Bike blog- tales of a travel along the by-ways of Suffolk

Shock rippled through my body when my host announced we needed to be up at 6am to get to the start line for the Women on Wheels 50mile cycle. After negotiation and hovering over maps a more humane 7am was agreed. Bleary eyed we stacked the bikes onto the car carrier and set off. The early morning lanes of Suffolk bore testament to the peace and tranquillity this outlying county of England provides.

On arrival at a park start-line any chance of a last few minutes nap were gone. Coats off and Mary on the Green emblazoned across my chest we registered our presence. The joy and smiles of all the women gathering was a feast. Not a Danish sit up and beg bike in sight, so I was sure I was not amongst a gathering of the North London luvvies anymore but serious cyclists. These were women who challenged the orthodoxy that cycling – take the Tour de France- is for men.

My cycling partner asked me what my average speed was. The fact I did not know made she and me think that I was perhaps going to be in for more of a challenge than I had realised. Having had only two training cycles in the month before, I lashed on the ibuprofen gel in the hopes of a last minute release from the pain I knew would come.

We set off after warnings about loose grit on the road- well made as I watched cyclists struggle over it- and the most important matter of resting points.

I was told Suffolk was flat. The hills are actually slow, insidious traps. But as I powered up the first long slow hill I thought I can do this.

Along the route we were passed by, and occasionally passed, groups of women laughing and driving each other onward. The occasional puncture meant the whole groups stopped to assist their sister. No-one was ever left unaided. The sweepers checking everyone was OK seemed to have little to do but were a welcome reassurance as were the junction guides pointing out the route and shouting motivational messages.

As time went on I gave my cycling partner permission not to keep waiting for me at every junction. She was itching to get a speed up – hers was typically 16mph—which was great for me to aspire to but was simply not going to happen on this trip. As the ride went on I slowed and slowed.

The first stop with flapjacks, tea and water was welcome. A lovely little country pub noted for future visits. The second was a less enticing community hall which, as we were now only – only she says!!—10 miles from the end we decided to speed on past. Well my partner did the speeding and I did the ‘ on and on and on’ bit.

Why did the very last mile seem sooo much longer than the 51 before it? Why did the painful soft tissue behind my left knee keep asking for my attention louder and louder? Why did my wonderful cycling partner stay with me and give me the chance to cycle through the finish line before her…Mary blazing on my proud but weary chest to the clatter of bells and hoots of ‘ well done’.

The joy and comradery of the arrival back was a testament to the Women on Wheels organisers and to the small group of supporting men who made sure this event, run by St Nicholas Hospice, went without a hitch. I thank them all. As I limped back to the bike carrier a voice said ‘see you again next year’….. I glanced over with a watery smile?!! Bikes aboard I soon sat back in the car with the new knowledge that my average speed is 12mph…. I think Mary would have accepted my efforts in her name were ‘good enough’ for now.