Saturday, August 30, 2008

Wild Wales Challenge Madness

There are days when the alarm rings at 6.15 and it doesn't annoy me so much. Those are the days that I am on holiday and there are important things to be done. It is best when those things are not work on my house but they are epic bike rides.

Efficiently fed and caffeined-up we headed for Bala leisure centre and queued to get our start-time signed before cycling into the Welsh mizzle.

The beginning of our ride was reccied on Saturday, along the quiet side of Bala Lake (or Llynn Tegid as the Welsh prefer to call it). By the time we got to the turn-off for the hills, the mizzle had stopped and the sun was set in to shine all day (through gaps in the cloud as only it does in Wales).

We soon turned off the main A494 towards the harder terrain of the Trawsffynydd Mountain Road. As the slope steepened we stood on the pedals, then started to strain then finally resorted to walking. I don't mind telling you this since the grade was 14%, it had been going on for over a mile and there were 80-odd miles to go. I had deliberately elected to ride this event on my higher geared lightweight racing bike that I will use for the 3 Peaks next month. TSK did suggest it would be easier to do the Wild Wales on the heavier 'Lovely' with the lower gear ratios... and he was right. I had, however, argued that anything I couldn't ride up could be run up with the race bike. Therefore, confirming my confidence in my ability to complete the 3 Peaks in September and ply me with excellent training opportunity and the knowledge I could sit on my new £64, 9g saddle for the desired time period.

All across Trawsffynydd mountain, stretches of 10% - 14% road reared their ugly slopes as we progressed doggedly along. I am happy to report that I rode up all of them, short and sharp as they were.

Finally, in a long, open stretch of moorland the descent away came into view with the occasional gate and cattle-grid just to make it interesting.

The long descent finally dropped back into forest. Descending away from other riders, as is the way of Trep, I drew up to a gate being closed by a farmer. As they set off up the hill, I called out, "car" to any of my companions on their way down the narrow lane. I opened the gate to let myself through and could hear shouting back up the hill. I stood for a moment, gate in hand, trying to figure out what the men in the landrover were yelling. Turns out it was, "shut the fucking gate". I took the time to say a frustrated, "Give me a chance!" in my best sarcastic girlie voice before feigning a closed gate and waiting to open it for TSK and the others following-on close behind. All before, I must add, finally closing the gate once and for all. Apparently the herd of invisible cows did not escape as a result of my courteous act.

Further into the woodland lanes, an oncoming MTB rider found himself facing the Shall-remain-nameless CC, aiming to power past me. On the tight road, the poor bloke nearly wheelied into the bushes, stil clipped in. Whilst I worried for his safety and the event's reputation, the shall-remain-nameless CC seemed content to yell, "learn to ride" at the unsuspecting member of the public. Rarely has an entire group of my companions stirred such annoyance in me but I suspect pack behaviour was somewhat to blame so I kept my mouth shut..

Into the feeding station at Llanelltyd for a chat with the man wearing an "Etape" jersey. 160km followed by the Alpe d'Huez climb... and all before the Tour de France entourage arrives to finish the day... though that's another year for us, it's still nice to hear someone else recommend it..

We are ahead of cut-off time by 2 hours but still leave control quickly so we don't seize-up. A short stretch of smooth main road then over the wooden slatted river-bridge, tolls paid by our entry fee. The impending mass of Cadair Idris ahead told us that more climbing was on the menu. A promising start, then into a massive sharp left turn, the text in the instructions giving the clue, "left turn up sharp hill signposted Youth Hostel". TSK, following what instructions I choose to divulge to him, was in the wrong gear and struggled valiantly to stay on and find the right gear. After two punishing switch-backs on a 17% hill, both of us were on our feet again. This time I decided to stick to my promises and started to jog, keeping the loud-mouths from the Shall-remain-nameless CC bemusedly riding along beside me at a runner's pace, heaving and hauling, yet desperately still on their bikes. It is my silent revenge for earlier.

Up on the moor again and my friend Mary catches up for a chat. A boy wearing a polka-dot king of the mountains jersey calls, "coming through" and, ever the mule, Mary follows the boy, passing him back. I'm not saying Mary's an ass but honestly, he asked for it. It would be rude and cruel for me to divulge his nickname for the day on air.

Lunch is in Barmouth after we cross via the rail/footbride and queue to pay our £1 toll. We bump into a man we met on the "Hills & Plains of Cheshire" Audax in July. We find a sandwich shop serving hot pork, apple sauce, gravy & stuffing baguettes and find it is just the job.

Traffic is frayed between Barmouth and Tan-Y-Bont but everyone survives the patience-test with nothing more than a few beepen car horns. Who khew holiday Sundays were so important? The instruction to, "climb steadily" fell on deaf ears and unclipped cleats as we again faced lengthy and steep climbs. Finally the gradient relented to testingly rideable as we dug into reserves that would eventually bring us out further up the busy coast-road.

Looking tired but sunny just outside Tal-Y-Bont.

Our regular meetings with fast-groups and slower ones confirms our status as the tortoises of the event. With my route-sheet close to hand I regularly confirm the directions to riders who could otherwise go faster.

The return to the main road at sea level is incident-free as the grass-middled winding lanes roll over contours like the Andrex puppy has been at work in the countryside.

The main-road at sea level brings a 3 mile respite before the turn at the Magnox Hydro station sinposted, "pony trecking". The irony is not lost on me as the road rockets to 20% incline and in desperation I call out, "find me a pony!" before I get off and walk again.

The engineering porn on display is hard to resist though and I find myself singing, "turbines to the right of me, pipelines to the left, here I am, stuck in the middle with a bunch of sweaty men". I conclude I am a sweaty walking-woman then all 6 of the folk walking with me are gob-smacked to see a lone rider litterally zoom past us. I was too stoopified to think, "I'll have what he's having".

At the bottom of the climb into Gelililydden

At the top of that climb was the beautiful village of Gelililydden and it's lovely village hall with bikes stacked outside and a man signing forms and tea and cakes on offer. TSK was contented. We have never been so far ahead of schedule and had such time to spare. I was more nervous about not having peed sice 10am and setting off asap so I could keep the legs moving and guzzle more water en route. Mary passed me again as the song, "ooh ah just a little-bit, ooh ah, a little bit more" were echoing through my head and we discussed the 'whys?' of us doing this and how good it feels when we stop. After she rode away from me, I didn't see Mary again so she was obviously even keener than I to make it stop.

Our final obstacle of the day was the previously mentioned, Trawsffyndd mountain road. If only I'd realised earlier in the day that this was my road home, I might've paid more attention. If I'd paid more attention though, I might not have carried on, knowing that I would have to retrace those steps. As it was, we constantly debated which of the slopes ahead would see us off our bikes and walking again. Miraculously I found myself riding past many of my male peers as they pushed their bikes along.

One man from the Cheshire CC proclaimed, "I'm just bushed now." We had a chat about our mileage since he'd accidentally reset his pooter (and when you're that tired, no one is good at maths). The conclusion that we were close to 3 miles from the next turn spurred all of us on as we realised it must be nigh-on downhill all the way.

As he rolled by on the downhill he proclaimed, "this is the bit about cycling I love". He promptly tumbled head-over-handlebars, legs flying, off the road and into a grassy bog. Scaring the living daylights out of me, I left my bike at the side of the road to show my location, with the man now out of sight of the road. TSK was then scared shitless when he saw me stumbling around in the undergrowth. As 6 other people on the mountain assumed I had crashed, I guess it was my dignity that was most badly damaged.

Our tumbling friend was fine. He was lucky not to land on a rock and suffered no more than dented pride and the spoils of nature (sheep poo) on his top, under his bag, on his hands, on me. He did what was best and got back on the bike. After a brief spell of us molly-coddling him, he joined similarly speedy old hooligans in a much faster descent than we cared for.

Once down the scary road/tractor-trail the main A459 beckoned us back into Bala. I swear they moved Bala. We rolled along at a fair pace. With a tail wind, TSK was satisfied to have legitimately used every gear he had on his bike. On old dude passed us wearing a very 80's sweat-band on his head. He was closely followed by another old dude wearing similarly 80's day-glo cap and socks, muttering, "owwwh! I suppose I'll have to go after him..." and promptly sprinted to catch up. A team of Manchester riders raced by in chain-gang formation and as I mock-copied their style I found myself lifting our pace ever so slightly and, I am pleased to report, catching up to the 80's old-boys.

All that served to pass the time to the finish line, a glorious 10 hours, 92 miles and 2707m of climbing since we started.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Woot Bass Phase 1

The new shed has arrived. For 7 working days prior to its arrival we slaved. First carefully dismantling the old shed so it could be freecycled

then digging out earth for the new foundations and breaking up an old concrete path so the new shed could have space behind it and not be buried in the neighbour's fence.

Concrete forms were errected and adapted at the tight coner.

I went to the tool hire shop and enquired about a small cement mixer. A batch of new ones was on the way and they'd bring it round. I was relieved since I needed to be in to receive the shed.

I bimbled as much as possible, getting things right, taking down the old arch and its cimbing plants. There was nothing else to do and so I started to mix the concrete by hand.

Before I made the biggest mistake of my weekend (on Thursday) the nice Polish boy arrived with the cement mixer. He manoevred it round the back, ("is not heavy") and set it up for me. I wondered if it was sturdy enough?

"Is OK"

He was looking at me. He wanted to show me how it worked. I wanted to learn how it worked. I realised I didn't have a long power cable. I scoured the house and called the tennant but resorted to nodding at the on/off switches to convince the boy I knew how it works. He drove away. He was probably shaking his head.

With a power cable borrowed from number 75, I continued my work. For the next 6 hours I shovelled agreate and sand and hosed water in the machine, dragging it, as required, across the area to be filled unitil the area was full of sticky wet concrete.

In that timeframe the shed arrived and, offering his hand in marriage, the chaps declared themselves impressed with my work, while offering their opinion at the same time. They declared me too smart to patronise when I questioned his use of the word 'level' when what he actually meant was 'smooth'.

At 3pm TSK's mum arrived and with me still shovelling, I set her about staining the new shed. At 4pm the nice freecyclers came to pick up the old shed which gave me the opportunity to sit down for the first time in 4 hours.

At 7.30, half the slab was finally laid. We damped the top surface flat and wrote our names (and TSK's) in the smooth concrete then went down the pub for dinner.

I spent the next day painting the vast expanse of new walls and base. TSK arrived on Saturday and shovelled and poured concrete with all his might, halving the task of laying the other half-slab. A man came to pick up the cement mixer and declared himself horified at the huge machine they had given me. Still,they only charged me the quoted ammount and tried to give me change of £15.

A week later we assembled the new building. Wall by wall it became a structure. Then the crew of TSK's dad, my work colleague and ex-tenant all appeared with perfect timing to finger-tips and tippie-toe lift the roof into place.

The heavy-duty roof that had TSK and I staggering round the garden like drunks when we handled it on our own, slotted into place like a square block in a square hole with 6 people handling it, leaving me wondering what on earth I invited them all for and realising that I had no beer in.

It took a good hour or two more of felt-measuring and lifting, upward nailing and door hanging, tacking and trimming before we ran out of gusto and returned a week later to glaze the place.

Result is that with a little help from our friends, family, local businesses and freecycle our first extension to a house we're yet to live in is finally complete. As my reward for all the hard work, the latest is that I'll finally relocate my job, move in again and next week, finally get to enjoy the house I picked to be my home.