Somewhere on the road to Bilbao
A single picture and the story behind it from ambassador Liz Seabrook
Sitting in the back of the van, a little closer than should have been comfortable, laughter at nothing in particular played across our lips as the golden light washed away the aches and pains from the climbs of the day. It was down to her that I was here. Had she not signed up, I’m not sure I would have had the courage to do the same.
To our right, the bikes were half stacked, half abandoned, our shoes and helmets scattered around the wheels thrown off sweaty brows and swollen hot feet. To our left, the others milled about with hazy expressions on their tired, sunkissed faces and beers in hand, still in the lycra they’d been cycling in all day.
"Wait, stay there; I want to take a photograph of you."
These words rarely escape my mouth, but I needed to take this image, knowing full well that what would appear on my screen at the studio the following week would be completely inept at expressing what I was feeling in that moment. Shifting tired legs that were semi entangled with Emily's, I slowly found my feet and shuffled off to find my camera, hanging precariously in my helmet from the unfamiliar handlebars of the much too small hire bike.
It was about seven in the evening; we'd started cycling late after heading out for a surf in the morning. The 40 or so miles we'd covered had been up our first proper hills of the trip. In the days leading up to leaving for France, I’d been nervous. Climbing hills isn’t something that comes easy to me. I don’t settle into their slow rhythm well, struggling to quiet my mind of the gremlins that chatter away telling me that I’m not quite good enough to make it to the top.
That day, plagued by horseflies and mentally struggling halfway up a hill, I looked up to see one of the others, Cat, waiting for me. When I drew level with her, I hopped off my bike and we walked a few hundred metres, gathering our breath and bitching about the length of the climb. I decided what I really needed to carry me along is some pop punk, so stuck on my favourite PUP album and blasted it for the rest of the climb.
At one point, we rounded a bend to find two bemused Dutch tourists peacefully reading their books in old camp chairs while enjoying a quiet roadside vista of the sea below. Embarrassed about raucously interrupting their peace I stopped and paused the music. They laughed and we shared a few niceties before Cat and I jumped back on our saddles and reach the top.
That was it. First climb of the week done. It hadn’t been graceful or quiet, but it was done.
The second of the day was easier; I’d buddied up with Carlos, our local and someone who – miraculously – hated cycling up hills more than I did. There was no walking, just a couple of stops to catch our breath and to ask workmen on the road if the hill would ever end. The third and final hill was unexpected. “Only 20 minutes to go, Liz!” exclaimed Carlos, looking up from his handlebar bag where his phone was nestled with Google Maps pointing the way.
We turned left to ride alongside a river and filled with joy at the thought of a flat riverside finish, I pedalled happily listening to Carlos’ stories of the time he’d camped and skated with friends for three weeks one summer under the bridge we were cycling below. Then came another left turn. It looked unconvincing and unwelcoming. The road was cracked and narrow, and much more to my concern snaked uphill at an unsettling incline. Back in the granny gear, we spun along, slowly slowly passed grapevines and farmers, up and up to the campsite. Back came those gremlins, but this time I was able to swat them away. I’d done bigger climbs that day, and the views were beautiful in the golden light.
“Can I get you a beer?” asked Andy, one of our dangerously attractive surf crew, who’d just appeared around the side of the van as I collapsed into the back of it, somewhat delirious at the thought of being able to sit my whole bum on a flat surface without moving my legs for a while. “A beer? I need a brew!” And that’s where this image finds me. Tired, but content, sitting opposite the woman who had encouraged me to take the challenge; a woman whose sporting achievements and mental fortitude during endurance events will forever dwarf mine, but who was still happy to have me along for the ride.