That’s my girl

Every delightful story – and this may or may not be one – begins with some sort of peril. This tall tale is no different. 

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In the build up to Tour de Moor, both my daughter – my riding partner for the event – and I have been feeling a bit under the weather.  The cold that had felt like it was just around the corner for a few weeks finally turned up on the Thursday before the ride.  My daughter had also been feeling off for most of the week.  However, a few early nights (for us both) and a ‘kill or cure’ run for me on Saturday afternoon meant we were feeling fresh and ready to go on Sunday morning.

I love cycling with the family, it also helps that both the kids love a day out on the bike.  Those long summer days going exploring new horizons, with a rucksack full of food and hearts full of adventure.  I had been waiting what feels like an age for them to become old enough to do this kind of thing, and this year is the year.

Sunday morning arrived, and big bowls of porridge were eagerly eaten.  We arrive a little later than had been planned, but fortunately it wasn’t a problem. 

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Finally, we are off. The first stretch was quite stressful.  The combination of and excited 9-year-old and a load of keen cyclists most trying to squeeze passed through any hint of a gap.  Eventually I manage to manoeuvre her to the left-hand side of the road, which alleviates the stress a fair bit.  This first 4 and a half kilometres are a blur of lanes and mostly rolling downhill.  This didn’t go entirely without a hitch.  While trying to use her hydration bladder, her foot slipped off the pedal causing her to slip onto the top tube of her bike.  Amazingly she somehow manages not to go straight over the handlebars, and rolled into the grass verge.  After a bit of a moment, we decide that maybe we should stop to drink rather than try to drink on the move, just to be on the safe side.

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Shortly after we get moving again we leave the road and enter the estate of Buckland Abbey.  After several hundred pairs of wheels have already been through the surface was quite tricky.  The imperfect combination of hard packed tracks covered in a layer of primeval ooze – the kind of surface that makes it feel like you have about as in control of your rear wheel as you do a 2-year-old with a sugar habit. 

Thankfully this stops before we begin to descend, by now the surface has changed to drier, stonier dual track.  As we drop down through the woods, we take a tight lefthander.  Just as we exit the corner Rhiannon’s bike disappears from underneath her, dumping her to the ground right in front of me with an almighty thud.  I grab handfuls of brakes and stop just before adding the insult of being run over by her dad to the injury of a quick reintroduction to the floor.  After a cuddle and a quick check to make sure she is ok, we decide that the inside line of a blind corner is not the best place to be, so gingerly we continue down the hill and stop again a little further on for more cuddles and a bit of time to compose ourselves. 

For a while the surface consists of churned grassy paths – which neither of us have the traction for.  This section makes for a frustrating cycle of ride, lose traction, and walk for a bit, then repeat.  Thankfully for Rhiannon’s morale we are by no means the only ones.  My stand out memory from this section however, is when Rhiannon almost lost her shit with a guy in front of her.  As she was making a great go at climbing a slimy grassy hill – and almost at the top – the guy just ahead of her simply gives up and stops right in the middle of the track, leaving her no option but to stop too.  I honestly think that if she had the expletives in her vocabulary she would have unleashed them in a verbal wave of frustration.

Thankfully the slippery grass soon subsides, giving way to gravel and then tarmac as we continue to climb out of the National Trust grounds.  Once back on the road we continue to climb back towards the start.  The climb lasts for around 4 km – at its steepest to begin with before easing off to a false flat and by the top it’s time for a quick stop for a drink and something to eat.

Once were going again its across the common, before we join the Plym Valley cycle route – a cycle path we know well.  As we ride along, chatting away happily knowing we don’t need to worry about approaching cars, it really is a lovely way to spend with your child.  This bubble is burst a few minutes later.  As we come towards a gate with a gap to one side – big enough to cycle through single file – I let Rhiannon go ahead.  A middle-aged bloke (note I refuse to refer to him as a cyclist) gets to the gate just before Rhiannon, steams though then barks “Keep left!” – despite giving him enough space.  “Don’t be a dick!” is my instant retort.  It’s a statement that I stand by.  Its that kind of thing that could have really rocked her confidence, but luckily it was over quickly and she didn’t really take on board what had happened. Dick!

We are back off the cycle route, and going back up hill, before very much longer.  And what a hill it is, rearing up at over 10% from the off.  I give Rhiannon a helping hand for as long as I can, but the combination of my front wheel becoming weightless and the nasty noises the back end of my bike begins to make means I have to stop.  To her credit she keeps grinding her way up for a further 100 metres or more before her cadence slows and she has to put her foot down.  We walk to a left hander where the gradient eases a bit, and stop so I can assess the noise.  Oh a broken spoke. Great!  With not much else to do about it, I wrap the broken spoke around its neighbour and say a little prayer to the velo gods.

While we are stopped I text my wife to let her know we are about 5Km from the finish, in the meantime Rhiannon is back on her bike and off up the hill – I really need to buy that girl a polka dot jersey, she is just relentless.  Shortly after I catch her we break out from the tree cover and the gradient drops off to a false flat, at which point we stop for a drink and a couple of Haribo.

We cruise along the rolling roads until we reach the point at which the two routes split.  We take the left-hand turn, and back towards the race village.  As we descend for the final time, I am impressed by her road craft.  We are behind another group of cyclists and after I let her know there is a car behind us, she lets the gap in front get a bit bigger allowing the car to leap frog us rather than try to pass the whole group in one go.

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That leaves the final climb to be negotiated, which she does with aplomb. We cross the main road and turn to the event village.  As we get closer to the end, the smile begins to spread across her face.  The sense of achievement beings to surface, enhanced by the encouragement and praise she continues to get as we approach the end. 

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I really want to express my thanks to the other riders who took part in the Tour de Moor.  The encouragement my daughter got throughout the day really made the difference to her, and to me.  When the going, mostly the climbing, got tough there was always a chirpy well done to lift her spirits.  For that thank you.

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Finding Treasure

We all carry with us those most precious childhood memories, be them winning the Under 14s cup final, going to Disney World, or causing chaos with your siblings. For me it’s cycle touring – or more accurately cycle touring with my dad. From the age of about 20150202_19222310, until the endless summer after sitting my GCSEs when I was 16, we would head off on our bikes usually in the direction of mid-Wales. Unfortunately in the 19 years since we last loaded up our bikes and disappeared over the horizon together most of the memories have merged into one trip or a series of snap shots, but a few memories still remain as fresh as ever – making hot chocolate on a train station platform using a brass methylated spirits burner, a night spent sleeping in a bracken patch in a wood, a misjudged moment to ask to stop to put on more clothes to protect my modestly before getting home (a word from the wise; NEVER ask to stop to add more clothes – even if to hide horrendous multi coloured cycling shorts – at the top of a bloody great hill, you won’t be allowed to forget it), the name given to our first trip – ‘Operation Church Stretton’. These memories truly are some of my most treasured possessions.

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That is what made this weekend so incredibly exciting for me. Not only was I going to be able to have a nostalgia laden mini tour with my dad, but my son was coming too. There were no grand ambitions of going to mid-Wales or the like – my son is only 6 – merely a night in the wild, with bikes – but more significantly, for me, a test run for what might be possible later this summer and beyond.

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The loose plan was, and in my family its only ever loose plans due to the poorest of poor time keeping (much to the despair of my mum), was to head over to a local campsite and set up a basecamp from where we would head out. We ended up getting to the campsite a bit later than I think was initially intended, and after a bit of faffing, loading the bikes and a bit more faffing we are finally ready to leave. Before setting off we had our dinner (it was about half five by this point) and headed out at about the boy’s usual bed time.

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We head off along a bridle path which runs along the top of the campsite with a general IMG_1308idea of where we are headed, this didn’t mean we didn’t have to stop to check the map to find our way back to the woods we intended to camp in. With plenty of daylight left we explored woods, passed fields of cattle and followed gravel tracks with sweeping switchbacks before cutting back onto out original track and retracing our tracks a bit to set up our satellite camp for the night.

With a favourable forecast our sleeping arrangement comprised of a den kit (tarp) thatIMG_1310 my son had for Christmas – this was a bit of a highlight for him as he’d been itching to use it since he got it, complete with a great bit mallet lathed down from a tree branch which had to come too. Once an ideal spot had been found and cleared we set about erecting the tarp, sorry the den kit, and lit a small fire to cook some sardines, make Ovaltine and roast marshmallows – just because we are in a wood doesn’t mean standards have to slip. At about 11pm we turned in.

I was the first to wake properly at about half five to the birds in full voice, this is a much IMG_1315nicer way to be woken rather than the horrible noise my phone makes. Once we are all awake we make our first round of breakfast – a somewhat dirty sounding combination of two Ready Brek sachets (not even real porridge) and chocolate custard sounds so wrong but tasted so right – and a brew. Once done we take down our nights’ accommodation and set about insuring there is no evidence of our visit – cover fire, sweep our sleeping area to get rid of the flattened patch and put our seating area back as it was. Leave only footprints – and not even that if you can help it.

With our camp cleared we head back to the bridal path and on to base camp. The boy has obviously enjoyed his night under the tarp – the near constant “why haven’t we done this before?” and “when can we go again?” are clues – but he is also going up every IMG_1304gradient we hit with the vigour of an excited antelope (I assume excited antelope have some vigour), this is stemmed somewhat when we get to the field of cattle. A herd of 20 or so bullocks are about 15 metres from the gate we are about to go through, and slowly approaching. I will admit at this point that I find cattle a bit intimidating, granted they aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed but they are big buggers. We quickly get through the gate while we can and slowly walk towards them, at this point; predictably, they turn and head off in the other direction. Slightly annoyingly they go along our path so we have to get off and walk again after they stop in another pinch point. Once past this, they run off into the field and we are free to get cycling again. Once across the cattle grid that’s on the far side of their field we stop again remove the deposits of fresh cow pats from our legs – when I say ‘our legs’ I mean my boy’s as he has managed to cover the backs of his legs via his pedals.

Once Cow-gate is dealt with it’s simply a case of retracing our tracks along the bridle path – apart from a planned detour to show me the shelter they built when up here the week before. We get back to basecamp just in time for second breakfast – this time a far more acceptable combination of proper porridge and fresh fruit – and a cup of coffee, which was very welcome. l

So, when are we going again? Soon, very soon hopefully. The summer holidays aren’t all that far away and with Dartmoor on my doorstep and mid-Wales on my parents’ doorstep the possibilities are abundant. Luckily I have plenty of room where I keep my treasured memories, because I’m hoping for a lot more.

Changing lanes

The alarm buzzes annoyingly. Its 6am, it’s a Sunday, and its race day. Like any other race day, I get up feeling a bit nervy; wake up the rest of the family. Then flap about, eat porridge, drink coffee and leave the house about 20 minutes later than I had hoped to. Except this isn’t like any other race day, I’m not racing, my 8-year-old daughter is. It’s her first race without me, and the nerves are just as strong if not worse than if it was me racing. But as I tell her ‘if you’re nervous it means you care about it’. And, I certainly care about it.

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We arrive at The Hoe with a few minutes to spare, and find her classmates. I think this is the point it 20170423_074258sinks in that she is running without me and begins to get some doubts. Luckily this doesn’t last long, and the excitement takes over. Photos are taken and she is taken with her group into a massive holding pen. Part of me remains relieved that I wasn’t asked to help with the schools’ challenge; the noise coming out of the pen – containing something like 300 excitable 6-10 year olds – was unbelievable. Must have been like trying to herd cats on amphetamine at a rock concert – but less fun.

Once they are in the pen we scamper over to past the start finish line for a good view as she comes past. All the runners have been given the same red top, so picking out individual children is nigh on impossible – in fact I know people who didn’t see their kids at all. I resort to trying to spot her teachers, then who is running with them. It works; I see her teacher from last year and there she was running next to her chatting away. We cheer, take lots of photos and then try to get across to the other side of the route for a second shot. This time we are less successful as we can’t get very close and don’t want to miss her crossing the finish line. Missing the second photo opportunity we dash back across the finishing straight. As she comes into view she is still with the same teacher – beaming from ear to ear even if she is chatting a little less.IMG_0915

 She crosses the line and disappears into the hoards past the finish line. After a few minutes, we find her school’s spot in the pen, sat with her mates – medals around their necks rummaging through the goody bags. I can confirm that goody bags at kids’ races are also full of crap that no one wants.  After what feels like an age, the schools begin to file out.  We head around to the drop off point to scoop up my running champion.  Once the crowds disperse we find a patch of grass with a few of the other parents.  The kids run around for a while enjoying the late morning sun. 

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As our parking runs low, we head off and go for a celebratory brunch.  It feels right to make a big deal of her accomplishment and she is overjoyed when the waitress takes an interest in her medal and how she got it.   

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My grasp of the English language fails me when I try to describe how proud of her I am.  It’s not that she ran the mile.  Its far more than that.  Running isn’t something she finds easy or that comes natural, but she persists at it and works hard.  She has a stubborn streak in her – not always in a good way – and a stoic determination that even if she has to walk she will get to the top of the hill.

 

Doing her dad proud

My 8 year old daughter has recently signed up to run a half marathon – of sorts. She will be running the schools’ half marathon challenge in Plymouth and will be running a mile a week with the final mile taking place on the half marathon weekend on the Hoe (where the main event starts and finished).  This has really caught her imagination, and has reignited her desire to come running with me – which I am obviously overjoyed about.

Despite the looming threat of ‘Storm Doris’, an after school family run was all but img_0537demanded. So after school, we pop home to get our running kit on and head over to Saltram House (a local National Trust property), however not all of us are quite so keen to go for a run in the Plymouth mizzle.  So the two of us head to Saltram for a run around the grounds and down to the river. Despite the threat from meteorologists it’s a lovely night for a run, a bit cool but not too cold or windy and the trees protect us from the worst of the rain.

She is noticably excited as we set off – she skips, bounces and grins like a cheshire cat.  I try to calm her down a bit – without wanting to piss on her parade – and we jog around the grounds while we chat and generally just be silly.  Running as it should be, fun.

We make it as far as the river, before having to turn back for failing light.  It’s been a whileimg_0544 since we last ran together, and I honestly can’t believe how much more resiliant she has become, she is able to run much further and was able to push herself much harder, wanting to get to pointmarkers despite obviously working hard.

Famous Danish beers don’t make running buddies, but if they did she would be it.

Dad Running

I have never really been one for ‘this is my best run because…’ until yesterday. Yesterday was my best, most rewarding run.  It wasn’t long, fast or special for any reason other than the company I was keeping.

My soon to be 7-year-old daughter has been keen to come out for a run with me for aIMG_20151101_120139 while, and this has been accelerated by my training for the Eden Marathon.  First things first, Sunday morning we head into town to buy her first pair of ‘proper running shoes’.  Nothing special, but something more suitable than the daps she currently has to wear to the park.  She was surprisingly excited about buying them, almost as excited as me.

The plan initially was for her to wear them in the house for a few days to make sure they were comfy and then go later in the week.  That plan didn’t last.  Once we got our proper parent-children duties done (i.e. homework) the words “Can we go for a run now” positively explode from her gleaming, smiling face. How could I say “No”? So I suck up the remnants of the cold I’ve had for what feels like an age and get changed into my running gear.

We head out the front door, stop for a couple of pre run photos then have a little stretch while my Garmin gets a fix.  While stretching – which she is far better at than me – I ask her where she wants to go, “Around the block” is her instant reply, even the news that it requires running up ‘that’ hill isn’t enough to dampen her enthusiasm. So off up the hill we go.

IMG_20151101_162710Once we get to the top, I drop back to get a picture, but before I can she has stopped to check on me.  Once I get the desired picture, we jog, we chat, and we even put in a little sprint at the end.

Roll on next weekend, so we can do it again.