Features Riders

Continental Divide: the Daniel Whitehouse story, part 6

Daniel Whitehouse offers a meditation on life since returning home to New Zealand from racing abroad

Readers of The Brtish Continental will know that we have followed Daniel Whitehouse’s journey as a bike racer in a multi-part series of interviews this year. In previous posts, Daniel as spoken openly about the harsh realities of racing at the Continental level, and of how he has battled with mental health issues. In the most recent episode of the series, he was optimistic and felt his darkest days might be behind him.

Here, however, he opens up about his testing return to New Zealand after six months away racing and how he responded to a feeling of emptiness before him. And he describes how he has adjusted his perspective on life now, hopefully for the better…

Full circle

Homecoming. The implication here is one of emphasis. The all-conquering hero returning home to adoration. The season until that point had not quite been that; generous that statement is, kind it is not. I was desperate to be home, to come back to what I thought awaited me. It had been a strenuous time in Wilmslow. My days had whittled down to a bare essence. I would wake up in the morning, hit the bike and gym as soon as I could, as though not to give time for thoughts to stir. I would come back, normally damp, but charmed by it, have a meal, and then leave the house as soon as I could. I became far too familiar with the local Starbucks, although my trips into Manchester were something to admire. I recall rolling to a halt just outside Manchester Piccadilly and decrying the notion of remaining where we were. It was a morbid-looking, abandoned stop. Overgrown and weather-worn, it had become run down. That was Ardwick station. That was where my father was raised, and it struck me just how naive I could be. 

The same empty feeling that had haunted me before was back in abundance

I expected my anxieties to ease measurably when I came home. I thought I would be able to see friends, rekindle some other relationships and start back in at the restaurant. Not all of that happened, not much of it did. The same empty feeling that had haunted me before was back in abundance. I would be all squared up with the riding I had to do in the day around 2 in the afternoon, and then have 10 empty hours to fill until I would gratefully fall asleep. I so yearned for ways to fill that time, and I couldn’t. I didn’t know how, instead I just had to sit with the feeling. That still terrifies me. 

Daniel Whitehouse at Le Race 2019. Photo: rickoshayphotos

Since disembarkation at the airport things had been progressing. Not in a rapid fashion, nor in a particularly upward fashion. That thought came back in; what is the point to all of this? I have been away for half a year, the place has moved on and where does that leave me? Like some creature out of time, and out of place.

I was teetering on the edge of being back where I had begun six months previously, and I refused to go on that ride again

The final nail in the coffin though was when I concocted a two-for-one issue with my knee. Up until that point I was wading on through. Not treating myself as well as I should have been perhaps, but making it by. I felt a little pop, like a single kernel of bubble wrap, in my thigh ten days before the Tour of Southland. Having come post-gym, and at the end of the follow-up ride, the slightly too-crisp air may have been just enough to throw me over the threshold for a strain. Which is what it did. Coincidentally, I changed pedal systems around that time. I didn’t realise how worn mine had become and set the new ones up to match, unaware that the replacees were so worn that the reality of my pedal stroke was quite different to any ideations I had of it. That was enough to demand I stopped riding for a week.

I started to get a bit ill at the same time. Perhaps I could have raced through that alone, although I would rather not have a Qinghai repeat. It meant that I made the call to not race. Which sucked. That’s all it was, just some things I should have known better than to do. To my defence, I was fairly compromised at the time, it did mean a lacklustre end to a lacklustre season. It was time though, I needed to do something different. I was teetering on the edge of being back where I had begun six months previously, and I refused to go on that ride again.

I decided that my main enemy was time. That I had too much of it

I decided that my main enemy was time. That I had too much of it. Too many ambiguous hours that I could only fill with loneliness. So I sent out some Cvs, and the fish bit. It worked a charm. I went from bemoaning how I was going to fill the remaining hours of the day with anything but crushing solidarity; to becoming fixated on how tired I was, but there was a job to do. It was tough, I would train in the morning and then head in for 8 or 10 hour shifts working in a fairly busy establishment on the main entertainment strip here in Christchurch. I still do. Can you guess as to why? Being tired and have your body disobey you due to fatigue is not the worst feeling in the world. Having to get out in the morning for 5 hours on the bike after I’ve only slept for 4 and a half that morning is not the worst feeling in the world. The worst feeling in the world is not even the patrons who come in and feel it is their right to talk down to you and miss every chance at being polite. No, the worst feeling in the world is emptiness. Having an emptiness and no way to fill it, that was what had always followed me. Preoccupation cured that, in this case, occupation. Financially, 40 hour weeks don’t hurt either, and there are other benefits too.

Daniel Whitehouse at Le Race 2019. Photo: rickoshayphotos

In time, I’ve become quite endeared to Terrace Tavern. I had always known it as the place my sister went on a Saturday night, those often didn’t end well. I’ve met some class people here, it feels grand to enjoy this, and I genuinely do now. And those customers that are rude or arrogant, I feel sorry for them, that they wake up in the morning and this is the person they set out to be. I share that with them too, I’m glad to wake up in the morning and be me these days too.

When the road came up to meet me in the mouth in April I thought that was rock bottom. I thought that the trailing five weeks were spent in my deepest cellar, curled up in the corner. I even remark to myself each time I go by that bend that this was a low point. Life has a strange circularity to it at times. I had thought I was at my worst before, only to find the level went one deeper with each revisit. And I think that is why I so desperately clung to hope. That it would all work out if only I just held fast. It seems I may still have been that naive kid in some regards. That is no way to live. To wish my troubles away. Do you know what I found this time when I was all alone? I’ll give you a hint, it wasn’t hope. It was why. What is all of this for? What is the point when this all seems to end with a perverse twist at every outing? Now I know why. I rode past the scene I had left for myself on the road to Governors Bay. Hope was lying there on the road, so alluring, so false, and I let it be. I don’t need it any more, I have purpose. I know why.

Daniel Whitehouse at Le Race 2019. Photo: rickoshayphotos

The most peculiar thing happened one Saturday night. As I was making three vodka, lime and sodas, or maybe it was Red Bull. Perhaps it was gin. In any case, it wasn’t sipping whisky. I looked over the bar and I saw four friends. The last time I saw these four they were floundering under the weight of existing, over-encumbered. We all knew each other from classes at school. All the same age, all seemingly overwhelmed with the world and lost in it. One had done a Masters in Biology, gone on to do IT sales for the pay. One was a qualified lawyer who couldn’t find work, so was stuck managing in retail. Another was a jack-of-all-trades, master of none, but handier than most. And the last, the best of them, never quite had the luck to make his dream feasible. Then there was me, contemplating throwing what I had put my life to away. They pulled me out of it then, because I saw sadness in them that day, a time ago. They pulled me out of mine because I realised I had a reason to ride, I didn’t know why at that time, but I knew how, and it was enough to bring me back.

It came full circle. It came out of nowhere. I was sure glad it did, though

The peculiarity, however, was when I saw them that day. Nothing had changed in their lives. All of them were still doing what they had been doing. They looked happy though. They looked contented. And something dawned on me that made me feel a little transparent. It wasn’t them that was sad back then, it wasn’t them that was happy that night. It was how I viewed them. I had coloured their worlds with how I was at the time. It came full circle. It came out of nowhere. I was sure glad it did, though.

There were other things at the time too, that came as pleasant surprises. I had worked up some anxiety around needing to sort my work hours with the venue manager. I was preparing myself for a knockback, and I didn’t know if I could stay if I did get swotted down. Turns out, I asked, and I got. I nearly had an aneurysm; things don’t usually go that gently in my experience. Turns out there are some good, kind and caring people out there. I had braced myself for a prolonged discussion and received a straightforward nod. I suppose I am not used to things falling my way without at least some pushing on my part. It was a nice change though, best not to get to used to that, I mused. Wouldn’t want to get soft. As if to confound me, and compound my reasons to see the positives, I also met a lovely girl around the same time. Every word out of her was better than the last. Things were going well. If you’ve been paying attention, in previous instalments, this is generally where the plot takes a meander through the shrubbery. Although I got more than a glimpse this time, alone, it was worth it for that. 

After the lie down. Photo: Daniel Whitehouse

Five days ago I found some gravel to have a lie down in. I was coming back over the Port Levy saddle, toward Purau. I came into the first bend a touch too hot. The road is narrow, off-camber at the best of times, and has the coarsest seal that the council could get their hands on. As I gradually ran out of road and used all the available width of the road seal, I found a layer of loose stones that had hung around since the winter, when they had been dumped on this little-used road in abundance. Rather ironically I thought I had got round, but the front wheel twisted in my hands and I dived to the floor. I was distracted, just for a fateful moment. Eight months previous a very similar set of circumstances had transpired. Different lifestyles. 

Lifestyle. That word had come up again, and how it made me shiver. As I rolled down the hill, which, I will add, is significantly more difficult with one hand cut up, there may have been some laughs, there may have been some tears, there may have been a lot of both. It was uncanny. All the wrong kinds of consistent I thought to myself. Now, again, all I had was me and the bike. As I made it into cellular service and called my father for a lift to the hospital, there were all kinds of similarities beginning to dawn on me. I waited there for 45 minutes. It is not close to town. And in those 45 minutes, I didn’t reel. I didn’t dive back into my deepest, darkest cellar. I chose to believe that this time will be different. I know why, I know how and that will mean that maybe I get a chance.

Instead of feeling as if the world punched me in the mouth, I felt like I had gotten back up off the canvas

I didn’t wish this had not happened. If anything I was proud that I had put my neck out. I couldn’t have seen any of it coming, and it dawned on me that dwelling on ifs and buts was only going to do me harm. I fell to the ground that day. Instead of feeling as if the world punched me in the mouth, I felt like I had gotten back up off the canvas; not for the first time, though, inside the bell this time, and I was proud. My mother did not raise a coward, and it was about time he stepped forward. 

Every day, every thing, no matter how horrendous, is not entirely good, nor entirely bad. There are snippets. Little flashes spread throughout that are imperfections. That is the charm of life. That no day is perfect, that no day is void of goodness. On that note, let me tell you about the other 23 hours of that Wednesday. I had woken up that morning, stirred by the thought that I had found something I liked, of whom, for entirely genuine reasons, felt differently. There is no animosity there, she was sweet, and entirely entitled to be how she is. I had just gotten my hopes up, I suppose. To stop myself dwelling on fascinations that have yet to pass I wrote ‘maybe’ on one hand and ‘maybe’ on the other. What if? Although? Perhaps if I? Maybe, maybe. I’ll just have to wait and see. It helped somewhat, it would quell me, but I was still distracted.

As I rode through the bays I came across a young lad who rides for the top development team out here. He is a good kid, well-intentioned. I remembered how I used to be as I was talking to him. I told him of the most heartbreaking thing anyone ever said to me. Care to hazard a guess? I want to be like you. I told him that he should enjoy riding his bike, don’t make sacrifice after sacrifice and if he wants to take 6 weeks off, the bike will be waiting when he is back. The things I needed to hear but never did. I didn’t want him to be like me, neither did I want the kid who said that to me some years ago to be. If only they knew. They want to ride a bike fast. Who wouldn’t? But you don’t want to pay for it in the instalments I have. That interaction preceded my gravel nap. It was nice. He was a genuine, well-meaning guy. I hope he stays that way because the world is better for having those people in it.

Flash forward to after my lie down. I was waiting in the hospital for my scrubbing and plucking. There was a young girl running around in the waiting room, touching all sorts in that carefree way that a butterfly just flutters about a room. I gently told her mother that she might not want her daughter to do so, this isn’t the cleanest environment. She bundled her up after that, kept her safe from things she couldn’t see. There was a man in a wheelchair, he reminded me of when I was in, waiting to have my rotten appendix removed. He didn’t make a sound. He was in agony though, that much was evident. No one rushed to him. As the nurse came out and bemoaned that unless he put his feet on the wheelchair supports she couldn’t take him through, I saw his wife in anguish as she had to lift his feet as he begged her not to. She did what needed to be done, and then she stood there patiently, anxiously, while the nursing staff indifferently talked down the hallway. “Go,” I shouted at her, “Don’t wait for them.” And she skirted on through.

Photo: Daniel Whitehouse

I wasn’t a bystander in that waiting room. There may have been a little less hurt in the world because I had the nerve to say two small things. I’m proud I have the character to do that now, I didn’t always. When I was admitted through I had a lovely doctor scrub my elbow, hip and knee with what appeared to be a kitchen brush. Perhaps she was late for lunch. They gave me nitrous to heave on. It doesn’t really take away the pain, you just don’t care. Like someone is telling you a story of it, you aren’t really there, and sympathise as you might it isn’t really happening to you. Boy, that felt like it did though. I thought she had swapped the scrubber for the blow torch. She also had to pluck the bits of gravel I had collected from me as well. She started out slowly. By the time she wrenched them free, I was seeing the skin on my hip stretched to capacity, and a pregnant doctor properly pulling with both hands to have the little stones. After that ordeal, the nurse came in. She asked which arm I would prefer a tetanus booster shot in, she commented it may hurt. I nominated my right one, there was less of that one left, and I had some other spots on it to distract me. Hilariously, to me at least, I barely even felt it. Both of those two were lovely. The doctor and nurse made the time as pleasant as it could have been. Pleasant it was not, but it makes for a nice story, and those two helped with that.

I elected to continue with work that night. I got back to the house at three and started at six. I was starting to feel a little faint by that point, so I purchased some sustenance from the supermarket as soon as I was able. Everything I bought was marked on special, that was a nice coincidence. When I hopped in the car, the one opposite had pulled away and I could pull on through to get out. What can I say? When it rains in this town, it pours. I limped on in to work. Over the course of the night, my right side steadily began to disobey me. I winged my elbow on the door and opened it up. I hit my knee on the wait station and cracked my hand down upon it in frustration. There are worse things than that; than a few exposed nerves, than a few unfunny patrons. I was glad I was there. This wasn’t bad. I know what bad is. This wasn’t that.

I returned to my car that evening with a mate from work. I had elected to drive him home to save him the Uber fee. The central locking didn’t work when I put the key in. Odd, it had worked when I locked it. The vehicle is older than I am, several shades of silvery-blue, but I couldn’t say exactly which. So I gave it a pass. Turns out your central locking doesn’t work if the battery is dead. And that tends to happen when you leave the lights on. “Bloody hell, when it rains it pours for you, doesn’t it?” my colleague espoused. If only he knew. That was my Wednesday. What a day it was. That is all it was, just a day. Some good things, some bad things. None of it mattered on Thursday. When I found the ground that Wednesday I didn’t come to a halt. I slid. I didn’t slide forever though, I came to a stop. I took a moment to admire the hole in my knee I could now likely breath out of, and I picked myself up. I know why I did all those things. I know how it all came to pass. Maybe next Wednesday will have some good things about it too. I’ll just have to see at the time.

Whitehouse at the Tour de Filipinas, 2017. Photo: Tristan Tamayo

The Friday following I rode with my friend. Ian. Ian is all that I saw in my life as valuable; except instead of sacrificing it for this sport, he went the other way at the fork. We get along. Like a house on fire. For four hours I got to feel like a bloke just riding a bike. Not a bloke who does. That was good, that is a happy memory. After the ride, my father called. He had messaged me that morning asking me to speak as soon as I was able. I was nervous. Turns out he only wanted to check I was doing okay, that I wasn’t too battered. He had fretted on the notion of waking me up, he knew sleep is a rare commodity at times for me these days. I told him that I would never be angry if he woke me because he cared. How could I possibly? We spoke for almost 45 minutes, I think. I told him of all sorts, he told me of some such sorts too. I mentioned what I hope to get started this year, that I can’t wait around, just doing a thing well, I want to do some good. We’ll see he said, agreed I did. He told me he was proud of the man I had become. That is the first time he ever called me a man. Not so young anymore. Not so naive anymore. What a thing. 

I got distracted…

Not for the first time that Wednesday, and I came down in a heap. As I rambled in-between my ears, full noise, about how this was uncannily the same as before, I caught myself. Maybe, maybe not. Not this time. Because now I know why. I have purpose. I am proud of the man that I am today. Perhaps I had to go through all of that to get here. Maybe I needed to learn those lessons and be knocked to the floor, each and every time. I got back up that day, like I have so many times before. I’ll never know what worse luck my bad luck has saved me from. I don’t believe in luck, so I suppose it is not much use to dwell on that thought any longer. Maybe one day it will all be so easy, maybe the world will make me soft and I will forget the atrocious things I have done and that happened to me. I hope not. 

Every morning I start again, determined to be better than I was yesterday

Every morning I get up. Every morning I wonder what is the point. Every morning I know why. Sisyphus and his boulder was just a myth. One day mine will roll over the hill, maybe it will be today, maybe it will be tomorrow. I don’t really care anymore, because I know why I do the things I do. I know how I will go about them. And I am happy to know that maybe one day it will all fall in to place. I have the courage to say that things will be different now, to say, “not this time.” I didn’t before, I had to go through some things to learn that. I’m glad I did, it makes for a neat story. 

Life came full circle recently. I think this will be the final instalment of this nature, perhaps it won’t. This chapter, not the beginning, not the end, somewhere amongst the middle, comes to a close shortly. Life isn’t a fairytale, it would be boring if it was. Every morning I start again, determined to be better than I was yesterday. A Tabula Rasa, no goodwill carried forward, I take me as I am, I hope others may as well. I saw a film recently. In it, the character’s son says to his father that not every lap can be perfect. He smiles, “But I can try.” 

Featured photo: Tristan Tamayo. Whitehouse at the Tour de Filipinas, 2017

Read more

Part 1, 23 January 2019

Part 2, 3 February 2019

Part 3, 22 February 2019

Part 4, 19 August 2019

Part 5, 25 August 2019