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!


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!

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.

A Circuit of Puivert

I made it out the bike – yippee!!

A Leap Into the Void

I blagged a pass out today so decided to go off and quickly reccie the a local and easy-looking VTT route, Circuit 20 on the VTT Pyrenees website. It’s short – just 10km – so never far from home and not the end of the world if it didn’t work out for any reason but I always like to reccie any family rides, then I know if there are any difficult places I should I avoid, such as fields with big scary cows in, or parts of the route that aren’t accessible with the trailer.

What’s nice is that all the routes listed on the site are also waymarked along the way. The waymarks are easy to spot and are simple but effective, showing you when to turn – or not, much like the symbols used to identify walking routes. I’ve no idea why this notation isn’t used in the UK, because it…

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Trailer ride!

The sun was shining, we were all stuck indoors, bouncing of the walls a little, so there was only one thing for it. Yes, TRAILER RIDE!!!

My bike was up for it, still functional after spending winter under a tarp on the balcony, and the trailer was all set up ready. DD was excited and had agreed that it would be okay to share her trailer with DS. Phew. I dragged bike and trailer up to the square, prepared some supplies, and set about buckling up the smalls. DS didn’t have the faintest idea what was happening and didn’t seem keen at first, not helped by a small amount of faffing while I changed the straps so they were set up for two passengers side-by-side instead of one in the middle. Luckily he settled and stopped trying to break free once DD was seated beside him. We were off!

The route to the park (our destination) is all downhill – whoopee! We sped down, squeals and giggles coming from the trailer, and DD announced, “I’m happy, Mummy.” Yup, I was pretty happy too!

We got to the park, made a little camp in the play house, and had our snacks. Then, after a good run around and some trading of sticks for daisies from our little “shop”, it was time to head back. Uphill. All the way.

Eventually I made it. Approaching the steepest part of the return journey, which also happens to be the very last part of the journey, I’d saved myself one gear. Phew. I couldn’t go faster or talk much – my legs were burning! – and the littles weren’t asleep when I got back, which was a key part of the master plan. Who cares though. I rode my bike, DS had his first ride in the trailer, and DD had fun riding with him. We’re moving in 10 days and DD’s new maternelle is a short, rideable distance away. It’s sunny and it’s only March. Awesome!

Strava Food

I went cycling again, yippee! It was the perfect day for it and pretty exciting as it was an off- rather than on-road adventure. I figured when we moved here that I’d be riding on the road for the most part for the first half a year or so and that DB (that’s my hardtail) would only get the odd airing when riding easy trails with DD, pulling the trailer, but as luck would have there are other mountain bikers here. Not just that, there are other female mountain bikers, which is really cool because something I knew I was going to miss was my girly nights out on the trails. It turns out a couple who moved here at about the same time as we did – currently living in a caravan while they build their straw bale house – are also a bit bike mad. They also have a baby that’s of a similar age to my DS, meaning one of my new friends just happens to be in exactly the same position as me when it comes to bike fitness. It’s like hitting the new friend jackpot, frankly.

On the day of the ride, by three in the afternoon the sun was still pretty high and it was warm. No, scratch that, it was hot; hotter than many of the hottest summer rides I ever did in the UK. I’d been hiding in our place all day as we were detoxing from caffeine, so I’d mostly been rolling around on the bed groaning and clutching my banging head, and the outdoor temperature had been lost on me. Thinking I’d need something warm – just in case (well, it is nearly November) – I set off wearing my leg warmers. Hah, silly me. It was scorchio! I was so hot by the time I reached their place I was also regretting my other clothing choices, which even though “summery” by UK standards, were still pretty warm. As we were planning to hit a trail, I also had one of my flourescent windproof gilets on as The Hunters (literally, middle-aged men with guns roaming the countryside taking pot-shots at wild animals) tended to be out and about on Saturday, so we wanted to make sure we were visible. Not a good look, frankly, and also not the coolest getup!

We set off, whizzing down the hill. It was great fun. My new buddy is fast too, which was nice; I basically had to chase her down the road! After a short stretch on the road we wiggled our way through the village and up towards the trail. I had a rough idea
where we were going but had been too busy feeling sorry for myself to consult a map before we set off, which turned out to be a mistake. I had planned for us to follow a route that I’d walked from the other direction but when we got to the fork in the path I noticed there was a VTT marker with an X on it, which I took to mean it wasn’t a mountain bike trail. In hindsight I think that was more about it not being the mountain bike trail, as in one of the waymarked routes, and that we could have gone that way, as I don’t think the French as concerned with segretating walkers, cyclists, and horse riders in the same way as the Brits; so that’s a route for another time.

We followed the VTT signage round the corner, up the hill and, at the next fork, decided to branch off to the left. It had another one of these VTT signs crossed out on it but we were both a bit sick of climbing by then and it appeared to be going down, so decided to chance it! By now we’d already been gone about 15 minutes and since we said we’d be gone for no more than an hour (actually, I think I said 30 minutes, but really – hah! fat chance!) Luckily An’s fitness is about as terrible as mine, so after crossing a ford we got off to push up the slightly rocky path (normally rideable but NOT on the first post-pregnancy ride in over a year!) then got back on when it flattened out. Not long after this – now 20 minutes into our adventure – we stopped for a rest before carrying on. It was turning out to be one of those climbs that just keeps going; the one where you think we’ll just go to there and it will be the top but it never is the top because there’s always more climbing hidden away over the other side. We stopped to admire the view, now nearing 30 minutes from our starting point, and decided to turn back. It’s never a good idea to return to screaming babies on your first adventure away from them. We whizzed back down the hill we’d mostly just pushed up and it was really good fun!

Back at base, with Strava uploaded and after having a little sniff about online I discovered there are no Strava segments on any of the trails I’d just ridden. Absolutely nothing! There are few segments around but they’re all on road and all of a fairly decent length, certainly nothing like small segments for all the cheeky little climbs and descents on favourite local mountain bike routes I’d been riding back in the Peaks. Well, that’s about to change with the first of many new Strava segments that I’m sure will originate from my rides. They’re not the most inspired from a mountain biking perspective as they’re both on tarmac and both climbs but we didn’t really ride a full off-road descent and I don’t like using tarmaced segments for descents, since you’re likely to encounter cars on such routes; cyclists hurtling head long down the hill on routes shared by motor vehicles is just an all round bad idea in my book. Climbs on the other hand are fair game, so my first contribution is to create two new Strava segments for short sharp climbs. You’re welcome 🙂



An hour of family fun at the BMX Track

I had visitors over the weekend and where I’m usually all about getting outside in good weather this particular weekend I was really hoping for some rain so there’d be an excuse to take my nephews for a session at the indoor BMX track at the National Cycling Centre. Lucky for me, given I live in what was once described to me as “the wettest valley in England” (which may well be true), the weather man delivered so on Monday we all headed off with the boys excited about their session.

Despite not really having any idea what they were in for the boys were excited to be going to the “home of British Cycling” and the possibility of spotting some of the pros hanging around the cafe or maybe even seeing them in action. Of course that was pretty unlikely, given the Olympics are on in Rio this week, but the eldest of the two was excited to be riding the same track anyway. What an experience!

The session was an hour long, beginning on time with no small amount of faffing as the coaches tried to get everyone kitted out with knee and elbow pads, helmets, gloves and bikes. Luckily the boys were happy with the bikes they were given and there were other kids of similar ages given the same setups, so the younger one had others of the same age group to compare himself too (rather than comparing himself to the older ones, which usually happens, and then getting into a strop.) Once kitted out they headed round to the other side of the arena for a pep talk and a basic skills assessment. The coaches wanted to see that everyone could handle their bikes — starting and stopping and riding over a small ramp — and talked about pedal positions for cornering and riding the ramps, and explained about pumping the bike rather than pedalling round. The boys were fine, so the next step was to ride the track!

They did great! The best part of an hour later we had two tired and hungry boys on our hands. Success! There was only one strop (the little one, of course) which was soon recovered from and they both enjoyed themselves. The eldest was signed off from the Intro 2 BMX session so would be able to go onto a more advanced session, learning to ride the start gate and in a group, in future. The little one had the hang of it by the end of the session and would easily have been signed off after anuter hour; he was a little nervous to start with, riding seated instead of standing, and it took him a little while to figure out how to pump the bike and when to pedal. It’s a shame we won’t be up this way long enough for them to come back and ride it again. Hopefully there’ll be something similar for them to ride when the visit us in France. I hope so for my sake too, as it occurred to me after signing them up, while they were getting kitted out, that I could have joined in too! Oh well.