On the evening of February 3rd 2010, Phil and I arrived at Heathrow Terminal 5 a bit dishevelled. I hadn't slept in two nights, tying up the practical loose ends of a life that I was pressing 'pause' on for 12 months. It was so chaotic in those final hours of packing that I'd climbed into our airport taxi with no shoes on.
With us was 120kg of luggage that we somehow coerced British Airways to let us take. This including two shiny new Thorn touring bikes, and all manner of gear from spare spokes to new sleeping bags. We were off to Buenos Aires to begin months of cycling through the Americas. We didn't know how long we'd be away. We didn't know the route we'd take. I barely knew how to get on and off my new bike, having been on a single training ride.
That year was to change our lives. We rode 10,325km on our two-wheeled friends, Martin and Winnie la Pinguina. We met people, saw scenery and had experiences that we still talk about all the time. It was mostly magical, sometimes grim. Sometimes both at the same time. It was never dull.
We'd only met the previous summer, and 2010 remains The Year That Changed Everything.
So why were we back at Terminal 5 last night? It's become a tradition. A way of remembering once a year the evening we set off on the adventure that led, ultimately, to our family life and to VeloVixen.
Every year, we eat at Carluccio's, amongst the handful of diners who've just arrived from Lagos or seen family off on a late flight to Sydney. We peer at the departure board faithfully showing Flight BA245 leaving for Buenos Aires at 22.10. We revisit our checkin desk to pay homage.
And after eating, we wander the cavernous, cathedral-like hall that is Terminal 5 - silent and echoing but for the odd cleaner and a couple of students asleep on benches so as not to miss the 06.35 to Toulouse. It's a bit weird. It's a bit eccentric. And it's a special way to mark a special moment now half a decade ago.
Back then, Terminal 5 was shiny and new. So were we. Today, Terminal 5 is still just as cutting edge and pristine. We're probably not. It's been a speedy 5 years. Apart from our ride, we've got married, set up home, launched VeloVixen, had two wonderful daughters Zoe and Emma, moved to Oxford and put ourselves on the women's cycling map. Next week, we are finalists in the Total Women's Cycling Award for Best Female Specific Retailer.
Last night, instead of two touring bikes we were joined by Emma (6 weeks), having left Zoe staring out of the window waiting for The Snowman she'd built to come to life. Things have moved on a bit.
Little did we realise how our experiences in preparing for the trip, the 'mixed' reactions I experienced as a female (wannabe) cyclist in too many bike shops, would culminate in our launching VeloVixen.
When we were riding through the bleaker parts of the Peruvian coastline, or the windswept Patagonian steppe, there was plenty of time to ponder. Often we'd spend 8 hours in the saddle. That allows for reflection.
I realised that even as an inexperienced cyclist I could take on a challenge like that and love it. And I also realised that there are too many barriers, real and imagined, physical and mental, that prevent women like me from taking on challenges on a bike. Challenges that can mean crossing continents, but can also mean commuting to work or entering a cycling event for the first time.
5 years on, I couldn't be happier to have taken that flight, and the first step to making a real difference both to our own lives and - hopefully - to women's cycling more broadly.
Clothing formed a key part of our trip, inevitably. Here are 3 key pieces of kit I grew to love and trust over those months on a bike:
1. Sugoi RS Women's Cycling Shorts: I couldn't have asked for more reliable, comfortable and well-made women's cycling shorts. I washed them countless times in often bizarre places, and they always bounced back.
I swear by them, and have since continued to wear them, both for shorter rides and the occasional longer one. Sugoi are one of our most technically advanced brands and we have fond memories of their hometown of Vancouver.
2. Merino Wool Tops: we swore by merino from start to finish. Merino was ultra-comfortable, kept its colour and shape exceptionally well, kept us warm when temperatures dropped as low as -20c in the high Andes and kept us cool in the Argentine deserts.
Our merino ranges include cycling specific jerseys, base layers and luxuriant socks. They all look stunning, and have the added advantage of staying smell free far beyond what artificial fabrics can achieve.
3. Sealskinz Gloves: when water bottles freeze solid inside your tent overnight, you know your extremities will suffer on a bike. Proper waterproof, fully insulated cycling gloves are a must.
Sealskinz make some of the very finest women's cycling specific gloves anywhere. During our 6 weeks crossing the Andes, one thing we never really suffered from was cold hands!
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