Towards #TCRno5: cycling along the river Meuse

It is dark in the night. I am cycling along the river Meuse. Behind me there has been a bright light for some minutes. I am tired, but keep on cycling. Is it a car following me slowly? I can’t think very clearly anymore. Then something unexpected happens.

I wake up early in the morning. I had set my goal for this weekend. Ride at least 300km with full kit on my bike. Created a route earlier which would take me from Maastricht, near the Belgium border, back home. Following the river Meuse. After a shower, breakfast and some coffee, I leave home. I travel by train to Maastricht. The sky is blue. It will be a beautiful day to go cycling.

When I arrive in Maastricht, I first get me a cup Latte at the railway station. A few minutes later I jump on my bike. I ride 2km to the Meuse, where I take a picture and post it on my Facebook page. Next I tried to load my route on my Wahoo ELEMNT. Oops, I forgot to sync it at home. No problem, route is in the iPhone companion app. Unfortunately it didn’t sync to my ELEMNT. Now what? On my ELEMNT there is a draft route I once created. I decide not to use it and use the bike path signs of the national LF3 route. It appears after a while that it is not the quickest route.

A few hours later I arrive in Roermond. After having very “healthy” junkfood as lunch I get back on my bike. Change of plans. Not following the LF3 route anymore, just following major roads. This goes a lot faster. My legs are not very good, but I make the best of it. I pass Venlo and early in the evening I am near Nijmegen. Took me longer than predicted. I decide to load the draft route on my ELEMNT, which takes me to the west. Wind is mostly a tailwind, so my pace is good. Around midnight I pass north of Den Bosch.

It is dark in the night. I am cycling along the river Meuse. Behind me there has been a bright light for some minutes. I am tired, but keep on cycling. Is it a car following me slowly? I can’t think very clearly anymore. Suddenly a blonde woman on an e-bike slowly passes me. She smiles when she looks at me. “Hi there!“, she says and disappears slowly into the night in front of me. I feel like a complete idiot, but I am laughing. One moment I tell myself “pace yourself and ride along with her“, but I think that would scare her.

With about 75km to go, my pace is completely gone. I am tired, my neck hurts and I would love to have coffee. No luck. Everything is closed. No gas stations with shops opened. Earlier I was thinking about getting my sleeping bag and just sleep for an hour or so in the open air. I had stopped at an excellent place, but decided to go on, because “it was only 125km until I was home“. Those little things make those training rides worth the effort.

Eventually at 5:40am I arrived home. Two hours later then predicted. I slept a few hours. Sunday afternoon I made some decisions. I unmounted my aerobars from my bike. They are blocking access to my Apidura accessory pocket and I have a sensitive shammy, which prevents riding long distances in that position. I cut down on what I took with me last summer. Makes my bike a lot lighter.

Feeling about this ride was good. Learned some points that need improvement.


When doubt whispers

I know it is early in the season and I am far from perfectly prepared for Transcontinental Race, but I like test myself to see where I am standing at that moment. So past weekend I did a 400 km brevet. I didn’t ride longer than 102 km this year. Some people will think that is crazy, but I think it is a mental thing.

Saturday evening at 9:00 pm we started in the dark in Boekelo, the Netherlands. The first hour I was leading the bunch with an average of almost 28 kph. I decided to reduce my speed. With over 350 km to do, this was nuts. Riding alone in the dark. I love that. Occasionally you pass someone or someone passes you. You ride together for a while and split up again.

Early in the morning I catched up with Ernst and some others at a check point in a gas station. Time to eat and drink some coffee. So far everything is going smoothly. My legs feel great. Although it is early March, it isn’t really cold during the night. I brought a jacket, but didn’t use it. After 30 minutes I continued together with Ernst. The sun slowly starts to rise in the East. Awesome views.

Photo: Ernst Huijboom

After a while Ernst told me his legs were not very great, so I left him and got in a really good pace. Until about 200 km. I passed a town with the roads in the centre covered with cobble stones. I completely lost my pace. I stopped for a coffee and got back on the road again. Apparently Ernst passed me, because some time later we met each other again. The rest of the day we cycled together. Which was good thing, because mentally it got a bit harder. I took a small can of chamois cream with me and reapplied it regularly. However it resulted in saddle sores. Not a very happy feeling.

In my head I painted a picture of me riding the Transcontinental Race, while having such saddle sores. Doubt was whispering in my ear: “What have you got yourself into girl? Are you really going to do this?” I denied the pain and focussed on other things. That was helpful. Some moments my legs were horrible, but after a while they got really powerful again. It is just a phase during a ride you have to accept and keep on going. Eventually after 22 hours we finished in time. I got me big glass of beer.

It is a good thing participating in such events. You learn. You grow. Both physically and mentally. However I didn’t have such saddle sores last year during L’Altra P-B-P. So I got enough to do in my preparation towards the Transcontinental Race. Doubt isn’t option.

Transcontinental Race, it is on!

Monday afternoon. I am in front of the mirror in my bathroom, looking myself in the eye. Sweat is dripping from my face. There you are and what have you got yourself into this time? Happy now? No just kidding, I am smiling, because I just got a mail the I am invited to ride the Transcontinental Race this year.

About two years ago I decided I wanted to ride the Transcontinental Race, but how? My longest ride at that moment was 175km and I was ‘dead’ afterwards. Now two years later I am mentally ready for it. Well I think I am ready mentally. I did some longer rides in 2016, with the longest in August. I had to scratch from that one, but I learned a lot about riding longer distances, packing my bike the right way and keep pushing whilst you just want to quit.

Early november I submitted my application for a spot on the Transcontinental Race, because Emily asked for it. Well she got it. Almost 50 women got a spot on the Transcontinental this year. A lot compared to previous editions. I am curious how many of all those women, myself included, will reach the finish in Meteora, Greece. With 7 months to go, I am utterly motivated. Especially because 2016 didn’t turn out what I was hoping for.

See you all in Geraardsbergen on July 28th 2017!

Post-Ride Blues, what helped me out

The Post-Ride blues was suddenly there. It took me two months to get over it. Let me explain what happened, what helped me out and how I discovered about the Post-Ride blues.

Early August I have ridden L’Altra P-B-P, a 1900km cycling event from Pinerolo (Italy) to Barcelona (Spain) and back to Pinerolo. For months I have been working towards the event. Riding my bike, making the necessary milage. Since I want to participate in The Transcontinental in 2017, I thought this a good way to get some more experience in longer rides.

I have been suffering for days that week. Not physical, but mentally. The first day was ok. It was hot with temperatures between 30 and 35 degrees Celsius, but I was really enjoying it so far. Early in the morning on the second day, I was riding towards the top of Mont Ventoux, I broke mentally. Riding up a mountain while having to cry all the time doesn’t work. Eventually after hours, I made it and took a quick descent to meet some friends. That helped me get on track again.

After a good night sleep in a hostel in Avignon (needed it badly, but lost time over there), I was back on track. Had a good day and slept on the beach for a few hours at Séte, before riding to Narbonne during the night. After breakfast I found my pace and was rapidly heading towards Perpignan, close to the Pyrenees. Unfortunately I experienced three flat tires, so I had to find me a bike shop to get new ones. I lost a complete afternoon, while I was already behind on my schedule. I decided to scratch. Emotional decision, but it was wise to do.

The days following I managed my way back to Torino (Italy) to get my train back home. After I week of riding my bike for more than 1500 km, I was really looking forward to go home. Sleeping in my own bed, waking up with coffee on my couch. The regular routine. But when I arrived home, I didn’t feel so good mentally. I experienced an emptiness. All I have been training for was over. It felt as if the walls were closing in on me.

The Post-Ride Blues

Meanwhile I didn’t had any urge to get on my bike again. I did, but I didn’t enjoy it. Once or twice a week I did a ride an hour. I reacted agitated to the friends and family around me (Sorry guys). Which isn’t also very good maintaining friendships. I didn’t have a good time and went to bars to drink beer. I drank more beer in a week than I normally drink in a month. Not quite a healthy lifestyle.

Ironically visiting bars bumped me into learning new people. People who didn’t know about my struggle those weeks. They were a blessing! So much love and positivity kept me standing. A few weeks later I read a blog of Emily Chappell, a female cyclist I admire a lot, about the lack of women riding long-distance races. I have to confess I had my doubts entering The Transcontinental next year, but this blog hit me. Just do it. I had a new goal. Much needed.

Two days later, I stumbled upon an episode of the Tough Girl Podcast where Emily was interviewed. Somewhere in the episode, she was talking about having a post-ride blues. Suddenly all puzzle pieces were falling at the right place for me. This was exactly what I was feeling.

From that day on, I did ride my bike with fun again. I have a goal. I have friends and family who support me in different ways. I have a bike, which I like having adventures with. I’m feeling happy again.

Thank you all!