Friday, January 2, 2015

Five hundred

On my list of new year's resolutions for 2014 stood "get good at cycling". I wrote the list when I was still in Austria at the start of 2014, about a month before I was to come back to Sydney. At the time I think I meant it in regards to cycle touring, but plans to take the year off and cycle around Australia fell through a few weeks later. I was running a lot at the time and so I decided to start training for a marathon instead, but then started having very bad achilles heel problems and was extremely frustrated the following few months - swimming just never really 'did it' for me. After some time, I bought a decent-ish road bike but it took until September for me to work up the courage to wear clipless shoes.
Cycling (like running was) is a kind of meditation for me, time to think - or rather not think - and just concentrate on my surroundings. That's probably why I was so frustrated beyond words when I first had heel problems - discovering cycling has been the best silver lining. I love the teamwork, discipline and concentration involved in group rides and the places it allows me to see. Nothing puts me in a better frame of mind for the day than watching the sun rise over Sydney's eastern beaches on a morning ride.
So, doing Rapha's Festive 500 challenge (ride 500km between Christmas eve and New Year's eve) was really a 'no-brainer':

It started with a very windy ride south to Kurnell via Cronulla on Christmas Eve morning. This probably wasn't one of my favourite rides - the pace picked up significantly on way back from Kurnell but my pride kept me riding on the front of the bunch, battling the headwind for a few kilometres back from the headland. I was pretty dead after the ride but stubbornly went for a second 15km spin around the Inner West in the afternoon to bring me up to 100km for the first day.

One of my favourite rides was on Christmas morning. I stayed with my parents that night and so decided to do my 'original' route that I first started cycling on, before I had any proper gear. It was a beautiful, quiet, misty morning cycling along the Old Pacific Highway to Hawkesbury River Bridge - maybe 3 cars passed me the whole ride. A bunch of cyclists riding past laughed at me as I stood on the bridge trying unsuccessfully to take a selfie. It was nice to also feel how noticeably easier the ascent heading back from Brooklyn felt compared to how hard I used to find it!

Boxing Day was hot. With the steady Rapha bunch, we first headed north from Surry Hills to Hornsby, then to Bobbin Head and McCarrs Creek. I had a huge lunch the previous day and felt so full that I skipped dinner and breakfast that morning. I happily inhaled a banana that another kind rider in the group came back with from the convenience store on our short break at Church Point. Despite my lack of energy, the epic climbs and a flat tyre on the middle of the Harbour Bridge, I really enjoyed this ride and the beautiful scenery it went through (too busy riding to take any photos though).

I was sceptical when they announced on day 4 that both rides leaving the Club would be 'steady' with no fast groups. We were only 3 females out of all the riders that day and while I really can't stand it when people automatically regard female cyclist's ability as lesser... it seems like men generally just have a gender advantage! My legs were crying going up the hills (especially after Boxing Day's big ride) but my stubbornness made me determined not to drop back too far up the climbs.

After day four's ride, I jumped on a train (or 4, thanks holiday trackworks) with my bike and met my family at Blackheath in the Blue Mountains where I joined them camping for three days. I started off Day 5 with a rainy & unexpectedly cold (wish I packed my arm warmers) spin to Govett's Leap lookout where there was the most beautiful, magic mist moving through the valley. I then met my Mountains-local friend Corey who lead the way through amazing rain forest down into the Megalong Valley. We cycled to where the road ends and crosses with the famous Six Foot Track. There we bumped into a friend of Corey's who had just finished a run and happily accepted some chocolate before the big climb back up the Valley. 

On Day 6 I did the lovely Megalong Valley route again (legs crying after the previous few days' climbs - respect to the riders I saw doing repeats up the valley!) and then I did a tour between a few lookouts around Blackheath. In the afternoon I went for another quick ride and nearly got caught in a big storm (above image).

On Day 7 I set off with my backpack towards Sydney. I loved this day's ride; it was sunny and beautiful descending the Mountains through the back roads. Even on the few stretches along the Great Western Highway the shoulder was decent (except for the couple of heart-stopping 200m stretches where it completely disappeared) and the roads relatively quiet. I took a train from Glenbrook for the rest of the way as I wanted to save some energy for Day 8's grand finale ride.

After a much-needed coffee we set off on the final Sydney Festive 500 organised ride on New Years eve morning, very happy that I took it easy on the previous day. My first long roadbike ride was also to Palm Beach a few months prior and I could feel that my bike fitness had noticeably improved since then - it was much more enjoyable than that first time. It was a really nice end to the challenge - lovely group & scenery, fun conversations and finished with a coffee and celebration beer (in that order) back at the shop. And I didn't feel nearly as guilty as I single-handedly finished the cheese platter on a picnic that evening.

All up I rode 548km over 8 main rides (see them here) and as I was saying to a friend on the last ride, it was such a nice experience. If it wasn't for the challenge I probably wouldn't have cycled half the distance and have taken my bike to the Mountains, which were some of my favourite rides. I'm excited for 2015 and hopefully all the amazing European cycling it will involve - because the goal was really always just to be able to cycle through the Alps.