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Tipping the Danger/ Safety Scales

An epic ride through the Snowy Mountains, from Jindabyne to Corryong.

The riders took on a massive challenge on Day 6, crossing the Snowy Mountains to end in the fertile farming town of Corryong, in Victoria. They faced wind, rain and fog on the uphills and the downhills, adding more challenge to the already physically demanding day on the bike. We didn't plan an education event for the tiny town of Corryong, with a population of 1200 people, and then we realised this was where the Pain Revolution could make the biggest difference. Tiny towns have close knit communities, where people are entwined in the lives of others and where the "bush telegraph" spreads all sorts of news, including happy and healthy pain messages. We were treated to the most fabulous country hospitality at Corryong Health, where Tasha Stanton and David Butler talked with 20 of the Corryong health professionals. We left them copies of Explain Pain, and some seeds of changing pain that can grow like the beautiful forests around the town.

We had two Tasmanian riders make the big journey up to Sydney for the ride this year. Today's blog is written by Bernadette Smith, psychologist from Burnie, who found (and smashed!) a few of her protective barriers through this day in the mountains.

Today the Pain Revolution caravan departed Cooma for the 65km drive to Jindabyne, the starting point for our biggest day of climbing, an enormous 2800 metres and 135 km. The weather fairies bought rolling clouds of moisture, sepia mist, single digit temperatures and gusts of wind that reached 80km/hr through Thredbo, according to Bill our trusty bike mechanic/support vehicle driver. Captain Steve our cycling boss, described the ride as having an ‘epic’ feel to it, and I couldn’t have summed it up better, thanks Steve! Really, who wants an ordinary ride when it can be epic. The day was one of the many that demonstrate how people can adapt and thrive in challenging environmental conditions with help from experienced and knowledgeable guides, positive-minded people on the same road and support crew all around. Like riding up a mountain in bad weather, or recovering from persisting pain, these factors are critical for positive change.

Cheating the rules for big wins

Reflecting on today, it’s hard to believe that I even got out of the van to ride. Back in November when I started training for the Pain Revolution I had some very strong self-limiting beliefs about cycling in certain weather conditions, I would have called myself a ‘risk averse fair weather cyclist’. A range of contributing factors led to that, including growing up in a family environment where I was taught you to be a bit fearful, heading messages like "don’t climb that tree you might fall out, break your arm and end up in hospital" and what I thought to be ‘credible evidence’ from the Bureau of Meteorology weather app. These factors led to a set of rules that determined when it was safe and when it would be too dangerous to ride.

Rule 1: Don’t ride in the rain, the roads are too slippery and dangerous, you’ll fall off

Rule 2: Don’t ride if its windy, way too dangerous, you’ll be blown off your bike

Rule 3: Don’t ride fast down the hill or you could fall off your bike.

Information Obsession

In order to determine if I was going to ride each day I developed an obsession with the weather app, I drove my husband and kids crazy telling them about the wind direction, how strong it was and the percentage chance of rain. I’m not sure if anyone has spent time reading the weather reports but living on the north-west coast of Tasmania, smack bang in the middle of the roaring 40’s, with an average rainfall of 994mm of rain per year I was amazed that anyone got out of bed let alone rode a bike! Each evening I would read catastrophic information including sheep glaziers alert, wind gusts of 60 km/h, warnings to tie down loose objects and that there may be a chance of flooding with torrential rain. This information tipped my perceived balance between safety and danger which led to a range of protective behaviours (I didn’t set the alarm to get up for a ride in the morning) which left me feeling anxious about getting in the kilometres needed to be able to complete the pain revolution ride.

Over time I learnt that the weather information was often not that accurate; the sheep graziers alerts were mostly downgraded; actual gusts were rarely as catastrophic as predicted and often there was no rain at all at 5am. The problem: I was basing my decision to ride each morning on often inaccurate information. Although this realization helped me to set my alarm and get the kilometres needed done, I still avoided riding in strong winds and rain. It wasn’t until the pain revolution ride, surrounded by positive supporter from our ride guides, fellow riders and an educational team that I learnt to reframe and challenge those self-limiting beliefs. Emma told me that ‘riding in the wind and rain just makes you a better rider’ and Matt, one of our ride guides helped me to ‘get off my brakes’ down the hills. Nothing bad happened, just an epic ride that demonstrated our capacity to adapt and thrive facing challenges in the environment with the right support.

Shifting Danger Signals to Safety

Just like my experience of the weather app, for those living with chronic pain our brains are so clever and so good at protecting us that any ‘credible evidence’ of danger such as things we see (like a scan), hear ( a specialist tells you that you have the worst scan they have ever seen, or that you’ll end up in a wheelchair 10 years from now), think (‘if it still hurts there must be something dangerous going on’), smell, taste and believe can turn pain up. And, like me its not until you have the right information and the right support that can begin to challenge that protective buffer and learn to do more.

So, while I’m a still not confident to ride a technical descent in the rain, I’m not ruling it out as I trust that we are bio plastic and have the ability to turn down that protective system. Perhaps if I get another opportunity to ride with the Pain Revolution I’ll test that belief out.

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