The last two posts were were drafts sitting for a while and were easy to get out, whereas before that I was blogging about training for the biggest cycling challenge I had undertaken.
Then, out of the blue, the day before I was supposed to ride the coast to coast to coast, my wife gave birth to our first child, our son Seth. He arrived nearly 6 weeks early and caught us by surprise.
Unfortunately, we only had a week with Seth before he died. This was unexpected, despite his premature arrival he was doing really well and moved from the special care baby ward to the labour ward with Rebecca. Since then we have learned that there is no definitive cause behind why he left us so early.
This devastated us. So much so we couldn’t really function properly and nothing was important anymore. Before his birth, I’d been out on the bike regularly, 3 or 4 times a week, maybe for 4 hours or more at a time.
I tried a couple of rides after Seth died and found it unbearable, breaking down and having to compose myself to ride back home. For a long time I didn't know why this was. But after some time, some counselling and support from my wife I think I figured it out.
As every cyclist knows, cycling gives you a lot of time to you and your thoughts. All of those long hours training at a particular heart rate or keeping a certain cadence gave me time to think of all the fun things I’d be looking forward to as a dad. How I would teach our child (we didn’t know what the sex was) to ride a bike, where I would take the little one for their lessons and all such bike related things. There was obviously all of the other joys of parenthood I was looking forward to. Time on the bike gave me plenty of time to enjoy imagining all of the adventures our little family would have. Hoping our (grumpy at times) dog would become the toddler’s best friend, playing with a ball on the beach. I’d even planned a route from work to the hospital, so I could cycle there and park easily in the midday Friday traffic. It was all about the anticipation of what was to come.
So after all of these things that I’d dreamed of were cruelly snatched away, when I went out on the bike those couple of times I could only think of bad things. Why had this happened to us? What have we done? IT'S NOT FAIR. The pain was unbearable. I’d ride along the leafy tracks in the summer sun and remember the times I’d been along here in the rain and mud, imagining a leafy, sunny day, a dog with flappy ears and wagging tail chasing a balance bike and it would just crush me.
So I stopped riding regularly. I did a couple with a friend who offered good support. On one occasion we went to Glentress mountain biking and rode the blue route. It had obviously been a while since I’d done anything quite so adventurous and I’d been concentrating on not falling off and hurting myself. It was only when we stopped and were having the cyclist’s staple of a cup of tea and cake after the ride that it occurred to me that I hadn’t thought about Seth at all. This was awful, how dare I not think of him? So even going out and riding and becoming immersed in what I was doing was enough to wrack me with guilt, upset me and make me not want to ride. I also participated in the RideBishop event with my family, even making a video. Whilst it was nice to be doing something with my family, riding with my nephew was difficult. again, it was like I was being reminded on what I would be missing out on.
Family, friends and colleagues would all ask, “Are you getting out on your bike?” and I’d reply “Not as much as I used to” and I would hope that I didn't have to explain, because at that time, I couldn't. There were a couple of occasions where trying to explain to them left me in tears. Now when they ask, I think I can explain and it makes sense.
A big moment was cycling to the crematorium where we have a cherry tree dedicated to Seth. It felt like cycling there was somehow introducing Seth to bikes and he could laugh at his dad in his silly clothes. I know that sounds strange, but it helped. Since then I have gradually been getting out more; the trails don’t cause me to choke up.
The point of this post is to share why I’ve been absent, not to say cycling has helped me “move on”. That is an awful phrase. The bicycle has not helped me, it has been talking with my wife, counselling and writing down how I feel in a special notebook I keep. This post is an extension of that. I love cycling, I enjoy blogging about it too. I want the two to work together again, and this is the first step.
I usually set myself some cycling challenges for the year and this year I have decided to attempt to do every Strava fondo challenge, which is one ride per month above a distance set by Strava, typically between 100-160Km. I was also successful in the ballot for a place in RideLondon this year. I had thought that if I didn’t get in I could do it for charity.
I’d also like to say that the charity 4Louis helped us a lot on the day Seth died with what the provided for us. To that end, my wife has decided to jump out of a plane (tandem, with an instructor, not me) to raise some funds to help the charity. If 4Louis can help another family like they did to us, it will certainly be worth it. If you would like to donate to help, you can visit the online donation page here.
(The jump was supposed to be on the 6th of February, but was postponed until the 20th of February due to adverse weather).