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.

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