From sleeping in a five-star London hotel to a night in the front seat of a rental car, life changes pretty fast when you step out of the spotlight. It was after Peter and I left London that we found ourselves, at 2am, on the roadside near Annecy, France, with no other choice but to camp out in the Volkswagen Touran.
Not only this. I went from the cleanest eating known to man to downing fish ‘n’ chips and beer for lunch within twenty-four hours of pedaling my last stroke as an Olympian. In fact, since finishing the races in London, I’ve gone from a gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free diet to one based on three very tasty food groups: pizza, beer and sugar.
We lasted only two days after my races in London. With no skills to navigate the smallest of cities, staying in one of the most booming cities in the world was a challenge without one hosting the Summer Olympics. The mountains were calling. We quickly answered the call, thus, the impromptu car camping mentioned above.
As for the new diet, thankfully, Peter and I have been hiking between four and six hours a day. Yes, we love to hike, but oh yes, the calories burned on the trail do allow for some nice apres-hike devouring.
Early sleeps and rises have also shifted into late nights and even later awakenings. We leave each day at a different time to head out onto the trails and none of it matters because we are on no schedule but our own. Apparently this is what a vacation is like. I wouldn’t know because the last twenty plus years have been on somewhat of a schedule.
The slow pace of walking in the mountains has been a wonderful creep compared to the chaos of racing my bike. It’s what my spirit needs. My body and my head feel almost allergic to the slow movement but my head clears each step I take. It will take a long time to accept the pace of life after sport. Walking in the forest is the best transition I can imagine.
Exploring France and now Italy has been simply divine. Each day hike tops the one before in terms of scenery, difficulty and, our personal favorite, lack of people. Wherever we travel, there’s always a wish for less people and more rugged terrain. We too are tourists yet still hold a certain distain for the people populating the term. Living in mountain environments in two parts of the world leads to this sentiment. With a little imagination and asking the right people, there’s always more rugged places to explore.
We’ve feasted like bears on wild blueberries and sniffed out chantrelle mushrooms to create a few feasts back at the rented apartment. Bags of the wild golden fungi that would cost gawd knows what at the Atwater Market in Montreal. Nature’s panty is open to all who pay the price of taking the time to look and see what’s in stock this season.
Hours walked in the mountains have also been hours of silence to mull over in my head this past Olympic experience. The last 23 months of sport leading to London 2012. I was fifth in the world in what I love to do: race against the clock on the time trial machine. Fifth when I thought I could be so much better. Fifth when I gave everything I had inside my head, heart, legs and lungs. Fifth when, after replaying the approach, the training, the day, the focus…the everything that went into coming back into cycling after ten years off…fifth place. I’ve come to realize fifth is not so bad when I had nothing left to give. The cruel and beautiful nature of competition is that it usually does not lie.
I felt good but not great. I felt strong but not awesome. I have good legs but not magic legs that I dreamed of, and that’s okay. There are far worse things in life that this. More than anything, the experience in London makes me finally realize just how damn hard it is to actually win one Olympic medal, in one sport, let alone a handful in two.
So there is indeed a sense of satisfaction for doing things the way I did. What holds meaning is that since coming back to the bike from speed skating, it remained a positive path. My past life in cycling was littered with darkness. I suppose, in ways, more than any success in terms of victory, coming back meant exercising those demons of darkness. Purging them from my memory with a more recent experience of lightness. Time on a great team with a great coach, surrounded by people who have meaning and speak truth to me, topped with the experience of competing on a stage never before set for women on wheels.
Yes, the Olympic road race and time trial that will never be forgotten by any of the athletes competing. The tens of thousands of people young and old who stood in the rain to cheer us on for a fleeting moment in the Surrey countryside. The hoards of humans in the driving rain waiting at the Mall to bring home the winners, the stragglers and those left far behind from the punishing pace that day.
They cheered for us all and this is what will remain etched in my psyche. Being an Olympian one last time was, again, like living the dream. One last time in my life I felt the power of not just being Canadian, but being Canada, twice, on the Olympic stage.
What remains in the future for me is unknown. That’s okay. In some ways, I don’t want to know. What’s clear, however, is that this season is done. I am most happy hiking in the hills, clearing my head, staying away from the big cities and the regime of training. The regime that has kept me from exploring the beautiful nature that surrounds me more often than not. It’s nice to just move for the sake of moving: fast, slow, up, down… none of it matters. That there is no agenda for what I do makes the most sense for the moment. Allowing for this nothingness filled with so much simplicity will surely lead me to what the next step may be.
Lastly, for all you North Americans out there who have your kids on leashes, we saw a family yesterday, first two kids about ten years old, then ‘Nano’ (Grandfather), followed by a friend maybe eleven with a cast covered arm, and finally, Mom and Dad, race up an 11,000 foot pass. Everyone had smiles and Nano looked decades less than the years the lines on his face suggested. Our kids need to get moving and out of the urban concrete jungles. This much I know is true.
Being in nature is an like taking a swig of positive potion that clears the head and heart. It makes me feel so alive. Everyone we’ve seen on the trails, young an old, radiates this same feeling. I’ve never seen this look in cities.
Now, if only hiking were an Olympic sport….
No, on second thought, I am so glad it’s not. It’s simply beautiful and I’ll leave it at that.
As for our hiking and eating vacation, we’ve attempted to venture into another food group. Now that we’ve in Italy for a week, pasta seemed like a good progression from the pizza. Only that we’ve found ourselves in the Cogne autonomous region of Italy. Where, it seems, pasta is not the preferred starch. Seriously! We had the worst pasta EVER in our hotel….prompting to cancel the ‘half pension’ and try our luck in town. After all, it’s pointless to hike all these miles if you cannot have the reward of refueling after. No luck! Town was void of but a few restaurants and those in existence were not typical Italian with pasta galore, they were also fully booked. So…..we’ve moved shop to the Italian side of Mt Blanc. And hopefully some pasta al dente tonight!
Peter near Glacier Agentiere
Peter sporting his favorite shirt from Nunavik, Quebec
Me wearing about the only hiking-like clothes I had….all I have is cycling gear! It’s funny because I rarely wear anything ‘Olympic’….we’ve had a lot of ‘Bonjour Canada’s’ on the trails and some Dutch vacationers recognized me up at a 2500m refuge in Italy because of the obvious Canada connection…
Peter manouvering up an easy pitch thanks to fixed aids in italia
Glorious views in Grand Paradiso National Park in Italy from 3000m