Life has been a confusing, chaotic mix of ideas for as long as I can remember. On the surface, I may appear calm, but deep down, there is a convoluted mess of ideas and structures I have attempted to build to appear normal. These structures are not gleaming skyscrapers or monuments that attest to man’s great powers. You need to think more of a lean-to built in a wild forest, only standing due to its creator’s strength of will and not because of some superior knowledge of architecture.
Everything requires energy, vast amounts of it. Trying to be “normal” and to fit in requires superhuman efforts. Early on, I learned to try and mask my traits; work was a nightmare otherwise. In the evenings, all I could do most nights was go home and collapse. These stresses led to migraines that made me wish I was dead, tears running down my cheeks, and pleading to a god I knew didn’t exist. The pain was routine, and I thought everyone felt this pain and this tiredness.
At one point, I stopped my hobbies and pastimes. I just existed, neither here nor there. I watched the same TV series on repeat, listened to the same five songs, and had the same dinner every night. I lived on repeat; it was almost safe and almost comforting. Everything got worse, though. Migraines became more frequent, leaving the house became a huge challenge, and merely conversing with my neighbours required a lie-down.
Living was no longer happening.
I knew I needed to change.
Fixated on bikes
Since my teenage years, I have used skateparks or long-distance cycling as an escape; nothing better than being a hundred miles away from your issues. Skateparks were now too anxiety-ridden for me to go to. Even if I left the house, I couldn’t leave my car when I arrived. I needed to find a way to escape the house. I would like to say that a new obsession and fixation slowly arrived. There was nothing slow about it; it arrived like an express train, and it was all I could think about. No other thoughts were allowed, or sometimes they may be permitted briefly.
The idea of a new fixed gear bike consumed me.
It was all there was to think about.
How many skid patches?
Do I need a brake?
Can I still ride fixed?
All day and most of the night, my brain was working. It would be 4 a.m., and I would still be online looking through bike catalogues. Feeling elated, fixed gear was the right choice. I loved riding fixed before, back when I was younger. Dropping people on geared bikes on climbs, wait, why do I have to be better? Is my self-esteem really so low that I must measure myself against others?
Why fixed gear, though? To be honest, it is because of anxiety. The more complicated a bike I could build, the more reasons I could delay getting out of the house and riding. I could spend time re-indexing gears and hours getting brakes so dialled in that if I even thought of slowing down, they would already be grabbing the rim or rotor. It is incredible what issues your mind can create as obstacles to stop you from helping yourself. Anything that I could use as an excuse to delay opening that front door would be used.
If I delayed long enough, then it would be too late to go ride, too wet, too cloudy, too anything. I mean, I can even use forgetting to brush my teeth as a reason not to leave the house. The idea of actually going and brushing them will not cross my mind.
Despite a night of arguing with myself on every aspect of the build, I pulled the trigger. Now, all I had to do was wait, which isn’t one of my life skills. The arguments were already erupting inside my skull.
Is the bottom bracket the correct width?
Will those bars hurt my wrists?
Is that colour okay?
Why did I go with silver?
Who needs enemies when you can destroy yourself pretty easily?
The parts arrive
A mere day later, which felt so so much longer, the boxes of bike parts arrived. I could now build my tracklocross beast. I had gone with an All-City Big Block. Was there any performance reason for my decision? Nope, it’s just simply repetition. I had owned a Big Block before, and other All-Citys and I knew the 49cm fitted me well. It was a way to try and stop my worries and head arguments. It didn’t work, as I managed to convince myself I had either had a growth spurt or shrunk in the intervening years. Given my clothing sizes hadn’t changed, I don’t know how I did this to myself.
I built the bike, got ready for a ride, and then I stayed in and ordered a takeaway.
The following day, I was up early and ready. Then, I didn’t like the look of one solitary grey cloud in a perfectly blue sky.
That, then, became the roads are busy.
I should have lunch.
It is a bit late now, but maybe tomorrow.
I opened my front door, and I was off.
The first ride
I had obsessively built a route. I had spent hours looking at local cycle routes. I wanted a mix of surfaces to try out this tracklocross idea and also mean that I didn’t get myself too stranded if I ended up with issues. I could feel my pulse quicken, and my lungs started to hurt, almost like the beginning of an asthma attack. I knew it wasn’t; this was all in my head and not a physical issue.
I went around the block to try and clear my head. It didn’t work; I knew I needed to carry on. My head was giving me a thousand reasons to go home. I turned towards the river and the first dirt path. The pedals pushed me onwards, one of the benefits of fixed gear. The inability to coast made me feel like the bike wanted me to move forward; the bike did not want me to stop or to merely coast.
It wanted me to drive on through life.
With each pedal stroke, I felt more confident, more alive than I had. My brain never really quietened down, but it did give up on its relentless attack on me. Now I was wondering what that tree was, that kingfisher looks cool, this path is fun.
My thoughts were more liberated.
Each pedal stroke brought a slight hint of clarity.
That is why I ride fixed gear.