“The fear” Getting back on my bike

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Whilst cycling in Poland on my Iron curtain expedition two years ago, I was hit around the back of my head by a speeding lorries wing mirror and thrown off my bike onto the road. I sustained a serve concussion, whiplash, and fractured coccyx as well and some very painful brushing. I was alone, scared and badly injured in a hospital whereby few spoke my language.

I remember lying in the road in Poland after the accident thinking, “This cannot be over, I’ve got so much still ahead of me and I’m not done yet”. Not once in the weeks I spent in agony recovering, alone, did I ever consider going home and not finishing the challenge I had set myself. I refused to consider that I wouldn’t finish my expedition. 

So, after a few weeks of mostly lying in bed recovering and waddling around with a very swollen rear, I stubbornly began to walk, pushing my bike across Poland. I started with very small distances, until I could eventually cycle, on the flat and without sitting in the saddle as it was still too painful. I was slow, but to me, any movement forward was progress and took me closer towards achieving my goal.

I couldn’t comfortably sit for nearly a year, but after a few weeks I could ride my bike as when cycling your pelvis is tipped forward with no pressure on your coccyx. I was literally blinded by my goal to get to the black sea and finish my expedition.

It wasn’t easy. It was painful, but my biggest problem was that I now had “the fear”. That is, the fear of vehicles behind me and of being knocked off my bike again. It got worse the more I cycled and it was sucking the fun out of the trip. It wasn’t helped by having hours of “thinking time” on the bike everyday whereby I constantly thought about the accident and imagined how much worse it could have been.

I hated vehicles over taking me, especially when they were too close. I'd grit my teeth and hold my breath every time they went past. I even put myself in the ditch a couple to times to avoid vehicles in panic when they were nowhere near me. My confidence was shattered and I was losing control. I’d be in tears multiple times during the day. I’d spend hours in the evening looking at maps to find a route that avoided roads and dreaded setting off in the morning.

It came to a head somewhere in the Czech Republic. I was puffed out cycling up a hill and crying so much that I couldn’t breathe. I stopped under a bridge, threw my bike on the ground and had a full on pity party for myself right there.

I’d had enough. I was miserable and an emotional wreak. Either I went home, or I took control. I was such a mess that I was putting myself at much greater risk of an accident than any vehicle. I really wanted to love being on my bike again, and I still had 4 countries to go. The problem was in my head, it was something only I could change. It seems so simple, but it really wasn’t.

I so wanted to change my attitude and regain my confidence and enjoy cycling again, but how?

I started by reminding myself of charities I was fundraising for and the people they help. I thought about what I would tell myself if I were a patient at the hospital where I work, and reminded myself that they would love to be physically capable just to walk, never mind cycle across a continent. The hardships that others have endured gave me perspective. I was extremely lucky not only to be alive but that I could still do all the things I could before the accident. 

I started telling myself that I could do it, and not allowing myself to cry. I also adopted an “I don’t care attitude” literally telling the cars that I didn’t care that they were over taking me as they passed. As silly as it sounds, it really helped. It made me feel in control when I was feeling anything but. I also sang out loud as cars passed to distracted myself. I let myself get lost in thoughts of future adventures and replaying memories in my mind of times I've enjoyed being on my bike, whilst not allowing myself to think about the accident or how bad it could have been. I began to relax and managed to finish the expedition, but I was relived it was over.

Two years later, I frequently remember that moment lying in the road in Poland and i’ve barely been back on my bike since. Mainly because I’ve been travelling so much and my bike is at home. I’ve cycled a few times, but thats mostly been with my dad (who was also seriously injured when I was a child cycling to work) and not on roads. Physically I’ve fully recovered but I still don’t consider myself fully mentally recovered from the accident. I think the only way that will happen is to cycle regularly or go on another cycling adventure. Somewhere beautiful and quiet. Its something I need to do. Watch this space.