First blog post is here!! 

This is the post excerpt.

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Here it is! The start of something new. I’m going to use this space to blog about what I’ve been doing, what makes me happy and to share my thoughts. Here goes….

Vegetables are exciting!

Yesterday something happened that I had not experienced for a while, I woke up craving vegetables!

My approach to food is consistently healthy, but in the last few weeks (holiday, Christmas, New Year) I have gradually lost my excitement for the food I put on my plate, and although I was still eating well, I wasn’t enjoying the process as much. But yesterday after a fairly indulgent Sunday afternoon I literally woke up wanting greens and cauliflower and colourful nutritious food and I started making lists of the fresh and amazing foods I needed to lay my hands on. This got me to thinking, what do I do to stay on track and maintain energy for a healthy approach to food?

Here’s some of the things I do, which might work for you….

1. Plan your meals. Spend time looking at your cookbooks or using the internet for inspiration. I frequently use Pinterest, YouTube and Instagram for recipe ideas, and I am constantly signing up for new healthy food blogs where I get exciting recipes straight into my email. Blogs I like are Cookie and Kate, Chocolate Covered Katie, Minimalist Baker,  and To Her Core (which also has a great eBook introduction for beginners).

2. Go shopping! If you buy good food you will eat good food. For those who share a house with friends, partners, children, my advice would be to create some space that’s just for you… a drawer or a shelf in your fridge and freezer, plus a cupboard or shelf where all your lovely wholefoods can live together. I love organising my pantry and having a fridge re-shuffle so that everything looks nice, as this inspires me to cook.

3. Keep a food diary and take photos! This is something I periodically dip in and out of, the diary is brilliant because it holds you accountable and in the early stages I am often really surprised at how much mindless snacking I do (sometimes eating because food is there, rather than because I am hungry, or eating an entire meals worth of calories while preparing my dinner). Taking photos of your meals encourages you to present something you feel proud to eat and generally this means more thought has gone into it and it will be healthier and portion controlled. Share your photos on facebook or other social media platforms… there’s a whole community out there of people who just share “What I eat in a day” scenarios, so don’t for a second think it’s a crazy thing to do…. all the Hispsters are doing it.

4. Have the things you enjoy. Leading a healthy lifestyle means that its a life-long approach, not a temporary fix, so this means you will need to exercise balance and yes that means allowing less healthy meals into your life. Birthday cake, dinner parties, meals out, kids baking, champagne, chocolate, indulgence… life is to be lived, enjoyed, celebrated and food is an important part of that. Remember that one day or one meal isn’t going to make you fat or change your body. Your hard work won’t be undone by one day of lounging around eating cake and feeling unmotivated. But if you do that for 5 or 6 days in a row then YES it will have a detrimental impact on your health and physique. Seeing what you eat and how you exercise as a long term approach is definitely the way to happiness and success.

5. Meal Prep. I love meal prep. Little containers of joy which mean I won’t have to dedicate time every day to preparing something wholesome and delicious. Meal prep doesn’t mean eating the same meal day after day, what it means is preparing extra of something so you can enjoy it on more than one occasion. I tend to make a good size batch of steak mince cooked with onions, courgette, peppers, spices in a tinned tomato sauce. I portion it down, will have a couple of meals during the week and the rest goes into the freezer for another time. This can be replicated with healthy stews, soups, curries etc. Yesterday I did ‘Mix n Match’ meal prep method, where I steamed some kale and broccoli, roasted sweet potato with lots of spices and herbs, cooked some onions, peppers and chorizo and chicken on a tray, boiled some eggs and grated a load of carrot, courgette and beetroot. Now I have a whole array of healthy goodies ready to go and I will simply add spinach, avocado, steak, seeds, nuts, feta or whatever takes my fancy if I think my meal need something else.

6. Challenge yourself to try new food! It may seems daunting at first but it’s such a liberating experience to try new foods and combinations and ingredients. I absolutely love the voyage of discovery and those “where have you been all my life?!” moments!

Good luck and have fun. Joanna  x x

Overcoming group ride fear and progression – Riding Jacobs Ladder and the Kinder all-weather loop

It was on a rainy Saturday morning that I put aside the fact I was vaguely sleep deprived (after an impromptu night out dancing the night before) to get my riding kit on and head off to Edale to meet a bunch of riders collectively known as the Rother Valley Riders. I’ve been following them on Instagram for about 2 years, seeing them grow in popularity while my group the Sheffield Mountain Bikers dwindled in numbers until eventually disbanding (I think at least!).

Group rides make me nervous… I don’t know why as I dont think i’m shy, and I do like to socialise… but it must be fear of the unknown, fear of being useless and embarrassing myself in front of strangers. But once I overcome that fear and manage to get myself out of the car, I can’t recall any time where I haven’t enjoyed doing a group ride.

Matt from the Rother Valley Riders was very reassuring beforehand, reiterating that the group meet ups are about being social, having a good time and being safe (no heroics and absolutely no pressure to tackle anything you don’t want to ride). So 11 of us met on a particularly uninspiring January Saturday morning in the car park in Edale and after some brief but friendly introductions off we went.

It’s a route I have ridden before but not for a good 18 months (the last time was a failed attempt in the deep snow)…. perhaps even 2 years ago, so I was interested to see how my confidence, skill and nerve might have hopefully improved!

We started off with the long climb up Chapelgate, which was longer and tougher than I remembered! It seemed to have washed out a lot so there were some big channels with larger rocks in, making it trickier to pick your line. It really is quite a steep, draining climb but when there’s no pressure you can aim to reach a drainage channel (there are several) and then have a rest to catch your breath before ploughing on. As we reached the top the wind was blowing and bringing in a blustery fine mist of wet rain. It really doesn’t bother me being wet once I’ve started out on a ride… as long as my jacket keeps me dry and my feet dry and not too cold then I’m happy. (Sealskinz waterproof socks are a life changer!) I had plenty of layers on so the temperature wasn’t causing me any concern even with the stop/start nature of the climb. After climbing Chapelgate and picking the dryest line over a sandy flat section it was time to tackle the first descent, on Strava known as Rushup Rock Blast (we called it the Sunken Road).

I remember it being a good width trail that seemed to have been filled with a load of quite angular, sharp rocks. There are a few small drops and slanting slabs but mostly it’s a bed of loose stones. I still it find to be a tricky bone-shaker that shakes your arms and shoulders out of their sockets! You definitely need to make sure your helmet is on pretty tight or it ends up causing quite a distraction and blocking your vision! Last time around I think several riders got punctures at the end of this section and I rode it fairly slowly, with the rocks and my slow speed meant gaining momentum was hard and the whole thing wasn’t very ‘flowy’. This time around I was less phased and certainly rode it faster. I enjoyed picking my line and didn’t find it scary – but it’s not my favourite descent and I was happy to get to the bottom with my tyres and wheels intact…unlike 2 of our group who had punctures and a damaged wheel rim.

After repairs and chit chat we proceeded on and the rain became a bit heavier, the wind blew a bit stronger. Everyone was soaked but loving it! Even with the weather being drab, the bare gnarly trees along the route looked dramatic and the muted greens and browns still provided a wonderful backdrop to ride amongst. It is a bleak but stunning route.

The next real challenge was a descent into Roych Clough. Slabby and slanted in sections and steeper than Rushup Rock blast, the challenge took me by surprise a little but I loved it. My routine now seems to be to have a personal ‘pep talk’ on the way down… saying “GET BACK and RELAX!” to myself which really helps calm my nerves. The last section into the Clough is cobbled and very good fun, particularly as you can splash through the water whilst feeling jubilant to have survived and had fun. It definitely got my adrenaline pumping.

The Kinder circuit is slow going and there are no easy miles. Much of the route provides a challenge to pick a line and complete a section between gates without any ‘dabs’ (putting your foot down). I was really up for the challenge yesterday so kept persevering even though it would have been faster and easier to get off and push the bike! Heading up into the Kinder Estate was a long neverending slog but to get to the top was a great feeling (we even found the last traces of snow!) Good banter and dreaming of summer rides helped the group morale stay upbeat and everyone was looking forward to reaching the top and tackling ‘The Big One’ – Jacobs! (I lost count of how may times we all said…. “are we at the top yet?” as the clouds and mist prevented our visibility of what laid more than a few metres ahead. While I find climbing hard work, generally my fitness levels help me to push on over lose rocks, and with considerable effort and regular breaks it is possible to ride everything. It’s a great route with hardly any road riding at all.

In the back of my mind the Jacobs Ladder descent was looming and I was questioning whether I would hold my nerve. From my memory of past experiences it’s a long descent with some intimidating drops at the top (which I have never previously ridden). It’s also a route often populated by walkers heading uphill, so for me that represents the added pressures that spectators might: 1. watch you struggle / fall off 2. block your line and make the descent more difficult than it needs to be 3. stop your flow so you lose momentum and speed and then its harder to get over some of the rocks and drops. With all of that in my mind I just kept telling myself that this was my chance to prove to myself that I have grown in skill and confidence, and I tried to imagine the fantastic ‘personal goal achieved’ feeling I would have at the end of the ride if I rode well / to my ability.

As we reached the start of the descent I let the faster guys go and then quietly uttered to myself “let’s do this!’ The first drop presented itself and I bottled it, coming to a halt and finding that frustratingly familiar position of staring down a drop wondering why I couldn’t just let the bike go dammit! I backed up and on my second attempt rode this without any problem. This gave me the confidence boost I needed and I continued, feeling good, focused and in control while riding over another section I remember had phased me in the past. My position on the bike has improved a lot and I feel much more comfortable and balanced going down steeper sections with my weight in the correct position. As I clattered my way down and somehow handled everything that appeared in front of me it was all going well until a larger drop appeared ahead and I found myself veering off onto a ‘chicken run’ walking path to the left. I’m a bit gutted i didn’t attempt to ride it, but it leaves the opportunity for me to revisit and try this on another occasion. Marked progression is always encouraging and I had already surpassed previous attempts! Rejoining the main MTB route from the side path i made it all the way down to the gate which divides the descent into 2 sections, (while being watched by another group of riders…yikes!) Everything seems to come so fast I find it hard to remember all of the details of the trail.

With jelly legs I wobbled off my bike to unfasten the gate, and whilst doing so realised I was in the most awesome of places to take in possibly the BEST view of the whole ride. The Vale of Edale opened out before me. The winding river in the valley bottom is flanked by a snaking path above for cyclists and ramblers, before the land slopes upwards, on this occasion disappearing into the fluffy, white, low clouds which masked the outline of Kinder on the left and the Mam Tor ridge on the right. At any time of year it is a breathtaking sight and world class in my opinion. I paused to taken a couple of quick phone snaps and then continued on the second part of the descent.

Jacobs ladder is so very tiring on your muscles and there’s no opportunity to let your legs or arms rest as every bit of the downhill represents a challenge…there are no easy sections to reset and give your brain or body a few seconds rest. I made it down to the bottom to the sound of cheers and applause from the rest of the group who came down before me. Feeling relieved and exhilarated (and with my arms and legs limp), I laid down my bike and proceeded to nearly slip over on the grassy bank by the river… ironic considering all the previous challenges I had managed to overcome whilst riding unscathed! My blood was pumping and adrenaline was surging – all the major challenges of the ride had been overcome and I hadn’t died and I’d had FUN!

In between chatting to the other riders we all cheered on some words of encouragement for the last couple of guys to come down. Andy the birthday boy had taken a tumble but other than a twisted dropper post and a bashed hip and elbow he was in good spirits to have ticked off another ride from his bucket list. We rode fast into Barber Booth and back to Edale where a lovely round of (mostly) beers provided the perfect post-ride debrief beverage. It really was a top day out and I look forward to the opportunity to ride with the Rother Valley Riders again.

Reflecting on my goals for 2018 to ride my bike as much as I can when the opportunity presents itself and to keep challenging my skill level, I think riding a route I have done before is an ideal way to look for signs of progress and I certainly felt them on this ride. I’m already looking forward to riding the same route again so I can have a better stab at Chapelgate (less stops) and to cut out that chicken run on Jacobs Ladder.

You can find details of the Rother Valley Riders here:

https://www.britishcycling.org.uk/club/profile/7485/rother-valley-riders-mtb-club

Details of the map of our route here:

Kit I wear here:

https://www.velovixen.com/annas-legs-star-print

https://findra.co.uk/

https://www.sealskinz.com/socks/mtb-mid-mid-socks-with-hydrostop-black-blue-orange.htm

Thoughts on being Vegan and raising animals to produce meat

So it’s Veganuary, and the time has never been trendier to become a vegan, talk about being vegan or to dabble with plant based eating. Formally reserved for earth loving tree huggers, being vegan or plant based is now part of the mainstream, and lately I have found myself questioning whether I think it’s something I should consider and asking is it a good thing more people are turning their back on eating meat?

You see I am very connected to the production of meat, being daughter of a farmer and now working on the farm. Since my involvement working with my Dad I have driven a new initiative where we take the animals all the way to slaughter rather than selling them on to be ‘finished’ or fattened up by a dealer. I found the notion of selling off the animals more sad and empty than sending them to be killed and butchered at our small local abattoir. Yes it is very hard in the hours before we load the animals into the trailer contemplating how odd it feels that we have decided the fate of what have come to be our little pals. But once the animals have been dropped off at the abattoir we have to move forwards and console ourselves with the fact that we did the absolute best we could for them and and gave them a lovely life.

When I stand up in the fields around the farm and look at the surroundings and the lives our sheep, cows and pigs have, I think they are luckier than many humans. An open, pollution free environment. Room to roam and display their instinctive behaviours. We expose them to very little stress throughout their lives. we check them and handle them regularly so they aren’t afraid of human contact, and they graze naturally and are reared slowly to maturity. Even our pigs (who need a diet of pellets) are fed on a low protein feed to allow them to grow far more slowly than a commercial pig would (so the pigs take 3-4 months longer to reach the desirable size and at a considerable additional cost to us). Our highland beef cows are around 3 years old before they are sent to slaughter, and we increasingly champion hogget (one year old sheep) and mutton rather than spring lamb.

When it comes to eating the meat ourselves. rather than finding this process difficult or unpleasant, this is actually my favourite way to eat meat, because by having reared the animals i can eat meat with a clear conscience. From field to fork, we have been there every step of the way and we trust our abattoir to give the animals respect in their final hour. (Research, reputation and a good relationship with where you send the animals is of vital importance).

Animal welfare is important to me and I know many vegans are concerned deeply with farming methods and animal rights. Obviously there are a lot of reasons why someone would want to become vegan, and i’m totally cool with whatever decision anyone wants to make, but while so many vegans are raising the issue of animal welfare, saying they are speaking up for animals who have no voice, I wish they would consider using the platform to lobby for people to think about where their food comes from and to encourage a more honest, fair food production system rather than boycotting animal products and suggesting that farm animals should be treated no differently than to a cat or dog.

This is something i understand, but it think deciding not to consume meat or animal products is somehow skirting around the issue of animal welfare. In my opinion, i would much rather pressure was applied to the supermarkets, food buyers, restaurants, takeaways and food governing bodies to stop meat being sold at a low price point that forces mass production farming methods and intensive farming. Meat has become meaningless to many. It’s just food… it doesn’t have a story behind it. In order to bring back respect for our food I think that availability needs to be reduced and the cost needs to go up.

The main problem I feel is with chicken and egg production, and generally any systems that are too large and too hurried. Chickens probably get the worst deal: raised unnaturally in large barns with no option to behave as they naturally would, their quality of life is terrible and shameful. And chicken is the country’s favourite meat.

Animals like cows, sheep and pigs are commonly indoor reared and fed on high protein processed animal feed rather than grazing outside on a natural mix of grasses. Generally this is the meat made available to buy from the supermarkets and served in takeaways and restaurants. The meat produced is at the lower end of the spectrum in terms of quality and welfare.

But what about the opposite side of the scale? What about buying meat that has been reared naturally, with love, care and respect? We should know if the animal was allowed to live a natural life, fully matured and slowly grown. It is so pleasing to me when i speak to people who are interested in food miles, where was the animal raised, who butchered it and what was the breed. When someone is interested in sourcing the product it means they tend to cook and savour the meal, even celebrating the animal. That’s what I would like to see more of.

On a recent trip to Cuba I witnessed small scale farming, where families would each have a small-holding with a few pigs, a goat, a cow, a horse and a few hens scratting around. Every part of the animals would be used. No plastic packaging, no ridiculous food miles. I feel we have gone too far in the UK to ever return to this way of living, but I think we would be certainly healthier and the world would be a better place if we could.

So am I convinced to go vegan? No. I’m going to carry on rearing and giving animals a lovely life full of care, and I will continue to eat meat. Most of all, I will appreciate food and eat with a conscience,

encouraging others to do the same.

Skiddaw MTB epic. Do not try this… (or maybe do!)

I’m going to describe this ride in a few key words

MINDBLOWING

TERRIFYING

CHALLENGING

EXHAUSTING

THRILLING …and many more INGS!

Without doubt the most exhilarating mountain bike epic I have ever tackled.

The day started off with a planned route to ride a loop around Skiddaw, described as medium to challenging ability wise. After our 30km ride from Keswick the previous day, doing the Borrowdale Bash, our Sunday ride was going to be the easier of the two. I sometimes find tackling 2 big rides on consecutive days can be an overwhelming challenge but I was persuaded by Nick that it was the best option and would be far more adventurous and exciting than a walk… he wasn’t wrong.

I think of the ride now in two parts.. the first part… a wonderful mountain bike route with challenging singletrack, fun wide doubletrack, mountains, valleys, rivers, lakes and open moorland views.

I was totally satisfied by the challenge and loving everything and we stopped several times to take photos. The sun was beaming down and there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky which I have never seen before in the Lake District (I’m sure it is rare, it certainly felt like a gift from the Universe). I kept saying “we are so lucky, we are so blessed” because the conditions really were perfect…apart from the ice, and there was a lot of ice.

Historically I have had my fair share of tumbles onto it when I first started riding and kept slamming down hard as I was foolishly riding clipped in. It was a recipe for creating cut knees and multiple bruises! Nowadays I ride with flat pedals and 5ten rubber soled MTB shoes, which are excellent for when you are riding but pretty dam slippery when you are trying to walk up an icy or muddy steep incline) as I discovered by face-planting twice on this particular route!

Anyway, back to the ride…there was a fair old bit of ice around which was fun to crunch and smash through icy puddles but riding over thin sheet ice was a bit scary. We climbed steeply through woodland to start, which was a real lung-opener and warmed me up pretty quickly. Views out through the trees were mesmerizing – a brilliant blue backdrop providing the perfect palette to emphasize the green fields in the valley bottom, the sharp fell-sides adorned with vibrant rusty brown ferns and finally the snow-capped hills and mountains dusted like festive bakes with a powdery white coating.

From the woodland we took the bridleway around the back of Skiddaw, dipping in and out of the suns glare, which cast incredible light and shade contrasts. The air was so fresh and still and quiet, with only the sound of rushing water when we neared a stream, or of a bird-of-prey searching overhead as it cast a watchful gaze over the ground below. I was in such a good place mentally, enjoying every moment and wanting to absorb every bit of this good feeling. For me it is the perfect soul food.

As we crossed past Skiddaw House, a remote but intriguing bunkhouse, the ground became frostier and harder and was white-over in places. we took a fun, fast descent all the way down to a tarmac farm track, now crossing through farm land until we reached the road and apparent civilization.

A group of Swaledale ewes in a sorting pen watched us inquisitively as we checked the Garmin to see where the next Bridleway would be from here. Much to our disappointment it seemed that there wasn’t to be any more Bridleway on our intended route; “is that really right?” I kept saying as I felt a bit cheated, like I wasn’t ready for our incredible blue-bird day in the Lake District to be over. It was only 1pm and we had been riding for 3 hours.

We spotted a nearly Bridleway on the map, with no obvious idea where it went. Being determined not to be beaten by the prospect of a dull pedal back to Keswick, we forged into the unknown, through a farm and into a field with wide open views ahead. It was the ideal place to rest, refuel and contemplate our next move. I found a perch on a fallen tree and we had some coffee and snacks while we discussed what would potentially be involved in taking the unknown route back. We knew it would be slower than the road and my concern was that we only had until 4pm before we would lose the light. The last thing I wanted was to be lost on the moors in the dark! We wrangled with our options and eventually seemed to persuade one another that we would take the risk and go for the adventure of navigating our own way home via Bridleway and Footpaths!

It was half one by this point and off we went, on foot pushing the bikes as we were unsure if we were on a Footpath or Bridleway. This is where I think the second part of the ride began, and the thrilling, terrifying experience unfolded. The hill immediately in front of us was a reasonably steady climb, but ahead of us (where we were heading) was a seriously huge, steep mountain side with a tiny path that wound its way vertically until it disappeared out of sight. To the right the mountains were even higher, clearly defined by the snow-line they were like giant snowy mounds.

They really did look vast, barren and devoid of anything – no trees, no bushes, no stones and no people. The thought that we were even contemplating crossing them seemed ridiculous, but apparently we were (at least that’s what Nick said!) I couldn’t see any other way to go, so it was a case of.. “well we’ve made a start now, let’s press on!”  We crossed a river and began the very steep ascent, each pushing our own bike. Going was extremely tough from the start, it was hard to get your balance or footing and the path was very skinny so the option was to either walk up the path and lift the bike over rough tufts of heather, or to walk up the heather and try to guide the bike up the path. I think we both tried every possible scenario and combination. I was getting tired physically it was draining so I channeled my frustration with the lack of progress/slow going into determination. At one point I was grabbing handfuls of heather by the roots and using it as an anchor to give me enough stability and balance to drag the bike behind me. I slipped and fell on my front, with the bike in an awkward tangle on top of me. We pressed on…I was grumbling now and again that we were not getting any closer to the top as it didn’t feel like progress was being made. The path was getting steeper and the further we climbed the further it seemed to wind its way up and away. The next moment i had put my foot into what I thought was a foothold and turned out to be a deep hole filled with peaty bog liquid…. up to my shins! We kind of laughed about it but it was a sign that things were starting to get ridiculous.

We pushed on and pushed on. I had a growing sense of panic setting in, as over an hour had passed and we must have only covered around a kilometer (although gained some serious altitude). At this point, feeling exhaustion and anxiety taking over I had to rest and asked Nick if he could take my bike too. He pushed mine a short section, then carried it just ahead of me and laid it down. Unimpressed and equally tired he suggested I try carrying the bike on my shoulders. I checked to see if I had phone signal and at this point decided to send a message to my friend saying “potentially in a bit of a situation. If you haven’t heard from me by 7pm please call the Lakes Mountain Rescue and tell them we are on Skiddaw”. I felt more relaxed that now at least someone knew where we were and what we were doing as up until this point no one would have known. The weather was perfectly clear so I knew the daylight would be around for as long as it possibly, but it was approaching 3pm and we still had to reach the snow line and reach Skiddaw summit before making our way down. I had some mental conversations with myself and I got into my positive mindset. It was looking like perfect conditions and timing for us to see the sunset from the summit. This is something that I could only have ever dreamed of doing and experiencing, something I don’t think I could have planned or predicted.

As we reached the snowline I got into my rhythm, I’d found a reasonably comfortable position, holding the bike on my shoulders and I began challenging myself to take 100 steps, then another 100, bargaining with my mind that in the next 100 I would be able to see the summit which id been strongly visualizing. I felt excited, emotional, like the adrenaline must have kicked in at this point as the panic had subsided and I was generally feeling privileged by the experience that was unfolding. Storming ahead of Nick I was able to keep pausing to look back and admire the view while shouting some words of encouragement. The view was vast…the white snow was turned golden where the late afternoon light was hitting it, and a contrasting pale blue grey in the shadows. Dapples of brown turned to deep dark expanses of heather and then a dull green haze on the low ground dotted with expanses of water.

It wasn’t long before the wind, which had been absent for most of the ride, decided to make its presence and with a considerable amount of force. As I rounded the top of the mountain I tried to get back on my bike to ride a section. The snow was a few inches deep and crunchy, so the conditions weren’t easy but the strong wind made it near impossible, blowing me constantly off course. We rode a bit, pushed a bit, rode a bit more and then walked the last section to the Trigg Point and stone that indicated we had reached the summit.

I had been fixated with the setting sun for some time… stopping at a couple of occasions to take photos, but the fierce wind (almost blowing me over) meant that we could only pause for a short time before we felt our core temperatures starting to drop down so we had to keep moving. Being at the highest point also made it clear we still had a long way down to go so we definitely couldn’t hang around. It was a few minutes past 4pm and the sun was in its last few beautiful moments. The yellow and golden spectrum of colours were truly incredible and the mountains had turned into dark shadows and silhouettes.

We crashed our way down through the snow, as fast as we could. There were surprisingly few footsteps around Skiddaw so it wasn’t obvious where we should head up or down.

The surface was rocky, covered with a few inches of hard snow, but deeper in places. With no path to follow we just pointed our bikes down the hill and let gravity and the wind direct us. It was amazingly exhilarating and the bike drifted and slid all over the place but I was happy to go with it! If I hit deep snow or if a blast of wind the bike would suddenly be buffeted in a different direction. I was really enjoying the moment and the recklessness of it felt very free.

Following our Garmin we headed for a gate way in the distance. it was fast and the wind was knocking the breath out of my lungs but it felt good to finally be moving at speed again. We followed a fence line heading towards a pretty pink sky, before finally dropping out of the snow and onto frost and ice!

Following some footsteps but deviating away from the suggested Garmin route we reached a steep, rocky but fast downhill which wound its way down to a place I finally recognized from the start of our ride that day (which seemed like such a long time ago!)

Hanging on for dear life but loving the descent, (despite my legs screaming at me with intense muscle ache) we kept going right down, retracing our steps from the morning ascent, through Latrigg woods, splattering through thawed puddles before finally coming to a screeching halt just a couple of minutes riding from Keswick. My mind was literally FILLED with all of the mental pictures from the things we had seen and my whole body felt exhausted, cold, but exhilarated like I have never really felt many times before…if ever! There was the BEST sense of achievement and relief that we had made it back, and it wasn’t in total darkness. The Universe had been kind to us and I am eternally grateful. Now it was time to stick the bikes away and get a serious amount of food inside us!

This ride would no doubt be far more achievable and less risky during the summer months when there is more daylight around. It was the race against the light which posed the greatest potential risk. No doubt about it, the ride was physically exhausting and demanding, lasting around 6 hours and with just short of 1500 meters of climbing (4800 feet). The experience has totally reignited my passion for adventure and mountain biking and I literally cannot wait for the next time we can go out and have another day similar to this. BRING IT ON!

Photography by Nick Johnson and me

Map of the route

MTB-ing into 2018 like YEEEE-HAAA

First weekend of the 2018 and a mountain bike trip in the lakes : re-riding the Borrowdale Bash!

It occured to me while riding at the weekend that its been 3 years since I really started to take mountain biking seriously. In February 2015 I bought a full suspension bike, which seemed like a pretty big investment at the time. I was on the brink of losing my job and it seemed like a reckless purchase but blimey was it the right thing to do! What a fantastic investment it has been…. the hours and the miles and the things i have experienced as part of mountain biking. It has without doubt helped me to turn my life around, beating depression, overcoming anxiety and steered me in a new direction from an alcohol soaked meaningless lifestyle into something wholesome, healthy and so good for the soul. Plus I’ve challenged myself in ways I couldn’t have believed and it has been thoroughly rewarding.

This weekend we packed up and headed for Keswick exactly a year after our last visit. I was excited to try a new route, but due to lack of planning and research we decided to ride the Borrowdale Bash again. Trying new routes can sometimes be tricky even with a Garmin, so for ease we decided to go with what we knew. We enjoyed it last year, despite lots of mechanicals amongst our group and the weather and daylight fighting against us, the majesty of the Lake District countryside and the exuberance of experiencing a new place meant that I looked back on the day fondly and was keen to do it again, especially with better weather and riding conditions.

Prior to our trip in Jan 2017 I remember that we hadn’t ridden much in recent months and I was feeling out of practice. This was reflected in my riding…. I think I was battling myself and certainly wasn’t harmonious with my bike. Riding tensely, stiff and feeling frustrated at the fact many sections i didn’t ride as well as I felt I was capable of. Fast forward to January 2018 and my head was way more in the game. I have developed a strategy where I talk to myself out loud constantly while riding (mainly on downhill sections) telling myself what position I should be in, reminding myself not to tighten up and to keep my weight back even why my muscles are screaming at me that they need to collapse! I’m acting as a coach to myself, encouraging, motivating, reassuring and instructing. It works!

When climbing uphill if im finding it tricky or motivation starts to drop I start to count in my head as a way of focussing my mind and to keep me pedalling in a rhythm. Count to 8 in sets of 10, count to 100, then start again, count to 50, count to 30…whatever really. It is a process that seems to keep my brain busy so I don’t have to listen to the thoughts in my head saying “STOP NOW. YOU CAN’T DO IT!”

For me the benefit of re-riding the Borrowdale Bash route was the ability to know what is coming and also have a measure of progress! It’s such an amazing feeling to tackle a climb or descent and know that you did a better job than previously. I was literally grinning from ear to ear with myself that I’d confidently ridden a section which last year I struggled to get down (might have even walked it!). That feeling gives the much needed confidence and positive momentum to encourages me to ride better and better and generally it starts to feel nicer and more in tune with the bike, so it’s a really rewarding process. When i cast my mind back to 3 years ago and how far I have come I do feel really proud, and the knowledge that I also have a lot to work and improve on gives me excitement to see what i can achieve and where my mountain biking adventures will take me.

The Borrowdale Bash route is a nice route for those who don’t want to tackle a ‘hike-a-bike’ route – it’s nearly all rideable and mostly off road too which is a real bonus. There’s technical climbing and descending and some really challenging lines for those who want to push their skill level. It’s also a good route as it never takes you too far from civilisation – there’s a lovely village with several pubs/options for a break conveniently just before the Honister Pass climb if you feel the need to refuel! The views are stunning – classic Lake District scenes so plenty of good places to stop and admire the view or take some photos.

The highlight for me was the descent through the old Slate Mine – dramatic scenery with the steep sided walls covered in slate scree and the view of the beautiful Derwent Water in the distance. The riding through the quarry is a good challenge but not so steep or rocky that you can’t let go and have fun. I rode it much faster this time around and it was really brilliant, exhilarating fun. At the bottom i was whooping and cheering with the adrenaline rush (before the last climb around the edge of Catbells drained the last of the energy from my body!)

This is a great route and one I’m sure I will ride again – particularly because of the lure of finishing the ride and demolishing the famous COW PIE at The George in Keswick. A carnivores heaven, which kept me motivated during chilly and hungry spells on the ride!

Staying on track. How am I doing?

This week I have tried extra hard to be conscious, self aware and mindful of my actions and thoughts.

Routine

1. Start each day with positive affirmations. You can say them out loud, listen to them on YouTube, write them down. Whatever helps to affirm them

Lately my affirmations have focused on being healthy and loving

“I enjoy taking good care of myself and giving my body the right food and nutrition it deserves”

This conscious way of thinking has helped me to eat food being conscious of the nutritent value. I have been eating home prepared meals and cut out snacking almost entirely. My daily snack allowance has gone from being an out of control wandering hand dipping into the chocolate drawer and nut jar, to a very delicious apple or a carrot to keep me going in between meals.

I have also found it beneficial to write down 3 suggested meals for the day to allow me to think ahead and know what my food allowance is and stay on track.

Drinking water and a lot more than usual has helped me to ensure I am hydrated and my body feels better for it. I would say I’m drinking a minimum 2 litres in water alone per day (plus tea and coffee)

2. Goals

Setting small daily goals has been very useful in allowing me to stay focused and feel a sense of achievement whilst examining how my day is broken down. For example, am I doing too much or too little for others? Too much or too little for myself? I think it’s important to make time for yourself and for others, but without writing down what is being done each day it can be difficult to accurately reflect.

In setting the goal of thinking of others I have been more thoughtful for my friends and taken time to show my friends that I value them.

3. Gratitude

I have been practising gratitude for a time already, but this recent effort has reminded me to look for the good in every small thing and situation. I am grateful for my health, for my body, for each day, for food, friends … there are literally hundreds of things to be grateful for. Holding just a few things present in my mind really helps me to remain a positive and happy person.

A new commitment to myself 

Today was a significant day for me. I did something impulsive. I did something to empower myself and it feels like a good day to start a new commitment to self improvement. I have requested to cut down some of my hours working at the gym, in order to focus on other goals and objectives in my life. Even though it is now technically the OFF season on the site, there’s still work to be done. Lately we have been raking leaves, planting spring bulbs and laying sand onto the pitches to fill any gaps and bumps or muddy patches. Dad has rebuilt the corner of the wall into the camp site to widen the angle of the gate way and we have also chopped back some dangerous hanging tree branches. The stored vans have moved over to one side of the field and we are in the process of building a new bell tent platform near to the farm so that we can move one of the bell tents down to give it electric hook up connection. There always seems to be work to do.

So with the realisation that the camp site is an ever evolving and demanding business to have year round, I realised today I need to refocus. I’m starting now with a little challenge  – a daily challenge each day for a month to record and action the following…

1. Write a positive affirmation 

2. Plant a positive thought

3. List a gratitude 

4. Do a kind deed or good deed for others

5. Nourish my body with good food and water 

I hope that by doing this it will help me to stay on the right track, make better choices and think more deeply about my actions throughout each day. It’s about taking care of myself and giving out plenty of good energy. I will photograph some of my efforts and write an update in due course….