So, just two weekends ago (Saturday 18th and Sunday 19th June) I felt I might simply have died and gone to bicycle heaven!
We had packed up a family picnic and hit the road early and travelled 60miles north to the picturesque Derbyshire town of Bakewell. As we queued amongst the families and individuals clad in vintage attire, I thought of how much I enjoyed fashion history and how I just love seeing people all dressed up. These cyclists and their families and their dogs were not in ‘fancy dress’ but in the very best combination of vintage cycle attire and the very best of British – full skirts, head scarves, hats and sunglasses. Some with a contemporary twist, like me I suppose! I wore a headscarf in my hair and teamed it with a full skirted, bird print dress, biker boots and a white leather jacket, but for my first time experiencing the magic of L’Eroica Britannia, I felt that I had made the effort and fitted in pretty well.
I couldn’t help but smile, I was excited as we saw one beautiful vintage bicycle after another wheel past us. Lovingly pushed by a rather dapper gent in waistcoat, cycle breeches and a moustache that curled up at the edges or by the most bonny of belles in full skirt and bonnet! As I queue with my family, I read in the festival programme……
‘Eroica is based on the thinking that our festival should be about celebrating the revival of age old glamour and the effortless style of days gone by.’
Fantastic news this is to me, coming to L’Eroica for the weekend is to be a real treat as recently I haven’t been feeling too well at all and I have had to cancel or postpone many a social engagement and creative commitment, let alone riding a cycle sportive! This weekend, I wouldn’t be riding but it was one event that I simply was not prepared to miss!
As we ventured further into the festival field, sky over cast, boots negotiating the muddy quagmire beneath us, I came to realise that with it’s mix of stimulating visuals, festival smells and musical sounds, L’Eroica was probably going to be the most marvellous of assaults on all of my senses!
A post journey pep was needed by way of great coffee at L’Eroica HQ. I never used to drink coffee, not really, until I started cycling, well – road cycling in 2014 that came to involve much needed caffeine stops with my 69 year old Dad. Now it’s a well known fact, that Zoe loves and appreciates a good Latte and my energy levels were already beginning to falter!
Post coffee, we meandered around the ‘Bicycle Jumble’ – it’s like a bicycle part car boot sale only where pre-loved bicycles, cogs, bells, gears, handlebars and saddle bags are given the chance of a new life, to be loved again! As I walked with my girls, I said to them, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to know the story of each of the bicycles? Were had it been? How many miles? How many races? Who had ridden it? What happens to it next? They smiled their beautiful smiles at their bicycle obsessed Mummy and Daddy as they were pulled to admire one classic old bicycle after another!
Then came our picnic lunch, sat on a muddy straw bale at the edge of the Eroica parade ring, hoping to catch at least a peek of The Great British Sewing Bee’s exquisitely turned out Patrick Grant. Patrick, an expert in style and tailoring, attends Eroica to judge ‘The Best Dressed Family, Guy, Gal, even dog!’ And there he was, suitably dressed down in war time style utility trouser and navy bomber jacket. Let’s get this straight, the girls and I, even my hubby all ‘love’ The Sewing Bee, it’s our kind of family television!
Now, not only is Partick in the ring but he is joined by cycling legend Chris Boardman! Now, I may not have been feeling in the best of health, but two men I’d love to meet, hubby aside, were literally in the same field as our family picnic and well, that was an opportunity not to be missed!
So there I was willing myself to go up and meet one of my cycling heroes! Chris Boardman MBE was just a jump of a hay bale and a few strides away. I felt nervous and unsure, but my Issy pushed me on, ‘Mummy I’ll come with you!’ she exclaimed. So I tapped him on the shoulder and blurted out ‘ Chris, I would like to give you this, it’s a print that I designed, inspired by Ride London, it’s for you!’ I’d taken it in my rucksack, just in case I might just get close enough and brave enough to hand it to him. I knew Chris would be attending Eroica as one of Action Medical Research’s ambassadors. I love watching him commentate on TV and I have a Chris Boardman hybrid bicycle in the shed!
I’m grateful to my Issy for keeping her unphased, ten year old calm and managing, eventually, to take this fab photo of me handing my print in a tube to the lovely Chris! He looked pretty pleased, smiled warmly and said ‘ Thanks very much!’ So I’m desperately hoping he likes it !!
In a nervous attempt at conversation and to prove to my hero that I am or at least have been a ‘cyclist’ I told him that the inspiration for the print came from surviving the aftermath of Hurricane Bertha in 2014 whilst completing Ride London with my Dad. The officials shortened it on the day to 86 miles as Box Hill and Leith Hill had become too treacherous to ride in the appalling weather conditions!
That day became the most invigorating, terrifyingly awesome day of my life! Triumphantly Dad and I eventually crossed the finish line unscathed yet a little soggy in the Mall and that was epic !
I didn’t tell Chris that I over came pneumonia to train up for Ride London. My sister in law was undergoing chemotherapy to treat breast cancer, it had been an enormous shock for our family. I had felt desperate to help and signed myself and my already cycling Dad up to ride the 100 mile sportive and to raise money for Breast Cancer Care. When a winter cough went on to my lungs, I had to fight my way back to fitness for the ride.
Chris rode the first ever Ride London in 2013 and I asked him if he would be riding this year,
‘No, I’ll be flying out to Rio’ he says politely. ‘Of course’ I think to myself, ‘Rio Olympics, of course!’
I know that Chris had to give up professional road cycling due to osteoporosis, something I’m at risk of developing and what I really want to say next is,
‘Chris, do you have you any advice for a lady who has always loved bicycles and fell in love with road cycling two years ago, building her stamina to training rides of typically 30/40 miles. A lady who managed to achieve her longest cycle sportive of 112 miles last year and yet this year has found herself debilitated and frustrated by the illness they call M E or chronic fatigue syndrome?’
But I don’t!
Instead I smile at him and say ‘Enjoy your print and really nice to meet you’ and Chris smiles and waves returning to the bustle of several other fans waiting for photographs with my print in his hand! A triumph in itself!
My Issy and I return to our picnic, but not for long! This new found confidence in networking with celebrities has got us all excited, it’s an alternative adrenaline rush for me and soon I’m encouraging Issy, ‘ Lets go and meet Patrick!’
Followed by littlest Potter, we tap the very tall Patrick on the arm! He is every bit as charming in the flesh but very approachable and very natural. ‘ We all love The Sewing Bee!’ are the words that blurt out from my mouth!
I tell him ‘I’d love apply to take part in it but I’m more of a creative sewer than a technical one’ and that he ‘might pull me up on the quality of my zips and buttonholes!’ Since my hubby takes great pleasure in reminding me that this is what I said, I have decided to file it away in a moment akin to the ‘I carried a watermelon’ moment in Dirty Dancing!
We exchange a little conversation about our love of cycling and getting soaked to the skin on many a cycle sportive. Then Patrick asks me if I would be riding L’Eroica the next day?
‘No, unfortunately not’, I tell him, ‘I’ve been feeling a little fatigued this year!’ I say in a rather shy deflection of the subject.
‘But I will next year and my Dad is riding tomorrow!’ I add in a last ditch attempt to regain some kudos!
As my girls and hubby stand grinning at my attempt at networking with the very best of contacts, I give Patrick my card! He may not ever feel the need to contact me about a joint project, but one cannot be blamed for trying! I’m hoping that he might look me up and perhaps book in for a one to one at Leicester Print Workshop if he ever feels the need to screen print, foil or flock a design for his latest collection!
As Patrick is pulled away to meet the next family of fans, he calls ‘Nice to meet you!’ This makes me happy as we go back to our hay bale picnic, but I can’t help thinking,
‘Fatigued? Fatigued? Why did I say I’d been a little fatigued? Slight understatement of the truth there Zoe!’ Did I leave Patrick thinking ‘So when you are tired, you don’t cycle?’
Why did I not expand and explain that I have M E, an overwhelming, chronic tiredness that can hit me like a freight train and last for days!? That I now long for the satisfaction of the kind of fatigue you experience after a cycle sportive of 60 or 70 or 100 miles, because to me that fatigue is well earned.
Lately I’m sometimes floored as a consequence of over doing daily living or pushing slightly too hard on a walk or getting all fired up about a creative project in a school, delivering it on raised adrenaline levels and then suffering the consequences for several days afterwards, they call it the ‘crash’!
Well it wouldn’t have been fair to load all of that on to Patrick, but maybe I should have been honest and not embarrassed to admit that I am at the moment living in a perpetual state of feeling half there, my head is foggy, I’m off balance and my cognitive ability is slower!
Or perhaps not!
(Here’s a light interlude, some photographs of the amazing families dressed up in the parade ring!)
So I feel that I need to speak out in my I blog and share this with my friends, family and followers. Life isn’t easy for anyone, but we are blessed to live it. Many have daily struggles with illness far worse or challenging than mine, but here I am sharing my first Eroica experience but using it to explain whats going on with me right now and how I feel.
Despite my constant sore throat, dizziness and feeling like I wasn’t fully there, I was having a lovely time at my first Eroica Britannia. I was with my beautiful family and meeting people I admired and was surrounded by all kinds of cyclists and beautiful costumes. I couldn’t help but be happy, however inside my heart was breaking just a little as I wouldn’t and couldn’t be riding Eroica with my Dad on Fathers Day.
By 3pm my muscles were feeling achy, I was getting light headed and my fingers were numbing with the drop in temperature. So we went for another drink at Eroice HQ. By then, there was load music and a real load buzz of so many people chatting, laughing and enjoying the great atmosphere, but my head began to ring and my throat was getting more sore. Hubby looked at me and said ‘Let’s get you home!’ I knew that if I pushed to stay longer, I wouldn’t have the stamina to come back the following day to see Dad ride in to the finish.
So rather than camping out in my Mum and Dad’s awning and dancing the night away to the festival bands, we set off home. We’d had a very stimulating, exciting day and once I got in the car my face started burning up. By 7.00pm that evening I was bathed and laying completely exhausted on the bed! My head had gone back to feeling squeezed, my ears were ringing and my whole body felt that it might as well have cycled the 60miles home! Though completely and utterly shattered, it took me a while to get off to sleep. The conversations I’d had were whirling around in my mind along with the fact that I had met two of my heroes and the disappointment of not being able to ride the next day.
On the Sunday we got up slightly later than the day before, getting dressed up and making a picnic was more challenging than the Saturday. Thank goodness for a supportive husband, he said we didn’t have to go, but he knew how much I wanted to!
Early on Sunday, before we even got up, riders had started to gather in Bakewell. Those first riders would be cycling 100 miles of undulating Derbyshire roads including kinder, flatter stretches such as The Monsall Trial all dressed up to the nines in their vintage gear and riding pre 1980’s bicycles. Some with very limited or even no gears! My heroes!
There are a choice of three routes to choose from when riding Eroica, the 100miler is named ‘The Hero’. The 55 mile route is named ‘Sportsman’ and the 30 mile route, ‘Tourist’ all totally stunning routes I imagine by looking at the map!
Although I would have loved to have been one of the riders crossing the finish line, we enjoyed watching them all come in. Photographing their bikes and their costumes and listening to the brilliant commentary of numbers and what the riders do and their ages, from the very young to the more mature! Eventually Dad came in triumphant from tackling the Derbyshire hills, another life experience and yet another sportive under his belt. His priority is asking how I am and mine is to promise him, ‘Next year Dad, we will ride it together!’ If we don’t ride the 50, the 30 miler is a definite must !
‘We want people to rediscover the beauty of fatigue and the taste of accomplishment’ – Giancarlo Brocci, Creator of L’Eroica
So that was Eroica 2016. The place where I made a promise to myself and to my family to get myself better and that next year, they would see me all dressed up in a frock that I have made, with a print that I’ve designed, on a vintage bicycle, triumphantly crossing that finish line with the biggest of smiles on my face!
Lets just put it this way ‘ I’m tired of being tired’ and next year Eroica is top of my bucket list! It’s going to take patients and time, but I need a physical goal to aim for and to hear our girls calling out ‘Come on Mummy, you’ve done it’ would be music to my ears!
In the meantime, I have my creativity and so many photographs to work and draw from. There are prints to be designed and creative projects to be done at a slightly lesser pace. I am still me, I just have M E and I won’t let it define who I am. There will be a plan of graded exercise to help me get me back on form!
Perhaps my hubby will even grow a stylish moustache that curls up at the edges and ride with me and my Dad next year !?
The Italian word L’Eroica literally translates as ‘The Heroes’
‘ L’Eroica started in 1997 because of one man, Giancarlo Brocci, who admired the values of past cycling so much that he wanted to reconnect others to the heritage that inspired much Italian history, literature, culture, and music.’ – The Britannia times 2016