This is the story of how solo cycling helps me to face life’s challenges, adapt to each loss, and find new ways of experiencing the freedom and joy that make the struggle worthwhile.
I’m 67, and have suffered from agoraphobia since I was 20. Tackling life with this handicap has been a battle. Every bit of progress is hard-won, and all of it can be lost with terrifying suddenness. Chronic depression and anxiety unavoidably come with the territory. No matter how hard I work to extend my boundaries, I never experience the unconscious confidence of those who go out without a second thought.
In 2005, I developed chronic fatigue, which took away my independence completely. After a couple of years I started to go out again on an invalid scooter. As time went by, I doggedly taught myself to walk again, but my stamina remained severely limited. Then, about five years ago, a friend showed me a magazine article about Pedego electric bikes. I met the local dealers, tried one, and became their first customer on the Isle of Man.
Immediately, the bike began to revolutionise my life. To build up my confidence and fitness, I used it as often as possible, gradually going further, and facing my fears with its help. Before long, I was learning to plan routes, tackle quiet country lanes, and go up into the mountains alone. The sense of freedom, independence and joy brought by even the simplest, shortest journey never waned.
Getting out on the bike also made a huge difference to my chronic depression, so I went out on it whenever I could, whatever the weather. Clad from head to toe in fluorescent yellow rain-gear, I was known locally as “the pirate lady”, though I never fully understood why!
However, all this came to a sudden end in 2018, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and had a radical mastectomy two weeks later. Despite regular physio, it eventually became clear that I had lost a lot of strength, and could no longer handle the weight of my beloved Pedego safely. I therefore re-homed it, devoting myself instead to short daily walks, in order to maintain what fitness and exposure to the outside world I could.
This continued until January 2020, when my son phoned to tell me that he had just tried out a new kind of small-wheeled, folding ebike, the FLIT-16. A keen cyclist, he planned to use it as a way of controlling his type one diabetes more predictably. As soon as he explained how light it was, and how easy it was to ride, I knew I had to try it for myself.
So, two weeks ago, despite my fatigue, and the unpleasant side-effects of my main cancer drug, I went to visit my son and his family for a few days. Alex from FLIT very kindly brought a prototype over, and I couldn’t believe how light, compact and simple it was. Within minutes I found myself cycling again, smiling blissfully as I experienced the familiar, intoxicating combination of easy, independent movement, and complete oneness with everything around me.
Within the first 500 yards my decision was made. I ordered my bike, and can’t wait for it to arrive. Even if I only manage short, local trips, it will give me back some of my lost independence and liberty. But my secret hope is to resume my exploration of the lanes, moors and mountains that make up our beautiful island. Cancer, chronic fatigue and agoraphobia be blowed: I’m determined to get back the joy of solo cycling.
Ruth Kirk, March 2020
Facebook: Ruth Kirk Isle of Man