This follows yesterday’s thoughts about Sportives. Last Sunday saw three of us riding 100 miles in the Hertfordshire 100 Sportive. We are all fit and are regular cyclists. This blog is from some musings during those long miles, with an attempt to link these thoughts to clinical practice in its various forms. The pre-ride blurb told us that Herts is a flat county and that the ride would be a reasonably gentle one. This was true for the first 60 miles. The last 40 miles were not flat. At all. (For those who are UK based the ride began and ended in Knebworth House – pictured above.) The route out was comfortable. The route back took us round numerous country roads skirting Hitchin. There are some lovely villages: Old Warden, Higham Gobion, Hexton, Lilley, and more. All sitting in valleys or on top of hills. All taking increasing energy to get through.
I can ride up hills. I don’t like too many at once but I can manage them. These hills seemed inexorable. No sooner had we ridden one than its neighbour appeared. And so on. For 40 miles. I discovered some interesting things during these hours. One is how fluid time can seem. After one climb my friend commented “There’s something odd here. That last five minutes lasted at least an hour!” I know that feeling. Time changes according to mood. I had spells when I was riding in a state of near euphoria. The sun was shining. The road was flat. I found a rhythmn and the pedals seems to turn by themselves. Half an hour flashed by in five minutes. At other points in the ride knew I had been climbing this hill all my life. (“Just call me ‘Sisyphus’.”) My watch told me that it was only five minutes. A mathematician should be able to devise a neat formula for this phenomenon. It would incorporate the theory of Relativity, elapsed time, the steepness of the hill and the hardness of my saddle.
A friend has recently had a very bad bout of depression, lasting many months. He told me of how he would sit down in a chair after breakfast. And sit. And sit. He wasn’t conscious of thinking anything. He simply sat there. He would look at the clock and see he had “lost” four hours. He would shrug and carry on sitting, with no awareness of anything around him.This lasted for a month and more until things began to heal inside him and he found small amounts of energy. He built on these. And built on the new gains. And so on. He is now reasonably well. His equation would need elements of Rage, Despair, Loneliness.
The hills on this ride were like this. Each hill was a new battle. I’d ride up to the bottom and think “I don’t want to do this”. But sheer bloody mindedness got me climbing. I’d drop down to my granny gears, turn the pedals and climb. And get to the top. Then came the ride down, which I found more difficult than the climb. After my crash 18 months ago, my confidence going down hill is not good. I used to happily whizz down a hill at 30 mph. Nowadays I ride at a cautious 15 mph at most, with one brake slowing me down. So the descents worry me more than the climbs. I feel more in control going up than coming down.
The parallel with emotional states is almost too obvious to make. I will only observe that it’s easy to assume that when we discharge a person this is now the easy part of their journey. We sometimes forget that this is when they have crashed before. And still want some support. (I remember the first time,as a child, that I rode my bike without stabilisers. I sailed along happily for about 100 yards. Then crashed into the only obstacle for miles around! Neither my poor father nor I had thought this could happen. But it did!)
Some other points about hills. I sometimes ride with folk who are very good climbers. (Half mountain goat, half man.) They treat hills in the same way that I treat a perfectly flat road. A 30% gradient is no challenge. I, however, sit at the back of the group, pedalling slowly and try to drag some more air into my lungs. There’s no point in asking “Are you ok,Terry?” I have no air to answer – although if they could read my mind they would have a very curt answer! I get up my hills on my terms.
Another hilly truth is that just because I got up a 20% climb yesterday, that does not guarantee that I will do so today! And vice versa. The fact that I couldn’t make it yesterday doesn’t mean that it can’t be climbed today. I will also get up impossible hills if I’m riding with someone else. I’ve climbed a number of hills simply because my friend in front is still on his bike. “If he can do it, so will I. Damn him!”
I find I have some thoughts left over, which I’ll write about tomorrow. Meanwhile here is a comment from one Karl Pilkington, which feels apt – although I’m not quite sure why.
“I came face-to-face with a gorilla which was quite good, but it was a 10 hour trek in bad weather, up hills, covered in mud, with mosquitoes everywhere and when we got here the gorilla’s just sat there doing nowt.”