Something New

So...bit of a crazy past week. 

Every morning for the past month I’ve woken up and immediately grabbed my phone to check for an e-mail or alerts from Indeed’s job board. I would scroll through automated e-mails informing me of job opportunities nearby, looking for something that might pique my interest.

There were many advertised vacancies, but I didn’t want to go back to retail or customer service. I wanted to do something new, something fun and engaging that I could become passionate about. I had stopped riding to allow myself to explore other interests. I refused to fill this newfound time on something that’s meaningless to me. The lack of inspiring opportunities fed my apathy .

Finally, on the morning of May 3rd, I saw on Indeed a Wildfire Fire Fighting position. I sent in my resume and a cover letter that conformed to their 7 question cover letter format. Later that day 'Fire First Recruitment' approved my application and I was then allowed to apply to Strategic Wildfire, the company that had the openings. Three days later, I was invited to their recruitment day which would take place in Campbell River the following Saturday, May 13th.

The invitation included a small description of the fitness test candidates would have to pass. The first portion was a 4.8 km walk to be done in less than 45 minutes with a 45 pound pack on your back. The second part was a relay consisting of: a 100 metre carry of a 50 pound pump followed by a 300 metre run with the 45 pound pack and a 200 metre drag of a charged hose. The second and third legs were to be completed in a combined time under four minutes and ten seconds.

The fitness test had me nervous, as I know I’m nowhere near as fit as I have been for the past few years. I decided to see if I could do the walk, and mapped out a 5.2 km route down to the ocean and then back up. I filled a pack with a 10 kg bag of flour, my cast iron skillet, and my Dutch oven. The pack was ~50 pounds. I wanted to go a little further to ensure that the test day would be easier. I managed the walk in 40:05.

Once I knew that I could do the walk, I grew nervous for the second part. I can’t carry much weight at my best. After giving myself two days to recover from the walk (my legs, glutes and shoulders were killing me) I decided to run it. My theory was that if I could smash the walk, it would be okay if I lagged behind a little in the second portion of the test. I ran it in 28:40 with the pack, and was pretty content. I assumed that unlike my route, the test wouldn’t have 2 km of climbing, which would make it a lot easier.

Recruitment day went well. I was up at 4 am and on the road by 4:45 to arrive early for the 8:30 start. The staff all seemed like great people to work with/for, and the other recruits were all really nice and easy to get along with. I was disappointed to learn that you had to walk the walk (go figure) as it was to imitate an evacuation. It’s much easier to run. However, I was still the fastest finisher for both parts of the test.

At the end of the day I was told about a course at North Island College in Campbell River that I would be eligible for. The course started on Monday, the 15th- in just two days’ time.

I drove home and arrived around six in the evening, and informed Bryanna and Dad about the course at NIC that I wanted to take part in. I e-mailed the person in charge to see if there was space. Late Sunday morning I was accepted, and then only had a few hours to get my shit together, and try and find a place to stay.

On Monday I was up at 4 again and on the road by 4:40. I arrived 45 minutes before class, and had no idea what my schedule looked like, what class I was taking, what classroom I would be in, and how many days each class was. Or even where I might be staying. I registered for the course 5 minutes before class started.

This course will give me multiple levels of first aid certifications, power saw certifications, and many other firefighting certifications. I found out on Tuesday that I got the job, and in a month’s time when the course ends, I’ll expect to be called-up for deployment. After the NIC course, I’ll be doing basic training before I’m ready to work.

I explored a little around Campbell River and found Elk Falls.

I explored a little around Campbell River and found Elk Falls.

The past several days have been very stressful and only now am I beginning to feel settled and less anxious. Having so much happening so suddenly, after a period of inactivity, with so many unknowns is not usually how I function. I’m a very organized and forward planning person- I tend to leave little to chance. In this new adventure, I didn’t have time to do revert to past habits where I equivocate and feel ambivalent- going back and forth between wanting to do something and then fearing doing it and the associated commitment. In this instance, I was forced to make a decision very quickly, and although I questioned it, I told myself to just do what I want for once. So here I am.

Being a firefighter is the only thing other than cycling that I’ve thought about doing. I want to use my physical ability for something good. I want to be able to help and protect people, and have an adventurous job that demands fitness. In the time that I take off the bike, I’ll now be able to explore another interest. It feels pretty good.

Although I already feel lonely in Campbell River, and still quite uneasy, I’m glad that I’m doing this. I need to push my boundaries and do something. I can’t punish myself for taking time off the bike. I need to reward myself and take advantage of the opportunity that I’ve been given. Although this is tough, I’m trying not to question whether I SHOULD be doing this, because I know that right now, I WANT to do this. I’m not bound by the bike.


There were a couple hundred of these on the trail to the falls.

There were a couple hundred of these on the trail to the falls.

Getting Ahead of Myself

I’ve spoken a bit about things I would do differently if I started racing again in other posts. Below are some other things I’ve thought about in my time off, that would change how I approach any racing in my future.

For years I’ve wanted to be pro. I spent three years with a multi-part plan and in my last year as a junior (2016), it was my final year to see that plan through. First I had to win junior nationals, then go to worlds, and then get onto a continental team. I didn’t win nationals and I didn’t go to worlds (I was invited though). Not completing those parts of my plan hurt me more later on than they did at the time.

Part three of my plan, getting onto a continental or pro team, was all that remained.

Manitoban Chris Prendergast rode for H&R when I was a cadet, and I had met a few other riders over the years. My best friend Danick was also on the team. Going into 2016, my goal was to get onto H&R for 2017. For a long time I had wanted to get on that team.

My season started out brilliantly, and as I started to see that I was faster than I expected, I started to set my sights on other teams that I hadn’t properly considered before. These teams aren’t necessarily better, but they got into bigger races such as the Tour of California and/or Utah, held training camps, and sometimes paid their riders, which are all attractive elements. At road nationals at the end of June, Mark approached me and told me that he was prepared to sign me for H&R for the following season.

Having this sort of interest in me from the team that I had been looking at for years gave me an incredible sense of (false) confidence. I suddenly thought that I must be better than I actually was. In my mind, since I hadn’t had to apply to H&R-   they had approached me- perhaps I might have a shot at better resourced teams that until then had seemed like long shots. I was used to having to persuade people and sort of sell myself to a team, so I figured that this interest from H&R was a good sign.

I applied to teams such as Silber and Axeon Hagens Berman. My hopes were high and I was expecting a positive response. I sold myself as a long-term investment, stating that as a first year U23 in 2017, I could develop under their leadership into an ideal and strong rider after a couple of years. I didn’t hear back from Axeon, and I was told by Silber that I was too young. I felt I had let myself down. I was brought back down to earth by the many rejections I received from teams. Danick informed me around that time that he would be riding for Silber. H&R had until relatively recently been a dream, and now it seemed like the acceptance of my defeat. Eventually, I got over it (or so I thought).

This all took place from late July, August and early September, when I was really struggling to find motivation to ride. Part of me hoped that getting on a really big team would provide me with the motivation I was lacking.

Once I accepted that I wasn’t this prodigy cyclist that I had begun to think I was, I signed for H&R; full of pride. Finally, I could call myself a pro. I had been offered a position on the team at the age of 17, and signed when I was 18, fulfilling the final and biggest part of my three-part plan.

In late September after signing, as I searched for motivation, I learned that Silber had signed a kid my age. I thought I had accepted not being on the team, but now I was reminded of the disappointment. To add insult to injury, I had been rejected for being ‘too young’. Now I knew that my age wasn’t the problem. A month or so later, Silber released their official roster. I was again reminded of the young kid, who they described as something along the lines of: ‘So and so raced for Accent Inns/Russ Hay’s last season finding himself on the podium in many pro-1/2 races in the PNW as a junior...’ That wasn’t him they were talking about, that’s me. Now I’m sure it was just a mistake, but it made me wonder. It also hurt because I had imagined that exact release months before saying that exact thing, except it would have actually been about me.

I have heard about athletes who make it to the Olympics and fulfill their life-long dream of being an Olympian. They spend little more than a moment at the games living that dream. And then it’s over and the high fades and they fall into a depression. What do you do when you’ve reached the top? Where do you go? What is there to look forward to? These athletes discover that they spent so many years thinking about only one moment, and as soon as that short moment’s over, they’re lost.

After signing with H&R, I felt like I was stalled. I went into a depression. Going pro was my high point- a goal I had set myself. Reaching it lost me. I didn’t know where to go, or what to look forward to. This was as far as I had planned.

Now this isn’t to say that I hadn’t dreamed big. I’ve imagined winning Canada Games, going to the Olympics, wearing the rainbow jersey of a world champion, racing the Tour or my favourite race, the Tour of California, and riding for my absolute dream team, Orica Scott. Even now, those thoughts put butterflies in my stomach. But as far as setting goals go, I thought I had been ambitious in setting my three big ones, and I didn’t set higher ones. I had reached my final goal.

For the record, I have absolutely nothing against H&R. I am so grateful for the opportunity I have with them, and feel extremely fortunate to be a part of H&R. In the end, I am relieved to have signed with them. I can’t think of a better team. The manager, Mark, and the team are amazing. I don’t feel I would have had the courage to share what I’m sharing had I signed with a less understanding team. I believe this is a strength of H&R’s. I don’t want to give the wrong impression, which is why I haven’t spoken of this struggle before. I would have been in way over my head on any of those other teams. I doubt they would have been as accepting and accommodating of my current situation as well, and it probably would have been a really bad move for me to commit to a team with a lot of pressure this season. In no way do I think or did I ever think that I was too good for H&R, I just thought that maybe I was good enough for other teams as well.

With Silber, I continue to think they’re a fantastic team. It’s important to understand that this story is about what was going on in my head, and not what I believe to be true. At the risk of being misunderstood, I’m sharing this part of my journey. This is a lesson I think others can take something away from.

When you set goals, set crazy goals. Set many, and set different ones. Don’t make the same mistake I made of setting all of my goals to be fulfilled by 18. Set short-term and long-term, and always have something to look forward to. Set goals in your sport, and set goals in other aspects of your life. Don’t let your goals in sport be the only things that you strive toward. It’s extremely important to incorporate balance. If I find myself racing again, I will set many goals. I will also set goals in terms of schooling or the exploration of other walks of life off the bike. I’ll have a plan for after reaching each goal. I also will not set my goals or make plans alone.

There is a dean at the U of W collegiate who told me, when I applied, that the school was focussed on preparing students for what’s next. When I signed my contract, I had no next. Now I’m working on having many nexts.   

Cali with Chris Prendergast (middle) and team mate Jure.

Cali with Chris Prendergast (middle) and team mate Jure.

Caught in Transition

I haven’t written much lately. I haven’t done much worth writing about.

Working through this transition is proving to be more difficult than I could ever have anticipated.

Around the time that I went to Winnipeg, last month, I was starting to feel a lot better. I was finally becoming a bit more positive. My blog was going quite well, I was busy, I was walking lots and legitimately laughing and smiling again. Being in Winnipeg was great too.

I was there for a week and during my stay I had my wisdom teeth removed. On the first morning, as I stepped outside my mom’s apartment building, I couldn’t get over how bright it was outside. It took me a couple of seconds to realize that oh, it’s just sunny. I hadn’t had a perfectly sunny day like that in months, and had forgotten that the level of light was actually quite normal. It was bliss. I’m at my best on warm days spent in the sun.

I didn’t do much for the week that I was there, but I was able to enjoy doing nothing. I’m not one to enjoy downtime. I get antsy, and fidgety and stressed. I always feel the need to be doing something. But for my short visit in Winnipeg, I guess I had decided that it was like a vacation, so I could be lazy. I had just had four teeth removed, so that sort of gave me permission too.

The morning that I arrived back in Victoria, I came home to a super messy house. I was immediately stressed by it. Generally, I’m the one to do the vast majority of the tidying at my house. I’m the one who gets bothered most by messes, so I deal with it. Frustratingly, it feels as though I’m always cleaning up after others. Returning to a house that I had left clean, I was reminded of how it had silently frustrated me for ages that I was always the one to clean. I felt sad again.

Later I started to cry as I talked to my dad about it. I told him first that I was frustrated that I felt no one else was cleaning. But then, I said something that I hadn’t said before. I told him that maybe it wasn’t the fact that no one else was cleaning that was really bothering me, maybe I felt so shitty because I had stopped cycling, and had become a house maid. I felt as though my only goal most days was to clean the house. It became a fucking achievement to vacuum or do the dishes. Meanwhile, as I was priding myself in how well I had vacuumed the stairs, my team mates were sending messages to our group chat priding themselves in spending the day in a breakaway at Gila or getting on the podium in Sea Otter; real achievements.

I stopped riding two months ago because it was killing me. By taking some time off, I’d have the opportunity to do other things; things that would hopefully make me feel better about myself and help me feel happier. I could do other things that I’ve wanted to do but haven’t because of cycling. But nothing like that has happened.

I thought I could try running and training for the TC10k, and hike a lot. But after two or three weeks of running and hiking, I was exhausted. I then stopped all physical activity apart from light spins and long walks around town. I think I over trained this winter and am still recovering from it. I still feel tired now. I wake up at 7 and by 11 I want to nap.

But, I am a lot more positive now than I was two months ago when I first stepped off the bike. I now smile and laugh and can feel happy during the day. But at night I always sink. I’m rarely satisfied with how I spent my day. I’m still constantly struggling to find motivation to do something that would make me feel more content.

This past weekend my team was racing the Redlands Classic. I’ve wanted to do that race for years. While they were there, I couldn’t help but feel left out – forgotten by my team. As cyclists my age, on other teams, are getting on podiums, I am not. I feel like a failure.

Tour de Bloom also took place this weekend in Wenatchee, Washington. It’s one of my favourite races of all time. I climbed onto the pro-1/2 podium for the first time in my life at that race two years ago after pushing myself harder than I knew was possible. I crossed the line third and collapsed into a ditch immediately after the line. I was so exhausted that I forgot socks for the podium. The following year, I was in the top ten on all four stages, winning one and placing third in another, and snatching second overall. Bloom was the race that introduced me to the pro-1/2 podium, and gave me my first opportunity to stand on the top step at that level. It’s hard not being there this year.

Crappy photo from when I won the Hill Climb at Bloom last year.

Crappy photo from when I won the Hill Climb at Bloom last year.

I actually asked my director if he would be interested in sending me to race Bloom a couple of weeks ago when I was feeling pretty good. I would travel and stay with another team (as my team is away at Redlands), and I’d try racing to have fun. I’m now relieved that it didn’t work out.

This sort of up-and down, this indecisiveness and fear to commit to something or anything, is what seems to characterize my current attitude. I’ve wanted to get a new job to fill the void left by my bike. I have thought about trying to become a mountain biker (as if) and trying out for the Canada Games Team. I have thought about travelling. I have thought of going to work in Lake Louise. And I have thought about training again, or racing. But no matter what it is, I can’t find the sufficient motivation, energy, or confidence to do any of it. I even lost motivation to write for a week or so. When I do reach an eventual decision, it is often after a period of panic about needing to reach a decision. Any decision.

Part of my struggle with getting a job is that I don’t want to do something that I have no real interest in. And I’m afraid to secure a job and commit to it in case I might want to ride again. And committing to anything other than biking seems unnatural and possibly too decisive. I’ve never done anything but ride during the summer. I have never had a summer job. I have always worked during the fall and winter in order to save some money which will allow me to focus on riding in the summer.

Wanting to be active but not having the required energy has brought me down further. I’m an athlete. I feel self-conscious and down-right lame when I’m not active. It’s a vicious mindset where I now beat myself up for not doing anything, despite knowing, at some level, that I am physically and mentally unable.

So I continue to struggle. On a good note, I started going to yoga just under two weeks ago. That was a pretty big step, as it meant that I had found some energy to be at least a little active.

Today though, I have no energy. I’m extremely tired and despite the shining sun, I am back in bed.

Not an inspiring bit of writing. Dreary, I know, but it’s where I am. I want to share my journey, and in doing so I don’t want to hide the lame parts. Although it’s taking its sweet time, my life is changing.

My Best Race Ever

I was supposed to be racing in cat 2/3. I was supposed to be able to keep up to Willem Boersma. I was supposed to impress. I was 14.

Dairyland is a weeklong series of criteriums and road races in Wisconsin that takes place at the end of June. The series is a staple on the calendar for Team Manitoba, as it offers the best bang for your buck in terms of quality and quantity of racing. It was also the best way to end the school year.

As a junior, Dairyland made June so much more bearable. Generally, exams are a drag, but with Dairyland happening so soon afterward, I found I was able to focus more on my studies as procrastination would mean that I’d miss a training ride. Many of my team mates and would concentrate our exams over a shorter period as well, so that we’d finish up early and make the trip.

The 16 hour drive with the team was always a blast. Mary would make me a couple thousand cookies to help me achieve crit weight, and I would claim the back bench as it was the widest - the only bench with four seats. We watched “8 Mile” every trip and listened to Dr. Dre’s Chronic 2001 album to really get in touch with our roots. Willem, Ari and I would spend the final 3 hours of the drive wrestling in the backseat, obviously aware that our time in such smelly, close proximity was limited and would soon come to an end.

I was excited on this particular trip, as I would be racing cat 2/3. I had just been upgraded to cat 3, but there wasn’t a cat 3 only category in Dairlyland, so they combined the two. The cat 2 racers always had the option to race pro-1/2, but some would go down to 2/3 to win some prize money. We called them sandbaggers.

The first three races of that week were pretty rough. I couldn’t keep up with the high pace, and was dropped on all three days. It was my first ever real experience of simply not being able to hold a wheel. Watching the gap between your front tire and the back tire of the rider in front of you increase from 3 inches to 1 foot, to 10 feet, and then for a while it would stay, not growing and not shrinking. Eventually, the wheel would disappear from sight. It was tough and demoralizing. I wasn’t used to it. I hated it.

After the third race we went out for dinner. My coach, Jay, asked if I wanted to race a category down in 4/5. He gave me the choice to continue getting my ass handed to me, or go race with the less experienced guys on our team and try and help them out. As my eyes started to tear up at the table, he gently said I could go to the washroom and think about it. He knew how sensitive of a rider I was (still am), and knew how I felt. If I tried to talk I would start to cry, but if I kept my mouth shut I could hold it back. To save me from the humiliation of crying in front of my team in the middle of the restaurant, he excused me from the table.

I gathered myself, went back to the table, and said that I’d race cat 4/5 the following day.

My first race with the 4/5 guys had potential. I felt that since I wasn’t really a cat 4 anymore, it would be inappropriate of me to try and win. I’d be stealing a result from the guys that were, in my mind, supposed to be there and therefore deserved to win. I tried my best to help out and provide a lead-out for Kurt on the last lap. Coming through the final corner there were crashes everywhere. The finishing arch had blown down so the race was neutralized. We lined up again and were given two more laps of chaos. Kurt managed a third place.

The next day was our final race of the trip. Going into it, I was determined to get a result. I gathered the 4/5 boys before the start; Graham, Sebastian, Danick and Kurt. “Today we are going to win. I don’t care who it is, as long as it’s Team Manitoba. We’re getting every single prime, and as many of us on the podium as possible. Follow my lead, and ride the front” I told them. I’d never taken charge like that, or been that confident in my life. I lined up for the start of the race, and knew that I would win.

We did exactly what I said we’d do. I stayed in the top three wheels the entire race. I took the first prime, Danick took the second, and on the third I yelled to Graham: “This one’s yours! Go!” Leading into the finish, I yelled at Danick to get on my wheel. We rounded the last corner in second and third, and I took the inside around the race leader. Danick followed and we sprinted to first and second. We absolutely dominated the race taking all the primes and the top two steps on the podium. The team worked flawlessly together. A group of kids dominated the men’s field.

I think this was Danick's first out of province race. Talk about potential and stuff... I think it was my last win against him.

I think this was Danick's first out of province race. Talk about potential and stuff... I think it was my last win against him.

I took charge that day. I was confident and led the team. In my eyes, that was my best performance as a rider. It’s the one that I’m most proud of - not winning cross nationals or getting my first pro-1/2 victory – but winning a race in the lowest category as a young kid. It was the most fun I’ve had in a race. I instilled in myself a confidence I’d never felt before. It also marked the start of a great and enduring friendship for me. Danick and I went on to dominate many races in a 1-2 fashion over the next couple of years.

It’s important to be aware of the pressure we put on ourselves. To me, I was supposed to race cat 2/3. I was supposed to be as fast as my peers. I wasn’t supposed to race cat 4/5. I had put myself under such pressure that going down a category and racing with team mates my age for a couple of days seemed like the end of the world. I saw it as a step backward. In hindsight, however, it was a gargantuan leap forward. Winning a race gives you confidence. Once you win one, especially after a dry spell, you’re hungry for more, and you know you can do it. I also learned that I could be a leader.

Jay put it best for me the evening that I decided to race a category down. “You don’t have to be here. You want to be. You aren’t ‘supposed’ to be at any level. These are expectations set by yourself and pressures that you put on yourself. Do you want to get dropped because that’s where you’re ‘supposed’ to be, or would you rather have some fun and lead the team?”

We put a lot of pressure on ourselves. Sometimes those pressures undermine us and make the unimportant appear important and the important less so. A lot of the time, we imagine the ‘important’ pressures. They are neither real nor necessary. Sometimes we move further forward when we step back in the right direction.  Jay put it all into perspective for me. I need reminding, periodically.

Life's a Paddle

“Today we will concentrate on our exhale. In the west, when we find ourselves in a difficult time in our lives, we think that we need to introduce something new to bring positivity. We very rarely think the opposite, in that we don’t think to let go of those things causing distress instead of bringing more on. So with each exhale, release those stresses, pressures or negatives.”

I watched the sweat from my forehead drip in an almost constant stream onto my yoga mat. My instructor’s words still fresh in my head reminded me to overlook my stresses and my dramas. As I exhaled, I decided not to let how noticeably unfit I am upset me. Instead, I forgot about cycling and how lost I’ve felt for ages, and suddenly found myself in that room. All I had to do was breathe. And that’s all I thought about.

Two hours later the sweat on my forehead turned to hail. Just as Isaac and I pushed off from the beach into Cadboro Bay, it began to hail. The sky was dark and the hail hard. I hadn’t known until this moment that it actually hailed in Victoria. We yelled at each other and laughed. We asked what the fuck we were doing, as we started to paddle. The hail was fun to us, and despite asking what we were thinking, we didn’t consider turning around.

As a couple of inexperienced kayakers nothing felt natural. Neither of us had ever been on one in the sea, and I have a slight fear of the massive, unforgiving and relatively unexplored bodies of water. The hail-storm quickly subsided and we pushed on, marvelling at massive beach-front houses and wondering what the hell people need 5000 square feet for.

Our plan was to paddle the short distance to Discovery Island, which is behind the Chatham Islands, explore it’s shoreline a little, and then head home. It was a windy day, so we weren’t sure if we would make it there, and decided to make the call once we entered open water and could assess the winds. We followed the shore of 10 Mile Point until we were almost directly across from the point on Chatham Island that we planned to aim for.

Once we were about a third of the way across, we excitedly determined that we could make it. The wind must’ve died down. It was pretty wavy and there was still a decent breeze, but it certainly was manageable. “I hope we didn’t speak too soon!” I yelled to Isaac.

Fifteen minutes later my heart rate was high. Over the wind and the waves I couldn’t hear Isaac. I was drifting away from him, further and further north. If I missed the Island, I would drift into the Haro Strait and could only hope that the winds and currents carried me to San Juan Island in the U.S. As hard as I paddled, I continued to drift in the wrong direction. Fuck! Isaac’s going to die. He feels resposnsible for me and will die in his efforts to save me. Shit. I won’t make it.

I was too scared to suggest that we turn around. I was determined to make it. I was also afraid that I would capsize if I tried to turn around. My shoulders and arms ached and I started to panic. I was tiring and my fear of my drama increased. This couldn’t be happening. We didn’t have a phone to call search and rescue. I was over half way now and had to get to the island. If I turned around now, the distance would be too far for me to make it back to shore before exhaustion took over. Now I was worried that if I made it to the islands, I would be unable to make the return trip.

As I started to panic and my anxiety that has been relatively manageable as of late reminded me of its presence, I thought back to my yoga instructor’s words. I had to survive. There was no time to panic. I exhaled, and pushed away all anticipation of the journey home. Not making it was not an option. I reached further into myself with each dip of the paddle. I recalled my friend, Sarah Outen (Check her out she's super cool) , who circumnavigated the globe in a row boat, kayak, and on a bike. She would always call on her ‘invisible peloton’- everyone she knew and loved – during a time of distress, and they helped her through. I didn’t call on my peloton, but I asked Sarah to share her strength with me.

I breathed. I paddled. And I made it.

I wanted to paddle on to the shore of Discovery Island and rest, but we aren’t allowed on the island because of an incident in recent months between the island’s resident loan wolf and a visiting dog. The wolf swam there. I have nothing but respect for it. I wonder if the wolf remains there out of fear of the swim back.

The wind was coming from the south, so we tacked along in the shelter of the island’s shores as far south as we could to allow for the anticipated drift on the return journey. I felt entirely aware of my capabilities, and feared that I wouldn’t make it. As we neared our departure point, I knew that I had to survive. If I wasn’t going to make it back to the beach from which we had started, that was okay. I just had to reach the shore again, wherever that might be.

Leaving the island was the hardest part. Naturally, I didn’t want to leave the relative security of land behind. But to make it more difficult, we had wound up in a small inlet that offered a four foot wide exit. It was as if at least half the ocean was flowing through the rocky channel that we had to go through. On the far side, the water was about six inches higher. We had to paddle uphill against a very strong current. On the other side of the rocks you could hear waves crashing against the rocks.

Isaac went first and made it with relative ease. I paddled as hard as I could and got half way. It was like trying to get up the world’s fasted downward escalator while wearing roller blades. Halfway up I stopped moving forward. I paddled faster and dug as deep as I could. I reached the top and stopped moving forward again. I’m so tired. If I can’t get through here, I can’t cross to Victoria. I thought.

“I’m going back!” I yelled. I lifted my paddle over my head and shot backwards between the rocks, scraping the sides as I went. On the other side out of the rushing water, I couldn’t see Isaac. I listened to the waves and currents on the other side and felt panicked. A million thoughts went through my head. The most prominent thought was that I am too weak. Again. I calmed. I breathed. I exhaled every negative thought. I’m not weak. I decided.

I paddled as hard as I could and made it through. I dug deep and my shoulders screamed at me, but I made it.

We continued into the sea and I watched as waves crashed over the bow of my boat and into my chest. It wasn’t as bad as we had anticipated though. We relaxed. We still had a long, hard effort paddling into the head wind, but now I felt I could make it.

A sense of familiarity suddenly came over me. I could see the finish line from the second we left the island and I had the wind against me. From riding on the open prairies of Manitoba I knew the effort it could take to fight the wind towards a finish line that you could see for hours. I remembered my ride with Terry last August and how much I suffered. This was similar. Like then, I would survive this time too.

We did. We got back to shore. As soon as it was over, it was funny. We had been ambitious, and in danger, but perhaps it wasn’t as extreme as it had seemed.

Kissing the beach. Happy to be on land.

Kissing the beach. Happy to be on land.

We drove home and it felt almost surreal to be in a car, on a road. The last 2-3 hours, I realized, were a near- perfect mirror of where I find myself right now.

When I started riding my bike, hail didn’t matter. Everything was fun and I was determined. When the going got tough, I could always push on. Turning around when nothing was in my favour was never an option. Eventually, when I started to anticipate what was to come, I began to fear for my future. My anxiety started getting in the way. At some point, I forgot how to breathe. Now though, I’ve gathered myself. I’ve made it through the roughest water, and I’ve learned to breathe.

We spend so much time and energy fearing something before it happens. We become absorbed by the anticipation. We lose focus on the task at hand when we start to worry about something else. I made it yesterday because I realized that I could only take one step at a time. To get to the island required my undivided focus on paddling. I couldn’t fear the return trip before I completed the outbound leg.

I will try to save my fear of the scary moments for when they happen. I won’t be afraid of the future until it is the present.

Will Smith says it well:

I strongly suggest reading Sarah Outen's brilliant books "Dare to Do" and "A Dip in the Ocean".

Giving time for my sea legs to adjust to being off the boat. Just realized that the Bay looks super calm here...

Giving time for my sea legs to adjust to being off the boat. Just realized that the Bay looks super calm here...