How do you measure the strength of your marriage?
Do you have open dialogue, date nights, do you invest in quality time to focus on the positives and how you complete each other?
Personally I have found spending 273 hours and riding over 6,000km with my missus this year has been a good test.
It started in January when Robyn rode her push bike up Mount Buffalo. This was a 20km climb with 1,000m of climbing and could be seen as an achievement, even if it did place her 1467 out of 1492 on the Strava leader board.
For those of you not in the know, Strava is a website that allows you to compare your bike data to others. Don’t join, it’s a pain in the arse. What used to be enjoyable rides, where you just appreciated being out on your bike, become drag races as the red mist descends and you pursue PB’s over a range of different segments. It is an addiction that once you start you can’t give up and I noticed the other day Robyn had that glazed look as she took off up a hill for what looked like no apparent reason, the look of a person with a Strava habit!
A couple of weekends ago Strava was not on our minds as we turned up to Stromlo Forest Park near Canberra at 6.30am to participate in the Fitz Challenge. A sportive of various distances and a challenging ride. We had selected the traditional 165km route with 3,000m of climbing and though there weren’t any real mountains, there were some steep hills with 9-12% gradients. This was the culmination of all those hours on our bikes. It’s fair to say that we had done our homework, in fact we were so prepared we had ridden the bigger climbs twice that year. It really does make me wonder if we have too much time on our hands.
The course was not going to be a surprise, riding in a big group ride would be a first for Robyn. The people who turn up at these events always fascinate me. Predominantly there are a lot of middle aged men of different sizes. There are a few ladies but they are definitely in the minority.
The bike is a great leveller and the styles range from those dressed like professionals in their club outfits, the Rapha poseurs trying to look cool in their overpriced kit (we fit in here and all I can say is it is very comfortable and washes so well!), to those still getting good value out of their cycling kit bought back in the 90’s! This crowd are my personal favourites as they are the hard core of the cycling community, often riding some old steel bike, they are the purists and normally display a large amount of facial hair to go with it (the men and the women).
So after a safety briefing that talked about the perils of going too fast down the hills, telling us that the police would be on the course and that there was an 80kmh speed limit of the Fitz Hill descent, to which he also remarked “good luck with enforcing that”, a gun was fired and we were off.
There is always lots of nervous chatter at the start of these events as the bunch sorts itself out. It’s only when you hit the first hills you get to see the different levels of rider, those who can climb take off and those who are a little underdone start to puff. We were in the last third of the pack, a deliberate effort not to go off too fast and then have to limp home. It was going to be a hot day so we were going to try and pace ourselves.
It was all going very well, then I had a puncture. We had only been on the road for 45 mins so by the time I had fixed it even the slowest riders had passed us. We were now the last pair on the road. Like the seasoned domestique that I am I hit the front and with Robyn tucked in behind and we set off to catch the field. By the time we hit the first real climb of the day we had collected a few back markers and by the top of the climb had found our rhythm.
The big challenge of the ride is Fitz Hill after about 75km. Its steep at a 10.5% avrg for 2.5km and it was getting close to 30oC when we arrived. We knew it was going to be tough and as agreed I took off to see if I could get a PB (damn you Strava) and I would wait for Robyn at the water stop at the top. Half way up people were already off their bikes, having to push them the rest of the way as they couldn’t physically manage it. I got to the top and watched as every shape and size of Lycra clad looney summited. I didn’t expect to see Robyn as soon as I did and as she came towards me I could see that she was literally towing half a dozen very red face blokes behind her. Clearly a little challenged by being out climbed by a woman they were clinging to her back wheel as if their life depended on it. A few even put in a supreme effort to go past her at the top so they were not beaten. As they fell in a heap at the water stop, Robyn just sailed past them and kept going.
And so it was for the rest of the day, starting literally from the back meant that we spent the rest of the day riding through the field. The joy of riding your bike over 6km, 16km or 160km is that you always get to test yourself. All the hours of training were paying off and as we rode beyond the 100km mark Robyn was riding at the same pace as when we started and hovering up the field as we made our way around.
The organisers of these events go to great lengths to tell you it’s not a race and then give you a timing chip and publish your position. Robyn was 253rd out of 479 starters. A great effort and a demonstration of her endurance, strength and her all round ability to ride a bike.
Robyn was rightly pleased with her achievement and the discussion on the way home was around what her next challenge was going to be. I had wondered if she would stop riding her bike with such commitment after this event, it goes to show after 20 years of living with somebody you can still be surprised and delighted.