Let’s start with a show of hands for all those who have killed a bit of time tiptoeing along the tightrope of inspirational uploads across a range of social media platforms and ended up falling off into the pit of envy below? In the circus that we call life, this emotional tightrope can either have us dancing out the door before the dawn chorus or pulling the duvet over our head to pretend it’s still night time. I’ll hazard a guess that only those who abstain from engaging in any form of social media still have their hands firmly by their sides.

Being Lake District born and bred provided me with access to everything I needed to avoid feeling jealous of the world wide adventures of my friends, ultimately meaning that I managed to escape feeling overwhelmed and demotivated by envy. So, I was happily managing the emotional balancing act quite well, that is until I added a new rope to my circus act and became a mum in the summer of 2017. Hello to the world of competitive parenting and development milestones.

Confession time: not only have I tiptoed, danced and fallen off my tightrope since then, I am also guilty of sharing images that has actually made somebody come up and say to me, “You are such a Mother Earth, you make me feel so bad for my children.” Wooooah. Stop right there. It is crucial to realise that every single image that anybody shares for the world to see is literally a snapshot - an illustration for a chapter in a much larger novel. It is also achievable in a form that is relevant to you, yes you. With a little one in tow, big adventures are off the cards for me at the moment but that doesn’t stop us living a life of little, accessible and interesting challenges. Whether you have trekked miles and miles of epic singletrack to a remote bothy to have a night out or found one just off the beaten track, a bothy is still a bothy. A walk to the park is no less of an achievement as a ridgeline epic. You are still outside and that’s winning to me.

Imagine scrolling through social media and having your breath taken away by an image of a beautiful sunrise on the summit of a Lake District mountain. Are you feeling jealous or inspired? What story is this image illustrating? Version 1: After sleeping for 12 whole hours, the miniature human wakes with a smile, and tucks in to a large bowl of cereal and drinks homemade smoothie whilst the car is packed with adventure essentials. The air is warm and without breaking a sweat they skip out and up the nearest mountain to share a celebratory banana; Version 2: After finally getting the miniature human to sleep at 11pm, the bags are packed with food, spare clothes for all weather possibilities, baby essentials, camera with charged batteries and more food, bringing the loaded rucksack weight with baby to 15kg. The early alarm clock makes everybody in the house cry but you persuade the miniature human that this is a good idea whilst constantly planning escape options in your head for if said miniature human comes to the conclusion that it isn’t a good idea after all. You manage to reach the summit and share a celebratory banana; Version 3: After a night of being woken every two hours due to teething/colic/hunger/thirst/loneliness you both just need some fresh air to restore calm and happiness. You throw breakfast essentials and a variety of clothes in the bag and just go. Arriving at the summit, you share a celebratory banana and a picnic breakfast, and everybody is smiling again. All of those stories are true, some versions are more common than others… I’ll let you guess which!

Personally, I now actively share my images with mini stories to ensure that they are viewed in the context of our daily life to hopefully encourage people rather than make them feel disheartened because they think they can’t experience that. Getting outdoors is actually my coping strategy for day to day stress and that is why I make it a priority to fit it in as often as I can. I believe we are all entitled to a minimum of 30 minutes a day of self-care. We are all familiar with the phrase “little and often” and without a regular supply of outdoors time, I find I do not function particularly well, ending up feeling listless. It can be as simple as opening the back door and stepping out into my little garden, even a toddler tantrum (from Jacob, not myself!) melts to nothing as his feet cross the threshold.

Deep down, many of us are driven by the desire to do amazing things whilst being restricted by everyday barriers that are personal to us. Everybody, in every walk of life, experiences barriers of some variety either on a regular basis or at some point in their life. These usually revolve around our responsibility towards our own basic existence: our jobs, household chores, errands, health etc. To progress we must break down these barriers, or more commonly, work with them by developing coping strategies to ensure they don’t become a permanent obstacle.

Just before Jacob arrived, I believed that I would be back on my bike and in the mountains, after only a few weeks. Through the latter stages of the pregnancy, my barrier to my mountainous cravings, was the pregnancy itself. Not much I could do about that barrier, it was a waiting game, but I used that time to keep things ticking over. Let’s call it the ‘warm up’. I walked every day: steady, achievable, low level walks, and practiced Pilates. I felt fantastic! “This is sure to get me out on my bike as soon as possible,” I thought. I was so motivated by all my friend’s Instagram posts and couldn’t wait to join them… 2017 was a spring of dust and dreamy sunsets in the Lakes!

May quickly came around, Jacob arrived safely and… I didn’t get back out on my bike because I didn’t want to. I’ll repeat that last bit: I didn’t want to. That came as a shock. I hadn’t fallen off my tightrope, I wasn’t hiding in bed feeling overwhelmed with jealousy at everything my peers were achieving without me, I had just found myself taking a different turn to the one I had mapped out, a diversion. It’s totally ok to change your plan or change your mind at any point in your life.

My husband Mark is a long distance HGV driver. He leaves on a Sunday night aiming to be home by Friday night (often, due to circumstances beyond his control it can end up being Saturday) and having finished my maternity leave, I work part time as a primary school teacher. We made the decision to lead this unusually independent family lifestyle because we aspired to Jacob being raised in an active outdoor environment prior to compulsory education. This does mean that apart from Thursday’s when he gets to go to my wonderful mum and be a young farmer for the day, whilst I head in to school, it is just the two of us a lot of the time. Everywhere I go, he comes too.

With Mark only home for the weekend, in the space of 48 hours we juggle family time and personal time – remembering, everybody needs some downtime to themselves however much we have all missed each other. Unfortunately, riding once a week wasn’t getting my fitness levels back to where I wanted them to be. I called this barrier: solo parenting. I could have quite easily failed at the first hurdle and just accepted that that was how it was going to be for now.

Thankfully, before I lost too much heart and drive, I discovered the wonderful world of baby wearing. All you need for baby wearing is yourself, your baby and a harness. These harnesses come in a variety of styles from endless metres of scarf like material that you wrap around you both to ones that easily clip on and off. Babies can be worn snuggled in or looking out on the world, eventually getting promoted to riding on your back. Jacob loved being worn and being worn meant that we could go outside and do.

I now didn’t have to be separated from Jacob to get my outside fix, what could the next barrier be?

The satisfaction of challenge. I missed being challenged – not that being a new parent isn’t physically, mentally and emotionally challenging! I just found I was craving time to really tune in to my inner thoughts and the best connection for me is when my heart is pounding and my lungs are labouring. The physical discomfort really builds your inner resilience as you reason with yourself to push harder and avoid failure. I couldn’t jump on my bike whilst baby wearing so I did the next best thing and went to visit the same places on two feet – justifying the compromise by explaining to myself that the miles in my feet will have me prepared for future hike-a-bike adventures.

We tackled the local Wainright summits, in sun, sleet, hail and gales. Jacob grew steadily, increasing the weight on my back to keep that challenge up but, I still wanted more, I wanted to move faster. The next barrier to my return to fitness is something very personal to me. At the age of 14 I was diagnosed as hypermobile, which in simple terms means your joints are more flexible than other people’s. It doesn’t sound too bad until you find out that it comes with a side serving of spontaneous subluxation, which is partial dislocation, often of my ankles, shoulders, fingers and toes. It can’t be cured, but can be controlled at times by a combination of physiotherapy and exercise - hormones make things incredibly unpredictable! 15 months after giving birth, I started channelling my inner Pilates spirit on my hikes to engage my core, support my joints and introduced jogging on the descents, yes, with Jacob still on my back! He loved it!

When Jacob turned 18 months old I felt that the pregnancy hormones had settled enough to justify trying a running pram. I tracked one down and went right back to basics, listening to my body and responding accordingly. We walked up, we walked along and ran down. Then, along the flat sections I started to introduce running spurts, 10 seconds on, 20 seconds off. I am no personal trainer, and I am definitely no running expert but I knew how my body worked, I listened closely to it and my methods began to work for me. The running pram, fully loaded with Jacob and his essentials, weighs in at 25kg, meaning the runs are not just a cardio workout! We’ve progressed to real fell running together to add variety to our routine, and we are now even capable of jogging up some rugged off road ascents.

I’ve shared my running journey through my Instagram, making it quite clear that just because you are not an expert at something doesn’t mean you can’t have a go. It is so rewarding to develop new skills especially when these new skills are part of a bigger journey. I could have quite easily ground to a halt with the hurdles in my path, and that would have been perfectly acceptable but I’m stubborn and when I want something I will do anything to get it.

Hang on, if my original desire was to ride my bike in the mountains, why are we still talking about running? Well, whilst working on my cardio and strength on my hikes I was also introducing Jacob to the wonderful world of bikes and without the hiking laying the groundwork we wouldn’t be where we are today. With our lifestyles now, we are conditioned to want something and then have it in our lives the next day. It takes discipline and determination to improve physical and mental wellbeing – there is no one step plan or fool proof recipe to follow. If you imagine being able to ride a bike as a braid - braids are made up of various strands woven together. The three strands that would make my braid complete included caring for Jacob, improving my base fitness and the weather. I couldn’t control the weather but I could prepare Jacob for less than ideal conditions by having him outside playing or hiking in it. I could improve my base fitness, whatever the weather, by loading Jacob into the rucksack and wrapping it up in it’s waterproof cover. And the final strand, caring for Jacob, had already been covered by including him in the other 2 strands. Weave these strands together and you have a bike ready baby and mum!

With a 6 month old baby, options are limited for taking them on the bike with you. I didn’t want to go down the rear trailer route so opted for the Weeride. The Weeride is a front mounted seat that connects to your stem and seat post via a bar so that it doesn’t affect your steering. Due to the way they attach to the bike they aren’t compatible with carbon frames or dropper posts so we picked up an ex-hire hardtail from a local bike shop. His first ride was 20 minutes long and involved a steep fire road climb, yes I got off and pushed the steepest sections, and then finished with a fun, swoopy descent through the woods back to the car. It was only 20 minutes but it was a start, my first off road ride in 12 months. It was a big hurdle cleared. Before he was one, he was already enjoying sections on the red grade trails at Whinlatter, providing him with enjoyable experiences to take out onto the local bridleways around Buttermere, Loweswater and Ennerdale as we revelled in a perfect summer. As my hiking improved my fitness, I was able to pedal further with him but I still didn’t want to head out on my own. My drive to do things with him was stronger than my drive for independent action.

The downside of doing so many exciting things with your miniature human is that they then don’t want to be left behind because they just know that you are going off to have fun without them. I probably should have been stronger and taken up family members offers of help and support but even after he turned one, I still wasn’t ready. I guess I felt guilty for having ‘me’ time and guilty for how difficult and vocal Jacob was about me leaving him behind. The easy option was for us to do it together – that kept everybody happy and healthy!

In November 2018, I was invited to join the Wonderful Wild Women Ambassadors on stage for the Berghaus Women in Adventure Evening. Despite not being the most confident public speaker, I said yes. It was a fantastic evening, and despite the nerves, I managed to describe my personal little journey through motherhood to the sold out audience. The feedback we received was incredible and I felt so inspired by all the women around me, who had not only stepped on stage to speak but had come up to talk to us afterwards. As Mark drove us home, it was that night that I decided, I am back. I was ready to ride again.

With my new found energy, I took to the trails in the best of company on one of our favourite local routes. We giggled the whole way round – even on the climbs. It felt so good to be back out seeking out the adrenaline fix that we all strive for on our bikes. I was astonished that I hadn’t forgotten what to do or lost my confidence. Maybe the fear of those things had played a part in my reluctance to head out on my own again? The icing on the cake was returning from the ride to the happiest little face in the world and enjoying a well earned pub lunch!

Recently, a new child’s bike seat caught my attention on Instagram, the Mac Ride, for children aged 2 and upwards. It’s compatible with carbon frames and dropper posts due to the main bar connecting to a spacer that you swap onto your stem, and then an alternative fastening onto the seat post. It takes just over a minute to put in place. Unlike the WeeRide, that was a bucket seat with full seatbelt system, the Mac Ride is a deeper bike saddle with some rubber stirrups and your little one gets to hold on to your bars giving a pretty engaging ride. I took the plunge and, thankfully, the Weeride had prepared Jacob perfectly for his new upgrade and it was amazing having him on my faithful Yeti SB6c. The ex-hire bike had filled a gap but it wasn’t my bike, my bike is an extension of me.

His balance and core strength on the Macride is incredible but unlike the Weeride that held him securely, if he gets tired he can’t relax and nod off. We are working on building his stamina and hopefully by summer, when he turns 2, we will be able to confidently head back off on to the remote trails so that he can put his new skills to the test.

My return has been an adventure, a slow and steady adventure, nevertheless not only am I back where I was previously but my life is now far richer than it ever was before. I have a devoted and supportive circle of family and friends whose love is inclusive of everything that I was and everything that makes me who I am now.

So, next time you’re killing time scrolling through a newsfeed on social media, and lose your balance on your tightrope, pause and take a deep breath. Charging forward will only magnify your loss of stability. Taking your time allows you to regain your poise, evaluate your barriers and put a strategy in place. You can be methodical in your planning or you can break the rules, they are your barriers, you own them and you can conquer them in your own special way. If you don’t think you can do it on your own, tell a friend, or better still get them to join you. Reach out to the people who inspire you. There are so many real people out there doing amazing things – tell them what you think, ask questions and interact. We are all capable of achieving far more than our minds will have us believe and we don’t have to do it alone.

Finally, always remember that for every picture that is shared there is a story to be told, a story that is just a chapter in a much larger novel.