Staying home, staying safe, staying alert... it's been a bit full on to put it mildly. We're doing our collective best to protect each other, protect the NHS and protect our sanity. Try as I might, the past few months have left me feeling, if you'll excuse the pun, a little "off balance".
It's safe to say my mental health takes a bit of managing. There's a fair few ups and downs, some not dissimilar to the most savage Bristol hills. I've become accustomed to these and had most of it "sorted" with a pretty hefty schedule of dancing, cooking, running and generally busying myself.
Cycling and mental wellbeing have never gone hand-in-hand all that much for me, or so I thought until a few months ago. Usually more of a runner, dancer or mountain hiker, I'd always taken the daily commute on my Bristol Bicycle for granted. Sometimes, I even felt a sense of resentment towards those Bristol hills, my thighs feeling somewhat battered by the end of most weeks.
But what happens when suddenly, your mental health coping strategies are dissolved, deleted, cancelled or prohibited? The past few months have been a chance to discover just that and, much to my surprise, a genuine love for cycling.
At the start of lockdown, we all had to stop what we were doing, perform a certain degree of navel gazing and think fairly quickly about what our lives meant without much of what we'd built them around. Initially, my thoughts about not having to cycle were widely positive, relishing the chance to have more energy for running, more time for creativity and the luxury of making proper lunches every day - not an office-bound lunch box in sight.
However, instead of transferring one pressure directly into another (the "I must use all this spare time to be productive, get fitter, be better." phase.. we've all felt that, right?!), I've had the opportunity to do some serious cutting back. Instead of keeping a strict routine of attending classes after work, preparing batch-cook lunches, guilt tripping myself into a run to tick all the boxes, I've started to listen and take things a little more steady. The simple pleasures of heading out on a gentle bike ride have given strange days an often much needed focus.
Cycling is unique in that it can take you to places entirely unreachable by other means. These past few months we've (*the other half of "we" being the formerly non-cycling husband, who has become a total Bristol Bicycles convert since lockdown!) journeyed to places we'd never have reached on foot and certainly wouldn't have found by car. I've discovered the joy of cycling for pleasure. The way the mind wanders when travelling by bike is both healing and an open door to new ideas. The spin of the wheels and repetitive push and pull on the pedals is transfixing. Or maybe it's just me? I do know for certain though, that cycling has improved my approach to managing my mental health. No strict routine, no pressure to attend, no need to even sweat if you don't feel it. Listening to my body and listening to the spin of my Bristol Bicycle is keeping me balanced in these pretty wobbly times.
If you're looking for something to get you through this peculiar summer, I'd wholeheartedly recommend getting out on a bike. Whether it's to give your mental health a positive boost, clear your mind, or simply see something different, I can't say enough how having the set of wheels from Jake and the gang has helped me. There may be no Red Fox cycle rides to festivals this year, but there's a whole heap of creative energy in your mind, just waiting to be spun out.
About the author:
I’m Ella, one of the Red Fox cycling ride leaders. I’ve been with the team since 2018. I was hooked after leading my first ride to Boomtown. The buzz a group gets from arriving at a festival together after sharing the highs and lows of 100 miles in the saddle is unbeatable. The massive creative scene is what keeps me coming back to festivals like Boomtown and Shambala - and arriving by bike just makes it perfect.
What are you listening to right now?
Right now I’m listening to a mix of old school hardcore to speed up those long working from home days, with a good dose of Dutty Moonshine on the weekend.
Any words of wisdom?
If you’re thinking of joining a ride, my advice would be go for it! Get covering some distance semi-regularly to adjust to life in the saddle. Wear whatever keeps you comfy!
Looking for an opportunity to escape city life? #followtheredfox on a weekend adventure, sign up for one of our 2022 rides.