We only live once….

Charlie Brown once said to Snoopy, “We only live once, Snoopy”.  He responded, “Wrong!  We only die once.  We live every day”.

People often ask me, “How come you ride so much”?  “How come you travel so much”?  “Gee you have a lot of holidays”!   One even suggested I will be “crippled” by the time I am retired.

Who knows what tomorrow holds?  I do not have those answers.

I do know this – I have been to far too many funerals for people who died far too young – they had dreams and aspirations that went unfulfilled!

I made a conscious decision to work to live!  I am doing today what I may not be able to do tomorrow.  I get it that not everyone understands that, or agrees with me – but then, this is my life and not theirs.  I am fortunate that I have a husband who happens to agree with me.

We do what we want these days – and do not try and fulfil others expectations, as invariably, we fail!

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Yes, I know that I have physical limitations that make these rides bigger challenges, but I try to balance it by being as fit as I possibly can.

If I had a dollar for every time I have been told I could not do something, I would be rich!  Negative feedback tends to do the opposite and fire me up!

As a child I was restricted for many years after being diagnosed with exercise induced asthma.  10 years later I’m hanging off ropes in dark caves and sporting a wind surfer (that I was hopeless at).  I was bush walking carrying heavy backpacks and canoeing. I ran at track and field and cross country events.  Ventolin was a god send!

In my late teens, I was restricted after a skiing accident resulted in major knee surgery, taking me two years, and a lot of rehabilitation, to walk without a perceptible limp. I fluffed my way into the Australian Defence Force much to the horror of my parents.

I prolapsed two discs in my back as a young mum – and kept working despite the pain and did not take one day sick leave.  I have had pneumonia and pleurisy to an extent the doctors wanted me hospitalised, and I refused.

In my 30’s I  had an undiagnosed ruptured appendix (gangrene and peritonitis) for 3 days and played it down enough that the doctors thought I was not as unwell as I was (that was my closest escape in life…as I was told after surgery that I would likely have died within a further 24 hours).

After my fourth knee surgery, three and a half years ago I was told by my orthopaedic surgeon that I could not ride more than 5 km on my bike.

Since that day, I have ridden over 95 000 km. I’m now the leading female distance rider on Zwift globally (65,000 km).  In addition to riding on the roads in Australia,  I have also ridden some 10,500 km in Europe and  4,000 km in New Zealand.

Last year I broke a couple of ribs in Europe after coming off my bike on the cobbles in Switzerland and still managed to ride myself to hospital.  I then went on and did a further 1000 km through Europe. Most people had no idea about my broken ribs. Did it hurt? Absolutely!  I kept it fairly low profile as I did not want the travel insurance company to tell me that they would not cover me if I kept riding, or that I had to come home early!

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Rib pain or awful pasta?

Last year I rode solo 1150 km in what was a massive, personal challenge in New Zealand. Day 2 was Cyclone Hola with big winds and incredible rains.  I had friends telling me not to proceed. Did I give up? No!

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Day 2 solo trip. I have taken all my wet clothes off and all my dry clothes on…still smiling!

So I know I have guts and determination in buckets that is not always understood – but for me, it has been a survival instinct for some of my other life experiences and challenges (not the subject of this blog).

Reality is I know I am one of the tougher chicks I know (regardless of age) and I know what I have to overcome to achieve what others either avoid totally, or do more easily.  I know how hard I train!

My experiences show that those that criticise the most are often the ones who talk the talk, and never walk the walk.  To criticise is easy.

So the impending challenge is my biggest yet.

I thought Pas de Payrol, Puy Mary (Massif Central, France) in 2015 was my limit, with 3 km of 13% gradient near the top! I know I was cussing near the top!

Then I did London to Venice with even bigger climbs including Fluela Pass in The Alps (below).  A brilliant trip.

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The following year I tackled The Pyrenees (France and Spain) en route from Bordeaux to Barcelona.  The climb below is heading up Superbagneres.

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Last year I conquered Colle della Finestre (Italy) when I was riding with the Italy Bike Tours gang.  That is my biggest single ascent to date.

These photos are on the descent. The last 8 km of the climb is gravel. I am a nervous dirt rider so was unsure as to my ability to get to the top within the required time parameters (remembering I did this climb with 2 broken ribs). I did it with time to spare.  Check out the wall of snow on my right hand side, and a number of the hair pin bends (55 on this climb).

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This year Team Yaxley is undertaking what is a huge challenge, by anyone’s measure. Certainly the biggest for either of us.

4,300 km riding, 33,770 metres ascent, 10 countries, one month, self supporting.  That means we carry all our gear for the month including basic mechanical gear.  We do have the luxury of staying in accommodation with beds!  We have ‘rest’ days scheduled for Budapest and Split.

There are risks. Life is risky.

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The route – with the blue line between Split (Croatia) and Anacona (Italy) representing our overnight ferry transfer.

The countdown is on, and we fly out this Saturday afternoon.

Upon arrival into Prague, I have provided one full day rest for jet lag, particularly important as jet lag is one of the major triggers for my epilepsy.

Our first day is a mere 172 km (910m ascent) or so heading into the eastern section of the Czech Republic.  Day two is another 174 km (1540m ascent) taking us into southern Poland.   Baptism by fire.

By the fourth week, we will be in the Dolomites (Italy) and I have some unfinished business there – as last year we were unable to complete the planned day ride looping through a number of climbs.  Last year it was very cold and the decision was made to descend asap rather than risk pushing on.

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The descent down Passo Falzarego is the coldest I have ever been on a bike.  We sought refuge and hot drinks at this cafe.  I was so cold that I was having difficulty steering my bike through the hairpins.

This trip there will just be the two of us – no support crew, no riders we can cruise along with.  Based on my touring experiences to date though, we will meet people and create many new memories to share.

I look forward to sharing our adventures with you – and thank you for your continued support and encouragement.  It is humbling when I know how some of my ‘regulars’ look forward to each blog, including Tony’s Uncle Jim, and ‘older generation – young at heart’  friends Noeline and Margaret!

Ooroo for now!

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Matterhorn

Early morning start to head off to Aosta for our final Giro ride…a shorter ride that was to include a long climb of around 28 km to arrive in Cervinia, very close to the Swiss border, and not that far from the French border either. 6C3B6993-0DB3-43B8-8588-49A5D5784CA3

Two of Italy Bike Tours great team getting ready…Stephano and Roberto.

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Riders getting ready….

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I can’t forget Marco, another Team Italy Bike Tour member. He does not ride, but organises!

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After a 10 km warm up we peel off to climb up Cervinia. Not as steep as Finestre (thank goodness) but a lot longer. 28 km of climbing is a long climb.

As is my preference with long climbs, I do it on my own…trying to maintain a consistent pace, cadence and wattage.

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Looking at the climbing graph you can see it is a solid climb, starting at just under 500 metres above sea level, heading to just under 2000 metres, with 4 slight reprieves on the upward journey….small, but welcomed.

The temperature was in the high twenties and I sweated, necessitating a quick water bottle fill at a small Italian village..walking into a bar asking for some tap water.

Again, there were thousands of cyclists on the roads, some in small groups including one team wearing blue that had a strong cyclist with their hands across the shoulders of the second cyclist helping push them up the hill.

Electric bikes…there were a few of those. One lady went last me a few times motor whirring, and then she would stop…

An Italian rider asked me where Clive was??  ( I was wearing Italy Bike Tour kit, and Clive is the IBT owner). I told him ‘somewhere between the bottom and top’….but not riding! He laughed. I saw this guy a few times as he pulled over and was chatting away to people.

The higher you climbed, the temperature dropped, but the spectator excitement rose as you were cheered, had horns blared at you, and one couple rang their cow bells. Yes, gimme more cow bells!

More alcohol was being consumed and I was offered a glass of wine…and a sausage….there is a direct correlation between noise levels and alcohol!

Passing through the 25, 20, 15, 10 km banners they finally went 9,8 and so on until the 2 km mark , where they then drop by 100 metre increments…nice feeling!

I had been suffering painful stomach cramps the last 5 km or so and was keen to get to the bathroom!!

Down the finishing shute I was astounded by the beauty of the area. Cervinia is a valley of mountains, with the Matterhorn looming in front.

I could not get to the finishing line due to it being blocked by security forces some 200 metres out so that was it. Stop the Garmin!  Time to soak up the atmosphere and find a bathroom!

Alas, I needed to pack my bike up first, ready for the flight to Rome….then…..bathroom and then this…

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Cervinia is an awesome village, skiing and rock climbing mecca. You could see people skiing high up.

After the race we wander around, finding gelato…and then the Wymper bar, dedicated to Wymper an English man who was the first to climb the Matterhorn.

Outside the skies were darkening, and then BANG! Thunder rolling around the valley and we all try to hotfoot it back to the sanctuary of our hotel, making it just before the rain bucketed down. Others were not so fortunate.

We stayed in Cervinia until about 10 pm, having a meal at the hotel just metres from the finishing line.

Late night as we arrived into Torino to prepare for a 4 am alarm to transfer to Rome and the Giro finale.

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