My First Proper Col!

Yay, I did it! Not just my first proper col (with obligatory pic at top) but also the first time I’ve ridden a road that first caught my eye on our first our holiday over here, six years ago almost to the day. It was awesome.

My Trek bike on the Col de Festes sign (Alt: 677m)

At the top! It looks like someone who came before me may have lost their keys. Oops.

I’ve been getting out and about for a ride one morning every weekend. It’s great to get that time again. The first morning I rode for just 12 miles and was out for an hour. The following weekend, since everyone had a nice time without me the week before, I ventured a little further clocking 19 miles in just over 1.5 hours. Today I decided to go for it – up and over the Col de Festes, meeting the peeps in Quillan park afterwards, which made the time away and distance manageable but still the longest and furthest so far. I clocked 23 miles in the just under 2 hours and made it to my rendezvous with the family in time to get the shopping. Just.

My stats are shocking. I Strava’d the whole thing of course and the only way is up from here. But I wasn’t riding for that. I was riding for the hell of it, because I can, because I can now leave the house for a couple of hours and just pedal. It’s been well over two years since I made it out of the house every weekend to ride. I love it.

And the route. Wow! This is a really great place to ride. Before I hit the main road I must have seen no more than three cars. Actually I was more worried about wild pigs and drunken hunters than cars. There were also a lot of trees and I was nervous on some of the wooded descents as the roads were littered in acorns, so I didn’t do those quite as quickly as I might have on a clear road. Hazards aside (and I’ll take acorns and wild pigs over BMW drivers and white van man, thank you) it was beautiful, quiet, and really fucking hilly  – for my unfit legs anyway.

Gradient Profile from the Col de Festes Ride

Two hills and one ever-so-slightly uphill ending

There was absolutely nothing sociable about it, either. I left the house, pointed my bike up the hill, and pedaled. Because I was worried about how long it would take (I hadn’t really been clear with James about my route because I just wanted to get on with it and not be persuaded that it might take too long) and wanted to make sure I made it to our meeting point in no less than 2 hours. It was tough, actually. I stopped at the top of the col for a photo and then again at the shop in Campagne-sur-Aude. By that point my legs were wrecked and I still had about 6km to go. It was a miracle that the shop was open. They were sold out of pain au chocolats but, nevermind, because they had Snickers. Snickers!! I paid the 80 cents (rip off) and quickly inhaled it before leaving the quiet back roads and joining the main road.

Although I used to love the out of the house all day rides, clocking up the miles, hanging out with my mates, bolting a nice cafe stop onto the day – sometimes a couple of cafe stops! – I also like these nose to the grindstone solo rides where I only stop if I absolutely have too. There’s something quite therapeutic about not stopping. Most of all, it’s wonderful to be able to get out again and in such beautiful surroundings. I’ll be fitter and faster before long, I’m sure!

Advertisements

The 15-minute workout. Why bother?

Other than hauling my kids around in the trailer, which I seem to manage only once or twice a month, and walking to the park, my fitness regime is more or less non-existent at the moment and as much as I’m sometimes okay with this, at other times I’m not. But there never seems to be time and up until the other day the idea that I could “make time” (as critics always say when anyone complains of being short on time) was laughable. But with DD back at school and DS settling into his creche my head cleared long enough for me to remember Fitness Blender, which is the name for Kelli and Daniel’s online “gym”. It’s fab! I first stumbled upon when I was cycling a lot and looking for ways to improve my overall fitness with a strength-training workout that I could do from home and I’ve been a fan ever since, with breaks for things like having babies, where I always felt more comfortable with a specifically prenatal class (my absolute favourite when preggers was the Baby Bells the Fit Pregnancy Kettlebell Workout DVD by Lauren Brooks.) But back to Fitness Blender. These I like because workouts are totally low-key and understated: no-one shouts nonsense like “feel the burn” at you or taunts you with a posse of gym bunnies. It’s just Kelli and Daniel showing you what to do and being utterly human about it. It’s my kind of thing and maybe yours too.

Working out from home does have it’s problems though. Especially when two small children are around. Given they are fascinated the moment any video is played on the laptop and that they love to jump all over me as soon I workout, kettlebells are out – I dread to think how much damage a swing with a 10kg weight could do to a small child – as is the hula hoop, which seems to magnetise both small people towards it as it spins. Anything quiet and floor based is also largely out, as nothing shouts climbing frame more than a mummy on an exercise mat. The key then is to find something that involves jumping around fast enough to distract them while also keeping you moving too fast for them to get a good grip on you. The shorter and the harder the better!

Cue HIIT. In the last week I’ve managed a few of their short <20-minute sessions, of which there are many. I finished the 17-minute video earlier this morning and now I ache! It took about 30 minutes in all what with occasional breaks to nurse DS who was tired and wanting attention, so not strictly HIIT but as close as I can manage with both kids around. But what good is a 20-minute workout!?

Well, I’ve only just finished this one and I’m already feeling it. On day three after the 12-minute video (which includes kettle bells) I was aching everywhere and struggling with stairs. And that’s without the crunches , which I missed out knowing they are the last thing someone like me with a diastasis recti should be doing (I held a plank for the duration instead.) So now I’m a convert. On alone days I can workout for longer, obviously (that day will come, and soon, I’m certain of it!) but until then I’m all about the ~15-minute workout.

If you’re short on time and looking for inspiration, try one of these. All are good when you have the kids around as they’re all bodyweight workouts so no dangerous weights flying around – except the kettlebell one, which is a killer!

Remember, if you’re recovering from diastasis recti, don’t do crunches or you’ll make it worse! Swap any crunches out for a variation of plank, which is a great exercise for repairing a separated mummy-tummy 🙂 Have fun!

Family Rides around Lac de Montbel (Part 1)

With the end of the grandes vacances rapidly approaching, I realised I had utterly failed in all of my cycling missions, namely to tick off a few sections (at least) of the Mirepoix-Lavelanet voie verte and also to ride around Lac de Montbel. Both routes are pretty local to me so with a few not-so-hot weather days showing on the forecast I decided to go for it, with Montbel top of my tick-list.

The VTT Pyrenees website lists two main routes around the lake that I figured could be tweaked then reccied for their trailer-friendliness.

  • Route 14, from Chalabre, following the voie verte north then taking a track down to the lake via the village of Montbel – 17km in total, classed as Circuit Familial, graded blue.
  • Route 16, which could also be started from Chalabre, which more or less follows the shore of the lake – 32km in total and classed as Circuit Sportif, graded red.

Since I wasn’t in the mood for tackling a major trailer ride on my own (James was having back trouble and didn’t want to ride and I hadn’t had chance to arrange anything with anyone else) we hatched a plan whereby he would drop me off on the eastern shore of the lake, by the village of Montbel, then drive over to the western shore to wait for us. We would picnic together once we arrived and, in the meantime, I’d get my ride and James would get some peace and quiet. James liked the idea, so that’s what we did. I also decided to strap DD’s balance bike to the back of the trailer as I thought it would be nice for her to have the option of riding too, if she felt like it.


I didn’t bother plotting anything beforehand, no GPS tracks or anything, as it was going to pretty simple, at least that’s how it looked from various maps, so I just set off with the plan to keep the lake on my right and ask for help/directions along the way whenever I wasn’t sure! One of the things I had no idea about was whether the route would be trailer friendly. There was no indication of such online so I was going to have to ride it to find out.

I started to have my first doubts about this within a few minutes of James pulling off in the car when confronted with a steep and sandy bank with a gap only just large enough to fit the trailer. Thanks to the timely arrival of some helpful (and somewhat skeptical) walkers we made it up and over and were on our way. Only a few minutes in and I was already starting to wonder whether this route would be good with the trailer. The path the other side was narrow, not something I’d have worried about usually but given I’d only managed to get a few hundred metres from the start thanks to assistance I was really hoping it would get better. The narrow path was nice for me to ride on but it meant the trailer wheels were dragging a bit on the grass either side and my two passengers were getting bumped around a fair bit. I wasn’t sure they’d tolerate that over 7 miles. Luckily, the first of four dams quickly came into view and the path opened out. So far so good.

The next section of the route was pretty nice to ride, wider for a short while and then into some woods, following the bank of the water. Lovely!


I was just starting to relax when a bloke came hurtling out of the woods and, after a quick exchange of bonjours, started gesturing and saying, “attention!” (which the French say in the same way we would say, “be careful!” Hmm… I flagged him down and asked him what the problem was and he said to be careful because there was a difficult section coming up. Difficult how, I wondered. Then I spotted it. It was one of those fabulous dirt drop ins, a bit like a half-pipe, great fun to ride but not so great with a trailer in tow! I stopped, took a picture (which really doesn’t do the depth of it justice) then backtracked to look for a path that would take me round it. Of course, I wasn’t the first person to pass that way and not like the look of that drop, so there was a path, which I duly pushed the trailer round until I was back on the trail. First hurdle overcome. Yay, onwards!


After that it was pretty easy going again. The track was nice and it was generally wide enough for the trailer to pass easily with the odd tree root to avoid, so it was a case of picking the most suitable line for the trailer so that the littles didn’t get bumped around too much. It was good fun!

About half way to our destination a wrong turn delivered us to a section of the lake where the water was so low I ended up riding beyond the end of a track onto the hard-baked clay, which was interesting! The littlies weren’t too happy about it as it was very bumpy. I was keen to get off it in case there were any soft patches and I ended up stuck and dragging bike and trailer out of the mud. As soon as I was closer to where the shore would usually be I made for the obvious path.

At this point, on a nice flat, wide track, it seemed a good point for DD to have a go on her balance bike. She had a short scoot then assured me that she was worn out and needed a rest – convenient because there also appeared to be some dinosaur-like tree stumps sticking out of the mud that were calling out for exploration. I’m fairly sure she’d have stayed on her bike for longer if curiosity hadn’t got the better of her.


She really wanted to go down and take a closer look so we parked up, liberated DS, and wandered down to check them out. DD was playing with her new dinosaur friends while DS was more interested in the white cranes that we’d disturbed when we rode across the clay and were now coming back down to land near the water’s edge. With the water well out of easy reach to either of them it was a nice place to relax and take a break.


After both passengers had had a reasonable run around and we were all topped up around for a few minutes, I bundled them both in the trailer so we could get on. We’d been gone about an hour and I didn’t want to be out all day in case the sun defied the forecast and came out in full force. Plus, James was waiting for us and I wasn’t sure how easy or hard the rest of the ride would be. I rode back towards where I thought the start of the trail was, had a moment of indecision, turned back the way I’d come, which turned out to be the wrong way (had there been more water it would have been an island), so turned tail again. At this point a small group on mountain bikes were heading my way, making me doubt my indecision! Had I’d missed a part of the trail? Was I in fact going the wrong way again? I stopped to ask if they knew the way, which they didn’t, told them I thought that was the wrong way, then showed them the map on my phone. They seemed quite convinced that I was going the right way, which I was relieved about. After a quick chat with them – about the trailer, the kids, the cycling, the low level of the water, and why I was in France – they set off again, back the way they’d just come, and I followed along. “Have we got some new friends now, Mummy?” DD asked. That’s my girl.

The next section, which I’d been dubious about taking when I first saw it, looked like it was single-track going into the woods. I knew from the map it had been made into a Strava segment so art of me was definitely a bit worried that it might not be good with the trailer. When I ride solo with the trailer I’m pretty good about asking for advice – generally I want to avoid getting lost or running into problems and, as a crowd was forming around the junction of this latest section of trail, I asked a few people whether it would be okay with the trailer. A few said, sure. One woman said that it was narrow in places and maybe the trailer wouldn’t fit. I didn’t understand everything she said but look on her face suggested she really didn’t think it was a good idea. Another was keen to convey that it was bumpy and not flat. Obviously, I’m the wrong person to tell that too! One of the men in the group  I’d just met asked whether I was going to ride it. I shrugged and said I’d try – and we both laughed.

With that my new group of friends set off and I followed. It didn’t take long for them to leave me behind but I found it reassuring that they were in front somewhere and also knowing that there were quite a few people out. The trail was nice to ride, having opened out a bit again, and tt was all going well. Then I reached a point where the trail split into two levels, running side by side, too narrow for the trailer meaning I had to keep one wheel on the higher track and another on the lower one. With the trailer at 45 degrees it was something of a challenge and it was at that point that almost resigned myself to ending my ride. I say almost. After checking the map, I decided to continue on until the next bend, pushing the bike, pulling the trailer (while also putting my weight on it to stop it tipping down the bank). If it had been hard beyond there I think I would probably have turned round but it turned out to be only a short section and we made it. DD was a little upset by it (she was on the side facing down the bank when it nearly tipped over) and DS, the trooper, slept through the whole thing!

After that I was starting to wonder whether the next section would be too much but really didn’t want to have to turn back so asked a few people I came across what was up ahead and no-one pulled any faces or expressed any concern so I carried on. The trail opened up again. Nice. Time to relax and just ride.

A fallen tree later, with help from another couple of cyclists, I was asking another walker for advice. How was the trail up ahead? “Fine”, said the woman (a mother who was with her young son who was riding his bike alongside). “Just watch out for the steep part.” Her husband was there wearing a black t-shirt and he would help, she said.

Onwards, over some roots, riding through the woods, wondering when this next obstacle would present itself, I suddenly found myself grinding to a halt on a steep bank that seemed to come out of nowhere! Thanks to my mountain bike shoes and cleats I had enough grip to drag myself and the trailer up there in one go. Just. Once at the top, I found the couple that had helped me over the tree. We all exchanged “phews!” over the steepness of the trail then I looked in dismay at the descent – a steep, lovely, rideable drop on the mountain bike that was completely inappropriate for a trailer carrying my two most precious possessions. Luckily the guy, who must have seen the look on my face, pointed round to the left where there was another path, which although still quite definitely down was not anywhere near vertical. I thanked him then set off that way  – on foot. It was a bit rocky but the rocks were wide and smooth and it was easy enough to get the trailer over. Once the other side the trail continued as it had before. If the woman I’d spoken to before was right, that was the only bit to watch out for. Good – and according to the map, nearly at our destination.


By now we’d been out for getting on for two hours including stops. As with all activities involving small people there’s a limit to how much can be done, so now I was keen to get back to base and have lunch before anyone started getting stressed or upset. A few more bends later and the final dam came into site. We made it – phew!! I called James, who was having a coffee at the restaurant, and headed down to meet him. He’d had a coffee and went off to get me one, then I suggested take out pizza. The restaurant on the Leran side of the lake does excellent pizza and I felt we’d earned it.

After a very fine picnic – complete with fresh, hot, homemade pizza – we walked down to the water’s edge with our swimming gear. Sadly though it was not to be. The water level is very low this year – hence my being able to ride on what should have been the bottom of the lake rather than the shore – which meant anyone wanting to swim would be standing on clay and rock with the bottom dropping away very fast. It wouldn’t be nice underfoot and isn’t safe for the little ones. We decided we’d had a good enough day out already and headed home.

Thinking about the route afterwards, would I do it again? Would I recommend it as a trailer ride? Well, yes, I definitely plan to do it again. But only if there’s another adult with me. I needed quite alot of help, compared to other rides I’ve done with the trailer, and might have had to turn round or run into trouble if there hadn’t been so many people around. I was fine because it was a busy Sunday in August. On a quiet Wednesday afternoon at another time of year, I might not have been so lucky. Lucky for me I have some other bike-mad parent friends with a trailer and I’m pretty sure they’ll like the sound of it. I’ll recommend it to them, definitely and suggests they come with me next time! But that’s them. Anyone who isn’t excited by the idea of rooty paths and isn’t up for an offroad adventure would be better off sticking to flat or more sanitized routes, like the voie verte or one of the road-based easy routes around Puivert. That’s one of the things I love about the cycling here: there really is something for everyone!

Read all about my second ride to Lac de Montbel in Part 2 (coming soon).

 

Feeling weak and a little bit broken

I’ve been out on the bike a few times this last week, out exploring the trails around a local lake while also trying to fill what’s left of the summer holiday with fun things for me and the littlies, so both times have been trailer rides. I’m busy writing the rides up but haven’t quite finished so thought I’d pop up a quick post up about how I managed to break myself. Not riding though. Oh no; the riding has invigorated me. Both rides were pretty short and not a big deal, despite my relatively low fitness levels. Not so lifting the damn bike onto the roof of the car post-ride. Now that really hurt.

Because I could no longer throw my bike in the boot thanks to two difficult-to-remove child seats taking up permanent residence there, not wanting to scratch up the paintwork, but being too tight to pay for both a tow bar and a tow-bar-mounted rack (my first choice) I use a Thule ProRide 591* rack on the roof of the car. Lots of people use them – they’re pretty sturdy and I’m happy with it – but I’m short, so have to stand on the body of the car while the door is open to reach up anyway, and that was fine when there was just one kiddy seat but now with two it’s pretty hard to get a good footing. Add to that an upper body that is no longer used to carrying bikes over bogs or up and over stiles and broken walls and, well, it’s not pretty!

If I can get it up and onto the mounts I’m one go, it’s fine. But this particular day the bike would not rest on the stand, the front wheel kept twisting round, and I could not for the life of me get it to lean far enough away to get it into the upright clamp. All this with an audience of about 20 horse riders, who were having their lunch while their horses cooled off in the river, and DD screaming her head off in the car with DD still alsleep in the trailer, getting pinker by the second in 33 degree heat.

Needless to say I was a sweaty, stroppy mess by the time I got it up there. I definitely felt something in my midriff “give” and while I was feeling a little tender when I got back it wasn’t until today, while splashing about with a newly acrobatic and unjustifiably confident water baby, DS, in the lake that I started to feel it. Joy of joys, some of the SPD symptoms I last had when pregnant with him have returned! Marvellous. So that’ll be me, walking carefully and slowly and grimacing at the sight of stairs.

It’s a wake up call too. I really need to find/make some time to work on my core because it’s still Broken (yes, capital “B” right there.) The good news is that the preschool and crèche start up again in less than two weeks which should mean I qualify for something resembling Me Time, especially if James accepts a fair split of the childcare to fit around the times they’re both out. For me that means time to not only knuckle down and start working/earning again but also to get back into some sort of exercise routine. Unless I’m too tired, of course 🙂


* This post contains an affiliate link to a great product that I personally use and recommend.

Motherhood is hard (sometimes) so exercise can wait.

One of the things I’ve discovered since becoming a mother for the second time is that it’s more healthy for me, mentally and physically, to do nothing on days that I’m just too tired. That’s something I would never have been able to say after DD was born when getting my fitness back was incredibly important to me.

It wasn’t only losing the baby weight that bothered me then. That was important, but also I was keen to regain my strength and fitness so I could get out there and keep up with my friends. I’d spent 9 months watching them all go from strength-to-strength and could hardly wait to get back out there again! I felt left out with bells on! This was made worse because the year before I got pregnant with DD I was the fittest I think I’d ever been. Being pregnant and then new mummy to DD put the brakes on that for me but no such barrier for my friends. Most difficult of all to swallow were the achievements of my team mates. Four of us from the mountain bike club had ridden an all-girl team in the 24-hour enduro (Sleepless in the Saddle) and we’re chuffed to bits that we’d podiumed (3rd place – not bad for our first race.)

Four women in pink Manchester Mountain Biker cycling tops on the third place podium at SITS 2012

Me and my team mates on the podium at SITS in 2012

We’d been fairly inseparable since, spending at least one day a week out on a ride together and really getting into our road riding, all riding at a fairly similar level and loving it. That same year I’d ridden Mountain Mayhem in the mud and loved it and had also completed my first century ride on the road. I was getting in 100 sometimes 200 miles or more a week, combining both on and off road, and with all this I was riding stronger and harder on my mountain bike than ever. Clearing Jacob’s Ladder on the Five on a day out in the Peaks was a highlight. I was buzzing on the bike!

One baby later I could barely make it to the shops and back. I had no time to ride with friends and couldn’t have kept up with them anyway as they were by now into riding audaxes, regularly bashing out 200 kms, and riding TT’s with the new clubs they’d joined. I saw from Strava that two of them had ridden past my house on their mountain bikes and not popped in to say hi!! I cried like the baby I held in my arms when I saw that. Why did they not come to see me!? I missed them all so much. I had other friends, yes, but these were my team mates – it was different somehow. It took a while to get past that and I literally had to allow myself to grieve for the old me and not so much my friends as people but the relationship I had with them.

So why am I telling you all this?

As friends, we’re connected again now, which is lovely, but now I look back and see that the time away from everyone gave gave me an opportunity, some space, to find a more balanced approach that was less all consuming. In the middle of it all there was always a ride, always somewhere to go, somewhere to be, someone to beat, whether that was beating my best or chasing the tail of a mate. It was while trying to get my fitness back in acceptance of only having short bursts of time available that I discovered kettle bells and started strength training. I kept using those throughout my second pregnancy (until my pelvis gave up on me) and managed a few months of post-natal recovery afterwards. But then I just stopped. My baby grew. We were moving house, which involved decluttering, packing, and relocating to antoher country. My baby continued to grow, and to crawl, and all the while my older baby stopped being a baby and became a little girl. I had no time even to think about riding my bike and, living in a tiny one-bedroom house, there was nowhere safe that I could swing that bell even if I’d wanted to.

The old me – the post baby #1 me – would have been in bits about this lack of activity. I’d have been freaking out about lost hours, lost fitness, and how I’ll never recover. But this version of me hasn’t batted an eye.

Regarding my general fitness, I know there will be a time for that again too. I eat well (although as I’m still nursing I regularly stuff down a cake and tell myself it’s to make up the calories), which has helped with the weight side of things. Strength-wise, I’m usually wrangling on 10kg tot and his 15kg sister, so I’m not exactly wasting away on the sofa! But some days I’m just tired. Too tired. Trying to implement a fitness regime around all my other commitments and two small children who still wake in the night, or get sick, or who are just bloody hard work some days, is just too much. It’s not worth killing myself over, really. And I’d rather be here with them right now. I can ride all the cols in the world when they’ve left home. It won’t be many years until they have their own things to do on the weekends and I’ll be free to fill my days how I please. I’ll get my fitness back but without pushing it and for now I’m happy with the holding pattern, getting out for a ride now and again or swinging a bell when I get a quiet 20 minutes, in maintenance mode – or taking them out for short loops with the trailer, which is pretty good exercise when you think between them they weight 25kg! And on other days, days when I just can’t be arsed, it’s okay to sack it all off  because it’s virtually impossible to do nothing with two small children to take care of. Where I am now, when I’m just too darned tired, I like that I can cuddle up with them to watch a movie, or bake, or take a very slow walk to the park and push them on the swings. And at nights, while they sleep (when they sleep!) I plot routes and read other blogs about cycling adventures and that is enough for now. There’s a new me in town. I’m a bit wobbly in places, slow on the hills, and have totally lost my bottle on the mountain bike, but it really doesn’t matter.

 

 

 

 

A Big Shout out to..

It’s been a bit quiet here on the cycling front lately. We’ve done a few short hops with the trailer but nothing more adventurous. Meanwhile, back in the land of my pre-baby cycling friends, one my old cycling buddies, Ang, is about to set off on a humungous cycle adventure: cycling the TransContinental Race 2017 a self-supported ride which this year starts in Geraardsbergen, Belgium and ends in Meteora, Greece. There are four checkpoints along the way, all timed, so she has to not only navigate her own way, carrying everything she needs and dealing with any emergency unaided as it happens (and let’s hope it’s nicely uneventful) but also keep up the pace so she gets to each checkpoint in time. 

As well as being incredibly proud of her and excited for her, I’m looking forward to tracking her progress and enjoying some bike ride voyeurism. We’ve not been in touch that much since my little ones arrived and then of course we compounded that by moving away (I should add she moved away first – ner-ner ne ner-ner) and despite not being able to keep up with her any more I’ve always enjoy reading her about adventures as she gradually kept adding miles, miles, and yet more miles! first with local audax rides, then with an across-France adventure, and so it began…

So today she sets off with her loaded bike for the race start in Belgium and the start of one of the toughest on-road cycle races we have on this side of the Atlantic.

Ang, good luck, total respect for a) deciding to do it, b) training as hard as you have, and c) getting on and doing it!

I’ll be tracking your progress on the Trackleaders website as well as keeping an eye on your blog and sending good pedaling vibes your way!

Respect. You’re a legend!

Discovering the Voie Verte

The weather started off a little cooler than it had been for a while so I suggested we all make the most of it and head out for a walk. I love the warm, sunny weather but also like to be able to get out and about without having to worry about anyone getting too hot or sunburnt, which at 30 degrees or more is easily done. Walk-wise, we decided to head down the road to Rivel to join one of France’s long-distance shared-use paths, Le chemin des Filatiers, a 38km traffic-free route from Lavelanet to Mirepoix, which passes through there, not far at all from where we’re living. It’s on my to-do list of routes to ride in future, hopefully as a multi-day family trip, so I thought it would be nice to take a look at a section of it and that it would also make a nice easy walk for DS (he’s been on his feet for 6 weeks now and is loving his new-found freedom). We also need to try and make sure DD gets a good runaround every day as she’s much happier for spending time outdoors (as well as more likely to go to bed at a decent time!)

Of course, by the time we got ourselves organised the sun was out at full strength again, but we slathered on the Factor 50 and went anyway. We didn’t want to go far – it was really a chance for me to have a nosey at the nearest access point to our house, thinking of short rides with the kiddies, and to just get out of the house for some fresh air. We drove down to Rivel and on to the old station, which is just off the Rivel-Chalabre road. Immediately after turning off you’re on the voie verte and see the signs off to the left, where the route heads towards Lavelanet. We drove along the tarmaced road until we got to the bollards signalling the start of the next traffic-free section. We parked, lifted DD into the sling (she was fast asleep), filled up our water bottles, then set off. DS was on foot and making light work of it! He loves to walk, just like his big sister.

James and DD in a wooded section at the start of the route to Chalabre from Rivel

The first section was shaded by high hedgerows, reminiscent of the Trans-Pennine Trail that was local to our old house, then it opened up into a long straight stretch, with Chalabre in the distance.

Because by now the sun had come out and was in full force again, we turned off the route at this point and went down a track towards the river, hoping to find a shady spot for a snack stop and maybe also a quick paddle, but it was not to be. There was a spot where we could have scrambled down to the bank with slightly older children in tow, but not practical with two small ones in slings, so we turned back and headed to the beginning again. I think we walked about 5km in total, there any back. It’s only a short stretch – 5km – from Rivel to Chalabre so we made it half way. With better planning it would be easily do-able as a family walk – good for buggies – and also a very easy cycle ride, so definitely one to do again, perhaps with a picnic stop by the river and playground before making the return journey? If I get my act together, it might be possible to cycle to the creche once DS starts doing longer hours. I love living here.