Sweet home Alabama

You can never get too comfortable in my profession. The unpredictability of cycling can bring a mixed deck of cards to the table. Alabama dealt me a few unlucky cards but at the same time I had some aces hidden in there too. The Alabama folk are very southern, polite and respectful when spoken to, ‘yes ma’am, no ma’am’. I can’t help but think it stems from their religious upbringing. There’s a church on every corner, and I haven’t encountered an atheistic host family yet. You could also say they’re quite Sheltered, rarely traveling outside their state. My Aussie accent intrigued many of the locals, and at times I had strangers sitting and chatting with me because they loved my accent that much. ‘gurl, I could just listen to ya alllll day’, one shop assistant said to me... haha!

My home for the week in Anniston

My home for the week in Anniston

We were brought to Anniston for the Alabama Cycling Classic. The Sunnyking criterium on the Saturday evening and Mcklelan Road Race the following morning. A short turnaround! Truthfully though, Peta, Liza and myself came for the $15k purse and I was chasing extra race days. This event wasn’t a part of our teams’ schedule so it was optional to do. The strongest team with a full squad were UHC, they are generally the team to beat and it was going to be a hard task. The Criterium seemed to be straight forward, a 1.2km 4-corner circuit with an uphill drag into the finish of downtown Anniston. But once the race began, it was far from straight forward. It was carnage! 10 minutes in, there was a crash in the finishing straight, the race was neutralised while they scraped bodies off the cement. The race commenced and the chopping and skiddish temperament continued. The desperation and lack of skills I felt in the peloton was scary. To add to the stress, we were racing at dusk, the sun setting into our eyes down the back straight, making it very difficult to see. Coming around with 18 laps to go, there was a massive pile up, mid-pack. I saw it unfolding in front of me and had nowhere to go, instinctively unclipping and landing on the human pyramid. Then quickly turning and sheltering myself from the bodies and bikes to follow from behind... stacks on!!!). Luckily, I only had a few abrasions and could jump back into the race after the second neutralisation. After a crash its always mentally tough to refocus and psych yourself back up for the sprint. By this stage, it was dark and I was cursing myself that I didn’t run the clear lenses. The shadows from the street lights were affecting my spatial awareness. Coming around for bell lap I found Peta’s wheel but within seconds I lost it. I didn’t find it after that, instead, Liza found mine and going into the 2nd corner all I heard was her screech, followed by metal scraping. By this stage, I had checked out mentally. Race over. Peta sprinted to 5th, me 10th and Liza ended up in first aid getting wrapped up like a mommy.

Post-race AJ our Mechanic was the one cursing, realising he had 2 cracked frames to deal with and that being the only bike here for me in the US at this stage. But All I could think about was someone upstairs is looking out for me, unknowingly riding the remainder of the race with a cracked downtube and headtube. A scary thought if I went ‘full gas’ in the sprint, I might not be writing this bog.

By the morning, Jono had wrangled up a bike my size from another team to lend and AJ had to get to work late into the night to build it. Makes you even more motivated to face the days’ challenges when you have such a dedicated and supportive team behind you . We were down to 2 riders for the 105km Road Race, Liza pulling out of the race to rest and recover. The race incorporated a 35km road circuit (racing 3 times), with 2 distinct climbs, a steep 1.3km QOM and 3.5km hwy drag. The remainder was majority flat or downhill. 5 minutes before the start I was casually doing a bike set-up, changing seat height and handle bar tilt. The old Lizzie would have been HIGHLY strung by this, but instead today, I was grateful that I was able to even race, thanks to the team owner of DNA. The whistle blew and Peta and I casually sat at the back chatting away during neutral. Next minute, the ratchet on my helmet popped opened and my helmet fell forward. Wtf!! Now my helmet? Luckily Jono had a spare helmet in the car and I had time to stop and swap helmets before the race began. Like predicted, UHS started the flurry of attacks 5km into the race and the one that stuck Peta managed to roll into. Because of our limited numbers, I had to ride conservatively, saving my legs for the possibility of when/if it would be brought back. So that made my day somewhat relaxed, Peta on the other hand was riding like a machine, driving the break and animating the race on the QOM. On the second lap, 2 mountain goats flew up the QOM, Ruth from UHC and Kristabel from Cannondale, bridging across to the break. They continued their onslaught on the final lap and rode away from Peta’s group, Ruth winning the race. It’s safe to say this girl is on fire! Peta managed to sprint for 4th and I sprinted to 10th, 2nd in the bunch kick to Erica Allar. We came away from the weekend with mixed feelings and results but more importantly we left with a heavier wallet. First stop, Wholefoods!!                                    

My adventures in the US thus far has already brought great memories, especially the people I have met along the way. What a unique experience travelling across the country, leap frogging from one host house to the next. I’m sort of like a hobo, travelling across the country, finding a bed where offered. So far, this lifestyle is bringing me happiness and fulfilment, engaging with different types of people from all walks of life. No host house is the same, that’s what makes things interesting. My favourite part about my most recent host house in Alabama were my daily chats with Kelle’s 80-year-old mother, Mary-Ann (I think that’s her name, I called her nanny). The only time nanny surfaced from her one bedroom granny flat was generally to suck down a few ciggies, working through a pack a day. My initial interaction with nanny was quite sad to be honest. She complained about being cold and in pain. But what stood out more was her longing for company, whilst the trashy TV blared on in the background. She tells me she gets so lonely out here, makes me grateful for the freedom and youth I still have. I don’t want to grow old.

Nanny and me

Nanny and me

This encounter made me question my unhappiness in 2016, which lead to an epiphany. One of the biggest factors for my unhappiness and depression last year was lack of human interaction. I guess the seed began to grow whilst living in Italy with the language barrier, my limited Italian not getting me far in conversation. I couldn’t really get to know anyone, the only engagement being ‘how are you? hi and bye’. That’s not to say that I didn’t try to learn the language. I had an Italian teacher, practised every day and engaged with the shopping attendants in my limited Italian as much as I could. But the constant travel and crossover with other languages made any form of consistency difficult. ‘No man is an island’.

The sunsets make the drive worth it

The sunsets make the drive worth it

The teams next race is Gila in Silver City, New Mexico. A climber’s race at altitude. A first for me,  racing and training at altitude, time to buy some straws at the next truck stop to breathe through. Who knows, maybe I’ll be a climber by the end of 2017. My chameleon tendencies aren’t always a bad thing. It’s the 3rd day on the road for AJ and me. It’s his birthday today, 26 years old. We have 3hrs left on our 2,400-km road trip from Alabama to New Mexico. Equivalent to driving Melbourne- Sydney and back. Just a few blockies...

A truckers life

A truckers life

Check out this week’s foreign artist recommended to me by Justin our Photographer

Artist: Grebz Favourite Song: Konb (thanks Justin for the intro)