Picture the idyllic scene; a little excursion through the wilderness, a secluded camping spot on the beach and a cycle home the next day. Clear skies, graceful landscapes, rolling hills and the occasional sound of a stream rippling and bubbling, over rocks and branches, in the background. The perfect weekend.
A 30-mile trip there sounded ambitious but we had the whole day to do it, we could take plenty of rest breaks; we’d set off at 12:30 and sunset was at 17:30.
Here’s, a little background about myself, I’m not a cyclist, I’m not even fit. As a child, I used to love my bike. My sisters and I, with our father, would be on our bikes every weekend; cycling to the ‘Far Away Park’ as we fondly called it. We’d spend hours playing kick stone or hide and seek, eating packed lunches of ham or cheese sandwiches, walkers crisps (cheese and onion for me, of course) and Robinson’s cordial. They are some of my most cherished childhood memories, but, like most things as we grew up, we grew out of cycling. Our bikes lay untouched for years in my father’s hallway, slowly migrating to an outside storage cupboard to rust and go into disrepair. My father is an avid cyclist, he cycles every day of his life; to work, to the shops, to family events, even planning big trips to comic books shops across the country, through rain, sleet, snow and sunshine. As a child and even now I admire him, I never understood how he could manage those big journeys or enjoy the daily task of cycling. But I get it now, cycling gives you freedom unachievable with any else. This is what I want.
As I said I’m not fit, I never have been. I’ve struggled with my weight my whole life (and a struggle it has been), being a plump child, an overweight adolescent and adult. It’s only been in recent years I have managed to lose weight and keep it off, now don’t get me wrong I’m still soft around the edges but nothing like I used to be. I’ve never really enjoyed sports, being red-faced, puffed out of breath, the last person to be picked for a team, lack of coordination, being extremely clumsy and ultimately being fat, all played their part. I built some small level of fitness a year or two ago when I began YouTube workout videos, but again life gets in the way and my weights have been left disused in the corner. Fitness, sport and generally any activity greater than walking up a steep hill fills me with the greatest anxiety. I have never liked it or enjoyed it, I was always a hindrance, it was something I seemed bad at or just didn’t get. Now here I am going into my 26th year of life trying to undo a lifetime of poor decisions, laziness, feeble strength and will power.
Thus, we circle back to our trip to Bala Lake, and it’s safe to safe it wasn’t the charming, quaint jaunt I (we) may have anticipated it to be. Having only been on our bikes for two journeys prior, I was still very much getting used to the bike and gears, I was in no physical state to attempt a journey so far and we had clearly bitten off more than we could chew.
It was hard. Really hard. Probably one of the hardest physical activities I have ever done. There were tears, shaky legs and defeated spirits.
We started the journey keen and eager, cycling for a good hour or so before we had a little stop. But what happens when you stop? Your momentum ends too, getting back on the bike after a brief pause my legs were heavy bricks, although we continued. Things seemed to be turning up for us until we reached an extremely steep hill, Ryan made it and I was stuck at the bottom. Pedalling with all my might, my quads screaming at me, burning with each push around, I had to jump off. After pushing the bike to the top, we had a laugh and a joke, and I got back on. Further, on the path, we reached another equally steep hill, I wouldn’t be beaten this time. Granny gear on, lowest possible gear in place. I made it about 75% up the hill, making three or four turns of the wheels before resting again, eventually meeting Ryan at the top with jelly legs. After those last couple of hills, I was worried about how much further I’d be able to make, but Ryan enthusiastically kept telling me “we’ve only got two and a half hours to go”, “yeah, just two and a half of torture to go..” I thought in response. After climbing so much, Ryan decided to change our route, it’d be more along the A roads, but it would be flatter and probably an easier course than our current.
The journey carried on for another hour or so, each mild hill climb felt like hell for my legs. Concrete heavyweights. Sometimes I would be in front, sometimes Ryan. When Ryan was in front you could guarantee there was be a good 100-metre distance between us. When I was in front the pace slowed down incredibly; during one of the hill climbs I shouted over my shoulder ‘I want to stop’, cars tearing past us at speed and narrow roads, we couldn’t safely stop. Thus, we pushed on.
The disappointment was palpable, why couldn’t I do this? Surely it was a simple case of just turning the wheels. Come on, not much further.
We pulled in by some little houses, Ryan said “we could turn back and head home”; I didn’t want to let him down, I wanted to show him I could do this and that I was up for the challenge. At this point, we still had another 20 miles to go, I could do it, come on, stop feeling sorry for yourself, just push forward. So on the bikes, we went.
Not two minutes later, Ryan had sped 100 metres into the distance, my cement legs barely pushing the peddles. The crushing weight for the rest of the journey fell on me; heavy in my chest I was devastated, there was no way in hell I could go the rest of the journey, let alone repeating it the next day. Tears spilling over my eyes onto my cheeks, I sobbed the next mile down the road. Ryan was there, patiently waiting for me by a rundown, beaten up old garage; the grey sky overcast reflecting the day’s emotions, spots of rain starting to fall from the sky, it was time to call it quits.
We headed home, thank the lord. With a spring my step and the fact we were mainly downhill from here meant we were making good time, the relief washed over me in a brilliant wave of comfort. However, once that burst of adrenaline had worn off, the tired legs returned. Even once we returned to the areas close to home, I felt no sense of satisfaction, only anxiety that I wouldn’t be able to make it home. Reflecting back, Ryan asked ‘how were you able to keep the bike upright with how slow you were pedalling’ well I’m not sure but I pushed and pushed and pushed. Finally, the post box at the end of our lane, that bright red box was a beacon calling me home. I knew from previous experiences of jogging there, we only had 3/4 of a mile left.. downhill. Yes! Again, Ryan was kindly waiting for me.
We reached home, our lovely, tucked away bungalow was greatly awaiting our return. I swung my leg over the bike, they barely held me up, shaking, I unloaded our panniers full of unused camping equipment whilst Ryan rinsed the bikes off.
Home, sweet, home; no tent and sleeping bag for me tonight. A meal and hot shower were calling my name. Ryan heated our dinner, we had packed salmon and veggies, we finally sat down to eat. Four mouthfuls and I felt so nauseous, I couldn’t eat it, probably one of the few times in my life I refused a meal. Clammy, sweaty and pale I napped on Ryan’s chest; clearly, the day’s expeditions had been too great for me, I was beaten. After I woke, I hauled myself into the shower, with it on the hottest setting I sat in the bath letting the scalding water run over my salty, sticky skin, some physical relief, finally. The day’s trepidation hadn’t quite ended though, post-shower I vomited. Oh, joy.
All in all, what a trying day. On reflection, what it has taught me? Well, I seriously need to up my cycling game, we should probably do shorter journeys from now on until I’m a little more competent and I should increase the number of rides I’m doing to help build some stamina.
Maybe we’ll visit Bala Lake another day, but first, let try a journey that does end in tears (and us wanting to kill each).