There are no photos because of technical confusion so simple and yet so difficult that I can’t kind of be bothered. I am, finally, exhausted, but we’ll come to that.
I can’t remember much of yesterday. I should have written this yesterday really, but I really couldn’t. Bits and pieces.
I started in Gargrave, one the prettiest villages I’ve come across all week. I knew I needed to get to Skipton, at the very least, because a very lovely lady who I’d never met before had offered caked and encouragement. Meet me at the park, she said, so I worried I’d miss it, worried I’d not recognise her, worried that the small offering of flapjack I was bringing wouldn’t be enough.
No need to worry. A sign proclaiming Go Go Loulouk made me laugh my ass off (I didn’t take a pic, mostly because I was suffering so much by this point, I’d actually forgotten I had a camera). The natter fixed some of the agony of the previous 5 miles – not all, but a large part of it. The relief in speaking to someone other than my other half, face to face, who knew exactly why I was doing what I was doing and who understood the whole ‘being resolutely a girl but loving mountain biking’ thing was just bliss. I left her as she swung off towards home relieved, happier, more focused and more certain that there will be good rides with really lovely people in the future. I also fretted about forgetting to take pics and not asking about her adventure.
In my defence, I was badgered. I went to bed Wednesday night in a lot of pain, but waking up Thursday morning was worse. Hot bath couldn’t fix, painkillers weren’t touching worse. I got on my bike because of K. I kept going past Skipton because of……something. I don’t know quite what it was, but something went a bit wrong – or right depending on your perspective. Everything went black. I stopped being chirpy at people (rules – we’ll talk about them later), I stopped slowing down past moored narrowboats, I stopped everything except focusing on the next 5 miles ticking over on my Strada. I didn’t have anything else left to spare. So I must have, somewhere in the back of my mind and entirely unconsciously, decided to go on lockdown.
That all sounds a bit dramatic. It wasn’t. It was quiet. Everything went quiet. I vaguely remember Bingley and being in awe of the locks. I remember Saltaire, the strangest village in the country. I remember a man standing outside a beautiful converted warehouse clocking me and smiling – I was covered in mud. I remember many bikers of all kinds and persusasions and managing to summon a big grin from somewhere for every one of them because it was important. I remember musing on a conversation with K about learning rules and smiling a lot because we are all learning. I remember sitting frantically rubbing my wrists, trying not to wince while the walkers strolled by, trying not to show any emotion, trying to keep it all locked in and locked down. I remember eating the cake K gave me 7 miles from the end and my body tingling and everything coming back into focus again, because I’d disappeared off by that point and not realised it, not realised it at all. I remember my lines becoming ragged on the narrow singletrack sections and talking to myself, berating myself, constantly nagging myself to focus and think of nothing but the next mile, the next mile, the next mile.
Yesterday was one of the hardest days of my life, physically. I never expected it to be so hard mentally. There were few Twitter updates because I didn’t want to admit how hard it was, didn’t want to fall apart in public, didn’t want to cause a drama. So have one sentence – yesterday I went to the edge of where I can function and remain functioning. Pain is okay, to a point. I can tolerate things, to a point. But eyes which are struggling to focus, head pains, broken quads and lats, bruised feet, badgered wrists…..they stack. They stacked and I don’t know how I did it, I really don’t, except I did. I did.
Now for some lists to break this wall of text.
The unofficial rules
- No stopping at pubs or ice cream vans
- Slow down for moored narrowboats (apparently boaters dislike cyclists, I’ve tried to do everything I can this week to change that)
- Slow down for walkers, call ‘behind’ or ‘on the right’ or ding, depending on dogs
- Chat to everyone who starts a conversation no matter how knackered I am
- Tell people what I’m doing if asked, but never if not
- Never hoon down hills if someone is in the way
- No stopping & sitting down outside the +1 or -1 of 5 mile blocks
- No whining
- No moaning
Mostly, bar yesterday I stuck to every single one.
Things I’d tell anyone else doing this
- Never underestimate the need for support
- Carry tools, spare tubes, tyre levers etc but also first aid kit etc
- Eat a little but often – no ‘lunch’ just constant nibbling
- Sort your energy drink of preference out & stick with it
- Get a pack which is comfy – really comfy
- Don’t wear underwear under your cycling shorts
- Wear glasses – midges in eyes not pleasant
- Don’t expect it to all be tarmac. It’s not. It’s really not. Bounce bounce bounce. Good luck standing up on your pedals to absorb the bounce after 20 hours in the saddle.
- Work out how regularly you’re going to stop and stick to it
- If you can, arrange a friendly face here and there
- Painkillers aren’t cheating.
Kit. I ride a Marin Eldridge 2010 stock. Nothing changed. I used an Osprey Raptor 14 backpack and hydration system and you’re not prising it out of my fingers for love nor money. Flapjacks fuelled me, made with love by my other half. Minx Girl dot Com contributed clothing. Towpath Treks meant my other half knew where I was when I gave him bridge numbers. Sock Guy socks are expensive, but my god do they actually work. Vaseline is your friend and that’s all I’m saying on that subject. Aphex Twin and The Prodigy kept me sane and my iPhone helped too.
And finally. I need to thank some awesome people. Firstly, a small battalion of supporters, cheerleaders and stars on Twitter who, because of it being in real time, picked me up and dusted me off metaphorically more times than I can count. Secondly, to Miss Minx at Minx Girl dot Com for help on so many levels, from understanding exactly why, to providing the most comfy cycling shorts ever, to nutrition advice when I was struggling badly and didn’t realise many other people do too. But more than that. Things I can’t quite quantify but are a theme of the girly mountain biking world, where support and understanding are given freely, where belief is staked when the person it’s being staked on doesn’t believe they’re worthy of it…..which is also where @katcrompton and another young lady come in who has a locked account and therefore I shant name but who made me a bit teary when they offered cake and tea weeks ago and in Kat’s case where the actual cake I suspect prevented an inevitable slide into the canal. People laugh at support networks. Some of us need them. That is all.
Finally, without being too soppy, thanks to my other half for endless patience, ferrying me to and from various points along the canal, sorting kit washing when I was too frazzled to do it, checking my bike over each night, and generally being utterly lovely.
What do I know now? I know I can carry on past the edges. I am much happier with my own company. I am much more confident of my ability to deal with pain and keep going. I am slightly smaller but not much but don’t care very much at all. I am already planning the next mini adventure. And if my neurologist makes another comment about me needing surgery in order to be able to lose weight, I know I’m walking out of the door and not going back.
I don’t need to take that shit from any one, not any more. I earnt that.