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The Tour of the Gila

The Tour of the Gila is supposedly the hardest race on our North American calendar. It was my first stage race since Tour of Alberta. We finished racing last Sunday, and I thought I’d write a bit of a race report.

Stage One: 148 km; 1734 m

I was excited to race again, but nervous about how I’d hold up. The plan was to protect MA and Luke throughout the day, and then help guide them up the finishing climb.

I hadn’t been feeling good on the bike all week. I figured I’d had an extra week to acclimatize to the altitude though, so really I should be better off than some others. The top teams, of course, had been training at altitude too, and for much longer. I hoped my legs would come round on the first stage, and that I’d be able to climb well.

The stage was mostly flat, with only a few small rollers. At 10.7 km to go, the race turned right and climbed the Mogollon. The first few kms weren’t very steep, spilling you out onto a mesa with strong crosswinds. With 4.5 km to go, the road went up again. It was pretty steep, averaging 8 percent to the line.

I spent the first 30 km of the race trying to pee off my bike. I’ve never had to go during a race before, but for some reason I was absolutely bursting the moment the flag dropped. Loads of guys would coast alongside the peloton on a downhill section and get their business over with without stopping. Upon failing to follow suit several times in the first hour, I finally pulled over on the side of the road and accepted that I can’t pee at speed. Something to practice for sure.

I got back on my bike after relieving myself and my Garmin started ringing. Then it died. It would proceed to turn itself on and off for the next hour, before I threw it into the team car. I use my Garmin in races to know when to eat, and how far we are from sprints, KOMs, corners or the finish. This really pissed me off. Not to mention I don’t have the money to replace it, and I also use it in training.

 Lining up for stage two.

Lining up for stage two.

The race was pretty uneventful. A break went early on and the peloton let it go knowing we’d reel the riders in on the finishing climb. I covered a few attacks around 80-100 kms in, but none of them gained more than 50 metres for a few seconds.

We hit the finishing climb and I had nothing. I went straight to the back, and was shot out. I rode on my own to the top. I sucked. It sucked.

I sneezed the entire hour and a half drive home. I’ve never had such bad allergies. My sinuses were in such pain, and my right eye swelled dramatically. My eyes were watering and I had a severe eye/sinus/headache all night.

Stage 2: 120 km; 1600 m

I woke up and felt like I’d been hit by a truck. My head and eye still hurt and so did my throat and chest. I decided I’d start the stage, but figured there’s no way I would be able to finish.

As we drove to the race, I decided that I would push to the end. I accepted that I’d get dropped based on how I felt, but told myself that no matter what, I’m forcing myself to finish the stage.

A few minutes before the start I told myself to just race my bike. I wasn't going to think about my allergies or my excuses. I would just race. We were riding for a field sprint and would lead out MA, and I promised myself I’d be there for it.

 I went for a post tt walk / photo adventure to clear my head and found some doors. 

I went for a post tt walk / photo adventure to clear my head and found some doors. 

The first intermediate sprint was 9 or so km into the stage at the base of a ~9km climb. I wanted to win the sprint. I positioned myself at the front of the race and followed the first guy to initiate the sprint. I went around him before the line, won the sprint, and then ended up having a significant gap on the peleton. I rolled ahead solo, and started the climb.

A few minutes later a group of 5 guys, including teammate MA, and riders from UHC, Jelly Belly, Hagens Berman and Rally bridged to me. I rolled through, taking pulls and letting MA sit on. He was relaxing, which was good. The effort was killing me though.

A larger group caught us before the KOM and with 200 m to the top I allowed myself to get dropped. My week of pre-riding this bit of the course gave me the confidence that I could rest on the last section of the climb, and then catch back up to the lead group on the descent. I knew the corners really well. Sure enough, I caught them on the descent and moved effortlessly to the front, knowing which corners I could pass through without braking. A few km later, a group of five rolled off the front. Racing on instinct, I followed. MA yelled for me to go back to the pack.

I took a second to consider: pretend I didn’t hear and represent the team in this break, or go back? I had a job to do though, and that was to lead out MA. I quickly returned to the group. We were sure the break would get caught anyways.

The GC teams miscalculated though, and the break stayed away and won the race. We were now racing for 6th. I got dropped with 20 km to go on the final KOM, but chased back on on the descent. With 12 km to go it was only MA and I in the group, as Luke had flatted. I went to the front and got MA on my wheel. I did my best to keep him out of the wind and at the front, preparing for the field sprint. Luke got back in behind me.

I was way out of my comfort zone. UHC and Rally had their trains and I was getting hit from the left. No one wanted me there. Our rivals yelled at me, head butted and shouldered me for the next 9 km. I don’t belong at the pointy end of a sprint stage. I’m too timid. But we wanted to win the field sprint (even if it was for 6th), and most of our teammates were gone. I did what I could, but at just over 2 km to go, I blew up.

 Rolling out on stage two.

Rolling out on stage two.

We didn’t get a result. It was a disappointing stage. I was happy with how I rode, though part of me wished I had gone with the winning break. Based on my form, I probably wouldn’t have lasted, so it’s good I didn’t go get dropped I guess. I listened to our leader on the road and followed our plan.

That night my allergies got worse, and I could feel that there was shit in my lungs too. The team was in a bad mood as well. No results. No one was happy. It was a shit environment.

Stage 3: 26 km ITT

I woke up sad and exhausted. Not sure why I was sad, but I didn't question my exhaustion.

My Garmin hadn’t fixed itself, so I rode without one. I had no idea how fast I was moving. I was distracted the whole time. My legs felt terrible.  I finished 47th.

Stage 4: 70 km Crit; 800 m (90 minutes)

The crit started in the evening, which left me all day to kill. I went for a spin in the morning. With all the time spent doing nothing throughout the rest of the day, I had a lot of time to think.

I got sad. Very sad. Certain things that have happened in my relatively recent past resurfaced. I grew angry that on this day I couldn’t push them aside like I’d been able to do the other days. In a house with 13 people, in a room with no door and a twin bed that I was sharing, I had no space to myself, and no one around who I felt I could talk to. Eventually I called my mom and cried a bit. This was at 2, and the race started at 4:15. My headspace was shit.

I raced hard to push my thoughts aside. We wanted to win the sprint again with MA, so we had to keep the race together to force a bunch sprint. I covered moves, and ended up in a small break for a few laps. With 10 to go, I moved up to help MA and Luke. Again, it was just the three of us. I did my best to keep them out of the wind and bumped shoulders and elbows with the Elevate KHS train. I rode until I couldn’t, and around 4 to go I sat up. Luke helped MA for the next four laps, and MA finished third.

 More doors. 

More doors. 

To me, this was a great result. Of course, a win would have been ideal, but at least we had a podium. I felt I had played a part in it. But the team, again, was not happy. Some shitty things were said. I was exhausted by these attitudes (and my effort) and my allergies came back.

Stage 5: 150 km; 2800 m

I woke up and walked down the stairs for breakfast. As I made my way down the stairs I knew right then my race was over. I had nothing. I was absolutely cracked.

I spent the first 20 km taking turns trying to get into moves. I had nothing and never made it into anything. I was dropped on the first KOM 20 km in, and chased back on, on the descent. We hit the Gila monster 90 km in, and that was it. I was absolutely empty. I sat up and rode on my own to the top of the hill, and put my bike on the van. I got changed, grabbed my music and camera, and joined a friend from Vancouver (Jake) who was in the feed zone for his team.

As disappointing as it was to not finish, I wasn't surprised. I was cracked and that’s all there was to it. I rode hard when I could.

I wanted to climb better last week. I’m hoping that my performance at Gila is not foreshadowing how I’ll ride next week at Redlands. I hope the team does well in Redlands as a whole so that our morale is boosted. For now, I’m hanging out in Cali and spending all day on the front porch. I’m loving the sun, and enjoying a bit of time to train and recover. Dana Point GP is our next race this sunday, then Redlands starts on Wednesday.

The Gila Monster

The past week has looked something like this.

Wake up. Check social media until I can’t wait for another photo to load on account of the terrible wifi connection. Make tea and oatmeal. Get dressed, pack what I’ll need on the bike. Pick the music I’ll start with. Head out the door and onto my bike.

Climb the steep driveway before descending: Tom Lyons, onto Vic Culberson, then Christian Flurry. Then turn either left or right onto Little Walnut. Left means I’m riding up to Pinos Altos. Right means I’ll either do the time trial course heading south on the 90, or I’ll head west on the 180 to do part of stage one. Usually I’ll go left and up to Pinos Altos on the 15. Admittedly, I’ve only done the other two routes once.

I like the 15. It’s a hard road, but it’s less windy and much more stimulating than the other two. You climb from 6000 to 7000 feet in the first 20 minutes. Then you pass through Pinos Altos and continue into the Gila National Forest. Here the road narrows and for 18 miles there isn’t a centre line. The air is a little cooler, and the road is lined with several species of pine. Few cars drive by, and if you stop, it’s silent, except for your breathing, which is heavier up here. You’re far from anything.

 Silver City is tiny and colourful.

Silver City is tiny and colourful.

Riding along, you own the road. I usually ride in the middle, and take race lines through the corners, cutting the apex and crossing the non-existent center line without second thought. When the road straightens out, sometimes I can’t help but sit up tall on my saddle and stretch my arms out to the sides, as though I’m celebrating a victory. Riding this road feels victorious. Liberating. I’m probably smiling.

It’ll feel different in a few days when I’m racing on it and someone is making me suffer.

The past week I’ve been living in Silver City, New Mexico. Most of my team has been away racing the Joe Martin Stage race in Arkansas. Myself and one other team mate have been here. Our training plans have been different, so we’ve mostly been riding on our own. I’ve enjoyed the freedom of doing my own thing. It’s always been difficult for me to ride alone, and I’ve certainly had a hard time getting out the door on several occasions this week, but it’s been nice to do my own thing without having to follow someone else’s plan or endure the constant disapproval of my teammates for whatever I do, say or choose to wear. I’ve been a little more relaxed. I’ve actually started to appreciate my solo moments, which is something I’ve been working on for ages.

Training over the past week has been relatively light. I’ve had to adjust to the altitude. Coming from sea level, 6000 feet (~1800m) has been harder on me than I’d expected. I’m actually wondering if there’s more to it. I’ve been very tired. It’s got me a little worried.

 I took a break the other day and drove to White Sands with my friend, Jenna. She took this photo.

I took a break the other day and drove to White Sands with my friend, Jenna. She took this photo.

The first day here I rode the stage two course. It goes up the 15 past Pinos Altos, and descends down to the 35. Then it’s relatively flat for quite a while before you turn toward Fort Bayard. The race will be 120 km, with three cat 3 KOMs and two intermediate sprints. There will be 1800 m of climbing. I felt really tired during the ride, and stayed light on the pedals. It was my first time riding the 15 though, and I fell in love.

For my second ride here I did most of the fifth stage course. This took me on a reverse stage two, and included an out and back over the Gila Monster, which is perhaps the defining feature of the entire race. At the top of the front side, I decided to turn around and head home instead of descending and then ascending the backside as well. I was tired and didn’t want to dig a hole. I had to listen to my body.

One day I did the tt course. Winds were gusting over 60 km/h and I was extremely frustrated by some bike trouble. I almost didn’t ride. I pushed through and did my first efforts at elevation, and felt quite satisfied having accomplished something. My legs didn’t feel great, neither did my mind, and I did stop a couple times just to sit on my top tube on the side of the road and gather myself, but I did it.

 Another colourful piece of Silver City.

Another colourful piece of Silver City.

My favourite ride here happened on Friday. It was 0 degrees in the morning, and winds were gusting over 70. I had a five hour ride planned, including both sides of the Gila monster. I pulled all my clothing out the night before, and prepared my bottles and ride food. Something about putting all my layers on for the first time in a month felt oddly calming. I had hated doing it all winter, but suddenly it felt natural. Almost meditative. I was relaxed as I carefully layered my arm/leg warmers, baselayer, jersey, vest, neck warmer and gloves. I set out with some mellow music and climbed in the early morning sun toward Pinos Altos. I think I felt a little more at home.

I did 3000 m of climbing, and put a few extra watts down on the climbs. Nothing major. I went just a little harder, but I wasn’t uncomfortable. I loved doing the ride on my own. I enjoyed the crisp, fresh air, and taking in the views.

This past week has been odd. While I’ve appreciated the time on my own, I’ve had some trouble with anxious and depressive moments. On some rides, I’ve gone from smiling like a goon, to near tears, to totally distracted and neutral, to sad and to happy all in the span of five minutes. I’ve had two nights of pure, inexplicable sadness, crying myself to sleep. It’s been a strange rollercoaster. It’s a little exhausting. I’ve determined that my anxiety is most often stemmed from things beyond my control. Today, for example, I am anticipating the arrival of my teammates. I’m anxious.

There’s a hierarchy on the team, much of it has to do with age. Much of it has to do with the longevity of your participation on the team. Much of it has to do with strength/results. The three kind of go hand in hand. This is essentially my first year, and I’m one of the younger guys without much to show for in the way of results. However, the shit-talking, or ‘hazing’ if you will, is less prominent with me. In fact, very little is said to my face. But there are negative things or complaints made about me when I’m not present. This leaves me guessing how serious the problems the guys have with me are. It makes me anxious. I think that on account of my blog and my openness with my mental health struggles, people don’t know how to act around me. I feel I’ve isolated myself a little.

 Jenna at the White Sands.

Jenna at the White Sands.

To be clear, I don’t want this to sound as though I’m bashing my team. This is an admission to my struggles with what is ‘normal’. Most people experience this sort of thing and it troubles them only as much as they allow it. Being anxious, issues that may seem small to others are a big deal to me. I’m doing my best to keep it under control. Apparently this is simply a part of sport. Albeit a part I dislike, but a part I must endure all the same. I’m aware of it, and I’m aware of my reactions. It does make me miss my friends though.

Aidan continues to be a massive support from a far. While he is going through his own struggles, he’s been there for the late-night, urgent phone calls to keep me company. I miss him a lot.

The Gila Monster is something to be respected. While I fear for the day I race over it, I appreciate its beauty and what it has and will teach me. From the first time, when I rode only one side appreciating how tired I’d be if I did both, to the second time, when I rode both sides on my own and loved it. I’ve got my own monsters inside of me all the time. They’re there, and sometimes I’ll have to ride over them. But like the Gila monster, sometimes I’ll respect and listen to what they’re telling me, and I’ll only tackle ‘one side’. No matter how hard the ride is, it will end. Every climb comes to an end. Every cloud eventually dissipates. Every struggle is temporary. My life will continue to be up and down.

I’m beginning to enjoy the ride.

Team Camp

What I hadn’t really considered before arriving at camp is that team camp, in a way, is the first competition of the year.

With 10 guys on the team, and only 7 man rosters at the UCI races, three will be left out at each race. That said, there’s a handful of riders on the team that, without a doubt, form the core group of our strongest riders. For them it’s a matter of showing our director, and the riders, who is strongest. It’s an exercise in gaining trust and loyalty from staff and team mates, so that we know who we can trust to pull off a result if we work for them during a race.

Of course, I don’t want to make it sound like a true competition. We’re a team and as we ride we’re pushing each other in order to be stronger together. It’s a ‘friendly’ competition. A necessary enforcement of the pecking order for the early season races, if you will.

On my way to camp I grew nervous about being unfit compared to the rest of the guys. We know that February didn’t end up being the most effective month for me in terms of training. Once I learned a little more about what camp would entail, I grew more anxious. My head was in the wrong place. I was stressed by outside stressors. The small things, such as negative attitudes expressed by team mates weren’t so small. I wanted to go home before it even began. I had no faith in my physical strength on account of my mental lack thereof, and had accepted defeat at the start.

 Repping my new team kit from Pearl Izumi. Photo by MA. 

Repping my new team kit from Pearl Izumi. Photo by MA. 

Camp started with a few easy days of spinning. My legs felt like shit the whole time. On our first hard ride, we raced up a short hill about an hour and a half into the ride. I was fifth over the top. Not a good start. Over the last half hour of the three hour ride, we formed a rolling paceline. Pretty soon the group was down to 6. A few of the six started skipping pulls. Everytime I pulled I said it would be my last one, but I kept pushing and taking my turn in the wind. I sprinted ahead at the top of the final roller. I needed that. I needed to see that I could ride with these guys. I gained a bit of confidence.

The following day we did a four hour ride with some leadout practice. I was offered some criticism, such as roll through steadier, and wait for the guy ahead of me in the train to pull off before pulling through (be patient). Important lessons. On the way home, I felt pretty tired, but as a similar rolling paceline scenario developed, I pushed again, eager to prove myself worthy of being with these guys.

I took a day of rest and my grandparents visited me from Phoenix. It was a delight to see them, and a lovely opportunity to go into town and be just me for a while. I sat in my favourite Tucson cafe after having lunch with them, and wrote a blog post. I met up with a friend and had a fun night of exploring old mines, driving through the desert, and flying kites out of the car.

Life started to feel pretty good. I had better legs than I’d expected, and time to improve, and I was also doing non-bike related things which instilled the balance I so desperately need. I felt genuine happiness away from home, and started searching for my ‘home within’ while focussing on only one day at a time.

A few days later we rode up Mount Lemmon. This was a test I was dreading a bit. As someone who is expected to be a descent climber, I put myself under pressure to perform. I woke up that morning feeling pretty rough, with a sore throat, stinging eyes and a headache.

 Content at a cafe on rest day. Photo by Luke Mudgway.

Content at a cafe on rest day. Photo by Luke Mudgway.

We hit the base of Lemmon and the pace Alexis set was ballistic. By mile 9 we were down to five riders. Shortly after it was just four of us left. Two of our stronger riders attacked. I chased hard over the next couple miles and caught back on. Not long after making contact I took another pull, only to be attacked by those two again. I got dropped and rode the rest of the way with JD, who caught me a few miles later.

I was disappointed with that ride. Not entirely, but certainly not pleased. It was a fun one, and we got the obligatory fudge at the top of the mountain, but I wished quietly that I had better legs.

We rode six hours the following day. I was dropped going up Madera Canyon and rode up alone. Not good. Three hours in I wanted to quit and told myself just to ride until 3.5 hours. I rode in half hour increments. At four hours I got behind our team car and drafted it for around 20 minutes. I didn’t want to get in so I stubbornly stayed on my bike in it’s slipstream. I got back into the group and suffered for another hour and a half. My 30 min increments turned to 15, then 5. Like I said in my previous post, I’ve tried to adopt a one day at a time mentality to avoid the anxiety caused by having such an unpredictable future. Sometimes though, you have to take it five minutes at a time. Five minutes got me through the six hour ride.

I made it through the entire six hours, having done 210 km and 2000 m of climbing. It stressed me out that it was such a struggle, but I was pleased that I made it.

A couple more days of short, easy rides followed before our final long day. I finally had decent legs on a couple of the short climbs that we raced over, which was refreshing. Still a long way to go, but I saw improvement over the first hard day just over a week prior.

 I wanted to take photos by this barn the whole camp. MA was keen. We'll get an H&R calendar going soon. 

I wanted to take photos by this barn the whole camp. MA was keen. We'll get an H&R calendar going soon. 

As camp neared its end my brain went a little fuzzy again. Anxiety returned and I allowed the attitudes of others to affect me more than they should have. I anticipated the stress of being uprooted again, having kind of settled in Tucson over the two weeks I was there. I moved to Silver City, New Mexico yesterday, and felt the same way I had when I left Victoria on my way to Tucson. I had friends, routine, a pool (such a luxury) and was genuinely comfortable in Tucson.

While it was hard to leave, today I can reflect on the positive parts of training camp, of which there were many. It was a pleasant surprise to feel happy while I was there. Considering how dark I had felt on my way down, I never would have imagined my mental health improving as rapidly and dramatically as it did, even if it was temporary. On to the next thing!

If you're interested, here are some links to a few of the bigger rides:

Mount Lemmon

Madera Canyon

Last Big Day

Lost in Vegas

“Overtime you learn that home is inside of you, not a place so much. And the people around do make it better, but there’s still a quiet comfort within.”

I wrote a post two Sundays ago as I sat and suffered in silence in a hotel room with my back to three members of my team.

I was writing to escape my thoughts. Although I had people with me, I was alone, and I was in my head. I needed to talk to someone but there was no one to talk to. It was probably my least filtered piece of published writing. It was a huge, necessary cry for help. And it worked. A surprising number of people wrote to me with genuine concern and care for my well being.  

I sat and cried for hours in the back stairwell  of the Cannery Hotel and Casino listening to the distant and depressing sounds of slot machines. I breathed the stale smell of cigarettes and beer. I was dreading the next two months on the road given the condition I was already in on day two. I felt trapped. Alone. Afraid. Likely the most afraid I’ve ever been. Afraid for my life; not for fear of dying, but for fear of living in constant pain. I didn’t want to live inside my own head.

 An immaculate road in Red Rock Canyon. 

An immaculate road in Red Rock Canyon. 

To the people who reached out- thank you. You have no idea how grateful I am. You sent positivity in my direction and it really helped to lift me. I’m not kidding. It was huge. Bigger than you know.

We set out for the drive from North Vancouver on Saturday around 6 am. We made our way to Twin Falls, Idaho the first night. I met my two driving companions around 5:30 that morning, and discovered that the two, fresh from France, spoke about as much English as I speak French (not much). It was a relatively quiet 15 hours in the van.

That night I shared a hotel room with my three French companions (Maxime, my director, is the third who drove the other vehicle). I wasn’t a part of most of the conversation. I got 10 minutes of wifi to say ‘hi’ to my English speaking friends (wifi was $3.99 so naturally I borrowed someone’s phone hotspot for a few minutes).

We set out at 6 the following morning aiming for Phoenix that evening. We were just over 100 miles North of Vegas when the van broke down. As the most fluent in English, I spent an hour playing phone tag with towing companies, garages and my team owner. Eventually I found us a tow to North Vegas, as nowhere closer had a shop that could do the necessary work.

 Waiting for another tow truck.

Waiting for another tow truck.

After three hours in Ash Springs, Nevada, we were on the road again, following our van and trailer which were on a flatbed. Six miles later, we were waiting for another tow truck - ours broke down. Another hour and a half on the side of the road meant that we arrived at our new hotel in North Vegas around 8. That night I broke down too.

The van breaking down didn’t cause me to break. I actually laughed about that situation. I didn’t really mind. I would have broken down that night no matter what. I was adjusting yet again to a new life. Over the tremendously disruptive previous month and a bit, I had created the beginning of a new life at home, and I wasn’t ready to leave my support network behind. I have yet to become close friends with my teammates, and at a time at which I need close friends, I felt very alone.

I spent the next three days exploring little bits of Vegas. The first day I rode to the strip and felt like a giddy kid as I laughed at my own excitement. It was so stimulating and exciting seeing the massive backdrop of so many movies and stories - a fantastic distraction. I went into Caesars Palace in full kit with my bike and helmet and sat down at a slot machine.

We returned that night to walk the strip and see it at its prime.

The next two days I spent riding to parks and sitting in coffee shops with Jason, our sprinter from France. He taught me to swear in French.

On Wednesday, we got a call about 10 minutes after I had paid the toll fee for Jason and I to ride through Red Rock Canyon. The van was ready to go and we had to drive to Tucson. We turned around just 4 miles into the 13 mile loop ($2.50 per mile goddamn), and rode to the van. We got in and drove to Tucson.

 Jason at Red Rock Canyon.

Jason at Red Rock Canyon.

We met with the team the following morning and a few of the guys weren't in good moods. The negativity was something for which I was ill prepared. Having been more afraid to get the season started than excited on the drive out, this threw me off. What was I getting into? I needed positive and supportive people around me. Otherwise small things hit me with great force.

Over the past week of being in Tucson, things have become better. More on that next week. But for now, a few realizations:

The stress of looking at 2 months on the road, followed by a couple weeks at home, followed by potentially another 6 months of unconfirmed plans on the road scares the shit out of me. The first 7 days of the trip I had a terribly anxious stomach. Never relaxed, always stressed, always at the verge of tears, and it manifests in my abdominal area. Every negative thing that happened, no matter how small, added to my stress. Slowly, I’ve been adapting to a one day at a time mentality. This is new to a guy who is notorious for having a set calendar and daily, weekly and monthly to-do lists.

 Somehwere in Oregon.

Somehwere in Oregon.

One day at a time, sometimes five minutes at time, is what will get me through. I’m learning how to live this way.

The second is the quote at the start of my blog. Talking to a friend about the loneliness of travel and the feeling of homesickness I have, she told me that home is a feeling within. To me, this was a profound statement. I’d never looked at it this way. To me, home has always been a feeling. As I had expressed in a column a couple months ago, home was a feeling I felt with my girlfriend. Without her, suddenly I felt I had no home. I went back to Victoria and spent time with friends, new and old, and developed a new sense of home. Leaving that, I missed it, and felt very homesick immediately. But this sudden notion that home is felt within blew me away. It made me smile.

I’m working on feeling at home within myself. No matter where I am, I can and should always be me. This year will be an exercise in learning about, learning to love, and learning to support me. Exciting times!

Relapse

I fucked up.

Since that fateful day where the girl I love witnessed my heart breaking in front of her eyes, in her house, I swore off of her.

I told her to block me on every platform of communication. I needed to be forced to be without contact. I couldn’t do it myself.

It was torture at first. Every night I would go downstairs and procrastinate crawling into bed. I dreaded the inevitable sobbing that went hand in hand with night-time’s sudden solitude. I dreaded the silence of the void that was once filled with sleepy, loving conversation.  I didn’t know how to sleep in my own bed without my right leg over her left and the fingers on my right hand delicitaly but safely intertwined with hers. I had never felt so alone.

She’s the one I would talk to about this.

I called her mom crying that Monday night. That was stupid. I felt pathetic.

But over the next two weeks I would grow at a rate faster than I knew possible. Friends made themselves available. And, like a broken record, I would regurgitate the same thoughts and feelings of pain every day. I knew I was exhausting to them, and I felt guilty for it. I’m tired of being the sad friend. Depression before, and depression now, but this time more intense and even harder to understand.

Breaking up with someone is fine. There’s no right way to do it. And one can’t be mad at another for ending a relationship that they aren’t happy with. But there are definitely wrong ways to do it, and wrong ways to go about treating your ex afterward. There was no need for me to hurt as much as do.

That said, I was doing better. It’s not a trend, but through the ups and downs I could see that the path I was on pointed slightly upward. I managed to win a race and that gave me a massive high. But when I returned to my new (temporary) normal a day or two after that high, that low was hard to swallow. I cried instead of riding on Tuesday morning.

If you’re accustomed to 5 degrees and rain, but go somewhere with 25 degree dry weather, when you return to the wet 5 degrees, it feels much colder than it did before. It was a shock to sink back to that low, and the low was lower than I recalled.

My mood improved and I had a good day on Wednesday and Thursday.  I was, for the most-part, no longer obsessing and worrying about what she might be up to, as I had been for a couple weeks now. I hadn’t tried to see anything about her since I had been at her house. Admittedly, I did start to type her website url a couple of times, but slammed my laptop shut before I could open it. So I was doing better, that is, until I received a letter from her in the mail. I had asked her to leave me alone, and suddenly I had this letter. I didn’t want to open it. I was scared of what would be inside. I read it. It upset me.

I left on Friday night for two months on the road of racing and training. I was afraid about whether or not I’d be ready to be alone. Two days in, my fears are more than justified. Fuck! Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

Saturday morning as we drove into Oregon I opened an old journal. Two postcards fell out. One was the one that I had written to her just 10 minutes before she texted me to tell me she wanted a break. “Hi Love! Spent today exploring with my camera! So grateful to you for teaching me to use and appreciate it, and for giving me one. I miss you a lot but am glad that we’ve been doing relatively well while apart. Can’t wait to see you! Love, Oli.” The irony. The brutal irony. Such an obnoxious indication of how uninformed I was. The opposite pages we were on. How unknowing I was. The other postcard was empty, I planned to write to her the next week.

I didn’t eat dinner last night.

I’m in Vegas now. I’m in a hotel room with three others. We aren’t close. I only met two of them yesterday. They’re speaking French. I don’t speak French. I’m sitting with my back to the room holding my breath. I’ll cry if I breathe. I can’t let them see me. I’m so fucking alone. Why am I so sad?

I didn’t have dinner tonight.

I typed in her website’s url and proceeded to her site. I read her blog posts. It brought me to her instagram too (from which I am blocked). I read and viewed all her updates. I saw how okay she is without me. How set in her decisions she is. I thought I would be okay, but that letter, my post card, her website, and me, alone.

I hope this goes away. I wish she had been kinder. I wish I saw it coming. I wish I was stronger. I wish I didn’t get that letter, or write her that postcard. I can’t bring myself to throw either out.

In learning to love myself, I’ve discovered that perhaps I still love her which makes me dislike myself more. This needs to change. I will change it. I need to love myself. I can’t love someone who doesn't care about me.

My back is still to the room. My head is bowed. I’m holding me breath. I’m crying.

Piecing it Back Together

I had my first race of the year on Sunday. On this weekend a year ago, I quit cycling.

As you may have gathered from my last post (Your Heart Still beats When it's Broken) my preparation for the race certainly wasn't ideal. I'll go back to where I left off in that post when I tried to do the Oak Bay ride.

By the time I got home Aidan had been done his ride for at least an hour. I reached to open our front door but before I could grab the handle, the door swung open, revealing Aidan. "Buddy! Where were you? Are you okay?" he asked in the most genuinely concerned tone I'd ever heard.

I tried to say I was okay, but shook my head instead and proceeded to try and pull my helmet off without undoing the strap. I fell to the floor and started to cry. We went outside, sat on the front step, and I punched the wooden siding of our house. I didn't know what to do to release what was inside of me.  My knuckles started to bleed.

 Aidan in Vancouver the day before the race. By me.

Aidan in Vancouver the day before the race. By me.

This was the lowest day yet. I decided that this would be the best day to go collect my clothes and other items from my ex’s place. No point in recovering from such a low point only to have another tough day when I finally saw her.

A visit that only needed to be a couple minutes turned to four hours. She told me she loved me. That fucked with me. I overstayed my welcome because I knew that when I left that would be it. After three hours I decided it was time to go. At the door I reached into my pocket to retrieve my keys. I took my key to her place off the ring, and handed it to her. Before she could grab it, I clasped my fingers around it and started to cry. This was it. I couldn't do it.

I fell to the floor yet again. I went dizzy. I couldn't think straight. I was having a massive panic attack. I cried and wailed. This lasted an hour. I finally left and went to my friend Whitney's house. I was afraid to be alone. I could barely drive the two kilometres.

She took me in for tea and let me lay down with my head on her lap. She talked to me and stroked my hair for hours until I fell asleep. I'm so grateful I had her that night.

I hadn’t had anything to eat or drink other than Whitney’s tea since before my ride. I had the nastiest headache from dehydration. I was exhausted. I couldn't stop shaking. Looking into my ex's eyes as I broke in front of her shook me. I felt terribly, terribly ill. All my strength was gone.

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On Sunday morning I lay in bed crying for 45 minutes before getting up. Then I decided that would be all the moping for the day. What was the point? I went for a walk with Aidan and Whitney, and sat at a cafe sipping tea. I did my best, but when I went downstairs that evening to sleep alone, which has been a major adjustment, I was reminded of my loneliness. I lay on my floor and cried. Race day was in two weeks.

The following Monday I decided to go for a ride. I had no motivation, and not really any will to do anything, but I knew that I needed to do something. Aidan and I went for a ride to the prison, just a 2.5 hour out and back route. As I rode, sometimes my thoughts would become too much. When it became too overwhelming, I would sprint as hard as I could for 10-30 seconds. This was my new wall punch.

On the way home, we turned onto a road we'd never done before. It was a dead end. We hopped on some super muddy single track, got lost, and spent 45 minutes riding and hiking through mud and streams before we found pavement again. Focussing on finding my way out of the forest was the first time I went five minutes without thinking about my ex. If finding a way out of the forest was a distraction, I determined that finding a way out of my slump would also be a good distraction.

 Solo. Photo by Tammy Brimner

Solo. Photo by Tammy Brimner

I came to another revelation as we spun home: the most comparable feeling I've felt to being both loved and in love is the feeling of being fit. This may sound shallow, but let me do my best to explain it. Being happily in love is so ridiculously simple at times. It's so satisfying, and fills you with such confidence and contentment. Similarly, being fit can feel (almost) equally as fantastic. You're on top of your game, you're doing things right, and you gain massive confidence in yourself. You’re doing you. The difference is that, to a much greater extent, one can control how fit they are. You can't control whether or not love is reciprocated. Being fit also helps me to love myself. I figured the healthiest thing to do would be to learn to love myself, and getting fit again would be an important part of that process.

I called my coach and said I wanted some structure. I would start doing intervals. I hadn't done those in over a year.

I started training for real that Tuesday. Nothing crazy. Just a bit of structure. Something to focus on. I continued to do intervals for the rest of the week. Intervals provided me with a few minutes each day to focus on something other than my broken heart. They were temporarily liberating. I even smiled as I rode.

On Saturday, Adam de Vos showed up to the Oak Bay Ride. I did my best to follow all of his moves. While I was nowhere near as strong as him, I was the closest to him. I attacked and followed him and made it to the end. That was a huge difference over the last weekend. I decided that I'd try to win the race in a week's time.

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I focussed even more last week, and rode harder. I took it easy on Friday and spent Saturday riding in the sun in Vancouver with Aidan and our friends Von and Amiel, visitting, sipping coffee and taking photos. Although I wished I was more fit, I decided I could still win the following day. I just had to race smart. On Saturday night I dreamt that I won.

Sunday's race was the the third race in the Escape Velocity Spring Series. It was the Snake RR. We did 11 laps of a 10 km circuit which featured a 700 m long climb that averaged 8 or 9 percent.

I attacked a km into the first lap as we went up the climb. No one followed. I had 20 or 30 seconds by the time we crested. I didn't want to be solo, but everyone thought it was too early to go so no one followed. I decided to commit and I rode the next 35 km on my own.

On the fourth lap I was caught by a group of five, and our breakaway eventually peaked at 8 riders. Over the next three laps, I set the pace over the climb and dropped a rider or two each lap until we were left with four.

Our gap steadily grew to 8 minutes. With three to go, I got a gnarly stitch in my ribs. I had to sit on the climb and ease off a little. It went away on the flat and I decided I would attack the second to last time up the climb, and then ride the final ~20 km solo. I stood up to accelerate on the climb and my stitch came back. It hurt so much that I had to sit down and control my breathing. Breathing too deeply hurt far too much, so I had to take short, shallow gasp-like breaths. I did my best to hide my pain, and stayed on the front over the climb.

 Watching my breakaway companions on the climb. Photo by John Denniston.

Watching my breakaway companions on the climb. Photo by John Denniston.

I didn't want to wait for the last time up the climb to attack, so on the flat with 15 to go I swung to the right side of the road and put in an attack. I got a small gap and rode as easily as I dared over the final climb to manage my stitch, and then rode steady on the flat.

I rolled in solo for the win.

Spring series aren't huge races. But this was my first win on the road since 2016. It was my first crack at a race this year. Two weeks previous I couldn't even finish a group ride. A year ago I thought I was done with cycling all together. I lost all confidence and belief in myself last month. For those reasons, this win was huge. It proves to me that I can do this. I can and will be okay.

Your Heart Still Beats When it's Broken

I’m not special. That’s something I learned this past month.

I had my heart broken - destroyed - by a girl I still love (loved?). I was totally blindsided. Even now, more than a month later, I can’t recall anything that would have suggested this was coming.

It was the most real, most intense pain I’ve ever experienced. My world flipped upside down. I couldn’t function. I didn’t want to. I gave her my heart and she left with it. On several occasions during the first week I cried in the shower until I puked. I lay on the bathroom floor screaming, crying, kicking, calling for help in a house occupied only by me and my sadness. I whimpered ‘owe, owe, owe’ as I lay on the floor gasping for air. It felt as though I was suffocating. My lungs had collapsed. No one would know this pain. There’s no way anyone has hurt this intensely and managed to get over it, I thought. There would be no escape. I may as well be dead.

I started calling people. It was the only thing I could think of. I was living alone in a different city and I needed help. I needed company. I would spend hours and hours on the phone with people I hadn’t spoken to in months. And what I learned is that everyone can relate. Everyone has been in a relationship that ended. Most everyone has had their heart broken. Many people have cried about it. Many people thought it was the end of the world when it first happened to them. Eventually, they moved on. I’m not special. Apparently, this is life.

 A photo I took on a ride last week.

A photo I took on a ride last week.

When it first happened, I wanted to go home. But, as I had written about in my column that same day (prior to being dumped) home to me isn’t a place in particular. Home to me is a feeling, the feeling I get when I’m with her. Well, at least it was. I lost my sense of belonging. Suddenly I felt as though I didn’t have a home to return to. I was completely and utterly lost. The person I would talk to about pain like this no longer wanted to talk to me.

I decided to tough it out. It seemed noble; necessary. I had to prove to myself that I could get through this alone. I needed to be able to live alone. I was there to train and I couldn’t allow this to affect the one thing I felt I still had.

I took two days off. I slept from 3 AM to 5 AM the first night. I mostly laid wide awake in bed with my mind and heart racing. I didn’t leave the house until early evening the following day when I finally forced myself to go outside for a short ride. I knew I needed to do something. I sat under a bridge for an hour waiting for the 7,000 bats that live under it to emerge at dusk. After waiting for close to an hour, I started to hear one squeak. You can’t see them when they’re sleeping in the concrete crevices on the underside of the bridge. But you know they’re there on account of the unmistakable smell of bat shit.

So I sat and waited, surrounded by shit. It seemed fitting. I had nothing better to do. The most eager bat eventually emerged and flew around. Then another followed, and another. I wished I could have a night with wings. I wanted to escape.

 Aidan has been a huge support this past month. 

Aidan has been a huge support this past month. 

After two days of doing next to nothing I finally convinced myself to ride. It was raining, but I set out armed with a podcast. Despite the audio distraction, my mind was still totally consumed by my ex. I tried riding hard to forget about it. I counted on the physical pain of the exertion to numb the pain in my chest, stomach and head. But the effort served only to force me to succumb to my vulnerability, and I cried and gasped as I rode. I got home and did nothing. The following day it was absolutely pouring rain. I had to get out though, so I went and rode. Thirty km into my ride my steerer tube broke on my bike and I was forced to slowly ride home with the risk of having my handlebars fall off.  

I didn’t have a bike to ride the next day. No distractions.

I returned to the shootout that Saturday morning. I was tired as I had, had less than 20 hours of sleep that week. But I knew I needed to get out. I decided that the best way forward would be to focus the energy I was investing into being sad into something positive.

Once the pace picked up, instead of sitting in the pack as I had for the last two weeks, I went to the front. I didn't want to play it safe and take it easy to ensure I wouldn’t get dropped. I wanted to ride my bike for real and risk getting dropped. I bridged to a small chase group which included Alexey Vermeulen, Conor O’Brien and Alec Cowan. We rolled at a decent tempo following a small break of three. We gained but didn’t make the catch, and I rolled over Sprint Hill behind Alec for fifth.

The ride continued to Madera Canyon and I managed to crest the hill in third, following Alexey and Nick Zuckowski. I rode an extra 40 km after the ride ended to make it a 6 hour, 200 km day. This was the strongest I had felt all year, and I had managed to somehow push through all the negativity consuming my mind.

 It snowed the night I got home. The next day was the sunniest day of the winter. Photo by Aidan.

It snowed the night I got home. The next day was the sunniest day of the winter. Photo by Aidan.

After that ride I had it in my head that I could do this. I could be okay. I would recover. It would be tough, but I was on the mend! Although I didn’t want to, I realised that I could live without my best friend. I would stay in Tucson and train harder than I ever had. But on the following Monday I discovered that my ex had met someone. It fucking killed me. The pain was worse than being dumped. I called my friend Danick and he told me to go home. I booked a flight the next day. It was the right move.

I landed around midnight and walked with my roommate, Aidan, from 2-3AM. I was asleep around 3:30 but up again before 7. I couldn’t escape my thoughts - not even at night. I dreamt about her too, and I had been for the three weeks before that. Although she had only officially dumped me a week and a half prior to my return. She had told me she wanted a break a week before that. I clung on to false hope during the ‘break’ and although I was anxious and very sad, being dumped was a massive catalyst and that’s when things really got bad.

I tried to go for the Oak Bay ride that Saturday, but I couldn’t get her out of my head. Once the pace picked up, I succumbed again to my emotional vulnerability, unable to push myself physically. I rode slowly home on my own, crying. I was exhausted, broken, hurt, confused, curious, angry and jealous. I couldn’t focus on riding.

 Aidan wasn't a huge fan of the all the rides I've been taking him on...

Aidan wasn't a huge fan of the all the rides I've been taking him on...

I hesitated to publish this. I wrote it a while ago, and left out details. My intention is not to tarnish opinions of my ex girlfriend. I respect her, and am grateful for the times we shared. For a long time she was the most important person in my life. I won’t deny that.

This post is jumbled. It’s poorly written and skips details and could go on forever. There’s so much. But I’m publishing it because I stopped writing again, as this is what I wanted to write about. My blog is my outlet. It’s how I deal with my shit. And I pride myself in the honesty of my blog. My blog is intended for ‘detailed accounts of my life on and off the bike’. February was meant to be a totally focussed month of riding, but it really went to shit. This is real life. And real life has taken a massive toll on my mental health, and as a result, has affected my riding.

I’ve learned a few things throughout this process:

-Your heart still beats when it’s broken. Although I can’t push myself physically, I can still ride. My heart still works. I’ve got to do what I can and not give up entirely.

-If it takes energy to dislike someone, that’s energy wasted. I forgive her. I started to hate her. My love turned to hatred rapidly. I don’t think the two feelings are mutually exclusive though, and perhaps hatred is just angry love, as it’s such a passionate dislike. I determined that the energy required to hate the one I love based on principle may as well be spent on forgiveness. I don’t talk to her anymore, but I won’t hold a grudge.

-Don’t rush recovery. Pain is part of the process. When I learned that she had met someone, I thought I needed to as well. I didn't want to, but I met a girl from Tinder in Tucson. That was all kinds of weird and left me feeling more alone than I had before (We went for a walk that’s all). It’s also fucking hilarious and probably the saddest experience of my life. But pain is part of the process, and I quickly learned that I have to feel it. I can’t fill the void she left behind to distract myself from what I’m feeling.

I left Tucson to allow myself to go home, mourn and feel support from my friends. I didn’t want to push it aside and then come home, see her, and start over. I needed to allow myself to go through the process and start to recover instead of push it aside. I don’t want to feel this later on.

There’s a massive void to fill. She was my life off the bike. She was my balance. She was my home. She was what made me feel grounded, or homesick or loved. I’ve been socializing more than I ever have before since getting home, and while it’s incredibly difficult to do it, it’s what I need to do. Not to fill the void, but to avoid alienating myself.

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-Progress is progress. Five minutes without thinking about it is rare still. But I congratulate myself everytime I notice that I focused on something else for five minutes.

-Similar to concussions, I think depression might compound. While something chemical leaves me with an underlying sadness most of the time, this intense sadness due to circumstance has added to it. That being said, my depression and anxiety don’t have shit on heartbreak, so I’m looking forward to getting over this and having my regular struggles put into a whole new perspective.

-Curiosity is shit. There are some things I’d have been better off not knowing. Some questions aren’t worth asking.

The only way to view this experience is as an opportunity. I now have the opportunity to travel to races guilt-free. I have the opportunity to spend time with myself and with others. I get to develop a better relationship with myself, and learn to be more independent. There are positives to be found in this new chapter of my life. As hard as this is, I’ve decided to look forward to learning about me, and learning to love me.

Life in the Desert

Finally, some sun! Thirty-eight hours and forty minutes of it to be exact. That’s 1,148 km and 10,000 m of climbing.

While I realise these numbers aren’t actually super impressive, each hour is a personal victory, every ride is an accomplishment, and every metre climbed is a step in the right direction.

This time last year, I was in Oxnard, Ca. It rained everyday, I hated my life, the last thing I wanted to do was ride, and my downward spiral was accelerating. I ignored my mental health and pushed myself to ride longer, further and harder. I made myself suffer on the bike perhaps as punishment for suffering off of it. This lead me to the incorrect conclusion that riding was my trigger, and that cycling caused my depression. I quit cycling when I got home.

 Apparently this place (Francisco's) has really good burritos. I'll go soon. 

Apparently this place (Francisco's) has really good burritos. I'll go soon. 

Something I’ve slowly been accepting is that I’m often sad for no real reason. While negative events will of course contribute to this sadness, the cause is buried deeper than in my experiences. By allowing myself to consider that it isn’t necessarily caused by one thing in particular, I can explore things more freely and risk having them go wrong, instead of not doing something out of fear that a negative outcome will trigger sadness. Riding in the rain, for example, or getting dropped, don’t necessarily have to lead to misery. Accepting that things can go wrong, and likely will, has allowed me to explore more things that bring me joy, and find that positive outcomes can often result from negative experiences.

The reason I’m saying this is that although this year it’s sunny and I’m enjoying riding much more thoroughly than this time last year, I’m still sad. I’m sad off the bike, not while riding, whereas last year I was sad 24/7, and blamed it on the bike and the lack of sun.

The few times that I’ve lived on my own have been difficult. It’s lonely, quiet and often boring. There’s no one to talk to when I’m sad, and as a result, I focus more on how sad I am than I would if there were others around. I don’t find the same level of joy in tasks such as cooking for myself as I would cooking for and with others. In an effort to curb the lack of motivation and energy living alone presents me with, I’ve done my best to make certain adjustments.

 I started today's rest day with a trip to the Botanical Gardens.

I started today's rest day with a trip to the Botanical Gardens.

I listen to upbeat music essentially every second that I’m home. I don’t like the silence of an empty house, so the music helps me feel less alone, but also gets me excited. It’s been one of the best sources of inspiration to get on my bike in the morning.

I’ve also been doing my best to get out of the house. Now that I have my blog and column, unlike this time last year, I actually have something to do other than ride. On rest days, I head out on my bike in normal clothes, slowly spin to a cafe, and sit there for hours sipping coffee, eating a cookie, and writing.

My camera is also a new addition to my self-prescribed depression-fighting arsenal. It motivates me to go on little walks and find something interesting. Walks are always recommended by everyone when it comes to being sad, but it’s especially hard to go for one when you have no one to go with. I’m regretfully not a very creative person, so the lens has certainly provided me with a new, slightly creative perspective.

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Now, a little more about the riding…

As far as I knew before arriving, Tucson is famous in the cycling world for three things: Mount Lemmon, the Shootout, and good weather. I’ve experienced all three in my first week and a half.

Mount Lemmon is a 35 km climb with an average gradient of 5% and an elevation gain of around 1600 m. The long, steady climb provides the ideal road for intervals, or just a steady ride. The climb takes you through several ecozones, including: Sonoran desert at the base, oak forest near the middle, and pine forest at the top. It’s a beautiful climb, offering stunning views, and the air near the top is crisp, fresh, and a pleasure to inhale (even if you notice the slight lack of oxygen).

So far this trip I’ve only climbed a maximum of 27 km of Lemmon, as I was tired and getting cold on my ascent, and still have several weeks to get to the top. The descent is a blast as well, but requires effort as the gradient is too shallow to provide a satisfying speed if you just coast. It’s pretty neat to ride a climb that so many pros have used for training over many winters.

 Following Conor (left) and MA up Mount Lemmon.

Following Conor (left) and MA up Mount Lemmon.

The shootout is a weekly affair. On Saturday mornings I’ve found myself in a group of ~150 riders, from weekend warriors to ex-pros to current pros and every kind of rider in between. It starts with a neutral ride out of town, but once you pass the last stop sign, the flag drops and attacks fly. Riders on triathlon bikes will attack in their aero bars, Travis McCabe of UHC will counter, and for the next 30 or so km the pace will fluctuate as riders respond to or initiate attacks. The peloton forgets the notion that riding two-up is pushing it on open roads, and we’ll ride from the sand to the yellow-line, six riders across.

The race ends on Sprint Hill, where riders who left in an earlier more leisurely ride will be waiting at the top to film the sprint on their cell-phones and cheer on their favourites as we sprint to the top. It’s hilarious - there’s a crowd awaiting the finish of a group ride.

 Mile 9 of Lemmon. Tourist, MA, Conor, Gabi, Alec, and Tim (left to right)

Mile 9 of Lemmon. Tourist, MA, Conor, Gabi, Alec, and Tim (left to right)

After the sprint we regroup before dividing as some riders head further south to ride up Madera Canyon for a 170 km ride, and others turn home for a 110 km ride. My first time on the shootout I did the long-loop, ignorant to the fact that I had chosen a long loop, and held on for my first 5+ hour ride of the year. This weekend, however, I was tired after a particularly depressive night without sleep, and opted for the short loop despite planning for the long one.

My shortened ride, which I at first considered to be a negative event, had an especially positive outcome. I rode 150 km, felt good at the end of the ride in contrast to how terrible I felt at the start, and exceeded my altered expectations of what I’d be able to accomplish that day. This was a solid example of my new-found notion that a negative event can produce positive results.

It’s been a lonely time so far, but the riding and weather have been solid. It’s nice to have some space to myself before the season starts, and the balance created through writing and walking has definitely helped. I’m looking forward to the next couple weeks of riding, and then some time at home before the season gets underway!

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No Thru Road

I’m currently sitting in the Seattle airport on my way to Arizona again for a month of training. I figured I’d take the opportunity during my layover to reflect on 2018 thus far.

A month ago I wrote a very real post about how depressed I was. For all I knew, I was commencing on a similar trajectory as I had this time last year. I was depressed and afraid.

The night I got home from Arizona in December I cried myself to sleep. I was reliving memories of last January. The following morning I went to work and upon being asked how I was doing by my boss, I opened my mouth to respond with the reflexive ‘I’m well,’ but started crying instead. It was too bad to even fake being okay. I was a mess. The emotions had amassed so quickly. There was no escaping, it seemed. I was again subject to a tortuous state of constant sadness, stress and panic.

 Our soggy first ride. Photo by  Aidan.

Our soggy first ride. Photo by Aidan.

I emailed my counsellor that day and told my parents and Bryanna how I was feeling, and even made a post on Instagram saying that I could really use some love. I wasn’t about to do this alone. I didn’t think I could win, but I would fight it. I wasn’t ashamed to cry for help.

Three days after getting home, my friend Aidan arrived from Calgary. He was moving in with me. That day it was five degrees, absolutely pouring rain, there was a wind warning and it was so overcast that the street lights had to stay on throughout the day. Nevertheless, Aidan was keen to get out and ride so he built his bike shortly after arriving with the intention of going for a ride with me. He asked me to join and I said no. I wasn’t feeling at all ambivalent; I had absolutely no desire to ride. But, I didn’t want him to ride alone. After all, I had invited him to move in and ride with me.

We put on all our clothing, grabbed lights, and set out without a plan. A kilometre from the house we were drenched. My forehead was frozen from the short descent from my house to the waterfront. I couldn’t help but laugh at the ridiculous conditions. We rode along the water and I showed him some of my favourite little roads and dirt connectors within the city. We would turn when we felt like it and once we were properly cold, we headed home. It was dark when we arrived two hours later.

 We rode (and hiked) some pretty rough trails to get here. Photo by Aidan.

We rode (and hiked) some pretty rough trails to get here. Photo by Aidan.

I loved it. I was frozen, but I loved it. We decided we would do the Oak Bay ride the following morning. I was very depressed and the weather was shit - inauspicious conditions to start training again - but somehow, I was suddenly motivated.

January became the month of adventure. I realised that being depressed doesn’t mean that I can’t ride or enjoy riding. I decided not to ‘train’ but to ride when I felt like it and ride how we did the day Aidan arrived, with loose to no plans, and a sense of adventure. I told my coach not to give me any plans for the month, and instead of fighting my sadness I worked with it. I removed all pressure or expectation. I had no weekly goals in terms of hours, and pushed the idea of doing intervals out the window.

 Another Sunday adventure. Photo by  Aidan .

Another Sunday adventure. Photo by Aidan.

We would head out for a ride and return four hours later, sometimes having only actually ridden for two and a half. The routes we chose always included dirt or gravel sections (we were on road bikes), which were sometimes so steep we’d have to walk. Often we would stop to look at maps to figure out where we were and whether there was any hope of cutting through the forest to get to the next road. A ‘No Thru Road’ sign became an open invitation to make it a thru road. ‘No Exit’ signs were challenges. We always accepted and rode to the end, riding up driveways in search of trails or old fire roads. Sometimes the signs were true, but often they weren’t, and we would be rewarded with trails that took us through creeks, past placid lakes, and to roads I’d never seen before.

There would also be a point on every ride at which we’d just stop and chat next to a stream or the ocean, sometimes for half an hour. One day we set out for a ride, really weren’t feeling it, and sat atop Beacon Hill listening to music and joking around. Eventually we bombed down the grass to Dallas road and sprinted each other home. Not sure how long we sat there, but we had been gone two hours when we got home despite having only ridden 15 or so km.

 One of our Sunday adventures. Photo by Bryanna.

One of our Sunday adventures. Photo by Bryanna.

Saturdays were reserved for the Oak Bay ride, and Sundays were reserved for adventures by foot with Bryanna and Aidan.

I’m extraordinarily grateful that Aidan moved to Victoria when he did. I spent three days wondering what the hell I would do between getting home and his arrival. Last year depression meant I couldn’t ride, couldn’t spend time with friends, and could rarely even leave the house. When it hit as hard as it did after Christmas, I thought it would be the same. I thought I’d become incapable, weighed down by the same cumbersome emotions. But all I needed was somebody willing to do things the way I wanted alongside me. My approach to riding isn’t exactly text-book, so it takes a certain kind of rider to be stoked to follow the ‘Oli training plan,’ but it doesn’t work if it’s just me, as I’ve learned the hard way that I really can’t do this alone.

My depression could perhaps be analogous to a ‘No Thru Road’. It presents constant problems-constant reasons not to continue- but pushing through and exploring my depression’s limitations has taught me that it can be flexible at times, as long as I’m willing to bend with it. And for the most part, exploration is rewarding.

 Yesterday was Bryanna's birthday. A good last adventure before heading south. 

Yesterday was Bryanna's birthday. A good last adventure before heading south. 

Hard to Explain

I’m finding that this past month has been alarmingly similar to last year in terms of my mental health. Despite the different efforts and necessary changes that I’ve made in an attempt to prevent a similarly torturous next few months, the road down which I’m staring is dark, downhill, and seemingly endless.

I started this blog as an outlet; not only for me to make note of my struggles and hopefully learn from them, but for others to read and hopefully find some sort of meaning as well. However, out of fear of redundancy, I sometimes hesitate to write what it is I’m going through. The reality, though, is that perhaps depression is redundant. So here we go.

It started again when I tried to get back on the bike after taking a break but couldn’t gain momentum. It was colder than it had been before my rest, there would be no competition until March of next year, I was now unfit, and, quite simply, I was sad.

 View from Pass Mountain hike in Usery Park, Arizona.

View from Pass Mountain hike in Usery Park, Arizona.

You see, the most frustrating part of all of this is that I want to ride. I want to race. I want to be fit, get stronger, and get faster, lighter and better. I want to train. I want to want to train. I can make a plan to train, but I can’t follow through. It is so difficult for me to enjoy riding when I’m unfit and when it’s cold and the conditions are dangerous, with limited visibility, wet roads and even ice.

I knew what I needed to do to make it through this winter last December, when I would lay on my bedroom floor crying instead of riding. I wanted to go to Australia. Really, I wanted to go to where it would be summer. I made a vow that this winter I would wind up there, living in a small apartment with Bryanna, and racing and training in the sun. Maybe I’d work at a cafe some days, and other days I would spend time on the beach. I’d take photos, write, and enjoy riding. I’d also be fast come the start of the season.

 Wasn't quite warm enough in AZ. to be without a robe by the pool haha.

Wasn't quite warm enough in AZ. to be without a robe by the pool haha.

At the end of this season though, I had bills, namely the bill for Canada Games and the remainder of my Team Manitoba coaching fees despite no longer being coached by the Manitoba coach, and no money. I planned to race cross, and work at a cafe to earn a bit of money through autumn, and then I’d head somewhere warm in the New Year (Australia!).

One of my greatest sources of stress is money. Even if I have it, I absolutely hate spending it. The uncertainty of when I’ll earn it back, or if what I’ve earned will be enough to get me through the season (likely 8 months without income) kills me. Purchasing bulk trail mix while on the road is enough to make me sweat, while grocery bills have made me cry (California last year). It’s pathetic, but true. The other massive struggle for me is being alone. Loneliness dominated me last year in California as well. I hesitate to go somewhere warm on my own because I know Bryanna won’t be there, and in my fragility, being alone isn’t good.

Due to this financial/mental instability, I feel trapped. I did what I could to make Victoria work by racing cross, sucking it up and purchasing expensive but warm clothes and devoting a bike as my noble winter steed. But between Nov 18th and December 20th I only rode a handful of times. I crashed twice in only a few rides. I ripped my new and expensive winter clothes. Just getting out for a ride was a gargantuan task in itself, and completing a ride would have been an even bigger accomplishment. However long I’d spend in the saddle, the entire time I would be in my head. The ultimate question: Is it worth it to suffer like this day in and day out, every winter, until cycling is no longer a viable option? How will I ever make it if I can’t ride during the off season?

I’m positive that if I can figure out how to make winter work, it will be worth it, as the sample I had of racing this year certainly alluded to.

 Trying to look strong on my last ride.

Trying to look strong on my last ride.

I won’t make it through this winter unless I go somewhere. Australia is most ideal, as the conditions there, I know, are what my dreams are made of i.e.: hot, sunny, dry, hilly, ocean nearby, races, group rides, and cool accents. It’s also, quite simply, somewhere I’ve always wanted my bike to take me. I think the reality is that perhaps I need to be the one to take my bike there. Option two is Girona, Spain, but both are dreams. I just spent 5 days in Arizona, and while the weather was ideal, the riding doesn’t quite suit me. I think that riding needs to be as stimulating as possible for me, otherwise my mind goes into ‘self-deprecate’ mode.

I’ve identified what I need to do, but I’m holding myself back. How the fuck can I afford it? How do others afford it? How can I get Bryanna to go with me even if it’s just for the first week? Just like the training paradox in which I find myself, I know what I need/want, but I can’t bring myself to it.

Sometimes I think depression means: a state of being trapped within a made-up box which one can think outside of, but cannot step outside.

 We only got lost once or twice in the desert.

We only got lost once or twice in the desert.

While in Arizona this past week I found that I had just enough motivation to get outside, which I attribute to the sunshine, my training partner, the lack of rain and ice, and the fact that I could ride with bare legs. I still struggled to get outside though, and some days I probably wouldn’t have ridden had it not been for my friend Mohammed.

Today, as I descended into the grey of Vancouver at the end of a three hour flight in the sunshine, I felt the weight of the clouds through which we sunk apply itself directly onto my chest. My heart and stomach sunk with the plane. Layers and layers of grey suddenly surrounded me and I could no longer read the words on the pages of ‘Cycling’ magazine as the light disappeared. I noticed the indistinct beginnings and endings of each layer, impossible to differentiate between one or the other- a massive, literal grey area, into which I am returning, with a desire to escape but no plan.