Biking From Wales To Chamonix With Ali Mahoney

We have another listener-recorded story for you all.  This one is from Ali Mahoney who is in South Wales, UK.  She’s sharing an excerpt from her book “Two Wheels To Chamonix” which is about a  767 mile ride she completed from her home to her sister’s home in Chamonix, France.  

The ride was way outside of her comfort zone, she didn’t have the fanciest bike or gear–but she did it anyhow. This episode will inspire you to dream big too.

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About The Host

kristen bonkoski

Kristen Bonkoski is the founder and owner of Femme Cyclist.

An avid cyclist for a few decades now, she took to cycling during her late teen years — a time when she needed something to help boost her self-esteem and confidence.

Mission accomplished, the sport has become an important part of her life.  Kristen’s favorite disciplines are mountain biking and bike commuting, although you can also find her cranking out a century on her road bike and touring with her husband and son.  If it has to do with two wheels, she enjoys doing it.

Kristen is a certified USA Cycling coach, and she runs Rascal Rides, a website about biking with kids.

IG: @femme_cyclist



Hello, everyone on the Femme cyclist podcast, delighted to be invited to speak to you today. My name is Ollie Mahoney, and I’m in South Wales in the UK. And I thought I’d speak to you about my cycling adventure, which I’m actually in the anniversary of it now. 

So five years ago, this time in May, I had set off on a very old alpinestars mountain bike to see if I could get from my home in South Wales to my sister’s home in the French Alps. I’ll tell you a little bit about the journey. And I ended up writing a book about it, which I’ll read an excerpt from, just to give you a bit of a taste of what I was experiencing. 

So this journey was like nothing else I’d ever, ever done before. I played sport, most of my life, I played hockey and football. And I got to the point where I had to retire through, you know, old joints and old injuries, I wasn’t able to compete anymore. So this was in my late 40s, no, sorry, early 40s, where I was realizing that I’d have to give up sport. And my attention turned to other things then had a bit of an issue with what I was going to be able to do next, in terms of doing a sport or doing something which still gave me the same buzz as team sport. 

So I don’t know how it happened. But I was inspired to come up with the idea of a long distance cycling journey. And having gone to a women’s adventure Expo in Bristol, that kind of sowed the seed even more having listened to lots of other different women talk about their adventures. And it made me think, Hmm, what if I wonder if I could do something like that. And on that day, I vividly remember coming up with the idea and I thought it was silly at the time of cycling from my house to my sister’s house. But that idea stuck with me like a little seed, it grew into something, and not to give too much away.

But I started to secretly plan this adventure, not telling my partner Amy about anything, until I recognize that I may be able to do it. Not that I had the physical fitness to do it or the right bike to do it. But I had the desire in the dream to do it.  So I started to put the wheels in motion, excuse the pun, to be able to plan and thought the logistics and take the time of work to be able to make this journey happen. So just to give you a bit of perspective, so my home in South Wales, to my sister’s house in Chamonix would involve cycling from my house east along some cycle routes into England, and then all the way over to the southeast coast of England where I would catch a ferry over to France, onto the northern coast at dapp. cycle through to Paris where I had planned to play a football tournament, my last competitive football tournament with my teammates who were also traveling over for European competition. So play football for two days and then carry on South kind of southeast, through Central France, down toward Chamonix in the French Alps. 

Like I said, I’ve never ever done anything like this before and in the lead up to planning for the trip. You know, not everything went to plan. I didn’t really know what I was doing. I didn’t really prepare very well. I did as much physical training as I could. But it certainly wasn’t enough.  So I’d love to fast forward today one, read you a little bit from my book. And then perhaps you might like to read the rest of it for yourself to see how the trip unfolded. But it really is the book and the adventure really showed me what could be achieved if you had a dream and just wanted to go ahead and try something that you’ve never done before.

So here we go.  Chapter three of my book, la grand depart, cycling day one route Ponta Prix in Wales, to bath in England, expected mileage 66 actual mileage 78 the highlight survival, the low light falling into a hedge.

Seven months after attending the women’s adventure Expo, I’d reached a point that hired vividly imagine so many times and in so many different ways. I was actually at the start line of my crazy little bike adventure. It was 7am and time for a few final worries. Thinking about what I might have forgotten to pack or do. But this was it now time to go. 


Unfortunately, the weather didn’t match my excited mood. As I opened the door to check what was happening outside. I saw dark gray skies looming over the South Wales Valleys. There was a hint of rain in the The weather forecast wasn’t looking too good either. So err on the side of caution. I wore my full waterproof kit. Stepping Out the door and Jocelyn my pannier laid and biked down the steep drive signified crossing the start line. Game on. It felt like such a momentous occasion. Amy and dizzy are Border Collie with air to wave me off to battle. And even at this early stage, I was looking forward to being reunited with them. 


In a few days time. craning one leg over my bike frame. I posed for a quick photo and felt a huge sense of calmness and control wash over me. I felt ready. I’m just going for a ride. I thought to myself, I couldn’t think of a better way to start a Monday, being sat on my bike with no idea of what lay ahead of me. As I pedaled away from the house, I was already very aware that was now on my own. At the end of our street, I turned to give me a final wave. 


And then I was officially cycling to Chamonix. The first few months were easy going and familiar. I ambled through my local park and onto the National Cycle route eight, heading south. The first challenge I faced was arriving at the pedestrian crossing where I had fallen off my new pedals during a training ride. 


For this journey, I’d invested in a pair of clipping pedals and shoes with clips so that I could get more power out of my pedal revolutions. One side of the pedals were flat, and the other hand the clipping option. That meant I didn’t have to be clicked in the whole time. clipping him was easy. Just press the solid foot over the clip and press down. When you hear a satisfying clunk, you know you’ve attached to your bike. And clipping was also simple. flick your heel outwards, and hey, presto, you’ve got your lead back. The only downside to having this setup on my bike was that if my brain didn’t speak to my legs in time, I stayed clipped in and keeled over. 


That happened to me a couple of months back on the same stretch of road as I was on now. As I rolled up to the crossing and slowed down to press the button, I realized far too late that hadn’t unclipped with both hands still on my handlebars, both feet still clipped in, keeled over to my left and felt unceremoniously onto a grass bank. I was grateful for the soft landing, but it happened right in front of a young guy who was waiting to cross the road as these things always do. You okay love? He asked with a big smile on his face. No doubt he was trying to hold back from laughing, but I could also see concern in his eyes. Yes, thank you just my pride dented, I said as I awkwardly tried to unclip from the bike whilst it was tangled up in my legs. That experience taught me to be more alert when slowing down to try and avoid a repeat the same mistake. I try to remind myself to release my shoes early by voicing in my head unclip, unclip and clip. 


On this occasion it worked and across the busy road without incident. It was time to head east towards carefully. A town famed for its medieval castle built on 45 banks complete with moped National Cycle route four is just as iconic as route eight, the longest Camry. It begins at Fishguard in West Wales and reaches central London over 400 miles later. Why cycling pace towards and beyond Philly was somewhat pedestrian, I resisted the urge to press on at speed. More toy toys. Let’s hear describe my approach for the early miles are a long way to go and didn’t want to scupper my chances by exhausting myself on day one. By my rough calculations, I expected to reach bath after 60 ish miles. Thinking back to my mileage rationale confidence boosting trick then that was only three lots of 20 miles at a time. breaking down the day into these micro goals helped me to feel better about what lay ahead. I’ll skip forward here to getting closer to to bath and crossing over into England.


So I little stopped off at Newport for some lunch and then carried on. By my calculations, the next pit stop at 40 miles would be at or near the seven bridge. Getting there from Newport took a monumental effort up and down some hilly road causing my average speed to slump to crawl in pace. At times I thought I was rolling backwards. It’s a marathon not a sprint. I reminded myself. I caught a glimpse of the seven bridge towers poking up from behind some trees in the distance. turning right at around about I could see the road stretch out in front of me and a decrease in gradient. coasting downhill was a welcomed feeling and gave my tire legs arrest. 


Five minutes later I sped onto the bridge with a renewed energy and enthusiasm. halfway across the found a place to stop for some water and a bite to eat. right above my resting places a bright red sign painted on the white metal work with said in big letters slow 10 miles an hour sound horn found this quite ironic given that 10 miles an hour was probably My average speed up to now as I sat with my back to the motorway traffic I cast my eyes over the wide estuary with its murky titled water rushing beneath me. To my left was South Wales, and to my right was the southwest of England just under a mile away. My legs were feeling the effort of the first 40 miles, but they’re only another 20 to go or where they’re crossing the bridge signified crossing into another country. 


A pause to take a photo of the sign that welcomed me to England and bumbled off to Bristol. I was now on roads that I’d never cycled before or driven on before. So spotting the bright blue cycling signpost was essential, was still in good spirits and feeling confident in myself. As I navigated through country lanes, the heavens opened and rain began to fall. The road I was on began to climb and then all of a sudden it became unexpectedly steep and caught me off guard. A fumble. McGee is rapidly trying to change into a more helpful cog, but it was too late. I slowed down so much that I stopped. You guessed it, I was still clipped in. I swore at the exact point that I killed over 10 to my left into an overgrown bush. Unclip him from both petals and extracted myself from the shrubbery included bones, I was grateful that no one was around to share my humiliation. 


Thankfully, Bristol was easy to find, which wasn’t surprising, given how the city had embraced cycling as a pursuit for both recreation and commuting. It was well into the late afternoon when I arrived, and I was mindful of time for my onward journey to bath. Given my experience of cycling out of Newport the wrong way, I headed to the Tourist Information Center for some advice. The staff behind the counter armed me with various cycling maps and handy verbal directions. Maps Who’d have thought I’d need a map say I was keen to reach bath as soon as possible so that I could get clean eat and more importantly, rest and sleep. Even with maps and guidance, getting out of Bristol was tricky. I kept my eyes peeled for the little blue route for signs and spotted one What a relief. tiredness crept up on me throughout the day, and now I was feeling pretty exhausted. I began to think about day two, even though hadn’t even finished day one. 


The gravity of what I wanted to achieve hit me like a brick. And I wondered how on earth I was going to keep this effort up for another four days to get to Paris. The mental and physical strain was already pulling my mind and up my muscles. Back in the present, I found my way onto the Bristol bath railway path and was treated to an incredible 13 miles of wonderful traffic free tarmac. Bicycle commuters skip past me or all sorts of supersonic speeds in comparison to my lumbering pace. I was quite jealous of the energy but reminding myself that they probably hadn’t just cycled from South Wales. 


The weather by this time was wet, very wet, and I needed an emergency we Luckily, I spotted a large supermarket off to my left, so I dived off to use their facilities. This was the first time I had to leave my bike locked up, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience. The thought I had my bike net or my panniers ransacked made me pee a lot quicker. In the loo I took a moment to look in the mirror and was shocked at the face staring back at me. drowned, exhausted and filthy, was a good description of my appearance. This is what adventures look like I eagerly tried to convince myself, I trudged out of the supermarket feeling sorry for myself. Thankfully, my bike was still there. So I hopped back on appointed east. Eventually, the familiar honey colored buildings of birth finally came into view.


I’ll leave it there. And I really hope you enjoyed that little taste of day one of my what turned out to be 11 and a half day epic adventure to Chamonix, I hope that you might like to find out more. And you can do so by following the links on the podcast, to where the book is both in paperback and ebook. 


And I just wanted to say and to encourage anyone listening, that you can do amazing things in life, if you just have the desire in the world to do them. You don’t necessarily need all the right gear, the best bike and the best training. It’s amazing what you can achieve if you just set your mind to it. 


So thank you for listening. It’d be great if you’ve enjoyed what you’ve heard. Reach out to me and say hello, love to connect with fellow cyclists. That’s it for now. Bye

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