Hello! This is a blog about being nearly forty, working part time, being a girl with no kids and having a love for road trips in my van, mountain biking and surfing. I revel in being crap at both sports and my stubborn refusal to grasp the technical aspects. I have a simple philosophy: bikes and boards are for riding and smiling about, not fiddling with! I think bikes look better and more loved when caked up with mud! x

Sunday, 27 November 2011

No posts for a while.....

Was having a nice break biking in the forest of dean and surfing in Wales in the early part of October. Then my dad took ill and was rushed in to intensive care. So I rushed home. He sadly died a week later.

I am very sad and can not think of anything to write.

I did think that nothing else bad could happen to me after this - that this had to be the end of the run of bad luck that has been plaguing me all year. However my Fox Talas forks have broke and can not be repaired. I am too broke to replace them. I had to ride my hard tail today. Everything is just crap.

Talk to you in better times.


Saturday, 1 October 2011

Getting on a bit...!

Had a brilliant time surfing in Woolacombe, but as this cheeky snap shows, after a couple of hours in the sea these days I am all done in and need a nap!

And so it begins….part two of my life!

So it happened. I turned forty. It was not quite the momentous occasion that it is for others. No crash, bang, wallop or cries of hysteria. Just a quiet breeze that rustled and turned the page of someone's life. I think I had been practicing being forty for a whole year that the actual day was almost just another day. I got up to go to work, bleary eyed at 6am, and just kind of hesitated for a moment longer in the mirror to acknowledge to myself the landmark and note the weariness that the last twelve months of crap had left on my face. I promised myself that better things were to come, that this was just a blip and that I would never be trapped. I owed nothing to no one, belonged to no one and no one was dependent on me. I only worried about crap this year, because I actually have nothing really important to worry about. The only regret I have about life is that forty years goes too fast. There is just too much to cool suff to do and not enough time to do it all in. I am eagerly looking forward to part two of my life, although I have not yet quite figured what this will entail! But I am sure that bikes and boards will be in there somewhere!

In our household birthdays last for a week. A week of being spoilt and getting to choose what you what to do with each day. Although I worked on my actual birthday, the start and end of the day was as good as it could have been. I came down from the shower at 6.30am to be presented with a full english vegan breakfast of sausage, bacon, tomatoes, hash browns, mushrooms and beans, orange juice and coffee, followed by presents and cards. A reasonable day at work was followed by a lovely vietnamese meal at my current favourite restaurant with Sam. The following day was to be my birthday bike ride in the peaks. However, this didn't quite go to plan. We had intended to pack up an awesome picnic and go all out for Cut Gate, but after a week or more of solid rain it was in all likelihood going to a total nightmare. So we opted for the tracks above the Ladybower Inn. It started off as a pleasant push up the track in some mild sunshine, but this unfortunately was not to last. The heavens started to open and a gentle drizzle became more substantial and the wind picked up as we steadily climbed. As we reached the top the wind, mist and rain were fiercely swirling around us. There was no other alternative than to hunker down behind a wall and munch our lovely vegan pasties (curtesy of Beanies Wholefoods), sheltering from the extreme weather! Food downed we headed off along the track that skirted the high edges of the reservoir. There would have been amazing views to take in had it not been for the horizontal rain into the ears that actually forced me for the first time in my life to wear my hood over my bike helmet! We cautiously blasted down the track with me trying to pretend as usual that the exposed edge wasn't really there. We eventually pushed back, sliding in our skate shoes perilously close to the edge of the muddy track and cursing the ear ache inducing wind and rain. Back at the top of the track we launched ourselves back down the bridle path to the Ladybower Inn, luxuriating in the top part of the track that is wide and fast. We rattled the final descent back to the pub only to be greeted by glorious sunshine. To celebrate the contrasting fortunes of the day we dried off with coffee and Fentimans outside the pub, our dirty faces contrasting nicely to the polished ones of the small number of Thursday lunchtime diners!

Thursday night was a night out with more food and friends. Friday night was a total gem, with other friends surprising me with a vegan buffet, 1970's stylee, orchestrated by Sam. I don't expect you to understand me, but it was something I had gone on about doing and to walk in to find my friends had made all this wonderful food for me was so touching! They did themselves proud with fake prawn cocktail filled vol-au-vents, sausages on sticks, a tin foil covered cabbage with cheese and pineapple on cocktail sticks, cheese and bacon quiche and ham and cucumber sandwiches on white bread. For afters there was black forest gateaux, angel delight, trifle and brandy snaps!

Little treats and nights out continued as did some more bike riding in the peaks. I haven't yet tested out my new elbow pads and my new bright orange Evoc rucksack, but it won't be long until I do. But that will have to wait a few days as I am writing this in coolest apartment ever in Woolacombe, Devon, blissed out after my fifth surf of the weekend with my bestest friends. 

So all in all not a bad start to the second part of my life!

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Mud, Glorious Mud

A summer's day ride above Ladybower Reservoir in the mud, courtesy of tree cutters and lots of rain!

Monday, 22 August 2011

Back down to earth

After the giddy heights of the haute pyrenees and thigh burning descents it was back to the relative lowlands of the Peak District. On return from my holiday I started a new job, with the most bollocks induction to it ever, in fact I was introduced to the job in a way that came close to disdain, so after 3 days of work I was in need of some bike therapy. First up was a sweaty slog up through Crookhill farm and a nip across the tops to the Hag farm track. I forced myself to ignore the motorbikes trashing the field next to the track and teetered on down the Hag Farm track narrowly escaping coming off a couple of times.  It was very dry and loose, and being a relative novice to the totality of this track, I can't yet decide whether it is something I enjoy or something I am just determined to get through and repeatedly tick off so that I am part of the 'Hag Farm Track club'. Anyway, down the track ahead of me I could hear Sam rattle down at ten to the dozen, so at least one of us was having a good time! With a modest sense of achievement and greater sense of survival and no sense of whether I enjoyed the ride or not, I pushed back up the track. 

Next up was the descent down Lockerbrook. Now I have done this a few times and there is a corner that bothers me. Most of the time I can handle it, but recently I baulked at it on a very wet, sloppy day because I got myself into a tizzy about it as I advanced towards it. That day I did force myself to ride it, but nearly fell off 'cos of being too cautious and slow and since then it has bothered me even more. But today I was going to take the bastard. The early parts of the Lockerbrook track were great and both of us were pelting it, whizzing past others on the track and I was feeling pretty fab. We would usually stop for a quick breath before the final descent…and that f'ing corner….but today we had an audience at our usual stopping place and so Sam whizzed on and I did the same with my mind chanting "the corner's coming, the f'ing corner's coming…' Whipping around to the run up to the dreaded spot I saw three guys stopped on the side of the track just before it. Oh shit what to do now? Suddenly it seemed a huge wave of pride swept up behind me and rode me over the fucker at speed and I could sense the all three pairs of eyes tracing my fabulous descent…'oh look at me' I thought to myself as I swept passed only to catch out of the side of my eye Sam laid out in the grass verge below, still half on his bike, and my thoughts switched to wondering what the hell Sam was doing looking a bit silly on his arse in the grass. But the gusts of pride were still in my sails and I selfishly thought of myself and the need to look fab so I swept on to the bottom forcing myself to hold it together as everything wobbled and burned. 

I made it to the bottom in one piece, conscious that there was a couple of people behind me, one of which was Sam. To hide my trembling and gain composure I had to stay on the bike looking ahead and rather than be the one to open the gate! As we sauntered back to the van I asked Sam why he was half in the undergrowth at the side of the track. Bless him, knowing I was worried about the corner he tried to stop after clearing the drop at speed and by breaking hard had half crashed into the side, so he just lay there half on his bike to make sure I made it through too. How sweet that he had forgone his pride to lie in an undignified pile to make sure I was OK...where as selfish old me had only thought of myself!

A few days later we parked up on the A57 and headed out to some tracks in the the woods near the Beast with Adam. We spend the morning practicing some short tracks weaving through the trees interspersed with eating the cake and flapjack that Adam had made. To my surprise I only nearly hit a tree a couple of times. We filmed our little descents, and I thought I was doing OK until I saw my video clip and realised that a small child could have walked down the track faster than I rode it! Sam and Adam assured me I was going faster than the film suggested...mmmm? With 'bike school' over we headed down some longer tracks and then back up out on to the sunny hill tops and across and up to Win Hill. Funny how we keep returning to this descent. The boys were fiddling with some gear so I took off, fully convinced they would catch me as I was just going to saunter to the gate at the tree line, but ha ha! they didn't. Another small victory! Finally we rattled in unison down through the woods to the reservoir and headed back to the bridge over the river to where we were parked. The finale to the day was ice cold Appletizers, crisps and midge bites in the evening sun at the Snake Inn!

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Tour de France 2011

Ok, not the proper one but my summer holiday, which incidentally coincided with the Tour de France! Just back from three weeks in France involving the top combination of surfing and biking. We headed off to Eurotunnel on the Sunday after a camping weekend in Cambridgeshire with friends and crossed into France and made our way down to Biscarrosse Plage in Landes on the Atlantic (Aquitaine) coast. Arriving on Monday afternoon we quickly located the most awesome campervan site, under pine trees and just 300m from the beach. At the bargain price of 8 euros a night in July and August (free at other times of the year) we joined the tree covered international community that included new age travellers, the blue rinse brigade, chaotic families and the surf posse in converted vans and old VWs, all of whom rubbed gently along together. 

The days started with a bike run to the local shop for baguettes, a lazy breakfast as the skies cleared, a bag was then filled with books, suncream and snacks and with the beach brolly under one arm and your surf board under another it was a saunter to the beach. Surf, snooze, surf, read, surf, then time for tea was the rhythm of the day, finally pulling yourself away from the beach at about 9pm. Should the weather or surf be be half assed, it was time for a blast up the cycle paths through the trees along the coast, or in the opposite direction to the small town for a peek at the daily market, the kids on the skate ramps or the vast array of surf shops, finally packing the rucksack with cheap food from Aldi. It was a way of life that was hard to shift from, and something that begs repeated trips over the next few years. 

The beach was beautiful, the sea pretty safe, with life guards - a great place for the less experienced surfer, and the sea was warm for us hardy northern Brits, totally tolerable without a wet suit at times! If my bike hadn't been so precious to me I would have definitely imitated the cool dudes that rode their bikes to the beach with their surf board under their arm. I saw one woman do just that in a pair of surf shorts and a bikini top, and I just thought "I want to be like you, you look so awesome!" There was one surf shop on the road into the town from the campervan park that merits a mention over the others. I think it was the La Vigie Skate Surf Shop and we were attracted by the Sea Shepherd sticker in the window and had a lovely chat with the woman in the shop who was telling us how supportive she was of the hardcore activism of Sea Shepherd. So if you are ever at Biscarrosse Plage and need to spend money on surf stuff it would be cool to direct it towards this shop because as people they seemed to be about more than just selling stuff.

Ten days at the beach passed quickly and it was time to pack up the van and move on to phase two of the holiday, the Haute Pyrenees and Cauterets to be more precise. Just a four hour drive from the beach to the old seasoned ski resort which has kindly opened its ski lifts to mountain bikers. We got ourselves a lovely campsite on the edge of town and settled in to the most awesome views of the mountains. First on the agenda was a walk up the Valley Gaube to the refuge under the shadow of the mountain Vignemale, which was simply stunning. Hard on the heels on this was a 9 hour hike on the Circuit de Lacs through the Marcadau Valley, which was even better but involved a knee joint killer decent for me. Next up was the main event - the Cauterets downhill bike descents. 

It was €17 for a day's riding with as many ascents as you could fit in. We cycled up into town to catch the gondola up the mountain, changing at the main ski station to the chair lift. Having only done this for the first time last year, I still find a real novelty in scrambling on to the chair lift while your bike is hoisted on the back….love it! After a quick peek at the stunning views at the top and an adjustment of gear it was down to business. Not being a "downhill" rider in the proper sense of the word, it was to be the "blue' runs for me at the top. God I hated that first go down - this was not the relative mellowness and wider tracks I experienced in Switzerland last year under the north face of the Eiger etc and half expected this time. My backside was almost on my wheel as I tackled the gradient and negotiated the sloppy mud and my thigh muscles were wobbling with the tension. For Sam it was just sheer joy and purely effortless. Back at the main ski station, with a trembling lip but a bit of residual determination I got back on the chair lift for another run down. Much better this time as I got a sense of my positioning, the need for more exaggerated sitting back over my wheel than I usually need in the peak district and generally got reconnected with my bike after the flat of the Aquitaine coast! I even took the time to hit a few of the smaller obstacles in the high altitude bike park!

The chair lifts closed at lunch time so we blasted down the mountain (1500m in all from the top) to have a picnic lunch in the main park in town. Below the main gondola station we tackled the "Red" sections that interlinked the access road. I totally faced up to them because I refused to suffer the indignity of coming down on the "Blue" route which was the access track. One or two spots were a bit mad for me and other bits gave me severe thigh burn and wobbles, where I had to beg a breather, but all in all it was not as slimy as at the very top and I felt a cautious glee at my achievements so far. At the end of the main descent from the mountain came the real beauty - the most awesome blast across meadows and through woods down to the bottom of the valley. It was sheer heaven. Good fast narrowish solid earth track with enough steepness and rattle in it to get the heart racing, the face smiling but let the mind be released of all thoughts of disaster. I can't express just how much I loved this descent. 

After a quick lunch it was back up to the cable car station for another grand ascent to the summit. On reaching the top we were greeted by a total white out, which made it feel like a totally different day from the sunny morning. At one point at the top of the mountain I felt like I was loosing my way. With it being a week day there was only three other people on the top of the mountain which made it quite an eerie experience in the mist. I was getting faster on the top Blue descent which was cool, but after a few runs the soreness from my previous day's walking and a slightly sprained wrist from surfing was catching me up and so I bailed for a coffee back at the ski station, while Sam braved the mists one more time. Then it was time again for the flight down the rest of the mountain and the beautiful rattle and roll of the lower valley. Tired and exhilarated we coasted through town, wearing our mud as a badge of honour and headed 'home' for showers and an evening meal cooked in a pleasant state of exhaustion!!! Oh happy days….

We stayed a few more days in Cauterets and then headed back to the beach for a last few surfs. Time had passed, as ever, too quickly and our adjustment to van life was too easy and too hard to leave, but with happy faces and curiosity rising about how well the allotment was doing (!) we drove to Bilbao in Spain and set sail for Portsmouth in the evening sun. 

Viva Cauterets! Viva Biscarrose Plage! Nous reviendrons!

Biscarrosse Plage

Rain at the beach park up

Cauterets chair lift 

View from the top

At 2290m

Typically Sam - a puncture!

High altitude bike park!

The perfect shadow on the mountain!

A Red section on the lower descent

We just came down from up there!


Not far now to town

Baguettes for lunch

Sailing home with our van on the front deck!

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Alex and Sam plus one!

Not having a huge amount of confidence in my riding I only really like to ride with Sam as opposed to other male friends. I would rather they went out and had a blast together without having to cope with my varied neuroses. But after a few weeks of nagging about ducking out of riding with Sam and Adam I bit the bullet and agreed to it, with a little trepidation. My only conditions were that we could push up the hills some of the time, there would be a stop for butties and they had to lead and not hold back to go at my pace. We decided as underemployed people to meet up on a Friday in Hope and head out up Win Hill. Once at the top we headed down the lovely track to above Aston from the classic "Dark and White" ride which we did the other day. A great ride again, and Adam's first go of it. Although on the way down through the lower fields we passed one severed lamb's leg, one bleached white lamb's pelvis bone, one jaw bone and rode through a valley of sheep poo. Best of all nobody needed to wait for me as I kept pace, possibly by having the advantage of familiarity of the track over Adam.

We then rode slowly back up Win Hill to the last gate up the hill where we dismounted for butties and yet more gossip and I even joined in bike talk to my surprise. Next up after lunch was whooshing over the grassy humps and bumps down Win Hill, where the boys just totally accelerated away from me, and I had to force restraint on myself not to get carried away and try and match them, tempting as it was! I did however at one point find myself flying through the air and cleanly landing a take off from one of the grassy mounds, all very much to my surprise. 'Ah so that's how it feels', I thought to myself, 'that was effortless and felt very nice indeed'. Although I did recognise that it was all speed and not skill induced, so much still to work on I guess. On catching up with Sam and Adam they patiently listened to my excited explanation of what just happened.  

A ride down the Ladybower side of Win Hill followed, over the stretch of bone shaking track (after the woods) to the gate. Funny that that bit of track used to give me the wobbles and that I barely considered it this time, possibly because I got a full suss - yay! A trundle back up to Win Hill then back down the lovely single track again to Aston, steering past the lamb's leg and through the valley of poo. Oooh there is just a lovely bit of track that corners the bottom of the field as you head towards the final stretch that is wooded and rocky, it's just a damn shame there is a gate in the way, well all three gates in fact. The peaks should have an 'open gate day' for mountain bikers on all the best tracks for the ultimate riding day!

After a cup of coffee in the drizzle the plan was to go to Blackamoor for a quick blast down the track from the car park. On arriving there my back was sore so I waved the boys off and dragged my bike back in the van, shut the door, got under the quilt and had a lovely snooze. So I ended my lovely day doing an impression of caterpillar in a cocoon, while the boys finished in a blaze of glory down Blackamoor….It is difficult for me to say who's end was the richer! Clearly it would have been mine if I had thought to pack the t-bags!