July 7 is the date of the Etape de Tour - the amateur cyclists chance to ride a major mountain stage of the 100th edition of the Tour de France. Rapha sent 100 women to participate in the sportive which formed part of the days festivities. It was not competitive, but more about gathering a global community of women around the world to take part in this shared event.
On this day, out of the all the registered participants, women got together to collectively ride the equivalent of 2.4 laps around the world. And I am happy to say I put in 103.93kms of that!!!
But as many who now know me well and follow this blog, it was never that simple. And on this day, Sunday July 7, 2013 I conquered something much bigger than a mountain in the Pyreness.
The thing is, when I first started riding all those months ago I did it all alone. I did it alone because I didn't know anyone else who I could ride with. On those rides, which were always really hard, I would often draw on the names of the people I was riding for. No matter what barrier was in front of me, I would always find a way through by focussing on the strength of those who had fought battles harder than anything I would have on the bike. It was always draining, more-so mentally than physically. It almost always ended in tears.
I can honestly say that after doing RTCC in 2012, I had a lot of emotional closure. During Day 2, I had to draw on every name that stared back at me, and from that day, I knew that I could conquer mountains. I knew that I had the strength in me to get over any line. But what I didn't realise is that I also got my strength from the amazing team of girls that I also had around me.
Over the last 8 months, instead of focussing on the real reason I started riding, I found another reason. First is because I loved it so much. Second is why I loved it so much and it is because of the amazing bunch of supportive friends that I have made along the way. Yep - all the girls that I have met through the Liv/giant rides. Slowly, I had began to rely on these girls. I found that I traded in my passion for soul searching solo rides and replaced them with social fun rides that always ended in laughter, not tears. And why not!!!! Laughing is such a wonderful thing to do!
So back in June when I pulled out of the Whittlesea Challenge, it was because I couldn't face the road alone. I doubted my ability to be able to turn up to an event on my own, to ride without my support and I questioned my strength. In the first few weeks after the non-event, I was OK with it. But it ate at me more than I realised.
It wasn't until the plans of a group ride started to unravel in days leading up to the Womens 100. For all different reasons, the girls that I was going to rely on to get the job done were not going to be there. And by event eve, there I was again, facing a ride alone.
But instead of hanging Mav back up in the garage and packing my kit away, I faced my mountain!
I faced the long boring stretch of Plenty Road. And with that came thoughts of the past. I went past the Whittlesea Cemetery and immediately I was confronted with the thoughts of my Angels who have travelled over 4000kms with me so far. I stood in a crowd of 70 women and I stood alone. And I took off up my mountain ready to tick off each of the 100 kilometres I would ride alone that day.
To say I did it tough on the bike is an understatement. After 12kms, I had a technical issue with my cleats and fell hard, yet gracefully off my bike. In zero degree temperatures, in physical pain I had never experienced and in fog that has viability down to less than 10 meters I ticked off the kilometres.
At 60 kms my Rock of Gibraltar arrived : that is my family. Just knowing that they were close gave me the strength I needed. They also sat in the escape vehicle should I feel the need to quit.
At 75 kms I hit my wall. Hard. Pain was crippling me. I was hungry. And my legs just wouldn't shut up! So I did the only thing I knew and that was to look down. I looked down at a whole range of names and with that, it hit me. All the emotion of why I ride. All the emotion that I had kept under control for so long. All the tears I had covered with laughter. There they all were.
At this point, I was joined by the backmarker of the Womens 100 ride. (Yep - last again) A lady by the name of Amanda who had also done the RTCC last year. She had ridden with her siblings in memory of her sister who they had lost to bowel cancer. But I couldn't listen to Amanda's story at that time. All I could do was try and stay upright on the bike and wait from my Rock to come past and collect me. I was weighed down with fatigue, but mostly, I was then weighed down with pain ... both physical and mental.
I finally made it to 82kms and to a much needed rest stop. I got off Mav and declared that I was done. I thanked the Women's 100 girls for organising the event, but I wasn't going to finish it. I couldn't go on any further. My family were there, and I made the choice to join them in the coffee shop. I quit! I had coffee, I cried in emotional and physical pain and I rested. And as we got up to leave, I went outside and here was Mav waiting for me. Maverick my bike who carries the names and hopes of many who I ride for stared back at me and if bikes could talk ... she said "DON'T QUIT, BECAUSE THEY DIDN'T!"
OK ... so it was me who said it ... but you all know I see Mav as something more than just a bike.
I clipped on my helmet, I drank what was left of my energy drink and I said to Mello that once I got to 100kms, that was it. And I got back on Mav and I did not quit. I took the short cut home, but what it lacked in distance, it made up for in gradient. Why did I think a 4kms road at 8% gradient was a good idea when I had 91kms of painful hill climbing already stored in the bank for that day? But I did it. And I got to 100kms .... and rode straight past my family as I shouted "I'll see you at home"
103.93kms of good soul searching riding. And to places I had never ridden to before. Kinglake, Yarra Glen and Pain Central. But along the way I also got to meet my inner self again, I reunited myself with my Angels and Fighters and on that day, I declared I would not quit - because they didn't.
So thank you Rapha. But mostly thank you to Women all across the world who make cycling fun. And a big thank you to my Liv/giant girls who make it the best type of fun!!!! xo
And special mention must go to one person who manages to keep me going no matter what. Jessica Douglas - knowing you were out there ticking off a 300km ride on this very day did more for me than you will know.
|This is what zero degrees looks like|
|Humevale in the beautiful fog. This was before it got really thick.|
Hard to think that is was an inferno 4 years ago, but the scars are still there.
|My pain face - after dismantling knee first|
|The 103.93km loop|
|Only a few hills. And descents in 0 degree fog is not fun at all!|
|Where I declared I would not quit ... and I didn't!|