It's day twenty three of lockdown here in New Zealand and I thought I'd share a bit of what life in lockdown has been like for me since the rather abrupt end of my twelve week bikepacking trip. Having landed well and truly in lockdown nirvana here in Hope in the Tasman region I spent my first few days getting to grips with a new reality. A shelter that I didn't have to put up and down every day, fresh fluffy towels to dry myself off with after a shower, a multitude of kitchen paraphernalia that allowed me to eat something other than Uncle Ben's rice and a toilet within a few steps of my bed for the inevitable midnight wee. I'd told myself that I was taking this lockdown extra seriously, I wouldn't be riding my bike anywhere as I didn't want even the remotest chance of catching the virus and bringing it within the wider bubble of my host's premises. I lasted forty eight hours before the reality of a four week stretch of isolation started to kick in and I decided that without a regular dose of riding I would in fact be at a high risk of slipping into the murky depths of my mind and quite possibly battling that old foe, depression. So out came the Google map and a renewed excitement at exploring the surrounding area on two wheels. I spent a few days venturing out to Wairoa Gorge and Aniseed Valley before having a little bit more adventure than I thought was appropriate in lockdown times; involving getting a bit lost, scrambling down a hillside and through private property and then getting a puncture that required the use of my only inner tube.
Time to reign in my inner adventurer and turn my focus to the local roads. Having ridden a few thousand miles on my current tyres it was evident that my rear tyre was rather bald and that gravel riding would only accelerate it's demise to the tyre scrap heap and so I found a nice thirty mile road loop that has become my daily dose of cycle therapy. It doesn't skimp on the scenery either, there are orchards, vineyards and wonderful hilltop views of the ocean that never hesitate to put a smile on my face.
I wake at dawn and watch from my window as the sun slowly rises over the hills before hitting the road around 7:30am. It's a magical time to ride with the sun rising and the day beginning and so it's become the start of my daily routine over the last three weeks.
After my ride I settle down for a session of Yoga with Adrienne on YouTube. I've enjoyed her thirty day yoga challenges in the past and so I'm working my way through the rather aptly named Home playlist. With limited floorspace inside the caravan and nice weather outside I've been doing the classes outside on the grass and I have to say that it definitely gives an added boost to the feeling of wellbeing that I get from the yoga. I'd forgotten how physically challenging it is but I do love it when it starts to come together and you feel stronger. It's also a chance to just let go of thoughts and worries and to focus on breathing and moving which I've found very useful to set the scene for the day ahead.
Keeping busy for the rest of day involves a mix of reading, whittling, crosswords, learning French with Coffee Break French podcasts, colouring, playing patience/solitaire, sunbathing, and listening to music.
I've been lucky that the weather has generally been nice and I've been able to spend the majority of my day outside. On the days that I have been confined to the caravan I get very restless and bored and don't quite know what to do with myself. I can sit outside on the decking here and watch the world go by, listening to the birds in the trees and watching people along the cycle path that borders the cabbage field. It's also been a big boost to see Dean and Helen pottering around and dropping by with fresh eggs from the chickens or just checking that I'm ok. There's also Fran and Liam, a young Welsh couple who live in the cottage behind the caravan and they're often out in their garden which I have to walk through to get to the van so we have a chat every now and then. They've been very kind to me, Fran dropping off some chocolate muffins that she'd baked and Liam with a homemade sausage and bean pasty both of which were very well received! The best surprise was hearing a shout outside the van one evening and opening the door to see a foil covered plate and Fran saying that they'd made a Sunday roast and thought I might like one. I thanked her profusely and then had a bit of a dilemma as I'd already eaten my dinner that night. The pig within won the battle as no sensible notion of keeping it and reheating it for the next day even entered my mind as I was intoxicated by the smell. Luckily I had my stretchy pants on so I sat down, took a deep breath and polished off my second dinner of the day. It's gestures like this that mean a lot and I'm pleased to see that it's happening worldwide as people are helping neighbours and others less fortunate than themselves in their local community, it really is heartwarming. Without an oven to repay the favour with baked goods and with Easter approaching I decided I'd get them each an Easter egg. Unfortunately I could only find a packet of smaller eggs but then I had the grand idea of creating an Easter egg hunt as a bit of a laugh and as something different for them to do. It was a bit of a gamble as I didn't know whether they'd like it but on Easter Sunday at 7am I was creeping around hiding eggs with clues before I went out for my bike ride. I returned in the rain to find Fran out hunting and she was so excited. I think Liam was more interested in the chocolate than the clues but it made me smile to know that they had enjoyed it. Needless to say later in the day another Sunday roast turned up on the step of the caravan!
One of the best and worst things about lockdown has been food. Able to carry only limited supplies when on the road cycling, I was suddenly able to buy anything that I could cook on a stovetop and more of it. I think my first week in lockdown was spent in a daze of sugar and bloatedness at overeating and savouring every morsel. It's a slippery slope for me though as I seem to have a rather unhealthy relationship with food, particularly chocolate and biscuits. It's an all or nothing relationship and I've found it increasingly difficult as the weeks have progressed. Buying food that is supposed to last the week, I've gotten back to the caravan and then eaten my way through the biscuits and crisps on the first day. I then get annoyed at myself for being so weak willed and have sweet cravings that fruit alone won't satisfy. It reminds me of my bad relationship with alcohol, if it was in the house then I would drink it and then I'd simply go out and buy more and more until I woke up the next day hungover. Thankfully I managed to quit drinking and haven't had any alcohol for two years, three months and seventeen days now but I do see parallels in the way I've been eating food and I'm not really sure of how to fix it as it's not just a lockdown thing, it's been an ongoing issue since I stopped drinking - probably just fixing one problem with a slightly less severe problem. It's not all bad though as I've enjoyed having lots of variety in my diet now and haven't touched a packet of Uncle Ben's rice since I arrived, haha!
Watching my body fill out again in places that I'd rather it didn't has been difficult. I honestly feel that I was at the peak of my fitness when lockdown arrived and definitely the fittest and slimmest I've been in all of my adult life and I've watched it slowly slip away on a daily basis. Obviously these things are trivial in the grand scheme of life but it's more of the mental effects and aspects of it that cause me problems. I'm not one for motivating myself to do HIIT sessions to keep that kind of fitness so I just have to keep telling myself that as long as I continue to fit in my clothes then there are worse things in life. One thing I have managed though is to do push-ups whenever I put the kettle on for a cuppa, haha. I'm a big tea drinker and with plenty of time on my hands and unlimited hot water I thought it might be my best shot at gaining some upper body strength. I'm up to ten push-ups for every kettle boil now and my guns are looking rather good if I do say so myself!
By far the best thing about lockdown has been the renewed and more frequent contact with family and friends. With limited data here I'm also calling people more as opposed to texting them and it makes a big difference to hear someone's voice. It's in difficult times like these that we realise what and who are important in our lives and it's been particularly helpful to chat to people when I've had a low day or feeling a bit fed up.
Learning to take each day as it comes and not to think too far ahead has been something that I feel I've managed well the last few weeks. With my return flight home from New Zealand on May 1st cancelled and everyone asking me about repatriation flights it did get a little stressful but I've managed well with just going with the flow and seeing how things progress both here and back in the UK. Currently I've been transferred onto a flight from Auckland to London on 27th April but won't know whether it will come to fruition until the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern informs us on the 20th as to whether the lockdown will end and if so what the next few weeks at level three status will allow. My nearest airport is Nelson, only six miles away and Air New Zealand fly to Auckland from there usually but currently all domestic flights are suspended and my plan to get the flight from Auckland hinges on what happens in the coming week. I'm not letting it play on my mind though and I'm just taking it day by day.
I've had a few days where I've struggled with being alone with my thoughts and just feeling fed up with myself but that's a real win for me given my history with depression. I can only put it down to this unique situation and the fact that it's a worldwide issue that is threatening the lives of millions of people around the world. In any other situation I think I'd be feeling rather sorry for myself with my plans for the year (and beyond) being stopped in their tracks. After a pretty hectic and exhausting six months working as a trip leader for a travel company last year I decided that 2020 would be my year out to travel and tick a few things off my list of big rides. New Zealand and the Tour Aotearoa was my first trip of the year and as I mentioned in a previous blog I had another trip planned. My friend Ben (whom I met on my Scottish Bikes, Bothies and Booze trip back in 2017) and I had tickets to fly out to the States in June and ride the Great Divide route, taking four months to ride the three thousand miles the length of the USA and into Canada. That's a definite no-go now and also I have no job to return to next year given that the tourism industry is well and truly dead in the water. However I've decided to take a much more positive view towards what's going on and I'm feeling excited about finding a new job in a totally different industry (any and all suggestions welcome by the way!). I know that New Zealand, the USA and Canada will always be there in the future for me to cycle around whereas the most important thing is that we manage to get one up on this horrendous virus and prevent it from killing our loved ones.
It's good to know that during these challenging times I haven't lost my affinity for doing stupid physical challenges though as I decided to follow in the footsteps of some adventurers in the UK. I read an article about people who were climbing the height of various mountains using their stairs at home and it planted the seed for my step challenge. Having had a lazy Easter Monday on Tuesday I prepared myself to climb New Zealand's highest mountain, Mount Cook at 3,724 metres. I'd roughly calculated that the highest step up to the decking was 40cm and by using this I'd have less steps to do but that still meant a staggering 9,310 steps. After my first thousand steps I realised I had grossly underestimated just how difficult this challenge was going to be and so reset my sights on the more realistic challenge of Roy's Peak at 1,578 metres. I'd had grand plans to hike this on my original cycle tour and so it seemed a rather fitting new goal to aim for. That would be 3,945 steps (let's call it 4,000 to be on the safe side) and so I settled in for a few hours of monotony. The second thousand set passed by and after a quick ten minute break I started again and by 2,500 steps I was fading fast. The combination of staring at the same outlook, counting repeatedly to one hundred and just the sheer boredom of the motion was making for a very tough challenge, more mental than physical. My legs were showing signs of trouble by three thousand steps as they felt like jelly and I was really fatigued. Each set of one thousand steps had taken me just over forty minutes but I was fading fast with another thousand to go. I honestly don't know how people managed to climb the height of Everest at home, that's some serious achievement. Three thousand five hundred steps down and every step was now a struggle. I had a five minute break and continued the slog, reminding myself that this was my stupid idea in the first place so just get on with it and get it done! There is certainly some kind of weird physical sadist within me sometimes and I don't know what I was trying to prove to myself. The last hundred steps were the longest. This set had taken me an extra ten minutes to complete and as I counted down the last ten steps I just wanted it all to end. Collapsing in a heap as I ticked off my final step I vowed never to attempt anything so silly again. Time to eat and lie down for the afternoon. There was of course a small smile within and a hint of having beaten the boredom of such a repetitive task.
Waking early Wednesday morning I felt pain. I wasn't even moving and it hurt and it was even worse when I moved. Both of my legs felt like lead and the shooting pains as I tried to get up shocked me. I hadn't been in pain when I went to bed, my legs just felt a bit wobbly but I'd woken up feeling like I had the legs of a ninety year old as I literally hobbled to the kitchen. Stupid girl! There'd be no cycling today, I'd be lucky to make it to the kettle and the sofa. In hindsight it's been a blessing in disguise as it's forced me to stop exercising and slow down. In the last three weeks I've only ever had two days off the bike in a row and having cycled for seven weeks prior to that I really should rest my body for a while. I find it difficult to do this, it's like there's this thing inside of me that constantly berates me for not doing things that I enjoy doing, like cycling. It's like a form of self sabotage and sometimes it's really not a good thing. If I don't want to ride or do yoga then why do I make myself feel bad and guilty for taking some time off? It's not like I'm on a strict workout regime like a professional athlete. I honestly wonder why I'm wired this way and I know I'm not the only one. I'm not looking for praise from others but it's like I'm constantly trying to challenge and push myself and for what reason?? Being in lockdown certainly gives you time to see your inner self and question many aspects of your life and personality and I suppose that I can only grow from this personal insight and make choices to improve things that I'm not happy with.
Introspection in small doses has enabled me to think again about the direction I may want to take my life. I've brainstormed possible job options and thought hard about how I want to live my life going forward now that I'm not going to be travelling for the rest of the year. Learning more about sustainable living, off-grid living and eco communities is definitely going to be a focus of mine in the next year as I no longer have my own home and without accomodation through my trip leader job I'm left with a gap to fill which excites me.
As many of us are facing our inner demons during this time there are also the little wins in lockdown life. I've finally found the patience to make a risotto correctly by slowly adding the liquid rather than throwing it all in and turning up the heat as I don't have time to wait. I've also had time to try and even out the severe sock tanline that I've acquired on my travels so far.
Most importantly though I find myself appreciating the people who mean the most to me in life, family and friends. They're everything and all I care about now is that they all stay safe and that we all come out of this pandemic alive and well. Kia Kaha (stay strong) everyone!
PS. Even in these uncertain times there's a postbox that made me smile