“Pedal, pedal, pedal – good girl”
A few words of self-encouragement as me and some mates go on a beginner spin with the Godfather of Irish Mountain Biking, Richie Byrne – and the amazing Carol Farrell – at Ballinastoe Mountain Bike Park in County Wicklow.
I’ll say one thing: “Keep an eye out for the tree trunk”…
Thanks to Richie, Carol, everyone that turned out on a very, very, wintry day – and to all the lads at www.biking.ie
For more adventures check out the January archive: http://www.teenagates.com/2014/01/
Spinc Mountain in snow and darkness…Yin & Yang… what an extraordinary day today. Thanks to Mary Mokdad for the great company. We went up the hill this afternoon with torches, knowing we’d be coming down late. I’m always saying that each trip on a mountain is a different journey, no matter how many times you tread the track. Today we encountered pleasant people, rain, a blizzard, an inch of snow – and deer that came so close to us, we thought we’d have to give them a tickle under the chin….. Walking in darkness with our feet crunching through an inch of snow on the boardwalk as the brightness all around us hung to every last slither of light until the last possible moment, when we surrendered to the woods, the descent, and the darkness. A magical hike… thanks again to Mary and ‘my mountain’.
….. thanks also to Eastern Bay Swim Club – who helped me warm up for my snowy hike, with a little icy action earlier in the day…..and a bracing dip in the sea off Malahide.
Fergal, here’s the steamy video as promised 😉
Check out the January archive: http://www.teenagates.com/2014/01/
I’ve often thought that learning the basics of anything, is the toughest part of the gig! Learning to ride a bike, or ride a horse, or balance in a kayak – they all involve periods of instability and discomfort, while you learn the basic skills. Then once you’re rocking and rolling – you have two choices. Continue practicing the basics PROPERLY or rush to the next stage of having fun, the adhoc way, just making things work to get further and faster, as quickly as possible. The second option is probably the easiest – but then you end up running out of steam when the going gets tough. Like throwing a javelin badly, it arcs high and falls short, and unless you go back to examine your grip and body position, you’re not likely to improve.
I felt a bit like that when I ended up on a snowy hill with Keith McDonnell from ExtremeIreland.ie. I’ve walked with crampons and ice-axe before, and I’ve walked on snow and ice. But I knew my winter skills needed work ahead of my big challenge on Elbrus later this year. Heading out to my first Munro after flying into Edinburgh a couple of hours earlier, I was amazed to see how quickly we drove from green fields to snowy mountains.
I first met Keith, on my first hike up Lugnaquilla in Wicklow with Mountain Rescue’s Ronan Friel and some other mates. That was a couple of years ago, but ironically, that was a snowy trip too. This time, Keith and me weren’t just hiking – this was a training mission. I quickly realised that Keith is big on basics. We hit the snow line, and Keith showed me different walking techniques for going up and down snow and ice. But we left the crampons in my bag! Now that was tough. No nice, sharp, spikes to grip in – instead it was down to me, my boots, my basic technique and the strength of my kick! Despite the freezing cold wind, I was sweating in minutes and had to lose a layer of clothing before we continued. Before long the crampons and ice-axe followed, and as we got higher, we lost visibility.
I’ve read about ‘white-outs’ and written about ‘white-outs’ – but I realised in Scotland that I hadn’t a clue what a white-out meant, until I was caught out in the spooky, scariness of not being able to see a thing in the distance. Google or Wiki will tell you that a white-out is caused by blowing or falling snow, low-lying mist, or an atmospheric condition where the light coming off the land is equal to the light around it, making shadows disappear, and with them, the horizon.
Unless you’re walking in those conditions, you really can’t imagine how strange it feels. My nerves were stretched tight to screaming point. I felt the snowy ground under my feet would disappear at any moment, into a gaping chasm. I felt any moment that I would walk off the edge of the cliff, and plummet down the 900 metre slope that I knew was lurking out there in front of me….. so I walked behind Keith!
Later I told the poor man that I had a complete rescue-strategy formed in my mind for when he disappeared into oblivion. In other words, I would dig a snow-hole, like he’d shown me earlier, get warm and comfy, out of the wind and mist, and hope that my phone had a signal to phone for help. Lame? perhaps, but at least I was able to tell him where we’d gone on the map – and that, for me, was a major step forward and a credit to his navigation tuition. When it came to navigation, I was seriously impressed. Following a map on a sunny day in Wicklow is one thing, but pacing in a whiteout and finding your way off a spur, around invisible rocks, and back onto a spur to retrace your way back down off the snowline – with no visible markers – that was remarkable. Well for me it was remarkable. I want to be able to do that, to have the confidence to use map and compass, and come out on point. That’s a skill worth having.
Other skills include walking effectively and safely in crampons on ice. I need to perfect these skills before I head to Russia this Summer, to climb Elbrus – Europe’s highest peak and one of the Seven Summits. I need to know how to walk in steep, icy conditions without slipping, and if I slip, I need to know how to safely ice-arrest, and stop my slippery slide to the bottom of a slope. That means being able to correct myself and stop my fall by getting the ice-axe into the snow as a brake – without stabbing myself in the process or letting my crampon spikes catch in the ice to break my legs. I need to be able to do that regardless how I fall or how I slip; that could mean head-first on my back heading down a mountain and gaining speed with every second. Ok, maybe I’ll stop thinking about that for a little while. I’ve made a start, and the next stage is working on my fitness and practicing that ‘digging in’ kick. I obviously don’t have snow to work with here in Ireland, but I have an idea that climbing sand-dunes might give me an opportunity to get the power into my legs.
My first Scottish Munro was an experience, which I’m anxious to repeat. The challenge is there Keith. Next year, I’ll join your regular winter walkers, and I’m determined I’ll keep up. You might even get me to navigate…..
Onwards and upwards….
I was so angry with myself this week
In November and December last year, I ate my way through the stress of starting up a new business (www.teenagates.com), I ate my way through the sadness of saying goodbye to old colleagues, and I ate my way through the celebration of spending Christmas with my family and the excitement of my new start. Happiness or sadness, I turned to food. Result? I put on TWENTY pounds in two months (over 9kilograms).
It wasn’t really about being lazy or inactive either. I was tearing around the place and doing lots of cycling and swimming; although I probably wasn’t putting as much effort into it as I usually would. Looking back at the last few months, it was definitely food that was the problem. I easily returned to my old 23-stone lifestyle of skipping breakfast, not bothering to plan my day’s food, grabbing a roll at lunch, eating out, trying to starve for a couple of hours as guilt set in, and then caving into food cravings and ordering a take-away just before bed – the worse time of the day to be eating.
Amazingly I didn’t notice the weight-gain for a while. It’s incredible how easy it is to slip back into denial. I noticed a couple of tops and dresses getting tighter, but thought they’d shrunk in the wash!
It wasn’t until I went kayaking before Christmas and had to get my mate Fiona to prise me into my buoyancy aid, that I noticed something was wrong. Even then, I stayed off the scales for a couple of weeks, telling myself I’d get the weight off first before taking the acid test. How dumb is that? Of course that didn’t happen, and I didn’t brave the scales until December 28th to measure the shocking extent of the damage done. I reached that point once before, on my way to morbid obesity. Back then I put my head down, right into a chicken snackbox and munched my way to oblivion. At least this time I’m facing the truth.
I’ve reintroduced the word ‘diet’ into my vocabulary.
In today’s world, it’s not polite to say ‘diet’ and it’s virtually unforgivable to say ‘fat’. But for me, I need to face both words and deal with them. The alternative is to slip back into the void that leads to obesity, depression, diabetes, fatty liver, high cholesterol, heart disease, increased risk of cancer and stroke, and inevitably, if I don’t put the brakes on, death. Being badly overweight really is that serious. I’ve been there before, I’ve faced death in the face and walked away from it, taking a different road that brought me to a whole new journey of adventure of discovery, and I’m not giving that up. I’m not giving up my mountains either, and the particularly large one that I plan to climb later this year… (Mount Elbrus in Russia with Irish Adventurer Pat Falvey of ‘The Summit’ film and book.)
The anger came when I went back running with my athletic club. In 2013 I started the Le Chéile ‘Couch to 5K’ programme and went on to run 10k and take part in adventure races in Wicklow and Killarney. Now here I was on a dark, rainy, winter night – back where I started – huffing and puffing over my boobs, as I heaved my way around the track, gasping for breath and limping over my sore knees. There was embarrassment too, as everyone else streaked ahead of me. I hated every second of it. The only thing that kept me going was the knowledge that next week will be easier, and the week after will be easier still. Not easy, just easier!
I was angry too over all my pretty dresses. It is not the washing machine that is to blame, I just don’t fit into a size 12 anymore, and no matter how I rant at the designers, it’s not their fault. I used to fit into dresses that I don’t fit into now. How the heck did that happen? Subconsciously I must have been grabbing the stretchy, looser stuff, without noticing what was happening to my waistline.
No more denial. I’ve bagged up all my pretty dresses and tailored suits and stashed them up in the attic until I’m fit to wear them again. In the meantime, I’m looking at empty hangers as a reminder of where I want to be – and I am NOT buying new, bigger clothes. So apologies in advance if I turn up at your event in running pants!
Since January 1st I have been eating well. Porridge, chicken, eggs, brown rice, brown pasta, a little olive and coconut oil, some oily fish, nuts, fruit and lots of vegetables and salad. I have also been drinking at least 2 litres of water each day. Most importantly, I am facing up to the fact that I need to eat slightly less than my body requires, because I have a storehouse of energy stored around my belly that needs to be unleashed! That means I don’t give in to cravings, and sometimes it’s ok to feel a little hungry.
I’m back in the gym, back on the hill, swimming, cycling, and hiking to my heart’s content. I’m back running with Parkrun on Saturdays, I’ve rejoined Le Chéile AC, and I’ve joined up with a global event on Facebook to run ‘100 days of miles’ in 2014.
There are absolutely no food ‘treats’ in my diet, instead I’ve set targets with much better treats in store. I collect the first tomorrow. I promised myself that if I lost 10lb across January I’d get a mountain bike. Well I’ve lost 9lb in 9 days – so tomorrow I’m off to the Giant Bike Store to pick up my new baby; and my new baby will help improve my fitness as I work to target number two…
I’ve realised writing this, that I’m not angry with myself any more. I am determined….I’m getting back on track, healthy and fit, and I’m looking forward to the road ahead.
2013 went out with a hike up Djouce with good friends Vera Baker and Lisa Moriarty – and 2014 entered with a stormy splasharound with friends from the Eastern Bay Swimming Club, in the sea at Portmarnock Beach. What a way to wave away the old and celebrate the new.
December 27th I flew back to Dublin after spending a lovely Christmas with family in London – which included scaring a Sussex turkey farmer half to death when I loomed up out of the darkness as I jogged by his farm puffing frosty breath into the cold dark air at 7am on a dark English morning. The 28th saw me back with Le Chéile running buddies at Griffeen Parkrun near Lucan, where my pre-Christmas party belly resulted in my worst ever time for a 5k (it was 40+ minutes but that did include a disappearance to study the shady side of a bush around 2.5kilometres in…). Then the 29th saw me visit Djouce mountain, back in my beloved Wicklow Hills, feeling fat as a fool and struggling to tie my bootlaces.
The hike was brilliant – if a little painful. I went up with two girly friends of mine who have long legs – damn them! We made an early start and it was a beautiful frosty, sunny morning. Went up Djouce from Crone’s Wood, past Powerscourt Waterfall. It’s not a difficult hike, the trail is very well defined and very pretty. But my fitness left me struggling to keep up, and I had complicated life by wearing a pair of rigid boots that I need to break in before I head to Scotland in 2 week’s time. Of course the idea of breaking in boots is rubbish – it’s your own feet that you break in…. I had fallen back and I was hobbling along on my own when I bumped into one of my cycling friends JuJu Jay from Mud Sweat & Runners, who was flying down the mountain on his bike – as you do! What an extraordinary life I lead these days, bumping into friends on mountains. The delight and subsequent grins and Happy New Year hugs and ‘peace’ put a smile on my face as I pressed ahead and caught up with the girls at the summit. I galloped back down the mountain – but in total, it was a 4 hour hike, and by the time I was back at the car-park, my feet were little molten pools of pain. Still, getting used to pain is probably a useful part of training for Elbrus, the mountain in Russia that I’m planning to climb with Irish Adventurer Pat Falvey this Summer. My biggest immediate problem is stupidly putting on 20 pounds during Nov and Dec and now needing to drop it in a couple of months. I’ve made life a bit more difficult for myself and there’s a lot of work to do.
As experiences go, it’s shaping up already to be a pretty enormous year – and I’m already fizzing with the excitement of next month’s trip to Norway. I’m heading off to chase the Northern Lights with a husky team in the Nordic Arctic Circle, and I’ll be camping out on a frozen lake. We’re going to Kirkenes in a province called Finnmark in the most northerly part of Norway. It is in the middle of the Arctic Circle and very close to the border of Russia. Along with the husky safari, there is ice-fishing, a king crab safari and a visit to the snow hotel. What’s not to be excited about? I’m heading out with an old hiking buddy of mine, Keith from www.extremeireland.ie and there are still spaces left on the plane!
I have big challenges ahead of me this year, and I’m not willing to let that lapse into weight-gain get in the way. I’m back on a healthy eating regime and 5 days into the New Year I’m back running, hiking, cycling and swimming…..
The start back to swimming was bracing to say the least. Here’s how we got on at Portmarnock Beach on New Year’s Day: