Pushbiking for Mental Health: Why I Ride

She Went Wild caught up with Amy-Nicole Wildfire, who is set to cycle across Australia in a few weeks, covering more than 5,000kms in 8 weeks. We asked about her trip, preparation and what motivated her to embark upon such an adventure:

Asking me why I ride is akin to asking me why I breathe. I ride to live.  

I am gearing up for a solo unsupported bike tour across Australia that will begin this August. Starting in Perth and ending in Sydney, I will be covering over 5 000 km over approximately eight weeks.

 My desire to cross Australia is something I have been thinking about for a while.  I have cycled across other countries but not yet my own. Australia is so vast yet so sparsely populated, meaning the distances between amenities will be substantially greater than I have previously experienced. All things considered, though, I am still driven take on the challenge.

I want to stress that I am not an athlete -- just a girl with a bike and a dream. I want to show that you don't need to be a superhero to take on a great challenge. I am hoping to inspire other others to take on the challenges they may face in their own lives. 

I am also taking this trip as opportunity to speak within my community about mental health. This is a deeply personal issue for me, as I myself have lived with depression from an early age. Riding my bike is one thing that has helped me to manage my mental illness.  

I believe we should address the stigma surrounding mental illness. For this reason, I am partnering with some of Australia's leading mental health organisations. At the same time, I want to do more than just raise money for charity -- I want to let people know that they're not alone, and that there is help and support available for those who need it.

 As I prepare to embark on this adventure, I reflect that I haven't always been the most fearless or adventurous person. I was always a bit slower than the pack growing up. It took me longer than 'average' kids to stop wetting the bed, to learn to read, write, and even to learn to ride a bike.  

When I was young, my father often took my older sister and I to Cenntennial Park in Sydney to ride bikes, mine with training wheels. Round and round we would go, pedalling to our heart's' content. But after one of these sessions, when I was about seven years old, when we got back to the car, my father went to the boot and took out my sister's old bike. "Why is that here?" I asked. "Because you're going to ride it," he said. I proceeded to tell him I wasn't ready, just as I had on all the other days he had asked before. He urged me to give it a try, saying we wouldn't leave until I at least gave it a go.

 I nervously approached the old bike, which had no training wheels. I placed one leg over it and walked myself and the bike slowly over to the track. My dad stood behind me eager to give me a big push. Dad pushed and I immediately fell, scraping my knees, not even having moved more than 30cm. I was ready to call it a day. 'There, I tried,' I thought to myself. My father picked me and the bike up. "Here we go again," he said. This time I made it about 1m before falling. This happened about six more times and by this stage my knees were oozing gooey blood. So with blood dripping down my knees and tears streaming down my face my dad and I kept on going. With each push I wobbled and whinged. "I can't do it," I would say. "You can," he repeated. The 11th time he pushed me, I didn't fall. I kept moving forwards one pedal stroke at a time. This was the day I learnt I could. That I could do things I had once thought I could not.

As a kid I used my bike primarily as a mode of transport; riding to school, hooning around on weekends and having adventures with other neighbourhood kids. I fondly remember the sense of freedom riding my bike gave me growing up. My feet pushing down on the pedals, wind whizzing past my ears and sweat dripping from my brow. I got the impression that I was able to take myself anywhere I wanted to go under my own steam, and I liked that.

Throughout adolescence I came to see riding my bike as an adventure in itself. It became my way of escape. I was able to take myself away at speed for a change of scenery whenever I pleased. I enjoyed the steep climbs, speedy descents and the experience of the the outdoors that pedal power allowed me.

In 2009 I cycled through the Finnish archipelago with a couple of friends, which was my introduction to bicycle touring. In 2013 a good friend and I rode from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada, covering +4000 km. I have since spent some time off the bike, though I always seem to find my way back on to the saddle. And when I do, those same feelings of freedom and adventure come rushing back in an instant.

There have been times in my life that I have lost touch with those feelings. When I have forgotten. Having suffered from anxiety and depression most of my life, I have struggled with panic attacks, blurred vision and severe lethargy to the point where I was barely able to get out of bed, let alone ride a bicycle across a country.

My bicycle adventures have taught me a lot. They have revealed to me my weaknesses, but more importantly, they have shown me my strengths. I couldn't hide from the elements when on a bike. I was exposed. I was vulnerable. At the same time, I became stronger with every pedal stroke and more fearless from every challenge I face along the road.

So in answer to the question why I ride, I ride to remember. To remember that little girl at Centennial Park who realised she was capable of so much more than she ever imagined.

 If you would like to follow Amy Nicole's journey you can do so on instagram: @pushbikingformentalhealth or follow her blog on: www.pushbikingformentalhealth.blogspot.com.au