Less than five weeks to go until the 80km cycle and I’ve already overcome one major hurdle – I now, courtesy of the wonderful Forde family in Cloone – have, at last, a basic bicycle to start my training on. It’s relatively lightweight and sports a rather nifty carrier over the rear wheel. It looks trustworthy, like it won’t let me down or leave me stuck head-first in a hedge, but then, maybe that’s just hopeful thinking.
After picking it up I feel ridiculously optimistic, after all, I mastered the art of cycling a bike when I was six, how hard can this be? I get my answer 10 minutes later when I find myself haring down a moderate slope. I remember as a child being delighted by the adrenalin of travelling at breakneck speed on a bike. Age is not a pleasant reality. Where once I was fearless, now I’m terrified. I make a mental list of all the possible bad scenarios involving bicycles and when I run out of options, I add in a few involving bicycles and cars and top it off with a very graphic imagining of my demise under the wheels of a fully laden slurry tanker.
Hedgerows are whizzing by me at terrific speed and I find, belatedly, that the brakes aren’t located in the pedals – like they were, funnily enough, when I was six – they are now mounted on the handlebars and there are two options, front and back. I can’t remember which is which but I do recall a friend’s warning that if I hit the front ones, hard, I will perform my own version of superman in flight, with a not so super landing. I opt to pull both handles and also shut my eyes - because sometimes it’s best not to see your life hurtling toward you, especially if it involves a hairpin bend – and come to a halt.
I’m not going to lie. I consider quitting, but I know charity cycle organiser, Tracy Kivlehan, knows where I work and besides, my brother has promised a sizeable sponsorship contribution for the North West Hospice. I decide he’ll have to double it, whatever it is, and I get back on the bike.
Fifteen minutes later, I’ve quit wobbling and I’ve even managed to coast a bit. I get overconfident and give it some wellie down the next hill and shout in delight only to find myself choking on what feels like a very sizeable insect. Note to self – shut your mouth and breath through your nose or you’ll be picking midges out of your teeth ‘til Christmas.
I manage, in total, a not so disgraceful five miles, not bad for day 1. Ok, I’m wheezing so hard that my eardrums hurt and I have a tightness in my chest that I suspect is something to do with my heart, not helped by the fact that I can actually hear my heartbeat in my own head. On the plus side, the roaring of my pulse does drown out the pathetic whimpering noises I make as I try to get off the bike and I learn the most important lesson of long distance bike riding – protect your backside at all costs. I vow to buy a pair of padded cycle shorts – vanity be damned. But first, I think I’ll lie down on the bathroom floor for an hour or two with an icepack. This could be a very long five weeks.
P.S. I’d just like to say a very big thank you to everyone who offered a bicycle over the last week and thank you to everyone for their good wishes as well. Of course, over the next few weeks all sponsorship, lighting of religious candles and novenas for the intention of me actually completing the cycle, will be gratefully accepted.
You can follow Leonie’s progress, her aches and pains and her mental status by logging onto www.leitrimobserver.ie