They don’t prepare you for this bit. Actually you’re not prepared for any bit of this, but the days after are something else.
I’m watching over the last 2 days, and my family, whom I’m supposed to be with, is disintegrating and dispersing to the corners of Canada, and their own real lives are reasserting themselves. The bubble has burst and left us exposed to the world we left behind 3 weeks ago. The anguish and pain of separation and the loss of camaraderie is palpable. You miss your family intensely, and it’s hard to readjust. Some people are exploring Halifax with their families, yet others, are now at their homes, and others are in transit. And fading from view, just as you are fading from theirs. And it doesn’t feel right to me. The final night’s experience was so poignant and summed this up perfectly: we had the celebration dinner, and the plan was to then hit the Halifax night life for further celebration. I looked at some of my teamies, and we didn’t want to go. It’s a long way, took time, was alien to what we were used to, and didn’t feel right. We ventured back to the hotel bar, which was too comfortable and different. So we went outside, pulled up the back of the Penske cube van, pulled the camp chairs out, cracked a beer or two, put on some tunes and had a tailgate party in the carpark of the hotel. It was the final chance to cling to this life that was slipping fast from our grasp. As Allison said “I just want to go and sleep in the bunk tonight…”. I knew exactly what she meant.
I spent today starting to clear up what has been on hold for the last 4 weeks, and doing “normal” stuff. I even went into the hospital for a few minutes, and it felt a little weird. There’s something I need to be doing, and this isn’t it. I even went downstairs to the freezer to get something out, and found myself holding my bike… And then the wave of exhaustion came on, and I slept like the dead, just like after the ride. Only I didn’t ride. And then the wave of hunger came on too, and I had to deal with that too. I may go into jujube withdrawal… I am glad i have been able to take some time to properly come down from this intense experience. The first time I did this ride, i plunged straight back into work and crashed badly. It’s not something you can lightly toss aside, and resume your previous life like flicking a light switch. This is more akin to a grieving process.
The parallels between experiencing the Ride, and experiencing a serious illness, like cancer and its treatment are uncanny. I realised this in 2013, but this ride reaffirmed this. In a way, this was like experiencing a relapse; been there, done that, got the t-shirt twice already. Only now we get to do it again. The second, or third time around, I was prepared for the beginning, and the task ahead – I know about the riding, the team building, the personalities, the fun, the pain and the work. I knew about the hardships and the ecstasy too. But it doesn’t make the aftermath any easier. In fact it makes it tougher, as you know you will yearn for what you are about to lose. I have survived another Ride. It was exactly what I expected it to be – the toughest ride to date – not only physically, but emotionally. My protective shell was stripped from me faster than any previous time, and I was left raw and exposed for the whole of the ride. But that was what was needed. But the aftermath, i think is going to be the hardest to come down from. Wish me well, and wish all my Ride family well too, as they will go through exactly the same. Treat them with care and gently, and try to understand when they aren’t themselves. don’t worry, they will come back to you. but they won’t come back the same. They will come back changed. Brighter, happier, and more self assured and resilient.
We give so much to this ride. We give everything we can, and expect nothing back, but the gifts it gives to us will ignite our passion even more fiercely, and reaffirm our strength.
Oh – and don’t be surprised if they plan to do it again…