THE MAN RIDE 2017.
The significance of Day 5 of The Man Ride UK was marked. Not only would our eight journeymen and women who had travelled from the very tip of Wales to the tantalising edges of London be joined by a giant peloton of people from Sigma Sport for the last hour of their epic journey. But in eight other locations around the world, hundreds of riders of all mental dispositions, gender, race and ability had come together to join the conversation about Men's Mental Health.
Over a period of 48 hours, The Man Ride would happen in Seoul, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Brisbane, Melbourne, London, Medellin, Santa Monica and Phoenix. There would also be unofficial events and self-organised group rides from South Africa to Salzburg. Social media was abuzz with the message we were striving to spread.
"From the very beginning, the whole idea of The Man Ride was to create a conversation," says John Polson, Black Sheep Co-Founder & CEO. "That was the aim with the inaugural The Man Ride from the Outback to Airlie Beach and simultaneously the tip of California to Santa Barbara. By extending the conversation across multiple continents this time around, we achieved our goal of spreading our message farther and wider.
"Our objective was not to ask people to put their hands in their pockets," continues John. "But to break down the stigma associated with Men's Mental illness, particularly for men in places or situations where they're not able to talk about it."
The statistics speak for themselves, and have been used by Black Sheep repeatedly in shining a light on this dark issue. But what's frighteningly real is that the author of this piece exposed at least six issues of mental health that had either directly or indirectly affected the eight riders on The Man Ride UK – a disturbing reality that raises your the hairs on your neck. On our journey through Wales and into England, we met at least two others. Numbers are easy to ignore, but real life stories much harder to consign to the edges of your mind.
"I have seen men's mental illness from two very different perspectives," says Nick, who made the journey from Reading to Bristol to ride with our eight intrepid, yet tired, adventurers on the final day of The Man Ride UK. "My son has bipolar, and I can't speak highly enough of the care and understanding my family have experienced with his illness. Conversely, I have been the victim of significant work place stress. Raising the issue only served to compound my situation. People wanted rid of me. And the problem. I was managed into retirement, and it's a battle that still rages on today. It's for both these reasons I wanted to be a part of this incredible initiative."
This problem, or epidemic if you will, is not something exclusive to one part of the world. And it's for, perhaps, obvious reasons that Black Sheep have chosen the bike as both the means to spread our message and as a metaphor for mental health.
"Scaling the final climb, The Wall, no one was alone. Just like in life, there was always someone there." – Nick Squillari.
"The Man Ride Melbourne was viscerally comparable to my own battles with mental health – one that a few out there may also relate to," says Nick Squillari. "Starting bright, hopeful and smiling the bunch left the sleepy, post-Grand Final streets of Melbourne behind. A supportive and beautifully rolling bunch made it to Kinglake, where the battle to the top was met with drizzle, no sun and bleak temperatures. Despondent and dark, after starting off so bright. Only this was where camaraderie shone through. Body follows mind. Taking strength from one another.
"Feeling in our extremities returned by Healesville and by the top of Don Road, we were exhausted, but together. Waiting. Supporting. Sharing food. Memories. It's incredible how in a challenging ride you can build connections so quickly.
"There is always light at the end of the tunnel. Darkness and pain do not last. The finale might not always include scotch and burgers, but I can highly recommend that you find occasions that they do."
"There is always light at the end of the tunnel. Darkness and pain do not last. The finale might not always include scotch and burgers, but I can highly recommend that you find occasions that they do. Personal bests were shattered. Bonds made. The Man Ride 2017 was an honour to be a part of. May everyone know there is always support out there."
On The Man Ride Day 2017 individual milestones were reached all over the world. Great feats and firsts were conquered. Personal achievements ticked off. Collectively, however, the kilometres we rode and elevation we climbed matter little. But the message we carried and the conversation we will continue to have is what will truly move people.
"One of the best conversations I had on The Man Ride was pure silence. Conversations don’t always have to be words, but rather actions." – Emma Van Steel.
"One of the best conversations I had on The Man Ride was pure silence," said Emma Van Steel who was also part of our ride in Melbourne. "About 100km into the day riders legs were getting heavy and we had a big climb ahead of us. I was with a dear friend whose mind and body just hadn’t shown up for the day. The best thing I could do was take pedal stroke by pedal stroke with them. Creating a musical tempo, controlling the rhythm of our breathing, while venturing through lush landscapes. The hug of gratitude after was the thank you that couldn’t be spoken. Conversations don’t always have to be words, but rather actions. Have you started yours?"