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This column is a follow up to Loren Rowney’s Life after trying to become pro: the same path but two different journeys, posted yesterday.
In 2012 Rowney and Rebecca Werner were both on the cusp of becoming professional cyclists. Werner had had a successful run in Australia, and early season in US, and Rowney got herself a guest spot –and eventually a contract– with Specialized-Lululemon. But while Rowney’s career started to take shape, thing went south for Werner. Due to medical issues and consequent poor performances, Werner did not get a contract and decided her chance had come and gone.
Below is the story of what happened next.
Back in February, sitting in a hostel in Bolivia with, by some miracle, a half-decent internet connection, I Skyped with my good friend and Ella columnist Loren Rowney.
Since racing together in the Aussie summer, and then living as neighbours in the US for the 2012 season, we’ve been thick as thieves, despite our individual journeys taking quite different directions.
I hung up the bike not long after that season, and while Loren jetted over to Spain to start her second season as a fully-fledged pro, I packed my bags, but not my bike, and left Australia with no return ticket.
Before leaving I changed the wallpaper on my phone to a dreamy picture with the JRR Tolkien quote, “Not all those who wander are lost”; subconsciously trying to convince myself, because lost was exactly what I was.
When you’re chasing a dream like becoming a professional cyclist, it takes up so much of your life that it’s no longer just what you do, but who you are. Cycling had become such a large part of my identity, that I wasn’t quite sure who I was or where I fit in without it. So I left.
With cycling you can travel a lot, but see very little. This time was different.
I explored and had amazing adventures all over the world, settled down in communities and scraped by on minimum wage. I met a whole lot of generous, interesting and diverse people who knew me simply as “Bec from Australia.”
The thing about a journey of self discovery is that although you discover stuff, it definitely doesn’t mean you suddenly have the answers and the journey is over. Often you end up with even more questions.
So here I found myself in South America, living a completely different life but still connected with this friend I’d made on the bike. At the time Loren was in hospital in Germany, all alone, recovering from surgery after a horrific race crash. (Just one side of the ‘glamorous’ pro life that generally goes unseen).
I’d been on the move, living out of my backpack for the previous 18 months, and we were both pretty unsure of what the future held. We tossed around ideas of when we’d possibly be home, in this case referring to Australia, as the word ‘home’ and what it describes can become increasingly murky the longer you go about life elsewhere.
Somewhere along the way I flippantly threw out the idea of riding from one of our home bases to the other – The Gold Coast to Adelaide. We laughed about it and moved on, but after saying our goodbyes it was something I couldn’t get off my mind.
I knew our chances of making this happen together were slim. Fortunes can change quickly in the cycling world, and soon enough Loren was back racing at the pointy end and looked sure to pen a contract for the next season.
The idea of that ride held even greater meaning for me though, and I knew I had to make it happen. It’s an opportunity to not only reconnect with the bike and rediscover the country I call home, but to explore and retrace family history, while creating some history of my own.
In 1982, my parents, at the same age as I am now, quit their jobs, sold a business, packed their bags onto newly bought bikes and set off for Brisbane and the world beyond.
They weren’t cyclists, just adventurous spirits who chose bikes as their way of exploring.
Mum is quoted in a newspaper article written about them at the time as saying “It’s a much better way to travel, as you can take your time and actually see the places you visit.”
They made it to Brisbane in time for the Commonwealth Games, before putting their bikes on a plane for Singapore, with London their final destination.
Growing up, my brother and I spent many meal times at our kitchen table, surrounded by walls plastered with maps and old pictures, being regaled with stories of their adventures, told with the enthusiasm and excitement as if it had happened just yesterday.
They definitely instilled in me a sense of adventure and a desire to explore more than just the surface.
So today I’m rolling out from Adelaide, on the same bike that carried my mum the 2,500 kilometres to Brisbane all those years ago. I won’t be breaking any records, but I no longer need to.
It’s good to be reminded that the bike is so much more than just a piece of equipment on which you win or lose. It’s something that brings people together and blossoms friendships. It’s a mode of transport and a tool for adventure. It fills you with that childlike freedom and a sense of adventure.
So here’s to continually exploring, because life is a never ending journey of discovery and who knows where you’ll end up next.
Keep checking back for updates along the way right here on Ella.