For years I just had a mountain bike, riding trails, single track and paths off road, sometimes on-road, which is a little bit like trying to ride a tractor on the road! Five years ago we went on holiday to Gairloch in the campervan. Andy had his road bike with us, as well as both our mountain bikes and bike seats for the kids. On our way there we stopped 20 miles from Gairloch at the viewpoint above Loch Maree and I got on a road bike for the first time, clipped in for the first time, did a wee loop of the car park, forgot to unclip when I stopped and promptly fell over. Luckily there was only one bus load of tourists to see me. What followed was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life, riding fast down the hill, along the loch and into Gairloch. I immediately understood why so many people are into road biking – you can go really fast!
That same year I made the decision to buy a road bike on the Cycle to Work scheme, and to enter the Aberfeldy Middle Distance Triathlon. Andy and I had competed as a team the year before, with me doing the swim, Andy the bike and me the run, passing the children between each other in transition like a relay baton… . My new bike arrived the day before the race, I rode it up and down the road to make sure everything worked, and that was my bike training! There were three golden pieces of advice that I wish I had been told before competing in my very first Triathlon:
1. Vaseline/or chamois cream/ or baby oil- apply liberally to lady bits and pad of tri shorts
2. Shave – you know where ladies!
3. Sit on a bike for longer than ten minutes before you enter a race that requires you to ride 56 miles!!
Had I known this before my first Aberfeldy, then the swelling that resulted from having sat on a rock-hard saddle for 3.5 hrs, would not have rubbed on the pad of my tri-shorts whilst I ran the 1/2 marathon to finish… I literally could not sit down for days afterwards. Going to the loo was agony. I promised myself, after learning these very vital lessons the hard way, that I would pass them on to any other female cyclist to spare them the same agony.
Once the scabs (!!!) healed I got straight back on that road bike. I was hooked. And I was going back to Aberfeldy the following year and improving my time!
The following summer we took our lovely campervan Hamish to the Pyrenees. Somehow we managed to fit two mountain bikes, one road bike (which we planned to share!) and two bike seats on the back of our poor, 25 year old van, before setting off for Plymouth to catch our overnight crossing to Santander. We spent the next three weeks exploring the Pyrenees with the kids before heading home. It was without doubt one of the best holidays I have ever had. The day we crossed from the Spanish side to the French I rode my first col…..wow and I thought I had experienced suffering before….these climbs just go on forever, up and up and up. When you think you can’t cope with a gradient any steeper the sign at the side of the road (that you get every km) tells you that for the next km it will be 18% and all you want to do is cry! I weaved and swore my way to the top to meet Andy and the kids in the van, which had found it only marginally it easier than me to get to the top. I had a wee snack and then I rode down the other side. Blimey it was steep, and I really thought that my brakes might melt, but it was awesome.
Now what I am about to say will sound completely bonkers to many of you, but for us it was just perfect. For the rest of the holiday Andy and I would take it in turns to get up early (like 0500 ish…) and go out on the bike to ride one of the many cols. Typically 3hrs up and down, be back to the campsite for 9, pick up the fresh pain au chocolat and croissants for breakfast. We’d arrive back at the van just as the otherswere waking up, tired but ready to spend the rest of the day together as a family. It was brilliant. I had discovered a new biking passion, cycling BIG cols. I got hooked on the hard work of getting to the top, and then the excitement of flying back down the road, seeing how fast I dare go!
The difference between being on the road bike on my own and then getting on my mountain bike with a small child on the back was like night and day but we had some great adventures with the kids as well, cycling about and exploring.
That August I went back to Aberfeldy and blew my previous time out of the water!