Thursday, April 20, 2017

Braunton 150 2017

The history of this ride started on Thursday when we reached the M42 and I realised I had not brought my wallet or phone along with me.  Easily fixed, we picked up £100 in cash and popped into Taunton Tesco's to pick up a £12.99 phone and £10 top up - £14 with the discount.

This led me to wonder where I'd left the good Garmin - y'know, the one with the route on it.  On the window sill of course, waiting to receive satellite info, which presented the additional challenge of using a spare phone to download the ride data off an email I couldn't remember a password for then transferring to the other Garmin.

Three hours later we were pitched at Little Roadway campsite whilst I pulled together my stuff and TSK stormed data to get me navigated.  There was one thing left on my mind - no spare inner tube.  I could fix a puncture with patches but if I tore a tube it would be a game-over for the minor cost of an inner-tube.  The box of spare kit in the back of the car fixed that.  Sorted.  Everything else could eff off.  I was no longer going to look like a complete beginner! I went to load my saddlebag onto my bike.  Nothing.  It's no ordinary saddle bag.  It's 20 litres of strappy structural genius with massive velcros straps around the seat post and clips to hold it to the saddle in an easily removeable quick way and plastic stiffeners which help keep its shape over all terrains and it was missing.  It was all of those things, but it was not in my car.

I slowly recalled the inner debate about which of the two bags in the loft was mine and clearly I set both aside.

Somehow I refused to be beaten and from the genius box of spare things, soon rigged a 15 litre dry bag, my flip flops as structural support and three straps as a temporary kit carrier.  Everything essential went in it.  The rest either went on my bars, in my rucsac or got left behind.  I added a bungee cord to my rucsac.

Final packing list included: water, waterproof coat and bottoms, inflatable pillow, sleep mat and sleeping bag, down coat and booties (yes even in spring), wool baselayer, spare socks, gloves, hat, compass, chargin cables & battery, notebook, spare spokes, lighter, bogroll, leggings and jumper, tent, 1st aid kit, headtorch, red light (+spare), stove, pot, coffee strainer and coffee and a sachet of freeze dried food.

When we arrived on Friday morning I just had to find the hat I had just been wearing (took a good 10 minutes), load up my bags and I was good to go.

TSK was chatting with other riders and I watched a steady stream of very fit men arriving at the departure cafe carrying very little kit.  I wracked my brains as to what I could leave behind but I couldn't bring myself to unpack a thing.  I casually laid my hefty bike amongst the whippets and went in search of flapjack.

After a chat with Ian Fitz I was soon joined by Javier, somewhat immortalised by TSK at Ian and Lee Craigee's presentation on the HT500 in Sheffield.  TSK played Javier without his Spanish accent, partly out of respect and partly through fear that it would, "come out Scottish".  I could instantly see how Lee and Ian were drawn to this pocket rocket Spaniard who immediately thrust his hand out to me to introduce himself.

The flapjack went down nervously then Ben, the organiser said some words, and then there he was, picking his bike up next to me.  As the only female competitor I didn't need to introduce myself but he introduced himself and we set up up the hill.  I soon shot off sideways to let the masses pass by.

We were soon walking Yes, my lungs do work.  Thanks.

Javier pulled alongside and wanted to know my goals, "To finish and stay healthy?"

"Yes", I said, "and to come first woman".

He laughed and looked at my bike, gesturing at its load.  "I get cold at night" and asked him about his targets.  He muttered something about 30 hours, then 26 hours which I just didn't understand.  He might have a 20 minute turbo-kip.  "Ah, but I have a tent and coffee" I said.

"Where are you staying? Do you have a spot?  I come and find you!".

I wasn't sharing my coffee with anyone.

Nearing the top of the climb, Ian caught me up for a chat about pacing and pissing contests and survival.  He had been faffing in town and purposefully avoiding the pissing contests.  This is what I like about Ian.

We observed a minute's silence for Mike Hall which was spent deeply immersed in meditation on the beautiful singing chirp of the skylarks who chose to ignore the minute's silence in favour of the greater natural world.  It was a fitting tribute.

Some people shed layers before setting off and then pretty soon I was off the back and then just as soon I passed a group of three fixing a puncture and I was no longer last.  I caught up Andrew S, Rob and Scott and the three of us hopscotched until Rob and I got stuck behind a horserider who moved faster than us uphill but slower on the downhill.  It says something that it took us three goes to pass the horse.

A farmers wife came out of her house to cheer us by and then there was only me a and Rob to cheer for.

After the start, the hours of the day rolled by in a brilliant blur - as they tend to do on long rides.  All of the testing climbs and long, exhilarating descents morph into one roller coaster of joy.  What tends to stick out are the snippets of joy and pain shared with other people, creatures or your own mind.  Here are mine from this ride:

Riding past Arlington Court National Trust site. 14 miles in, this was my first potential cafe stop and I didn't need it.  The horror on the parking attendants faces as I rode past with all my kit.

Catching Scott and Andrew again in time to stop for lunch.  Sitting on the tarmac to eat sausage rolls, crisps and fruit and Ben visiting to see how we were doing.

Arriving at a bridge on a bridleway with a 2 ft high board to climb over and leaving the boys to haul their bikes over whilst I headed upstream to wade across the river barefoot.  They were gentlemanly and offered to help but that would break the rules of independence so I enjoyed my paddle instead.

Riding on the moors together before different strengths pushed Andrew out the back.  We passed through some frustratingly magical places to stop and bivi but it was too early.  Having already sampled the moorland water temperature I was sorely tempted by a swim but chose to refrain.

Scott's encyclopaedic knowledge of the calorie content of almost every known race food and his enthusiasm for the Tour Divide causing him to carry immensely lightweight compact kit which I didn't get to see in action.  I was definitely carrying too much stuff. His methodology for riding in the lantern rouge space put him with us.  When we happened across two ladies sitting by a river he had a chat with them about our ride.  He disclosed his intention to get to Minehead before stopping for the night.  Meanwhile I stood alongside, my hand cupped to my face whispering, "Well he is, but I don't have a clue where I'm going tonight".

The reality is, I did have a vague plan of 2 x 10 hour days of around 60 miles plus time to eat leisurely lunch and dinner and 30 miles left to finish the last day between 9am and 5pm.  This plan was designed to be A) easy to follow and B) Flexible.  I had some idea on sleep spots between mile 45 and 70 and between 100 and 120 miles, right up to sleeping at Little Roadway campsite as I was already booked in there with TSK though this would contravene the rules and wasn't really worth it since it was only 10 miles from the finish.

Sometime after the interactions with the girls, I got dropped by Scott.  I don't remember it so there's every chance it was a downhill or I stopped to faff with the straps on by bag.  I reacquired Andrew in the midst of a faff with my bags and a quick consult with my cheat sheet cold me we were not too far from a tea shop at 3pm with the afternoon's rain shower threatening to start so we gorged on tea cakes and tea and I bought flapjack to enjoy at a later time.  We bid hello to Rob as he stopped at the shop across the road.

With more moorland valleys than you can shake a stick at behind us, dinner was next priority ahead of a rainy forecast night ahead.  The pub at Winsford offered a reasonable menu and came with a local's recommendation so we chowed down and took one last opportunity for the day's wash.  I set off back into dusk with a red flashy light and soon switched it off for more off-roading.  I still felt like I was carrying too much stuff

Before Minehead, my cheatsheet offered brackeny morrland bivis on Exmoor which would have been nice given stary skies without any breeze but on a windy, wet night, I wasn't getting onto Exmoor without some guarantee I'd be off again pretty soon.  As the rain finally started to tip down at 9:30, I entered the stillness of one of those fine Devon country lanes which completely shelters you from the wind.  Unfortunately it climbed upwards very sharply.  After slopping up it for half an hour, to my relief it flattened out and stayed out of the wind.  It was 10pm and I was fed up of being rained on so time for bed.

Although I got settled quickly and was pretty tired, I lay awake until 12:45 although I didn't waste it.  In between light snoozing I pulled everything into the tent I needed then spent hours recharging Garmins, lights, cameras off my battery pack.  I ate scraps of leftover lunch and started outside for a pee during a lull in the weather.  In amongst my hastily and haphazardly packed kit I discovered I was carrying too much stuff - to be specific: an extra pillow, food pack and spare set of ear plugs.  Dear lord, protect my extra ears!

In the morning the farmer passed on his quad bike before I had time to dream of being awake and I ate snacks and drank coffee.  I did a rubbish job of the coffee but at least it was coffee.  Once awake, the farmer passed again and wished us good morning.

Andrew had also stopped nearby so we hit Exmoor together and agreed that it would have been really shit in the dark and rain as we bounced along the track hitting boulder after boulder and I thanked my indulgent self for buying sturdy shoes which take on foot-strikes and pedal-strikes without crushing into my feet. 

I grabbed a quick pecan slice in Wootton Courteney and listened as elderly posh men mansplained that I need to be careful around Exmoor ponies.. but only after he thought I was a man so I guess we let him off.

Then it was on to Minehead for an overly relaxing veggie breakfast before I realised it had hit 12:00 and breakfast became brunch and a desperation to get out of town.  I grabbed some water, fresh fruit and nuts and headed for the seaside.  

I turned the opposite way to Butlins and left Andrew behind as I cycled up the woodland trails, my Garmin losing satellites and getting me variously lost.  I decided to stop, eat apples and calm down at which point Andrew caught up again.  He had been feeling ill but now felt better.  I explained I now had all the food with me I needed and didn't expect to stop again except to cook up some dinner.  His plan was to stop in Porlock.  We rode out the climb and the cliff tops in some kind of synchronicity and then descended to Porlock together.   

Inland from Porlock, the route climbs uphill, again, starting with a beast of a climb where I lost my tail.  I battled around 2/3 of the way up with a 30 -40kg bike riding is always easier than pushing it when you have skinny arms.  

As I walked I must've entered that meditative state again as it suddenly became obvious to me how I could solve a problem I had experienced - my front roll (tent and sleeping bag) kept mashing into my front wheel every time I went over a bump.  It had gotten worse and meant I was descending too slowly and carefully.

In a shock of inspiration I realised I could easily rotate my Jones Bars by loosening two bolts and all of my stuff would be lifted over 1 cm - giving me more clearance to enjoy my dances on the downhills.

I found a sheltered spot behind gauze and dug-out my tools. The Allen key turned easily, hinting that the whole assembly had been sliding down for some time. I  set the bars position for something I thought I could cope with and sure enough I could ride downhill much faster.  Still, Andrew caught me up again and I explained my faff. We soon separated on the next descent and then I consolidated it after  I quickly stopped to fill up my camelbak with water from the river then set off onto farm tracks onto the moor.

I had a chat with some walkers who said they had seen another guy carrying the "same sort of stuff on his bike". The man fit the description for Scott and for a second I thought I might catch him until they clarified, "but that was ages ago". Oh.

I mashed on up the hill and onto open farmland.  The wind was blowing sideways now and I had to concentrate to keep my feet turning over.  As I pushed my bike through a bumpy rut, I nearly trod on the tiny newborn lamb lying in the path of my bike.  It bleated and woke me from my reverie.

"Oh no, where's your mummy?"  I looked around and couldn't see a lonely or distressed sheep.  There were plenty about but they all had lambs with them and were contentedly feeding.  The lamb bleated again.  I had to do something.  She was shivvering and sounded so distressed.  The sheep to my left had just given birth and was busy licking her lamb.  The chances were, this was the first of her litter and she had walked away from it to birth the second.

I set my bike down, picked up the lamb - which wasn't hard as it couldn't even stand itself - and walked across the field with it.  It paddled the air, shivvered and bleated so I cradled it like a baby, hugging the warm yellow afterbirth and muddy wool to my coat.  I spoke reassuringly, at the same time thinking, "Why me?"  I looked around for Andrew or Scott but they were nowhere to be seen.

The ewe eyed me suspiciously and then ran away from her other newborn baby! No no no! don't go away!  That was the worst scenario - two dead lambs.  Thankfully, she wasn't prepared to give up on the situation and hovered, torn between keeping her distance from me and charging me with an almighty head butt to stop me stealing her baby.  I made a brief attempt to get her to come over but realised I had no chance so I cuddled the two lambs together so that they were at least warmer as one unit and walked away.  To my relief, the ewe ran back to them.  She resumed licking her own baby, no doubt wondering what the hell she was supposed to do with this yellow, dirty one that I brought her out of the ditch.

I jumped back on my bike and followed Ben's wobbly track to the fence on top of the hill where I had to cross through a gate to the next field.  As I turned to close the gate, a land rover pulled up with a trailer on tow and I offered to close the gate but they were going in a different direction.

"Hey", I called out, "I found a lamb in the ditch, I put it over there with that ewe but it's very cold".

"Cheers", he said, laughing, "Do you have some agricultural experience?".

"My parents run a farm in Cheshire" I said.

It was a white lie but seemed more authoritative than saying, "I follow the Yorkshire Shepherdess on twitter and my godmother is a veterinary nurse".

He seemed pleased so I joked about ruining my new coat with ovine after-birth.  We chatted about the ride during which he also explained that he had seen Scott hours ago.  Offered him a lift apparently which left me wondering if Scott was "looking tired".

After my moorland experience, I bounced back down to more idyllic daylight bivi spots then climbed out again and finally rode over to the campsite at West Porlock - the most tempting-looking campsite yet. People bbq'd, kids played in the river, people were leading normal lives but I knew I had to keep going.

I was only at 48 miles for day 2, leaving me over 50 miles to complete on day 3. If I slept all night by accident or design there was a high risk I would fail to finish since days 1 &2 were 10 hours long already. Day 3 had its flatter sections but I didn't know how much of it was easier as it was difficult to tell from the route profile.

I did need to eat though and for a while I considered cooking by the river but then promptly decided to attempt to ride out of he valley into the sun for some warmth. It was too late though and I started to climb out of the valley in dusk.  The wind was coming straight down the hill at me. In a last-ditch attempt to cook in shelter and day light, I opted for a field gateway which offered shelter and 7 heifers who came to offer companionship and help my reasoning when I had no-one else to ask where the bloody hell I had put my lighter at 7am that morning.

Thankfully it wasn't a busy road or I may have had a steady stream of motorists checking on my well-being.  I layered up in down coat and waterfproofs, sat in the dirt and cooked water - enough to put 300 ml into instant pasta and leftovers for coffee.  The pasta cooked as I drank the coffee and all was well with the world.  The pasta filled my belly and the coffee stoked my brain.  I packed everything away and as I picked up my bike to leave, I heard the words, "Are you shitting me?"

It was Andrew - back from the dead again.  Pushing up hill and scoffing on a Mars Bar.  "I've eaten, have you?"

No, he was heading to the pub at the bottom of the next hill, did I want to join him?  No I said, I've got enough with me now to keep me going and I rather eat it and ride lighter.  I said I wanted to keep going to make up some miles before I stop.

"Do you want to put a number on that mileage?" he said.  He already knew my 60-60-30 plan and the fact I was behind.  "No, I'm just going to ride till I drop tonight", I said.

I got to the top of the hill.  As I'd started cold, he wasn't far behind.  We took a slight wrong turn and retraced our steps, just in time to be seen by a Land Rover heading out across the byway.

"Are you lost?  Are you OK?" they called out into the darkness.

Yet more lovely Devon people.  We convinced them we were fine and they let us set out down the hillside on our own before doing whatever land rovery thing they had come out there to do.

The trail plunged us into trees again and then finally out into a river path.  I set about tightening my rear pannier straps again and reinforced my resolve not to go to the pub.  I sent Andrew on his way so as not to hold up his refuelling and I faffed enough to be sure everything was secure before streaming through town without even noticing his bike locked up anywhere.  EmVee and I were on a mission and we were partly hankering after finding Scott somewhere along the way.

At what point the cutesy seaside town of West Porlock turned into rough forest trails, mud and tracks through the darkness I do not know.  I stopped caring.  I wouldn't have noticed Hillsford Bridge had it not been for a concerned motorist who just happened to notice a girl alone on her bike and waited just long enough at the junction to make sure I was OK before making his or her turn - or if it hadn't been for the long and very much deserved road descent just after.

Mainly, I just rode and rode and rode through the darkness.  My Garmin was being slow at picking up my location due to the tree cover and possibly reduced satelite traffic at night time.  I started to use my compass to determine which way the route went from the screen then which way I was *actually* oriented from real life.  It saved me retracing my steps.  When I finally hit the top coastal paths again I realised that the lights of Bristol were glinting at me across the channel which meant I finally had a good indicator of North without getting the compass out.  Sill, there were plenty of moments where I stood still in a field going, That's North so that's South so I need to go south east, no south west and that's south so west is that way, no that's east oh bollocks...

Arriving at Lynton was another world.  It was 11:45 on a Saturday night and the streets were dead.  Clearly a beautiful shopping boutique village by day, there wasn't a soul at night and I felt pretty privileged to be there traffic free.  I sailed through unnoticed and then descended through screeching owls to the South West Coastal path again, alone.  No cars, no ice cream vans.  I let myself through the gate and started the unrelenting climb back up.  At least it was rideable though I took some rests too.  At the top I found a gate locked with a padlock and chain.  It seemed odd.  Obvious busy tourist season, national treasure of a footpath and a locked gate.  I tried all three alternative gates and all three led to dead ends - a field, a yard, a driveway.  There was nothing else for it but to hooft my fully loaded bike over the gate and climb over after it.

From somewhere I found the mammoth strength to do so without having to release any of my bags.   I was still carrying too much stuff but, we were away.  Of course I felt guilty like I was trespassing and yet this was the bridlepath and the gate was fitted with all the same signs as the others, "Public bridleway, please close the gate".

In order to avoid disturbing the people whose peace must not be disturbed I continued up the road on foot so that I could turn out my lights.  There was hardly any natural light whatsoever so I had to walk, not ride, using the canopy of tree branches as a guide to the direction of the road.  Thankfully it was a clear road and there were no branches for me to trip over.

I was shocked to discover that the lockers of the gate were none other than the campsite!  I have so much to rant on this subject but it would ruin my post so I move on.

The gate at the top was wide open (obviously so that car drivers can arrive!).  So, despite the allure of the campsite, I trudged on and checked my cheat sheet.  Lots of clifftop riding (windy and dark) and then Hunters Inn.

I'd checked out Hunters Inn on Google.  It wasn't the kind of place you could score a bivi spot in the pub beer garden or the kiddies' play castle or the neighbouring field for that matter.  It was the kind of place where people book their wedding.  After the Inn, all roads led down steep downhills into woodlands with streams at the bottom and all roads were steep sided roads with strips of grass down the middle.

These streams resulted in cold-traps and the top of the hills were in the breeze so I had to stop on my way down a hill or on my way back up the other side.  Also, if I passed Hunters Inn, I'd have to keep going a long way to get away from those lanes and I'd have to stop before I got to the sprawling metropolis of Coombe Martin with all its trailer parks and holiday makers and Easter Sunday stuff.

The mileage tally, on the other hand, was reaching a much more successful 58 miles and so I would only have the 12 mile shortfall from day 1 to claim back on day 3.

As I'd been riding through Lynton earlier I had started to admire the wealth of audax hotels (bus stop shelters) starting to appear along bus routes.  What I could really do with at that point, I thought, was a shelter of some sort.  Perfect.  All I'd need to do was get my sleeping bag out and I wouldn't have to bother with setting up my tent.  Unfortunately the little lanes away from Hunters Inn weren't on a bus route and I continued to fight my way along lanes and then muddy byways for another 90 minutes before I eventually rounded a sharp corner to find none other than a three-walled stone building.  No roof but at least the forecast was clear and I was protected from the wind on three sides.

A quick check of the ground confirmed it was flat and dry and I set out my sleeping mat, my sleeping bag and finally my coat for added peace of mind if it rained.  I might get wet legs on my bag but at least my shoulders would be dry.

I lay down and pulled my coat over my face and nodded off.  I felt too exposed without cover on my face but that soon deteriorated into stuffy nightmares so I pulled back my coat and looked at the sky.  Tall skinny silver birch leaned over me like concerned doctors in theatre and beyond the stars glistened.  So many stars.  It was beautiful and I just stared at it for a while - happy in the knowledge that I was both dry and warm... but it wasn't going to lull me to sleep.

Eventually I conceded that I needed to rig some kind of cover to make my brain happy.  I dug out my tent and erected the flysheet, poles and pegged out the corners into an approximate tent shape.  I then dragged all of my loose belongings under the cover with me and felt much happier.  Finally I did the math.

Two days, 10 hours and 13 hours.  48 and 63 miles.  I still had 40 miles to go.  I knew it got easier but I was convinced it wouldn't be much easier.  If it was going to take me another 9 hours to finish and I had to finish by 5pm on Sunday then I pretty much had to be out of there by 8am.  But what if I slowed down?  I was worried about dog walkers discovering me and giving me a hard time.  I was worried about foxes stealing my shit or getting pissed on by passing pooches.  I set my alarm for 4:30 am to make sure I was up before the dog walkers Still, I fell asleep at 1:30 and woke up at 3:45am.

Close enough.

There's a theory that by taking a short sharp break, your body doesn't get into that cycle of regeneration that causes muscle soreness the day after (and the day after that).  That was how I felt.  I considered brewing up but didn't like the idea of setting the woods on fire or standing around waiting for water to boil.  I just put layers on and packed up my bike - all but one tent peg which proved impossible to find in the light of a head torch whilst staring at a woodland floor covered in silver birch twigs.  Everything looks like a silver peg!

I started walking.  At least the stars were gone, cloud cover insulated the trail and as I hiked up away from the trees I started to shed layers.

I focused on my new found role of fastest (only) woman this year.  It didn't occur to me that I might be the first woman to ever do the route.  I just thought of being the first woman this year.  I was more proud that here I was, out there, doing it. Almost competing. Not sleeping through the night.  I set my targets and I was exceeding them.  It was only when I reached the "bright lights" of Coombe Martin that I realised how tired I was.  Tireder than when I had stopped to sleep.  Tireder than when I woke up.  I thought of texting TSK to let him know where I was but I couldn't remember the name of the town I was in so still I trudged.  And boy did I trudge - up the 1 in 4 hill out of Coombe Martin then over minor lanes to Hele Bay and finally into Ilfracombe where the sun finally started to show its colourful glow over the Bristol Channel.  I felt no better for it.

It was still before 6 as I left Ilfracombe and nowhere was open so I started to leave up another effing big hill.  This time I just needed to stop.  For a moment I planted both feet on the ground either side of my bike, folded my arms across my bars and sleeping bag and put my head down.  I fell straight off to sleep, only to be woken by a man talking to his dog.  I looked up and he checked I was OK.

"Just having a little rest?"

"Yeah, are you alright?" I asked.

"I don't blame you," he said - more referring to the steepness of the hill and probably not realising at all that I'd been asleep.  He set off down the hill.

There was a bench at the end of the lane.  I locked my bike to it and lay out on the bench with the plants tickling my nose and snoozed until the plants and a passing car woke me again a few minutes later then ate some flapjack.  Damn that was good!

Some clifftop paths were coming.  They'd be relatively easy so I got myself the enthusiasm to continue and rode on to Lee.  In my new-found obsession with benches, I found a tap at the village hall in Lee and set about brewing coffee and whilst I waited for water to boil I consumed the rest of the flapjack and then snoozed solidly into my buff whilst keeping one ear out for boiling noises.

The vicar and his wife wished me a cheery good morning and then I packed up my stuff again and set off up the steep climb (footpath approved for event use) to the very weirdest of bike packing experiences.  Let's just say the organiser may have had complaints from plenty of other people but I'm going to leave it to say that at one point I ended up with EmVee's back wheel on my helmet after I jumped feet first off a drop-off.  Trail centres do not belong on bike packing events.

I didn't need the cheat sheet though to tell me that at the top of here was Lee Farm Shop.  I checked with a couple of holiday makers that there was actually a cafe and not just a shop selling cheese, milk and raw meats and I punched the air without any disguise for my joy when they said, "Of course!"

I ate a tea cake the size of my head, drank a hot chocolate to ease the muscles and slowly sipped at a raspberry juice drink to re-stock sugar supplies.  I also got a much-needed hands and face wash since I hadn't done so since Minehead and definitely not since the lamb-rescue experience.

And so I passed through the campsite where my tipi was pitched without any falling-over-and-going-to-sleep incidents.  It did however, trigger a long morning of checking with the Garmin just to see how many more frickin' inland loops there were going to be to this hellish nightmare - 2.  A run along the coast and then turning in for the final, flat time trial across the sand dunes to the finish.

Some of the diversions were pleasant.  Some of the diversions were boggy, ankle deep in mud and unfriendly.  There was a stretch of disused railway which led to a vertical wall of mud and all of the time my cranks and chain rings made a continuous grinding and grating noise which I ignored in the hope that it would last me these last 20 miles.

I forged my way through holiday makers, chatting and smiling with them at face value and at the same time cursing everything that went vaguely wrong - Garmins, my feet, the bike, the route, Ben, Andrew, Scott for making me ride so fast on day 1.  It was all my fault and I knew it but somehow chuntering and swearing made it all more bearable and the lovely people enjoying their holidays were tolerant of my squeaky bike, dirty legs and exhausted expression and many of them encouraged me up short climbs that I otherwise might have given up and walked through.  I valued this because at the end of the day, getting off the bike was almost as uncomfortable as pedalling the damn thing.

Riding around the golf course at Saunton I got particularly caught up in a coughing fit and had to retrace my pedal strokes in shame around the 9th hole.  I exited onto the Old American Road where holiday makers on their new bike to work bikes wobbled along on the clear bit of roadway and made me bounce my sore lady-bits over the rocks on the un-worn bit of the road but I still smiled and waved.

Somehow I found it in me to out-run a mini and its entourage down the single track road approaching the beach car park (speed bumps and oncoming traffic held them up in passing places) and brought myself enough speed to actually enjoy the final road miles in to the village of Broughton.

I honestly couldn't believe I had made it and punched the air in joy, much to the delight of my welcoming committee: TSK, Ian Fitz and my friend Helen Elmore who had come out to wish me congrats.  Javier showed up too to say goodbye before his commute to London and I ate a lot of pizza whilst Fitz photographed me for finishing proof.

TSK informed me I was the first female to complete ever (like, in two years) and Ian told me then that a few guys had scratched because of the bad weather on Friday night and finally, for the first time all weekend, I actually didn't feel like I had packed too much gear.

A roadie who had been eating in the cafe asked me if it was too early to ask me if I had enjoyed myself and my straight away answer was yes.  It was too soon.  Right then I hated it, but right then I also loved it.  The pain of getting there, the satisfaction of getting there.  The cold, the riding at 5am in shorts and a vest.  The nerve damage in my toes flaring up, the dull numbness in my brain where nothing matters but turning pedals, finding dinner and a flat piece of land.  The absolute attention to detail and the complete simplicity.  Within 2 hours I went from, "Shit that's the hardest thing I've ever done" to "How can I do this better next year".

And that is the note on which I'm ending this post.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Stanley & his Plan

Commitment What do I need for the job
ownership Essential Significant Desireable
responsibilty Brakes issue sorted Time More physio
excellence Challenges
Hurdles Barriers  Pitfalls
Need to get faster Have to train Unwell Focus on what you can do Work stress Keep handing things over
Need to slim down Have to eat sensibly Injured Focus on what you can do Work stress Cut negative conversations short
Need faster transition  Ride without gloves Work time Manage hours  Focus on your own work
Nowhere to stay Need to book the camp Ignore others chimps
We have a new training plan.  If I stick to it as best I can I will be as successful as I can be. Foundation stones
We have more rest stops and more specific intensity than before Target Goals Maintenance Goals
Before, we put too much emphasis on following a heavy workload without rest or fun weight 60kg Completions at 80-90%
We are doing more bike miles for fun, more fast running. We can enjoy shorter swimming 27/07/2017 AdH 2 weekly sessions swim bike run
We have rescheduled the plan to start from where we are now - a little behind on swimming. 23/04/2017 Stockton 52, 1:14, 25 120km bike strength every day
We have learned new strength exercises which really improve running and cycling 21/05/2017 Slateman 12 or 24, 2,1:15 18km run
We have a route plotted out that we can repeat for successful bike training. 04/06/2017 Chester 30,1:20,50 1 mile swim
We started working towards lifting weights.  Now we can put it into action. 02/07/2017 Ripon 29:30,1:15,47 21 mile run
I'm going to return to training to get faster
I'm going to eat properly to slim down.  I will go shopping for healthy fruit and veg and eat good food at work, not bad.  Daily salad box walks are in.  I will leave my waterproof trousers at work.
I will just have to put up without cake for a  while.
I'm going to learn to love fruit and tea again and I'm going to have the occasional small glass of wine. Planning for excuses
I will manage my injuries and illness and continue to do what I can while I recover work's too important devolving opportunity to others
I will start listening for my "go home from work" alarm and adjust it if I get into work late Too tired Control your hours - get to go home
I will continue to hand over work tasks to colleagues.  Opportunity sharing!. hunger/boredom Get a walk outside
I will cut negative conversations short - even my own and focus on my work priorities. resting in a sulk use the time to meditate

I will listen to others Chimps and then manage them.
It won't matter if I don't hit my target times.  I would like to feel like I've done really well, however I do.
If I put the training into AdH I will come out of it better than I did Kielder because I won't have a silly swim to contend with.
I will have the great training rides as outcomes for future reference
How do I deal with not meeting goals and targets?    I'm likely to sulk.   But nowadays I'm taking my chimp out on some silly long rides that will help it stay worn out and motivated by endeavours and adventure
I will measure progress by metres climbed as well as distances ridden but I do need to keep doing the miles.
How do I encourage those miles? I can work on a balance of long miles and heavy weights sessions.  The diversity of the two should bring results - new approach
I'm going to keep the philosophy of not saying no to things I want to do because it makes me a better athlete and a happier person and I surprise myself.
I'm going to post all of these and highlight my top motivators and post them on my desk and bedside drawer.
Want to give up? Outcomes / Weaknesses
Why do you want to give up Success Complacency - forgetting the effort
Can you change anything before you give up? Fear of being unable to repeat
Can you find a different approach? Accept post-race blues & plan the celebration
Who have you talked it through with?
What are the advantages to giving up your dream? Part-success Acknowledge and celebrate partial success but continue to encourage the chimp
What are the disadvantages to giving up your dream?
What are you going to do when you stop? Failure Get perspective
Stages of grief.
Helping to stay committed Denial
Time management Yearning to hit the reset button
Work effectively Bargaining (if only)
Prioritise and don't get distracted Anger or seeking explanation
Do one thing at a time Disorganisation - acceptance and depression
Avoid negative people Reorganisation - make plans to move on.
Listen to / seek advice
Don't be indecisive, it takes up too much energy.
If you lose motivation, say, "fine, let's not do this".  You'll soon be back at it.  Give the chimp space to shout.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Magnificent 7

Recce fresh / Racing tired

1 - Hangram - 7:16 vs 6:47
2 - Blake Street - 1:44 vs 1:28
3 - Thrush Street - 2:35 vs 2:12
4 - West Lane - 11:30 vs 10:28
5 - Jawbone Hill - 11:24 vs 10:14
6 - Hagg Hill - 4:47 + 2:49 = 7:38 vs 7:45
7 - Foxhill - 4:12 vs 11:56 vs a different route

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Clumber Duathlon 2017

A new race for me this one.  It usually clashes with the offroad duathlons in the Lake District, now faded into obscurity.  Possibly this is a good thing as (much to my annoyance) I tend to do quite well at the cleaner stuff.

I haven't done much training for this.  My running base was good and then I went skiing and everything fell apart.  Quite often skiing makes cycling better but I've spent so little time on the bike since skiing (except for short road rides to work) I am not really in good bike shape either... or so I thought.

I managed a run-bike-run two weeks ago and enjoyed myself immensely but then screwed my shoulder up sneezing in the cold last week and have been off running (except once) ever since.  That one outing resulted in a stiff back, knee and hip all down my right side where I over-compensated for the pain in my left shoulder.

So I had no idea how today was going to go except I expected to get dropped out of the back of the women's field in a shot and that I would suffer on the bike.  I didn't so much get spat out the back as dangled about in the mid-field being passed by the next wave of men.  I drafted on the return trips - both laps, same woman (clearly she wasn't learning!).  The first lap, I put some effort in to stick with her to the end of the run then realised we had another lap to do.  I let her go whilst we had a tail wind then caught her up again at the turnaround point and drafted her all the way back a second time.  Damn that second lap seemed long.

I consumed some bar and an energy gel.

Next, the bike.  I forged through a group of around 5 people fannying about getting on their bikes and hopped on and away.  Spent the entire ride passing the same people.  I was flying on the flat and downhill stretches and still struggling on the up hills.  Add to that, every time I attempted to put any effort in, one, the other or both legs would go into cramp that threatened to knock me off my bike from time to time.

I always managed to keep them at bay by easing off the pedalling or freewheeling a stretch but those same people kept drifting back past me.  There was some serious banter going on by the fifth time I passed the same people... something about me being on a downhill bike.

I forced down as much fluid as I could and bolstered it with another gel and eventually took on some more energy bar.  After around 35 minutes and into the second lap I actually started to feel normal.  Also something to do with a change in philosophy around where I put my effort in and where I coasted.

I can't remember whether those people I was playing cat and mouse with were behind me or in front but I did start making up some new places on the final stretch into the park and back into the headwind.  Through the last avenues of the park, all strewn with pine needles and bits of grass and speed bumps, marshalls were shouting at me to slow down but what they didn't realise was any cessation of pedalling would cause my legs to cramp upon which, I was much more a danger to others and myself than the speeding, competent rolling me - even if I was on a twitchy tt bike on gravel.

Finally, the dismount line, more people yelling at me whereupon I competently rolled to hop off the bike with a stride across the line and ran into transition against the cramp.  The change of shoes was a very welcome opportunity to bend over and stretch my hamstrings.  And, check me out!  First race of the season I actually remembered to take my helmet off!

Hobbled into the second run but soon found my pace again.  Shocked by how much easier it was to run than ride.  I passed one or two other women but that was it.  After that, I just managed to hold my place - or that's what it felt like.  There were still plenty of guys passing by but they didn't matter as I'd already had a 2 minute head start on them so they were all going to be travelling faster than me.

It was so nice to only be doing one lap but the 5km turn around point was so much further ahead than the 2.5km turnaround for the sprint race.  I was glad I had my watch to pace my distance.  The run back was net down hill so I enjoyed it immensely.  Final straight and one of the guys sprinted to pass me, duh, mate, you're at least 2 minutes ahead of me but anyway, well done, you think you beat a girl.  Congrats.

Got my Erdinger.

Job done.

Run 1 - 52:15min 7th fastest run
Bike - 1:17:14h
Run 2 - 26:18min. 11th fastest run

T1 - 1:47(55th - need to run with my gloves on!).  T2 - 1:13 (35th)

Absolutely bugger all idea of the results compared to everyone else due to computer meltdown.  Hey ho. Tomorrow is another day.

Results in: Overall - 2:38:46 335/459, 51/95, 11/21
Run 1 - 379, 61, 14
Bike - 327, 43, 8
Run 2 - 319, 53, 12

Winner's time in AG 2:28:23 which puts me in with a fleeting chance of a trip to Spain this summer to represent the country again!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Things to be proud of this week

In pursuit of "experiences not things", when my seat post broke this week I took time to go to my local bike shop and found a bit that cost me £2 in their beer-fund tip pot instead of £50 for a new (much coveted Thompson) seat post.

Instead of saying "no" to a fun event in Sheffield where lots of people I admire will be riding bikes, I spent a full day cleaning bikes thinking, "if it's still open this evening I will enter it".  It was open.  I did enter it - much to my horror.  It is less than 24 hours after the start of a national-level duathlon world qualifier event in Clumber park.

I went online to spend a voucher I got for Christmas.  In the end I put 5 items in my cart including a skirt, the shoes that will forever resolve my issues with wearing skirts and a few tops in order to help me make my mind up and one pair of work pants.  The total value was £146.  I removed all items until I was left with the work pants at a much reduced (thank you Aunty Anne) value of £30 to me.

It's a boring and practical present but I will wear them with joy.

I went out and recce'd the ride I've entered.  The point is to race up various hills in Sheffield.  We will then be escorted at an (allegedly) easy pace to the next hill by a lead car.  I rode to the start (as I had intended to do on the day) and in doing so, I inadvertently completed some of the 6th and the whole of the last hill climb of the route.

Retracing some of my steps, I started the ride and got the second climb out of the way without incident - although it became apparent that it would be useful to know where these climbs end so that I can put the proportionate effort into each one.

The third one was rather close to home.  The dreaded Blake Street.  The hard part is avoiding the pub at the top.  Then it was a roller-coaster ride around Walkley to the scary Fern and Thrush Street which has a cobbled top.  At this point I could have fallen into my own back yard but I persevered back around in a circle and into the Loxley Valley for a little jaunt up next to the Garden Centre.  I've only ridden this climb a couple of times and probably bailed out at the garden centre for tea as a result.  I definitely had to dig deep on this one and was glad it was over...

Over the hill to Oughtibridge more like.

I've never linked these two places together (REEEEALLY?) in my head.  I crossed the one way system in Oughtibridge and set off up the climb.  Sooo steep at the beginning.  Me and this hill had history.  I paused to wonder whether to continue.  Where did the route go next?  I zoomed out and discovered that this climb was an out and back.  How would I know I could do this ride if I gave up though?  But I *know* this climb - why bother?  I could rest up for next week.  But something made me keep going - stubbornness, a need to know how hard it will be next week?  I don't know but I was glad I did.  Eventually the road relented and I set about enjoying the climb all the way to the top then looped around and let rip back down the hill (the direction I usually use it).

There was a nice long recovery ride and plenty of downhills to Middlewood before I was confused into thinking I was snagging another hill where the ride cuts around Dunella Road back to Malin Bridge.

Dunella Road is steep and it's not even on the list of climbs that we're racing.  I could hardly get up but thankfully we turn off and descend through the edges of Wadsley to the Rivelin Valley.

Time to go up the Rivelin Valley to the dreaded Hagg Hill.  I never ride up this and it's yet another climb on my doorstep.  This one nearly had me off and walking.  I managed a couple of zig zags in between cars but otherwise I was lurching between standing and sitting and wheezing through my final breath as I rounded the top corner of Hagg Hill.  It's the 6th climb of the day and I bailed out half way and turned for home (the actual race climb continues to the top of Stephen Hill Road which I had ridden in the morning).  Although my intention had been to ride back to the finish and then ride home, my legs weren't going to make it.  I'd done the route (albeit in a funny order) and now I know my limits.

Something tells me I won't be riding out to the start next week but I did it as a leisure ride in 3 hours when the anticipated race time is 4 hours so I should survive, in theory so long as I don't have to wait around too much.  I'll be riding most of the ride in a peloton and there won't be any traffic light stops.  On the flip side, I'll be exhausted from racing the day before.

Last year I said I wouldn't say no to anything and this is just a (somewhat foolish) extension of that.  As part of my vision that this stuff is just things that I do day in / day out (give or take the odd rest day), it all contributes to me getting off the sofa more often than not.

Roll on next week.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Getting out

In terms of things I am good at, multisport is up there. I am not the best but I am pretty good at doing a bit of diverse training then giving it my all and what comes out at the end is alright, particularly at regular, fast standard distance racing.  Once, just once, this has got me into team GB to race abroad where I did not finish last.

The fact that I id not make that position last year just validated how bloody hard I worked to get in the first time around.

My problem is though, the endurance bug won't go away for me and I am not very good at endurance tri. For a start I won't let myself do any of the big, expensive easier races where I can, potentially test myself against others and for seconds, I am clinically incapable of spending the necessary time in cold water. I love swimming outdoors but I just can't make it last.

I am not interested in spending the hours on long distance running so all my hopes get pinned, regularly, on the prospects of long-distance cycling again.

I am an avid reader of the Audax UK mag that regularly lands on the doorstep. Last year whilst fretting about Torino Nice I electronically followed Lee Craigee around the Highland Trail 550 and Emily Chappell around the Trans Continental Race and realized that this glorious form of racing exists which combines my other three favourite things: cycling, camping and eating.  TNR no longer seemed at all daunting.

We first heard of bike packing in 2014 when we were returning from a Celtman reccee and fell into a hostel on our way home through bad weather. A man in the bar in cycling kit, looking sorry for himself told us of his woes in this mysterious event which involved a dynamo on his mountain bike and many unsupported days in the highlands to complete a previously undisclosed route. TSK was vaguely interested. I was too consumed by Celtman to consider it at the time but something he said tempted me: not many women do it.

Now, like my friend Claire, I have usually been one to just get out there and do something - if I fancy it. I don't need talks from other women and self help books, training courses, presentations or classes but actually getting my ass in gear to try bike packing took more energy.

20 years ago the Polaris challenge existed and at the time I thought that was mental: a weekend in winter carrying all your kit on your bike with a mate. It was kind of a mountain marathon for bikes. Dan Loftus would totally have done it with me but it never crossed my mind to try... and goddamn it, 1997 was probably when I was most capable at the age of 23.

At that point in my life, travelling with bikes was conceived in the more traditional sense of panniers, racks and a comfortable tent and stove and nothing vaguely you'd want to take off-road. Though I did try once.

In my year out of uni when I had a little cash I had my boyfriend leave me in the Lakes after a climbing club weekend away. On the Monday, I packed my gear into a large rucsac and attempted to ride with it. I quickly realised that wasn't the way to do it and headed straight to the nearest town to buy a rack and panniers and post all non-essential gear - including the rucsac - back home.

From there I cycled to the nearest hill and tried to climb it with my new rig. After a few hours of pushing on High Stile I rolled into the posh campsite above Keswick and declared myself done with mountain bike touring and spent a few days doing road rides before ringing home to beg to be picked up.

So last year, Torino - Nice came and went and it was good and fun. The cyclo cross season passed without adventure and then there was the Barebones Church or Chapel with an equal emphasis on fun. Another flexible route with no particular start or finish.

In amongst my enthusiasm for Triathlon and what I am good at I continue to hanker after long and successive days in the saddle. Lee Craigee's book is published which only serves to encourage that sense of being 'at one' with my ride... and other cliches - that sense of there being nothing else to do but ride, sleep and eat.  I have been hounded by so many eloquent expressions of what this sport means to me.

I have an inkling that given the chance to bring some of the bike packing comfort and mentality to audax, I might manage some of the rides I once considered unattainable. Having sworn off overnight riding in 2010, I can't help but imagine what might be the outcome if I rode with my sleep mat, a lightweight sleeping bag and a bivi. The opportunity of a 30 minute power nap in a woodland over propping myself up in a stinking service station at 4am? Replacing a scout hut occupied by 75 snoring men with a grass verge and my luxury bivi? Makes long distance Audax all seem more possible.

Still, following a cyclocross season of short races and otherwise laziness followed by skiing, I was feeling pretty shit about my ability to ride a bike for any period of time. Shame, because I got up to 65 miles over Christmas and we did 65 very hard miles during Church or Chapel.

It was only 5 week's ago. Writing this, I am wondering what I am moaning about but sadly it really does feel like my endurance riding has decayed to nowt.

And so, with 6 weeks to go we have entered our next adventure and with the knowledge that every training journey has to start somewhere, I proudly set aside today's intended rest day from my triathlon schedule in favour of another ride.

Yesterday 25 miles (plus 15km running which counts towards mountain bike training too right?) 25 miles turned into 31. Today a short easy ride turned into another 20+ miles (missed logging a few) and it wasn't all flat either. The weather contributed extra brownie points by tipping it down on us and whilst my legs suffered from the previous days running my stomach suffered a bout of being a woman all the way from the end of our cake stop to home.

With substantial soggy clothing, cold hands and a good dose of industrial estate riding to get us home I can't claim it as one of my favourite rides but there wad an element of type ii fun to it and mostly I am proud. Proud of myself for getting off the sofa, proud of myself for making the first move, not just for bike packing but for Alpe d'Huez too and proud of myself for starting to be awesome again. Not just normal because maybe even the three sports of triathlon aren't enough. Maybe I need the excuse as to why I am not good at any one thing. From now on though,  I just want to get good at getting out and that will do for me.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

A Perfect World

There's a bare  space of a wall on the way down the hill from our house. Ironically, it's on the way into town. It's where a window has been bricked over.  Someone has painted a picture frame in the square and inside in tidy, stencilled lettering, written, "the best things in life aren't things".  Over time it has led to the mantra, "Experiences not Things" as I try to save my money for holidays, not stuff.

I have been pretty comfortable for a while now. I earn a reasonable amount of money. I live in a modest house with damp problems but I like where it is and I can afford to buy what I want. I take my job very seriously, I work very hard, sometimes too hard. I don't have to, but it helps, if I want to do well and earn more money. At the same time, I was unhappy. Despite my situation I couldn't afford anything major - the repairs to my house, a stove installation, a new Vanu. Why?

Because when I say, I can afford to buy what I want, I generally did. I moved a bunch of socks into a partially full drawer and weeks later, my sock drawer was overflowing again. I have 2 cycling waterproofs - summer and winter - in excess of £200 value and two less breathable ones that fit in pockets. I have so many sports baselayers I have nowhere to put them and casual tees are reaching breaking point.  There are then the two three windproof tops - 2 for running, 1 for biking as well as gilets and excessive levels of club kit for both biking and tri and duplicate items for fell running. The expensive Rapha fleece leggings I managed to buy with seemingly only one week of winter left to go and to my shame I finally own a mobile that costs as much as a PC.  I do much of this shopping in the depressing months leading up to Christmas, leaving myself wanting for nothing and leaving me searching to find somewhere to put all the stuff I get at Christmas along with the existing shoes and posh clothes I never wear because I don't really do socialising and most of my friends and family are now married and have their kids.  Work skirts and dresses that I don't wear anymore because trousers are most practical for site.

So if I've told you I am a bit broke this year. I am sorry. It is both a lie and true. I don't have any money but I have a lot of things I want... or I think I do.

Appart from the house, I don't have much debt. This suits while I have a company car. My farming background prevents me from getting loans. They make me feel a anxious. A lot. I watch them interminably until they go away, like they will ever change.

This year someone I work for told me that all the hours and effort I had put in were worthless. Where my big oaf of a predecessor was a leader, I was not fit. I have spent the back end of last year clearing up the shit that my predecessor and his "team" left behind.  The person who told me I wasn't getting a promotion did me a massive favour.

After I stopped crying (partially through disappointment but mostly through frustration) I decided that I could stand to work less, even if it meant getting paid less.  I went ahead and put in a flexible leave request. Women of my age are within their rights to request part time working to spend more time with their children. I have always said that I don't have children, I have bicycles. I have decided that I want more time to spend with my bicycles.

To my surprise, my request was granted and 30 days pay will be taken from my salary pro rata over the 12 months starting from February. The original euphoria: of trying to figure out just what exactly I might do with my extra 30 days leave - yoga retreats, days off before holiday to pack instead of wasting my time together with TSK in a grumpy cycle of hunt-the-tent-pegs, days off to recover from races, solo bike packing holidays... oh, the list.  It started to look like the ultimate backpackers adventure. Globe trotting fuelled by momentary lapses of working except not secretarial work in some dull office but a real job, my job, thrown in for good measure. It started to look like my dream.

Then the anxiety struck. Our HR outsourced. Doing something non-standard. First I get the letter to confirm my leave is signed off and to indicate the amount of money to come out of my salary. It's a significant amount - enough to take me below a threshold that I have become used to.  I reassure myself that this will be taken at source and therefore make a much smaller impact on my paycheck.

Next came the letter from the tax man telling me what I would be taxed on next year. I was confused because I seemed to be earning much more than I thought but that  is just my car and health benefits no?

Then my boss asked if I had heard from HR.  I refuse to get up hopes of a promotion after what happened last time so just say no, except for the leave approval, I've heard nothing. I hear nothing from HR for weeks.

As February drew on, y'know. That month. You've no money left because you used it to pay for January's credit card (Christmas) and you just went skiing so March will be worse and you HATE HATE HATE paying the bank anything because you're a farmer's daughter and the banks are scum but still you do a balance transfer for 12 months because it's cheaper than the credit card fee on the ski holiday which you'd have to pay for in March anyway and every year you insist you're going to save up for it but you never do.

Every time I went near a shop I deployed the mantra: experiences not things. Some things still happened but I did an ok job of managing them.

It was a little too late when I realized that, mathematically:

credit card bill > money I may or may not have at the end of the month. 

Still, I took an immense sense of joy from reducing my spending.  In my determination to spend less time at work, things got fixed, not replaced. I took great satisfaction from being at home doing things instead of going out spending and I aimed to ride my bike more instead of driving. This only transpired this week but, better late than never.

This is serious now though. What, I think, is the point of all that extra time off if I can't afford to go on my long list of holidays. Cheap trips aside, I still have to get to the Alps twice and potentially a ferry to Rotterdam and maybe Canada too. Never mind all those great things I want to do with the house.

So it was with great caution that I opened my pay cheque yesterday and with great relief that I discovered that only 1/12 of my present pay has been docked. Not 1.5/12 as I expected or worse, as implied by HR. The hint is that the deduction is small because I am being paid more. Somehow I have landed a small, unconfirmed promotion. Who knows?

Anyway, it seems my lifestyle is safe with its expectations of Alpine holidays and skiing but also the quiet and inexpensive UK excursions and, I have to say, my new found enjoyment of thriftiness.

And so, still looking forward to holidays and home refubishments and maybe I will save something so I don't feel permanently broke and who knows, one day we may stop living in a puddle and have a lovely wood burning stove to suit.