So. Here I am on a train, laden bike by my side. Last night we flew silently through the night, tucked up tightly in a bunk on the Caledonian Sleeper Express, and a day away from attempting the silliest, toughest, longest, most exciting thing I’ve ever done. The sleeper train is about as far as my thoughts allowed my mind to travel. Partly because I’m a five year old trapped in a grown woman’s body where overnight trains are MEGA EXCITING! but mainly because there is the real and present danger that my brain could create itself a black hole and be swallow up out of sheer fear.
This Thing. It’s been a labour of love. A year in the planning. A lump in my throat, a broken bike fork, a 6 month bout of concussion, an understanding boss, a hugely loving family and a shit ton of gin-fuelled evenings spent poring over maps. It’s the unicorn I’m desperate to catch, not knowing whether it’s going to fly me over the rainbow or spear me in the back with its stupid glittery horn.
I sit here and think. What the hell am I doing? Is it too late to change the route? My kit? The date?? And then my pride gets the better of me. Nope. I have made a promise to myself, borne out of a burning desire to push myself beyond this limit. And I know the pain of quitting is going to hurt a damn sight more than unlikely defeat before the finish line looms into view.
I’ve picked apart every element of the trip with surgical attention to detail. But I know better now not to put it back together in that way. A short, violent and entirely my fault crash last August put paid to the trip that I was then a week away from. Looking back now I couldn’t have been less prepared to attempt it, and as with everything in life, the setback came almost as if called. I had to rebuild not just a broken bike, but a broken Jana. My scabby knees healed quickly; my mind didn’t. Underneath the layers of frustrating, hazy memory and headaches was a surprisingly sharp pain. It took me half a year and some therapy to diagnose it as an accute intolerance to failure. I’ve always been hard on myself, which I now realise was the reason for my first period of anxiety and depression three years ago. I understand now that this trip means more to me than just catching a unicorn. It is taming a demon. Keeping my expectations on myself flexible and not planning the trip to death was the first hurdle. Knowing my timings might slip and that that’s ok still sits uncomfortably opposite my desperately competitive self that knows it will cycle itself into the ground to achieve this goal.
I look at the lovely bike bags, carefully packed, unpacked and repacked a dozen times, filled with the bare essentials. It dawns on me and I laugh. I’ve thrown all the money I own at the problem. And now I’ve got none left, so now it’s all down to my legs. Depending on the time of day my positive self talk goes from ‘YEAH I CAN DO THIS I’M GOING TO SMASH THE DOORS OFF THIS THING’ to ‘if I just quietly carefully crash my bike again then I’ll have the perfect excuse not to carry on”
But I know I’m strong enough. I must be grateful that I have this opportunity to prove it to myself. So I’m going to take it with both hands (legs) and damn well try.
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