21 years as a Royal Marine has taught me a lot about life but it’s only now that I’m starting to learn about myself. You see we all have a finite capacity for courage and stress, although the total volume of each differs from one person to the next. Most of us go through life without ever cashing out on either but for some, a point is reached when there’s nothing left in the tank. Where the slightest additional input tips the balance, and the equilibrium of life which we so took for granted we didn’t even know it was there, is lost. And we enter a kind of mental free fall.
That happened to me not so very long ago and looking back I can see it was inevitable. At the time though, it was so shocking it brought about a lot of very damaging tendencies. I was living my life in pixelated monochrome, going through the motions but deriving no satisfaction or joy and inadvertently creating a lot of pain and hurt in the process. I can see now this was caused by my inner chimp, as espoused by Dr Steve Peters of British Cycling fame, going into survival mode and making a clamour to deflect from some true soul-searching and the need to face up to my demons.
Through the help of an organisation called Rock2Recovery, I’ve come to understand the mechanics of what’s going on in my head and develop coping strategies to neuter their effects. Key is to disengage the mind. To just stop feeding the inner ego with food to create negative energy. To learn to harness the power of now as Eckhart Tolle would put it. It’s a difficult notion to consider, let alone achieve – the removal of time, no past, no future; just the immediate now, experienced in full, glorious technicolor. There are many ways to achieve this – entire religions are based upon the concept. My chosen path to enlightenment is through my bike.
Geraint Thomas may be right when he says the hardest part of any ride is the 5 minutes before you leave the house, but once those cleats lock in and the pedals start to turn its like a switch going off in my head. The piercing, headache-inducing neon strip-lights of my over-active mind are turned off and the soothing natural glow of my consciousness comes through. The Chimp sits in the corner chomping through a pile of bananas and is content. There is nothing else, only now. The push to the top, the grind, the burn in the legs. Focus on spinning circles. Just breathe. Look ahead, search for traction. Thumbs on top, elbows down. Suck it in. Look down, pump those quads: work harder! Look up; see the sky start to show through the trees indicating the top’s getting closer now. Final dig. And there it is: the view, the reward. Soak it up. No mind. Just breathe. In and out. There is nothing else.
And then as the noise of the world starts to rush back in, time to focus on the down. Disengage brain. Follow the drill. Clunk-click: saddle down, clip in. Rolling. Every sense stood-to. Information overload as the speed comes on. Weight that front wheel, hit those braking points. Don’t analyse, just do. No mind. The whumph of fully loaded tyres at the outer edge of the envelope of grip, slarving through perfect loam, deep in the mid-corner g-out of a naturally-formed berm. No mind. Roots gone in a flash, floating through rock gardens – speed is your friend. No mind. Everything in exquisite focus, every sense transmitting pure information, no clutter, no stray volts, no extraneous thoughts just the purity of a system working in perfect unison.
Basking in the afterglow of the natural high. Sitting on the cross-tube, slumped over the bars. A head devoid of all thought, all stress, focusing on the basics of life itself: breathing, pumping blood, flushing out the lactic acid as a kaleidoscope of colour floods through. Just the tink-tinking of cooling brake discs providing any hint of a rhythm that could be considered to conform to the notion of time.
A cleansing of the soul.
Words & Pictures: John Fidler