Saturday, January 20, 2018

A complicated rest weekend has just begun.

It's a while since I've been here.

I've been busy.

I deserve a rest week as I've had three consecutive big weeks rides / races.

The sofa is the right place for me today except for a little clean of the bike which is also an important feat.

I felt a little dark about it yesterday, knowing that there's no way I'm going to hit this week's target (scheduling got weird and I did a 200 on my rest week so this rest week is not a scheduled one).

I've spent the morning reading inspirational work of women cyclists.

I've decided to rest the hell out of this weekend and resume next week (warmer) with early morning rides, long rides home from work and setting some rules around the hours I'm working - again.  Yesterday I hired a new guy.  Me.  I chose him.  We seem to get on well.  Things are looking good.

So I should be leaving the office on time again.

I'm also motivated to use the gym.  Yoga is all well and good but I need to start building the strength again.  Not just re-establishing what I had but building it beyond into what I used to have when I was 21.  I'm going to step away from the free weights, hit the machines, be that annoying twit who rests on machines and bash out some more serious weights going forwards.

To supplement all this optimism, I have just written a note in my diary to keep a look out for the HT550 entries for 2019 opening.  Not that I'm enjoying what I'm doing this year or anything.

Sunday will see a turbo session during which I split the rim on my rear tyre 40 seconds in, persevere and continue after lunch to belt out 21 hard miles.  The rest of the day pales into insignificance due to the glow of my achievement but also the depression that I did not ride this week.  Then I remember: I did not want to crash in ice and snow and I've ridden hard through 2 rest weeks and done in excess of 200k in three weekends out of 4.  I fucking deserve this rest week and I will start next week stronger because of it.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Bear Bones January Pilgrimage

I've been careful with my working hours this year.  Last year had a horrible finish to it and over Christmas I promised myself I'd be more kind.  I eased myself in to work, doing short hours even, to rest my brain.  Week 2, I started to struggle, the hours mounting up but by Friday lunchtime I'd done my hours so I went to lunch with my boss, fired off one last email and then left to pick up TSK to drive to Wales.

Nope, no cafe here!
We had yet another night in a Travelodge in Oswestry - a poor matress had us squabbling for space in a trough in the middle but it wasn't too bad a night.

It was a nice start on Saturday from the calamity of the meeting point and mass packing in the carpark.  We rolled out at 9:30 ish, our route North blocked by private land so we retreated and headed away from the chosen route onto the road for many hours.

For clarity, this ride was called the Café Racer, an alleged stream of checkpoints (grid references provided) between which racers chose their own route.  Historically, the point has been a mountain bike ride but there's no set rules and so we decided to do it on our road bikes this year as training for the Transatlantic Way.
At our first "cafe" we were confronted with the choice of 2 farm houses, a B&B and a fallen-down shack.  We continued in earnest to the next which was a cottage at a junction of two roads.  Again, not a tea-shop sign in sight.

My "away from the main roads" route took us around the back of the village for around 500m then through a horse field before dropping back to the main road from whence we had just come.

I started to doubt my route so we found a nice pub in Carno to serve us lunch and I set about checking the remainder of my route to ensure it was on a road - or some tentative variation thereof.

We headed out down to Clatter to another farm building checkpoint and then accepted that few of the checkpoints would be serving any nourishment so started being a little more lax about making the checkpoint.  Less of the battling our way to it and more accepting that 250m away was close enough.
TSK enjoying the climb.  I told him London was at the top. 
I failed to mention it was, "Little London".

It took us to some remarkable places though and for that I am very grateful.

Another body of water without a café
at the top.  Nice nature reserve though.

On top of the moors, the last of the grey light faded with a rainstorm which had us relenting that it was now getting "too wet" and holeing up at the end of a forest trail to don waterproof trousers and coats.  A little bit of me regretted not bringing my big coat but from this I learned that my OMM coat does a bloody good job - and since I bought it for the TAW race, that's a big relief - that it can survive pretty shitty stuff in Wales in January.

At Bwylch-y-Sarnau we knew that the café would at least be open as a meeting point part way into the ride.

The village hall was filled with the sweet smell of cake and toast and around 40 humming, wet riders.  All the women riders I had noticed or spoken with in the morning were around.  Some of the guys had been there for 1.5 hours already, waiting for friends or just avoiding going back out.  They were still there when we left.

The volunteers at the Caf plied us with refillable tea, we bought extra cake to wash down our soup and bread rolls and as we chatted with fellow riders about which way we'd been, we were papped by the volunteers.  I wish I'd taken a pic but by now I was getting tired.

It gradually drifted in and out of my head about everyone's individual rides and our various knowledge of the area.  We're all so different and have been different places.  Terms like "via the windfarm" are used when there are windfarms strewn all over the route.  "in the forest" is another one, "by the reservoir / lake / river".

We dropped out of the café.  Riders were still riding up the hill on the anticlockwise route.  We set off back down the hill, towards Rhayader where we were headed for dinner but we stopped off and acquired two more faux checkpoints on the way.  At Tywlch the café seemed to be a shipping container set in the grass.  It started to dawn on me that all of these places were locations where the organiser has - at one point or another taken it upon himself to brew up a coffee during a storm, a sunday ride or an overnight camp.

It seemed frivolous to go so far out of our way down a hill to get dinner but it was, potentially the only other place serving food which wouldn't consist of boiled water and a dessicated packet.  We approached the Eagle Inn, our brakes screaching into the darkness.  A local having a cigarette laughed at us as we asked if the beer garden was open for bikes.

We headed around back and the landlord opened the patio doors.  On some days of the year its probably lovely but, as it was "out of use" in January, it was a dark, wet, musty yard with a few wooden tables and a lot of dog shit which we only realised once inside the pub and stinking heavily.

We were so hungry we didn't care and steamed our way through casserole and chips, not really knowing if the smell was dog shit or us or some of the taxidermy on the walls going bad.

We set off back out along another lane that ran to a building looking like a cross between a community centre and a bunk-house - still no café.  The lane turned into a forest trail with a thin strip of broken tarmac down the middle.  It was steep but at least that strip of tarmac made it easily pushable.  We made several false attempts to find a bothy that I had marked on my GPS - clearly during my online research I had mistakenly mixed up the satellite image of a sheep pen for the bothy.  I had mixed emotions.  Part of me expected the bothy to be packed with other racers but still, camping outside it would have been nice, including spending the morning with other people.  The other part of me wondered if anyone else would actually take themselves the 15 miles off route to get to it and I imagined me and TSK having the place to ourselves.

My afflictions associated with other people when I'm tired made me fine with not finding the bothy.

As it was, we had a sheep pen and a large oak tree to ourselves, behind which we were sheltered from an icy wind and soothed by a soft mat of fallen leaves.  The Oak obliged not to drop any branches on us in the breeze.
Attempting and failing to photograph me and our camp spot.
One day I'll look back on this and think how young I look.

It took me a while to get to sleep but I only woke twice and it was suffice to pull my coat over my chest to increase my insulation.

As the light dawned I dreamed that other bikers were approaching then realised it was just the day arriving.
I had no energy or urge to take a picture of our camp in the daylight. 
This is the end of my tent with TSK wriggling around inside.

We brought two stoves - him the usual one.  Me a new lightweight meths stove for trial.  From this I learned that I need matches, not a lighter to get the meths stove going (especially in temperatures of 2 degrees C).  When it did go though, it brewed up quicker than the gas stove which had a head start (and more water to boil, to be fair).

It took us around 1 hour to decomission everything and set off again.  I'm putting this down to the cold but also know that some of my winter gear takes more packing than summer stuff.  I'm planning to run a foam mat in winter which won't need inflate / deflate and a much smaller, less escapey sleeping bag.  I also ripped a hole in my dry bag whilst trying to pack the sleeping bag which didn't really help the packing process.

We were stiff and slow but we made it - back to the road and up on to the moors.  It was blowing.  We were so pleased with our winter spot.  I'd go so far as to call it a hidden valley.  Outside of it the weather was big but eventually the clouds retreated, the sun started to appear and the road turned to tarmac.

We were on our way.
I'm calling this a sunrise.

Our first diversion into a village arrived at a closed shop where we ate the rest of the cashews left over from the poor student then made a plan to get to the next check point before eating the dried food we'd carried thus far by the reservoir (where there would be an ample brewing water supply).

We reached the turn off point and rode as far up the hill as we could muster, past a circling red kite and a fallen-down mill building.  A land rover passed us as we both stepped off the bikes to push.

We shared an energy bar to stop the leg wobbles and trudged on up, rewareded on the other side by a long downhill through the forest past a man dressed as the lord of the manner but with the nicest smile and best attitude either of us have ever seen from a man rocking a deer-stalker hat.

At the tee junction at the end of the road we had one of those disagreements which is the reason behind us not doing the Transatlantic Way Race together.  Him: go off course to find cafe serving full English breakfast.  Me: stick to course, gain checkpoints, follow plan, eat lentils and ham (rehydrated) out of a packet for breakfast.

This is my only hope for us keeping anywhere near a similar pace on the TAW race.  He can ride faster than me but he can't accept dinner out of a foil bag the way I can!
The love of my life.

I conceded, but whilst I admit I enjoyed the breakfast, the missed checkpoint and extra effort in doing so (only to turn from it) smarted - for about 30 minutes - roughly the time it took me to order a slice of lemon meringue pie and an extra cup of tea.  For in consuming breakfast at a cafe, we'd gone into lunch teritory.

Back on the course, we hit the head of the reservoir (you know, *the* reservoir) valley and the check point, located on an inflexion on the road with not even a layby in which to stick an icecream van or a coffee trailer.

My suspicions that this was just a list of Stu's brew-stops was thoroughly justified.

The reservoir was pleasant, with a plethora of picnic tables and "no camping" signs, we wondered if anyone would've really been out checking in January.

After 29.5hrs outdoors and at 2:30pm we finally made it back to Llanbrynmair and hung out in the school amongst the paper-plate faces and glitter -based art and welsh-language body chart hanging on the wall like some kind of bizzare upright murder scene.  Tea and cake flowed but eventually it was time to dress in dry clothes and drive home in shifts.

Somewhere between the dog poo fuelled dinner, the eating snacks through mucky gloves, sleeping in a sheep pen and the junk food consumed on the way home I ended up spending Sunday evening throwing up all that I had consumed in the last 24 hours but, weirdly on Monday I was fine and ready for work.

Ready, quite frankly, to deal with anything.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

The Poor Student

The weekend of the Poor Student started with a night in the Travelodge at Pear Tree services.  Whilst I'd been expecting to stay with Silver Linings, they had been poorly with the 24 hour vomiting bug so I checked into a hotel which was not an inconvenience as it was right at the start of the Audax and my car park ticket cost me £4 for the 24 hours I was going to be parked in Oxford, giving me ample time to sleep, finish the ride and even have a drink with my fellow riders before heading over to see Sil the next day.

The duvet was warm in the Travelodge - even when I tried to sleep with the window open and it took me a while to figure out that sleeping was only going to happen with the dry electric heater on and with me inside the cotton duvet cover wearing a bath towel for insulation and lying on top of the excessively warm duvet.  Not the best night's sleep, though I did wake early enough to be in plenty of time for registration.

On the day, I went off kind of quick with the early wave, held wheels, had a chat and eventually dropped back a little until I dropped my chain and got passed by - what seemed like - everyone.  I rode hard for a little bit and gradually picked off a few on the climbs.

I met Alan, who introduced us to the HT550 in 2014 whilst I was training for Celtman and we regaled each other with stories from then and other long distance races we've done.  Only 3 years ago and yet seems like 10.

At Malmesbury I watched some of the other riders coming straight back out, having turned around their control already at the CO-op in town.  I just wasn't feeling sociable and didn't know whether I needed to eat or not.  
A very hoggy pub.
A coffee seemed more important so I got my receipt from the pub, the barman now getting a bit bored of serving coffee and paper receipts and then I popped into a sewing shop to see if they had a zip I have been looking for (no).  

Outside Malmesbury I snacked on an apple and goji berries that were in my bag.  Some were still arriving as I departed.  I caught up a recumbent for a while and we chatted on the lanes until things started getting hilly and I pulled ahead.  

The lanes were mucky and the climbs, long, slow and relentless into a headwind.  Still, I was managing to clock 10 or 11 miles per hour which was an improvement on the festive 500s 5 or 6mph.

There was a trig at the top of the route which cued off a hankering for a long descent into the finish but it never seemed to come.  There were a few diversions for food appearing but I remained stoic and stuck to the route and my snacks, though ignoring Claire Hall's favourite haunt of Cheddy cake shop was becoming pretty tiring.  I wasn't going to starve but I was getting a hankering for something more lunch-like than berries, cashews and apples.

Through Draycott Manor, groups I'd left behind in Malmesbury passed me again, having a chat on the way.  Alan chatted for a while and introduced me to Mike who had sat on my wheel through Cirencester, taking advantage of my GPS to navigate his turns.  He introduced Mike by saying, "we failed together in Italy".  Huragh - an experience shared I guess.

I let them go as I counted down the miles to Chipping Campden.  Finally there, I stocked up on cash and found the coffee shop but was disappointed to find that they weren't doing lunch at 2:45 pm.  Having locked up my bike, I ate as much as was possible from the bread / cake products - tea cake and scone - and drank tea.  By the time I was leaving at 3:30, the twenteens had stopped serving all together because the server was leaving and the other girl was washing up ahead of the 4 pm closing time.  I sent the arriving hungry riders around the corner to the tea shop which still seemed to be doing a roaring trade.

I reminded myself of my own rule to only eat in cafes employing adult staff, though not necessarily possible at a cafe buried within a complex of bijoux workshops churning out candles, art, jewellery and gift boxes.

I suffered onwards, drifting in and out of company until I finally rolled into Moreton le Marsh.  At first I recognised the one-way system from my rides with Bex, then I recognised the Budgens!  Saviour!

I locked my bike up, raided the take-out food shelves and sat on the bench in the warm shop, one eye on my bike whilst I demolished a salmon sandwich and zipped a mars bar into my very handy sleeve pocket for later.

Back out on the road I cycled alone for quite some time.  Always with the reassuring glow of someone else's light 400m ahead of me.  

At one point I caught up Mike for a while.  He briefly sat on my wheel then came back around me and rode off into the distance.  Clearly not one to be beaten back by a woman.  

I caught up a small man in a red coat and said, "Is it just me or are we finally going downhill?"  

"I can't hear you, got my MP3 player on", he said.  Clearly he didn't want to chat as he didn't take his ear buds out but happily sat on my wheel for the next 10 miles.  He was joined by another more talkative chap who also wheel-hogged but at least occasionally teased into empathetic conversation when we got passed by a couple of Rapha riders belting out a fine pace so late in the day.

It does a lot for a girl's ego to tow two men to the finish.

Only with 4 miles to go did we see a sign for Oxford and counted down the distance to Pear-tree park n ride.

To emphasise doing this ride without TSK, I muttered, "We made it".  

A voice next to me said, "Yeah, but I think I left my feet out on the course somewhere".  

"I think you'll probably find that you left them in the car this morning".  It was nice to end a ride on a laugh.

Instead of going straight to the services with the others, I turned into the Travelodge, threw my bike in the car, changed into trainers and dry hat, gloves and socks.  Then I walked over to the petrol station and grabbed a revolting-sounding toffee caramel flavoured milkshake (all the chocolate ones had already gone).

Although I was going to grab and go, suddenly the chairs in the petrol station looked much more comfortable than my saddle.  I sat down to drink my milkshake, joined by another rider.  He was about my age, taller, bigger in stature and quite out of breath.  

"Did you sprint in?" I asked.  "No... just... such a hard day... how do you look so composed?!"

I think I have made "it".  "Just a ride", I thought.  "Pacing" I said.

He was new to it.  He admitted he had been foolish enough to arrange to go out to the cinema later.  I doubted he would see the film and he worried about seizing up in the car and getting cramp in the cinema.  I recommended the toffee milkshake which he consumed with gusto and set off for his appointment with sleeping to the accompaniment of bright lights and loud Dolby surround-sound in a room filled with strangers.

I threw on my dry robe and drove over to Sil's house, having to stop on the way to re-programme the satnav as I had used the beginning of her post code combined with the end of the Audax start post code.  Luckily I was only out by 2 miles and I arrived, dishevelled and smelly to a massive hug, a pile of chilli and rice and a wonderful hot shower.  Dogs sat on me and I slithered into sleep in Freya's day bed.  

Nothing, absolutely nothing woke me.

Monday, January 01, 2018

The Festive 500 that Closed 2017

The brittle hand of someone who briefly forgot who they
were then rediscovered themselves over a festive challenge.
I've only attempted the Festive 500 once (last year) and at the time I was having a good cyclo-cross season so there was no chance I was *actually* going to make it with three hard races over Christmas week.  So I did an alternative Festive 500 by counting every km in a heart rate zone multiplied by the zone.  So 1km in zone 1 was good for 1km.  1km in zone 5 good for 5km, making a tough 10km 'cross race good for 40 - 50kms.  Not surprisingly, I did it, but it didn't really count for much.

This year, being the year that I am doing lots of mileage anyway, I decided I have no excuse for not doing the festive 500 but I didn't really read the rules and to be honest I didn't really care.  Does that reflect the fact that I didn't think I'd finish again?  Did I really not care?  I honestly don't know.  I suspect I was being a little bit cocky.  I just rode 200km, can't be that hard right?  It's just over two of those and there's a whole 8 days to do it.

Throughout the week I found myself doing more and more math - was I gonna make it?  I don't really care right? Wrong.

Andrew got a couple more rides in than me in the early days by going out twice when it was icy.  At the end of the second day, whilst he was still out, I jumped on the rollers.  It doesn't count towards the Festive 500 but doing the exercise made me feel better about the day, regardless and left me thinking, "screw the Festive 500, I'll do my own festive 500 and I'll count the kms on the rollers".

But then I went for a ride 2 days later and suddenly it was back on.  I mean, if I made it including the rollers session, then I'd know I'd made it and if I made it not counting the rollers session, I could tell the world.

Whilst TSK turned for home because he'd practically done his bit, I carried on for another 3-4 hours to get in all the miles of the ride I had planned also partly because we'd just made it off familiar territory and for me and I was now onto unfamiliar terrain.  It wasn't just headwindy anymore, it was new and exiting, there were things to discover.  Plus the math turned around in my head, 135 plus 125 plus 70 plus 45 (on the rollers).  In the end, I wasn't sure what I'd done and what I hadn't.

I got the laptop out at the end of my ride on the 30th and concluded that from Christmas day to New years day I would still have to do 100 miles - 50 miles per day - but if I could count our Christmas eve ride of 63km, then I only had around 60 miles left to do - rollers or no rollers.  On the morning of 31st it all felt reasonably feasible.  I could still do this thing and declare it to the world and so I set off for a further ride on New Years Eve.

Still the math turned over in my head, a symptom of me being fucking tired.

TSK asked me in the morning, "What are you doing today?"

"Going out to do some more", I said, slightly reluctantly.  That said, I was going out to do one of the flattest rides that I know from home and secretly looking forwards to a day of riding on my own (without the expectations of "others" ie TSK) and no-one to make me feel slow by shooting past me at the bottom of the hill then waiting at the top like an excited Jack Russell.  I got out as early as I could for a woman who ate two breakfasts and needed to charge batteries (both metaphorical and littoral).  The plan was to be done by 6pm in time for a shower and quick change before new years' dinner.

This soon went down the toilet as I realised, at the top of my hill, that I had no water in my bottle or food in my bag.  I stopped off at the ASDA in the village and replenished my stocks.  No amount of environment was going to see me rolling down the hill to refill my bottle.  Sorry environment, I bought a plastic bottle and binned it.  Yeah I know, shame on me.

From there, I made a number of profound adjustments to my cleats position, trying to achieve that perfect ride position.  It took me around 40 minutes to get out of the village and I still didn't feel comfortable

I decided to screw going through Chatsworth on New Years Eve for fear of traffic and instead opted for a reverse repeat of Abbeydale Road followed by a high-level wibble across Holmesfield Common and then a descent beyond Chatsworth to join the route.  In the end, this included a number of 180 turns in the road as I tried to avoid as many hill climbs as possible and failed due to inconsistent map reading.  It was therefore a relief to get onto my route so I could just start following a pink line on the map.  I was also glad I was alone for this faffing.
Then I saw a sign.

The only downside was my route had been mapped in avoidance of conurbations for maximum enjoyment.  I very nearly helped myself to the bag of emergency Twiglets in my bag but I was struggling to be warm.  I couldn't feel my toes and my fingers weren't working enough on my left hand to enable me to switch my big gear.  I waited it out until I had reached Kat's cafe.  Apparently Kat was out so I rolled-on by.  Thankfully, there's soon a sign for a garden centre cafe and restaurant which kept me particularly happy.  They let me lock my bike near the doors, it was warm inside and bustling and interesting.  Everyone was happy and in good moods.

I demolished a jacket potato and resisted hot chocolate for fear of feeling ill from milk products.  I stretched and tried to ease my frozen shoulders, my aching neck. My toes had thawed out but  I was accepting that I had failed to take the wind chill into consideration when deciding what shoes to wear, I ripped open my hand-warmers and stuffed them under my arches to keep my feet thawed out for the rest of the ride.  I opened the pack of Twiglets and stuffed them in the side pocket of my Carradice for eating easily later.

Stepping outside I shivered.  I gave in, added a layer to my top and started riding.  It had the good grace to hail briefly at 3pm so I changed into waterproofs and continued.

I reached Alfreton and thankfully this time, passed without consequence - no punctures, no confused old men.

I passed back out into countryside, crossing the M1 and starting my wibble North - finally, the tail wind started to kick in.  At an oblique angle unfortunately.  In my haste to get out I'd missed the trick of setting off towards the South East and returning more directly North, thereby obtaining the best tail wind vector for my ride home.  Still, at least the end would be relatively flat!

The lights went on and in one last brief attempt to settle my ride position, I stopped in a lay-by to drop and tip my saddle slightly, move my foot-warmers into the toe box of my shoes (my toes were still frozen) and finally felt my shoulders ease for the first time all day.  I can't believe I rode the best part of 100 miles in the last two days with my saddle too high.

On the other side of Sutton in Ashfield, a couple in their 50's waiting at the bus stop for their new year's eve out, watched me ride up the hill, "get those knees up" she shouted.  "I'm trying my best," I said, "there's a party waiting in Sheffield!"

I reminisced about the last time I passed this way in early November and a full moon.  The moon was full tonight as well and I had watched it here last time and then I saw an incredible thing, a flash of green light streaking across the sky, orange trail floating behind it, a piece peeled off.  "Oh my god", I thought, "A meteor!".  But it was new years' eve right?  It was a firework, surely.  There was no sound.  No whizz pop, no bang, I know it was windy but fireworks don't usually fly by horizontally.  It was windy...  It was 5:23pm.  Surely no-one sets the clocks forward 6 and a half hours and fibs the kids into believing they've seen in the new year?

Perhaps I was imagining it.  I opened the Twiglets and started to gorge myself.

As I rode into Chesterfield it started pissing it down.  It pissed it down last time I rode through Chesterfield.  I sheltered under the railway bridge where it was dry to text TSK so he knew where I was and put the colourless lenses in my glasses.  I propped my bike against a wall, covered in pigeon shit, inspiring the phrase, "any one of you shits on me, I'll climb up there and kill you so I will."

I used the best route I could come up with to get me out of Chesterfield.  It differed slightly from TSKs preferred but I was aiming to stick to my plan of using the least built-up routes possible and if I wasn't going to do the Festive 500 I was going to have nice rides out of it - my way, not sacrificing enjoyment for the sake of miles.  Still not caring, no Sir.

I peaked the hill and started to descend.  I reached in my pocket for the glasses I'd removed in the torrential rain and shook the water off them before putting them back on my face.  Crack! Tinkle! Shit!  One of the lenses had come loose when I shook it and presumably was now sitting somewhere in the road - no doubt being run over by passing motorists.

I had no time for Photos from this ride.
But basically it looked a bit like this!

I ditched my bike in the long grass and set about walking up and down the road with my light, searching.  Basically I didn't find it.  When I replaced my light with my frozen hands, I missed, sending it smashing into the tarmac.  Damn those Cateye 1200s are resilient but it had all got too much.  "Fuuuuuuck yoooooouuuu Festive 500" I screamed at the ride, at the rain, at Chesterfield, at Rapha.  Then I got back on and started riding my bike, the one clear eye, one rainy eye adding a certain hilarious outlook on life.  Eventually I lost the will to persevere and removed the glasses, the other lens popping out as I crammed them into my coat pocket.

I continued Northwards, past Chesterfield and on to the Barlow Road.  Up and up.  Flying over the hill and down, dealing with the boy racers, ignoring them, finally surfacing back onto Abbeydale Road.

Now don't ask me what happened here but basically, I followed the road up to Dore, then (as has happened before) convinced myself that it would be better to go straight on through Hallamshire and Ranmoor and Crookes than descend to Broomhill and up again (to Crookes) whereas actually, what would have been faster is to stay on Abbeydale road into town and simply ride up the one hill like I had yesterday.

I still have no idea why I do this to myself.  I have a short circuit in my brain that tells me this is the best route - and maybe its the straightest line (it's really not) but there's two valleys in the bloody way!  TWO!*  I got lost in Ranmoor like I always do.  I got lost in Hallamshire like I always do - and I had a frickin' map to follow!

Still, arriving in Crookes, knowing that I had no more climbing left to do was overwhelming.  Just the short hop through the village and I dropped like a stone to the house.  I was over an hour riding from Chesterfield.

I was in and out of the shower and driving over to my friends' house within 30 minutes.  No time to check the results but I knew one thing for sure, there was NO WAY I was going to do any riding tomorrow.  Fuck the festive 500 indeed.  It was all forgotten, the only way I'd finish it is if I counted my Christmas eve.

The moment I walked through the door Jez said, "We wondered where you were but I couldn't find you on Strava so I gave up".

"That's coz I'm not on it", I said, laughing and giving him a hug.  Another reason why I shouldn't be allowed and aren't bothered by the Festive 500.  Thankfully, no-one asked if I'd managed it - not even TSK.  One thing was for sure, as I lounged on the sofa at 9pm, everyone else still being sociable, there was NO WAY I was going out on Monday - but could I resist?  If it was only 30 miles to be done, would I resist?

I ate a massive pile of meat and wonderful salads - fresh guacamole, coleslaw, smoked ham and salmon, cheese prepared by my wonderful friends The Hawkins.  After a brief sociable spell, I hardly drank anything, not through restraint for wanting to ride on Monday but because I didn't have the energy to be pissed and alcohol was only making me more sleepy.  I allowed the others' conversations to wash over me - only narrowly resisting committing to a full pedal car solo season.

After we watched the fireworks and played skalextrix we drove home.  "I've had enough", I said.  "Fuck it, my festive 500 is running from Christmas Eve to New Years Eve."  I'm not going out tomorrow.  Them's my rules and I'm sticking to it".

"Them's are the rules", said TSK.


We got home, I fell asleep.

Not bothered, no, not in the slightest.  First thing, up, breakfast, laptop on, watch plugged in, downloaded, righted, added, Christmas eve to new years eve, 555.3km.  Excluding the indoor cycling - 506km.  BOOM!

I would say I was happier just to have had a lovely time but truth is some of it was brutally hard, cold, painful and exhausting.

I would say I was happy with the accomplishment alone but the first thing I did was log on to Strava and  start uploading my rides (don't normally use it).

I submitted my claim.  All that effort, I wanted a cloth badge - no messin.

So how do you top that?  You don't.  You just keep ridin'. Because it's what I do now.  I have bigger fish to fry.  If I get to this point in June, lying in my bivi, just not wanting to move another muscle - seriously what'll I do?  I'll have a bloody day off and finish the ride, that's what I'll do.

So I've taken my 69 bpm resting heart rate this morning and I have rested.  Actually, I've washed my bike with it in the hope that next week something good will come of all this effort for my 200k in January (and I will at least be capable of riding to work on Tuesday morning).

Today's rest counts as "what I do" because it is bike and so I finish 2017 happy in the reminder that bike is what I do.  The wilful challenge now is to remember that work is not what defines me, bike is.  What better end can there be to a year?

Happy New Year Everyone

*The Hanging Valley, Mayfield valley climbs totalled 244m, added at least 97m climbing and a whole extra km to my route.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

A half and half ride

So I was awake until 3:30 am on 29th December because I did nothing useful and had no fatigue.  Still, got up on time and dressed to ride my bike but mentally I was meh.

I didn't enjoy the tip into Hathersage.  Motorists being dickish in the flooded roads.  Normal polite people who can't consider that showering someone with water is acceptable so we rode up the middle of the A road controlling speed and people still didn't get it.


My Garmin was sending me all kinds of places and then I was so so hungry.

We left the cafe in Hathersage in clear skis and finally Grindleforded over to Hassop and then Ashford in the Water.  Which it was.

We climbed up Sheldon hill then down the other side where we had to pedal really hard into the wind just to maintain downward hill speed.  We made it to Hartington where TSK had enough as he'd done more miles already then we turned for home and I continued on over to Parsley Haigh, crossing the main road behind a muck spreader and draughting him, eyeballs out, as close as I dared, hands on the brakes and thighs burning to save myself the headwind.

Eventually he turned the opposite way to my direction and I gave him thumbs up before resuming my battle except now I was in the nestling bosom of the manifold valley and the headwind dropped away.  I crossed into the valley proper through a strip of tarmac which passed as a road running through the middle of a field.  I entered the field via a hedgerow archway and as I emerged, startled a buzzard which took off from the fence post right next to me.  He was so close I could see his talons.

Today's new county - Staffordshire.

The Manifold Valley cycle path was a dream.  3pm fading light, but lights off so no cars, just a few hardy walkers finishing the last few kms to their cars then no-one for miles.  Just as I was getting desperate for the look the Taddington carpark came into view and I wheeled my bike right into the toilets, peeing with the door open to save locking up.  Outside, I dug through my bags for food and had a cuddle with the carpark moggy.

Manifold Valley start of the bike path, "there's nothing quite like crossing a gated bridge onto a bike path over a raging torrent to make you feel like you've travelled.  It's up there with getting on a ferry".
Over beautiful small lanes and dales, I eventually spit out at the main road to Carsington Water but not before a massive Ford, the level marker reading 1m!  Fortunately I spotted the bridge over and took a pic before a 4x4 rolled up.  I saved him the indignity of watching him do a three point turn in the road and drive the other way.

Yep, there's road under there.  I'm on the "bikepass".
I proceeded to curse every conurbation, village, woodland and drystone wall for robbing me of any snitch of til wind I had worked so cursing hard for all morning.

As I summitted and then turned away, Carsington Water twinkled a mercury dull glow against the fading sky as the sun started to tuck behind low grey cloud.  Then I shot off across the lanes fuelled by a 17 mph til wind which had me freewheeling on the flats and braking in panic on the gravelly down hills.  Back in the Peak Park I set off up a steep hill (18.2%!!) which finally got me off and walking after the morning I'd had.

Once it backed off, I rode through to the top.  I was hungry.  I'd skirted Wirksworth.  The bar I'd eaten after Taddington had disappeared but it wasn't too far to Cromford Mills - not with the tail wind which almost caused me to lose control on the descent to the Via Gallia.

I stopped in the chippy for a second round of sausage and chips and children watched, amused as I plugged in my light battery and locked up my bike.  I hallucinated out of the chipshop window as I ate the battered sausage almost as large as the giant caterpillar on the back of the HGV parked outside the window on its way to its next fun fair.

At the lights I joined the queue behind the caterpillar and then had the busy road to myself in fits and starts through Matlock Bath and its mixture of fine hotels and amusement arcades then into Matlock proper with deserted streets and stone shop fronts.  In Rowsley I was squeezed by and then liberated into the Chatsworth estate where a boy in a Vauxhall Cavalier waited patiently to pass me with his highly tuned V8 engine until after the bus had passed.  I listened to him roar up the other side of the valley.

I'd run out of water in Matlock and was feeling it by the time I reached Baslow.  I tried to get water from the doggy tap outside the toilets but I was imaginings that but at least a bit of a walk off the bike gave me a rest before the climb up Froggat where the wind took over again and then across Owler Bar where the moorland really opened things up.  I rocked back to Sheffield and before I knew it, I was dumped back onto Abbeydale road and the meander through town.

I crossed junctions, knowing which way to go but each time being surprised at where I was - how little progress I'd made up the hill - like every one was a surprise.  It wasn't until I walked in through the door I could actually be satisfied I was home.

What an amazing day.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Bollocks to that

No excuses.  I am done wasting my holiday sitting on the sofa with the computer (a very productive day yesterday planning a ride I'm gonna do in 2 weeks time but still, I didn't get dressed until 3pm). 

At 4pm I got on the rollers, it seemed like a poor excuse for exercise and as I set myself up I contemplated adding more layers of clothing and my light and heading out the door for a short, dark ride - anything - just to get up the hill and back down again but I couldn't bring myself to do it.  I got on the rollers and full-on sulked for the first 20 minutes of the ride and faffed with my shoes and my saddle.  I finally got comfortable enough and turned my music up load enough to properly enjoy it and bashed out 28 miles but it really wasn't that rewarding, balancing between the radiator and the washing machine and staring at the back door.  I rode fast and hard to beat myself up and felt like some kind of sick addict, not the well balanced, happy athlete that I'd like to be.

I felt like I'd achieved nothing except the mental insurance that I was knackered enough to get a decent night's sleep - and sleep I did. 

So, today I had to ride.

Still, I spent most of the morning on the computer getting a job out of the way I've been leaving for a while - buying new wheels for the bike - a dynamo hub on the front and 32 spokes on each wheel - insurance for if any ping on my trip!

We finally made it out at 11:30 which is dangerous because lunch pangs are starting.

We had an early stop planned at the Adventure Cafe in Castleton before something else.  That early stop almost got shortened further as it started snowing on us going over Moscar and then turned to torrential sleet / hail at Ladybower dam.

We coated up but by the time we'd reached Bamford lights it was starting to brighten so we reverted to plan A.

Blissful that they had space in the caf, we demolished lunch and extra coffee before heading back out.  It had been bright but as soon as we stuck our noses out the door it started to sleet again.  If this was my punishment for spending 2 days indoors then I accept it with open arms. I love being prepared for horrendous conditions.  I feel like I am perfectly and hermetically sealed.

TSK has done plenty of riding the last two days so he headed home whilst I set out for more.  I fancied having a go at Winnats Pass in extreme conditions.  God knows how I was going to get back - there was some kind of plan involving a long ride around on main roads... whatever, it felt like an interesting challenge.

I started the road up out of Hope in glorious sunshine, finally and couldn't help myself stop to take this photo.

I pulled off the road and stood in a gate way to take the pic, my bike tucked onto the grass verge alongside the pavement.  My bike took up no more space than a human stopping to take a picture would although the stink eye I got from well heeled passers by was excruciating.  Clearly I was messing up their neat and tidy trip out to a country pub day by being sweaty and in their way... or maybe they were just jealous that I didn't pay to park.

Within 100m of the turn which forms the start of the climb, I knew I was in trouble.  Where I'd expected to be out of the wind in the lee of the climb, instead, the freezing cold air from above was hurtling down the hill like a wind-tunnel, channelled between the rock faces that form the sides of Winnats Pass.

I crossed the cattle grid, already standing hard on the pedals and without any gears left.  I'd kind of expected this road to have been gritted as it's a tourist hot spot and through-route to Manchester but no, it was slushy.  Probably rideable under-tyre but with the wind, practically impossible.  My lunch weighed heavy in my belly and I turned around and freewheeled back out, stopping to go through the gate instead of cross the cattle grid.

Two lads going the other way on bikes looked at my quizically as they must have seen me bail, I reassured them it was "probably passable but I couldn't be arsed with the wind" and then rode off to leave them to their choices.

I headed into Hathersage next to pick up some stuff that's on my TAW shopping list and then back-tracked to the Grindleford Road.

I couldn't help a trip out to Eyam.  Somehow I convinced myself it would be less blowy and less icy.

Initially it was, then it got worse where motorists had persevered.  I rode the steep bit (protected from the weather by its gradient) but then had to get off to walk on the ice higher up as there wasn't enough traction for my road tyres which occasionally kicked out worryingly.  I got fed up of taking in short sharp breaths - and holding it - whilst trying to ride and I had far too much adrenaline in me now.  I walked all the way to the top.

On flatter terrain I managed to ride again.  A few motorists were leaving the parking area at the start of the off-road trail.  I stuck to my guns and rode in the tyre tracks - slightly clearer of ice than anywhere else on the road.  At the top it was particularly icy and one Audi driver stopped by the side of the road ahead.

I wasn't sure if he was waiting to check I was OK, or what but he brought my attention to the condition of the road - sheet ice across, crunchy in some places, hard as nails in others.  I tentatively shimmied across it.  He pulled away as I looked more stable and competent.  I don't know if he was looking out for me or not but he sure was in a nice spot.  With him gone, there was no-one around.  The place was absolutely silent.  I took out my phone to capture the wonderful sunset and the moon contrasting with the snow and green grass on the other side of the road.  As ever, it didn't capture the wonder but hey, I've got evidence I was happy and I think mostly it was the silence I was photographing.

I slithered on down the hill, staying on top of the brakes all the way down to Eyam, just in case.  A brief respite through the well-travelled village then back up the other side, along the broken road back towards Grindleford.  The broken road was so clear on the broken bit that I nearly let my guard down and had a sketchy moment as I rejoined the tarmac right in front of a family who warned me that the rest of the road was also badly icy.  Phew.  Not too far to the main road.

Although I'd enjoyed my silent moment, it was nice to get back to the steady flow of traffic - or rather the knowledge that I could plough on at full speed without too much of a worry.  Up to form and flying up on to Froggat which I enjoyed, mainly because it was warm - and because I was motoring along quite nicely thank you very much.

A few cautious moments over the top where the lovely council had kindly put "ice!" warning signs out to notify road users of places where streams and such tend to cross the road but they were mostly clear.  As the sun disappeared, I was happy to be heading for home with the traffic.

Deciding not to risk the back-lanes home, I stayed on the main road into Eccleshall - one which I don't normally enjoy because of the traffic but today I appreciated its fast, ice free descent almost as much as I appreciated the long climb back up through Broomhill and Crookes to get me warm again following 17 minutes of freewheeling down hill in a gentle shower of front-wheel spray.

I full-on beat three motorists at the game of "stop at the zebra crossing for the pedestrian" before wobbling cautiously down the pavement to my own home for 5pm to an army of cuddly cats and TSK.

That, people, knocked the socks off beating myself up on the rollers whilst staring at the cat flap yesterday.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Making Christmas

Without wishing to spend to much of my holiday on the blog, a briefest of catchups after the solstice so that when I look back a year from now to figure out what I was doing right or wrong I will know what the bugger I was playing at!

On Monday I had a day off work and dutifully caught up with my Solstice blog.  It was necessary to record the overwhelming satisfaction for that particular day.

On Tuesday I was already feeling guilty for spending time off the bike but I got a lot done around the house and couldn't face going out in the dark - even though it was fairly mild so I took to the rollers and enjoyed every second.  I did a lot of faffing with my shoes but did solid 20 miles of riding in the end.

Mr Rodgers was still working lates so it did't matter to me that I was eating dinners at 9pm - his was still warm when he got in.  What I didn't notice is I was inadvertently waiting up for him, sitting around for a chat, not really sleeping if I did go to bed and then still getting up at a normal-ish time in the morning.

On Wednesday I set out to do the santa run on the bike.  I had garden centre vouchers to get so headed to Dore so that I could also pop in at Totley to see my Uncle Tom and Aunty Ann.  I then ended up riding over to my cousin's new flat to see them there and then home.  I clocked 25 miles and 485m of elevation, another late night followed by an incredibly early morning to be in for an 8am teleconference.

I bloody sprinted to work to make it, pushed my bike into the office and leant it against the cupboards, turned the lights on and dialed in.  I left the office at 6:30pm.  On the Friday, what was supposed to be an easy day, yes, I rocked in at 10:30 but then duly left at 4:30 - two hours later than everyone else.

So there was Saturday and I didn't feel like riding anymore so I tidied and then decked the halls and then chilled out.

Sunday we did ride again.  We headed out to Tideswell for lunch and I threw a strop because Tideswell did not come quickly enough.  We were terribly buffeted about by the wind and I felt really rubbish on all of the hill climbs, truly truly rubbish - so much so that I started to worry about my bloods.  I drank a hot chocolate with my lunch as well as a coffee and downed a veggie breakfast.  It all went much better in the afternoon - partly tail wind assisted, partly sugar assisted.

So week 13 didn't go so well (24 to go) but I guess that was only to be expected for my first 200 in a while.

On Christmas day we set out for another ride.  TSK was worried that I'd over stretch myself with a hilly ride North but after my Christmas eve ride, I wanted to get my teeth into some climbing again.  It's also a while since the last North ride and I so wanted to ride somewhere different for once.

The North ride arcs around Emley Moor like a big question-mark then does a U-turn and arcs back around it the other way.  It turned out to be perfect for the Easterly wind because most of the day was accompanied by a side wind.  The occasional turns into the headwind were brief and often accompanied by an off-setting down hill. The tail winds were amazing and focused on the longer stretches of the arch of the Question-mark.

We arrived in Honley at Christmas lunchtime.  The pub wasn't a coffee kind of place, filled with middle-aged men wearing tracksuit bottoms and clutching pints.  We ate our cheese sandwiches sitting on a shop windowsills, backs to the wind, faces to the sunshine and drank coffee from flask cups.

At the North part of the loop, TSK grew concerned about where we were heading as I consistently turned away from Sheffield.  Sated by my directions of "that way!" we continued until the point of cross-coupling our inflection with the return journey and we debated the feasibility of getting home from an 80 mile ride to make Christmas dinner.  We decided that if we wanted Christmas dinner we should head for home but then floated the question of whether we cared about Christmas dinner and concluded that we really weren't that bothered so carried on our ride.  As the sun set, we really were both as happy as larry.

There was a minor debate about the location of Wooley Edge services at around 4pm.  Our cheese sandwiches really weren't going to last us the whole day.  The route, as it happens went straight past the motorway services and we chose the south-bound venue as it was slightly more modern.  We wheeled our bikes straight in the doors, propped them up against the railings around the costa seating area and selected food and coffee to see us through the rest of our journey.  We thanked the staff for working Christmas day and settled down to enjoy our feast of toasties, tiffin and cake and coffee.

We took one wibble out of the route, cutting straight home on the A61 which normally I wouldn't touch with a barge pole but on Christmas day there were a vastly reduced number of cars and no trucks at all.  We blatted along, practically traffic free, dodging pot holes and supported by a fairly crafty tail wind.  One last climb up to our house from Hillsborough and we fell through the door at 7:45pm.  An effective meal prepared of pasta sauce from the freezer, all washed down with some Christmas ice cream and a very healthy 9:45 bed time.

Scene set for the rest of the Holiday season and all of next years good intentions.