It’s Day Five on the Haute Route, an 800km, seven-day bike race through the Alps from Nice to Geneva. Today, just like all the other days I will be on my bike for just shy of eight hours. I grind up 50kms of mountains and fly down the other side finishing today's stage at 141kms. I climb three mountains. All are higher, and some are twice the height, of the highest mountain in the UK.
Over the course of the week I will ascend the height of Mount Everest 2.4 times. I share this experience with 500 people from all over the world, each and every one of us questioning our sanity at one stage or another. Today is my day.
I’ve just admitted to myself this simple truth:
I don’t want to subject myself to this level of pain anymore. Four days was tough enough, I’m not sure I’ve got it within me to take another three.
The moment I admit this, the pain levels increase and I genuinely don’t know if I can tolerate it. It’s like a deep ache from my very core throughout every single cell in my body. I can’t remember the last time I felt like this. I’m sobbing and the tears are bringing no relief. They are just making me want to be anywhere but here. To feel something that doesn’t hurt.
It’s takes me just under two hours to reach the summit before descending the Col du Madelene. The feed station is a frenzy of cyclists cramming apricots, bananas and pretzels in our mouths before jumping back on the bikes. I stop for three minutes. Relive stage 5 here.
I know I looked a mess up there, people told me after. I knew I was breaking myself and I didn’t know what kind of a state I’d be in when I finished that stage, let alone the end of the Haute Route in Geneva.
But I took the risk. I kept fighting the whole way, every km, with all I had.
Why did I do it?
I did it because this is what I live for. I live for the challenge, for putting myself in the place where I feel I’ve got nothing left, where I feel beyond broken, beyond empty, but I find a way to keep going. What happens in that place feels magical.
There’s no place to hide in the mountains, or indeed in any challenge that strips you to your very core and exposes you to the world. In those moments, it’s all there to play for, there is no-one forcing or motivating you to keep going and no-one stopping you from either. It’s a battle between you and yourself. It’s a decision of how hard you want to fight. It comes down to how much you want it, how far you are willing to go to discover who you really are and how hard you can push to be the person you believe you can be.
I do it because cycling is my passion. Because I can remember - as if it was yesterday - how it felt to be afraid of cycling eight miles across London to commute to work. Not because I was afraid of getting killed, because I just didn’t think I could cycle that far, and it amazes me what I can do now as a result of facing that fear.
I do it because taking that baby step of commuting to work has created more adventure, challenge and happiness than I ever imagined was possible. Because life is all about the baby steps and every so often, we need to remind ourselves of how important they really are.
I completed the Haute Route because the feeling of cycling down a mountain at 70km/hr is indescribably exhilarating and I can’t get enough of it! Because I’m in love with how beautiful mountains are and how they make me feel.
Because the 17km time trial up the Col du Galibier was one of the best days I’ve ever had on my bike. Because completing these challenges remind us of how powerful we really are and offer something we can’t get from day to day living.
Because I love looking behind me at the road I’ve cycled up, and that sense of “wow I can’t believe how far we’ve come” and looking ahead, that sense of “OMG how am I going to cycle up that.”
I love how it feels cycling between the shade and the blaring sunshine as the road twists and turns up the mountain.
How one glass of coke and a few apricots can make you go from zero to hero in five minutes flat.
But there’s two things I really, really love.
The people. When it comes down to it, it’s always the people.
Those who ‘saved’ me on the Haute Route, even though they didn’t know it. Who cycled beside me providing a distraction from the internal dialogue and self-doubt. Who let me shelter from the wind behind their wheel. The people who cheered me on when they cycled past, who shared high fives, smiles, selfies, stories, hugs and beers. The ones who made me laugh, describing what we were doing at times as “living hell.”
The two ladies who took first and second place, Brooke and Victoria. They displayed one of the finest examples of camaraderie and sportsmanship I’ve seen. Inspiring as athletes, as women and as mothers. Out of 480 people taking part in this year's event only 30 were women. Come on ladies, the Alps are calling you!
The final thing I really love, and one of my key motivations for finishing the Haute Route is this:
The mind is the most powerful tool we own and there’s nothing more valuable than proving to yourself how strong yours really is.
Thanks to the Haute Route for putting on an amazing event. 150 people work round the clock on the Haute Route to look after you and make the whole thing happen. The planning, route, professionalism, support, massages and documenting with professional photographers and videographers each day is impressive. To Beyond Health for prepping my body for the challenge and helping me recover after. Finally to Holiday Safe for insuring my adventures and travels. Use the code SOPH16 for 20% discount if you are looking for insurance.