Her time with balance. Apparently!

“Discomfort is the currency of success.” Brooke Castillo

Wet weather and an early work shift means no riding for me today. Apparently it’s called a rest day. Somehow that is meant to make me feel better about not spinning my legs. Well that and I’ve got to work. I have to pay for bike expenses. They just keep coming.

You know you buy a bike and think yep, all set. Not true. Next comes the lycra, lights, Garmin. Thrown in an upgrade to a 32 cog so you an climb mountains, like real mountains.  New tyres, a few times already as apparently I ride a lot. And winter kit, who would have thought I’d get up in freezing temperatures to ride.

Don’t start me on bike insurance because your contents won’t cover you outside the home. And now, life insurance so if I injure myself my kids will get some dough. Well let’s face it, I’m working on spending their inheritance anyway so it’s their only hope for cash. You can keep spending, and if I’m honest, current thoughts are now haunting me on buying a second bike!

Every cent has been worth it ahem except for Rapha. Overrated and heavily influenced early in my cycling career. That’s probably going to offend a few. Sorry. Not sorry. I’m a Pedla girl.

 

Can you put a price on physical and mental wellbeing? Well you can’t be outrageous. I’m all for living within your means. I have a bank account called bank of life. I’m serious. This is where I invest in ‘her time’, pretty much my own wellbeing and chasing dreams.

I digress. On this rest day, I woke up late. No alarm. Bloody iPhone. The alarm is going off with no sound. I have a new phone and it’s driving me a bit crazy. The only reason why I upgraded was my little iPhone 5 was packing it in with the battery.

My kids constantly mocked me for being technologically out of date. Me on the other hand, hoped to role model the fact you don’t need to upgrade every time something new comes out. This message might manifest in them when they’re in the mid-thirties with families, mortgages and big life responsibilities. Until then I remain uncool.

As a mother I believe I plant seeds. They will take on what is theirs to nurture and grow.

Back to this rest day currently taken in my pyjamas. I work from home now. I had 15 minutes so coffee and fruit toast, I mean real organic chunky fruit, took priority. I am guessing pyjamas are slightly better than lycra. At least I’m not sweaty.

Tomorrow I head off on a 3 day pack hike. Away from the city, my bike left snug but not clean. This is a feeble and written apology to my young friend, early twenties, no kids, always-cleans-his-bike-no-matter-what kind of a guy.

Let’s talk when you have four teenagers.

Back to hiking, there is something about carrying all you need and switching off. Simple. Nothing but the sound of human voice and the wilderness. Definitely the old fashioned control-alt-delete, it’s a reboot for the whole system. I get to set up my little red hiking tent which has become an oasis, holding space to linger, dream, rest and be.

Timely, as always, I start a new cycling training program next week. I’ve been AWOL and running my own race for five weeks. I was pretty tired, and hungry, after Three Peaks. I needed some time to recover. I still cycled but unstructured, having fun chasing fast bunches. Got dropped quite a few times. I earned my coffee.

My training for the past 8 months has been intense. There was a lot of time on the bike. I walked a fine line juggling family, work and training. After peaks, I needed to sit with what next, and what that looks like. My awesome coach lives in Perth but I knew I needed someone local for the next phase.

Forward to a coffee with a potential new coach this week. Mention his name to a cyclist and they almost always come back with a groan, and a laugh. A reputation of being a strong but hard coach. And yet I meet with him and his energy is kind and calm.

I immediately like him. We talk past experience, expectations, and future goals. I have to write them down and give them to him. I need a power meter. I told you cycling was expensive. I inform him I’m not interested in crit racing. He gives me a look like we’ll see.

See life insurance.

I was telling him how I felt tired in the lead up to Peaks, like I wasn’t quite recovering in  the rest week on my monthly training cycle. He chats a little, then says “you know most people think being on the bike is the most important thing but it’s rest first, nutrition, and then we cycle.”  He then asks how my family feel about my time on the bike?

Boom. This man cuts to the chase.

If my kids were there they’d say I abandon them in the mornings for the bike. This is code for we have to get ourselves up, make breakfast and lunch, and take public transport to school. Horrific childhood circumstances. In all fairness, I do drive them to 7am sports training.

The kind and calm in this man are real but what I was truly sensing was balance.

What’s that saying, “when the student is ready, the teacher appears.” My first coach taught me to ride long and to believe in myself. Now this man, well the lesson has already started. I just have to turn up, be open and pedal. Next week.

I just need to get out of my pyjamas.

FB_YGT

A 45cm sterling silver wearable affirmation to remind your self, or someone you love, who is trying their hardest and refusing to give up that like us, you’ve got this.  No matter what. See https://leaning-inwards.myshopify.com/products/youve-got-this-necklace

Peaking Girl

“You can say that climbers suffer the same as other riders, but they suffer in a different way. You feel the pain, but you’re glad to be there.” Richard Virenque

Think brutal. Thirteen hours to cycle 235kms with 4,600m climbing. All for a jersey. If not, you don’t get one. Both harsh and fair, you have to earn it.

Hello Three Peaks Challenge.

Gifted with unrelenting nausea, I taste fear. Constantly pushing self-doubt away, saying out loud you’ve got this G. Not helped by my arrival at the lodge to many pro-riders talking tactics for a sub 8-hour finish.

Did I say I want to throw up?

At the start, I meet a woman, her first time too. The whole ride we pass each other, offering words of encouragement. She later writes on my Strava feed, how about the Alpine 320kms next? My kind of person. Brave. And damn it, now she’s planted a seed.

Jumping on bunches where I can, I make good time. I climb Mt Hotham, comforted by seeing people I know. A stop is enough time for the toilet, water and to shove a sandwich down.

No table manners required.

The scenery is spectacular. Majestic. How small I feel. Being out here does something for my soul in ways the city life never does. Give me the challenge of endurance, it’s why I ride and hike.

Slow on climbing, I just keep spinning. My descending is constantly improving, it’s where I make up time. Somewhat taken on downhill I go at great speed. I love the rush and skill it takes.

A tough gig solo, there is doubt, fear and loneliness. Gaps form between riders, making me wonder if I’m the only cyclist out there. Yet, grateful for the bunch, the voice that says, “jump on.” Equally, there is happiness. Recognition of my power and audacity.

Some of those moments made me cry, sob even.

Suddenly, two riders from my cycling club appear. Married and a power couple with pedaling. I stay on their wheels for as long as I could, others jump on. On a big climb, they disappeared from sight. Damn. Although well prepared for this because of the long hours I’ve trained alone.

I see them again at a stop, just about to pull out. Dipped back into a low point, my friend gives me a pep talk in 10 seconds whilst clipping in, “G, it’s a climb out of here but then it’s the most beautiful section of the ride. Find your rhythm and keep pedaling.” I watch them ride off, if only I was 10 minutes quicker.

Jumping on two different bunches between Omeo and the back of Falls Creek. Welcomed in, rolling turns they gracefully allowed me to roll through. Dog tired. The humbling aspect of cycling, some days you are formidable, some not. This day was mine to receive knowing I would pay it forward on another ride.

Nearing the 200km mark, someone said we had until 530pm to reach the last stop to make it. Instantly confused about timing as my Garmin showed I was tracking okay. Unbeknown to me, ever so subtly, uncertainty started to seep in.

Knowing I had a ruthless climb ahead of me I sucked down a caffeine gel and braced myself for the worst. In hindsight, I’d say I fell into hopelessness.

A left turn, instantly smacked with 400m of a 12% gradient, known as WTF. Climbing up 13kms, ranging from 7-10% with sharp sections well above 10%. All of it agony with the distance and elevation already cycled.

I gingerly spin past riders, just keep pedaling like you said you would G, don’t get off.

Suddenly, at 205kms feeling physically exhausted, on the edge of having pushed myself too far, I become disorientated. Who attempts Peaks after being cyclist for 14 months?

The gels taste awful, the water slimy, I feel broken. Bitterly cold and raining. Drenched through. People are walking, heads low, no words, only groaning. Eerie. The usual banter gone.

I understand what it takes, everything plus more, when you don’t have more.

My time sticker had washed away in the rain. My Garmin, my truth can’t sync with my clouded mind. I’m facing exhaustion, irrational thought and loss of belief in anything.

Without warning, I cannot pedal anymore. My feet unclip to walk. WTF? With only the sound my cleats hitting the road I feel humiliated. Alone in the silence.

Not able to ascertain where I was in time, I believed that cyclist. I had failed. There wasn’t enough time to finish. Thoughts bombarding me as I forced a gel down my throat. The numbers didn’t add up, I kept looking at my Garmin. Bewildered, I arrived at my lowest point.

Believing the sag wagon would be along soon, I berated myself. Who did I think I was? With each step, I thought of the people who backed me, my coach, my friends. I bombed big time. Now I had to find the guts to tell them.

Head down for 200m, I  faced those swirling dark moments of mental torment. Then just as suddenly as I unclipped, inexplicably, I found myself accepting my fate. This was courageous. Impressive to be right here. I raised my head to a slight easing off on the climb, whether this is true or not remains a question. My next thought said, I could pedal until the sag wagon comes along.

What’s that about grit and grace in my Instagram posts?

Maybe I’m not finishing but I can go out with dignity. Changing up gears I launched myself back on, clipped in and turned the pedals over. All I had to do was spin up this hell until the van came.

I climbed past walkers, no longer arrogant about never getting off the bike. I cycled by with deep compassion. With my body hurting, sopping wet, my mind full of white noise, I pedaled. This is the very heart of endurance, to persist.

At 213kms I hit the final stop, nearly falling off dismounting. Fragmented. Defeated. Silent. I accepted a can of Coke. I never drink Coke. A guy comes over, smiling and says, “you made it, so good to see you.” Thinking he’s lost the plot, I said “we’re not going make it.” He laughed telling me there was good time for all of us. WTF? Turns out that other cyclist had the wrong information!

I woke up.

A kindhearted volunteer helped me undress, wrapping a garbage bag around my torso for the remaining damp and frosty 12kms.

Not knowing how I could even find what was needed to finish, I drew on a friend’s words, “this is not a thinking event, it’s a doing event.” My job was to pedal and trust.

By 2kms I had reached the remote open plain at the back of Falls. My kind of terrain. With 10 kms to go on flat, slight downhill road I found something in me I knew well.

Sass.

My mind became still. My legs kicked in. With strong cross and head winds belting me, I pedaled daring to finish with strength. Laughing and crying through low fog and the late afternoon mountain light, I might have looked like a woman on the edge of cracking. Maybe I was already there.

You know, it’s a good place. Cracking. Rumi, the poet, says it’s where the light gets in.

Crossing the finishing line, I sobbed again. My good mate waiting to help me dismount, allowing me to fall into a blanket as I unashamedly wept in his embrace. The gift of friendship.

And that jersey, well I offered it to my 14-year old to wear at track that week, she could tell them she did Peaks on the weekend! First, she eyerolled me, then she said that wasn’t even funny. Teenagers!

Well actually, what’s not funny is I’ve registered for Three Peaks again next year!

FB_YGT

A 45cm sterling silver wearable affirmation to remind your self, or someone you love, who is trying their hardest and refusing to give up that like us, you’ve got this.  No matter what. See https://leaning-inwards.myshopify.com/products/youve-got-this-necklace

Outside your thinking zone

“Please do no feed the fears.” Unknown. 

Recovery week in my monthly training I have a prescribed day off the bike. Damn. If I can’t ride, why not climb a tree? Makes sense, so I find myself standing on a ledge 15m high harnessed into a rope challenge course.

My 14-year-old daughter has already scrambled across the swinging rope wall quite a few metres wide. Fear is pumping through my veins. I feel frozen. I shout to her that I’m flipping out. She laughs, and yells “just start, if you fall the harness will catch you.”

Yeah great.

I step out with a shaking body which doesn’t sync well with the swaying. She’s giggling and belts out an after-thought, “Mum you’re only scared because you’re thinking about this too much.”

Boom. Out of the mouth of babes.

I almost ask her if she wants to be my endurance coach, in fact, my life coach. She’d probably eye roll and reply with, “doh Mum I already am.”

 

I’m a budding endurance cyclist and a multi-day hiker. Turns out I’ve got a thing for going long. Stubborn. Determined. Brave. Driven. There is a constant pull to push myself. I live in contradiction, outside what is comfortable.

Let’s face it I’ve been going long for long. A hopeless, reckless drunk in my teenage years and sober now for 28 years. I’ve had four kids, that means four long and beautiful labors. There’s been 18 years of mothering so far. I have lived through my marriage ending and the unravelling of me. I faced a clinical depression and then recovery. I’ve been doing the solo mother thing for 10 years. Throw in 6 years of full-time university study finishing with my Masters, just to change my career path.

I want to eye roll myself.

We all have stories of endurance. Arriving in many forms, this being human, you can hear and be inspired by so many tales of what people have and are living through. In fact, this is where I find connection and belonging.

It is clear to me that I thrive on staying power and some of my biggest hikes range from  100kms to 235kms. I’ve trekked up and down some mighty and spectacular mountains and landscapes, following that call. And it seems my cycling is going that way too, with my new record of 193kms in a day with 4,000m of climbing, smashed out just last week.

 

My next big ride is Three Peaks Challenge, and that will be a new personal best for me, some 235kms. Strangely, it’s where I feel at home, that’s the pull. If there is one thing I know, it’s to just turn up. To keep going. To believe in the rise. If this is not endurance, then I don’t what the hell it is.

Back to a training ride recently, I approached the downhill with an opportunity to gun it. Slight deviation from my training plan. Insert high school report…..Georgina would do well in class if she would only follow directions. Just saying.

I take off pedalling hard with my mind kicking in about all the possibilities of what could happen if I come off.  As the air is smashing into my face and ears, I hear my daughter’s words loudly, “don’t think Mum.” Turns out I hit 75km/hour.

 

I laugh out loud as I continue on with my slog at a more sensible pace. Sorry coach. Not sorry. I wish I could do that on the flat, but I need a trusty wheel for that. And that’s another story. Insert certain gutsy track rider.

Cycling is certainly about knowing your own strengths and limits so I’m not suggesting riders ought to try this on their next ride. Well that is if you don’t want to. Rather, my point is, I have become weary of being driven by what others might think and the narrative of my own self-doubt. I now live in digging deep in spite of the fear.

I just have to keep looking at the results to know it’s working even if sometimes I need a 14 year old yelling out at me from the treetops. I’d rather her see her mama scared and still doing it, than standing at the bottom of the tree allowing doubt to falsely create an illusion of safety.

And you know, I’ve always been the girl in the tree, finding myself in places that terrify me, but I’ve grown into the woman who can cross the ropes. And once you make that move, you can’t go back.

FB_YGT
A 45cm sterling silver wearable affirmation to remind your self, or someone you love, who is trying their hardest and refusing to give up that like us, you’ve got this.  No matter what. See https://leaning-inwards.myshopify.com/products/youve-got-this-necklace

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s get this fucker finished

Words that accidently fell out of my mouth around the 100km mark of ride recently. My two cycling buddies were not helpful when I asked them for motivational words to finish the final 50kms. Admittedly, they might have been literally eating cake. Ravished. Not caring about chatter. They left me no choice than to spit this directive out.

Laughing, they dared me to use this as the title of my next blog.

Challenge accepted.

 

If you read my blogs, you’ll know I have an endurance coach, and now a sports dietician. See cake. I was pretty damn hungry. The dietician put me on Gatorade for my long-distance rides. I know, I know. I have copped a lot of comments. I did protest because I hate the artificial crap. His reply, “Georgina, you do know what you are doing is not normal?”

Pause. Um, yeah. Come to think of it, is anything I do normal?

If you see me slugging down blue drink, don’t criticize, it means I am well on my way to pushing out 100-150kms. And I’m working on going longer. I also get to slam down Turkish Delight as well as the usual protein and carbohydrate fueled foods.

When you are going a long time in the saddle, there is nothing like sugar. There I said it. I was doing Lemonadas in Italy like a kid in a candy store. I no longer judge when I see a cyclist with a coke. I understand.

My trainer writes a monthly program and I follow it. Well mostly. Except when I’m sneaking off to climb Mt Baw Baw. Apparently one of the harder climbs in Australia. And yes, I did not know that until afterwards. Eye roll.  I was led astray by a fellow mountain goat. Easily distracted by her peers was commonly written on my school report card.

I did fess up to the Mt Baw Baw climb. My coach’s reply, “Baw Baw, you’re a naughty girl G!! But I love it!” I suspect his response might have been a little different if I told him about the extra 60 kilometres smashed out later that afternoon. Thankfully he doesn’t follow me on Strava.

If he ever reads this, I am gone. And I’m glad he lives in Perth.

 

Recently, I had to message him to say I had come off my bike. Except I was not meant to be in the bunch that day. I didn’t hear back for hours. Unusual. Okay, this time he is really going to bust my chops. Turns out he was on a 400km training ride. In one day! And you think I might be determined, he’s a whole new level. Phew. Too weary to notice I was not on my training program. I suspect he knows.

Last week I had three flats. This was becoming annoying, until someone asked how many kilometres I had cycled on these wheels. Strava check. Appears to be 9,600kms. Yep. Double eye roll. Tyres are meant to last around 6,000kms. Oops. Rookie error number 86. The tally grows.

My cycling buddies went to town. Bloody love ‘em. One said, “stop riding so much, who the hell does endurance cycling anyway.” Ironically, says he who has contacted my endurance coach to inquire about training. Who will have the last laugh I ask?

More impressively, I have cycled 9,600kms since I started riding at the beginning of this year.

I had to take a moment.

And maybe another.

A small head spin of seriously what are you doing G?

None of this makes sense. Except it does.

 

I have just registered for the 3 Peaks Challenge in March. You have 13 hours to cycle 235kms with 4000 metres of climbing.

Insane.

If you do it, you get the jersey.  I want the jersey.

One of my good friends offered me his jersey after I told him I registered. I am currently questioning our friendship. What kind of a friend does that? I mean after you have paid. Now I have to finish to show him.

My training is going to increase as I reach for these goals. I was poking fun at myself, telling my coach. His reply, “awesome news on the 3 Peaks Challenge, this is so up your alley it’s not funny.”

That stopped me in my tracks. He actually believes I can do it. He sees a much bigger picture. And yet, I do not even really believe I can do it. That is both the truth, and an old internal narrative.

I can easily tell you a list of shortcomings around my cycling, all the reasons why this is a ridiculous idea. Those moments of doubt, the voice questioning why I feel the need to be so driven. If my best friend was writing this she’d just laugh and scribble, “high achiever and A type personality.” Been hearing that for years.

Yet, I am surrounded by great people who have already begun barracking for my success. Those riding buddies who poke fun at my rookie expense, and my non-cycling friends have backed me already.

 

Does anyone want to sponsor me, yet?

Well, I will be one of the ambassadors for Cycling Mums Australia in 2019. I get to rock that kit. There was some debate over what to have printed on the back. I thought G force but my awesome trackie friend suggested I can crash. See above. She thinks she’s funny. I settled for Georgina, seems as though my parents named me that, and it’s about time I gave them something back. Even if it’s a middle-aged spirted woman climbing mountains and pushing comfort zones, much to my kids dismay.

There are way too many eye rolls in my life.

I kind of turned up at a party pick up last week in lycra. I had a flat tyre and drank too much coffee. My twelve year old just looked me and up down, silently raising her eyebrows. I see it as my job to embarrass them. Seems I am doing a fine job.

My coach said at the beginning that by six months I will not know myself as a rider. Three months in he’s already right. I have hours of training ahead of me. I am constantly being pressed to ride stronger by the others I surround myself with.

So, fair to predict let’s get this fucker finished will be muttered or shouted many a time into the future on those senseless gradients and long days on the bike. This captures what the heart of endurance is for me, that is to be just turning up and to keep on pedaling, no matter what.

My only problem is there will always be another fucker.

FB_YGT
A 45cm sterling silver wearable affirmation to remind your self, or someone you love, who is trying their hardest and refusing to give up that like us, you’ve got this.  No matter what. See https://leaning-inwards.myshopify.com/products/youve-got-this-necklace

Finding your tribe

“Five types of people you want to surround yourself with: the inspired, the passionate, the motivated, the grateful and the open minded.” Unknown…..And the sixth, the cyclists. 

I leave home thirty minutes earlier to meet the bunch. Some would call this crazy considering I could start closer to home. And yet in spite of the extra time and kilometers, joining this exceptional club has been my foundation into cycling this year.

Easing into this sport gently would be a gross understatement of how my approach has unfolded.

Some of my co-workers, endowed with psychological and behavioral degrees, have jokingly used the word obsessive. I think the better words would be dedicated or steadfast, but here’s the best one, compelled. I know my co-conspirators at the club would side with me.

Always looking to improve, wishing to climb big mountains and ride long, I have just taken on endurance training. My riding buddies do nothing to discourage this, in fact one of them throws up a photo of her finishing a 200km event, awesome. I take that as ENcouragement.

Some pretty gutsy people in this lot, especially the women. They inspire me with their ability, strength and sensational humor. They mountain bike, row, swim, run, hike, race and do many other sports.

For exactly that, these are my people. And seems as though I am on a roll with words, here goes…Posse. Crew. Pack. Gang. Community. Light Bringers (they always have their lights on). Goal getters.

Teaching me skills and etiquette in cycling, their examples have been incredible. There are a few spirited cyclists too, who always get me into trouble by sending psychic messages from the back of the bunch to ride faster when I am on the front.

I get banished to the small chain ring, at first during the ride and now before we even start.

Recently, I started to ride in a faster bunch, the grownups I call it. One morning we are barreling down the road rolling turns past some other cyclists. I hear a male voice shout from behind, “Georgina!” I cannot turn around as we are going too fast.

My Strava feed confirms who it is but you have to ride with a person for that to happen. Suspicious. He might have been quietly hanging off the back yet he never fessed up. Not really. He is a long time and trusted friend.

Same thing happens later as I take on extra kilometres solo, see compelled. I see a pedestrian with her dogs waiting to cross the road. Another good friend and cyclist. I yell out her name, I see her happy eyes and she smiles at me. I do not stop, it is winter and I am in the zone.

Cheekily, my daughter said recently I needed to cut my long hair. There is no way I would chop it, firstly as I like it, and secondly, when I ride Col de Beach Road my cyclist friends recognize me by the lengthy plait. This is the old fashioned way of tagging, I explain. Eye roll from her.

This tribe growing up about me is unexpected. Let me explain why.

In the kinder and primary school years with my four children, there was a group of us mothers who became close friends. I found much support sharing our experiences as women. We almost saw each other daily as we dropped off and picked up.

This has changed since secondary education with our kids taking separate pathways. We are still close but the time spent together has changed significantly. I have missed the day-to-day connection. Life moves on.

This riding gig has a remarkable village feel to it. I met two incredible people in my cycling class which led me to a stop in Annecy recently. We rode in the mountains before I took off solo hiking in Switzerland. I had the privilege of riding with some talented and fierce cyclists.

In Italy, I met an Aussie who is keen to show me the local rides out of town so I can load up my Strava maps for the long jaunts I want to do. And there is the sassy travel agent who is putting a trip together with me for women to cycle in Italy mid next year. Girls  just want to have fun, right!

There always seems to be an invitation to ride with someone, somewhere. I just turn up.

Now I find myself being nominated for the club committee, and recruited for some race in November. They say I will enjoy it. Not sure if they mean the competition or the meetings. Coming up I have been ‘compelled’ to register for a few rides between 120km to 160kms, with the bigger goal of the 200km Alpine Classic early next year.

This is why I need the endurance coach, bunch rides, weekend jaunts, banter, the plait, endless coffee and cycling friendships. Of course, included are multiple messages between rides pretty much resembling a comedy show, keeping me laughing hard.

Back to last weekend, I joined some of the gang after my solo training ride. In the coffee shop, I am ‘compelled’ to tell them about my revelation regarding lycra and using the bathroom, how you do not have to take your top all the way off.

A small miracle really.

Of course, the troublemakers ask for a demonstration. There I am standing peeling off my jersey with a few riders looking slightly aghast. Thankfully we were outside, and it is all women.

And really, I do not care.

After I demonstrate my insight, I have one arm in and one sleeve out hanging down the side of me. I am trying to pull it up so I can get dressed but it is not coming. I tug it a few times until I work out a certain mischief maker is pulling it back down each time.

This is how we roll it seems.

In Zermatt recently, I found a cow bell in the bike store which I was ‘compelled’ to buy for the abovementioned sleeve tugger. She had been threatening the sleep-in cyclists with a cow bell ride by for months. So far this may be the only regret when speaking of compulsions, entrusting her with this. For that, I apologise to everyone in advance.

Sorry. Not sorry.

Truthfully, this tribe has surprised me but also arrived at the perfect time in my life. I feel ‘compelled’ to be a part of it, even if it is to avoid a certain cow bell.

FB_YGT
A 45cm sterling silver wearable affirmation to remind your self, or someone you love, who is trying their hardest and refusing to give up that like us, you’ve got this.  No matter what. See https://leaning-inwards.myshopify.com/products/youve-got-this-necklace

Beyond the words

“And though all the things I love may pass away and the great family of things and people I have made around me will see me go, I feel them living in me like a great gathering ready to reach a greater home. When one thing dies all things die together, and must live again in a different way, when one thing is missing everything is missing, and must be found again in a new whole and everything wants to be complete, everything wants to go home. And the geese travelling south are like the shadow of my breath flying into darkness on great-beats to an unknown and where I belong.” David Whyte. 

One of my closest friends has gone to India. Her entire bucket list, the last wish standing. I am so happy she is there. She is resting, healing, reading, meditating and enjoying being so deeply cared for. She stays beyond the date she had for return because she wants and needs the space to be. She posts photos and updates on Facebook, one saying she’s decided with her beloved husband that they have planned to not have a plan.

I speak to her on the phone and we send messages. In the last few weeks of her life, I have this inexplicable sensation like I have just hung up the phone from talking to her, except we have not. I get it all the time. I finally message her and tell her, that we seem to be having this extraordinary communication without actually talking. She responds saying how pleased she is our hearts are open, and that she loves me.

She dies three days later.

She had been unwell on and off for five years. Still, I am devastated, and for days I barely find words to talk or write. I mostly avoid people where I can, except for a few close friends. There is nothing I want to say.

Just a sense of being barren. Not much feels real.

Plugging my phone in to be charged has me bawling, realizing we will never call each other again. I sob and sob. I find comfort in the Foo Fighters, playing their music as loud as I can because they belt out the lyrics. I scream with them. This about sums up the state of my heart.

The best way to describe early days and weeks of grief for me is being caught between two worlds, one with my friend, and one without her. This is coupled with waves of loss smashing me whenever and wherever. There is zero choice for its arrival. You can be okay one moment, and then drowning the next.

I just miss her. Even referring to her in past tense makes me reel. I feel confused. And it is not fair. Life at times is ruthless and random.

One of my best friends shares with me something our friend always said to her, that asking why is not a spiritual question. I then heard her say the better question to ask is what. Unbeknown to my friend, this stops me internally rallying at life for its harshness. I soften.

So, I ask myself what?

We talked often and nothing was off limits in our conversations, in fact some topics expanded over years. She was immensely awake, by that I that mean spiritually tenacious and she embodied living for this very moment. I have never seen such a radical transformation before in a person. I had the privilege of watching her become so full of light through her daily practices of meditation, chanting and yoga.

This is not to say she was perfect, she was inherently human, beautifully so.

She was fiercely competitive. I played online scrabble with her, once. I saw firsthand how she researched information, gathering and weighing up facts against fiction. I can only imagine how this translated into her courtroom appearances. I would not want to be on the receiving end. I admired her strength and determination. She almost always knew more about medical research and results than the specialists treating her.

She was an avid seeker of truth, she devoured books and there was always a parcel being delivered to her door step. Her empowerment was revered by many of us.

I invite a small group of friends to gather at my house, each bringing what we feel is personally meaningful to create an altar. Our offerings include candles, incense, books, flowers, crystals, fruit and much love. We talk, eat vegan food, and share stories together. There is laughing coupled with our own grief, knowing we will never physically see her in this life again. The open fire is roaring and at the most succinct moments the wood pops.

I would say she is lingering joyfully in our presence.

Her Kundalini yoga teacher arrives with chai. The brew is lovingly made and we sit in the fire light. There are times of stillness and of chatter, both meaningful. We then gather in a circle on the floor and are led into a meditation before we begin chanting Akaal for our friend.

This word means undying, without time and that which never dies, and it is said chanting Akaal helps the soul to pass out of this world into the divine beyond.

Whatever our personal beliefs about death may be, it did not matter. To sit in circle with women, meditating and chanting to a vibration of energy beyond understanding is simply stunning. One of my friends drummed and everything in me felt so much gratitude for the years of friendship we shared.

At the end, each person was invited to say something if they wanted to. The few words that came to me were, “you did it.”

I had studied palliative care and volunteered on a ward for a time, and although a topic most people do not wish to talk about, death and dying consciously was often a great discussion between us. I believe my friend had a calm death without the need for medical intervention. I would even go as far to say she would not have had any existential anguish either.

You might want to label this wishful thinking but if you knew my friend intimately, you would know this is who she is, who she became.

Most ironically, when she was diagnosed with her illness she had to cancel her imminent departure overseas, to India. I do not believe it was a coincidence that her last physical breath out was in the very place her heart always longed to be. She had the love of her life, her husband, with her. She had stopped asking why a long time ago, and instead she asked what. She wholeheartedly knew, and had the courage to follow what she was called to do.

My beautiful friend, I love you beyond the words, it seems it is our thing. Akaal.

Just turning up

“She realised she had this one. This big, bold and beautiful life. And she realised she didn’t want to live it chasing and crying and apologising. Starving and fearing and regretting. She realised she wanted to live it proudly and freely and creatively. Lovingly and fully and sweetly. She realised she could choose. And so, she chose.” Unknown.

The guide leads the ride out of town, yelling in his heavy Italian accent and broken English, “holes”, “this way”, and my favorite, “bumpy.” His arms are flying to communicate signals of where to go. I have no problem understanding given the terrific hand show.

I laugh and shout to him, “I love listening to your accent.” Immediately, he is somewhat alarmed, and moves to my side to question me, “you say you love me?” Oops. I have to try and explain myself, talk my way out of it.

I finally reach a point of maybe him understanding but that’s when another rider, an Australian troublemaker, yells out from the back, “that’s not what you said before.” Great. Now I just look like an awestruck Aussie girl and it is all wrong.

I remind myself you should never use the word love with an Italian unless it is actually love.

His turn now, he asks if we would like to go to taste the ashes of the bean. We all look perplexed. Another Australian translates the meaning. He wants to stop at a cafe where they roast their own coffee beans. What a relief. I’m for all things coffee except possibly the burnt taste.

The conversation and banter is absolutely entertaining. Just like being in the bunch back home but with more room for misinterpretation.

As I said, I love the Italians, but with this disclaimer, no one in particular.

On another ride, we are steadily on a climb. The day is getting hotter as we reach midday and every part of me in drenched in sweat. The guide stops to take photos and as I ride past I puff, “so much for the Italian flat.”  He lets out a mighty shriek of laughter, “this no Italian flat, this is fuckin bastaard climb.” My turn to giggle, seriously, what can you say to that!

Yet another day, my feet were burning from hours of heat and ill-fitting inner soles. The Italian solution, shoes off and feet under the cool of the water fountain. I was a little shy at this suggestion, I mean it is Italy and all about style, but I was assured it would be instant pain relief. Turns out it is true.

With that said, the Italians have got both decorum and practicality. I mean my cycling kit was pretty stylish, and pink, even if I was barefoot in the fountain with my companions chuckling at me.

These are the moments you remember and look back upon.

I’ve become a seasoned solo traveler, and yet with each trip it increasingly becomes about connection. I continue to meet amazing people living incredible lives, opening up my mind and heart to possibilities.

I long to live in Italy, even just for a portion of the year, and I have been haunted by this for some time now. My past three overseas adventures have landed me there, for part, or the whole trip. The fact my great nona was Sicilian might explain a few things!

Although I never knew her, my father’s recollection of how she explained the Italian Mafia when he was a young boy made me instantly love her. Rather succinctly she stated, “they’re only there to shoot the pigeons son.” I cannot look at those birds now without thinking of her.

If only my great nona didn’t donate everything, land included, to the church to immigrate. I’m sure there is an avenue to obtain an Italian passport in there somewhere. I just cannot imagine the paperwork involved, nor the navigation required to do so. Tourist it is.

I do wonder how this will unfold. My life always seems far from boring. I have four teenage children happily settled where we live with a few years of high school left. Sometimes I just feel divided. I have been mothering for eighteen years now, and whilst it is an absolute honor and joy, there is a part of me who is edging beyond the everyday responsibilities of child rearing.

I don’t know the answer…yet. I am curious. I trust the opening in me.

In the meantime, as I explore and look out into the world, beyond mothering, I am continually connected with people who live a little differently, I guess outside the norm. And what is normal anyway? People keep turning up linking me to my next directed step, which allows me to trust a bit more in what is developing.

Speaking of trust, there are many skills to learn as a cyclist, and one of my favorites at the moment is sitting on a wheel. This means you ride close to the wheel in front of you, just centimetres apart. You have to know the rider in front is reliable, consistent and safe. I choose carefully.

Back to Italy, I was always going back there, as I sat on both Italian and Australian wheel of some incredible cyclists, I contemplated often how much you have to trust the rider and the process. Although it is a team effort, I have found it is about surrendering control to the leader for the ride, otherwise it just will not work.

Sometimes you cannot see past them in front, and yet you have to believe they have got you. As I sat on the back of one wheel, pushing 45kms per hour, the fastest I have ever ridden on the flat for a good period of time, I felt this again. Just doing my part, pedaling, judging distance and speed, then letting go and trusting that it will all work.

With that arrives the pure enjoyment of the ride unfolding as it needs to, with speed and ease. Very much like my longing to be on the move and living in Italy, I have my part to do for sure but there is a point at which I hand over what it might look like, and even how it will materialize. As I have always said about cycling, I just turn up, and extraordinary events and connections have transpired.

Remarkably, I also have that same trust in life. Bellissimo.

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