This time an old one – a reminder of the cycling challenge I did almost 11 years ago, to celebrate my 50th birthday that year.
It feels like a lifetime ago, so much has happened in those years since, but finding my account of it earlier this week while looking for something else brought the whole thing back to me.
It was the first time I had ever done anything truly physically challenging.
At school I was the girl who ran away from the ball in tennis, hockey, and anything else you can think of, scared that the ball would break my glasses; I was the girl who managed not to be on the PE class list and enjoyed spending a whole year reading in the toilets instead of joining in; the girl who no-one would ever pick to be in their team. Although I could ride a bike, I didn’t have one till I was 18 and went away to university. I didn’t know that running was a thing you could do for enjoyment.
But I wanted to mark my fiftieth birthday in a special way, and by chance I spotted a small piece in the latest newsletter from our local hospice charity saying that they were looking for riders to do a sponsored cycle ride from the hospice (near to Bath) to Dublin in 4 days – 295 miles in all. I knew that was The Thing. After a couple of weeks thought, I decided I would do it.
The ride was Friday Saturday Sunday Monday in the first weekend that August. I started training early in the year. I had to progress from thinking that a 20 mile round trip in one go was a Big Deal to being able to cope with up to 90 miles in a day, including some challenging hills (our route took us across the Brecon Beacons and the Preselli Hills). This meant fitting in regular cycling including at least two longer rides every week.
Over a period of months, I went from thinking I’d done well if I cycled along the canal from Bath to Bradford-on-Avon and back (20 miles in all), to going to Bristol and back along the old railway line and then on to Bradford-on-Avon and back (50 miles in all).
Then there was the Hilly Ride – a local circular ride Malcolm devised and he and the boys enjoyed, which as the name suggests, includes several long steep hills. For a long time I had to push all the way up the hills, but eventually with practice I could cycle up all of them. Never easily, but I did it.
Reading the account of the ride I wrote immediately afterwards reminded me just how much I achieved, and just how much I have lost.
After that ride, I was able to enjoy several cycling holidays (a complete circuit of Lake Constance; a 5 day ride along part of the Rhine; several coastal trips around the Cotentin Peninsular in Normandy), as well as lots of local ordinary cycling. One summer I cycle commuted once a week (30 mile round trip), with a group of colleagues.
But since then, through illness and added responsibilities and weight gain and lack of practice, I’ve really lost it.
Reading that account was the prod I needed to get it back. Now I have the time and the will again, and I really want to be able to do more cycling holidays again. So. I’ve got back on my bike and begun to re-do what I did all those years ago. I’ve started to build it up again. I want to be able to comfortably cycle 50 miles without it being an effort.
I certainly won’t be cycling to Dublin again (or at least if I do, it will be considerably more slowly so I can really enjoy the ride and the scenery). But I will be building up and making cycling a regular part of my life again.
Coming soon: I’ll reproduce my account of that ride 11 years ago, mainly because I’d like to share just how much it meant to me, and how poorly I compared with all 10 of my cycle companions on that trip, and that it didn’t matter a jot.
(I know the photos seem a bit random, but in one way or another they remind me of all the ways that cycling makes life just that bit nicer)