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Jamaica Reggae Ride

By Sheila Murray-Johnson

Jamaica-cycling- group-hut

Sheila Murray-Johnson – centre in blue

My name is “Pushcart”. Well, that’s my new nickname anyway. It was bestowed upon me by guides with cool nicknames of their own—Stringbean, Breezeman, Ratbat,—who I met on my recent bike tour in Jamaica.

When I arrived at the sunny Caribbean island, with its rolling green mountains and crystal clear blue sea, I was still known as Sheila. Recently divorced, with my youngest child off to college, I now felt free to focus on activities I’d longed to do. Two on the top of my list were seeing the world, and getting into shape. The latter goal felt challenging, I hadn’t seen the inside of a gym in over a decade and had thirty pounds to lose. Without planning to, I found a way to do both.

I had signed up for a spin class at a gym, and went to my local bike shop in Sacramento, California to buy cycling shoes. Beside the register were several piles of fliers. I grabbed a bunch, threw them in my tote bag, and promptly forgot about them. A few weeks later, I finally cleared that bag out and saw a brochure for the Jamaica Reggae Ride.

I visited their website to check out information on the ride and scan photos. My first thought was, maybe this is too much too soon. Would I really be able to ride 60 miles every day for three days? Would I feel safe? (I’m single and planned to travel alone.) Having just bought a road bike two months before, I had never cycled with a group. What airlines flew from California to Jamaica anyway? But then a voice in my head screamed, “Sheila, shut up and just do it!”

Two months later to the day, I landed in sunny Montego Bay with my bike in tow.

Montego Bay

Jamaica-cycling-group3I was met there by our ride captain ‘Fowly’, who escorted me on the bus ride to the resort town of Negril to meet up with the other adventurers on the tour. We were a diverse bunch—there was a couple from Kenya, a scuba diver from South Africa, a Canadian couple living in Costa Rica, a couple from Italy and a bunch of fellow Americans from many different states including New York, New Jersey and Florida.

The next morning I was up before the arranged wakeup call, and headed to breakfast where I met other cyclists from my group who had arrived on later buses. Suddenly, I began to feel nervous. Everyone else seemed so fit and confident. Would I frustrate the group by keeping them back? Or even worse, would I get left far behind? I didn’t want to get lost in a foreign country!

In her introductory talk Storm, the event director, quickly put my mind to rest. Based on our level of experience, we were split into three groups, each with its own leader, and its own support vehicle carrying mechanical equipment, first aid, and refreshments. No participant would be left alone. What a relief!

The Tour

map of jamaica showing route

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

The ride took us along the north coast of Jamaica by the sea, but with interesting twists and turns inland for variety. On day one, we went from Negril through the tourism Capital City of Montego Bay. To ensure our safety the group was escorted by two police officers on motorcycles. They not only helped block busy roads when we cycled through the city of Montego Bay but stayed with us for the entire tour.

Jamaica-cycling-group

The second day we continued to Ocho Rios. We stopped at an Art Gallery, where school children had gathered to sing for us—so cute and heartwarming. Everywhere we went people were welcoming and friendly. That afternoon, I braved the climb to the famous Dunns River Waterfalls.

On the third day we ended the ride on the beach in Port Antonio, at Frenchman’s Cove, a magnificent private estate, where a delicious buffet lunch awaited us.

Accommodation and Meals

Sheila-with-friendsStays in Negril and Ocho Rios were in small bed and breakfast hotels (comparable to a Hampton Inn in the US), allowing us to go out and explore the local restaurants in the evenings. One night we stayed in the Holiday Inn Sunspree, an all-inclusive resort, where we relaxed and enjoyed the facilities of a larger resort.

Every evening we got together as a group and went to a different place for dinner. My favourite was Miss T’s Kitchen in Ocho Rios—a hidden gem owned by the wife of the local town doctor—tucked away in the office back yard, smack in the centre of this small bustling resort town. They serve Jamaican cuisine with a gourmet flair. The restaurant is well placed in an adorable boutique setting. I had the curried shrimp that was simmered in coconut milk, and for dessert, a mouth-watering Jamaican rum cake.

For fuel during one of our rides we stopped at a local farmers market for a natural hydration drink of coconut water, straight from the nuts! And we were given sugar cane to suck on for the natural cane juice.

The Finale

pushcartThe last day, though it was the longest, was the best day of all. There was one particularly tough climb called Black Hill. I didn’t think I’d make it over the top. Suddenly I felt as if my bicycle had grown wings! Two of our strong tour guides were on either side of me, each with a palm on my back giving me a little support to get over that hill! Talk about power!

That’s when I was dubbed ‘Pushcart’– because they pushed me over that hill.

How has this experience changed me? Well, I feel stronger. More confident.  More adventurous. More independent.  And . . . I lost those thirty pounds!

Oh, and I’ve signed up again for another tour in Jamaican paradise.

“Yeah mon” that island touched me in a very special way, so “Mi going wheel and come again!”. Jamaica mi soon come!

I can’t wait to do it all over again!

[Photo credit: Tanya Friedman]

 

sheila-now-sm

 

Sheila Murray-Johnson, a social worker from Sacramento, California, is a 48 year old Mom with three adult sons. Since her Jamaican bicycle tour, Sheila’s become an avid cyclist. She also enjoys traveling, playing basketball, running and swimming.

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