I had a childless Sunday and no plans. I was new in town and didn’t know anybody. I googled “Tavistock meets on Sunday”, and up popped the Tavistock Wheelers Cycling Club. I thought to myself, I ride my bike every day. I cycle Matilda to nursery and back. I cycle to get my groceries. I love cycling! This could work. So, off I peddled on my mountain bike to meet the guys. I say guys – I didn’t realise I would actually be the only woman there! It’s not a problem, I thought, I can hold my own…
Gradually, about 20 (predominantly) middle-aged men in lycra showed up on their fancy road bikes with all their racing gear. I asked cautiously if it was okay to come out on my mountain bike… “Of course!” They said smiling, “We all started out on mountain bikes!”
We cycled 38 miles that morning in March. I was at the back the whole way, but the guys took it in turns to cycle with me so that I was never on my own. They were lovely. Every half hour or so, someone turned back because they had other commitments and couldn’t be out all morning, so I had plenty of opportunities to give up. I didn’t. I can be rather stubborn sometimes.
A week later I made a friend, who happened to be my height, and happened to have a road bike which was gathering dust. She sold it to me for peanuts – she was just glad that it was going to see the action that she didn’t have the time for anymore.
Cut to a few months later, and I’ve blagged myself a last-minute ticket to the Dartmoor Classic: 100miles or 100Km around Dartmoor. If you don’t know what Dartmoor is like, just imagine a lot of very pretty hills in a row. Needless to say, I did the shorter route. The guys gave me a lift to the start point in Exeter, and most of us began the Sportive together. Thousands of cyclists of all ages and abilities, cycling across the moors. It was truly thrilling! I had coconut water in my bottle, and chocolate coffee beans and natural cereal bars in my pouch. I’d had my porridge for breakfast, and I felt great. What’s more, I wasn’t the one who was always trailing at the back, desperately trying to keep up. There were people faster than me, and people slower than me. There were people who this was clearly a massive challenge for, and people who made it look like they cycle 100miles everyday before breakfast!
I surprised myself by getting in touch with the more competitive side of my nature…. It was no longer just an opportunity to get out and go for a cycle ride in the country, on a Sunday with a bunch of friends. I was being timed! I was pretty confident I could cycle the route, but how fast could I cycle the route? Every now and again, I would spot one of my club guys, and I would try to keep up with them. When there was someone in front of me, I tried to over take them. I didn’t take a break on the down hills, I kept pedalling. I only had myself to beat! What a beautiful, endorphin fueled tour of the magnificent Dartmoor… I swear I saw the house where Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs must have lived! There were, sobberingly, a number of accidents on the route. I had to cycle past people who were obviously seriously hurt (and being taken care of), after going down a hill, or around a bend too quickly. There were marshals everywhere though, and nobody was left on their own. I was incredibly impressed at the number of people out on the road telling us to slow down because of a sharp bend, or about a turning up ahead. The Dartmoor Classic is apparently the most well organised cycling event in the country, and although I have nothing to compare it to, I was very impressed with the organisers.
When I got to the end, I got off my bike and lay down before I could collapse. I was really pleased – I knew I had tried my hardest, and I had loved every minute of it, despite the muscle pains and back stiffness and reduced ability to walk afterwards. I did the course in just under 5 hours, and I got a silver medal for my efforts. It was probably still the slowest time out of all the Tavi guys, but I’m proud of myself, and I’ll be back for more, I’m sure.
So, here is to all the people who cart their children around on the back of their bicycles, and call it “training”. Here is to the Tavi Wheelers for being the friendliest bunch of middle aged men in lycra I have ever met. And here is to everyone who agrees that the bicycle is one of the most fantastic inventions ever made! Do you not agree?