Resilience, gratitude and being kind to oneself are just some of the lessons Hannah Bywaters shares as she takes us on a tour of the ups and downs of her second outing with BTC.
You'd think I'd learn and turn up for my second Brake the Cycle tour better prepared but that wasn’t quite the case. I still failed to get the planned training in and felt apprehensive about cycling with a bunch of strangers even though it was complete joy last time. So I started LEJOG low on energy and high on anxiety, but then we set off in sunshine with glorious views and just like that I was back to loving it.
Trouble hit early though as towards the end of our first full day of cycling my chain got jammed and I came off the bike hitting the tarmac hard and ended the day in a lot of pain. Didn't see that challenge coming — I cycle most days and it had been years since I last came off my bike.
So I then faced 1000 miles or so of cycling injured, which turned out to have some silver lining. It meant I received so much care and support from my wonderful companions; I found a resilience in myself I didn't know was there; it increased my gratitude for cycling tenfold; and it meant I had to take some days easier which was probably good for me! Amazingly I was able to cycle on and discover that not only does cycling bring me joy in abundance but it also seems to have healing powers.
Cycling LEJOG, travelling the length of my homeland, and seeing the amazing beauty in every part of this land made me realise all I miss out on when I drive along motorways. Wow, it was such a treat and in so much sunshine. I still can't believe the weather was so kind to us, who knew there could be that little rain in Scotland in May! There were many other joys: getting to know some fantastic fellow cyclists, seeing some fascinating ways of living differently from places we stayed along the way; feeling such a sense of achievement, getting help from super kind bike mechanics in various parts of the country, growing in strength and fitness, but most of all just seeing so much beauty. It feeds my soul to cycle under stunning skies looking out across beautiful lands.
But then there are the shit days. The days when you start in pain and it continues all day; when it finally rains and you get cold and wet and miserable; when your patience ran out hours ago but you still have miles of cycling to go with people keen on faffing; when all your buttons are pressed and you just need some time out.
The longest day of the trip was always going to be tough — just under 100 miles to cover in hilly Scotland. It was tough not because of the massive climb or the very long distance, but because I had to do all of that with other people. For me life is all about people, about learning to love, about connecting with others well below surface level, about reaching out to one another and finding a way to live that is not isolated and lonely. Yet its people that also bring the most challenges, having to compromise, having to wait, having to learn how to live alongside people who are so different, not being able to just enjoy the silent meditative rhythm of movement on my bike.
Group cycle touring is a rollercoaster ride in more than one sense for me. It’s challenging. But it’s also an opportunity for learning about myself and how to be more kind, seeing examples being set around me every day. It’s a tricky one balancing your own needs with the needs of others at the best of times, and when there are extra stresses like extreme physical demands, exhaustion, pain… well my ability to consider others first dwindles fast. The focus on this sharpens when set against the backdrop of seeing different models for living, staying in such fascinating places along the way where a healthy dose of humility seems vital to manage anything like community living.
Overall LEJOG left me feeling so alive. A few weeks of so much sunshine, air and movement, so much connection with others and with all that fills my senses was incredibly life-giving. It left me longing to find ways to keep all that brings me life a priority. It left me so thankful: for the many joys of course, and for all I learnt from trying and failing to offer kindness to others; trying to offer my best self each day, trying to choose to love and not always looking out for my own needs first. I plan to be back for a third tour and for another journey to some remote and rugged corner in search of life and love.