As we clicked into our pedals at the top of the Cime de La Bonnette – the highest paved through road in Europe – we began our long descent into Nice. And I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of sadness.
This journey, I realised, was coming to an end. As much as I probably need a break, I want it to keep going. It has given me life where I lost it, and an energy and vitality that I never knew I had.
And as much as I got tired of waiting for my bigger, younger team-mate, I was going to miss pushing him to his limits to see when he would crack (haha, sorry Conor!). I’d miss the big dinners, the ridiculous lunch stops, the new roads, incredible scenery, and greatest fans.
I’d miss the check-ins from my team-mates, my friends, my Mom and Dad. And most of all, I’d miss being lost in the moment of it all.
But, as is usually the case: most good things come to an end. Temporarily at least.
I made it to my front door. I opened the zippers on my department store handlebar bag and dug to the bottom, below all the cycling clothing, snacks, and miscellaneous items, and was relieved to find my apartment keys were still there.
I put them there eight days ago and never saw them once since. Walking up the steps to my apartment carrying a fully loaded-down bike somehow felt easier than going down them just a little over a week ago.
This seemed odd as I should be more fatigued now than I was then. Did I get stronger? Surely I didn’t lift my bike up enough to make my arms any more capable than they were before…
Did I learn how to carry it more efficiently? Possibly, but still the unlikely answer as to why I was able to swiftly jaunt up a flight of stairs with a heavy road bike covered in unwieldy packs.
A few short hours later, Conor and I met for dinner, this time with his girlfriend Stacey – as if we didn’t get enough of each other the last eight days. And Stacey was shocked by the amount of energy we both had, considering the workload we had just completed.
Just a short two weeks before, we all sat around a similar table, beaten down, weary, worried. Today, the three of us sat there again, though this time we were upbeat, bubbly, full of energy. She couldn’t believe it. And when we noticed the difference, neither could we.
In a journey that should have killed us physically, a week with more hours spent on the bike, more calories burned and metres gained than either of us had ever done before (which says a lot considering I have raced a few Grand Tours), we returned home more alive than when we left. We felt physically stronger, mentally healthier, and better overall. Somehow, from some of the most disappointing few days of our lives, we stumbled upon some of the best we’ve ever had.
A large portion of that had to be the insanely positive response we received – people were cheering us on from every corner of the world.
They sent us their well wishes, their excitement, their joy in our journey. I replied to hundreds of messages of congratulations on our tour, even from fellow professionals. Which to me was kind of funny… it was like, ‘um, guys… all we did was go for a bike ride!’
But apparently this bike ride not only meant more to us than most, but to everyone else following along as well.
I think everyone has a spirit of exploration inside of them, a bit of ‘wanderlust.’ But many people fear experimenting with it, fear going into the unknown.
I probably would have fallen into that same category, had I something to lose. If I had a season full of races left, I would have kept on as normal: completing my intervals with laser precision, counting my calories, and pushing myself to my mental limits, putting myself under unnecessary stress.
Tomorrow morning marks two weeks since that email showed up in all of our inboxes. I would have never believed it then if you told me how I would feel now only two weeks later. I would have never believed it if you told me we would do what we did.
And I would have never believed it if you told me we would have received the outpouring of support that came our way.
But maybe that’s what makes sport and life so great. Sometimes, the unthinkable actually does become reality.
Larry and Conor’s Great Adventure blogs