Sunday, 18 November 2012

MTB - Familiar but Different

In the context of my blogs purpose, I didn’t think that I would be riding a Blog post on Mountain Biking.
12 months ago (to the day) I set off on my Giant Cross City with my Reason to Ride being raising money for Cancer research and to complete the first Melbourne Ride to Conquer Cancer. It was a one year plan. One year ago after my first ride, I couldn’t see that it was going to take me down the road it has.
And my first experience with Mountain Biking was very similar to my first experience with road riding. I felt out of my comfort zone, felt like I didn’t belong, overwhelmed with what was lying ahead, but this time I was familiar with how I would deal with it. Familiar, but different.
As this is a long one, I want to summarise by saying that I am so grateful that I have such supportive friends and family who encourage me to push out of my comfort zone. This past weekend was yet another shining example of the support I get to pursue my dream of making a difference. Support from my husband and kids who give me the day off, support from my new “bike mates” who have made this ride so much more than it was intended and support from all my friends who ask how my riding is going and genuinely show interest.
My reasons to ride have not changed. In fact, the reasons just keep getting bigger. What has changed is me. Riding literally has changed my life, and as Jo from Giant Bikes would say, it has given me “a whole new way of living”
With that said, here is my experience with the Liv/giant MTB Demo Day.
I arrived at the Liv/giant demo day with my chauffers Tracey & Corinna. Without their support and confidence in me, I probably would not have been here. The Liv/giant Demo Day from my perspective was to give girls the opportunity to have a play on the new range of mountain bikes in a try before you buy fashion. Because really – how else can you really test a bike out without putting it through its intended use.
And here was me. The fish out of water again! I had never sat on a mountain bike, let alone ridden one. And I was at the mercy of these hardened girls who all knew a thing or two about this sport. OK – they owned the sport of women’s mountain biking!
Familiar, but different.
The Liv/giant girls were all there and this was all familiar. But there were these big dirty dusty bikes (compared to the roadie standards) all lined up ready to be let loose on the tracks. Unlike being a roadie where you clean and polish your bike before you set out, clean your shoes (or is this just me), pump your tires, complete your bike check and then set off after a strong flat white in the local coffee shop, Mountain Biking meant pulling up to a dusty gravel car park out the back of nowhere, the bike check included picking your bike up and dropping it, and then off you go, with no coffee!!

So a deep breath in and head first I jumped! Dirt &dust … I had that covered. Afterall, I was the boy in my family growing up. While I made mud pies and built jump ramps down the middle of the street, my brother styled Barbie’s hair.
So I helped attach front wheels to bikes, adjusted my own peddles and sought assistance from Jess Douglas on bike set up. And here was the moment of truth – to ride this rig! I felt like I had stepped out of my Porsche and into a Mack Truck. But from my Avail Advanced 2 to the Anthem X 29er 1 – I took off to see how the fit was. I was comfortable, so I guess that was OK. Then I squeezed the brakes and realised how different this was. Disc brakes – they stop you QUICK! So with a big skid and frantic moment to unclip before saving myself from a spectacular fall 5 meters into my MTB experience, I felt the panic rise. Inner thoughts said “Breathe Bec. You will be fine”

Tracey and I - just before we headed off in the morning

Familiar, but different.
So, with all girls ready to roll, we went through some intro, MTB bike checks thanks to Jess & Liz from MTB Skills and off to the tracks we went. Single file, one by one, we headed for a path through the trees. And here I was. Familiar with pedalling. But everything else was different. This was not Kansas anymore. This was not the smooth surrounding of Beach Road. This was not the long flat straight Plenty Road. This was not even the rolling hills of St Andrews and Arthurs Creek. This was a thin trail where I had no idea what the next 5 meters would bring me. Pedal, left, right, up, down … oh no …. Hump, crack, stick, branch … TREE, brakes, skid – unclip, no, keep pedalling … and through to a fire trail. Ahh, I made it. I had survived my first minute.

The Drop Test
Here in the open gravel, surrounded by bush, Jess & Liz lead us through some basics. The first question was “Who sat down and rode in that small section” asked Liz. 2 of us put our hands up! We were identified as “Roadies” … and this is where the differences were all pointed out.
Attack position and unweighting the front wheel were the 2 skills that we went through. As a roadie, you don’t stand that often. Really, it is only required when you need to put a bit of extra effort in. Used to get through a traffic light or to climb a short hill, but not to ride for a long period of time. But here on the tracks, you needed to be up and ready to attack. It was also more comfortable. And unweighting the front wheel – that was going to be used to get over a branch or rock …and this is again where I started to internally say “what am I doing here?”  On the road, you just ride around it!

Jessica Douglas shows why she owns this sport!
So a few turns to practise getting the feeling and being at one with the bike, and we broke into 2 groups. Experienced and beginners. I felt beginners was even too advanced for me, but off I went. Knowing Jo was back in the car park, it was almost tempting to go and keep her company for the morning.
But it is at this point I can say thank god I didn’t. A session doing corners, elbows out, pointing the girls, flowing and trying not to ride the brakes was perfect to build some confidence. After 3 or 4 times of completing a small section of track, I was starting to feel a little less petrified. And I knew that the bike I was on was going to absorb all of the bumps, roll over the rocks and sticks and was not going to throw me into a tree – if I let it do what it was designed to do.
So now it was time to do Lizzie’s Rock. OK! So we headed up another path. Here I realised that going up steep inclines was quite easy on a MTB. Until you pedalled and the wheels just skidded around. But I kept going and then bam .. a big rock. I just stopped, got off and walked my bike around it. And then watched everyone else ride over it. Ah – different again! And then we all stopped at what would be known as Lizzie’s Rock. Our mission if we chose to accept it was to ride off it. My head said “NO WAY”, but gut said “NO WAY” … and I am one who usually trusts my gut. After watching 10 of the other girls conquer their fears and ride off it, I thought I would give it a go. After all, they all survived! My head said “Don’t be a girl”, but my gut kept saying “You are a mother with 3 little kids. Don’t do anything crazy” … So I went back, jumped on the bike and started the approach. And all 4 times I attempted it, I stopped dead at the same point. I couldn’t do it.

Lizzie's Rock
 And here was one of the highlights and selling points of this type of day. Every single girl came up to me, encouraged me for trying and didn’t push me to do anything I was not comfortable with. (OK, except for Corinna … and I welcome her pushing me, because eventually, she will get me to go off that rock! Just not yet! )
We all headed back for lunch via another path where again it was pedal, left, right, up, down … oh no …. Hump, crack, stick, branch … TREE, brakes, skid – unclip, no, keep pedalling and finally out to the area we had started in.
Here was Jo, in her nice new Liv/giant kit and a wonderful BBQ lunch was ready for us. Rolls, salads, bangers, lollies, soft drink … all our needs were catered for. (NB – This roadie was looking for the coffee vendor but settled for Coke)
Time to share our morning stories, reflect on what we had learnt and then out again together. The afternoon ride was perfect. I had a little bit of comfort (not confident, but not completely shitting myself) and as a whole group we headed off. Lucky for me, Jess, Liz and all the girls knew where we were going. To them, the You Yangs and the tracks were like Melbourne CBD is to me. So I just knew if I followed, I would be OK! So more pedalling, left, right, up, down, elbows out, attach position, unweight the front, elbows out… oh no …. Hump, crack, stick, branch, duck, elbows out … TREE, brakes, skid – unclip, no, keep pedalling, elbows out and climbing. Never did I think I would appreciate uphill over downhill, but going up I felt more in control. And with this ride was also the familiar element of chatting! You can’t chat much when riding, but after you get through a small part of track and come to a clearing, we stopped to chat.

Made it to another clearing where the paparazzi awaits

So after a good ride in the afternoon, it was back to catch up on some maintenance of the bike, observe a tyre change literally performed by the gorgeous Jess & Liz and it was done and dusted. My brain was overloaded, my body was tired and I was exhausted. And this roadie was desperate for a coffee!
With my Liv/giant girls who I have got to know well over the last 6 months, I helped pack up bikes while I waited for hubby & kids to come and collect me. And here was the difference for them too. They too were out in the middle of nowhere to pick up their dusty mum.
So, what did I learn from my Liv/giant MTB Demo Day?
I learnt that it is something I am going to learn to love. It is familiar but very different to road riding. Trying to draw a comparison is easy. If you were swimming it is the difference between a pool and the surf. If you were running it is the difference between the treadmill and getting out on a gravel path. Similar, but very different.
Physically, it is harder on the body. I was told 12 months ago that I could not engage in any activity that caused impact on my hips. No running, no walking long distances, no carrying heavy things (including my daughter) etc. Right now, I am confident my orthopaedic surgeon would cringe knowing what I got up to this weekend. So if I was to do this regularly, I will need to get my hips restrung. So at least I have found a reason to have the surgery that I require.
Mentally, it is harder on the brain. There is no time out to think about anything other than your next 5 meters. Unless you are a trained professional like Jess who can use it as a form of meditation! I can see how it can be very relaxing … eventually. But what it did allow was for me NOT to think about anything other than my next 5 meters. That for me is something that I need to do more often.
Socially, it is exactly the same, just minus coffee! Or maybe it was because I was with my bike family. One thing that Liv/giant road or MTB rides have provided me with is a great bunch of women who love to see new girls out on bikes giving it a go. They are patient, they are encouraging, they are supportive and they are a whole heap of fun. Liv/giant promotes A Whole New Way of Living and I am defiantly proof of that!  
So road or trail – I’ll be back. As for the trails, it will depend on how the hips go. And if physically I am unable to do it, I’ll set up a mobile coffee van and still go along for the experience. I’ll cook the BBQ next time and Jo can head off on her bike - because I saw how much she loved it.

Jo Hall showing off her stuff - and the new kit!
A special thanks has to go out to many ladies.
To Corinna and Tracey : Thanks for encouraging me to give it a go.
To Jo Hall – for everything you do for women’s cycling and providing me the opportunity again to get out of my comfort zone.
To Jess Douglas – you are a champ on and off the bike. And to be guided on and off the bike by such a champ is something that I will forever hold close to my heart.
To Liz, Nicci and Courtney  the MTB Skills & Liv/giant MTB girls - thanks for your guidance and skills sessions on Saturday. And thanks for the support when my gut was over-riding my head.
And thanks to Giant Bikes Australia for the opportunity to take such a cool bike out on an experience I never thought I would have.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Riding to Conquer - DONE!

Well, what a weekend that was! 

The Melbourne Ride to Conquer Cancer 2012 - something I have put so much time, effort, energy and money towards seemed to be over in a blink of an eye. No sooner were we lining up at the start in the freezing cold and rain, we were then crossing the finish line in beautiful sun-drenched Albert Park. 

But then I seriously reflect on the ride. The 200km ride that I needed to put every ounce of mind, body and soul in to complete. 

Now, I will be honest. I have tried to write this 100 times, but the emotion still gets in the way. There is just so much to write about, I have broken it down into chunks.

Be warned – this is LONG! Even for my standards!

Starting the Ride

Arriving at Albert Park, I was nervous. Not nervous for the 200kms, but nervous at the prospect that I had a team of 5 other riders who I felt completely responsible for. 
Team Fighting Back - ready to go

Jen - From what I heard, Jen was going to do OK! 
Greg - Greg had put in a lot of training, so was going to do OK
Julie - who I thought might struggle because of her ankle (that was smashed up about 7 years ago in a car accident)
Small Nicki - who should not have been riding due to an injury. NOT riding I must re-inforce.
Tall Nikki - a current cancer patient who had also battled a knee injury and didn't have a great preparation leading into the event. (But boy did she train hard!!!!)
And my 2 Liv/giant girls who were also riding with us. Corinna and Tracey AKA Cheap & Nasty! The good thing was that Corinna and Tracey were going to help with trying to keep the team together! 

So here we all were, ready to go. I was so nervous and excited I just wanted to get going. I was getting very edgy, couldn't eat, my phone was ringing and I wanted to spend a few minutes with my hubby to take this all in. For this event was for both of us! 

It was then time for the Opening Ceremony to take place. Initially I didn't really listen as I was too busy being distracted by everything else. But eventually the words started to sink in. And BANG - there was the harsh reality. From there, the tears started. And it was like I was thrust back 5 years and was feeling all the pain and hurt for Vince. Only this time I cried! I didn't need to be strong for everyone else any more, and I allowed myself to let go. 

Then a moment I will never forget. 4 riders lead a bike with a yellow flag through the waiting riders. The yellow flag represented a rider who had cancer. The bike without a rider was a symbol of why we ride. We ride for those who can't. At this point all my emotion took over and I stood there realising that this 200kms was one of the most important things in my life that I was going to do. 

It was then time to say goodbye and through teary eyes, I said good-bye to my husband. He was so proud of me and I would not let him down! 

The music then started pumping, we dried our eyes but the lump in the throat remained. We were slowly let go in waves and it took about 10 minutes to eventually get on our bikes. Just before I got to the start line a lady came from no-where shook my hand and thanked me for the special job I had done. She had seen my Bronze Ambassador badge on my sleeve and was explaining to someone the significance of being an Ambassador. It was just a shame that I had to cover up the jersey because of the cold and threatening rain. (*Note, it was covered up with my Liv/giant gear so something that I am just as proud to wear!) 

About the Ride

Now, here is a summary of the Ride. Without the emotion!

Day 1 - It was a very slow ride out of the city and one made difficult because we had already been broken up as a team. I really wanted us to stay together as long as possible, but in a situation like this it was next to impossible. Also in a sea of people basically wearing the same thing, it was easy to lose sight of others. The other reality was our team were all at different levels and this was the first time we had ridden together. For me, I would have loved nothing more to ride the whole way together, but in reality this wasn't going to happen. For me being one of the stronger riders, I didn't want everyone to feel they had to keep up. And I also didn't really want to be held back either. As much as this was a chance for the team to celebrate, we also had very different reasons for doing this. 

So we were on our way to Healesville and at all times I felt like I was checking to see where everyone was. I felt like the mumma of the team - which I was. The most enjoyable part of the ride of Day 1 was the section between Ivanhoe and Research. Enough hills to sort everyone out, not quite enough to challenge us. The roads were all good and between Corinna, Tracey, Greg and I - we put the foot down! I clearly recall Tracey yelling out "It's a ride Corinna, not a race" ... but man we were having some fun. Greg dropped off the back around Eltham and I wanted to slow for him, but I was also having heaps of fun. Knowing Research wasn't far, we continued to hammer it! 

Then the part I knew would challenge awaited us. The hills. The road between Research and Lilydale, via Warrandyte and the famous Jumping Creek Road is bad. Bad for the hills, bad for the condition, bad for a cyclist as it has no shoulders to move from the vehicle traffic ... and a whole heap of inexperienced cyclists. It was very frustrating - especially having to brake going up hills. Mentally, it was exhausting staying on top of every situation! Physically, it was challenging. When a ride is advertised as anyone can do it, and you don't need a special bike - this route was not for them!!!

After lunch is was only 25kms into Healesville which only challenged me as fatigue was starting to set in. And I was conscious that we had to do all of this tomorrow. Arriving in Healesville, we still had another 3kms to reach our overnight stay, to which I arrived to my family waiting. Mello, the kids and my dad who had come all the way from South Australia to experience this milestone in my life.

Day 2 - We all left at our leisure from 6:30am. It was very relaxed as we all headed off when we wanted, so congestion wasn't a real issue. We were heading home so the feeling was great. The fact we had 100kms in front of us was at the back of mind. I wasn't aware of what the road ahead was like, so every corner was new. And it was in parts of Melbourne I had never heard of, let alone visited. Many comments I heard was "it's all downhill from here" ... how wrong that was!

I had done hill training. And plenty of it! But what I was not prepared for the constant higher gradient hills. There were long climbs and there were short climbs, but for 65kms all it felt like was more hills. Every corner we turned, the road just seemed to go up. To break our pain, there were also some great down hills too. We did the right thing and stopped at the rest breaks, but between 55km – 65km I was spent. I had nothing left to give – other than heart!
The final stage of the journey was flat and we knew from our Garmin that we were closing in on the finish. And then, just like that, it was over.
200kms in 2 days – a challenge, but why shouldn’t it be.

Now for the Emotion
This ride took a great deal of physical strength to complete. But what really made the difference was mental strength. When the body didn’t want to play anymore, we all needed to find something that was going to get us to the line. For me, it was my Angels and Fighters. 26 names on my bike that I was taking on this journey. I had wings on my back and fight in my heart, but there were a few very special people who got me over that line.
The first was Vince. I knew at the end of the 200kms, he was going to be waiting. I also had seen the fight and never say die attitude that he showed when he fought Cancer. He never gave up, and neither would I.
The second was Corinna – who never left my side the entire 200kms (except for about 10kms where she stopped to help another rider and I needed to continue to check on Julie who had been picked up by a medic) But Corinna had fought her own Cancer battle as well. Back in her 20’s she had ovarian cancer, and as she puts it ‘did what she needed to do’. To have her by my side on this ride was a constant reminder that Cancer can be beaten and life is there to be enjoyed. I didn’t need her name on my bike – I had her by my side.
Nothing can be taken away from Tracey who formed our Liv/giant girls team. When the going got tough, Tracey was there to crack the whip and give me a hare to chase.
And there was Nicki, Nikki and Julie : my team mates who had struggled. Both Nicki and Julie got to ride over the line, but their rides were also filled with times in the sweep vans getting them to the next stop. And Nikki who could complete day 2. For my fallen team mates, I would never quit for them.
There were 3 very tough moments in the ride. The first was at the 25km rest stop when our team mate Nicki arrived with news that one of her fighters had passed away that morning. For me, it was hard to comprehend as I didn’t know Michael, but knew his story. What was hard was watching Nicki cope with this news. But she took a deep breath and got back on her bike – after all, we were riding to Conquer Cancer and this disease just gave us another reason to keep going!
The road into Healesville was also a tough one emotionally. This was more for the personal achievement that I had made. For 11 months, the thought of riding to Healesville had been daunting and I had done it. I had achieved half of what I had set out to do, and this was a major milestone in my life. There has not been many moments in my life that I have done just for me, but this certainly was one of them.
And then there was Day 2, when I had depleted my body of all energy, which was the hardest by far. I had 10kms to get to lunch and had to find anything that would give me the strength to get me there. I had nothing more to give and was exhausted. It was then I looked down at the 26 names on my bike. Each and every single name had a story and a fight. And I took the time to think about each person. I was doing this for them. They fought so bloody hard. And so would I. I would die trying if that is what it was going to take. It was at this point that I was riding, sobbing and trying to stay focussed on just getting to where we were going. I had no idea where we were, had no idea where the stop was and felt lost in every sense of the word. All I knew was that I had to just keep going. Corinna and Tracey were wonderful at supporting me through this time and had I been alone it would have been so much harder.  Great thing was a good feed and a big hug from my husband at this point was all I needed to recharge me.
Overall, I had to fight with my emotions and also those of my team mates. Nicki was only riding the first half of the day and I knew how this was affecting her. Julie made it 80kms on day 1 and was disappointed on not making it the whole way. Nikki fell ill during Day 1 and had to go home unable to ride on Day 2. Then Day 2 seeing Julie on the side of the road after about 15kms and having her bike loaded onto the sweep vehicle just tore my heart out. I knew that if that was me, I would have been devastated. I didn’t want to tell them I knew how they felt – because I didn’t. I didn’t want to say “You’ll be right” – because they probably wouldn’t be. All I could do was give them my support and tell them how proud I was of each of them. Because I was.
 From all of this, I have learnt more about myself than anything. I have learnt that I am physically capable of more than I would have dared to imagine.  
But emotionally, I learnt that I do have a heart and it is OK to put yourself out there. Time after time in my life, I have not showed what I really feel. I have been the pillar of strength, the one that people go to because I do cope. This is what happened when Vince was facing his battle. I just accepted the news and went into attack. I was there for anyone who needed me. Ever dependable Bec. And I never gave myself the chance to sit and accept what it was doing to me. I would get a niggle in my heart and a lump in my throat, and would push it aside not letting myself deal with it. For 5 years, I carried this with me, but in my heart I had unfinished business. Vince is now healthy. Everyone had cried their tears and rejoiced the news of his clean bill of health. And I did too, but still, there was something there.
On the morning of Day 1, I started to let it go. I let it out and I couldn’t stop. I felt the pain of 5 years ago and as each kilometre passed, slowly, so did my grief. Just because someone survives, it doesn’t mean we don’t grieve. And at the finish line as Vince stood in front of me, I knew I had done what I set out to do – heal!

 I need to say a massive thanks to my team – Fighting Back for being there for me throughout this journey. It will be a time in our lives that we will always look back on and time will not fade the heart-warming moments we shared. And to Cheap & Nasty, who became part of our team on this weekend. We shared a lot out on the road. Laughter, Tears … and they even got me to pick up a chick!!! (Cue Helen Kapalos of Channel 10, who I couldn’t let ride on her own)


This is us celebrating at the end!

But before this moment - there was also a lot of this ...

A moment of indescribable mateship! Words can’t be written about this photos as it will never do justice to the feeling!!!!