Wednesday, 31 August 2011

one day...

I know it seems like it was only yesterday, but Minx has been around for over seven years now. And we have some customers (although that seems like the wrong word), who have been with us since the beginning. We get to chatting over swapsies emails, (really if there were a way to perfect virtual coffee no one would get any work done around here), and I get to know what they like to wear, I even have them in mind when I'm buying certain things for the range. And I always notice (hoping things are OK), when it's been a while - as it had with Lesley (that's her, left, on the Mary Townley Loop) when her email popped up in the inbox yesterday. She wanted to know if she might guest blog and attached a piece for me to read. Here it is:

Funny old thing life. You start the year positively enough (with a walk up Cross Fell with my husband in my case), full of plans, rides to be done, adventures to be had and this year there’s going to be absolutely no excuses – life’s too short and all that.

Then the unthinkable happens, what should have been a straightforward visit to the breast clinic a few days later turned out to be not so straightforward. You know it’s bad news by the atmosphere in the consulting room but that doesn’t stop the belief that it cannot possibly be you they’re talking about, it’s not real, it’s not happening now and it’s certainly not happening to me….it’s gone so quiet and every one’s looking at me….I’m not going to cry…really I’m not. …

A few weeks and one mastectomy later I’ve got the biggest grin on my face and you want to know why? I’ve just been told that the cancer has not spread - no further treatment required and from that moment on I have considered myself one of the luckiest people alive, because essentially I’ve just been given the rest of my life back . You know that thing you call, ‘your life’, well I didn’t realise it but I had been taking mine for granted. I’ve lived with the assumption that I would automatically live the life I want to, till I’m old and wrinkly and would shuttle off when I’m good and ready thank you.

I love the outdoors, always have done. Over the years I’ve walked, rock climbed, back packed, canoed , but it’s cycling that has grown to be my main love and it’s that, that has helped keep me going through this whole experience. During what I can only call ‘very dark moments’, when I didn’t know how long my future would be I would revisit my most memorable rides in my head: bowling along the ‘mad, little road’ between Ullapool and Lochinver with the smell of gorse in the air, making it to Cape Wrath (in the sunshine too), conquering Ventoux, riding the Mary Townley loop with old friends, my favourite local ride up the Chase …. the list goes on. But it isn’t just reliving memories that has kept me together, the support from my family and friends has been amazingly positive, quite over whelming in fact. I’ve had cards, letters, text messages, phone calls, flowers and friends have even given up rides to walk with me.

I have been so impatient to start riding again and whilst undergoing ‘reconstruction works’ the one question I have consistently asked my consultant is ‘When can I get back on my bike?’. Eventually, after promising I would be really careful she gave me the green light. That first ride was really special – only 11 miles which left me unbelievably tired but it gave me back the hope that my life was going to return to normal and gradually it is.

Although it won’t be the ‘normal’ it was before. Now, I’m just an average rider, not the fastest or the slowest, I don’t even enter races but I still set myself challenges, I like to feel tired at the end of a ride and I like to be fit. I now look forward to going out and making it hurt, to pushing myself harder than I’ve ever done, to getting wet ,muddy, cold, hot, sweaty, cut and grazed, blown all over the road, because if I’m feeling those things that means I am most definitely alive.

There’s going to be no more ‘I’ll do that one day….’ All my ‘one day’ dreams are now in the planning, they’re getting dates set against them, in the not too distant future I’ll actually be doing them. Because as I’ve recently learnt, shit can indeed happen and sometimes that means we might not be around when ‘one day’ arrives, I’m not going to risk that happening to me again.

Good luck with your ‘one day’ plans.

Footnote: You might be interested to know that I am only 46, I’ve never smoked, don’t drink , am reasonably fit and there’s no history of breast cancer in my family. What made me go to my GP was (1) a husband who kept on at me to go and (2) a very small area of eczema on my breast (I actually went along expecting to be referred to a dermatologist). I had no lumps at all but as it turned out I did have breast cancer. So if you notice any changes in your breasts not just lumps, don’t hesitate, go straight to your GP.

Friday, 26 August 2011


i went to basel last weekend for a spot of black forest riding. once the (hot and hard but ultimately worthwhile) riding was done i got to spend a day indulging in a spot of what i love doing most in unfamiliar cities: aimless wandering.

aside from the fact that it's a beautiful place full of old churches and new paint, basel is also, like many places on the continent, absolutely bike friendly. trams and bikes rule the city centre, cars happily give way to cyclists and pedestrians, and it is almost impossible to get lost on a bike thanks to the right signs, in the right places. people were riding bareheaded and gloveless on an amazing array of bikes and, because it was relentlessly hot, simply walking up the hills before hopping back on at the top and continuing on their way.

on sunday, the utility traffic was joined by 'serious' sports riders; mountain bikers with helmets jammed in backpacks as they headed out of the city for the hills in the morning, road riders unapologetically sweat-stained and tired-looking as they pedalled home in the evening sun after their races and rides, a few even with numbers still pinned to their jerseys underneath their musettes.

a good place to be a cyclist. when will uk cities be like this?

velo parking
london planners take note


Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Trans Wales Mk 6

It was my 6th Trans Wales and the last one. Cue sobs and violins. This time, I was going with my fiance to have a holiday. We were racing solo but planned to ride together. We are almost exactly the same pace.

The week was a delight. There were 180 riders and I can honestly say I had a proper conversation with all of them. There were people from Nepal, Belgium, Spain, America and 11 other countries. Matt Page was racing. There were speedy riders, slow riders, holidaying riders, racing riders. It was Wales. Mud, rain, sun, hills, sheep. It was perfect.

Andy and I took the days super steady and completely turned ourselves inside out on the 'special stage' time trials. We collapsed after each one (there were 7 in the 8 days of riding, including the prologue) in a heap of giggles, sweat and adrenaline-fuelled exhaustion. For the first three there was nothing between us. Andy had me by half a second, then I pulled back by 2 seconds... and so on. It became the most important race for us and received special mention by the commentary team after each stage! The fact that the solo women's race was equally as tight was not nearly as exciting.

Unfortunately, Andy fell off a cliff with two days to go. Not literally. His lack of riding caught up with him and he crawled round the last few days leaving me to scream ahead and take a convincing win! I have yet to decide what my prize should be. Bike washing duties for a month perhaps?

The Trans Wales (RIP) was a beautiful event and I always come away thinking that it is the one event which really captures what mountain biking is all about for me. It's fun riding your bike fast, but it's also fun JRA (just riding along) chatting to folk and enjoying the scenery. We took over 200 photos during the week and ate more cake than I dare to think about. My jeans are tight :-(

So, the Trans Wales will return in a different format. We hope. I'll keep badgering Mike Wilkens until it does. But now it's cyclocross time as we get ready for the Three Peaks (where I don't expect I'll be taking many photos at all!)


Monday, 22 August 2011

nihon go

I've been learning Japanese. Taking lessons from Emma, a fellow bicycle rider. Somehow we have now cooked up a crazy plan to ride to Japan and test out my new linguistic skills. We're at the VERY early planning stages at the moment. Still staring at the map and wondering if bandits or communists are easier to deal with. And we're certainly not going until I've learned to order more food than a plate of tuna sashimi with some sea urchin - I'll be hungrier than that when we get there.

But - all tips on super, long distance adventuring are welcome.


Sunday, 21 August 2011

Riding and Spectating

After my epic failed plan to spectate at the boyf's race down in Tenterden, I decided to do it properly for his race down in Brenchley this time : get lift out & back and ride round in the opposite direction during the race, thus ensuring regular spectacting at race progress and plenty of opportunities to hand over bottles and shout helpful remarks etc.
We set off at a suitably unholy hour for a Sunday morning and found the race HQ. I then stood around looking like a spare part whilst various blokes strip changed in the car park and pinned on their numbers (me trying to avert my eyes demurely all the while). They set off behind the race car and I set off on my bike which had decided to make all sorts of clanking horrible gear-clicky noises (umn... can you tell I'm not good at this mechanics stuff?).

I rode for a couple of miles to the circuit while my bike randomly changed gears and I rued the day that I never signed up for the (free) Evans Basic Mechanic evenings. At the first corner a nice Dulwich Paragon chap said he'd have a look so I looked on admiringly whilst he turned the barrel adjuster and managed to calm the clunking.

So we set off for the first lap together, chatting all the while about cycling adventures and the gorgeous sunshine. And WHOOSH the bunch came past. The boyf wasn't in the break but at the front of the bunch and still was smiling. We rode on and about 5 miles later, CRUNCH. My rear derailleur hanger snapped, the derailleur went crunch into the wheel and I stopped, somewhat abruptly. Fortunately we'd been chatting and I hadn't been riding hard so I managed to stop without damaging the wheel.

Mr Dulwich then gallantly said "I'll push you back to the HQ" and, thinking that it was a flat course, I accepted with a very very grateful flood of thank yous. It turned out, of course, that the part of the course that we had ridden was the flat bit. And the remainder bit was, umn, not. It transpires that pushing someone who's 65kg up hill when you're 67kg is pretty goddam hard work.

We stopped briefly over the brow of one of the hills so I could hand over a bottle to the boyf and then continued on to the first corner so I could watch the rest of the race. I chatted to the marshalls, shouted, cheered, jigged up and down and he came 11th. Hurrah. So at least one of us had a good day. I just had an expensive day. New rear hanger, new rear derailleur. And some ibroprufen for the sore elbow I landed on. I should probably also be sending some to Mr Dulwich who'll have some sore quads tonight I imagine.

Friday, 19 August 2011

The revenge of the cyclists

I don't know about your companies, but my company, and many of my clients, have annual golf days. Which, as far as I can work out, involves a bit of wandering around a golf course and then a lot of eating and drinking. As I can't play golf, I am excluded from such out of office jollies. Which is rubbish.

And THEN it transpired that one of my clients (indeed my most important client) is also a cyclist. As is his MD. And one of his other customers who was visiting from overseas. And so a plan was born. A ride to Brighton, lunch by the sea and return. Possibly by bike, possibly by train, depending on enthusiasm levels. Marvellous.

We set off bright and early, thanking our lucky stars for the glorious sunshine. It was a very mixed ability group and, for once, I was one of the fittest in the group, so was able to just pootle along, admiring the views and chatting.

It was certainly a novel experience not to be the slowest in the group - indeed I can't remember the last time that this was the case - and it was great to relax and not feel perpetually guilty for slowing people down.

We got to Brighton, ordered some delicious food (do absolutely go - Terre a Terre - most incredibly delicious Veggie food - I suspect we lowered the tone of their establishment in our sweaty lycra but they were gracious and lovely and provided jugs and jugs of water to quench our thirst) and beer (of course). And then meandered back onto the train and home. Sod cycling home...

Sunday, 14 August 2011

we went to sits and it was great

or, how working an event can be lots of fun when you squeeze plenty of riding in, too.

start by making the most of the journey. some people do this by listening to audio books; learning a foreign language; etc. i did it by getting up at 05.00, catching the first train to manchester, and then riding 75 miles to catton park.

the joy of riding at stupid times of day is being able to use major arterial routes which are easy to navigate but usually hellish. this is the a6 out of central manchester and i am pretending to be a bus. it's alright, nobody saw.

epic wet
it rained a bit. then it rained a lot..

gas station breakfast
second breakfast whist drying out in leek. bad coffee and two dime bars are sometimes all it takes. also mostly thinking about shaggy and his succesful ctr. go shaggy!

jcb world hq
you have no idea how exciting this place is.

one note: if you are planning to ride to catton park, be prepared for the last hour and a half after rocester to be the most boring road riding you've ever done. end psa.

so, the sun came out and some people ran and then we raced bikes for a bit.

there were lots of people being very enthusiastic about the racing bit (and with good reason; it was fun)...

banner sky
but the general vibe was so laid back that our team decided we'd be stopping at midnight for a kip. what?! i don't think so. particularly after it poured with rain on my first lap.

shoes of dread
shoes of dread. cold, wet. don't make me put them on.

the effective pre-lap routine has been completely different at every race i've ever been to. this time: sweet tea/85% chocolate/smart gel/warm thoughts.

morning campers
very few things better on the second day of a race weekend than waking up in a sun-warmed tent.

checking times
checking lap times. amy won solo in an extremely convincing fashion; elsewhere the gritty kitties team of new mums came happy second whilst stopping to breastfeed between laps (making them absolutely the toughest team on the field) and the formidable big rob/competitive grace combo won mixed pairs too, despite me nearly riding over competitive grace's head in the middle of one of the night laps. sorry grace. our team got in a respectable 25 laps in between the odd bit of 'work stuff', which was enough to give our two 24 hour racing virgins a good intro to the love/hate experience that is 24 hour racing and enough for the rest of us to enjoy the super-fast, super-singletracky and (mostly) super-dry course, whilst all the time hoping those big black clouds would stay safely out of the way over there, please.

needs work
although the joy of the work bit means that we've still got to clean and dry most of the stuff in this picture. and none of it's my socks.


Saturday, 13 August 2011

is it OK to cry now?

I have been a very bad blogger indeed this summer, in as much as I haven't... Not sadly because I've been living a high life that's far too important to interrupt, but because I fell off my bike the day after THE wedding and ripped the ligament off my thumb. The short version is that I needed surgery, (a quick aside and major thank you to Salisbury hospital who made sure it was done fast and seems to be populated with unfailingly cheery staff), and had to spend six weeks in plaster - which added to the three weeks before the op. and another week after the op. but before the proper cast made it around ten weeks of comedy typing and remarkable inactivity.

It's very uncool, but I don't do 'perky injured girl'. It's more whiny depressive - I couldn't ride, or even run. And yes I know I should have been dragging the turbo into position and firing up a Sufferfest, but I really (and I mean really), didn't want to. If anyone ever wants to carry out research into whether or not eating your way to wellness works, well let me save you the time and report that no, it does not. I'm prepared to concede that the odd bowl of Cherry Garcia might be a mood enhancer, but as recovery food it doesn't really cut it and you find yourself newly out of plaster, a stone (and a bit) above your fighting weight and wondering why you can't get up those hills or into your favourite shorts.

But I'm back on the bike- my Jones with its sweepy bars and provision for constant changes of hand position is most comfortable (I can't manage the dropped bars on my 'cross bike yet), so I've swapped to flat pedals (can't risk any fail-to-unclip moments) and taken to the trails. Having no expectation of speed or fitness it's been just lovely. There's joy to be taken too in the hugely improved balance and core stability that comes from weeks of yoga practice in a cast. And not a little fun to be had matching nail varnish to the bright pink velcro on the block I wear when carrying out my physio exercises.

The 'bugger' moment came yesterday when new x-rays revealed some collateral damage. Damage that can't just be fixed with more surgery. It's going to be a lot of (probably increasingly brutal) physio and a chunk more patience.

So lock up the Cherry Garcia folks, and does anyone have any suggestions for what bars I can put on my Surly?


Monday, 1 August 2011

no fuss endurance downhill

even less happening on the racing front for me this summer, mostly brought about by a collision of apathy regarding done-it-all-before events/faces, lingering illness/slowness/weakness and a utterly crushing work year, which has crippled any intention i might have had of doing anything about the lingering illness/slowness/weakness. i did do a running race, though, which was fun.

thankfully someone with more sense than i managed to talk me back into the annual pilgrimage to fort william last weekend for a brief interlude of downhilliness.


the format is simple: you have six hours to cram in as many runs of the world cup downhill course (thankfully sans massive gap jump) as you can. up in the gondola, down on the track; up on the gondola, down on the track; and so on. it starts with a le mans sprint (and if you thought they were bad at 24 hour races, then try doing it on a narrow track wearing a full face helmet and armour, shoulder to shoulder with 150 pushing, shoving, giggling blokes), then 1.5 miles uphill on fireroad to join the course (again, hard work on a downhill bike but more fun if you discover that actually you're not as unfit as you thought you were and pass a lot of people), a similarly nose to tail ride down the lower section and then it begins in earnest.

the course is... interesting. fast and swoopy, rough and rocky, tight and rooty, smooth and jumpy by turns. there are high penalties for failure, not least because speed is your friend and the course is hewn out of the side of britain's biggest mountain; hitting it when speed ceases to be your friend and instead is just propulsion, is painful. it's scary enough to cause uncontrollable nervous giggling on both sides of the car when first glimpsed on the drive in but it's just rideable enough that there were still folk there racing on hardtails. impressive. you have to love the british...

red flag stops play

needless to say we had a huge amount of fun. the no fuss team excelled themselves once again with the most chilled out atmosphere and even secured the services of the sunshine; the top of the ben was visible almost all weekend, thus dispelling the myth that it's a figment of the tourist board's imagination, and even the midge had the decency to only swarm twice daily. there was spirited heckling, airhorn and trackside flashing by a group who'd travelled all the way from devon to support their riders, good natured jibing in the lifts, and a lovely hour spent red-flagged on top of the mountain (hope the chap they were retrieving is okay), chatting and chilling and soaking up the view. ten runs was enough to fetch second place two minutes behind super smooth angela coates; i was mostly pleased to notice a gradual embravening of the jumping reflex as the day wore on though.


we topped and tailed the racing with a decent amount of warm beer, charred meat products and needless burning of stuff ("to keep the midge away"), and we will of course be back next year for more because if you can actually ride, rather than just pedal your bike around in circles, it's one of, if not the best event in the country.

things to remember for next time:

try and do a little bit more practising of the gnar in the intervening 364 days. simply hopping on a big bike once a year and hoping you'll remember how it works is not good enough, no matter how good the bike is (and it was very good; big thanks to upgrade for the loan of the pivot phoenix skill enabler).

gnocchi is great pre-race brunch food; all races should start at tea time.

buy more armour.

quiet time