by Oliver Evans
How do you cope with being away from home for so long?
Coping with long periods on the road is a skill I’m currently working on.
This is my first full season racing with H&R Block. In the past, my seasons have run from March to August and have taken place primarily in the Pacific Northwest. Generally, I would go a maximum of five days away from home for a race. The only times I went away longer were for nationals and worlds. At those times, being away was easy.
The first time I travelled after my depression became a significant struggle was in February of 2017. I went away for a month. It was a dark, dark time. I suffered and longed for the comforts of home the entire time. As the 2017 season approached I grew anxious out of anticipation for travel. I knew I wouldn’t be able to travel well. I was too sad. Too anxious. Too unestablished and too dependant. The day before my first race, I called my team owner and told him I needed to take a step back.
This year, my season started in March and will potentially run until mid-December. In February, I was away for a month again to train. Something happened to make me incredibly sad again. I flew home a week early. I panicked and wondered if I was about to have a repeat of last year. I thought I was ready until I had gone away and things started going south again. I went home to reset in February and despite feeling overwhelmingly underprepared mentally to travel, I decided I best give it another shot.
Today is my 46th day on the road, and I’ll get home on May 13th. At that point, I’ll have been away for just under two months. I’ll get a week or two at home, before heading out for another month. After BC Superweek in July, I will potentially be gone for another five months. This is intimidating.
The hardest part of being on the road with the team is that everything I do is subject to the decisions of people other than myself. Where I go, when I go there, where I sleep, who I room with and whether or not I go home, are all beyond my control. My anxiety has a lot to do with feeling as though I have no control and stems from the aspects of my life over which I haven’t any control.
So, what am I doing to cope?
I bought a Bluetooth speaker and adopted a second-hand camera. Having a way to listen to my own music no matter where I am, whether I’m sleeping on a sofa in a trailer with three others or I have my own room in a host’s mansion, it’s nice to have a little bit of me there.
The camera gives me something to do while I’m not riding; a way for me to capture beauty despite how ugly my thoughts may be. Often I’ll go for a short walk to take photos. I take photos everywhere I go and post them on my Instagram story. I’ve been documenting at least a photo a day. With each photo I write the number of days I’ve been away. Instead of counting down the days until I’m home, I’m simply recording and highlighting a positive image from each day.
In California this past week, I’ve been going for super easy rides some evenings with my speaker (and maybe some chocolate) and I’ll sit in a park that overlooks the city, listening to music and chatting with whoever’s with me. Doing this has added a relaxed element to riding instead of always being in kit and either training or racing.
I miss my friends. I miss the people I ride with in Victoria. I miss the comfort of being on my schedule and my terms. When I can, I do things for myself. I’ve spent a lot of time on the phone with friends and family, which is something I never used to do. I now reach out when I need people.
I’ve taken some mental health days where I’ll go for a ride, take photos or head to a coffee shop to blog on my own. I’ve also done my best to make friends with hosts or people I meet in the cities I visit. This way I have people other than my team with whom I can spend some time.
It’s all about balance for me. On the road, the priority is to race and train. But I know all too well that if cycling is my entire life and it starts going poorly, then my entire life seems to be going poorly. If I can instill some other interests and other people in my life in little ways as I’m on the road, then I’ll have a bit of balance.
Something a friend told me when I asked her about homesickness a few days into this trip, is that home is a feeling within. Home is inside of you. Learning to enjoy your own company and to comfort yourself will help you feel at home anywhere you go.
I’ve accepted that travelling for racing isn’t easy. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. My struggles with mental health certainly don’t make things any easier. But, I feel that I need to experience this struggle. I need to grow and gain confidence in myself and spend some time on my own to discover myself. I have a lot to learn. Pain is part of the growing process. I want to grow.
Oliver Evans is a 19-year-old cyclist from Winnipeg, who is currently based in Victoria. He races on the road with H&R Block Pro Cycling.