- moderate being within reasonable or average limits, not excessive or extreme
- moderate, temperate not extreme
- moderate, restrained marked by an avoidance of extravagance or extremes
Recently a friend of mine gave me a couple of books of cycle routes, one is of rides across southern England, the other is of a more challenging endeavour – the route from St Malo on the northern coast of France to Nice on the Mediterranean – and not one I see myself riding (at least not much of it.)
But it’s the book of English rides that got me thinking. I was leafing through them, looking at where they were, how to get there. With each ride I was drawn to the number of miles that each ride was and its classification (easy, moderate or strenuous.) It stated the number of miles for each ride. 32 miles, 36 miles, 27 miles, 24 miles …
These distances (not long for me) seemed long enough. 2 or 3 hours, maybe. I could do 2 of them in a day, or more. But these short distances felt like they would be plenty for one day. In fact there was some comfort in these distances. The locations, too. If I could get to the start by train, if the time it took to get there was not long …
You will see from my previous post that I had my bicycle stolen at the end of October. It has taken longer to get a replacement than I had expected. During these past couple of months I have been riding my mountain bike. It’s a different ride altogether. Knobbly off road tyres on tarmac, flat handlebars and the hand grips have ridges, not smooth handlebar tape. I didn’t take it off road, or go on a ride of any significance the whole time I was waiting for my new bike. The weather was no barrier (it rarely is with me.) I got a puncture one evening on my way home from the station after work. I called a taxi that was big enough to fit both me and my bike in the back. I took the bus for a couple of days before fixing the puncture. As you will have noticed, this blog dried up. I could have padded out the weeks reblogging old posts. I made notes for future editions, but nothing took hold. The longer I didn’t write, the harder it became.
I wrote about the expectations my psychiatrist says I should have about my mental health in an earlier edition. You can read about it here:
The past couple of months have made me consider my limitations still further. I couldn’t just jump on my mountain bike and head off for the off road pleasures of the South Downs less than a mile from my home. When my new bike was finally ready I found it too hard to just pick from where I left off. I’ve been finding it harder than I thought to adjust. The gear shifters are different for one thing. I have found myself changing into the wrong gear climbing the hill on which I live, making it harder, not easier, to turn the pedals.
All of this makes me think of what mental health recovery is like. I’m fond of saying that it’s really slow – ‘like watching paint dry’, I tell anyone who is willing to listen. And this, I realise, is where I am at the moment. Getting my bike hit me harder than I realised at the time. Of course, anyone would be upset. But I made my peace with it too quickly, perhaps. As I wrote last time, my Long Suffering Spouse immediately said that I should get a new bike, after all, she reminded me, she had offered to buy me one for my birthday back in July. That kindness may have pushed my feelings of loss, anger, and despair to the bottom of my pannier, so to speak, forgotten amongst the receipts, tyre levers and torn surgical gloves I use for bike maintenance.
For people like me the aim – chemically as well as mentally – is to curb the extremes. Coming back from a blow like losing my bike was never going to be put right by a loving gesture, welcome though that was. It was not going to be eased by the fortunate fact that I had another bike to ride in the meantime. Every time I rode my mountain bike, the rhythm of the wrong type of tyre on the wrong type of surface reminded me that something was wrong.
On 25 December I went for a short ride – 12 miles – up and over the steep climb that takes me into the surrounding countryside. I turned back as planned shortly after the 2 mile descent. I made my way up the hill again, the rhythm of the climb familiar to me after years of riding the route. I circumnavigated the big roundabout just north of where I live and coasted down the hill to home.
It was the first time I had worn lycra, the first time I had worn my cycling shoes or used my water bottle since mid October. I had done something very familiar to me, ridden a road that is challenging, yes, but that holds no fear for me.
It may not be the Mount Ventoux next time, but I am learning to trust my bicycle, and my abilities, once again.
I always remember your beautiful flowers
And the beautiful kimono you wore
When you sat on the couch
With that tigerish crouch
And told me you loved me no more.
What I cannot remember is how I felt when you were unkind
All I know is, if you were unkind now I should not mind.
Ah me, the power to feel exaggerated, angry and sad
The years have taken from me. Softly I go now, pad, pad
Stevie Smith (1902 – 1971)