I am not a Cyclist…
I am finally starting to feel my legs again. The sunburn has died down and the insect bites are less itchy. I’ve just returned from a short 3-day trip cycling from Milton Keynes to Oxford and back again. The long way. A total of 110 miles through 4 counties, sandwiched mostly between the M1 and the M40.
I suppose it would make sense to explain why I felt the need to write this down. Well, the answer is really quite simple. Imposter syndrome is in full swing. I’m about to take on perhaps one of my biggest challenges soon. Cycling across the UK. Coast to Coast. Am I worthy enough. Fit enough. Able enough to complete it?
I’ve cycled for as long as I can remember. It’s never been a problem for me to hop on a bike and go from A to B, but as I got older and as it became obvious my friends were no longer opting for their bikes as mode of transport, I slipped out of the routine. And ultimately slipped out of my love for cycling. It’s only really recently, and after a few other challenges to push myself, that I’ve realised I should never have stopped.
Last year, the Coast to Coast ride was cancelled, so it was decided that myself and my sister would go off on our own little ‘training ride’ adventure. To test the waters if you like. Her husband also tagged along for the ride. So this, is the short tale of this year’s prep ride.
As we left the beautiful Buckinghamshire countryside, we hit the Chiltern Hills. Living up to its name we were greeted with an 18% gradient climb around 30 miles in. Reaching the campsite near Radnage was blissful. The field was moderately empty, apart from a small congregation of tipi tents at the far end and a group of friends staying in one of the more glamourous bell tents in the glamping field next door.
With our pan of boiling water slowly caressing our noodles for the night, the only noise you could hear was the unmistakable call of the Red Kite swooping above you. The only thing to see ahead of you was the vast green hills. Making out small houses on the horizon and satisfyingly grouped collections of tall trees dominating the landscape in the distance.
As we settled down to read some pages of our books and slurp our way through the noodles, we discussed the route we’d taken, the thatched cottages we’ve ridden past and flicked through photos we’d taken that day.
I looked at those photos and saw someone that I didn’t recognise. Big hips. Few tummy rolls. Sweaty under-boob lines. Someone who looked as though they were ‘trying their best’. I’ve never considered myself a cyclist. I ride bikes. I like to push myself and go as far as I can on two wheels. But I am not a cyclist in the traditional sense of the word. But, on reflection, what does that really mean? I’m not skinny. I don’t have much muscle on my bones. I’m a woman. I have squidgy bits. My thighs rub together sometimes. But I still ride.
Waking the next day after a lumpy bumpy nights sleep, with horrendous rain and wind through the night, we filled our bottles, loaded our bikes, took one more group photo and set off toward Oxford. As I pedalled away, settling into the saddle for a few more hills, my mind turned to riding in Oxford. Riding in a city. Riding in a ‘cycling city’ at that.
We approached Oxford in good time, and decided it was time to head straight for the centre following the NCN and find some food. Close calls were in abundance and route confusion in full swing, we slowly and painfully made our way in between Oxford’s bustling streets. Pedestrians and traffic merging into one. Overflowed by this sense of rushing. My mind caved in on itself and all I wanted to do was get through and out of that city. As fast as was humanely possible.
The time spent getting off and walking sections took a toll on my energy levels and also my enthusiasm for the ride. My energy was sapped. I became grumpy, tired and ever increasingly irritated by traffic. Something I’ve never let affect me before. In all honesty, I got into my own head and struggled with self-doubt of whether I was capable of city riding at all.
Just 3 miles out of Oxford was the campsite. Just 3 little miles. I could do that. I threw my leg over. Took a deep breath and set about making those pedals move to the speed I needed them to.
Our third and final day had arrived. Feeling a little worse for wear and cradling achey knees and detangling un-brushed hair it was time to wrap this thing up. I felt a little sad that it was ending. Felt waves of feeling like I’d achieved something. Then felt waves of feeling like I hadn’t done well enough. That in fact, I shouldn’t have got off that hill and walked. I should’ve just buckled up and got on with it. In the end though, I had to realise that I’d just spent 3 days cycling. 3 days out ‘in the wild’ instead of sitting at my desk. Instead of going home feeling like I’d gone through the day with minimal effort. And what was better than that? I can’t think of much else.
So here it is.
I’m Hayley. I’m unfit. I have tummy rolls. Big hips. And I love a quarter pounder with cheese. And pizza. And cinnamon rolls. And food. But I also love my bike. And I love to push myself. So, it’s onto the next adventure. With cinnamon rolls in my bag.