YAY it's Bike Week! Time to celebrate all that's great about cycling (I know, as if I didn't do enough of that already). If you follow me on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter you might realise that actually, for me, practically every week is Bike Week. For as long as I can remember I've loved to ride my bike.
My childhood was filled with brightly coloured Universal BMXs (you know, the cool ones with the foam frame guards), and through college and uni I gained a mate's BMX, an old Peugeot racer and bright pink Chopper. Now, my much loved mountain bikes and roadie take pride of place in our flat (never, ever outside!), and take me on all sorts of wheely adventures from Brighton and Sussex to Wales, Scotland and beyond. I wanna take the bikes abroad this year, starting with the road bike. It's an alien world to me and I don't know the first thing about travelling with a bike, so any tips on how to get / pack a bike box, where to fly to and good places to ride are much appreciated!
For me, cycling brings me a world of joy - just as much joy as it did when I was a kid. It takes me right back to my childhood, razzing around the woods at the pump track on my BMX, riding round and round the block as fast as I could go, racing other kids and slowing only when my legs were burning and my lungs could take no more. Doing three paper rounds before school so I could ride my BMX on clear, 6am roads, or leaving it right to the last minute to ride home from town in time for my curfew, just to see how fast I could do it.
Nowadays, I still chase that lung burn, but most of my cycling is done for fun and wellbeing. It literally feeds my soul, and tops me up with happy. I love nothing more than being outside on the wheels, whether that's getting around town, commuting, on a long ride across the Downs or hitting the trails locally or in Wales. In fact Wales is my playground, and I wish it was nearer. If you're looking for some incredible mountain biking, Wales is your place. Read my write up of the mountain bike trail centres in Wales that I've been to so far.
The most beautiful place I've ever ridden my bike is Scotland, my happy place. Not because the actual riding we did was the best - it was far from flowy in places - but because of the magnificent scenery. And I mean magnificent. That trip totally blew my mind. You can read about it here if you fancy a bit of Scotland porn.
I love how challenging cycling can be, whether it's cranking up the gears and pushing hard on the road for the commute home (gonna get QOM on that Strava segment one day, I can feel it), or digging deep on a climb to get to the reward of the descent just that little bit quicker. I love scaring the shit out of myself down some flowy, rocky singletrack, but equally I love riding past queuing traffic knowing I'm gonna get there quicker, and I love that I can be anywhere I want in Brighton within 10mins on the bike.
The first time I reached the top of Ditchling Beacon :)
I have to say actually, one thing I miss since becoming self employed is my mini daily commute. Even though it was just 2/3 miles each way to Hove I had my 30mins of cycling each day to wake up and wind down for a day in the office. Now that I work from home, in cafes and my amazing co-working space just 10mins away, I don't need to commute every day, and I miss the routine. I think I'm gonna have to sort that out with a 'commute' home maybe... ride to F45 or the gym, then go for a little spin before coming back home to shower and start work?
Anyway, enough about my love afair with my bikes - we'll get a room, don't worry...
What do the women of Brighton love about cycling? As it's Bike Week, I wanted to find out whether the women of Brighton love cycling as much as I do too, and what keeps them coming back for the ride. According to Sport England's 2015/16 Active Lives Survey, Sussex has a higher proportion of people who cycle regularly (14.7%) than the national average, with Brighton (18.7%) and Chichester (23.6%) topping the table. Brighton doesn't come as a surprise to me - we're actually very set up for cycling here, I think. Lots of well maintained cycle lanes, stretching all along the seafront and to Stanmer Park and Hove if you go the right way.
In the mornings the seafront cycle lanes are heaving with all sorts of bikes, it makes me happy to know that I can get to Worthing 80% off the road if I want to.
To celebrate Bike Week and find out what the women of Brighton love about cycling, I set out for a ride around the city with the GoPro in hand. I spoke to women of all ages and abilities with all sorts of bikes. The answers are inspiring and confirmed everything I already knew about this wonderful sport. Seeing them get all giddy when they spoke about how it evokes childhood memories, brings them joy and makes them feel free reminded me of exactly why I love to ride. The fact that it also saves them money, keeps them fit and helps them get around the city nice and easy is a happy side effect.
THIS, is why we ride....
Happy Bike Week! Why does Brighton love cycling? - YouTube
What's next? I've got a big few months on the bikes planned so read about my summer cycling goals, including my first century ride at Velo South, and longest XC ride at the BHF South East Coast next month. And if you're still hungry for more, catch up on other bike-shaped blogs below:
Last night on the way to get picked up for hockey practice something horrible happened to me. If this was a few years' earlier, before I discovered exercise and had zero body confidence, it might've reduced me to tears.
If this was when I was at primary school, when kids used to call me 'fat bitch' for being a bit podgy, I would've cried and cried and cried.
If this was in secondary school and college, when I was still horrifically self conscious and used to wear big baggy hoodies and jeans in the height of summer so no one would see my thighs and my belly, then yes, I might've balled my eyes out. I used to hang out with my friends with jumpers and cushions over my belly when sat down because I couldn't bear for them to see my rolls. I made sure I constantly breathed in hard whenever I was standing up so I looked slimmer. I spent my summers ridiculously hot, uncomfortable and sweating like a pig because I didn't have the confidence to wear what everyone else was wearing. I hated my feet so much I didn't have a pair of sandals my 26th birthday when Chris bought me some lovely Birkenstocks. They lasted 5 years, he bought me my second pair this year and I love them just as much.
If this was just after I finished uni, when I was recovering from Goodpastures disease (nothing good about that one, I can assure you), and I'd put on nearly two stone from water retention, steroids and the cocktail of drugs I was on, I would've 100% cried right there in the street, and probably never stopped.
You're probably wondering wtf actually happened, right? Come on Tess - spit it out! Well it might not seem so bad now, saying it out loud, writing it sat here in this lovely cafe, no cushion on my belly and rolls on full show...
A couple of lads leant out their car and shouted:
"Put them away, skank!"
They said something else too but I couldn't hear as they drove off. Initially I looked around to see who they were shouting at as I'm actually pretty happy with the way my body feels and looks right now because of all the weightlifting and hiit training I'm doing. I realised they were definitely talking to me because there were no other cars on the road and I was the only pedestrian. Walking to my team mate's car, in my shorts, t shirt, shin pads and hockey socks, minding my own business. Off for my second exercise session of the day, actually, but whatever. I'll put them away, shall I?
Now let me just say this right here, right now - THIS IS NOT OK.
It's happened before, when I got back from a very hot and humid Bestival, wearing my festival shorts. These ones were high waisted and very high on the thigh. There were jiggly bits all over the place but for ONCE my thighs didn't rub together that much as I'd discovered the joy of bootcamp not long before so was actually at my slimmest.
We parked the car after the long drive home, and I walked straight up the shop for milk in my festival shorts. I did actively consider whether to get changed as this was now 'real life' and I surely the real world wasn't ready for these thighs just yet? I considered it, but not for long. I wanted a cup of tea and a shower, so I was brave, and walked up the shops in my shorts. I don't know whether it was the post-festival blues or the aggressive nature in which she said it (that's right, this time it was a she) - "eeeeeerrrr look at the state of those, put them away, fuck sake" - but the tears did come this time, along with the lump in throat, and as I power walked my offensive legs faster towards the shop I vowed never to subject the world to them ever again.
Again - THIS IS NOT OK.
What gives someone, male or female, the right to shout about the way another person looks? What is it about my thighs that is so offensive to the human eye? Why did those lads feel the need to stick their heads out of the window to say anything at all, couldn't they have just kept the thought to themselves? And the girl after Bestival, she was actually pissed off her face and looking for a fight, but that doesn't matter, it still cut deep.
Words are powerful. But so are these thighs.
These thighs can probably squat those guys' bodyweight, and then both of them combined, given time. (I'm on 3x 12 65kg so assume my 1max rep would be higher than that)
These thighs can leg press 150kg for 3x 12, and box jump the red box (for the first time today - YAY)
These thighs can run marathons (not right now, mind, but they have done!)
These thighs have brought me the greatest PBs I could ever dream of, and made me feel invincible after running faster than ever before.
These thighs have played new sports like hockey, and skateboarding, and trampolining, and rugby FFS.That's a point actually - these thighs played rugby for not just Sussex but South East England U18s before I went to uni thank you very much.
These thighs don't need permission to get air time. They don't need validation from anyone, and they definitely don't need me wasting any more of my time worrying about what other people think of them.
They're coming out to play, and so is the rest of me, and if you've got something to say, lads shouting out of car windows, let's go down the gym and I'll show you what they can do. You can show me what yours can do too, and then I'll pick you up and squat you.
Strong is not a size
And like a sign from above, today is the launch of Women In Sport and British Weightlifting's campaign to encourage more women to lift weights - #StrongIsNotaSize, supported by This Girl Can (catch up on my escapades as a This Girl Can Ambassador here). I've been waiting for this to launch and tbh it couldn't have happened on a better day because after yesterday it's reminded me of exactly why we need more women in the weights area.
We need more women to experience the strength it brings, not just physical but emotional and mental. The confidence that comes with switching the focus of what your body can do, instead of how it looks. The freedom from self doubt and embarrassment. The empowerment of strength and sass all rolled into one, lording it round the weights area, sweat dripping from your red face, fitting in with the 'big boys'.
Looking in the mirror and liking what you see, not because it looks good but because it feels good first. The changing body shape that comes with the fat loss and increased muscle definition is a happy side effect. It's the endorphins I do it for. I'm only ever here for the endorphins. And the confidence it brings me. The fire in my belly that I feed off all day as I bounce out of the gym after a great PT or solo session.
The power of being able to walk down the road in shorts or whatever the hell I like, and for once, not give a damn about what anyone thinks of me. That's priceless, that is.
That's My Strong. What's yours?
Get involved with #StrongIsNotASize by sharing your photos and stories on social, tagging Women In Sport, British Weightlifting and This Girl Can.
Where do I start with this one? The crazed, joyous cackle of a mud-soaked Tess leaping into boggy swamps? The scared, hyperventilating Tess flapping across a lake on her back trying not to drown? (5:44 onwards in the below video if you're interested). Or the screaming, crampy calf that decided to go on the VERY LAST OBSTACLE, mere metres from the finish line? (Didn't record that unfortunately, maybe for the best...)
It's been a long time since I've ran an obstacle race, and I forgot just how much fun they are. If you're a regular follower of this blog, you'll know I'm a sucker for finding the fun in fitness - and let me tell you, the Wolf Run did not disappoint!
So much mud. So many hills. So much FUN. With a bit of swearing along the way (this was the end of April and after the extended winter we had, I can assure you, those lakes were COLD).
Teamwork makes the dream work
There's something about OCRs that gives me all the feels. I think it's the camaraderie and team aspect of it, everyone in it together, helping each other over the obstacles to the finish. Everyone smiling and laughing their way around the course, (apart from my occasional panic where deep water or heights were involved).
On April 28 I gathered my Wolf Run team and headed to Pippingford Park for the 10k race. My wolves: Chris, my tree surgeon husband (who leapt his way round the course like Tarzan on speed), and two lovely boxer friends Carla and Darren.
I'm not gonna lie, I was about as prepared for this as I was for the BM10K - i.e. not at all. Don't try this at home, kids. With zero running under my belt over the past few weeks, but lots of weight training with my PT and HIIT at F45 (will blog that soon, promise), I was interested to see if I would get round in one piece.
The answer is, well... sort of. With a little help from my friends!
An impromptu massageThe course itself was stunning actually. If you like the lung-busting, leg-burning feels you get when trail running you'll love Pippingford Park. LOTS of very steep ups and slippy, slidy downs, stodgy, muddy hills and forests to run through, and plenty of water to swim/flap/panic your way through (delete as appropriate).
It's a perfect location for an obstacle race, although if I did it again I would 100% do a bit of actual running in the lead up as those hills were MEGA. I thought it would be my knees that would be a problem but they were fine - it was my calves that took a right good thrashing going in and out of the freezing cold water!
I've never had my muscles cramp on me mid-race. Have you? It's really weird. It creeps up on you, with little twinges that turn into big, convulsing spasms. I realise now that these are the warning spasms of muscles saying 'hey, I don't like this, if you don't stop what you're doing, in a bit I'm gonna go batshit crazy and you won't be able to move.'
My calf decided that right on the very last obstacle, while I was climbing to the top, mere metres from the much-anticipated finish line, would be a great place to do that. I had to slide back down the ramp holding onto the rope and get two lovely marshals to massage my muddy, bruised and beaten legs. It was an intimate moment punctured only by my swearing and ominous 'aaaah's and 'ooooh's as other runners passed us. I thought I filmed the whole thing but didn't in the end so I'll spare you the footage.
I haven't looked at what time we finished because it doesn't matter and it wasn't about a time, but I know it slowed partially due to me hobbling the last mile or so with my calf and various struggles / meltdowns along the way at the big scary wet stuff called water. I need to get back in there and show myself I can swim again.
This girl can't... but she'll have a good try There were two full swims along the course - one 50m and one 75m, across VERY COLD and muddy lakes. The first one was preceded by a massive water slide which sounds like fun but not if your name's Tess so this was about 8/10 for fear factor! I did it though, mainly because there was a queue of people behind me waiting to go and I didn't have long to think about it.
Just when I entered the cold water the shock came and that was it - couldn't breathe, couldn't touch the floor (short person problems), couldn't do anything except flap at the lovely kayaker to come and save my life while the others swam to the other side.
The second swim was entered in a much calmer way, by lowering ourselves into the lake. I felt I could do it this time but only if on my back so that's what I did. Thank the bloody lord for the helpful marshals who promised to look out for me and my teammate Carla who swam beside me calming me down as I panicked my way across.
I cannot tell you how scary it was about half way across when all I could think about was how far out we were, how deep we were, how far away the kayaker now might be, how I can't swim in my shoes, how heavy my kit is, how much the GoPro is slipping off my head, how long it's taking to get to the other side, how I still can't catch my breath - you get the idea.
Longest 75m EVER. But the feeling at the other end - AMAZING!
But despite the fear on some of the obstacles, the cramp and pain at various points in the race, The Wolf Run was basically just one big laugh and I'd 100% do it again. I want to do it again just to do that first swim and also that first high climbing frame.
The race village was really well stocked, including some low calorie beer, along with other food stalls, changing areas and a feck load of power hoses to jet wash ourselves down with after! There was also a bouncy castle and face painting for kids which was great as we had our very own cheerleader join us for the day.
If you fancy a laugh check out my GoPro video below and let me know what you think! Also, don't forget to subscribe to my YouTube Channel as I'm making a lot more of these now :)
Wolf Run South - Pippingford Park, East Sussex - YouTube
There's a special kind of freedom that comes with being on two wheels in a wide open expanse of green. A special type of joy that comes with throwing your bike down a fast, flowy piece of singletrack. A lovely dose of adrenalin when you conquer that scary drop or rooty section that's been terrorising you for months. And a lung-busting sense of pride when you reach the top of that bloody great big hill you've been dreading on your ride.
It's no secret that I absolutely LOVE mountain biking, and cycling in general. It's a love that's burned inside of me since I first got on one as a kid (thanks Dad), razzing my BMX around the pump track and in the woods, being late home for dinner for just one more ride.
Even when I broke my leg showing off to my mates at seven years old, I got back on the bike. When I broke my collarbone and wrist in 2016 pumping too hard and getting air before remembering I can't jump, I got back on the bike.
This is my calling, and I want you to join me.
International Women's Mountain Biking Day!
Today is the inaugural International Women's Mountain Biking Day! (Thanks Mara for the tag on Insta!) Created by the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA), IWMBD is to be held on the first Saturday of May each year starting this year, and is a celebration of all things mountain biking for women.
It's a PERFECT day to celebrate for a number of reasons: 1) it's the start of a Bank Holiday weekend, 2) it's BLOODY SUNNY GUYS, GET ON YOUR BIKES, and 3) IT'S BLOODY SUNNY GUYS, GET ON YOUR BIKES!!!
If you're looking for inspiration to get into mountain biking, I've shared some resources and a few of my posts below, and you can follow me on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook over the weekend where I'll be sharing my mountain bike adventures with you. Also don't forget to subscribe to my YouTube channel as I share more of my bike-shaped shenanegins over there too!
If you do get out on your bike today, share your stories using #womensmtbday and don't forget to tag me so I can join the conversation!
How to get into mountain biking 1. Join a Breeze ride
For those not in the know, Breeze is a fantastic initiative from British Cycling and Sport England to encourage more women on wheels. There are hundreds of rides across the country led by qualified leaders (Breeze Champions), aimed at all levels from beginner to experienced. These women-only groups offer an inclusive, welcoming and fun group to ride with, where you'll learn new skills, meet new friends and eat a lot of cake whilst building your confidence on the bike.
First taste of Surrey Hills trails with Marmalade MTB - YouTube
The best way to discover new routes and places to ride is by getting someone to show you. That's what we did for our first taste of the glorious Surrey Hills singletrack mecca last year. We'd heard there were trails nearby to us in Brighton but we didn't know where to start to find them, so we found Sean from Marmalade MTB and got him to show us.
Throughout year he does weekly guided rides to the Surrey Hills, South Downs and beyond to Wales, Isle of Wight and even Scotland, taking groups of upto eight of all abilities. If you're riding the Surrey Hills and don't have a bike, you can hire one from Pedal and Spoke at Peaslake, and he can also arrange hire for other locations too.
Ooooooooh yesssss I LOVE a good mountain bike trail centre!! These are the playgrounds of my adulthood. The places I get my kicks, where I whooop, woooooo and weeeeeeeeee! my way down the lovely purpose-built, fast and flowy trails before collapsing in a pile of happy at the trail centre cafe.
This is how I got into trail riding and riding singletrack, and this is where I'm at my happiest on a bike. There are trail centres all over the UK with trails graded from green (easy, family friendly) to black (gnarly, not-Tess-friendly at present!). I ride blues (fast flowy, fun) and reds (fast, flowy, more technical with rocky sections and roots).
There's no getting away from the fact that mountain biking is still very much a sport dominated by men, BUT times are changing girls! More and more women are riding off road and a great way to find other badass women to ride with is by going on a women's mountain biking weekend!
I did this last September at Coed Y Brenin (an awesome trail centre in North Wales) and had the BEST weekend. It rained the whole bloody time but it was such a laugh and filled my heart with happy to see so many women on the trails. We outnumbered the blokes that weekend and gave them a run for their money on the trails too!
Thanks to Sustrans, the National Cycle Network is a huge network of cycle-friendly routes on traffic-free paths and quiet roads connecting to every major town and city. They're signposted by blue and white signs along the way and are sure to lead you to cycling joy :)
There are some cracking off road routes like The Downs Link, connecting Surrey and Shoreham along a disused railway line. (Note, railway line means flat, which is lovely).
I realise this only works if you're down this way but the South Downs is right on my doorstep here in Brighton and the South Downs Way stretches 100 miles from Winchester to Eastbourne with some proper good climbs and gorgeous mountain bike heaven to ride.
Just follow the public bridleway signs with the acorns (not the footpaths or other bridleways) and enjoy the ride!
I've ridden sections of it numerous times, you can catch up with my posts below:
BHF London to Brighton off road ride | thefitbits.com - YouTube
Another great way to get into mountain biking is to join an event. I rode the BHF London to Brighton a couple of years ago and LOVED it (as the shaky video above proves - this was my first time using a GoPro, I've got a lot better since then! Subscribe to my YouTube channel to see more vids)
This event was fully supported with amazing fuel and water stations along the way, as well as first aid tents and break areas etc. so it was great to know we were really being looked after (and raising money for charity too!)
This July me and Chris are taking on the new BHF South East Coast ride, attempting the 55 mile route across the South Downs which will be a right good challenge with those insane climbs!
So there you have it. Plenty of ways to get into mountain biking! I know I keep banging on about the joys of cycling but there really is no other way to feel that magic you did as a kid again, that freedom, that JOY. Get on your bike!
Share your mtb stories on social media using #womensmtbday (and don't forget to tag me at @FitBits_ on Twitter and Insta, and @fitbitsblog on Facebook!)
Tell me what makes your heart sing like cycling does to mine? :)
When the cinema is full you know it's gonna be a good one. When the people in that cinema join you in laughing at all the right places, and come together in a collective applause as you leave, you go home, get on the blog and tell everyone about it immediately, even though you've got 6am PT the next morning.
MAMIL. Funny, warm, and moving. Relatable on so many levels. If you know, you know.
Middle Aged Men in Lycra, for those not in the know, is a film written by Nickolas Bird and Eleanor Sharpe, and narrated by Tour de France commentator Phil Liggett, about what makes men turn to the bike at a certain age. Midlife crisis? Health scare? To support a friend fighting cancer? Or simply to stay alive.
The film follows a few groups through their various love affairs with the wheels. The Fat Boys cycling club from Adelaide and their blossoming bromance that stretches far beyond the time spent actually out on the bikes. A christian cycling club and how they see their rides as a form of worship and way to connect with God.
A man and his best friend, now free from cancer, who inspired him to ride to raise money for cancer. A high flying barrister who clung to cycling after a relationship breakdown and who has now lost a part of his soul to the bike and everything that comes with it, travelling the world to take on the toughest climbs in honour of his heroes. Or the journalist who took up cycling to combat MS.
It's an irreverent celebration of all that the bike brings to us:
FREEDOM - and joy in its purest form. A hark back to our childhoods, where we could jump on the wheels to go anywhere, and do anything we liked.
FRIENDS - the communities we're part of, in person and online. The people we ride with, our clubs, our groups, our friends - these are the people who keep us out there, even when we really don't want to or when life gets tough.
FITNESS - of course it brings us fitness, makes us push ourselves, achieve things we never thought possible. Climbing hills we've always dreamed of, riding distances we've heard others talk of. Getting faster, stronger, better with every revolution of the pedal.
FUN - because, really, is there anything more enjoyable than riding your bike as fast or as far as you can, with your favourite people? Not really.
One line that got a laugh was when one of the riders was mountain biking: "When you're descending, go fast enough to kill yourself." I can relate to that, and unfortunately learnt my lesson when I decided to throw myself off my bike and break my collarbone and wrist in 2016. It's a lesson I'm still learning as I get throat punched by the new-found fear when I least expect it.
And this line really got me:
"It makes you want to believe in something other than your legs."
They're right, you know. There really is nothing like the feeling you get when you're totally in flow on a bike. Like the runner's high, only faster.
This film isn't so much about the actual bikes (although of course it does talk about how much they all spend on them and me and Chris got serious shed envy more than once). It's about the mental health and wellbeing benefits that cycling brings to us all. Not just MAMILS. The underrepresented MAFILS(?) too? (PS. you might've seen my mug in a Huff Post article about this last week).
One thing it did make me do though, was want to ride my bike!
Two wheels, rolling countryside, freezing cold blue skies and uninterrupted sunshine. Is there a better way to spend a weekend? Maybe, if it was a teeny bit warmer, so you don’t end up looking like Rudolph from the wind chill, but apart from that, I don’t think so.
I’ve been wanting to share my PlusBike Day Out with you for a while and it’s finally time. If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you may have seen my mini solo mountain bike adventure last month when I took my trusty steed on the train to Winchester to ride the part of the South Downs Way I’ve never done before.
It was an adventure thanks to the National Rail Enquiries’ PlusBike tool, and I’ve teamed up with them to show you how nice and easy it is to jump on a train with your bike – or hire one at the other end – and enjoy a lovely cycle ride in a new place.
The PlusBike tool is available within the National Rail Enquiries mobile app and online, giving info such as bike restrictions or reservations on trains (important for London at peak times), secure bike-parking facilities at stations, and also local bike hire where provided.
As I had my own bike I didn’t need to hire one but this I thought was pretty cool as it opens up more places to explore on two wheels.
The more we can make cycling accessible the better, right?
This ride was a big deal for me, for a number of reasons: 1) It’s only the second ever time I’ve been on a long solo mountain bike ride (the first time was a birthday treat) Which means I’m responsible for my own planning, navigation, timekeeping and feeding. Those who know me will know that apart from feeding, these things are definitely not my strong points, but in the spirit of This Girl Can, I can, and I did.
2) It’s the first time I’ve ever been to Winchester and ridden this section of the SDW (Winchester to Petersfield) What if I get lost? What if I can’t find the South Downs Way? What if I go off course and end up down a rabbit hole? Spoiler – I did go off course early on, but only slightly, and found my way back with the help of the OS mobile app – God only knows what I’d do if the internet ever ceased to exist.
Lolz... went off course in the first 30mins - thank God for the OS maps app!
3) There would be no one else to rely on to fix any mechanicals Usually I ride in a group or with Chris, and I’m embarrassed to say that for someone who truly LOVES cycling and has done since day dot, my bike maintenance knowledge and skillset is pretty minimal. I’ve been on a basic course but it kinda went in one ear and out the other, (I need to do things to learn, not just be shown them), so this was unknown territory for me.
This girl CANAt the start of this year I made a resolution that 2018 would be the year I learn to look after my own bikes. This is partly a money saving exercise – far too much of mine is going into the pockets of the very helpful staff at the bike shop down the road – but also part of my 2018 This Girl Can / JFDI manifesto.
⤖ Tess can plan a mtb trip and get herself there and back in one piece (red nose and chapped lips included – oh glorious spring, where for art thou?)
⤖ Tess can change her own brake pads (with only a slight paddy in the hallway when she tries for too long to undo the wrong bolt).
⤖ Tess can change a puncture in the middle of the Downs (after half an hour of faffing about using the pump wrong before realising).
Tess can, and she did. And here’s how it went:
A glorious, life affirming Saturday
I was so excited about this trip. Some real me time just me and the bike up there on those hills, in glorious winter sunshine, with no one but a few other cyclists, walkers and a load of sheep for company. Self care done right :)
I woke up for the 6:30am train and promptly missed it so was a bit delayed in getting to Winchester. No worries though - the sun was shining ALL day and I was in no rush.
It was also FREEZING cold, and I was layered to the eyeballs. I had two buffs on under my helmet, one on my neck, two pairs of gloves, a base layer, my Liv thermal jersey (absolute BFF this winter, love this top so much). For once my feet were OK which made a change, but my poor reynauds-ridden hands were absolutely not. Ohhhh the cold.
After a fair amount of faffing I rode from Winchester station to find the SDW via a lovely canalside National Cycle Route and began the first big climb. We’ve had such a wet winter I was worried about the mud and whether the Downs would be rideable but to my relief it was so cold all the mud had frozen solid so was actually a dream to ride.
The route was a mix of fields, tracks and tiny country roads connecting cute little villages, with surprisingly not too many hills. I reckon this part of the SDW is actually the easiest in terms of elevation. The Eastbourne to Brighton leg is the worst, with the Seven Sisters, and Petersfield to Amberley the prettiest I’d say, with its gravel tracks and woodland paths.
Because it was so cold there was hardly anyone out there, bar a few walkers and three friendly blokes on fat bikes, one of whom kept falling off his just in front of me, helpfully showing me the line not to take through the icy mud ruts.
After a brilliant day’s riding, I was surprised at my ability to successfully adult enough to get to my B&B in East Meon, which was LOVELY btw. If you’re ever walking or cycling the South Downs Way between Winchester and Petersfield, you absolutely must stay at The Longhouse.
The owner Marjorie was so lovely and accommodating, drying my paper on the aga when I soaked it washing my bike, putting the heating on for me EVERYWHERE so it was nice and warm after my amazing hot shower, and even driving me to the pub and picking me up again for a much needed refuel dinner (and a massive glass of red).
My own pack of biscuits in the room and made it back for the rugby :) WINNING.
The whole back wing of the house was the B&B with its own kitchen diner and I had it all to myself because no other nutters were out on the hills in that cold. In the morning – which happened to be Marjorie’s birthday! - I sat at her kitchen table and enjoyed a breakfast of homemade sourdough and jam, with eggs, bacon and mushrooms.
When planning my trip I made a point of trying to find a nice little B&B instead of a soulless hotel. The South Downs Way snakes in and out of so many lovely little villages that it’s almost rude not to stop by for a taste of village life. At only £55 per night, I wasn’t disappointed, and you won’t be too – check out her website here.
A faffy stop-start Sunday
Ha what a massive faff Sunday was. A stark contrast to the trouble-free riding I had the day before. I woke up to a hearty breakfast at Marjorie’s table and headed out to complete the final few miles to Petersfield.
I had a choice – about seven or so on the road, or get back up on the SDW to ride four or five more miles and drop down into Petersfield. You’d think it was simple, but alas, no.
The route was simple enough – ride out of East Meon up a farm track, big hill, then along the SDW and down to Queen Elizabeth Country Park onto Petersfield. But the very first track wasn’t that rideable, nor was the massive hill, due to huge ruts in the ground from motorbikes and farm vehicles, and by the time it was rideable it was so steep I couldn’t get going so I had to just lug my bike to the top.
Add to that the icy mud had started to melt and was now really sticky and clogging up my wheels, chain and bike. Sunday faff no. 1.
Finally get to the top, ride a bit and think yeah, this is it, then – get a bloody puncture. And that was Sunday faff no.2. I fixed it, eventually, after half hour of getting angry with my tiny little pump not working properly. The prospect of a 90minute walk to Petersfield wasn’t that appetising so I was glad to finally get back on the bike and drop down the hill into Queen Elizabeth Country Park.
Which, is GORGEOUS by the way, have you been? When I realised my handy work had not been so handy and the tyre was flat once again I stopped at the café for a sympathy cream tea, changed the tube and used their track pump to do a better job than my little one had just done.
By the café there’s a host of bike and walking trails – including a couple of blue and red graded mountain bike trails which I didn’t realise until just now! There’s also an assault course, play area, and even a dog activity course.
I’m definitely gonna go back there with Chris and test out their mtb trails, but for this trip I had to get back so took the National Cycle Route from the park to Petersfield and jumped on a train home.
Saturday on video:
Cycling the South Downs Way from Winchester to Petersfield - my PlusBike Day Out - YouTube
My PlusBike day out was a great mini adventure and has totally whetted my appetite for more. It was a big test for me to go solo and ride a new route, sort my own punctures and be responsible for my own navigation, and I finished the ride quite proud of myself :)
Getting the train makes it an end-to-end journey and a bit more of an adventure than a loop ride. You have to get somewhere on your own steam. And, using the PlusBike tool opens up a new world of places to ride a bike, whether you take your own or hire one at the other end.
I didn't want to go cycling this weekend. Could. Not. Be. Bothered.
I tried really hard not to go too: 'it's too cold', 'the van's still in the garage', 'my bike's not ready', 'the trails won't be rideable'. Yep, believe it or not, as much as I love cycling, sometimes all I want to do is sit about in my pants eating pizza and scrolling social media (or actually writing one of the hundreds of blog posts I've got planned before they're all not relevant any more?!)
When we got the word from Bike Park Wales that our Drop Zone coaching was off and the park was closed due to the snow, (time to up our singletrack skillz - more on this later!), I pulled out all the stops to not go anywhere at all. And when the contingency plan of riding the nearby Surrey Hills was presented to me I tried even harder.
But having been my better half for nearly half of my life, Chris knows me well enough to keep pushing against my moaning, no matter how persistent, and just drag me outside anyway.
He knows just as well as I do, (and I think you do too), that the weather is never as bad as it looks once you bite the bullet and get out in it, and you always feel great once it's done, whatever exercise you're doing.
Knowing he was right to drag me out
You never regret a workout, right?
Well you never, ever regret a ride (unless it ends like this, but I don't plan on doing that again any time soon!)
Anyway, Chris did drag me out, and I'm so glad he did - it was a beautiful, snowy, sloppy, muddy weekend of riding on some of our favourite Surrey Hills trails.
He saw my 'it's too cold', and raised me my favourite Liv thermal base layer, straight from the wash.
He saw my 'the van's still in the garage', and raised me a hire van from down the road.
He saw my 'the trails won't be rideable', and raised me a worse case scenario of a lovely woodland walk around the Surrey Hills if we couldn't ride.
I've been really annoyed with the weather this winter, and that's really unlike me. We've had a really wet and windy few months in Brighton and it's stopped me getting out on the bikes as much as I'd like to. My lovely twice weekly 12 mile cycle commute to Worthing isn't such an appetising prospect when you wake up to 20, 40 or 50mph headwinds. And when it started snowing that really put a stop to any road rides.
Surrey Hills playground Before I share our weekend's adventures, let me just tell you a bit about the Surrey Hills if you don't already know. We've got Sean at Marmalade MTB to thank for introducing us to this amazing place that's an hour from our doorstep in Brighton.
Crisscrossing the North Downs around Holmbury Hill, Pitch Hill and Leith Hill you'll find an incredible network of fast, flowy, fun and rooty singletrack riding. Some of the trails are more accessible / obvious to find than others (we only know where four are off by heart - Yoghurt Pots, Telegraphs, Barry Knows Best and Summer Lightning - so ride those a lot when not with Sean or others who know the way).
Unlike the trail centre riding in Wales and Forest of Dean that we're so used to, not all Surrey Hills trails are waymarked, and the uplift and visitor centre are replaced with long, lungbusting climbs and lovely village cafes, pubs and bike shops. (For the record, we don't use the uplift all the time at BPW, we mix up a few climbs with a few treats on the bus to the top).
Looking a bit clean before the sludge fest
So this weekend was spent riding the trails we do know, with good old Barry producing the best flow in the snow. We covered just over 20 miles across the two days, with more than 2,500ft of total climbing and a record breaking amount of sludge, mud and mess on our bikes, bodies and faces. It was MEGA.
Because of the snow and sludge we rode really carefully, not sure how grippy the trails would be. Some were better than others (Barrys was fine, Yoghurts a bit iffy in places, Summer Lightning well slippy).
We chomped on the legendary cheese straws at the Peaslake shop, drank tea from Marmalade MTB mugs, and swapped our usual van dwelling for an overnight stay at the Plough Inn in Coldharbour - which, by the way, I can totally recommend as a lovely place to stop if you're visiting the Surrey Hills by bike or on foot.
Our room was beautiful (with a roll top bath and very welcome amazing shower - bathroom goals), the food was incredible (moules mariniere, homemade scotch egg, chicken, leek and ham pie, venison steak) and the staff were so helpful, accommodating and friendly. The pie was made with real shortcrust pastry and not the filo cop out you get in so many pubs these days.
We had a banging breakfast of scrambled eggs and smoked salmon on big chunky toast (me) and a full English (Chris), with our own cafatiere of coffee, and after we finished riding we washed our bikes round the back by the brewery (yes they have their own brewery).
Breakfast goals at The Plough
It was all such a treat and a really nice change from staying in our van which we normally do. And so nice to get out on the trails in the last of the snow, having fun getting covered in the sludge as it melted over the weekend.
Us and a few other riders had the trails to ourselves and those not cycling who we passed were runners, walkers, motocross riders and 4x4 drivers all out for a good play in the mud. It took me right back to my childhood, razzing my BMX round the woods getting caked in mud, not a care in the world, when the weather didn't matter and there was no such thing as sitting about on social media or watching Netflix.
Happy as a pig in...
Best weekend ever.
So guys... don't let the weather stop you when you don't want to go for that ride, get out for that run, or go to that exercise class.
When your alarm goes off for that planned pre-work session, don't hit the snooze. When it's blowing a gale outside and you contemplate skipping that post-work group run or ride, pull on your kit and get out there anyway.
Especially when you really really don't want to. Who knows, you might even enjoy yourself!