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.

Road Ride!

Everyone seemed to be melting down on Friday, with lots of shouting from DD who was in an I Want It Now kind of mood, so when James needed to pop out on an errand I saw an opportunity: yes, of course I’m happy to stay here in the mad house you are about to escape from but in exchange? A bike ride, thank you very much. The weather wasn’t great – it was windy, almost cold, overcast – and more than once I thought maybe I was too tired so would go another day but when he got back and DD suggested going to the park I saw my chance. So here it is: my first road ride in I have no idea how long. Two years, three? It’s been a while. Getting out today, even though only for a short while, was made so much sweeter by the awesomeness of the landscape: I’ve wanted to ride these roads since we first came in holiday 6 years ago. And now here I am.


It was only a short loop, just 7 miles, but had a couple of nice climbs and a fab descent. Not a bad 30 minute loop for when I only have 30 minutes, which will be often.

If you want to see the route, check the Relive video below.

Bonus of the ride was coming across a fairly newborn foal with its mother. A beautiful sight.

Walking the Sentier des Plâtriers

We did this walk ages ago but the pics I took were with my camera so it took me a while to get round to downloading them. Now that’s done, here’s the write up I said I would do in my Exploring on Foot post.

The Walk

The walk starts in the small village of Rouvenac, which is nestled in the Faby valley between Puivert and Esperaza. Leaving the place in Rouvenac, we crossed over the bridge, take a left, then headed straight ahead, following the road towards Galie. This climbs steadily until you reach the ruined moulin, which is a nice place for a quick explore – there’s an information board, in French – and a snack stop, if needed.

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The moulin – worth a look

Just past here the road forks, going left towards Galie and the short way to Fa, or right – which is the direction this walk takes.

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A well-signed route! Lots of options from here too.

The road then follows round the hill, climbing all the time (but once you’re at the top, you’re done) into a really quiet out-of-the-way valley. It’s quite an unusual landscape. Look out for the donkeys!

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James (with DS fast asleep) admiring the view

The track wiggles a little bit back and forth then turns off sharply to the right. We weren’t sure about this and um’d and ah’d before heading that way. Perhaps one of the signs is missing? Either way, after passing a couple of houses in very idyllic spots, the route takes the track to the right and heads a little higher before starting to descend, back in the direction of Rouvenac.

The next turning was little difficult to spot. It is signed but not that noticeably. First you pass the sign, by the V shaped tree, then you see, on the right side of the track a wooden “gate” – just wide enough to fit one relatively slender human through.

After squeezing through the stile, the walk follows a lovely winding path through the trees, through some fields with cattle (I know not what breed).

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A quiet path winding through the trees

It was at this point that DD decided she wanted to walk and she really enjoyed hopping over the rocks and picking her way along the path – until we came to the field of cattle! I had a few run-ins with cows while mountain biking in the Peaks back in the UK so am always wary of them now, so we bundled her up onto my shoulders for that stretch! I’m sure they were friendly but they are big animals so I prefer just to get past them asap so I can get on with enjoying my walk. By this time we were ready for a quick refreshment stop – snack time, and DD took some pictures with my camera.

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A quick refreshment stop for DS. It’s thirsty work being carried.

Shortly after here an electric fence blocked the path. As this was one of our very first walks we weren’t really sure what that meant but now know that it’s fairly common for tracks to be “blocked” by fencing, put there purely to keep the livestock where they want them. That’s what the plastic handles are for, so you can open the fence and pass through – no need to take your chances hopping over the top.

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An electric fence and some cabanes hidden in the woods

According to the sign there are some cabanes up there somewhere, but they weren’t visible from the track and we didn’t go looking for them. There’s no mention of them on the Internet either (I Googled on my return) so have no idea what’s there and will just have to take a closer look the next time we do this walk.

From this point the walk meanders down a very obvious path all the way back to the village. You come out at the back of the village and, on arriving at the first houses, can follow the road to the right (which takes you past the park and also the water fountain) or wander through the narrow streets and eventually back to the bridge.

The Verdict

On the Rando Pyrenees Audioses website it’s listed as an easy walk and estimates it to take about 2 hours. That was about right for us – and that was with DD pottering along and a snack stop. Anyone with a good march on could get round in much less time. It’s a nice length for a family, only 3 miles, and although it is hilly, once you’re at the top you’re done and it’s downhill all the way from there. Our three-year-old was carried all the way top but enjoyed walking all the way down.

We always like a walk with “features” – meaning a bit of variety – and enjoyed that aspect of this walk: the open valley, the woods, the cows, the meandering nature of the descent. It’s a nice walk for a family outing, never to far from civilization, fairly well signed, with lots of opportunities for snack stops and wildlife spotting. And also a nice route for any trail runners wanting to sneak a quick 5k in!

Getting There

Although we were living only a short distance away, we drove down and parked in the square by the bridge. The only way to get there, unless you’re already in the village, is by car. There may be buses but they are few and far between. The nearest railway station is Esperaza.

If, like us, you are doing the walk with small children, I recommend crossing over the bridge then taking left and then a right to park closer to or directly alongside the park, as we ended up there on our return then struggled to get a very tired DD back to the car. A three-year-old who won’t walk or be carried is a force to be reckoned with!

Refreshment Stops

As far as refreshments go, there isn’t anywhere nearby to recommend. At the time of writing the restaurant in Rouvenac is closed and for sale, so unlikely to reopen anytime soon. There’s the Cafe de Fa, a few miles down the road serving both food and drinks or, if you fancy a speciality beer, there’s the Brasserie de Quercorb, a microbrewery in Puivert, which is well worth a visit. Opening times may change so check their Facebook pages before setting off. In summer months there are other places in Puivert and also in Esperaza. Whether they’ll be open or not is another matter!

DOWNLOAD THE GPX FILE FROM GPSIES

Have you visited Rouvenac and done this walk? If so, what did you think?

 

A Tale of Two Trailer Rides

Since riding Circuit 20 on my own the other day and deciding it would be too much with the trailer – too much uphill for my current fitness levels and also a bit too bumpy for the little ones – I’ve been trying, with mixed success, to get round Circuit 11, which is graded green (easy). It’s a nice route as it passes close by the aerodrome where the small plane and gliders take off and land, so lots of opportunities for plane spotting.

I’ve made two attempts so far. The first time I went the wrong way round, according to the official route map, and also underestimated the sun. I cut the ride short after a slow, steady climb on a grassy track that required me to get off and push, leading from complaints from the trailer about how slow I was going, and because I was worried about not having their sun hats or any suncream; it’s taking a while to get used to living somewhere with good weather whereas dressing them up to keep warm or dry is second nature! DD was keen to get the playground anyway so I missed off that last loop and came back via the most direct route.

On my second attempt, there were complaints from my passengers about it being too bumpy last time, so I headed up the track anyway but took care to ride slowly and avoid any big bumps. I was at least going the right way round and my main aim for this attempt was to at least complete the leap I missed the first time around. I had to bail on that again though, as it when it came to the bottom of the track, DD took one look at it and decided it would be too bumpy. Abort, abort! I turned tail and headed back to the playground figuring I’d rather have a short ride with two happy passengers than a long ride accompanied by screaming and whinging – and I really don’t want to put them off.

 

The upshot is I need to out again and the only way I stand a chance of checking out the full loop is to do it on my own. Oh, the hardship 🙂 The weekend is coming, so guess what I have lined up…

 

Yes, out on my own on my lovely bike. Whoopee!!

Recipe: Wild Garlic & Red Onion Pizza

I was lucky enough to have been given a bag of wild garlic, which is just coming out of season and grows abundantly along the river banks around here. Learning when and where to pick many of these natural foods is all part of the learning experience in this part of the world that’s new to me, so I am grateful to my friend Cecilia for both sharing her food and local knowledge with me.

I’m not new to wild garlic; it was one of the few plants that actually grew in our shady old garden back in the UK but I never went out picking it in the wild so never had much of it to cook with. I think I made a batch of wild pesto with the leaves from our garden and may have chucked it into a salad now and again but that’s probably it. Since I was given a reasonably large portion to play with and had a small amount of spinach in the fridge that needed using up, I decided to mix the two up and make my favourite healthy homemade pizza. This is a family favourite, so I was curious to see how DD would manage with the garlic flavour given she’s quite flavour and texture sensitive these days. It’s basically the spinach, red onion, and pine nut pizza from Hugh Fearnley-Whittington’s Baby and Toddler recipe book, which is one of the two books I bought when trying to find inspiration for meals during the baby-led weaning phase with DD. The main difference between my recipe and his is that I make my own pizza base. I don’t do anything fancy with it – just buy 00 flour (extra-fine flour for pizza bases) and follow the recipe on the packet. The magic happens with the topping.

I’ve made this pizza enough times to have stopped looking at the official recipe. It’s still coming out nicely. I only usually go back to the recipe when my tweaks take me off course and I make something that’s not on a par with the original. I forgot to take any pictures – sorry – so you’ll just have to take my word for it that this recipe is well worth the effort. I’d say hands down this is the best-tasting pizza ever invented!

To make it you need this list of ingredients:

1 large or 2 smaller red onions
1 tube of tomato puree (use a much of this as you like!)
Garlic – 2 large cloves, crushed
1 bag of spinach (about 500g) or a mix of spinach and wild garlic
1 ball mozzarella
1 pizza base (freshly made or bought – or cheat, like Hugh does, and use a sheet of ready- made puff pastry)
pine nuts (to finish)

To put it all together:

  1. Chop the onions and put them into a frying pan with some oil. Fry them on a low heat until they’re soft. You want them to caramelise so don’t rush it.
  2. While the onions are cooking, wash and drain the spinach/wild garlic then toss it into a saucepan. Put the lid on it and let it steam in the washing water. Keep an eye on the heat – obviously you don’t want it to burn onto the bottom, so take off the lid and give it a stir now and again until it’s collapsed into a soggy green blob at the bottom of you pan. Then strain it into a colander.
  3. Rinse the spinach in cold water then wring all the water out of it using your hands. This is really important because it means when you add it to your pan of garlicky-onions it will soak up the flavours. Yum.
  4. When the onions are soft, add the crushed garlic. I put mine through a press, then it dissolves into the onions and makes everything super-garlicky. The IKEA one is the best I’ve found and is going cheap on Amazon.
  5. Let the garlic cook for a couple of minutes so that it’s dissolved in with the onions.
  6. Add the squeezed greens to you onion pan. Give it all good stir and leave it to sit for a minute or two.
  7. Roll your pizza dough onto a paper-lined baking tray and spread some tomato puree on top.
  8. Spread the onion mixture evenly onto your pizza base.
  9. Add blobs of mozzarella.
  10. Sprinkle the top with pine nuts (if using).
  11. Cook it in the oven. I’ve no idea what temperature Hugh uses (and can’t find his book right now!) so go for something in the middle of the range – Gas Mark 6 usually works for most things. It won’t take long – check after 10 minutes and leave it longer if it still looks pale and the cheese hasn’t melted. I like my pizzas with good crusts and slightly burned cheese but you might like yours a bit less crispy.

Voila! A tasty homemade pizza.

Still hungry? Next time, try putting an egg (or two) on top and you’ve got your very own version of Pizza Express’s Fiorentina pizza (my favourite) with bells on!

Disclaimer: This post includes a referral link to Amazon.