Winter Snippets.

We are now into February, and thankfully Spring will soon be tip-toeing over the Lea! In fact, whilst strolling Under Loughrigg near Ambleside this morning, I saw a spotted woodpecker drumming loudly. Apparently a sign of Spring breaking….though at this present moment it’s snowing rather heavily outside.

We are definitely still in the throes of our British winter. The ground is currently frozen solid, making it difficult for the wildlife to find food. On that same stroll, I came across a local man standing hand held out, like a statue. Drawing closer, I could see that perched on his hand was a plump little red breasted robin, hungrily feasting from a cup of seed! Wonderful!

My bike is waiting patiently to be ridden again. Knowing when the slippery ice melts, the air warms a little and the birds start to twitter, her wheels will be singing too! I’m raring to get back on the saddle. Cycle training is going to take priority in the spring….. Finland is calling.

I fell in love with Finland last year on that epic ride and seem to have become somewhat bewitched by the experience!

IMG_4652

The  Iron Curtain Trail, Euro Velo 13 section starting near Helsinki, heading north towards Lapland, has burrowed under my skin. Most of you will know, that unfortunately I had to give the mid eastern section onwards, a miss in May last year. So the decision has been made, not without some trepidation, to cycle wildly northwards, as far as possible in my available time!

It’s definitely happening…. no turning back now the flights are booked.

However in the meantime, home is the Lake District and what a wonderful place to be whatever the season. Running (slowly!) has taken precedence over cycling for now, in an attempt to keep fitness, wellbeing and positivity through the dim winter months. Luckily at times, bright days, sparkling snows and heavy frosts have transformed the landscape beautifully. Lifting the spirits and giving some wonderful opportunities to capture photographic memories.

I’ve decided to post a few wintry photos, captured around the Fells near Ambleside and lower ground close to Sawrey near Hawkshead……in the hope you will enjoy them.

IMG_8942

 

DSCN1945 (2)

IMG_8996 (2)

IMG_8722

“At some point in life the worlds beauty becomes enough”

Toni Morrisson.

 

 

Advertisements

Trust,Tips and Wild Camping.

Do you have an innate trust that the world is fundamentally a good place, where people are generally safe and kind to each other? Or are you of the mind that it’s mostly a dangerous, threatening world that we live in nowadays?

An interesting conversation began to take place after my recent cycling talk, ‘Lapland to Helsinki.’ The conversation, then developed into the somewhat popular subject, of how  daunting the thoughts of solo wild/stealth camping appear to be for most people, particularly women.

Very occasionally whilst sleeping out, I have been petrified. As some of you who regularly follow this blog may have read, in the November 2017 post, ‘Scary Nights of Stealth Camping’

My very first night out camping absolutely alone has remained unpublished until now! That very first immersion into companionless wild camping was at the age of twenty-one. It was spent under a flimsy tarpaulin upon a tiny island, in the beautiful Malborough Sounds. I was visiting Anakiwa, the New Zealand Outward Bound School. One of their student courses, included a very tough solo bivvy. The young students plus provisions and shelter, were taken at dusk by boat and dropped individually onto tiny islands, dotted around the turquoise-blue Sounds. There they stayed totally alone, for three days and three nights. Albeit, checked on by sea-borne Instructors every twenty-four hours, to make sure they weren’t in any difficulties.

When asked if I wanted to try a short solo bivvy, I rather naively agreed. After one night and one day of being well outside my comfort zone, I was extremely relieved to see the boat speeding towards my rocky beach!

DSCN0808

There was nothing on that little foreign island to do me any harm whatsoever… except my own mental/emotional thoughts and feelings. They ran crazily around my mind for hours, producing the most ridiculous, outlandish scenarios. The Outward Bound guys fed me a story about the Giant Moa. Which I took with a pinch of salt, but with each rustle and crackle in that strange bush undergrowth, I became more and more terrified of my own imagination. I was supposed to use the time there to write a diary of my thoughts…. but my only coherent thoughts were, ”I want to get off this island right now!!”

This example, provides an answer to many fears that can arise during wild camping….they are pretty much all in the mind and mostly fictional. It becomes surprisingly liberating, once this realisation is reached. Though I should add, to arrive at that point does take more than one night of solitary camping.

A strong conviction that most of the world is safe, is how I remind myself that no one is out to get me, find me, hunt me down. I’m almost one hundred percent likely to be out of harms way even close to civilisation, as long as my little tent is tucked away where it can’t be too easily discovered. Plus, the more lone camping nights I expose myself to, the more secure I feel and the more normal it becomes. It’s also occurred to me that any trust extended out into the world, can also be given to ones self. The ability to trust in ones own capabilities. To know that one can manage, cope, endure and recover from any challenges that may arise from a solo camp is liberating.

Perhaps camping expeditions over long periods create a connection within, back in time to when we humans were nomadic. For ninety-nine per cent of our human history we have been nomads…only in the last ten thousand years during the agricultural revolution have humans erected permanent homes. Could this history explain, why some people love the freedom of simply packing up home, placing it on a bike and pedaling away to the next camp…. wherever that may be!

Here are a few general simple tips for prospective wild camping women:

  1. Arrive late and leave early, especially if it’s a stealth camp close to a populated area.
  2. A bivvy bag is less conspicuous than a tent. If using a tent try to use green or brown so it will blend in.
  3. I never post my exact whereabouts on social media or use one of those tracker sites…. sadly that would be putting myself at risk.
  4. Go with a friend for a few trips before you branch out on your own.
  5. Make sure you have some self-help skills. Such as basic first aid knowledge.
  6. Always check the weather forecast.
  7. Let a close friend know where you are heading.
  8. Start at the beginning of your sliding scale….local and short, then when comfortable ….. extend your scale.

IMG_0758

Solo wild camping is nearly always wonderful and marvelously freeing particularly for us women! There is nothing quite like waking up alone to a dawn chorus orchestra, opening the tent flap to see a pink dawn breaking and breathing in the fresh moist air. Knowing that the day ahead holds the promise of a carefree, happy one……

Good luck…..

Cycling Thoughts and Real Food!

My next meal. What will it consist of? Where is it going to come from?

Images of creamy avocados, colourful simmering beans, chewy rye bread, sweet yellow honey, fresh crunchy greens….are all frantically whirling around in my head!

Thoughts of food are a constant companion during the never-ending miles of distance cycling. I’m sure most cyclists out on long rides, think along similar lines. Any type of exercise is going to increase the appetite but cycling seems to make one ravenous!

Which is great. Especially for people like me who love to scoff delicious snacks, whether cycling or not.

DSCN1077

Food is one of our basic survival needs. To put it bluntly, without it we are eventually going to die. Travelling self-sufficiently on a bike brings food, shelter and water to the forefront. If my food panniers are getting dangerously low and I don’t know where the next shop is, my world becomes a fragile one.

All of which brings me to the topic of what I eat during these journeys, particularly considering I’ve been a vegan for many years. This has brought some difficult challenges when in foreign countries, partly due to being on a low-budget. Depending on the country, the vast majority of shops and eateries, offer protein foods from animals, heavy bags of dried beans/lentils or processed alternatives to meat.

Up until recently, I’ve managed to scrape through by carrying heavy provisions. A lot of cyclists wouldn’t dream of considering the extra weight! Last year whilst cycling through remote northern Norway. Due to cost, weight and supply problems I gave up the fight and for the rest of the journey temporarily, became a flexi-vegan.

dscn9520 (3)

Curious sorts often ask…’What do you actually eat?’

So I decided a blog post related to food and cycling, may be of interest…

One ‘food’ I don’t eat or consume, are energy gels and highly processed protein snack bars, or any of the other sugary products that profess to boost your energy. Which of course they do temporarily, but then a low blood sugar hit starts, so another sugary chemical product must be taken for an energy boost. All of which becomes a roller coaster of blood glucose lows and highs, which long-term is not good for the body.

For snacks; I prefer oat cakes, bananas, blueberries, unsalted nuts, dried dates/apricots/sunflower seeds or nut/fruit energy bars and very dark chocolate. Which gives a combination of protein and complex carbohydrates.

The adventurer Sean Conway whilst cycling around the world, set up a system of two plastic containers on his handlebars, full of nuts and fruit. As he cycled along he would cram large handfuls into his mouth,  giving a constant slow energy release!

DSCN0557

You’ve probably got the idea by now, that when on a cycling journey I eat fresh and real foods. Most people long distance cycling don’t self cater much. I very rarely eat out because of  prohibitive cost, cycling in remoter places and some minor food intolerance.

Here’s a sample menu from a typical day of long distance pedalling.

Breakfast…..tends to be a huge and I mean huge, saucepan of jumbo oats or sugar-free muesli, hemp powder, flax seeds, honey and plant milk,. Along with a much savoured mug or two of green tea.

Lunch….heavy duty local rye bread/crackers, tempeh or tofu or almond nut butter, avocado, tomato, red onion, pepper or similar fresh salad. Boiled eggs were included in Norway/Finland, where tofu/tempeh/nut butter availability was sometimes an issue. Fruit and if lucky, a dairy-free yogurt!!

Dinner…usually consists of brown rice or pasta or quinoa, sweet potatoes, green vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, olives. Coconut oil. Nori seaweed flakes. Baked beans or another tinned pulse. (The pulses though have to be available in small tins).

Extra protein boost…. came from hemp powder.

Other supplements… which I took with me from the UK …. Dr Schulze Superfood, plus a good multi vitamin/mineral product.

I need around one gram of complete protein per kilogram of body weight, while cycling long distances. Which is about 45 grammes in total, it’s not a huge amount and easily achievable from snacks and plant products. Though I did have a ‘protein panic attack’…. when for a few days, nut butter, tofu, tempeh and soya milk weren’t available, hence resorting to eggs!

img_0238

One of the advantages of eating a high plant unprocessed diet whilst cycling, is a tendency to good quick recovery and a low inflammatory effect. This discovery came about through research. Eating vegan for such a long time, means I don’t actually have a pre-vegan comparison memory. It does seem though that my injury log is minuscule compared to many around my age. I can put that down to eating plant foods, or lounging on the sofa for too long, therefore avoiding any forms of pain!

Hopefully this post will have been of some interest/helpful to one or two of you, who are long distance cyclists/walkers, and before you ask, no I’m not eccentric.

Just older and need to eat well!

dscn9522

Cycling, Women, Zen and Christmas!

 

Amongst my circle of friends and acquaintances, I personally know of very few older woman, who cycle long distances or hike and camp alone. Any others I come across appear to be sprinkled through social media sites, few and far between. In television, film and books, there also seems to be minimal representation of mature women who are out solo-adventuring.

According to on-line statistics, more and more women are venturing out alone. It does appear though, that most of these women, are from twenty to fifty years old. There is also a huge positive, that the numbers of women ‘adventuring’ in the outdoors are increasing yearly. Unfortunately it seems, that once women are over the age of fifty, their participation in any type of outdoor activity seems to drop dramatically. For which, there are undoubtedly numerous personal pressures and other reasons. Along with some narrow social expectations of  how an older woman ought to conduct herself in the 21st century, despite eons of feminist influences.

DSCN1862 (2)

To travel or not to travel alone by foot, bicycle or even by boat, is a tough question to think about or contemplate carrying out. It’s a scary prospect, but those who do will often become somewhat addicted to the experiences and adventures, that can only be had by being without a companion.

It’s the departing for unknown places alone…accompanied only by a bicycle and a tent, that to myself often feels like a small personal rebellion. An obstinate rebellion, against the perfect hair, the painted nails, the pressure to dress tidily, iron everything and go on an organised holiday…. and oh yes, it feels so wonderful to avoid those cultural expectations, even just for a short while!

DSCN9626

I can promise that heading out alone, becomes far easier, later in life!

Firstly, older women have plenty of hard-earned and well-practiced common sense….gained over many years!

Secondly, with age comes the tendency to have more of your ‘wits about you’ I have a three-second rule. Which is the time it takes to sum up, whether a person is of good character and unlikely to be a threat to me. Any strangers  particularly men, either pass or fail. If they fail, I make my excuses (or be rude)….and leave.

Thirdly, like it or not as we women become older, we become more invisible. Our society at the moment, is obsessed with youthful beauty and anti-aging, whatever the cost! Most men will choose to give their unwanted attention to a younger women. Which is actually a blessing in disguise, for us older women going anywhere alone.

Fourthly, I find much safety in travelling by bicycle in remote or quiet areas. As one often can by hiking through remote mountains or sailing on the sea. People populated places are usually the ones where most threats lie.

DSCN9293

Breaking the daily patterns and sometimes dulling routines that are habitually carried out, day in and day out, is truly life affirming. Cycling alone, one becomes a different creature. Shedding an old dingy skin-self and growing a sparkling, brightness that vibrates with vitality. Eyes become sharper, brighter, clearer…smiling becomes first habit….even wet, cold, snowy days are not off-putting. Quite simply the beautiful, the ordinary, the mundane become wonderful, when viewed from the seat of a bicycle.

In particular when cycling slowly, one becomes focused into the moment, seeing only what is around and in front….pink asphalt embedded with shiny quartz, a fat bumblebee with golden legs, a woodpecker hammering like the blacksmiths iron, the echoing sky-sirens of whooper swans….and so it goes on. Never-ending bicycling joy.

As Goethe put it, ‘The highest goal humans can achieve is amazement’

IMG_8312 (2)

Riding a bike one can also becme completely focused in another way, a mindful and sometimes meditative manner. The swish, swish of wheels and the quiet, rhythmical thump of pedals can lull one into a light trance, during which the miles disappear in a flash.

Meditation, mindfulness and cycling have a lot in common.

Here is a story I found on the internet. It’s rather tongue-in-cheek, but ends on a thought-provoking note…..

”A Zen teacher saw five of his students return from the market, riding their bicycles. When they had dismounted, the teacher asked the students, “Why are you riding your bicycles?”

The first student replied, “The bicycle is carrying this sack of potatoes. I am glad that I do not have to carry them on my back!” The teacher praised the student, saying, “You are a smart boy. When you grow old, you will not walk hunched over, as I do.”

The second student replied, “I love to watch the trees and fields pass by as I roll down the path.” The teacher commended the student, “Your eyes are open and you see the world.”

The third student replied, “When I ride my bicycle, I am content to chant, nam myoho renge kyo.” The teacher gave praise to the third student, “Your mind will roll with the ease of a newly trued wheel.”

The fourth student answered, “Riding my bicycle, I live in harmony with all beings.” The teacher was pleased and said, “You are riding on the golden path of non-harming.”

The fifth student replied, “I ride my bicycle to ride my bicycle.” The teacher went and sat at the feet of the fifth student, and said, “I am your disciple.”

DSCN8017

Some of my greatest cycling pleasure is derived from coming home, with nothing in my mind but stories. Being able to share these tales through public talks, gives me a greater cycling purpose. Knowing that others are interested in hearing about the struggles, the good times and will take pleasure in the photos and videos.

I would be delighted to have any contact or hear comments, from any other women over 50+ who are out there, enjoying and discovering new places with just their own company!

My hope is perhaps in another decade it will have become more the norm, for women in their later years to make the freedom to go exploring, and find joy in solitude.

Here is a favourite quote from a famous woman explorer….

”Solitude, I reflected, is the one deep necessity of the human spirit to which adequate recognition is never given in our codes……..Modern education ignores the need for solitude…..a disease to be doing something always, as if one could never sit quietly and let the puppet show unravel itself before one: an inability to lose oneself in mystery and wonder while, like a wave lifting us into new seas, the history of the world develops around us.”

*The Valley of the Asssassins (1934). Freya Stark.

IMG_3162 (3)

Finally….I send thanks to all my readers and followers it’s heartening to know you like to read my eclectic thoughts!

Wishing you all a happy and wonderful Christmas with your family and friends. Along with lots of blessings and good tidings for a peaceful and fruitful 2019!

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’?

DSCN0390 (2)

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.

DSCN1144

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.

image

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!

IMG_5363

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!

 

 

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!

IMG_5365

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.

IMG_7375img_7386

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!

img_7129DSCN1818

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.

DSCN1775 (1)img_7880

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
DSCN1733
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
DSCN1740 (2)
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
DSCN1747
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
IMG_7537
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!