Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Riding with a Black Dog

Sometimes going for a ride is the last thing I actually feel like doing, but within 5 minutes of getting out the door the Black Dog is out the arse, and if I'm with someone, I'm saying "damn it's great to get out". Other days, like today, I can't shake the bugger off, and eventually he turns the tables on me, and lopes ahead taunting. He makes me feel weak, and slow, and makes me want to stop. Sometimes I rally, and chase him hard, but some days, like today, he responds instantly, and saps my strength, and my will to chase.

Strangely, almost a year ago to the day, I was touring on the East Cape, and talked myself into quitting my very good job. I wonder what it is about the Christmas period that disagrees with me? There are plenty of candidates: the crap food, the lounging around, the stress of fitting in so much socialising, the stress of not being at work and not having papers write themselves. I actually suspect a very minor difference - the lack of my regular commute. When I was at my healthiest in the last quarter of last year, I was riding to work just about every day, and sneaking in a couple of extra rides in the week - perhaps hills during the week, and a long ride or race in the weekend. The commute is fantastic in its simplicity and elegance - it is exercise, but it's also getting you to and from work. I sometimes wonder about the people who drive and then sneak off to the gym at lunchtime to sit on a stationary bike for half an hour. I guess they don't have to worry about being car-doored...

Today's ride should have been much nicer than it was. It's been a sunny day, with a pretty standard northerly wind. I slept in, which is something I can't get away with at any other time of year, and should probably go in the list above. It's a pretty bad waste of time. It also screws up meal times - it's 6pm, and I just had afternoon tea... After having some toast and a cup of coffee, and firing off a couple of emails, I saddled up, and headed for Johnsonville via Makara. My legs felt pretty unresponsive after a hard effort on the tip track yesterday, followed by a long wait for food. The stretch from Johnsonville to Porirua felt flatter than usual (i.e. not the wickedly fast downhill it actually is). At Mana I thought I'd better stop to see if a coffee would make a difference. Over Grey's Road I felt strong, though when I turned onto Paekak Hill Road, there was that wagging tail again... One of the awkwardnesses with depression, is that it's very depressing being depressed. It's also very distracting, and though I managed to think about my impending (and very cool and exciting) holiday with Kaitlyn and Carly, and about the Kiwi Brevet, eventually I'd pause to think about my legs, and look up to see the wagging tail again.

I saw pm (from vorb) going hard over the crest of Paekak Hill and momentarily wished I looked like that. The view up the Kapiti Coast was as stunning as ever, and a cyclist's bike is always very photogenic. I wished I hadn't had a coffee at Mana - the presence of a coffee cart in the lookout carpark really should have been rewarded.

After stopping part way down for a better photo, I was very shortly on SH1. I turned off at Waterfall Road, and made my way up the short gravel climb. After a snack in the shade of a macrocarpa, I headed north again, and when I rejoined SH1, was treated to possibly the best cycle facility in the Wellington region. The passing lane at Lindale has been taken out, leaving room for a cycle lane, with a beautifully smooth surface. After Otaihanga, this makes way for the worst cycle facility in the Wellington region. Not a facility at all really, just a shitty stretch of the roughest chip seal ever. After a quick stop at Waikanae, I was underway again with just over 3 hours on the clock.

The climb up the Akas was peaceful, and it was nice to be doing it on the light and efficient Roubaix, rather than my full suspension mountain bike (as in the Waiotauru trip). I was ticking along nicely but about 1km from the summit found myself coasting to a halt, before pedalling just in time to keep the bike moving. There's that damn Dog again.

Despite having a tail wind, I never felt like I was moving quickly down into Upper Hutt. The road was fairly busy, both with cars and debris. Before Upper Hutt I'd had fantasies of hammering along with the wind giving me a huge boost, but neither the wind, nor my legs came to the party. I stopped briefly when a young boy wearing roller blades and swinging a golf club called out from the grass verge. He wasn't in trouble, and was only saying "hi" so I moved off again. I always struggle upon hitting the Old Hutt Road - I'm not sure what that's about - and today was no exception. The last kilometres to home seemed to take an age. The ride had taken at least an hour longer than it should've, and with that and the sleep in, the day's almost done.

Still, there were plenty of things at home waiting to cheer me up. A road trip looms, and I'm excited about that. Also, Simon sent me an email with a logo for Greater Wellington's active a2b campaign featuring Kaitlyn and I, and also telling us we're Mr and Mrs November in their desktop calendar! Ha-ha!

It seems we're both feeling the ill-effects of some motivating and exciting riding giving way to patching up our weaknesses in advance of the Akatarawa Attack and the Kiwi Brevet. Structured training sucks! Hopefully I'll find my spark while I'm away, and be tearing the legs of the Black Dog minutes from the door - that's if he even dares turn up. A few days after getting home is the Vets' 2 Day Tour in the Wairarapa, which should be suitably exciting! With luck this is just a blip...

PS: some of you will have read the following before, but it's a bit of the back story if you're interested...

Posted on vorb, 15 October, 2009: This is one of those posts that I can't quite predict in advance. Someone grizzled a few pages ago about non-bicycle related content, so up front I'll declare that this one's probably going to be a bit on the light end of the bike spectrum. Scurry off now, if a ride story's what you want.

This thread is the closest thing I've ever kept to a diary, and it's been used on and off by my Mum to check up on me. *waves* I occasionally enjoy looking back through it, and reminiscing, and thinking about what's changed and what hasn't.

Why write in public? My identity's not secret, so anonymity's not an attraction. Nor am I really interested in, or even conscious of, the audience. I don't think I want praise, although I suspect that's something I do rely on IRL. On the other hand, I am constantly impressed with the quality of advice and support that is cunningly hidden in the murky depths of this forum, and I am more than happy to tap into that. I think I write here because somehow the act of posting forces me to think, and write, in a way that I can't seem to replicate sitting in my armchair at home, away from the computer. I also have grown to respect and trust the vorb community. I'm an educator, from a family of educators, and I suppose a wee bit of me accepts there's a fair chance someone might benefit from reading what I share, bike-related or not.

If I were to look back through this thread, I'll notice a few things in February or so. I suspect there won't be a Karapoti story, nor will there be one from the Hospi Ride. March and April and May and perhaps even June will be very quiet. Around the posts tailing off will be mention of feeling like shit on the bike, and powerless, and I would expect to detect little enthusiasm in what I did write about. At the time, I had a bunch of tests, including full blood work, and a chest xray. These ruled out what I was hoping for (anaemia) and a whole lot of things I hadn't even contemplated (cancer). The physical lows I was experiencing were completely foreign to me, and I was convinced I was physically unwell. As the various tests eliminated possibilities, I started to focus on the fact that absolutely everything we do (maybe not everything, but forgive my hyperbole) relies on our brain. Perhaps I can pedal, but I just don't want to? How on earth can mental problems be eliminated as the cause of a feeling of physical weakness? My GP and I discussed depression as a possible cause of my ill-health, and I started a course of anti-depressants.

The predicted six weeks before liftoff took approximately twice that, but slowly and surely, weakness started to fade. I started wanting to work hard, rather than knowing I had to but feeling unable to. As work came online, whatever the opposite of a vicious cycle is, started to kick in, and ultimately the anti-depressants kick started a chain reactive positive feedback loop. Nothing's quite as depressing as feeling depressed, and on the flip side, feeling not-depressed was quite envigorating.

Eventually I felt in control enough of life to reintroduce riding. I pretty certain that indirectly riding was a large part of the cause of the depression, at least in the way that I'd used it to hide from real life. The wonderful sensations of fitness, success, enjoyment and simplicity of riding a bike, could not justify doing it at the expense of all else. I think that at the moment, the balance is about right. I'm finding time for quality, with varying levels of quantity.

I'm not sure what I'm good at on the bike. I certainly don't have the talent of someone like Monolith, and don't ever expect to be a podium finisher in something like the PNP series, but I do like interesting riding, and I do like working hard on a bike, and on a good day, I can surprise myself (and others!). I have been very fortunate to have a couple of close friends who know a hell of a lot more about me as a rider than I do, and know how to push my buttons, and get the best out of me. Kaitlyn asked me just yesterday how I came to be friends with Oli, and I told her about meeting him at Cycle Services and his wife at uni, and how aspects of the man, rather than the mechanic, had been incredibly important to me. Simon I met on the Makara Peak Supporters committee, and we knew each other for a few years (though barely ever rode together) before he invited me into his home when my relationship with Kaitlyn's mum collapsed. Somehow, between the two of them, knowingly or not, they help me set myself challenges, to which my body reacts very well. At the moment, both sides of the magical power/weight ratio are on the improve, and I'm loving feeling my body adapt week after week.

Tonight I rode home in the rain after a hill session with Simon, on a bike beautifully serviced by Oli. In terms of self-awareness, I have known the joy of being dry in the wet longer than anything else I can remember. As a boy, I used to stand in my grandmother's glass house during heavy rain, just inside the open door, and I would stare at the rain falling inches from me. I'd be dry, but feel like I was in the wet. Simon, Oli, and the rain all came together tonight, as I rode home in my brand new Ground Effect Flash Gordon, my shirt inside bone dry despite the water everywhere. And lo and behold, that simple trigger led to all this flowing out, even though it's been waiting to get written for weeks now.

I suppose this all belongs in the w00t thread, so forgive me for stashing it in here and sullying a thread that's meant to be about riding. There are a bunch of you who knew most of that anyway, and cheers to you all for your support. I don't know if any of that made any sense, and I'm not about to start proof reading my posts now...


  1. Awesome post John, here's a w00t for you. And ditto to Joel, have a great holiday and see you when you get back.

  2. Reading this for the third time today made me just want to say how brave I think you are for baring your soul in such a way. This should be required reading for anyone struggling with their demons. You write very good stuff. Kia kaha