Author Archives: PolarBearOscar
It’s been a long silence.
I came off my bike in July and took some decent chunks of skin off my left (problem) knee. Work decided to help my recovery by sending me to faraway places with lots of opportunity to sit motionless, or be so busy and stressed that time to train or even rehab became time to sleep instead. I still raced. My knee, after a month of recovery, would niggle, then a 24hr race would pop up and I’d think “what the hell, how bad could it be!” and I’d race. Then it would niggle more and I’d work and sit, more, which would make it niggle more. I postponed my Everesting goals and more serious races. But the cycle of niggle- race- kind of almost recover- then race again continued until November. Then I ran, because I wanted to outrun my stressed out mind. The knee hurt, but I tried to outrun it also by sprinting stairs. I don’t know what I was thinking. Maybe, semi- unconsciously, I just wanted to completely crash, so there was no more temptation. Maybe I was realising that I was falling so far behind my pretty ambitious goals that I needed some big slap to the face to finally come to my senses.
And crash I did. The day after a 12km run, my last run for the last 3 months I couldn’t walk. I hobbled for a week and have been progressively getting better since with occassional lapses. I’ve seen physios and been doing my rehab. I’ve learnt to walk barefoot, absolutely silently. I’ve taken up paddling almost regularly (whenever I’m not away with work). I’m back on the bike. I’ve finally started doing strength work and can almost do a proper pistol squat now.
But these few months have been pretty hard. Over quite a few years now I’ve become wired to find my peace, my calm, my motivation and my inspiration on a trail. Not being able to just disregard the numerous niggles i’ve grown so used to fought in my mind over the fine line of- where do you honour your limits and where do you just throw in the towel? And how do you pick yourself up from the floor now that most of your coping mechanisms you can no longer access?
So I’ve fluctuated. I re-learnt how to breathe and enjoy just that. I learnt how amazing the earth feels under my bare toes and how gently I can transfer my weight over dry leaves so they make no sound. And that I can see and hear so much more because now I’m paying attention- to the sleek tree snake, a matter-of-fact echidna, a tiny flower. And I’ve remembered what it’s like to start feeling grateful again. I would not have thought to “waste” my time walking slowly before when I could learn to run or ride faster instead.
I came back from my holiday break in January almost fully recharged, despite not covering any significant distances on neither bike nor foot. And two things happened:
1. my car had to go the mechanic for a week
2. the weather put on an amazing show and skies poured gallons and gallons of water over the city for most of that week.
So I did what made more sense to me than accepting a replacement car or organising lifts from co-workers. I started riding my bike to work. I couldn’t do the full 25kms (one way) straight away, so I rode a few train stations then would get on the train when the knee would complain. Then I would add one more station, then one more until there was no more reason to catch the train.
And for the first week, as if on purpose, the hot water system at work broke, so cold showers became a necessity. And I decided I’d feel grateful for that also.
It’s over a month now that I start my shower with cold water only. The first few seconds I still gasp from the shock, especially first thing in the morning, but now I look forward to it. It’s better than coffee, exhilarating, uplifting, exciting, and most importantly, it reminds me that I’m reclaiming the old me back. She’s in there still and she is slowly waking up from this hibernation. She is just doing it a lot more thoughtfully and this time, sustainably.
After spending the last 4 weekends racing (3x 24hour, 1x 100km MTB), my body decided to give me an enforced break in the form of a common cold. So whilst my friends spent 12 hours looking for checkpoints in the allegedly brutally hilly surrounds of Jenolan (about 2.5hrs west of Sydney), I divided my non-sleeping time between drinking copious amounts of tea and thinking up an inspiring challenge.
And the challenge arrived. It coincided with elevated heart rate, sweaty palms, occasional dizzy spells. The culprit could have been symptoms of a pretty solid case of a cold, but those are just as easily applicable to the excitement and slight apprehension of realising what I might be signing myself up for.
Which is: finding myself a hill and making it my Everest.
It doesn’t appear to be that difficult in theory. Just ride up and down a hill, until you’ve climbed the height of Everest.
Confused? Check out the rules here http://www.everesting.cc/the-rules/
So why on Earth would anyone want to do this? Well…. good question.
Firstly, it’s a pretty obscure challenge. There is no prize nor is there any structure outside of the fairly simple rules. Plus there is only one woman to have done it out of 60 “summiteers”.
Secondly, after having an absolute ball of a time racing the Convict 100 (a 100km mountain bike race), I have decided that I will need to shave off at least 30, preferably 45minutes of my time. Equating to about 10%, this will be a significant effort. Being able to ride hills easily will definitely help.
Thirdly, this excites me. The mindnumbing, leg destroying grind up and down will play massive havoc with my resolve and sanity. I want to push it, I want to challenge myself and I want to confirm that I am learning to love not the count-down, not the recent memory, but the current moment, wherever on the journey that may be. Where better to test it than doing countless laps of something that is lung-bustingly insane?!
And as a bonus point, I want to use this as a fundraising/awareness vehicle for something meaningful. Although I haven’t found my inspiration yet, I want it to align with a few tenets:
– it has to be a movement for sustainable change
– I would love for it to be associated with helping women and/or children find their feet and place in this world
– we should be able to draw parallels with climbing any steep hill, one step at a time, or conversely, turning something small and obscure into something significant.
I’ve reached out to a few other crazy women I know and I have a feeling there will be a few of us. Climbing our own Everests, conquering our own mountains. So I think we can, together, make a step, in whatever way we can, towards inspiring ourselves and others, towards a better future.
So as I get cracking with my training these are the things I still need to establish:
1. Which hill? Will it be on road or dirt?
2. Which charity/movement?
3. Who will join in, whether to grow our numbers stronger or help us achieve our goals?
And don’t let that photo mislead you, I’m not allowed to walk and carry my bike up my Everest. My bike will have to carry me all the way.
I woke up and looked at the time.
11pm. I couldn’t yet feel the wind in my tent but I could definitely hear it, buffeting the tops of the eucalyptus trees above me. I didn’t bother setting up the rain fly, so I could see them now through the fly meshing, swaying. The almost full moon had recently come up, illuminating the clear sky and throwing moving shadows on the granite boulders currently sheltering me from the wind.
I lifted my head, checked my surroundings for what was starting to bother me, didn’t see anything out of the ordinary and tried to go back to sleep.
I woke up again, at 2, then 3 then at 4am. The wind was picking up, now also reaching me in my tent and starting to make me feel quite uncomfortable. I was alone, not too high, but already on a ridgeline and this was the second day of a heatwave which I came up here to escape by hiking the first section of the Australian Alpine Walking Trail. When I checked with the rangers for the track conditions the day before they said whilst the trail was in good condition, these were also perfect conditions for a bushfire: hot (40deg in the valley), dry and windy. It was an unprecedented heatwave and whilst they haven’t had too much rain in the leading up weeks, they haven’t been too dry either. It was definitely going to be risky later in the week, but I had weighed up the risk then and decided to see the conditions for myself. After all, I was only walking two days and had already left my bicycle at the top of Mt Baw Baw, so I could ride back to my car. And it looked fine for the first day: the valley was green, lush and the air was filled with the sound of insects, birds and countless streams running alongside or across the trail. The tops of the trees were still; I could feel that my face had been radiating a smile for hours and my mind was settling down, at peace and full of gratitude and anticipation of more.
Yet at 4:30am I could feel my heart rate rise and thoughts turn a darker shade. I was over halfway, but it was uphill and mostly on the ridgeline. Heading back would be downhill and into the lush valley. Was I chickening out and using the remote risk of a bushfire as an easy cop-out? Have I spent too much time lately “recovering” and forgotten what it’s like, to push myself? What was I doing up here in the first place?
Did I have a problem?
I weighed up the risk: I can’t smell anything right now and the wind is not blowing my tent off the campground. I don’t have to go anywhere right this very minute. However, if I do smell smoke, I drop everything but my car keys and run: down. That’s sorted.
Do I have a problem in my immediate future? Well, if a fire starts, it will travel up ridgelines and I will have very little escape options, not in this wind. What are the chances of that happening? Not that much right now, but as time progresses, the odds against increase with the rise of mercury. What are the consequences? As much as I like fire, in this case, that would be catastrophic. What will be the benefit of me running the gauntlet? Other than achieving this cool little goal of hiking, cycling and escaping the inferno of the concreted city… Nope, trading the hell of overheated bitumen for an actual inferno doesn’t sound like a good deal to me.
Chicken or not, if I can’t come up with a workable solution to a possible scenario and the benefit doesn’t outway the risk, then the decision is easy: at first light, I head back.
As I traced back my steps, I watched the sun rise through the moving, creaking trees. Then all I could see was the bright wildflowers, damp moss on rocks and trees and the buzzing of insects and birds became louder than the wind. Did I make the right decision? Do I have to stick with a decision I no longer think is right? Was I happy with my decision making process? Yes, no and yes.
Over the last few months I’ve discovered a new sense of peace when dealing with problems. We spend so much time worrying about the possible scenarios that we could encounter that we make them real to us. We live through all the nightmarish possibilities that life may through at us and most likely never will. We try them on for size, but often get stuck in the worry pattern and lose the ability to stop the vicious tape running on repeat in our heads. What if this happens? How horrible would that be? And worst of all, what if I was wrong?!
We need to run those scenarios. Living in the moment does not preclude us from choosing the path towards a better future. We need to be able to see the consequences of our actions. Do I want this outcome or that one? Do I have the capacity to deal with this or that? Do I need to do anything about it? Can I? Then let go and be in the moment. Respond to what actually happens in the real world, rather than in your head.
I made an assessment of my situation. When it and a possible outcome became undesirable to me, I changed it. If I had a better reason for sticking with it, maybe I would have changed how I looked at it. I don’t, nor do I intend to, run away from all risk. Then I let go of the worry, because it no longer became necessary.
No matter what the situation, you will always have a choice.
Do I need or want to change it?
Can I change it?
If yes, then do. And if not I have one last choice: I can either resist it (note the difference between changing and resisting!) or I can accept it as it is.
And once I accept it, I can then move on and live fully, not in my made up world of possible scenarios or lamenting the difference between my imagined and the real world, not in the fear or memory of somewhere I could/would rather be. I am here. Good or bad, I am where I am. If I can’t change it, I will make the most of it.
Right this very minute, whatever problems you may think you have: work, family, health, money, bills.. Stop.
Ask yourself, this very minute, do I have a problem? And chances are, if you have time to stop and think, then no, you most likely don’t. So enjoy!
A common theme between some of the “why” of expedition adventure racing, mountain climbing, ultramarathoners, solo sailors and so many other vagabond souls is the intensity of experiences, a lifetime of emotions compressed into one, relatively short rollercoaster. Incredible highs follow periods where you’ve never felt so destroyed in your life.
I personally can not recollect now how many times I’ve felt completely and utterly shattered, physically, mentally and emotionally during a race, only to be on top of my game in less than an hour’s time.
We’ve come to recognise the value of experiencing those deep, soul- crushing lows for the glistening, euphoric sunrise that follows, sometimes literal, but usually metaphorical. Anecdotal evidence suggests that is highly addictive and is one of the main reasons we keep coming back for more.
I personally try to relate my “leisure” activities back into the rest of the life that I lead. So more often than not I draw upon my memories for when I or my loved ones fall into a “lull” and are struggling with why it suddenly is so hard and everything is wrong. It is not often easy to explain to someone that they NEED to experience a low. Not in the sense that some people just love suffering, or whining.
There are also that many times you can draw on cliches like: every cloud has a silver lining, it’s always darkest before dawn, etc etc. especially when life throws you a curve ball and you are faced with something we consider “terrible”: death, loss, despair.
There are many more things that we can influence in our life than we are usually led to believe. There are also many that are outside of our control. Whether it is easier to defer it to the wisdom of a higher deity or randomness, it is not what you’ve done to get there that matters as much. Instead, it is how you deal with it- and sometimes, in quicksand, it is easier to float than to fight, to accept where you are right this very minute, not how you got here, or whose fault it was or how unfair this injustice to you might be. And once you’ve accepted, that right this minute, you are here, that this situation is undesirable or unacceptable, you need to be present. Not in the past, i.e. where did I come from? Not in the future, i.e. when I get out of here, I’ll be grateful/never do it again/change my life. But right here, right now. Only then can you recognise what you have, what you can use and what you can do. Fully, consciously, passionately.
And that is where life happens. Good or bad, it happens. And you are in control of what you do and HOW you do it. And if you can’t DO anything, then how much and what it actually means to you.
We live either in the past or the future. In our memories or in anticipation. Only when pushed to the edge or whilst immersed in something we are truly passionate about do most of us get a glimpse of what it is like, to be in the PRESENT, in this very moment. It is those moments that “take our breath away” and it is memories of them that either make us run for the safety of our couches or keep us coming back for more.
But the funniest part is that we can live our whole lives like that. Present. Conscious. Passionate.
And remember that your life can be both- either terrifying or exhilarating, but it’ll always be a rollercoaster. It’s up to you to open your eyes.
I read this comic strip the same evening after attending a side street alley gathering to remember a life lost to a suicide.
Although I only vaguely recollect a chance encounter, the alley was full of people whose lives were touched in one way or another. It was poignant: a poem, both melancholic and hopeful, read by a friend; a minute of silence, punctuated by drops of rain reflecting dimmed lights.
I sat, in respectful silence and retrospective wonder. How often are our lives touched by people who seem to radiate nothing but kindness and selflessness only to find out later about their lost or losing battles with demons of loneliness? How often are we shocked by the falseness of our assumptions that people like that MUST have been surrounded by the same love, wisdom and kindness that they project on their world?
The two events are not linked in any form. I know nothing of the life and struggles of the young man who did not want to struggle anymore. I know little of addictions to substances other than endorphins created by my own body. I do not intend to make any assumptions. But they both made me think.
Choices. Some are simple and obvious to make: to do or not to do. To say or not to say, to believe or not to believe. Others, despite being a lot more important, are significantly harder to recognise. The conscious choice as to which river to swim in. Entering either is easy: the initial effort of moving your mass off the shore is probably the same. Yet as you float away, your most obvious path is dictated by the direction of the current. Of course, there are still numerous ways of heading another way, but that is a topic for another post.
Beliefs. Seeing and believing your world as your playground (park) or as your cage. Beliefs are shaped by own previous experiences, opinions of those we hold in esteem, books and gospels of reference.
And the two are forever intertwined, for whatever path you choose to take will shape your experiences which will in turn shape your beliefs which will then choose which river to enter.
And so my tonight’s musings led me to this message by Brene Brown, a “storyteller researcher”. Six years of research and hundreds of stories led her to summarise what differentiates those that live wholeheartedly, with a strong sense of love and belonging and those that struggle for it:
- Courage to be imperfect.
- Compassion. To be kind to yourself first before being kind to others. Because as it turns out we can’t practice compassion to others if we can’t treat ourselves kindly.
- Connection. Authentically, as a result of letting go of what you think you should be in order to be who you are.
But most importantly, it all leads to her most important message that has the chance of changing our rivers, and consequently our lives for the better:
“Absolutely nothing. And it was awesome”
How many times have you heard or said that yourself? Is it something that we believe to be true, or convince ourselves of in hindsight?
What is it, to do nothing? Is it good? Is it bad? According to whom or to what benchmarks?
I am one of those people that is continuously told “why don’t you just relax, and do nothing for a while?!” and I always have a response to that.Whether it has something to do with all the things I want to do, or the fact that complying implies a sense of loss on my behalf, but I never, ever want to “do nothing”.
Yet over the last few years, few injuries and recoveries post-race, post busy periods of time, I’ve actually started doing that. Whether or not I admit it to myself is a different question. Still, I have not been able to shake the feeling of guilt and loss for wasting resources, possibilities.. but most importantly, time.
Firstly, what is it, “to do nothing”? Is it to do nothing of value? Is it sitting in stillness? Is it recovery? Is it just, simply, maintaining status quo, by default, compared to “doing something”, like turning up to work/training/social gatherings?
Sometimes, in order to describe something, it’s easier to explain the opposite. Doing “something” implies progress and achievement. It is setting a goal and working to achieve it, thereby deriving satisfaction or otherwise from either the process or attainment of one. We define our lives by having either one big, overarching goal, and/or in the absence of one, with smaller, achievable missions, either to seek immediate or delayed enjoyment.
Thus, doing “nothing” would imply waste. If goal setting and achieving is good, then doing nothing is bad.
For me “doing something” is often spending a weekend on a trail- either on a bike or on foot, sometimes with only a vague tangible objective (i.e. get to point A via points B and C). There are generally a few reasons to do it: firstly, it’s something that makes me happy. Movement is meditation, goal setting, satisfaction, growth and sense of purpose. Secondly, it is “training”, whether for a bigger event, physical or mental fortitude or simply to “be better”. It’s also a recharge, being in nature, surrounded by sights, smells, sounds which reinforce my sense of being alive, just as often during moments when physically, I’m probably closer to exhaustion and collapse as when I am literally bursting with energy and the desire to fly, figuratively or literally.
Based on that, stillness is waste. Stillness is reserved for sleep (even though I’ve been known to sleep whilst upright, walking or riding). Therefore, outside of (usually) hours of dark, stillness is bad.
I am injured at the moment. It’s a result of pushing a little too hard, too eagerly, at the wrong times, most of this year. It is a legacy of achieving a massive goal, which came at the expense of time, sanity, work, relationships. It is a catalyst for me to start assigning value to something which, previously, was considered wasteful.
I am learning to be still. Shivasana, the “corpse pose”, final relaxation pose in every yoga class is said to be the most difficult. It is also the most important.
At the moment, I am using this stillness to teach myself to let go of the guilt. It’s a work in progress, because every day I have not learnt something or moved closer to achieving something is one I will never get back. Conversely, I am also learning that “nothing” has much deeper meaning and consequences and whilst it is still pretty hard at the moment to articulate, I am starting to comprehend another dimension to it, an important and enriching one. There are plenty of occasions when “doing something” gets you further away from where you want to go.
This is square 1. I’ve been back here many times. I know I will be back here again, but I also know each time I’m back, I’m richer, having dared and tried, sometimes having achieved, sometimes having failed. And each time I’m back here, I’ll do something different. And even if I do “nothing”, it will count for something, right now and for in the future.