I love cycling, but I have to admit that it’s not all fun and games every single minute. Sometimes having to pedal just one more meter can make you want to throw your bike away and sit by the road sulking because everything just SUCKS. This is a feeling I usually get when I’m hungry. When I’m really hungry I easily turn into the hulk, I simply get hangry (hungry/angry). I’m usually very chatty when cycling in a group, I can talk your ears off if given the opportunity. The first sign of my mood dropping is when I get quiet. When I go silent – beware.
Let’s skip to last summer. Day five of the cycling to Paris, we were in Belgium. It had been raining all day before, and the moment we got up in the morning we realized that the rain was still beating down on the pavement outside the hotel windows. As if the lousy weather wasn’t enough, this was the day when we had 220 kilometers to cover to get to the next hotel, including several steep mountains. On of them being Mur de Huy, a famous Belgian climb with the biggest grade being a fear-inducing 26%. The cycling race La Flèche Wallonne is usually decided on this slope. I was terrified.
We dressed in our fancy rain gear (huge black plastic bags) and set off from our hotel in Maastricht. We were pumped up and ready to go, despite the awful weather. A few hundred meters from the hotel we got out first flat. It was mid-July, 10 degrees and windy. I think you can all imagine my mood at this point.
But we cycled on, it was slow and we had a lot of flat tires, and the Belgian mountains didn’t help at all. And then there we were. Mur de Huy loomed in front of us. We took of restricting clothes, we drank energy shots, we removed our water bottles to lighten the load and one by one we set off up the mountain. It didn’t take long before my legs were stiff with lactic acid, and my tires were slipping on the wet road and I had no power left at all. I was going so slow that I realized that if I didn’t pick up the speed I would fall over. Well, I jumped off my bike, just before hitting that last bend and seeing the goal line ahead. I was completely beat, and I knew that the time was ticking away quickly and we had yet to cover half the distance for that day.
We kept cycling, there were more awful steep hills and I was completely silent. I didn’t say a word because I was so tired, I was hungry and thirsty because when it’s pouring down and you’re shaking on the bike from freezing so much it’s really hard to force yourself to eat and drink. Also it’s not very nice to undress outdoors (when you’re a cyclist you learn quickly that it’s very necessary to be comfortable with peeing outside) and remove most of your clothing to pee – which is why I didn’t drink. And I just had to keep cycling, because there were 30 people counting on me to keep on pedaling. All this time I was crying silently in the rain.
When we finally reached the place where we were going to eat lunch, the clock was approaching three in the afternoon, we had more than 140 km left and I had never been more exhausted in my life. I had no idea how I was going to make it, and I still couldn’t eat because I have a hard time eating when I’m too tired. I was sipping hot tea and wishing for the best. I was scared for my safety and for everyone elses because I was not the only one who was tired, we all were. The roads were slippery, it wouldn’t stop raining and the wind was picking up as well. And that’s when it happened.
We were told that there were 8 available spots in the core team cars, and they were for the ones who were suffering the most. And I promise, I was not the one who was in the worst shape, people were crying all around me. But when the team leader told me that I could grab the last spot, I just broke down in tears, I was so thankful. I put my bike in our giant food truck, crawled into one of the cars wrapped in a blanket and could finally relax. I was having a very hard time focusing though, I lost track of what I was saying and my mind was just as exhausted as my body. After two hours in the car we got to the hotel, and after checking in (they were expecting 30 cyclists and their bikes, not 8 shivering soaking wet cyclists with no bikes) we got our rooms and after long, hot showers we gathered in a room wrapped in towels and comforters because our luggage was still in the food truck that would arrive much, much later.
We ordered beers and snacks and talked and laughed and it was the best afternoon I could have wished for under those circumstances. The others arrived a few hours later, after having cycled for 50 more kilometers than us. Then they were forced to stop too because it wasn’t safe to keep cycling, and I felt so sorry for them when they arrived. This kind of exhaustion can really break a person down, and there were a lot of tears all evening.
This is a photo of me taken later that night during our team dinner. You can always see very clearly on me when I’m exhausted and looking at this pic it kind of breaks my heart. I hate being that tired.
So I (mostly) know what I’m doing. I know how hard it can be. Rain is awful, wind is awful, hills are awful but some good food, a beer and a good nights sleep and then I’m ready to pedal on again. The next day we had some rain, but it was mostly fine and I was my usual happy chatty self again. We got to shake President Hollandes hand as we finally made it to France and saw one leg of the Tour de France. It was pretty awesome. The day before was forgotten and everything was good again.
That was my worst day of cycling. I hope this will continue to be the worst day for a long time to come. But at least when I’ll be cycling by myself I can stop and take shelter from rain and harsh weather, I won’t have to push on if I don’t want to.
What’s your worst experience cycling?