Like most major decisions in life, I tend to think impulsively and jump right in at the deep end, that's literally how I learnt to swim - Thanks Father.
I saw a quote online a while back that said "If 2016 is being directed by Quentin Tarantino, then it all makes perfect sense." Along with awesome idols of mine passing away, 2016 has stormed into my life, fucked shit up and left my life as a trail of destruction in its wake. Perhaps it's my not-so-old-or-young age, but I'm beginning to adopt a hands up "f*ck it" attitude towards things. Where I was once so organised and had it all mapped out, I no longer think I care because clearly, life doesn't care about your plans.
Anways, let's move on from the doom and gloom and into something more hilariously painful, but positive...
With my new "whatever happens happens" attitude, I've began to set myself mini goals and projects to keep me busy, and actually utilise forgotten skills and talents. I learnt to ride in 2015 and again, went head first into the world of dirt, trails, wheels and all things colour-coordinating (Mom never wanted a Power Ranger for a daughter). I was (literally) head over heels for the sport and dedicated my free time, and professional time writing about the world of two wheels.
Having started out in the mountains, I'm all about the baggy shorts, skater style of riding with a saggy bike set up for smashing my way down trails. However, MTB involves a lot of prep and driving to get to the trails, and a hell of a big clean up mission after. I learnt that a lot of pro riders, like Manon and Tahnée, often ditch the dirt to ride the roads for endurance and fitness in the off-season. With that I decided to get a road bike earlier in the year and clock up some training miles. I don't understand the rivalry between roadies and mounties either, so long as you're on a bike, pedalling, then who cares?
Admittedly I had only ridden the road bike for short stints of 10 - 25 miles at a time, and on a mountain bike it's usually the same region of distance. So where did this 100 miler idea come from?
No idea, just one of my impulsive ideas which seemed great at the time. I think the train of thought went something like this: Weather looks good this week - I should plan a ride - I need to test the new Marin - I'll do a mini tour - sod it, why not make it a 100 miler. And with that, just 2 days of prep, I went on the Sustrans site, found Route 5 which runs nearish to me, and I thought "That'll do".
I decided to make my way down to Holyhead on Friday evening and stay in a guest-house for the night. With my bike and kit in tow, I arrived at this B&B which turned out to be an old gentleman's house. Admittedly, he was friendly and accommodating, allowing the bike to be stored in the garage, but made a couple of not-so-PC comments about guests of a non-British nationality. (Mentally noted: "Don't tell him you're Polish")
The night before the ride and I wasn't really feeling anything. Didn't bother thinking if I could do it, or how fast, or the route. I uploaded the course onto my Garmin so I had a back up navigation in case the Route 5 markings weren't visible.
The bike I chose to ride was the new Marin Gestalt 3, ideal for touring with. However, it was new out the box so it needed some setting up. Fortunately I had a bike fit with Lee at Velo Atelier not long back who provided me with all my measurements for setting up the bike properly. After tweaking and adjusting this and that, ensuring everything was dialled in, I turned my attention onto my three Alpkit packs which would be strapped to the bike for the journey.
I made sure to pack a variety of gels, flapjacks, jelly babies, bananas and plenty of water... in addition to the other essentials: phone, keys, purse, epi-pen and Ibuprofen, repair kit. I decided to take my trusted Gerber knife also, which I find to be an essential trail and ride carry for cutting debris out of rear mechs and tidying off those cable ties after a cycle-hack repair. Feeling that I would need the strength of a thousand female cyclists, I thought it was apt for me to wear my Strongher cycling kit from head to toe, believing that there might be some magical cycling power in the fabric that would keep me going - Every little helps, right?
Time for a well rested sleep with an early alarm. But wait, what's that,.. the racist guest-house owner was patrolling the landing. I kept seeing his feet shadowing the doorway as he shuffled around out there. With his room right next door, and the walls paper thin, I was careful to not make a noise. It felt a little strange (no pun intended) to be sleeping in an old man's spare room, and having to tip-toe and whisper at night. I cocooned myself in a sushi-roll of comfort, and hoped he'd shut up and go to bed soon.
Up early at 06:30, I kitted up, shovelled some porridge into my face and made a ninja escape from the guest-house.
With a double check over the bike, I fixed the packs and water bottles, loaded the Garmin with the route and rolled out to the starting point. Damnit! Forgot my gloves. Route 5 begins in Holyhead, just outside the train station where there are blue cycle signs. I followed these until the signs read "Bicycle Route 5", and I was off.
I say "I", but I'm not adult enough to have braved this solo, and with my virtually nil training or previous long-distance cycling experience, I dragged along super rider, Ellis, to make sure I didn't end up in Ireland, or a hospital.
With blue skies, and a waking sun, we pedalled off following the Route 5 signs through Holyhead and into neighbouring villages. From the outset, I told Ellis that I didn't what to know how many miles we had done, that mentally, I would rather not know and just keep pedalling until we finished.
This route is stunning. The country roads took us past farms full of cute animals, and the creepy flocks of sheep who followed our movements intently. The scenery is beautiful around this area with rich colours and textures, I knew my pace would be relatively slow because I wanted to take it all in, and not just keep my head down.
With the Garmin, we had programmed it to beep at us every 50 minutes to remind us to eat and hydrate. I also had a heart-rate monitor strapped on which would annoyingly beep at me when I was at 90% HR, which occurred on nearly every climb.
According to Ellis, the ride was 110 miles in total. Then on the day, he said it would only be 106 miles in total. Already knowing not to trust him with distances, I still chose to not know the exact distance along the way, so long as I broke 100 miles I was happy.
About 30 miles in, my sit bones were getting sore. So with every descent and free-wheel chance, I was out of my saddle and wiggling my booty to get the blood going again. Then after another 10 miles, I was aching pretty badly again, and sure that something wasn't right. Before setting off I made sure to apply way more than usual of my chamois cream as well.
We pulled over so I could hoist up my shorts and adjust the chamois. We set off again, but the pain was going through me. Not having to ask twice, I asked Ellis to check out my butt whilst riding, and sure enough he confirmed what I was thinking... the chamois pad wasn't wide enough to cover my sit bones. So my foof was padded, but my sit bones had nothing between them, the Lycra and saddle. The shorts were a perfect fit though, but the chamois wasn't wide enough to cover my wide ass. Nothing I could do, but deal... and wiggle.
Lot of little niggles began cropping up after the halfway point. Numb toes, so I loosened my shoes to promote blood flow. Sore neck, so I adjusted my bars. Hands hurt, forgot my bloody gloves, didn't I?!
The coastal areas were beautiful, and the weather had bought out the masses to enjoy it. Luckily, I had my new Knog bell which worked a treat as I ring-a-ding-dinged my way through the crowds, occasionally mumbling curse words at those that refused to move, making me unclip. Some areas of the coastal path had been totally blown over with thick amounts of sand, so there was no way of passing through but to push and carry the bikes.
We made it to the 80 mile marker point which is where our Garmins indicated a ramp up in the incline. Definitely not what I needed in the heat and at 80 miles in, but we climbed and climbed for what seemed like forever... and then rookie disaster happened...
We approached a junction at the crown of a hill which was pretty open. You could see all directions, so I approached slowly and with caution, but seeing and hearing nothing, I decided to stay on the bike and carefully cross. Until douche-bag in a white van tears it around a corner causing me to slam the brakes. Unable to unclip fast enough, I went down on my side like a sack of bricks, taking the full impact on my hand and hip. Ellis unclipped my feet and pulled me to the side of the road. Feeling angry at myself and the van man, I sat foolishly fighting back tears and staring down at my quickly swelling hand. The bike was fine though, thank God.
Smashing some Ibuprofen, water and jelly babies, we cracked on with 30 miles to go. My hand was throbbing though, and I was unable to grip the bars or brakes properly. So with an awkward grip, my speed plummeted and my mental power was drained.
Having given in to my distance-knowing embargo, I checked in with Ellis who said there was 20 miles to go. In my head, that meant we had done around 90 already. Knowing we were 20 miles from home actually gave me a little morale lift. I've done 20 miles plenty of times before, so it began to actually feel realistic.
We cracked on for another 45 minutes or so when Ellis said, we've just done 90 miles. What the actual fuck. We still had 20 miles to go. That little morale boost had vanished, and after giving him the angry eyes, I pedalled on with my swollen hand, and a full on poody face.
It gets a little boring now because I was a little pissy, tired and in pain. Ellis - now known as dick-face - decided to ride in front, and we muted the Team Speak. With the speed getting slower, my whole undercarriage numb with pain, dusk was setting in as we hit more populated towns.
Dick-face calls out to me: "Hey Jessica, you just cycled 100 miles. We did it!". With a grunting acknowledgement we pushed on. Given the total miles was either 110 - 106 miles, I was hopeful that we were nearly home. With a Gomez Thunderpaws sticker on my top-tube, he was all I could think about, and became my sole morale for getting back.
Dusk began to set in, and I thought to myself: "like hell this is 6 miles, must be more". Pedalling down B roads, along A roads and residential streets, nothing looked familiar to me and I was beginning to really suffer. Where was dick-face taking me, Narnia?
At last, I saw a familiar street and knew we were just a mile away from the house. The street lights had come on, and I was feeling totally depleted, physically, mentally and emotionally.
As we rolled into the driveway, Gomez Thunderpaws was sat in the window. Precariously and ungracefully dismounting from the bike, I stumbled through the front door, kicked off my cleats and chased Gomez into the kitchen for a forced cuddle. Completely forgetting that I had just cycled 100 miles, I just wanted to smush my cat. As soon as I popped him down on the floor, he proceeded to take a "Welcome Home, Mom" shit on the carpet. Thanks, boy!
The Aftermath - Too much info coming your way...
After peeling my kit off, and hopping into the shower, I could feel the sting on my hand and hip from where I fell. However, the worst pain was from my undercarriage. The lack of chamois on my sit bones had caused some serious swelling and chaffing. By swelling, I mean that my genitals resembled to that of a closed hotdog bun where it was all swollen shut. Pee'ing was painful, and quite difficult. Even walking was painful. So I smothered my buns in chamois cream, popped on the biggest pair of granny panties that I owned and carefully got into bed.
I've spent today, waddling around and sitting/lying on my hip. Going to the toilet is a two handed job at least because my sit bones hurt so much that I kinda have to roll myself off the seat and onto the bath mat where Gomez tries to attack my hair.
Despite the rookie fall, the aches and distance mis-judgement, I'm absolutely thrilled I completed the 100 mile ride. It took a lot longer than I thought, but I like looking at things, taking photos... and falling off. The weather was perfect, the route was stunning and the company wasn't bad.
After uploading the Garmin data, checking out the time and map, I see that the total distance covered was in fact 114 miles. Dick-face!