I’m sitting in my living room drinking tea and folding laundry while listening to myself being interviewed on Zwiftcast. To say this is surreal would be an understatement. The last week of my life has been a bit of a whirlwind and my head is still trying to process it all.
It began in February, really, when I decided that my depression wouldn’t keep me from riding to the Epic KOM in Watopia. I wrote about the journey and the lessons learned and the community came to life over it!
Al Clewley, a gentleman Eric and I only knew from one of the Zwift-specific facebook groups we’re in, asked if he could organize a group ride to help me push myself further… to the Radio Tower. We discussed what that would look like. It would be the slowest ride up the mountain for Eric and Al. It would push me beyond what I thought I could do. Others might join but would need to know this was all about just getting there, not getting there by a certain time. Al was very kind about it. Making sure he wouldn’t break me as he seemed to be just learning how to help someone with depression. I was honest with him and I think it helped us both understand depression a little better. I needed the accountability and motivation to go beyond my own limits, but in a safe place where I felt supported. This ride would do that. I was excited!
As the weeks went by and we continued to notify the Zwift community of the ride people started adding the ride to their schedules. We were doing this, and others were joining us. Many to support me, others because they felt it was a safe place for them as well to get to the radio tower at their own speed.
As we got a week out from the ride I began to feel more nerves and less excitement. But knowing others were rearranging their schedules to ride with me and cheer me on meant I was doing this regardless of how I felt about it.
I was then contacted by Simon Schofield, the voice of the ZwiftCast. He asked if I would be up for an interview pre- and post-ride. I was thrilled to speak out on what it looks like for me to use cycling and Zwift as a way to combat depression. You can hear that interview on Episode 23 at ZwiftCast.com. He’s a lovely fellow and we had a great conversation. He was very encouraging.
Two Days Out
Two days before the ride depression hit me harder than it has in a long time. To be clear, I’m always dealing with it to some degree or another, but most days it’s fairly manageable. This was not one of those days. I slogged through the day, trying to do at least the bare minimum. Make the kids breakfast. Make the kids lunch. Pick the kids up from school. I sat slumped on the bathroom floor near dinner time and had decided I’d just stay there until bed. My body and mind were telling me I couldn’t press forward, I was physically exhausted, nothing was worth doing. I wanted to fight anyone who came into the room, punch the floor until my fist bloodied. This is the worst I’ve been in a long while.
But as I sat there I thought of all the people who would be meeting me on Saturday morning to ride up the mountain on Zwift. “There’s gotta be at least 30 who will be there. And if I don’t ride my bike today I’ll have not ridden for 3 days before a long, tough climb.” Talk about accountability! I dragged my cycling gear on, trudged to the garage, and started some volcano circuits. Before you know it I was trying to get a PR on a circuit. It was nice to take my feelings out on something that was helping me be a better me. After 4 circuits (some of which were awfully slow) Eric suggested I go up the volcano. I gave him the evil eye…and then I went up the volcano. About two-thirds the way up I started crying uncontrollably. I didn’t want to have depression. I didn’t want this to be a painfully hard ride. I wanted to freak out. So I just cried. Which I must say, does NOT help in the effort to climb a mountain. And I came back down the mountain, barely pedaling, staying on just long enough to get a few more points. I felt some relief and knew I could keep moving forward.
The Morning Arrives
The morning of the ride came fast and early! Up at 5am, ride started at 5:55. I was equally nervous and excited. I was also getting a migraine. My body likes to throw those at me in times of stress. When I logged onto Zwift there were 63 people ready to start the ride with me! As we rode I tried to balance texting messages to those who were writing to me, with talking to a couple of friends on Discord, all while climbing the mountain. That was overwhelming and I couldn’t do it all. So my dear husband, who had planned to ride to the top twice to see how fast he could do it, instead became my domestique. He’d reply to the messages for me as he pedaled alongside. He’d then jump off his bike and run upstairs to get my migraine meds, bring those to me, then pedal hard to join the group again. Everyone really should have a domestique at their house while they ride Zwift!
Before I knew it time had flown by and we were at the Epic KOM! Everyone was so entertaining, hilarious and kind, going at my pace while in their part of the world. I didn’t even realize I hadn’t taken a single break up the mountain! I beat my previous time by 11 minutes!
Next came the new part for me. The climb to the radio tower. At 14% grade I can honestly say it was the toughest time I’ve had trying to keep those pedals moving. I was moving at 3 mph, for a bit it was only 2. At the hardest part I had to look down and only think about pedaling. Sweat was pouring into my eyes and I told Eric, “I can’t.” But I kept pedaling. I knew if I stopped I wouldn’t start again. Eric, the great domestique that he was, started reading aloud the words of encouragement everyone was sending. I’d love to tell you what they were, but my head was so fuzzy that I used them to power me at the moment and have no recollection of them now.
I was SO relieved to finally get to the top! Elated! Exhausted! I wanted to cry, throw up, and sleep right there. We hung out at the top for a bit. Some people kept on, others hadn’t quite made it up yet. Everyone just as important and doing just as brilliant a work as everyone else on the ride!
After a bit some of us started riding again to finish the entire mountain route. The downhill bits were glorious! My head was feeling a bit like it would explode again so as my avatar dutifully tucked herself on the descents I did my own “cradle my head” sort of tuck. Relief. Pain. Exhaustion. At one point I nearly fell off my bike as I leaned too far to the side.
I made it back down the mountain and through the banner. I completed the entire mountain route and I never, ever would have been able to do it so well without every one of those 63 people rallying me along! After thanking everyone for joining me even as it was probably the slowest they’d ever gone up the mountain, one new friend, Pat Cryan put it this way: “that was my absolute worst time up the mountain and easily the best time.” I love that!
In the hour to follow the event I threw up and did some crying. It felt like too much emotion to handle in one body. I didn’t know what to do with myself. And the rest of the day was spent eating and sleeping and taking my kids to opening day of little league baseball. The world goes on and I walk through it a little taller knowing I’m strong!
If you struggle with depression and are a cyclist I strongly encourage you to do three things: Get involved in a community of people who hold you accountable to riding and pushing yourself. Speak out about your depression, as shedding light on it makes it less dark. And Ride On!
Here’s a gallery of shots Eric snapped throughout the ride. The ZVA humor kept it hilarious!