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 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.”


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..

Adventures by bike – Just how far can I go on my your first self-supported journey across France?

Adventures by bike – Just how far can I go on my your first self-supported journey across France?

If a friend of yours suggested a self-supported cycling trip across France what would your initial response be… “Are you nuts?” or “Yes, why not”. To be fair, I didn’t really think too much about why or what I’d said “Yes” to, other than I knew I’d made a choice to experience life expanding travels, so this invitation seemed a logical step (or revolution of my wheels) in the right direction. 

Packaging for 10 days on two wheels 

The word brevity or sparce comes massively into play here. Let’s face it, other than cycling kit what do you really need – my civvies consisted of a pair of shorts, a vest top, a jumper, long yoga pants and not much else. To carry said items for the duration I had two panniers and handlebar bag – and as the trip rolled out my packing skills got better and better, finding space that didn’t appear to exist the day before. 

To give you a little insight into our journey I’ve decided to break the trip down into three sections – Getting There, Across France, and The Journey Home – the main bulk of kilometres covered was ‘Across France’. In essence, the entire trip was one huge adventure, involving lots of navigation, several nights of random camping sourced on the fly, and we also stayed with wonderful family and friends on three very precious nights whilst away. 

Getting there – The journey unfolds

Having left London on Thursday night the last week of July, we eventually arrived in France two days later on Saturday lunchtime, just in time to commence our first proper ride of the trip. However, the journey to St. Malo in France was an adventure in itself as we had to get to Poole via train, then travel from Poole to Jersey via ferry, then another ferry from Jersey to France. Along the way various measures had been put in place to manage health and safety of passengers in regards to Covid-19, including a test on arrival in Jersey, to which I receive a daily SMS health check message that I was invited to respond ‘WELL’ to if well, and ‘COVID’ if myself of anyone in my group has symptoms. I’m happy to report that my response was always ‘WELL’ and may it remain that way. 

Covid-19 test in Jersey

Here’s the lowdown on stats:

  • 760 kms – Door-to-door from the UK, across France (St. Malo to Bergerac) and back to Blighty via plane from Bergerac into London City Airport
  • 5737 metres climbed 
  • 17 rides – 
    • Getting there (x4 rides) – London, Poole and Jersey
    • Across France (x7 rides) – Taking in several regions along the way including Bretagne, Paye de la Loire, and Poitou-Charentes 
    • The journey home (x6 rides) – Taking a series of trains to get us from Angouleme to Perigueux and nearer to Bergerac. We had lovely social engagements to fulfil, BBQs to enjoy and pools to swim in, and some little cycling trips to connect the destinations.

Across France – in a heat wave 

Day 1 – St. Malo to Mexant, 101.53km  

It is a strange but also very liberating feeling to roll off the ferry on your bike and just pedal down the road. We had our route planned for today so it was pretty straight forward navigation on our Garmin. Also, lots of leaves provided dappled sunshine through the trees so not too hot. Having reached our AirBNB we discovered our host was an eccentric cat lady – although ‘host’ is probably a generous overstatement – we got showered and settled for the night. Thankfully we had use of the kitchen facilities so we did make a delicious homemade meal with local ingredients washed down with a bottle of rose. I think staying there alone you’d want to sleep with one eye open!

Day 2 – Mexant to the Coast (Camping du Golfe) – 89.24km

We decided to make a fairly swift exit and thankfully we had some of the porridge oats we’d squirrelled from the UK with us. First stop once riding was a boulangerie – our daily ritual was to purchase a pastry, a baguette, and a filled baguette. This way we didn’t get caught out by the often ‘quirky’ opening times of mini supermarkets, charcuteries and other necessary refreshment shops. To continue our desire to be in fresh air, our destination was a campsite on the mudflats – and what a gem it was… so beautiful, quiet, amazing facilities, no WiFi, and a barn to cook another homecooked meal – plus we enjoyed some local beer. Heaven!

Day 3 – Coast to Crossac – 65.55km

This is a special day as today we see Claire – a super special woman, one of my favourite ladies in the world, and we get to celebrate her eldest boys 21st birthday! After a relatively short ride, it was wonderful to arrive in Crossac and have a cuddle with my godson Erwan who’s just adorable, funny, caring and an absolute gem. Claire is the hostess with the mostest so we enjoyed gin and tonics, nibbles, BBQ beef, salad, and other delights… and that night for me the first proper ‘sleep’ – it was great to wake up feeling refreshed.  Friends for life, Claire and I have the ability to click back seamlessly, laugh endlessly, have a bloody good time being silly and entertaining ourselves with daft antics – effortless and beautiful. 

Refreshing local beer at the end of a hot sunny day

Day 4 – Crossac to Montaigu – 120.73km

Having said our ‘Good-byes’, and for me with a few tears as the last time I spent some time with Claire was just before we went into ‘lockdown’ in Barcelona, so I was a little emotional – the visit was lovely but just too short. Packed and ready we set off down the lanes shortly after 9am with freshly laundered clothes in our bags (very grateful for that). On Claire’s recommendation we amended our route to cross the river on La Bac de Loire, a little ferry between Indre and La Montagne. It saved us traversing the massively high bridge at Nantes, a slightly scary thought as it’s pretty windy up there. Having made swift progress through endless fields of sunflowers, we stopped for a ‘Plat du Jour’… the starter I chose was terrine, the main veal with tagliatelle, followed by chocolate mousse. All I’m going to say is we did well to consume the main at all… I nicknamed it ‘Testicle Tagliatelle’… it turned out to be veal kidneys (I hate kidneys). The main thing is it fuelled us for the afternoon and to find a wonderful campsite where we watched a glorious sunset, dined on tomatoes, tuna, onion and baguette and drank some chilled local beer. I found the sound of the donkey ‘eeeeooooorrring’ at dusk and dawn strangely comforting and rather cute. 

My home for the night

Day 5 – Montaigu to Niort, Magne – 51.90km + 106.52km

Today brings another super ‘hot hot hot’ day… 44 degrees, endless sunflower and corn fields roll out in front of us with very few places to replenish our water bottles. Peach iced tea once again quenched our thirst and provided a shot of sugar quickly into our systems, and thankfully the cemetery water taps where we soaked our hair, soaked our clothes, refilled our bottles and drank a lot on the spot. Sometimes it’s only when you stop near a water source that you realise just how thirsty you are. Not realising the distance we would need to cover in the afternoon, for the second and last time, we stopped for a Plat du Jour in Ferriere. Our meal consisted of melon and palma ham, porc chop and salad, followed by pear tart and coffee – delicious (hooray for no kidneys), and it was much lighter without the pasta!! Again, a fabulous campsite found at dusk, so a super quick shower, eat and sleep.

Lunch stop in the sun

Day 6 – Niort, Magne to Angouleme – 124.86km

Early to rise for what was to be our last long hot day in the saddle. The heat in the afternoon was relentless, frying and baking our skin – no cool breeze to regulate our temperature so by the evening I think I had a bit of heatstroke, my bottom lip was also burnt and blistered which was uncomfortable. Thankfully a charcuterie was open at lunchtime so we purchased some rillette and some goodies for dinner. Rolling fields of sunflowers waved at us all day as we cycled through another region… madness probably in the heat. In the evening at dusk we found a fabulous campsite, managed to sneak in before the reception closed at 8.30pm, but sadly we missed the restaurant so we had warm quiche Lorraine, warm salmon and spinach slice, and delicious fresh fruit. You learn quickly to never throw any food away as you don’t really know where your next meal is coming from, so it pays to be prepared and always have some emergency supplies stashed away.

It was on this day as we neared Angouleme that we decided to get the train for the next leg to Perigueux. A welcome rest to our legs but a slightly anxious time to with Covid-19 and the restrictions with getting a bike on a train in France. I swear guardian angels had watched over us the whole week as the SNCF and tourist information staff were super helpful which made our journey easier. Not being allowed on the initial train we’d booked also allowed us to enjoy a galette before our new train left, and a carafe of rose and ice-cream for lunch in Courtras on a ‘transition stop’. 

Fields and fields of sunflowers

The journey home –trains, planes and bicycles 

Having started to use trains as a mode of transport for me this marked the start of our journey home. We stay with Bill, Denise’s cousin who lives in a picturesque farmhouse on Friday night, then her friends Nicola and Darren on Saturday who live 20 mins from Bergerac – these two days were a welcome slowing of pace for some stolen and much needed relaxing social time. It was also a time to pack our bags away in cardboard boxes to get them on the plane from Bergerac to London City. It was quite entertaining if a little stressful having to re-pack my bike at the airport, but the BA crew were fantastically helpful and kind.

Flying from Bergerac, France to London City Airport, UK

The plane had maximum 30 people on so plenty of space to socially distance. In line with health and safety rules, the plane was spotlessly clean, everyone was wearing masks, and the flight was fluid and quick. On arrival in London it was time to put our bikes back together and pedal home – it seemed only fitting to stop en route at the pub in Putney for a beer to celebrate our adventure and reflect a little on what we’d achieved.

Nights under the stars 

It would be true to say that I’m not someone who would look to camp, so this was the No.1 hurdle for me to overcome. Thankfully I have some fairly adventurous friends (I seem to have a few) and fellow cyclist Sally lent me her two-man tent. Although how you’d fit two normal sized people in it is beyond me, but for the time I was away, and for a subsequent ‘Bivvy Weekend’ in the UK organised by Jasmijn Muller, it was a home and safe sanctuary as I tried to sleep through some super-hot nights. 

A few ‘Thank you’ to make… 

Friends and some fellow cycling nuts 

  • Denise – If it wasn’t for your determination to find a route across the channel and your sense of adventure this trip would not have happened 
  • Claire – I’ve known you for over 40 years and you’re my rock, always wonderful memories made and fabulous to celebrate Oliver’s 21st birthday 
  • Bill – For your amazing hospitality, amazing food, engaging storytelling, home cooked food and a safe place to camp for the night 
  • Nicola and Darren – For the warm welcoming, great conversation, delicious BBQ, relaxing and rejuvenating pool, and safe haven for the night 
  • Sally – If we’d not got together at yours for a BBQ the weekend before I’d have missed out on borrowing your portable home 
  • Jasmijn Muller – I may (coughs – definitely have) put on a few Covid kilos, but thanks to your training I’m fitter and stronger than I was this time last year
  • Rohan – AKA Dr D, my friend and mechanic who looks after all my bikes, keeps them safe and make them ‘sparkly a new’ every time he works on them
  • Clubs Bella Velo and Kingston Wheelers for having me and for enabling so many great adventures and friendships.
Our final destination – time for a swim in the pool!

Adventure Kit and Active Travel brands 

  • Apidura – Jonathan was a superstar for getting my new products to me in time for departure (9L Expedition Handlebar Pack, 9L Expedition Saddle Pack, 1.2L Backcountry Food Pouch and 1L Backcountry Top Tube Pack) – I feel this was the first of many bike packing adventures, many more to come. 
  • LifeVenture – Endless kit here including sleeping bag silk liner, 22L waterproof lightweight rucksack (packs down really small) which was perfect for food shops at the end of a day, and my washbag (used on multiple trips and adventures).
  • Eagle Creek – Packing cubes… I’ve had these for over 25 years and they’re still going strong. For camping they double up well as a pillow. 
  • Ortlieb – I’ve had my panniers for over 6 years as I purchased them for commuting into London (wearing a backpack was uncomfortable and irritated my skin).
  • Wolrus – My home under the stars, a one-woman (two man) tent for life expanding travels in Covid times.
  • Genesis –  AKA “Brownie’ my steel steed for carrying me and all my kit safely on the road (and some off road as it happens thanks to Komoot)
  • Garmin 830 Edge – For navigating and orientating us in 44+ degree heat whilst in France, and for helping us locate ferry ports and other transport hubs along the way.

Life is one big adventure – let’s inspire each other 

As we travel quite literally through our years, I’m discovering more and more the importance to make every day count. Whatever is thrown down in front on me, it’s important for me to assume that people are inherently good and when asked, will be helpful, kind and inspire me to go further. On that subject, I recently received a message on Strava from Dave Compston, a friend who in July this year Everested the Col de Boyer in France, securing his place in the hall of fame. As coincidence would have it, I supported my boss and friend Roger Barr as he Everested Box Hill 73 times – the same summer (2014) I was with Dave in France training for the Raid Pyrenean. The message from Dave read:

“I thought of you Emma whilst doing the everesting, when you were here you wanted to do lots of climbing every day to reach your goal of 2,000 metres a day for 6 days.”

Dave Compson

You said…

“I’m happy to ride up and down the same hill to reach my target.”

Emma Potter

I thought how driven you were (mad), look what you’ve done. 

On that note – I’m going to sign off by saying as ordinary people, we’re all capable of doing extraordinary things. Let’s keep inspiring each other to step outside our comfort zones, try something new and have an adventure. 

SNCF – Bridging the gap

Digital Detox – Embrace nature, be present, breathe in the fresh air and tune in.

Digital Detox – Embrace nature, be present, breathe in the fresh air and tune in.

Six bikes… Five days… four nights… three great friends… two flights… one boat – and much laughter, amazing adventures enjoyed, and many fantastic memories made. 

In the last few years there’s been a host of press about the ‘digital detox’ – meaning a period of time during which a person refrains from using electrical devices such as smartphones, regarded as an opportunity to reduce stress or focus on social interaction in the physical world’. Spanning ‘Digital Minimalism’ books that advocate a 30-day plan to take your life back, the introduction of voice recognition and virtual assistants that have been reported to discretely push technology into the background of our lives, to some tech platforms and their bosses acknowledging the potential negative impact of tech on mental well-being – to the point that some have built in features to track over use – I’d say it’s a good time to experiment with what taking a digital detox means for you.  

So, in a world that’s ‘always on’, there’s never been a better time to switch off your WiFi, switch to ‘airplane mode’, or simply to switch your phone and other digital devices ‘off’ completely, and be present with where you are, the environment you are in, the people you are with, and to bathe in nature. For me, this meant meeting up with some cycling friends and exploring the Channel Islands.

Guernsey 2019

Going native in the Channel Islands

I’ve travelled fairly extensively over the past 27 years or so, but nothing prepared me for the stunning beauty of the Channel Islands. Not only it is extremely accessible and easy to get to from the UK, a 50-minute flight from Gatwick to be precise, once you get there everything is on your doorstep. From WWII history of Nazi capture, and tunnels and battlements to protect the coastline, to great places to eat locally caught crabs, moules and other seafood, stunning coastal paths to roam, white sandy beaches to walk on, azure seas to swim in – the islander community has a lot to offer people of all ages. 

For me it was real solitude peace and quiet; proper dark nights where you see the stars glow and shine; rosy red sunsets that light up the sky and go on for ever; and the opportunity to spend some quality time with some great friends as they showed me around their native Island of Guernsey and surrounds. 

In five days and four nights we truly packed in some epic adventures, giggle fuelled fun and relaxing down time from work – this included climbing down the 200 plus steps to swim in St. Martin’s Bay in Guernsey before dining on scallops for dinner; mountain biking around Alderney, stopping to explore Fort Clonque and several other battlements, the light house and other sights en route before sleeping on the boat moored to a buoy in Braye harbour (that was slightly wobbly); mountain biking around Sark having scooted the bikes to shore on the dingy; cycling on our road bikes in France having moored the boat in Guilette to pedal around Lower Normandy and through a gorgeous town called Bricquebec; then boating back to Guernsey via Herm, a tiny yet beautiful island that we walked around whilst eating ice-cream and admiring the sandy, shell covered beaches. Whilst on the open water, with the waves and swell swirling up around, you truly get a feel for how tiny we are in the world, it sets a new perspective. 

Creating communities through cycling and sport 

At its core, cycling, a keen interest in adventures by bike (and now boat), and a love of nature, it what formed the foundation of my friendship with Jo and Dan. In the past few years we’ve been on four cycling trips together – we’ve pedalled through the French Alps from Gevena to Nice on the Raid Alpine, ridden the Classic Cols of Gran Canaria, cycled up and down Mont Ventoux a couple of times and around the Verdon Gorge in Provence, and enjoyed the 6 ways in 6 days Tenerife Teide Challenge – all with Marmot Tours. This summer we thought we would mix it up a little, introducing boats, walking and swimming with mountain and road bikes. 

Delight in a digital detox and tune in with nature 

Our world, and our lives – personal, work and social – are increasingly busy and demanding.  In that world, we are constantly ‘on-demand’ by bosses, colleagues, partners, children, family, and often times, if we are not ‘on-demand’ ourselves, we want someone else, or something else (think Netflix, on-demand T.V.) to be ‘on-demand’ for us.  There is rarely a time when our phones and other digital devices are out of reach, as they buzz with notifications to grab our attention. 

Sometimes I feel guilty for wanting to take a ‘digital detox’ to ‘tune in’ – notice I’m saying ‘tune-in not tune-out’ – to what’s really going on around me.  To be present with the environment I’m in and the people I am with, so I enjoy every moment, remaining curious and consciously engrossed in captivating conversation. For me tuning in and being in nature is restorative, it enlightens my spirit and is a must have in my life, as is spending quality time with family and friends – they are all fuel for a happier, healthier, motivated mindset. 

When was the last time you gave yourself the opportunity to tune in and delight in a digital detox? 

Intrepid Cycling Adventures – Journey to Ventoux and the Verdon Gorge

Intrepid Cycling Adventures – Journey to Ventoux and the Verdon Gorge

The mountains are calling… there’s a little voice inside my head that’s constantly talking – where to next? Which country has the most compelling draw, is it the panoramic scenery, the rolling hills or simply just the joyful feeling of exploring?

This autumn I had the pleasure of going on a fantastic intrepid cycling adventure. I always like to find a new destination to explore and this time the lure of the Verdon Gorge and Ventoux were too much to resist. So after a few weeks of research, checking the expected weather forecast and speaking to friends, I booked my fourth trip with Marmot Tours, accompanied by a couple of cheeky reprobates aptly named Jet Pack Jo and Dan the Man.

You may be surprised to know that the premise for this trip was to have a holiday, which is where I should probably define, that what a ‘holiday’ means is only cycling four to five hours a day, opposed to seven or eight! And doing 1,500 – 2,000 metres of climbing a day, opposed to a minimum of 3,000 for six days on the trot. 

My flights booked, bike bag packed and trolly dolly in tow… my journey to Provence and the Verdon Gorge was on track. 

Back in the saddle 

Our midday arrival on Sunday 30th Sept allowed for a gentle spin. So with my allen keys at the ready and bike re-assembled – myself, Jo, Dan and some others in our group headed out for a short little leg warmer, followed by a coupe of beers and chat in the late afternoon sunshine. I have to say, this was a great way to ease into our holiday. Here’s how the next six days unfolded…

Heading for the hills…

Day 1 – Saint Maximin la Saint Baume to Moustiers Saint Marie

(98km with 1,494 metres of ascent) – view on Strava

A gentle, beautiful day as we roll through a host of villages – Esparron, Varages, La Verdiere, Montmeyan, Quinson – in the Verdon National Park. Nestled comfortably by the lake side, we stop for lunch – a few of us enjoyed a lovely plat du jour (which comprised a fabulously fresh salad with charcuterie, pan-fried trout with garlic potatoes, followed by a sensationally sweet slice of pecan tart), the perfect set-up for a leisurely afternoon. The rose was good too!

Day 2 – Ride into the Verdon Gorge

(108km with 2,464 metres of ascent) – view on Strava

Verdon Gorge

Today we passed sheer drops and experienced vast vistas as we meander through the Verdon Gorge. We also felt the full force of the Mistral as it rolled and rushed over ridges, for 10km or more as we cycled through the lavender fields – it was actually quite hard to stay upright. More delicious food, local beer and rose are on tap in the evening to replenish stocks for the days that lay ahead. 

Day 3 – Moustiers Saint Marie to Sisteron 

(102km 1,074 metres of ascent) – view on Strava

I absolutely loved today – a few minor undulations and swift descents in amazing scenery. A rambling ride that concluded with a swift peloton swinging around the bends into Sisteron – thank you Jet Pack Jo and Dan the Man for the generous tow. Arriving in the early afternoon permitted a walk around The Citadel of Sisteron to learn some local history and understand more about geology of the land. 

Sisteron – views across the valley

Day 4 – Sisteron to Malaucene and the vineyards of Gigondas 

(120km with 1,468 metres of ascent) – view on Strava

On departing Sisteron I took a slightly alternative route (not intentional), thankfully a fellow rider navigated us back on track. All week the scenery has been epic, yet today it was turned up a notch. Climbing to the top of the Col de la Pigiere (968m) and Col de Macuegue (1068m), then descending through the Gorge de la Nesque was quite stunning; the views are truly something else. Epically expansive evolving hills spill into the distance and revealed glimmers of what was to come… 

I gave a massive thank you the German couple that saved me by refilling my bottles with sparkling water – my saviours in the blazing sunshine. 

Day 5 – Ventoux Double 

(84km with 3,093 metres of ascent) – view on Strava

Malaucene to Bedouin to Malaucene. To be fair I wasn’t intending on making a double ascent of Mont Ventoux (1911m), it must have been the sunshine and euphoria of making it to the top once that made me think, well I’m here, so let’s try the other side. A small matter of three hours later I make it to the summit for the second and final time. 

Tommy Simpson Memorial – it was a hot day

Several others were going for the Cingles Challenge – meaning all three ascents – from Malaucene, Sault and Bedouin. That challenge is something way out of my league but it was brilliant cheering them on as they flew past me at Chalet Reynard. It’s a must to stop at the Tom Simpson memorial.

Day 6 – Malaucene Loop Parc Regional des Baronnies Provencales (95km with 1,420 metres of ascent) – view on Strava

Refuelling once I’d found the group again (I managed to do this ride in reverses – don’t ask)

Today is our last day in the saddle. To be fair my butt is asking for a day off, as are my legs, arms and back – but my heart and head say ‘you know you want to get out there’. And although I did manage to do the entire route in reverse (don’t ask), taking in the Col d’Aulan (845m) and the Cote de Bluye (578m), I did manage to meet my fellow pedal friends for a mouth-watering lunch. 

Other cyclists that day included the Haute Route riders – I don’t think I’ll ever be mad enough to take that on – there were some extremely weary faces passing in the opposite direction. 

All day the summit of Ventoux loomed in the background. It never ceases to amaze me the distance and quite frankly, the incredible terrain we cover when on two wheels. For me, there’s no better way to explore.

I”m a big fan of a panoramic shot

Until next time… a fond farewell!

Without doubt, it is the encouragement; kind words, humour and patience of our guides Gavin and Merve from Marmot Tours that made our trip go smoothly on all counts. As usual, whenever you need them they appear – like magic – out of the heat haze or mist with bananas, banter, jelly sweets, M&Ms, cake, crisps, and most of all a beaming smile. 

I wonder where I’ll explore next?

Jo, Dan, me and the crew
And I made it to the top – TWICE!

Orange Box – Big Ride to Work 2017

Orange Box – Big Ride to Work 2017

In three short weeks I’ll be joining a group of wonderful people from Orange Box when we cycle from Huddersfield to London – the purpose being to raise money for two very important charities, PWSA UK – Prader-Willi Syndrome and Velindre Cancer Centre.

  • Day 1: 100 miles, Huddersfield to Melton Mowbray, approx. 2575m climbing
  • Day 2: 95 miles, Melton Mowbray to Stevenage, approx. 1000m climbing 
  • Day 3: 35 miles, Stevenage to London, approx. 500m climbing 

Raising money for two wonderful charities

Two employees from Orange Box, Andy Hiscocks and Dave Carter, have selected these charities as they have personally helped to support their families. You can read more about their stories below.

DONATE HERE: Please give generously – our target is £5,000.00

Nancy’s story (words from Andy Hiscocks, Nancy’s dad)

Our three-year old daughter, Nancy, has Prader-Willi Syndrome (‘PWS’). It’s a rare genetic condition, caused by a chromosome disorder that is estimated to affect 1 in 22,000 children. 

As a baby Nancy was very weak and required a constant flow of oxygen for a few months and a feeding tube for several months more. The condition affects Nancy’s muscle tone so she is not yet able to walk very far unaided, although she’s getting there slowly with physio and hydrotherapy. PWS also affects the part of the brain that controls appetite so as children get older their appetite will become insatiable. 

This coupled with her poor muscle tone and a decreased calorific requirement means that children with PWS need to have their diet strictly monitored to prevent potentially life threatening obesity. 

People with PWS have central nervous system and endocrine gland dysfunction causing varying degrees of learning difficulty, short stature and impacting upon emotional and social development. 

The Prader-Willi Syndrome Association (‘PWSA’) has been a huge support to us as a family; not only in providing us with a wealth of information and support about the condition, but by organising regional family days out to allow us to meet other affected families. We feel very lucky to have the support of this charity and are so grateful to anyone that makes a donation – a huge ‘thank you’!

Tom’s story (words from Dave Carter, Tom’s dad)

From an early age Tom’s been sport mad and with a special love for cricket (he’s been a demon batsman from the age of 8!). He went from being captain of his school team, to playing at county level for Gwent and then at just 17 years old found himself playing for Newport 1st team. 

Soon after though, Tom was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma of his left tibia and was referred to Velindre Cancer Care Hospital and started his first chemotherapy at the teenage cancer trust unit in Cardiff. 

After two courses of chemo he had to have his left leg amputated above the knee. 18 months later, the cancer had spread & he underwent a further operation to remove his right lung. Despite all this, Tom kept playing cricket & even went on to captain the Wales disabled team. 

More recently, Tom started complaining of headaches and double vision and a CT scan showed a tumour on the brain, which has meant yet more chemo and radiotherapy back at Velindre. 

All through his treatments the care Tom’s received there has been outstanding and the support for our family has been amazing too. You can’t really explain how much this means to you until you’re in this position and we’re so grateful for any donations to help them support many more families like ours.

Through Virgin Money Giving, you can sponsor us and donations will be quickly processed and passed to our two charities. Virgin Money Giving is a not for profit organisation and will claim gift aid on a charity’s behalf where the donor is eligible for this. We really appreciate all your support and thank you for any donation, no matter how big or small.

New friends – creating memories through sport

This will be the second time I’ve ridden with the Orange Box team. The first was cycling from London to Wales a few years back, when myself and a few other Kingston Wheelerslead riders from the Orange Box office in Northampton Road in East London, out into the Surrey Hills, where the route continued down to their head office in Cardiff, Wales. 

It’s a privilege to be invited to join the team again, to help map out the final leg into London and generally enjoy time with riders on the road. He’s to three fun filled days of adventure, camaraderie and friendship.

  • 4000+ metres of climbing 
  • 200+ hilly miles
  • 32 riders
  • 5 support staff 
  • Three days 

DONATE HERE: Please give generously – our target is £5,000.00

A big ‘Thank you’ in advance for your support.

Follow our journey on Twitter – @EmmaPotter73 #BRTW2017

My love of the two-wheeled machine – the power of cycling to inspire

My love of the two-wheeled machine – the power of cycling to inspire

I was recently asked why I love cycling so much… For me the answer is simple, and several words quickly sprung to mind, amongst them friendship, laughter, adventure, community, comradeship, and travel, to name a few… What’s not to like about some, if not all of those aspects of the sport? When combined together, in my book, they make a truly compelling mix.

Ten years ago I used to be ribbed by work colleagues for cycling so much (I think they thought it was a bit square and not so trendy to wear Lycra, especially by choice). In recent years the tables have turned – many of those very people have adopted the sport and now regularly ask my advice on what to wear, they request information on recommended routes to ride, and trips to plan, both at home and abroad. 

Locally in London the Ride100 has done wonders to drive interest in cycling. In addition Froome, Wiggo and their Tour de France success has also been a key driver to raise awareness of the sport. Essentially cycling is accessible to all, irrespective of your age or your fitness level, and that’s one of the many reasons I love it so much. 

For me cycling has become a major part of my life. And this is why…

  • Friendship 

I’ve met some amazing people and made some wonderful friends through cycling. They span multiple decades and cycle rides have been known to feature friends in there 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. We share great times together both on and off the bike – beer, food and fun are a regular feature!

  • Laughter 

We laugh a lot and then a bit more – you know the kind of laugher that makes your belly ache and your eyes leak – that’s my buddies and me. We take the mick out of each other, play pranks on each other, celebrate birthdays together, and generally have a bloody good time.

  • Adventure 

Sometimes it’s just fun to go with the flow. Last summer a friend posted on Facebook – “Anyone fancy riding from London to the Isle of Wight and back?” – and I thought, sure, why not! What was meant to be a 300km ride turned into 373km and 14.5 hours of riding; I left home at 5.30am on Sunday and got home at 1.15am on Monday. Basking in the sunshine, relaxing on the ferry crossing, and consuming lots of food – a memorable, great day was had by all.

  • Community 

I’m a member of the Kingston Wheelers Cycling Club – a fantastic club based in South West London. From fast, short TT’s and LONG Audax routes, to Summer BBQ’s and Sunday Club rides – there’s something for everyone. We’re a pretty social bunch. 

  • Comradeship 

We’ve all had bad days when we’re suffering on a bike. Where we’ve not eaten enough food, not had enough water to rehydrate, our lungs aren’t working or simply our legs have had it; that’s when you really want and need your friends around you to keep you going. No one ever gets left on the road.

  • Travel 

I’ve experienced many countries and cultures. From the high and midi Atlas mountains in Morocco where there’s truly breathtaking scenery; the classic cols of Mallorca, Corsica and Sardinia that again offer stunning views and an amazing array of seafood to refuel; to Raids in the AlpsPyrenees, and Dolomites, where there’s climbs and descents for all abilities, there’s hundreds of amazing places to visit. I wonder where I’ll go next?

A sport for all to enjoy… any time of the year 

There’s something invigorating and refreshing about feeling the fresh air, wind and sometimes rain on your face. So whether the sun is shining and there are blue skies above, or whether there are grey stormy clouds and the sun is no where to be seen – I always feel compelled to get out on my bike. It won’t surprise you to hear I have a two-wheeled machine for every occasion.

Be part of something special 

Whatever your reasons – health benefits, weight management, socials, adventure, and travel – get in the cycling mix. You’ll be amazed what you discover about yourself, your resilience, and what your body can do when you put your mind to it.