Wheel Women

This past week, and the week before that, were all about the bike. And the women. And the rides. And the cafes. Put it all together and it’s a winning formula; there is almost nothing I could recommend more! And it’s all due to the women’s cycling group Wheel Women. Have I mentioned them before? Once, twice?? But they’re always worth another mention or more because they do amazing work getting us women on bikes and keeping us there.

I have to say that my involvement with (possibly read: dependence on) Wheel Women is one of the main reasons why going to Canberra for 3 months from September to December 2016 was hard, and why coming home was so good. I really didn’t know if I’d keep up riding in Canberra without my supportive group. Wheel Women’s director kindly put me onto a cyclist in Canberra, but her group was more of a mountain bike club, and the road cycling group she referred me to rode at 6am on a weekday; enough said! She offered some one on one rides, but in the end I sort of bumbled around until I found a few places on my own. It was a nice offer though.

Of course I took my bike, helmet, cycle computer, bike clothes and other accessories (there a lots of add on products that you “need” when you start riding!!) with me to Canberra. But having the stuff with me, and actually using it are two different things. I’ve proved this before. Having to think out where to go, how to get there, what the route will be like, what to do if I got stuck halfway due to accident or mechanical, if I’m up for it etc becomes a barrier very easily. With Wheel Women, organised rides are thought out, planned and advertised by someone else. All I have to do is turn up at a specific place and time and follow the leader; that holds a lot of the attraction for me to keep up riding, I’ll admit. Is that laziness? Maybe. But it’s a winning, working formula and I think it’s an attraction for a lot of us Wheel Women members. I did try to find some new riding locations in Canberra, and I fell in love with Lake Burley Griffin and its surrounding bike paths so that kept me going on rides a bit. A few local rides to brunch or dinner, to sightseeing near our place etc made up the rest of the rides, twenty in all; not terrific for 90 odd days but hey I did something more than look at my bike on the verandah!

As much as I was looking forward to riding with Wheel Women again when I got home to Melbourne, I didn’t get straight back into it because we were away a lot during January; but now that I’m back into it, I feel like I never left. It has amazed me though how quickly your bike fitness diminishes when you aren’t regularly riding. You really do have to do a couple of rides a week to maintain your level, and it is worth maintaining that level of activity so the next bike ride feels better. But on the plus side, it only takes a couple of rides to get back to where you were; it’s a constant state of flux.

What has been the most wonderful thing about returning to Wheel Women rides, aside from the excellent rides, is the response of Wheel Women members. I’m not saying I’m anyone special, or trying to be pompous, or blowing my own horn but the lovely, sweet response I’ve received to being back on rides has been overwhelming. I honestly don’t know whether I feel more humbled or thrilled or excited or overjoyed or loved at each next ride. Catching with my old friends and being welcomed back so warmly; meeting new members and striking up new relationships. Man, it is SUCH a great group of people. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a group of women that are so unanimously supportive of each other, tolerant of others at a lower level, encouraging to all, utterly friendly and so focused on building each other up regardless of individual personalities. It’s such a privilege to be part of Wheel Women!

So, here I am back riding with my cycling group and loving it! But it’s not a group that you make friends and develop relationships with, it’s each of the special women that have made my day each time I’ve gone out riding with them. These women are really special treasures: women who’ve overcome their fears, their past experience, their lack of experience, other people’s unhelpful opinions, their weight, their age and more to tackle what is essentially a sport but for most has become a means to transport, to a broader social life, to permanent skills and, most importantly, to independence. Who knew that so many benefits could come out of trying out cycling?

I certainly had no idea of the depth of experience and privilege I would come to experience when I started cycling with Wheel Women. I wanted to attempt to start bike riding again; that was my entire ambition. A few years hiatus from cycling followed a bad fall off my bike onto my chin and hand, narrowly missing falling into a 3 lane road in peak traffic. This left me shaken and lacking confidence to return to commuting to the train station to travel into uni. Several years down the track, I was off work on sick leave but having been used to working hard, full time I wanted to do something, anything, to fill in a little time in my week. My hubby was riding lots, commuting to work every weekday, long rides on Saturdays and 2 or 3 early start weekday rides plus any other chance he got. I thought it would be nice to get started back on my bike slowly before attempting anything too drastic with him. Knowing my fitness wasn’t great, and I’d recently stacked on a LOT of weight, I wanted a quiet, friendly environment without too much expectation and did I get a lucky break falling into Wheel Women’s arms! They wrote and taught the 8 week program administered by another agency, and so I was involved with them right from Day One. A very good way to start. I’ve talked about some of those early days before and you can read about it in my other blogs.

Today I want to share the rides I’ve done in this 2 week period. Between the beginning of the week before last and the end of last week (a fortnight all up) I have done 7 bike rides, each and every one of them has been with Wheel Women.  I should say that this is the most I’ve EVER ridden in a similar period. It’s also the only time I’ve gotten on my bike to do a ride THREE days in a row. So I’m kicking goals, as they say, which is not the point of the piece, but I just wanted to make sure you realise that this isn’t a typical or usual or expected run of rides. All the same, I’m thrilled that I did it all, and it’s more points on some fictitious blackboard somewhere out there in the universe that tells me whether I’m doing good or not. I’m doing good! Brain, take note. You seem to very easily let the good things slip through the net while retaining the smallest bad things for my constant reminding. Well, here are some solid facts for you as proof that I can do it, okay?

13th Warburton rail trail, 34.5km

Chatting to Alicia at Woori Yallock

This is cycling to me – riding with my friends and chatting at any opportunity

15th Moonee Ponds Creek trail, Upfield bike path, Capital City trail, 18.5km

Mixed business cafe with the girls

The face of cycling to me – smiles, happiness, water, and a new cafe menu to check out

17th Specialized sale, Capital City trail, Moonee Ponds Creek trail, 16.5km

oo ooh so much stuff

RIDING to a BIKE clothes sale with my BIKE buddies and shopping for BIKE stuff galore…now how to get it home??

18th Otway and Great Ocean Road classic, 30.5km

yep struggling a bit

This is Wheel Women – when the going gets tough, there is always someone beside you keeping you company, someone at the top of the hill encouraging you to get there, someone behind you letting you know you aren’t being left behind and someone at the finish line cheering. It inspires me to dig deeper.

 

23rd Merri Creek trail, Main Yarra trail, 25km

me and kathy

Friends on every ride

24th Williamstown, Maribyrnong River trail, Bay trail west, 30.5km

Classy ladies Sylvia, Robyn, Judy, Alicia, Lyn

We ride, we find thrones…what can we do but be glorious, Lycra-clad queens of cycling?

25th The Women’s Ride, Gardiner Creek trail, 13km

20170325_103008

The aqua and purple team of Wheel Women teaching 30 women how to change a flat tyre after a ride along the Gardiner Creek trail – what a terrific morning!

That’s 168.5km all up in a fortnight in case anyone is counting. I’m sort of stuck at the 30km per ride mark which is my next thing to tackle, alongside mastering hills. But it’s not really the point is it? The point is the company, the enjoyment, the fresh air, the friendship, the new cafes, the new sights and places; the personal achievements are kind of a lovely bonus.

P.S. Aren’t you glad there are keen photographers around to capture all my best moments?! All photo credit to the Wheel Women Facebook page, most likely to a coach or ride leader, or fellow member. Enjoy!

 

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Smiling!

You can hardly wipe the smile off my face! Just sitting here chilling out in a comfy chair at the end of the day, I’m smiling 🙂 No one’s making me, nothing is happened to draw a smile out of me, there’s just a good humour welling up out of me, and it’s delightful!

I suppose this is what they talk about when they say riding and exercise increase your serotonin levels. When I was unwell, exercise was just torture, even though everyone said how good for you it was supposed to be. I could never understand it! It’s only now that I’ve become fit and can do longer rides that I’m getting some of that effect. Ah well, better late than never!

So, what a great day!

The plan was always for a great day: the Wheel Women Christmas ride! What a cause for excitement, end of year festivities with all the fabulous ladies I ride with at one time or another! Wouldn’t miss it for almost anything!

A bit of a reminder to myself at this time: this is my first Wheel Women Christmas, because I only joined Wheel Women in March! March!! Can you believe it?? I can’t! What kilometers, what skills, what adventures, what misadventures have been gained in barely 9 months! Those who have been there for the misadventures only need these words: velodrome, baby ducks, emergency braking, whoops that hill and corner came out of nowhere! That last one? Today!

What a perfect way to celebrate the year of riding that Wheel Women across Melbourne have had; getting together for a large group ride from Kensington to Williamstown.

[Note: every time I say something like “what a perfect…” and it’s attached to something bike related, it gives me this little jolt, well not jolt, but just a little flashback to March, or was it April, when they told us we were going for a ride, an actual ride not just practicing stopping and starting, and 6 kilometers sounded like a death sentence!!! I have a little giggle to myself now, and have a little moment of wow, how far I’ve come so quickly! Not in a bragging way, just in a ‘Woah! How did that happen?!’ way].

So we gathered together outside Cyclic Bicycles in Kensington. And lucky for me that we did, because Dum Dum Dugan Danika here forgot her helmet! I mean, there are very few essentials in the world of riding, but a helmet you must always have! The day would have quickly soured if Evan from the bike shop wasn’t ready and willing to lend me a helmet! Lucky he opened the store an hour early just for us! A hat tip, and a recommendation that if you’re looking for anything bike related in the general area, he’s your guy!

Riders of all shapes and sizes (I mean that in the best way, and I should know!), and all abilities, with 4 wonderful coaches and great excitement for the day’s activities! There were jingle bells and baubles dangling off bikes, The Tinsel Bike shedding silver Christmas cheer all over the place apparently whenever the brakes were applied, coordinating glistening shoes covers for the coaches, Christmassy T shirts and earrings, and a sleigh bell dinging!! Hard not to get into the spirit with so much effort put in!

We were taking a new route today for me at least, up the hill (!) from Kensington, along the beautiful old Stock Route with cobblestone sections under the shade of huge old peppercorn trees and lined by the original post and rail fences of the stockyards. Then onto the gorgeous riverside bike path that follows the Maribyrong River more or less to Williamstown. I can never get tired of the stunning views we are treated to along this river and out into the bay; really they are such a delight each and every time I ride this way.

And the weather was perfect! It was meant to get hot, but it was overcast so it didn’t heat up and there was a breeze around; ideal conditions!!

So we got to Williamstown, partially along the road this time rather than all on the bike path. I have to say, I did enjoy it a lot more than the path for that section that we swapped because you don’t have to give way and face the rumble strips at every crossroad, it’s a lot smoother and I think I can go faster! Which is always fun 🙂 I know people are nervous of the road, but in that instance I would recommend it! There’s a good sized bike lane and all.

What can I say about arriving in the lush green park in Williamstown, with views of the marina and across the bay to the city?? Need I say more? A champagne toast followed (pink plastic cups!), Lyn’s delicious rumballs then a Christmas speech, and an award!!

This part I am so stoked about! Because…drumroll…I was the recipient! I am so so touched, and thrilled, and encouraged, and heartened by Tina and Tracey and Alicia and Deidre’s choice, and inspired to keep going further and further! What an absolute honour, and of course it would never have happened if it weren’t for Wheel Women and the hard work these 4 ladies put in to keep us riding safely and enjoyably every week!!

The award was for courage and bravery! Warrior status! And it even included a quote from this here blog!! Amazing!! I’m just thrilled over and over!! It’s incredible to have people believe in you, and see the effort that you put in and respect that effort! Every skill I’ve learnt from them has given me the ability to develop bit by bit. I never saw myself going this far from the beginning; I couldn’t see how I’d ever be able. Pottering around the suburbs was more of my vision. But I’ve got the momentum now, so 2016, let’s see what you have in store for me and my bicycle!

As if that didn’t cap the day off as pure amazing, we then had the arrival of Santa!! Dear Ray who is a great friend of all Wheel Women and brings life to every party, had dressed up in a great Father Christmas outfit with huge black boots and all, and was ready to distribute the Kris Kringle gifts! His wife Lyn had to go first, because she was his favourite, said Santa, then we all lined up for our gift and a kiss! Then Ray gave us another delight for the day, his alternate Santa hat that turned on, and the top and the bauble danced around on his head while it sang carols!!! We were in stitches laughing, loving his enthusiasm!! What a great friend, to give us so much Christmas joy!

All that was left was to head to the cafe for eats, drinks, chats and laughs galore! I do so love these ladies who have added such a great social aspect to my life from when I was bored stiff at home alone 5 days a week, right through til now when I’m working half time. It’s such a pleasure to meet up again at the next ride, and pick up right where we left off!! LOVE YOU ALL!!

Well if all of that doesn’t leave me smiling for weeks I don’t know what will! Of course our moods being fickle and subject to sudden change without notice, that won’t be the case. But tonight, I’m smiling!

Thank you to each and every person who made it so!

Oh, I did forget one thing. The award? Came with prizes! All of them exactly what I would have wanted for Christmas!! A Wheel Women riding backpack (now I’m part of the crew! Jokes), a solid high quality bike lock (YAY, out with the old fuddy duddy one!), bright rear and back lights (perfect because although mine allow people to see me, they don’t show me the path ahead!) and the smallest, most adorable set of tyre levers and patch kit!! Absolutely perfect! Couldn’t have picked them out better myself! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Victory Part Two

[20th June 2015]

Where was I?

Ah yes, bicycle, perfect timing, much enjoyed.

So this week was going to be epic! Until it rained, and rained, and rained. And spoilt my plans! I had my diary set: Tuesday ride from Strathmore, new one for me so that should be fun, Thursday repeat of an earlier ride from Maribyrnong to Williamstown, but hopefully no head wind on the way back this time and so a more enjoyable return! Then there was a ride on Saturday, to follow up our skills session with Bridie O’Donnell, along Beach Road for a road ride. That was a tentative. I haven’t done a road ride in years, and never in a bunch, and not since uni days, and was I really up for it? Definitely a query! In the end I read the updated description and it was for riders above my level so I let that one slide.

Tuesday I was up and at ‘em! This being the most recent morning after the night before when I missed my tablets! So I was firing on all cylinders! Chatty, energetic, ready to kill it on the ride! Etc! But it was cancelled. It wasn’t actually raining but it had been pouring with rain at 3am when I woke up for the day on a short amount of quetiapine-absent restless, fractured sleep! Our leader had been out to check the course and it was wet and slippery. And honestly, I’m having such a good time, and haven’t crashed since my chest infection-induced stupor in week 3 and I’d like to keep it that way. Don’t need any discouragement! So it was cancelled, but there’s always coffee and cake,Whee girls!! So I traipsed across town anyway for a good old catchup! And a divine cookie sandwich!!! I haven’t come across these till now, other than a Maxibon, but these are two yummy flaky bikkies with, in my case, vanilla bean cream in the middle! Very indulgent and just the best! Pin Oak Crescent, Flemington, people, opposite Newmarket Station! Wolf and Hound if I remember correctly! Worth the drive.

biscuit, latte, cafe

A Butterbing cookie sandwich and coffee at Wolf and Hound – not my coffee obviously

So that was all good, no ride for understandable reasons, and nothing could bring me down that day in any case, so a great day to bear with not getting to do what you hoped! When I say nothing could bring me down, I mean being too scatter brained to bring my phone charger, and my phone going flat from running GPS directed maps just as I got to the edge of my comfort zone and needed directions! But bipolar brain is super human and says, oh well, just drive up Flemington Road; you’re looking for an address in Flemington, you might get lucky! Well now we’re in Moonee Ponds so let’s turn around (not easy to accomplish!) and find a 7/11, surely they sell Melways. No you don’t? But I see a copy there, maybe I can just look up an address? Use your phone, are you sure, really I can look it up? Thanks, you’re a lifesaver, actually look it’s just nearby, 2 turns from here! Perfect, and I’m right on time! Thank you manic bipolar brain, you got through that mishap easy as pie. Of course, it is your fault about the charger…but everything else was great!

Cue Thursday. Restarted quetiapine on Tuesday night. There’s still some in my system, but miss a dose and boy, does the next dose feel like the first one! That first dose gives you the full side effect gammit: drowsiness like I’ve been dosed up with morphine, absolutely stupid after half an hour of taking it, cannot form words or walk anymore! Dry eyes makes them fully red which is just perfect for looking like a slurring, incoherent, stumbling lunatic if you happen to need the loo bad enough to get your eyes open and magically force yourself out of bed! Nose, eyes, mouth as dry as the desert, can’t pee or poop as much and boy is it hard to wake up the next day! Even if you wake it takes all morning for the sedation to wear off. Often I’ve just given up and gone back to bed at 9am, 10am, 11am. So Wednesday was not much of anything! In fact I sat in the same spot for the majority of the day once I finally got up at 11am to get breakfast. Think I did a load of laundry. Watched some Agents of Shield. Played Words with Friends. Ate lunch at 4pm. Tried to get my brain around our Wednesday bible study chapter. Started to think about dinner, then waited for my hubby to come home and make it. Bit of a washout day. But I knew that was coming, so yeah.

games, friends

Love this game! My husband isn’t such a fan, reckons I let him win so he’ll keep playing with me…so he stopped playing with me! Always happy to play with new people. This is one of the few activities that helps me feel like my brain isn’t rapidly shrinking!!

Thursday. Plan: repeat ride to Williamstown, without the head wind on the way back, if it please the Weather Bureau! 28 kilometres, gorgeous scenery, good friends, what more could we ask for? The forecast was 13 or something, but I have my neck gator, my head scarf, my new arm warmers, gloves, and a vest and coat to layer over my jersey, so no worries, plus I’m always warm on the inside! Despite the hangover effect, when my alarm went off at 8am I jumped right out of bed! Miraculous! Truly miraculous. The joy of the ride, the pleasure of good company, the scenic delights awaiting; my brain is on full anticipation mode, waiting for the lovely things the day will bring, which will in turn deliver to me those much lauded blessings of endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, etc. It’s the dopamine that has the upper hand if you ask me. Once I finally got to that place of enjoying in my riding, my dopaminergic system started its reward seeking behavior that drives addiction. There, I said it, my brain is starting a powerful connection between riding and good things, and it wants more!

I’d organized to car pool with a friend from the course, the first time Little Miss Independent has let someone else take the wheel and do the driving. A big moment of letting go the control, and making friends! So nice to be trusted to go to someone’s house, meet their family, share an experience together. I’ve always considered myself a bit awkward socially, a bit challenged at making friends and as a little kid especially this was true. I’ve had my own friends, my school friends, and work friends. But I’ve always had my own space, where no one else goes. I’m finding it’s different with riding, because you really share common experiences so we have something together that binds us, and no external person can really share in it because they weren’t there. It’s fascinating to me, to see how this works, and to be a part of it! We share our insecurities, our weaknesses, our doubts in a way probably none of us would fully own out loud in any other situation, and probably not with our partners or other friends. Because in this course it’s okay to be scared, to not know, to be worried. It’s ALWAYS okay to be how you really are and what you really feel and no judgement is even thought of, because this is a place of learning and building up skills and encouragement and doing it together. That’s why we love it!

boardwalk, pond, rushes, bike

One from the archives. Back when I could still fit into my wardrobe, barely, March 2014. Remember I told you my hubby took me for a ride and it wasn’t the best? This is it! A brave smile!

—RIDE CANCELLED— As I’m walking out the door, socks, runners, leggings, jersey, neck warmer, ear warmer, gloves, vest, coat, lights, ready to go to my friend’s house to car pool, my phone beeps. I’ve got my bag with helmet, bike computer, bike mechanic kit etc on my shoulder, I’ve grabbed breakfast, filled up my drink bottle, got the car keys in my hand, bike in the car…cancelled! Cancelled! Ohhhhh. Deflated! But I’m ready to go! But that was the last organized ride for the week that was at my level! But I’m up, and if it was any other day I’d be asleep til 10am while restarting quetiapine, but I’m up! I’m up! Okay, so it’s wet and slippery, but I’m up!

This is no criticism of Wheel Women ride organization! They do an amazing job many times each week, and absolutely made the right call! No disagreement. But I was up! And I wouldn’t be if it weren’t for the anticipation of friends and bike riding. Which is obviously a powerful thing, more than I would have ever expected from myself! So what now? Honestly I was flummoxed, wind taken out of my sails, left without purpose! So I sat down at the kitchen table, stared blankly at the wall and tried to think of what to do! Called my husband cos I was all out of ideas! Couldn’t think what to do next! It really had hit me for six, even though I always knew it was weather dependent. But I was going to go out and tackle that ride anyway, and do better. And now I wasn’t going anywhere! Huh!

blue sky, silver gulls, court house

A stunning Williamstown day on another ride

That was a great lesson to me, to find how much I depended on going riding, and expected to go, and could go the extra mile to get to the rendezvous point on time and all organized, because I wanted to go! Here are some powerful abilities that I can harness and use!

So, what to do? Actually I had a pretty flat day, which is so interesting to me, and something I can work on for next time for whatever disappointment inevitably comes. How can I response differently, better, not let myself get so deflated? I was still in a pretty soggy condition when my hubby got home so he set me to think up rides that I could do the next day. It was a great idea, but I parked it on the shelf. Right now though, I’m inspired so I’m going to try to do that, write a to-do list of bike rides for the future so that I always have a backup plan.

Inspired. Me, right now. Why? Its two days on from Thursday, and today I went and did that ride that was planned and cancelled with my husband, and it was great! The weather was cold but sunny, the scenery is always spectacular on that route and we had fun! Then we went and checked out the cyclocross race nearby and I got my fix of bikes and I’m feeling fine! Better than, in fact. It’s 10.48pm and I’m still tap tapping these ideas that were floating in my head while riding. Turns out riding really gives your head space to process ideas!

cars, blue sky, silver gull

Silver gull parade!! These ‘rats of the sea’ are standing guard waiting for the woman to finish her meal and hopefully leave some chips so they can all swoop in and grab the scraps

And that’s not the end of the victory parade.

The following Tuesday our ride was cancelled before the actual day. But I woke up that morning to a text from one of the lovely girls in our group asking if anyone wanted to do a replacement ride. What a genius, and what a great idea, and perfect for feeling like we haven’t missed out. Yes I did want to do a ride, so we met up really close to home and did an 18km ride together. It was a bit tougher than a lot of our other rides with a few challenging hills but we looked out for each other and I felt so satisfied by the time we got back. We had a nice coffee and cake at a cute new café, and I just loved it! Being independent, and able to tackle a decent ride on our own, and feeling like we’re capable and equipped; satisfaction! And it feels like a victory! I still want to do as many organized rides as I can, but what a feeling to be able to run our own ride if it falls through! Yay!!

So on Thursday, when the ride was ‘only’ 13km, we improvised and went the long way back to the cars together to draw the ride out to 24km. Imagine that! After such a slow, difficult start, I now feel a bit cheated if we don’t do 20km! I mention ‘only’ because the leaders would sometime say this to us, it’s only 6km, its only 13km etc. And I would think to myself, only, ONLY?? What are you talking about, only! I’m not at the only stage, every peddle stroke hurts. It was fascinating on Thursday because we rode the first ride we ever did to the bike store, which I thought would never end as I wheezed and sweating and burned my way along the ‘only’ 6km. And this time we got there in 10 minutes, before my legs had even warmed up, and suddenly we were there and I couldn’t believe how it didn’t hurt, or require much effort and we passed it like it was a kilometre from the car park!! That’s progress, and it’s so exciting!!