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Out on my Bike

Ali Mahoney, our Treasurer, talks about a recent challenge she did after retiring from football

There are numerous ways to get to Chamonix in the French Alps from Wales, but I decided to cycle there. This isn’t something that I’d normally do, but after a lifetime of playing competitive sport and being faced with ‘real’ retirement I wanted to find something to challenge myself in a different way. I say ‘real’ retirement as in the past five years I’ve retired and un-retired more times than I care to remember. Sport has always been a huge part of my life, and it has given me a safe and welcoming place to just be myself and not be judged by my sexuality. Unfortunately, old knee injuries have got the better of me so it was time to find something else to do.

Last October I went along to the first ‘Women’s Adventure Expo’ event in Bristol which featured inspirational talks and workshops by women who have climbed Everest, rowed across oceans, biked across the poles and motorbiked across continents. This event really got me thinking…could I ride my 1991 Alpinestars mountain bike to the Alps? The clue is in the name of the bike right? That was all I needed to spark plans for a new sporty adventure.

One of my personal mantras is “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re probably right” i.e. if you believe you can do it, you can totally do it. 767 miles separate my house in Pontypridd from my little sister’s house in Chamonix (plus some pretty big hills). It took me a few months to build up the confidence to say “I can do it”, but I got there. Lots of training rides around, up and down the South Wales Valleys went well, my mileage increased, my route planning and logistics were getting sorted. I built the self-belief slowly but surely, and set off from my doorstep on Monday 9th May 2016. Oh I forgot to mention the bit about where I had to persuade my wife that this was a good idea…it went something like this:

Me - “Ummm you know I’ve been struggling to find a new sport and not wanting to retire from footy and things…I think it would be really good to do a long distance bike ride….you know to give me a focus”

Amy – “Oh cool, like the Lon Las Cymru?”

Me – “Ummm not really….I was thinking of riding to Chamonix. Solo”

Amy – “What??? Are you mad??? No. You’re not doing it. You’re not going all that way on your own. Anything can happen!!”

Me – “But anything can happen when I ride to Cardiff Bay, it’s the same thing really, just further”

Amy – “Absolutely not”

Me – “Hmmm. Ok what about if you and Dizzy (the dog) came with me as my support crew. It could be a mini-holiday-type-thing”

Amy – “Let me think about it”

(This is a bit of an abridged version of the conversation that actually happened over a couple of weeks before Amy agreed to the idea but you get the gist).

My first three days took me from Pontypridd to Newhaven Harbour via stop overs in Bath and Southampton (solo). Prior to this adventure the furthest I’d ever ridden was 55 miles in one day. Now I was riding 70-80 miles a day back to back with full pannier bags which took a bit of getting used to. The weather on this leg was kind of grey / grim / drizzly, you know, usual UK weather, but I managed to stay fairly dry. At Newhaven I was reunited with Amy and Dizzy who arrived in our support van which was kindly donated by my brother-in-law for the duration of the trip. I was so happy to see them – the first three days had been punishing. From here we took an overnight ferry crossing to Dieppe and started Thursday of week one on the ‘Avenue Verte’. Amy travelled ahead of me in the van and we met up at various stop off points along the way just to check in. I was treated to lovely long sections of traffic free trails and rolled up to Notre Dame in Paris at about 6pm on the Friday. Five days of back to back cycling had taken its toll physically and mentally but there was no time to rest. We were in Paris for the “Tourmoi International de Paris” which is a huge LGBT multi-sport event that happens every year. Cardiff Dragons FC had entered a women’s team and we were there to play. This was my final, final, final outing in goal and it was well and truly a weekend to remember, and a great way to officially retire from competitive sport.

By Monday morning I was grateful to be getting back on my bike after a punishing two days of football matches. I left Paris with a broken body but the ride out to my next destination, 70-ish miles away, was a fairly flat one. Each day I was chipping away at the miles and enjoying the experience of passing through French towns and villages that I’d never normally see. On the whole the weather was fairly kind to me but on Wednesday I was faced with a strong head wind all day. It totally drained me and shouting at it didn’t help. Thursday was another challenging day weather-wise where I was drenched from head to foot. My shoes were like mini swimming pools, my waterproof layers were no longer waterproof and I had moments of self-doubt….”Can I really do this?”. The terrain had vastly changed and I was now approaching the Jura Mountains. Hill climbs were now a regular feature of my last few days and they pushed me to the ends of my physical and mental strength. Luckily, at the end of every punishing hill was Amy, Dizzy and the bright green mean machine which brought a smile to my face….and at the end of every uphill is a downhill!

On Friday, climbing out of St Claude towards Bonneville took me up and over the Jura Mountains on the D124 with an 8km climb that went from the valley floor to 1049m (Snowdon is 1085m). It seemed to be never ending but the sun was out and the views were outstanding. I was rewarded with getting to Bonneville and seeing the snow topped Alps ahead of me. Not far to my goal now. My final day of riding on the Saturday felt a bit surreal. I ‘only’ had 37 miles to do which felt like a bit of a luxury so I set off fairly early and was met with a mini heat wave. For cyclists to get to Chamonix, there’s no option but to climb up and over the Vaudagne hill. Ask a 4 year old to draw a picture of a wiggly worm and they’ll probably replicate the hairpin bends and switch backs of this hill climb. It was hot, dry, my legs were almost spent and I was literally crawling up it. I even got overtaken by a jogger on the way up. Seriously. Slowly but surely I made it to the top and enjoyed the rapid bumpy descent into Les Houches (smoking the jogger on the way down). From here I pedalled at speed through quiet streets on my way into Chamonix. Mont Blanc was glistening in the sunlight and I made it to my final destination.

767 miles, 10.5 days of riding, 28,000+ feet of climbing, 2 punctures, 5 falling off incidents, countless memories.

The moral of the story? There are a few:

1/ Retiring from competitive sport doesn’t mean stopping sport altogether – find a new passion!

2/ You see and experience so much more in life when you’re rolling along at 12mph

3/ Don’t always accept your wife’s first answer

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