Saturday, December 30, 2017

A half and half ride

So I was awake until 3:30 am on 29th December because I did nothing useful and had no fatigue.  Still, got up on time and dressed to ride my bike but mentally I was meh.

I didn't enjoy the tip into Hathersage.  Motorists being dickish in the flooded roads.  Normal polite people who can't consider that showering someone with water is acceptable so we rode up the middle of the A road controlling speed and people still didn't get it.


My Garmin was sending me all kinds of places and then I was so so hungry.

We left the cafe in Hathersage in clear skis and finally Grindleforded over to Hassop and then Ashford in the Water.  Which it was.

We climbed up Sheldon hill then down the other side where we had to pedal really hard into the wind just to maintain downward hill speed.  We made it to Hartington where TSK had enough as he'd done more miles already then we turned for home and I continued on over to Parsley Haigh, crossing the main road behind a muck spreader and draughting him, eyeballs out, as close as I dared, hands on the brakes and thighs burning to save myself the headwind.

Eventually he turned the opposite way to my direction and I gave him thumbs up before resuming my battle except now I was in the nestling bosom of the manifold valley and the headwind dropped away.  I crossed into the valley proper through a strip of tarmac which passed as a road running through the middle of a field.  I entered the field via a hedgerow archway and as I emerged, startled a buzzard which took off from the fence post right next to me.  He was so close I could see his talons.

Today's new county - Staffordshire.

The Manifold Valley cycle path was a dream.  3pm fading light, but lights off so no cars, just a few hardy walkers finishing the last few kms to their cars then no-one for miles.  Just as I was getting desperate for the look the Taddington carpark came into view and I wheeled my bike right into the toilets, peeing with the door open to save locking up.  Outside, I dug through my bags for food and had a cuddle with the carpark moggy.

Manifold Valley start of the bike path, "there's nothing quite like crossing a gated bridge onto a bike path over a raging torrent to make you feel like you've travelled.  It's up there with getting on a ferry".
Over beautiful small lanes and dales, I eventually spit out at the main road to Carsington Water but not before a massive Ford, the level marker reading 1m!  Fortunately I spotted the bridge over and took a pic before a 4x4 rolled up.  I saved him the indignity of watching him do a three point turn in the road and drive the other way.

Yep, there's road under there.  I'm on the "bikepass".
I proceeded to curse every conurbation, village, woodland and drystone wall for robbing me of any snitch of til wind I had worked so cursing hard for all morning.

As I summitted and then turned away, Carsington Water twinkled a mercury dull glow against the fading sky as the sun started to tuck behind low grey cloud.  Then I shot off across the lanes fuelled by a 17 mph til wind which had me freewheeling on the flats and braking in panic on the gravelly down hills.  Back in the Peak Park I set off up a steep hill (18.2%!!) which finally got me off and walking after the morning I'd had.

Once it backed off, I rode through to the top.  I was hungry.  I'd skirted Wirksworth.  The bar I'd eaten after Taddington had disappeared but it wasn't too far to Cromford Mills - not with the tail wind which almost caused me to lose control on the descent to the Via Gallia.

I stopped in the chippy for a second round of sausage and chips and children watched, amused as I plugged in my light battery and locked up my bike.  I hallucinated out of the chipshop window as I ate the battered sausage almost as large as the giant caterpillar on the back of the HGV parked outside the window on its way to its next fun fair.

At the lights I joined the queue behind the caterpillar and then had the busy road to myself in fits and starts through Matlock Bath and its mixture of fine hotels and amusement arcades then into Matlock proper with deserted streets and stone shop fronts.  In Rowsley I was squeezed by and then liberated into the Chatsworth estate where a boy in a Vauxhall Cavalier waited patiently to pass me with his highly tuned V8 engine until after the bus had passed.  I listened to him roar up the other side of the valley.

I'd run out of water in Matlock and was feeling it by the time I reached Baslow.  I tried to get water from the doggy tap outside the toilets but I was imaginings that but at least a bit of a walk off the bike gave me a rest before the climb up Froggat where the wind took over again and then across Owler Bar where the moorland really opened things up.  I rocked back to Sheffield and before I knew it, I was dumped back onto Abbeydale road and the meander through town.

I crossed junctions, knowing which way to go but each time being surprised at where I was - how little progress I'd made up the hill - like every one was a surprise.  It wasn't until I walked in through the door I could actually be satisfied I was home.

What an amazing day.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Bollocks to that

No excuses.  I am done wasting my holiday sitting on the sofa with the computer (a very productive day yesterday planning a ride I'm gonna do in 2 weeks time but still, I didn't get dressed until 3pm). 

At 4pm I got on the rollers, it seemed like a poor excuse for exercise and as I set myself up I contemplated adding more layers of clothing and my light and heading out the door for a short, dark ride - anything - just to get up the hill and back down again but I couldn't bring myself to do it.  I got on the rollers and full-on sulked for the first 20 minutes of the ride and faffed with my shoes and my saddle.  I finally got comfortable enough and turned my music up load enough to properly enjoy it and bashed out 28 miles but it really wasn't that rewarding, balancing between the radiator and the washing machine and staring at the back door.  I rode fast and hard to beat myself up and felt like some kind of sick addict, not the well balanced, happy athlete that I'd like to be.

I felt like I'd achieved nothing except the mental insurance that I was knackered enough to get a decent night's sleep - and sleep I did. 

So, today I had to ride.

Still, I spent most of the morning on the computer getting a job out of the way I've been leaving for a while - buying new wheels for the bike - a dynamo hub on the front and 32 spokes on each wheel - insurance for if any ping on my trip!

We finally made it out at 11:30 which is dangerous because lunch pangs are starting.

We had an early stop planned at the Adventure Cafe in Castleton before something else.  That early stop almost got shortened further as it started snowing on us going over Moscar and then turned to torrential sleet / hail at Ladybower dam.

We coated up but by the time we'd reached Bamford lights it was starting to brighten so we reverted to plan A.

Blissful that they had space in the caf, we demolished lunch and extra coffee before heading back out.  It had been bright but as soon as we stuck our noses out the door it started to sleet again.  If this was my punishment for spending 2 days indoors then I accept it with open arms. I love being prepared for horrendous conditions.  I feel like I am perfectly and hermetically sealed.

TSK has done plenty of riding the last two days so he headed home whilst I set out for more.  I fancied having a go at Winnats Pass in extreme conditions.  God knows how I was going to get back - there was some kind of plan involving a long ride around on main roads... whatever, it felt like an interesting challenge.

I started the road up out of Hope in glorious sunshine, finally and couldn't help myself stop to take this photo.

I pulled off the road and stood in a gate way to take the pic, my bike tucked onto the grass verge alongside the pavement.  My bike took up no more space than a human stopping to take a picture would although the stink eye I got from well heeled passers by was excruciating.  Clearly I was messing up their neat and tidy trip out to a country pub day by being sweaty and in their way... or maybe they were just jealous that I didn't pay to park.

Within 100m of the turn which forms the start of the climb, I knew I was in trouble.  Where I'd expected to be out of the wind in the lee of the climb, instead, the freezing cold air from above was hurtling down the hill like a wind-tunnel, channelled between the rock faces that form the sides of Winnats Pass.

I crossed the cattle grid, already standing hard on the pedals and without any gears left.  I'd kind of expected this road to have been gritted as it's a tourist hot spot and through-route to Manchester but no, it was slushy.  Probably rideable under-tyre but with the wind, practically impossible.  My lunch weighed heavy in my belly and I turned around and freewheeled back out, stopping to go through the gate instead of cross the cattle grid.

Two lads going the other way on bikes looked at my quizically as they must have seen me bail, I reassured them it was "probably passable but I couldn't be arsed with the wind" and then rode off to leave them to their choices.

I headed into Hathersage next to pick up some stuff that's on my TAW shopping list and then back-tracked to the Grindleford Road.

I couldn't help a trip out to Eyam.  Somehow I convinced myself it would be less blowy and less icy.

Initially it was, then it got worse where motorists had persevered.  I rode the steep bit (protected from the weather by its gradient) but then had to get off to walk on the ice higher up as there wasn't enough traction for my road tyres which occasionally kicked out worryingly.  I got fed up of taking in short sharp breaths - and holding it - whilst trying to ride and I had far too much adrenaline in me now.  I walked all the way to the top.

On flatter terrain I managed to ride again.  A few motorists were leaving the parking area at the start of the off-road trail.  I stuck to my guns and rode in the tyre tracks - slightly clearer of ice than anywhere else on the road.  At the top it was particularly icy and one Audi driver stopped by the side of the road ahead.

I wasn't sure if he was waiting to check I was OK, or what but he brought my attention to the condition of the road - sheet ice across, crunchy in some places, hard as nails in others.  I tentatively shimmied across it.  He pulled away as I looked more stable and competent.  I don't know if he was looking out for me or not but he sure was in a nice spot.  With him gone, there was no-one around.  The place was absolutely silent.  I took out my phone to capture the wonderful sunset and the moon contrasting with the snow and green grass on the other side of the road.  As ever, it didn't capture the wonder but hey, I've got evidence I was happy and I think mostly it was the silence I was photographing.

I slithered on down the hill, staying on top of the brakes all the way down to Eyam, just in case.  A brief respite through the well-travelled village then back up the other side, along the broken road back towards Grindleford.  The broken road was so clear on the broken bit that I nearly let my guard down and had a sketchy moment as I rejoined the tarmac right in front of a family who warned me that the rest of the road was also badly icy.  Phew.  Not too far to the main road.

Although I'd enjoyed my silent moment, it was nice to get back to the steady flow of traffic - or rather the knowledge that I could plough on at full speed without too much of a worry.  Up to form and flying up on to Froggat which I enjoyed, mainly because it was warm - and because I was motoring along quite nicely thank you very much.

A few cautious moments over the top where the lovely council had kindly put "ice!" warning signs out to notify road users of places where streams and such tend to cross the road but they were mostly clear.  As the sun disappeared, I was happy to be heading for home with the traffic.

Deciding not to risk the back-lanes home, I stayed on the main road into Eccleshall - one which I don't normally enjoy because of the traffic but today I appreciated its fast, ice free descent almost as much as I appreciated the long climb back up through Broomhill and Crookes to get me warm again following 17 minutes of freewheeling down hill in a gentle shower of front-wheel spray.

I full-on beat three motorists at the game of "stop at the zebra crossing for the pedestrian" before wobbling cautiously down the pavement to my own home for 5pm to an army of cuddly cats and TSK.

That, people, knocked the socks off beating myself up on the rollers whilst staring at the cat flap yesterday.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Making Christmas

Without wishing to spend to much of my holiday on the blog, a briefest of catchups after the solstice so that when I look back a year from now to figure out what I was doing right or wrong I will know what the bugger I was playing at!

On Monday I had a day off work and dutifully caught up with my Solstice blog.  It was necessary to record the overwhelming satisfaction for that particular day.

On Tuesday I was already feeling guilty for spending time off the bike but I got a lot done around the house and couldn't face going out in the dark - even though it was fairly mild so I took to the rollers and enjoyed every second.  I did a lot of faffing with my shoes but did solid 20 miles of riding in the end.

Mr Rodgers was still working lates so it did't matter to me that I was eating dinners at 9pm - his was still warm when he got in.  What I didn't notice is I was inadvertently waiting up for him, sitting around for a chat, not really sleeping if I did go to bed and then still getting up at a normal-ish time in the morning.

On Wednesday I set out to do the santa run on the bike.  I had garden centre vouchers to get so headed to Dore so that I could also pop in at Totley to see my Uncle Tom and Aunty Ann.  I then ended up riding over to my cousin's new flat to see them there and then home.  I clocked 25 miles and 485m of elevation, another late night followed by an incredibly early morning to be in for an 8am teleconference.

I bloody sprinted to work to make it, pushed my bike into the office and leant it against the cupboards, turned the lights on and dialed in.  I left the office at 6:30pm.  On the Friday, what was supposed to be an easy day, yes, I rocked in at 10:30 but then duly left at 4:30 - two hours later than everyone else.

So there was Saturday and I didn't feel like riding anymore so I tidied and then decked the halls and then chilled out.

Sunday we did ride again.  We headed out to Tideswell for lunch and I threw a strop because Tideswell did not come quickly enough.  We were terribly buffeted about by the wind and I felt really rubbish on all of the hill climbs, truly truly rubbish - so much so that I started to worry about my bloods.  I drank a hot chocolate with my lunch as well as a coffee and downed a veggie breakfast.  It all went much better in the afternoon - partly tail wind assisted, partly sugar assisted.

So week 13 didn't go so well (24 to go) but I guess that was only to be expected for my first 200 in a while.

On Christmas day we set out for another ride.  TSK was worried that I'd over stretch myself with a hilly ride North but after my Christmas eve ride, I wanted to get my teeth into some climbing again.  It's also a while since the last North ride and I so wanted to ride somewhere different for once.

The North ride arcs around Emley Moor like a big question-mark then does a U-turn and arcs back around it the other way.  It turned out to be perfect for the Easterly wind because most of the day was accompanied by a side wind.  The occasional turns into the headwind were brief and often accompanied by an off-setting down hill. The tail winds were amazing and focused on the longer stretches of the arch of the Question-mark.

We arrived in Honley at Christmas lunchtime.  The pub wasn't a coffee kind of place, filled with middle-aged men wearing tracksuit bottoms and clutching pints.  We ate our cheese sandwiches sitting on a shop windowsills, backs to the wind, faces to the sunshine and drank coffee from flask cups.

At the North part of the loop, TSK grew concerned about where we were heading as I consistently turned away from Sheffield.  Sated by my directions of "that way!" we continued until the point of cross-coupling our inflection with the return journey and we debated the feasibility of getting home from an 80 mile ride to make Christmas dinner.  We decided that if we wanted Christmas dinner we should head for home but then floated the question of whether we cared about Christmas dinner and concluded that we really weren't that bothered so carried on our ride.  As the sun set, we really were both as happy as larry.

There was a minor debate about the location of Wooley Edge services at around 4pm.  Our cheese sandwiches really weren't going to last us the whole day.  The route, as it happens went straight past the motorway services and we chose the south-bound venue as it was slightly more modern.  We wheeled our bikes straight in the doors, propped them up against the railings around the costa seating area and selected food and coffee to see us through the rest of our journey.  We thanked the staff for working Christmas day and settled down to enjoy our feast of toasties, tiffin and cake and coffee.

We took one wibble out of the route, cutting straight home on the A61 which normally I wouldn't touch with a barge pole but on Christmas day there were a vastly reduced number of cars and no trucks at all.  We blatted along, practically traffic free, dodging pot holes and supported by a fairly crafty tail wind.  One last climb up to our house from Hillsborough and we fell through the door at 7:45pm.  An effective meal prepared of pasta sauce from the freezer, all washed down with some Christmas ice cream and a very healthy 9:45 bed time.

Scene set for the rest of the Holiday season and all of next years good intentions.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Winter Solstice Ride - Audax 2017

I've done the Winter Solstice ride twice before: here in 2007 (our first year back in England) and in 2012 when I said this about it,
So for a week the depression loomed large on the radar.  I lost all will to live for a while but in true Trepid style, instead of contemplating suicide, I just took some incredible risks.  I cycled to work in the ice (Tuesday - Day 22).  On Wednesday after another icy ride to work and back in the evening I managed to swim 1km (Day 23) and on Thursday (Day 24) I ran the 8 mile to work, getting a lift back to the city.

On the day we had freezing fog, when I stepped out the front door and fell on my ass, I drove to work (Day 25).  Some people decided they couldn't get to work!

On Day 26 I did a 200 km ride from Stockport out to Malpas, Market Drayton and back.  I hadn't done more than 40 miles since Monsal Hill climb so 126 miles was an achievement.  My legs were fine but my neck felt it.  I didn't really care if I finished the ride or got run over by a bus but I met some lovely people whilst we were out there.  The pouring rain from Goostrey (nothing good happens there) back to Stockport and the potholed roads gradually disappeared in the company of strangers, the communal joy of Christmas lights and the love shared in pointing out Jodrel Bank to people who otherwise wouldn't have known where to look for it. (it's where LBHN used to work).

At least living life on the edge (even if it was for the wrong reasons) was making me feel better.  Little bits of self-treats - no matter how insane - were turning my mood around.
 This year I was much more prepared for the ride and in a much better place mentally.  I've been building up the miles for weeks and last week was almost like a taper as I saved myself for Bradford.  Then this week I went even easier on the bike, doing only one ride to work, one walk into town to do my Christmas shopping and then a bit of pottering about the house on Saturday getting my bike ready.  I was really looking forwards to my first Audax since 2014 and what seems to be turning into a 5-year tradition for me.

But this year felt different.  Historically, Audax has been TSK's thing.  I just come along for the craic, hanging on to his metaphorical coat-tails as he walks the walk as well as talking the talk.  It's generally a social sport and I'm not a social creature.  It doesn't mean I don't like the people - I love most of them - it's just I don't do the bike comparing and chitter chatter too easily and I don't know as many of the people as TSK has infiltrated the ranks over a series of much longer rides and many more years, and throughout the whole of those years, being one of the few stalwarts who make it through the winter months via a combo of DIY's and Permanent events to win the coveted RRTY award (for Riding Round The Year).

This year I felt more like I belonged.  I don't remember going inside the start venue before.  I know I've been there to pick Andrew up after a ride but I remember sitting out in the van, waiting for him.  This year, I strolled on in, sat in the comfiest chair to take my gear off because it was my birthday and went to say hello to the organiser who we had volunteered for at the National 400 in 2016.  When you spend an entire 24 hours in a team of 4 looking after 250 other people, you don't forget a face.

TSK shoved a tenner in my hands.  "Mike's refunded our entry fee cos we volunteered at the 400". Sweet! "And I found a fiver!".  Great, a free event.  Even the petrol was covered.

Another lady sat and faffed with her brevet card and various other bits.  She didn't say anything to me when we propped our bikes up next to eachother earlier and wasn't interested in talking now.  I sipped my tea and stared blankly at the floor.  To be honest, my brain was a bit cooked from a 5am start and I couldn't think of anything really to say that didn't sound dweebish or cocky.  Soon enough her friend arrived, another lady and they started animatedly chatting together.  Eventually I had enough things to keep me busy until departure time - unpacking my electronics, loading the course onto my Garmin.  I took my waterproof trousers off and packed them and exchanged my fleece hat for a thinner buff.

Outside I loaded my lock on my bike and everyone wobbled out of the scout hut together.

I just pulled out in front of the other two ladies and joined a stream of men heading up the hill.  I mostly got dropped which was only to be expected but I was happy that a major rush didn't come past me.  Eventually the group got split in two by some changing traffic lights and we just sneaked through to riding, albeit briefly, at the back of the lead group.

A gap opened and I found myself thinking, "typical, best of the rest" as I rode at the front, wondering why no-one would come around me and take on the wind.  Eventually, the second group caught us up but still everyone seemed happy to sit on at my pace.  Great.

Eventually, TSK decided to change into a wet weather coat and I decided to dress down a layer as I was getting a bit warm with my fleece, body warmer and coat on.

Actually, I was a little bit hungry already too so I set about recovering a half-eaten energy bar from my last outing and demolished that.

TSK came around to do a bit on the front but hit a pothole and that sent my lip balm spilling into the road.  Clearly I hadn't closed my top tube bag properly.  As a fleet of riders called out to me I'd dropped something, I figured out exactly what was gone... and you don't let a decent lip balm go lightly so I put on the brakes, let the group go and turned tail to recover my lip balm.  Nothing to do with having kissable beautiful lips, in Audax this is about avoiding the pain of chapped dry and bleeding lips from breathing into a sweaty  buff in sub-zero temperatures whilst dehydrated beyond belief.

A few minutes later, TSK said, "leggings?" to me.  I was a bit confused as usually "leggings" are the things that go over "shorts" and I knew he was already wearing his "leggings".  Concluding that I was already quite damp but also still warm enough, I pedalled lightly whilst he put on his waterproof trousers, agreeing that I'd meet him after the Chelford Roundabout at the "Jesus bends".  I popped into the Shell garage to dispose of my energy bar wrapper, much to the fuel tanker driver's bewilderment then passed out of the framing shop car park where my first wedding pictures were framed and over the Chelford Roundabout.  I passed Jesus, dangling over the footpath of the road on his cross and duly waited on the outlet of the bends where I found my own "leggings" to faff with - deciding to remove my buff, keep it dry and replace it with the hood of my coat, hence keeping my hair dry for later in the day.

Finally we were swinging off the big open road and onto the Cheshire lanes towards Goostrey.

The quotation at the top of this page now amuses me for Goostrey is where I first noticed the rain properly.  It started as we approached Goostrey and passed Jodrell Bank.  Some visitors in cars were being hastily turned away so we were paying more attention to the 6 sets of reversing lights looking at us - but the sheer volume of wet stuff running down the road in Goostrey made it impossible to stay dry.  Water flew off my front wheel into my face and onto my legs.  Any negative thoughts about the place were replaced by distant familiarity for the pub, the shop where I replaced the batteries in my light in 2012 and the caravan park.  By the time we left it I was trying to remember where we go next... and starting to worry a little bit about my hands.

I wanted to keep my warm gloves nice for later on in the day, expecting the rain to continue to fall and then the temperature to drop to around 3 degrees over night.  Last time we did this ride unprepared we limped home at around 10pm, just sneaking inside the cut-off (we might have had dispensation for the icy weather then).  I didn't want to get my warm gloves out but instead, tried to flex my fingers inside the thin ones to get the blood to flow and warm my hands up.

The back lanes to Middlewich was the answer to "where do we go next" and as we came out the other side, I finally determined that the gloves were not working any more.  With freezing fingers, I "oozed" them off my hands and fumbled the pockets on my Carradice to remove the massive lobster claw fluffies.  I struggled to ram my pathetic slabs of cold fish into the drying cotton jersey knit cuffs but got there in the end.  TSK had ridden ahead, just as I was cursing that what I really should have done was put my rain legs on as well (like Mr clever clogs and his "leggings").  He remembered though that around the corner was Mike wearing his wooly hat trying to keep warm in his van, waiting to sign our brevet cards.  As they chatted with another guy about his "way out" route, I took the opportunity to "leg-up".  The other guy asked how many entrants and how many starters there were.  98 entered and 49 started.  My take - I'd already "beaten" almost 50 people but then corrected myself that it isn't in the spirit of the ride (inwardly still smug).

We continued on through made-up placenames like "Church Minshull", "Ashton Juxta Mondrum" and "Occlestone Green".  You gotta love the Saxons.

We gained a tail for a while, the man who decided to quit was suffering the cold hand too.  He'd even removed his gloves in an effort to make his hands warmer.  I appreciate the sentiment but it really wasn't working for him as he ouched and ooched his way along.  For a little while, he admired my suspension forks which was nice because until that point I'd been a little sub-conscious about them and their unsuitability for mudguard use which had caused me some issues early in the ride.  As we approached the Nantwich bypass he was really struggling with his hands.  We crossed the road and he didn't come with us.  I only assume he decided to take the right turn and head home, or stopped to do some star jumps to rectify the blood flow before continuing.

As I thought about him, I continued to worry about my own hands.  Although they were toasty warm, I could already feel the moisture starting to seep through the seams at the tips of my fingers.  For a start, my hands don't put out much heat and the contact with wet things - handlebars, levers - means it's really difficult to make gloves that are truly waterproof but also breathable enough to remain fluffy for long.  Even these £60 motha****ers were starting to feel it.

We passed a few cafs along the way.  The first looked a bit posh and tea-room / golf clubby.  The second was the "one that they meant" but by then we'd already passed it, had never been in it before and were already plotting to get to Nantwich instead.  At a slight detour to the route we headed for Nantwich town centre to the red and white hang-over that was the aftermath of the Christmas Santa Dash running race.

We found ourselves a Nero which turned out to be the greatest dog-cafe I have ever witnessed and settled down to watch a steady stream of dressed up pooches and sweaty santas parading by.

My number one priority was to dry my feet out a bit.  This may seem like a whimsical desire on such a wet day when you're only going back out in it again but I literally had a small puddle sloshing about in the bottom of each boot so any gains in dryness were going to be welcome.  I stripped off my boot and wool socks and stepped back outside in bare feet to empty the boots of water and ring out the socks, sparing my fellow customers the grim sight of brown water dripping from them... and my feet.

I drank my coffee and ate my lunch bare foot before reluctantly redressing to go to the loo.  At least the extra air I'd introduced to the now re-fluffed sock fabric was helping to retain a bit of heat in the air pockets in the weave and when we left I was still damp but at least a damn sight warmer.

After about 8 miles we rode into Shropshire which is satisfying for a December ride.

5 miles later we arrived in Market Drayton and to our great surprise caught up to another cyclist.  Actually, it was more of a surprise to her as we had been chasing for about the last 6 miles and only caught her when she stopped at the roundabout to wait for a gap in the traffic.  "Where did you come from?" she said when we pulled into the petrol station to pick up some supplies and our receipts as proof of passage.  The lone female rider had been thinking she was on her own.  As Andrew and I chatted he said, "I'm really impressed with Yoo" (he calls me that when he's being shyly affectionate).  Me?  I said, expecting to be complimented on my speed.  "Yes, Yoo", he said, "hardly any stops for food.  You've done 60k then 80k!".  I hadn't thought about it that way but yes, I am much more prepared to eat on the bike and am much better at knowing what to bring.  Plus, still convinced I'd had the blood clot longer than anyone had imagined, I don't think my body was ever so efficient at carrying energy - instead burning it off in a vague attempt to constantly keep my heart beating against that / whatever restriction it was.

We explained to the other rider that we'd already had lunch in Nantwich.  She was looking for the cafe and rode on ahead. A few moments later we found her walking the other way along the high street and directed her back to the right spot as she was starting to lose the will to live, although beyond being hungry, seemed in good spirits.  Unfortunately we believe she later pulled out.

Market Drayton was setting up for some kind of evening festival, laying out fencing and closing the high street, effectively.  A jovial council official directed us to ride up the path instead - refreshing - and we pootled out the other side without hindrance.

By now my hands were getting proper hot and the moisture issues I'd had from earlier were quashed as the rain subsided to drizzle and eventually stopped.  My hands had dried off any leakage and I was now running the risk of starting to sweat into my good gloves.  I decided to risk trying to dry out my thin gloves, knowing I could revert to the thick ones later if necessary.

So the lobster-claws were stuffed, unceremoniously into a side pocket of my Carradice and the thin gloves restored, sopping wet, onto my hands.  Remarkably it worked and I soon warmed up the wet and started to dry it out.  I was actually gobsmacked at how warm it was for December.

From Market Drayton, we started to get a tail wind - slightly oblique at this point - but it was enough to start to whoosh us along whereas previously we'd been occasionally buffetted about with a headwind.  Our average speed shot up 1.3 miles per hour.  It was a good day!  The first few bites of Mars Bar from the petrol station helped somewhat and when they started to make me tremble, I tucked into the yukky energy bar which TSK already warned me was rubbish.  The last third ended up falling under our wheels as I fumbled it in my hand and we left it for the crows and badgers.  I'd already got what I wanted from it - enough energy to get me to Old Ma's coffee shop near Tarporley.

As we turned off the B5130 at Aldford, my mind was wandering and my backside was aching.  We must've done 80 miles I thought, checked my watch.  79.89 miles.  Yep, 80 mile arse.  I'll know I've truly made it when I can get rid of 80 mile Arse.  90 mile Arse will make me very happy.  Brain still wandering.  Arse.  Thankfully, Andrew picked up the info control at Aldford and then as we rode through Stretton, gawping at beautiful properties and enjoying a whooshing downhill, I thankfully noticed that we'd missed a turn and we briefly retraced to get ourselves back on track.  We were definitely ready for a sit down on a different chair and some more food.

Through the familiar lanes of Tarporley.  Almost on home territory now, we stopped in Tarporley for the Chester Triathlon last summer and I rode these lanes on my way to register.  So my Garmin was peppered with little marker points giving me directions since I forgot to load my pleasant route onto the device before leaving home... so I did it manually.

Then the familiar sight of Old Ma's - the big farm buildings with the little cafe nestled in the forecourt, all big gates and bright lights.  We locked up together just outside the window and TSK rushed in to order our tea.  It was dead-on the 4pm closing time.  The two young lasses (no Old Ma in sight) bustled about us, taking our order, sorting out cheese & beans on toast, apologising for not doing it right but offering us grated cheese on top of the beans instead of grilled cheese with beans on top (Fine!  Whatever! Has Kev been here!?!) and unloading two of the most delicious lemon meringue pie slices known to man onto our tray.  Happy Birthday to me.

I got my phone out to take a picture but instead got overwhelmed with texts from Becky and my mum which I proudly replied to, boasting that I only had 70km left to do and a big slice of pie.

In between mouthfuls of beans on toast and coffee, I changed out of yellow lenses to colourless ones (adding that they were also cleaner and therefore now clear! - it was like lasic eye surgery).

I got my battery out and plugged in my Garmin and reinstated my buff around my neck and on my head for it had now stopped raining and the coat was just too warm.

The pie was delish but it was time to get back out on the road.  It was a little chilly but as soon as we got moving we were OK.  We skirted around Oulton Park without realising where we were then, seeing signs for Winsford, I mused that I should know where I was but didn't have a clue.

That is until we mused about the "sunset" being in the wrong place and realising it was the bright lights (not so big city) of Northwich.  To the West, sure enough was the after-glow of daylight on the horizon... or possibly Ellesmere Port, it's hard to tell.

Still, last time we were here (doing the route in reverse), we'd missed some of these back lanes in favour of a direct line through Northwich town - to much protest from me as it's quite a horrible town sometimes.  This year, the ice was of little concern as most of it was either melted or washed away in the earlier rainstorm.  On the basis that *I* - yes *me* (little miss icicle)  was still riding in thin and damp gloves, ice really wasn't a bother this year.

We ploughed on down Mill Lane and Shipbrook Road, popping out in Lach Dennis before bobbing back onto lanes that took us through Lower Peover (resisting the Bells of Peover pub) finally skimming Ollerton and passing Manchester Airport where it was TSK's turn to lose his bearings but basically we were in my childhood back-yard.  It is an understatement to say that  I was relieved to be heading to Bredbury to finish and not facing the massive down-and-up that forms the Bollin River valley on the way to my parents' house.

Two riders passed us as we neared the turning and we exchanged "how are you doing?" pleasantries before my folly in Wilmslow took TSK and I on a detour through the sports centre carpark where we narrowly avoided puncturing on glass before rejoining the road.  Still, at least I wasn't getting hauled along as part of a group that would kill me in the last 13 miles.

To write now that it was 13 miles to the finish feels crazy.  I had it so fixed in my head that we were nearly there by the time we got to Wilmslow and I literally didn't notice that last hour except for the very last climb.

Partly because it's steep and it's long and its preceded by a downhill with effing traffic lights to scrub off all your momentum... and partly because it really is the LAST climb and as soon as you go down the other side of it, you're there - at the finish - done!

Of course TSK came right back past me on the way up the climb and, since he knew that I was happy navigationally, he continued on his way to start organising his stuff from the back of the car to get changed into something drier and less smelly.  I joined him a few minutes later, throwing the damp and sweaty gear in the back of the car and replacing the stuff in my Caradice with dry, fluffy fleecy clothing and a towel.  I rode around the corner to the venue and locked up the bikes.

\Post ride note: it gives me great satisfaction that I actually wanted to get back on the bike at this point.  For the last months I have been indifferent, if not baffled, as to the improvements gained by a radical new choice of saddle for my new bike.  The fact that I was able to execute a further 45 seconds on it, in favour of leaving the car in the car park - or walking - is testament to how comfy the new saddle really is.\

Priorities - tea, apple, soup.  Then wash, lying on the floor, stretching whilst TSK talked long distances and times gone by.  In 2011 on this ride, he had been one of only two riders to complete.  In 2010 only one man, Nick Firth, completed, such was the severity of the day's weather.  It is said that he wished he hadn't bothered as it took so much out of him for the coming weeks.

I finally made it into the chair then into the bathroom to wash the mud and salt off my face (50% of it sweat, the other 50% off the road).  It felt good to be in normal clothes, cotton knickers, fleece trousers and woolly jumper.  I put on Andrew's shoes and went to get the car so I didn't have to put my wet cycling shoes back on.  As I stepped outside, the two other lady riders had just got in - I assume.  I quietly glowed.  Still not sure what to say, I muttered, "well done".  It sounded horribly patronising.  They were still too engaged to really respond.  I was actually quite engaged with trying to get my lock undone which seemed to have got itself stuck and I didn't have the strength or patience to fix it.  I went to get TSK instead.

The drive home gave me a good 90 minutes to reflect as TSK snoozed in the passenger seat of the car, the satnav reliably guiding me home through the back-streets of Hyde.

It was nice to come out from underneath TSK's coat tails today.  Almost literally, as I much preferred to sit on the front than take a wheel and eat the dirt flying off it.  Long distance used to be his thing, that I occasionally came along on for the ride (pun intended) but now I've genuinely rekindled a love for it and honed that feeling over the summer.  My anticipation of rejoining the Audax community was justified.  I've been reading the magazines in earnest for long enough - dreaming of the day when I could hang up my swimming goggles and running shoes and get back to just riding my bike and holding conversations with people who mainly see me as the noobie and from whom I have so much to learn and emulate - not the other way round.  I've become tired of being an experienced triathlete.  Being a novice audaxer leaves me room to grow and I can't wait to let more experiences flood in.

On 16th I entered a 300k ride (The Dean - which TSK used to organise) so it's really a bloody good job the 200 went so well.  It was by no means the perfect ride - though a little rain is really nothing to put up with in exchange for 9 degrees (heat) when it could have been minus something nasty and just dangerous - but I enjoyed every single friggin minute.  When one guy commented that there was no such thing as a tail wind - just a good day - I felt it.  The headwind didn't bother me.  The tail wind didn't feel like a pay off, it just felt like everything was going swimmingly.  Yes, some altitude would have challenged the whole ride a bit more but that's what summers are for... as I remind myself that The Dean is in March.

There was only one lesson learned that I took from today - which was about water and fabrics.  I honestly couldn't believe the moisture that came out of my socks yesterday morning but also I couldn't believe what a difference it made after I squeezed it out.  I can't begin to think what I would have done if I hadn't had spare gloves or heat pads with me yesterday (didn't need the heat pads thankfully) but I'd like to think that wringing them out might have got me somewhere and it's something I'll take forward in future.  I only wish I'd thought of it in time to save the guy that was riding with us.  All he really needed was a bloody good glove shop to be honest.  Maybe I will also remind myself to pack some crisps - or crackers.  Sugar really got to me after 5pm and so half a mars bar and the best part of a bag of M&Ms had a lovely ride around Cheshire.

So onwards.  With another 200k organised in January, I am now embarking on the RRTY challenge, the first opportunity to link a 200km ride each month is inspired by a visit to Oxfordshire and Warwickshire to visit Silver which will be a wonderful follow-up to the ride (or replacement for it should everything go "tits oop" - so to speak).

Whether we make it through the RRTY or not, in 2005, I wrote this:
When I think of the biffdays that have been great in my life, my 18th always comes to mind – because that is when I got my first pair of skis and boots from my ma and pa. Only once have I used my skis on dry slope surface – because at the age of 18 you can’t possibly wait for the next ski trip. I took the day off work, I drove to Rossendale, I paid 40 quid for two hours skiing but it was a Wednesday and no-one was checking so I spent the entire day going up and down the same 60 metres of carpet on a small windy hill on the edge of Lancashire. At closing time, I threw my gear in the “little s**t” aka Gustav-Sylvester-the-fiesta and drove back to Manchester, probably to get drunk with Tanya who had returned from Leeds Uni for the Christmas holiday
 For a while after that, I tried to ski on my birthday every year, whether it was at uni, on the dry slope in Manchester or in Canada.  Whilst I can't guarantee that every year will be a 9 degree year, I set out with some trepidation now to claim that in future, I might try and do a 200 every year on my birthday - whether it's on a Sunday or not - whether it's an organised event or not.  Clearly this might affect my ability to do the winter solstice again so maybe I'll reserve the birthday for preparing for the Solstice ride.  Anything, absolutely anything would be preferable to shopping for other people's presents which is invariably how my other birthdays as a grown up tend to go.

So there we have it: new goals set, new rules established, one for this year smashed... at approximately on Sunday 17th December, as I dropped my lip balm in the road outside the lovely Capesthorne Hall, I had clocked up a total of 5000 miles of cycling in 2017.

Audax History

Since the Audaxing calendar offers me a satisfying array of history, some of which is lost in the midsts of time as my own personal record-keeping technology has moved on, I'll log myself some stats here:

2007 - First winter solstice-201 km - officially part of the 2008 season(23/12/2007)
2008 - Castleton Classic-201km(20/4/2008), Heart of the Shires-206km(07/06/2008), Hills & Plains of Cheshire-212km(27/7/2008)
2009 - Wiltshire White Horses-205km(14/3/2009)
2010 - East Riding 200 - 210km(23/5/2010)
2012 - North-West Passage-200km(18/2/2012), Chirk-200km(25/3/2012) 9:18
2013 - Winter Solstice-201km(16/12/2012) 
2014 - Mildenhall Cycling Rally-206km(23/8/2014)
2017 - Winter Solstice-201km(17/12/2017) 

  1. 20 mile 12.9 mph HR 134
  2. 1 minute chat!
  3. 38 miles 11.7 mph HR 129
  4. 30 minute lunch at Costa
  5. 5 mile 11.9 mph HR 127 to market drayton
  6. 1 minute petrol station stop
  7. 31 mile 12 mph HR 124
  8. 42 mins tea shop stop
  9. 43.76 miles 11.6 mph HR 100

Total time: 12:00.  Riding time: 10:58 ish

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Things feel a little upside down now. Last week was suposed to be easy but included some big rides regardless. This week I was supposed to be back on it but work and snow / ice has stood firmly in my way.

On Tuesday I seemed to eat all day. I was already behind when I got to work, catching up from an 11 hour day on Monday. So I ate biscuits then my sandwich and cake then chocolate cake then finally cracked open a pot noodle to see me through to getting home. I had no interest in food when I got in so restricted myself to some cheese and a tomato. When TSK got in from work he wanted to eat and made up all of my portion. It was only as I stuffed the last strands of noodles down I realised how full I was.

Slept through the night at least and have to admit I felt really good when I woke up - not my usual starving self - so I thought that maybe I am not eating enough but then I am carrying winter weight so that theory leaks.

On Wednesday I held out on eating except for my usual stash of biscuits. I felt like doing 'stuff' when I got in - the joy of driving.  So I busied myself while a baked potato cooked. It was 9:45 when I ate. TSK joined me about 10.30

The night did not go well. I was hot then hungry. When I got up to eat there were only really pretzels in the house and I munched through 2/3 of the bag.  I got cold then hot again, achey, coughy. I got to sleep fully around 4am and ignored every stimulant until 9am when my watch told me to move.

I have filled today with work on the kitchen and while it is very satisfying to have the dining table back, I started on it at 10am without breakfast after all those pretzels. I threw soup down my neck at 1pm then after a full days work headed out for Chinese food at 9pm again. Work has clearly got me into bad timings.  At least I was moving all day and I hope, on low food intake it might just help burn off some of the crap I have eaten this week and above all, I hope above hope I can sleep tonight.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Bradford National Trophy

So, cyclo-cross didn't go as bad as expected.  It is my one national event for the year so I at least thought I'd give it the benefit of an easy week, particularly an easy Saturday the day before to recover ready for racing.  Still felt poo.

I guess I wasn't nervous.  I was just expecting to do badly so decided to enjoy a nice cold day out with my friends.  TSK took to the pits and herded me.  The girls made me feel better by chatting and moaning about the cold. 

As I rode down the hill looking for Andrew, he called me and I braked sharply... on tarmac... on slippy tarmac.  Then I was on the floor.  Bollocks.  It hurt.  I composed myself, set off to do a lap, realised my brake got knocked out of shape, borrowed a tool to straighten it out, did a lap, got half way around said lap, rushed back to the start to be roll-called.

We were off before I knew it. 

Alison instantly made me feel better by riding up the hill alongside me before dropping me at the first corner. 

I held my position for a few laps before my arch rival appeared, passing me like the calmest thing ever.  I didn't so much as try to catch her as suddenly found that I could on the techy bits and so we engaged in a bit of cat and mouse.  On the last lap, as my bike ticked and jumped its gears, it's little way of letting me know it is unhappy.

I changed bikes.  On an unexpected moment whilst descending and trying to keep my rival at bay, I went to dismount and the bike went one way and my standing foot the other.  I did a small courtsey, stood back up again before my other knee touched the ground and carried on running up the hill.  Meanwhile, Nicky had stacked it and broken her handlebars.  Whilst I ran up the long steep line to the finishing straight, she was trying not to let the small egg growing off her ankle get much bigger.

Bradford claimed a few scars this week but, coming in 8th place cheered me up no end and I felt satisfied I'd finally got a decent race out of the season.  Not quite as ready to quit cross straight after, I am convinced now that I'll be keeping my long distance going of preference.  That doesn't mean I can't have a bit of fun between now and then though.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Quick quick long

Recording a lovely week on the bike before I go and blow it all on a cyclo-cross race that I'm no good for tomorrow.

Last week's Sunday race was hard but so short, I followed it straight up with a ride in to the office on Monday and a long ride home in the evening - not long long, just longer than normal.

Tuesday was a regular ride and Wednesday was a brief respite day off.  I didn't feel like riding on Thursday either but it felt better than scraping the ice off the car so I did and then topped off everything with a ride in on Friday followed by riding out to Ringinglow to do archery with my team mates before retreating to town to change onto the old bike and go into town for the Christmas meal.

26 miles clocked in a day including some icy miles, police road closures, beers, too much food, trying to sprint on Chicken and walking around town at 11:00pm looking for a quiet bar where I could get a drink on my own before using the bathroom to change my clothes and ride home again... like you do.  It all felt very audax... in the middle of my working day.

That feeling that you've been on your bike for 16 weeks.

Oh my! I can't believe 16 weeks of this has passed already.  I am so ready to quit cyclo-cross for the year.