As you may have noticed, if you follow my Instagram or FB page, recently I’ve been utterly in love with my mountain bike. I’ve been riding a bike for years, for fun, for a burst of adrenaline and as a commuter. It’s part of who I am and what I like to do. After buying a writing desk (which I still use), the second big thing I bought when I came to Aotearoa was a second-hand hardtail mountain bike. At first, due to working a very long way away from my home and living up some wicked hills, I mostly used my bike to commute, but a nice chunk of my commute was doing what I’d call in the UK ‘off-road’. By the time I got to the train in the morning I’d be buzzing, sweaty and often muddy. This made for a happy life. I would go through the woods as often as I could and if I saw a hill I’d cycle up, just for fun. The hills in Wellington are steep as fuck. In some of the bush-covered green-belt around the city, the hills are near perpendicular. They were a shock to my delicate English legs. Devon has hills, but long, slow, soft hills that go on for miles, nothing like these delicious, sharply-angled beasts.
But things change, winter comes and for a number of reasons I had a break from cycling. But eventually I sorted my shit out and moved closer to where I worked, to a house snuggled into the curve of some gorgeous hills. My new commute was much shorter, so I was able to ride to work every day and still have the energy to play on the hills most weekends. At the same time I learnt to drive a car and met my first kiwi bike-buddy. That was so cool. We explored the swoopy, jumpy-bumpy trails, walked the too hard extreme sections, and had heaps of fun. Then my bike got nicked. But I’m wise: it was insured, and my replacement, damn, she’s gorgeous, and commonly known as Truelove.
Around the time me and Truelove were bonding, I moved back to the city and quickly started to miss my weekend rides. But I’d finally learnt to drive, so one evening after work I went along to a women’s bike group for one of their weekly evening rides. I’m quite an introvert under my extrovert façade, so it was quite a challenge for me to meet up with a whole new group of people, especially after working all day and mostly riding solo for years. I was tired and nervous but joined in regardless. These women however were something different. They were all about the best bikes, the hardest trails and the correct kit. They didn’t chat or want to know anything about me, they just told me how I could improve my skills and techniques, which trails they liked, and where to buy the best new shorts, as they powered it up the hills. Without realising it, they made me feel like an outsider and an utter novice. Despite me not knowing all the jargon and having really old bike clothes (and not giving a damn), the trail we took was somewhere I hadn’t been before and full of jumpy-bumpy goodness and fun. And, it was a kick-start I needed.
That was at the start of the year, spring time. Luckily I’ve met plenty of women who remind me that women are just people and not part of some magical sisterhood, so I wasn’t put off riding. Instead I used the experience to inspire me to get fitter and stronger. I’ve got a truckload of confidence and determination, and I researched YouTube videos and practiced different techniques and did heaps more sweating up and down hills. But then lockdown happened, which smacked us all in the face, but, when I could, I kept riding and playing.
But what, you may be asking, has this got to do with writing? The simple answer being- everything! Like riding, when I started writing I wrote solo. I would write and write and write, playing with the plot, working out how I liked to fit words together, and finding my voice. I couldn’t articulate what I was doing, but I was doing it. Same as biking, I was self-taught and enjoyed it for what it was. Then I did my Masters in Creative Writing. That was the first time I’d met other writers and mostly they were a competitive bunch who put the emphasis on literary skills, technique, and ego, whilst managing to suck all the fun out of it. The only difference was I entered the writing world years before I entered the world of group rides. I was fresh, excited and naive. I didn’t know people who loved the same thing I did could be so awful. (Like I said, naive). But, with determination and an ‘I can do this’ attitude, I got through it. The coursework forced me to try out and address different things. I researched the hell out of it, I learnt how to articulate what I was doing and I learnt new techniques (not all of them useful). Even ‘having’ to submit something was amazing. I found my imagination was much bigger than I’d thought possible and I produced some work I was really happy with, some that amazed me I’d written it, and some that really sucked. I also found out how I work and thrive, and realised I have absolutely no desire to fit in with the lofty world of literature. To be that kind of writer, I’d have to cut away a whole heap of myself and, well we all know where that leads, same as it does with riding, with a big fucking crash.
For my writing, the crash came straight after my Masters ended. I was one of the 90% who have a massive writer’s block after they finish their course. Some of my other post tell the tale of how I managed to piece my broken writer’s heart back together and started to write again. But the main change for me was being lucky enough to get my first job in Aotearoa in a massively creative environment, an art college. Working with staff and students I found my way back to who I was and back to my writing. I even taught writing classes which rekindled my love and I started a writing group, which opened me up to an amazing community of writers.
Since then I’ve been steady with my writing. Sometimes I have a wee break and I’ll read for weeks on end, or I’ll just play with edits, or I’ll just focus on writing blogs or drafts. Other times, I focus on crafting a particular story, challenging myself and pushing myself to do the hard graft. Then I share with my writing group and go back to the writing desk and work on it some more.
The same thing has happened with my riding. After lockdown eased, I went back for one more group ride to give them another try and luckily met some fabulous women who also wanted something more fun from their time riding with others. We still challenge each other and practice the tricky, scary bits of the trails, but we chat, play and laugh too, so it’s actual fun, and a great environment to learn new stuff. We’ve all learnt how to do drops, roll-downs, steep switchbacks, and we all fall off now and then to amuse each other and remind ourselves we’re human. Writing and riding are things I’m very happy to do on my own, but it’s sweet to share that time too, especially when I push myself a wee bit too far, or when I’m too full of confidence and have a wee crash. And although I’ve been very focused on my bike recently, I know I love writing and I know I always come back to it and I won’t give it up.
What I’m trying to say is whatever you do, find your people. Be around people who inspire and nurture you. People who will help you get your confidence back when you have a crash or hit a block, because we all crash now and then. But, most of all, be true to yourself and have fun. If the trail, or group, or story, isn’t working, try something else. Walk it for a while, you’ll come back to it stronger. Just stay on your path, because yours is the right one for you. You’ll find your people. Life is way too short for anything else, and way, way, way, too precious for anything else.