I’m a firm believer that if you are waiting for THE perfect time to start, then you’ll be waiting for a very long time (maybe forever). And by often throwing myself into the deep end of the adventure paddling pool, I’ve learned that the perfect time to start is the minute you start – you will learn far more than you will by sitting on the edge waiting and never doing.
It was an amazingly extreme and gloriously difficult adventure that has provided me with the most wonderful learning curve for which I am very grateful (my achey legs, numb fingers and my slightly bruised ego may not agree).
The NC500 Plan
First let me set the scene of what we set out to complete.
We were going to cycle the North Coast 500 route that Mimi downloaded from the endurance-rider-extraordinaire Mark Beaumont. Which in simple numbers involved cycling 744 kms, with an elevation profile of 8390 metres (as a matter of comparison, Mt Everest is 8849 metres) in 6 days, with our bikes loaded with camping gear – yep, we camped along the way.
What we completed was 500 kms, with an elevation profile of 6,050 metres (as a matter of comparison, base camp is 5,364 metres) in 4 days.
Which officially is a DNF – however, it wasn’t a race, so DNF isn’t quite the right term because we did finish an adventure, just not along the original planned route.
This cycle was a bucket list thing to do for Mimi, and for me it was a get back on the horse endurance adventure after almost a year off from long distance running due to injury. Which kind of put us in two very different starting places. Mimi has been bikepacking, cycle-adventuring for several years. As for me, I was a newbie who was hoping for the best and had to deal with the worst – which was a lack of specific endurance cycle training (which could have come in rather handy for the trip – who knew) and experience.
But as I said above, the perfect time was the time when this opportunity came about, and my learning curve has been steep.
Things I learned:
Not all running gear crosses over to cycling gear and that some endurance-cycling basics are worth the investment.
In the lead up to this cycle I trained in shorts, leggings or slightly padded bike pants – but as I only cycled for an hour or two in the lead-up to this adventure, I didn’t really think my cycling attire would be a problem. However, times that cycling time by 4 or 5 (ie., 8 to 10 hours on the saddle) and the worth of investing in appropriately padded cycling pants became quite apparent.
I’d also been cycling in my running trainers up until the week prior to the adventure. After a quick shout-out on social media for advice I bought a pair of cleated cycling shoes and gave them a brief 2 hour test ride … Oh Nicola, Nicola, Nicola!
The SPD cleats, which are cleats that are sunk into the sole of a bike shoe, were the right choice, as I was able to walk up the many crazy-steep hills in the shoes that I’d chosen. However, the design of the shoe just wasn’t right for me and my ankles – which bruised on the first day and then bruised a whole lot more during the remaining 400+ kilometres.
I’m pretty good at dealing with uncomfortable, but the uncomfortables (pains) were starting to add up.
I’d bought a hybrid bike which is a bike that falls into the in-between category of a mountain bike and a gravel bike. I chose a hybrid because I love cycling around in mud, grass and trails (much like my running) and I like to cycle as cross-training for running. HOWEVER, …
(This adventure was very quickly becoming full of hindsight however’s).
However, this bike really wasn’t the best choice for hauling my ass and all my kit along 500 kms of road and ridiculous hills – turns out that’s what gravel bikes are for.
It also turns out that when you cycle for more than 2 hours, it helps to have a bike frame that fits your short-ass … any guesses that maybe I hadn’t noticed that.
My bike, in the set-up that I took it to Scotland, was too big for me.
I’ve since learned that there are things you can do to make a slightly-too-big bike fit a slightly-too-small-for-the-bike body.
The best thing to do (preferably before you throw yourself into deep end of the adventure pool) is to go to a professional bike-fitter and ask said professional bike-fitter to fit your bike. By fitting a shorter handlebar stem, I now have handlebars that are closer to my body and not causing me to over-reach and put excessive pressure on my wrists because that can be very bad on your nerves and can cause hand palsy or in newbie cyclist’s terms – numb fingers.
As I’m typing this, 3 weeks after finishing our ride around the Scottish highlands I’m still suffering numb fingers on my right-hand. I’m told it should ease off … eventually.
What matters most
Despite the few issues I had above, the ride was absolutely spectacular. The scenery was jaw-dropping. Mimi’s company, when I had a chance to breath at the end of the day, was lovely. Her genuine chirpiness in the mornings, set me up and made the early mornings almost bearable (I am soooooo not a morning person). Her ‘we can do this’ attitude, even when it was going wrong and it was obvious that we were not going to do this in the way we originally planned, was awesome.
I was gutted to have been the cause of Mimi not completing her plan of the NC500, but she was so kind and forgiving and said we started together so we’ll finish together, and it was an awesome alternative adventure.
This attitude and love helped me to be kind on myself and appreciate that we did indeed have an extraordinary experience … and that’s what matters most.
How to fall forward
There’s an awesome inspirational speech by Denzel Washington about failing, or as he so eloquently puts it ‘fall forward’. He says “You will fail at some point in your life, accept it. You will lose. You will embarrass yourself. You will suck at something.”
Which may not sound like much of an inspiring speech, and if you’re like me you’ll probably agree that sucking at something … well, it sucks! However, Denzel goes on to explain why it’s so important to not quit or give up on yourself when you fail, or have a set-back, because “every failed experiment is one step closer to success”.
So, I’m going to take this failed experiment, and fall forward.
A bit of bike-ride across Australia sounds fun.
Ready. Set … 😊
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Running 63 marathons in 63 days in your 50th year seemed a little crazy to most, but maybe a ‘little dash of crazy’ was what it was going to take.