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.


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.


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.


-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.


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!


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.

We'll See

I always have trouble getting started after a break. Always. Just as I feared I would last month when I pushed for too long without rest, I’m really struggling to train again.

Bryanna moved out while I was off the bike. This had always been the plan. As much as we would love to have our own place together, the reality is that I simply cannot afford to pay rent if I’m away racing most of the year. I’m very fortunate to be able to stay at my dad’s place when I’m not away racing, and for the past year, Bryanna was staying there with me.  Living with roommates and in your partner’s dad’s place is definitely tough though, and I absolutely support her move. It’s certainly positive for her mental health which is of utmost importance.  

For me though, it’s not that great. Not yet anyways. Living apart from your person after being with them for so long is hard. I think it’s even harder knowing that she’s nearby, as opposed to being at least a few provinces over when we’re apart during the race season. I still see her every day, but I’m always lonely at night. Night is usually when I suffer, and it’s hard to suffer alone.

 A shot by Bryanna of her new home. I love it.

A shot by Bryanna of her new home. I love it.

The first night at home without her I went down to brush my teeth before bed. I sat there; surprised that one could feel lonely while brushing their teeth; an activity Bryanna and I always do together. Later I lay in bed, unaccustomed to the silence of having no one to talk to in the dark before falling asleep. Fig (our cat) is with her too.

Now, it’s not all bad. I love her place and I stay there some nights. I’m honestly very proud of her and her home, and seeing her so happy is heart-warming. I know it’s a little tough for her at times too. This would be easier for me if I wasn’t already feeling blue.

Bryanna’s move has been tough for me, which hasn’t helped my already unmotivated and down state. I find myself in a similar position to this time last year.

I want to ride. That’s what troubles me. But I don’t want to be cold or wet on the bike. It’s more than that though. It’s like writer’s block but for cycling. I know what I want to do and what I need to do in order to do what I want, but for whatever reason, there’s something that won’t allow me to enjoy it.

 Me at Bryanna's when we finished building all the furniture.

Me at Bryanna's when we finished building all the furniture.

Sunday was my first ride since my little rest period. The plan was originally to start on Monday, but I was dreading it due to how busy Mondays are for me. I have a shift from 6:30-10:30 at a yoga studio, then work from 3-8:30. I know there’s a long break in between, but it’s such a long day that Monday was a daunting first day back, if that makes sense. So I decided on Saturday that I’d just start a day early instead, so that the pressure to ride on Monday wouldn’t be so heavy.

I kind of figured that, by changing my plan, I’d be curbing the whole ‘first day back’ stress that always bothers me. But on Sunday I rolled out and wasn’t keen. I was already questioning whether this was the right move as I rode the 10 minutes to meet my fellow riders. Maybe I need more time off. But if I take more time off I’ll lose more fitness. Why is winter always so tough? How can I do this? How can I get through winter this year? Why don’t I want to ride?

When I met up with the rest of the group and we made a plan, my main concern was how long it would be until I was home. We set off and less than a minute later Emile was on the ground with a broken arm after hitting a pole on the bike path. We waited for him to get a lift to the hospital before continuing on.

I spent the next 2.5 hours in my head repeating the same questions to myself. The longer I rode the more I questioned things. What’s most frustrating about all of this is that everything was fine. It wasn’t too cold. It was dry. It was a little sunny. I wasn’t slow. But for whatever reason I couldn’t do anything but beat myself up.

 Alec on Sunday. Photo by yours truly.

Alec on Sunday. Photo by yours truly.

I didn’t ride again until this morning. I didn’t want to. Of course, today, I crashed. It wasn’t bad; I just slipped on some ice. But my chain jammed itself between my chainring and bottom bracket and I couldn’t get it out. I resorted to calling Bryanna’s colleague for a ride home and waiting in a market. I was super angry to have ripped my brand new winter tights which I had dropped a fair amount of money on this fall, and even more frustrated that I had finally been strong enough to go out and ride, only for the ride to be cut short by yet another fall.

I’ve sort of come to realize that winter is winter. Whether it’s raining or not, my mind suffers. I’m sad more often at this time of year. My motivation takes the brunt of winter’s force. I’m trying to figure out how to manage it - how to fight my brain’s natural tendencies in a healthy way. I know what I want to do but for some reason it’s more than just doing what I want. Cycling isn’t the only part of my life that winter affects either. I have less motivation to go to work, less confidence, less motivation to cook or clean and really just less motivation to make any effort whatsoever.

Perhaps the right word is energy. I don’t have the energy.

I’m not feeling extreme sadness like I did last year. I’m mainly neutral, I would say. I’m doing my best to do what I can to be mentally healthy, including yoga, walks, taking photos, sitting in coffee shops and spending time with Bryanna. I’m doing more in terms of prevention with an acute awareness of what route I do not want to follow. However, it seems this is a state of being which I need to live with.

I’m working toward functioning as highly as possible through my winter blues, if you will. I’m going to be strong come spring. I’m determined. This won’t consume me. Not again. I’m working with my mind and not against or in denial of it.

We’ll see how it goes.

 My bike. Bryanna's door. My photo.

My bike. Bryanna's door. My photo.

Up then Down: A Rookie Mistake

I made a bit of a rookie mistake this ‘cross season.  I went too long without a break, and ended up too tired to race or train properly. Ultimately, I ruined my chance at a decent result at the last race of the year, and ended on a bit of a low note.

As I mentioned in my first post about ‘cross, I wasn’t expecting much when I lined up for my first race in September. I figured I’d be racing for top 20-maybe top 10. However, after taking a convincing lead in the first race and riding toward a win before flatting, I came to realize that I was super fit, and could win some races. I went on to win the next two.

Winning races puts a certain level of pressure on you. People (including you) expect to see you win, and suddenly anything other than first is no good to you.  The most pressure comes from within. The bar is raised after a win, and the pressure is increased along with that bar’s adjustment.

 One of many crashes in this spot. Photo by  Brianna Brandon .

One of many crashes in this spot. Photo by Brianna Brandon.

Once the rain came, I finished second at the first muddy race of the season. I rode terribly and crashed several times a lap. I wasn’t tired at the end though; I simply couldn’t push myself as hard as I wanted to because my skills couldn’t match the pace I wanted to set, hence the crashing.

After that race, I lost my interest in cross races. I was 7-8 weeks into a long block of training, and hadn’t had much rest since Canada Games. Naturally, it was about time to take a few days off, but I didn’t want to.

 Photo by my Bryanna from a dry one. 

Photo by my Bryanna from a dry one. 

I wanted to push until ‘cross was finished. There were a few reasons for this.

First and foremost, I wanted to postpone my break until racing was done so that I could take my time off during bad weather. The later I rested, the better the likelihood that I would be resting during consistently bad weather when my motivation would be lacking anyways. This would take a week or two away from the struggle to train without any motivation. I also didn’t want to miss any races. I had a shot at winning the overall Cross on the Rock series. I wanted to win. I wanted at least something to put on my CV from this season that said 1st. I know it’s local cross, and in the grand scheme of things people won’t make too much of a fuss over that sort of result, but next to all my 55ths from this season, it would’ve at least been something.

Something else that worried me was a ‘what if?’ What if like last year I took a break, and didn’t want to get going again? I was going well and was relatively motivated to ride, but if I took my time off, it might be hard to start training again. With shitty weather and no races in the near future, at a time of year where I’m down and have very little motivation, what if I had a repeat of last year? So I kept riding, afraid to lose the fitness that I hadn’t had in a long time, and afraid that if I stopped I wouldn’t be able to start again. I wasn’t questioning whether or not I wanted to ride, but I wasn’t trusting of my future mental health.

I was losing motivation for cross though. As the races started to favour mountain bikers more and more, the weather got much colder, and I wasn’t as fast as I had been a month or two prior. After finishing second at the first muddy race, I was bruised and sore all over. I crashed and nailed my tailbone the following Wednesday on a cross ride which hurt for weeks after. The next Saturday I crashed again on a training ride on the road, and managed to increase the amount of bruising and rid myself of some skin.

 By the time we had a double header near Victoria, I didn’t want to be there. I was really sore, super tired, and had no capacity to handle the cold or interest in taking on more bruises or reopening healing wounds.  It snowed on the first day, and I flatted both days when I was fighting for podium positions. On Sunday morning I was virtual leader of the entire series, despite my flat the day before, but I flatted again and finished 18th, which put me down to a provisional fourth overall.

 Riding ahead of Raph who won the series! Well deserved!

Riding ahead of Raph who won the series! Well deserved!

I barely rode during the week after. I was pretty done with cross at this point. I had a lot of fatigue built up and all my confidence had disappeared. My fitness from September could no longer compete with my fatigue. I wanted to take a break right then, but decided that I wasn’t ready. I wanted to win the series and end my season on a high note. I got a bit motivated and made a plan. I trained a bit for the next week and tried my best to recover. I didn’t touch my cross bike until the day before the race.

We drove up to Nanaimo the morning of and I knew it was a mistake.  I should’ve dropped it and taken a break. I was so tired that morning even though I’d only ridden four hours in the past week. I drove up with Bryanna, and the only thing on my mind was my excitement to have a rest period beginning that night. I couldn’t wait to throw my bike in the van after the race and drive home, leaving cross behind me and having the chance to ignore my bike guilt-free for a while.

I lined up to start but my mind didn’t - it was already in rest week. Or maybe it was simply too exhausted to be present. Either way, I didn’t hear the start siren, I just responded to the racers accelerating away from me.  I followed.

My lines were sloppy and my legs were empty. My elbows stayed in line with my shoulders and wrists, too tired to fight for my position. I passed a few riders only to crash and have even more pass me. I rode (didn’t race) three laps and moved up to eighth. Half way into the first lap I wanted to go home. I gave up on racing on the second lap. By the third lap I couldn’t wait to ride past Bryanna and turn off the course. I coasted onto the fourth lap and turned as soon as I found her. I sprayed off my bike and we drove into Nanaimo to find a coffee. I was sad for a few minutes, but laughed at how the outcome was exactly what I had predicted.

 Figured I should post at least one photo of me running, as I did a lot of it. By Bryanna. 

Figured I should post at least one photo of me running, as I did a lot of it. By Bryanna. 

Fitness is fragile. We work so hard to achieve it, and once we have it we don’t want to let it go. But peak fitness is peak fitness, and it cannot be sustained. I’m currently on week two of rest, having dug a bit of a hole, but I’m looking forward to focussing on being on the road for 2018 now and leaving the mud behind. This experience has also encouraged me to be careful as I try my first full season on the road in 2018. I must listen to my body and rest in order to make it through the whole year.

I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to race cross this fall. Having competition at this time of year kept me going, kept me (a little too) motivated, and allowed me to win a couple of races. Jon Watkin, Russ Hay’s the Bicycle Shop and Cross on the Rock made it all possible, and I’m very grateful for that.

2017 Cross Results:

Hot Cross Bunnnies: DNF

Days of Thunder #2: 18th (flat)

Days of Thunder #1: 6th (flat)

Cross on the Commons: 2nd

Kona Cup: 1st

Coal Cross: 1st

Tugboat cross: 10th (flat)

Don't Call Me Lucky (please)

“Which of you was the lucky guy in the break yesterday?”

Amiel points to me.

“Nice! That was lucky!”

We were sitting on the patio outside a café before the stage two criterium at the Tour of Walla Walla, one of the Pacific North West’s early season stage races.

Amiel and I looked at each other. I didn’t like what that guy had said, but this was one of my first times being around Amiel, so I didn’t want to make something out of nothing, unsure of whether he would feel the same way. I thought to myself: Luck? Is that what did it on yesterday’s stage?

 Team chat pre Criterium at Walla Walla.

Team chat pre Criterium at Walla Walla.

The previous morning’s stage was a time trial, which did not suit my junior gears and landed me somewhere around 25th. That afternoon we had a road stage, and my goal was to get in the break and move up on GC. Jacob Rathe of Jelly Belly was present, and although I hadn’t heard of him until I had seen the time trial results sheet, I figured he was the only pro present. He’d be a good guy to watch. I learned later that he had raced for the Garmin-Barracuda (now EF Education First-Drapac) world tour team in 2012/13.

As we climbed the finish hill to complete the first lap, a few guys started attacking. I followed the wheel of whoever was setting pace, until they blew up. Then I’d follow the next guy. Eventually, I saw Jacob who had been doing the same thing, decide to set pace himself. I, along with one other rider, followed his wheel and crested the climb.

I yelled at my two breakaway companions who wanted me to pull through on the decent that followed that I couldn’t pull unless it was flat, or we were going uphill. I had junior gears, which meant I was working hard in their draft just to keep up. The previous year I would have been too timid to take a stand, but I knew I couldn’t mess around with a guy like Rathe as my competition.

 TT recon pre Walla Walla.

TT recon pre Walla Walla.

We rode for the next couple hours, taking turns pulling. I’d spin as I held on for dear life on the descents, and pull on the climbs and flats. I made sure I ate and drank, and positioned myself behind Rathe as we started the final climb. I wasn’t going to risk having the other rider lose his wheel, and take me with him as he got dropped. Sure enough, as Rathe picked up the pace, it was only him and I left. I followed his attacks as best I could, but with 1 km to I couldn’t match his final attack, and I settled for second. I was now second on GC.

The next day at the crit I finished 7th. I’m not particularly good at crits. But I wanted to defend my position, and I was strong. I finished fifth the following day on the queen stage. After losing all of my team mates to flats or getting dropped, I had to fight tooth and nail to protect my GC position. I spent a lot of time chasing. I got dropped with 20 km to go but dug deep to catch back up to the lead group. Upon rejoining, I turned to Rathe in his yellow jersey, and told him we should work together to neutralize any attacks. He had guys on other teams helping him a bit, but he had entered the race solo, and really we were both without team mates. He nodded. I wasn’t a threat. I just wanted to lose to him and no one else.

My junior gears were again unkind to me on the downhill tail wind sprint, so I had to watch riders sprint away from me as I spun at 130 rpm and went nowhere.

 Sprinting (in my hoods-I know) to second at Race the Ridge.

Sprinting (in my hoods-I know) to second at Race the Ridge.

In 2015, the year earlier, I did the same race. I finished 102nd, 45 minutes back on the second stage. I barely held on to the back of the peloton in the crit. On the last stage race I was dropped after 30 km and quit. I knew what I would be facing in 2016, and I did not want a repeat of my 2015 experience. I had my ass handed to me for the weeks following Walla Walla in 2015 as I continued to try my hand at races of that level, until a concussion put me out of commission. Once I was able to ride again, I kicked my own ass. I trained hard. I did a camp the following spring before the race. I chose who to follow during the race. I paid attention. I suffered. I suffered like a fucking dog.

But here was this guy, a dude I don’t know from a club in Vancouver, telling me that I was lucky to have ‘gotten in the break’ the day before. And there I was, wondering if it really did come down to luck.

The week after Walla Walla 2016, I got in the break both days at Race the Ridge. I finished second in the road race, fifth in the crit, and third overall. Two weeks later I got in the break at Tour de Bloom on stage 1, finished seventh in the downhill sprint with my junior gears, and then rode solo to win the following hill climb stage. I finished seventh in the crit again, and got in the break on the last day to finish third on the stage and second overall. For three big stage races, not a stage went by with a breakaway that I wasn’t in. How lucky could a guy be?

 Breakaway in the crit at Race the Ridge.

Breakaway in the crit at Race the Ridge.

The reason I’m writing this is not to boast. I don’t want to be that guy who’s stuck bragging about winning races back in the day. But terms such as lucky, gifted, or natural talent have their time and place. When used thoughtlessly, people can find them be degrading.

I’m a self conscious athlete, and I know I’m not the only one. I can’t tell you how many races I’ve driven away from thinking ‘there’s no way I could do that again’ or, ‘that was just luck.’  The year I won Junior ‘Cross Nationals I told so many people that it was just a fluke. Having someone else say the same sort of thing really takes away from an athlete’s accomplishments. If you boil it down to luck or a gift, then I’ve accomplished nothing. My work, my suffering, and my reading of the race are totally discredited.

I appreciate that I am lucky in many ways to be where I am, racing where I am. I was fortunate to be born into a family that could support me at the beginning, in a first world country. I’m very fortunate to have so many people in my life who support me, and help me make opportunities for myself.

But in terms of racing, for the number of breakaways I’ve missed, teams that have rejected me, injuries I’ve had, flat tires I’ve suffered, trips I’ve been unable to afford, I’d like to think that there’s more to what I achieve than just dumb luck.

 2016 was a good season. These photos bring such good memories.

2016 was a good season. These photos bring such good memories.

The Three Epics

With the weather being less than ideal for riding, training is becoming a bit of a challenge. I actually decided not to ride today. I’m sore from a weekend of getting thrashed in cold snow, rain and mud, and running with flat tires at both Saturday and Sunday’s cross races.

Instead, today I’ve been thinking a lot about the best rides I had in 2017. I’ve already written about one, (my “#2”) my 300 km journey in late August. Each memorable ride took place primarily on roads I’d never before explored. They were all on sunny days, done in good company, and of ‘epic’ length (or duration).

The first ‘epic’ of the year took place in February. It’s odd to think that in the darkest month of my cycling career I had such a positive experience on the bike. The day occurred in the midst of a torturous month, where I would spend, on average, five hours a day riding alone in the cold rain.

 Almost at the top of the first climb on my 'Third Epic'. Photo by Maxim of course!

Almost at the top of the first climb on my 'Third Epic'. Photo by Maxim of course!

On my ride the day following this epic one I found myself alone, crying as I climbed one of the Santa Monica climbs, wishing I was at home and never had to ride a bike again.

We started early in the morning, and rode North on the Pacific Coast Highway towards Santa Barbara. Past Ventura, we continued north and climbed toward Ojai before riding past Lake Casitas. We then traversed north-west through vineyards along a hill side on narrow, winding, quiet roads.

The sun was shining for what felt like the first time in years. I rode in a short-sleeved jersey and bib shorts. For the first time, I could feel warmth on my bare skin while riding. We rode through forests and always had a view of the ocean to the left. It was breathtaking. I was laughing and chatting the whole time.

We climbed Gibraltar about mid-way through the ride. I thought how, a year earlier, I  had watched Neilson Powless of Axeon Hagens Berman ride away from a world-class peloton as a U23 during the Tour of California. He was caught later on, but his ride was incredible. It was unreal. He was so strong, so smooth, and so fast. After watching that ride live, I found myself imagining riding that same climb, in the same race, in the same style as Powless.

Now I was on that very climb with my two team-mates, Jure and MA, who were riding at a steady tempo. I struggled to hold their wheels, and was reminded of how weak I’d been for the past few months. But I held on to the top. We waited for the others to catch up, and met with some other BC cyclists from Langlois Brown. We started riding again and found ourselves climbing more, which was unexpected. The Langlois boys were riding at a harder pace, and I decided to tag along. I started to lead. I pictured myself sitting on my bed watching Neilson. Then I pictured myself there, on that very climb, in the Tour of California with spectators lining the roads. I felt as strong as I wished I was. My legs felt better than they had in months. I started to believe that a successful season might actually be possible. I dropped everyone.

 Mitch on top of Mount Tuam. Photo by Maxim.

Mitch on top of Mount Tuam. Photo by Maxim.

We were out for almost 9 hours and had ridden for 7. I had done 198 km, so I rode around the block a few times to hit 200 km. Everyone else was inside. I was exhausted, cold, and it was dark. But I wanted to hit that mark.

This day served to remind me that I love riding, but it wasn’t enough to lure me back completely. In fact, when my ride the following day was just as bad as the ones leading up to our big ride, I was even more disappointed and confused. A low after such a high felt even lower. The clouds after a day of sunshine felt even darker. The cold was colder. My heart was heavier and my passion was missing all together. I found myself riding alone, crying as I climbed one of the Santa Monica climbs, wishing I was at home and never had to ride a bike again.

Almost seven months later, after taking time off the bike and rediscovering my passion for riding, I had my third epic of the year.

 T-shirt rides are the best rides. Excuse my crooked helmet. Thanks Maxim!

T-shirt rides are the best rides. Excuse my crooked helmet. Thanks Maxim!

I raced the Whistler Gran Fondo on Saturday, the 9th of September. Following the wet, cold race, I got pretty sick. I had a cold for the week. On Friday I picked up my new cross bike from Russ Hay’s, but didn’t ride it as I was still recovering from my cold. I had registered for the cross race that Sunday, and needed to ride to get the legs moving. With the cooler weather we’d been having (as compared to the summer highs), Saturday’s high of 16 looked too nice to pass up. Maxim had planned a birthday ride on Salt Spring, and I had to do it. I didn’t want to miss the last opportunity to ride in shorts and short-sleeves.

I left around 6:45 am to meet at Mitch’s place at 7. I arrived first and Mitch opened his door. He had just woken up; still in a hoodie and boxers. He was hastily eating some oatmeal and rubbing his tired eyes. Maxim showed up and we patiently watched as Mitch pulled together some mismatched kit from the floor of his bedroom. The ride was meant to be pretty relaxed, but this slight delay meant we had to set a solid pace to ensure that we caught the ferry to get to the island.

 Photo by Maxim.

Photo by Maxim.

It was freezing when we arrived on Salt Spring - too cold to fully enjoy the ride. We stopped at the cafe just off the ferry and sipped coffees before embarking. The 20 minutes inside the café was well worth it, as the sun was up and warming when we started to climb Mount Tuam. Energized by coffee and our anticipation of an adventure, we set-off. The road was empty, the view was breathtaking. We took a wrong turn and hiked through the forest to find the road we were meant to be on. The climb eventually became gravel, and at the top we were on private property.

We descended the rough gravel track from the peak and I flatted right away. I changed my tube only to have my replacement tube’s valve break. Another tube went in and we made our way toward the second summit of the day. The following climb to Bruce Peak was brutal. The exceedingly steep gravel road had Maxim and Gordon walking for a bit. It was super difficult to maintain traction, so one slip-up and you were off. It was too steep to get back on. I had to put my foot down once, but managed to keep moving and climb the rest of the way. Mitch cleared the whole climb without putting a foot down once, which was super impressive!

After soaking in the view from the top, I flatted again on the decent. Maxim spotted me a tube and we rode to Ganges. The gravel further along the decent was packed, which made for an awesome ride. The rode was empty and we bombed around the sweeping turns.

 Last climb of the day - Mount Maxwell. Photo by Maxim. 

Last climb of the day - Mount Maxwell. Photo by Maxim. 

After a pit-stop in Ganges to restock our tube supply, I was not in the mood to spend money on food. The others wanted to though, so we made our way over to Thrifty’s. The store was celebrating its birthday, so I helped myself to two massive pieces of birthday cake and a cup of Kicking Horse coffee while I sat on the curb and guarded our bikes. Free cake and coffee? An excellent day had become even better.

The final climb up Mount Maxwell was another steep, gravel one. We all rode our own pace and I was the first one up. I managed to climb at a comfortable pace on all three peaks, but my pace was faster than the rest of the guys. This was a testament to the form I had gained at Tour of Alberta. We weren’t competing at all, but I was proud of my strength.

My three ‘epics’ consisted of a minimum of 2,000 metres of climbing, took place on primarily unfamiliar roads and were all at least 6 hours long. They took place on sunny days and in good company. I now know my requirements for a good day on the bike, which I don’t think I was aware of until late this year. I’m looking forward to turning more rides into epics in 2018!

Here are links to the three rides on Strava!

Epic #1 - Cali

Epic #2 - 300 km

Epic #3 - Salt Spring

And if you would like to see more photos by Maxim, here's his Instagram

Flying Squirrels

A lot has changed for me in the past year. Among the many adjustments I’ve made in my approach to training and racing, perhaps my most significant decision was to work with a new coach.

I trained under the mentorship of Jayson Gillespie for nearly seven years. He took me on my first road ride all those years ago late one evening in October. Jay rode with me as I pedalled my 26” Devinci hard tail mountain bike while the rest of the provincial athletes rode their road bikes. I did what I could to keep up, and more than once Jay put his hand on my back to push me as I rode, ensuring I could keep up and complete the 70 km ride.

 Coach Jay on the left on the podium with Danick and I after winning our respective 2014 Cyclocross National Titles. Assistant coach Lindsay Argue on the right.

Coach Jay on the left on the podium with Danick and I after winning our respective 2014 Cyclocross National Titles. Assistant coach Lindsay Argue on the right.

The hand on my back, pushing me along, makes me think now of the hand of a parent on their child as they push them along on their first attempt at training-wheel-free cycling. Jay was more than a coach for me for a long time. When I went through some rough stuff at home, whether he knew it or not, Jay was a bit of a father-like figure for me for a while.

I was less than well-behaved during those first couple years. He put up with me somehow. I would talk incessantly, goof off, swear and joke inappropriately. He patiently taught me to behave better. He taught me to always have my bag zipped up in team vans, to thank volunteers and to shut-up sometimes. Perhaps the most important lesson he taught me was to control what I can control.

Eventually I moved to Victoria. He remained my coach for the two years I raced on Russ Hays. What I didn’t realize was that for me, long-distance coaching wasn’t ideal. I needed him to see me. Without the guaranteed face-to face interactions that we’d have during team training in Winnipeg, it was up to me to update him on what was going on. Up until then, Jay could see it at training. I didn’t have to bring it up if I was having a tough time. Jay saw me race. Jay saw me train.

This year, when my depression started to take control of me, Jay wasn’t there to see it. He wasn’t there to understand it. It was up to me to explain it – and I couldn’t do it justice through words. With no disrespect to Jay, and I absolutely mean NO disrespect to him, he was too far away to fully provide the support I needed on the mental side of cycling.

I decided that this winter I need to train my brain. More than anything, my mental health needs strengthening, support, and understanding. I wanted a coach in BC, someone who I could see once in a while. I also wanted someone who would be able to help me train effectively while I dealt with depression and anxiety. When it comes down it, I need to be 100% mentally fit in order to race. I could train 25 hours a week, like I did in February, but if I’m not paying attention to my mental health, I’ll crash and burn.

The first name that came to me when I decided I needed a new coach was Jacob Schwingboth. Other, possibly better-known names floated around my head for a while as well, but something about Jacob seemed right.

 Jacob racing for H&R at the 2015 Whistler Gran Fondo. Being chased by one of his athletes.

Jacob racing for H&R at the 2015 Whistler Gran Fondo. Being chased by one of his athletes.

Jacob had been through some of his own shit when he raced. Mentally, he had really struggled for a while. And he’s very open about it. Knowing that he’s experienced similar challenges to what I have faced, do face and likely will face, and his openness about it, gave me a sense of confidence. I knew that he would be understanding, empathetic, and encouraging. I also knew that he would have strategies in dealing with and working around my struggles while riding.

I approached Jacob to coach my mind first and my body second. I told him everything I went through, asked him to read my blog, and met him for coffee after the Fondo to discuss working together. We hit it off really well and I knew he was the right coach.

Jacob cares. It’s obvious. He created a spreadsheet after we met which I fill out after every ride. I rate how I felt mentally and physically, I explain the rating, and describe whether I enjoyed the ride and why or why not. Every Sunday I fill out a form he created to explain each day of the week in detail. There are questions regarding my mental health, my physical health, how confident I feel, what I want to work on, as well as spaces for me to ask him questions. He then has all of my feedback in writing to aid in developing my plan for the next week We then have a call, typically the following Monday, to review the week and plan for the next one.

He listens to what I want and need. We train around my mind. We’re training my mind. I don’t hesitate to tell him if I didn’t like something, or if I had was particularly anxious at some point. We back off when I’m not doing well, and charge ahead when I’m feeling great. He’s instilled in me a confidence in my coach, and more importantly, a confidence in myself.

Jay got me to where I am now in the sport. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for him. I say that with utmost conviction. I am so grateful to know him and to have been so fortunate as to have him as a coach. He’s taught me so much. From the bottom of my heart, I’m utterly grateful for the time and effort he put into developing me. It was a very tough decision to stop working with him, but it was a necessary one. Thanks for everything Jay!

Conversely, my decision to start working with Jacob was an easy and obvious one. I’m extremely grateful to him already for taking me under his wing. Jay developed me, and Jacob will continue to help me excel in the sport. I’m incredibly excited to be working with someone who gets the different me.  I’m the proudest new member of Jacob’s Flying Squirrel Academy!