Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Lessons from the Trail

Lisa from California, Michelle from WomanTours and Me.
Getting Ready to Cycle Vicksburg Memorial Park
The tour is over, I'm back at home, the luggage is unpacked, the laundry is (mostly) washed and the work-a-day routine is back in full swing.

The tour of the Natchez Trace was all I could imagine and more: The people I met were amazing, the scenery was beautiful, and the weather was perfect.

I came away from the experience both inspired and empowered.  I know, without a doubt, that the tour in Mississippi is the first of many bicycle adventures I'll experience and I highly recommend WomanTours as a touring company. 

Here's what I learned from my trip:

1. You do not lose weight while on a van-supported bicycle tour.  Yes, I cycled 40+ miles each day, but the guides made sure we ate really well (and they fry just about everything in Mississippi).  We ate at a lot of really nice restaurants in the evenings.  The breakfasts were usually heavy and we had lots of great snacks and very healthy lunches while on the trail. I put on quite a few pounds while on this trip and am hoping a lot of it is muscle mass, but I did indulge in quite a few foods I haven't allowed myself to eat in a long, long time.

2. Without going into too much detail: Bicycle shorts are not meant to be worn with underwear.  This was the wardrobe malfunction that I mentioned in an earlier post and it created extreme discomfort in an inconvenient place.  All this time I had been blaming my bicycle saddle for my comfort issues, when I had been doing most of the damage to myself out of ignorance. I also learned about the healing properties of Lantaseptic and what chamois creams are all about.  Thank God for the woman who gave me samples of the Lantaseptic and Hoo Ha Cream (yes, it's really called that!)

3. When confronted with a big hill, sing your ABCs.  This was a trick taught to me by Genie from Crockett, Texas.  You know that old song that starts with "A - You're adorable, B - you're beautiful"?  Well Genie keeps herself going on long, challenging hills by singing that song to herself and then going through the alphabet, using words to describe and encourage herself while climbing.  A - Adorable, B - Beautiful, C - Capable, D - Delightful, E - Energetic, F - Fantastic, G - Gorgeous, H - Healthy ... and so on.   Many of us took up this tactic and even used it on each other as encouragement on the really tough hills.

4. Your age is mostly a state of mind.  On our first night together, before the tour had begun, we introduced ourselves to the group.  One woman, who was 63, made the statement that because she was older she wasn't sure how many more years she had left to bike.  Another woman spoke up at that point and said, "Don't be in a hurry!"  The woman who spoke up was Emily, who I mentioned in an earlier blog.  We had no idea at that time that Emily was 82 years old!  After the tour was over Emily went on to do her own self-guided bicycling and camping tour along the Natchez Trace and is probably still biking along the Trace as I write this blog.  Emily is an author of two books, a motivational speaker and activist.... along with being an accomplished outdoorswoman.  Very little keeps her from living the life she wants to lead.  But it wasn't just her that helped me view "old age" in a new light.  All of the women on the tour (with the exception of the guides, who were both my age) had 10 years or more on me... and every single one of them was vibrant, active and inspirational.

5. I learned a lot about myself.  I am a lot stronger than I thought I was, able to keep up and at times outclimb stronger, more experienced cyclists than myself.  I got as much satisfaction from encouraging other cyclists as I did from reaching the crest of a difficult hill on my own. I also discovered I had mother hen tendencies!  On the first day I hung back with the slower bikers in the group because I could hear cars coming a lot earlier than they did and felt they needed me there to "watch out" for them.  Imagine me, on my first tour ever, watching out for the veteran cyclists who had been on about a gazillion tours already!!  (I had to laugh at myself.)  I am also able to follow maps and written directions better than I thought I could, in spite of my dyslexic tendencies!!

6. Your own pace is the perfect pace, embrace the experience!  The first day of the tour I hung back with the slower pedalers to get to know the people in the group and conserve my energy for the days ahead, but I found myself wanting to go a bit faster than the group. Later, I tried to keep up with the fastest cyclists in the group, often wearing myself out in the process.  The best rides I had were the rides when I set my own pace, neither hanging back or pushing too hard.  While I spent a lot of time by myself on those self-paced rides, I didn't feel I was missing out on anything.  I actually noticed more along the roadside when I was on my own and setting my own speed - beautiful birds and flowers, interesting landscapes, etc. - I even found a small shed antler when I was on my own.  Much of what I saw and experienced on these rides would have been missed if I were riding with others. When I stopped worrying about what others were doing and just focused on living in the moment and doing my own thing, that's when the ride became magical.

7. When your childhood dreams become reality, they are even better than imagined!  I feel so thankful and blessed to have this experience and wish I could give every person I know a small spark of what I'm feeling in the pit of my soul since coming back.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Perfect Final Ride!

Yesterday's ride was 44 miles through rural Mississippi, just outside of Natchez.

The weather was perfect, the climbs were easier than the previous days and I couldn't have picked better conditions for my final ride.

I have made so many good friends and have learned so much about both biking and about myself.

Today as I start the drive home I will be processing the entire week and will post lessons learned from the trail in my next blog post.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Beautiful Ride

Yesterday's ride was amazing! 

Beautiful, rolling hills through pristine woodlands made the perfect ride.

I spent most of the journey riding on my own and picking my own pace. From time to time I would catch up to the two women who were the fastest riders at the occasional lookouts, but when we got back on the road they easily moved ahead of me.

I liked setting my own pace.   I neither tried to keep up with the head of the pack or held myself back with the more leisurely riders.  Doing my own thing made for a more meditative journey.

I saw bluebirds, turkey, two variety of woodpeckers and many other birds during the ride.  I also found a small shed antler on the road, which I picked up as a special souvenir.

The wardrobe malfunction that caused extreme discomfort on the previous ride threatened to cause some issues during yesterday's ride, but thanks to some amazing people I met at the Inn in Port Gibson,  I was able to ride without major issue.  Becky and John from Lafayette,  Louisiana are also traveling parts of Mississippi by bike... and they have their dog, Boone with them in a little bike trailer.  When Becky heard about my issues she gave me some cream to ease the problem and I am so grateful for her generosity!

When I am no longer using my cell phone to post to the blog, I'll post a link to Becky and John's blog (and hopefully fix the wacky photo placement on my posts).   They are an amazing couple and their dog, Boone, is about the coolest thing on four legs!

Today is the last ride.  I almost hate to see it come to an end.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Rough Ride

Yesterday's ride was a challenge.   High winds, cold temperatures and a wardrobe malfunction had me feeling sluggish and weak.... but somehow I was the first person to make it in.

I rode most of the day with Lisa from California.  She's biked all over the world and I have really enjoyed getting to know her.  I have posted a photo of her on this post from when we jumped off the bikes and walked a bit of the old Natchez Trace footpath.

Lisa is also a fellow glass artist and I bought one of her pendants.  I put a photo of it on this post. 

Later in the ride I was mostly by myself and it was nice to slow my pace and zone out a bit.  I think I am going to pace myself today and take it easy.

The Inn, The Isabella B&B, where I slept last night was beautiful and cozy, a perfect place to lay my road weary head.  I had a marvelous meal with my tour companions and guides and am really enjoying getting to know everyone. There are so many amazing women on this ride!

It's another cold morning in Mississippi!  I'm hoping the day warms up quickly!!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Rain Won't Stop Me.... And Neither Will the Hills!

It was a dark and stormy morning!

Only two women decided to ride through the Vicksburg National Park today.  The rest of the group opted to tour the park from the comfort of the support van.

I was one of the two women who chose to ride!  And I am so glad I did.

I almost chickened out.  The wet weather and huge climbs in the park were daunting. I was worried that I would be holding back the guide and the other woman from having a good time.  After all, both of these ladies have a lot more experience and have biked all over the world.

Well the excellent training and advice I received from my friend, Susi Czarnek, paid off! 

I climbed the hills like a champ, often passing up the more experienced cyclist!! Every time I thought about wimping out and walking up the big hills, I said to myself, "Dig deeper!   You're a Hill Country girl!  You're not going to let these Mississippi hills beat you! "  So I climbed. ... and climbed ...and earned the respect from my guide and fellow cyclist!

On one particular hill with a 28% grade, I was wearing down and looked up to see a patch of Texas bluebonnets (the state flower) - something I haven't seen anywhere else in Mississippi - and I took that as encouragement to finish the climb.

Afterwards Lisa, the woman I cycled with and I toured some historical museums and wandered downtown Vicksburg.

It has been an amazing day!  I feel like the last two days have both been personal bests and I am enjoying all the history I'm learning along the way. 

I am so glad I took the risk and went on this tour!!

Photos posted: A picture I took of my fellow cyclist after a tough climb, The Illinois memorial on the Vicksburg battle ground, and my awesome tour guides, Sid and Michelle.

Wonderful First Ride!!

Wow!  55 miles from Jackson to Vixksburg - the longest distance I've ever biked!!  It was an amazing day!!

The temperatures were cool, there was a gentle breeze blowing and the wildflowers were in bloom.  I couldn't have picked a better day for biking.

I am the youngest person on the tour.  Most of the women are between 55 and 70 years old.  The two oldest women are 73 and 82!!  The 73 year old, a fellow Texan, is one of the strongest bikers on the tour.  The 82 year old is a force of nature.  Her name is Emily.  She drove to Mississippi from Virginia to join the tour, tent camping the whole way!

Emily is tough, outspoken, eccentric and my new hero!  I hope to be a little like her when I'm in my 80s!!

Last night we stayed in The Cedar Grove Mansion.   It is a lovely antebellum home with verandas, creaky wood floors and amazing architecture.   The mansion still bears scars from the Civil War.   There is a cannon ball embedded in the parlor wall and a hole in the floor of the same room where another cannon ball hit.  General Grant and Jefferson Davis are both rumored to have stayed here.

It's raining this morning but I am still planning to ride the loop through the Vicksburg National Park.   This has been such an amazing experience.   I don't want to miss a thing!

I'm having trouble with my app today, so here are the descriptions of the photos I've added to this post:  a pic of Emily, my hero and role model and a pic of my room at the Cedar Grove Mansion. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Bike Fitting

Today I met some of the ladies on the tour and the guides!  Everyone is so nice.  Most of the people I've met so far have already been on several tours with Woman Tours.

Some of these ladies have biked through places like Death Valley, Great Britain and Bhutan!   I am in awe, especially since most of these women are 20+ years older than me!

I think my dream of growing up to be the eccentric old lady on a bike isn't so impossible!

Here are some pictures I took during the bike fitting.