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Heather Dawe: Riding with kites

Monday, 13 July 2015
Vertebrate author Heather Dawe considers the importance of taking on new challenges ...
A sunny July morning in Yorkshire. I have just dropped my daughter off at nursery and I should be working, but the statistical model I’m developing is proving more than a little challenging. Since I became self-employed I’ve had a fair bit of work on – too much at times. While this has curtailed me in a number of ways, there are benefits, and this morning I decide to freshen up my brain cells by riding my bike for a few hours instead of staring at my laptop. 
I think it’s pretty hard to beat Yorkshire roads for the sheer variety of beautiful riding choices. The Dales, Pennines, North York Moors, Wolds … and those are just the hilly bits. As I write, the Tour de France is in full swing; this time last year it was riding the same roads I am this morning. What an amazing weekend that was.

My legs are stiff riding up Norwood Edge, one of the harder climbs heading out of Otley. I shouldn’t be surprised – three weeks ago I cycled the route of the Fred Whitton and went fell running in the Lake District, a late effort to try to get fitter for the Yorkshire Dales 300 bike packing race the week after. The following weekend saw me pacing a friend on his Bob Graham Round in the Lakes. He had a great run, getting around in under twenty hours. He just got faster and faster during the leg I supported him on, when he realised that, having started running to a twenty-two hour schedule, he was on for a sub-twenty if he got a move on. Usually supporting someone on the Bob Graham is relatively easy – it’s a long way and it pays to go steady (for most at least). Fortunately I managed to keep up but it was surprisingly hard.

The weekend before the YD300 had been brilliant, despite not completing the ride that I’d planned. A superb day’s riding on the Saturday – fifteen hours of some of the Dales’ best mountain biking was followed by a short bivvy out on the moorside near Fleet Moss. From 3 a.m. the following morning it rained. I rode from 4 a.m. with my friend Dave. We rode for six hours in pouring rain and driving wind, got soaked through and freezing, and when we reached the Penyghent cafe in Horton-in-Ribblesdale for breakfast decided to quit. Disappointing, yes, but given I hadn’t done any long rides for some time, other than the Fred Whitton the week before, I was pleased I had got that far. 
The last eighteen months have been a bit of a blur: starting up a business, trying to finish a PhD, being ill and injured while still getting out running and biking when possible and, of course, spending time with my family. Along with all this I have found that writing and painting help me to stay (relatively) sane.
I have always packed a lot into my life, I kind of need to. For years I threw most of my spare energy into racing. These days I still race occasionally but am also finding pleasure in other things. Painting has become more important to me and I am in the later stages of writing a book that has been inspired by a run around the Tour du Mont Blanc last summer, and the times I have spent cycling, running and climbing in the Alps. It also explores the ways in which mountainous places inspire and have inspired creativity in myself and other people.
While I am busy, taking some time to kick back and relax is important. Like many of us (although perhaps not the population in general), my idea of kicking back and relaxing is heading off cycling, running or climbing. This morning I am on roads close to home, riding for a couple of hours before I need to get back and engage my brain in a different way. 
As I approach the last bend towards the top of Norwood Edge, a red kite swoops low over the road. Another hangs in the thermals formed by the hillside. Such beautiful birds are now so common in Lower Wharfedale, it’s hard to believe there were none until they were reintroduced around fifteen years ago. The light this morning is the wonderful dappled kind, caused by fluffy white clouds moving fast across the sky. Summer light can be harsh but this morning it just shows off the beauty of Yorkshire, reminding me yet again how lucky I am to live here.
While I feel tired this morning I know this should pass during the next couple of weeks, as my body recovers from the hard time I’ve given it recently. Hopefully I’ll stay uninjured and fitter for a while – the great cycling and running I’ve done of late have inspired me to tackle some fresh challenges. The Paddy Buckley and Charlie Ramsay are two Rounds that, like the Bob Graham, are a pretty daunting prospect but also two big days out that I would love to do. 
Images (top to bottom): Dappled light in Upper Wharfedale; Mountain biking through Wensleydale; Heather's paintings: Aiguille du Midi and a red kite over Wharfedale.
Heather Dawe is the author of A Bicycle Ride in Yorkshire and Adventures in Mind. Her new book, Tour du Mont Blanc, will be published later this year. You can see more of Heather's work on her website.
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