The Reluctant Cyclist
That time of year again. Ugh!
I loathe exercise with a passion. Oh, I’ll happily walk the dog, toil at my allotment, play badminton, even drag my cumbersome vacuum cleaner around the house until perspiration pours off me and I’m cursing like a trucker. But aerobic classes, treadmills, rowing machines and all those other scarily complicated contraptions…double ugh! And the worst? Cycling.
Which does not jive well with my marriage.
A few years back, when my marathon-running, bike-racing, mountain climbing, bungee-jumping, sky-diving, fire-walking husband asked me to cycle to Paris on a charity challenge, I guffawed loudly and slapped him on the back for cracking a good one. After all he was well aware I’d rather do an Irish jig on a bed of nails. When I realised he was actually serious and I’d retrieved my jaw from the floor, my answer was a firm “Not on your Nelly”. He was undeterred. Six months later, broken by mysterious powers of persuasion my husband has perfected over the years, I found myself on the back of a rickety old £100 tandem cycling through the Bois de Boulogne heading for the Eiffel Tower.
A tough 3 days. 175 miles and not without incidents. The group had endless punctures, my bum felt like it had been whipped by a cat o’ nine tails, plus I got a bad stomach en-route. I’ll spare the details. Suffice to say there are very few public toilets alongside the River Seine.
So, challenge over, did that sate my husband’s appetite to get his exercise-phobic wife to join in with his charity fundraising? As heck as like. Cycle challenge followed cycle challenge. Next year Redhill, Surrey, UK to:
230 miles. My my stomach held up, but my lower back kept spasming due to the flatness of the route and being unable to change positions. I blamed it all on the saddle. I raised it I lowered it. I raised it again. I popped pills. I cried (a bit). There were constant thunderstorms. We’d get drenched, then the sun would appear, we’d smile as steam would rise from our wet bodies, then we’d get drenched again. Never have I been so clean. Or cold. Or hot. Or wet.
Coast to Coast
C2C” – I never knew England had so many hills
Started with our back wheels in the Irish sea at Whitehaven (West Coast), finished with our front wheels dipping into the North Sea at Newcastle (East Coast). 140 miles of horrendous hills, stunning countryside, more horrendous hills, more stunning views. We crossed the Lake District, Penrith, the Eden valley, Northern Pennines and Durham Dales. “Push push push”, my husband urged as we tackled another sheer climb. I felt I was giving birth all over again. I wished I was giving birth all over again. At least I could have opted for gas and air.
Montpelier, South of France
“Red2Med” -I’m the one in the middle not wearing the “official cycle shirt”. It emphasised my stomach. (Vain, moi?)
630 miles over ten days. Searing heat, especially as we neared the Mediterranean. Main memory is the last few miles, lying almost sideways on the bike, trying to keep out of the sun and saddle, begging every five minutes for a break or water. Tearful with pain and tiredness. When we got there, all ran joyously into the sea. I just lay on the ground exhausted, shellshocked. I swore I’d never do another one.
How’d I know we’d have a monstrous 4800 foot climb almost as soon as we left the Spanish port of Santander? We were almost beaten and we’d only just begun. Had I attended the briefings, I’d have realised a) there were three mountain ranges to go over before hitting Gibraltar (otherwise known as “The Rock”) b) that that the whole trip totalled 800 miles and c) that temperatures would soar to 41 degrees (105.8F) as we neared Seville. We found ourselves slightly insane with the heat. At one point our small group, spotting a river running by, veered sharply off-route, threw down our bikes and dived in fully clothed. As days went on, to avoid cycling the 80 odd miles per day in blistering temperatures, we’d leave in the wee dark hours. Huge great trucks hurtled past with inches to spare as we’d wind our way up mountain roads – tiny head torches lighting our pitch-black path. I faced my fears of downhills on that trip. Racing down a steep mountainside my husband told me to use my “never to be touched on pain of death” back brake. I yanked it hard, nothing happened.
“I said brake!” he yelled as we gathered speed, now reaching over 40 miles per hour.
“I am doing!” I yelled back, “Use your front ones.”
“I am doing!” he replied. For a moment I knew I was dead as we headed for a tight bend, then he added with a laugh, “Only joking,” and braked violently. The day I lost my sense of humour.
We’d done France twice, so why again? After Gibraltar the sound of a challenge with no mountains seemed like a doddle. Through the lush Loire Valley. I imagined myself arriving early, sipping chilled wine as the sun went down. How was I to know (again ignoring information evenings) that we’d arrive late at campsites, exhausted by the long mileage. Last day was the worst. Cycling against a strong headwind. On and on we went heads down, legs aching, not getting anywhere. Swimming against the current.
500 kilometers – 310 miles – through France, Belgium and Holland. Thankfully lot of ferry crossings. Which meant lots of breaks. At least this one was flat once we hit France.
Paris twice more
The route to Paris is now firmly etched in my mind. I know all the ups and downs all the way to the first night’s stop at Newhaven. Ferry to Dieppe. Then more up and downs to Gournay. I know all the staggeringly high hills in and out of tiny villages, the long flat miles along the Avenue Verte and later the Seine. I know exactly how many miles I have to do before my back goes into spasm, or my stomach starts playing up and when I have to pop the pills. I know where the toilet and lunch stops are. I am not doing this one again.
So this year’s challenge is ‘vonderful, vonderful’ Copenhagen (as Danny Kaye once sang). Although I may not feel so wonderful when I arrive. Over 100 miles per day for 3 days. First morning we have to be up at 3am to leave at 4 then cycle 105 miles to the port. AND IF WE DON’T GET THERE ON TIME WE MISS THE FERRY.
No pressure then.
As ever, I’m avoiding husband’s emails to me and the other 50 or so brave souls cajoled into doing this, preferring to keep head firmly under stone, trying to “be really, really busy” on training dates, praying for rain, faking fever, encouraging him to take his racing bike instead of the heavy old tandem with the even heavier wife perched on the back.
So… To Date:
Do I feel fitter?
Does my bum stop hurting now I have some “miles under the saddle”?
Will I say never again?
Will I do another next year?
What am I? Mad? Certifiably insane?