I did it! I rode from Canberra to Yass and back again on the weekend. Not only that, I wasn't nearly as tired and sore as I expected to be. I didn't have to walk up any hills. I didn't get any punctures. I didn't fall off the bike. Nobody ran me over. It was a roaring success.
The New Horizons course for women that I've been doing has been wonderful. I feel so much more confident on the bike. Because of that I'm riding more often and I'm enjoying myself while I'm out there. There was even a moment when I thought about trying the cleats again. (Note to self: Relax Kathy. Breathe. Breathe again. It was only a moment.)
When we started the course and I heard that the last ride was a weekend trip to Yass I was sure that there was no way that I could do it. However, if there's one thing I've learned during this fitness journey of mine it's that I can do a lot more than I think I can. Mind you, this weekend I surprised myself by being able to do even more than I expected.
The weekend started on Tuesday night, at the info session. I arrived late, doing my usual mad dash from the gym. Over the nine weeks of the course I've managed to get faster on my bike, so I didn't miss much. Once I settled in and caught up with the program, I realised that I'd pretty much forgotten to think about the logistics of the weekend. I'd signed up for the Yass ride, saying that I was happy to share but I hadn't thought about what that meant - a night in a room with people I didn't know. I discovered that many of the women had booked themselves hotel rooms, but I decided to stick with the cabin option. After all, I was already so far out of my comfort zone that a night spent with strangers didn't seem like an insurmountable challenge.
After saying that I was going to be in a cabin I realised that it meant I'd have to bring my own bed linen and towel. I really had to struggle with my customary laziness - spending money on a hotel room would save me the trouble but it would also mean wimping out on the cabin sharing arrangement. The deciding factor was realising that I could put a bag in one of the support vehicles. I had thought we'd be carrying all our stuff ourselves, but I realised that the organisers, quite rightly, realised that some of us weren't up to that level of effort. A major advantage of taking a bag was that I could fit in an extra warm jacket! I really feel the cold so that was a major incentive for me.
The next thing that caused me concern was discovering that the Yass Soldiers Club, where we were having dinner, had a 'no athletic clothes' rule. Now, nearly all my casual clothes are gym clothes, the only jeans that fit me are in Melbourne, and I didn't feel like having to iron my trousers at the other end. I was saved by sudden inspiration, and tossed a dress and sandals in my bag. Needless to say, I was the only person who wore a dress. Not only that, but I discovered that I could have worn a polo shirt and runners (aren't they athletic?) without being tossed out of the club.
Fortunately, the Tuesday session included a reminder about nutrition and hydration. Yes, I was able to plan snacks - dark chocolate (no justification for that one but I like it), some protein bars, sultanas, bananas and jellybeans. I also took three bottles of water with me, which I was extremely glad about on the Sunday. It also meant that I had a lovely smoked salmon pasta for dinner on Friday night. Thank you to TNB who read the information sheet more closely than I did and paid attention to the "before you ride" suggestions.
I had planned to ride to the meeting place, out at the George Harcourt Inn, but after looking at my bike map I realised that maybe I was being a little ambitious. Fortunately TNB offered to drive me out there. Of course, we didn't rehearse the whole 'take the bike apart and get it into the car' activity, but we only broke my rear light holder so it wasn't too catastrophic. Oh, and we managed to discover why the brake light in the rear window wasn't working after one of my pedals caught on the wiring.
It was terrific to drive up to the inn and see so many people with their bikes. It was like going on a school excursion, only better. We even had to line up for the obligatory photos. I'm looking forward to getting the cd with all the photos from the various rides. There were 20 women from the course doing the ride, along with the helpers and various partners and family members. I didn't actually count them, but I think we had at least 40 cyclists. We split into two groups, with 10 women in each group. The plan was for us to ride in single file, to stop to regroup at various times, to meet up with the other group for lunch in Murrumbatemen and afternoon tea just outside Yass, and arrive in Yass by 4 pm.
We eventually headed off - 9 km down the Barton Highway and then turned off onto a back road. I'd list the route here, but it's really only interesting to people who know the area. Suffice it to say that I had no idea how close some of the places I'd been in the past were to Canberra. (If I can ride there, they are close!) I found myself thinking things like "Hey, I could ride to Hall Markets next time they are on" and "a bike tour of the wineries would be fun". I wonder if I'd get done for cycling under the influence. I'm also working out who I can talk into doing these things with me. I'm sure there'll be someone.
Riding on the highway was much safer than I'd expected it to be but riding on the back roads was much more fun. Not having to be so alert about staying to the left meant that it was possible to look around and enjoy the views. We went through some lovely countryside. I have a new appreciation for why people live out that way and drive into Canberra for work each day. I wouldn't do it myself, but I can see why they make that choice.
As for the ride, I settled myself into the middle of my group. Even though I wasn't talking to the man in front of me while we were riding, I grew quite attached to him. I'd fall behind going downhill (still some work to do on being afraid of going too fast) and then catch him up again on an uphill. He was riding with his wife, so we were really going at her pace. I gradually got more confident going down the hills and realised that it's quite fun to ride fast when you don't think you're going to come crashing down into a heap at the bottom of the hill.
We'd been warned about a rickety bridge during the info session. You should have seen this bridge in my imagination. Think Indiana Jones and swinging suspension bridges with huge gaps between wooden boards and a deep chasm beneath and you'll be somewhere close. Maybe I exaggerate slightly, but I certainly had it up there with bridges I'd be scared to walk across. When we finally got to the bridge it was about 3 metres long and wasn't at all difficult to ride across. Well, not compared to what I'd been anticipating.
There were roadworks as well. Not a problem, you'd think, on a Saturday in the country, however the water truck had just watered the road. Yes, we were splattered with mud. I never actually checked my knicks to see if I got the dreaded road stripe because I was wearing them back again the next day and I didn't want to feel obliged to wash them.
Oh, this is a too much information section for the guys - so skip ahead a paragraph or two. The guys are gone? Good. On the Tuesday night we debated the "do you take two pairs of knicks or not" question. I'd never realised until I did the triathlon training that you were supposed to wear your knicks without underwear. Once I got over the ewww factor and tried it, I realised that it's a lot more comfy that way. We were advised that we could manage with one pair of knicks, particularly if we took the sanitary pad option. I tried that and I'm not going to bother again. I got away without chafing because I also tried the nappy rash cream option but I reckon two pairs is the way to go in future.
Guys, this part of the knicks discussion is safe. The best advice I got about this trip was from Krissi. She suggested that I go out and buy myself a really good pair of knicks. Apparently, with the chamois, you really do get what you pay for. I didn't get myself organised on the knicks front until Friday evening. I'm glad of that, as I froze my poor legs on Friday morning, riding to my PT session in 3/4 knicks when the temperature was 0 degrees. I walked into the local bike shop (LBS) and told the young guy who served me that I wanted long knicks. Amusingly, he was embarrassed to be helping me with knicks. Not that long ago I would have been embarrassed asking for them, but I've hardened up. Fortunately they only had two styles, one with a decent chamois, so my decision was made for me. Poor LBS guy was a little confused when I didn't bother to try them on. I had heard that when you have a choice of chamois that you really should try the knicks on as you may be better suited by one brand than another, however that's not relevant when you have left your purchase to the last minute. I paid $140 for the knicks, which is nearly three times the cost of my other knicks, and I was completely glad I spent the money on them.
I got to see leg and arm warmers in operation on the trip. I didn't try these myself as I wasn't convinced that the leg warmers would stay up for me. Now that I've seen how easy they are to put on and take off I'm going to give them a go over winter. They'll be really useful when I ride to PT or to boot camp, as I'll already be in my running gear and I won't have to take my shoes off when it's freezing out there. Oh, unless I go the cleats option. (Breathe Kathy!)
Another thing I learned on the course (this is obvious but sometimes it takes me a while to catch on) is that it's ok to stop every now and then and take a layer off. I've had this whole "get on the bike and get to where you're going without stopping" attitude. This touring approach is a lot more relaxed.
Back to the trip. We arrived at Murrumbateman two hours after we set off, which was earlier than expected, and stopped for a break at the recreation grounds. I didn't realise it was our lunch break until I'd eaten (inhaled really) my morning snacks, by which time I was at the back of the queue at the local shop. On the basis that it would be a while until we had afternoon tea I wandered over to the service station and bought myself a powerade and a bag of s&v chips. I rationalised the treat on the grounds that I'd already burned over 1000 calories but I regretted it later. It was a real effort to start riding again after the break, and my body was telling me that it didn't appreciate being loaded up with fat just before I asked it to work hard again.
We rode through Murrumbatemen, which didn't take long, and then we were on some back roads. Eventually we hit a long section of gravel road, complete with corrugations. That was exhausting. I was riding along thinking "I've had enough. I want to go home now." If I could have magicked myself home by wrinkling my nose like Samantha I would have. When we finally stopped I discovered we'd travelled 46 km, which is further than I'd ever ridden before. I know some people were talking me during the break but I was answering them on autopilot, telling them I was fine when really I wasn't. I'm not 100% sure of the sequence of events, but I remember telling myself as I went up a hill "Guts and determination, Kathy, that's what you need, guts and determination". It was like I had Krissi on my shoulder encouraging me to get there. The ride helpers were encouraging. They were riding up and down the line, chatting to us as we went along, making sure we were okay. All of a sudden I was fine. I was riding along, looking around, enjoying the view, enjoying the ride and really glad that I was there. I don't know what made the difference - Krissi says that maybe some food I'd eaten finally kicked in. Whatever it was, I'm glad it happened.
We rode up quite a few hills during this stage of the ride. I was coping with them really well and passed a few people, but they kept going past me again on the downhill. Not that I minded as the downhills were the best part of the ride. At one stage we were on top of a ridge with a great view on one side and a hazy view on the other due to some burning off. I'd love to go back there on a clear day.
We arrived at Cooma Cottages for afternoon tea. There was a bridal party there, and for some strange reason, they didn't seem to want a whole lot of brightly hued cyclists in their wedding photos. The organisers had arranged for our group to arrive, and we were served pikelets and fruit along with coffee, tea and lots of water. The cottage owners had gone to a lot of trouble to look after us. The pikelets were delicious and the fruit and water were much appreciated.
From the cottages to Yass was 5 km along a busy road. We headed off after a decent rest and arrived at our accommodation at about 3 pm, an hour ahead of schedule. The cabin was really clean, with a double bed and bunks. I organised us into the beds. Valetta is tall and it didn't look to me as though she'd be comfortable with a bunk bed, so I put Karen in the top bunk on the basis she was the youngest, and took the bottom bunk for myself. It worked out really well for us all. There was room for all our bikes inside, which meant that we didn't have to find something to lock them up to or worry about them when we were out to dinner.
The three of us enjoyed chatting for a while, then wandered off to the supermarket, which was across town. We bought some healthy food for lunch the next day, which I thought might be a good choice compared to the s&v chips. The walk stretched our legs and we all felt better for it.
The ride organisers had booked us in for a lasagne dinner at the Yass Soldiers Club. It was delicious and the room was abuzz with the happy sound of achievement. There was a blue light disco on next door, but I think we were well able to talk over the music. After dinner my group headed home for an early night. I'd skipped drinking any alcohol, on the grounds that I figured the ride would be hard enough with sore muscles the next day. I don't know if it mattered, but it was one less thing for me to worry about.
I wore my skins to bed. I've never done that before. I'm sure they helped because I was a lot less sore in the morning than I expected to be. I slept quite well, considering, and was awake bright and early the next morning. Thank goodness for daylight saving, as we got an extra hour in bed. I think we all needed it.
The ride organisers who stayed at the caravan park cooked breakfast - pancakes, eggs and bacon. It was much appreciated the next morning as it was one less thing for us to concern ourselves with. The plan had been for us to make our own way back to Cooma Cottages and assemble there, but many of the group wanted to assemble at the caravan park. I went with the flow and joined the larger group. One of the helpers was offering to check tyres. I overcame my reluctance to put him out, and asked him to do mine. The tyre pressure was down a bit so I was glad I asked him. I'm sure he was regretting his offer by the time the tenth person got their tyres checked but he was unfailingly kind. The helpers did a great job over the weekend and over the course. I've decided that I'd like to do the trip as a helper next year as a thank you. I think I'll volunteer to help for the whole course.
On the way out of town there was a monster hill. Because we were riding in single file it seemed harder, as one of the people in front of me was really struggling. I didn't feel that it would be kind to go past her, so I dropped a gear and stayed behind. Eventually she got off her bike and walked, so it was ok to pass her then. Quite a few people walked up that hill so I was really pleased to find that I was able to ride the whole thing.
There was a bit of a water crisis. People didn't like the taste of the Yass water. I thought it was ok luckily. Di, the main organiser and driver of the sag wagon (no idea why it's called sag - something for me to investigate later), went and bought some water at the supermarket so the crisis was averted. I figured I'd drink the Yass water before refilling, which was probably a good idea as the decent water ran out at Murrambateman, which apparently also has awful tasting water. It was interesting to watch how people behaved about the water. With limited supplies clearly evident at Murrumbateman, some people brought up multiple bottles to fill. Yes, it was all about them. Fortunately I was able to manage with the water I'd brought with me and a top up of one bottle earlier in the day from Di.
On the Sunday we went back a hillier route. According to my Garmin it was about 70m more elevation. I really came into my own on Sunday. I mentioned earlier that I'd managed to achieve even more than I expected. Well, on Saturday I realised that I was a lot stronger physically than many of the women in my group. On Sunday it became even clearer. I was powering up hills that other people were walking. I was enjoying the ride when other people were struggling. I became more confident going down hill and people stopped passing me.
The day before, whenever we had a break, the helpers were offering lollies. I hadn't bothered to take any as I wasn't hungry. On Sunday I got smarter and made sure I ate something at every break, even if it was just a handful of sultanas. It really helped. I also rode closer to the front of the group, as I realised that I'd get a longer break every time the group reformed if I was near the front. The extra rest made a big difference. By the time my group got to Murrumbateman, three hours after we started, I ended up leading us into town. Our ride leader got off her bike to encourage people along the last part of the ride and told me to go on ahead. I was thrilled to be the first person back in my group. The other group had arrived before us and I was actually applauded as I rode into town. It was the best feeling. My own personal Tour De France leader's moment!
The rest of the ride was simply fun. My backside was a little sore at times, but that was just a matter of settling into the seat comfortably and stretching. At various times on both days my hands and feet had pins and needles. I learned to shake my hands out while I was riding. As an indication of how much more confident I was by the end of the ride, I was able to do that when we were on the corrugated sections of the road and when I was riding up or down hill. I also learned to stamp my feet a few times on the breaks to get the feeling back, and I did a few stretches on the bike to get the feeling back in my toes.
We rode along the highway towards the George Harcourt Inn. Our ride leader was going to take us through Gold Creek Village as there's a bit of a hill on the way into the Inn, but one of the helpers convinced her that we'd have more fun if we got to ride the whole way down the big hill we'd had to start on the previous day. I think he was right. It was a great feeling, and we'd earned it!
It was fantastic to get back. The group were planning to head to the inn for a few beers, but all I wanted to do was get home and have a nice relaxing bath. TNB picked me up. It was such a relief to see him arrive.
I'm sure I nearly fell asleep in the bath. I had to travel to Melbourne for work that evening and I was sure I was going to sleep on the plane, but I managed to stay awake. I slept in my skins again, and went for a walk along the Yarra the next morning. I felt fine. I was delighted that I recovered so well from the ride and I was bubbling with the excitement of having achieved it.
I'm inspired to do more touring cycling. It's so much fun!