What on earth would possess anyone to cycle up the side of an extinct volcano in France three times on a hot summer's day?
Honestly, I’m not even sure I can answer that logically, even after doing it!
The trip was my brainchild after an abrupt exit from my nearest and dearest. I was struggling with a broken heart and a lot of hurt. There was turmoil of course and a lot of picking up the pieces.
So the choices were:
(A) Be a victim, drink and cry myself into a hole or
(B) Get productive.
I chose B!
Being productive can take many shapes but for me I decided I needed a personal challenge. Cycling is my thing and I have done many an arduous spin. However I needed something to work towards, something big and a bit crazy. I wanted to push myself further and test my mental and physical strength. When your single you suddenly find you have a lot more time and energy to burn. I hadn't really noticed just how stressed I had been for the last year. I thought that was part of life and making a go of it with someone. The realisation that I had been the only one "pulling the cart" so to speak, spurred me on to find myself and my passion again.
I chose to cycle an extinct volcano in France three times in one day, otherwise known as "Les Cingles du Mont Ventoux." Often featured in the Tour de France, Mont Ventoux is iconic amongst cyclists. As long as I am cycling I have always wanted to go there. It's not for the faint hearted cyclist. Notorious for having its own weather system and mistral winds, it's not called the Beast of Provence for nothing. I love cycling, I love travel and I am not afraid to push myself beyond my comfort zone. It really was an obvious choice! Wasn't it?
A great friend of mine agreed to come with me. We had discussed the possibility of this trip over the years and it had always ended up on the long finger. We rounded up two more cycle buddies to come with us. Dates were picked, flights booked, we found a house on Airbnb, hired bikes and rented a car. Thank God for the internet. Job done! The trip was some 11 months away but I didn't mind. It was booked. I had a goal, a plan and brilliant friends to join me.
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The seasons changed, time marched on. I kept busy with work, went back to college and made some amazing new friends, I would have otherwise never met. I got out there socially even when I couldn't face it. I picked myself up, dusted myself off and did what I do best. Travel! I went to London to visit a friend and I went backpacking in Myanmar and Cambodia. It wasn't how I expected 2017 to be. I never expected to be single but I had to face facts and be brave. Life doesn't always go how you planned, have a contingency plan!
Training was sporadic over winter due to heavy snow but I never quit. I have steely determination when I have an event to train for, nothing will stand in my way. Spin bikes, treadmills, weights, yoga and pilates, I worked hard. Hiking in the snow with weights in a backpack, ankle weights around the house, you name it, I did it! I was on a mission to conquer the Beast in my best possible shape. If I am honest I probably took some of my hurt and upset out on my bike and my body too. While I'm happy to take responsibility for my part I found I was pushing myself a little too hard. Perhaps even taking on too much blame. I don't know if that's normal or not? When your the one left behind and they saunter off into the sunset I guess it's normal to feel a little unlovable and broken.
At 6am on Saturday 23rd June 2018 three of the four of us set off to climb Mont Ventoux pour les Cinglés du Mont Ventoux. 137 kilometers ahead and some 4400 meters of climbing ahead. Unfortunately our fourth had an accident a few weeks previously and was nursing a broken collar bone. Thankfully he still came on the trip and was swiftly promoted to Chef d'equipe, that's means support car and help for the day.
The weather was perfect, the temperature would get high later on but our aim was to get two of the three climbs done before lunch. So there I was on a warm summer morning in France. Watching the sun rise over beautiful vineyards in Provence. Almost a year in the making here I was cycling a bike on my way to the top of this iconic climb that I had read and heard so much about. I had most definitely moved on. They say time is the best healer but I tend to disagree. A passport, bike and wonderful friends are what worked for me- I was me again.
I felt really excited as well as a little apprehensive. I was bursting with joy and everytime I caught a glimpse of the "lighthouse" at the top I would reassure myself that I could get there, (3 times!) I was a little worried of course wondering had I trained enough and then there is always the unknown. How gruesome would this be?
First summit from Bedoin: By far the easiest even though we were on the toughest side of the pyramid. I was so excited, adrenaline was coursing through my body so hard I think it infected my bike! It seemed to just glide along effortlessly. We were full of chat and enthusiasm. The scenery was spectacular and we could see for miles. Each time we caught a glimpse of the top it was getting closer and closer. I was pumped. It really is the only way to describe it. My heart wasn't broken, it had jump leads and was dancing a samba!
Second summit from Malaucene: What goes up must come down. From the summit we descended into Malaucene for a cuppa and croissants. The descents are fast and thrilling. Then of course you have to turn around and go back up! I loved this side, there were 2000 Belgians cycling this road doing their own event. We had loads of people to chat to along the way making it very sociable. The gradient wasn't bad at all this way. I felt great, better than great in fact. I was in my element and well within my comfort zone. I love long climbs, they suit my personality. Put me on cruise control and away I go! As long as I have someone to chat to and things to look at I am happy out. I loved the approach to the summit from this side. It looked like tiers on a cake and I could see cyclists on every level. I couldn't wait to get to the top. I arrived in style and really felt elated.
Third summit from Sault: Descending into Sault was like a dream. We came out of the forest and were met by lavender fields. The scent just wafted in the air. It was so beautiful, I did my best to take a photo for you while cycling but it just looked rubbish! If you get the chance go. Provence is out of this world, you don't even need a bike. We had a proper lunch, bit of a rest, chats and laughs. Then it was time to go and get our third and final summit in. "Allez! Allez!"
We were 25 kilometers from the top.
UPSET TUMMY - FEELING LIKE TOM DUMOULIN
rI'm not sure when it started, I think perhaps about 10 km in. My tummy. A few gurgles at first. I thought it would settle down. Out of the corner of my eye I was trying to find a bush or tree I could jump behind. The stronger Belgians were on this side of the mountain too and there was just too many people. I was sure it was just indigestion and would pass. Sure we didn't have that far left to go. The third climb actually has a downhill section and it made me forget my rumblings momentarily which by now had turned into cramps. Of course after a bit of a decent we were straight back into a climb. The last 6 kilometers to be exact.
I was really worried at this stage, not about my fitness but my cycling shorts. If you look at the pictures you will notice that the top of Mont Ventoux is open, very exposed and like a moonscape. So any chance I had of finding somewhere to hunker down was now gone. I had to slow up. I always use my abdominals on climbs and I think I had really overdone the squeezing all day. I was just hanging on at this stage. I was so uncomfortable and was terrified to make any sudden moves. I was now dreading my beloved switchbacks near the top. I knew our support star was at the top already and was waiting on our grande finale. My two cycle buddies were just ahead of me and I was glad. As the only girl on this trip I did not want to have a Tom Dumoulin moment on front of them. (Tom famously had to jump off his bike in the Giro d'Italia whilst wearing the leader's jersey due diarrhea. He still managed to win.) I couldn't wait to finish. All I could think about was finding a loo. 100 meters from the top there was a row of portaloos. I honestly couldn't decide whether to keep going or stop now. It was a tough decision as I knew I might have to live with the consequences either way! It was a close call. I chose to sprint the last 100 meters. Arriving at the summit I threw my bike at my poor friend who was trying to hug and congratulate me.
"Don't squeeze me I need the loo!"
I was panic stricken!
You will be pleased to know that I made it in time and my dignity was saved. Except I have made it public now!
So a year has come and gone since we ended. Full circle. I am certainly older a lot wiser. I travelled some serious miles in the last twelve months, physically and emotionally. The world didn't end and I got through it. I loved every minute of my French trip, I will always remember that day. For all the reasons, good, bad and funny. I am so lucky to have such brilliant friends.
"Big wheels keep on rolling," as Ike and Tina Turner said. The seasons come and go, people come and go and that's life. Ultimately you will only ever have yourself. I wouldn't have wanted anyone to push me up that hill. Even when it got hard and very uncomfortable. The challenge was for me and would be done by me. My friends were nearby but it was me who was pulling my own cart, no codependency. I had put in the training and found it easier than I ever expected. I had built it up in my head to be something that it wasn't. A bit like our relationship.
They say that disappointment only comes from two possibilities, wrong person or wrong expectations. We all have expectations and we all hope other people will match them. When they don't it's ok. It's not ok to walk away abruptly, that's cruel. However, if you ever find yourself standing alone and missing someone, just remember: If they walk away, let them go. You deserve someone who will stick around no matter what happens. Even if you have an accident in your shorts!
"Being a good woman to yourself
is more important than being
a good woman to any man. " - M. Sosa @sweetzthoughts
So what is next? The longest uphill cycle in the world of course! Alto Letras, Colombia, December 2018. What would possess me to do that? I'm a strong enough cyclist. Like I said, I love a challenge and I love doing things that are a little crazy. It's what makes me who I am. I'm happiest when I am in the sun, on a bike and exploring! So Colombia is the obvious choice! Isn't it!?
About the Author:
Sinéad Kennedy is a Physical Therapist, Yoga Siromani and Pilates Instructor, based in South County Dublin. She treats and teaches people from all walks of life, including many athletes, especially cyclists, runners and golfers. Recently featured in the Irish Independant, FIT Magazine, her Yoga 4 Cyclists class has gained notoriety.
A keen cyclist and proud member of Orwell Wheelers she has completed numerous cycling events including Les Cingles du Mont Ventoux & La Marmotte Sportive. She is an accomplished audax-er having done numerous 200km and 300km routes. Sinéad has also completed three Dublin City Marathons, numerous Adventure Races and Half Marathons.
Keen to spread the word on all things related to Wellness, Fitness, Coaching and Travel.