At the end of last year, our amazing Facebook group neared 10,000 community members. Fran and I had been sharing admin duties for a couple of years and the group had grown to be such a beautiful combination of inspiration, support and general cycling fun.
We rarely needed to step in on any rule breaking and the group mainly ran itself. However, it still took a lot of time to answer the questions and signpost those needing some direction; so we thought it was about time we recruited support.
Then followed lots of applications and referrals to our new Group Ambassador Scheme. If we're honest, we weren't entirely sure what it meant to us yet, but we knew we had such passionate members that it would be easy to develop once it got going.
After much deliberation, we found our first Ambassadors. Four women from completely different backgrounds and abilities who we felt could help support us in the group and maybe, in the future help us take our community even further... (cue curious music...)
And so our ambassador group was born - with its four founder members:
Ruth (above) - relatively new to cycling, Ruth is a Mum of teenagers and knows what it's like to go through that "What AM I doing?" stage of starting with road and off-road cycling.
Cara - one of our longest serving members of the community, Cara is an absolute diamond in supporting within the group and as a plus-size cyclist offers some really great insight into kit choices and cycling on and off-road.
Harri - our wee-speedy-tall-nipper up in bonnie Scotland. Harri's wit, charm and knowledge is astonishing and she's here to help those getting into the nitty gritty of racing and all things getting quicker on the bike.
Emma - Our off-road girl, flitting between gravel and MTB - nicknaming herself the 'Ninja Tortoise' (although as we discovered on this ride - she's nothing of the sort), Emma is an explorer and loves nothing more than a paper map and a pencil to plan.
As Covid lockdown restrictions eased, we wanted to get the gang together, unfortunately as Harri is not only a long way north in Scotland, but also a Junior Doctor - she couldn't make it and we thank her for being awesome during these covid times (and all other times!).
I wanted to put together a route and a day that would be fun to explore and also give us plenty of time and space to chat and get to know each other. I already knew Fran (obvs) and Ruth is local to me and has already become a good friend. Cara has ridden with me a few times before off-road so Emma's was the only face I had yet to see in real life.
The first thing I wanted to say when I met these girls is that what you see online is exactly who they are in real-life - how often can you say that nowadays? Totally genuine people with hearts of gold. Conversation flowed and the different abilities within the group were never a problem; this wasn't a race, it was a day to enjoy ourselves!
First up was a trip out to a local park area with woodlands and lovely off-camber 'bulges' for a spot of fun and confidence building, the legs weren't quite warm, so we'll give Fran that excuse for not making it up the steep hill! (To be fair, she was the only one to try).
I'd chosen nice wide open-pathed routes so we could pedal side by side (unless getting out of the way for the odd pedestrian!) and it wasn't long 'til we reached the first coffee stop. (I'd put one in nice and early to get a good caffeine fix!) Here we met the lovely VeloVixen founders Liz and Phil, who bought the coffee from the Joe@198 in Crowthorne and delivered cake to our rumbly tummies.
Unfortunately whilst my bike stood still, the tyre decided it didn't want to hold air anymore and started spraying a nice load of sealant everywhere. Rather than fix it, I called my (rather dashing) garage fairy, to bring my spare bike over in a flash. Isn't it nice to have a useful husband? 🙂 (He's a good egg and I'd have done the same for him)
On our way again for the main part of our ride, we crossed some single track, river paths, woodland landscapes and even some MOD land (Cara was keeping an eye out for hidden squaddies) before we popped out onto the awesome disused runways at Blackbushe.
Our intrepid ambassadors - from left: Emma, Ruth, Fran, Jeni, Cara
These are so much fun, lots of wide open space, with some nice trails all around. It was here we met the founders again who had laid out a stunning little picnic ready for us on the grassy verge.
VV jerseys proudly modelled by our ambassadors
Of course, an ambassador day wouldn't be complete without some frolicking. First Ruth decided one coconut chocolate pot was not enough, plus apparently Emma claimed the gorse bush flowers tasted of coconut (which Ruth disputes after trying one!) but also the scene was perfect for some pretty cool photographs and messing around on the runway.
We were having so much fun, we even forgot to say goodbye to the founders as we continued on our way to the final stretch (and maybe the best) of our route - over the gravel works. Here we are transported to the US and the wide open, tree-lined gravel roads of dreams! Followed by a tiny bit of fast singletrack and then on to the last little bit of off-road through Bramshill plantation and over a quaint little ford.
Arriving back at the start point, Emma exclaimed "Can we go again tomorrow?" which almost made Cara fall over with tiredness... but we did have a lot of fun.
Maybe we'll see more Vixen's getting together on this route soon?
Here's what our ambassadors had to say:
"The best part for me was our little whizz through the wooded area towards the end. So quiet and peaceful, yet so exciting!
VV bandidos to match our jerseys
"The picnic was definitely an added treat, possibly the poshest picnic ever and Liz and Phil were really, really lovely.
"Our naff attempt at snaking down the runway made me laugh. In fact I laughed all day.
"I don't think I've taken a wild wee since I was 11 so that was pretty liberating, although I'm still walking round with scratched legs
"My ultimate take away from the day though was absolutely 100% meeting the gang, Team Super Cool, who exceeded my expectations - each and every one of you. Friends for life x"
"The ride was incredible; the scenery, the challenges, the gravel and the singletrack but genuinely the key defining part of it all was the laughter, banter, grins and gasps between all of us, Liz and Phil included.
"Never have I felt so at home within a group of people I have met for the first time face to face. I was truly happy and in such a comfortable environment that there was only room to be six million percent myself, and for that I am eternally grateful for my VeloVixen family."
"AND Emma added a couple of days later...
"Today was my first day back at work post annual leave, and my colleagues individually commented how happy I looked in the photos from the ride! They said it looked utterly amazing. Which I assured them it was! Xx"
Cara: "My best bits were extensive! From meeting everyone at the start! Saying hi, chattering, seeing each other for real. Jeni organising me (ha) or trying to!
"The inevitable disgust on Ruth and Phil’s faces when they tried eating the gorse!
"Battling with gorse, holly and brambles! The wild wee war wounds - and comparing them over lunch!
"I loved the heathland particularly, when we rode across the top and between those lakes. Lovely views. Fantastic gravel riding - something for all abilities. There’s just so much of it and so close to habitation. Proof that you don’t have to go far to get away from it all and have an adventure..."