After I crossed the finish line at Boston in 2018, and dipped my bike into the Atlantic, in the same way I’d left the Pacific, having ridden “every foot and inch’ across a continent, life returned back to its previous normal.
As life changing as that experience was, from that moment in June 2018, until July of last year, I didn’t touch my bike. I had no reason to battle the traffic, no cycling goals to speak of, and no reason to push myself hard. I had come to terms with the fact that I now have blood tests every 3 months, the occasional IV treatment, and learned a lot about lymphoma. It became easier to fall back into old ways. After all, I’d checked the box I’d set out to. I was still alive, I could take on challenges and live life to the full, despite a lymphoma.
When COVID 19 became part of our world, a compromised immune system necessitated that I went out less, thought a lot more, and I became pretty sedentary and isolated as a result. Following a routine health check with my family Doctor in July 2021, I was confronted with the reality that my now fairly sedentary lifestyle had culminated in me being the heaviest I had probably ever been, now borderline diabetic with cholesterol and in far from good shape. As I thought about my past riding, and my health generally, the things that surprised and satisfied me about the challenge in 2018 really sunk in – its relative importance in my life and the perspective it brought, took on new meaning. The colorful characters I met on the ride, who encouraged me all the way, the supporters who sent well wishes from around the world, following my blog for every update, the people I had never met, who lined up to help in any way they could (a few even taking up cycling after reading my story), raising almost $50,000 for the Mayo Clinic’s research into WM, just from my Facebook page. They were all entirely unexpected and unintended outcomes – from something so small, a personal and positive decision to help myself, things had snowballed into something improbable, that went far beyond proving that I could overcome and endure. The magnitude of it all blew me away then, and perhaps, even more now on reflection. I didn’t take any of it for granted, but I did perhaps forget that in fitness and health, in life and love, it’s always more a marathon, than a series of sprints. Now faced with a new, unfamiliar, and slightly daunting challenge, I knew I needed a plan and clear goals to overcome it – I had a reason again to get back on my bike and ride again.
Spreading awareness for a rare lymphoma, raising money for research into a cure, helping myself re-find that resilience and determination all suddenly seemed very obvious and a very valid reasons to get back pedaling. I bought an indoor trainer, signed up to Zwift and started to turn through the gears once more. I got in touch with my old coach from Training Peaks, the wonderful Julie McKenzie, and we began to hatch a plan. This time I had the long term in mind, to train for at least five years, become a decent rider along the way, and to take on some of the great challenges of the cycling World – sustaining that motivation, and extending those goals beyond a singular event. I began to look at the multitude of enticing and exciting events that are out there, searching for that perfect mix of endurance and scenic riding. Racing had never really appealed; my greatest competitor has always been myself, and the biggest motivator to beat him! One of the hardest elements of riding across America was undoubtedly the hill climbs. Nowadays, I live in Florida, so my previous training consisted of riding bridges over I95 and following the inland waterway – they were the extent of my mountains. It was perhaps not surprising then, that climbing 7,000ft from the desert to Flagstaff was a slow and grueling pursuit as a result. On the flat, and in the heat, I was entirely comfortable and content; climbing was always my greatest weakness. Beyond just finding my fitness, I knew that I would have to become a much better climber on a bike. I stumbled on RBC Whistler at exactly the right moment. A video of a breathtakingly scenic, closed road ride was all it took. What could be a better inspiration, a more perfect goal post to aim for over the coming nine months, than the prospect of joining others on the road from Vancouver to Whistler. I hurriedly penciled myself in for the Forte 152km and got straight into the training schedule which, with some tail winds and good fortune, will propel me all the way to the finish line.
These past weeks have been a challenge. The next few will be too, and I’m sure the ones after as well. But riding a bicycle, out on the road, inching towards my objective, and knowing it can contribute to a wider one – well, that certainly does make me feel alive. And is there anything more important, more undervalued than that? For some, cycling might just be about getting from point A to B, or doing it quickly, or beating someone else. But for me it will always be a reminder – that cancer can’t stop me enjoying my life to its fullest, can’t limit its potential, that it won’t slow my roll if I don’t let it. Only a hill can do that.
I have plenty of great reasons now to be “Back in the Saddle”. There are many mountains to climb, many roads to travel and many people to meet, hopefully I can share some of these experiences with others along the way.