To anyone who rides a bike, a month in sunny, warm California, with no obligations other than to ride sounds idyllic.
I had hoped that spending February in Oxnard, California would somehow help solve my problems. Sunshine is one of my greatest pleasures, and this past winter in Victoria didn’t offer me much of that. I was looking forward to riding with others for once, and expected that a month of hard training would finally start to improve my fitness and mental health. I was nervous about going though, because I was very unstable.
Several other Canadian riders were already sharing a rented house, and I would be joining them. I was looking forward to a communal training camp set-up, which was exactly what I needed. I had been missing the social part of riding since July, having taken a few months off at the end of the season and then training alone in the winter.
The first morning in Oxnard, I asked everyone what their riding plans were. All of them were doing their own thing, and I wasn’t invited to join any of them. I went for a two hour ride on my own to spin the legs. I was surprised. I assumed that we’d all be riding together. After all, that’s how Team Manitoba did training camps (this was my first ‘solo’ camp). That night everyone did their own thing for dinner too. Six people cooking and eating on their own. Odd. This wasn’t a community. It was a bunch of individuals saving money by splitting rent.
I went to bed and was lonelier than ever. I wasn’t used to going to bed without Bryanna to talk to about what was going on. I cried.
The second morning I got up and said good morning to everyone before grabbing my oatmeal. No one was talking to each other. Everyone was on their screen looking at training plans, weather, or talking to their coaches. There was nothing else to do, so I went out for a ride. It was cold and pouring rain. I hadn’t been doing much for over a month, and I hadn’t ridden for more than two hours since October. I bonked two hours in, got lost and accidentally spun past the house 5 hours after leaving. I made my own dinner, ate on my own, and went to sleep on my bed made out of sofa cushions. I cried myself to sleep again, and wished I could go home.
The third morning I became more aware of a couple of the cyclists weighing their food before rides and meals. I noticed that they had travel scales to weigh themselves twice daily. I started to get even more nervous- I love to eat, and I eat way too much. One of my joys in life, like sunshine, is eating. I had given up on sunshine, as the forecast was just rain every day, all day. To be a cyclist, was I to give up food too?
Each thought that entered my head told me that I wasn’t cut out to be a cyclist. Due to my lack of riding in January, I would only be doing base miles. Everyone else there was doing intervals and intensity to prepare for the coming season, having done most of their base in January. Not only that, but they all wanted to ride. And I was starting to dread riding. Every time I got on the bike, I knew I would be cold and wet and upset that my numbers were low, and I would be wishing that I was in my bed in Victoria.
After a few days I rode with Marc-Antoine (MA). He’s a new team mate of mine on H&R, and that day he had an endurance ride as well, so it worked out. It was our first opportunity to actually talk. His upbeat personality was immediately apparent to me, and for the first time ever, I told a nearly complete stranger that I was depressed and was really struggling with the fact that I wasn’t enjoying anything to do with the bike. It was nice to discover a friend. His girlfriend, Karlee Gendron (from Winnipeg), was also staying in the house, and that night we ate together. We discussed our dislike for the reclusive atmosphere we found ourselves in.
It was very comforting to know that I had friends there now. We started riding and cooking together. I finally started to enjoy the time off the bike. MA is going to be a chef and Karlee is a baker, so they had an abundance of knowledge to share in the kitchen. Having something to do other than ride made a huge difference to my mood off the bike. Unfortunately, with the fun in the kitchen and all the food that resulted, I stressed even more about the fact that I probably ate much.
My best friend, Danick, came and went. It was great seeing him, but an injury sent him home after only a few days. I had been looking forward all winter to having him there to motivate me. Instead though, I envied him for his injury. At least Danick could say clearly to others, like his team manager, what was keeping him off his bike and the understandable and necessary steps to be taken to get back on it. With me there was no such clarity. My mind was what was keeping me off my bike. I had no idea how to describe what was going on, let alone tell others or discuss fixing it. I was without a describable reason. The struggle I was having was inexcusable.
Riding didn’t get any better for me. Each day I wanted less and less to get on the bike. I hated each ride. One day I rode past a Cylance rider (Women’s WorldTour team). As I rode by her I felt anger. I can’t put a finger on why, but I think I was angry that she was doing what she loved, and I was no longer confident that I was too. In fact, at the time, I felt that I was doing the very thing that I hated most.
I carried on, and ten minutes later Phil Gaimon flew by me on a climb. I was suddenly overcome with jealousy and resentment. That fucking asshole is retired. He has no obligation to be out here riding, but he is. He’s doing it because he loves it. I’m doing it because I have to. This was a pretty messed up thought, because I had just finished reading Phil Gaimon’s book for the second time, and he’s one of my favourite cyclists, and because I had just realized that I was riding because I had to. That day, as I rode by him, I wasn’t inspired. I was feeling incredibly dejected.
As I continued slowly up the climb, I cried. Climbing when you’re crying is the only thing more difficult than climbing when you’re not crying. At the top, I pulled over and looked in the general direction of the house. The last thing I wanted to do was ride all that way. I sat at the top in silence and ate all of my ride food. On my way back, I passed several Rally riders and a few Canyon Shimano guys heading in the opposite direction. Instead of waving, I looked away to hide my crying.
As each pro passed going the other way, I rode aimlessly and on my own. They all seemed to know where they were going and what they were doing. The closer I got to the house, the more lost I was.