Feel The Fear and Say F**ck It
Looking back , deciding I was cycling the Shipwrights Way solo seems like a pretty crazy idea. I’ve only really been back in the bike saddle for a few months for the first time since my teens. I still don’t really know how to do simple bike maintenance. And truth be told, I haven’t actually changed an inner tube as J has always done it for me. So there were a lot of potential things that could have gone wrong. But I think sometimes you have to just say F**k It to fear and do it anyway.
My rather blasé attitude was largely down to having re-read John C Parkin’s excellent F**k It: Do What You Love. I don’t want to spoil the ending, so suffice to say that feeling the fear and doing it anyway is the general idea. As well as saying F**k it a lot.
Shipwrights Way Obsession
Thoughts of cycling the Shipwrights Way were swirling in my mind. September was already upon me and it felt like time was running out. When I had first got on the mountain bike back in May, J had said how he always wanted to ride the Shipwrights Way. I set it as my goal; getting fit enough to be able to ride the almost fifty miles from Bentley Station down to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. We talked about it a lot at the beginning. We imagined what it might be like and what we might see on the way. I read tons of blogs and watched videos of other people’s journeys, I guess I developed a slight obsession.
The more we talked, the more the plan changed. J got the idea to invite his biking friends and their partners. We thought it would be fun to do it as a group. But suddenly there were more people who needed to get fit and to be organised and somewhere along the line the plan fell to the wayside. It became too complicated to coordinate everyone and so the idea of cycling the Shipwrights Way got forgotten. Except I still really wanted to do it. I wanted to do it with J but the more lockdown was lifted, the more other commitments got in the way. Soon weekends slipped away as quickly as the summer.
Before long it had been a whole month since we had managed any type of long ride out together. And looking at the calendar, it didn’t look like there was going to time for one any time soon. The karting championship was back on track. That meant the boys were away most weekends having adventures that didn’t involve me. I felt like my life was on hold until there was a gap in the schedule when something exciting could happen for me. It took me a while to realise that the only person stopping me having adventures was myself. And so, one day when I was reading the book I just thought ‘F**k It, I’m cycling the Shipwrights way solo’.
I’m not going to lie, once I’d made the decision I was terrified. I’d no idea if I had the miles in my legs to complete it. I had no idea what I would do if something went mechanically wrong. I had no idea how hard it was going to be. But it also felt like completely the right thing to do. My soul craved it. I knew that I was going to have to find a way to make it work.
I came up with a plan, that was actually a little bonkers. I’d checked the weather forecast and picked a weekend where the weather was supposed to be good both days. I decided to stay in an Airbnb in Southsea and (here comes the crazy part) cycle home the next day. All of a sudden I had committed myself to cycling the Shipwrights Way not once but twice, on consecutive days.
Giving Myself Permission
Initially didn’t tell J of my plan. I decided that since he was away racing, I would ride a 28 mile test section of King Alfred’s way the week before to check my fitness. It was only half the distance of the Shipwrights Way, but it would give me some idea if it was possible. What I realised on that ride was that it wasn’t the physical strength that would be the problem. It was the mental and emotional side. I felt guilty that I was changing the plan. I had to make a very conscious decision to give myself permission to do that. Allowing myself to do something just for me and not worrying about other people is still a skill that’s a work in progress.
Being Kind to Myself
So I had to give myself a very stern pep talk on several fronts. I had to confront my guilt and feelings of being selfish. There was the potential disappointment I might feel if something went so badly wrong that I had to abandon the ride halfway through. So I decided that I would be kind to myself. If I decided to catch the train from Portsmouth instead of riding back on Sunday, I wouldn’t beat myself up. I decided to just do it and trust that no matter what happened, it would all be OK. Having the adventure was what mattered. Everything else would just make up the patchwork of my own unique tale of the time I dared to try.
As is the way of these things, just when I thought I had got it all worked out, everything changed. Once I told J of my plan, I found out that he wasn’t actually going to be away for the whole weekend, just the Saturday. I could feel that he was disappointed not to be riding it with me, and for a second or two I was tempted to bend my plans to fit him. But by then I already knew that it was something I had to do alone. To prove to myself that I could, both mentally and physically. So we agreed that he would drive down to Portsmouth Saturday evening and stay in the Airbnb with me. Then on Sunday I could either decide to ride back as planned, or jump in the car with him instead.
And guess what? I did it. I rode the whole way plus some. At 7.45am the following Saturday I left with a backpack full of food and tools and hopes and dreams. I rode the 10 miles to Bentley Station. I followed the trail and cycled when I could and pushed when I needed a break. And slowly I passed through all the sights that I had read on other people’s blogs and drank coffee and ate cake and kept going. The weather was glorious and the bike was awesome and didn’t breakdown at all. I found a strength inside myself that I didn’t know I had.
Finally, hours later I was stood on the harbour looking out HMS Victory, tired and sweaty; exhilarated and amazed at myself. I knew that I would do it again in a heartbeat.
And hopefully I will. Because there were lots of things that I would do differently. Refuelling earlier because I had a period in the middle where I struggled because I didn’t have the energy to cycle the hills. I’d book a whole apartment because the shared accommodation meant that doors were slamming all night so neither of us got a good night’s sleep; I would get loads more photos of the bike and me on the trail; I’d take a GoPro. These are all minor details though. The main thing I learnt was that I have found a passion for something that a year ago I had no idea I would love. Now I am completely smitten. All my waking thoughts are on the next adventure; the next places to explore; the next time I can jump on the bike and feel free.
I also learnt that the best things in life happen when you say F*ck It and do what I love.