Guest Post: Pushing boundaries

In her second guest post, Steph tells us about her other passion – cycling – and her journey so far as a beginner rider. Before she turns 30 Steph is determined to push her own boundaries and not only learn to ride a bike from scratch but explore the world of cycling. You can read about her first attempt here before she tells us her story and progress about her recent trip to Yorkshire, new bike in tow –

My life went a bit upside down after this (see above) post and I didn’t ride again until September this year. In between, my hybrid turned to rust and I had to buy a bike. I got completely sucked in at the bike shop, but trying to show my new found independence I just bought it. I came away with a carbon road bike with flat pedals (no way am I ready for cleats).

Almost a year after those tentative Bambi steps, I pretty much had to start from scratch again and rely on friends to get me out there. I am so lucky that near Windsor we have lots of tarmac away from cars where I can practice and lots of incredible friends who want to help. Jonny, Sarah and Zena helped, coerced and babysat me through tentative first rides.

I can’t signal and I can’t drink while I’m riding but I can get about and luckily I have lots of endurance from running. As my rides snuck onto Strava I got congratulated by one well-wisher for my “transition to multi sport”.

I felt sick. I am not transitioning to anything. I am literally learning basic life skills.

So when another friend offered to take me cycling in Yorkshire, I felt sick again. However this friend was the beautiful Sarah who I’d met on Twitter a long time ago and our first meeting in real life is documented here. We looked through our calendars, picked a date in November and I set myself the goal of cycling every week until then (mostly on closed roads solo).

The weekend approached… I think I messaged Sarah every week telling her how crap I would be, how I didn’t mind being left behind, that I was happy to sit in a coffee shop while she rode. Sarah messaged me back with reassurance, encouragement and advice. I couldn’t have hoped for better. She is wise beyond her years and generous beyond measure.

The day came… my bike went in the bike room and Sarah’s lovely boyfriend offered to join us, which immediately made me feel better. They sandwiched me and we set off. A slightly nerve wracking start down a dual carriage way, but I don’t mind cycling on wide roads, as long as a there’s room you don’t even notice the cars until they are past. We turned right and we were in the lanes, then we hit the hill. Up wasn’t that bad, down with hairpin bends was petrifying, but I did it! The guys were waiting for me at the bottom with words of encouragement. A quick pause for breath and we headed for coffee and cake (the essential part of any ride, no matter how long). I was feeling good and the traffic in the village didn’t bother me, we cycled up a hill with traffic lights at the top. I conscientiously changed gear as I approached, predicting that pushing off at the top would need a different gear than the one I’d cycled up in. The lights changed, I pushed down hard, my pedals spun round and hit me in the back of the leg. I had changed gear the wrong way and was now in my easiest gear and couldn’t. get. going. I kind of scooted, kind of pushed off a bit until I got enough momentum to change up a gear, finally both feet back on and my little peloton pulled off into the coffee shop! A little hiccup but something to laugh about! We made it back in one piece and celebrated with curry and a controversial game of Monopoly!

Saturday dawned with another cold and crisp day as we put the bikes in the car – Harrogate parkrun followed by the Specialised Beginners ride was on the plan. I was even more nervous about this, riding with other people (who probably have cycled their whole life) –

I might hold them up, I might hit someone, I might fall off

so many worries. Sarah and I headed to parkrun, trying to keep warm in the frost. I was tempted to run fast but Sarah suggested a chatty run and I love a good chat. Later I was particularly grateful for resting my legs. We had a tight turn around, so a coffee stop and changing in the loos meant I didn’t have time to worry.

It was about 5 degrees, and much to my luck (although probably not good for practice) no one else braved the beginners ride. So it was just me and Sarah on the ride out of Harrogate and off for coffee! Outside the shop is a one way dual carriageway with a right turn coming up at traffic lights. For those of you that cycle all the time, nothing to worry about. For me, having to push off, cross two lanes of traffic and get in the right position at the lights seemed too much. But we crossed on foot so I could start off in a more comfortable setting. Sarah planned a beautiful route to Wetherby and I loved almost every minute of it, cycling past parked cars for the first time taught me lessons. Another comedy moment in the wrong gear at a junction (I later learned there was a huge queue behind me!), a coffee and a flapjack stop and we were back off in the direction of Harrogate. I was feeling happy and relatively confident, Sarah and I were chatting on the bike and I’d survived the cold. We started climbing a hill, Sarah chatting away, just ahead of me in her cleats, pulling her bike up the hill. A short distance behind and I am mashing down my pedals as hard as I can. Push, push, push. Breathe, breathe, breathe. Sarah is chatting away and I can’t think anything except PUSH, BREATHE. I shout ahead “It’s just really hard”. Sarah (experienced cyclist) gets my underlying meaning and pauses the conversation until we get to the top. When we reach the top, I feel as high as the hill! I made it, the descent was much less scary than the day before and I felt almost in control the whole way up.

Another weekend doing things I would never have dreamed of, in the company of incredible people that raise me up, inspire me and make my world better. The space outside your comfort zone is a place to push into with the security of friends. We could have cycled faster, we could have cycled further, but in Sarah’s words she wanted me to leave wanting more and I certainly do!

Here’s to more hills, more adventures and much more coffee and cake.

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