12 New Things: April and May

The last few months have flown by in that scary way that they do when you’re really busy. So here is a belated update on my 12 New Things progress – the little challenge I posed myself for the year.

1. Pay it forward: buy a bike for someone else.

This is the first New Thing I’ve ticked off that was actually on my original list of ideas.

I probably wouldn’t be riding a bike at all if it wasn’t for the kindness of a stranger in 2012, who gave me Claud. Giving bikes to people is a brilliant thing to do, if life gives you the chance.

I’ve been planning this particular gift since the recipient was born. My niece, who is feisty and red-headed and full of energy, turned 2 recently – and I wanted to buy her her first two wheeled machine. So I did. It’s orange, like her gorgeous hair, and she was very excited when she realised it was for her. I’m sure I was more excited than she was, but it was still lovely to watch her go and look for her helmet and climb on, albeit in a clumsy and wobbly fashion.

Just for the record – I’m NOT going to be the pushy Auntie who won’t stop until she’s Laura Trott – if she takes up tap dancing or football instead, good for her :). I’m just happy to be a little part of helping her experience the joy of whizzing along on a bike. Because it’s pretty great, isn’t it? :)

All Clothing is Bike Clothing :-)

Cyclocross Skills

2. Win something…

In my last 12 New Things post, I tried roller racing – I mostly wrote about how crap I was at it. I probably failed to mention that at least 50% of my competitors were semi-professional cyclists. I’m very good at putting myself down, and ignoring my successes. Partly it’s a defensive thing – to deny anyone else the opportunity to do it first. It’s also just a genuine lack of confidence. More about that later.

May saw the third Spin Up in A Brewery, a brilliant day hosted by Dark Star Brewery, and supported by local companies Kinesis Bikes and Morvelo Cycle Apparel. A road ride from The Velo Cafe and an off-road ride from Rule 5 Bikes took a huge group of riders from Brighton to the brewery. Myself and Gavin were given the job of broom wagon on the road ride, which was a handy excuse to be slow and be at the back (I’m doing that thing again aren’t I?).

Signalling that I’m broom wagon. Photo (c) Gavin Peacock

The ride out was great fun: I met some cool people, and didn’t cry descending the Beacon (I despise going down that hill). It was all good until the last 10 miles when the rain began to pour. When we made it to the brewery we were all completely soaked. Thankfully the sun decided to show its face, and I was able to dry my kit out in it.

Soggy kit. Photo (c) Gavin Peacock

The ‘spin up’ bit of the event was provided by South Coast Sprints and their static roller bikes. A pint consumed and enough courage was found to sign up for the roller racing. I convinced my friend Carine to race me: “Ah c’mon, it’ll be a laugh”. So we raced, I won our little competition, got given a nice Morvelo prize, and went off in search of more beer. 3 pints and some pizza later, Gavin appeared “Um, you do realise you’re 2nd in the top 10 women and the next round starts in a minute, yeah?” OH. Sodding hell. I hadn’t even considered that I might qualify (there I go again..).

First round. Stupid grin. Photo (c) Gavin Peacock

A mixture of disbelief, excitement and fear fell on me, and I switched from drinking beer to water. After a bit more cake, that is.

This is the bit where I admit that despite my lack of confidence, I am VERY competitive. I love winning. Monopoly, an argument, the raffle at the village fete – I don’t mind, just give me all the wins. I haven’t won anything vaguely sport related since a running race when I was about 7, mostly because I’m too much of a coward to enter many competitions (see: failed attempts at cycle racing).

So when I looked at my name on the leader board and realised that there was a chance I could actually win, something went click, and Competitive Lois got her legs out (not literally, you understand – the trousers remained on). Long story short – 3 rounds and much leg spinning later, I BLOODY WON! I am still in shock.

As I accepted my lovely prizes from Morvelo and Upgrade, I was reminded of two things: 1. Winning is a Very Good Feeling. 2. I’m not as crap as I think I am. It was only a beer fueled roller race, but it’s made me think a lot about what I am capable of. The other women in the top 10 were really fast – I watched and cheered and was impressed and worried I couldn’t beat them. To belittle my own win would be an insult to them and their fast legs, so I’m going to remain proud of me and mine.

Special thanks to my cheer leading team, fronted by Mandy, who can shout louder than the rest of Sussex put together. And also to Gavin, not only for the pictures, but also for pointing out that I had won, not come 2nd…

I’ll be back next year for another 4 pints, pizza and cake. And to defend my title, of course ;-)

Photo (c) Gavin Peacock

 

The Green Man

Do you remember when you were small and I seemed so tall?

Your dad had to pick you up so you could reach the button to see those four letters appear: WAIT, your dad told you they said – and you always did. As you grew taller, you didn’t need your dad’s help, but you stood on your tip-toes instead. You’d run over with anticipation in your eyes, disappointed if someone else got there first. You’d press the button anyway. You stood, holding a hand, and as the letters lit up so did your face. You read the word out loud proudly: WAIT, it read – and you always did. You’d stare up, excited to see me appear: “Daddy! The Green Man!”

Daddy! The Green Man!

A few years passed and it was you lifting your little sister to press the button. “Wait for The Green Man” you said to her – and she always did.

Now you’re grown up, and I don’t seem so tall. You don’t seem to care anymore; you barely look at me. Your eyes dart up and down the road quickly, you make a dash for it, you don’t even glance my way. Sometimes you idly press the button whilst staring down at your phone screen; the letters appear: WAIT …but you don’t. What’s the rush? You never used to hurry like this. Don’t you trust me? I kept you safe for all those years. I wish you could be like that little boy I remember, I wish you’d want to see me, I wish you’d just WAIT.

————————

Clearly this isn’t an entirely serious bit of writing, but the sentiment remains true. I flew off my bike in December after 2 girls walked out at a red man, and I’ve still got the scars to prove it. I know I’m not the only one. It isn’t difficult to slow down and look where you’re going. Put away your phone and watch the world for a change. Make friends with The Green Man again, he misses you.

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Bookends

Monday morning: a rude awakening by my iPhone’s alarming alarm -  it’s 6am and there’s a coffee machine across town waiting for me.  Shower, tea, porridge, pants (hot off the radiator), jeans, the top t-shirt in the clean t-shirt pile. Socks. Chuck things into a musette, clip keys on to belt loop, lace up trainers, throw on jacket. Scruffle the cat’s head and yell “see you later” to the sofa, grabbing Annie by the handlebars on my way out the door.

It takes me 8 and a half minutes to get to work on this bike if I turn the corner before the number 7 bus does and time it right with the lights at the bottom of the hill. I can see my imaginary line drawn down the length of the hill, it skirts around the holes, bumps and the slippery-as-hell metal man-hole covers.

Road turns in to cycle path and every little bend is known like the back of my hand, probably better – who actually studies their hands? Avoid that pothole, go left around the tree on the bit where the lane goes narrow (otherwise you hit people going the other way), assume time trial position for 5 seconds where the low hanging leaves smack the faces of cyclists less familiar with the route.

Slow down just a tiny bit so that I catch the green man without putting my foot down.

Sharp left in to work – wave at the gardener – jump off bike – find bike lock keys.

Today Annie’s company in the staff-bike-bit is a tiny bike with stabilisers. I have no idea who it belongs to. Later there will be a fixie, a BMX and a hybrid joining the party. I wonder what they’d say if they could have a conversation.

A busy day, the happy kind of tired, weary legs. My bike is just where I left her, and she spins me back home.

It isn’t Epic – it’s barely a ride, but these moments bookend my days, and I’d go mad without them.

 

 

 

12 New Things – February and March.

I took on a challenge at the start of the year to try something new, related to cycling, every month. Here is the post I wrote about the challenge, which I’ve dubbed ’12 New Things’.

I’ve smushed three things in to two months for February and March, because screw the rules, and two of them were unplanned.

So then….

1. I Rode 90 miles – the furthest I’ve ridden my bike in one day.

We don’t need to talk about the fact that I set off intending to ride 100 miles. Let’s focus on the fact I managed 90, and that that is Quite A Long Way.

pre-ride coffee and map pointing

It turns out that photocopying an OS map in black and white has it’s downsides. Roads, paths and indeed very muddy bridleways all look the same. We may have got slightly lost and done some accidental off-roading, which massively delayed us and meant we couldn’t do the whole route – but it’s all part of the fun, right?

Don’t tell me to get a GPS garminy thing* – I like maps. Next time I’ll splash out the big dollar on colour copies.

(*unless you’re paying)

In all seriousness, after getting over being a bit annoyed for not doing a century, I felt the kind of deeplyhappyandtired that only a good bike ride can bring. I’m proud of myself and Carine for what we did that day, and more importantly, it was a really enjoyable day on the bike. We took in 90 miles of beautiful Sussex and Surrey scenery in the sunshine, and it was worth every pedal stroke – even the ones going in the wrong direction.

accidental cyclocross

2. I tried my hand (legs) at roller racing.

The Rollapaluza guys were providing the entertainment for the Matrix Vulpine Launch in Manchester which I went up to last weekend. So it would have been rude not to give it a go.

I’ll tell you now – it was the longest 30 seconds of my life. It took me all evening for my body to get over it. And a week to get over the emotional distress of doing it in such a bad time. (Just kidding*)

*mostly

photo (c) Rollapalluza

photo (c) Rollapalluza

3. I watched track cycling at a velodrome.

Before Saturday, I’d never set foot inside a velodrome. Somehow I managed to win 2 tickets to the Revolution Series finale at Lee Valley (thank you Evans / Hoy Bikes) – so I invited a friend, and we bought beer, and watched people ride their bikes really bloody fast in a circle for a couple of hours.

women’s omnium

It was fun, and a very different experience to watching any other kind of cycling.

The velodrome is an amazing building, and the nerdy bit of me got all excited looking it close-up after the racing had finished.

lee valley velodrome

And no, I still can’t ride no handed ;-)

Put the kettle on – mine’s a pint.

I haven’t stopped eating for 3 days. Well, I’ve just stopped. The hunger has finally gone. After countless bowls of porridge, dishes of pasta, bananas, crumpets, toast, flapjacks, pints of water, pints of tea – I finally feel human again.

Every time my tummy has grumbled at me this week, I’ve thought back to Saturday’s bike ride – the reason for my hollow-stomached hunger. Each fork full of spaghetti has built back a bit of me that I left on a muddy bridleway in Surrey or a bit of gravel strewn lane in Sussex.

I want to feel hungry in my legs again.

Let’s go on a bike ride.

Dear Summer, I’m sorry.

Dear Summer,

I’m sorry.

I made a terrible mistake. Winter will never come close to what we had.

She promised me the world, Summer. She said there would be crisp, bright mornings and beautiful tyre trails in crunchy, frozen grass. She said we would see our breath in the cold, clear air. Bright blue skies would cover us, she said. She promised carpets of snowdrops, chirping robins, snuffling hedgehogs. The sound of dry twigs cracking underfoot.

Her promises were empty, Summer. She took everything I had and gave me nothing in return. It has felt like a constant battle against the elements, and my body is weary. We had a fleeting moment in the sun – and then it was over – replaced with black clouds. It has been dark for so long, but I never forgot your sunshine, even in the darkest moments.

Her embrace offers me no comfort. I avoid her, hiding inside. Making excuses. Lies and deceit. A bitter atmosphere lingers and seems like it will never leave.

Even the taste of water is better with you, Summer.

I long for long days with you again. For sunshine spilling through windows in the morning. For coffee on my doorstep, and beer in the garden. For scorching tarmac and dry, dusty paths. For salty skin and beads of sweat. For little patches of cool under trees. For short sleeves and smooth legs. For cold showers and open windows blowing curtains.

My heart is breaking for you, Summer. Please take me back.

x

Daughter, ‘Winter’: YouTube

 

12 New Things #1: ‘Look mum, no hands!’

At the start of the month I took on a challenge for the year. Instead of new years resolutions, which I tend to think are a bit silly, I decided to get on board with Jo’s annual challenge from the road.cc forum:

The game this year is to become a better, more experienced cyclist by trying one new thing each month. Be that attempting a distance you’ve never managed before, a bike related activity that has passed you by or a cycling skill that you have yet to master.

Here is my post about the challenge, which I’ve dubbed ’12 New Things’.

So, um, where the hell did January go? Half way through the month, having put together a list of New Things for most of the rest of the year, I still didn’t have anything for January. After not very much thinking, actually, I settled on riding no handed. Specifically riding no handed CONFIDENTLY. Confidently enough to get food out of my pocket and eat it.

So, how did I do?

Shockingly. (Although if you read my blog very often at all, that probably isn’t a shock.)

On a group ride I told the others they had to ride in front of me because I was going to be wobbling all over the place whilst attempting no-handed riding. I managed to keep the bike upright, but the minute I sat up properly the bike would swerve, causing me to freak out, squeal like a girl*, and put my hands back on the bars. Advice from friends was to sit up with my weight back a bit (counter intuitive), to look ahead (makes sense) and to practice whilst going at a relatively decent speed (also counter intuitive). This advice all helped, and I did manage to ride no-handed for longer than I have before, but there was absolutely no way I was going to be getting anything out from my jersey pockets whilst doing so.

Another attempt saw me get blown off the bike path by the Brighton sea breeze, to the amusement of some passing tourists. I didn’t come off the bike or anything exciting like that, but I promptly concluded that 25+mph winds are not the best conditions for learning to ride no handed.

A quiet road on a ride with a friend gave me a good chance to practise without spectators (I went faster down the hills to get ahead and make a fool of myself alone). I was still not-at-all-confident, but the few times I managed to sit up properly with both hands off the bars my tummy did a happy little somersault. I kept trying to remind myself that I can steer with my core, that you don’t balance a bike using your hands, but it’s hard to retrain an (overly stubborn) brain.

Now if I’m going to get all defensive about it, which I am good at doing, the rules of the challenge are to “attempt” something new every month. Which I did. I had never properly tried to ride no-handed before, and I can honestly say that I have done that now. I didn’t try hard enough though, so whilst repeating the mantra “if it doesn’t scare you it probably isn’t worth doing” I am taking this challenge in to February with me, along with challenge #2.

So see you on the other side, where hopefully I will have some kind of awkward danger-panda style ‘cycling selfie’ as proof of my achievement. Either that, or a broken arm.

 

 

*deliberate irony 

 

It isn’t always an escape.

I try to ignore the familiar feeling. Butterflies, some call it – but butterflies makes it sound pleasant. How about moths? Moths eating away at my insides. I spoon porridge into my dry mouth despite feeling sick. I find my kit and get dressed, slowly. I put on my socks, and sit on the side of the bed, looking at my feet. 

I root around for my shoes, and catch a glance at the cyclist in the mirror. She looks like she’s got it together – like someone who takes things in her stride. She isn’t the person I feel.

One more cup of coffee.

The caffeine rushes through my system and makes my heart beat faster.  Perhaps I shouldn’t have had that second cup.

I walk out the door, push aside the thoughts and get on the bike. Click, click – shoes into pedals and wheels turn.

There is lead in my legs and a lump in my throat. I blink back the prickling feeling in my eyes.

I can’t do this.

Imagined expectations and constructs of the mind take on weight, feed on my fear, become tangible. Suddenly the straps of my helmet seem tightened around my throat – choking me.

I have to get off this bike. Now.

 

…………..

Anxiety is a cruel mistress and takes many forms. My anxiety is not rooted in cycling – in fact riding a bike is one of the things that can really, really help with it. All I’m doing here is sharing an experience.