“I’ve got a terrible cold, so I’m going to cough and splutter and sniffle through this” I said when I started talking to Sarah Hendrickx on Skype last night. “But now you’ve cycled all those hundreds of miles, you must be very healthy.”
“Oh, not healthy,” replied Sarah. “My knees. They were bad before I went and they’re no better.”
“And your bum?”
“My bum’s recovered now,” said Sarah. “Thanks for asking.”
“You bicycled back yesterday evening?” I said.
“No,” said Sarah. “A British Airways flight from Barcelona.”
“How many miles did you do eventually?”
“I cycled 520 and I caught a train for 200 or so in the middle, because I wouldn’t have had time to finish.”
The last time comedian Sarah Hendrickx was heard of in this blog, she was on an 800 mile cycle ride to Barcelona having only previously ever cycled for 38 miles. For her, the journey was “a personal, physical and mental challenge” because, years ago, she “got stuck up the Sagrada Família in Barcelona and ended up going a bit mental and getting agoraphobia. So this is me going back to sort it all out and become a brave person.”
It was also research for her upcoming Edinburgh Fringe show Time Traveller.
“You triumphantly cycled into Barcelona?” I asked her yesterday.
“No,” admitted Sarah. “I conked out 60 miles outside… Eleven spokes broke on my wheel, due to weight and general abuse, just treating it really badly. I was going off-road; I was trolling around like a lunatic. I just busted it, basically. I probably had about 120 kilos on it what with my weight and the tools and the clothes and camping gear. I had racks on the back with saddlebags over the top like an old donkey.”
“But you enjoyed it?” I asked.
“I did,” enthused Sarah. “I absolutely loved it. The cycling and being out on your own day after day in the sun was fantastic.”
“You said before you went,” I reminded her, “that you’d never really been on your own for three weeks. Didn’t the loneliness drive you up the wall?”
“During the day when I was biking it was fine,” Sarah explained. “In the evenings, I didn’t know what to do with myself really. But I was exhausted, so I mostly slept early. Sitting in too many restaurants on your own is a little bit bleak.”
“Last time we talked,” I said, “you had encountered a Norman Bates type psycho hotelier. Did you meet any others en route?”
“No, but I met a couple of very keen Belgian cyclists. I was older than them and cycling faster than them. A lot of the road cyclists in France and Spain were wearing all their gear – the Lycra and stuff – and they would clap and cheer me when I went past. There were a few other people touring round on holidays on bikes, but no other women on their own.”
“You were really going to Barcelona to exorcise your personal demons, weren’t you?” I asked.
“That was the point. Absolutely.”
“So what happened?” I asked.
“That’s in my show,” laughed Sarah, “so you can piss off. Come and see the show.”
“Is it going to have an uplifting ending?” I asked.
“Of course it’s going to be uplifting,” replied Sarah. “It’s going to be fabulous! There’s going to be singing. It’s gonna be great!”
“You’re going to be singing?”
“Yeah. Yeah. I’ve got lots of good things to talk about, but I’d have done the trip without the show. In your life, you end up thinking this sort of ‘different stuff’ is difficult to do, but you just have to take that one first small step. Once you’re in it, it’s easy: you’re just getting on with it. But it’s that’s the first transition bit people struggle with.”
“So what are you doing next year?” I asked. “Cycling up Everest?”
“I thought Afghanistan might be a nice little cycle route,” laughed Sarah. “There’s nothing like a few landmines to keep you on your toes.”
“Could you write a book about this last trip?” I asked.
“I don’t think there’s anything interesting enough for me to fill a whole book, but there might be something about the concept of having little adventures. Anybody can have an adventure, regardless of their budget or physicality. There are things that anybody can do.”
“So no concrete plans for next year?” I persisted.
“Well,” said Sarah, “I’ve been talking to my other half about cycling from the Spanish border to the Italian border right across France… or across the Pyrenees.”
“Is your other half proud of you?” I asked.
“Very proud of me,” said Sarah. “I think most people thought I wouldn’t do it. They were surprised I stuck it out, didn’t get fed up, didn’t just sit in a corner and cry. They were like: Bloody hell… She’s still going! Her bike’s broke and it’s pissing with rain and she’s still going.”
“You managed to destroy two bikes, didn’t you?” I asked.
“I did,” said Sarah. “I got caught in a number of thunderstorms. I got stuck up a mountain in a thunderstorm with a broken bike that I had to push up the mountain. That was fairly bleak. But it was all character-building stuff.”
“So you’ve undergone a sea change?” I asked.
“No,” laughed Sarah. “I’m still an anxiety-ridden, panic-attacked person. That hasn’t changed in the slightest. I’m just a bit browner-skinned and capable of riding 500 miles I didn’t know I could do before. And I don’t want to go to work ever again. Cycling round France for a living would be absolutely marvellous. I think you should go somewhere yourself, John, and have a little adventure.”
“It smacks of doing healthy things,” I said. “If I eat healthy food, I come out in a rash.”
“Well,” Sarah said, “despite cycling for six or seven hours every day and burning 6,000 or 7,000 calories a day, I did manage to put on weight. I have eaten my own body weight in pain au chocolat and Orangina on the basis of thinking: I’m burning calories – I need to eat! I need to eat!
“I was eating eight pain au chocolats a day for snacks. I think I was mainlining pain au chocolats. It was an excuse to eat as much as I liked and not get markedly fatter. So the Hendrickx Diet you mentioned last time we talked is not a goer or, if it is, I’m not the poster girl for it.
“But it was fantastic. You could pretty much eat what you liked and nothing really atrocious would happen because you were exercising so hard.”
“And now,” I said, “you have to get back to doing boring administrative things for your Edinburgh Fringe show?”
“I think it’s mostly there,” said Sarah. “It’s in the Programme. I’m one above Sarah Millican, so I’m hoping for some of her cast-offs or people who get confused by the whole bulk of the Fringe brochure.”
“You wrote your blurb for the show several months ago,” I said. “So what are the selling points you only now know you have?”
“At the moment,” replied Sarah, “I’m trying to write a sub-line for the poster, which will be something like One Woman – 800 Miles – Two Bicycles – 75 Pain Au Chocolats. I suppose it’s about looking for your lost courage, looking for your nerve because we all get a bit safe and dull in our lives and want to know Have I still got it?”