Hello guys, here I am and here it is! My blog. I’m using this space to blog about what I’ve been doing, what makes me happy and to share my thoughts. Hope you enjoy reading…
Day three – my birthday!
The aim of my birthday this year was NO PRESSURE. It started with Nespresso coffee in the room (did I mention the place we were staying was absolutely LUSH and not the kind of luxury I am used to!) Then we had a mega breakfast followed by a scenic drive into the mountains for a hike.
The weather wasn’t totally playing ball and the forecast for the day was for storms in the area. We went on a short like – probably lasting 2/3 hours. We didn’t see a single soul and the mountains were incredibly peaceful. It provided the perfect location to sit and take in the view while opening my small collection of birthday cards. A combination of the setting and kind words from family and friends made me tearful as I reflected on how lucky I felt. The sounds I remember clearly were the crying calls of the marmots – a funny little beaver type creature (which looks like a giant guinea pig with a funny flattish furry tail and lives in rabbit sized hole). The cries echoed and bounced off the rocks and mountain sides. We also saw wild deer with large, long, ridged horns peacefully grazing in the distance. My birthday hike definitely gave me the feeling of PEACE I had wanted, and none of the sweat, pain and fear that mountain biking gives me. I did feel a bit lost without the bike but I didn’t want to spend my entire week in my cycling gear and ten hours on the bike the day before had been kind of full on. As the hike neared the end, the rain came and large rumbles of thunder rolled between the mountains which created a giant amphitheater for the sound to keep going and going. It was full of drama and I felt relieved that I wasn’t actually on top of a mountain at that point.
We went back to the hotel to relax for the rest of the afternoon. More coffee and chilling in the wonderful luxury surroundings of our room with a delicious chocolate hedgehog birthday cake filled with cream to keep me happy!
In the evening we went strolling around the quiet streets of Bormio – the mountains were draped in low hanging clouds and mist. There was a great atmosphere, but I was desperately hoping the weather hadn’t taken a downturn for the rest of our trip. A little bit more sunshine was definitely on the agenda for me! I tried to imagine Bormio in the winter – snowy and cold and full of winter sports seekers. We fancied a low key dinner and after feasting on pretzels we enjoyed another delicious pizza and a bowl of pasta, followed by a little chocolate pudding for my birthday treat.
Bormio – Livigno
Lake ride turned into amazing Mtb trails ride! Super trails and amazing views over the lake and mountains.
Day 4 and we definitely had the hunger back for mountain biking after a day of rest. We went back to the apps in search of a new route. We decided to explore a new area, so it meant packing up and leaving Bormio and heading to Livigno. The drive was incredible! The weather had improved and the low clouds had lifted slightly to reveal the mountains again, but now they formed fluffy hats floating on the very tops.
Livigno was a town which appeared to be sprawling and fairly devoid of character. It stretched out in a linear fashion at the bottom of the valley… chalet after chalet. It was clearly a bustling hub during the snow season. We parked up near the ski lift. There were plenty of people around doing all kind of activities – from downhill riders in body armour to cross country skiers with roller skis (getting their training in). There were also plenty of leisure cyclists, families, runners and hikers.
We set off on an easy path along the lake, the views were pleasant enough but not spectacular. The colours of the lake didn’t seem to be as vibrant as I hoped they would be. We started to climb and what was a pleasant route soon started to get more challenging as the elevation increased. The views, as you would expect, got better and better. I puffed and sweated as we climbed up the alpine trail, in and out of the trees, winding our way up and around. A fast sweeping descent followed, it was wide and inviting with switchbacks that could be ridden without much difficulty at all. It was good fun, although maybe not quite challenging enough! We dropped altitude fast, right down to the lake level. It was a different lake – this one very vibrant and mesmerising. The valley we rode though was home to a number of homes and farms which looked like a scene from a postcard – seriously idyllic and photo worthy.
We followed a beautiful stream and crossed over it. The water was fairly low, there was clear evidence of it powering through with great force as large channels littered with smooth boulders remained strangely empty. It was hard to imagine that perhaps the entire route we were on might be under water at certain times of the year.
We began to gain height again, and got stuck into a long climb which was winding its way to a farm which was advertised as a stop for hikers and bikers to enjoy drinks and refreshments. It was my incentive for forging ahead, but as we got closer it was clear the whole farm was deserted. Zero chance of getting anything that day! So we continued, through another peaceful valley with the beloved marmots scampering around and even posing for photos.
Doubletrack turned to Singletrack and from here the trail began to get more exciting and fun. We climbed on Singletrack for a while… being chased by odd spots of rain I could see heavy clouds forming in the distance behind us. Glad to be going in the right direction! We put our knee pads/elbow pads on as it became clear we would start going down again. It was a really fun, undulating section: nice to ride but not too easy.
We crossed a dip and another river as we turned and followed the edge of another mountain and into a new valley area.
This one had a different character – no lake – but it had its own ample charm and I kept saying “wow oh wow” and trying to take in the beauty and how special it felt.
The last section of the ride involved an ‘out and back’ climb and descent to a viewpoint. By this time in the day we were feeling tired, super sweaty and I had been thinking of a refreshing beer for miles and miles but I reconciled with myself that I should make the most of the opportunity of being here and get myself up that last climb. It went on and on. The terrain was rocky but mostly rideable even if it really did get me to the point where my head felt like it was a boiled egg and I had to take off my helmet to attempt to cool! Tiredness and over-heating aside, the views all around were insane. 360 degree panoramic views of amazing mountains, cloud formations and valleys made us both stop and be silent for a few moments as we paused to absorb it all…. then there was THE LAKE. It was beautiful. It was huge. The scale is hard to comprehend, – you really just had to be there! We took photos, we wowed and we high 5’d at our achievement! It was a great time to be alive and in that moment I was so happy and so fulfilled… and so thirsty! Ice cream and beer soon followed after a fast pace rattle back down to the nearest Albergo. We then took one of the downhill routes which dropped into the ski lift at Livigno – conventionally next to our Car Park. The run was a partial blue/red run and it was super fast and flowy and PERFECT to end the ride on a high.
We did our usual last minute hotel booking (all done on the day via booking.com) and travelled to a lovely rural bed and breakfast for our penultimate evening. The most amazing hot shower was so welcome and I felt absolutely disgusting and my legs were covered in chain oil I think I bruised them trying to scrub them so hard! We then had a great evening meal of rabbit ragout and tiramisu (again) with a beautiful glass of local red wine. I just love holidays!
5 days in Italy … nothing planned other than a hire car and a mountain bike to facilitate freedom and fun!
Originally when I had some time off in mind for September, my plans were vague and relaxed… check the weather forecast and head to Wales or the Lake District.
“What do you want for your birthday?” people were asking me.
“Mountains!” Was my reply. Honestly – mountains have given me my happiest moments this year. Mountain bike adventures in the Lake District whenever the opportunity allowed gave me the feeling of freedom and peace I so crave.
Going into the mountains is like a mental cleanse and refresh. Soul soothing and food for the energy stores needed to maintain a daily positive attitude while living a busy life.
I needed to escape from the real world of running a camp site. Mountains and lakes were the very top of my list.
Less than a week before my holiday days and the weather forecast for the UK was not looking too snazzy. Scottish highlands seemed a long way to travel for a few days of average to poor weather conditions. Wales seemed like it could be a washout. The Lake District – a little too familiar for 5 days of adventure after 8 months of grafting and dreaming.
So 6 days before and Italy started calling my name. I had been to the Dolomites 2 years before and LOVED IT. I felt like everything was suggesting to me that the Italian mountains were drawing me back in.
We booked fights to Milan – leaving Monday afternoon after my regular morning working at the gym.
That would give us Tuesday – Saturday to enjoy and experience as much as possible before returning on Sunday, ready to hit the ground running with phase 2 of our camp site groundworks beginning the following day. With the Campsite projects and business, plus farm work, it really does hardly ever stop, we always have something we are working on. But it was time to hit the all important PAUSE button and take some time off.
The trip began with a miserable and inhuman experience, feeling like a farm animal being shuffled and shunted around Manchester airport without anyone telling me what was going on or why we were being “held” for so long in a corridor without getting to sit down or go to the loo etc. I really do loathe flying. The only good part is where you get to go afterwards.
Day One –
We started in Lake Como – having driven there the night before. The delays to the flight and then a shuttle bus to a different airport terminal to get the hire car meant it was 11pm before we pulled up in a absolutely silent village right at the top of what seemed like endless road of switchbacks. Google maps said we had reached our destination but we had no idea where we were going and there weren’t even any roads. It was a very old part of the village and the paved roads finished – leading into a maze of unlit grassy tracks and rough walk ways. After a fair bit of wandering around we called the lovely guy who’d agreed to let us check in so late – he came to find us just as we discovered the right location. I went to sleep thinking I could not wait to see the views the next day as we were so high up I figured we should be able to look down over Lake Como.
The next day I woke up and saw the sky change from dark to light as the sun came up over the mountain. Lake Como in full view. It was PERFECT. Birds flying, church bells chiming and the sounds of a sleepy village waking up. We sat on the balcony and enjoyed a beautiful moment having our first breakfast of the trip (self catering so a random selection of yoghurt, biscuits, long life pastries and instant coffee. But it was incredible and one memory I really will cherish as feeling so blessed and excited to be in Italy and have 5 whole days of freedom ahead.
We then drove a few hours from Lake Como to Bormio. The first thing that struck me was the snow topped mountains! It was very beautiful and green in the valleys, with cute towns dwarfed by majestic monster mountains, casting immense shadows.
Arriving in the Bormio area it seemed to be a fairly buzzing place – so many road bikes and a few mountain bikes too!
This area was stunning – valleys lush and green with towns in the bottom and magnificent mountains all around. The sun was shining it was all very exciting.
We found a place to stay in a small town about ten minutes drive from Bormio. We then ventured out to seek coffee, as coffee on holiday always seems good value and great quality. We struggled to find anywhere that was open near where we were staying… it was shockingly sleepy! My thirst for coffee began to evolve into extreme hunger too. We found a bakery on google maps that was 5 mins away and closing in 10 mins. We hot-footed it around just in time and went berserk on a strange feast of pizza bread, plain baguettes (no butter), croissant and a doughnut, washed down with only WATER.
With some fuel inside us we set about building and unpacking the bikes. I was feeling absolutely shattered after the busy day before working then travelling for over 10 hours from Dale Farm to reach the apartment near Como.
Having looked for trails and routes using Trailforks we found lots happening around the ski lift/ski area in Bormio. Despite feeling quite lifeless, we got on our gear and went down into Bormio to see about getting the gondola up the mountain – only to discover they had stopped their ‘Summer’ timetable for bikes a week previously and no lifts were running. So that was that – and a bit confused / deflated we searched for a plan b.
We ended up on a scenic route with amazing valley/mountain views (passing an awful lot of road bikes on the way up!) We reached a safe place to ditch the car near some World War One forts. We hopped on the bikes and cycled to the most beautiful turquoise lake. When I first glimpsed it I just said “WOAH” as I genuinely couldn’t believe the colour and intensity. It quite honestly makes my insides do a little flip / lurch. My heart starts to beat faster. I almost feel a bit panicky that I need to absorb it all right there and then. It was so stunning and the backdrop of the mountains made the perfect opportunity for a lot of stops to take in the views from various angles and snap away. It was a gentle kind of bike ride but thoroughly enjoyable and a great start to the trip.
We then retired back to our hotel which handily had a now thronging pizza restaurant below it. It was AMAZING
- breadsticks, local mozzarella balls and pizza followed by the first tiramisu of the holiday.
Day two –
Santa Caterina – Bormio – 3000 feet
After the confusion the day before about the possibility of getting ski lifts as part of our rides we made sure we had a route that was all mountain / XC and didn’t involve extra help. We found it on Komoot and it was my first time using the app to navigate. The route description seemed clear and the navigation made it easy to find your way. After we set off it was road – road – road and I was starting to wonder whether I’d picked a dud of a route. I hate riding on the road – mountain bikes are to be ridden on trails!
We stopped for a small beer at the first Rifugio. The view of the immense mountain was ahead. It was like a giant mass of rock glistening with veins of snow and ice. I was totally in awe.
As we left the road after around 12km of climbing we continued to go up and up and the views became seriously spectacular. The valley was all around us now, with the glacier ahead and the stream from it flowing down, not far from our trail. There were waterfalls gushing down the mountain sides to meet the river.
Then the cow bells started. At that point I began to feel overwhelmed – in a happy way. The sounds and the sights and the emotion of being on the bike and free to experience such an place really just made me feel overcome with a wave of pure gratitude and appreciation and I sobbed as I tried to let it sink in that this was ME and it was REAL. The beautiful mountain cows were all around us for a while as we rode through a dairy farm at 2400 metres. Seemed crazy! What a place to farm.
The ride started to get pretty tough after the farm. We realised we were climbing to an altitude of 3,000 metres and the reality of it was that it was a bloody hard struggle. I started counting my pedals and taking it in stages… 100 pedals and then rest for a minute, then on again and again and again. I kept thinking of the RIDE classes that I do at the gym 3 times a week- thinking “it’s not an option to stop!”
I kept looking back as our route turned away from the original glacier we were heading towards and it moved towards a new rock formation. This one was just as formidable and seemed to stretch out far ahead. It wasn’t long before we were engulfed by the rock and the glaciers and we rode over snow! Eventually the slog became impossible to do on the bike and the words from the route description popped into my head. “A great level of fitness is required and you may be required to carry your bike”. Yep, we had reached that point. So for the first time I swung the red beast over my head and off we went. It was steep, it was loose underfoot and it was relentless. I was out of breath, tried and fear was starting to creep in, but I was still feeling motivated and exhilarated. Eventually we reached a post which said ‘3005m’ and it that was the highest point we would go. We had just passed a lone hiker who had advised that we were crazy to be attempting this pass with our bikes at this time of day, which made me think… what time is it? We had set off at 10am. It was now after 5pm. Part of me was thinking… ‘oh but it’s all downhill now you can get home fast’ WRONG. It was the most challenging and long descent I had ever tackled and I was exhausted and full of fear. The views were MINDBLOWING.
Every bit of fear I felt, seemed worth it because of the views. I took so many photos. The way down included many sections that required me to be off the bike. It was hardly safe to walk down, but to walk down and carry a bike was definitely dangerous. Then there were faster, fun sections where you felt great again, before a really challenging bit cropped back up and reminded you that it was a long way back to the start point still. Many sections were unbelievably narrow single-track with a steep drop to one side. I don’t like heights. I don’t like drops. I was so scared. Tiredness meant I made some silly wobbles and had near misses where I could have ended up going off the edge, but I believe that the angels were looking out for me and I made it down safely. As the single track continued we rode back into the green again and the bleak rock turned into a lush and vibrant valley with waterfalls and alpine trees giving off the most amazing aroma. The trail turned to double track and the danger started to fade fast. The low light was spectacular as the last rays shone onto the mountain sides and we rode flat out through a pretty cluster of wooden huts that looked like they had been created for a children’s story. The final slog of the ride involved some more climbing and my legs could barely handle it. All my devices had given up on me with the battery being drained over a ride that had now lasted 10 hours. We screamed with joy as we reached the car just before dark. We hadn’t even booked anywhere to stay that night and it was my birthday the following day. I charged up my phone and went straight to booking.com to seek out a place that could offer us immediate comfort and reassurance. I felt battered, dirty and exhausted but I was genuinely SO happy and proud of our epic day of adventure.
This has got to be one of the best all weather routes in the area – and for me it takes some beating due to it being nearly all decent bridleway with minimal amounts of tarmac and grass. The views are awesome. The climbs are a challenge but not too hard (you can stay on the bike for them all) . The descents are fun and technical but not too technical – meaning a novice could tackle lots of them (protective gear like elbow pads and knee pads are recommended). All in all it has everything I would look for in an MTB ride – there’s even a choice of pubs and cafes in Edale for the end of the ride so you can celebrate with beer or cake or both! –
Allow 2.5 – 5 hours for this ride. Distance is approx 20km and elevation gain is 750 metres. The climbs are tough though. This ride can seem slow going.
The ride start can be anywhere in Edale – we parked at Barber Booth –
Start: Head up the hill towards Mam Tor then take a right turn – the first climb up Chapel Gate is a long one, I think it took 30 minutes. We took it in 3 main stages. It’s a big old test on lungs and legs and a bit of technical skill needed as some areas are sandy and loose.
The views over the valley are incredible and motivate you to keep pedalling. At the top there’s a flat-ish section which is sandy and marshy, in the winter (and sometimes summer) there are huge puddles here so watch out!
Then you descend a rocky track, with irregular lose stones. The stones move around and fly up a bit – be prepared for the sound of rocks bashing your frame! It’s a real bone shaker – be sure that your helmet is on tight and everything is secure!
Once you get to the end of this section (hopefully without a puncture but quite possible if you don’t ride tubeless) a narrow track through a gate brings you out at another fun descent – this one is fun and fast and ends with a bend in the track. You then start to climb again with lovely green fields around you as you follow a track between stone walls.
There’s a brilliant descent to a little stream, after this you begin a fairly long climbing section again. The scenery is always wonderful. The climb becomes rocky again, not all the rocks are fixed so you have to focus and pick your line. There are a few bends and after each one a bit more of the climb is revealed. The feeling when you get to the top is great and the views over to your left and ahead are towards Chinley, Hayfield and Manchester in the far distance.
Lots of momentum and throwing your weight forwards is needed to get you over the humps and bumps. The sheer length of this section is what drained me, and when I finally reached the top I pretty much flung my bike down and sat on the floor gasping for air and gathering my thoughts. The struggle was so real. If there’d been anyone else on the trail they would have heard me yelling and motivating myself to keep going, just one pedal at a time. I find that self motivation really does help me to strive and push that little bit harder, although it probably makes me sound crazy.
The longest and final climb starts with a gateway and goes off fairly steeply. The surface is small stones, they are sort of compacted into the track but they move around under the wheels. There’s slipping and wheel spinning and I find it really hard to get any real momentum or into a comfortable position. I want to stand up but then the back wheel spins, if I sit down I don’t feel like I have enough power. I find myself bobbing between the two positions. It’s flipping painful on the arse. The climb keeps pulling and pulling and I take it in stages, stopping for a breather and then doing a brief countdown “3,2,1 okay lets go” and off I go again, huffing and puffing and struggling to find my best line. After a while the surface then becomes more varied – still climbing but now much more lumpy and undulating, with the need to see your line and really control that front wheel.
The longest climb is the final one heading up before your final descent ‘the big one’ aka Jacobs Ladder. Jacobs Ladder has always had a certain amount of stigma and kudos attached to it. I’ve known a few riders have thrills and spills on there. Bashed knuckles or bent handlebars and fingers when people have been going so fast they can’t make the turn towards the end. Cut knees and scrapes when the rocks have claimed their victims. There are a few drops at the start, so if you don’t know your line it can be intimidating or scary to a rider with a degree of caution. The worst thing for me about riding down Jacobs ladder is the number of spectators (hikers) coming up and down. Firstly they may be taking your preferred line, secondly they are watching in interest and amazement as you try and get down in one piece without providing some You’ve Been Framed worthy entertainment. this time it was quiet thank goodness, I think the quietest it’s ever been and without doubt the best, most flowing route down I’ve ever had. I find it obligatory to cheer and whoop when I get to the end! High fives are also a good idea… even to strangers!
The Jacobs Ladder section has most phenomenal and i mean – PHENOMENAL views. They are world class, movie worthy in my eyes. The valley opens up with a winding path through the bottom. Its a vast open landscape that really needs you to stop and take it in for a moment. The gate half way down the descent is a good point to do this. It’s also a good time for your thighs to get a rest before resuming your downhill stance to the gate that brings you out near the joining of a few paths and a small packhorse bridge with a stream and picture postcard waterfalls.
After you cross the bridge (either so high on adrenaline that you fancy bashing through the water or the sensible route over the bridge) you have a gradual easy fast path back to Barber Booth. I can’t remember a time when this section of the ride hasn’t been filled with exhilarated chatter and enthusiasm.
I highly recommend this route if you want to sample some of the best trails and scenery the area has to offer. You can follow the route using the GPX file (see below) HAPPY RIDING!
Photos by Nick Johnson and Joanna Shimwell
Trail gear by https://www.bikester.co.uk/
Protection: Ion e-sleeve elbow guard https://www.bikester.co.uk/689204.html
In January this year I wrote down some goals:
These were some of them…
1. Get stronger/more muscle mass – train more at the gym
2. Stay at a YHA
3. Start a YouTube channel
I didn’t analyse or really think too much about how I was going to tackle reaching them but the process of writing them down in itself was very exciting.
By writing them down I felt like I had a point to refer back to – for example in 6 months or a year would my goals seem relevant now? Would I have reached them? Would I still want to reach them? How would my goals have changed?
It’s now the end of August and over the weekend I found myself dipping into my journal to see what I had written those months earlier. Life has been crazy the past 2 or 3 months I have been so consumed with the day to day running and developing the camp site business that I kind of forgot what I had written in there so it was interesting to revisit. I have a lot of professional/business goals but the particular ones I am writing about today refer to my list of PERSONAL GOALS.
I have a kind of strange habit that I carry my journal almost everywhere with me even though I haven’t opened it nearly enough lately. It’s as though the powerful words in there make me feel safe knowing that they are close to me. In the book are several pages of power thoughts and positive affirmations I have collected. There are also Iists of things I am grateful for, lists of dreams and larger, more long-term visions I have for where I want my life to go. Subconsciously by keeping them close to me they are helping me to keep the goals in my mind. Certainly knowing all those positive messages are in there is reassuring, if I am having a dark moment where my guard drops and I need to refer to some mood boosting messages then they are right there.
Anyway, I digressed from my point that I looked back to my list of goals a couple of days ago and I realised that on one page of goals I had reached EVERY. SINGLE. ONE.
It has given me such a feeling of pride in myself!
1. Get stronger. I had a moment of realisation when I saw a few photos from my recent fitness photoshoot. I couldn’t believe it was me. I’d decided I wanted to get stronger, I believed in the process, I put in the hours and I MADE IT HAPPEN. And now I have the photos to prove that what I had been visualising in my mind was real, even if only for a brief moment in time.
2. Staying at a YHA – seems like a silly goal maybe but it was linked to my desire for adventure and riding my bike at the break of dawn. I saw it in my mind, i wrote it down and I MADE IT HAPPEN! Inspired by the adventures of others I have followed online, I was determined to experience it myself. The feeling of exhilaration and pride at having made it to live what I had been seeing in my minds eye has to be one of the most powerful and amazing feelings. It affirms that you CAN make things happen. You can steer your ship. You can create your own reality. I believe that the more strongly you believe something and hold it in your mind, the more likely it will occur. It is the power of self belief and positive momentum.
3. My desire to start a YouTube channel had been inside me for a while… (several years) and I had never made it happen. But this year I wrote it down and I made it happen. My videos focusing on farm life have reached over sixteen thousand views. That’s amazing considering that I haven’t been active in promoting or engaging with others on YouTube, I simply made my videos, uploaded them and let them do their thing. The videos have reached mainly farming enthusiasts from all over the world and it has been wonderful to receive some lovely comments from pumpkin and Christmas tree farmers in the USA!
Why am I sharing this? Because I am so passionate about the extent to which doing this has helped me to live my day to day life with a better sense of purpose and positive energy. One phrase I repeat often in my head and aloud is “Every day I am working towards my goals”. This in itself reminds me of the words written in my journal and conjures those powerful images in my head. I dare you to give it a go! What excites me the most is what am I going to set my sights on next?
My tips on how to get started to manifest your dreams/ideas
Get a book or a journal and start writing things down
Post it notes with reminders on a mirror or notice board
Make Vision boards of places or things that inspire you (this can be physical or done on Pinterest)
Set some goals
Say positive affirmations out loud if you can (Out loud is more powerful)
TAKE ACTION! Small steps can lead to big changes….
Photos by Joanna Shimwell, Nick Johnson and Fiftyone Eight (Dean Smith)
As I lie in bed on the day of my photo shoot, my tummy is gurgling and empty. I feel nervous but excited. I haven’t had anything to look forward to in a really long time. The nervous feeling is unfamiliar – I probably haven’t felt like this since my personal training exams in February of this year. It’s now late August.
Earlier on this year I embarked on a new stage in my fitness journey. The aim of the game was to become stronger. Why?
I can pin point the exact moment where I felt my strength was not where I wanted it to be. It was in Barcelona last year, we went to the outdoor gym section of the beach and there were tons of athletic guys doing pull ups and all kinds of body weight callisthenic type exercises using bars. I sat and watched them in absolute awe of what they could do, and I thought to myself – wow, I’m spending time training in the gym and I am incapable of doing anything like this.
Up until last summer I was a cardio and HIIT type of girl. I was fell racing throughout the year and doing spinning and HIIT classes at the gym. I’d improved my upper body strength to the point where I could do full press ups, which for me was an achievement. I was lean and afraid of gaining weight as I liked the lean look. I may have been lean and light but I felt I was majorly lacking in strength.
So I started training weights more and eating more on the return from my holiday and I had a one month “mini bulk” where I relaxed my diet and gained a bit of fat and a bit of muscle. Then I booked a holiday for December so after around 5 weeks of lifting more and running less, I started wanted to trim down again. This meant NO MUSCLE GAINS!
I was looking lean on my holiday to Cuba and I felt good until I got a tummy bug which completely wiped me out. I went from being energetic and enthusiastic to keep fit during my holiday, to a frail, weak shell. After my holiday to Cuba I must have lost muscle and fat and I came home at 52 kilos which was the lightest I had been in a long while (I am 5’7).
I got back in the gym straight away and started training and eating. Under the guidance of my friend Emma Thackray (Instagram @et_pt_fitness) who has competed as in Athletic Figure competitions. She’s been an inspiration to me from the start of my fitness journey. I had a new training plan and goals for my meals/calories and macros. This was new to me, to be eating more. For my food choices to be not the food I necessarily enjoyed (e.g oats every day in the morning). I explained I was struggling with the food aspect and the advice I was given was to keep my calories and food intake high to ensure I was in a calorie surplus, and to train as hard as I could – pushing the weights I lift as much as possible. I did this. Every week. I stopped running, I began lifting weights for around 5 hours a week. My activity level is always pretty high being a personal trainer / farmer and running a camp site I barely ever sit down so there was no need and no time for extra cardio in my life. My weight crept up over a period of 5 months to the point where
I was 63 kilos in May and I didn’t feel good about standing on the scales. So I stopped weighing myself. For the first time ever I could feel my thighs touching when I wore jeans. It was such a weird feeling. My bum grew much larger to the point where I could hardly believe it belonged to me (as I have never had a booty before!)
In June I reached a point where I felt the eating had to slow down. I’d just had enough. I didn’t have a plan of how hard I would bulk for. I didn’t have an end goal for when I’d like to cut back down for. I’d been increasing my weights in the gym and particularly in training lower body had seen really good improvement in the weights I was lifting. So I carried on training as hard as I could and my food started to taper in. I was really keen to keep my protein intake high and started to consume a lot of egg whites and chicken! I saved my carbohydrate intake until before training sessions where i would enjoy a bagel before my session. Mentally and physically it felt good to have that strength and energy to push hard in my sessions now that I didn’t have as much food in my system.
I didn’t weigh myself for a while but I could physically see the changes in me and my clothes began to feel better. I’m June I stepped on the scale and I was around 60 kilos. I then decided to really stick to my macros and calories and over the last 2 months I have upped my cardio level as well, resulting in a gradual weight loss of 5 kilos over 2 months. I have had indulgences in this time, but on the whole I’ve been 80 percent disciplined. My life on the camp site got busier and busier and my life became more restricted by the daily constraints of cleaning, checking in and then preparing to do it again the next day and the next day. I couldn’t make plans to go out and do things so it was the perfect time to knuckle down and stick to my diet. Many weeks the only time I have left the farm is to go to work at the gym (FITISM Bakewell instagram @fitismuk) and to train myself. I have put my training as a high priority and it’s been amazing for giving me the head space and mental strength to get through tough times working with the public for 12 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Until a week ago I still had no end point and no goal that I was working towards. I had cut my calories further and was starting to feel hungry. I decided to book a photo shoot, so I could try and capture the results of my journey and efforts of around 150 hours pushing / pulling weights at the gym in 2018.
The photos are simply to mark the end point of being “lean” so that I can start to relax my diet again. The main goal here was to improve my strength and put on some muscle. Did I do this? Yes. I can see that I have more muscle in certain areas and I have tracked my weight progression so I know I am stronger. But it takes time and there is more work to be done and more cycles of eating more and pushing the intensity of my sessions, tracking the weights I lift and challenging myself to do more. What can I use as a marker for my progress? I can now do a few unassisted pull ups in succession. I can do around 6 unassisted chin ups and I can do bodyweight dips.
I am working on press ups progression so by moving my hand position down closer to my waist I am gradually heading towards being able to hold my bodyweight on my hands with them by my hips in what is known as a ‘planche’. It’s a mega test of strength and balance and it will no doubt take a while to get there but I am enjoying the journey.
So that brings me to today. Photoshoot day! Weighing 55 kilos which is only a few heavier than when I began at 52 kilos in January. It’s likely / hopeful that the extra kilos are muscle as I think visually my body fat percentage is similar to what it was at the start. Now I’m just hoping I can bring some attitude to the photoshoot!
A couple of weeks ago I went back to my MTB roots to ride in the Peak District. After a few months of taking trips to Wales and the Lake District to do some new routes it was awesome to be riding familiar, local trials that I’ve not ridden for a long time! The prolonged hot spell of weather had turned the trials into fast, compacted race-ways and everyone had been raving about them, so I was keen to get out and experience these freak conditions for myself! The sweltering heat slowed me down slightly as I parked up at Fairholmes and immediately turned into a floppy wreck while trying to set up. As I sat with the air-con on, patiently waiting (hoping) it would cool down outside, it gave me time to check out the new kit I had ready to try out. That morning I’d had a package delivery from Bikester – I’m always excited to get my hands on new kit, and a brand new backpack is like Christmas Day! The new smell, the bright, unblemished outer without a single grease mark or mud splat. It’s the first time I have opted to try a new brand – USWE Airborne 15
I am a huge fan of bright clothing on the trials, it helps you to stand out so other riders can see you, it identifies you, and makes you visible from afar so that if anything was to happen you’d be spotted more easily by a rescue team. No one wants to be camouflaged into the landscape, particularly if riding alone or in unknown areas where you never know what could happen. This backpack is SO vivid you have no danger of blending in, and it has reflective sections on front and back.
I have always been faithful to EVOC and their rucksacks are great, but it’s good to try something new and USWE had some interesting styles and design features. Let’s talk about the straps: I’m used to a traditional style fastening – with a upper body and lower strap. On EVOC you have a thick lower Velcro strap which makes you feel very strapped in, and it also means you have a very sweaty back every time you ride. The USWE pack has a criss cross fastener that comes from 4 points to a single clasp on the chest. I felt a bit like a racing car driver. It was very quick to close and open…. no fiddling or fumbling around required. This is useful for cold rides where you have thick gloves and numb fingers. The bag is also vented to help with the profuse sweating I was doing that day!
At 9 litres in volume, the USWE Airborne is smaller than I’m used too. I tend to go out for rides lasting up to 7 hours so I usually want to take a fair amount of food (and when I say food I mean chocolate bars) and water. I’ve recently started taking a water filter out on rides too which has been really useful. Mid-way on the accent up Helvellyn on a blistering day and managed to refill using the filter and water from a stream. Win! The hydration bladder on the bag holds 2.5 litres of water and is so compact in comparison to taking say… 3 bottles!
This means more room for other bits and bobs like essential tools and a spare tube. There was plenty of room for this in a handy compartment and I was impressed with the functionality for the size. Also really worth mentioning the helmet section – this is an area between the main hydration pocket and the front pocket. It’s designed to be compatible with MTB and full face helmets which is really a thoughtful design to suit all types of mountain biking. Personally it’s perfect for putting my knee pads in for rides that involve a long climbing section where you may as well take your pads off and put them on before the descent. The adjustable toggles were very handy for making sure the pads stay secure so you can ride without a care!
So how did the bag perform over bumps and going downhill? My test ride took me over an undulating rocky section which included lots of movement and changes in my position and bodyweight. Without the waist strap I am used to I thought maybe the bag might move but it stayed put and when going down over rocks and little drops it didn’t bobble or budge it was firmly on my back. I forgot I was wearing it and I couldn’t really feel it was there. The No More Dancing Monkey technology was true to it’s word and I really thought that the bag performed amazingly well in this area.
The return to the Peaks was a short but successful one – the riding was fast and fun, but due to the heat I didn’t stay out for as long as intended. I also narrowly missed a heavy rain shower which no doubt the reservoirs would have been grateful for (as the subject of much local chat is how low the water levels are). Screeching down the descent behind The Ladybower Inn in a cloud of dust was a fun experience, and I jumped off for a pit-stop shandy before deciding I’d had enough for one day, peddling the road section back to Fairholmes. Being out for a couple of hours on such a stunning summers day in Derbyshire was wonderful. Can’t wait to be out again now!
Photos: Joanna Shimwell @joannashimwell and Nick Johnson @magicj_uk