Gorgeous Girls go Gravelling in Girona

Gorgeous Girls go Gravelling in Girona

Train tickets purchased… rental bikes ordered and paid for… AirBnB booked… bag packed (yup, one small trolly dolly for ten days), passport in hand – and I’m ready for the off!

For one reason or another, March was a pretty weird, stressful, and unusual month (take your pick of those words, they all fit the situation). I’m not going to go into that here as it’s not the topic I want to share. What I do want to talk about is the excitement of going on a new adventure and to a new destination, to me never explored before.

Two trains, no planes, and one automobile

Leaving the office in Leicester Square to get to St. Pancras International launched the start of our train journey from the UK to Spain, and before I knew it, I was with Tricia, Alison and Ruth on the Eurostar whizzing through the countryside on our way to Paris. The train is such an amazing way to travel, so much to see, people to watch, imaginary stories to make up about their lives and where they are going, to entertain us on our way. With a gin and tonic in hand, and much chatter, the time passed quickly. Before we know it we were enjoying another tipple in a bar in France!

After a welcome sleep at our hotel, we split into two; Ruth and me opting for a taxi to get across Paris, Alison and Tricia choosing to walk to the Gare du Lyon, before regrouping for breakfast and stage two of our journey from Paris to Girona. I hadn’t realised that France had implemented a ban on short haul flights, encouraging travellers out of the sky and onto the SNCF – perhaps that’s why it was full to the brim?

As I write, me and Tricia are watching the virtual realtime map as we approach the French / Spanish border. It’s not only been lovely to catch up and chat, but also brilliant to see the countryside change as we’ve gone through Nimes, Montpellier, and now the mountains are emerging on the horizon.

This trip will be different to others, as we’ve organised it ourselves – well, in reality Alison has done most of the heavy lifting, suggesting the idea of going to Girona in the first place, finding the AirBnB, and much more. So, what’s different about this trip? The first four days we’ll be having two wheeled adventures on our road bikes, followed by a further four days off road on gravel. With routes sourced through friends and fellow adventurers, we have approximately 40 to choose from. I love this kind of adventure, when there’s a bit of a plan and structure in place, but in reality, the days evolve as does the exploring of new territory.

Our home in Girona

I’ve heard that Girona has many coffee bars… and I love fresh coffee but it doesn’t seem to like me… but that’s not going to stop me sampling some deliciousness. Let’s hope the caffeine headaches don’t last for too long!

The Stats – My distance on two wheels

  • 598km in total, road and gravel
  • 7,750 metres climbed, road and gravel

Those numbers may not be huge but they tell a story of travel, adventure, giggles and much fun!

Gravel Fun with Sharpie – Take 2

Favourite days in the saddle

In truth I’d say all of them, but if I had to pick two…

Road

Our ride to the coast where we saw some of the Volta a Catalunya. The scenery is just incredible, the variety endless over the rolling hills and down to the sea. Great company and chat too! Pushing our timing a little having been stopped by the rolling road closures for the race, we eventually made it back to base before sundown.

It’s not raining! The day of the Volta a Catalunya and pizza

Gravel

This ride was titled ‘So much fun’. True to its name, the route was properly out in the wilds. It was like being a kid again, flying through the trees, off the beaten track, over sand, rocks, tree roots, little bumps, big downhills, a few 20% sections up to navigate, this route had it all! Me and Maria added a few extra KMs going around Banyoles lake, then caught up with Alison and Ruth for the wooded section flying up and down some paths and tracks in the trees.

Grave fun in the almost sun

I’d happily go back and do both of these rides again, and many more for that matter.

Tasty treats to fuel the fire

Hands down, the three things that pop into my head are the seafood pizza at the coast. Totally by chance we found a restaurant overlooking the sea, quite a wonderful location. And all this before we had the surprise of watching the pros in the Volta a Catalunya.

I’ve never eaten a pizza that’s tasted this good!

Second were the cakes at La Fabrica. Nestled in the cobbled streets of old Girona this place is utterly amazing, the cakes are out of this world, and the food is super tasty – perhaps made even more delicious after a five hour ride in the rain when you’ve skipped lunch, and need to replenish the stocks before you face-plant on the pavement. In all seriousness, I highly recommend this café, it tickles and pleasures to all the senses.

La Fabrica

Third were the prawns me and Alison ate on our last gravel day. Me and Helen found this restaurant in the middle of nowhere the day before, I’d eaten a packet of crisps and a chocolate croissant (which was utterly divine) and drank a coke, before we raced the clock back to Girona to get Helen’s bike back to the shop for 5pm – but that’s another story of all together, skipping lunch whilst riding is not wise but does cause hilarity and much resourcefulness. Thankfully, with a minute on our side, our mission was complete and we finished with a fabulous Aperol Aperitz in the Placa de la Independencia, taking in the sunshine – happy days!

A tasty treat in at La Masia Mas Llunes

Making memories

It feels like I’ve been away from home for a long time. In fact, ten days is a long time. We’ve made the most of every minute, hunted out new adventures, taken on new challenges, and discovered new ground – whilst also learning new things about each other, be that bike skills, family history, dance moves, and a host of other quirks to entertain and keep us smiling.

Whether on road or gravel, it has been incredible to cycle through the rolling Girona hills and see the snow-capped Pyrenean mountains in the background… they are in complete contrast to the red poppies and other fauna flowers dancing in the wind and spring blossom popping out on the trees.

Banyoles Lake

This week has thrown everything at us… wind, drizzle, biblical rain, and finally some very welcome sunshine!! The geography here is vast and makes me realise – again – how on top of each other we are in the UK. Of course, most capital cities like London and Paris are busy. In contrast, it’s been great to have ten days away, with the majority spent outside in nature, in fresh air, in the elements, with friends who share a love of the great outdoors making memories to treasure.

Now on our train journey home, we are rolling out of Girona on the TGV towards Perpignan… to the left I can see the snow-capped mountains of Andorra. Funny to think that whilst we’ve been cycling, only a matter of a few kilometres away people are skiing and enjoying the mountains in a completely different way. It seems they spark joy all times of the year for many people – I know they do for me.

A big THANK YOU for all the giggles you gorgeous group of gravel girls ❤️

Alison (Dexy), Ruth (Root), Claire (Lady M), Maria (Magic Doctor), Tricia (Wordle Queen), Helen (Sharpie), Karen (Kamikazi)!

Until next time…

Big thanks to Eat, Sleep, Cycle for the bike hire!

Autumn Adventures – Playing in the Lakes with Vinnie

Autumn Adventures – Playing in the Lakes with Vinnie

This Autumn I wanted to strike out and go on another Vinnie Adventure before Winter truly arrived. Over the summer various friends had been up to Cumbria, the Peak District and into the Lakes and I began to feel the beginnings of a plan being hatched.

Being fuelled by the attraction of discovering new places and walking on new ground – well for me at least – I found myself checking out some new spots around Windermere. A big lover of my name-sake Miss Beatrix Potter, there was a natural pull to visit Hill Top and remind myself of all the ground breaking things this extraordinary lady did in her time. Back then women were not championed in carving their own path, they were expected to stay home, choose a husband and marry ‘well’ (whatever that means), and fall into what society expected of them. But Miss Potter was different – she had a love of nature, drawing, and painting, and she had a vivid imagination that conjured up the most amazing stories like ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’, ‘The Tale of Jemima Puddle Duck’, ‘The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin’ and many more.

I’m not too sure why I’m sharing this now – but I guess I’ve just noticed a synchronicity that it was Barbara Hepworth that inspired my trip down to Cornwall, and it was Miss Potter that inspired my trip to the Lakes. Both extraordinary women do extraordinary things.

Honister Pass – Valley View

If it was not for Potters imagination, her following her passion, and writing her wonderful books that I loved as a child – we may not have been able to enjoy the Lake District as we are able to today. She preserved the landscape, the geography of the land, and in doing so, has enabled thousands, in fact more like millions of people to enjoy this luscious, mountainous, and adventurous part of our country.

So, whilst many politicians are busy knocking the great out of Great Britain, I wanted to experience something that is truly great about Britain – and for me, that’s the landscape in the Lake District.

Borrowdale and Honister Pass – exploring new territory

The last time I was in the Lakes was about seven or eight years ago over the August Bank Holiday weekend. Back then I’d joined a lovely guy I was dating at the time on a walking weekend near Windermere and we’d all stayed in a beautiful youth hostel. For this autumnal trip it was the middle of November, and it was a particularly soggy week, so I got online to check out which YHAs naturally caught my attention as I figured I may want alternative accommodation to Vinnie – my van. It was Borrowdale YHA that immediately jumped out and caught my attention. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it initially, but on arrival I think it was its remoteness as it literally is in the middle of nowhere, and only a few kilometres from Honister Pass – a cheeky little number I had in mind to cycle over.

Honister Pass – Slate Mine

Following my motto of ‘seize the day’ on arrival I took the decision to get into my lycra and set off on a two-wheeled adventure. Typical of me, I’d read a little (but not enough to put me off). So, 5 km into my ride I found myself going up Honister Pass! For those that don’t know, this is a long drag of a hill, that ramps fairly swiftly up to 25% and more. Laying as flat as possible over my handlebars to stop my front wheel bouncing off the tarmac as I continued to ride, I soon rose through the mist and arrived at the summit of the climb. Even in the wet, soggy, grey mist it was a beautiful, panoramic view.

Honister Pass before I drop down into the mist!

What also became quickly apparent was the acute drop the other side! Not only was it narrow, wet and slippery, it was 26% and more, but this time downhill. Too steep to whizz down without touching my brakes, and watching the time as I wanted to get back to Borrowdale YHA before nightfall, I slowly set off with my brakes musically echoing around the hills.

Borrowdale YHA and my little wooden pod

My cycle ride took me all around the rolling lanes and after 60km or so I cycled through Keswick and then back to my home for the evening. As the rain drilled down and wind whirled through the trees, I was relieved and pleased that I’d had the foresight to book myself a little wooden cabin. Nestled in the green entrance to Borrowdale these basic yet cosy pods sleep two, they have no running water or the convenience of a loo, but they are warm, comfortable and quiet which made me feel more up close and personal with Mother Nature. Not only that, I was able to enjoy the heat of a roaring log fire in the communal area of the hostel and chat with fellow adventurers before I retired for the evening, and to what turned into a 12-hour sleep.

Friendship, laughter and play – a hat-trick of happiness!

Going up ‘North’ also gave me the opportunity to catch up with a couple of lovely girlfriends I’ve known for many years but have not seen for some time. At the beginning of my trip, I caught up with Fiona. I met Fi, at University in Nottingham where we were both studying Textile Design – Fi focused on construction in ‘knit’, and I focused on surface pattern in ‘print’. We studied together for three years and also lived together for two and a half years. In that time, we made hundreds of amazing memories, laughed lots, skied lots, drank lots, and danced lots. This time round it was a little calmer as our time was quite compact and it was wonderful to sit down for dinner, catch up on many of the incredible life events that have happened in the time we’d not connected, and it felt like no time had lapsed at all.

On the tail end of my trip, I caught up with Heather, a fabulous and vivacious young lady that I met doing my one and only ski season in 1999-2000. Both finding ourselves in Courchevel 1850, in the Haute Savoire region in France, we worked for different ski companies, yet we bonded over drinks and playing games in the Jump Bar, chatting about boys that had caught our attention, and enjoyed many swooshes down the slopes over our five months in our snow bubble. In the 21 years that have passed we’ve lived in different places, worked different jobs, enjoyed several beach adventures on the south coast, and now I’m getting to join her husband and her family of three wonderful boys in the gorgeous home in countryside. From collecting the boys from school and walking in the woods, to creating pirate ships out of lounge room furniture and exploring new villages – it was a blissful, whistle stop tour and I loved every second.

Heather and I – Lovely!

What was wonderful about seeing both of these brilliant ladies was that it seemed like only yesterday since I’d seen them last. There’s a saying I heard, I can’t remember when, but it’s about friendship – it’s either for a reason, a season, or a lifetime – I’m very happy to say that both Fi and Heather are ‘lifetime’.

The seasons are changing, a new chapter awaits!

As we pass the winter solstice – the day with the fewest hours of daylight – we move into a new chapter. With everyday there will be a glow on the horizon as the days slowly lengthen and we move towards the new year, then springtime. I did have plans to watch the solstice sunrise but for one reason or another (Covid) I was unable to be outside. So, as the new year begins to unfold, I’ll be making an extra special effort to enjoy many a sunrise – be that near my home in south London, or further afield on more adventures in Vinnie. I’m excited to see what the new year has in store for me.

No doubt there will be much laughter, love and enjoyment of this beautiful journey we call ‘life’. Let also the new year be a celebration of doing things differently and carving my own path.

The last glimpse of daylight before night time arrived.

‘IF’ – The poem in the slate

This state stone has the word ‘IF’ carved into it, it’s located at the top of Honister Pass. For those that don’t know, ‘IF’ is a famous poem by Rudyard Kipling. The slate captures the first two sections only, so I’ve captured the full poem below.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master,
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

‘IF’ – Rudyard Kipling

The Pennine Rally – ‘Riding the rough with the smooth’

The Pennine Rally – ‘Riding the rough with the smooth’

‘Rough with the smooth’ means you have to accept the bad or unpleasant things in a situation as well as the good things.

Who knew that June would be such an epic adventure into the unknown: With a love for nature, mountains and the great outdoors… when I was asked by Alison Dex to take a last-minute place in the inaugural Pennine Rally organised by Rapha – a self-supported adventurous pedal that goes mostly off-road from Edinburgh to Manchester, 15th to 19th June 2021 – I naturally said “yes” then promptly thought about the logistics of making it happen! But happen it did…

Our adventure begins

Generally speaking, I’m more creative than a numbers or stats person, but when it comes to long distance cycling the numbers stack up. For all the stats lovers out there, this will give you an idea of what The Pennine Rally equates to when it comes to digits, from the start in the Gamma Transport Division café in Edinburgh, to the finish at the Rapha store in Manchester.

For me personally The Pennine Rally translates to:

• 523.84 kms ridden
• 9,566 metres climbed
• 39 hours, 17 minutes time in the saddle
• 41 hours, 41 minutes including commuting and registration rides
• View the full route from Edinburgh to Manchester on Ride with GPS here

An introduction to hike a bike

I was intrigued by the coincidence and repetition of the number 4141 so googled their meaning:
• Number 1 – Helps you discover yourself. It represents personal growth., personal strength, success, goals and ambitions. It also represents new opportunities, a fresh start, a new phase, and a positive attitude.

• Number 4 – Carries the vibrations that symbolise spirituality and balance in life. It helps you understand and appreciate the importance of inner peace. It emphasises that these two concepts, spirituality, and balance, are very significant in your life. Helps you turn goals into reality – through hard work and determination you have an opportunity to make your life better.

• Number 41 – Live a genuine and authentic life.

I was a bit blown away at how these numbers and their meanings resonated with my feelings and thoughts towards the challenge completed. I do strongly believe in balance in life and for me, spending time in nature creates that. Moreover, participating in these rides really does take me outside my comfort zone, they do require a positive attitude and a high degree of resilience – without these attributes I’d not make the finish line.

A sneaky peak inside each day

Me and my pedal partner in crime agreed that photo stops were an essential part of capturing our journey so throughout the ride we took lots of photos – I’ll do my best to share a couple from each day in the hope that they convey some of the experience we shared together.

Day 1: Edinburgh to Selkirk

• 86.33 km and 1,706 metres climbed

Today in five words… excited, smiles, rocks, headwind, laughter.

I’m now beginning to understand the description given on the Rapha website when they said “Only the hardy need apply”…

The rough with the smooth… bike hike into a headwind

In five words the day has been incredible, adventurous, hilly, windy, brutal. The hills are relentless… everyone walking (I’m not the only one) and the headwind is something else.

The scenery is utterly breath-taking… endless rolling green hills that keep on giving, steadily rolling into the distance. The people are super friendly. The vibe set this morning in Edinburgh was one of friendly, informative, helpful and fun. All encouraging each other as we reach the top of the climbs and chatting along the way.

This evening we enjoyed a fish and chip supper – local Eyemouth catch – followed by homemade apple pie and custard. My tummy needed a feed!

@alisondex you are an excellent co pilot.

Still smiling…

Day 2: Selkirk to Bardon Mill

• 136.32 km and 2,449 metres climbed

Today in five words… forest, moss, remote, breath-taking, fun.

In just under 12 hours we’ve ridden from Selkirk to Hadrian’s Wall… it’s been a rather mental day on two wheels! A complete mix of terrain from logging trails, mud paths, cuttings through the trees, forests with millions of pine needles and beds of spongy moss, and lots and lots of hills.

Heading deep into the woods

One tumble for me coming through a 4-inch gully and thankfully a soft landing in the grassy peat where I met a few black squidgy slugs. No damage done.

This evening we stayed at YHA The Sill. A very welcome lasagne with garlic bread followed by sponge pudding and custard… delicious. Clothes washed and having a spin in the tumble dryer.

We’ve burned through so many calories it’s impossible to consume. A few cokes, one coffee, two Snickers, one bar, one gel, two sandwiches… porridge and a full English for breakie… so I’ve had a good go!

Painkillers and a big sleep, in preparation for tomorrow.

Discovering the thick of the forest

Day 3: Bardon Mill to Keld

• 107.72 km with 1,552 metres climbed

Today in five words… beautiful, scenic, pine needles, cuckoo, wild garlic.

It’s been another rather epic day in the saddle… more variety of terrain, country lanes, disused railways tracks, gravel, rocks, headwind, tailwind, hills and a few more hills.

Viaducts and valleys

Being able to see so many remote parts of our wonderful country is something quite special. The expanse of the views, epic viaducts, the sense of space, the smell of wild garlic, everything is so green, the birdsong is so varied too – cuckoo, warblers, I’m turning into a twitcher! Yesterday we enjoyed the smell of pine needles, the forest floor and fresh cut wood – every day is different.

This evening we dined and stay in a lovely place called the Bunkbarn – a very welcome sight it was too! We’ve been warmly welcomed and served a delicious dinner with a glass of red.

Big shout out to my co-pilot @alisondex – we’re still smiling and we’re rocking this!!

Two days to go until we celebrate in Manchester.

Kevin & Pixie rest while we are having our second breakfast

Day 4: Keld to Gisburn

• 109.98 km with 2,302 metres climbed

Today in five words… brutal, epic, fatigue, hills, wept.

Another monster day, lots of 25% climbs, lots of walking, epic views, feeling privileged to see so many beautiful remote spots and hidden gems.

This morning brings some bridge climbing too

Brilliant seeing the @rapha_uk van out on the road… great for coffee, coke, Tunnock cakes, pretzels and chat with other riders – helps to keep the spirits up and to exchange lots of lost and found flip flops en route.

Always fun seeing the Rapha guys in the van

Big thanks to my partner in crime @alisondex and to the wonderful group of @bella.velo.cc ladies riding @helebridg, @carolyngreensmith, @clare.liley, @helen.sharpie who helped get me functioning again after my crumble and face plant on the table on arrival at the pub this evening.

Quote from the waiter at dinner…

“Is she OK? We don’t want any dead people in here.”

Waiter

Arriving and having a warm welcome at the Foxhill Barn B&B was fabulous, just what we needed, now for sleep.

There was a sneaky flat route under the viaduct… we obviously opted for climbing the steps and whizzing down through a field!

Day 5: Gisburn to Manchester

• 83.49 km with 1,557 metres climbed

Today in five words… cobbles, smiles, hills, memories, happy.

I was slightly hesitant starting our fifth and final day, and also somewhat relieved as my body was feeling a little beaten up. However, once riding it didn’t too long to warm up as the 25% plus hills came thick and fast. To keep myself going I often focus on four pedal revolutions then have a little celebration to myself – then hit repeat. Four is an achievable number that’s totally replicable. Alison adopted my crazy method for keeping our legs going – it really does work!

As we climbed and pushed our bikes up the hills, clambered over rocks and navigated a gazillion gate ways, we slowly reached an old cobbled roman road along the ridge as we approached Manchester. It was magnificent seeing the city get closer and closer. Having completed all of the climbing for the day in the first 50 km, the final 30km rewarded us with the gentle, flat canal path as we meandered into town. A rather fitting end to complete the rally along the canal as it mirrored the start in Edinburgh.

The end has arrived… our epic off-road adventure from Edinburgh to Manchester is complete. The sun has shone, the sky is blue, the cheers on arrival at the Rapha store were just brilliant and to see so many smiling welcoming faces. The beer and arancini were delicious too – followed by rose and pizza to celebrate our pretty special achievement.

A quick bite and a beer were very welcome

@outdoorprovisions – you mapped out a truly fantastic route… twists and turns, full range of every terrain going – cobbles, canal paths, rocky ascents and descents, grass verges, and everything in between.

Thank you!

A few more rocks and gravel to navigate!

A team effort – “Thank you”

A massive thank you to Alice Fowles for letting me have your place. I know you’d much rather have ridden with Alison as planned, but your help in transferring your place to me and your continued support throughout the event was incredible and much needed to keep our morale high – you were with us in spirit for the entire journey and adventure.

Getting to the start line was took some serious plate spinning and help, particularly by my friend and super star mechanic Rohan Dubash – without you pulling out all the stops to service and practically rebuild my bike (a Pearson gravel bike called Rough with the Smooth) there’s no way I’d have made it from start to finish. The hills were punishing, the off-road was utterly mental, and throughout the entire ride I had no punctures or mechanicals!

To my pedal partner in crime Alison Dex, you are a total legend! And together we have achieved something quite extraordinary! Before we started you shared with me some priorities, passed to you by our friend and fellow rider Helen Sharp, they were…

  1. Have fun and remain friends
  2. Get to the finish
  3. Finish within the timeframe set

We scored 100% and with beaming smiles too!

We’re on the Roman cobbled road… exhausted, happy and smiling.

At the moment I’m struggling to find the words that convey what we’ve just achieved – perhaps it’ll sink in over the coming days. One thing I am sure of is how proud I am of you, of me, the Bella Velo riding crew, and everyone else we shared the experience and the adventure with along the way.

Right from the outset, the vibe set by organiser and UK activation manager Louis Van Kleeff, Rapha, for The Pennine Rally was chilled, friendly, collaborative and fun. It’s a tough balance to strike yet he struck it perfectly. Of the 80 rider places available it was fantastic to have parity with 40 places being allocated to women and 40 for men – it’s not often you see this in cycling events so a great example for rides to come, I hope.

There’s a whisper in the air

Usually, when I finish a multiday ride, I say to myself “never again”, yet thoughts and ideas for the new adventures are already beginning to form, particularly something of the off-road self-supported variety. I did have plans to ride the King Alfred Way this summer so perhaps that’ll be next to share with friends who share my love of nature, cycling and the great outdoors.

Let’s see where the next chapter takes me. Who fancies coming along for the ride?

Manchester awaits..