Freedom wheels

I’ve decided to include my journey into cycling here – for the conscious traveller, how I feel might resonate with you. Either way, it’s a journey that is personal, and has become another way to connect with the spirit of Bali.

For those who love Bali, cycling can open new eyes, new opportunities and new experiences. But I can’t explain that, until I explain the road I took to get here.

The loss of something, the gain of something else

A couple of weeks ago, I made the commitment to see a specialist about my increasingly painful hip that was keeping me up at night. I sat nervously in the waiting area, having already consulted Dr. Google. I was well aware of the least and the worst that it could be. 35 years of running, often up to 70 kilometres a week could well have taken its toll. The other possibility was that my alcohol consumption over the years had, well, exceeded the recommended dosage and was now the onset of degeneration which is irreversible. The hip literally dissolves over time. Bursitis, arthritis, structural issues…the list was long and to be honest, I wasn’t sure I wanted a definitive answer.

The specialist had only asked me one question. “Why do you women leave it so bloody long before you get help, after it is too late to do anything but the hard stuff?”

I had to agree. Pain for almost 10 years hadn’t bothered me, I’d still been able to run. Despite the mounting injuries, my innate inner desire to start and end, to connect with nature, to be free, to finish, to go faster…all these had competed against the possibility of bad news…that I could not run again.

But the pain at night was getting worse, and this was even after weeks of rest from running. My body was falling apart before me and in my quiet moments alone, I was getting more and more despondent.

We discussed all the symptoms and time I’d endured the pain, and as he gently shook his head, concern flowed over his face. “Well, let’s hope it’s not the groin!” he remarked, jumping up and telling me he wished to examine my hip. A few movements of my legs later and he shook his head with an ‘ah ha’ look on his face…not a self-congratulatory one, but one that meant he had been right about his first suspicions.

“It’s in your groin,” he explained. “This is not good, and I am a little bit concerned.”

I was left alone as he left to look at my x-rays. Tears were flowing from my bottom lids and my lower lip was quivering.

Not in self-pity. I can handle operations, pain, all sorts of things. But to lose part of my soul definition, to perhaps not be able to run again?

Guilt was also nagging at me. I live in Bali, there are heaps more significant issues facing people on a daily basis. This truly was a first-world problem. But it was happening to me, and no matter how grateful I am for everything in my life, this was still a loss that needed acknowledgement.

We sat opposite each other and his voice took on a different tone, more buoyant but I suspect he knew that he was talking to a stubborn runner. He’d met plenty in his life.

“Good news!” he smiled. “The damage is not so bad, it is arthritis. You look 35, are in your forties, but your hips have other ideas and look like they are 55. If you stop running, change what you do, you will gradually catch up to the age of your hips and perhaps even go past them!”

Good news? No more running? To be honest, I had to sit with this for a while and really look at why it was so devastating. I posted the ‘good news, bad news’ on Facebook and one friend suggested I look at why running meant so much to me in the first place. That would be a good point to begin looking for a new sport.

I went back over the years. Running was who I defined myself as. I would probably tell you I was a runner, before telling you I was a marketer. I was proud of my achievements as an amateur, running five kilometres in 18 minutes, winning gold at the Police Games, being the 75th fastest in the Melbourne Half Marathon. (I wish I’d done the whole marathon that year, I would have done it in around three hours 40 if I’d ended!) I always knew as well that if I’d been as committed back then, as I was in later life, I could have run at a higher level, but I was lazy. And, injury was my friend. But it never stopped me wanting to run. Why was that?

Running was more than defining me. It was a friend.

My fastest moments were when I was going through crisis or tough times. 2005, 2006, 2009, 2010. Running was my meditation time, my time to connect back with the planet. It couldn’t hurt me the way people could. Running put things back in perspective, gave me time to think, plan, dream, be free. It was when I could shake of negative thoughts, but not flipping them off like they meant nothing. I could acknowledge them, ‘sit’ with them, let them be without judgement. As I’ve got older, I’ve realised that it’s okay to feel bad, or angry, or sad. In Bali, they believe in dark and light, day and night, good and evil. Their whole culture is based on this, giving back after taking. Even the black and white material you see draped around trees and statues, or worn by Balinese represents this contrast in life. Denying the existence of one is dangerous, unhealthy. Allowing it to exist without giving its opposite a chance to balance it is also unhealthy.

When dad died, I ran and ran and ran. I wrote in my diary on 16 November 1983:

“I ran on Tuesday night, and cried on the beach. Then I was strong again. But I was alone.”

“Trish came around. No-one knew what to say. ‘I’m sorry.’  ‘So am I.’ I ran, I sprinted, I ran, and cried. I stopped at Dad’s restaurant and cried in gulping breaths, slamming my fists onto the seat. Someone calmed me. I went home. Then I was okay.”

Running was more than just exercise. Running was my counsellor. And sometimes, it was my way of surviving.

The days after the news that I could not run again were positive. I began to focus on what else I could do. It is funny how social media can be a balm. Friends offered advice and those who knew my passion for running offered sincere words of comfort. They ‘got it’ and knew that this wasn’t self pity. It was something that needed to be acknowledged and let go, so that something new could arrive.

Cycling kept popping up. I’d loved it when I was a teenager, it got me from A to B quickly, particularly without parents available to drive me everywhere. It gave me freedom. I wondered whether it could give the same sense of freedom and connection and meditation that running had.

I made the decision to get a bike. And today, tested it for the first time. So here is where my journey has landed me, to being able to share with the conscious traveller a new sense of freedom in Bali, and for me, and brand new Bali to fall in love with all over again.

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Cycling in Bali

My main concern about cycling in Bali was safety, so I selected a strong bike with lots of gears, the right clothing and flashing lights. I needed to feel secure. Used to riding a motor scooter, a bike would feel ‘the same but different’.

In fact, it feels amazing.

I headed out toward Ubud. As I rode away from my house it seemed as though moving to Canggu three months ago from hectic Kerobokan to wide open spaces, had been right in so many ways. Away from the chaos of Kerobokan, the roads were sealed and open. Rice paddies and villages lay either side of me. Children waved at me from their bikes having finished school after an early start. Little girls with pigtails giggled, riding two up on bikes way too big for them. Two boys raced me down a hill, squealing as I sped away from them laughing.

It is so much cooler than running. The wind rushes through your hair and the work load is concentrated in your legs rather than your lungs (at the moment!)

Traffic included a few bikes and a couple of cars. Villagers were going about their daily life on foot or bicycle. Food vendors struggled up hills with their ‘restaurant’ perched over the back of the bike. Farmers loaded up fodder and grain to take to their animals or for processing.

The road was gentle. Up and down hills I went (see my route here if you are interested in exploring the same area). I marvelled at how far bikes had come since my racer days in the 1980’s! The gears changed easily, and I had a choice of not 10, but 30 combinations! Top and bottom levers quickly shifted the gears as I needed to build pace or back off. The bike felt solid beneath me and with the wind in my face, I was connecting back with a feeling I’d missed. The feeling of freedom and connection.

I went a lot further than I’d planned, but as I headed toward home, I realised that this was one of the best ways to explore outside the tourist areas of Bali. Blessed with a good sense of direction, I edged my way around gangs (lanes) and roads, before popping out at the main road to my home. Words began flowing through my mind to describe the gratitude I was feeling, and at that point I knew that I was in the same head space I had been when running.

Free. Connected. In alignment with who I am and where I am headed.

On this new journey, I will be able to see so much more of Bali, to bring you insights that might be missed whizzing by on a scooter or in a car.

But it’s not just the speed. It’s the state of mind you get when you are doing something so natural, bringing your thoughts into positive spaces, lifting your mood, making you realise that connection is what it is all about. From smiling at a farmer or laughing with school kids, it’s stripping away all the commercialism of our life (someone ought to tell the bike manufacturers that!) and being part of something else, even as only a guest. It sets an example, reminds the self of what it’s all about, brings forth gratitude for good health and ability to do something, anything.

Before I set out, I read a post on Facebook by Franck Giardot, an entrepreneur and motivational leader based in Bali. I thank him for these words that I reflected on, as I rode through the villages of Canggu and beyond.

Going through good days and bad days with the same, unshakable, positive attitude. Embracing every challenge as a blessing and an opportunity to grow. Knowing that hardship and turbulence are part of life just as much as peace and quietude are.

I welcome that day for everything it has to bring me. May I be wise enough, loving enough, smart enough and strong enough to show up at my best, in all circumstances.

I’m not sure if he meant it as a mantra, but as I rode my first ride in Bali, for me, being grateful, loving enough, smart enough and strong enough to show up at my best, no matter what, will be the affirmation I carry with me as I begin this new journey.

Thank you Franck, for summing up this wee journey so well. There are more travels to come, good and bad, big and small, but they are all about growth and who you become along the way.

And for me, this is what it is all about on this new page in my life.

And of course, cycling. And freedom. In Bali.

If you are interested in more information about cycling in Bali, stay tuned. I will be bringing you blogs about where I have been and the best places to visit, where to hire bikes while you are here and safety tips.


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