Day 4 started with a swim in the lake. We started off with some drills:
- crocodile eyes sighting
- raised head sighting for when there are waves
- turn onto back to view others
- 90 degree turns
The image below shows us practising turning around some markers (Graeme and Alan). Unfortunately, the continuing pain in my arm/shoulder meant that I found it very difficult. I tried to do some front crawl, but ended up doing 400m of kicking only. Fortunately, the temperature of the lake was quite pleasant, so it didn’t matter too much that I was only moving slowly.
The next activity was a long ride to Bagneres. The coaches had some fun taking photos – Graeme has amazing balance and coordination!
After a short climb, we regrouped for a photo in front of Col de Tourmalet, one of the most famous climbs from the Tour de France.
At this point, the group divided, with Stu in the faster group and me in the slower group. We cycled to the top of Col de Palomieres, which had beautiful views, so we stopped for a few photos.
Not content with ordinary photos, we also managed to create a human pyramid (although I struggled with my bad arm, which is why I look a bit squashed!)
Unfortunately, the next section, where we started heading down the mountain, was where my holiday went wrong…
I had been concerned about my arm pain as it was difficult for me to grip the handle bars and brake. I realised that my speed was creeping over 40kmph, which might not sound fast to most people, but it was not something that I enjoyed. I tried to brake, but realised that I was not losing any speed. This made me feel stressed and I had to think of an action plan. I was getting faster and faster and could see a hairpin bend ahead. I realised that there were several options:
- continue going down the mountain and hope that I would slow (unlikely)
- continue going down the mountain knowing that I might not turn the corner and would therefore go over something even steeper (likely)
- bail by hitting the only hedge in the vicinity
It was a tough decision as I knew that I was likely to get injured, no matter which option I chose, however, I was absolutely terrified of the consequences if I didn’t stop, so I had to take some action. After some of the longest and most frightening seconds of my life, I went into the hedge.
I remember screaming in fear, but I can’t say exactly what happened next except for a sharp pain in my arm. I hit the hedge and then just lay on the ground feeling completely dazed and breathless.
It wasn’t long before Kat and Alex caught up with me. I opened my eyes and saw one of my SOAS bottles rolling away, but that wasn’t my primary concern at that time. Kat sent Alex down to get Graeme and then encouraged me to sit up, but I was still in such a state of shock that I just wanted to lie still for a few seconds.
After about a minute, I sat up and then got up. I pulled my bike from the hedge and could see that I had entirely buckled the handlebars. Kat encouraged me to walk down the hill with her, so I started walking. She offered to take my damaged bike, but I was too afraid that I would drop her bike, so I continued with my bike. It quickly became clear that there was a problem with the brakes, so I tried to adjust them… but then I realised that I had buckled the wheel. In order to continue walking with my bike, I had to open the quick release mechanism on the brakes.
It didn’t take long before Graeme came back to us, so Kat continued down to the rest of the group. Graeme straightened out my handlebars and sorted out the brakes. I was still feeling panicky and was struggling to breathe, so I needed to use my inhaler. I realised that I had lost my water bottle, but didn’t want to cause any more fuss – fortunately, my Garmin was still attached, although it was at a strange angle. I walked a short distance with Graeme to where the rest of the group was waiting.
I managed to get back on my bike, although I could see some large bruises emerging. Kat and Graeme told me that there was still some of the incline to go. I then looked down the path, but realised that just the thought of heading downhill made me feel sick with panic and fear. I wanted to get off my bike, but didn’t manage to unclip in time, so for the third time this week, I hit the deck. I toppled to my right hand side and tried to avoid my injured elbow and shoulder, so managed to whack my head on the ground.
Lou was very sweet and came rushing up to help me up. I felt really stupid and as if I had failed, but I just couldn’t bring myself to get back on my bike because I was gripped by fear.
Kat called Neil who agreed that as soon as they got back he would come and pick me up. he rest of the group continued with the ride, whilst Kat and I removed our shoes and started walking down the hill. I agreed that I would cycle up any hills that we got to. There were a few downhill sections, but unless they were very gentle and I could see the road ahead, I had to walk. I felt like such a failure, but was also in pain and really frightened.
It didn’t take too long for Neil to come back and pick me up. We put my bike in the van and Kat decided to continue with the ride, as she needed to get some training in.
When we were nearing Barthes de Neste, we saw Graeme and Lou, so I didn’t arrive back at the farmhouse much before the others.
It was a beautiful day, which didn’t really match my mood.
By the time I got back, my bruises were really starting to appear.
My leg hurt quite a bit, but not as much as my shoulder, so I decided that it would be prudent not to run.
In the evening, Alan and Neil served up some delicious Thai curries…
… and we all stayed outside to admire the sunset.
Some of us went down to the road to get a better look at the views.
It was at this point that I realised that although I was in beautiful surroundings, it was not the right holiday for me. The level of challenge was too great and I had failed 🙁