Sunday, December 23, 2007

Winter Solstice 200k - in which Trepid Explorer Discovers Some Courage

The Winter Solstice ride is a 200km route from Bredbury near Stockport to Malpas on the Welsh border, Whitchurch and back to Bredbury.
Getting ready to go

It was icy in the station car park at 7.30am as 15 or-so carfulls of nervy cyclists unpacked their pride and joy and cycled around the corner to Mike's parents house for tea, registration and use of the facilities. Our start was slightly delayed by TSK picking up a puncture between station and house but we rode out of Bredbury and through to Wilmslow with a small group of riders, chatting of sunnier times.

Noah's Ark Lane was our first taster of conditions on un-gritted roads and thankfully a number of riders had stopped to warn oncomers of the icy slick in the road. I already had my feet unclipped and posed as out-riggers so I could gently coast to an upright halt on the black ice.

We rode in the gutter or pushed our bikes for the next mile then finally began to ride again as the hazard eased.

The hazard was not gone from my mind though and as we neared Lach Dennis I was still flinching at every sparkle on the road surface, tensing at the slightest glimmer as my muscles made every attempt to have the bike levitate instead of sliding sideways.

Despite the temptation to stop, I continued beyond the end of the road leading to Jo's house and not recognising any more directions on the route sheet, declared myself committed to finishing the ride. Not so difficult on an A-road but the true Crise-de-Confiance came as we turned onto yet another frosty back-road. It was about 11am and the sun had still not warmed away even this open patch of ice-road. There was no blood in my feet and no courage in my soul. If this was what it was like at 11am, how would it be at 6pm, in the dark?

Recently I read Catherine Hartley's book about her being one of the first British women to walk (shamefully assisted and critically laboriously) to the North and South poles. I was remembering the rules of keeping going - just taking one more step. TSK did not want to leave me on my own, terrified - as I was - so I think he was very relieved when, seemingly out of the blue, I agreed to keep going. I didn't want to hold him back from achieving this 200km ride but truth be known, the ride was hard but allowing myself to quit would have been harder. Gradually, one more pedal stroke became one more laborious, slithering, braking mile.

I didn't skid properly again until we arrived below Beeston Castle, a fortified stone building atop a rock outcrop at the top of a very big hill (which we thankfully did not need to climb up). Shortly after, without due regard for the timed check-point we stopped in the in-aptly named "Ice Cream Café".
TSK ponders the sport of fishing in Vale Royal Park
Leaving the toilet block I finally felt the warmth emanating from the sun and inside the caf, I reversed my socks to put the dry side next to my feet and put the lambswool insoles in my shoes. Fuelled with soup, cake and tea, we made it to the check point with 5 minutes to spare and the organiser was gleeful to see us. They had actually given up hope and started to take down signs. Mince pies, bananas and a chat - later we started the next 3-hour leg of our ride with renewed hope and improved stability. The ice truly was gone and we arrived at the next check-point in Market Drayton with 30 minutes to spare. I sheepishly purchased 2 chocolate bars asking to pay for each separately and get two receipts for proof of our time. The attendant was now used to this but quite incredulous that we were part of the group that still had to get back to Stockport tonight.

Leaving Market Drayton with our lights lit we began what seemed like a never-ending folly of km clocking, constantly turning in the direction of towns we never arrived at or those we'd already been to earlier. However, some companions caught us up and we chatted for a while.

About the same time I took my tumble last year in freezing fog, they had been retiring from this event, beaten by the foul conditions. I didn't think it could be any worse! The young boy we rode with was quite accomplished at Audax, holding the most points for his youth category and having some all-year-rounder award for completing a ride every month of the year. After a while our body clocks parted company and we leapfrogged each other for the rest of the evening in between food stops and considerations for the route sheet.

At Middlewich stop my only craving at the petrol station was for peanuts for the salt content - crisps can not be eaten whilst riding. Stopping to get a receipt for food I did not want or otherwise that was not in the shop was low on my list of priorities and I was very snappy with TSK. My bad. I recognised the source of my irritability and added my waterproof layer to my legs to stop heat oozing out of the only part of my body still not protected from the wind. Sadly I was later to discover the freezing temperatures combined with sweaty waterproof pants gives me terrible nappy rash and I spent the rest of the week avoiding knickers with nothing less than the finest cotton on the list of ingredients.

The uplift of the evening was arriving in Goostrey - now about 6.30 pm when most people were thinking of dinner. The roads had been warmed by the sun all day and now thick clouds started to roll in to capture the heat. We seemed to burn along, the weight of ice lifted from our muscles as the tarmac puddles shimmered in the full moon light instead of the twinkling of ice. For once TSK was surprised by some ice - protected from the sun under a big tree. I, fatigued and oblivious, steamed through without a quiver.

At 7pm we phoned home with the update that the ride was taking 1.5 hrs longer than expected. I then had to ride 15 or so miles to Bredbury instead of taking the shorter route directly home to a steaming plate of beef casserole and a glass of warming sherry. I decided Audaxes on home teritory are not the best idea.

In Alderley Edge (where Posh S and D. Becks used to live) we lamented the lack of Christmas decorations (all at the ski lodge in Klosters probably) and decided the back road would be safer than the main road - never mind gritted, they probably get it de-iced with one of those sniffer vans with a big can of de-icer on the back. All those fancy cars and good lawyers. No council could let this road get icy.

We saw our little friend and his dad stopping off for more food and happily they arrived back at Mike's dad's house about 20 minutes after us. In the end we had reached the finish with 1hr 35mins to go before time was officially up, meaning we made excellent time in the last 50 miles of the day. Despite of an abysmal time of 12h30mins we were not one of the DNFs and I figure if I can do a 200km in winter, I can sure as hell manage a 300km in summer.

There's a space to be watched.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Do you ever get days where you want to hug your life?

My ride to work includes an extra lap around the lake. This week, the seagulls were standing on the water. Herons stand quietly amongst the reeds, watching for movements at the fringe of little ice floes. Robins flit nervously as I ride by. Critters scurry out of my way in the darkness on my way home.

I get to work and remove fleece leggings, overshoes, woolly socks, waterproof, fleece, hat, scarf and stand in the hot shower, letting it soak into my pores, stinging from the cold.

Sometimes I run at lunchtime. There are only a few people that venture out around the lake with spaniels for company. The spaniels are too interested in sniffing to notice me. A couple are hugging to keep warm and giggle as I run past because they didn’t know I was there.

At the weekend I raced. I concede that I have been poorly Trep but it still disappoints me that I have made only a little progress this year. I know I never make much progress anyway.

TSK bought me some rollers for my birthday. They’re not for my hair. They’re like a treadmill for a bike but the power to spin the rollers comes from me, not a machine. My back wheel drives two rollers that are attached to the front roller by a rubber band. That drives the front wheel of my bike around so that the bike rides in a stationary location in my hall way. Having never used rollers, I had a go for the first time last night. As suggested on the instructions, my first try was in the hall way… with walls at close proximity to each side of me to prevent me from literally riding off the rails and into the cupboard door at the end of the room – or worse, a wall.

I have a friend, Jen, who uses rollers before a race to warm up. She sits on her bike like the proverbial piffy-on-a-rock-bun spinning away, chatting. Should be easy right?


For a while I held on to the door handle on Steph’s room but that kept opening. Over and over I slammed it shut, resulting in me pulling myself dangerously close to the edge of the rollers.

TSK stood by my side with his arms around my waist to give me the confidence to at least hold onto the doorframe. Sadly, that didn’t give me enough mobility to attain a balance and he retreated to the kitchen, only to come running at my occasional werrbling noises.

I had a rest then returned to the task of rediscovering my bike balance. Like learning to ride all over again, I managed 20 seconds with both hands on the handlebars and as I called out to TSK, “I’m doing it!!!” he came to look and everything went pear-shaped. I grabbed onto the wall again.

So, the upshot being, I have to work on relearning to ride a bike. You can’t forget, you know, but it’s awfully hard to learn-better.

It has become apparent to me how some people are so good at what they do, lapping me every week at races and attaining those illusive top 10 finishes in National Events that I have only ever dreamed of.

I probably still need to perfect the art of eating perfectly and work on my speed and strength but TSK has bought me fitness in a box. The next few weeks I will mostly be spending my time holding on to the hall-wall and one day I will be a super-hero. I will!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Sweaty Feet

On Friday 22nd November, Burton in Kendal Travel Inn was the HQ for a team Pamplemouse attack on the Lake District. Their £26 a night advance rooms really are the business for us lessening hardy campers. Unlike some Travel Ins the BurtonIK one comes with a stocked breakfast bar at the motorway services.

Well fed on Saturday morning we visited Amblecity to buy TSK some new cross country running shoes to compensate for the slippery conditions of the weekend then rumbled the Vanu over to Langdale, unable to resist the pull of the place on a wet-weather forecast day when most tourists are in the area to see the switching of the Christmas lights. However, my ecological conscience got the better of me and we parked at Silverdale, just a short walk up the valley to Elterwater then over the tip of the dragon's tail to Grasmere on the other side of the fell. This fell-crossing gave us a brief feeling of peace and tranquility before we descended to the masses in Grasmere. Our efforts were rewarded by a rainbow and a sunbeam making us think, of the finger of god (or the national lottery "it's you" hand if you're less religiously inclined).

We sat down for our evening meal at Pizza Express, only to find the spag bol had been stolen from the menu and replaced by cheesy or creamy pasta. Not the perfect carbo-loading for the next day so I made-do with pizza and eating all the anchovies off the Caesar salad dressed with salad cream, no Caesar.

On race day it was pleasingly clear. Our revised strategy to focus on the bike ride was adjusted when we realised we've got really good at timing our bike ride and an urgent sprint back on the bike is much easier to achieve than one on foot. In compromise, we reduced the run time to 1.5 hours which matched with the high volume of points available on the bike section.

As we ran, we devised a strategy for maximising our points. This was almost hampered by TSK, choosing to cross a ford via the bridge, not the slippery stones. The bridge proved more slippy and with a whee-splat-ow he gained a hearty bruise on his knee and thigh, thankfully not slipping any further to what could have been broken ribs.

Ass on t'interweb
Me glad for a rest for my calves - tired from a day of walking without my new feet, we managed to resume running up the valley to the copper mines youth hostel where we scrambled beneath the stone bridge to check in for 25 points before emerging the other side to the amusement of a bystanding gentleman in full sow-wester gear who thought it hilarious weather for a run.

When we arrived at transition we felt ready to take on the world so attained the difficult 45-pointer first, opting to get the easy 30 and 40 on the way back. Our laziness was to become our demise as we flew past the 30-pointer on a roady downhill and then discovered we would've had time to go back for it. Nonetheless our policy of capturing check points via roads where it seemed more practical paid off as we made damn good time. Sadly, our errors led to us being bumped off our 10th series placing. Now we're really looking forward to next year: better luck (for the hell of it), better planning (starting the watch), better health (I missed the second event with flu) and better training (particularly since we're considering the endurance 12 and 24 hour events).

Talking of endurance, we drove to Aberdeen after the event, arriving at 9:30 to a warm house and the good company of Row and Oyv who bundled beer into our hands and showed us how to use the washing machine... and that was our Monday along with a walk in Aberdeen and a nice meal in the evening with much talk of travel in Norway and life in Scotland.

On Tuesday we rode through views of the coast, foxes playing in fields and a broken gear lever forcing me to limp home before it got dark pushing my biggest gear.

Wednesday's holiday was filled with little people as I accompanied Tracy on a day of feeding and changing little Andrea and playgroup-run, school-run and playing dinosaur puzzles with Thomas. My brain slept all day and relaxed with chatting and drinking tea before dancing with Andrea through mummy cooking dinner so that the crying would stop. She is just like me. Tracy marvelled at Tom for keeping on going all through the day after his rugby tackling game, dinosaur riding and puzzling. (TSK was out with his camera through all this - he's not silly)

On Thursday it was time for grown-ups to play. Chris, TSK and Dauntless accompanied me and the other MTBs in to Glen Lee to the South of the Cairngorm mountain. Alongside fields of green grass and rusty brown heather we grey-glistening crags, a week of rain making them glitter in our one-day-only special sunshine offering. Chris and I discussed our relative super-powers - his associated with the ocean, mine with the mountain. Each of us enjoying, to some extent, the other's territory.

The pleasurable ride up the Glen trail was nonetheless difficult with a roaring head wind to contend with but we were happy in the knowledge we were coming back the same way. In the sunshine we stopped to admire Queen Victoria's well before continuing to Balnamoon's Cave where Prince Charlie was rumoured to have once camped out for a wee while. Unable to find the path that crossed the raging river we pushed out bikes through bracken for a while before ditching them and continuing on foot. Scotland is one of the few (nay the only) places I would leave a pile of expensive MTBs in a heap in a field unlocked. Still, we left them in a dip in the landscape to 'hide them from the enemy'.

Eventually, we concluded a river crossing was not achievable but we stood in awe within the confines of a craggy waterfall, the river carving a narrow trench through the stone, gurgling away from us. We contemplated the life of a pooh stick. We found a crossing point but the consequences of not landing the jump would've been imaginably terminal. TSK and I declared ourselves chicken and denied Chris the option as a newly fledged father of two. We agreed BPC would not have too bad a time living here for a while.

We rejoined the bikes hiding from the enemy. I curled away from the enemy - wind - behind Chris - the only man I know that makes a better wind block than TSK whilst we devoured sandwiches, dried fruit mix, jelly beans and some of Scotland's finest scotch before deciding bonnie Price would wait till summer.

(some of my favourite men)

With the wind flinging us, exuberant, back to the Vanu, at least 2 hours before sun-down we headed off again on the trail alongside Loch Lee - a busman's holiday for me as ever in Scotland.

After admiring yet another waterfall and collecting some Water for Chris to drink with his whiskey we were again flung back to the vanu to watch the sun setting orange over that red bracken and highland coo basking in what will always be their colour.

The only altercation to our vacation was a sudden change in the vanu's oil level from moderately OK to low low low. Tragically low. I replaced the filter next day (with the right one this time - oh how girlie) and all seems to be well.

Our last meal in Scotland had to be fish supper (fish 'n' chips to the rest of the world), or Haggis supper if you're Trep and sausage supper if you're 3. Oh yes, did I get a photo.

Saturday was a day for enjoying the rest of our holiday together, fixing the broken bike with a rather expensive upgrade and feeling sorry for ourselves getting another cold, again. That put me on a field on Sunday watching, for once, TSK get covered in mud and bruised. I'm saving myself for the National Championships in January (honest) for which my training starts tomorrow (honest).

Oh OK. Just for the cuteness factor.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

My flat smells of cat pee. The eternal reek of damp shoes.

I have had an amazing week. I just hope I can find time to tell you about it.

  • Last event of the Open 5 series
  • Meeting up with old friends in Aberdeen
  • Walking in the city
  • Biking in the Cairngorms
  • Tiring out a small boy so much he fell asleep eating his sausage
  • Meeting my mini-me
  • Fixing an oil leak in the Vanu
  • Getting home in one piece.