Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Dean 300km Audax: The First Attempt

10 days before The Dean ride, pleasant 12 degrees C temperatures were forecast.  As the week passed, the weather warnings started rolling in for snow and high winds but my determination was set.  I duly blinkered myself to the forecast, hoping it would be over-stated dramatism on behalf of the Met.  Marcus Scotney tried to dampen my spirits by sharing the, "windchill to minus 5" domesday scenario but I just packed more clothes.

We checked into the travel lodge on Friday afternoon at about 3pm.  Plenty of time for faffing and it was rife.  I hadn't had too much time to sort my bike out and a few changes that I had made in the week had not been ridden on yet.  There was that annoying low squeaking sound that came from the front brakes from time to time but not often enough to remind me about.  There were batteries to protect Garmins against the cold and food to pack and locks to sort and a saddle position that I hadn't really tested in anger.

The Travel Lodge was a steamy nightmare and not in a good couples relationship way.  I gave up on TSK as a bed partner at 2am and crawled under the desk onto my roll mat and sleeping bag (prepared for such a scenario) to get myself a solid 3 hours sleep before the alarm went off at 5am.  I was solidly grumpy when it did.

We hardly spoke two words to each other as we breakfasted dressed and headed to the start but it was only through lack of enthusiasm and no disrespect was intended.  He asked, as we departed with the group, if I'd locked the car and I said I hadn't.  He gracefully set off back to the car park to lock the new car as I rode along with the group.  We were split at a merge off the roundabout and, getting dropped further back, I put in an effort to get around the only other lady rider and two men, onto the back of 6 or so other riders at "the front".  After a few short minutes I concluded that the pace was too fast and dropped off.  Maintained a pace for a while as the other lady caught me but she was of a mind to sit on my wheel rather than chat so I decided to stop, sort out my saddle position which was feeling a little crooked and wait for TSK.

He arrived, asking if I was alright as I tooled around with my saddle and we plodded along together for a while until he announced that he was diverting later in to Tewkesbury to buy some new cycling shorts since he'd neglected to pack any and was presently riding in boxers... and big fleecy leggings.  I sent him on his merry way and proceeded to be left further and further behind.

As it started to snow I was met by two American accented riders asking, "Are you doing this crazy snowy bike ride then?" One was fully bagged up and looked like he'd been out overnight but no, they were riding my event and he'd just ridden up from Cambridge the previous day for kicks.  They were late to the start.  They also left me for dust.

Eventually I reached a rail crossing.

It was closed.

I looked.

No trains left, no trains right.

I checked the route.

And waited.

And waited.

I decided I had time to check out those brakes.  To my frustration I realised that one of the front brake pads was sitting solidly against the brake disc.  Not enough to make a substantial noise (except very occasionally with just the right pressure) but enough to have imposed a substantial resistance against the front wheel for the past 20 miles. I pressed the lap button to depress myself into finding out approximately just how much difference.  Actually, 1.4 miles per hour of difference.

I'd averaged 10.7 mph (level crossings counted) and was presently running a risk of missing the time check for the first checkpoint.  I got a wiggle on and then the snow got more serious.  I resentfully relented to change my coat and put on my rain legs to protect my quads from the cold and wet.  If I was going to be out all day, I was damn well going to be comfortable.

It was snowing so hard I resorted to putting my hood under my helmet - partly to keep my hair dry but also to add the peak to my helmet to stop the snow getting in my eyes as it blizzarded down.  This was not light snow.

When it finally relented and I changed back into a lighter coat (but left the rain legs on to last the day) it was pleasing to see a gentle coating of snow all around making the landscape a whiter shade of pale and defining the Malverns in the distance which suddenly looked like proper mountains.

I almost rolled out the other side of Stow-on-the-Wold, swearing as I detoured via the Tesco for the guarantee of a quick Mars Bar and a receipt from the Kiosk and customer toilets.  I was within 30 minutes of the time limit and a bit on the edge.  Andrew had texted me to say he would be in the cafe in Newent as I was arriving and I should look for him there.

Onwards then to a new country and Newent, over the Welsh Border.

I crossed the river Leadon on my way to Newent... or rather the river nearly crossed me.  Sandstone red water lapped at the road's edge and flood warnings hinted of what was soon to come.  The water swelled under the limited bridge space, boiling from the other side like stale blood.  As I thanked my way across the concourse which felt more like the Mont Saint Michelle sliproad than a B-road in rural Gloucestershire, a full-on fire engine roared the other way past me and I hankered down, shoulders braced to the rush of wind following it across the "bridge".  Was there any more insane traffic this ride could throw at me?

I missed the "Welcome to Wales" sign - or there isn't one.  In my rush to get away from Stow, I reasoned with myself I would need 3 hours to do the 38 miles.  I then forgot all this and decided that the cut off time was at 11:30, not my intended arrival time.  I spent the last 30 minutes absolutely burying myself trying to make up the time and avoid being late.  I rolled into Newent at 11:28 and as soon as I arrived realised what I had done.  I had made up 1 hour slack in the time periods but in doing so I had nearly destroyed my legs.  TSK was impressed by my time.  Me less so.  He left, I sat down to my early lunch to ponder my life choices over cake and lasagne.

This time I got my papers out and had a proper look and a proper plan.  My next stop was Chepstow - where one can chose between the town and the services 10km away on the other side of the Severn Bridge.  TSK and I agreed that the services would be best as the bridge would be cold and windy and therefore we would not want to do it when cold, having just stepped out of a nice warm Chepstow cafe.  It seemed like a good plan.

The ride into Chepstow was enchanting.  Distant views of the Malverns, Highland Cow standing face into the wind on the hillsides above the Severn estuary, some icicle bushes - where passing motorists had splashed water into the bushes which had frozen into a labyrinth of inch long tentacles dangling precariously from the evergreen leaves.  The descent to Chepstow was close on Epic for the conditions and my hands turned to solid ice so I could hardly brake.

Then Chepstow hit.  It was familiar from times I have dropped off TSK for the 600km Brian Chapman Memorial ride and brought back bad memories of another sleepless night in a hotel room that was too hot.  I circulated the one-way system with a BMW that I was to see three more times in town as I bypassed the bypass clearly and he got stuck at light after light, frustrated by this blue cyclist that kept crossing his path.

Finally I climbed up the wall out of Chepstow.  Still, there was warmth in my hands - finally - and then I dropped down to a dual carriage way again, saw the BMW one more time as I joined the bike path to the Severn Bridge and then the biggest challenge of the day.

The 40 mph North Westerly winds had struck and there was me, riding West / East across a fucking motorway suspension bridge.  As I angled 35 degrees into the wind, riding exactly 1m from the edge of the bike lane to avoid colliding with the 2 inch twists of steel separating me from the rest of the motorway, the breeze blew a b-flat note through the eyelets of the holding bolts.  No other cyclists were to be seen, just two stoic motorcyclists passed the other way, cautiously doing 10 mph past me.  I held my breath, squealed just a little bit every time the wind tugged my front wheel taking me two feet closer to those steel ropes and each time I wobbled back violently towards the edge.  The steel pillars and maintenance gurneys offering me occasional let up - but not much.  It felt like I didn't breathe again until I got to the other side.  No, I didn't breathe again.  I laughed.  I had survived it.

99 miles done, and I wasn't even suffering 100 mile bottom.

I couldn't quite believe it was 99 miles.  It felt like lunchtime.  Possibly because lunchtime is when I'm normally half way through a ride.  Possibly because I ate a toastie and a large hot chocolate.  The waitress asked if I wanted large, I said, "I'd say yes to anything you offer me right now."

Some riders were lurking in the corner, "I'll try anything once", I said, "but that is something I don't want to repeat in a hurry".  They laughed.  They knew exactly what I meant.  When I sat down to eat I was shivering.  I hadn't been cold outside but stopping indoors was doing nothing to warm me up sufficiently.  Only the consumption of hot items was working.  My rest stops were clearly necessary now.

I textd TSK.  He said I wasn't far behind him and he'd probably wait for me at Waitrose at Malmesbury.  I thought that'd be nice, as I ate my food but then I didn't want him to wait and miss the cut off and I didn't want him to think I didn't want him to wait so I didn't send a reply.  I didn't want to miss out on my stop at Chepstow - I couldn't.  I was really starting to need my break by then.  The climb into Chepstow had been hard and the bridge harder.

I'd lost time on my way to Chepstow too.  I was back to being 30 minutes ahead of time - although I'd ridden an extra 10km since the control to get to the services, I still counted myself as a little late when I left the services at bang-on the cut-off time.  If I were to lose any more time to - for example - a mechanical or a longer stop, then that would be it for my day.

As I rode out of Chepstow services, the wind started to pull at the electrical pylons and cables, making whistling and whining noises.  I plunged into the beautiful Forest of Dean, thankful of its shelter from the 40 mph gusts as the wind rustled the trees but not me.  I shared a moment with a roe deer as we made eye contact  across a clearing.  Her eyeing me with intrigue and calm - ready to bound away if necessary but sure of her ability to outrun me and my mechanical device.  She was absolutely right to be sure of herself as I hauled myself and my load up the hill.

Note to self - secure locks on audaxes may make me more relaxed but only serve to extend, not shorten, the time I spend in cafe's.

There were few vehicles in the forest which made it a very special place to be.  In fact I wondered why there weren't more people around.  Farmers don't stop for the weather though and after exiting the forest I had my third scary traffic encounter for the day as I squeezed into a high-sided verge to allow a tractor carrying two hay bails on spikes to pass precariously close, shedding the loose straw from his load out of the trees and onto my head.  That's it, I was done with traffic.

Soon I was fighting my way up to the Somerset monument, staring at my Garmin OS Map as the reality of a chevronned climb (that's >14% or 1 in 7).  I made a deal with myself that if I rode this I could walk up Hackpen Hill later when it got dark and was snowing.  It seemed like a good deal and just as I was about to slalom it to take the steepness out, a motorist obliged and kept me on the straight and narrow.

I had reached the top of the world for a while.  I swore at the monument before commencing my down hill to Malmesbury and hoping the rain would hold off.  It didn't and by the time I was joining a folorn looking TSK, it had started to snow again.  I inadvertently left my glove outside and joined TSK in the cafe for dinner - which turned out to be quick but insignificant (cheese and bacon pannini) and a desperately needed fresh fruit salad.  It's amazing how a day subsiding on scooby snacks suddenly encourages a healthy desire for vitamins.

We left Malmesbury control dead on time again.  I was happy I now had a navigator to follow - I'd already made a few minor navigational errors on my own.  Whilst I had quickly spotted them, retracing my pedal strokes, even a few tens of metres was time-consuming.

I also let myself go in terms of planning and effort though - not knowing when we had to be at the next control or how far away it was, I stopped pushing myself nearly as hard.  That said, with it snowing and the effort I'd already put in to not much gain, I don't think I could have gotten more out of myself.  I always had it in the back of my head that Hackpen Hill was to come and for that I would need all of my energy.

We left Malmesbury in the dark and snow, now eating into our time to do the next stage as we were well after the cut off time when we left.  We were onto familiar territory now and as we passed through the back of Wootton Bassett I was drawn top stop by the old house, take a look at the place but we had no time.  Instead, we had those climbs.  The approach to Broad Town hill went remarkably well. Even the climb went well.  The drop off the back was fine.

TSK gave me options - do we really want to do Hackpen hill?  As the snow came down around us, I resolutely dismissed the option of riding into Swindon to get on a train to Oxford.  I'd battled hard to get this far and wasn't prepared to throw in the towel yet - time cut offs or not.  At least the experience from this 300 would inform the next.

Even Hackpen hill was fine but as the tyres started to slide out from underneath us in the snow which was now settling on the road, we both got off and walked to the top.

The ride into Marlborough was familiar.  Flashbacks to 10 years ago, watching santa arrive at the golf club in his helicopter to bring all the rich kids their Christmas presents.  We dug out some food to eat - TSK initiated it and I ate crisps wearing gloves which largely amounted to me stuffing my face into the open mouth of the packet and forcing as many broken crisps into my gob as possible without dropping them on the floor.  A passing pissed woman exclaimed, "OH MY GOD BIKES!" in the darkness whiwch I took as an expression of awe.

One climb back over the ridgeway into Sparsholt led us to the descent off the back into the Lambourne downs which was slow and un-enjoyable.  In days gone by I loved these roads for the plentiful cornflowers, lavender and lush green fields of the horse race tracks, offset by bright white fences and dirt tracks across the side of the ridgeway.  All I could see was darkness and flecks of white - mesmerising, sparkling but - essentially dull, repetitive and cold.

As I shimmied down the hill a little behind for some reason, I saw a bike on its side in the road.  There were clearly two people and hoped that no-one was hurt.  Thankfully, the downed bike was in a layby, the rider having just repaired a puncture and being ready to set off on his way.  Knowing he was OK and unable to stop because of the cold, I continued - suddenly aware of how vulnerable we were.  If I had a puncture in those conditions, I would not have been able to get going again.  Even if I had managed to successfully change a tube without puncturing (my record for new tyres, even indoors, is not a strong one), I doubt my hands would have been good for much for a long time after and, given the shivering I had experienced at each of the last 2 controls, I was starting to have serious concerns for the rest of my body.

 I pushed hard to reach Membury.  I couldn't remember the cut-off time here but thought it was around 11pm.  We rolled through the gate at 10:54 and crossed the grass directly to the petrol station.  I hardly picked up my electronics off the bike - instead whipping up to the counter with my wallet and procuring a fruit juice and a receipt.

I then followed this up with an order for tea.

I couldn't actually eat anything and started to shiver again.

The tea went some way to warming me up but was too hot to drink and offset by the fruit juice out of the fridge.  Now I started to feel sick too - properly sick.  TSK ate a sandwich.  I thought that was a great idea but just couldn't face it.  Instead I went to the toilets and stood under the hand drier for an inordinate length of time.  It felt good and genuinely went a long way to remove moisture from my leggings and around my midriff and lower back.  I then had a pee, washed my hands and dried them some more for a long time before returning to finish my tea.

Before leaving, I shook out four heat pads - one for each glove and one for each shoe.  I changed into dry socks and changed my wool jersey for a dry one.

As we were preparing to leave, the other rider with the puncture rolled by and into the main services.

We didn't see him again and assume he booked into the Travel Lodge there for the night.  It'a good job I didn't realise this as I might have been tempted to do the same.  Still, despite my temptation to call for a taxi, I did not.  We dressed for success and I even changed out of my rain legs and into my long waterproof trousers to at least keep the wind off my whole legs now.

It worked.  I rolled out of Membury feeling toasty warm.  I downed an excessively sugary drink I'd made up and proceeded then into Stanford in the Vale where we had to collect the colour of a bench in the village as proof of passage before rolling out across the flatlands and back into Oxfordshire.  It was an absolute pleasure to know we had no more major climbs to face.  This walking through the snow was starting to get tedious.

 Normally we'd avoid A-roads like the plague but at 2am the A 420 was practically dead.  The traffic that was passing was not at all threatening, despite being confined to a single clear lane by the snow.  Everyone gave us loads of room and riding here was much safer than risking a slide and a crash on deserted B-roads.  Normally there's nothing quite like seeing your first road sign indicating the distance to your final destination.  Sadly, when you're on the A-420, the first sign for Oxford that we saw still had 9 miles to go.  9 very long miles.  Even then, when we reached the pubs and clubs of Oxford, the burger vans, the late night taxis, the Travel Lodge was still around 4 miles down a long and boring town road, now riddled with potholes and seams and slippery white lines hidden underneath the snow.

Our completion time limit came and went.  Our guestimated 20 minutes late time came and went.  TSK wanted to stop and get his proof of passage receipt earlier than the finish point - legitimate for this ride, but I could not stop.  The prospect of spending two minutes in the cold with my body temperature continuously dropping was horrific and I continued to ride all the way to the hotel, pausing only to get a cash machine statement before crossing the road with the intention of falling into bed.

Of course this was when the real challenge began - out waiting the employee on the desk who was - possibly just intrigued - by what we were going to do with the bikes we wheeled onto the mat to drip and drop snow just like your average workman's boot.  We semi undressed in the public foyer, took a stash of free newspapers into our room and then waited with another cup of hot tea for the boy to stop doing whatever he was going and at least go to the toilet / go to bed.

As soon as his back was turned we had bikes inside in a shot and safely stowed on opened-out newspapers to drip the night away.  Although there was a slightly damp carpet, we didn't make a mark and left the place clean and tidy the next day.

We took it in turns to shower / stand by the heater then fell into bed at 3am.  Propped up by life and the wonderful travel lodge policy which meant we didn't have to check out until 12, we slept until 9am then got up, loaded the van and drove home as soon as we could. Mainly to mitigate the time it would take our fatigued minds to drive through windy conditions and partly to out-run the potential mass exodus of business workers who are contractually obliged to travel on a Friday and a Sunday every week.

With only one driver change-over we surprised ourselves with our expedient arrival at home.

Have I spent the last two days recovering from an Audax-induced hangover?  Hell yes.

Did I want to do another?  A snowy one - no.  Not doing that again in a month of snowy Sundays.  It hurt.  TSK agreed that I'd done 400km effort.  Too big a step, too much risk if anything went wrong. Next time I'd just cancel.

A 300km - yes.  I'm glad I've popped the 300k cherry.  Keen to do another one because I know I can get inside the time limit given normal conditions, no minus -9 degrees wind chill next time.

I've learned lessons about what I can carry on this distance ride and still hope to make any time limits imposed.  My big lock is not one of those things - though plenty of other stuff will still come with me for comfort levels.  If we're going to call Audax speed training for long distance then let's do that.  I can work on my load carrying capacity elsewhere.  SO here's to Skeggy - hoping - for my next 300km event.

I'm looking forward to it.

Sunday, March 04, 2018


It's been a wonderful snowy week of battling my way to work through the fluffy stuff - with a little battling my way home through the ice on Friday.

It's left me exhausted but has been an excellent exercise in just gettin up and doing it all again.

On Wednesday I accidentally overshot and kept riding.  On Thursday I extended again but rode home the quick way and on Friday I stuck to the edge of the ice alongside the shelter of buildings to find all the available concrete and then rode home down the roads to get in quick in time for tea - but then it was 10 pm.

It has been an insane week.

I have rested this weekend.  I haven't touched a bike except to maintain them and I went outside only to walk to the pub and drink too many beers - 2 is too many nowadays.

TSK and I talked about our plans for the Dean in 2 weeks time and we decided to ride it separately so that he can enjoy it without waiting for me and I can get much out of it as a solo ride without coat-tailing and I can pace myself how I want.

It's nice that we're both excited about something that we can share.

I have tried not to feel guilty this weekend and have succeeded.  It was a planned rest week and I am ignoring the fact that I only achieved 30% of my target last week and calling this an actual rest week.  Besides all those snowy miles are worth double.  I hope it will encourage some strength to come through since I stupidly entered the Mag 7 which is next weekend.  No time to train or plan for it.  I just have to go out and ride and it's in Bradfield so I am dreading it but my FOMO means I have entered and I hope I will enjoy it as much as I did last year. 

A "fun" warm up for the 300.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Where did it all go? Or... Where did it all come from?

I struggled yesterday and I struggled today too. Where did all my hill climb fitness go?

It was only the mid cyclocross season when I was still doing 90 miles on a Saturday and racing on Sunday. In December I was aceing 200km and riding 500km over Christmas week and yet I have had a number of weeks where I just can't seem to get the miles to stick. Weekday miles come and go only to work and back and I can only manage 40 miles on a weekend day.

Where did the fatigue come from? - well, I know the answer to that one.  Last week's relatively hilly 200k plus three rides to work on a week which saw me working 50 hours.

But what happens is, I sit at home in between, knowing that sooner or later I have to start linking these days together just day after day after goddamn day because that's what I do now, every day. I ride my bike as far as I can, all the time.  My ride plan for the race is to ride at least 98 miles a day.  This will see me back just in time to catch my Ferry home.  I actually expect to ride more than that most days and then I look at myself now and think, no way.

It really is ages since I got in from a ride and needed a bath. Perhaps that is the problem. Rides have gotten too easy. In the interests of making them long, I have made them all slow and around a lack of stimulating speed the legs have got lazy.

Today I was so tempted not to go out but the weather was so nice I couldn't resist.  Cold as hell but the sunniest it's been in ages. I tried to take it easy and enjoy it since yesterday was hard enough but I couldn't help myself from heading into the peak and was rewarded with quiet roads due to the cold but an immense sense of wellbeing as the sunshine flooded my body and I was treated to a golden pheasant glowing in the sunshine and mile after mile of breathtaking scenery as the bright but low sun cast stark shaddows on the crags, which made me grin even when I was exhausted.

After lunching in Castleton then doing some ambling around plenty of climbs I stopped for tea in Tideswell before heading out for home around 4.  I threw in an extra mile whilst trying to decide which way to go home - opting to enjoy a climb over Great Hucklow and the lovely lane to Abney - my favourite road in the Peak.

And then, just when I thought I'd had enough, I towed a bloke up Surprise View Hill Climb and destroyed myself completely.  It did my ego the world of good and I actually dropped the fella and then he came back past me over the final climb to the Norfolk Arms, as I blew up unceremoniously.

As the sun set behind the moors, I struggled through Ranmoor and into Crookes and then flopped through the back door, my toes and fingers now searing with pain from the cold.  I ran a bath, didn't even pause to turn on the heating and drank recovery hot chocolate and tried to rewarm from the outside and inside. 

To my hands and feet, the water felt hot.  My legs weren't so sure, it felt hot but not as not as it did on my feet so my legs decided it was cold water.  My back and head (the warmest of my body parts) at least recognised the water as mostly warm, though I was slightly alarmed when both big toes went black.  The right one subsided quickly but the left one swelled into a blistered end with little feeling in it. 

It seems fine now but I think that (possibly initiated by my Kings Tree ride) is the closest I have ever come to frost bite.

After 5 minutes I added more hot water then had to leave the bath before things got too cold as the heating hadn't yet come on.

I went straight to bed.

TSK came in drunk from podcasting to rescue the heating situation and then at least I had to make some tea - which I have enjoyed immensely and feel moderately human again after my 40 minute turbo-kip post ride.  Moderately human I say.  It's nice to have this fatigue back.  It's nice to be contemplating going to work knackered tomorrow.  It's good that I got out two days on a row. I proved I can do it.  The fact that it was sunny is a boundless benefit.  I'm giddy on the vitamin D and now know never to miss an opportunity like that again.

There is so much to be said for a potter in your own back yard, because it can lead to something bigger, something better, or failing that, just a little sunshine.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The North West Passage

I was still anxious about the North West Passage when I left Rochdale at 8am.  We missed the group start because I was hunting for my extra-warm gloves. I wasn't going to make the same mistakes I did last weekend.

Still, we left Mog, the new Mercu in the carpark and headed up the streets of Rochdale.  Bad start, I set us on the wrong course and began following the route in the opposite direction.  Fortunately, TSK noticed my mistake and we swung a U-turn and headed back the way after just 100m. 

I realised I'd blocked most of this ride out of my memory from the last time.  The roads through Rochdale seemed to go on and on. Miles of rows of shops, traffic lights.  Boring, no scenery except looking forward to the hills on the edge of town.  

And then eventually the hills came.  Joyous long, lingering even kiltered climbs past tiny rows of houses, old mills, river valleys.  A peloton of riders passed us, we caught up and were caught back by a couple of older chaps and the occasional hipster.  Todmorden came and went, images of the Calder valley.

My bike had developed an uncomfortable clunk.  Every 4 -5 pedal strokes, like clockwork.  Probably a chain link working loose, I'd examine it at the first control or cope with the consequences when it failed.

TSK got a puncture and I was too busy helping him to bother to look at my own bike until I had remembered and it was too late and we were standing on the side of a pass, a big wind and rain going on.  Down the other side and into Burnley.

As we descended into town, an Audi pulled out in front of us then proceeded to move slowwwwly down the road as I approached the rear bumper in the wet and I shouted, "Mooooove" to avoid running into the back of it.  As we drew side by side to go straight across at the roundabout the driver simultaneously stuck on an indicator and started to turn straight into me.  I braked, screamed and slid sideways all at once, fortunately managing to stay upright and scrub off enough speed to let them manoevre out of the way so I could straighten up and continue on my path.  As I stood on the pedals to get off the roundabout my chain snapped and I limped to the side of the road.  

My first instinct was to go and punch the living shit out of an audi driver or strangle them with the chain but fortunately it was too much effort to go into Morrison's car park so I set about calmly fixing the chain, except now my front light was inexplicably on and refusing to turn off too.  I say inexplicably, I changed the battery on it recently and, recognising that I'd never get the seal to go in place unbroken, have resigned myself to the fact that eventually this light will short-circuit itself one day - and this seemed to be the day.

I did the only thing possible, had a very short-lived break down then fixed the chain.

By the time I'd done (took a little longer as I wasn't taking my glove off for anyone), my light had turned itself back off.  I had a headtorch with me so not totally concerned if it wouldn't turn back on again but it was going to be uncomfortable and inconvenient later if it didn't.  

Riding out of Burnley, a woman in a black Skoda drove straight at me (in the bike lane) whilst staring straight at me - well on her way to using the bike lane edge as the give way line.  I looked her in the eyes and screamed, "What the fuck???" and she gave me the thumbs up and mouthed "sorry"... 

Funnily enough, it took her a long time to make her turn and have the guts to pass us.  In fact, I'm not even sure she did.

I was glad to leave Burnley and head for more hills.  Out through Nelson, where the peloton were pulling into a cafe, probably now half way through their speed-charged ride, ready to dry out a bit before heading home.  I on the other hand was still toasty warm and dry in my coat and settled into a 12 mph pace for the next 10 hours.

It's hard to imagine Nelson being so close to Burnley because Nelson is a precursor to Settle and we enjoyed the road between the two immensely although a number of drivers were taking more than a little liberty with space.  I complained that I didn't remember it being so busy last time and we recalled that it is half-term week and vowed not to do this ride on half-term week again.  On the plus side, a ray of sunshine, seen across the flat land valleys creeping across the rising hillside was starting to take hold and grow into some more meaningful relief from the persistent rain that had dogged us all morning.

Skip to the next paragraph if you're at all squeamish:  A steady stream of snot and sweat had been cursing down my top lip all morning.  Mostly, this infiltrated the edges of my mouth and drizzled over my lip and I licked it away and gulped it down.  If I was going to sweat and snot this hard, I was going to take up all the salt I could get.  So as we rode into Settle, yes my body was craving something other than the taste of my own body salts.  

Settle brought immense relief.  We'd both been getting hungry.  I'd been eating snacks - an entire energy bar and nuts too.  We locked up, stripped off the wet coats and settled in to cheese and chutney toasties, chips and coffee.

Who would have thought, coming out that we'd bump into a family friend?  
Po is quite small.  Yes, TSK is on his knees.

We frantically unlocked bikes to get going and tried to catch up with Po - very briefly - and take some selfies.  

TSK - who seemed to have come out with an empty Carradice - took my headtorch which I'd now put on battery charge to replace my light if necessary.

On up through the Limestone Steps of Clapham, Ingleton, past 3 Peaks landmarks and into Kirkby Lonsdale.  Not far to control 2 but on the A65, we were desperate to get away from the traffic.  A couple of short steep climbs told me that my legs were less than perfect now.  The week's strength session left them feeling somewhat lactic-ey.  But then all I needed to do was keep going.

To try to mitigate things, I made up the spare bottle I carry on my bike with energy drink powder and guzzled the lot down in one sitting.  That was needed then.  

We turned into the second control as part of a motorbike cavalcade and stopped to get our brevet cards stamped by willing volunteers.  As one of the few bits of the last ride I remember, it was nice to be here and not be on my knees, sending TSK off to get my card stamped by a reluctant burger-van owner.  I suspect by the time we arrived in 2012, we were either late or the organisers had given up on us.  This year the burger van was buzzing with activity, bikers queueing, kids damp from playing near the river were waiting for their burgers, drivers parked in the extended carpark were waiting for tea.  Four employees were working in the tiny caravan.  We had a brew, shared a cake and stocked up on a packet of crisps and a chocolate bar for later.

We retraced our steps by riding through the carpark, taking us as far as possible away from the main road before joining it and then turning off onto the more minor A 683 towards Hornby and Caton.  Finally, pleasurable relief from the traffic and no more mad over-taking manoevres. 

The sunshine had now well and truly taken hold and we enjoyed some wonderful shadows and silhouettes. 

At Caton we deviated from the published route to go onto even more minor roads, taking to the hills around Quernmore and the Trough of Bowland.  While the main road route is probably advisable on an icy February ride, we needed to stick away from Lancaster traffic and were happy to take on the extra elevation.  

Choices / choices

We finally crossed under the M6 at Forton Services and joined the A6 briefly before taking another cut off to Dolphinton to avoid the A6 horror, exiting onto the route further along.  Another turn-off which I nearly missed.  

Finally we were at Scorton for our afternoon tea (shall we call it that) which last year was a desperate affair again - in the setting sun, contemplating our demise out of time and worrying about a big finish.  This time, with the sun still high in the sky, I knew I had mostly saved my legs for the final climbs and, aware of what was to come, only had minor reservations that we were going to make it on time.  An 11 mph average would see us back in time so only mechanicals were going to interfere... and we had a tail wind.  I was hoping we had had our fair share of mechanicals and the tail wind was just a bonus.

Tea cake AND lemon meringue pie please.  And lovely lovely coffee.  The older guys trundled in behind us and one of the younger hipsters.

We set off in earnest, TSK giving me my charged headtorch back in case I needed it and I took back off him my pack of crisps and chocolate bar for when I needed those.  The next few miles were the best of the day, watching the sky turn golden then pink then rusty red as the city lights ahead, gleaming off the clouded sky took over from the sunset and a sliver of moon peeked out from underneath.

From Garstang it was over Longridge to Ribchester.  The first of the climbs.  On my mission to get us back in time, I purposefully let the legs go.  The tailwind kicked in and all the "saving myself" was over.  Time to let the legs do their thing.  I rode the hills with purpose and now TSK was staying behind me (as I had the nav), not darting past me and therefore over-cooking whilst I was being a bit slow and crap only to have to slow down whilst he waited for me and get cold.  I realised that if I am to get faster at doing this long-distance lark, I really need to keep developing these muscles I have discovered so that I can keep doing the big effort climbs for longer and keep the pressure on for longer instead of just letting the miles bob along uncheked.

Into Blackburn where we had very little trouble and next over to Rawtenstall and Haslingden moor where I'd previously had a melt-down in a driveway and only dried cranberries could help me.  This year it was TSK who needed to stop which I initially found a little draining after all my efforts but, realising I'd do better to meet my timescales if I wasn't dragging a tired TSK around, I actually quite enjoyed as we sat on a kerb watching the stars and eating our crisps as a random family of 6 plus a dog walked past drunk from the pub making comment on our flashing lights.

My vigour was renewed and I set about towing us over the next climb and letting TSK do the town navigational checks as my brain, not my body, started to let us down.  We were finally in Rochdale and not joining the M65 is a key skill we failed at last time and I almost failed on this time too.  

As we sped down a dual carriageway, being told by tits to "Gerrof the fucking road", we later passed another tit sitting in his motor on the grass verge, strips of chromed plastic littering the scene around the deep tyre ruts sunken into the turf as he sat, abandoned, like an antelope up to its belly in mud, just waiting for the crocodiles to come.  A passer-by was on his mobile, I assume helping out - if not, ringing his mates to laugh at the fella - so we assumed the situation was under control and kept riding.

I thanked TSK for stopping for crisps in case we had, otherwise, been at the scene of his whatever(drugs / drink / mobilephone)-fuelled excursion off the carriageway and onto the grass-verge.

It didn't make me feel anything though, but riding downhill at the end of the road, recognising the petrol station where we'd done our U-turn in the morning and taking the turn into the estate, carrying the name of the pub where we finished the ride, that made me feel good.  As did the free pie and peas laid on for all finishers and the quarter (half shared) pint of beer, that made me feel really good.

It was a ride of mixed emotions.  It had its truly uplifting moments - the sunset over Lancaster watching the sea and the distant view of Heysham Power station where I'll be working on Monday, the stars over Haslingden Moor.  I even enjoyed the rainy hill climbs through Todmorden and the sunny ones through North Yorkshire.  It was let down by the traffic, the shitbags and the prevalence for main roads - which I'd forgotten about from last time.  

If I were to choose a route to do on an icy day in February, this'd be it.  For it is sure to have been cleared and gritted.  However, I enjoyed the Poor Student more, for its complete and utter lostness in the countryside of the mid to South West.  There are plenty of lanes around the area where we were riding today which I would have enjoyed more - even if they are a bit steep for an early season ride.  

SO, despite the invitation from the organisers to see us back next year, I suspect I will only do so if it's not half term week and only if there's no other events on in February and it's nice to leave an event knowing that it will probably always be there if you need it but you're looking forwards to trying something else next time.  For as a dear friend once said, "If you don't like something the first time, try it again just to make sure".

Distance: 130miles
Time: 12hrs 41 mins (11 hrs riding) 
El: 1044m

Friday, February 16, 2018

Sick in the head

It's been a difficult week for riding.

Last weekend messed me up and I have driven to work every day this week.  Sometimes with yoga thrown in or some weights but mostly I have done very little physical exercise.

I managed a run.

I was just tired of it all.

Tomorrow I ride 130 miles around Lancashire.  It's going to be a blast - I hope.  Positive temperatures (5 or 6 degrees) and gentle winds.  It will rain and I'm not going to let my guard down - my big coat is still coming.

I have supplies because I seem to remember gorging myself desperately on a mars bar last time I did this ride.

I am also, for the first time since I re-started audaxing, a little scared.  I feel less confident than I have recently due to last weekend and due to a lack of training.  I'm ready to get going again but yes, I am a little scared.

Keep your fingers crossed for me interwebz.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Cold, early, long, then short.

The week was great!  Having not done any riding on Sunday, I vowwed to get out on Monday early and I did, leaving around 7 to watch the end of the sunrise through the clouds as I climbed up Rails Road to the top of the Rivelin Bank and then over the top into the edges of Stannington.

I soon realised I'd made a mistake, if I'd stuck to a right turn up to Dungworth I might have stood a better chance of avoiding traffic.  As it was, I joined the school run through the edges of Stannington, rode over to Wortley where I passed my boss's house going the opposite way at 8:30.  I added myself to the queue of traffic waiting to climb jawbone hill or turn into the trail of cars heading into Sheffield and enjoyed being the road block all the way over to Grenoside where I took the direct route over to Eckington and joined the bridle path that runs in the shadow of the M1.  If you're ever passing just North of Meadowhall and see the cranes, the bike lane passes the other side of those, down in the valley... and IT IS COLD down there.

I braved it out but by the time I reached the office I could only just feel my fingers and as the heat rushed back into them in the office, I tried not to cry as the pain surged through the ends.

I did yoga on Tuesday and had a slightly easier day on Wednesday as I prepared for a customer meeting so on Thursday I was not going to hold back. 

I was up at 5 and out the door, wearing ALL the clothes to compliment my fear of cold.  By the time I got half way up the hill, I had to stop and shed a layer down to my fleece and high-vis gillet.  Climbing back up to Bradfield this time - my ploy to avoid traffic was working. 

Down the other side to Dungworth reservoir and up to the Loxley Road, crossing to climb up to Higher Loxley then drop down again to Jawbone hill and in through the same route.  The sunrise from the top of Bradfield hill made was incredible .  Sooner or later though, the snow started to chase over the hillside so I got a wiggle on.

Down in to Eckington, patiently waiting through the traffic to get on my bike lane then diverting off onto the dirty path through the industrial estate that secretly takes me to my bike lane. 

By the time I reached the cranes I was ice-chilled to the core.  I stopped, got off the bike and unwrapped my big coat, threw the high vis away into my caradice as it's the sweatiest garment I know and started riding again.  The big coat allowed the venting of sweaty fleece and the extra gloves were enough to stop the complete freeze experienced on Monday morning.

I arrived at work with a huge grin on my face, *just* in time for the morning meeting and had one of the best days at work.  It's easy to wobble home from a day like that but something just clicked and rather than wobble, I raced home through the streets, riding over the big hill past the Northern General and stamping out quite the pace.

On Friday I had a rest day in an attempt to get the car into the garage for its final MOT before I get rid of it.

On Saturday I was determined to get out twice this week so like an optimist, I dressed early and set off out the door.  It was already raining hard and because it was raining hard, I didn't think it would be icy cold so I wore a soft shell and took my summer coat, put my rain trousers on and started riding.  I did wear by big thick gloves.  I only wore a cotton cap. 

By the time I got to the bottom of the hill and set off up the Rivelin Valley I knew something was wrong.  My feet had been bugging me for days so I had moved my cleats before I left and the right foot really wouldn't settle.  So I popped into the toilets to get some shelter and messed with my cleats, added my summer coat with the hood up and put my helmet back ontop of it.  I then took it off again and added my buff around my neck to stop my chin freezing and re-dressed. 

Further up hill, I removed the soft shell as I was now warm and fiddled with my cleats some more, with another fiddle out side the water treatment works.  I wasn't doing well here.

I stuck to the main road instead of putting myself out there on the tops up on Rodside.  The head wind was bad enough in the valley, I thought I'd save the wind on the tops for the way home.  I struggled through the wind, feeling tired and spent.  Headwinds weren't supposed to be this hard and I could hardly remember feeling so good on Thursday night.  It was somewhat the fault of my new crud catcher which I know looks wrong on this bike but I'm so sick of getting covered in crap and wet legs within seconds of riding on a wet road...  I put it on backwards and now it acts as very efficient resistance training.  Still, at least my legs were dry. 

The descent was fine into the Derwent valley on the other side.  Whilst I'd left the house with big ambitions for a long day, I was non-commital as to where I was going and hadn't even turned to sat nav yet in the spirit of making it up as I go along.

At Bamford lights I was overcome by the temptation to ride up the Ladybower valley.  Theoretically out of the wind, surrounded by trees offering at least some form of solace, shelter and diversity of vision compared to rainy lanes of the Peak, open spaces, the Hope valley with its exposure and wind-tunnel effect.

The idea grew on me faster than the descent and I continued straight on at the lights, turning up the one-way road to Fairholmes and Kings Tree.

The effect was instant, an immediate demise in traffic.  One way a view over the lake, the other way, trees, dense, stacked trees.  The scene was set for the next 90 minutes. 

Debating whether to stop at Fairholmes for a hot pie and deciding not to get cold (there's no "indoors" except the toilets) I continued up past the village of 2-3 houses and on along the contorted contours of the lake shore, in and out of stream beds and finally, onto the last open straight trail to King's tree itself.  I had already decided to extend the joy and make this a lap of the reservoir, despite the muck I would experience, riding down the trail on the other side. 

Through the gate onto cinder road now, I would see nothing but mountain bikers and soggy walkers, equipped to various levels of rain-proofing. 

I passed the tiny humped bridge where I sat with some of my closest girlfriends on my Hen do and then joined the trail on the other side of the water expanse.  I forgot how exposed it was on this side!

Split between getting the hell off the open hillside and getting my hands into warmer gloves, I kept pedalling until I reached some tree cover.  This went on and on for some time as I passed mountain bikers and walkers and didn't want to stop until gradually I realised that my thickest winter gloves were doing nothing to stem the cold because for all that they're super-fluffy, they're not in the least water proof and they were sodden and being blown on by the icy wind. 

As my left hand clawed so that I could not have used the big ring if I wanted and my right started to hurt so badly, I decided it was time to change my gloves despite not being certain how much it would help.  I didn't anticipate having to do this before lunchtime so therefore started to get a little nervous about how long my day could be. 

Stuffed inside fleecy dry liner gloves and backed up with my fleece-lined water proofs I thought there would be too much padding to allow the blood to flow into my hands but it did and slowly I regained feeling and then gentle warmth.  A little moisture seeped through the stretched seams and then nothing, we were back at the road.  I was still too alarmed by the temperature though to consider continuing.  I could have made the cafe at Bamford for a warming lunch before continuing my ride but I determined that I had already given the day enough of myself.   I rode back up the side of the Rivelin Valley, up onto Rodside to brave the elements and enjoy the tail wind home.  Unfortunately, the wind had move sideways and was now gusting at such a pelt it almost lifted my front wheel off the ground several times. 

My feet slushed around in a little puddle of water in the bottom of my boots and my soles, toes and heels were numb.  The pathetic wool socks I'd worn were too thin.  If I'd been out for a longer ride I would have stuffed heat pads in there long ago but now all I wanted to do was get home and do something more constructive with the day.

I walked through the back door, took my boots off, threw my gloves, socks and buff straight in the washing machine and went upstairs to pee - something else I'd been putting off doing all morning - the journey from the back door to the bathroom took an inordinately long time as I hobbled through the house on stilts, the fore- and heels of what used to be my feet, completely numb and hardened.  My middle right toe felt like it had frozen into an ice-ball.  I gently massaged it whilst sat on the loo, reassuring myself that I hadn't actually got frost bite.

Three cups of coffee later, I still hadn't really warmed up but I did make substantial progress towards building the wheels I am intending to ride on various events this year.  My bike stood, muddy and dusted and trickling onto the kitchen floor, my Carradice looking very sorry, covered in a layer of grit, gradually drying by the radiator.

I made one big mistake today - I underestimated the weather.  Days of snow an ice warnings that didn't materialise and I get one day of forecast "rain" and let my guard down, forgetting to check the wind chill and almost freezing my toes off as a result.

I couldn't feel sad about not riding all weekend.  As I sat on the sofa on Sunday, pricing up my van insurance a friend stopped in and empathised that we are both so bored of freezing on our bikes. 

I finished project wheel build.  I didn't even go to the gym or have a run as I'd promised myself.  I just sat through the day, dreaming of projects to come.  Hoping that time wears well, that temperatures rise, that I'll get my mojo back for long distance, or anything.

Time this weekend has trickled through my fingers.  I am sitting on the sofa again this morning, waiting for neighbours to move their cars so I can get mine out onto the ice and snow to take it in for its MOT and get rid of the fucking thing. 

My first job today, therefore is to clear the road.  Nothing more.  Maybe file some emails whilst I wait for the temperature to rise.  To be honest, I could just sit here on this sofa, waiting for the temperature to rise.  That is the nature of my day. That is the nature of last week.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Long Lincoln.

A few weeks rest after (what felt like epic) the Festive 500, a 200k and Bearbones all in a row, I was ready to get out for another long ride this week.

I picked Lincoln because it was a flat ride for a windy day and decided to throw in some more miles with a ride out to the start of the 100 mile route and a ride home too making for a 200k day.

I managed to get out of the house about 9:30 so not early but not late either and rode out the pretty way.  Well, up Gleadless hill on a Saturday morning is very quiet.  I then rode along White Lane, into the edge of Derbyshire briefly before joining the bridleway out to Eckington and then a few back lanes to Barlborough from where I joined the route proper.

Snacking started with an M&S sachet of nuts, raisins and caramel I've been carrying around for a while.  A group of horse riders waited at a junction for me to pass and we exchanged pleasantries - me as I tried to squeeze the last raisin out of a sachet.  I tucked the wrapper away and proceeded through Colne.  By Poultney I was ready for lunch.

The cafe was nicer on the inside than the yellow caravan-style box portrayed on the outside but I was slightly nervous of the menu and "table service".  I was warned that bacon would take 20 minutes to prepare so ordered soup and tuna mayo sandwich instead.  To be fair, I was fed and on my way pretty quickly, picking up a cherry scone to take with me and filling up my water bottle.

With the tail wind behind, it wasn't long before I was at Rufford Park where a bunch of children and their parents booed me for not riding through the 18 inch deep ford.  Nice.

I just kept riding and riding.  To be fair, I noticed nowhere else to stop all the way along, nowhere that I could be bothered to stop anyway.  I just kept riding, all the way into Lincoln.   Even Newark passed in a blaze of cars, vans and pedestrian crossings.

At the lights in Lincoln where you decide, city or bypass, I took the bypass.  I couldn't be arsed with city traffic, not any more.  I rolled along the bike path past the McDonalds, Costa coffee, Homestores, B&Q, Halfords, Next.  All the great out-of-town stuff.  Found myself getting stopped at every single set of lights along the way.  Just as I had got bored of it, the malls ran out and I found myself at the Northern end of my route with a choice between bobbing into town (or the pub across the road) or McDonalds.

I didn't really want much food but a bag of chips, a coffee and a water wouldn't have gone amiss.  I went into Maccy D's and walked straight out again.  It was so busy - no chance of getting served for ages.  After unlocking my bike, I decided I would just use the loo and then get going.  I didn't need food right?

I locked up again, went back in, used the toilets and filled up my water bottle with luke warm water from the tap, figuring that it was probably going to be reasonably safe to drink given that McDonalds was the kind of place where food is eaten with hands.  I came back out and stood around eating my scone to see if it got a little quieter (it didn't) so turned tail and started riding.

I missed the turning for the bike path along the river AGAIN so attempted turned off onto the path we used last time except I got clever and tried to approach it a different way.  Sadly, I ended up riding on the second tee of Lincoln golf course and swearing a lot.  Oh well.

Sanity restored on the path, I settled in to an hour of headwind riding on the Fens.

It really wasn't as bad as it should have been.  The wind seemed to drop and the bike lane offered a wonderful array of shelter - trees, embankments, railway bridges.  It was incredibly satisfying but long though.  I was an hour later on the path than in December but it was so much lighter.  I left my illuminations off until I reached the end, around 4pm and then, joining the road, turned them on again.

The low battery warning on my Garmin flickered so I left it alone as much as possible through the next few miles, desperately hoping it would last me until I was near somewhere I recognised so that I wouldn't have to get my phone out to navigate.

Again the villages rolled by mile after mile without me really noticing.  I was starting to get hungry again and I began to make my way through my remaining snacks though none were really taking up the hole that was left from the hankering for chips.  The demise of the great british pub was evident.

I got quite excited when I remembered I had packed some jerky and munched that for a few miles.  The pangs were replaced by those for sweet food so I scoffed a mars bar I'd had kicking around in my Carradice all week after I bought it on a freak trip to Sainsburys last Sunday evening.

That lasted about 30 minutes until I finally lost the Garmin completely at the junction for Clumber Park.  Thankfully, I'm pretty aware of where I am once I'm at Clumber so I descended into the relative darkness, away from the main road, thoughtfully noticing the position of the moon behind my left shoulder to orient myself as to the direction of West if I needed it later.

I love the ride through Clumber in the dark - completely traffic free due to a lack of through-routes and feeling like lord of the  manner.  I passed some sneaky campers out in the dark woods and wiggled around past the stone bridge and down the lanes we'd negotiated back in December - now knowing exactly where I was going.

I spat out the other end and made my familiar way through the countryside, past the lake and up to Cresswell Crags.  For fear of getting lost, I joined the A616 over taking the lanes and enjoyed 30 minutes of main road riding, though decidedly traffic free.  I was passed by one or two trucks and a few boy racers but nothing bad happened.

Finally I reached Harthill, which would have been my stopping point on the hundred miler but now I just needed to get home.  I was getting a bit peckish but I really fancied dinner with my husband and reckoned I had eaten enough to see me back.  So I rode on past the Golden Ball pub, newly refurbished and on to Kiveton Park where I bravely passed the chippy and Todwick where I tried to ignore the shops and climbed up to the A57 bike lane which took me all the way out to the Motorway crossing on pristine tarmac.  I text'd TSK to let him know where I was and kept going, through Aston, down the Fence Hill at 25 mph, bunny hopping over potholes to keep my speed up, blaring around the roundabout because my steering's better than a motor car's and straight up the climb into Sheffield without diverting onto minor roads because there was so little traffic on the major road that the back-route would have been more inconvenient.

Finally, just the wobble up through the city out to my house to fall through the door, almost 12 hours since I left in the morning.

The wind made it quite a slow ride - since I went easy in the morning to save myself for the evening winds.  The fact that they weren't as bad as anticipated, then, didn't speed me up because I was hungry for most of the last portion.  Reassuringly, if I'd been on part of a longer ride I would have eaten more instead of holding off getting home for dinner.  Still, it was done and at least got me 50% closer to my over-stretched weekly target.

I wasn't going to have next week as a rest but now you mention it... I might.