Back in Black

By Steve Bate

A recent wild idea has sparked an old fear, something I gave up long ago due to the diagnosis of losing my vision.

Like giving up my driver’s licence, night riding came shortly after. The joy of whizzing down forested single track, chasing my mates through the darkness of the night, had to go. It was becoming dangerous: my eyes struggled to send information to my brain fast enough for my brain to process what I was doing.

Not wanting to stop night riding led to many an incident where I would over run a corner and end up colliding with a tree!

It became ridiculous, the danger far outweighing the joy of the riding in darkness. I really took a hit off the bike too. I knew something wasn’t right when I started tripping up kerbs and walking into lampposts (I kid you not). Retinitis Pigmentosa has slowly stolen my night vision, a thief at work in the dark, but it’s not stopping there. Its boldness has it stealing around the fringes in the daylight too. Described once as death by a thousand cuts, I will go completely blind, it’s just a matter of time. Time runs fast, like in the old days of those single track descents.

“I knew something wasn’t right when I started tripping up kerbs and walking into lampposts”

For some reason, I’ve never wanted to be remembered for one thing, never wanted to be a big fish in a small pond. I’d rather try and fail than sit about dreaming how good it would be to have amazing adventures. It becomes much easier to live like this, when you know there is a stopwatch running on your sight. It makes you focus (hah!) on what really matters to you and what you want to achieve in your life.

I’ve always wanted to do something in the polar region, the environment is one that fascinates me. Such a beautiful landscape, but becoming crazily harsh in the flick of a switch. A serious playground, with serious consequences. So I’d like to get involved...

So let me introduce Rovaniemi 150, a 150km fat bike race in Finland, inside the Arctic Circle, in February! This, I thought, was a fantastic idea. I could test myself in that environment, have a little ride to see how I would manage. Simples. The race organisers welcome disabled racers, giving 5 free places a year.

However, although things were falling into place to make this adventure happen, a couple of things really weren’t. Caught up in the excitement, I’d overlooked a couple of key areas. The first, the event is in February and I will be racing the Track (Velodrome) World Championships in March. This is okay, but means my training will focus on riding for 4 minutes at the very top end of my physical capabilities. Not ideal training for a winter race lasting up to 30 hours.

Secondly, the race is in February. February Steve! Winter… Darkness… A lot of darkness. Meaning I’m going to have to spend most of the race in the dark. Not ideal for someone who seriously struggles seeing anything in the dark when the sight robbers are at work.

However, the biggest thing I overlooked in all the excitement was the race is over the weekend of my wife’s birthday! Lucky for me, Caroline is amazing and completely understands my need to have type 2 fun. Caroline is not shy of an adventure, but this one is not for her, she politely pointed out.

This has forced me to confront a fear: the darkness. In particular, riding in the dark. I like putting myself out there, testing myself, learning about myself in new situations. But this is different, I know what this situation was like and I know it is a massive frustrating struggle. But with my latest adventurous plan, this is a struggle I clearly have to embrace for any chance of success.

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