PN: What was your first bike?
SH: It was a purple Budgie bike, like a Chopper, and I got into trouble for peeping at it before Christmas Day, as my Dad had covered it with a sheet! We lived in a cul de sac which was a great place to practise, and I’d spend ages riding up and down. I was fearless, I remember leading a group of primary school friends from Twickenham over to Richmond Park when I was less than 11 years old. When I went to secondary school, it could take an hour on two buses in the traffic, and nearly as long by car, and my form tutor would get cross if I was late. I decided to cycle and it made me feel so much more energised and in control of my day. It only took 25 or 30 minutes by bike, and on the way home I could walk the bike and chat to my friends, and then cycle the rest of the way.
PN: Did you cycle much after you left school?
SH: Not much at University, except when I went home for the holidays. But when I was teaching in Wimbledon, I lived in Barons Court and I sometimes cycled -it took about 40 minutes, and I’d stop at school to do my marking so I didn’t have to carry books home.
PN: Does your family share your interest in cycling?
SH: My husband Gavin is a keen cyclist, and we used to ride together a lot. He once cycled the Oxfordshire Way which was 200 miles in a day! He encouraged me to do longer country rides with him, even when it was cold, but after having my second child, I didn’t cycle for several years. Gavin had a bike seat for our son, but after our daughter was born I didn’t feel confident enough to ride with her in a child seat.
PN: So how did you come to sign up for London to Paris
SH: It was through my friend who was interested in doing the ride and knew that my mother-in-law was being helped by the Hospice. She was great, we did some training rides together. It was a big challenge for me, but it was hugely rewarding. The Helen Rollason ride we did together last May made me realise I wasn’t as fit as I should be. But what I loved was that I had to schedule time in my week to go out on my bike, otherwise I’d always be too busy. At the time I was doing a creative writing course, and I found that cycling gave me headspace to come up with ideas, without any distraction. So then I made myself go out and do hills, pushing myself, setting goals, and I felt so much better for it.
PN: How did you feel at the start of the London to Paris ride?
SH: I remember thinking a couple of weeks before we set off that I couldn’t do it, but then I thought about how many people had sponsored me, and how proud of me my family were. Once I got going, the adrenalin kicked in. The other riders were really friendly, and had belief in me. It was such a great feeling of achievement to arrive at the Eiffel Tower. It definitely gave me a big confidence boost-if you’d told me a year ago that I could cycle to Paris, I wouldn’t have believed it!
PN: What’s the worst thing about cycling in Colchester?
SH: There are some aggressive drivers, and doing more cycling has made me think more about how I drive. Everyone (including myself when I’m driving) is in too much of a rush!
PN: And what’s the best thing?
SH: We moved house two weeks before the big ride, and I love the fact that now we can take a path behind the house and ride into town, instead of sitting in traffic. And when I started doing a course at Wilson Marriage, I wanted to wake my brain up on the way there, so cycling was the answer, even though it was raining, I took my bike and arrived feeling totally wide awake!
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