Sunday, February 18, 2018

The North West Passage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choices / choices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 16, 2018

Sick in the head

It's been a difficult week for riding.

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

I managed a run.

I was just tired of it all.

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

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

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

Keep your fingers crossed for me interwebz.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Cold, early, long, then short.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Long Lincoln.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.