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.

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.