There are some things in life that if you’d have asked me a few years ago, I’d have said with certainty I would achieve in my lifetime. Examples of these include travelling to Cuba, watching my best friend tie the knot and have a beautiful baby, and learning to salsa (still not quite mastered this one yet). There are other things, however, that I would have laughed at the sheer thought of; cycling from my doorstep to Brighton beach would have been one of those things.
About a year ago, buoyed by a recent foray into the cycle community, me and my excellent flatmate, Amanda, pondered whether or not we could make it all the way to Brighton on our four (collective) wheels. At the time, although we both enjoyed cycling and had done a fair bit, the thought of riding 100km over climbs amounting to almost 1000m sounded nothing short of petrifying.
“By next summer we’ll definitely be ready,” we said to each other confidently, and thus a pact was made.
Fast-forward to this May, both of us still avid cyclists, we suddenly realised that the mythical “next summer” we had spoken of was fast approaching. We neither felt more prepared nor more confident, but both keen not to let the other down, we locked a date in the diary and promised we’d give it a go.
To allay our fears we laid some ground rules for our trip:
- There’s no shame in getting off and pushing if it’s hideous.
- Take as many breaks as you need.
- Eat all the food you want.
- It doesn’t matter how long it takes.
- Whatever happens, it will be funny.
In the days approaching our cycle, we became more aware of what the term “ill prepared” really means. We left most of our preparation until the very last minute (even picking up spare inner tubes en route) and weren’t particularly confident that either of us knew how to fix a puncture, but we found a route and made sure we had a good rest and took lots of snacks (the important things).
The morning of our journey, we set off later than expected, excited and scared in equal measure, but were glad of the beautiful sunshine, which, as we were later to find out, disguised a menacing wind.
And do you know what, we made it! It took us eight hours in total (with 1.5 hours of breaks roughly), but WE MADE IT. And not only that, we didn’t once get off and push, through sheer grit rather than intimidating levels of fitness. I’m not going to lie, we were surprised ourselves.
Anyway, during the trip, I had a lot of time to reflect on all of the figurative and practical tips I learnt from undertaking this amazing experience. Luckily for you, I’ve condensed them into a handy list, which you can read here:
- SELF-LOVE: My housemate is awesome and so am I. Please excuse the trite and shameless self-celebration, but seriously, we really proved ourselves and each other wrong. We pulled it together, worked as a team and cheered each other on through tough hill climbs and periods of low energy. We also leapt to each others’ defence at the sign of any undeserved abuse or intimidation from passing drivers and kept our spirits alive by continually celebrating our collective success. The chips we ate on the beach at the end tasted more delicious because the achievement was shared, and I am really, genuinely, proud of us both.
- HILLS: So I learned over the course of the day, that after even the toughest, steepest, or hairiest hill, there is a long, smooth and relaxing descent. The knowledge that everything that comes up must go down was comforting when we would get round a corner on a long hill, only to realise there was SO MUCH FURTHER TO GO. I’m prone to overanalysis, it’s true, and I look for poetry in most things, but I do, honestly, think this is a good metaphor for life. Sometimes things are hard, and they require a lot of effort (and you might sweat a lot), but generally speaking, there is a reward of some sort at the end, if you look for it.
- GEARS: Use them. Also, don’t forget that there are generally a few different gear cassettes on your bike. With this knowledge, you can, unlike me, benefit from the full range of your bike’s gears during your trip. I, however, decided to unwittingly shoot myself in the foot by doing the entire trip in the equivalent of gears 9-16. Well played, Rose, well played.
- CALORIES: It was really refreshing to spend a day looking at food as fuel and thinking about how to maximise our energy resources through what we were consuming. This, for me, meant throwing caution to the wind and embracing carbs, which I am usually loathe to do. It also meant that we could stay true to our moniker, the Bad Bitches Banana Bike Crew (4BC) and eat as many bananas as our hearts desired (and our stomachs could handle).
- FLUCTUATIONS: What was really interesting was noticing how each of our bodies responded to stimulus and the different times that they succumbed to exhaustion. Although we both ate and drank almost the same throughout the day and at the same time, our respective bursts of energy seldom collided, meaning that we took it in turns to be the leader who organised the directions and the follower that groaned along in the back, shouting “WHEN WILL THIS SWEET HELL END?!”
- EQUIPMENT: Some things that really made a difference to us were phone cases for the handle bars that you can use through the waterproof cover (I know, witchcraft, right?). It made it so much easier not having to stop to look at directions all the time. I will also be forever thankful to my padded leggings, for reasons that I’ll leave to your imagination. I will, after having an aching back for a lot of the afternoon, be investing in a pannier rack and bags like Amanda’s, which are great for all seasons. And last but by no means least, guys, have you ever tried energy gels? Bloody hell, they really work and launched us up the mighty Ditchling Beacon full of an energy that we didn’t know we had. Also, in case you needed inspiration for rewards, this really beautiful bar of chocolate and bottle of wine really capped off our day (here for all your needs, guys).
- GPS: This can sometimes distort the truth. Our route navigation app had us downbeat at lunch after shaving 20km of our distance travelled, tricking us into thinking we were much further from our destination than we actually were. You might have won this round, Strava, but you didn’t squash our spirit.
- ROUTE: A quick google the evening ahead of our cycle revealed that the British Heart Foundation route was the simplest to follow, and handily meant that we were on the same route as many other cyclists, which leads me on to my next point…
- COPYCAT: If in doubt, follow other cyclists, because they probably know the way, right?
- FEAR: This can be conquered only through action. There is no greater boost to your self-confidence than achieving something of which you never dreamed yourself capable.
- CHIPS: You can never eat enough of them.
Next on the list is London to Paris, and now I’ve written it on here, we’ll absolutely have to do it; our self-respect and integrity depends on it.
4BC ’til I die.