Often, when people make big changes in their lives, you hear lots about the good things. There is a lot of pressure (mostly put there by you) to demonstrate it’s all working out and was the best move you ever made.
Sometimes, it goes catastrophically wrong. Whether the signs are there or not, actually realising and accepting that things are not how you thought they would be, and aren’t going to be no matter what you do, is incredibly difficult and very very painful.
Three weeks ago, I had another one of those defining moment phone calls, of the variety that I haven’t had since 2010 and before that, 2007. The news was devastating – another buyer had pulled out of the sale of my house, at the eleventh hour, and after months of waiting for them to sort everything out with lots of reassurance from all sides.
The feasibility of the Scottish adventure rested on the sale of the house. I’d fought very hard to keep afloat over the last year, and it was becoming harder and harder to keep going, both financially and emotionally. This was a house I’d bought with my ex husband expecting to raise a family in, and then worked hard to keep after we separated as it was the longest I’d ever lived in one place and the most ‘at home’ I’d felt anywhere.
Gradually after some bad news at the start of 2012, I came to realise that life had moved on from the hopes that took me to that house and had kept me feeling at home there. Nothing was going to change without a pretty drastic step, and I felt sure I could make the break, with just the house situation to deal with.
I’d hardly eaten in the two weeks before as everything became more and more stressful. Constant requests for ridiculous paperwork, phonecalls to and from so-called professionals every 5 minutes. This was the day when an exchange had been promised and it hadn’t happened. It got nearer 5pm and it became obvious nothing was going to happen that day, but I missed a call on my mobile and then it was returned later on.
Now it was all broken. In the grand scheme of things, nobody died and nobody else had cancer. In terms of the immediate impact on me and everything I’d worked for, it was pretty significant.
But I was on my way to Applecross, one of the most beautiful parts of Scotland, for the duathlon I was so excited about. I don’t know how, but somehow I managed to get enough of the distress out of my system to promise myself I wouldn’t let it spoil the weekend.
I slept but barely ate. I was excited about the event itself but at the same time as this, I was dreading the run and was extremely apprehensive about the ride. I knew I needed to get some food down my neck but didn’t want to risk the upset of being even more sick.
On the run, I couldn’t get into a rhythm for the life of me. I’d run a lot in the preceding weeks – I was wary of doing too much after being ill the month before, but I was loving my running and didn’t want to stop. Whether it was the lack of any meaningful food or too much running before, even after my requisite 3 mile warm up period, nothing was happening and it was all I could do to keep walking. Sometimes this can be an asthma issue, but not this time – just nothing in the tank.
I’d swapped to the Challenge to remove the pressure of possibly missing the cut-off time, which meant I didn’t need to worry about getting back and could take my time.
The wildness of the landscape was staggering. I’d been to Skye before, and to the Summer Isles just a fortnight before. But I’d never been that far off the main road, let alone the beaten track, and I’d had company. Now, I was out on a sunny day pretty much on my own. A couple of people behind me, and a good few a fair way in front. But if I’d had Inspector Gadget style arms, had I reached them out to both sides, they would have gone for miles without touching anything other than sheep and mountains.
At one point, I looked behind me and the mountains around Torridon took my breath away. I wanted to stop for a photo, but knew this would mean seeing the time on my phone and I didn’t want to look at that. I promised myself I would come back, and would remember the sight for a very long time.
Geographically, I was completely isolated, probably the most alone I have ever been. But not lonely. Conversely, the most lonely I have ever felt was sat in a traffic jam on the M25, surrounded by people and cars as far as I could see, on my way home from a wedding I had played the harp for on what should have been my own wedding day.
I realised I was getting nearer the Transition area. At the start of the run, I’d wondered if I would make it round the bike ride. The humiliation of not getting up the hills and/or crashing trying to get out of my pedals was worrying me after a rather embarrassing incident up the Tak ma Doon nearer home.
By the time I got to the last mile of the run (on tarmac which felt very strange), I had calmed right down and was excited about the ride. The thought of those beautiful hills around Torridon had really lifted me, and I felt so lucky to be where I was. No thoughts were of the wider situation – I was truly enjoying the moment and loving every second.
Transition gave me a further lift – there were a few more people there than I had thought were immediately ahead of me, and I managed to head off before them. I even got a very unexpected sweaty sloppy kiss (not from a stranger I should add). I was really buzzing and looking forward to getting going after I’d fished my bike out of a small bog.
The hills came, and some of them were quite sharp, but I got over them. I talked to myself a lot and surprised myself with how much I could relax and still keep going. I went past a couple of people up a couple of the hills which amazed me. I guess being a few pounds lighter really does help!
A Eureka moment occurred when I finally realised the difference between tension and effort, something that is critical when playing the harp. I have been affected by tension-related injuries for a while, and my playing has often been restricted because I’ve become too tense. Feeling my legs working hard while my shoulders were completely relaxed was a pretty bizarre thing to get my head round, and I actually chuckled out loud.
I felt very connected with my bike and my body, and with the scenery which I just can’t describe adequately, and I was really, really enjoying myself.
Gradually I realised I’d probably done the last climb, and I cycled round the Bay towards the finish. The pipes at the end brought tears to my eyes, probably combined with the fact that I was shattered.
Although I’d had a good head start, I was one of the later finishers and it didn’t take long before most people had wandered away in search of tea and (wonderful!) cakes at the village hall.
This is my bike, doing a pretty good impression of how I felt afterwards. In need of a lie down. (Note the lucky Rossi turtle stickers had actually proved lucky this time by keeping me going)
The evening brought some fabulous food and company in the Applecross Inn, having had a wander across the beach on the way to the pub. Finally I got my toes in the sea, for the first time since the Clacton triathlon last September. It was cold but there was no way I was missing out. For a girl who loves to be beside the seaside, it had felt like far too long.
Excellent beer, wonderful food and even more excellent whisky after a fantastic day spent in such a special place with someone you love is something to be treasured.
The Applecross leg of the Scottish adventure was over all too soon, but I know I will be back, and for longer next time. Crucially, the experience of being there, and the release that it brought, will keep me going for a good while yet.
I surprised myself by just how much I could leave behind when I really needed to, and when in such an incredible place.
Admittedly I was very very far from home, and I know this adds an extra dimension. Sometimes it can feel like going away won’t solve anything, that the same problems will be there when you return.
But this trip gave me a lot of strength to face the truth of what had happened, and to cope with the fallout that will come. Accepting you’ve made a mistake is very hard. Moving on from it and not letting it hold you back is even harder.
It might have taken a lot of strength to keep going physically (and I am really not sure where this came from!), but the emotional strength that comes from completing a significant physical challenge should not be underestimated.
September has been a difficult month. It started with such promise in the wilds of Achiltibuie, dancing (indeed shoogling!) insanely after the consumption of ‘some’ whisky and staggering back from a gig in utter darkness. It ended with another new start back at the RCS for the second year of my course. This had looked impossible even just a few days before, but sometimes even the most stubborn of us have to ask for help in difficult times, and it often comes from unexpected places.
(Thanks to Graham for this photo – if you look carefully, you can just see a person with her toes in the sea…)
PS The post title is one of my favourite lyrics, from TVC15 by David Bowie. I loved the thought of going from transition where you are effectively faffing about and changing, to transmission and getting going again.