This weekend, after leading a Breeze Network ride on Saturday morning, I grabbed the bull by the horns, booked an Airbnb and took a solo trip down to Oxford for this festival of women’s cycling organised by The Adventure Syndicate and Broken Spoke.
Despite arriving half a day late, I was blown away. The quality and quantity of speakers and panellists sharing their passion and knowledge about cycling was incredible.
I was desperate to arrive in time for a workshop on Saturday afternoon where TCR (transcontinental race) winner and author Emily Chappell talked about preparing for a long distance bike journey – going to be very useful for those like me trying cycle touring this year! Made it by the skin of my teeth and am so grateful as it introduced me for the first time to the idea of the Invisible Peloton, which is probably the key thing I have brought home from the weekend. There was a key
note address on Saturday evening from former 24h national MTB champion, Rickie Cotter, which was engaging, emotional and hilarious.
There was a social on Saturday evening which gave me the opportunity to mingle and meet some extraordinary women with terrific stories and for us to swap ideas.
On Sunday morning I skipped out of a bike tour of Oxford – well, it was 4° and bucketing down – and mingled and asked Emily some questions about her obsession with cycling in really, really cold places. It also provoked some interesting discussion. Emily had written on some sheets some thoughts which may stimulate discussion and one of the phrases that resonated incredibly strongly with me was about being an imposter. This massively encapsulates a lot of how I can feel at these sort of events. On paper, I really don’t fit it. I don’t look the part. I can’t ride hundreds of miles without batting an eyelid. I’m as slow a cyclist as they come. Heck, I even wimp out of a wet and windy short ride on a Sunday morning. But no one is judging me in this way, I’m perfectly capable of inflicting it on myself!
But some of the conversations I had confirm that I do fit in, I do have a voice and my voice is valid. To prove a point – our Breeze ride on Saturday had 12 participants – including 3 new women. And I’m a little bit instrumental in that. It seems that lots of other groups and clubs struggle to get women to take those first steps but I specialise in it! I know what works and how to make it safe for my ladies and encourage them and I can share that with women in other areas and together we’ll get more women on bikes!
Me and Maryam outside the venue
After lunch there was a panel discussion about cycling as a family, featuring my local Breeze Network area co-ordinator, Maryam Amatullah and Isla Rowntree (who had cycled nearly 100 miles to get there!) of Isla Bikes amongst others. I’ll be honest, I thought I wouldn’t be interested in this session as a childless old crone but it was fascinating!
Then we got to see the world premiere of the stunning Adventure Syndicate film of the Highland 500, followed by a panel discussion and questions to Emily Chappell, national 24h MTB champion, Lee Craigie, adventure cyclist Laura Moss and filmmaker Anna Kubik.
We were fed right royally throughout by a vegan and mostly-gluten-free kitchen, and the coffee was supplied by the beautiful Kim from The Roasting House here in Nottingham. Oh, and I even got to meet one of the ladies behind Cycling Travel Journal which I supported on Kickstarter last year!
The Invisible Peloton
In short, the theory is that you’re never alone. In those moments when it’s hard and you have to dig deep, take a bit of time to think about the people who support you and those who inspire you, and from them is where you draw your strength. Knowing that others believe in you, have got your back, have been through worse and done things that are far, far more difficult than what you are currently experiencing will spur you on. It will give you the extra strength and energy. And through them you will succeed.
So now I’m building my own invisible peloton. It features everyone I have named in this blog today, plus many more I spoke to and became friends with over the weekend. It goes without saying, my family – my ever-tolerant husband, mum and sister, my niece and nephews and all the extended family. My friends. I’m so blessed with amazing friends, like Sharon and Jo and Kajsa and so, so many more. My beautiful ladies from Nottingham Girls Cycle and Breeze Champions, both local and further afield. Then the cycling greats, those women blazing a trail for future generations, Billie Fleming, Beryl Burton, the Suffragettes. Current and past champions in all the disciplines. And others I’m yet to meet or hear of.
Whether it’s a difficult time riding my bike or any other context, I have my invisible peloton and with them I simply cannot fail.
Some other things I learned…
- Most people are ‘tidy’
- LEJOG off road is a ‘thing’
- a way to stop traffic around schools is to ban kids from being dropped off in cars
- if you’re short on time on a journey, it helps to have done ‘supermarket training’ so you go in and get exactly what you want in double quick time!
- you can get a really good night’s sleep in a brothel
- I can do anything I want to (OK, I already knew this but having it reinforced is never a bad thing…)