a team player and it’s such a nice feeling!

Rather than wasting away the day waiting for the forecast and the outlook to be better before venturing out. Turns out you really do have to JUST DO IT! And more times than not, it will be well worth your while and you have experiences and enjoyment that you would have missed waiting for the sun to come out!

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!!!