Ruth McIntosh: In Search of Adventure
Cycling was a great escape. At work, teaching in a school that was undergoing academisation, my professional judgement was being questioned and my work-load was being increased. In truth, we were all being squeezed but it felt very stressful because I was already working at full tilt. My mind started to race and circle with anxiety while my body would freeze with pain.
At the same time, my marriage was ending after almost 20 years of us being together, so my home life and work life were both in tatters!
Throughout this difficult period, my parents, my sister Ellen and the Breeze network kept me going. Then, one day, while scrolling through Facebook, an image of sunflowers burst in to my brain and lifted my heart. It was an advert aimed at the Breeze community for a women-only, week-long bicycle tour along Le Canal du Midi in France in the summer holidays. “That’s it! I’m going! Woohoo! Troubles be gone!”
I knew I could cycle a reasonable distance on the flat and I was longing to be somewhere new. The idea of rolling along canal tow paths and country lanes surrounded by new experiences and nature really appealed to me. Plus, it would be all women, and there’d always be someone able to help!
The woman leading the French adventure was Indigo Kelly-Forest from Leicester, or Indi as I came to know her. I thought she’d be dead posh, but she was a down-to-earth northerner with an infectious laugh and wicked sense of humour.
I first met her when she hosted a pre-trip get together at her house, to practise putting up our tents and talk about bike camping kit. I was a bit of a mess that first night – tired, confused, grumbling about my job and soon-to-be ex-husband, but I soon perked up after a glass of wine and a giggle with the other women.
At times it was physically demanding, but it was also ridiculously good fun. I found myself being able to laugh again and the whole experience gave me the strength to manage and take control of my life when I returned. I regained my identity and found an outlet for my need for self-development and expression
Ruth McIntosh, author
Indi said: “This is going to be a great journey for you,” hinting at the holiday being a transformational experience in the spiritual sense. Inwardly I scoffed a little: “I’m just riding my bike across France.”
In fact, the holiday brought about a big shift in my attitude. I was determined to navigate my own way, to ride at my own pace and enjoy the sheer freedom of a full week free-wheeling through the most glorious scenery. It was a totally liberating feeling to be able to head in one direction and actually get somewhere with only my own luggage and thoughts.
At times it was physically demanding, but it was also ridiculously good fun. I found myself being able to laugh again and the whole experience gave me the strength to manage and take control of my life when I returned. I regained my identity and found an outlet for my need for self-development and expression.
The other thing I fell in love with, and this surprised me a little, was France. I had always wanted to speak another language fluently and struggled like mad with languages when I was younger. That year in France, I was over-whelmed by the friendliness of the French people I met along the Canal du Midi. I even managed to understand what was being said and speak a word or two of French myself.
With time to notice things around me, all my senses were heightened to absorb the sounds, colours, tastes and reflections. There was an immense beauty in the scale of the landscape, tall sunflowers as big as my head, big skies, long baguettes. It put my problems in perspective. The days were long, but I always made it with time to re-build my house, also known as ‘the tent’, every evening and I slept well.
I got lost just once, where the canal split in two and I had to choose which prong of the fork pointed the way. It was the longest day, three days in to the trip and I was stretched to my limit.
I had decided to travel totally alone that day so I was forced to have my wits about me and observing markers in the landscape. I got a really strange feeling… A hundred metres down the track all my senses were on full alert. It felt wrong: the path I had been following seemed quiet and under-used.
Out of nowhere, a farmer appeared surrounded by barking dogs and carrying a shotgun. “Turn back! Turn back!” I whispered to myself, and turned around thinking, ‘Thank God I was mindful enough to notice those signs!’
Not immediately after that trip, but a few years later, I conceded with a smile that Indi had been right. Giving myself a week once a year is an incredible freedom and it gives me the space I need to re-examine myself and change the way I think.
While my future may be uncertain, I’m more flexible and resilient. I have the energy I need to face the future with hope and positivity. Now my children are old enough to start experiencing adventures for themselves and I look back on my journey surprised at how far I’ve come!
While I got in to Breeze to help others, being part of something bigger has helped me enormously and my book is a tribute to the power of a great initiative.
I now blog about experiential travelling for fun at Slow-Cycle because I’m a really slow plodder of a cyclist! Day-dreaming about sunflowers keeps me going in the dark winters.
I love supporting people and working collaboratively on writing projects. Writing about the experiences of others helps me to discover new places and make new connections. I have now got the time I need to cycle, think and sow seeds for stories yet to come.
For a copy of Ruth’s book In Search of Adventure contact Ruth. It is also available as an ebook from Amazon.