My first cycling holiday
Excited, nervous, unprepared were all thoughts that I had in the weeks leading up to my first cycling "holiday". A holiday for me is not associated with 4 - 6 hours on my bike but more exploring a city by foot, plonking by a pool and a more leisurely style of trip. Whilst I don't really take that many relaxed holidays that are the flop and drop style, this trip was definitely going to redefine the word holiday! My emotions were mixed because I was going on this trip solo with Punto Tours and joining a group who support an organisation called Action 4 Diabetes. Their goal was to ride as much as possible both in distance and in vertical metres climbed to fund raise as much as possible for A4D . My goal was to survive!
After spending a day in Barcelona I jumped on a train to Girona to meet the Punto Tours owners and guides. A beautiful, medieval town known more for the filming of Game of Thrones among the non cycling community but for cyclists this is cycling mecca. It's easy access to hills, beaches and a friendly relaxed vibe made it easy for me to see why there was so much hype about this cobbled street old city.
I met Vince, Fiona and Geoff late in the afternoon and after we settled into our accommodation we went for dinner to get to know more about each other and the next week. I had no idea what to expect as having only done a few one day supported rides, an entire week was a different ball game. I hired a bike from them and instantly fell in love with it and spent many a happy hour over the next 3 days riding it. A shop ride with Bike Breaks showed me just how beautiful the country side surrounding Girona is... how HOT is is and how easy it would be to become a mountain goat here. The next day had me catching up with a friend from Black Sheep Cycling who was in Girona for a few months and got shown another spectacular route. That's the thing about cycling - once you're riding and on the road you'll have friends all over the world to show you around.
Our tour started on Saturday and we went back to Barcelona to collect the group before heading to our first night accommodation in Ribes. A warm up ride of 15km down hill and 15km back up in 27 degrees showed exactly how strong this group of riders was. It was a great way to start and showed me that while I wasn't the fastest in the group that I'd be able to get through the next week slowly and at my pace.
The following day was our first long day and a transfer ride to our next two nights accommodation. This day was my first experience of LONG climbs. Settling into a pace that worked for me meant that I was definitely at the back of the group but over the course of the next week and spending many many hours on my own, I found that it didn't matter and that it was only my own head space that would make this enjoyable or not.
Over the coming days I discovered that my stubborn nature kept me going way past where I thought I was capable of, my insecurities and my anxieties dissipated purely by believing in myself more than I had done before this trip began.
There was one day that stood out for me where I cracked and that was day 5. There was a climb on this day where for the first time I had to get off the bike and walk. It was the only day where I wanted desperately to get in the car and throw my bike over the edge of the mountain. Every 50m I stopped for a while before I FINALLY reached the top where the cars where waiting with coffee and water. But I did have a little hissy fit! The next day I took a day off and spent it in the car. This was hugely beneficial not just to give my body a rest but also to see behind the scenes, the logistics of running a tour of this size and just how much time is spent supporting riders in challenging conditions.
Day 5 changed me. That day gave me something that I'd lost in myself and it was pure and simple belief. I know that I'm surrounded by stronger cyclists, that nearly everyone I ride with has literally been riding for many years longer than me, many are crit racers, training for events and ride faster and more regularly than I do. I am not just a cyclist. I dance, value my time as an aunt with my nieces, balance my health and life with hours on the bike and love the time that I spend travelling, my down time and knowing when to give my body the rest that it craves. For me to be on a bike in the first place took so much effort coming out of depression and huge anxieties and it showed me that my kind of steady and paced riding works for me and that as long as I start I'll get there in the end.
That mindset is what got me on the bike for the final day of the tour. It got me up Tourmelet where it was literally 2 1/2 hours of slow, steady, consistent cycling. That mountain was my goal for the tour. It's a "bucket list" climb for cyclists world wide. You can almost feel the spirits of thousands of people lining the roads as the Tour De France passes through. There are names of pro cyclists painted on the road. It's almost possible to see the trampled grass and to visualize the caravans, the tents, the crowds of Tour's gone. It's practically a mystical experience. Those spirits and the energy of knowing how strong i'd grown in the past week both physically and mentally kept me going up that beast of a climb in fog, unable to see anything more than 20m in front of me before finally 3km's from the top being able to see above the enormous mountain i'd climbed. It was an incredible feeling to have accomplished something that 6 months before I'd probably have said no way.
There's always going to be someone faster and stronger than you. There are always going to be people who say it's too hard. I can guarantee that both these things are true but I can also say, if you don't start then you'll never know what you're capable of and there is so much joy in riding that it far outweighs the demons x