Riding up and over the foothills of the French Pyrenees… Chalabre, France

Casting my mind back to October last year…. and The French Pyrenees. Three little words that impose a strong, punchy & playful impact on the mind of a road cyclist.

screenshot_20190106-141732

I was invited on a Pyrenees Fitness week by one of our Skedaddle partners in Southern France. I wondered if I was up to the challenge, and so of course I accepted. This week of coached training is offered over two levels of grading. I’d originally joined the lower grade, but following my return from Spain, and feeling slightly epic πŸ˜‰ I decided to up the anti and changed to the higher grade… Then I had the smart idea of taking it easy for 2 months before the trip, but hey ho, nothing could be done, and well, it was time to go and just get on with it! XD

On the morning of departure I made it to the boarding gate at Edinburgh airport with only 5 minutes to spare. I’d overslept for my early morning flight out to Carcassonne. So, that, coupled with trying to find a parking spot in the long-say car-park, and trouble checking in online with the Ryanair site meant for a less than ideal start to the trip. Luckily I travel light, and only had carry on luggage to scooted through check in relatively painlessly.

Arriving into Carcassonne, I was pleased to find it was an extremely small airport andΒ  easy to navigate. I instantly started to relax into holiday mode! Our coach for the week Dave was waiting through arrivals… though it took longer than it should to recognise him. A slender, sharp looking chap, giving the impression of being a local French man in his beige hat. I was sure the man I’d exchanged conversations with at great length during guides week earlier in the year had been proper Yorkshire! He certainly pulled off a good disguise, and I’d been fooled, walking straight past him! I was embarrassed, but quickly got over that as we both laughed. I was introduced to another rider, Andy, who was joining my early afternoon transfer. The other 6 riders on the group where arriving on a much later flight.

The hour transfer from Carcassonne to Chalabre passed quickly. Taking in the gorgeous scenery and enjoying bike related narratives. Dave brought us up to speed on his racing season, and podium places, and also gave us a little bit of local knowledge on the bike clubs and competitions around the area. This was Andy’s third time out to Dave’s week of punishment. That was reassuring… he’d survived and he kept coming back for more! When I said I was there to enjoy the views, they both laughed and told me the only thing I’d be looking at was tarmac and back wheels… I later found that to be very true ;)!! We turned into the narrow street that housed the converted shoe factory which was to be our base/home for the week, and there was an instant feeling of comfort, a sort of… yes… I like this place! It was quaint, with an earthy rustic but also delicately pretty French feel.

The coaching and the riding

A progressive week of coached training, taking me through many of the techniques used for improving descending, climbing, my enjoyment of hairpins and a great introduction into the fun and benefits of chain-gang work and using my rides for training as well as character building. The week was challenging… both mentally and physically. Being switched on for 6 hours of hard riding and intense teamwork for 6 days running provided a good test of metal.

On my Suunto/Strava I managed to clock up 323miles, 21,755ft of climbing over 24 solid hours of riding.

We reached the summits of a few good cols, including Col del Teil and Montsegur (which is set to be a 2019 Tour de France climb)Β and the views were just as breathtaking as the climbing, and the descents… well… fast and furious!

A few other enjoyable points of interest where:

  • Lac de Montbel (where we stopped for a swim after a hot day in the saddle and a deliciously filling lunch)
  • Notre dame de Vals
  • Mirepoix
  • Pic de Balaguier
  • The balcony road of Gorges de St Georges.

The location, the accommodation, the cuisine and local wines

A rustic little French village, with friendly locals, perfectly located for riding into the foothills. The accommodation is indescribable. No amount of words or imagery could possibly do it justice, or give a true impression of what to expect. Dave is an exceptional artist, and coupled with Toni, they both have amazing creative talent which shows throughout their home. Toni serves up delicious feasts for breakfast as well as dinner, all locally sourced produce, and many tasty treats coming from their home grown patch. There’s always a great array of recovery snacks available post rides. Toni also has her own cookery book in the making, and we were able to sample a varied selection of her fruitful recipes.

The great company

Spending one week with a group of road cyclists, well you soon bond. Exploring and riding together, working together on the bike, drinking and breaking bread together. For me, the joy of spending time with this particular group was made even better as everyone was there to work hard and push themselves. The trip was more about the riding and the training and less about the scenery. Of course, we all enjoyed the fantastic mountainous surroundings that the French Pyrenees had to offer, but there was also a good understanding through the group that we were all there to work hard, and with this came great support and respect for one another.

screenshot_20190107-131746

 

 

 

 

Riding Rioja! Road cycling Spain!

Road Cycling in Rioja, an unforgettable experience for me. Such a fantastic trip, it delivered a waterfall of great memories, each moment was fast flowing and over too quickly. An enjoyable week, with great company in a country pulsing with warmth and passion.

Clad in Lycra, the smell of sweat and suntan lotion, and the sun gently turning skin a warm golden brown, gliding over the smooth Spanish tarmac on two slender wheels and drops. No better feeling…working hard for the pleasure and satisfaction!

Riding through the Sierra de Cantabria, fantastic switchback climbs hugging the mountain sides coupled with fun, fast descents… regrouping at beautiful view points for coffee and relaxed, unwinding chatter. Many evenings were filled with street entertainment, wine tasting, delicious Pinchos in Logronia. We also had an overnight stop in a historical Spanish monastery, world heritage site San Millan de la Cogolla! This trip has so many highlights Rioja Ruta del Vino!

Spanish national parks, climbing the mountain summits of Rioja and crossing over into the Basque Country, stopping for a picnic feast of hot cooked chicken just below the summit; laying in the blazing hot sun with the view of the gorgeous mainland blanketed below; far and wide, rolling on into the horizon…

I had a few favourites…

Navarra, tall thick green trees with winding roads, quiet rural villages and luscious gigantic roses of pale pink and lilac hues. Relaxed under the sunshine, offering views towards the ‘Teeth of the Lion’ mountain line.

Ezcaray, nestled in between the mountains, with the traditional Spanish town square centered around the water fountain, children playing and families gathering together. Bars and small shops dotted the edges. On this trip I made sure I’d packed my trail shoes, and this was the perfect location to explore the surrounding trails along the river during an early morning run before breakfast.

A memorable evening in Laguardia, this was filled with whisky, gin and friendly laughter. A few of us explored after dinner and enjoyed the Spanish custom of late dining, dancing and music.

I cannot wait for my next Spanish adventure, this country allows your senses to over indulge, each day serving up a new feast!

Eroica Britannia, Peak District. England… Bike Festival

Eroica Britannia – A weekend long Vintage Bike Festival in the heart of the Peak District, England.

A festival filled with every type of cyclist – families and friends getting together for a weekend of fun costumes, vintage bikes, entertainment and…. camping! πŸ™‚

Friday evening was filled with soulful live music vibes and a twilight ride to the pub! Enjoying battered sausage and chips on the hay bales, swaying to the music of the live band and admiring/discussing at great lengths the efforts that that many of the guys had gone to in growing, styling their facial hair, and dressing up for the occasion. The gals looked cracking too, but it did seem like more dress up fun was being had by the men on this occasion.

The band soon started and we peeled ourselves from the hay bales, dusting straw off our backsides. We joined the crowd being entertained in front of the stage. It was joyful watching the energetic and fun loving families and groups of friends dancing and singing along, as Papa Soul performed covers of old time classics to keep us moving.

Sweeping above us, the sky was a gorgeous pale blue, blending into dusky rose, heather and lavender hues, the crowd snapping shots for their social media as we watched the sun fall down behind a lone tree on a hill top.

 

It was time for the twilight ride to take off. I’ve never seen anything like it… such a delight to watch. Bikes with bells, bikes with fair lights, bikes with flowers, bikes with bobbies and bikes with tutus. Twinkling fairy lights, riders in costume, the sound of laughter and novelty horns filled the air. The atmosphere made our smiles beam, while Cheshire Cats stretched their bodies along the tree branches, illuminated with green and purple uplighters.

 

A fun for all weekend. Eroica Britannia transports you back in time, providing a ‘Classic Britain’ platform for all modern day riders to come along and bring the weekend to life. A few highlights included the classic bike competition, one from each era. One of my favourites was ‘Best Dressed Dog’ and the crazy cat lady who brought along and entered her puss, dressed as a war pilot and it’s basket had been transformed to resemble an aircraft. Stargazing was fun, peering through the lens of a large telescope to view Venus. The list really does go on and on….

Fingers Crossed we Skedaddle back there next year!

It was fun hanging out with the team and so meeting many of our Skedaddlers too πŸ˜‰

UKBFF North West Championship. England… Masters Bikini Comp!

SoOo… my second UKBFF Bikini Comp! I’m now in the masters category, being a grand 35 year old!

I set myself a 16 week loose training plan, combining strength training and short duration cardio/HIIT. My gym sessions started at 3 x per week and progressed to 4 x per week, and my cardio started at 20 minutes and gradually increased to around an hour max. The cardio consisted of running/sprinting, cycling, step machine and HIIT specific gym classes (well actually only one class was taken πŸ™ˆ – but I carried over the workouts from the class into my own routines )πŸ‘.

The experience in competing in one of these comps… in my opinion, it can’t be matched. From choosing your event, planning out your training and nutrition, and pinpointing in your calendar the first day of training… following your plan as well as life allows you to, and observing the progress; then finally being faced with the steps onto the stage when the day arrives… For me it’s just been never ending learning! It’s both mentally and physically challenging, and it gives a lot back! I’ve been enjoying the discipline that comes with the training routine and the healthy eating focus.

On this occassion I know my eating plan/nutrition just wasn’t at the right level. I did make good steady changes and cut out processed food and junk sugar, but I didn’t focus on a specific bulking and cutting phase… something I can introduce into my next comp preparation. I’ll also drop my plan from 16 weeks to 12 weeks. I think 16 was unnecessary…

I’m extremely happy now to take a step back from the intensity of it all πŸ˜„ – but I will be back at it again in the not too distant future.

The rest of my year is filled with cycling holidays and running challenges! All the good outdoorsy stuff… ❀

Ben Macdui – one of the Cairngorms big 4. Scotland… Hiking!

A sweet ’24ish…’ hours.

6pm on Friday arrived and it was time to go and enjoy some fun on a few Scottish Munros! Ben Macdui in the Cairngorms was calling! Being the second highest mountain in the UK, this little beauty had been on my list for a while. Yassss, the excitement! It was going to be around a 6 hour drive to Aviemore from the North East, including a quick detour to Penicuik to meet Tom… So I headed home, packed the van, fueled her up, aired the tires and set off…

We reached Glenmore Campsite at around 2am and found a clearing among the trees. It was dark and cold as we pitched our tents. There wasn’t a cloud overhead and the sky twinkled like stardust! I’d forgotten my sleeping mat, so that schoolgirl error resulted in me spending my night trying to keep warm, tossing and turning; with the cold from the ground seeping into my sleeping bag and chilling each body part it made contact with… all part of the adventure fun right? brrr…. ;-/

The welcome sight of daylight arrived and filled my tent, along with the sound of birds and the occasional woodpecker! Unzipping the side I was greeted by the sight of tall trees and a couple of ducks flying over head. Snow topped mountains were visible in the distance and the sun was coming up just behind them. Blue Sky! Everything about that moment created a perfect wake up!

After an al fresco breakfast it was time to layer up and pack a bag. We drove the winding road up to the CairnGorm Mountain Ski Centre. Luckily for me, my good pal Tom Owen happens to be a fantastic mountain leader and he’d mapped out an 11 mile hiking loop starting and finishing at the slopes. A great base location that is easily accessed for a day spent in the clouds.

There was time to grab a quick latte, then it was out into the fresh Scottish Highlands air, starting our hike up and through the snowy mountains. The sun beamed warmth, and the whispy white clouds in the clear blue sky offset the thick white powder on the ground. Nature at it’s finest, beautifully balanced!

I was quickly absorbed in yet another unforgettable mountain exploring experience. The sheer scale of these beauties, vast and snow covered, the landscape rolling on for miles in every direction. At the crest of every climb another spectacular sight unfolded. Breathtaking. I was happy to be alive, enjoying every sensation. There’s never a true picture, written description, or video that can capture the feelings and the thoughts from any time spent in the mountains… It’s impossible to jot that down… ❀

Its the little details that hold in the memory, such as having bitter cold hands as a result of taking my gloves off to snack on some lunch, a fresh pair of toasty warm mittens being handed to me after that so I could scrunch my fingers into a ball. I was grateful for Tom’s expertise and extra supplies!

Walking towards our goal point, my mind wandered and I thought the snow covered mounds resembles a dessert plane. Only much colder and powdery white of course! I think I might have been inspired to take on a dessert marathon at that point πŸ˜‰ but anyway… back to the cold captivating mountains!

Reaching the summit of Ben Macdui, white snow mist had set in, and a slight ‘ah well’ stance was taken, one of those climbs with nothing to see. However, within the time it took to have a few squares of divine white chocolate, the snowy mist had passed, opening to reveal a spectacular sight! Clouds within touching distance… peaks pouting handsomely. It was breathtaking.

We headed back, with that feeling of satisfaction from a perfect summit! Some descending sections required crampons. Compressed hard snow; too firm for stamping out safe footholes; the fear of sliding downhill was real, and the crampons were a new toy to be taken out for some playtime. Giddy up cowgirl, suddenly taking on that talked about John Wayne swagger… there was mention of self arrest, but I avoided the climbing axe, thoughts of impaling myself somehow. Maybe next time πŸ€”

We had originally planned to stop over another night, but after a great day, another cold night just didn’t appeal so we agreed happily to call it a day and head home. Job done!

The weather had been favourable! Given the recent snow storms in the UK, couldn’t have timed it better!

Next up… The Terry O’Gara 5k. Newcastle.

Derwent Water, The Lake District. England… Road Cycling!

Every year the operations team at Saddle Skedaddle host a training week for guides; the well seasoned and the newbies have a chance to get together; us office mortals are invited along for a weekend of workshops, bike riding, good company and laughter! There’s a definite feeling of being pampered. Around 100 Skedaddlers descended on Derwant Water; this years culture dish included Brits, Spaniards, Irish, Belgian, Italians, Japanese, Azorians, Kiwis, Australians… lots to soak up!

The drive over in the morning was pleasant, loading my bags into the van and setting off just before sunrise, it was a very cold -2 and dark. A quick coffee stop at the Costa drive through and it wasn’t long till the sun started to make an appearance. With a pearlescent sunny sky overhead, I took the route straight through Carlisle, meaning a nice jaunt down towards and along the 4 mile length of Bassenthwaite Lake. I reached Derwent House just in time to join the end of breakfast, I grabbed another quick coffee and said a few hellos before the welcome meeting and the workshops kicked off. Very nicely timed!

Fast forward through Saturday… a day filled with workshop shenanigans from product development through to marketing; a great Scotland rugby result πŸ’™, followed by a change to don some high heels and a sparkly top for the evening meal and free bar with entertainment…

SooOOoo after quite a late night socialising with a free bar, Sunday morning arrived and it was time to ride! I was a bit apprehensive about not keeping the pace, especially with my recent training being focused on my next bikini competition, this means a big no to any lengthy time on two wheels.

Our road cycling group gathered together at Derwent House, all bright and looking forward to the morning ride. I’d went for a Skedaddle hire bike! There’s a new fleet this year heading to France, and we had the pleasure of giving them a test run. The ladies ride was a Giant Defy Liv, lush charcoal grey colour, sparkly! Nice ride, smooth and quiet! Oh and good components too πŸ€”

We headed out and enjoyed a three mile warm up before heading up Whinlatter Pass, a new one for me; I admit I felt a bit ropy at around 1/2 mile from the top, perfect for starting to blow away the cobwebs from the night before and setting off the hangover πŸ‘! That was the only climb of the day, so it was easy to relax after that and just enjoy the views. The sun was shining and there were only a few ice patched to be wary of as we headed for the Lakes Distillery for the traditional road cyclists coffee and cake, and a bit of a natter. Always fun and inspiring listening to the guides stories from the previous year holidays.

From the distillery we headed back to Derwent Water, splitting our little group of 14 into two smaller groups and keeping single file so not to frustrate too many drivers, as we headed along a busier stretch of road through Embleton and round towards Applethwaite and Keswick. It was nice to have a bit of silent riding; with the sight of the rider immediately in front and the surrounding mountainous lakes scenery. The sound of gentle breaking behind and the odd gear change.

A beautiful first mini break for my 2018, and wonderful to spend some time on the bike in great company… next up, Ben Macdui, The Cairngorms.

A wee bit about me…

IMG_20180206_220624_693.jpg

I work as a travel consultant for a cycling holiday company here in the North East UK, and yes, I get myself away on the trips; soaking up every new travel destination and cycling experience that I can. 2017 had me riding through Puglia, Southern Italy… and of course many places here in Britain; including North Wales & the Lake District.

Outside of the travel office I love to be active and enjoy living a healthy lifestyle; in 2017 I competed in my first (rookie) Bikini Competition and relished racing (realistic & enjoyable slow running ;)) in my first Skyrun.