If I were to pick a word to describe 2018, it would be hard to go past ‘shitshow’. A year that cost me my marriage, along with several other significant relationships, and even my beloved dog, isn’t likely to attract gleaming accolades.
But I am nothing if not an optimist and last year was valuable beyond compare in terms of finally leaving behind old and dysfunctional ways of thinking and being, and finding a version of and vision for myself I am positively and all-encompassingly excited about. It was also extremely useful for observing and understanding patterns in relationships. It’s tempting to sit and blame other people for fallout (and to be fair there’s been plenty of blaming, I’m hardly claiming to be Zen-like here) but it’s a far more useful exercise to reflect on my part in it all, and consider what I could do differently in the future and conversely, what I would not do differently. The changes of 2018 were harrowing but they were all the right changes.
I also had my first novel published, an event that sadly was completely overshadowed by the disintegration of my personal life. The book is out there in the world and hopefully remains the start of something, as opposed to a catastrophic symbol of the price of creative expression and ambition. In my darker moments I think of it as just that, but those moments are becoming less frequent.
Writing goals do remain out of reach at the moment so for 2019 my to-do list is primarily cycling related. One of the advantages of divorce and shared custody is that I have a lot more free time, and what better way to spend it than on a bike? Interspersed with the odd bit of skating, swimming and surfing. In no particular order, here are the plans for this year.
London-Wales-London: A 400k audax (aka ‘bloody long bike ride’) that came on my radar thanks to sports psychologist Josie Perry. I’ve never ridden anything like this distance in one go but am assured it is possible, and the second I read about it, I was pretty much in. Training for LWL will involve a fair few distance events, all of which are excellent excuses for a weekend away on the cheap, which is essentially 50% of my 2019 plans in a nutshell.
London series BMX: I only started BMX early last summer but it’s safe to say I’m completely addicted. I managed one race last year, at the Olympic track in Stratford where I and one other ‘mature’ female were shoved in with bunch of men on cruisers (BMX bikes with larger wheels) and I tailed around last and finished about fifty metres off the pace. Regardless, it was one of the best things I’ve done. BMX is ridiculously good fun and completely immersive, builds general bike handling skills, is excellent for all-round fitness and is one of the few things that takes me completely out of my own head, largely through blind fear, and allows me to occupy my body 100%. For a deep thinker like me this is gold dust.
Cycling instructor training. I have wanted to do this for years but for various reasons it wasn’t possible, this year however I have taken the plunge and will be training in February. Once the course is done I will be able to work as an instructor, ideally mainly with children but also with women, especially mothers and older women who might feel they don’t have the time to cycle or it’s just ‘not for them’.
4. Mechanicals. Along with starting BMX, learning how to maintain and fix my bike properly was one of the best things I did last year. I went to drop-in sessions at London Bike Kitchen in Hackney, where the extremely tolerant and very lovely Amy provided tea, great conversation and expert coaching in how to wrestle with various metal implements. I have also taken to frequenting my local bike shop, Wallington Cycles, where I am learning a great deal in return for tea, snacks and general banter, which seems an excellent deal to me. Most recently we built a wheel with a dynamo hub, a nifty little invention that uses the power generated by cycling to run lights and even charge things via USB (the shrieking when we were able to charge a mobile phone from it was off the chart). Tinkering with my bike setup is enormously satisfying and if you want to get all deep about it, which obviously I do, building my competence has been absolutely vital to restoring something of my rather shattered self-esteem. In short, doing stuff is super empowering.
5. South Downs Way. I grew up very near the South Downs and that landscape has a strong and profoundly soothing emotional effect on me, a bittersweet combination of home, awareness of the passage of time, and righteous suffering. The latter might be all the hills. At the moment I ride there on my cyclocross bike but even my plucky, can-do attitude is failing in the face of narrow drops, no suspension and a saddle forged straight from Hell. It’s really more mountain bike sort of territory. I haven’t been able to look at my mountain bike since my marriage ended, as it was representative of one of the few things my ex husband and I did together. However the last time I rode on the South Downs I concluded that the emotional pain of dusting off my mountain bike would still be lesser to the physical pain inflicted by my cross bike, which is progress, in a weird way. I’m less bothered about riding the whole 100m end-to-end, as it’s really a landscape I like to wander around on rather than rip through, however my cousins live in Winchester providing an ideal place to collapse at the end of it, so at some point it probably needs to be done in a linear fashion, either in part or in full.
6. Hills, hills, hills. Climbing and descending fill me with a combination of excitement and fear - or nausea, as it’s generally known. In terms of using physical activity as a way to address one’s fears, hills are a prime contender for me. I also happen to really love them even if I am prone to anxiety over heights and I worry hugely about corners when descending, thanks to being a generally off-kilter, right-handed-left-footed sort of person and the lasting physical impact of two pregnancies in quick succession. A few weeks ago I dug out a list of the top 10 climbs in Surrey and nailed four in a day, which felt like a good start.
7. The one I can’t even write about yet. A while ago a friend contacted me suggesting a cycling challenge that filled me with incredulous terror, so obviously I said yes. We are now making plans. I’m too worried about jinxing any of it to say what it is, but it will happen in September, take around two weeks and be Lots of Fun, Hellish and generally Quite The Adventure.
8. Stand up on a surfboard. I mean, this has to happen at some point, right?
9. Observe my response to landscapes. A bit existential, this one, but I am fascinated by the concept of a personal response to a landscape or environment. After my marriage came to an end I went on several trips to parts of the UK that hold meaning for me, and observing and experiencing my emotional reactions to these places was enormously healing and really deepened my knowledge of who I am and where I came from. Fundamentally the desire to know where we’re from is steeped in our DNA. Whether I was on a bike or in water, the way I interacted with these landscapes brought me understanding I couldn’t have gained in other ways. For example Northumberland, where I was born, holds deep associations for me with the mother bond and significant formative relationships with females including my relationship with my own daughters. This year I want to continue interacting with a range of landscapes that hold significance or curiosity for me.
10. Skate like a girl. Skating is about the only thing I do that has no purpose, goal or achievement attached other than the experience itself. As a friend observed, most skaters really are ‘just about the skate’ and in the adult world it’s rare to have something you do just for the sake of it, for no greater ambition or with nothing to prove. Skating is also what the always-brilliant Lucy calls a site of mutual fulfilment - something my daughters and I can do together that feels exclusively ours and impacts on our confidence in and unity with one another. Skating is by far the most fiendishly difficult of all the sports I do, takes the most effort for the least obvious gain, and holds that fear factor that renders me unable to think or process anything other than the moment.