Monday, 21 May 2012

Climb to calm

It’s a place that we go and ride often.  The hilltops are clad with a brush of heather and the combes that connect to the valley bottom cascade with oak and beech that wrap you in an embrace of colour as the seasons change.  Each time we ride there’s a choice. Start high and be met with sky and the gentle undulations of the cresting hills, or start low where the streams level as they pass beyond the combes to the sea.  As often as not, there’s an unspoken agreement that the ride begins with a climb.  Sky views, though cherished, still have to be earned.

There’s always that initial period at the beginning of a ride, as the wheels escape tarmac to be met with the richer textures and resistance of earth, rock and roots.  No words are exchanged, and looks are measured as individually you break away from the place where you were, to the space where you want to be. 

In recent years I’ve been seduced by the concept of meditation and its promise of an antidote to the chaos of life with its acquired cloak of modernity.  In my yoga practices I try to concentrate on stillness and breath, but only rarely find the place where the mind and body cooperate and find balance.

But sometimes, it seems that the thing we’ve been looking for has been there all along; just waiting for its value to be unearthed and recognised.  As I drop down the gears and cast my eyes towards the horizon, my characteristically racing mind quietens, and all the competing thoughts drift away as I will back the muscle memory that I know I need to carry me upwards.

Mechanical propulsion; there’s that reassuring simplicity in knowing that the action of turning the pedals can take you as far as your body and mind are prepared for.   There’s a comfort in the repetition as the warmth starts to spread, and the sense of movement and familiarity reminds you of why you pushed aside all the competing interests for this moment in time.

And there it is, in the simple act of pointing the bike uphill, your mind empties and the calm spreads like an embrace.


 ... summit sunshine not included ...

Sunday, 13 May 2012

You're STILL riding?

My cycling year got off to a slow start after a Christmas skiing accident left me on crutches with a torn thigh muscle. Rats. I gradually worked my way back to fitness only to then find (happily) that I was pregnant.

I consulted my GP, who said road cycling was fine up to about six months, after which time I might find myself having problems with balance, so the boyf (also a keen cyclist) agreed happily for life to continue as normal with me cycling to work.

On announcing our news to family, colleagues and friends, however, there's been a general reaction of :
"Congratulations. I take it you're not cycling any more?"
"No, I'm still cycling."
[face of horror]
"But you could get knocked off. And kill the baby"
Sigh. I try to explain that me keeping fit is important. And non-weight bearing exercise is good. And cycling (even in London) doesn't necessarily mean you will be knocked off and/or killed. But suddenly everyone has an opinion and everyone thinks I'm wrong. I find it exhausting (and somewhat annoying) to have to defend our decision on a daily basis. Surely if both parents and the doctor believe it to be a reasonable risk, it's fine? Not to mention the fact that plenty of pregnant women in other countries continue to cycle, like these gorgeous ladies from Denmark.

(photo by Mikael Colville-Andersen)

I am mindful of the dangers of London roads and, now that the bean is a bit bigger and I am a bit slower, I have taken to cycling on the towpath, rather than the South Circular, but I remain a militantly enthusiastic cyclist, defending my right to :
 a) get around London in reasonably prompt fashion
 b) not to feel sick when I get there after hot and smelly train carriages

Apparently this makes me a reckless and selfish woman though. So did you / would you cycle when you were pregnant?  Or would you head to the swimming pool instead?

Friday, 4 May 2012

F.B.R.O.T.Y (and other adventures)

There's usually one definitive ride early on each year that marks the end of winter and reminds me of the promise of the coming months of more daylight and slightly less muddy trails (the First Big Ride of the Year), but there wasn't one this year.

Don't get me wrong, I don't mean I haven't been out for a big ride this year yet. What I mean is that because we had a pretty mild winter, we were able to keep riding and going for big rides in the hills for much of the winter. In fact, at the end of February Chris and I went for a big mountain ride in the Cairngorms which is currently covered in snow and unrideable!

Already this year I've done more riding in new places places than I did in the whole of last year. The flip side of this is that I haven't been near a race at all this year (unless you count the birthday cycle speedway back in February).

It's not that I haven't thought about racing, because I have, but the mild and relatively dry weather have meant that trails are rideable, but still pretty quiet because it's still early in the year.

I say relatively dry weather, however, Chris seems to have dragged me out on more bad weather death march rides this year than he has over the last few years combined....

Carrying bikes through the Chalamain Gap (over a kilometer of unrideable boulderfield which would have been challenging even without a bike) with a nasty storm chasing us off the hill...

Pushing bikes up to the top of Lowther Hill in zero visibility, driving rain and sleet and no sign of the next marker post (somehow, Chris actually picked up on the tune which was going through my head on that ride...that old Tammy Wynette song D.I.V.O.R.C.E...I swear I didn't sing it out loud!). In fact, the weather was so bad that day, even the lambs were wearing raincoats!

But then we've also had big, open mountain rides, so early on in the year, that there hasn't been a soul around.

The great thing about all this riding so early in the year is that I'm finally managing to get some of that lost fitness back and I'm getting back all that lost confidence too.

On Saturday, I went out for a ride with the big boys and actually rode some of the big boy stuff...they were there to coach me and encourage me, but I rode it, overcame the fear of crashing and ignored the little voice telling me to slam on the brakes and get off and walk this bit!

Then on Monday, I had a lovely day off work and decided to headed off for a ride on my own (I had the trails all to myself...bliss) and managed to ride lots of bits of trail that I've never been brave enough to ride before and I didn't even hear that little voice telling me to get off and walk. Okay, so maybe it wasn't the smartest thing to try riding big, scary things I've always been afraid of when I'm out on my own, but if you're feeling confident and riding like a goddess (even if I do say so myself...of course there was nobody there to see me and tell you otherwise), then why waste all that good feeling by not pushing the limits a little bit?

I don't know if I'll be able to ride it all when I go back to it next time, but I've ridden it, I've finally got over the nerves left over from my crash last October and I'm starting to push myself again and feel like my mojo has finally come back.

My lack of fitness is still really frustrating, but I'm enjoying going out to play on bikes again and looking for excuses to go and play, whatever the weather ...Chris would say that's because of all the death marches he's been taking me on...all good training apparently!

So no real FBROTY this year, but lots of BRs so far and a promising summer of lots more BRs pushing myself and having fun again. I don't really have many race plans until the end of the summer, so that leaves a whole summer for playing on my bike and riding in new places. What more could a girl ask for?