Bears and Demons: One Year On…

Six months to the day after I arrived back in Greenwich, I stared at the computer screen and broke down completely.  It was the first of many.  It turns out that if you type ‘I need help’ on a whim into Google, the mental health charity mind is the first result.  I couldn’t believe it had been six months and I still wasn’t right.  The symptoms described me almost completely and it was suddenly so clear to me that I had a problem.  Even then I thought I could manage it myself though, and even now I’m still resisting taking the pills.

Time evaporated amid distractions.  First there was the Tour, then the Olympics, Then la Vuelta.  Summer didn’t happen and other things that I waited for with the same hope, met the same fate, which brings me to mind of the ‘mint sauce’ cartoon where summer is portrayed as a beautiful yet fickle girl who breezes into and out of our lives on her own terms and though each time we know not to expect too much, that we’ll only be let down, we are powerless to resist the hope that maybe this time will be different.

I held my arms open wide, to feel you deep inside, but all you gave were promises of ‘soon’, strangled the moment they breathed by another grey afternoon

Motivation after that was hard to come by, and having been someone with such a a single focus and mission to accomplish over so long, the feeling of not being able to summon enough enthusiasm to achieve even the most simple things became devastating for my exhausted brain and crumbling self esteem.

In the last year I’ve not finished a single race (unless you count roller racing, but that’s only 25 seconds long) and until Christmas, after riding 200 miles a day, day in, day out for 3 months back in the summer.  I couldn’t ride more than 30 miles without wanting to turn around and go home.  It was only by helping my friend Andrew achieve his first century, that I did mine since the race and I don’t think he knows how much he helped me as much as I helped him, maybe more.

Slowly but surely things came around though, taking a part time job in the winter with Cardiff Cycle Couriers replaced my ailing inner sense of purpose with an external, real, one and the expectation of getting the job done.  I rode through snow and rain with an often empty stomach and on many days and I didn’t like it one bit, but in getting through those days because I had no choice, I started to enjoy it and I became fit again by default.

In the spring I organised the informal 200 – a 200 mile road ride across Wales from Caernarfon to Cardiff and after a hard winter for many and the ‘just show up and ride’ format letting people bail at the last minute, the long list of interested riders from the autumn dwindled.  It seemed I wasn’t the only one lacking motivation, but I was committed and I was rewarded with one of the best days on a bike I’ve ever had in the company of a small group of highly accomplished endurance racers that I’d raced against often but never just ridden with.  There were no egos, just common respect, a good tempo and miles of quiet roads, it was an absolute joy.

I put in more big rides.  I did my first Audax, which I enjoyed immensely, and cranked the miles up through April and May.  Yet still the Divide loomed, like a prospect that might just arrive early without warning and catch me off guard.  Now after two weeks in Vietnam which made up for in sweat and great times with new friends what it might have lacked in actual miles, I appear to be on top form.  The last few bits of equipment are coming together, a little later than is comfortable as usual, but with confidence that it’s all going to work.

The first time I was out there on the Divide, the things I was afraid of were getting lost, running out of water, or surprising a grizzly bear.  This time my greatest fear is myself.  After last year’s antics I’m undoubtably one of the favourites on paper which is a pressure that could be constructive or destructive with equal magnitude, but the biggest pressure really is that which I put on myself.  I need to do the ride I know I have in me.  I’ve studied the maps, when things have got too much I’ve put other things off and focussed on this.  To all intents and purposes, I’m ready.  It feels like this is the big test of if I still have the head for this kind of racing.  In no uncertain terms I have unfinished business out there, and demons to slay.  The thing I’m scared of most is that I’ll get out there half way, into the Great Basin or somewhere and just decide its all just a load of bullshit and I don’t know what the point is any more.

I know I have it in me to win this thing but what happens if it all goes wrong and it doesn’t happen?  Today I talked to Rory Hitchens who put it elegantly.  Rory has not only hooked me up with support from some great companies like Reynolds, Pivot, Lezyne and Kenesis. but he’s also been a great friend to me and when we talked expectations “Its the Grand National of mountain biking” he said “you can be as capable as you like, but at the end of the day you still just need to get you and your horse to the end and you can’t make any guarantees”

But expectations or no expectations on result, its still ‘a big do’ and more to the point, what happens if it all goes well? does that make things any better? – It seems to have been what messed me up last time.

Maybe when its over, whatever happens, its time to take the pills.

2 thoughts on “Bears and Demons: One Year On…

  1. Brian
    June 18, 2013 at 5:10 am

    HI Mike,
    Great article.
    Tracking your progress on the tour divide almost hourly.
    Glad to hear that you having got your breathing sorted out.
    Hope you have a good night’s sleep and get stuck into day 4 in the morning.
    PS You are closing Craig down at a hell of a rate

  2. Drake
    July 4, 2013 at 2:44 am

    Hi Mike
    You vanquished your demons on the Tour Divide, an amazing performance. You are certainly the Gold Standard for endurance cyclists. Thanks for sharing both the light and the dark sides in this article.
    Be at peace and be proud.

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