Jess Douglas

Avoiding the Victorian Winter with my bike

22 August 2016

13590251 10154271744793350 8565501381070946195 n 1Norm and I returned home from Europe on the 30th July, for me it was after nearly 7 weeks of sunshine, bike rides, looking after other people, sleeping as much as I could and enjoying my time doing something different to the normal grind.
Its now time to share where I went, who I did it with and the finale that was 4 days in Paris.

Opportunity comes from time to time and its in saying Yes that it becomes real.
David and Emma from Top Bike Tours asked Norm and I to do guiding work for them in 2016, for me it was in Corsica, Italy and France and Norm just the last two, arriving 2 weeks later.
Of course we said YES!
There were a few clinchers, like lots of Euro driving and Norm driving the bike laden trailer from Italy to France over 600km but as always we gained confidence from knowing that there is always a first time for everything and we wouldn't be the first to be out of our comfort zones. 

Leaving Australia mid June, I arrived in Nice on Thursday 16th June the journey began with the first challenge.  Meeting with Annabelle Drew we went to pick up the lease vehicle I would drive until the last day of my trip.  Last year was my first experience of driving in another country and the other side, I know, 42 and all wrapped up in cotton wool.
But this year, I was ready, just drive, you drive at home, you are a good driver, just do a mirror version of everything, stay right stay right! 

13502662 10153592390961003 3988746303842513493 oIt was a while before I got used to getting in the other side for driving, for turning the ignition key, and entering round a bouts wondering what the heck am I meant to do here?!?!?!  Trust me though it got normal and driving tiny little roads and negotiating difficult situations did become very fun.
Even driving into the ferry to Corsica listening to the attendants telling me when to turn and how in Italian and French whilst I am just trying to get a feel for my space in the car. Phew, made it!

13497700 10153595348556003 4942871422963071569 oThis was my second time to Corisca and it did not disappoint again. A beautiful island with beauty along the coast and inland. Small enough to walk, ride and drive with loads of motor cyclists travel here as well.  The weather in June was perfect, it was hot by 2pm but most of our riding was nearly done by then. Ten nights and nine days of riding, eating, sleeping, swimming and absorbing myself into the vibe of the island went way to quickly. 

13502847 10153585454696003 1124984806112152616 oWould I go there again? Yes indeed. But next year Top Bike Tours are probably going to run the Tour of Sardinia. But I think that looks even more amazing! 

On the last night on Corsica, I woke up and checked the time on my phone, and there I saw messages from Norm to tell me he had been in a very near miss flight malfunction on Singapore airlines where they turned around to come back to Singapore and upon landing the engine went alight whilst they were all still on board.  SHIT! Of course I really didn't sleep now, but waited for messages from Norm to find out what was going on.

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Thankfully they boarded another plane and he would be due at Milan around about the time I would arrive there and it worked out as perfect as a malfunction can. 

Upon picking Norm up, we made our way to Marone on Lake Iseo to enjoy a few days off, a few rides, a few sleeps, and some maintenance of bikes to get ready for the Feast of Ascension Classic Italian Climbs tour.
The pick up of the crew was done in Venice, and we started our first day with a climb of Monte Grappa, that was hard and hot!


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So many climbs, many of them very hot, but still my favourite would have to be Stelvio along with the Sellaronda loop in the Dollamites.
I just love spending time riding my bike and enjoying the hospitality of Italy.

 

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Ten days goes so fast and soon we were ready for a couple of days off where I spent one entire day pretty much sleeping, the heat and riding had definitely taken their toll. 
Now we were preparing to head across the mountains to arrive in France for the final job of the Tour de France group for Top Bike.  Staying in beautiful old Chalets, renovated old barns that had become accommodation havens and riding up the famous climbs like Alpe d’Huez.   
Norm and I were extremely well looked after with all out effort being put in by chefs to make amazing vegan meals each night too!

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Having never been so close to the Tour de France, watching the riders curb side and visiting the race starts and finishes I got a new appreciation of just how much effort goes into this mega event.  The reality still remains that the riders I saw only meters away looked like normal people, who just happened to have given their lives to cycling to become amazing athletes that the rest of the world puts on a pedastool.  No wonder the sport is rife with drug use.  Imagine racing for 3 weeks, and smashing yourself into next year day after day after day, rain hail or shine. 
I cannot help but imagine how hard it must be to sleep each night, to eat food each day when thats all you do all day long, to drink the right amount of fluids to cope with recovery and the exertion on the bike, to have your body feel like it is good to go again day after day.  Insane amount of detail and support to make this a reality for these cyclists, no matter how fast or fit they are, they are just humans.  

For me watching the Tour de France up front and personal brought up more and more thoughts about how even the “drug free” teams and athletes must resort to so many forms of recovery and performance enhancing practices to survive let alone do well.
And this is their job, just wow. 

13698224 10153658095966003 5953357543271142407 oNorm and I finished off in Paris, with 4 full days of tourist activities, we had not planned just how we would sight see or what we would visit.  Our decision to use the Velib bikes in Paris was so much fun and we both really enjoyed the journey literally.
Signing up to use them was easy, did it online on my phone, paid 8 Euro each, and then got a code to use each time when we would get a bike from the racks.  The idea is to use a bike from a rack for 30 mins and drop it off to another one, do your thing, and when you need to ride again, grab another one and drop it off again within 30 mins.  If you do it like this, it costs you nothing!

13692993 10153659985466003 3242166542291735318 oBy the end of our time we had spent 8 Euro each on bike sign up fee and only an extra 7 Euro in fees for having the bike for a little longer than 30 minutes at a time. Cheap as.

13701071 10153658757156003 2198996526138723753 oWe visited churches, cemeteries, art galleries, vegan restaurants, little laneways and suburbs, gardens, the Eiffel Tower at night and many other places we would never have found without being on our bikes.
After about 200km of riding and 4 days of exploring Paris, it was time to finally come home and brave the Victorian winter.

Coming home was tough.  Jet lag the worst I have experienced and just cold and dark.  Seeing our dog Max was heart warming though.  It took me a lot of willpower to head out on the bike in the cold and gloomy weather, so started doing some indoor cycling classes, signed up for a 6 week CORE exercise class twice a week and got back into walking Maxie boy 5km a day as well as a bit of extra riding if I could be motivated.

Its now 7 weeks until the Scott 24hr which is also the Australian 24hr solo championships so its great to get some focus back with training.

As August comes to a close, I am writing this as I return home from Darwin on a Monday after spending the weekend teaching around 20 women how to ride their mountain bikes with more technique and greater confidence at Charles Darwin National park trails.  

14086387 10153716239771003 4303817441596459495 oThe weather was warm, 32 degrees and I got to catch up with some new people and make friends and rekindle old friendships too.  My good friend Sally and I went out on Saturday and Sunday nights eating at the Sushi train place in town, and doing the Deckchair cinema as well.
I even got to meet up with my sister in law and mother in law on Monday morning before flying back.  Absolutely flat out, not a lot of spare time to do much else but I am stoked to get in so much riding, teaching, connecting with people and catch up with family in such a short time.
I am heading back there in September and October as well.

My next trip away is to Adelaide for a cycling weekend with all the Liv girls to ride bikes and catch up which is well overdue but gratefully accepted, thats in a couple of weeks.
Then I have a couple of 6 hour mountain bike races lined up, in Bendigo and Beechworth, before topping it off in Canberra.

I look back on all the opportunities that have come my way, the people I have met, the places I have been all because I ride a bike.  Its certainly a blessed life.

It takes me back to a strong memory I have from early 2008.  Norm and I had attended church at Barrabool Hills in Geelong, and I had a bit of a chat to our Pastor about direction and purpose and that in my heart I felt that riding my bike would be part of my greater plan to connect and add value to the world, I did not know how…but now I can see!  

I used to be scared of what I would become if I did not hold status of being some amazing elite athlete but its the journey I have been on that allows me to do what I do, not what races I have won or what status that brings me.  
I am definitely not scared anymore.