Skinny plaits on skinny tyres!
When I was asked to write an article about one of my adventures post surgery I felt a bit lost and questioned myself a little. It needed to inspire other girls who were post surgery as well. Well, were any of my adventures really worthy of writing about? I genuinely feel like most days are an adventure for me! But is anything I do particularly inspirational? I didn’t think so, it’s just the way I like to live. As it turns out perhaps some stuff I do is, but then again I believe everyone can; being a mother, climbing a mountain, cycling the world, getting dressed, going to work everyday-it can all be inspirational, depending on personal struggles, circumstances and context. But at that current moment in time I did not see the bigger picture. I was having a bit of a confidence lull. Perhaps I play down my achievements a bit, I have friends and follow people on instagram who make me feel like an underachiever, and I am sure I am not alone on that. Having high expectations of oneself is not necessarily a bad thing. I have hiked to Everest base camp, done multi day ski touring in Sweden, swam the river Dart, cycled the Haute Route, paddle boarded an estuary before breakfast, skinned up mountains on skis to watch sunrise, done stages of the Tour de France etc etc. But none of these seemed to fit the bill for an article. I am a bit of a Jack of all trades and master of none kinda girl so what could be a good story to read? I needed something new, exciting and fresh. This prompted a rather spontaneous decision. I was going to cycle from my French home to my English home, door to door, on my own. Having only ever cycled on my own a couple of times before, this idea was kind of a big deal for me.
Last October my dear friend Jane lost her battle to cancer at the age of 60. Then in February my Mum told me a girl I know from home, Rosie, aged 23, was undergoing chemo for ovarian cancer; and several of my parents’ friends are suffering as well; it is rather devastating speaking to family friends on the phone not really knowing if you will see them again or worse when one of them rings to say goodbye. The older I get (34) the more I realise how fragile life can be. My generation are familiar with the hash tag ‘yolo’ (for those of you who don’t, it stands for ‘You Only Live Once’,) and as naff as it may sound, it is true. You really do only live once and life is for living. I am not saying everyone should immediately quit their day jobs and spend all their hard earned cash in the next year having a bloody good holiday. But I do believe we need to live for the moment and when we are not at work, we should be doing the things that make us happy, whatever that may be; and for me that is being outdoors.
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As the snowy peaks of Meribel and Courchevel start to melt and winter comes to an end many of us ski instructors swap two skis for two wheels. Back in April it was with trepidation that I went on my first proper bike ride of two years. I was apprehensive about how my foot would fare post surgery. With this in mind I began with shortish flat 30–50km rides. The standard ride from Moutiers to Conflan became a bit boring and repetitive but at least it was doing my foot good. It seemed my foot in a stiff cycling shoe was in a happy place, much like in a ski boot. And my mind was therefore in a good place too; teaching skiing in the morning and then feeling the wind in my hair as I rode my bike in the afternoons. It was great to get back cycling with one of my best friends Katie. She is a stronger cyclist than me so always pushes me and for that I am always grateful. At the end of this winter I had done less exercise than normal so my fitness was shocking, I was heavier than I wanted to be, and generally just not very strong. But of course there is only one way to change that — get back on the bike and get pedalling (with Katie). So with my foot happy that is exactly what I did. I was so unbelievably grateful that I could cycle without too much discomfort, I still experienced some circulation problems with my foot being painfully cold, but by and by it was ok, and I was keeping up with Katie (sort of!). I allowed my imagination to go a bit wild. I jokingly said to my Mum on the phone one evening that I felt so lucky to be able to ride my bike that maybe I should cycle home to Devon. No more ski teaching, no other employment to rush home to, no boyfriend, no children, I started seeing my lack of commitments as a positive rather than feeling like the odd one out; I now see clearly that the world is my oyster and adventures beckon!
Without telling too many people about my plan for fear that I would bail last minute I set to work planning and organising. Having never done anything like this before to say I was overwhelmed is an understatement. I am very good at procrastinating and often leave everything to the last minute. The spontaneity of this last minute decision meant I simply had to crack on. Luckily I have a very accommodating Mother who sent me my bike bag that I had bought but never really used, as well as other useful things. Katie gave me a lesson in how to plot a route using the program Ride With GPS. You really can not under-estimate just how clueless I was (and maybe still am!).
I plotted the entire route at least three times, maybe more! With no real experience I didn’t really know where to start. Katie advised me to google bike routes across France which even though this meant re doing my route AGAIN it was the logical thing to do which meant the final route was going to be safe and enjoyable. http://www.eurovelo.com/en/cycling-in/france
I barely slept three nights before I left. I still hadn’t told many people my plan because they either laughed, told me I was mad, or said ‘oh, wow good luck’. Of course there were a few people who really encouraged me and believed I could do it and that kept me from totally giving up before I had even begun. There was a near exit strategy when I went to insure someone to drive my car back to the UK only to discover she was too young for my insurance. Two days later a friend came to my rescue by driving my bags home so I simply had to man up and get going! I realised that I often plan things and then don’t necessarily follow through; well, I couldn’t not follow through on this; I had given myself a plan and was lucky enough to have time to do it, I was determined to at least try. My original departure day was Wednesday 16th May 2018 but I was so utterly exhausted from not sleeping due to nerves, and the weather didn’t look great so I delayed by a day; and used that day to go and get a waterproof poncho (which would you believe I then didn’t use!). On the way home I got caught in my car in the most torrential rain storm so I was glad not to be on my bike as planned! Thursday came and the sun shone. After a big breakfast of healthy oat pancakes, fruit and yogurt and I was ready for the big off! By this point I felt relaxed and as ready as I would ever be. Within five minutes of leaving my flat I felt liberated, excited and totally in my element. It didn’t take me long to realise that taking the initial leap is the hardest leap of all.
“The challenging part is in the beginning; its a leap of faith. But I think the most important thing is to just do it. Start”.
To anyone thinking of doing anything; whatever it may be; just do it; I truly surprised myself. As humans we deal with situations as and when they arise, once you ‘take the leap, you either land or you learn to fly’. Cycling away from my friends and the region I knew was no longer scary, it was liberating and exciting.
Throughout the trip I realised I am a lot more competent than I have ever given myself credit for. I also am a lot more competitive with myself and determined than I realised! Once I had succeeded at the whole going solo thing, the challenge was how quickly could I do it. I upped my daily distances from 150km to 200+. Which is a bit of luck really because I didn’t quite appreciate how rural France is; I would go miles and miles without seeing a soul, but the days were long and light, one could say they were pretty perfect. The fear of being alone was long gone, I never really felt alone. I have felt more alone in London then I ever did on the road that week. Many of my Mum’s friends asked me if I ever felt vulnerable, hand on heart I did not. I was only in France, and although my French isn’t great I understand enough and can get by fairly competently. I also knew civilisation was never too far away.
Day 1: Meribel → Les Nappes
I left Meribel on Thursday at 9:30 am with two friends, Greg and Ben, who said they would cycle towards Chambery with me before sending me off on my own. It was quite reassuring starting the journey with two knowledgeable cycle dudes just in case I had any little worries or niggles. Before we had even done 45km two wild boar run out in front of us which gave me a bit of a fright and a man with a little red carpet on his handlebars with a pigeon on cycled by which was just plain bizarre. The first problem we encountered was my bike pannier even though not especially heavy was weighing my bike rack down so that it was millimetres away from the wheel. After using duck tape and a bungee to try and fix it we figured out all it needed was a little adjustment with my tool (lezyne, link at bottom). Once we hit the Chambery roundabout it was time to say au’revoir to the boys and hit the road on my own. A quick hug and off they went! Time to give this solo thing a crack!
The road into Aix Les Bains was pleasant; the lake seemed like a good place for a pit stop before battling Col du Chat. Last time I did this col I was with Katie training for the TRC (I never made it to the start line, a case of biting off a little more than I could chew!) wearing a rucksack, riding my old bike, terrible head and back ache, cycling in the rain and ending up in tears. So when I got to the top this time round I was very confused because it was a steady and enjoyable climb with beautiful views. Maybe there are two ways up? Or maybe I was just a little more experienced now. The scenery was already starting to look so different, lots of vegetation was springing to life and mountains were rolling into hills. On arrival at my first hotel 150km later I felt pumped. I was energised, and hungry, really, really hungry. The hotel was basic so I had to wait for dinner, which in itself was really good for me because I have no discipline at home! I rewarded myself with a beer, apparently beer is really good at helping with lactic acid! Unfortunately for dinner I opted for Carpaccio of beef, which was half frozen. Being British I didn’t complain but just made do with bread and butter.
Rolling hills and beautiful flatter landscapes. Me in bed looking a little sun kissed, a little tired and just a little chuffed with myself!
Day 2: Les Nappes → Charolles
On day 1 I had learnt to trust my Garmin, having never used a navigational tool apart from my phone I was a bit apprehensive— I didn’t want to be one of those people who trusted a computer and ends up in a river (although this did actually happen in the end!) But it had got me from a) to b) successfully the day before so after breakfast (where I ate more than my body could probably handle) I uploaded day 2 and off I went. On only a few hours sleep I felt groggy and sick and to make it worse the sky was filled with a thick drizzle. Not the ideal way to start the second day. However, after an hour or so the sun came out. The sun rising up through the mist over flat fields was stunning and very thought provoking. About 50km in I saw a signpost for Geneva, immediately reminding me one of the reasons why I was doing this, for Geneva Jane.
As I peeled off the main road to a smaller lane my right foot kept pinging off my pedal, I knew to expect breakages and equipment failures and clearly this was my first, my cleat screws had come out. I didn’t have any spares (a must for next time) but I already knew where the Decathlon stores were on my route and there was one in Macon where I was heading. In a weird way it felt exciting to veer off my route to find the store, a little diversion, a little extra challenge. After successfully replacing the screws and giving my tyres a bit more air it was time to head to Charolles, my second stop. It took me a bit of time to re find my route, which unnerved me and lost me time but eventually I was back on track. A very long, very dark damp tunnel led me to the start of never ending relentless rolling hills. It was like being on a rollercoaster, just when you think it’s over another one comes into sight. With the sweltering heat my speed had dropped so much I thought my garmin was broken. I just wanted to sit and click my fingers and be there already. Alas this surprisingly wasn’t possible! Actually at one point I sat in the middle of a very quiet road, with my shoes off because my foot was burning up so much. I had two gels with me so used one, which helped and thank god I had it because it was a much longer push to Charolles than I anticipated. After making it to my hotel I was greeted by a friendly receptionist who put my bike in her laundry room and made sure my room had a bath-which I had cold to soothe my tired legs (and my sore bottom!). Once dressed I wondered into the quaint little town of Charolles where I bought some melatonin from the pharmacy (advised from an ultra marathon runner friend to help me sleep when my body feels wired but tired) and I even managed to wash my clothes in the laundrette. I found a restaurant in the square and felt like a bit of a weirdo having dinner at 6pm. But I treated myself to the most delicious burger (by this stage I had already decided I was probably going to go home fatter!) and was in bed by 8:30pm.
Day 3: Charolles → Sancerre
Waking up at before the sun had woken up and feeling fresh from a good sleep I thought it best to seize the day and crack on. I could grab breakfast en route. I got a tiny bit lost on smaller roads at points but no disasters. The great thing about following a route you have previously plotted on a garmin tourer is you just follow the purple line; if you go off course you just make sure you don’t stray too far from that line! At one point I got to a temporary metal fence which I was meant to be on the other side of, lucky for me I obviously looked a little helpless so two men helped me move it and sent me on my way smiling. It was a beautiful sunny day and I passed the time by pedalling (obviously) and listening to podcasts, mainly Tough Girl Podcast and Desert Island Discs. One desert Island discs podcasts had Paloma Faith as a guest, although her challenges and fears very different to mine, she spoke poignantly believing that there is no better rush than achieving something you didn’t think you’d ever achieve. Amen to that! I listened to a lot of podcasts throughout my trip and they provided motivation and inspiration, just what you need when you are bored, lonely, physically exhausted or mentally broken.
By following the river the scenery started to changed dramatically to miles and miles of flat fields and marshland. I wasn’t used to the flat, it was fun! My skier legs were built for flat I think! I didn’t spend much time on roads because my route was taking me along bike paths next to the river Loire. I had buckets of energy and enjoyed sending my friends funny little voice notes letting them know I was loving this adventure. After pre-booking my first two hotels, today I had decided to freestyle it. I was going to book somewhere at lunch but time had passed and it was 4pm so I thought best to keep pedalling rather than sit on my phone trying to find a bed. This was a bit of an error. I had decided in my head to get to Sancerre as that would be a good distance and Sancerre was probably a lovely place to stop for a glass of wine! Oh, if only it was that easy. About 40km from Sancerre I was full of energy, after 20km and 20 to go I was done! Its amazing how you can go from feeling so good to feeling so utterly pooped in a relatively short space of time. On arrival I sat down on the bank of the Loire and admired the view. I then discovered I had uno problemo. It was a national holiday and no hotel, hostel, bnb or gîte had space for a girl and her bike! hhmm. What to do? I didn’t have internet signal. So I tried calling my Mum, who else does this when they don’t know what to do?! She was on answer phone though. I spoke with a lady who owned a hotel in Sancerre and asked her if she thought the next town would have anywhere and she said it was a tiny town with nothing (the next day I realised she was right). I sat on the doorstep of the hotel with her and laughed. I was in Sancerre, with nowhere to sleep, no signal on my phone, and to top it off no glass of wine! Lucky for me her friend walked by right at that moment who happened to own a campsite; problem solved! I had landed on my feet again! The friend showed me to this cute little pink tent with its own porch to keep my bike on and hang my clothes to dry (damp with sweat, delightful). I rented a towel and immediately was flooded with a sense of relief. Sadly I never did get my glass of Sancerre because my bottom felt so destroyed from sitting on the saddle for roughly 35 hours in three days. I had one spare set of clothes and tried not to wear underwear in the evening to let it air! Without going into too much detail it was feeling pretty raw and the furthest I could walk that evening was to the campsite’s local pizza van — I’m not a fan of pizza, especially of the thick crusted kind, but it was dinner and the best I was going to get that night! I sat curled up on my tent’s porch with my pizza enjoying the soft chitter chatter of fellow camping cyclists. There was no need for polite chat with them; just a nod and friendly wave sufficed. Which was about all I could handle anyway. I am not a natural camper, but I felt at one with the world when I was in my little pink tent on my own. Unfortunately I was kept awake most the night with a festival going on next to the campsite. If only I had packed earplugs. I did eventually drift off for a few hours kip.
Day 4: Sancerre → Tours
As much as one tries to stay sleepy walking from tent to toilet block, the concentration needed to avoid tent pegs and guy lines en route is sure to wake you up. Then there is also the fact that the toilet block is usually unbarebly bright, which will certainly wake you up. So without further adieu I dressed and packed up in a Zombie like state. I crept out in the 5am darkness feeling like a member of the Von Trapp family. Daytime came bringing me yet more empty bike paths. I was starting to miss the roads. As nice as it was not having to concentrate and I really shouldn’t complain, the monotony of bike paths was starting to send me a bit dolally. I also started to wonder if I was taking longer and doing more distance by following a wiggly path along the Loire rather than taking a more direct road. After looking at my route I knew there was a massive hump in it leading to Orleans. For some reason I had now decided this was a race against my own clock so I decided to scrap that bit of my route and head directly for Tours. I was flying along long empty roads, listening to my tough girl podcasts feeling inspired by other women and found myself planning more adventures. By listening to these women I started to appreciate my own strengths and merits. This journey had become so much more than a physical challenge, it was as much about the mental benefits.
France is so rural; I never really appreciated just how little civilisation I was coming across in what I thought was a relatively busy country. I really had to be aware of rehydrating and re-fuelling when I could because I was likely not to see a shop for miles. In the stifling heat I had run out of water; I still had plenty of snacks but I didn’t want to dive into them too much as I had planned my daily rations on the conclusion I would eat proper food en route as well. Day 4 was a Sunday, and anyone who knows France knows pretty much everything on a Sunday is shut, boulangeries, supermarkets, grocery stores, you name it; ferme. Eventually I hit a small grocery store, which didn’t even sell bananas! The shopkeeper kindly filled my bottles up so I felt inclined to buy something; well the obvious choice for any cyclist led me to the Jaffa cakes and Tuc biscuits. I was starting to feel quite fatigued by this point in my journey, most likely a little dehydrated and I could have done with some company. So part to keep tiredness at bay, part boredom, part hunger and lack of energy I ate my way through most of the biscuits. The importance of food when doing an endurance event or journey like this was emphasised repeatedly to me before I left and I fully embraced it! I even wrote down what I ate this day because it half amused me, half disgusted me…
Oat cakes, Cliff bar x 1, 1/2pack Tuc biscuits, biggest pain au chocolat I have ever seen, 1/2pack Jaffa cakes, espresso, coke, nectarine, nuts and ginger cubes … that was all before 3pm.
The heat was pretty unbearable and I really felt pretty pooped. Anticipating busy roads I knew I needed a proper meal before I had the concentration to continue on. But being a Sunday I knew this was unlikely. I cycled into a small non descript town and saw a cafe —it was open! Was it a mirage?! I literally couldn’t believe my eyes; people were outside eating; I was in luck! Sure enough they could make me a cheese and ham omelette, wow, I think it was the best omelette I have ever eaten and it was washed down with another coke and pint of water.
I sat and rested for about an hour mustering the strength and energy to plod on for the next 50km into Tours. Thank goodness I had had that meal because I was right to be nervous — I think I had pre noted on my phone that it was a big road in. Although there was a cycle path there were sections where I had to cycle on the road with big lorries and cars whizzing past me. And although in general the French are pretty polite and respectful of cyclists, it can still be scary and every ounce of concentration was needed. I eventually found my hotel, which was basic to say the least. They didn’t do food and I was miles from anywhere that did. I showered and hung my clothes to dry and decided I would cycle into the city for some food and have a look around at the tourist sites. However, I didn’t get too far because my derriere was so sore not wearing padded shorts. Plus I had my flipflops on which don’t seem too conducive to cleats! So I opted instead for a tub of couscous from a corner shop, an avocado and an orange — the latter two both falling out my plastic bag on the way back-I was devastated! After a fairly boring and bland couscous hotel room picnic I called it a day and slept until 6am.
Day 5: Tours → Challones-sur-Loire
I had noticed on day 4 that my wheel had buckled. Typically the bike shop I had found round the corner was shut on Tuesdays so I cycled into town and by a total coincidence found another one opening at 10am. Although it was a little frustrating having to hang around I thought it would be worth it. As it turns out it wasn’t and the lady in the shop was fairly useless and unhelpful but I managed to buy another pair of cleats for my shoes, which I needed anyway. It was nice to have some time to mooch around anyway and see the cathedral and remember that I don’t actually have to rush! I met a lovely English couple, some nice Belgium men and discovered that McDonalds coffee is actually pretty good! Once I had attempted to fix my bike I headed out of the city; which was tedious, bike paths which seemed to go round and round in circles, it was infuriating! Conclusion-I am not a city girl! Eventually I got out on the open bike paths again, although a lot busier than I had become accustomed to -a near miss with a roller bladder sending me into a fit of giggles. I also saw such a cool family-parents cycling with trailers for their kids, and even carrying a potty on the back! This was a day to get into the tourist groove; castles and mansions a plenty. Chateau des villandry was a beautiful little town, in fact the whole stretch was very quaint and cycle friendly.
There were little vending huts for vegetables and fruit, which I thought was super cool too. Before I got to Angers I had a bit of an energy lull, timed perfectly with being tired and having not had any lunch. I was led down a rather ominous looking path which I didn’t think was too road bike appropriate. Had I had more energy I probably would have back tracked but I couldn’t be bothered so I carried on. Only to be faced with a river and a little boat which I had to pull across with a chain, load my bike onto and pull myself to the other side; just when my spirits were low this happened and reminded me that I was on an adventure and how fun this was!
When I reached the city of Angers it seemed quite nice and probably a sensible place to stop because I imagined there would have been a large selection of hotels and accommodation options to suit any budget. However, me being me, decided not to go for the sensible option but to push myself a little bit further. Well that was a bit stupid because I broke, big time. I found myself in tears because I thought I had lost my charging equipment because somehow my bag was open, only to figure out it was just in another bag; I think I was a little delirious! I found a nice cafe on the water and had a tomato juice while figuring out my options; of which there weren’t many. Yet again it was a National holiday with limited restaurant/accommodation options. So what did I do? Called my mum, of course! The barman very kindly said I could go have dinner and stay the night with his family but I didn’t want to put him out, how very British of me, and as it happens my Mum came to the rescue and had found an air bnb in Chalonnes-sur-loire. Google maps wasn’t particularly helpful so I started to get a bit tired and panicky. I eventually found my route and even though I knew I was on track now and the end was in sight I could not help but feel over whelmed with emotion; I think I was probably just a bit tired and a bit fed up! As I crossed over a bridge a few little tears rolled down my cheeks.
I pulled over, wiped my eyes and stopped to just really appreciate the scenery. It was truly magnificent and quite thought provoking. I had come so far and already achieved so much; I knew Jane would have been proud, and I knew Sarah and Rosie were. I passed over another bridge and the little town of Chalonnes came into sight. I immediately spotted a restaurant and knowing it was getting late was fully prepared to eat in my cycle clothes — they were less prepared and asked me to sit inside (I think so as not to put other diners off their food). So I asked if they would still be serving in half an hour which they said they would be. I had time to nip to the air bnb and shower. I found the metal gate, which looked rather uninviting; but inside was a quaint little house and converted stable. www.les-orkys-de-loire.com There was a bike stand and shelter for my bike downstairs and a little fridge stocked with beer and an honesty book. Up some very steep steps was a very spacious airy terracotta coloured open plan sleeping and living arrangement. A small lounge led to a double room separated by an archway. There was an open plan bathroom too, so after a quick shower off I nipped for dinner. Now that I was a little cleaner and more appropriately dressed I was “allowed” outside for dinner.
I was seated on I think the nicest table, right on the edge of the restaurant platform over looking the river and seeing the sun set in all its glory. The sun was huge, perhaps the biggest I had ever seen and coloured a beautiful orangey red. It was surreal and magical. It only seemed right to treat myself ! I order prawns to start and steak for my main with a glass of red win! I walked home seriously happy and satisfied ready for a good nights sleep. I decided not to set my alarm and just enjoy the comfort and luxury.
Day 6: Chalonnes-sur-loire → Pontivy
Waking up at 8am sent me into a slight panic — it was so late what was I thinking. O yeh, its not a race Jojo, this is supposed to be an adventure not a race so enjoy it! I went down to the small conservatory for breakfast and my word what a spread there was.
There was everything and anything — beautiful green tea (i think the best I have ever had), boiled eggs, ham and cheese, rye bread, croissants and toast, some creme brulee thing, yogurts, cereal, fruit…! I made a cheese and ham roll to take with me and took a banana. On paying for my breakfast (a whole 8euros) I thanked her so much and gave her a hug! She then wrapped up some almond cake for me to take with me. One of the most memorable things about traveling alone is the people you meet and the kindness they show. On another occassion I stopped in a very dirty looking cafe and had a coke and sat charging my iphone and garmin. With my head resting on my arms the owner asked if I was ok; I told him I was just a little tired and told him where I had come from-he scurried off and returned with a cured ham, gerkin and cheese baguette so big it lasted all day!
So off I went, rested and well fed! It just goes to show that food and sleep are good for you! I was flying along, loving life, loving my bike, loving the memories I was creating. My route took me along the Brest canal, through little villages where locals were just carrying about their daily business, past impressive castles. I love that you can see so much in such a relatively short space of time on a bike.
The sun shone but the wind started to pick up as the day went on. I was determined to reach Pontivy and where there’s a will there’s a way — this meant a McDonalds today. Not being a massive fan I then weirdly found myself really wanting one. I went for a happy meal because I knew it wouldn’t leave me feeling too full. Dare I say it but actually it was pretty tasty! The burgers are sugary enough for some energy but savoury enough not leaving you feeling sick and the chips are fantastically salty! I was nicely fuelled up so I carried on and made Pontivy by 8pm. The villages before hand were very cute and peaceful-adorned with flower baskets and meandering canal boats. I found a restaurant to grab some dinner, another steak-believe it or not but usually my diet is fairly veggie! I have never eaten so much meat consecutively in my life! I whizzed on a little further to my hotel. It looked like something from The Shining. The receptionist was friendly but didn’t want me to take my bike to my room, mainly because I was on the top floor and the only access was a tiny staircase. My room was at the end of a corridor which was seriously freaky. The room was big and totally devoid of any decor to make it warm and welcoming. It was also really warm and muggy. After a quick shower I passed out setting my alarm for the crack of dawn.
Day 7 Pontivy → Roscoff
LAST DAY! 3 Days ahead of schedule!
I barely slept because it was so hot and humid and I was worried my bike was going to get pinched. At 4am I was dressed and ready for the final day to Roscoff. There was only one ferry a day so I had to make it. In my notes for this day it says ‘Horrendous’! The trouble with plotting a route along a canal path and then leaving in darkness is you are very likely to pedal into the canal. My bike lights were £10 from amazon so didn’t really do the job well so I boycotted the path and hit the road instead; even then I had to strain my eyes to see. The idea was that as soon as the sun came up I would get back on the canal path to keep the terrain as flat as possible, even if the route was longer by doing this I knew I would conserve energy and probably get there quicker. It was a cold start to the day and my feet were unbelievably cold; I had to stop and put my toe covers on and sit and take a while to warm them up. Back on the road I was pedalling as fast as I could and not really stopping to enjoy the view much because my Garmin was telling me my predicted arrival time at destination was an hour later than I wanted it to be, and despite the speed I was going it didn’t seem to change. I then realised it wasn’t working properly and I was on course to get there on time after all, panic over. My route was a bit all over the place today so it was a day of freestyling it; which wasn’t ideal considering I was on a time frame. Plus my bike was making a worrying noise, so every hill I rode up I didn’t dare let the breaks off on the way down. Mum was messaging me more today sending me little notes of how proud she was and how well I was doing. She was following me on an app. (life 360). My family isn’t the kind of family to over do any praise so getting her messages of encouragement really kept my spirits high. Also I would get email notifications from donations on Just Giving. It surprised me so much when people I hadn’t seen for years or even knew donated, it was very touching. I rode down into Morlaix under a very impressive bridge — it looked like the kind of place perfect for my daily coffee stop but with some urgency I carried on, you never know what can happen so I thought best to keep going. And I was right to do so. As I neared Roscoff all sense of rationality slipped away and my brain went to mush. My Garmin told me to go right, as did my phone, but my head said left. I listened to the sat nav tools. Error.
As I followed windy lanes and onto what I can only describe as a bridle path or mountain bike trail, I thought, “this is stupid, I am falling into the trap that stupid people fall into” but because my Garmin had got me this far I continued to trust it. Even when my bones were rattling down a track and my bladder was about to burst I kept going. The only positive is it has made me want to give mountain biking a go! Road bikes weren’t designed for these sorts of tracks though! I think because of my day job as a ski instructor I was able to stay on the saddle, control the steering and keep going, but it wasn’t for the faint hearted. I kept thinking I should stop, but the irrational side of me took over and told me to keep going. Well that was stupid because obviously I got to the bottom and there was a stream, and a steep path overgrown with nettles. So, crying, and panicking, I sprinted back up the hill. Road cycling shoes with cleats on are not the easiest to run in, neither is being out of breath, crying and have a slight panic attack, o, and still needing the loo! I nearly wet myself. Had I had more time I probably would have stopped, taken a moment, pulled myself together and carried on. But I didn’t. I forced myself to stop crying because what good does that do? I stopped and used my phone to get to Roscoff. I opted for using the car route so as to avoid any chance of going on any more tracks! Well this ran me into more problems as I was faced with a dual carriageway. I knew it was only several km so I just went for it. Again fairly stupid. But I didn’t want to miss the ferry! Possibly not the most sensible decision as it was probably rather dangerous. With adrenalin off the rictor scale I was flying, averaging 45km/hr. Typically I got to Roscoff with an hour to spare.
I couldn’t quite believe it. I had made it. I checked in and sat down on the road with my bike feeling pretty dirty, sweaty and tired, but really bloody chuffed! After two hours of sunning myself and thinking I could really do with a wash we were allowed onto the ferry. I secretly felt a little smug too. I had cycled across France. The hardest bit was probably walking up the staircase to the passenger section of the ferry! My legs were done! I enquired at the help desk and discovered I could buy a shower kit for £3.50 — best money I had spent all week!
After a six hour ferry ride we cruised into Plymouth at 8pm. Even though home was only 30km away I didn’t feel comfortable cycling in the evening on West Country roads so stayed in a b&b for the night. Breakfast was included in the price so I wasn’t in a rush to leave and took full advantage of a double bed, an ensuite bathroom, a gentle sea breeze coming through the window, and having scrambled eggs and grilled tomato in the morning! Then for the English roads — I think the worst part of the week was cycling up Aveton Gifford hill. I didn’t have my heart rate monitor on but it felt like I was about to have a heart attack! I rolled into Salcombe in my lycra looking very out of place and probably looking fatter than when I left, bloody tired and not smelling too fresh, but feeling totally elated and proud of what I had achieved.
I learnt a lot on this little trip. I prooved to myself I am capable of much more than I realise. Perhaps we all doubt ourselves too much, and in fact we are all capable of achieving anything we put our minds to if we are determined enough. Even though I am determined, competitive, and strong, it is also clear how I don’t respond well to time pressure which is something I will carry forward with me and learn from. I have learnt preparation is far more important than I initially realised and that sometimes my usual freestyling methods aren’t always the best. Most importantly I feel proud of what I have achieved and it has opened my eyes to what else I can go on to do should I wish. I read somewhere that every great move forward in your life begins with a leap of faith, a step into the unknown. It has occured to me that I am very good at dishing out the advice but don’t necessarily take the action myself. I now believe in myself and have learnt what the unknown can bring-a whole heap of self love, happiness and inspiration.
Thank you everyone for your encouraging messages and donations. Ultimately this journey was inspired by a lady who sadly is no longer with us, so rest in peace Jane, you will continue to be in our thoughts, especially when the sun shines brightly over sunny cove. Xx
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useful links: NB I do not have sponsorship (although should anyone want to give me anything that would be nice!) These are simply products I really believe in…
apidura – www.apidura.com
navigation-garmin tourer https://buy.garmin.com/en-GB/GB/p/143677
Bluetooth watch-garmin fenix 5
dry bags and grab bags –https://www.seatosummit.co.uk/products/storage-sacks/
bike bag for onward travel adventures –https://uk.sciconbags.com
go pro hero 6 for future adventures-https://shop.gopro.com/EMEA/cameras/hero6-black/CHDHX-601-master.html
To take next time: spare cleats (maybe go for a touring shoe with spd cleats), spare screws, a spork, a little note pad and pencil/pen and better earphones.
° Tom Szaky
° Kandyse McClure