I was super lucky that some family friends had a horse that they loaned to me during those years and my friend and I would disappear for the day exploring and come back when we were hungry (some things never change lol).
The horse was on the other side of town from where I lived so I would hop on a bike to make the 9 mile round trip to see my beloved Annie when lifts from parents weren’t available. Cycling quickly changed from purely a mode of transport to another source of fun with regular trips to Kingsford Country Park and Wyre Forest with friends.
I didn’t appreciate the freedom this gave me at the time, but look back with an immense amount of gratitude for those opportunities to explore, adventure, do stupid things and yes…get into some scrapes and, most importantly of all, get myself out of them again. Resilience, independence, initiative and a sense of adventure were all things gained by the bucket load.
Choosing to go to University in London was undoubtedly great for my career, but less so my access to the wild although I would still disappear off to the Lakes with my bestie whenever possible and climbing trips in the Peak District happened on occasion too. The horse riding stopped but I retained my love of 2 wheels and in my final year decided that an excellent use of my student loan would be to buy my first Orange Mountain Bike, an Evo2. Young, daft, crazy, yes and I had to work x2 part time jobs to eat but funnily enough it’s still not a decision I regret. I loved that bike.
I commuted around London and took my trusty steed away on placement and explored the South Downs whenever I could.
Fast forward more years than I care to mention, the birth of my daughter, a couple of extra stone, the theft of my beloved bike (STILL in mourning) building a career and business that completely took over my life and I hadn’t ridden regularly in years.
At the end of 2016, inspired by Lee Craigie, Rickie Cotter and the rest of the Adventure Syndicate bunch, I decided to buy myself another bike and on the recommendation of friends headed off to Worcester Cycle Centre for their advice. I love Orange Bikes, hand-made in Britain, simple geometry and you can pick the colours. I decided on an Orange Four, way more bike than I needed but I love it and I’d worked hard and saved up. I bought my daughter a bike too and we chatted away about the trips we could do and where we could explore together on our bikes. It was during 2017 that my daughter developed Epilepsy. Of course, it knocked us all for 6, mostly her, with seizures and medication leaving her feeling tired and lethargic and she wasn’t allowed to go on her bike or swim unsupervised for a while until we were really sure they only happened at night. Along-side this I was juggling my part time job with GB Judo and all the travel that entails with a growing practice and training as a Yoga Teacher, and by the end of 2017 I was in a crumpled heap, burn out and exhausted.
2018 saw the crazy work schedule continue but I slowly began to put some boundaries in place, I started to exercise a bit more but ended injured as I got a bit carried away to quickly…..yep, I’m human too! My daughter's seizures were still not controlled though and whilst we did get out camping and hiking, by the end of 2018 the bikes were like 2 expensive Ming vases, ornaments gathering dust.
One of my goals for 2019 was to get out on the bikes more regularly and my daughter and I headed over to Wyre Forest to play and explore. Being winter it was pretty muddy which is great fun but energy sapping and Maia felt a bit deflated after our ride as between that and the hills it was pretty hard going.
I decided to plan a trip to the Forest of Dean, mountain biking Mecca! Renowned for it’s awesome trails for all levels we made the most of the bizarre, pretty worrying, but lovely February sunshine and headed down last Sunday.
We managed to get a space in the jam packed care park at Cannop Cycle Centre where there is easy access to the trails, bike hire at Pedalabikeaway, a café and even a bike wash and repair centre for last minute tweaks and adjustments.
Whilst there was a distinct whiff of testosterone and it was like the scene from a Fox clothing advert, everyone was friendly even if there were a few giggles that I have to use a hop up to get our bikes off the roof of my car lol. Parking is pretty steep at £7 for a day but there are loads of facilities and the trails are really well maintained so you can’t grumble too much.
The trails are graded for difficulty with clear advice on what level of ability and bike you would need for each. We plumped for the easiest family trail graded as a green, this trip was all about building some fitness, having some fun and getting back in the saddle. At 11 miles long it is the longest way-marked trail and there are little detours off should you wish to explore more and add extra distance. The first 3 miles are almost a false flat and there are regular blue sections, a few metres long with narrower tracks, turns, bumps, berms and rocks as a chance to practice some handling skills. The main track is wide and easy though and whilst the centre was super busy and we saw loads of folk out on bikes it never felt overcrowded on the trail.
We took a 5 minute detour down to Mallard’s Pike Lake which was a beautiful lunch stop with the sounds of the Go Ape Zip Wires in the back ground and water loving Labradors jumping in the lake for a swim.
After a decent stop, refuelled, we headed back on to the trail and the “what goes up must come down” mantra I’d tried to instill in my daughter paid off and we were rewarded with a short sharp decent. After that she shot off announcing “Mum, I’m in my rhythm and this is AWESOME!”.
An easy couple of Km later and we were back at the centre where an ice cream (yes in February!) was the order of the day.
We headed home grinning hatching plans to head back again in the future to explore the rest of the forest and some of the more technical trails. The bikes will not be gathering dust again!