Tuesday 4 July 2017

Au Revoir

This blog started back in the day before anyone knew about content marketing (but hey, you're welcome everyone that learned from us....)

This was dreamt up as a place where a random collection of female riders wrote about what they did so that anyone wanted to get into the sport could see that it really was as easy as just riding your bike. Now we are in a place where a brand has only to post a pic of a pink t-shirt and it attracts loud criticism for being 'plainly sexist'. Well here's a thing. I like pink. And if that's all you have to complain about, we've come a long way baby.

Jenn and I were catching up on the very topic of women's bike clothing and remembering that, way back when we wore anything we could get our hands on because just riding the bike was the thing. I liked those days better.

I liked them better mainly because Jenn was still here. For anyone that doesn't know, Jenn died in 2015. Lung cancer was so ridiculously placed in one so fit. I miss her every day and for almost two years I haven't been able to visit this blog. Now it will be closed to further posts but left for anyone to find. A collection of cycling stories from some of the most inspirational women I know but most importantly a memorial to Jenn- the most inspirational of them all. Read the account of her storming 2008 GDR ride. And then go and plan something great.



Friday 16 September 2016

Rollers are harder than turbo

And in other statements of the blindingly obvious...the pope is catholic, etc.

Seriously, though, I had forgotten just how hard it is to stay upright on rollers. I always used to train on rollers but over the last five years I'd been using my husband's turbo in the hall as it was easier just to switch the seatpost on that than it was to go to the shed and dig out my rollers. But I know that I get tired on turbos. I get bored. And I watch tv. And my form goes to pot. My hips waggle about and all that is terrible for my knees. If I want to get strong again (which I most determinedly do), I need to keep good form and to train regularly.

So tonight I got out the rollers, dusted off all the spiders webs, sandwiched them between a solid table and some solid chairs (as emergency grab points). And then I went for it. I tried initially to multi-task and watch tv but that was pointless - endlessly grabbing for the table as I'd lost focus.

There was nothing for it but to turn on loud music and get stuck in. Oh MY. My core was feeling it. My hands were feeling it. I haven't focused on anything so hard in a long time. More rollers will be needed!

Monday 12 September 2016

Out on the road again

Hurrah for term time! I finally had a child free morning... but first I had a few obstacles to overcome

1) exhaustion. Thanks baby for waking us up 4 times last night. Fortunately : coffee. Parental cliché no1.

2) tantrums. Once baby despatched to nursery, 3 yr old was NOT impressed that after cycling to preschool I was going cycling without her and VERY VERY CROSS that I have cycling shoes and she does not. I had to tell her the story about Jens Voigt and his riding on a kid's bike with toe clips to finish a race to make her understand that it's not the gear that makes a rider,

3) finding bike stuff. It's amazing the amount of STUFF you use for a long ride. Pump, HR monitor, garmin, gilet etc, and if you don't get out much (like me), it's rarely all together. Garmin has given up the ghost so I had to just guess where I was going. And, literally, wipe the dust off my poor neglected best bike.

But off I went and it was the best Monday morning a girl could wish for. 90 mins of huffing and puffing through the lanes. My knees hurt throughout, sadly, but physio says that doesn't matter and I should man up. [I am inclined to think he's wrong, but never mind]. Now I need to order a spare belt for my rollers and see if I can remember how to do it....

Wednesday 31 August 2016

Cycling after children

I used to be a super keen sportive cyclist - over 150 miles a week, sportives most weekends in the summer, the odd European sportive and lots and lots of laps of Richmond laps.

And then I had my children and it's all, somewhat predictably, changed. Some evening turbo sessions (not many, dodgy knees), some daytime rides (not many, childcare limitations) BUT at last I can see my cycling future emerging from the fog of the early years. Lots of physio exercises and my post natal pelvis is gradually stabilising. My littlest is getting better at sleeping and so evening turbo sessions are a little more doable.

My eldest is now nearly four and has been riding without stabilisers since January. She has demanded proper cycle kit, like Daddy. Several hours scouring the net later I found her a jersey and shorts in size 4-6 (smallest available size) and she is delighted. Today we went for a ride together. Not far in the grand scheme of things, but 2 miles each way to the library is a long way for a little person. We laughed and chatted and had a brilliant time.

Now I just need to get the littlest to love bikes too.  A balance bike awaits her. No pressure, love.

Thursday 19 March 2015

Tick, tock, tick, tock

Why does it take so much longer to get fitness back than it takes to lose it in the first place?

Last September (before the latest of my series of crashes), I had increased my daily commute from the 15k round trip up to a much more fun and interesting on/off-road, hilly 50k.

Although I wasn't exactly fast, I was really enjoying it.

Over the last few weeks, I've started upping my commute again. I'm a long way from the 50k round trip I was riding in September, but I'm starting to build in some of the hilly, longer commuter-cross routes I was using back then.

And, you know what, they're much harder work than they were!

It's taking much longer to get my fitness back than I hoped, so it looks like I'm just going to have to be patient and keep building up my commuter-cross rides.

Good things come to those who wait….apparently


Saturday 7 March 2015

Fixed! Now the hard work begins...

It's official!

I'm fixed and I'm allowed to ride my bike again - both on and, more importantly, off-road.

My shoulder's now back to being one piece of bone rather than lots of bits, but I've now got the added bonus of a bit of titanium in there too...just for extra bling.

So for the last few weeks, I've been trying to remind myself how to ride my bike.

At the start of the year, before I got the all clear that I was fixed, I decided to set myself some goals for when my shoulder was fixed and enter a few races, but now the pressure's on a bit!

The first of those races, Vallelujah, is only 3 weeks away now. It'll be my first enduro of the year. They come thick and fast after that though with the Dunkeld Enduro at the start of May and then the Enduro World Series in the Tweed Valley at the end of May. Eek!

4 months of not riding off road is a long time and I think it's fair to say, I'm more than a wee bit rusty and creaky, so I've got a lot to do to in not very much time.

I'm not expecting great results, but I want to feel comfortable enough on the bike that I can have some fun. After all, I'm sure the trails will be great.

So, despite the snow and rain and wind and cold I've been out playing again...oh, and there might be a new bike helping me along a little (because obviously a new bike'll make me ride like a pro!). Any excuse to get out and play is more than welcome.


Monday 26 January 2015

Not Off-Road…Honest

My last follow up visit with my shoulder surgeon left me with very mixed emotions. 

The positive…he was relatively happy with how my shoulder was healing. There was still some daylight between some of the broken bits, but it was starting to knit back together, my range of movement and strength had improved loads, it looked a lot less angry and, more importantly (for me anyway), it felt much better.

The negative…although I was allowed to start riding my bike again (which, I know, is great), I absolutely can't fall off. Which kind of goes without saying. However, what is less great, is that he categorically said no off-road. Too high a risk of falling off again…he knows me too well.

I've been really well behaved and followed orders. Starting off with riding on bike paths, slowly and gently…that went fine after a few initial nerves and wobbles. Then riding to and from work again….no wobbles, but all quite short and not exactly exciting.

So, I decided to go out for a longer ride at the weekend. 

Just some nice, gentle trails in the Pentlands.

They were fine and they weren't really off-road.

Then, on the way home, some gentle trails down to the river.

They were fine and they weren't really off-road either.

Then once we were back in town…

But that was a path, so definitely not off-road.

I go back to see the surgeon next week, to hopefully get the all clear to get back to normal, so next weekend, I might go for another, not off-road, ride. I won't go off-road though.


Wednesday 31 December 2014

That'll be another year then

And where on earth did this one go?

Again I find myself asking what I've done with this year (aside from the obvious of breaking myself again) and actually there's been quite a lot, but there's also been a lot I've not done.

I was lucky enough to get some new "silverware" at the Whyte Scottish Enduro Champs (more by default of being one of only a very few slightly older ladies who should have known better). I also got some new titanium-ware which was probably well deserved for my foolishness, but not very welcome…

So what about next year?

Well, no, I don't have any New Year's resolutions - I always break them and end up feeling disappointed with myself. So, just some things I want to do next year:

  1. Don't break myself. After ending up in hospital each of the last 4 years following bike crashes, I think my body needs a bit of respite!
  2. Ride the West Highland Way again. I meant to do it this year, but it just didn't happen so I'm officially saying I want to ride it next year.
  3. Go on another bikeventure like my El Camino ride this year. I'm investigating the Transandalus at the moment, so any advice or tips on logistics would be most welcome.
  4. Maybe even enter a trail running event like the Deerstalker or the No Fuss Runduro
  5. I think the biggest thing I want to do next year is spend more time with friends and make the most of every minute with them, whether that's riding, running or just drinking cups of tea and eating cake. This year's given some of us a bit of a rude awakening and a kick up the backside that we really can't put off arranging that catch up.

Before I get all gushy and emotional, maybe my New Year's resolution really should be to just get on and do stuff, stop making excuses and to make the most of every single fun moment of doing it.

So next year, I'm going to do more stuff and have more fun (and not break myself!), but first of all a wee glass of fizz and some fireworks.

Happy New Year to all the Minxes out there!


Monday 29 September 2014

Slight Change of Plans

On Friday evening I had begun writing a blog about what a great year of riding I've had so far….adventures in new places, bimbles in familiar places and finally doing rides I've wanted to do for years.

Then I was going to talk about some of the riding plans I have for the rest of the year…WEMBO 24hr Solo World Champs, a riding trip to Spain, the cross season, the Dudes of Hazard Enduro, a girls riding weekend and the return of night riding. I was even going to talk about some ideas I had for starting trail running again.

You'll note I said I was going to…

I was going to start off by talking about the RedBull Foxhunt I was going to be taking part in over the weekend. This Foxhunt is the first female only event, with Rachel Atherton being the fox and over 120 girls trying to beat her down the hill (the worlds biggest ever female field!!)

Again, you'll note I said I was going to…

It didn't quite turn out as planned.

On Saturday morning, I joined Kat and Aga for practice for the Foxhunt. It was a lovely day with amazing, clear views from the top of the Pentlands out over Edinburgh and lots of girls out riding my local trails. After pushing up to the top, we set off on our first practice run. It was all going great and I was having lots of fun, but then it went a bit wrong and the next thing I knew, I was off the bike, in the air and landed on my shoulder with a sickening crunch.

Luckily it happened at a marshal point (I guess it was a marshal point for a reason), so a couple of marshals rushed over as soon as I crashed. At first I told them that, no no, I was fine and really didn't need a medic, but as I tried to get myself off the course and out if the way, I realised my shoulder wasn't doing quite what it should be. And the concerned look on Kat's face was enough to tell me that I had been a bit too quick to say that I didn't need the medic.

Luckily, the marshal had more sense than to listen to me and had asked for a medic to come and see me anyhow, so he appeared in no time and got me down off the hill and into the 1st aid tent to be checked out.

They decided pretty quickly that I really needed to get to hospital, so event organiser, Lesley, offered to take me to A&E herself. It was all so efficient and well organised, it was almost as if they'd done it before…oh, wait, they have and they're very, very good at it!

Lesley was great and kept me company whilst I waited to be seen, telling me exciting and inspirational stories about her adventures, taking my mind off my now quite sore shoulder.

It turns out that Saturday lunchtime is a good time to go to A&E and I was in and out in just over an hour, discharged with a sling and a broken collarbone (but obviously, I don't do things by halves, so I squeezed in 2 breaks, not just one!).

So, instead of training for WEMBO and a winter of fun riding and running, I'll be spending the next wee while training myself how to be patient and how to do things with one hand. Good skills to have I'm sure.

It'll also give me some time to plan my next adventure….


Saturday 30 August 2014

Some mo but not quite jo yet

I did it! Last weekend I got a race head on again for the first time since my crash last year.

Of course when I say I got a race head on, I mean a race head in my own way….not really racing, just pushing myself out of my comfort zone, and last weekend I reached the very limits of that comfort zone (and went a wee bit beyond).

I had missed the boat for entries to the Tweedlove Enduro, so haven't been doing much of that type of riding - mostly because it's that kind of riding that got me into trouble last summer. I had put my name on the reserve list, not really expecting to get an entry, but about a month ago, I got an e-mail telling me that someone had dropped out, so I had an entry.

Between getting that e-mail and last weekend, I had to remind myself what this enduro riding thing's all about and made myself practice some of those steep, rooty, muddy trails that are such a feature in Tweed Valley enduros. Those practice rides were a mixed success…I built up an interesting range of new bruises of all shades and shapes, put some big dents in some big trees, added some extra layers to my knee pads with the mud I picked up on the way down (that's the way down onto the ground, not the way down the trails) and managed to put a real dent in my confidence. But despite all of that, I did manage to ride some sections of trail I had never managed to clear before and I did finish most of those rides with a grin on my face.

A month isn't long though and last Saturday rolled around before I'd really managed to remind myself how to ride enduro or convince myself that I could still do it.

Anyway, I had an entry, so decided to woman up and get on with it and on Saturday morning I signed on, picked up my race number, dibber, course map and start time and headed out for some practice.

The race was made up of 4 timed runs. 2 at Glentress using a combination of the trail centre stuff, some of the trails used for the Enduro World Series race earlier this year and some other off piste stuff thrown in for good measure. The other 2 trails were on the other side of town in Cademuir forest - these were the big unknown for me, so that's where I headed first for practice.

After a pretty stiff climb, push and hike to the top of the forrest I got to the top of the first run along with another dozen or so riders. I knew most of the other riders there, which would usually put me at ease about riding new trails, but on Saturday, it just made me more nervous, so I waited until they'd all set off before I made a start.

I was all over the place! I was pin-balling from tree to tree, crashing on every corner if I even managed to stay on my bike as far as the corner, and just too terrified of crashing to even try riding any of the fall line descents. I even had to take a few moments part way down to pull myself together, calm myself down and stop myself from losing it all together. I had to walk almost the entire trail.

Pushing back up to the start of stage 2, I didn't hold out much hope. I knew stage 2 was an old downhill course, so likely to be steeper and techier than stage 1. When I got to the top, I saw some other familiar faces…Crawford Carrick-Anderson, Chris Ball and Andy Barlow. My heart sank! Not only was I having a rubbish ride, I was going to have to slip, slide and crash my way down with these guys practicing and watching. I just had to get on with it and with a thumbs up from Crawford, I got going.

I slipped and slid, but no crashes this time and I got down to the bottom on my bike this time rather than on foot.

I decided that was enough practice though. My confidence was pretty low and I wasn't sure if I would race after all, so headed home to clean my bike, get some food and figure out what I wanted to do.

I decided to see if some of my usual pre-race rituals would help calm me down, so painted my nails with some "enduro specific" nail polish… I'm not sure it helped, but the ritual made me focus on something other than my nerves.

When I woke up on Sunday morning I decided to give it a go, but I've never been so terrified about a race before. I was so nervous that I'd crash and end up with another head injury that I couldn't eat much breakfast.

To make matters worse when I arrived in Peebles and got my stuff out of the back of the van, the water in my pack had leaked all over my kit, so everything was soaking wet.

Not a great start!

Luckily, I didn't have much time to hang around though, so got myself ready and rolled round to the start, joined the queue and when my start time came round, was announced (getting a plug for Minx-Girl in the process), rode down the start ramp and was off.

My mind was racing with doubts...I really couldn't afford to have another proper crash, but I also couldn't walk down the trail like I had on Saturday.

When I got to the front of the queue at the start of the first stage, I didn't have much time to think though. Chris went off just before me, the marshal counted down, told me I could go when I was ready, I dibbed and was off.

I made it round the corner I'd crashed on, made it down the steep bit, got to the bit I'd had to start walking and kept on riding. Caught up with a rider and passed him, caught up with another rider and was just about to pass him when I had a little over the bars. Jumped back up, onto the bike and kept going.

I didn't ride the trail quite like I would have done a year ago, but I rode it and made it down in one piece…and actually had fun!

After that, things just got better. I wasn't fast or particularly smooth but I rode everything, really enjoyed myself and finished with a big grin on my face. The whole vibe of the day was great and the support from organiser, spectators and fellow riders really helped make it a fun day out on the bike rather than just a race.

Not only was it my first post crash race, it's the first race I've done in the slightly older ladies category too. I've not quite accepted that I'm a vet yet, but at the prize giving, when my name was called out as 3rd place female vet, I had to accept it pretty quickly or miss out on that podium!

I might not have been as quick as I used to be and I made a lot more mistakes than I would have before because I'm so out of practice, but the risk of  pushing myself out of that comfort zone paid off and I had a great day and managed to get some confidence back (along with some more new bruises). I don't think I could say that I've got my mo-jo back, but I might just have got my mo back and that's pretty good as far as I'm concerned.

Wednesday 11 June 2014

A Bike Ride to the End of the World (and back a bit)

6 or 7 years ago I read Spanish Steps by Tim Moore, where Tim Moore tells the tale of his walk along the Camino de Santiago with a donkey. Straight away I knew I had to do it. Okay, so not walking and not with a donkey, but I wanted to ride it.

For those who don't know, there are half a dozen or so Caminos de Santiago which are all pilgrimage routes through Spain which finish in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. The route I homed in on was the Camino Francais which starts in St Jean Pied du Port, in the French Basque region, and runs along northern Spain finishing in Santiago.

After years of humming and hawing about it I'd found countless excuses for not doing it…logistically it was too complicated….how would I find my way….my Spanish isn't good enough…I can't find anyone else daft enough to ride it with me….I'm too chicken! Then, last year's accident gave me a bit of a wake up call. If I wanted to do this route, I'd just have to get on with it.

So I bought books and maps, investigated the logistics of getting to St Jean and home from Santiago, investigated luggage, accommodation and terrain and decided I was still too chicken. This time however, Chris had heard me going on about it for too long, so he had caved in and volunteered to come with me to stop me going on about it.

That was it. No more excuses.

Planning in began in earnest. Dates were agreed. Time booked off work. Fights booked. Then thoughts turned to what bike and luggage arrangement would work best.

We opted to travel light. After all, we could be grubby, manky and smelly together.

The journey out was a bit convoluted, but we and bikes arrived in one piece, checked into our only pre-booked accommodation until Santiago and then found the office of the Confraternity of St Jean to pick up our credentials.

We had a vague plan of how far we wanted to ride each day based on the books we'd studied before leaving home. The aim was to ride to Santiago in 10 days, then spend a further 2 days riding from Santiago  to Finisterre and back, so 12 days riding in total. It all looked do-able…days of between 60k and 80k and we had all day to ride, so, on paper, easy!

Day 1 was planned to be the biggest, toughest and longest day - an 85km ride up and over the Pyranees into Spain aiming to spend our first night in Puenta la Reine.

So after a big breakfast and a wee bit of faffing we headed to the post office to post our bike bags to Santiago and we were off up the hill out of town. Both commenting on how quiet it was….then we had to turn around and head back down the hill…in the right direction.

Once we got started, the navigation proved to be much easier than expected. For the ride over the Pyranees the Confraternity recommended taking the road to avoid having to climb over the col, but that would have meant leaving the real camino and riding on road, so we opted to stick to the trail. Very soon we realised why the old bloke at the Confraternity had recommended the road…it was a proper humph! Within the first hour, our hearts were sinking with the amount of pushing we were having to do. It was so steep!

Our first big "milestone" was when we crossed the Spanish border up in the Pyrannees. According to that "milestone" we had quite a long way to go to get to Santiago, but not as far as our maps said we had…all good we thought.

The big day and hot weather took it's toll and by mid afternoon we hadn't been able to get nearly as far as we'd hoped to, so we had to make a call to find somewhere to stay for the night and re-assess our plans. The first hostel we tried was full, but luckily, the one around the corner had space, served food and had space for us to wash our kit, so we took it as a sign that we should stay there for the night.

We had only managed to cover about two thirds of the distance we'd hoped to cover on our first day. Spirits were low and Chris was very, very sunburnt!

From then on, we decided to just go with the flow and forget the plan we had made before setting off.  We had a few days spare at the end of our trip, so we could afford to take a bit longer. And if we didn't make it, well, we could come back and try again another time.

Over the following days we carried on following the yellow arrows, passing peregrinos (walking pilgrims), receiving wishes of Buen Camino from walkers, locals, shop keepers, cafe owners. In fact, we were receiving well wishes from everyone we rode past, regardless of how grubby and smelly we were or how narrow the trail was. Navigation was far easier than expected, but finding accommodation was a bit more difficult. Most days we had to try 3, 4 even 5 hostels before we found one with space, but we always found somewhere to stay and somewhere to wash our grubby kit. We stayed in council sports halls along with 50 other tired peregrinos, single sex dormitories, truck stop motels, brand new hostels, falling apart, ancient hostels and even the spare bedroom of a random bloke who overheard us being turned away at the inn. Everywhere we stayed, we got our credential stamped to prove that we'd got there and hadn't cheated by taking the bus to Santiago.

The riding was far more varied than I had expected too. We rode miles of dirt track, miles of brilliant white track, cobbles, jaggedy Roman cobbles, riverside singletrack, woodland tracks and a little bit of road.

We quickly discovered that the Camino seems to have it's own measure of distance and altitude! From our homework before we left, we had noted down distances between places and altitude on the climbs. We also studied the bumf we got from the Confraternity which stated distances. Our GPS proved that all of that was rubbish! The distances were totally different and climbs were never as high or as low as everything told us they should be. Sometimes a town that was signposted to be 15km away turned out to be 30km. A mountain pass that was meant to be 1000m would turn out to be 1200m. But it worked the other way too. Towns that were meant to be 10km away would appear after only 4km.

So we decided that the Caminometer must be the official unit of measure for distance and altitude on the Camino and that it bore no resemblance to the unit of measure we're used to.

We spent 2 and a half days riding across pan flat, dead straight tracks, seeing snow capped mountains on the horizon on our left, behind us and in front of us. Although we covered a lot of ground much more quickly on the flat days, it was tough. There wasn't much to keep our interest except the rustle of snakes at the side of the trail and wishing the walkers we passed a Buen Camino. The distance we covered in those 2 and half days would have taken the peregrinos over a week to walk, so hats off to them for being so cheery and encouraging as we passed them.

At the end of the flat section we'd caught up on our plan and ended up being half a day ahead of where we'd initially expected to get to by that point and all of a sudden getting to Santiago in 10 days seemed far more achievable.

The next mountain range included the highest point along the Camino at Cruz de Ferro. The ride up there turned out to be much less of a grind than we had expected as we rode through landscape that could easily have been in the Cairngorms with purple and blue heather (yes, really vivid blue!) and yellow broom alongside wild thyme and lavender. We could see snowy peaks all around us and could just make out hills in the distance we'd ridden over to get to where we were.

Reaching Cruz de Ferro is traditionally a watershed for peregrinos. It's the last of the big mountains and it's officially more than half way. We added the pebbles we'd brought from home to the massive pile of pebbles left there by other peregrinos, put on our long sleeved tops and gillets and headed on for the descent.

We'd read that the descent was pretty rough and all the books recommended not cycling it, but that's just an invitation for us really!

It was possibly one of the best and longest descents I've ridden. Because I had a heavily laden bike and there were lots of well wishing walkers, we couldn't go flat out, but it was awesome! (Not a word I use, but the only word I can find to describe the descent!) I needed all my enduro skills to keep me and my bike upright whilst riding rocky drop offs without being able to get off the back of my saddle because of my big yellow saddle pack, trying to get enough weight back to offset the weight of the pack I had on my bars, keeping an eye out for the yellow arrows to make sure I didn't go off on the wrong trail, picking my way through the babyhead rocks. All the way the well wishing walkers were oohing and aching and giving us encouragement as we rattled past them on the rockiest, roughest, steepest descent we'd come across so far, all 20k of the descent. (I couldn't get any photo's of the really good bits of the descent because I was having too much fun to stop and take a photo, so this one'll have to do.)

To top of the great descent, as soon as we rolled into the village where we hoped to find, a lovely lady told us she had one room left in her hostal and that, yes, she could do a washing for us. Win!

The following morning we knew we had another mountain range to reach and cross, so we made an early start. Rolling into a big town 20km further on we were pulled over by the guardia civil. We couldn't think what we'd done wrong except maybe riding on busy road. Believe it or not though the guardia hopped back into his car (which we later noticed had official UCI stickers on it), told us to follow him and he lead us through the town, stopping traffic as he went to allow us to get through the town. On the edge of town, he pulled over again, gave us more directions and wished us a Buen Camino.

The next mountain range proved tougher than expected although it wasn't as high as the last range (that might have been the Caminometer again though). After a very long, very hot climb up to the col we were desperate to find somewhere to stay, but all the hostels were full. One of them kindly phoned a friend and arranged a room for us in a case rural a little bit further on. The case rural turned out to be about 5km off the Camino and about 800m down a valley, but we'd freewheeled down there and didn't have the energy to ride back up to try to find somewhere else, so we stayed and it was a bit of a win. Staying in a farmhouse in a valley that could've been in Wales, eating home butchered and cured jamon and having our hostess, the farmers wife, making us eat more since we had a big day ahead of us. The only noise in the valley was the mooing of the cows and the ringing of their bells, so we slept like logs that night.

On the climb back up to the Camino the following morning, we realised we were finally in Galicia and getting very close to Santiago. It certainly wasn't all downhill into Santiago as we'd thought though. Although the hills weren't as big, they were steep and there were a lot of them. As we rolled into Santiago, we knew our trip was almost over, but we were determined to keep going on to Finisterre.

We had planned to ride out to Finisterre and back to Santiago in two days. After all, it was less than 100km from Santiago to Finisterre, so that should be easy….not really! This stretch of Camino (actually a separate Camino) was really quiet. Not as many peregrinos continue on out to Finisterre, but they're really missing some fantastic trail and scenery.

The scenery is an odd mix of north western Scotland with eucalyptus trees thrown in. Mountainous, rocky, very green and, unfortunately for us, very, very rainy and cold. Because it was so wet and cold, we had to  cut our day short and only made it half way to Finisterre that day.

We woke up to more rain the following morning, but it wasn't quite as heavy and luckily we managed to find a cafe for a hot chocolate when the rain really chucked down, but we could see the Atlantic from that cafe, so we didn't hang around too long.

The final few kilometres out to Fisterra and then on out to the lighthouse at Finisterre were quite emotional. The rain stopped, the skies cleared, the views got better and we were almost there. On the ride out of Fisterra and up the last climb out to the lighthouse we got cheers and claps and Buen Caminos from almost everyone we passed.

Reaching that lighthouse and the very last milestone on the Camino was amazing, emotional and maybe a little bit overwhelming (I'm getting a bit emotional again now when I think about it).

12 days of riding, we'd covered 960km from France, over the Pyrannees, through Navarra, Rioja, Castille, Leon and Galicia, all the way across the north of Spain and right out to the end of the world. Our ride was over. We had made it. I'd ridden the route I'd wanted to ride for years.

Rather than burning our shoes out at the end as many peregrinos do, we opted to hang on to them so that we could ride back into town and catch a bus back to Santiago. Another hot chocolate and we rode back to Fisterra to catch the bus back to Santiago to collect our certificate for completing the Camino from the Confraternity office. We didn't need that certificate, but we'd done it and needed to prove to ourselves that we really had done it. After we had collected our bike bags (which had some clean clothes stashed in them), we started planning our next adventure….


Friday 29 November 2013

Friday Afternoon Cycling

I now have a weekly cycling opportunity... hurrah! The timing isn't perfect (3-5pm on Fridays) but that was the only time the child minder had available, but it's time for me, on a bike, in the fresh air, trying to remember how to turn those pedals.

Image : National Trust (C) Will Frost

I am loving it. Sunsets, misty fields and every corner full of memories of all the thousands of miles ridden around the lanes of Surrey. I grin from ear to ear, despite the rain and cold, and return, glowing with vigour and enthusiasm, ready for Tired Tetchy Toddler bedtime.

The only flaw in the plan is that said Toddler is yet to be convinced that going to the childminder is fun. Or indeed something that needs to be repeated on a weekly basis. At the moment my selfishness is winning the day. Mean old mum. Cycling is addictive indeed.

Friday 15 November 2013

A wee bit nervous….

The last month or so has seen progress in leaps and bounds.

I can now remember conversations I had 5 minutes ago, don't wobble and bump into things all the time, can speak properly again, understand what's going on around me, can actually function properly at work and, yes, I'm back on my bike. I know I'm still not quite 100% yet, but not far off it now.

It's been quite a tentative return to riding though with quite a lot of tears along the way. I do remember how to ride a bike and I don't have any more sense of fear about riding stuff than I did before. However, there's a lot of frustration at just how much fitness I've lost - so much that one of my normal, hilly commutes really hurt like I'd never ridden it before! There's also a fair bit of nervousness about crashing again. In simple terms, I just can't afford to crash again! No pressure though!

Last weekend I tentatively decided to test myself by going for a ride with the boys at Innerleithen on some of the enduro trails. Aside from feeling like someone had tied an anchor to my bike on the climbs, it worked…slowly, but it worked.

My style of riding seems to have changed a lot though. Not intentionally, but I'm riding differently.

I'm reading the trails differently and I'm much more conscious of what I'm doing and how I'm doing it. I'm focussing and concentrating really hard, but riding more and better! I'm finding lines I've never found before and riding sections I've never been able to ride before because of it. I'm spending less time worrying about keeping up with others and just focussing on my own ride. Maybe I should've been doing that all along.

So, with all this at the back of my mind, I'm heading off to Kinlochleven tomorrow morning for the Dudes of Hazzard / No Fuss Enduro .

I've ridden some of the trails before, so I kind of have an idea of what to expect. That's making me pretty nervous! It's big and it's rocky and it slippery and it's steep. It'll also be freezing cold and maybe a bit snowy.

I'm not really planning to race. Instead, I'm going to ride the course, aiming to be DFL (you'll have to figure that one out yourself if you don't know what I mean) but finish in one piece with no incidents except maybe having some fun.

Just to be on the safe side, I've packed my full face helmet as well as my XC helmet. Oh and pads, but I've decided to run the risk of not taking the bubble wrap.

It's a big field so I don't think I'll have any trouble with my DFL objective. Hopefully I'll be able to keep the nerves in check and enjoy it too.

It's only a bike ride though. Right?


Saturday 5 October 2013

Road to Recovery...Again!

It's official! I'm an accident area! Little Miss Bump!

I don't do it on purpose and I think I'm actually an alright bike rider, not a great rider, but alright. But I just seem to be making a habit of getting too familiar with the ground when I should be staying upright on my bike.

So, what happened this time? Well, I don't know! Yup, it was that bad this time!

At the start of the summer, we'd gone out to the French Alps for the wedding of some friends and were tagging a week's holiday of riding and general touristing on at the end. The wedding was lovely and, as well as hooking up with some old friends, we made some new friends too. A few days after the wedding we headed to Les Gets and hooked up with some of those friends for a few days of riding there.

We checked into our apartment, grabbed a quick lunch, bought some lift passes and went out for an afternoon of lift assisted riding.

As usual when I ride somewhere new, there was a healthy mix of anticipation, nervousness and excitement because I'd no idea what the trails were going to be like or how I'll cope with them.

But, up and down we went, much giggling on the way down and oooh-ing at the views on the way back up on the chairlift.

We took the last chairlift of the day back up and decided to take a longer route back down to town before heading off to get cleaned up for dinner. As we headed down, I decided that tomorrow I'd like to try riding further afield on the trails which were a bit less trail centre-y to really see what it was like round about there. I saw the boys hooning down the trail in front of me at warp speed and remember thinking "I'll just take it easy and take in my surroundings".

The next thing I know I was back home in Edinburgh almost 3 weeks later, not really able to walk without getting dizzy, hanging on to things to stop me falling over, not really able to speak properly and not able to remember a thing about the last 3 weeks (or the last 5 minutes come to that!).

Apparently I had an almighty crash, probably going at a fair speed and landed on my head, stopping dead.

Luckily, the boys realised that I was taking too long to catch up with them and came back up the hill to find me and got to me at about the same time as a local rider came across me as she was coming down the hill.

She'd obviously come across this sort of thing before, so knew what to do and how to get emergency help and sorted it all out. I was taken off the hill on a back-board, wearing a neck brace and completely doolally - no idea where I was or what day, month or year it was!

After being checked out at a local hospital and the feared ruptured splean and broken back and neck had been given the all clear, they decided that, aside from some broken ribs and a dislocated finger, the only damage was a head injury, so they discharged me with instructions to Chris to keep an eye on me.

Well, poor Chris did have to keep an eye on me...for almost 2 months, until my doolally-ness started to lift and I was able to start functioning again.

Lots of doctor's visits, a few neurology sessions and a few CT scans showed that although I'd given myself a right old bash, there was no permenant damage and that with time, I'd get back to 100%.

So, 3 and a half months down the road and I now have a short term memory again, I can speak properly again, I don't wobble whenever I stand up, I'm allowed to drive and I'm starting to test my abilities.

I've been able to go back to work and I'm tentatively testing out how I am on the bike again. It hasn't been plain sailing and the first time we tried an off-road ride it didn't go quite as hoped...on trails I should have been very familiar with, but unfortunately couldn't remember at all, I ended up riding something I'd usually avoid, came off again and ended up back at hospital again getting sewn up.

With riding put on hold again for another few weeks, I was far more certain and aware of what was going on when I got the nod that I could try riding again.

So for the last few weeks, I've been out riding local trails and gradually pushing and testing out how I'm feeling about riding more techy stuff. Although I'm quite nervy, I seem to be able to ride pretty much as before. My riding style has changed quite a bit too - I'm much, much more focussed on what I'm doing and doing much more risk assessment of what I'm riding. Probably a good thing!

I reckon this crash'll take a bit longer to recover from than previous crashes, but I will recover and hopefully it'll make me a better rider. I'd be lying if I said I was going to stop riding techy stuff and that I'd be more conservative, but I enjoy the type of riding I do and I won't let one accident change that.

I don't know what happened. From what I've been told, there were no obvious obstacles on the trail, no rocks, no big drops, nothing. I just got unlucky. Maybe I lost concentration for a split second. Maybe a marmot ran out of the woods in front of me. I don't know and I never will. So although it's been a nasty experience and a tough / weird few months, there's no point in me dwelling on it and I just have to get back on with life, work, riding my bike and having fun.

It might be a few more months before I'm back riding all the trails I was riding before, but they're not going anywhere and a few more months away from them will make it a special treat to get back to them and start having fun on them all over again.


Tuesday 10 September 2013

First Col...

Since having our baby in October last year, cycling has been in short supply. Lack of sleep resulting in no enthusiasm for turbo training in the evenings and a lack of babysitters for actual riding at weekends. But then hubby and I booked a trip to the Alps for our honeymoon. Rats. I thought, I'd better get my arse in gear.

However, two outdoor rides and five turbo sessions was all the preparation I managed, (excuses included tiredness, zapped verucca feet, being away at people's houses, no babysitting, too hot etc etc) so I approached Col des Aravis with a certain amount of trepidation. But baby had slept well, was at the crèche, the sun was shining, so I was definitely all out of excuses.

I surprised myself. Admittedly it took an hour so no speed records were broken, but I made it up there, with no stops and no misery. My legs aren't best pleased, but I'll be tackling another col tomorrow. There truly is nothing like beautiful mountains to inspire and energise. Bring it on!

Wednesday 12 June 2013

Wanted: Inspiration

Okay, I confess. I've been feeling pretty sorry for myself over the last few months.

Firstly came the realisation that this is the last year I'll be able to race as a master. From this year's cross season, I'll officially be a vet. I'm not overly impressed by that concept, but hey ho, there's not much I can do about it, so I'll just have to get on with it.

Secondly I've been really suffering with my back. The results of an MRI scan have shown that it's not something that's going to go away or fix itself, so I need to learn techniques to manage it. Hopefully an appointment with a neurosurgeon next month will rule out the need for surgery and confirm that disciplined physio will keep me right.

The age thing pushed me to try to make my last year as a master count, however the back thing has meant that I've had lots of periods off the bike (I'm under strict orders from my physio not to fall off and those who know me will know that's a real challenge!).

I've really had to manage how hard I push myself on the bike since any techy riding runs the risk of me crashing, so I've had to focus on slightly more gentle, fun riding. Unfortunately that means that I've had to put enduro racing on a back burner for the time being. I'm not exactly sticking to canal paths, but please don't tell my physio that!

So, I've been down in the dumps and feeling a bit sorry for myself.

Last weekend I had a bit of a kick up the backside to get me out of my self pity.

On Saturday I had volunteered to help lead some rides at an event aimed at encouraging women to get on bikes or back on their bikes. The event was organised by Belles on Bikes, Cycling Scotland and CTC. Almost all of the volunteers were women and all of them had inspirational stories of things they had done.

From working as professional bike mechanics to supporting and working with youth groups to cycling 15,000k from Chiang Mai to Edinburgh to raise money for charity.

All these women, doing all these amazing things, but they are just normal women, not super heroes or wonder women, just women who are passionate about bikes and sharing that passion with others and using their passion to make a difference where they can.

Meeting these women was a bit of a wake up call for me.

Turning 40 isn't the end of the world and certainly doesn't mean I'm going to ride any less or enjoy riding any less. And having a back problem is just a blip which I'll learn to work with and doesn't mean I need to give up riding.

So, I'm not about to cycle from Thailand to Edinburgh and I'm not going to give up my job to become a bike mechanic. However, I might do some more training and different training so that I can work with and coach kids so that they can get as much out of cycling as I do.

And for me personally, I might just set myself some challenges this summer. I may not be able to race at the moment, but that doesn't mean I can't set myself challenging goals to do big bike rides in new places. So the maps are out and plans are being made and fingers are crossed for a long summer.


Tuesday 30 April 2013

Ups and Downs but not quite outs

The last few months have seen their fair share of ups and downs...   

The freakish cold weather meant that most of the trails around here were either under too much snow to be rideable or were so waterlogged that the amount of damage riding would do to the trails just wasn't worth it (not to mention the amount of mud on kit and bike that would need cleaning). This meant that riding options were a bit limited. The local trail centres at Glentress and Innerleithen were rideable for a bit but then they got hit by the snow and were pretty much off limits for a month.

Unfortunately I had also booked myself on a 1-1 skills coaching session with Andy at Dirt School, which had to be postponed because the trails were so icy that the only skills I would have learned would've been how to land on my bum after skeiting* on the ice (*Scottish for ...oh never mind).

So my plans of world domination after honing my skills were thwarted again. (I should point out that I was only planning to dominate my own world, but it's the principle.).

I had hoped to try my new-found skills at the final Innerleithen Enduro, but unfortunately that had to be cancelled too because there was just too much snow and the only real option would have been skiing!

So, instead, Chris and I headed up to Kinlochleven (one of the few places which werent under snow) at the last minute to stay in one of the hobbit huts at the Blackwater Hostel. We headed up on Saturday morning and managed a few hours of riding on Saturday evening and then a nice big day in the hills on Sunday. In glorious sunshine and with some fantastic views down Loch Leven, we rode some of the trails we'd raced at the Dudes of Hazard Enduro back in November as well as some new trails I've never had the nerve to try before. Well, I say we rode the trails...Chris rode them and I had a series of sketchy moments!

The temperature didn't rise much for the following weekend when I tried my hand at the Red Bull Hill Chaser. I rolled along to the city centre way too early on a Saturday morning so that I could race for less than 30 seconds. It was an eye popping 30 seconds mind you! Sadly, none of the amateur females got through the qualifiers, so there wasn't a female final race in the evening. The racing in the evening was pretty impressive though, with a motley crew of roadies racing DHers racing trials riders racing BMXers racing CXers. I've never seen such an impressive turn out at any cycling event in Scotland except the World Cup events at Fort Bill, so it was great to see.

I then managed to swap the freezing Scottish temperatures to fly out to Catalonia for a long weekend to ride int he European Singlespeed Champs. I'd never been to that part of Spain before, so had no idea what to expect, but it didn't disappoint! The trails were eminently singlespeedable with just the right amount of climbing and tech. The event itself was great with plenty of stops for food and wine and a great mix of folks from all over Europe. It looks like the Euro's next year will be in Northern Ireland, so not quite as warm and sunny, but also not as much travelling.

Since I'm still waiting for my rescheduled skills session with Dirt School, last weekend, I decided to go out on my own and play. So I headed up to the local woods and spent a few hours sessioning sections I've either been able to ride in the past or which have always stumped me. It turned out to be one of my most successful bike rides in ages although I'm not sure what the folks walking in the woods thought of a "mature" woman messing around on jumps in the woods. It was only those walkers who actually saw me do any of the stuff I was trying so I've got no proof at all that I managed anything, but I know I did! Whether I manage it again next time I go up there with the boys is another matter! Maybe that was my skilz for this year!

So bike wise, things have actually been not too bad over the last few months despite the bad weather. Those have definitely been the ups of the last few months.

However, at the end of March I managed to slip a disc in my back. I wouldn't mind so much, but all I did was stand up and that was it! I couldn't straighten up or walk! Luckily I managed to get physio pretty much straight away and it's more or less fixed now. My physic has been great and hasn't once told me not to ride. His only word of warning is that if it hurts, stop ....oh, and just don't go falling off. Not such an easy task for me, but I do my best.

I had thought that everything had sorted itself out, but it went again yesterday and I spent yesterday hirpling around like an old woman and actually had to abandon my bike at work because I couldn't ride home. That's only the second time in all the years I've commuted by bike that I've had to abandon my bike and the other time was because of really stormy weather.

It has meant that there have been a few days over the last month or so I've just not been able to ride because my back's been too sore, which has been pretty miserable. However, for the first time since I started riding, I've actually been disciplined enough to stretch on a regular basis and do the exercises my physio has set me.  I've also finally started using that Yoga for Cyclists DVD's that's been gathering dust on the shelf. I won't lie and say that it's made it 100% alright, but it's been good enough that I've been able to keep riding most of the time. In fact, it's probably made me more determined to enjoy my bike and get out there and just have fun.

More physio seem to have made a difference already and I'm keeping everything crossed that it's back to normal before Friday because I've got the day off to go to my long awaited skills session and I'm then going to use my new skilz at the Perthshire Enduro on Saturday.

So, plenty of ups and downs over the last few months, but I think the ups have managed to outweigh the downs. If I promise to do lots of stretching between now and then, hopefully this weekend will be another up and my new found skilz will lead to world domination (at least of my world!).


Sunday 3 March 2013

Remember to breathe

Yesterday saw round 2 of the Innerleithen Innerduro series and we were lucky enough to wake up to blue skies. After a week of little or no rain, the trails weren't the usual Innerleithen muddfest either.

Round 1 had been a traditional enduro with 3 long, technical, muddy descents linked by 3 climbs (including a few push ups). There had been a great turn out despite cold, wet weather with some great results and much fun.

Saturday's race was a slightly different format - 2 stages during the day and then the same 2 stages at night.

Once again the guys and girls at Innerleithen MTB Racing didn't let us down with the trails they let us play on. Their reputation for fun, challenging trails attracted some of Scotland's (and the UK's) best enduro riders...Katy Winton, Joe Barnes and Crawford Carrick Anderson.

Stage 1 was long, long, long! (Longer for me than most other riders.) There was a mix of greasy, muddy, steep and rooty and saw us riding down trails most of us usually ride up.

Then for the long ride and push all the way back up to the top of the DH trails to start stage 2, which was a different kettle of fish all together. It was fast with some steep, more woodsy sections, joining up with the main DH trails right back down to the bottom again.

I was super slow, but managed to make it down both runs with only a few little sit downs on the trail. I had a few moments, popped over the top of a few berms, missed a few corners and a hugged a few trees, but managed to hang on and stay the right side up.

I'm not as fit as I should be at the moment (and a late night with a few too many glasses of wine didn't help), so I was glad of the break back at the van whilst we waited  for it to start getting dark.

I've not done any night riding at all this winter, so I was pretty nervous hanging around the car park listening to all the usual excited race chat.  I was under no illusion that I was only racing myself, but the trails were demanding in the daylight, so I knew I'd have to be totally on the ball. It was just too late to start making excuses, I should have gone out for those night rides instead of curling up in the warmth, indoors instead.

The first night run was due to open at 5.15, but because the day had been so clear and sunny, it didn't get dark until almost 6 o'clock. So even after a very slow climb back up the hill, there was quite a queue up at the top waiting to to get going again. Luckily the marshals up the top had a good supply of juice, Haribos, millionaire shortbread, bananas and chat to keep our spirits up.

Gradually lights started getting switched on and riders started lining up to get going again.

If I thought I was slow on stage 1 during the day, I was even slower in the dark!

The drops were definitely bigger, trees closer together and descent steeper in the dark than they had been in daylight. Although I'd managed to get a clear run down during the day, because I was so much slower at night, I had to keep pulling over to let the fast boys past and struggling to get going again. Not that it really made too much difference to my performance.

I got down to the bottom and let out the breath I'd been holding most of the way down. It had been tougher than I expected and I felt a bit disappointed by just how much mincing I'd done, but I'd made it down and there was only one more up and back down left.

The only thing that kept me going on that last climb up was the knowledge that the final stage would be fun (and that I'd be able to get a nice cup of tea at the bottom).

There was less of a queue at the top, so I managed to get a clearer run down and spent much less time sitting on the trail and much more time riding, although I hung on to the brakes the whole way down. As I hit the final few turns, there was someone right behind me but since there was nowhere for me to pull in and let him past, I had to ride faster than my terrified mind was comfortable doing, but I made the turns, made that drop, got round the roots and got to the finish line in one piece (even if I did have the look of a frightened rabbit).

My times were pretty awful, but I finished and, despite having my heart in my throat for the night runs, really enjoyed myself.

There was a really good, strong field of women riders, so I didn't get anywhere near the podium except to sit on it to have a cup of tea. Local rider Katy Winton stormed home again to take an impressive first place, followed by Fiona Beattie and Sophie Buckingham.

All the podiums saw at least one local rider on them, proving that practice can make perfect.

Round 3 is at the end of this month and reverts back to the usual day time stages. So I've got 3 weeks to  practice, practice, practice. I'm not sure 3 weeks is enough to turn me into an enduro goddess, but maybe I'll be able to ride a little bit of the trail without having my brakes on and holding my breath!


Saturday 2 February 2013

What's up Doc?

A year and a half after my big crash, I finally had to have 2 damaged teeth removed...right before my first race back at Innerleithen since the crash.

Surely that's some weird carma or other?

Anyway, teeth were removed yesterday afternoon and I now have a deeply unattractive and uncomfortable temporary set of falsers to tide me over for the week and a half until my proper replacement teeth (well, bridges) are ready to be fitted.

So on the drive down to Innerleithen this morning to do some practice on the course, I had the difficult decision to make about whether I wear my uncomfortable falsers whilst I'm riding or go gappy.

After much deliberation and advice from friends, I decided to go with the gappy Bugs Bunny look....

Not the most attractive, I know, but the falsers were a choke hazard and very distracting.

My 2 Bugs Bunny front teeth felt very exposed today, so I think it'll have to be the full face helmet tomorrow just to make sure I don't knock out those two.  

Monday 24 December 2012

Festive Commuting

Today's commute was a bit different to normal...

Lots of friendly toots, waves and thumbs up from drivers. A couple of cars even slowed down to take photos.


Sunday 9 December 2012

Bad leg day

Yesterday we got word that the Scottish Cyclocross Champs was cancelled because of poor weather and course conditions, so that meant an unexpected day off for Chris and I today. Instead of counting people riding round in circles, we'd get to go for a bike ride.

An unexpected bike ride is quite exciting, so when I woke up this morning I was really looking forward to getting out and having some fun. I was even hoping for a relatively big ride to make the most of the free day.

I set off with what I thought was loads of energy, only to find my body didn't want to play.

"Maybe I'm coming down with a bit of a cold."

"Maybe it's because I didn't sleep well last night."

"Maybe it's because I'm wearing too many layers and I'm too hot."

"Maybe I didn't have enough breakfast."

"Is there something wrong with my bike?"

I thought of all the excuses and none of them seemed to explain why my legs just didn't want to do what they were told.

After a few hours, I had to give in to the fact that I was just having a bad leg day and suggested we cut the ride a bit short and head back to the van. (Luckily Chris was having an equally bad leg day, so I didn't feel too guilty.)

Never mind. A few hours of riding is better than no riding, but I do wish my bad leg days would happen on the days when I didn't want to play on my bike!


Sunday 2 December 2012

Falling in love again

It's 2 months since I got home from the Trans Provence and it's been a funny 2 months.

6 weeks off the bike with my hand and wrist in a really uncomfortable splint, fortnightly visits to the orthopaedic surgeon for more x-rays and prodding and poking and umming and awing....being told that "I'm not convinced that it's not broken, so we'll keep it splinted up for now". It got increasingly painful and numb, which made me increasingly worried. On my final visit to see the surgeon, a worried look came over his face when I said I no longer had any feeling in my thumb at all and was having pains from my thumb right up to my elbow. It turns out that the splint was putting too much pressure on my tendons and was doing more damage than good, so I was given the all clear to take it off and get on with things...."as long as it doesn't hurt to do so".

Hurrah! (Well, it still hurts a wee bit, but I'm not putting that splint back on!!)

So no more taking the bus to work and trying to get by with my surprisingly useless left hand.

You might think that would mean I'd be right back on the bike and making up for lost time, but my weekends have been taken up with the Scottish Cyclocross series...no, not racing...I've been working with Chris on the timing and results for the races.

So, 7 weeks after I finished the Trans Provence, I had my first free weekend and went out for my first bike ride. That first bike ride just happened to be the No Fuss Dudes of Hazzard Enduro.

The guys at No Fuss teamed up with the Dudes of Hazzard to put on an enduro based in Kinlochleven up in the Highlands of Scotland. I'd never ridden around there before, so on Chris' advice, I took the big bike as well as elbow and knee pads and full face helmet (just in case).

We headed up early on the Saturday morning to squeeze in a few practice runs and figure out whether I'd need my full face or whether I could tough it out with an XC helmet (I opted for XC, but most definitely knee pads).

The trails were fantastic fun - rocky, steep, muddy, rooty - they had it all, as well as spectacular views down the glen and Loch Leven towards Loch Linnhe.

Heavy rain and some snow on the Saturday night made the trails all the more exciting for the race on Sunday.

(Photo courtesy of No Fuss Events)

Although I was really unfit and nervy after so long off the bike, being unsure how my slightly achy wrist would do and desperately not wanting to fall off on my wrist, I had a great time and was so excited to finally be back on the bike (even if it was a heavy beast). It's also put Kinlochleven firmly on my list of places I want to do some more riding.

The guys put on a fantastic event with amazing trails and a great vibe, despite the cold and wet weather.  I'm already looking forward to next year's event.

Another couple of weekends working at cross races and then this weekend was my last free weekend until Christmas, so after being off work and ill for the last week with the lurgy from hell, today was my first proper ride on that new bike I got just before I left for the Trans Provence.

We woke up to a heavy frost and clear blue skies, so we wrapped up and headed out hoping the trails wouldn't be too icy and that the new bike wouldn't be a disappointment.

It was bliss!

Snow, frost, quiet trails, spectacular views...

Oh, and the new bike was fantastic! I've fallen in love with riding bikes all over again.


Saturday 6 October 2012

Trans Provence...It was epic!

Just over 2 weeks ago I flew out to France to ride in this year's Trans Provence. For those who don't know (or haven't heard me banging on about it), it's a 7 day enduo race from Rochebrune, near Gap in Provence, to Monaco.

It's described as an all mountain race, which means you pretty much have to ride everything...the ups, the downs, the alongs, and everything in between. Not all of the riding is racing though - each day there are timed stages, generally technical and predominantly descending, where you race for your life. In between, there are linking stages, where the riders ride at a slightly more leisurely pace to get to the start of the next special stage.

Sounds easy, eh? Well, watch some of the video footage on the website before you say that too quickly!

Anyhow, I headed out to France just over 2 weeks ago and spent a couple of days with friends in Chamonix to try to get my sea level lungs used to working at higher altitude in the sun. After 2 days of wheezing around Chamonix, I headed south with Dan and Jo (one of the race doctors) to camp 0.

Because Dan and Jo were both working on the race, we arrived a day earlier than most of the riders, so I planned to have a quiet time getting my head ready for what was ahead. What I hadn't realised was that most of the pro riders were also arriving a day early. On one hand that was great and I got to meet a lot of the very quick folks, however, it scared the living daylights out of me! I knew I wasn't really in the same race as them, but having dinner with the likes of Mark Wier, Ben Cruz, Fabien Barel and Anne-Caroline Chausson (yes! The Anne-Caro!) is pretty daunting.

Start times were staggered each morning with the mere mortals setting off an hour ahead of the pro's and fast boys (I think the idea was to give us a chance to get out of their way!). So day 1 started with an early morning uplift to the start of the first linking stage and after a few words of wisdom from race organiser, Ash, (basically don't go flat out or you'll kill yourself and don't get lost) we were off.

Although our group of 50ish riders were the meant to be the slower amateurs, the pack very quickly spread out and I found myself riding with a happy little pack of riders who were enjoying the views whilst we suffered up the first climb.

That first climb of maybe 2 hours gently broke us in and got us to the start of the first timed stage.

I was really worried about how I'd cope with the technical, fast, steep descents, so at the top of that first climb, looking at the starting dibber for the first descent, I was feeling pretty nervous and I'd been warned of a scary loose chute on stage 1, so I wasn't feeling overly confident. I'd ridden all the way up there though and wanted to get it over with so that I'd be able to get a feel for what the week was going to be like. So I tugged on my knee and elbow pads, pulled up my socks, had a gel, checked my shorts were synched up and weren't going to fall down (come on! admit it, you all do that!), dibbed my timing tag and was off.

Pedal, pedal, pedal, whoosh - drifty corner - , pedal...oh, this'll be the chute...no chance! I was off and slip sliding down the dusty trail until I could get back on again. Pedal, pedal, pedal - oh that's a really tight switchback, pedal, tight switchback...I could hear my heart thumping hard as I tried to concentrate on staying upright and focusing on where the trail went. Before I knew it, I saw a gaggle of riders and a timing guy and I was at the bottom.

I'd survived the first trail. I couldn't ride it all, but I hadn't expected to. At least I now had an idea of what this was all about.

Day 1 carried on in much the same way. Pedal hard up and down. Concentrate hard on picking a rideable line. Remembering not to slam on the brakes. Oh, and whilst all of that's happening, taking in the amazing scenery!

Day 1 done, 6 more days to go.

I started day 2 feeling really enthusiastic and excited after a great day on the bike the day before. I was tired, but looking forward to whatever the lay ahead.

However, as soon as I started pedalling, my heart sank. I was tired. Really tired. Then I saw that we had a massive hike-a-bike up to a col and felt totally overwhelmed. There was no way I could do it. I couldn't get myself up to the top, then ride down and keep going for another 6 days. I couldn't do it.

All the months of working up to this, and I couldn't do it. It was too much. I just wasn't fit enough or strong enough to be able to do it.

I felt the tears welling up in my eyes as I watched rider after rider pass me and start walking up the mountainside. I was now almost the last rider. I'd never make it. I just couldn't do it.

I sat down at the side of the trail and cried.

"Just keep going 'til lunch then you can get in the van and go to camp, but just get to lunch." It was fellow Scottish Minx, Jo. The concern on Jo's face convinced me that I had to at least try to make it to lunch, then I could pack it in, but I had to make it to lunch.

So I dried my eyes,  picked up my bike and started trudging up the hill towards the ever lowering cloudbase.

I don't know how long it took me, but there was still a big gaggle of riders at the top trying to figure out the best line to take at the top of the first stage. The weather was closing in fast and it was as cold and windy as a Cairngorm mountain top, so I didn't want to hang around. I dibbed my chip and was off.

"Nice line!" I heard someone shout, as furiously pedalled down the skinny trail. Then the trail opened up...just like the stuff I ride with Ciclo.

Pedal, pedal, pedal. Wooooohooooo! This is ace! Drift....pedal, pedal, pedal....woops, that was close....oh, pants!....pedal....stream crossing, pedal, don't fall in...pedal. Timing guy. Stage finished.

From then on, I knew there's no way I could pack it in, no matter how tough the climbs were. These timed stages were just too good!

Day 2 was a tough day for all the riders....our bodies were still protesting against being made to ride day after day, the weather was properly bad (the heaviest rain I've ever seen combined with wind, thunder and lightening...it was pretty scary, especially for those still up on the mountain top when it really closed in).

When Jo rolled into camp 2 at the end of the day, I think we were both pretty emotional...we'd conquered the demons and the weather....we were both going to do this thing!

As the week rolled on, my body finally accepted the fact that I was going to be trying to break it for 6 hours a day. The general pattern emerged...3 hours of climbing / hike-a-bike; ride a bunch of the most exciting, scary, demanding trails you've ever ridden; stop for a baguette for lunch; another couple of hours of climbing / hike-a-bike; more epic techy descents; back to camp for shower, organise kit for tomorrow, dinner, share tales of near misses, then bed.

I managed to find myself a little group of riders to ride with for most of the week - Team Scotland of Andy, Kenny, Jo, Chris and I as well as our honourary Welsh guest, Aimee  and an occasional English, South African or Aussie guest) and we kept eachother going when times got tough...and they did at some point pretty much every day.

There really wasn't a day that went by where one of us didn't have some challenge. Whether it was bike or kit related or mental or physical, we all had demons to contend with during the week, but  we knew that we were all going through the same thing and we all worked hard to keep eachother going.

I was collecting bruises and scrapes by the bucketful, but was surviving and having nothing more than silly little off's. I wasn't quick on the descents, but I was making it. Jumping off and running sections which were just too big for me, but I was riding far more than I thought I'd be able to.

In general Team Scotland were being caught be the quicker of the pro riders at the top of the final timed stage, so we were lucky enough to see some of the quick guys riding stuff. They were quick. Very, very, very quick. And smooth! Their times were about half of mine if not even quicker!

It was really refreshing, though, to hear the pro's commenting on just how tough the race was. Everyone from Scottish Minxes to pro DH and XC racers were commenting that the race was epic and one of the toughest things we'd done....but we were all loving it!

Day 6 was the first day we saw the Mediterranean. After a 3 and a half hour climb and hike a bike on a very crisp morning, we reached a col and had a 360 degree view of the Maritime Alps and all the way down to the sea in the distance. It was a massive milestone. We were nearly there - the end was almost in touching distance.

Riding along the narrow ledge with the Alps to my left and the sea off somewhere on my right, I finally knew I was going to do it. It was the first time I let myself believe I could actually finish the race.

With very bad weather forecast for day 7, we had to set off earlier than usual and started the climb up to the first timed stage in lashing, icy cold rain. The trail conditions turned from buff rocky to slippery, muddy and quite sketchy! I had a stupid off at the top of the first stage and landed on my thigh...it ached, but I had to keep going. My body was cold and soggy and achy, but we were nearly finished.

The first 2 staged on day 7 were probably my worst of the whole week. My legs didn't work; I had no co-ordination and I just couldn't pick a line. At the bottom of stage 2 I was really frustrated with myself and the demons had started to come back to tell me I couldn't do it.

A hug and a kind word from one of the honourary Team Scotland riders convinced me to get back on the bike and keep turning the pedals. Then the sun came out and we started the final climb up to the final mountain top before our long descent to the coast. 2 more stages to go!

The last 2 stages were back to being loose and rocky with no mud, but they were very loose and very fast. Although my body was screaming, I was pedalling my heart out, breathing hard, my heart pounding in my chest. I was going to finish this!

Pedal, pedal, pedal. Heart pounding. Drift. Ace! Fast! Pick the right line, Don't touch the brakes. Big drop. Phew! Made it. Pedal, pedal, pedal...drop...woops...oh-oh....oh no! Bang!

I'd lost my front wheel on a stupid little drop and flew over the bars (again). I had landed with a real thump but, learning my lesson from last year, put my hands out to avoid smashing up my face again. My right hand ached, but I only had a little bit further to go, so I jumped back on the bike and pedalled hard to the finish.

I got to Ed, dibbed my timing chip and sat down and cried. I had to convince Ed that I was crying with joy and not anything else (the blood and mud and scratches all over my body didn't look good).

I had done it!

Chris came down just after me and gave me a big hug. We'd done it!

After a few photos we hopped on our bikes to roll down to the timing tent. It was then I realised that I couldn't grip anything with my right hand...not good!

We were joined the rest of Team Scotland at the timing tent for a celebratory beer, but had to drink quickly so that we could get off the hill before the storm hit...this was a proper storm with lightening hitting bits of the hillside all around us and plumes of smoke and flames and the smell of burning right by the trail.

Back at the campsite Dr Jo examined my hand and said with an apologetic sigh that she thought I might have fractured my scaphoid, so she bandaged me up with strict instructions to go to A&E as soon as I got home to get it checked out properly.

Sore hand aside, I'd done it. All of Team Scotland had done it and all of us were in awe of what we'd just been through.

It was tough. Very, very tough. But it was also the most incredible week's riding I've had. My race times weren't great (in fact I came dead last!), but I had finished which was what I had set out to do.

And I made some great new friends along the way.

So, before I get all emotional again (I can feel the tears welling up again), I really want to thank Andy Lombardini, Kenny Alexander, Jo Cardwell, Aimee Dix and, of course, Chris Marquis, for being the most fantastic riding buddies who kept me going and were top company for an amazing week of riding! Thank you!

And also a massive thanks to Ash and all of the Trans Provence team for putting on an amazing event and generally being great!

Oh, and quote of the week from Fabien Barel when asked for tips on how to ride the trails faster...."Don't brake!"