In June last year (2015), I found myself at the end of a ‘rolling’ six-month contract (in the Oil industry) which had rolled its last. With no prospect of renewal and, more importantly, no desire to look for more work in the corporate world, I was at a cross-roads. I had just celebrated my 50th birthday in the Alps, with a celebratory climb up Col de la Colombiere, which may not be every bodies idea of fun, but for me it fulfilled a lifelong ambition to cycle some big alpine passes.
When I say lifelong, I mean from my teenage years. When I was 16 my Grandma took me on an ‘older persons’ coach tour of Switzerland, a bit like a paid companion. It was interesting in many ways, mostly not relevant to the current story, but one of my abiding memories was of looking out of the coach window and wishing I was on my bike. I was trapped on the wrong side of the glass.
Spin the wheel another 34 years and at last I found myself on the right side of the glass climbing through beautiful alpine scenery on a bike I could only have dreamt of back then. Within days I was completely hooked. A couple of months after my alpine birthday, I received a text from a friend who had accompanied me up the Col de Colombiere, saying she was going to do the Marmotte Sportive in July 2016. It wasn’t exactly an invitation to join her, in fact I think I’ll call it a provocation. I was stunned that somebody with so little experience would ever contemplate doing such a thing. 5000 metres of ascent in one day. Really? It worried me on so many levels, but mainly because I found myself saying ’if she can do it, why can’t I’? So we both signed up.
As the winter months very slowly turned to spring all my worrying had sadly not converted into a disciplined training regime and it was late March when I realised I was seriously behind the curve. This has never stopped me doing anything and my luck was about to turn. Via my network of Facebook friends, I was offered the opportunity of being a ‘resident cyclist’ for a Chalet near Bourg Saint Maurice for 3 weeks; a perfect finale to my less than perfect Marmotte training, I thought. Unfortunately, my luck was short-lived.
One week before my trip to Bourg Saint Maurice, I discovered that I had high blood pressure and an unusual ECG response. After a lot of tramping around London to various medical establishment, I realised that no-one was going to sign my Marmotte medical certificate. The Doctor didn’t tell me I should stop riding, just that attempting 5000 metres in one day probably wasn’t wise, until I had investigated both things further, and the investigating was going to take time and money that I didn’t have. The stress of running around all week trying to get things sorted, and finally on the eve of my departure, being told that my Marmotte dream was over, added to the stress of discovering that I had high blood pressure, which was probably caused by stress and that being stressed about it was going to increase the stress further! If I didn’t have high blood pressure before, I certainly did now.
I awoke the next morning feeling anxious (stressed even?) and took a blood pressure reading with my latest gadget, a blood pressure monitor I brought on the way back from the cardiologist the previous evening. It was high. I was wondering how I was going to get 40kg of luggage, including a bike, from Clapham to Gatwick airport. I only had to negotiate one flight of stairs but what if no-one helped? I couldn’t do it alone. Was it sensible to rely on the milk of human kindness in such stressful circumstances? It was all going horribly wrong. Surely I would die before I even reached the airport?
By the time I was sitting in my Easyjet seat, I had started to calm down. I found myself contemplating 3 weeks of alpine riding with no need for extreme training schedules hanging over my head, and that thought alone gave rise to a little internal smile and a small sigh of relief.
The following blog is a record of me riding where the hell I liked and at my own pace. Looking back, it is the story of me reconnecting with the way I used to ride in my teens and early twenties, when we always made our own routes, and it was about exploring and getting lost. I loved it and within days my blood pressure had fallen back down to normal levels.
(top featured image: View across the valley from Alpe d’Huez)