‘We’re almost back now!’
Nooo! These words are dangerous for me. My brain doesn’t hear the ‘almost’ part and simply decides it is time to stop. If I think or hear these words, the final part of my journey becomes a mental and physical battle. It’s even worse when it isn’t true and just said as ‘encouragement’!
We had been out cycling for 90 minutes by this point; longer than I have been in the saddle for years.
We had set off into the pine woods and heathland in glorious summer sunshine, but it had been raining, so the ground was damp and muddy in places. I always knew that mountain bikers created muddy stripes up their backs because they don’t have mudguards. What I hadn’t realised is that they also eat mud from the spray from the front wheel. Lovely!
Mud, mud, glorious mud!
We pedalled up sandy slopes, over fallen trees, through muddy puddles and along narrow, winding paths through the undergrowth. I was impressed with how well the wide mountain bike tyres managed both the terrain and my lack of skill! On a couple of occasions, I misaimed and cycled over inches high tree stumps, with no apparent adverse effects at all.
The daisy-like flowers of camomile distracted me as I battled through the patches of gravel, its calming scent wafting through the air. The deep magenta of the heather flowers almost glowed in contrast with the now darkening skies.
As I ground my way up one section of hill, my back wheel spun and my front wheel lifted off the ground. Whoa! I had forgotten about the importance of weight distribution while climbing hills – and that you pull backwards on the handlebars, not upwards…
The heavens opened, drenching us both. Suddenly, I could see nothing. My sunglasses, already too dark for the now cloudy conditions, steamed up when the rain started. I struggled to tell which bits of the path were soft pine needles and which were exposed tree roots, ready to snag my tyres and send me flying. It was a perfect excuse to stop for a moment and catch my breath.
My friend Alison is a much better mountain biker than me and was pushing me. This was our second ride out together this summer and I was already improving. I rode over some obstacles that I had gingerly ridden around on our last outing and I was beginning to feel rather proud of my performance.
I remembered from our last outing that there was a hill coming up. That time, I made it all the way to the top without too much trouble. But that time, I was fresh. This time, I had already been cycling for an hour. Alison was in front of me, grinding slowly up the slope. I caught her up and then stalled.
‘You can always get off and push if you need to.’ Another unhelpful thought! Almost as soon as it appeared in my mind, I just couldn’t push the pedals any further. With one short thought, I had talked myself out of reaching the top.
When I did reach the top, pushing the bike, we talked about what had gone wrong before having another go. The second time, I went first so that I could go at my own pace – which is faster than Alison when climbing hills. And I told myself all sorts of positive thoughts. ‘You’ve got this, Julia.’ ‘You’ve done this before, you can do it again.’ And it worked - I made it all the way to the top while still pedalling this time. There was a price to pay, though. When Alison caught up with me, I was still leaning against a tree, gasping for breath.
When she suggested that we should do the same climb again, she received a very short and not very positive answer!
A few miles of easy riding later is when she uttered those words, ‘We’re almost back now.’ I explained how dangerous those words are to me and tried to overwrite them in my brain with ‘Keep going, Julia, you’ve got this!’
As we made the final turn off the main path towards their house, I recognised it and called out, ‘We really are almost back now!’ That was a bad idea. Once again, my brain switched off. Before I knew what was happening, my front wheel was tangled up in a rhododendron bush and I was on the ground under the bike. Well, that was possibly even more embarrassing than having to get off and push earlier.
Alison had heard me fall and checked that I was OK as she carried on. I was fine. Apart from a small graze, it was only my pride that was hurt. Back on the bike, I rode around the next corner and wham! Much to Alison’s amusement and my annoyance, I was back on the ground, on the other side this time.
By that point, I was not quite as pleased with my performance. But I was very pleased that I have started training for cycling King Alfred’s Way – I obviously need the practice!