mountains

Cycling to halfway… and beyond…

It’s been ten weeks since our ski holiday and it’s gone pretty quickly really. I am now 22.5 weeks pregnant so well over the half way mark. Pregnancy is always measured in weeks, before I was pregnant this meant nothing to me, so for those in that position – pregnancy is counted (in the UK anyway) as 40 weeks long which is more than 9 months.. closer to 10 really. Half way is obviously the 20 week¬†point when there is a very detailed scan. Our 20 week scan showed a very healthy little boy measuring perfectly for his due date despite me not having very much of a bump to show and not feeling much movement yet.

After I got back from skiing, I got a cold which really knocked me in terms of energy. I was utterly exhausted and felt awful for a good couple of weeks. Pregnancy apparently narrows the sinuses anyway due to increased blood volume and the wonderful news is that almost all decongestants are banned in pregnancy as they contain stimulants. The weather also conspired against me, it snowed on and off for most of March! Very unusual for Scotland. The snow turning to ice on the paths prevented me from doing any running or cycling for a while so I ordered a couple of pregnancy fitness dvds to do at home along with my weekly yoga class.

After my cold finally shifted, the snow began to melt at lower levels. I went out for a 23km cycle with the ‘leisure ride’ group of my cycling club. It was really good fun. The ride was gentle, even for me in my current condition ūüôā but it was nice to be out with a really friendly group of women who are all building their fitness and confidence on the bike and enjoying a social ride.

I kept promising myself that I would get out for a walk more often with the ideal of turning some into a walk/jog but my energy levels at that stage were just so low overall that working and attending the occasional¬†social event was about all I could manage between needing to sleep… In early April I was needing around 10-12hrs sleep a day!!!!

For the last month I have managed to get out for a bike ride each weekend. A couple with the Hervelo¬†‘leisure’ group and a fe on my own. I have found some nice 20-25k loops from my house and although they don’t really excite me much I’m always glad I’ve gone once I’m out. I had a bit of a wobble about a week and a half ago at 21.5 weeks as the weather finally warmed and spring came and my energy returned. I felt really constrained and like I wasn’t allowed or able to do anything really fun anymore. I was very down that Saturday morning but I picked up my bike and headed out and rode 25km up into the foot of the hills on farm tracks and came back feeling 100% better. Partly it was the sunshine and fresh air and exercise and partly it was the realisation that I can do 25km if it’s steady.

The following day my husband was heading to a mountain bike trail centre near us but luckily after posting on facebook I found out a friend who is also pregnant was planning on heading down for a walk and a coffee while her partner and friends rode so we went down and had a really nice forest walk for an hour or so.

I think the wobble was caused by the return of my energy levels. I’m pleased to say that I now feel close to ‘normal’ in terms of energy and have since about 20 weeks. I know every pregnancy is different but it would have been nice to know from 6weeks onwards that it can get so much easier – I think I imagined it would only get harder!

This week, after the success of last weekend, I went out and bought myself some cheap and big bike gear. A cut-price supermarket was doing a cycling deal so I bought a pair of large ladies padded shorts which feel like they’ll last me as long as I want to keep riding. I also got a large mens cycling t-shirt and a jacket with zip off sleeves – all for ¬£30!!! It’s not high quality stuff but it’ll get me through this summer still riding.

All for £30!!

All for £30!!

Yesterday, my husband and some friends were taking part in an event. The Perthshire Enduro¬†at Dunkeld. It’s a lovely part of the world so I headed up there with a map plans for maybe a gentle ride or a walk while they were out. One of my friends there also decided not to enter as she’s saving money so she came with me and we rode a really pretty route on landrover tracks for a couple of hours and then went to the last downhill section to support the racers which was fun. It was great to just be outside all day again.

milldamsign

Tracks on the Atholl estate made gentle riding

mill dam 1

Mill Dam

I’m still not running, and I don’t think I will start again until after. After a talk by an ante-natal physio¬†I am too worried about my knees and feet as I know my alignment is all out with a wider pelvis and loser ligaments meaning all pregnant women are prone to dropped arches (I overpronted¬†before pregnancy anyway). I am really enjoying the bike riding and feeling comfortable with it and happy to say that so far I am not suffering any of the ‘normal’ pregnancy aches and pains yet so I will stick with what I know is working for me.

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Categories: mountain biking, mountains, outdoors, pregnancy, Scotland | Leave a comment

Skiing, France… at 12 weeks pregnant.

This year’s ski holiday was in Val Thorens in the Three Valleys in France. It was booked long before I got pregnant or we even knew it was likely, and to be honest the highest ski resort in Europe at 2300m (7546 ft) was probably not the best choice for a pregnant woman but with snow like this who can complain?

View from our chalet balcony

View from our chalet balcony

The snow was fantastic, and the weather was so kind to us all week – with bright sunshine every day except the final morning. And with more than 600 km (370 mi) of piste in the ski area we barely scratched the surface.

IMG_1055

Perfect snow, perfect sun.

Skiing at 12weeks¬†pregnant was fine once I’d persuaded¬†my husband to swap salopettes¬†– on the first day in my own salopettes¬†I discovered I couldn’t bend at the waist at all, luckily he’s lost a bit of weight lately and could fit into mine when I commandeered his!

I had to finish up earlier than the rest of the group each day and have a nap before dinner¬†but I still skied from 9:30am to about 3pm (sometimes 4). I took it slowly and carefully but not so slowly I couldn’t keep up with the group. Thankfully I have a very relaxed ski style (some instructors have called it a ‘lazy’ style) and I generally ski with little effort and no aggression¬†anyway. I skipped the moguls which I usually enjoy but still had a great week.

IMG_1059

The rest of the group weren’t complaining about the extra chocolat¬†chaud breaks!

¬†It’ll be a while now till we¬†next get to the slopes, or the Alps anyway. The 2014 season is unlikely as our new addition will only be¬†3-5 months¬†old. The couple of years after that we may have to make do with short trips to the Scottish slopes where we can share childcare and ski passes. But we’ve got our eye firmly set on Austria for our first family ski trip when the little one is old enough to have their first try on skis… and I fully expect him or her to be leaving¬†both his or her parents¬†behind in no time at all.

Categories: mountains, outdoors, pregnancy, skiing | 1 Comment

A wrong turn

The last ride of our camper van holiday last month started promising, descended into a hike-a-bike across peat bog with no path, and ended with a beautiful late afternoon finish only about two and a half hours after we should have finished.

We set out from the Ardveckie¬†Estate¬†near Loch Laggan¬†famous as ‘Glenbogle House’ from the TV series Monarch of the Glen.

Wobbly bridge

Somewhere after this wobbly bridge we missed a turn-off and headed up the wrong glen following the wrong stream. The path which had been a gorgeous ribbon of single-track eventually petered out and we had pushed for a couple of kms before we realised how we’d gone wrong and by then it was ‘easier’ to hike a bike across 2km of bog at the headwaters to the top of another stream we could follow down the next glen back to the estate¬†track. The less said about that section the better.

‘Glenbogle’ House

Thankfully in the final few kms, the scenery was gorgeous enough to make up for the fact we were starving hungry and exhausted (and two and a half hours late returning the hired camper van!!)

Stunning Loch Laggan

Duration 6h 50min

Distance 44.74 km

Ascent 487m

Categories: mountain biking, mountains, outdoors, Scotland | 1 Comment

Glenlivet

The Glenlivet Estate lies off the infamous ‘Tomintoul’ road between Braemar and Grantown-on-Spey – ¬†Infamous for being the road in Scotland most often closed due to snow.

Basecamp in the Glenlivet Estate

From the village of Tomintoul itself you head North East up either the B9008 or the B9136 towards the village of Glenlivet. This is the upper Spey valley Рa world of fertile valleys, upland heather moor and whisky distilleries, lots and lots of whisky distilleries (about 15 just within this small area).

Miles of estate tracks

There are also bike trails on the Glenlivet Estate. Apparently they are building some singletrack¬†mountain bike trails there but for now it’s just waymarked¬†loops on estate roads with small touches of singletrack path¬†– the riding is not very exciting but it’s the best way of exploring the landscape (as the paths would be really dull to walk). We choose a 20km route which had a bit of climbing and the highest % of off-road.

Braes of Glenlivet distillery

Mid-way though the ride there was a ‘spur’ marked to¬†the ‘Scalan Seminary’. We had no idea what that was but the weather was good and the riding easy so we went to explore.

Scalan Seminary

It was the strangest place. Totally off the road network, surrounded by grazing sheep, and not a person to be found, but a sign saying ‘Scalan College 1716-1799’ and ‘open’. We looked inside and found a whole little exhibition about the place with leaflets for sale… in the absolute middle of nowhere. You can read all about it here, it’s a fascinating place with an amazing history – what a hidden gem!

Catholic Church – Our Lady of Perpetual Succour

Categories: Cairngorms, mountain biking, mountains, outdoors | Leave a comment

Morven ‘Killer Loop’

Second ride of the week was out of Ballater; the Morven ‘Killer Loop’ according to a well-known¬†mountain bike magazine. There wasn’t actually much ‘killer’ about it – but it was a very nice ride which started in the centre of Ballater at a very good bike shop, and ended back in the town at a very good cake shop.

Downtown Ballater

A ride of two halves, after a warm up along the river Dee, the first half¬†involved a climb up estate landrover¬†tracks which gained a lot of height relatively painlessly onto a very exposed ridge above the town and back down again on the other side towards¬†the Burn O’Vat¬†visitor centre by Loch Kinord. The loop round the loch¬†is optional but a lot of fun with rocky and rooty¬†single track and even a¬†Pictish stone.

Pictish Stone at Loch Kinord

After the loch loop, head back to the visitor centre and then up the path to the ‘Burn O’Vat’ where you come across this waterfall:

Waterfall

Scramble up to the water and in-behind and the¬†you find yourself in quite a spectacular hollowed out pothole which is the ‘Burn O’Vat’.

Inside Burn O’Vat

Looking back out at back of waterfall

After the detour to the Burn O’Vat, there’s a short bit of pushing up out of the gorge and then a fantastic single track path that isn’t market on the OS map which leads to a track and then some tricky route finding to some of the locals’ favourite trails around the ‘quarry’ and then a fun descent back down to the A9¬†and the sustrans¬†cycle route¬†back to Ballater and that cake shop I mentioned earlier ūüôā

Distance: 38km Time: 4hrs 49min Ascent: 624m.

Categories: mountain biking, mountains, outdoors, Scotland | 2 Comments

Capel Mounth

It’s a long drive up¬†Glen Clova to Glen Doll. I remember coming here as a child when the youth hostel and campsite were both open. Now neither are, but there’s a nice car park and somewhere convenient to park the van overnight. The ride started at the main ranger station and went up the glen that runs parallel to Glen Doll and doesn’t seem to have a name of its own.

Start of the ride

After about 5k the path got stony and we ended up pushing, then carrying, past the bridge and waterfall and on up to the very top of the ridge that separates this glen from Loch Muick.

Resting at the waterfall during the hike-a-bike

The hike-a-bike was tough (stony steps) but the views and ride along the top was worth the effort.

First sight of Loch Muick

A long ride on easy paths along the top was followed by a steep track down to the shores of the loch¬†opposite the hunting lodge where Queen Victoria met John Brown (apparently)¬†and then along the south shore¬†to the far end. From¬†there it¬†was a long but steady climb up to nearly 700m again and over the top on the ‘Capel Road’ followed by the most spectacularly amazing descent I’ve ever ridden in Scotland! Switchbacks like I have only seen in the Alps, exposure, rocks and logs/branches from where the forestry has been harvested. This descent is a real ‘must do’ for any Scottish mountain biker. I have no photos because I was far too busy enjoying it. But here’s a wee friend we met on the road back to the van:

Frog? Toad?

Distance: 27km Time: 4hrs 30min Ascent: 866m

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Ride Like a Grrrl!

Another month, another wonderful weekend mountain biking in the Cairngorms! It’s pure coincidence that this month I was back in almost exactly the same part of Scotland as the last blog post I wrote.

This weekend I was at a wonderful event run by Petal Power Biking¬†– a women’s only cross-country race/ride in the Cairngorms. Just in the last few weeks there have been discussions on Facebook¬†groups about why more women don’t enter mainstream cross-country mountain bike¬†races. I don’t really race, but I do enjoy a good mountain bike marathon (only half distance – 50k – so far) and I did enjoy the Glentress7 (mostly). I think the reason is that I just enjoy the experience of being out on the trails too much to want to bomb along at full pace ūüôā

Stunning weather, stunning scenery!

Ride Like a Grrrl was ideal because although it was a race, and the girls at the front were racing, the event info also stressed that we could take all day if we wanted. There were two courses РAdventure at 25km and Epic at 35km. Epic included two more climbs and more tricky descents than the Adventure. With the Husband up in Fort William for the truly epic Tour De Ben Nevis (too hard for me), I persuaded a couple of grrrl friends to sign up to this event and head up to Lagganlia Outdoor Centre in Feshiebridge near Aviemore with nearly 100 other entrants.

The ride set off at 10am so we stayed the night before in the camper van. The overnight temperature went down to about 2deg but we were warm and toasty with lots of sleeping bags and blankets. In the morning it was bright but cold. Perfect riding weather.

I have had a bit of a cold and a nasty sore throat all week so didn’t feel great at the start and we rolled out quite slowly. After the first big climb and really big descent, one friend had gone ahead and the other was struggling behind with v-brakes not very useful in the mud. The weather was spectacularly good but it had been raining all week so the paths were very boggy in places. I decided to wait for my friend and ride with her, partly because of my cold, partly because she has previous form for getting lost on rides like this, and partly just because the weather, trails and scenery were so amazing I wanted to enjoy every minute.

Nearly finished… Still smiling but sad that it’s almost over!

As the ride went on I got stronger and felt better and better, I think that exercise endorphins generally suppress¬†cold symptoms. So I had a lovely day out. We finished last, but only just, we were with a group of three girls just in front and in sight of another two in front of them. It would be interesting to know how many people I could have overtaken if I had ridden at my own pace rather than waiting up… but I was happy to pootle this time. The fact you could race it or just treat it as a ride is the only reason one of my friends was willing to sign up, and if it had been a ‘proper’ race I might not have started due to my cold/throat. I think that this format is a real winner for getting more women into racing.

Well done to all the volunteers who organised this.

Finishers’ goodies. Podium and spot prizes were unbelievably awesome thanks to great sponsors.

Categories: Cairngorms, mountain biking, mountains, outdoors, Scotland | 3 Comments

A little piece of heaven

When I was a child we spent a week every summer holidays in our caravan near Aviemore. We’d hire canoes on Loch Insh and swim in the freezing water, visit the Landmark Centre, walk around Loch An Eilein, take a chairlift up Cairngorm Mountain¬†and of course Santa Clause Land (RIP).

Glen Einich, Cairngorms

Ever since,¬†the area around Aviemore, Rotheimurchus and Cairngorm Mountain has had a special place in my heart.¬†The ancient pine forest and spectacular mountains never¬†fail to take my breath away¬†in snow¬†or sun – and I have no stats to back this up but I’m convinced it has the best summer weather in the whole country.

Rothiemurchus

Last weekend the forecast looked good so we packed the mountain bikes and tent and headed north for two days riding and a night at my childhood campsite, Dalraddy.

On saturday’s drive up the A9, the weather¬†was grey and uninspiring, until the moment we crested Drumochter pass – when suddenly the sky turned perfectly blue and the temperature hit 20-21C (perfect riding weather). We quickly pitched the tent jumped on our bikes. We rode up to Rothiemurchus and round Loch An Eilein, taking the path link towards Loch Morlich, stopping for a picnic lunch then¬†turning¬†south for a trip up Glen Einich.

Glen Einich

The path was interesting most of the route and dusty-dry and the scenery inspiring in the warm sunshine. The wind got up towards the head of the glen but even then it was more pleasant than chilly. The only slight downer on the day was when I fell off my bike on a ford crossing and really smashed my left kneecap. Thankfully no real damage was done except bad bruising but I was unable to get up for a good minute or two and sat in the river getting thoroughly soaked through Рgood job it was a warm day!

Head of Glen Einich

sore knee forgotten already

The descent back to the boundary between Rothiemurchus and Glenmore Forest was fun and pretty quick. We headed back to Loch An Eilein and continued round clockwise in the golden early evening sunshine taking a path towards Inshriach NNR which was really awesome! We popped out at Lagganlia near Feshiebridge and rode back towards Kincraig by a footpath through a sculpture park to the campsite where we enjoyed an evening bbq without any midges thanks to a warm breeze.

In Feshiebridge sculpture park

On Sunday we headed up to park by the edge of Loch Morlich for a ride along the great cycle path to Glenmore shop for provisions and then up by Glenmore Lodge to the beautiful Loch Uaine and through the Ryvoan pass to Nethy Bridge where we stopped for lunch before taking part of the Speyside Way through Abernethy Forest to the pass of An Sluggan back to Badaguish Outdoor Centre and then down to the car. Arrived back in Edinburgh feeling refreshed, relaxed and re-energised Рsuccess!

Towards Abernethy Forest

Saturday: 51km, 4hrs 50mins, 1350m ascent

Sunday: 38km, 4hrs, 1530m ascent

Categories: Cairngorms, mountain biking, mountains, outdoors, Scotland | 2 Comments

Glen Affric

Feeling a bit down about the recent weather and with post-holiday blues after returning from France, we booked a night at the remote Glen Affric Youth Hostel. The north of Scotland seems to have had better weather than the Central belt and so we hoped travelling to Cannich near Inverness would give us less mud under our tyres.

The plan was to drive up on Saturday morning, ride Saturday afternoon, stay over, ride back Sunday morning and then drive back Sunday afternoon.

We drove up in mixed weather with sunshine and showers, stopped for¬†brunch in Inverness, parked at Dog Falls car park¬†near Cannich¬†and set off early afternoon.¬†The weather was mild¬†despite the showers and we were treated to sunny spells as we cycled along the¬†south bank of the stunning Loch Beinn¬†a’Mheadhoin¬†towards Loch Affric.

The path on this section was easy and well-surfaced but quite unused and with a sense of remoteness. When we got to Loch Affric the path along the south side is even more of a well-made track and the cycling very straight forward but we were looking forward to a more interesting single-track return along the North side of Loch Affric on Sunday.

At the head of Loch Affric we reached a beautiful white sand beach and headed off up the narrowing glen following the River Affric.

The Hostel (shown in the first photo) sits about 5km from the beach at the head of Loch Affric, up a slightly more technical track which eventually runs right through Kintail to the banks of Loch Duich near Sheil Bridge. Just before we reached the hostel some heavier rain set in but we could smell the warm homely scent of wood smoke coming down the glen so we knew we were close. We arrived after 25km of cycling in just over two and a half hours.

The hostel¬†was a great choice for our first ‘overnighter’ on the mountain bikes; we had to take sleeping bags and all our food but cooking facilities were provided and bunks so we didn’t need a stove, sleeping mats or a tent. I am not sure how well I’d be able to cycle with any more weight on my back than I had.

We arrived pretty wet due to riding through a few rather deep fords on the last section so it was a treat to get into dry clothes and sit by the wood burning stove while preparing dinner. After an early night and a really good night’s sleep,¬†we woke to pretty awful looking weather – a strong westerly wind, low cloud and quite heavy rain. But by the time we left after breakfast, the rain was letting up and the sky brightening and thankfully as we were headed east along the valley the wind was at our backs. The biggest problem was the rain that had fallen in the night; where we had cycled across fords on the way to the hostel, we were wading through thigh-deep torrents on the way back. And some streams had completely taken over the path.

Still, once you’ve waded through the first, your feet¬†can’t really get any wetter!

After re-tracing our route back to Loch Affric we headed round the north side which was a lot more interesting than the south had been. The path was undulating and fun to ride, with some loose sections both up and down but nothing too extreme.

At the bottom of Loch Affric¬†we crossed a bridge and re-joined the quiet and pretty path on the south of Loch Beinn¬†a’Mheadhoin¬†that we’d started on, getting back to the car after another 26km and just over two and a half hours riding. Mostly the weather had been kind and dry with even a few sunny spells but we were utterly soaked from wading through “streams”. It took¬†a half an hour walk to¬†the Dog Falls viewpoint before the feeling came back into my toes. ¬†Driving back down the A9 it felt like we’d been away a lot longer than one night, almost like a mini-holiday.

Categories: mountain biking, mountains, outdoors, Scotland | 3 Comments

Col du Petit St Bernard

Last day at Bike Village ūüė¶ – but what a day it was! ūüôā

The plan was to ride up to the Italian border at the Col du Petit St Bernard which had only just been opened after a winter covering of snow. Two of the girls decided to ride all the way from Landry with one of the guides, one girl decided to skip the climb entirely with a lift to the ski resort of La Rossiere, but the rest of us were happy to be driven up the same road we rode up on Day 2 to Saint-Germain and start our climb at about 1300m. We were riding up a valley which lies below the famous road climb favoured by roadies and which the Tour De France both climbed and descended in 2009.

Steady climbing

The climbing was very steady and quite enjoyable really, even though the day was hot and the sun strong. We settled into groups and chatted our way up the climb at a very steady pace.

More steady climbing

Just before the top there was a bit of excitement with a marmot appearance and a couple of snow fields to push across. Then we joined the road about 300m before the summit and made our way to the top with the roadies, a couple of open-top Ferraris and a bunch of other tourists.

Top!!!

Descending back towards France

We nipped over the border for a coffee in Italy and then headed back down the road section to just below where we’d joined the road in order to eat our second lunch and start our single track descent.

Singletrack

The descent just seemed to go on and on forever, with a bit of everything. There a was scary, exposed, technical rocky section at the top, then some nice forest singletrack. Then some undulations in the forest as we made our way round the shoulder into the next valley and even a little mini-climb. A village stop for water from the spring (one of the great things about riding in this area of France is these springs in almost every village), followed by riding alongside and between some fields and terraces. The part where the electric fences on either side narrowed leaving about a 1m gap for us to ride in added an extra shot of adrenaline to one traverse! And then finally crossing the Col du Petit St Bernard road repeatedly by cutting straight down through the forest between the switchbacks, and then riding along the riverbank back into Bourg St Maurice.

None of us realised until we got back how late it had got and what an epic day we’d had: Total Distance: 40km. Time: 8 hours. Ascent: 2715m, Descent: 3201m.

Au revoir Bike Village, it’s been a joy.

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