NC500 Team: Jessica Stevens

Introduction

Mary & I have known Jess for donkeys. One of my best friends, Jess & I met in our late 20s when we should have been adulting and sensible but we never quite got there. As soon as Sarah Bishop mentioned the NC500 I knew I had to ask Jess to come along.

I think as we are heading towards our fifties the call to adventure is getting louder and the desire to be in good physical & mental shape is becoming the priority it should have been years ago. Jess has made fantastic progress on her fitness journey and has shown incredible determination, along with a sense of adventure.

Maybe we are growing up? Nah, proper grown ups don’t agree to cycle 500 miles around Scotland!

I’ll hand you over to Jess to tell you a little bit about her cycling journey.

Sarah


Jess

How Did you Get into Cycling?

A friend asked me this recently. It’s been a long, slow & winding road. I thought about it for a while and concluded it started with a little red trike when I was really tiny.

I wasn’t big enough to pedal it but I liked to stand on the back of that little red trike. I remember it down to the rust patches on the footplate. After the trike, there weren’t any more two-wheeled adventures for a while.

Like many people cycling and bikes were simply not on my family’s radar. We lived on a busy road in the middle of London but had woods nearby for climbing trees and making camps. 

The next time a bike entered my life I was around 11 years old. I’d often go to another kids house after school, where I’d play before my mum came to pick me up. There was an old rusty, blue & gold bike in the garden. The other kid was too old to play with me, so I learnt to ride the bike on a very bumpy and often wet lawn. The seat had a big crack in it, just the right size to pinch my bum and other soft bits every time I got on it! So I hated the damn thing as well as loving it because I could ride it.

No sooner had I mastered staying upright, I didn’t have to go to the house anymore and I was back to no bike. I remember feeling bereft. I loved the feeling of flying down the garden path even with the broken saddle biting me. 

On returning home from school one day I was ushered into the garden. Oh the joy! I couldn’t believe it. A bicycle for me. Then, a slow-dawning realisation it was the bottom pincher! I didn’t care, I was so happy to have a bike of my own. 

In and Out of Favour

The bikes were eventually abandoned and left to rot in a corner of the shed. I had discovered roller skating! I spent the next few years doing nothing else. Forwards, sideways and backwards, it was my life. We went to a local skate park which was a mix of skateboards, skates and BMX’s.

One Christmas my brother got a Raleigh Arena 5 Speed Racer. He would let me have the odd go on it even though it was way too big for me.

I remember watching the BMX’ers flying through the air and hearing, ‘Oh wow he’s got a Diamond Back’ uttered in hushed tones. It made me really want a bike again.

Although I loved skating, by the time Christmas was coming around again I wanted a BMX more than anything. Bikes were very expensive and I didn’t think I stood a chance of getting one but I had seen the most beautiful (beautiful to 1980s me) mint green Mongoose BMX. Bear in mind I had absolutely no idea about what a mongoose was, I mostly just liked the colour! 

Christmas came, I opened some presents and there was no bike, although I felt a little short changed in the present department but once the presents had been opened I was called out of the living room. There in the hall, leaning against the stairs, was the Mongoose! I can still recall my utter joy to this day. I began to ride it to the skate park and would take my skates in a bag. I was rubbish at tricks but I loved the bike. It was every tomboys dream!

I lost interest in riding my bike during my latter teenage years after discovering beer, smoking and ‘hanging out’. I didn’t get another bike until I was 30 and living in the West Midlands with a real cyclist. 

Return to Cycling

I liked cycling, but I didn’t love it. I would throw tantrums at hills, use the words ‘I can’t’ to which the stock response was ‘Ok, you can’t then! I would get annoyed and ‘show her’ that I could. That bike also ended up in the shed. 

In my late 30’s I moved to Bognor Regis. I rescued the bike out of it’s shed in London and brought it to my new seaside home. I began riding with my brother a few times, but it didn’t quite stick, so I gave the bike away. Truth be told I was very fat, very unfit and very depressed. 

I knew something needed to change. I started working with a personal trainer whose ethos is about finding the movement that you love. Without it you will give up or give in to temptation. His coaching has changed my life. 

The problem is I can be very fickle. I loved my training sessions with him in the gym and rediscovered how much I love to lift heavy things. I think It’s because I’m little and might be suffering a bit from a Napoleon complex! I also started swimming to complement the gym work.

Littlehampton 10K 2019

Then came running. Now, I must confess, I don’t love running. I like the group I run with, the shuffling sheilas as we affectionately call ourselves, and I really enjoy trails, especially muddy ones which often lead to hilarity along the way. I even completed the Littlehampton 10K in 2019, but pounding the pavements is not for me. 

I have meandered rather a lot, but I am getting to the point I promise. Last year after running several races I signed up for the Blenheim Palace Triathlon. I thought, ‘I can do each part separately. I just need to join them together’ What a numpty! No bike in the shed as I had given it away!! I needed a bike. 

Finding My Cycling Mojo

My new foray into cycling started early this year when I bought my lovely Fuji bike, second hand. Aluminium frame with Carbon forks in stealth black, and 700c wheels. I put a rack on the back and bought a lovely Pannier. I expected my feelings about cycling to be much the same as they always had been, kind of fun but not too bothered. However, what I have found in these last few months riding my bike is a space to be alone, to push myself, to be free, to improve (I am a data monster, I love it), to carry the shopping! 

I’m still scared of going too fast downhill and cannot confidently change a puncture at the roadside, but I want to learn and gain the confidence to do those things and more. I am getting to the stage now where I’m close to being able to cycle 20 mile or so without needing resuscitation and a bed at the end.

Cycling into the Future

As for the future, I would love to think nothing of cycling 20 miles to go see a friend, rather than use my car; and to not be filled with terror at the prospect of the 20 mile ride back home. I’m not sure that my future cycling will see me in races or athletic events, but when I started running I never imagined I would take part in and complete a ½ marathon, so I have learnt to never say never!

I would love to be able to ‘talk bike’, at the moment I refer to ‘thingies’, ‘clicky things’, ‘front cogs’, ‘back cogs’, fix the thingies, whatsists & doodads if they break. Learning the jargon is a fun part of the journey for me.

I have just postponed my triathlon this year. Due to Covid19 I haven’t been able to get the swimming practice done so I have shifted focus to cycling. I am spending more time on my bike exploring the local area. As well as some bikepacking adventures, I am joining the Bicycle Adventure Club to Cycle Scotlands North Coast 500. I am so excited and equally as scared at the thought of this challenge. I look forward to sharing it with you.

Nice to meet you all.

Jessica Stevens

1 thought on “NC500 Team: Jessica Stevens

  1. Fantastic journey of discovery, still ongoing… Well done. I read this hearing your voice and having a whistle stop cycling tour of your life. You’ll do this adventure, no worries xx
    Lots of love
    Your Washing Fairy xx

    Like

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