It interests me how time can be warped in our memory, something as recent as two weeks ago can seem years old, yet something that happened in the past can only seem like yesterday. For example flying home first class aboard BA’s Victorious after the Rio Paralympics in my mind is years ago now, however my talent ID day with British Cycling in Glasgow three years ago is just like yesterday. Maybe it’s something to do with the impact of the event but then again attending my first Paralympic Games was pretty special.
Deep down I’m trying to process my experience of the games, I want to move on but everyone still wants to hear my story. For Adam Duggleby and I, it’s hard to think how Rio could have gone any better. We came away with two gold medals, a bronze and a world record, a remarkable achievement and one earned by an amazing team of people. It’s a strange thing a gold medal, it can turn people into someone they are not, it places normal people up high on stools to be worshipped even if they are not nice people. Yet it can light up the face of a child who is holding it, gazing deeply into it’s golden awe as they tell you what they will one day win their very own medal for. Or inspire someone to achieve their goals they thought would be impossible on hearing my story. I feel no different to when I didn’t have a medal yet alone three, and I don’t want to sound ungrateful for them. I had to work extremely hard to earn them and I enjoyed most of the process, I say most as it’s a bit strange for a normal person to enjoy hurting yourself that much on a regular basis.
The question I loved being asked in interviews or in the street by people is, ‘so what next?’. For most people who have just completed a major event in their life, it’s a question that often throws them. For some it feels like pressure to get back into competing straight away. For me I know a load of people who hate that very question but I relish it. The reason is I’ve never wanted to be remembered for one thing. Always keen to look forward to the next goal or dream. I enjoy the process of going back to square one and being a novice again. To find new ways to challenge myself and what I think i’m capable of achieving. That’s the reason I love that question, I have so many things to try and achieve and it feels like there is just not enough time to learn all the skills I’ll need to undertake some of them. Three years ago as a climber when I set my goal of becoming a Paralympian I wouldn’t have believed you it you told me it’ll happen. I would have laughed at you. The reason I set the goal aged 36 was it felt impossible to turn myself into a world class athlete, I never imagined I would. I guess back then it was more of a dream than a goal.
So what is next? Well I’m using the time that I have away from British Cycling to follow a new passion. Adventure Bike Touring. Well its bike touring really but on challenging roads and trails in remote parts of the world. I’ve always been a fan of being outside regardless of the weather, I’m a believer in the saying “it’s not bad weather, just bad clothing choice”, however I spent most of winter last year riding in sleet getting soaked to the bone! So you work it out. Sometimes weather can get the better of you but thats not enough of a reason for me to stay indoors.
Earlier this year the normal grim weather of January saw me head to Mallorca where most of us from British Cycling like to hang out. I was there a couple of weeks before the Para Team arrived staying with my wife Caroline and friend and fellow cyclist Karen Darke. The three of us being adventure fans hatched a plan for post Rio to ride the Carretera Austral, a 1200km mostly dirt highway in the remote Patagonia, Southern Chile. It’s somewhere Karen has always wanted to return after a sea kayak trip down there years ago. I always dreamed of going to Patagonia climbing but I’m super stoked to be having a fat bike adventure there. I had to stay focused on my training plan for Rio but used my recovery time to learn about the Carretera and began studying the route and logistics. The other reason for the adventure was we really weren’t sure if we would make selection for the Paralympic’s GB team, we wanted to have something in the pipeline to look forward too if disappointment was the case.
Excited sitting around a small table in Mallorca we hatched some plans, for this undertaking we needed someone else. I suggested Jaco VanGass, fellow Para Team mate and adventure lover fitted the bill nicely. We wanted to keep the team small so it was easier for logistics and getting everyone to agree on timings and the final route. It’s going to be interesting as the Carretera offers our team of misfits a challenging time. Karen will ride a modified hand bike while Jaco along with the rest of us will ride modified mountain bikes however he will be using one arm for all of the controls. I will be towing a trailer and have Caroline to help guide me around on and off the bikes. We will spent the nights under canvas sleeping on the dirt living as simply as we can. Wake, eat, ride, sleep, and repeat for what we think will be around 25 days. For me this will be heaven, away from phones, the internet and social media, just friends and loved ones on an adventure.
I have no idea if there has ever been a team like this take on the remote southern highway however this is not about firsts, nor is it about breaking records or being honoured for the achievement. For the first time in my life i’m not even bothered if we don’t make Villa O’Higgans the final town on the route. The goal is to go slow, enjoy the world passing us by and stop and camp when an amazing spot finds us. The success of this trip will be judged by ourselves not by the clock or power outputs. The race will be to slow down, to turn off from everything we have been learning over the past Paralympic cycle, now time doesn’t matter, just enjoyment. We depart on the 19th November and will return just before Christmas before getting back in the saddle and into training again focused on the World Championships in South Africa next August.
The other popular question being asked at the moment is, Tokyo 2020? The very thought of it sends my mind back into time warp. Four years ahead seems so much further than four short years ago. However the staff around me have been brilliant in letting me take some time out to enjoy life again, they realise that what we do as athletes to achieve great success is not normal and people need to breathe after such an occasion. I feel my cycling career is far from over, at 39 years of age I still have things to achieve before I decide to call it a day and head back to square one for the next chapter.
Thanks to BioCare and Dirty Dog Eyewear for the ongoing support in me doing what I do.