Earlier this month, three of my friends and I took on the challenge of cycling 910 miles from Lands End to John O Groats to raise money for Alzheimer’s Society. It was a tough eight and a half days, made tougher by consistent rain and the fact that we should have given ourselves a bit more time! But those things aside, it was an amazing trip and having been back for a few days I have had the chance to think about why I ride, and what it means to me.
Riding a bike requires focus. It only takes one wobble at 40km/h to make you acutely aware of just how exposed you are in your polystyrene hat and super-stylish lycra. When I go for a ride in Bristol, I tend to ride for couple of hours at a time and i’m usually focussing on going as fast as possible. In-between making sure I don’t get run over, fall off, or hyperventilate going up some of the hills around here, there isn’t much space in my head to think about anything else.
What a luxury that is.
A couple of hours to give your brain a break from all of the little things that are constantly buzzing around our heads, a couple of hours of pure focus on a simple task. There is definitely something meditative about it. And the reward when I get back? A rush of endorphins and a decent excuse to eat a load of food - what’s not to like?!
But what happens when you do this for 10 hours a day, for 8.5 days?
It’s like holding the power button on your computer and just forcing it to stop, clear the decks and start again.
For the whole time I was away, I didn’t think about work once, and I certainly didn’t think about any of the silly little day-to-day things that I tend to worry about.
The focus was just to keeping pedalling. The focus was “where shall we stop for lunch?”, “are we going to make it before it gets dark”, “should we find shelter and wait out this rain, or just keep going?”, “how much further have we got to go?”, “Is that niggling pain in my leg getting worse?”.
The focus was to get to John O Groats.
Having a simple, short-term, challenging goal that I could throw all of my focus and all of my energy toward gave me a chance to breathe. When we reached John O Groats, I was exhausted, but my head felt clear. The intensity of the past 10 days had scoured my brain clean, and I was ready (after a big sleep) to start again. To use a rather cliché simile, I imagine the effects were similar to a controlled burn in a forest - clearing away the dense, tangled undergrowth to make space for the new.
That’s why I ride.
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