A reflection on fear, or, is there really such a thing as ‘ready’?

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Photo: http://www.velocate.co.uk/best-places-to-cycle-in-yorkshire/

This might be a bit of a downer, so I’ll keep it brief. I just need to break the silence, as I’m conscious that I’ve not written anything for a while, and sometimes it helps to process my feelings through the medium of writing.

I’d love it if all I ever wrote about was epic bike rides through the countryside and fiddling around with bottom brackets, but that’s just not the way I roll.

I’ve spoken extensively before about the fears that govern the way I ride, and I’ve been having to deal with some pretty heavy mental barriers this past week. The 200k ride around the Yorkshire Dales is one week away, and suddenly I feel sick to my stomach.

I’ve been trying to get out as much as I can at the weekends, to get some miles in and do some so-called ‘training’ for this ridiculously steep learning curve I’m about to embark upon. But the fact is, life gets in the way. Last weekend was all about looking at bikes rather than riding them (hello, Bespoked), and now we’re at a lovely 4 day weekend, I should in theory have racked up some miles already, right?

Wrong. I literally spent the whole of yesterday lying on the sofa drinking endless cups of tea and eating pastry after pastry while watching Rick and Morty. Today I rode a mile up the road and left my bike at a friend’s house. Later I’ll grab it so I can ride into town.

I guess what I’m getting at here, is my motivation is starting to sag a little. Adam and I have talked about going for a long ride tomorrow, but have yet to settle on a route.

What’s holding me back is that every route option I’ve come up with, contains something that terrifies me. Think sharp inclines, followed by sharp descents. You know what I’m like.

Adam keeps saying (rightly so), ‘there are hills in the Yorkshire Dales, you can’t avoid the hills’. I know I can’t avoid them, but I’m scared. That’s all it really comes down to. I’m scared of being out in the middle of nowhere, exhausted, with no energy left in my legs, facing a huge climb that I physically can’t do, and feeling like a big fat failure as I get left behind.

I’ve got my SPDs now, and I know how to ride clipped in. I also understand the concept behind how they give you much more efficient power usage, by using an up-pull as well as a down-push motion. That’s all very well, but I haven’t spent much time riding like that. Those muscles haven’t had time to develop. I had a go at climbing Park Street – a climb I do with ease every day on my commute – and I exhausted myself before I was even halfway up. What chance do I stand in the Yorkshire Dales?!

I signed up for the 200k ride because when I first heard about it, I’d just ridden 130k to Oxford, and it was nearly two months away. I wasn’t to know that I’d spend the following two months dealing with a cycle of illnesses which led to bouts of exhaustion. I thought I’d just keep riding for longer and longer.

The opposite has happened, and I feel less fit than I was before simply because I’m using my legs in a way that I never have. That, and my body hasn’t been very good to me for a while. Now it’s a week away, and I am freaking out.

Advice encouraged. Please.

 

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Where it begins

 

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Image from specializedconceptstore.co.uk

This post comes in two parts.

First of all I wanted to share my experience at an event at the Specialized Concept Store this week, which was aimed predominantly at women who wanted to get out riding more. After this, I’ll share the real reason I went there.

Trying something new

On Tuesday this week, the Specialized Concept Store in Bristol held a women’s night, where they greeted us with goody bags, provided a sushi buffet and prosecco, and introduced us to a variety of things through workshops and stalls:

  • Breeze Network: There was a stall in place to introduce women to the Breeze Network and promote upcoming rides. I saw Heidi again for the first time since she taught me the basic techniques of mountain biking a couple of years ago.
  • Fixing a flat: I didn’t spend much time here as I already know how to, but they had a workshop demonstrating how to fix a puncture – a very valuable skill to have!
  • Try clipping in: There was a turbo trainer and an array of different sized shoes, to allow women to try clipping in for the first time. This is what I came for.
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Photo credit: Aoife Glass

Facing my fears

I’ve already shared many fears with my readers. If anything you must think I’m a total coward, which to some extent I probably am! One of the things that scares me, which I haven’t talked about before, is clipping in.

The stationary bike was set up with road cleats, whereas I was more interested in mountain bike ones (they’re much better for walking around in because the cleat is recessed), but I decided to give it a go anyway.

I instantly saw the difference and knew that I needed them in my life. It’s easy to say that from the safety of a stationary bike, of course. What I liked was how they force your feet and legs into the correct riding position, which is something I can struggle with.

However I wasn’t sure about the amount of force I needed to unclip, and how unnatural the angle felt. It felt like a lot of effort, even when the tension was completely lowered. I’ve been reassured that it’s different with SPDs, which I’ll find out soon enough, because I bought some!

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Shiny shiny!

I’m both excited and terrified to take them for a test ride, but I will face my fears nonetheless.

Aiming high

This brings me nicely onto part two of this post: my reason for doing all this in the first place.

You may recall after my ride to Oxford, I allowed myself to be talked into signing up for a 200km audax. It turns out that said audax is fully booked, and while I’m on the waiting list, I didn’t hold out much hope of getting in.

In my impatience, I signed up for a 200km ride in the Yorkshire Dales with the Adventure Syndicate instead, which is happening towards the end of April. Ridiculously exciting!

This is why I felt like SPDs were the way forward – it’s a huge distance for me to attempt when I’m not very experienced at long rides, and I definitely think clipping in will help me ride more efficiently. It will also help with the hills, of which there will be many!

Buttertubs Pass, copyright Peter Moore
Buttertubs Pass, copyright Peter Moore

Teething problems

Unfortunately my body hasn’t really been on my side for a while, so my training for the event has been less than perfect. I’ve actually been ill for quite some time now, and while I’ve managed to get out on a couple of long-ish rides, generally I’ve not gotten to where I need to be to feel super confident about this. It’s difficult to find the balance between training and giving my body the rest it needs.

I’m planning to get out on a long ride this weekend, after spending a bit of time in the park getting used to clipping in (cue the spectacular falls).

Familiar faces

As a final note, I wanted to acknowledge that the Specialized event was a great opportunity for networking, and I bumped into several familiar faces while meeting a few new ones as well.

In addition to Heidi, I also bumped into two other fellow Bristol bloggers: David (Wheels of Karma) and Katherine (Katherinebikes). I love how much of a community there is for cyclists in Bristol, and how I’m finally starting to feel that I have a place within it. I also bumped into a woman named Sara who I met through Facebook, but hadn’t met in person before. She’s a Deliveroo rider, and someone who has offered to help me get back into mountain biking. I’ll be taking her up on that offer soon, no doubt.

Finally I met Aoife Glass, Women’s Cycling Editor for Bike Radar. Having previously worked for Total Women’s Cycling, she really encouraged me to submit some articles and get my writing out there, which I think I may just do.

It was a really inspiring evening, and I feel so ready to get out there, start riding for longer, and push myself harder. It all begins this weekend. I’m ready. Let’s do this.

What’s this all about?

I have to confess, I’m not your average Bike Blogger. I haven’t been riding a bike since I could walk, I haven’t been tinkering with tools since I could talk, I’ve never ridden a fixie, drop handlebars terrify me, and I get nervous when riding downhill.

Even watching Line of Sight was enough to give me nightmares.

So why am I doing this?

I’m a blogger at heart. I love writing and sharing my thoughts with anyone who wants to read them, but in the last year or so I’ve been short of content. My blogging habits depend heavily on what I’ve got going on in my life, and they tend to thrive when I’m learning something new.

I spent a couple of years blogging about food, because I was learning to cook and discovering ingredients I’d never heard of before. Now I cook on autopilot and I no longer feel the need to share my experiments in the kitchen.

I spent a year or so blogging about online dating because, let’s face it, the whole process can be hilarious and I had some horrific experiences that people could laugh at. My online dating days are over now.

I even had an academic blog for a while, when I was fresh out of my Masters and convinced I was going to be this renowned professor of Art History. That dream died, hard.

So last night, following another rejection from a job that I really wanted, in a moment of hopelessness, I asked myself: “what’s going on?”

What’s the story of my life right now? What am I learning about? What do I want to immerse myself in?

The answer was right there in front of me, leaning against the wall in my kitchen, with my helmet hanging from its handlebars and my hoodie draped half-arsed across its rear rack.

I’ve been commuting by bike for the last three years or so, and while I’ve always enjoyed cycling, it was never really much more than a way of getting to work and back.

That was until this summer, when I started volunteering at The Bristol Bike Project. Over the past 5 or 6 months I’ve been slowly learning about bikes: how they’re put together, how to fix them when they break, and how much more connected you can feel with them when you give them your time and attention.

Since then I started getting out on more rides, I’ve become more involved in Bristol’s cycling community, Critical Mass, and more. And now I feel ready to write about it.

This blog is a space for me to explore and learn. If you’re a seasoned cyclist or bike mechanic, it’s all going to seem pretty basic. But if you’re like me – if you know you like bikes but you’re not able to explain why, if you’d love to learn more about them, if you want to learn to fix them but you’re nervous about getting stuck in – maybe you can learn with me.