Barking, biking, boaking. An incomplete look at 2013

December 31, 2013 at 9:59 pm | Posted in cycling | Leave a comment
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[Caution: contains navel-gazing]

I’m always a bit maudlin at New Year. Traditionally, it’s been an opportunity to look back with dissatisfaction over a year of anxiety and underachievement, and look unhappily forward to more of the same.

This year, I feel a bit different: worse in some ways, better in others. February saw me finally crack and go to the GP. A couple of weeks off with stress turned into a couple of months; six months later I was still off, and still feeling pretty terrible. So as of September I’m on a year’s sabbatical, doing a few other things and seeing where I end up. A bit of a quest: is there something I can do that won’t make me feel as useless as academia does? (I’m eternally grateful for the support of @spandelles in making this happen.)

So, it’s been an odd year. A lot of soul-searching, some very low episodes, and quite a few epiphanies. There’s also been quite a lot of biking.
sunny cross ride 2013
Now, I can’t say that biking has saved me from anxiety. Life still makes me weep with fear. I still avoid my friends in case they tell me I have nothing to worry about, and I just need to get out of the house more, or maybe do yoga. But biking’s playing an odd part in reshaping life. I’ve done all sorts of new stuff on bikes this year. Much of it half-paralysed me with terror. But there’s a weird interaction between fear and fun: these have been some of the best times I’ve ever had on a bike. Some highlights:

1. Trying A Bit Harder. I know you all hate Strava, but it’s made an enormous difference to my riding. Who knew trying hard could be fun? Clawing my way slowly up a couple of local leaderboards has done wonders for my self-esteem. And when I go badly, there are always excuses.

2. Velodroming. The fun-fear interaction in microcosm. I sit in track centre, trying not to be sick on my shoes. It takes a superhuman effort to peel myself off the railings and up onto the boards. But zipping down off the banking is the most amazing feeling in the world.

3. Road training. I still can’t follow a wheel without intoning OHGODOHGODOHGODOHGOD. But! Doing through-and-off round the running track! Sprinting for the line! My face aches from grinning.

4. PODIUMING in an actual race. Okay, it was a ‘fun’ race at the Orbital Festival, and it was full of other idiot novices, and basically everyone came in before me. But I still PODIUMED and it was, quite honestly, wonderful.

5. Cyclocross. You all know about this already. ‘Cross saved me from giving up biking altogether, so I owe it. It also regularly brings me into contact with some of my darkest fears (coming last, never EVER getting any better, getting my arse whipped by my friends, and other variants of failing pathetically in public) which seems to be good for me, if painful. My 2013 ‘cross season has been rubbish, but there’s always next year, right?

bike in hailstorm 2013

Anyway. Where’s this all going? @spandelles pointed out to me the other day (with his customary insight) that this year, while I’ve been full of doubts – about work, my capabilities, whether I will ever feel any better – cycling has been my testing ground. Who am I, really? What do I enjoy? What am I good at? What could I get better at? Where should I put the effort in? What potential do I have?

Maybe 2014 will be the year where I can start to generalise from these experiences. Maybe it will all start to join up and make sense. Who knows? Stay tuned, if you can stand it.

In the meantime, I’d like to thank you lot. 2013 would’ve been a lot harder without you. While my existing friends largely carried on without me, twitter leapt to my side, encouraging, supporting and occasionally ticking me off. (A few have even made the improbable leap from online to real-life friends.) I send you all a kiss. Big one.

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