Friday, 27 December 2013

Mud, rain & riding in shorts...must be winter in the UK!

This time last year, I was out guiding in Tenerife, basking in a pleasant climate where it was possible to still wear shorts when riding each day. This year, for the last month, it's been so mild I've been doing the same! Admittedly it's been a little bit colder than it was there, but at least I've saved money on sun-cream?

December has flown by in a haze of some expensive work on my poor van (it has worked quite hard this year!), maintenance jobs on my house in Sheffield (keep the tenants happy etc. etc), and continued slow but steady sorting of mine and Gareth's kit and accumulated paperwork from many years. Those have been the hard jobs, but fortunately, I've been able to balance them out with some awesome riding with lots of friends, old and new, and visits to catch up with people I haven't seen for over a year.

Mid December, I made the trip down to the Surrey Hills for a weekend to catch-up and ride with a few friends. I have to admit to being slightly sceptical about the quality of riding to expect...I mean, are there actually any hills in the South? And surely there can't be any riding to talk of when you compare it to the hills of the Peak, Lakes, North of England, or Scotland?

Anyway, I'd been promised good riding, and by people who I knew would give an honest appraisal of it, so I drove down early one Saturday morning with an open mind, eager to sample the best that southern riding had to offer!

I met up with Chloe, Jim, Andy, James, Susan, Sam and Toby, and a whole load of other people I didn't know but who vaguely knew some of the others, in the car park at Peaslake, and we headed off to shred some trails. For the rest of the day, I had a permanent grin on my face as I followed down some ridiculously fun trails. With names like "Curly Wurly", "Cat's Tail", "Yoghurt pots", "The Deer Run", "Barry knows best", and many others, pretty much every trail that we rode left me giggling with delight. I have no idea of the route we took, that's the benefit of riding with locals who know the trails like the back of their hand, but I do know that I absolutely loved every single bit of the riding. It was completely different from local trails in the Peak, or the riding in general in the North, where rocky, rubbly, natural trails make up the majority of the riding. These were flowing, fast, swoopy, bermed, jumpy, rooty, loamy singletrack paths, that have been well thought out, built and maintained by riders. Kind of like a natural trail centre, but way better. Even on Sunday when it poured with rain and the trails became muddy and slippery, they were still great fun, you just had to ride them a bit differently. With a bike shop, pub, village store selling mugs of tea and cheese straws to refuel mid-ride (a local speciality I'm told!), Peaslake is the perfect base for riding the Surrey Hills. We rode for hours on both Saturday and Sunday, and all the time on different trails, I have no doubt there are many more I still haven't ridden...but that's just a good excuse to go back. And I will definitely be going back for more :) It was an awesome weekend, thanks guys!

Next riding destination was back in sunny Sheffield, but a new trail to me...
Parkwood Springs has been open for almost a couple of years now, but having not been in the country much, and when I have been, not always spending a lot of time in Sheffield, I'd never got around to visiting until a couple of weeks ago. It's a short, purpose built trail, right within the city, in fact only a couple of km from where Gareth and I lived. The area that it's been built on is not really the nicest part of Sheffield, and I was wondering if it'd have been taken over by threatening looking youths in hoodies, ready to mug you and nick your bike, or littered with broken glass bottles and used syringes...but thankfully it appears not! It's a great little loop, with a nice climb, complete with some optional step ups and rock skinny sections for skills practise on the side of the trail, and then a fun, bermed descent which can all be steadily rolled for less confident riders, or jumped and whooped down by those happy to carry more speed. Esther and I spent a couple of hours riding laps of the trail on a sunny afternoon, with only a couple of other people around, so it felt like we had the place to ourselves. It's pretty novel to be riding a trail centre on a hill above a city, with urban views instead of fields!

Sheffield's Urban Trail Centre
 Next up was Coed Llandegla, a trail centre near Wrexham, North Wales, and two trips within the space of a few days. First, a catch up with Fay and Lee, an awesome couple who I was lucky enough to meet at the TransProvence race. They both love biking as much as me, and are the kind of people it's just easy to chat to and have fun with. We had a wicked day chasing each other around the swoopy Llandegla trails, followed by mugs of tea in the cafe and more nattering about bikes, trips, races, all sorts...a great day out.
Then a couple of days later I was back there with a huuuuge group of people for a Christmas social ride organised by JJ, someone Gareth and I met in Whistler, who now runs his own coaching company A-Line Coaching. There were a few others I knew from Sheffield too, and a chance to meet and chat to some more people whilst enjoying the climbs, and during post-descent regrouping stops!

A-Line Christmas social (photo; A-Line Coaching Facebook page!)
 In amongst other rides, and many cups of tea at friends' houses, in a final effort to avoid the fact that Christmas was approaching, I've been out on some solo exploratory rides near my mum and dad's house. Despite the fact that Cheshire is pretty flat, I was inspired after visiting Surrey, and realising you don't need a lot of elevation to make a good trail...there HAD to be some good riding somewhere nearby! I grabbed the local OS map and headed off exploring, finding some cracking little paths that I doubt many people use either on bike or foot, as well as some fun singletrack through the woods that judging by the tyre tracks, someone else nearby has found before me ;) Not the kind of trails you'd make a big journey to get to, but fun in their own way, and sometimes it's just nice to get out on your own and explore, for a different sense of adventure than you get just following the same trails you always ride.

Since my last big riding day, it's been Christmas...  

Christmas tree full of 30 years worth of homemade childhood decorations...
 Christmas is not an easy time of year when you’re not in a relationship, and even more so when you have lost someone very close to you. You are surrounded by TV and radio adverts, billboard signs, song lyrics, shop banners, that seem to bombard you with the message of how it’s the time of year to celebrate with your loved ones, buy presents to show them how much you care for them, snuggle up through cold dark winter nights…it makes you feel incredibly alone, because if you believe the marketing hype, that’s what everyone else in the world except you is doing. It’s even harder when you can remember feeling excited, happy, and full of that festive cheer in years past, but no longer do now.

I’d been trying to avoid the “Christmas spirit” if I’m honest…it was easy last year in Tenerife as I was busy working during the days leading up to Christmas, had no TV on which to witness the deluge of cheesy adverts, and because I was living near the beach, it didn’t feel like Christmas at all. Christmas day was inevitably hard, but I spent the day running, sunbathing, eating pizza and generally glad I was on my own and could take the time to take myself off and think of Gareth, cry a little, and remember good times together.

This year, I managed to avoid it until the last minute by keeping busy, travelling to see friends, riding my bike, and the fact that I don’t watch TV, listen to radio, and hate shopping so never go into town! But there's only so long you can avoid the fact that it's Christmas...

Two years on from losing Gareth, I still can’t get used to waking up alone, and on Christmas day, this feels really hard, when it feels like everyone else is waking up next to the one they love, and celebrating happiness, love, and being together, it only reminds me how alone and lost I feel without Gareth.

I felt the most down that I have for ages when I woke up on Christmas morning, it took a couple of hours after waking up before I could stop myself from crying and head downstairs to see my family. It was hard as I wanted to make an effort to feel happy and cheerful for their sake, because they all support me so much, and I am so grateful and thankful for the fact I have such a wonderful loving family, but I just didn’t feel like I know I should have. I was on the edge of tears all day as I constantly thought of Gareth and Christmases spent together, and what he’d be saying or doing if he was still here. It’s just so empty and quiet without him at family occasions such as that, and I feel like part of me is missing too. I was thoroughly spoilt with some lovely presents from my family, my mum and sisters cooked a delicious meal with one of my dad’s home grown Turkeys, we had a nice walk to the pub, and I had so many reasons to be cheerful, surrounded by them all….but I just felt empty and numb, the opposite of all the things everyone tells you you should be feeling at Christmas.

As soon as the day was over, it felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders…I didn't have to try and be overly happy and festive, and as hard as it was, I’d survived another Christmas day without Gareth.

I know as soon as the presents and Christmas dinner were over he’d have been thinking about plans for New Year activities, we always used to go biking, skiing or climbing up in Scotland for a week together over New Year. This year I’m doing the same....turning my thoughts to my next plans. Tomorrow I’m setting off for the long drive out to the Alps, where I’ll have a week of fun around La Grave with Jake and Lucy and friends, and then a month in Chamonix for as many winter adventures as I can pack in J To say I am excited would be a gross understatement….!

It won't be as green as this but I'll be seeing you soon Chamonix :)
 Here's to 2014, to a New Year of adventures, fun, health and happiness to all my friends and family, and massive thanks as always for your continued love and support.

And as always, here's to Gareth, who wherever he is, inspires me everyday, gives me strength and courage when I need it, and reminds me that everyday should be lived like there's no tomorrow...x

Gareth ski touring in the Cairngorms

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