On saying yes

Having been rather light on adventure lately, things have started to pick up again at last. My planning fingers had been twitching over maps, notebook and spreadsheets, but in truth it has taken me a long time to bounce back from the first few months of the year. Finding someone to come and share my desired adventures is also proving a challenge.

A couple of weeks ago, the time came to brave the Scottish summer weather and head out on my bike. (Well, both bikes actually, but the motorbike trip is a story for another day)

I thought it had been 6 months since I’d last been cycling but I was horrified to discover it was a massively embarrassing 9 months.

Being completely honest, I’ve been a little bit scared to get back on. I didn’t fall, nothing bad happened. I just stopped going, found other things that needed my time or effort, and then I lost my bottle.

And then the sun was out one evening, for the first time in what felt like far too long. So I dusted my bike off, put some air in my tyres and wondered if I could still manage to unclip from my pedals at the appropriate moment.

I set off, with my heart pounding in my chest and my shoulders and arms shaking as I approached the first set of traffic lights. Safely negotiated, foot back in, breathe out just a little. Next was the first hill, and the first set of bone crunching pot holes to avoid. All good so far.

Then I was out of the village, and on the long slight incline that drags me through a beautiful valley out towards the mountains further north. Last year I had come to hate this road, it was always a tough warm up or a tough last few miles after a tough hill session. This time it was still equally hard going, especially on legs that had almost forgotten what to do.

But it was warm. The evening sunlight was beautiful. After all the rain we’ve had this year, the grass was a brighter green than I’d seen for a long time. The lambs are no longer so tiny. There are calves now. The horses are braving the weather without their winter jackets.

As I pedalled along, I noticed I had company just behind my wheel. We chatted about where we were off to. I explained I was out for a steady one, getting my legs back into the habit. He was out for a few hills in the evening sun. It was good to share a few stories, but I was a little conscious I would be holding him back pace-wise. I wished him a safe ride and waved him on.

It turned out our route was very similar. I followed him up a short but sharp hill on my regular circuit. The Devil’s Elbow was shorter and considerably less sharp than I remembered. I wouldn’t have held him back at all.

We didn’t speak again, but as he turned off ahead of me, he gave me a wave. I was grateful for the company up the hill, and it reminded me of those long and terrible yet exhilarating hours climbing Ventoux with my Dad last year.

My heart still bursts with pride and tears prick my eyes when I think of that trip and what we managed to do in that short space of time, and the state I was in riding through that gorge and that lady that waved at me when I was about to give up and melt into the tarmac. Everything felt small and dull and inconsequential for a long time after I got home from Ventoux. I guess that’s a story for another day too.

The weeks are flying by. My bike has been in the corner looking at me, vying for my time along with the harp, my motorbike and my running shoes.

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On saying no

Richard Branson’s blog is a great read. He recently tweeted a post about knowing when to say no.  It was one of those that hit hard just at the moment I needed it.

Sometimes saying no is about taking care of your physical self – keeping yourself safe when the danger is very real. Or saying no to something you’ve done a thousand times before, but for whatever reason doesn’t feel safe this time.

Twice I’ve ignored this feeling in a high-adrenaline situation – once while reaching for a big stretch while leading my first outdoor rock climb, and once while sizing up an overtake in a race. Both times, the choice to say yes was mine and mine alone. There was a little external pressure, not wanting to look silly in front of my climbing partner in the first and wanting to make up a place in the second. Both times, I made a mistake and broke bones (badly, both times) as a somewhat extreme consequence.

Sometimes, though, saying no is less dramatic.

Things are always quite hectic here, and I started a new job recently to add to the mix. It’s quite a change from the old one and it’s going to take a little time to change costume and adapt.

Last weekend I completely and utterly forgot I was meant to be somewhere. This is really unlike me and I was pretty upset about it. It was a chance to hang out with two musicians who I really admire and enjoy being around, working on a big project that I’m really excited about. My input wasn’t essential on this bit but I had been looking forward to our time together.

Then things ran away with me. I woke up on Sunday and I felt utterly exhausted. I had a huge list of things to do. I was tearful, washed out, washed up even and in desperate need of a little breathing space.

A message came in reminding me of where I was meant to be. I messaged back to say I’d be there.

I worried for a while, I knew I’d be terrible company, would spend the time worrying about what else I needed to get done, and most likely the current jumble of emotions would get the better of me.

And then I calmed down, realised they were nice people who would understand and I could catch up with them another time. And then I messaged again to say I was dreadfully sorry but I couldn’t come.

I’ve said yes to a lot recently. I hate missing out and I hate letting others down. But there comes a point when you have to listen to yourself, take care of yourself when your energy is low and say no, despite how much you would have enjoyed saying yes.

Beginnings

I started this blog a few weeks ago, after feeling it was time for a new one.

A few things came to a definite end, a few new things started, and a few other things have shifted quietly and inexplicably from one phase to another.

Since I started my previous blog, I’ve become a long distance runner, discovered a creative spirit I never knew existed, left full-time employment (and then sadly had to return earlier than planned), moved house and moved country.

I’ve cycled up and run up more hills and mountains than I could ever have imagined back when I lived in the flatlands of coastal Essex.

I’m physically, mentally and emotionally much fitter and healthier than I could ever have imagined.

After a few days away, and having just started a new job, it’s a great time to acknowledge the changes taking place in my life, and to re-commit to my goals and my dreams and those of the people I love.

This blog will be about two things – adventures and inspiration, and how they feed each other and push me forwards.

The picture above was taken just after the end of one big phase a couple of years ago, and I hope you’ll stick around for the next phase of the journey.

Looking up

I have a very exciting project on the go at the moment, it’s top secret and I’m desperate to share it with everyone I know. I need to hold on for just a little longer though!

It combines a few passions of mine all in one go – harps, numbers and my adopted city of Glasgow.

I had a wander around the city I love so much today, and snapped a few photos, trying to find things that you might not notice if you just walked through the streets every day without paying attention. I’ve added a few other favourites at the end of this post.

I found myself thinking about what had brought me here, what keeps me here and how I could possibly communicate all the best things about Glasgow to people who maybe haven’t discovered it yet.

I can barely believe I’ve been here almost three years. This is my third Scottish summer, and so far it has not been the finest. There was a significant dump of snow in the Highlands early in the week, and we can barely believe it’s June.

I feel very free here. I no longer have to plan my journeys around traffic jams. Overall it’s noticeably less busy than the south east of England. I live 10 miles from the city centre but can be in town within 25 minutes at the weekend. I love having the hills on my doorstep. I love the changing of the seasons and the lengthening of the days, which is much much more noticeable than before. I love seeing deer when I’m out for a run. I love how my spirit lifts when the sun comes out.

A few things that happen in Scotland/Glasgow that don’t happen in England:

  • If you are standing in a queue, rather than saying “Next!” they say “First here please”, or as it sounds, Fusssst’heERrRR. It took me ages to get the hang of this, and a few nudges from the people stood behind me (see next point)

  • People stand much closer to you in queues here than they do in England.

  • People call you “pal” rather than “mate” and say “how ye doin?” rather than “Alright?”

  • Scottish people actually eat haggis and wear tartan. This was a surprise to me as I really thought haggis was for tourists and kilts were just for black tie events or weddings.

  • it’s always a surprise what colour of bank note you get at a cashpoint

  • it’s almost impossible to buy Mr Kiplings French Fancies

  • instead, on the bakery aisle in supermarkets, you will see such things as Empire biscuits and pineapple tarts

  • at Christmas in Greggs you will have to specify what type of mince pie you require. A sweet mince pie is a normal one. A mince pie is a savoury one

  • you get an extra bank holiday at new year

  • everyone seems to be able to knock out a tune on at least one instrument

Tea-soaked days of nothingness

I ran a very long way last weekend. I completed the Highland Fling, a 53 mile race along the southern section of the West Highland Way. To my surprise, I’ve recovered really well and my legs were feeling ready to run again on Wednesday.

I promised myself a good long break after it though.  After a lot of weekends and evenings spent either training or practising for my concert (6 weeks ago now!) or a combination of both, my time is my own again. A bank holiday weekend means an extra day to be savoured.

I’m trying to plot the next adventure, the next goal, the next Big thing. I’ve done a few Big things, particularly over the last year, and I know very well the slightly lost feelings that come  in the aftermath.

The desire, or even the need, the urge, to be pushing forward so continously can be quite destructive – putting too much in too soon leads to burnout and exasperation, and if not to over-training then to under-recovery.

But by nature, I’m quite lazy. I think most people would be surprised to hear me say that about myself, but the truth is, unless there’s something right ahead to work for, I can find it quite difficult to stay focused and not let my days off float away in a blur of tea and TV.

Recently though, I’ve been thinking maybe I need a bit of that. I guess it’s all about balance.

So I have designated today a most exceptionally lazy day. I have a stack of reading I’d like to do, some blog posts to write and a LOT of tea to drink.

Other than that, I think the most pressing question will be whether I really should have another piece of the crumbly sticky lemon cake I made yesterday.

spring

Winter came again last weekend. It was a shock to the system after a week of almost tropical sunshine.

But even snow, hail and sub-zero temperature two days before the start of May can’t dampen the feeling of spring, of newness, of joy, that I have in my heart at the moment. A couple of less-than-positive areas of my life are soon to come to an end, and there is real hope that what replaces them will lead me onwards to the next phase.

I’ve never struggled so much through the winter before, but this year things were very different. Since the middle of October I seemed to be ill or recovering from being ill. Christmas and New Year, normally times I love and enjoy, went past in a haze of cold remedies, antibiotics and steroids. Spring running plans were almost abandoned.

A concert provided a much-needed focus, and timed perfectly with the clocks changing. The weather was awful that morning and unloading my harp was a cold and rather soggy experience. Then at the start of the second half of the concert, I played a Beltane Dance to welcome the summer and by the end of the piece, the sun had come out.

As the days began to draw out at long last, I felt as though I was coming back to life.

I’ve had my first after work evening hill run of the year, feeling too warm on the steep climb up, watching the sun going down and then shivering a little once the light started to fade.

Gradually, my dogs are needing their winter coats less and less. I will moan about the impending moult when it comes, and wonder how two such skinny dogs can possibly lose so much fur.

Soon even weekend walks will need to be early in the morning or late at night. They are getting older and will find the heat even harder to deal with this summer.

A dear friend rang me last week, we had lost touch a little since the big move and it was good to hear from her.

She asked me about my new life, and I told her about the connection I now feel to the seasons and the effect it has on the environment here.

We talked about a few other things, and I was briefly taken back to when things were all so very wrong and it felt as though nothing would ever be right. She, perhaps more than anyone else, understands where I’ve come from, and why I had to leave everything behind. It was understandably a very emotional conversation.

And yet it was filled with positivity. We looked back, and looked forward and talked about all the changes that had happened in between. There are more to come, for her and for me.

This is one of my favourite times of year – knowing the days will continue to draw out, until it will still be light when the dogs are out for their last turnout before bed. 

This year, my summer is looking pretty empty, no big cycling adventures or long runs or trips away in the diary just yet.

I feel uneasy about this, and so it’s time to sit and dream, and wonder if, and wonder how, and plan, and arrange, and anticipate, and then it will be time to go.