Giving Up or Giving In?

It’s hard to admit publicly to an expectant live audience, that the best made, adventurous plan has turned to dust. Being honest, open and truthful to a roomful of strangers, who have come to hear about ”your amazing journey” is very scary. Particularly when other people’s expectations are quite high and they may be prone to disappointment.

So almost six months later, after Finland, I’ve unpicked my decision yet again.

Is there really a difference between ‘giving up’ and ‘giving in’?

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Those cycling explorations in Finland, brought me face to face with the infallibility of the human condition. It was a shock. How dare my body fail? Yes, I’m no longer in the bloom of youth, but I still have a good fitness level.

Haven’t I?

Of all the negative thoughts that crossed my mind before leaving for Finland, becoming injured wasn’t one of them. Bears, wolves and snow….yes! A dodgy knee…. definitely not.

It’s surprising how the mind turns unrealistically positive, when faced with the realistically negative. It was horrible to face the facts. A twist of knee, combined with a heavy bike load, high mileage, plus freezing weather, had done some painful damage. All of which at that point in time, had temporarily affected my ability to cycle any distance in Finland, with a loaded bike.

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Everyone was watching my progress, or at least that’s how it felt in those days of crisis.

Putting other people out of my mind, turned out to be the best way to deal with the place, I now found myself in. Too many variables to consider, created confusion and indecisiveness. By trial and error, I eventually realised that making decisions in small increments, kept some hope alive and helped me adjust towards the inevitable outcome. Some  thoughts though, gave me a sick feeling of disappointment and heaviness. Inside my head was a voice crying out in despair.What in heaven’s name was I going to do.

It was totally infuriating and frustrating that I needed to rest my knee, whilst gradually inching further and further south on public transport. As Oulu came closer, the last town with time/accessibility to rejoin the Iron Curtain Trail, my hopes were beginning to shrink. The Rovaneimi hospital diagnosis had been soft tissue damage, with a healing prognosis of up to several weeks or even months. I was still in pain, and stupidly hoping for a miracle cure from, tiger balm!

On that bus journey from Rovaneimi to Haukipudas on the outskirts of Oulu, I seriously considered ‘giving up’ and catching a flight home. Along with going back to work short-term, to the job I’d ecstatically resigned from, two weeks previously!Was there any point in going on, if I couldn’t complete my goal the way I’d planned? Would the Alpkit Foundation ask for their flight funding money back? Plus the unknown variable…. was my knee ruined for ever? What was I going to say to friends, family, sponsors, social media? Furthermore, was I actually capable of making an objective decision? Even worse, had I been foolish in thinking that I could ever cycle through Finland?Also excruciatingly, the very worst of this situation was the ‘not knowing’ and having to wait helplessly, whilst staring at my knee, silently wishing it would simply just get better overnight.

Fortunately or unfortunately during that final bus ride, I did get a brief period of distraction, from the never-ending circle of unanswerable questions.The Finnish driver was very keen on overtaking other vehicles. Not just one car, but two cars, at the same time….. I could barely breathe, never mind think! Especially when he decided to pull out into the empty oncoming lane, passing an articulated lorry and a fast car. Then he just managed to dodge back in, as horns blared, gravel flew up and an oncoming vehicle took to the grass verge. It was terrifying. To cap it all, the bus windscreen was previously cracked in three places. The few other passengers, either chatted merrily away or had headphones clamped to their ears, barely blinking an eyelid at the drivers crazy behaviour.

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Relieved and sweating, I tumbled out of the bus onto Haukipudas soil. Almost on my knees in gratitude, for two wheels only! Haukipudas, as some of you who regularly read this blog know, was an absolute, destined turning point, for the positive. The ending of a nightmare and the beginning of another dream.

I’m now very happy to say that my final decision is that;

I didn’t ”give up” on my cycle journey.

The main goal, was to bike/wild camp to Helsinki, which was eventually reached via a different road. Perhaps, mentally the one less travelled. Reluctantly heading south on flatter, less remote, western coastal tracks and roads, rather than the hilly, isolated, eastern Iron Curtain trail, turned out to be far, far better than I could ever have imagined.

Do you know the old saying that goes like this?….. ”There’s more than one way to crack a nut”…..!

I did ‘give in’ though….to the knee injury.

Sensibly (for once in many years!), I chose to look after it, protect it, cycle slowly, and go carefully on the Eurovelo 10 route, so my knee would be and now still is, good for many, many more, long distance bike rides.

Hopefully until my dying day!

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If you are interested in reading more about my Finland cycling adventures, please check out the blog archives for May and June 2018.

Thank you for reading this!

 

 

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Autumn Cycling.

Sorry, it’s been awhile since my last blog post! I’ve been busy planning and rehearsing for my recent cycling talk…. ‘Lapland to Helsinki, One Woman’s Journey Through Finland’.

It took place last Saturday evening in a bulging room, at the Ambleside Alpkit Shop here in Cumbria.

It was very well received. My hope is, that at least one person felt encouraged and excited enough to go on their own solo adventure!

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In the meantime I’ve been cycling to and from work. The weather has been fantastic, with haunting mists and exceptionally vibrant autumnal colours. Riding a bike puts one in a great position to easily gather some of natures treasures. Conkers and acorns are absolutely perfect for making autumnal crafts with young children.

Foraging feels like a natural pastime at this time of the year. Lots of busy birds and four-legged creatures are scurrying around, gathering or gorging on berries, nuts and seeds, ready for hibernation or migration. It’s a good feeling to be part of this seasonal cycle.

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Not many horse-chestnut trees fruited in Cumbria this year, but I was lucky enough to have two of these trees along my commuting route. There is something so magical about gathering the seeds of the horse chestnut tree. It’s an extra special treat, to find a damp mahogany conker peeping out of its spiky green shell. To myself the exquisite shiny conker represents the essence of autumn. Bringing back strong memories of childhood games.

Along with a lovely reminder of delving into piles of wet leaves, in the never-ending hunt for the biggest and best, elusive champion conker!

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Somehow though autumn never seems to last long enough. As the days pass too quickly, my eyes hungrily drink in the myriad shades of colour, moody mists, pale sunshine, long evocative shadows and dark skies. A small sad feeling creeps in, as I know that these beautiful leaves are certain to fall and the branches will look bereft for a while, until I adjust to their new stark beauty.

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Make the most of the autumn season, wherever you are located. It’s a very special and lovely time of year!

Autumn.

AUTUMN by JOHN CLARE
I love the fitful gusts that shakes
The casement all the day
And from the mossy elm tree takes
The faded leaf away
Twirling it by the window pane
With thousand others down the lane
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I love to see the shaking twig
Dance till the shut of eve
The sparrow on the cottage rig
Whose chirp would make believe
That spring was just now flirting by
In summers lap with flowers to lie
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I love to see the cottage smoke
Curl upwards through the naked trees
The pigeons nestled round the coat
On dull November days like these
The cock upon the dung-hill crowing
The mill sails on the heath a-going
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The feather from the ravens breast
Falls on the stubble lea
The acorns near the old crows nest
Fall pattering down the tree
The grunting pigs that wait for all
Scramble and hurry where they fall
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A poem to muse upon this autumn, during the fading light, whilst the east wind rattles through the trees and the little leaves dance merrily by!
Hope you enjoyed it!

A Dark Swim.

To swim in the dusk or at night, brings one to a strange metamorphosis. The world changes, into an enchanting cocktail of ghostly shadows, bubbles, and silvery light. Belisama the Celtic Goddess of lakes and rivers, feels close by.

On arrival at my favourite bay, the trees are swaying and rustling noisily. Dusk is racing out, the churning lake looks cold and rather uninviting. Glancing up anxiously, at the erratic arms of branches working crazily above my head, helps distract insidious thoughts of the inky depths.

Is that fat slimy eel, laughingly described by a passing Cumbrian fisherman as being, ”Bigger than you”….. now lurking nearby? Waiting with sharp fangs, to have a delicious snack.

Ugh! I shiver inwardly.

Undressing quickly, the east wind whips round and around, reminding me to hurry, hurry, hurry….. ”Get in the water, before you are cold and change your mind” Feet first, slowly sliding down the sloping rock into the slate-grey shallows, bracing myself for the first chilly hit……

Actually the reality is, I’m a coward when it comes to entering an autumnal lake!

IMG_1623 (3)It goes like this…..slowly, slowly, extremely slowly….gently lowering my body down, down, down, through the storm layer of leaves and twigs. Arms crossed covering my heart, gingerly immersing all my organs…..until full baptism ends with short, shallow breaths and loud profane shrieks! Often upsetting and scaring off any lurking dog walkers!

On fierce evenings such as these, senses come wildly alive. Launching out into the choppy waves is blissful. Gleefully, little whitecaps wallop their droplets into my eyes and hair. Obsidian water stretches out endlessly, towards shadowy mountains and low heavy clouds. The air trembles, shivering in anticipation of the impending storm. A sweet smell of rain floats by, on the whirling wind.

Protected, strangely cocooned and comforted in the now warm waters, I swim on and outwards into the deep mysterious centre. By now the light has faded and my home bay is out of sight, it’s a thought not to dwell on. Reminding myself to enjoy the moment, floating face upward, witnessing the pewter clouds scudding along is mesmerising, almost hypnotic.IMG_1619 (3)Swathes of spindly weed twirl below the surface, gently brushing my exposed limbs as they pass by, on their journey to meet the sea. Well at least that’s what I romantically tell myself…… when eel thoughts creep into my mind! Night swims bring feelings of calm and fear all mixed together.

The gathering of local ducks in their usual sleeping bay, is somewhat reassuring. Though it’s too wild a night, for the inquisitive bats and my beacon swans.

Suddenly the tempestuous wind picks up, plump rain falls, bouncing heavily. It truly is incredibly exhilarating, to be submerged in the middle of a lake in a squally storm, yet feel secure and guarded by the water.

Thoughts of Charles Kingsley’s book The Water Babies, flash into my head.

”How do you know that? Have you been there to see? And if you had been there to see, and had seen none, that would not prove that there were none … And no one has a right to say that no water babies exist till they have seen no water babies existing, which is quite a different thing, mind, from not seeing water babies”

With these words in mind, my dark swim took on another meaning.IMG_E1319 (4)

Who can know or prove, why wild swimming is such a spiritual experience?

I did know though, that it was time to turn for home, a shivery chill was starting to wash over me. A timely reminder that I must return to the shore and rejoin the other world.

Journeys.

“Journeys like artists are born and not made. A thousand differing circumstances contribute to them, few of them willed or determined by the will – whatever we may think. They flower spontaneously out of the demands of our natures – and the best of them lead us not only outwards in space but onwards as well. Travel can be one of the most rewarding forms of introspection……”

These are the words of Lawrence Durrell, from his book, Bitter Lemons of Cyprus. He has my agreement, the beginnings of a true journey are often born within.

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In my case the call, usually begins without conscious thought. More of an intuitive spark. My own personal journeys cycling or otherwise, have on several occasions started out of a crisis. Once in a while, catastrophe or messiness in life, requires a period of escape, in order for us to become strong enough to endure or manage a situation.

Being in a deep state of introspection, surrounded by mountains, trees, lakes and wildlife offers substantial healing and inner growth. Grief and loss are perhaps the hardest and most complex of human emotions to cope with. Nature can be an unconditional support at such times, literally a rock to lean on. No matter what happens in life…..the trees, mountains, lakes, rivers, sea, sunsets, sunrises, stars and moonlight are close to being medicinal, and will always be there for us.

No false promises, platitudes or harsh words from that favourite tree! Whose branches are strong and supportive, as the fluttering leaves rustle and whisper their greetings.

Once upon a time, I fled with my bike and tent, to the Hebridean Isle of Mull.

It was late September. Wild, stinging squalls blew in off the grey Atlantic. Some days my bones felt like ice and tears flowed too often. Railing and shouting at the injustices of life, while biting headwinds pummeled the bike, literally dragging my ailing willpower, back to the surface. Staying upright on that narrow track, under the imposing black Ben Mor suddenly became crucial, there was no more time for self-pity.

The secret sheep fold I camped in that evening, welcomed this human presence like an old friend, protective and nurturing. An ancient jigsaw, of embroidered lichen stones passed no judgement, they have witnessed much and stoically accept everything.

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Crouching over the roaring stove, stirring bubbling porridge, enclosed by friendly stone walls, felt like a gift from heaven and a respite from the impossible. Such small moments are more important, than we often know. Perhaps in retrospect one realises, ‘Yes it was exactly what I needed at the time’

That particular journey to Mull, was instrumental in renewing my inner resolve. On returning to civilization, the situation I’d left behind was tackled with new energy and clear senses.

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Another journey, undertaken many years ago, made a huge impact on the well-being of my two sons and I.

A couple of weeks after our rather unsettling house fire, there came a moment of inspiration. Without hesitation, a huge rucksack was packed. We caught a train, plane, ferry and bus eventually arriving, dusty and travel-worn, in the southwest corner of Crete. As we emerged out of the rickety bus, an elderly Cretan man, curiously asked where we’d come from.

“England…. with these two?” he questioned, pointing incredulously at the boys! I nodded my head in affirmation.

“Bravo, bravo, bravo” and proceeded to slap me heartily on the back! It appeared that a mother bringing her eleven-year old and seven-year-old, over such a distance with no pre-bookings, had caught his imagination! (It was a long time ago!)

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April is low season in Crete. Luckily, only a handful of other foreigners were wandering the streets and inhabiting the guesthouses. Which suited us perfectly.

Each and every day we lived in the moment. Over those two weeks, we basked under cloudless blue skies, paddled in windy surf, went snorkelling in warm clear waters, foraged under smooth rocks, ate sumptuous picnics by the Libyan sea, collected wild flowers, pink shells and grainy white sands. We set our clock by the huge ferry, as it went to and fro, from the picturesque harbour.

To my sons delight, the local wild pelican wandering the sea front looking for treats, became our morning best friend!

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In the cool evenings we perched on the peninsula arm, gazing with wide eyes as a creamy moon rose in the west, whilst simultaneously a blurry orange sun slipped down into the east.

Gloriously, healing, fiery sunsets.

We returned to North Wales rejuvenated, sun-baked, smiling….replenished with the pleasure and wonder of life. Very ready to face the next phase of the aftermath.

I would love to hear any stories of a journey, that has made a difference to your life. If anyone would like to share one?

* Thanks to Sarah Phillipson for the Lawrence Durrell quote.

Food for Thought!

This is a very short blog post with a thought provoking quote from Walt Whitman. A famous, controversial American poet and humanist of the 19th century.

Surely his powerful words are even more meaningful and appropriate, in our present age of material consumerism and individualism?

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“After you have exhausted what there is in business, politics, conviviality and so on – have found that none of these finally satisfy or permanently wear –

What remains?

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Nature remains;

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to bring out from their torrid recesses, the affinity of a man or a woman with the open air, the trees, fields, the changes of seasons – the sun by day and the stars of heaven by night.”

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I wonder what comes to your mind on reading this Walt Whitman quote?!

A Magical Cycle; Ambleside to Sawrey!

It’s unusual for myself, to disclose the details of a favourite bike route. Mainly because so many others do this so well, and perhaps selfishly, my hopes are always for a quiet ride!

However, I really want to share this beautiful, short seven mile route, from Ambleside to Near Sawrey. It’s potentially a great fourteen mile, day return ride, with fantastic south lakeland scenery…..peaceful gravel tracks. quiet back lanes and of course a lake or two!

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The start can be from the Rothay bridge/river junction at the far end of Rothay Park, Under Loughrigg in Ambleside.

From there, it’s up and over the packhorse bridge, pedal to the left, down the tarmac lane to meet the A593. Turn right, and take the next left at Clappersgate bridge, across the river Brathay, onto the B5286 Hawkshead road.

On the right hand side, about twenty-five metres after the Brathay Hall complex, a large wooden gate, signals the entrance to a gravel biking/walking track. It meanders uphill and downhill through delightful woodland. Flanked by sections of open fields with fab views of the Fells. There’s even some cute cobbled patches and a miniature wooden bridge.

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This path re-emerges suddenly, onto a short busy road section, just before the left-hand turn to Wray.

Follow the Wray sign post into another world……..

The peaceful, bramble filled, hedge scented lane, winds gently through Low Wray. Past the National Trust campsite marker, climbing uphill, to the ancient gate house of Wray Castle.

It’s also possible to use the designated footpath/track on the right hand side for a few hundred yards. I tend to stay on the tarmac, preferring the stunning Windermere lake views and the juicy abundant blackberries, not being one to ignore natures sumptuous food when out cycling!

Another short, sharp climb, ends in the picturesque village community of High Wray.

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A quiet well tended hamlet, with post box, village hall and wheelbarrows full of flowers. An idyllic place, where I would definitely like to permanently, ‘lay my hat!’

The narrow road leading onward, lined with enticing mixed woodland and tall hedgerows bursting with flora, drops away into the quaint settlement of Colthouse. Following a sharp left turn on the T-junction, after the last whitestoned house, brings one to the B5285. A minor road connecting Near Sawrey/Far Sawrey and the Windermere ferry.

Close to this junction, on the right is gate access to a long and sweeping gravel track. Kindly laid by the communities of Sawrey and Hawkshead, helping walkers and cyclists alike to keep safe.

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The views of Esthwaite Water along this track are absolutely mesmerizing. Its changeable waters can be a joyful sparkling silver, a blue-green mirror, or a cloud filled melancholic grey. A mood to suit everyone.

If you are really lucky, the local Ospreys can be seen swooping low over the trees, as they hunt down food for their chicks.

This part of the route also includes, only a couple of short road sections, which is an absolute blessing. As the road from Hawkshead to Near Sawrey is often overrun with Beatrix Potter bound visitors, mostly driving like blindfold snails!

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Finally two miles later, after a short, gravelly roller coaster section, the local children’s playground appears. Marking the village of Near Sawrey. This hamlet hosts a handsome pub along with other Lakeland accommodation. Plus the National Trust property of Beatrix Potters home including Peter Rabbits garden, are also available to visit….. If you continue on through and past Far Sawrey, it’s possible to do a circular route along Windermere lake shore…… but that’s another blog post!

So….if it’s a sunny, a drizzly day, or you are ‘shopped out’ in Ambleside…. give it a go!!

One couldn’t wish for a more lovely, calming cycle ride… have fun!

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