The most important thing to come out of this six-month tour was the return of ‘the roar’.
Some people have an internal roar coursing through their veins. The roar, at its simplest, is propelled determination. People with ‘the roar’ respond to difficulties not with anxiety or worry or sadness or reliance on someone else, but a ‘fuck this’ angst. Yeah, but everyone gets angry or feels angst, right? Well, the roar takes it another step. It is anger or angst turned into action and positive energy.
I’m one of those people who has ‘the roar’. I thought everyone had it. But as life has progressed, it’s become apparent that not everyone has ‘the roar’. Nigel does not. My parents do not. If you suffer from anxiety or depression, you probably do not. If you like easy-listening or Fleetwood Mac, you probably do not. And some people start off with it, but then lose it somewhere in their early 20s when they settle into a life following social norms. The protesters, the letter writers, the volunteers who see a need and act on their own… they’ve all got it though.
I first knew I had ‘the roar’ when I discovered punk music at age 12. I identified with that hard and fast music with lyrics that detailed injustice, politics, and the other things that make people with ‘the roar’ take action, and the people without ‘the roar’ say ‘there’s nothing I can do’. Punk music spoke directly to my ‘roar’.
I feel ‘the roar’, that pulsing of life, vitality and intensity, coursing through my veins every day. Its outlet has always been through the bike. It’s a transfer of that life force into pedal revolutions. I tapped into it nightly at uni when I’d go out for multi-hour night rides. The ‘roar’ has also helped me navigate through all the adversity in life with a toughness, fierce independence and resilience that surprises people that don’t know me. You don’t always see it pulsing within me when you see my quiet, calm, shy exterior.
But when I got sick, I lost ‘the roar’. Well, I didn’t lose it, it just got turned way down, muted in the debilitating fatigue and the effort to just get through each day. It did propel me to advocate for myself and relentlessly pursue answers for why I felt like shit. It kept me going when doctors practicing western medicine ran out of ideas and decided it must be all in my head.
But cycling has always been ‘me’, my primary identity. It’s the expression of ‘the roar’. And all of a sudden it was gone and there was no guarantee I’d ever get it back. It is very hard to lose your roar when it is the driving force of your life.
Slowly, I got better. I finally got the bartonella infection diagnosed and treated by the integrative doc in Melbourne. Six months off work was critical to letting my immune system catch up and calm itself. Enduring a strict diet and supplement protocol for six months was crucial in healing my gut and calming down all that inflammation in my body. Gut issues don’t always show up in your gut, so not only did healing my gut solve my digestive issues, but it solved life-long issues like asthma, hay fever and skin issues, too. It also helped me get my energy back. After more than four years of hell, by March 2022, the trend was finally ‘sustained improvement’.
In July – Sept 2022, I was able to do a lot of hiking and some peak-bagging in America. That was a tentative affirmation that the volume of ‘the roar’ was returning. Then, the ride last Oct-Dec through the wettest and coldest spring on record further showed that the life force was returning. I was able to put in hard days and recover well. My guts were happy. My asthma was non-existent. I woke up each day refreshed (and you have no idea how significant that is until you’ve woken up every day for four years feeling like you’ve not slept at all).
Yet… the rain gave me so many rest days, I couldn’t be sure if the return of ‘the roar’ could be sustained. However, the second half of the ride between Jan and March, proved to me that ‘the roar’ is back at full volume.
In the mountain part of the tour, I felt the roar every day. It was the life force in my veins pushing me hard while grinding up that loose gravel deep in the forest. I felt it as I continued to build my bike handling skills and became the proficient cyclist I’ve always wanted to be. I felt it in those joyously fast, steep gravel downhills. I felt it in those adrenalin spikes when I rode beyond my capability, took too much speed into a corner, missed the apex and nearly flung myself into a rock wall, only saved by those hydraulic disc brakes and that stable, beefy bike. I felt it in those slow grinds when it was just me, the bike and a very wobbly line up an impossibly steep and slippery surface. I felt it when I was exhausted at the end of a big day and the tiredness was not the fatigue of misfiring cellular processes but the fatigue of cells that had done what they needed to do and just needed a refresh. And I felt it when I could push my body hard all day, knowing I could keep going and going, because my battery finally recharges again.
The day in February when I rode to Dargo from some random campsite high on the Divide was when it became obvious that ‘the roar’ had returned. We started that day with a forest ‘road’ that was actually an unmaintained ‘track’. It took me three hours to go 11 kays – pushing, slipping, sliding and pedaling on rare occasion.
This led to another ‘road’ that featured long and tough climbs on a supposedly 2WD road. But it was not 2WD. It had not seen a grader in a long time and was a rough 4WD standard. The uphills and downhills were so slow because of the shit surface and gradient. The day was also quite hot, and we had to keep going because there was no water source up on that ridge.
And… that morning I had made my mind up that we would ride all the way to the next town. And if you possess ‘the roar’ and make up your mind about something… well, you do it. Somehow. Some way. I’d promised myself that we would get to the general store before it closed so that we could get a hot steak sandwich (REAL FOOD).
The day was just grueling. The kays would go by so slowly that I would give up hope of making it in time for a steak sandwich. Then, a few kays would go faster, and I’d regain hope. Then I’d be trudging and pushing the bike uphill in the hot sun again, and hope would again fade. Over and over. For many hours.
But I knew my body would get me there. I knew I could make it. Finally, all the hard stuff was a mental game, where for four years, my limits were all physical and dictated solely by my body and not at all by my mind. This time, I knew I would be okay. I could feel that roar in me again, that internal scream cursing the conditions but propelling me forward step after step, strained pedal revolution after strained pedal revolution. We were slowly progressing toward our goal – we could finally set goals again and know we could achieve them.
At one point, I even looked off to the great views of a distant ridge and said, “Welcome back, Roar”.
So over the past three months, I’ve ridden many challenging roads. I’m very proud of my self-sufficiency and taking on hard road after hard road, racking up the vertical metres on steep, slippery and remote tracks. I’ve lived the pinnacle of bike touring – solitary riding in the forest with everything I need for days onboard and the ability to plop down wherever I feel like it. I’m proud of the bike skills I’ve built. I’m proud of what I can cook up on the stove to sustain myself. I’m proud of putting together a really big ride that traversed the high country and took on roads where motorists were surprised to see me.
But most of all, after losing all the volume of the roar for so long, and not knowing if I’d ever be able to do any decent riding again, I’m so, so grateful for every moment with Atlas and my crew. I’m grateful for every kay pedaled, every steep, slippery vertical metre climbed. I’m grateful to be alive again, that screaming life force coursing through my veins.
Yes, I am Em. I’m a super keen cyclist.
Hear me roar.
**I am currently using “the roar” to power through a complex and unwieldy $650,000 project as a Project Manager with a regional joint organisation. I am determined to get good outcomes for the eleven local government areas within my footprint, regardless of all of the obstacles outside of my control. I’m putting that life force into things that benefit the community – which is a very good use of that roar for now.
My re-entry from the tour was a very soft landing. I didn’t get that job I applied for while in Mallacoota. I got an interview and did well but am certain the job went to someone already in the organisation. It was a good thing, though. The day after I got the “NO” phone call, I saw my current job advertised. I applied, got an interview and then got the job. I started work just a couple weeks later. The contract is until 30 June 2024 and literally pays twice as much as the job I didn’t get. So, it was almost too easy to return to the work world!
Accommodation sorted itself easily, too, which is a good thing with housing in very short supply and rent astronomical right now. One of my friends was moving back to Melbourne with his family for a few years to give his daughter better sporting opportunities. They needed someone to look after their house. So I’m living in their 1855 cottage for cheap rent in return for looking after the place… and trying not to kill their many, many potted plants. The house is in a town nearby Albury, so it does mean I have a 35-minute commute each way each day… but it is nice to have a whole yard and not be on top of other people like being in a unit, and it is nice to help out a friend.
Once the contract finishes (there’s a chance it might extend for 1-3 months), then I’ll be on the road again. I’ve already got half of my emergency fund saved and sitting in a term deposit. I’m rebuilding the bike touring fund, too. The next ride will be to finish off the mountain bits in VIC I didn’t ride west of the Jamieson-Licola Road. Then, I’m thinking I’ll go ride in Tassie. That will all be pretty unscripted though, too. I’m very content to let things fall where they may on the road these days.