Thursday, 20 June 2013

Reflections and the relativity of bad luck

It’s been a pretty terrible week, you won’t often hear me whining publically but the last few days have seen such a perfect storm of awful luck and unpardonable actions that I feel pretty justified in having a good old moan. I think the important thing in situations like the one I’ve currently got myself in is to acknowledge the bad things which have happened and try to look at how you can learn from them and move on, there’s no point wallowing in your own misery but equally simply ignoring things is neither sensible nor sustainable.

Last Saturday, I got up, spread nutella on toast and made coffee in my Vietnamese coffee maker. I was pretty excited about getting in 90 miles and meeting a group before dropping in atvelohangar for more coffee and a catch up with Laurel and Gordon. I never made it to Velohangar, or to the group ride. Before I’d even ridden an hour someone drove their car into me, knocked me unconscious, broke my back and left me on the road. Fortunately I didn’t know much about it as I was busy in the little world inside my head which I disappeared to. The ambulance crew tell me we talked on the ride to the hospital and the Trauma doc says we conversed in French (he was quebecois) but I don’t recall any of it.

I’d planned to spend the evening with lots of my friends at Conrad’s birthday drinking good beer, eating burgers and then driving tpgether to Sunday’s ladera GP. Instead I spent it on my own. Injecting morphine, eating sugar free pudding (cos I’ve got diabetes) and falling asleep face first in my “dinner” thanks to my first experiment with ambien.

I’m lucky to have wonderful friends, within hours of my check in Behren’s had arrived with speculoos (medicinal of course), Jesse had bought me insulin (so the nurses could stop dosing me based only on my HEIGHT), Conrad offered to cancel his party and come and get me, Brennan bought me brainteasers and deodorant, Nate came directly from his graduation still wearing his mortar board and  Elaine and Shaun picked me up and tried not to laugh at the fact that, thanks to me being admitted in shredded spandex I was discharged 36 hours later in what amounted to a corset and a robe.

I’m lucky to have so many friends who are so willing to help. I’ve received beer, coffee, cookies and carne asada as well as lifts around and kind words from more people than I can list. I was looking forward to going to share some of the beer and eat some of the cookies at the velodrome on Tuesday night. It’s the gathering place for the cycling community and I’ve sat on that infield in lycra, in plaster and on crutches hundreds of times andwether I’m racing or breaking myself I always feel happy and comfortable and safe, surrounded by good beer, good friends and 333.3 m of ad pavement.

My little comfort bubble shattered on Tuesday, hanging on the rail before the scratch race I exchanged tips with a friend. Myassanine tactical advice amounted to “get to the finish before the other guys, don’t fall over”. She quipped that I sounded like I’d done this before and I joked about being a Sunday morning cyclist. The race took off and I went to rest my back, I opened a beer with my shoe and wasn’t even looking at the track when I heard the PA system call out for someone who was first aid trained, I ran down the track (don’t tell my ortho) and tried my best to help. What happened in the next few hours isn’t for sharing, or for going over in my mind again, so I won’t. Suffice to say my pathetic advice was the last Jackie ever received.

Just as I fell down and got back up again I was once again down, as low as I can remember being. I came back from the hospital at 1am and couldn’t sleep. I sat on a swing in the park by my house and cried for a friend, for a person who could leave me on the road presuming I was dead, for the man in the hospital with me coming cold turkey off narcotics, for my family, and for the sake of crying.

The crying did me good, I’ve lost more fellow bike racers than I care to think about this year. None of them as close physically or emotionally as last week. Jackie wasn’t my best friend by any means but her energy and enthusiasm for the sport reminded me of my own in my first few seaons. She also liked pink stuff, not something I have ever been averse to. I’ve had time to think now, about how I feel about the loss, about how I feel about bike racing and bike riding. I still love riding my bike, I’ve been off it for 4  days and I’m already yearning for the summer evening rides where I cut my teeth as a junior and for the thrill of bumping shoulders in a fast corner. But I’ve been thinking about life as well. Of the two of us, myself and Jackie, I got hit by a car, shattered my helmet and left for dead, she had a minor crash at the track. I should be the one who didn’t survive and somehow, I did.

As I wrote a few months ago when I lost friends in two separate incidents in a week, I don’t go by the “live as if you’ll die tomorrow” idea, you should live as if you’re living today. I wouldn’t change my life if I found out I was going tomorrow, every day I’m happy to go to sleep and can’t wait to wake up, even if I wake up and put on a back brace over the flayed skin on my back. I don’t think we go anywhere after we die, the only way you ever live forever is by the deeds you leave behind. I don’t know how long it’ll be before the crash I can’t walk away from or whatever else it is that bumps me off the plank but in the meantime I want to do as much good, have as much fun and touch as many people as I can. Putting things off until later has never been my style anyway and I’m very happy with my life. I’d hate to have been in the back of that Ambulance thinking of all the things I had planned to do. Sure there’s lots I still want to get done but I’m also very happy with what I’m doing right now.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote an entry called “do what you love and love what you do” and I keep coming back to that. I love educating people, I love working with people living with diabetes, I love racing my bike, I love sharing it all through writing and I love the chances I get to see the world from so many different perspectives. I’m exceptionally lucky to have so many surrogate families and such strong friends all around the world. If you take anything from reading this (and thank you for bothering) It’s that every day we’re alive we create our own heaven, don’t wait to do things or expect any reward in extra time, do the good you’ve always wanted to do now and make the world around you a little more special each day. Then you can go out with a smile, whenever they call your number.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

little hands and latex gloves

It’s been a while since I’ve been the victim of quite so much intimate touching in such a short period of time. I just managed to blag my way out immigration detention in Miami and make it onto a flight to Dallas (yeah I’m on the culture tour) after a few hours of interrogation, some back handed groping and allegations of being an intravenous drug user (who apparently takes care to preload needles with 5 iu portions of drugs?).  Fortunately the cool welcome of the land of the free couldn’t put a dampener on the incredibly warm and not insignificantly fuzzy feeling generated by a couple of weeks volunteering with Ayuda in the Dominican Republic. For every time a gun toting moron shouted at me today, I laughed ten times with adorable Dominican children last week. For every time someone’s latex gloves patted my gentleman’s bits a few hours ago, 20 little arms gave me hugs.

Sunday was the climax of a week of great work on the part of our dedicated team of volunteers both from North America and the Dominican Republic. It’s a cliché to say so but I really feel it’s such a privilege to share things I love with people and moving around outside and diabetes education feature pretty high on my list of things I love (also up there are beer, coffee and chocolate which all happen to be made in the DR). there’s really nothing better than the feeling of giving someone the joy that I get riding my bike, it’s the gift that keeps on giving (and occasionally the gift that lands me in the ER with massive trauma but we’ll gloss over that). To give someone the tools they need to live a healthy, happy life with diabetes is a tremendously empowering experience for both parties, to see someone take ownership of themselves and their condition, to realize that diabetes needn’t be a burden and they shouldn’t feel shame about their condition makes me so happy.

We spent the week promoting healthy living, diet and exercise with or without diabetes. We travelled around schools television studios to radio stations sometimes in Spandex and sometimes in fancy linen trousers (until I ripped the arse out of them attempting to dance mernegue) . We planned games for young kids with diabetes which would be both fun and educative (educafun?) and our volunteers shared their own experiences living healthy, happy lives with and without diabetes. We slept very little and laughed a lot. We also consumed world record amounts of rice kripsy treats for which some of us blamed hypoglycaemia.

On Friday I sat on a beach, made a mess of my cleats, ate a passionfruit ice cream and thought about all the things that had to go wrong for me to be in such a wonderful place.  My body gave my pancreas a kicking, but that seemed ok when It got me on cycling team which I though was cool, then they turned out to be anything but and I got fired for caring (and for wearing a pretty awesome T shirt), I lost my visa, my health insurance and my job. But if I hadn’t I wouldn’t have known how it feels to lack the medications you need to stay alive, maybe I wouldn’t speak the languages I do, not just Spanish or French or Catalan but the words that come from stories, from sleeping in your car, from riding 6 hours to keep your blood sugar down, from racing so hard and so much that you fall asleep without taking your helmet off, from living off the cheese you won as a prime for a week and from lying face down in the sand wondering when a bull is going to turn you into a hamburger. Everything happens for a reason and there’s no hardship you can’t learn from. I arrived in Paradise that day via broken bones, countless nights on other people’s sofas and surrogate families in every corner of the world. Sometimes if you’re not forced to rely entirely on the generosity of other people you won’t ever realize just how rewarding it is to give without ever expecting anything in return.

On Sunday I completed my annual running race, as usual I was late, and sub optimally prepared and as usual every step was pretty much purgatory. I think I came 28th, I’m pretty sure I was the first person who high 5’d the volunteers at every aid station and that’s good enough for me. On Sunday I also played with the kids from the foundation for hours, answered countless questions about diabetes, exercise, nutrition and the weather in England. I got up at 5am and went to bed at midnight and it was the most rewarding, fun, tiring, painful and joyous experience I’ve had in a long time.

Above all things I want to say thank you to everyone who supported me. With donations, with kind words, with warm beds and cold water, with the occasional push and the frequent free beers. What we do in the DR, and in Arizona and all over is my way of saying thank you, of taking the incredible kind things people do for me and passing them on to people who need kindness in a way I often do. I know how empowering it is to give and receive without any desire for reciprocity and I hope you can share the pleasure I have enjoyed in the last few weeks.

Stay tuned for more, I have a week of training my arse off in San Diego (I don’t want that TSA bloke to have anything left to grope) then back for a few more weeks in the foundation in the DR. We still welcome your support; people still need your help. Then it’s back to Catalonia and some solid training because I have some big bike racing plans coming up. Oh and Wait until you see what we’ve got lined up in October.  Right now the happy thoughts bank account is receiving deposits and I’ll need all of those to fly when I start to make withdrawals.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

do what you love and love what you do

Last Saturday, I stood in front of a group of young people and we talked about planes, now I’m on one. Since then I’ve travelled literally and metaphorically a long way. A week ago I was lecturing in Gernika, teaching kids about the past so they’ll make a better future. That and trying to keep them awake so they leave their study abroad course with something other than a hangover. We spoke about the failure of the “democratic” powers to help the Spanish Republic, about the fact that you can destroy a town with aeroplanes but you can’t destroy a nation despite decades of oppression. We spoke about the power of a painting and the weakness of a state. I really enjoy opening up the minds of young people to the past, and encouraging them to reconsider their own position and biases. I didn’t realize how much I missed teaching until I sat down with them afterwards and talked about the questions they had, about what street art means, about why we have 3 hour lunch breaks and, predictably enough (thanks google) why on earth I got into a confined space with an angry cow.  
Then I got in a crappy “pearlescent” citroen xsara and drove 5 hours, much of it in my “team issue” boxer shorts (hi viz Calvin’s from a market in ho chi minh city) due to an interesting quirk of the car’s wiring which seems to redirect heat into the driver’s seat. This makes toll booths an interesting exercise.  Despite looking a little bit (ok a lot) like a member of the village people. I enjoyed the drive. I went across Rioja, Navarre and Catalonia spotting Osborne bulls along the way and rocking out to my 80’s megamix cassettes (yup my car is THAT cool). I arrived in Senan late, but not too late to take a walk and watch some fox cubs fighting in the fields outside the house. On the drive it occurred to me that I’m rarely happier than in a shit car, with a bike in the back and a sofa, floor or sleeping bag somewhere to sleep on. I guess I’m lucky but if you can be happy in your situation, even if it’s not the one you were raised or supposed to desire I truly believe that you can find joy anywhere, and if you can’t you need to change something!
The hext day was a big money crit in Reus, I’d driven back in the hope of landing a small slice of the big pie. Had the race invite included any information on the course, distance or format, I wouldn’t have bothered. Lining up for a 1k course with 2 180 degree turns and the last rider eliminated each lap took more than one coffee. I was nervous and my bloodsugar kept trending down every time I tried to warm up. Nonetheless, on the line I began to feel a bit better, I jokingly held onto a friend’s saddle and passed around a bag of the cola flavoured powerbar chews, only later did I realize that I had been storing these in the leg of my skinsuit and perhaps anyone who had seen where they had come from would appreciate the gift a little less.
We received a benedicition, or something like that and then someone fired a pistol. After confirming that I hadn’t inadvertently regressed back into the 1930s where I spend half of my week I set off in pursuit of the guys who’d started clipped in. pulling up hard on the pedals I proceeded to effect a fantastic pirouette, somehow keeping the bike upright I sprinted back into the group but my left pedal wasn’t having any of it. I was the victim of another second republic phenomenon, the lockout. After some kindly pushes from the crowd and a fair bit of torque from my right leg I managed to survive one elimination, force my foot into the pedal and then yank it out again, getting intimate with my top tube in the process. Game over then.
Later I lined up for a second race and, for the first time I can remember I didn’t really want to be racing my bike, and so I didn’t. I took the keys from my car, grabbed a few honey packets and headed for the hills above the city. Normally I like to test myself on the 17km climb but I just didn’t feel like it. TO be honest, ever since that race on Sunday I have no desire to get on my bike and challenge myself. All week I’ve been riding to coffee shops, looking for motivation and coming back with nothing. I wasn’t experiencing the joy I normally get every time I rip down my street, I wasn’t using the speedbumps as launch ramps, I wasn’t able to enjoy what I was doing in the moment I was doing it and that’s something that is unusual for me.
On Thursday I went for a ride, just because I go for rides. For an hour, I battled the urge to stop at every coffee shop even though I’d given up caffeine to give my adrenals a bit of a break. I was getting that tired and wired feeling that I know is the start of a slippery slope that leads to burnout and I wasn’t loving it. I was getting frustrated, my gears were slipping and rubbing and I couldn’t fix them. I was looking for a shop but I couldn’t find it. I kept finding the way blocked. Eventually I hopped off my bike and over a wall down a side alley. Just like that I popped out, over a bridge and into a meadow and within minutes I was out of the city and rolling along a gravel path, I was on my own and the sun was shining and, after a long time looking I found my mojo again. Riding down that path felt like being a kid and riding my bike after school or home from work, I ripped out a few skid stops and found some singletrack trails and forgot all about training and racing and for however long it was I just enjoyed playing on my bike. After a while I came across the shop, got my gears sorted (the chainguide was rubbing) and a coffee, I bought an orange from a roadside stand on the way home and ate it by the river. I got a puncture as well, if that had happened on Tuesday I’d have flipped out but I didn’t I fixed it and got an upper body workout for free thanks to my lipstick sized pump.
Sitting there with my bike propped against a tree I broke out my gel chews as the pumping had sent me hypo. A group of little kids passed by and looked at me like little kids tend to, without any of the scruples that their elders have. I proffered the cola flavoured chews to the nearest little person and promptly created something approaching a mini riot as half sized people stampeded in my general direction. Feeling a little bit sheepish I hopped back onto the bike and put some distance in between myself and the scowling Catalan nursery teacher. I always think those people must have the patience of saints, but apparently I had exhausted it.

The point of all this is summed up in the poster I saw on my ride home that day,  “do what you love and love what you do” it’s easy to get wrapped up in watts and kilograms and uci points and palmares. It’s easy to forget that what I do every day is the same as I did when I was 8, I go outside and play on my bike and sometimes that needs to be the goal. This is all fun and games but often we forget how to play games and forget to make them fun. It’s getting to the middle of the season and if 3x20 doesn’t sound that enticing now might be the time to go exploring and practice some wheelies instead. Don’t stop riding our bike because you feel obliged to race it race it because you love riding it. Do what you love and love what you do.