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Continental Divide: the Daniel Whitehouse story, part 8 (epilogue)

The final chapter?

This is the eighth and possibly final part of ‘Continental Divide’, a series that started off as a set of interviews exploring Daniel Whitehouse’s journey as a Continental-level bike rider and has morphed into a journal. Here, in his inimitable way, Daniel explains how and why bike riding is no longer the all-consuming passion it once was

That boy should have run. That boy should have stood. That boy should have said. He shouldn’t have left. He did what he could, not knowing if it was best. I didn’t know what I should have done, I just did what I could. 

I heard the world as it was. It was novel. It was new. It was nice. I liked it. 

I’ve not known what to say for quite a time. In some way, I still don’t. But I should try. So, please, there is going to be a whole mess of things to come, not limited by these few words. I hope you let me warm up a bit it’s b-b-been a while. 

There is a lot of uncertainty amongst my musings. That was my sole fear before. The not knowing. It is not any more. I stopped. Entirely. I hung it up. I did what I had to do to save me from myself. The little that was left. I didn’t know what else could be done. Perhaps I got it right this time around, a great perhaps; perhaps. 

This pandemic has likely scuppered more plans than just mine. All I know and am is what happened, what had to happen and where that led me. Here, from one moment to the next. If you’ve been following along this far you will know the beats. Kid tries his best. It isn’t enough. He can’t understand why. He blames himself. I feel sorry for that kid. The one I was. The only one I knew how to be. 

Photo: Daniel Whitehouse

When the lockdown started here I had been fumbling my way along for a while. Desperate to hold it together, doing all I knew how. I did as much as I could; and it was never enough. I gave everything to pursue my insatiable ambition, believing that was what I needed to do. That it was what I was born to do. It wasn’t a way for living. It was a way for dying, not all at once, but in pieces, by inches and subtle cuts. Until there was nothing left to give.

All my blood had run dry and I was exhausted, empty and defeated by my own hubris

All my blood had run dry and I was exhausted, empty and defeated by my own hubris. I wasn’t born to do anything. Nothing other than be me. Me and free. Not born to ride. Not born to fly. Not born to believe the world made me into what I am. I am thankful that it did. Thankful that I only forgot. Forgot that I can choose. Choose what to do with the way the world made me. Made me to be free. Free to choose. That is my own and no one can take it from me. 

Allow me to provide some context. During the lockdown I clung to what little I had: me with the bike. That serenading song that had played on repeat for so long. It had soured in the air, and the oxygen along with it. We were only confined indoors for four weeks. Allowed out only to exercise. I took that notion liberally. Up before dawn, the seeing eyes, and back before lunch, with an empty stomach. My exploits did little to satiate.

Each night I would fold an origami crane. Inside I wrote of the good that had happened those days. As a way to acknowledge that there had been good in those days. In vain it would seem. It whittled to become only one thing. Written on each crane after another. In the shortest while: trained. That’s all it said. For the last two weeks. That was all I could muster, all I could fathom and all I could draw on. Just that single word. Pain. Effort. Anguish. That’s all I had. I didn’t know how to fix it. I was a hamster on a wheel, two you could even say. 

I was deluded by the notion of losing what I had. So much so I didn’t even consider if it was worth defending with my life. It wasn’t a life worth having. It wasn’t worth anything. Not my sanity. Not my friends. Not my family. Not the memories. The ones of depression. Anxiety. Anorexia. Bulimia. The humiliating and haunting inadequacy of never being able to do too much. Never enough. That one. That one was the worst. That voice in my head. My voice. The one that cried for more. As much as I could carry. More every time, always more; only evermore. I would do today what others won’t so tomorrow I can do what they can’t. That’s the one. Not my friend; myself. I could never appease him, never satisfy, never be adequate. Never enough. So I stopped. Entirely. All at once. The voice did too. Not all at once, in pieces, and I got myself back in turn. Then one morning I woke up and my ears didn’t ring of it anymore. Instead, I heard the world as it was. It was novel. It was new. It was nice. I liked it. 

It dawned on me, amongst this fog, that I can just be happy

The thought of ‘what next’ began to plague me. I was besieged by it. Knawing at the edge of my conscious thought. My entire identity had been entangled in what I did, what I had done, who I was. That had become who I am, all that I am. It had to mean something. It had to be. Please. It couldn’t be worth nothing. Please don’t let it all have been for nothing. Please, no. I bounced, ricocheted, from one idea to the another. It was a tumultuous affair. Not the fun kind either. It wasn’t peace; it was pain. It wasn’t a way for living; it was a way for dying. That way it had been before and I realised that. It dawned on me, amongst this fog, that I can just be happy. I don’t need the palmares, the wife, the house on the hill with the Jag in the drive. I need contentment. Maybe that’s all those things, maybe it’s not. I’ve set about finding it. I’ll tell you the definition when I find it, it might not even have one. That’s the charm. Maybe it will just be and I will be okay with that. That’ll be enough for me. 

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I’ve not stumbled upon it, not yet at least. Perhaps I never will. I do however know I like being me a lot more these days. It’s a way of living. Novel, new and nice. I started going to the gym because I liked it. I can do a decent number of pull-ups now. I got into running because I liked it. Something about the spray of gravel under my feet soothes me. I have a drink after work now because I like it. I have friends I’d lose skin and teeth for now too.

I started riding again because when I got back on that bike I remember that 15-year-old kid. The one with only good intentions and knowledge of how they could go wrong. The one in my memory, still inside me. He remembered what it was like to be free. To be me. 

Ten years is a long time to put into something. I had no idea it would lead to this. All the cruel twists and gorgeous vistas I would experience along the way. I don’t know what the next ten will do to me. All I will say is that now, for the first time, I like me. It doesn’t seem such a bad way to be. Ifs, buts, and maybes used to keep me up at night and startle me awake. Now? We’ll see. That’s the way with most things. That’s the way with living. That’s the way with being free. 

P.S. This isn’t the end. It is the end of something however. I’m not as attached to my ambition as I once was. They were me; once. Now? I don’t have to; I get to. I have to remember that: to live. Not to shrink, wither and die. Not all at once, in inches, painfully, slowly, inexplicably. Hope for the best, plan for the worst. The difference with me is I’ll do whatever I can along the way, in-between and always. That’s, like, my whole thing. I’ll just have to see what scrapes I get into next. I didn’t get to choose my scars. They chose me. They tell a story. Every last one of them. The middle parts are the hardest. Nobody tells you that. But I would. I would have told me that. Whether I’d have heard it or not is not with the argument. It would have been the right thing to do, that’s enough for me now. Beginning and ending are easy, the part joining the two is work. Hard, a good deal of the time. I was never one for easy, that never seemed worth having.

The thing about me is; well, actually you probably know by now. It’s all here, best I can tell anyhow. Keep your trophies and prizes, your fair weather and podium kisses. You’ll find me in the foulest weather and the darkest rain. When it’s only me, those are the days I long for: when the outlook is so bleak no one else even dare try. Those are the days. The ones I feel free. That is just a part of me now. Not all that I am, like it once was. Life is for living. I have some catching up to do. I’ll only know looking back. I’ll tell you when I get there how it was. Life can be funny like that. Not funny ha ha, funny hmm… you and I will just have to see. Maybe; may be. 

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Today was one of those days. The ones I missed. The wind lashed and I snarled back. I dragged myself along and directed my frustrations. The hail covered the road and found every soft spot I left vulnerable to it. Today was one of those days; I survived. They always leave a scar. They take from me and leave me sore, sodden and suddenly. They have an alluring charm; they search for character; the type that which knows how to survive. I made it here because of my ability to survive. I felt alive on those days because of the hail. Surviving is not a way for living. The first stage of hypothermia is the most charming, for you can still feel all your nerves as they surrender one after another. Steadily you become numb to it; and everything else. That was a day I had missed. The one to be earned. The one I had to myself. The one of character. It makes the ordinary out to seem less than remarkable. That’s the hubris of my character. It is the ordinary that has the capacity to be more. If the rain casts down and all the colours come out. If the silence is awash with the sound of flowing precipitation. If the air I exhale forms fog around my being. If only I would have turned my head away from the road, with the wind and hail lashing at it; I could appreciate them. I would see them. I would feel them. The hail made me feel alive. The rain makes it a life worth having. I will not miss these days anymore. I will live them.

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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

Part 6, 19 December 2019

Part 7, 29 December 2019