Keep calm and carry on?

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It’s difficult not to get angry when someone drives their car into the side of you as they unexpectedly enter your lane without checking their mirrors, or indicating.

It’s difficult not to lose control when someone absent-mindedly steps out into your path, barely missing you, and then has the audacity to tell you to ‘fuck off’ when you ask them to look where they’re going.

It’s difficult not to become exasperated when a teenager who is cycling while on his phone, suddenly pulls out of a side road at high speed without even glancing right, and then shoots you a look that could kill when you advise him to be more careful in future.

Why does it have to be so hard all the time? Why does it have to feel like I’m entering a war zone every time I get out on two wheels? Why does every commute home have to feel like a never-ending struggle, trying to reason with motorists, pedestrians and even other cyclists, who couldn’t care less if you end up in a crumpled heap on the ground, because of their thoughtless actions? Why does it have to feel like everyone is out to get me, all the damn time?

I love riding my bike, but for all the frustration, the fear, the anger and the tears, it leaves me wondering if it’s really worth the mental hardship. It’s hard enough to cope in a world where politics are sending public services down the drain, the media are scaremongering and people become more hostile towards each other every day.

Sometimes I want to ride my bike to escape from it all, but then I find myself wishing I’d not bothered, and that is the most upsetting thing of all.

Square one wobbles, or, test-riding a YoBike

Riding around Bristol now, you can’t help but notice the flashes of yellow. Casually dressed cyclists pass by, sitting upright, Dutch-style, on these distinctive cruiser bikes with 26” solid rubber wheels, high handlebars and ‘join a Cycling Revolution’ printed on their frame signs.

That’s right. YoBikes have come to Bristol.

Naturally I had to have a go, so last weekend while we were in town, we decided to hire a couple to ride home. This was partly because my feet had been torn to shreds by evil flip-flops, and partly so we could be naughty and pick up a Chinese takeaway on the way home. Ssh.

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How YoBike works

Unlike its London counterpart, YoBike doesn’t require bikes to be docked in terminals. You’ll find them spread throughout the city, propped on their kickstands in pre-approved public parking areas.

All you need to do is download their app, create an account and enter your card details. Your first ride is free, and after that it’s £1 for every hour you have the bike.

Simply find an available YoBike, select ‘Unlock bike’ on the app and scan the QR code on its rear lock. You’ll need to have your location settings and Bluetooth switched on. The bike will automatically unlock, and now it’s available to ride. Quick release skewers allow for a swift saddle height adjustment, and then you’re good to go!

Once you’re done, you need to leave the bike at one of the approved public parking spaces, highlighted on the map. If there’s nothing near you, you can park them in a public bike parking area (where there are racks), and send a couple of photos, along with the location details to the YoBike team, so they can add the area to their map. Select ‘End journey’ on the app, and the bike will automatically lock. It’s pretty nifty.

Within the app you’ll find an interactive map of the city, which points out the locations of all available YoBikes, and the areas where you can leave them. Their zone coverage seems to be pretty good as well. We saw bikes left outside the UWE campus near Filton, and we were able to cycle them home to Kingswood, which is about 5 miles from the city centre.

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Square one wobbles

I have to say, I’m not very experienced when it comes to riding many varieties of bikes. Now that I’m so used to being in the racier position that Regina puts me in, returning to an upright position threw me a bit! The handlebars are very wide, and raised really high above the stem, so it has that feel of a Dutch bike (which personally I’m not a fan of, but it will appeal to many).

It’s always like riding a bike for the first time, and I started off quite wobbly! It took me most of the journey to adjust to the upright position and the sensitivity of the steering. I’ve gotten so used to steering with my body, so it was strange to go back to steering with the handlebars. However I can see that this will work really well for people who don’t normally cycle, and will be familiar to those who are used to hiring town bikes in large cities.

The only misgiving I’d raise really, is that they’re not ideal bikes for the hills of Bristol, having just three gears. Riding up the Bristol-Bath Railway Path towards home, it’s only a gentle incline but I found myself working up quite a sweat in the middle gear. I can imagine a lot of people who live in uphill areas, such as Clifton and Redland, may hire these bikes to cycle down into town, but will be unlikely to ride them back up again towards home! This could result in some uneven distribution of bikes, though perhaps the YB team are aware of this and will re-disperse them. I know they’re very quick to respond to misplaced and abandoned bikes, thanks to their in-built GPS trackers, so they’re definitely out on the roads.

Judgement call

The most interesting part of that journey was realising that I felt a bit like an outsider.

It’s not like I felt as though I was the butt of any jokes, but I was very aware that the bikes drew a lot of attention from the more ‘serious’ cyclists, and a few knowing smiles. Lacking a helmet, wearing flip-flops, and being ever so slightly wobbly as I adjusted to the unfamiliar riding position, I can only imagine what I must have looked like.

It’s certainly made me more aware of the judgements we’re very quick to make about other cyclists. After all, while YoBikes certainly will appeal to those wanting to get into cycling without yet investing in their own bike, it also makes for a really convenient way to get somewhere when your other transport plans haven’t panned out.

If the buses aren’t running properly (do they ever run a good service in Bristol?), it’s much cheaper and quicker to jump on a YoBike. You won’t be prepared with a helmet, and you may not have the most practical shoes, but you’re as much a cyclist as the guy in lycra next to you at the lights, smiling with an air of ‘aww, bless’.

It’s a great scheme, and has been a glaring omission from Bristol until now. It’s exactly what’s needed to get would-be cyclists out of their cars and onto two wheels. Long may it continue.

 

 

Women cyclists of Bristol, united

About a month ago, a meeting was called. El gathered a bunch of women cyclists together in the upstairs area of Roll for the Soul, to discuss the lack of community among the women cyclists of Bristol.

We agreed that there are plenty of women cycling in Bristol now, and it was time to create a feeling of cohesion among us. We all brought forth ideas, from putting together women-only day rides, to weekend camping adventures, and drinks socials.

We held our first social on 11th May, and I’m really pleased to say that it was a big success! There was a great turn-out, taking over the downstairs area of RftS, where women mingled, drank beer, ate awesome veggie food and got to know their fellow lady riders.

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Holly McGowan talks about the history of women in Bristol

We paused the chatter to have a group-wide discussion, which gave people the platform to promote their own events and groups, and show everyone what’s already available to get involved in. I’ll list these here.

They’re not all women-only, so lads, you’re allowed to join in too (unless we say otherwise):

Food Cycle

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Photo: foodcyclebristol.wordpress.com
  • Open to all.
  • Food Cycle collect waste food from local businesses by bike, and distribute it to various charities and local ‘skipchens’ for use.
  • They also cook and serve their own community meals across the UK.
  • If you have time during the week (or on a Saturday morning), they’re always looking for volunteers to cycle around the city with a trailer and collect food that’s been pre-agreed with the businesses involved.
  • It’s a lovely way to cycle around the city and give something back to the community.

Family Cycling Centre

Family Cycle Centre
Photo: betterbybike.info
  • Open to all.
  • Based on the site of the former Whitchurch athletics track.
  • They give people of all ages and abilities the chance to ride in a safe, traffic-free environment.
  • They have Bikeability-trained cycle trainers on hand to help, and a large range of bikes to try.
  • They also offer family cycling activities and fun days – perfect if you’re looking for a way to get young children confident on their bikes.
  • They also have plenty of volunteering opportunities.

Group Riding for Women

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Photo: eventbrite.co.uk
  • Women only.
  • Training provided by Heidi Blunden.
  • Hosted at the Family Cycling Centre.
  • This event has now passed, but there’s scope for more in future, so keep your eyes peeled.
  • Heidi provides cycling coaching in Bristol, and this event is aimed at women who want to learn or improve group-riding skills.

Cycle the City Tours

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Photo: cyclethecity.org
  • Open to all.
  • There are a variety of tours on offer, to get you cycling around Bristol and learning more about the city.
  • Around once a month, Holly McGowan does a tour which tells the history of women in Bristol.
  • She gave us a taste of this during this social, and I know for sure that I want to join this tour next time it runs.

Breeze Network

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Photo: news.calderdale.gov.uk
  • Women only.
  • This is actually how I met Heidi, who is also a Breeze Champion.
  • These rides usually run at the weekends, and the distance and pace varies greatly, depending on the ride leader and the type of ride.
  • You can find upcoming rides here.
  • Also, if you’re a confident cyclist and able to ride a minimum of 20 miles, you can find details out how to become a Breeze Champion and encourage more women to ride.

Women’s Night at the Bristol Bike Project

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Photo: thebristolbikeproject.org
  • Women (and trans) only.
  • Monday evenings, 6-9pm.
  • This is a safe space for women and trans people to use the workshop and the tools available to work on their own bikes.
  • Volunteers are on hand to help.
  • We welcome all women to either use the space or come and volunteer, to empower other women to learn how to maintain their own bikes.

Cycling Clubs

Facebook Groups

  • Women only.
  • Two Facebook groups you should be aware of:
  • Women Cyclists of Bristol – Closed group for women cyclists, to discuss anything we wouldn’t talk about in a mixed group (from street harassment to periods). They also have their own Twitter account and email address, where you can get in touch if you need advice or want to share something with other women cyclists in the city.
  • Bristol Biking Bitches – This group is full of women who love to get out on their bikes as much as possible, and frequently post in the group to invite others along for the ride. Full of roadies and MTBers, they’re a great group to be part of if you want to go riding with some company.

I wasn’t taking notes on the night, so naturally I’ve probably forgotten a few things. If there’s anything I should add to this, please let me know.

The next social will be at Roll for the Soul at 7pm, on Thursday 8th June. Hope to see you there!

Saturday Independence Ride #1: Pill, Failand, Long Ashton loop

I said last time that I would start riding solo on Saturdays, as a way of building some independence and confidence on the roads. That’s exactly what I did at the weekend, though admittedly the ride wasn’t quite what I’d initially planned. A late night on Friday and afternoon plans for the Saturday meant that I was tired and on a time limit, so I decided to take it easy on myself. I definitely will ride to Westonbirt Arboretum, but perhaps on a day when I have no other commitments so I can actually get my money’s worth when I arrive.

This was my first time using the Garmin myself (Adam was in control last time) and I spent some time in the morning creating an almost-figure-of-8 loop on Ride with GPS which took me along some new paths but wasn’t too rigorous for my fragile state.

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It was about 20 miles, finishing in town so I could decide later on what I wanted to do. The idea was to go along the towpath along the Avon Gorge to Pill, which I was aware of but had never actually ventured down. I also wanted to cut through Ashton Court and cycle across the Clifton Suspension Bridge. After spending about an hour trying to figure out how to get my rides to show up on the damn thing (turns out if you rename the file without .gpx at the end, it changes the file type completely, making it unrecognisable to the device), I got moving.

To get to the towpath I had to cut through a cemetery towards Feeder Road, which gave me the creeps. I’ve noticed a lot of bike routes take me through there – is it acceptable to cycle through a cemetery? I always feel like it’s quite inappropriate. There were people visiting graves, and what not. I felt very intrusive.

I had to compete with some pretty fast moving traffic on the main roads after that, so it was a relief to turn off into Greville Smyth Park and onto the towpath towards Pill. It is absolutely stunning, I can’t believe I’ve never been down that way before! I was too busy enjoying it to take photos, unfortunately. That’s one lesson I still haven’t learned yet. Stop and enjoy the views (and then document them for the blog).

It’s an undulating shared path with a gravelly surface: perfect for confidence-building with Regina. It takes you along the River Avon, underneath the Suspension Bridge and all the way along the Avon Gorge.

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The towpath takes you along the bank of the River Avon, through the woodland on the right. Photo stolen from zzzone.co.uk

I had a couple of slightly surreal experiences along the way. The first was when I was taking a narrow part of the path quite slowly*, and became aware of a man running directly on my heels. When I turned to look at him, he reassured me that I didn’t need to let him pass, and that he was just going to run a little further before turning back. We exchanged pleasantries. He asked where I was riding to, and we talked about the towpath and how lovely it is. Then all of a sudden he wished me a good day and turned on his heels.

The second was when I descended a short, sharp decline and rounded a corner at speed, to suddenly be faced with a large group of hikers with matching bright orange hiking poles. They’d gathered together to consult a map, and upon seeing me, called “bike!” and parted to form a path down the middle. As I rode through them, they all smiled and cheered me along, in one of the weirdest accolades I’ve ever experienced (not that I’ve experienced many).

Once I arrived in Pill, the towpath ended and I joined a quiet road next to a fishing lake, climbing a hill that took me through some quiet residential streets. I cut through some local parks, keeping to cycle paths, and found myself faced with a couple of ridiculously steep and narrow uphill paths with chicane barriers at the bottom. This was the first awkward part of the ride where I had to dismount and walk.

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…No thanks. Google Maps doesn’t do the gradient justice. Also the path actually led to steps anyway!

At the top, I joined the Avon Cycleway and kept to the main roads from there, cycling to Failand and then through to Long Ashton. There was a mighty climb (466ft over 4.5 miles), which took me up to the most beautiful road, surrounded by woodland and bluebells. I wish I could have stopped to take a photo, because it was gorgeous. Unfortunately it was spoiled by the endless tirade of drivers who were in such a hurry to pass me, they squeezed through ridiculous gaps at high speed, putting me, themselves and oncoming drivers in danger. Impatient people in cars can really spoil a chilled out Saturday morning ride.

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Just an idea of what it was like… Stolen from Google Maps.

Moving on though, the mighty climb was followed by an even mightier descent (-433ft in 1.9 miles), and would you believe, I loved every second of it! I swear, when it’s smooth tarmac, I’m absolutely fine. It was awesome.

From there I’d planned to cycle through Ashton Court and over the Suspension Bridge, into Clifton and then into town. Unfortunately the Garmin sent me on a route that went through the deer park, which doesn’t have access to bikes. Second awkward moment dismounting the bike. In the end I decided to go it alone, and switched it off, only to find it froze, so I just rode on with a ‘save or discard’ screen staring back up at me the entire time.

Going the only way I was familiar with, I came out the other side of Ashton Court, along Festival Way, back through Greville Smyth Park and went into the town centre to get a mountainous box of falafel salad to take home. All in all it was a good ride.

I unfortunately won’t be doing much riding aside from commuting for the next couple of weeks, due to getting tattooed next weekend, and attending a wedding the weekend after. But they will be back, and I promise they’ll be longer and more challenging.

*A quick note. Not too long ago I became aware that I was struggling with uneven terrain namely because my eyesight is quite poor, and I can’t always see very far ahead to plan my route. I recently had my eyes tested and it turns out I have astigmatism in both eyes, with my right eye being particularly shoddy. I’ve been prescribed glasses, which I’m collecting on Friday this week. Hopefully after then, this won’t be an issue, and I can pick up the pace, and increase my confidence!

Weekend Round-up

I promised a big weekend of riding, and though not everything went to plan, it’s been a pretty fab one indeed, and I even managed to surprise myself.

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Full disclosure, we didn’t do the entire distance that we planned. Trying to figure out the new Garmin kept us up pretty late on Thursday night, and then delayed us by a further hour or two on Friday morning when it somehow lost the route we’d loaded. Setting out much later than we should have, and getting stuck on a horrible, busy A road halfway through, we arrived in Oxford around 6pm with 36 miles still to go. We decided to cut our losses and get a train to Beaconsfield, then cycled the final 10 miles in the dark, arriving at 9:30pm.

The ride itself was amazing, though! From Bristol to Swindon, the Garmin kept us on quiet country roads, cycle paths through parks, dirt tracks and bridleways. At one point we stumbled onto a dirt road that was actually in the process of being compacted. I was so grateful for Regina and her lovely thick tyres. Parts of it verged on mountain biking, even. It was brilliant fun, and the first proper adventure that I’ve taken her on.

Unfortunately things took a turn on the way out of Swindon. I’m not entirely sure what happened, but our Garmin reset its own settings, and locked us onto main roads. We found ourselves on a really ugly part of the A420 and stuck in a lay-by for about half an hour waiting for it to find its satellites and recalculate the route. In the end we turned it off and relied on Google Maps to get us the rest of the way to Oxford. Once we found our way back onto country roads, it became fun again.

One thing I love about cycling to Oxford is the descent down Cumnor Hill. While I’m not usually one to get excited about going downhill, it’s a brilliant way to end a long ride and get that last part finished very quickly! The other thing I love is finishing the ride with a chilli dog at the Gardener’s Arms on Plantation Road. Best food in Oxford.

We left the bikes in the shed on Saturday to give our bottoms a rest, but got back out on the road on Sunday to visit various relatives of Adam’s, and also to ride the lovely Pednor Loop, which is pretty much traffic-free and comes with some stunning views. Yesterday we decided to be kind to ourselves. We left at 7am, rode to Oxford and got the train back to Bristol. I’m glad we rode to Oxford again, as we got to do the part that we missed on Friday. I couldn’t have left this weekend without riding in the Chilterns.

The ride from Chesham to Oxford was really nice. The Chilterns are of course very hilly, and I knew there was a great big descent waiting for me down Kop Hill.

But now I’m going to shock you (and myself). All weekend I had to deal with big descents. Huge descents. Steep descents. Some in the dark. One had a red traffic light at the bottom while still on a steep gradient. After the first few I found my rhythm and I really started to enjoy them. On one hill we clocked a maximum of 65km/h. I’m really freaking proud of myself.

In total over the whole weekend I’d estimate that we rode around 130+ miles. It’s still the furthest I’ve ridden in that amount of time, and I’m really happy with how it went.

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Coming soon… Riding like a S.I.R.

I’ve decided that, providing I can get the Garmin working in my favour, Saturdays are going to become my day for riding solo. I’m dubbing these my Saturday Independence Rides (SIR) and this Saturday I’m planning a 40+mile ride to Westonbirt Arboretum and back. Stay tuned!

If you’re a woman cyclist in Bristol…

Final plug before I sign off. A bunch of us have organised a social this Thursday at Roll For The Soul, aimed at women cyclists of Bristol who want to meet other likeminded women, find riding buddies, learn about the various group rides and events coming up in Bristol, and just generally build a community (girl gang).

If you’re around, come join in the fun! Click here for details.

Upping the ante

Tomorrow I’m doing my longest ride to date.

Admittedly I’m nervous, but for once I don’t feel the surge of fear that usually accompanies a new challenge on the bike. If anything I’m actually quite excited!

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We’re riding approximately 106 miles to visit Adam’s family for the weekend, and then we’re going to attempt the ride back on Monday. We’re giving ourselves an optional bail-out in Swindon if we really struggle on the return, to get the train back to Bristol. 

Remaining positive

I write a lot about my fear and failings, so let’s keep this post positive. Here are some of the things I’m looking forward to:

  • Two days of full-on cycling, where all I have to think about is pedalling and eating all the foods.
  • A couple of days away from the onslaught of social media, election campaigning, Tory propaganda, Corbyn-slandering, Trump warmongering and everything else that’s shitty about the world at the moment.
  • Trying out the new Garmin! I never thought I’d invest in the tech, but I think this will open up new avenues for adventuring further afield without having to continuously stop and check Google Maps (and potentially miss a turning, resulting in disaster).
  • Using the Fitbit again – more tech, I know. I gave up on using the Fitbit Surge because its GPS tracker is a real battery drainer, and it just didn’t have the juice for long distance riding. With the Garmin tracking our mileage, I can use the Fitbit to track my heart rate and calorie expenditure, and get back on track with my much needed weight loss (yay me).
  • My first ever bike jumble! We always seem to be busy when these are happening in Bristol, so I’m looking forward to finally getting to one. Should be fun!

And to remind myself why I shouldn’t be scared:

  • I rode 80 miles to Oxford without clipping in, not refuelling brilliantly, with two huge panniers and a very heavy bike.
  • This time I’ll be clipped in, loaded with food (and a top tube bag for constant access to nibbles), no panniers and a much lighter bike.

I can do this.

Bring it on!

Cycling in the Yorkshire Dales: a physical and emotional rollercoaster

18056726_1880865088848545_1133365133379879898_nI’m not quite sure where to start!

This weekend I joined a group of very inspiring women to cycle around the Yorkshire Dales, in a ride organised by The Adventure Syndicate. There were about 20 of us in total, and while everyone’s experience varied (from those like myself, just starting out with long-distance riding, to Transcontinental riders and an actual Guinness World Record holder), the one thing we immediately had in common was our love for riding and our determination to get as much out of the weekend as possible.

There’s so much I could say about the amazing women (and singular male) I met this weekend, but I partly want (well, need) to use this space to process my feelings about how it went. So all I’ll say for now is that the group were incredibly lovely, supportive, and hugely motivating. Some of them got me through some tough times (detailed below), and made me feel so proud of what I did manage to achieve. Thank you all for being you, and don’t ever stop.

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I’m near the back, in light blue. Photo credit: Laura Moss

A physical and emotional rollercoaster

The physical aspect of this is quite obvious, really. If you’ve been to the Yorkshire Dales, you already know what it’s like to crane your neck and look up from the middle of the valleys. I did this several times, thinking ‘Christ, are we really going to climb that?’. The answer was yes, we really were.

If you read my last couple of posts, you know that I’ve been struggling to mentally prepare for this weekend. My problem is that I’m an over-thinker and over-analyser, and this extends to absolutely everything that may or may not affect me. When we were sent the routes, I studied them meticulously, scouring the climbs and descents, to get a feel for how scary they might be, and how I might fare whilst trying to navigate them on two wheels.

Despite promising to ride 200k, I hadn’t really taken the full extent of the hills into account, and I knew where my limits were. I’d had a couple of months of being ill, and was nowhere near ready for that ride, so I took the 92k option instead, which featured two significant climbs and descents:

Screen Shot 2017-04-24 at 13.49.34Seasoned Yorkshire Dale riders will already be familiar with Park Rash, a notorious climb out of Kettlewell towards Coverdale, climbing 230m in 2.3k, with a max gradient of 25%. We were actually going to do this in reverse, descending into Kettlewell at the end of our ride, having first climbed Fleet Moss, further west.

Being a terrified descender, I became obsessed with the descent into Kettlewell. I looked at the varying gradients, I followed the route on Google street view, I studied photos people had taken, and I eventually became aware of a really hairy hairpin bend with a 25% gradient that made all my internal organs sink to the bottom of my torso.

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Photo: mudinmyhair.co.uk

So I spent the three days prior to going, torturing myself over this one part of the ride. ‘Obsessed’ just doesn’t cover it, I was beside myself with worry, and trying to find photos of every possible angle, to get a better idea of just what this bend was going to be like. I’m terrible at tight turns on the flat, let alone on a 25% gradient. I was so new to riding in the drops, I just didn’t feel capable of pulling it off.

My fear of this minute part of a huge descent was going to govern the entire ride. I’ll take you through the day in stages, organised into the many times I cried…

Cry #1: Climbing Fleet Moss

17952771_1880865805515140_1566166623348734826_nI only slept for a few hours the night before, and immediately when we started out riding, I could feel myself struggling. My legs ached early in the ride, my bike felt heavy and stiff (though that was probably me) and the distance between myself and the other riders quickly increased.

That morning at breakfast, Emily Chappell had told us all that “60% of you think you’re the slowest rider” … it turned out I was the one who was right! In hindsight I don’t mind this, but at the time when the climb up Fleet Moss was looming, I was extremely hard on myself. I kept checking my front brake because I was convinced it was rubbing and slowing me down, but it wasn’t. I was just tired.

As we climbed Fleet Moss (236m over 3.4km), I lost sight of the group completely. My legs screamed at me, inside my head I screamed at me, and eventually I broke down. Laura’s husband, Tim, who had been following behind, stopped at the same point that I began to weep in frustration and disappointment. At the time, I wanted him to ride on, because I felt ridiculous. But he got me up that hill. I will admit, I had to get off and walk the final part, because I’d done all that I could and had nothing left to give, and the gradient was very unforgiving.

I think the hardest part of this was giving myself permission to get off the bike. It was only the first third of the ride, and I’d already failed. But as soon as I allowed myself that break, I felt a sense of relief, and was able to get back on the bike when we finally reached the summit.

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Photo credit: Laura Moss

Cry #2: The descent into Hawes

You know what I’m like with descents. Imagine the fear and panic that started to set in as I finally reached that summit, only to really accept that I now had to get down.

I was still a bit of an emotional mess, my nerves were fraught, and I was trying to keep a brave face for the rest of the group. I was terrified of what was coming next. It wasn’t the descent I’d been obsessing over, but it was still a huge one.

Remember how afraid I was of descending into Wookey Hole? That was an average 6% gradient, 230m over 3.8km. From Fleet Moss to Hawes, it’s an average of 20%, plummeting 320m over 5.5km. I had never faced a descent of this kind before, and my next mental challenge was about to begin.

I am happy to say though, that this segment took a bizarre turn. As we set off, Hannah Reynolds talked me through the proper technique, and I got comfortably into my drops. Taking the first section steadily, the road opened out into a vast landscape which was breathtakingly beautiful. The road was straight, open, and traffic-free, and to my shock, I allowed myself to gain some speed and really enjoyed the ride down. It threw me, just how much fun I was having. It was the first time I felt that rush of wind through my hair, and the elation I was so convinced I’d never experience. It was also at this point that I cried for the second time that day, but it was tears of joy.

I was rewarded with a visit to the gorgeous and picturesque Hawes:

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Cry #3: Panic attack at the pub

With the adrenalin still pumping through my veins, we took a relatively flatter, but still undulating route towards Middleham. The scenery was just beautiful, I’ve never seen so many lambs frolicking in my life, and this was the first chance I got to chat to some of my fellow riders. It was nice to finally relax and really start enjoying the ride.

We stopped at a pub for a well-deserved break, and that was when I decided to ask the dreaded question. I knew how much I’d suffered up Fleet Moss, and now that I’d enjoyed a hefty descent and the beautiful, rolling roads to Middleham, I was ready to quit while I was ahead. I asked if there was a bail-out option before the next climb, which I knew was on its way.

Unfortunately, I was too late. I hadn’t realised where we were on the map, but the only way back to the barn was over that final hill, with its terrifying hairpin bend on the descent. I nodded, and accepted this, and then took myself to the toilets to privately process my feelings, and really let myself feel them. It resulted in a full-blown panic attack, as it sank in that I could actually get very hurt attempting that bend. Hell, I could even die. That’s all I was thinking.

I really regret letting this get to me so much, because I missed out on the fun and banter that was going on outside in the beer garden. I really isolated myself from the group at this point, when I should have been listening to their stories and learning from their experience and insights. At the same time I just couldn’t hold back my emotions.

Before I knew it, it was time to set off on the final big climb of the day, towards Kettlewell.

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Looking back over some of the climbing I’d just done.

Cry #4: The unexpected ending

I would love to say that I faced my fear head on, that I took it steady, used my body weight and line of sight to guide my bike slowly round the tight bend, and once again felt elated as I dropped away with that part behind me.

In fact, I wish I knew what I would have done, had things gone differently. I’ll actually never know whether I would have completed the ride, or whether I would have dismounted and walked that part.

After some hesitation, I began the descent at the back of the group, with Hannah by my side. It came in waves, so that every time the surface flattened out momentarily, I felt like an idiot for being scared of nothing.

Sure enough though, that sign warning of a 25% gradient came, and as we slowly approached what seemed to be a sharp bend with a chevron sign, we noticed two riders standing on the road, with their bikes propped on the grass. Hannah said she’d go ahead to see if they were okay, and told me to take as much time as I needed. As I approached them myself, I unclipped in anticipation, and Hannah told me to go and sit on the grass and chill out for a minute. After she disappeared round the corner, my companions informed me that one of our number – Susan – had come off her bike on the exact bend I’d been obsessing over.

I had to remove my shoes in order to gain some sort of traction on the tarmac, the road was so steep, and I went down to help when the paramedics arrived. She’d suffered a head injury and lost a fair amount of blood, though she was conscious and responding.

I had cry #4 when they started cutting off her brand new cycling kit. That was when she became the most responsive, trying to stop them. It was heartbreaking. We covered her in blankets to protect her modesty, since a queue of drivers was forming further up the road, waiting to be able to pass.

After some time, we all lifted her onto a stretcher and as a group, had to help move her to the back of the ambulance, fighting against gravity’s pull. They drove her up the hill to an air ambulance, and she was taken to Leeds Hospital.

We now know that she’ll be okay. She’s being monitored for a few days, because of the head injury, but despite her double vision she seems to be in good spirits. The rest of us had a whip round to buy her some new kit.

The ride ended there. No one really wanted to attempt that descent now, and a man with a large van had very kindly offered to transport Susan’s bike (with its snapped front wheel) back to the barn where we were staying, along with a rider and their bike. I was volunteered by the others to go back, probably because I’d been so nervous. I felt so guilty getting into the van, knowing that my companions would still have to negotiate the rest of the descent (albeit on foot if needed). But I was reassured that it would help them, to have Susan’s bike transported, so I accepted the ride and was driven back. The man, whose name was Jess, was incredibly kind, and helped me to unload everything when we got there. I’m very grateful to him.

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Susan is on the far left, in purple. Photo by Laura Moss.

Final thoughts

Now that I know Susan’s going to be okay, I’m allowing myself permission to contemplate that bend, and ask myself what might have happened, had things gone differently.

I’d like to think that I would have very slowly attempted it, but I honestly don’t think that would have happened. The first time I walked around that corner and saw it (minus the fact that Susan was lying in the middle of the road), my reaction to the bend itself was gut-wrenching, and that wouldn’t have changed if the road had been clear.

I’ve forgiven myself for being so afraid, because I know that fear was well-founded. I just wish someone else hadn’t been hurt in order to prove that.

What I’ve learned is that I need to stop being so inquisitive. I like the fact that I’m an inquisitive person, and a critical thinker, and that I analyse things rather than taking them at face value. It’s a skill I worked hard to develop. However I ruined this weekend for myself, and that’s the truth.

In hindsight I know that I did have fun, and I came away from it wanting to do it again, but in real-time I wasn’t enjoying myself as often as I should have been. Perhaps on some level I felt like I was in competition with other riders, and felt the need to keep up with them, and becoming frustrated when I couldn’t. Perhaps I just felt fat and stupid, and completely out of my depth. Perhaps I did bite off more than I could chew. As Katherine so profoundly told me, I need to allow myself to be a beginner.

Had I gone into this weekend with less knowledge of what to be afraid of, I would have still struggled, but I would have struggled in blissful ignorance. At the same time, had I gone in without even looking at the routes, I may have come away even more annoyed with myself.

I need to find the right balance, between knowing what I’m getting myself into, and knowing when to stop investigating. I’m sure that’s something that will come in time.

In the meantime I’ve come away from this weekend with the following goals:

  • Get out on more long rides, to build strength and stamina
  • Ride alone more often, to develop a sense of independence
  • Ride with groups more often, to learn from others and gain confidence
  • Climb more hills, get out of the saddle more, and seek out challenges to practice over and over again
  • Same for descents: start small and push myself more each time.

This was a long one. If you made it this far, thank you.

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Obligatory selfie with Regina, my trusty steed