Earlier this year, I was checking out the GirlBikeVan Facebook page when I noticed an interesting post from a lady called Jane Sewell. It caught my eye because Jane was describing herself as old and overweight, yet she was in the middle of a long distance multi-day bike trip through Spain.
The reason behind her post was to let others know that if she could go on such adventures, anybody can.
Jane grabbed my attention, so I contacted her (mid-ride) to ask a few questions:
I’ve always been very active, dragging my mum off on adventures that I’d planned as a youngster. Then as I got older, I found a few friends who were equally daft. We did things like cycling the South Downs Way back in the early 1970s, before mountain bikes, hybrids or bikepacking had been “invented’.
At 16, I cycled across France with a friend one summer. On that trip, I caved, climbed, kayaked, walked, biked….you get the picture.
By 20, I was an outdoor activities instructor.
I’m 58 this year and still love adventure. However, I have bad arthritis from an accident I had playing volleyball aged 21. I‘d love to do more than I do now. Unfortunately, I can’t walk more than about a mile these day but if the arthritis gets worse I’ll just go from bikes to kayaks or something.
How did you end up cycling the Camino de Santiago this year?
Richard, my long suffering husband, retired this spring and this year was our 30th wedding anniversary. My plan was to get away on an adventure for more than a month.
When we first became married, we did a round the world trip to Australia, New Zealand, Alaska, Canada and America by bike, walking, car, ferry and camper van. This was our European trip and, in-between times, we’ve brought up a couple of children to financial independence.
A trip round the Iberian Peninsular and then back through France sounded like a good way to spend some of the kids’ inheritance.
What kind of preparation did you carry out before the trip?
To be honest, three weeks pre trip we were thinking that we’d have to cancel it.
My knees were so painful that I could hardly walk, let alone cycle the Camino. My doctor was really supportive and, encouraged by quite a lot of determination and a physio at my local health centre’s approval, I trained as much as the pain would allow. I got up to cycling about 5 miles which, considering I cycled the Trans Cambrian self supported last year, was pretty crap really.
However, we decided to still go out to Spain and, if necessary, sit on a beach. Of course, I had absolutely no intention of doing that and we cycled 12 miles the first day.
I loved your comment on GirlBikeVan’s Facebook page that you “hope you show you don’t have to be super fit to go and engage with life”. Can you tell me a little more?
Well, apart from the arthritis, I had Sarcoidosis 10 years ago and in the winter it still catches up with me. I got really fat, even though I diet, and I think a lot of women will understand how it feels to constantly be on a diet. You think that everyone assumes you sit in front of the telly eating burgers and chips all day. We all know it’s not true, but some people don’t appreciate that.
I think there’s a stigma to being overweight and it’s easier to just not do things – especially as sports wear manufactures don’t exactly encourage large women’s participation in sports with feminine shaped or even sizes of garments. I know I look bloody ridiculous in Lycra…but all I can say to the sports outdoor clothing manufacturers is “if you want me to look better in your clothing, make me some bloody clothes which I can look good in!”.
So I do what I want and think we should not be put off by the limits that society puts on us.
What advice do you have for someone planning a similar trip?
My advice for anyone wishing to do a similar trip is that it’s always easier than you think it will be. People the world over are the same.
Never limit yourself by what you think other people will think of what you, or let them tell you what they think you should achieve.
Get some internet time, look for places you feel comfortable with. Search for things you enjoy doing in that area, walking, cycling, etc.
There are lots of routes and GPS tracks online and other people’s adventures can give you ideas. There are blogs which give you an idea of what it’s like on the road, or on the sea, or up the mountain.
Make the big step of booking the ferry (in our case to Santander) about 6 months ahead – commitment in the form of cash out of your pocket is a great incentive to get yourself fit or learn new skills.
You’ll be nervous when you first step off the boat or plane, but that will fade to excitement. Within a week of starting your adventure you’ll be an expert!
How can people follow your adventures?
Encouraged by my son, I have a blog – although quite frankly I’m just not a blogger!
I’d also like to add that adventures can last just few hours. A BBQ on New Years Eve, up a Cumbria fell, with fireworks, when it’s snowing, is equally valid!
If it’s outside your comfort zone it’s an adventure.
It could be mountain biking alone when you always go with friends.
I think that solo trips are always worth trying, you won’t run into the boogie man and you will boost your confidence. Planning and executing your own adventure is an excellent way to boost your skills.
Wow! I hope, like me, you feel inspired by Jane’s attitude to life and adventure despite the health problems and joint pain she experiences. It was great to have a conversation with Jane while she was out on her travels – thanks for taking time out of your trip to answer some questions 🙂