The last few days I have started this blog countless times only to have multiple unfinished blogs saved on my computer. I felt they were either too critical, too negative, too fake or soaking too much in self pity for me to be comfortable sharing the words I had written. So here I am, plenty to write about, I just haven’t really found a way to process it all.
Last Saturday I raced my first UCI sanctioned race in 3 years, my first MTB marathon in two years and my first MTB race in over a year. I entered in an attempt to meet some like minded people in my new country of residence, France. Because yes, I decided to move countries during a global pandemic, a bit more on that a bit later. My friend and super adventurist Katie and I were going to do a bike packing trip of the back of the race to see if we would be a compatible team for future bike packing adventures. Since my move to France late July, the weather had been incredible sunny with endless blue skies. A week before the race I cycled in shorts and t-shirst struggling with the heat. This was all going to change very quickly the week leading into the race with snow forecasted down to the lower mountains, my track record for good race weather or race luck in general is not great and this was certainly no exception. First of all Katie fell ill and had to pull out of the race and our bike packing adventure which meant I was heading to Villard de Lans a little ski resort near Grenoble only accompanied by my 4 footed friend Mac. Needing a bit of social contact after many weeks hanging out by myself I was looking forward to a race day with fellow bike riders after which I would head to Bozel to spend some time with Katie and talk all things adventure.
On Friday morning I woke up to white flurry stuff falling from the sky and the top of the mountains looking beautifully white from my bed room window. Absolutely stunning but not ideal for a bike race. A little apprehensive I packed the van and headed to the race village, a 3 hour drive from Montriond which I now call my home. Late afternoon I arrived at registration whilst it had become quite snowy on lower grounds and the race started around 2000m. This was going to be interesting. The plan was to camp out in the van but as I parked up in a quiet spot, the heavens opened, thunder, lightening and hail the size of ping pong balls fell from the sky. A quick look on booking.com and I had found a super friendly aubergement as the French say it, to spend the night, Mac was welcome as well and even got his own bed, I tried to relax as much as I could.
I woke up to even more snow and freezing conditions. When I took Mac for his morning walk my motivation dropped to an all time low. It would have been so easy to head to Katie’s and not race but when I commit, I commit and a couple of hours later I found myself shivering on the start line with about 400 other shivering riders. The course had been cut to 45kms because of the extreme weather conditions. I was expecting a European type MTB marathon with plenty of long non technical climbs but this course was a whole different story. Because of lockdown I had not really ridden any natural forestry trails and unknowingly I was getting myself into 3 and a half hours of slippery, muddy, snowy, frosty technical single trails with climbs not quite long enough for me to make up for my lack of technical speed on the descents. It was never the plan to be competitive but on the start line my brain always disagrees so I went out and tried to ride as best as I possibly could. With the result that for two thirds of the race I found myself in a little group of 3 leading the female field, I even had one of those drone thingies zooming around my ears, but they never used the footage! Haha! I led the climbs only to be dropped on the descents.The weather was horrendous with proper snow bucketing from the sky and it was getting colder and colder. Although not really enjoying it as such I felt reasonably happy with how I was going until with 10kms to go I had a back brake malfunction (stopped working). This resulted in me coming down hard on a collection of rocks perfectly placed to break my landing. I ignored blood seeping through my jersey and although a bit shaken I got back on the bike trying to chase my two new friends disappearing into the distance. Already lacking in confidence on the downhills, the crash and a non functioning back brake brought me to a halt, my body went into shutdown and I crawled all the way to the finish line with my body uncontrollably shivering so much I actually thought I would break my jaw at one point. 5th overall female. I have no idea how big or how small the female field was but from a performance point of view I can’t remember the last time I was actually in contention of winning a race, let alone a UCI sanctioned one and that was enough for me to be happy about my physical performance. I felt strong, I was just lacking technical skills. As I drove to Bozel wearing all the clothes I had brought to try and get warm, the sun came out.Typical. The rest of the weekend was spent enjoying Katie and her partner Lee's company, talking for literally hours on end, planning new adventures together whilst exploring the beauty of their backyard.
Like most people I have found Covid pretty tough, although I think for very different reasons than the general population. Just before we went into lockdown, I was notified that my father had only a few days to live. My father’s life was not one to be celebrated as he had made a mess of it in the worst possible way, something which will take my sister and me our whole lives to process and come to terms with. My fathers death caused a confrontation with our past which was difficult. It sent us both on an emotional roller coaster ride which we are still trying to somewhat control. With the borders closing we haven’t had the chance to be in each other’s company to grieve our childhood together and when this will be possible is still a big unknown. During Covid I have witnessed my friends flying home from all over the world to be with their family confronting me with the fact that other than my sister I don’t have a place I can go “home” to. That feeling of belonging somewhere unconditionally was lacking from my life. For some reason this made me feel more and more disconnected from the UK and the urge to reconnect with my European rootes made me chase my long time dream of living in the Alps. Being born in the Italian mountains, I found that mountains wherever in the world have always felt like home. It was not a decision I took lightly but it was one I needed to make for my own sanity.
That’s where I am right now, I found a home in the French Alps. I expected the feeling of stress related to only just piecing it together financially but I underestimated the feeling of isolation I would get due to the pandemic. The when, how and if I was going to see the people I loved and the difficulty of starting a new social life with all the restrictions in place has made it a little tough. But I am here, and I am battling on and I am not one to give up easily, and hey after 4 years of beating injury I actually managed to race in 2020 with more power in my legs I have had for years!!
Every day I have this little dog called Mac who gets me out of the house on those days I preferably would want to hide inside and he always manages to show me that even in what seems the worst circumstances at the time, there is always beauty all around us to enjoy. And if you greet the world with a smile, the world will smile back at you.
“Remember, remember, this now and now and now. Live it, feel it, cling to it. I want to become acutely aware of all I have taken for granted”