Penny Farthing

The single most challenging test for an individual cyclist is the event known as The Hour. You can read an earlier edition on this topic here:

The challenge is to cycle round a track for exactly 60 minutes and see what distance you can cover. It is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical feat of endurance.

The first recorded distance was set in 1873 by James Moore in Wolverhampton in England, riding an Ariel 49″ high wheel bicycle 14.5 miles.  On 7 June this year Bradley Wiggins rode  33.8808856 miles on a Pinarello Bolide HR, SRAM Cransket, modified front fork, custom printed  handlebars, 58/14 gear ratio – it’s a bicycle, apparently. Moore is pictured on the right here – note the stylish head gear – in sharp contrast to Wiggins’ aerodynamic ‘teardrop’ helmet.

Whose achievement is the greater?

This a question that lies beneath much of what we ‘recovery specialists’ engage with when supporting folks like ourselves with stubborn, bloody – minded mental health problems. There is the recurrent theme of loss; loss of emotional possessions such as personal relationships, or opportunities to use one’s skills, the loss of time itself that mental illness soaks up for days, weeks and years. The common thread can be summed up thus: loss of achievement. We started out with hopes and dreams. Someone, a teacher, a doctor, or maybe a disappointed parent, put those hopes and dreams away when our brains crumbled.

Back in 2005, when my psychiatrist agreed that I could start looking for work again after 3 years off sick, he made 3 provisos: 1) never work in London again (an hour plus journey); 2) only work part time; 3) I should not be in charge. And so, a part of my world expanded, part also shrank. I have kept to that advice …. mostly. I will never work in the Big City again. I can’t see me working full time (although the thought has crossed my mind in the last year or so.) But I ignored the part about being in charge with the first job I did after having agreed to these conditions. It wasn’t pretty. Eventually, in 2013, this time with my psychiatrist’s support, I found myself ‘in charge’ once more.

I can say with some confidence that I am a skilled group facilitator. I have years of experience supporting people one to one with enduring mental health problems to secure their recovery. If their warm feedback is anything to go by, I must be doing something right.

And yet.

I know that I cannot manage what I used to – I’ll never again take the 7.11 train to London 5 times a week. I know that. I am reminded of why by the emotional charge that almost blows me off my feet every time I arrive at the station in London en route to a training course amidst the teeming throng of humanity. I know that – for now – 3 days a week with a much shorter journey is the extent of my working week.

So, which is the greater feat? 14 miles on a Penny Farthing or nearly 34 miles on the latest technology cycling science and mechanics have to offer? The hour for each of these attempts had the same number of minutes and seconds, but they feel different to me. I am riding the Penny Farthing, and it’s enough for me to say that I’m still in the saddle.

The French call The Hour challenge Contre La Montre – Against the Clock.  There is still time…..


After great pain a formal feeling comes–
The nerves sit ceremonious like tombs;
The stiff Heart questions–was it He that bore?
And yesterday–or centuries before?

The feet, mechanical, go round
A wooden way
Of ground, or air, or ought,
Regardless grown,
A quartz contentment, like a stone.

This is the hour of lead
Remembered if outlived,
As freezing persons recollect the snow–
First chill, then stupor, then the letting go.

Emily Dickinson 1830-1886

This entry was posted in anxiety, Bi Polar Disorder, Cycling, Depression, Mental Health, mental health services, mental illness, Poetry, Relapse and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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