Anabell is one of the recipients of our bursary scheme, her place sponsored by Leigh Day Cycling and will be joining us on next week’s training camp in Girona. Here she tells the story of how riding a bike has helped her reconnect with her adventurous side, and talks about the unexpected twists and turns of life as a cyclist.
There are many routes to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. We picked the Portuguese coast, because I couldn't think of a better way to spend my days than travelling alongside the sea and I wanted to show my daughter Ruby where her mum lived when she was still wild and adventurous.
Coming from a family with divorced parents, one of my life goals was to never put my child through that hell. When things went wrong with the father of my daughter I was certain it was my fault. My response was to work as hard as I could and just get through each day. This kept me busy and distracted me from the fact that there is a whole world out there.
One night whilst talking to a close friend I crumbled. Realising that I was merely going through the motions, I decided there had to be an insanity that could drag me out of this rut.
My little girl was nine years old by then and I felt she was ready for her first adventure. I planned to make a start by going on a week’s pilgrimage.
Annoyingly, my romantic idea of endless walks along the Atlantic Ocean didn't appeal to her. She wanted to cycle. Trying to find a compromise I suggested that she could ride a bike and I would walk.
In the end I gave in and admitted that cycling was a good idea.
I managed to source bikes that we could hire, and worked out daily mileage and essential equipment.
Everything went smoothly up until we saw our steeds at arrival in Porto. They were perfect for city cruising and perhaps a beach trip. In my excitement I had failed to inform the shop that we would be cycling a slightly longer distance.
As I watched Ruby struggling to come to grips with her brake levers in desperate attempts not to disappear down one of Porto's 25% descents, I saw my dream of making it through this pilgrimage falter.
'Never mind, we’ll do it anyway. Let's see how far we get.'
With a little perseverance we managed to be on target by lunchtime. The first 15 miles weren't particularly painful.
The thing is, as soon as you start, you need to go all the way.
What followed was a heavy storm later on that day – we kept going.
Vertical climbs up footpaths that weren't made for cyclists, let alone for 60kg of fully packed urban bike – we kept going.
Food poisoning and the utter weakness we felt after being sick all night – we kept going.
In the area between Caminha and Baiona we were regularly passed by road cyclists. They seemed to move effortlessly – presumably their power-to-weight ratio was far more favourable than ours. Considering the exhilarating moments Ruby and I enjoyed in between the tough bits, how much fun must these guys be having?
'Perhaps, I should try this some day, Ruby', I remember mumbling to her without paying much more attention to the thought.
Needless to say, we made it to Santiago. Thejourney had been a success, but on return to the UK something was missing. What could I take away from the trip that would be compatible with everyday life?
The pair of knickers I never bought
A month later I met Alex. He was terrible at parking but he was one of those lycra-clad cycling folk and had other good qualities.
His home in Bristol was ‘cycling distance’ away from me. Seriously? I found 50 miles in a car tiring at this stage.
Nevertheless, he seemed mad enough for me to risk the question of whether he would be in for my next potential adventure: a ride along the entire west coast of Portugal. To my disappointment I got a rather reluctant answer and the impression that he didn’t think I was serious.
During our dates I learned that it was no shame to spend more money on a pushbike than a car and that the essence of a good weekend is the height of its 'suffer score'. Not fully convinced, but intrigued and still nursing my own agenda of travelling by bike, I started to eye up my local bike shop.
It was a Saturday in May. We were about to go away for the weekend and I had managed to fall behind with the washing. A emergency trip for essential underwear was on the cards. But by the time I made it into town the clothes stores were just closing. Typical.
I hate wasted journeys.
Walking past the bike shop I noticed the open door.
A test ride on a road bike later, I ended up leaving mind-boggled, with a stack of catalogues, one of them stating that their bikes had crossed the whole of Europe in an un-supported race. Seriously? So that was a cycling distance as well?
What followed was a selling-up of any valuable items in my possession and the purchase of Myra, my first bike.
Claustrophobic pedals and the discovery of the golden fruit
The first thing I discovered after Myra came on the scene is that the smallest adjustments can make a big difference.
The reluctant purchase of my first lycra shorts for example. The look on the faces of my friends was priceless, but so was the fact that I no longer struggled to sit down after an hour-long ride.
Then the first commute with 'the proper pedals'. I was instantly 2mph faster, which meant that I could finally manage to be at school on time to pick up Ruby after the daily 14-mile Late Mother Time Trial – a success worth the public humiliation of hitting the floor no less than three times on the first day of this clipping-in malarky.
Another revelation was that yes, Bristol is only a cycling distance away, but there has to be a feeding arrangement in place.
My first fifty-miler nearly ended at a vertical climb that Alex's Garmin had decided was the shortest route (it always lies - that's another revelation). I stomped off to the nearest shop to restore my empty fuel tank whilst Alex just shrugged his shoulders.
'I don't understand what the fuss is about. I am a cyclist. I like hills.'
Just a couple of months later, after having discovered bananas, I managed to cycle twice the distance without a food stop. Needless to say I am in love with bananas now. Perhaps even a bit more than with Alex, who refers to our outings as insignificant training rides and to me as an offence to his heart rate.
This doesn't mean that he hasn't been a great drafting partner to scoop a few Strava QOMs. He has even been gracious enough to sit through an entire 300km Audax at ‘insulting’ speed.
Rocky road to Dublin
In the merry month of November I discovered the entries to the TransAtlanticWay Race (2,500km around Ireland) had been reopened.
Memories of the time Ruby and I rode our bikes through Portugal (and utter madness) made me decide this was the one thing I wanted to do next.
An added bonus is that Alex is also up for this ‘insignificant training ride’, and happy to supply drafting power and enough insults to keep me going.
Not being short of commitment, I am happy to pedal every free hour of the day, but there is not much structure in my training so far. Apart from training like a horse. Literally. It seems to work so far, but will it suffice for 2,500km?
The other threat is the potential of a breakdown. I have made it through nearly 5,000 miles so far without a puncture or other major failure. However, I will need to work out how to get my steed roadworthy again when it gives up on me.
With about six months to sort out the above issues, I’m hoping help is on the way.
Through the blessing of social media I noticed the Adventure Syndicate’s Girona camp. The price for the week made my initial decision to overlook the offer very easy. Yes, it would be perfect, but no perhaps not for me.
I am not sure whether I was more excited when I read about the bursary scheme being launched or when the entries for the TransAtlanticWay race were reopened.
Both go extremely well together and I am thrilled to get going on my next adventure. Perhaps even my first significant training ride.
Anabell will be back after the training camp, to tell us how it all went, and keep us posted on her TransAtlanticWay plans. Stay tuned!
The Adventure Syndicate bursary scheme is sponsored by Leigh Day Cycling: a team of lawyers dedicated to getting riders back in saddles after injury, and campaigners for better cycling conditions. We believe in the bicycles potential to transform our towns and cities into healthier, safer, better places to live and our passion for getting and keeping people on bikes is genuine. We provide legal advice to people injured whilst training, touring, commuting, racing or getting from A to B. Fro road rash and broken collarbones to incidents causing life-changing brain and spinal cord injuries, we have assembled a team which has all of the expertise needed to ensure every rider is represented to the highest possible standard.