Saturday, December 14, 2019

Riding to the Seaside for Decembivi

A sneaky check of my phone at the work Christmas do and there's a text from my buddy Karl, randomly asking if I want to do a 600 this weekend.

Excitement runs riot. The last 600  I did, I failed miserably - 5 hours out of time due to howling winds in my face for the first 200k. Here's a speedy wheel to sit on but, guys, like, December!

I  SAY I'll look at the weather in the morning and decide. I return to the party and mostly forget about it.

A number of pokes later over text, despite 3 degrees temps, rain forecast, more howling winds, I still have major FOMO. I doubt I can manage a 600 this weekend.  If I am physically able is one thing, but I have a new starter at work on Monday, I'm in charge and I would be doing both her and myself a disservice to come into work exhausted.  SO I do the right thing, check my maps and make a plan to meet Karl part way into his ride with my own plan to get home from somewhere like Donnington, on the return leg on Saturday.  I need to get a December bivi in and I decide that this weekend is as good as any other which may end up colder or wetter.

The hardest part was eking out an extra two hours in the office on Friday night but a bit of faffing got me out the door at 6.45 to pump up the tyres I put on the night before and hadn't quite sealed yet.  Straight onto the Northbound bike lanes by Meadowhall and then a lot of navigational faux-pas as I tried to pick up the old Woodhead road much earlier than usual.  The Garmin got sworn at a lot and eventually I resorted it mountain bike trails I know through Greno woods, culminating in me pushing the fully loaded Tripster, Dignity, up a steep gravel trail. Highland Trail training well and truly commenced.

Next, the Trans Pennine trail, studiously joined at the muddiest section. It must have been chilly because the tunnels felt warm and welcoming.

As soon as I got out of the embankments around 8.30 I turned the phone on for a bit. I was trying to meet Karl at 9.30 and I only had 10k to go across Silkstone common to join his route.

"In Greenfield, I'll get there as soon as I can".  He was a little late but that was fine, I re routed Northwards a bit to meet him sooner, planning to come off the trail at Penistone and head straight North towards Shepley.

I also realised I'd foolishly left work without a plan to eat, though a 3 course Christmas dinner at work was a good substitute, I now had time for some food.

I propped up my bike by the chippy window in Penistone and chatted to kids and parents just leaving the local orchestra practise.


Sainsbury's next to get some snacks for the road. I couldn't get my cable lock to work as the combination got fubar'd some time ago so I used the ziptie lock and rushed in and out again, the area riddled with boy racers and drunk teenagers.  My total haul was a bag of M&Ms and a 6 pack of popcorn which I stuffed in every available orifice of my bike bags, leading Karl think I had more stuff on my bike than I really did. That's what happens when I pack with 48 hours notice.

Onto Royd moor and the wind started to build up. Mostly it was cross-ways but when I turned into it, I was standing on the pedals with all my might to get up the slightest of hills. I'd killed a lot of time in Penistone and now progress was painfully slow. I topped out about 10pm and, looking around for somewhere  to stop, spied a petrol station, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, down the hill from me.

I decided to stop there to check Karl's spot and see where he was.

As I rolled into the forecourt, a blue Tripster awaited, signatory bikepacking gear dangling. I had no idea what bike he rides on the road but what are the chances of some other loon being out at 10pm with a loaded bike, half way across the Pennines in December?  Sure enough, a friendly van driver pointed me towards the coffee machine where my wheel-date was waiting with a hot coffee. Timing could hardy have been more perfect.

Coffee'd up we set off into the night under the guide of the pink line on the map for an absolutely ripping descent, traffic free and tail wind assisted.

We talked for hours, catching up on our BB200/300 experiences and about Highland Trail (mine just reccies) stories.

Sometimes it's great when the ride is the uneventful part and I was mining for information.

There was a railway crossing for some brake servicing and a fenland track to be navigated in the dark which led us to a very attractive-looking fisherman's shed.  Tempting as it was, it was too early and too cheeky to break and enter and bed down across the drain from the house, with a clearly marked 'private property' notice outside.

We threaded through villages, stopping occasionally for me to switch routes as I had accidentally downloaded the 6 segments off the website but the segments took us along more pleasant lanes so wasn't entirely wasted effort.

Around 2am we both conceded we 'probably' should stop soon as I had stopped chatting for the first time in 5 hours and gone a bit quiet. Yes, reader, I looked down at my Garmin to see it  was 1.35am then realised that was the distance to go to the end of my Garmin segment (1.35 km). It was actually 3.30am and I laughed at the fact I was no more tired than if I'd gone to a friends house and sat on the sofa drinking wine and chatting till 3 am.  This says as much about the tail wind we'd had as it did about the fact we'd only spent 5 minutes together since May.

Still, with 1km to go and still buoyed by enthusiasm to ride on, we were struggling to find a bivi spot as everywhere looked kind of wet. A few churches looked promising but they were finely regaled in bright Christmas lights and near to lively-looking local pubs or busy roads.

Soon, though, the brown signs started to appear for Hessle country park.  With parks come picnic  benches offering dry surfaces or dry under-surfaces.

We pulled in. It wasn't the quietest and definitely not dark with a full moon and street lighting but the trees gave enough cover and there was the promise of morning toilets.  The picnic benches had been dried in the breeze but I opted for the damp floor which was well drained and soft whilst Karl took to the bench itself to... I dunno, practice sleeping on a precipice?

We each bedded down, discussed the relative merits of sleeping under moving branches then slinked off into our own cocoons, me vaguely aware that I was starting to drown on something distinctly cold-like.  I did not fall asleep easily, though I was warm and cozy.  For a while my face remained exposed - as much as it can with a hat pulled over my eyes.  I fidgeted somewhat but my brain was still buzzing from the evening's entertainment and the exhilaration of staying awake on the bike for so long.

The joy was soon replaced with anxiety as the breeze in the park changed and picked up.  The wind rushed through the suspension cables on the bridge and I worried that our passage in the morning might be impaired by a closed bridge - should we have bivi'd on the other side?

It got a bit chilly with the bivi inflating in the new wind direction so I zipped over my head and opened the side zip instead, glad I'd chosen to sleep close to the ground - boundary layer fluid dynamics floating round my brain as the lights went out.

I told Karl, like every great new friendship, I'd hate him in the morning when he woke me up.  I was awake before him but stayed where I was for a while, hoping he would just get up for a pee and go back to bed, but no, he rustled the bivi and my snoozing was over. 

I had a proper good faff to get going.  My schedule isn't quite as honed and my sleeping bag is far fluffier.  My priorities centred around popcorn consumption and a long hike for a pee as the warden was occupying the ladies' toilet. Karl's theory - that the warden was more scared of us than we were of him - seemed well founded as he cowered behind the steel bars and sent me slinking off into the undergrowth for a private pee and change of leggings away from enthusiastic runners and dog-walkers.

An hour later, we were in a café in Hessle, tucking into a breakfast and so much tea, the owner regretting opening his door so early.  Given the lack of veggie breakfast I tucked into a selection of "extras".

And so the bridge!  Slightly less terrifying than crossing the Severn, there was more space, less traffic and a glorious low sun which made everything just a bit gorgeous, especially Karl's pirate impressions (cough).

I can't remember when the day stopped being fun.  We had second breakfast at which I started to contemplate quitting earlier than planned but agreed that there was no point until I'd eaten something.  The cake was wonderful but the coffee was awful.  I hatched a plan to keep going till I'd had enough.  At least within easy riding of the route were: Gainsborough, Boston, Lincoln, Sleaford, Nottingham, Derby... etc. - all of which had stations leading back home.

At 1pm we found a pub for lunch which was very fine.  Both of us were a bit done-in and we loitered a bit over rehydration and sugary drinks.  My nose dripped with increasing frequency and my body started to feel a bit heavy.  Coming outside to a flat-ish tyre wasn't great but the pressure went back in so we set off again.  I spent a lot of time staring at Karl's back tyre ahead of my own then staring at his left sock as I sat in the sweet spot slightly left of centre, cowering from the wind.  I checked the speed radars: with me on my own I was cracking out 10mph.  At least in his slipstream (when he managed to ride slow enough), we were managing 16mph. 

Eventually I tired (pun) of the view - there's only so long you can stare at a sock - and we diverted onto a minor road (my route again) to get off the main road that was forcing us to ride single file.  At least on the back-road we could ride side by side and enjoy the scenery as we (I)  tore our (my) knee ligaments apart.

When we got to Gainsborough, I knew it was time for me to quit.  I felt weak with a head-cold and my right knee was just struggling.  Whilst I tried to insist on sending Karl on his way, he seemed more up for ditching the dual carriage way we'd found ourselves on, and diverting through town to navigate me to the station, saving me a frustrating Garmin search.  We said our goodbyes and I set off up the platform to check where the train that was sat there was headed.  Sheffield - NICE!

So, whilst Boothy carried on valiantly into the evening, I warmed up at the hospitality of First Great Western whilst eating more popcorn and M&Ms, in between blowing my increasingly drippy nose and dot watching.

I was duly delivered to Sheffield station (after a good 40 minutes sleep restoration) where I rode up the steep hill to home quicker and easier than any head-wind I'd battled against that morning.

On loading my ride to Strava I clocked myself a QOM - in the category of "no woman in her right mind has brought a bike up that".  A tiny Avenue I'm sure I've been up before on a bike, but there you go, now I rule it alongside some bloke called Simon.

So no brilliant and glorious finale to my 12 of 12 Bivis a month, just a quiet (conversational) limp through.  It was exceptional to finish the year off in company, freshly motivated by resolutions and advice and general scab-picking over options and choices for the HT.

This weekends ride did what some BAMs before it have done - got me out when I didn't necessarily feel like it and shaken me about, blown the cobwebs off and taught me something.  With the winter ride coming up, I'm anticipating an ongoing theme...

Till then, it's cloth badge time.

Sunday, November 10, 2019


I couldda taken the bivi gear to spain but I didn't and instead headed out with the bivi and bag but no tarp to a sheltered spot I've regularly passed at just the wrong time.

This visit I was slow enough to make it by 10.15 pm and thankfully the space was vacant. 

Got a great day for sunshine and moon-rises and a great night's sleep, waking at 5am for the ride home to get a shower and pack for 3 days away with work.

It was raining when I got up. Talk about making the most of the weekend.

Saturday, November 09, 2019


November has been horrible - and its only the 9th. It feels like it's been a month long already.

I have spent the best part of the first few days of this month in bed, in between bouts of vomiting and sitting on the bog.💩.

It started with a trip to Norfolk (no not like that) and relinquished enough for me to get up last weekend and do a 'cross race. Then reinstated itself with a vengeance on Tuesday and Wednesday.  I drove to work on Thursday (still weak but well) then mysteriously still felt ill at work on Friday after managing to ride in.

And so... my powers of deduction lead me to believe that my Camelbak bike bottle is poisoning me.  I took it to Norfolk, I drank from it on the way back from 'cross and carried it to work on my bike on Friday.  It's had one replacement lid due to a crack and now the nipple is black and I just can't be arsed to clean it a second time.  It's to the bin, which is a shame as it's probably the best thing I've ever won at a triathlon - third place in my first ever vet race.  Still, all good things come to an end.

Today I felt well again after a walk into town and so I have finally ventured out for a run.  The bike trails are a mess after this week's flooding so I thought I'd give them - and the bike washing a break (as I expect to be washing 'cross bikes tomorrow).

Oh how I've missed running.

I was in such a panic to bike the whole way through last year - if I was well enough to run I should be mountain biking.  By the time I realised running - or hard hill climbing was half the battle in the Highland Trail, I'd already missed out on too much running to casually take it up.

I miss running on the trails and fells.  The freedom.  Talking with fell runner friends last weekend, they reinforced my feeling of being trapped by the bridleways on the bike.  Not only are the innumerably more footpaths than bridleways, I can literally run anywhere on the open moorland above Sheffield.  The route choices are, in effect, endless.

Whilst trails by bike light are one thing, a head torch run is another level.  The light transmission just about keeps up with the feet and the run speed is perfect to appreciate the light bouncing back from the silver under-side and gold upper-face of leaves.  On a wet evening, everything glistens brighter in the light of a head-torch so no matter what the weather, a night run is often better for the soul than a day run.

And the fitness benefits - not to forget those.  I can ride further than I ever could nowadays but slowly. what I need to do is keep the long rides but be as fit as I was when I was racing team GB.  Deadly.

There will be more of this... at least I hope I can keep it up.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Bivi A Month - to be different October

I could claim BearBones 200 as my October BAM but, given the opportunity to legitimately bike camp under the Derwent Water dam as part of my Fell Running club, I could not resist this weekend's beer and volunteer deal.

Dark Peak Fell Runners hosted the annual Fell Relays this weekend, with 1800+ competitors and supporters to move between a carpark in Bamford and Fairholmes car park at Derwent reservoir, all hands were required on-deck.  As a gift, the organisers put on a little do in a marquee at Fairholmes with camping options. 

On Friday afternoon I packed quite a lot of comfort gear into 2 paniers on my hardy but silly Tripster ATR and Lauff forks and wobbled my way over the A57 in rush hour traffic.

By the time I left Sheffield, I reckon 50% of people passing were fell runners (who are closely related to long distance bike packers more than they'd care to admit) who gave me lots of room. 

It started raining as I hit the bottom of the valley outside my house and continued.  I added the waterproof and sweated up / chilled on the way down.  It got properly enjoyable when I turned onto the Kings Road to Fairholmes, relatively traffic free as all fell runners were suitably fed and inebriated by then.

I hadn't booked so had brought pasta and sauce to brew but then there were enough burgers to go round so I "helped".  The tin mug got used for beer from a keg. 

The tent had a brilliant layout with most of the party camped at one end and a few (including myself) grumpy old gits pitched at the other end behind a van to drown out the noise of the party and generator and get out of the lights.  Not necessary though as the loud waterfall of water pouring over the dam from the last few weeks rain was sufficient white noise to cancel out most din.  I went for a short walk in the dark and drizzle before bedding down at 10:30.  I'm told the party ended about midnight but I was already sound asleep - with the tent, thickest sleep bag, extra blanket, fleece trousers and down booties on hand - luxury indeed.

Tent within a tent
In the morning I burned some porridge - on the basis a gas stove is much stronger than a meths one.  Fortunately it was still palatable if a little brown and crispy in places.  The stove was too large for the little mug so I balanced it on the lid of the big mug which will forever now have a discolouration ring to remind me of this day.

I probably disturbed most people but I had to be down at the Bus stop in Bamford for an 8am briefing.  I packed up and spent 15 minutes trying to get one of the sponsors' vans into the race field before heading off on my own path down to Bamford.

There I was equipped with an attractive plastic hi-vis vest and spent the morning dancing in a pair of gardening gloves to direct motorists to park in the car park in stead of attempting to pull into our bus stop.  We dispatched 1800 runners plus their packs / gazebos / cakes over a few hours without causing any traffic disruption or delaying local buses (except for a minute here or there).


I spent my lunch brewing soup and coffee whilst standing by on the radio to start dispatching the busses back to Fairholmes to bring people home.  Had a walk by the river and realised it's a long time since I've just SAT in the countryside and enjoyed it... though the bus view was a little off-putting.

Unloading the buses was hectic, matching teams to gear and trying not to get buses and cars picking up kit crossed over. 

Still, we did it.  Happy to report that a bunch of people walked back and there were 140 bikes on the racking provided for the sustainable option.  A good warm up for a fell race.

After all the excitement I forgot I had to ride home.  My bags were heavy, having not eaten my food from the night before and picked up a discarded sandwich box.  I also had the burden of three jerseys that I failed to pass on to other people. 

Faced with needing to walk up the A57 because I didn't have the gears, I instead opted to ride up to Stanage and back over the Moors.  Much walking ensued but at least I wasn't getting close-passed by HGVs.  I cursed as I realised I'd added a lot more climbing to my route.  Still, I texted TSK and he had the oven on and the timer pinged as I walked through the door, cold and starving. 

56km, 1000m.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Bearbones 200 2019

Somewhere along the way I forgot that I've got this.   A few weeks ago, I attempted a 200k ride for funsies.  I took two nights out with my kit, leaving from work on Friday and returning home on Sunday afternoon - as many brew stops and cafe stops and lying-down stops as I needed.  I arrived home happy but very very tired after 4000m of climbing.

When the BB200 route was published with 5600m climbing in it, I seriously wondered how I'd be.  "just like last weekend but with an extra vertical mile on the end".  Doesn't sound too do-able with a 25kg loaded mountain bike.

I took what remaining leave I had - a day after the race and a half day before the race and arranged to work from home on Friday morning.  I drove to Oswestry on Friday afternoon for the usual fill of food and a great travel lodge night.

Arriving at Llanbrynmair to find friends from the HT 550, having ridden in from somewhere, I walked out with their teeshirts for onward transportation later.  By the time I'd waited out a shower in the van, they'd set off and so I decided to do the same instead of sit around drinking tea and getting nervous. 

Someone in a camper stopped me heading out the wrong way Mick? - sorry I didn't see you it was dark in there.  Stu booked me out at 07:50.  I needed all the daylight hours I could get.  I momentarily wondered if I should have got more to eat but it was too late, I was underway now - no turning back.

Eventually I turned off-road with a few people for company.  We splashed through puddles on the trail and my new friend, David, moaned that he wanted my bike which miraculously bounced and cut through the water whilst he had to push his gravel bike around the puddles.  It was all relative though as David's legs miraculously pedalled past me again on every hill climb.

He gleefully informed me that the wet bit was still to come.  Apparently this bog has form.

I managed not to get my feet wet, largely by being tall and bridging across every stream.  I was smug.  I spent a little time wondering how the chap in front was managing to ride through the chossy path we were on then realised he'd found a different path.  An adjustment in elevation by 1m put us in a much better place and I sat down for a bit to snack and watch a steady stream of slightly faster riders pass.

At the stream with incredibly steep sides, I was chuffed at carrying my bike up the slope.  Work in the gym and a few hundred quid on carbon Jones bars has paid off and I can now pick the bike up loaded from the ground.  Convenient sheep trods made it easy to place back on terra firma.

Every silver lining has a cloud though, and just as David announced the "end of the worst bit", I crossed a river at the wrong point, slid off a rock, got my bike wedged and plunged in upto my knee, dropping my bike fully into the water.  Only one food pack came out the other side dry.

I heard a ladies' voice coming down the slope behind us as I stopped to remove my boot to empty the water from it and wring out my sock.  Thankfully, brand-new socks are great at sucking warm air back in to replace the wet and my foot was soon warm again.

The lady who caught me up was Hetti and we had a chat for a while before she rode on ahead and then I passed her eating sandwiches at a gate.  Somewhere in the distance recesses of my mind I remembered my race planning.  Remembered thinking that I wouldn't be anywhere useful for lunch and I should pack something in.  Oh dear.  Still, I had plenty of food with me and managed to snack for the next 3 hours.  Finally, Hetti passed me back as I sat on a grit bin, eating and emptying more water from my boots.  They don't call it street furniture for nothing.

David started hunting for water top ups in villages which meant I kept passing him, self assured that I'd left that morning with a 2 litre Camelbak. 

He told me he needed to be in Barmouth by 8pm.  I said I didn't know what time I'd be in Barmouth and I think he took that as a sign and got the fuck on with it after that.

In Machnylleth I was planning on pressing on to the Co-op for a short stop but a red pedestrian crossing light and brief encounter with another rider persuaded me it was worth the detour to eat some real and warm food.  Hetti was leaving as I arrived, witness to me emptying half a pint of water out of my left hand food bag and trying to dry out my cable lock before deploying it. 

I picked the bakery which unfortunately disappointed.  Bad coffee, a paltry quantity of beans on the toast but I left with a take away scone in a paper bag.  I didn't bother with a water top up as I still had quite a lot left and Barmouth was only 4 x 200m climbs away according to my notes.

Passing by the Centre for Alternative Technology was weird.  I'd stayed there as a pre-uni student, all full of enthusiasm for the future.  'nuff said. It was a long time ago.

I tried to count off the 200m climbs but, as I thought I'd finished the third, I checked the elevation profile on the Garmin and found I was half way up the second climb. 

I stopped at a gate and drew out my buttered scone which I'd been dreaming about for some time.  It wasn't buttered at all but whole and disappointing and I hated the bakery some more.  Still, it went down OK.  Ian Barrington came past on a fat bike, bemoaning a lack of rear brake with the descent into Barmouth to do. 

Just before the last climb, the rain started to come down properly.  Finally time to drag the waterproof out but I didn't bother with the trousers.  Another rider in a red coat was caught as I moaned about the rain that wasn't booked.  We exchanged places a few times but I was ahead pulling down to Barmouth.  As I chilled out on the descent I decided I'd definitely stop in at the toilets - even if that meant I didn't get a meal in town.  (too much information alert): I hadn't had a pee for 12 hours and, despite the obvious dehydration issue, I finally needed to go.  I'd drunk the last of my water 20kms earlier and it's easier to fill up in a loo than get a cafe/hotellier to do it for you.

I was pleased enough that I'd considered Barmouth to be a sleep stop, if necessary.  Getting there in time for dinner was a massive bonus. 

Coming in out of the rain, the bogs felt warm and dry - ish.  I brought the bike in for convenience and sat on the loo with the door open, watching it.  Its tiny dynamo light dying from lack of movement.

I wrang out the socks again and poured the sloshy boot water down the loo.  My fellow rider passed, whistling.  I'm not sure he was being polite or just entertaining himself.  A few others passed whilst I regained my composure and put on a fleece.

Over the bridge into Barmouth and I couldn't face the melée of Saturday nighters, spilling out onto the pavement to drink beers.  I did a tour of the one-way system and found a Chinese restaurant with a bus stop full of teenagers opposite.  The pre-requisite holiday resort garden of monkey puzzle and palm trees provided me with a bin to lean and lock my bike to within sight of the takeaway.

I felt for the teens with nowhere else to go on a Satuday night but a drafty bus stop... whilst I sat on the bench in a chinese takeaway shovelling veg chow mein into my gob with a plastic fork, my baggy shorts round my knees to protect the bench from the dirty bum and give me the added bonus of warm ankles.  The owners didn't mind and were probably just kind of glad I didn't attempt to go in the restaurant next door.

Outside, with the teens gone, I sat amongst the discarded chips and a broken egg (?) and added leg warmers to my layers and removed the fleece that I'd put on in the toilets.  I wouldn't be needing that for a while.

Two hilly loops to the North now.  I had a sleep spot planned for one of them, with a target to stop at midnight, with rain forecast between 1am and 4am.

As the road got higher, the houses in Barmouth got fancier and then we turned off onto a mega climb where I caught up a few riders ahead as we took on the push.  We all took our own paces and occasionally had a chat.  I found solace in dark chocolate from time to time.  Desert on the move.

Down the long descent I forged ahead, some kind of brain-out, lights on mentality took over.  Getting near the bottom, navigation was challenging in the face of gates stating "no access" although clearly the only way the route could go.  I decided that access was prohibited to motor vehicles and passed by un-challenged onto the second loop.

More pushing, more chats in the dark.  My planned stop was too early and did not look so tempting in the soggy dripping darkness so I ploughed on towards midnight.  Over the summit and down another long, wide descent.  This time loose gravel started to turn me off.  Unpredictable under-wheel, undetectable in the dark and the final straw was when I rode through a seemingly-shallow puddle, only for the ground to give way and threaten to a) swallow me and b) drown me sideways. 

At the first sign of midnight and a solid patch of flat ground off the main trail I decided to roll out my mat and bivi (great combo) and pitch my tarp. 

Not surprisingly, this did not go as well as I had practised in the loft and I had to adjust it a few times before finding I could get comfortable underneath the tarp.  I'd used my bike as an anchor for one of the pegs which worked in theory but then got in the way of my feet when I lay down but I wrestled it into shape.  It wasn't easy because the ground was a bit rocky so every peg was also wedged under heavy rocks which I had to move when I moved pegs.  Not the best plan but at 1am I fell soundly asleep and at least I didn't wake up in a puddle when I first stirred at 4:45 to heavy rain. The sound of a few tyres passing wasn't enough to get me out of bed.  With 130km under my belt, I only had 70km to get through on Sunday and I didn't have to use my sleep kit again.

I went back to sleep and waited for the 5:30 alarm.  It was still raining so I snoozed until 6 when I finally decided I should get the hell up.  The tarp wasn't big enough to shelter in to make breakfast but had served well to keep my rucsac, socks, coat, shorts and boots dry overnight.  My trousers were still dry ready to go on.  They went on over the top of my full sleep kit, including putting my bib shorts on over my synthetic down coat.  I sight to behold but I didn't give a shit - it was all about getting the waterproofs on and staying warm since I was setting off on a descent.

I was dismayed I'd left my bar bag open and poured a pint of water out of that.  Thankfully the dry bag inside it was closed, leaving a dry haven for the clothes that had to share the bag with my tarp and bivi bag.  The hydrophobic down sleeping bag did its thing and packed away with just a surface coating of rain drops.  The sleep mat stayed relatively dry as I packed it away in the shelter and then stuffed the soggy bivi away separately. 

Thankfully, given the breakfast situation, it wasn't far to the bottom of the hill and a wonderful National Trust carpark toilet site at Tyn y Coed, complete with wooden sheltered bench.  I brewed up, made coffee and porridge and enjoyed the sound of rain whilst sitting in the dry.  As I supped my brew, Mark (another rider dressed in red) came by and said hi, asking about the cafe at Coed y Brenin.  I said I thought it opened at 8 - it was 8:10 - and he carried on up, emboldened a little bit. 

A lady in a camper pulled in to use the toilets and exclaimed, "Oh how lovely, are you having a little bike packing adventure?".  I didn't bother to explain the "race" thing and just said yes. I was so taken aback after the last few weeks of middle aged men telling me I should be scared.  She was genuinely interested and excited and wished she'd seen me earlier so I could have stopped with her. 

She drove off and I went to use the sweet, pine smelling toilet facilities too, topping up my water on the way.

In retrospect that was a little foolish as I then rode all the way up the hill to Coed y Brenin centre with an extra 1.5kg water on board and I knew it.  Despite my porridge breakfast, by the time I reached the top of the climb, I was having a little wobble.  I was absolutely starving hungry and any thought that I could have skipped the draw of the cafe evaporated (like it was never really there). 

I dropped in and hooked my bike up on the racks.  A day-rider was also waiting for them to open.  It was now 9am so I paced up and down like an impatient tiger, chatting to this guy about how hungry I was.  Finally at 9:02 the doors were opened and I went straight to eager canteen staff with my order.  Veggie breakie and coffffeeeee.  MORE.

Mark's bike was outside on the deck and I was just about to go and look for him when he walked in another entrance and brought my coffee to the table and joined me.  I reciprocated by fetching us both cutlery when my breakfast arrived and we caught up on our race so far.  He'd been out with two of the other riders (Jason and RedefinedCycles) who had passed me in the night but had become separated.  They spent the night above me (in elevation), under an excavator for shelter.  I was impressed!

I sat the table whilst he went for water top ups and toilet and he sat the table whilst I went to get dressed in the loo - add a bra, take my sleep leggings off from under my shorts.  We went our separate ways as I faffed with water - picking up some spare for the road ahead by filling my frame bottle.  There was a big loop of the Coed y Brenin forest to do.

I ignored the Yee Haws exciting about "the suspension on this one!" and carried on my slow progress through the forest, to be replaced by a long straight mountain road over the moors.  I dunno, I guess it got into everyone's head and I started catching up the boys.  RedefinedCycles, playing music called ME to prayer, if no-one else and I stopped staring at the road and started enjoying the view around me.  I rode past Mark, who said, "It just kills yer back doesn't it?"  I kept quiet - no-one likes a smart arse who's been in the gym.  Then rode on up to Jason, eating pasta and holding the gate open - hero. 

I looked at my Garmin.  50km to go and 1600m climbing left - there was my extra mile of vertical climbing and I had 50km to do it in - it felt easy.

Down into the forest again and getting near to Dolgellau where I thought I might need a lunch stop. 

As I wobbled down the narrow lanes, back in "civilisation", I had a little red car pull up behind me, beeping his horn to let me know he was there.  I wasn't too sure what he expected me to do about it so carried on riding, presumably, he wanted me to stop so his metal box could go first.  He beeped twice more before we got to the top where there was enough room for me to let him pass safely.  Which he did.  Still, the rush of adrenaline from pure annoyance made me wobbly so, having chosen the right direction I decided I'd rather cook the food I was carrying around.  Food, unlike farts, is better in than out.

I found a dry bit of ground in the lee of a tree and boiled water.  I was eating my pasta when Mark came past, then Jason and Redefined.  I watched them all make the same mistakes, (did try to call out, honest), then waved as they rode past. 

Fuelled by pasta and being passed, I packed away quickly and set off up the road after them.  Just as a tea shop came into view.  Bugger.

I couldn't pass up the opportunity for more food and joined the others for cake, though with a belly full of hot pasta, I declined tea.  I paid and munched my scone (this time with butter), then took my tiffin out with me, leaving the others to a warm shed with a heater.  They had started out later on Saturday so had more hours to spare for a completion.

My brain started doing maths since it wasn't convinced I should have stopped.  I'd gone from 12 hours to do 70km at 8am to 5 hours to do 35km - though now with a suitable level of calories on board.  In theory do-able but I remembered we still had the Dyffi forest to go which was guaranteed to be challenging.

In the meantime though, there was some road riding to do and some of it had me off on my feet - so hardly making up any time.  The descents were steep too and a little treacherous with moss down the middle. There were two bumps to do and I'd managed to persuade myself they were the best route back to the finish and quitting now would be counter-productive.  This tricked me into thinking it wouldn't take long.  I couldn't believe there was still 4 hours of riding left and yet, the day had already taken 6 hours - where did it all go?

Finally Dyffi forest happened.  Puddles upto my handlebars - some of which were passable, most of which weren't.  I bog hopped, climbed, punted and swore my way around.  I admit to getting a bit emosh in here, pleading, "When will it stop?" and just as I thought it would, another puddle appeared.

I met another rider asking, "How far do we have to go?"  20k I said and kept pedalling because I couldn't afford any time.  I hoped he was OK, in retrospect and worried that a guy who doesn't know how far is to go might also be lost without GPS.  I knew the others were behind and hoped they would pick him up. 

Then the downhill started and, with my old bike and tight forks, I had to get off and walk / slither down.  At one point I had to set the bike down and let it slide so that it didn't take me with it as I bum-slid down behind.  I begged to please make it stop.  It was time for a rest but I didn't have time.

Finally I cruised into a beautiful patch of forest with vigour, only to sink up to my hubs in more bog.  And so it went on.

I'd been watching the Garmin trying to target a km every 10 minutes.  Fuck I could run it faster but, it got depressing as the time slid away and then when I stopped watching the Garmin, I started making navigational errors and the time slipped further away as I had to back-track.  Sometimes away from some really nice looking bridleways which took me back the way I'd come.  Doh!

Finally, down in AberAngell I could let it go on the roads.  I dropped onto the Jones bars to tt my way to the finish, only to find a tree crossing my path.  The entire crown of the tree across the road, I tried to climb through it but there was no way my bike was coming too.  I considered the field (which other riders had used) but decided not to trespass and back-tracked to the road to ride around through Cemaes.

I wasn't sure which way we'd end up riding back and suspected this was one of my least favourite roads in the area where I'd got so tired during the May ride I stopped an brewed up in a layby.  It wasn't though - it was in fact a very engaging twisty road, too hot for my waterproof but I wasn't going to stop to faff it off.  The rain stopped, the sun came out for the last time - at around 6pm and gave us a sunset and some colour to what had otherwise been a grey day with grey rain and grey rocks and dark puddles.  Suddenly the grey was swathed with green and the bracken turned to copper and life was good. 

Suddenly "Ll" came into focus on my Garmin screen and a zoom out led to a call of, "That's fucking it!" as I realised Llanbrynmair was a junction away.  The clock eaked towards 6:45 and so I sprinted for the line, through the carpark and ran my bike down the stairs and beat on the window at a surprised Dee, who peered through the lit room at the darkness outside.  She met me with a smile.  Having gone from, "I'm just gonna finish this thing, even if I need two nights out" to "back with an hour to spare", she was as pleased as I was. 

4 more riders were still out.  The three I knew about and I helped to identify Alex, the lone rider I'd seen in Dyffi, though I didn't know why he was struggling.  Not much later, Redefined, Jason and Mark arrived, to let us know that Alex had knee trouble and had asked them to leave him to ease his own way out of the woods.  He came home just as I was leaving to get changed, lessening everyone's guilt at leaving him to it.

I would have liked to do better - felt like I deserved better TBH - but it's given me a great taste of possibility and confidence this time.  No shortcuts, I now know I can finish it and the stats are a good comparator for other events.  More rest than I would have liked which would have normally been mitigated by my tent giving me the shelter to pack up at 4am, not 6am.  More food than necessary - given that I brought lots back.  But what the feck, I enjoyed it.  Is that the point?  Was it a race?  It certainly isn't billed as one and it didn't really feel like one, except against me and time and that, dear friends is quite enough for me.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

I've spent months trying to kid myself my road bike is bent as that would explain why I feel odd on it and get sore knees/hips/ankles.

I measured it today. It's straight. Turns out I'm just middle aged. Now I have to try and fix shit up so I can ride it.

September Bivi

Given that the weather for the penultimate weekend in September was forecast to be beautiful and warm, I was super motivated to get out.  On Thursday night I was packed up and ready to roll.  On Friday morning I rode to work and left EmVee in the carpark.  I wasn't even phased by leaving my rucsac at home and having to ride all the way back up hill to fetch it.  

I finished work early but stayed at my desk, plotting an impromptu route.  I'd had a great idea to head North towards the Yorkshire Dales.  I knew I wouldn't make it there but a trip towards Howarth didn't seem too wrong.  Not wanting to dally at my desk too long, I opted for the easy Garmin Mapping service which meant I didn't really have much idea whether I'd plotted a roadie or MTB or walking route!

I left the office and headed straight for the Trans Pennine Trail (TPT).

There's a wonderful bike lane that trundles up the side of the M1.  It's surfaced, mostly, with tarmac but it's fabulous to finally cross the motorway, full of cars and turned towards Thorpe Hesley.  I wibbled through all kinds of back-road / greenway bike lanes through industrial estates I couldn't otherwise show you and then back into Wortley.  Finally off road and crossing the fields, it was a great relief but I was getting hungry.

The pub in Wortley looked a bit posh so instead I got on the TPT itself and rode outwards towards the Peak, dropping down at Oxprings to eat dinner in the Waggon and Horses.  

A passing walker accosted me as I locked up.  "Ooooh, are you... 'bikepacking'".   
Me: Erm yeah.
Walker: aren't you scared.
Me:erm No.
Walker: I think you're very brave.
Me: Not really.
Walker: I fancy a go at that.  

OK, so you're not scared?  I left it.

I ate my dinner watching the sunset and persuading the waitresses to come outside with my food.  I tried not to spend too much time indoor in the warm.

I left the pub in fading light and joined the TPT again up to Dunsford Bridge.  From there, my first tentative pedal strokes on new territory, I took the trail around the edge of the reservoir.  Much to my disappointment it wasn't really a trail it was a road with closed gates.  Still, better things were to come.  I enjoyed the reservoir in the fading light and climbed up on to the Pennines, chatting with some locals out for a dog walk in the dusk.

A few sweeps around woodlands and forested slopes and I finally dropped into Holme (yes as in Holme Firth and Holme Moss).  I flipped in and out of minor roads which I'd never been on before then finally, started the climb out of the village.  I was getting pretty tired and would start looking for somewhere to sleep soon.

I took a wrong turn, chose the wrong side-road out of two options.  Obviously, descending at speed, out of two choices, I took the easier option - after all this was a pleasure ride not a race.  Of course, I chose the wrong one and ended up at a dead end but a look at the map told me there was a footpath straight up the hillside to the other road.

I climbed up some incredibly steep steps then through a gate.  By now the light was completely gone and as I plodded along up a steep slope, my wheel off the ground half the time, my dynamo light gradually died.  In the darkness I realised I'd totally lost the path and my feet were now stepping in deep piles of dead leaves and cracking branches.  I alerted the owls who hooted at me through the trees and the foxes started yapping.  With the steep slope I couldn't stop here.

I looked around with the strong light to see if I could see the path but to no avail but what I did find was a patch of flat ground, just down hill of a tree with its roots part-exposed - the perfect place to lock up the bike a roll out a bivi.  Even more perfect that I'd lost the path and the wildlife seemed to quieten down.  I decided to risk it and pressed the OK button on my spot.

This was my view

I was a little apprehensive.  A new bivi bag.  I put my mat on the floor and slept in the bivi bag with a sleeping bag in.  Just as I'd got comfy, my final thought was, "I hope this tree doesn't fall over in the night" but it looked sound so I shut my eyes.

I was a bit excited so was awake until midnight.  TSK texted me to make sure I was OK as my spot didn't ping.  I sent a text then went to sleep.  I was woken a few times by foxes and once by a dream that a helicopter was passing searching for my spot but otherwise it was a quiet night.  The alarm went off at 05:45 and I had thought I was on the wrong side of the hill for the sunrise but as time went on, this appeared. 

I didn't even have to get out of my sleeping bag.

The daylight brought more good news, the path I had missed made a meandering slope across the hillside to join the road at a simple stile without me having to break my ankles pushing the bike up vertical any more.

The sun continued to rise as I made my way towards Diggle reservoir.
After this photo things got a bit bright for photography.
At Diggle res, the light was incredible and the solitude was amazing.  The bridleway is made up of old cart tracks, rutted through years of use, giving a real sense of history to the place.

It was around 7am and a kestrel flew along the path straight towards me before banking away 3 metres from my front wheel.  Wheaters and finches zipped around catching early flies and sheep lazily chomped away.

I reserved breakfast in Marsden in my mind but couldn't hold on that long and ended up in a cute little cafe called Ivy's in Meltham.  A bit of a greasy-spoon, I ordered tea but then noticed the filter coffee so a double-whammy to go with my veggie breakfast (with black pud).

By now I was a bit fed up of roads so I started to do a lot of messing about with the route - constantly stopping to zoom in/out of my Garmin OS Map to find bridleway diversions.  They were all wonderful - I was having far too much success.

I reached a rather puzzling routing where my plot seemed to follow the M62 for some distance.  Confused by this from the map, I didn't quite know what to expect.  Sure enough, the "road" (footpath) leads straight along a dam, on top of which sits the M62.  Whilst I was very tempted to ride across it, I was also a little hesitant.  Footpaths in broad daylight aren't really my thing and a large group of people were assembled on the other side of the dam.  I decided to give it a miss and descend the road to take an alternative bridleway instead.

Unfortunately I descended the wrong road and just ended up on the Yorkshire water service road on the bottom of the dam.  I took a thrash through some trees and bushes to try and hike my way out but just got confronted with a wall of nettles and a chasm of water so I hiked back out.

Advertising truck graveyard with the M62 along the dam in the distance.
After all that I needed lunch and pulled into the Co-op in Ripponden to stock up.  I enjoyed riding with my backpack this weekend and tootled my food down the road to a pleasant bench to sit and eat at for some time.

I made scribbles across to Cragg vale on joyous double-track by comparison and I rode for hours, doing double-backs just to cover more ground off-road.  There's only steep ways out of Cragg Vale though and I rode up Penny lane on the cobbles.  Only at around 13:30 did I allow myself to drop into Hebden Bridge for some more food and coffee.  It was busy though so I lay in the sun on the bench, my face shielded from the sun by my nose bags and I ate food lying on my back whilst people milled about.  I never found the will to lock up and go for that coffee so I set off without any water top up to get away from town.  In retrospect it wasn't wise but I managed.

No wonder I was tired after this Balsam explosion.
Instead of riding down the canal the rest of the way I climbed back out up the steep sides of the valley and back onto the top of the pennines.  It was glorious and I had a pee in the tussocks, looking over Stoodley pike.  Crossed the moors to the pike and joined the hundred-or-so people milling about near the pub.  I ordered a coffee at the bar but they couldn't be arsed / weren't bothered / were too disorganised to take my food order for a mid-day desert so I downed my coffee and left - without actually having sat down at all.  Before locking up, I remembered to go back in to fill up my Camelbak then set off towards Todmorden after a long chat with a toothless man who "fancied doing what I do" but also thought that I might get attacked.  I was starting to worry that men aren't very brave at all.

Stoodley Pike in the distance
Stoodley pike in the less distant.
It was great to ride away from a pub full of screaming kids and poor service but I was conscious that I didn't have much food with me and it was 5:30pm.  I bounced over the pennine bridleway for a while, finally dropping down towards the Rochdale canal around 6:30, just above Walsden.  As I sat down to eat a cereal bar, a couple of mountain bikers approached from behind me.  Just a couple of mates from Walsden out for an evening ride.  A week earlier we'd been in the 3 Peaks cyclocross together.  We had quite a long catch up as they offered me tea and plied me with Colin the Caterpillars and I munched on nuts and cereal bars.

I tried not to get distracted by the job in hand though - getting home before the rain on Sunday.  I politely declined accommodation and continued on my way with directions to a local pub for dinner.

Unfortunately I passed the local pub at speed and decided I could still go another hour on a belly-full of caterpillars.

All was well until I dropped down from the Nirvana of the Pennines to a slightly disconcerting Littleborough.  My first intro to the town was a gang of yoofs, complete with grey hoodies and white face masks throwing stuff at eachother across the street.  I'm sure they were just cold and having a game to warm up but I was tired and not in the mood for gaming.  Thankfully, they weren't interested in a middle aged woman on a crap-splattered bike, wobbling through their midst so I continued along the bike lane with the stoners and the drunk guys before drizzling out onto Hollingworth Reservoir.

It was just as busy as the Stoodley Pike pub but more adult this time and brilliant news, there were a pair of bike packers sitting at the far end of the beer garden out front.  I rolled up with an, "I see my people" and we settled down to chat about our day, the Highland Trail, work life balance, beer, chips and other bike-packing topics.

It was a fine evening, though they were staying in the campsite up the road so settled in for the night.  They broke the news to me that the weather forecast had changed (it seems me and bivi bags are cursed) and attempted to persuade me a stop would be a good thing.  However, I was still a little shaken from my Littleborough adventures and decided my lock was a bit shit for a night in a relatively populous campsite.  Besides, I still had that long ride home and two more Pennine crossings to do.

The "where do you go from here?" conversation was quite vague in that I was still just following a pink line on a map, plotted hastily on Friday night.  It involved hills and South but apart from that, I didn't really know but hoped it would get wild enough to camp again soon.

I recounted my tales of middle-aged men calling me brave all throughout my ride which made my friends gaffaw into their beer.  "He thought I was afraid of being attacked!"

Pffssst, "Who by?  The sheep?".  A new armoury of response.

I had my dinner (a little too much after all the Colin) and then set off down the road, returning a few minutes later to retrieve my credit card and pay my bar bill.

Good evening Rochdale!
From Hollingworth lake the crossing of the M62 is much nicer, a long meandering up hill from the pub on a closed road which down grades into open double-track. The weather held off and I summitted back onto the Pennines at around 10pm. A gig in Rochdale drifted up on the dark air and I listened to a warbling rendition of England's "Green and Pleasant Land" before enjoying the fire works display as I picked my way across. The hills somewhat belittling the whiz pop below.

As I realised I was back out on Saddleworth Moor, I realised there's one thing I'm irrationally scared of and that is the ghosts of dead children as I was chillingly reminded of the Moors murders in my dark and lonely world.  I tried to focus on the wildlife, the heather passing, the quiet munching and farting of sheep.  It didn't help returning to civilisation by a house on the A672 to a 40" TV screen image of a large, anguished child in some pokey TV drama.  I shuddered and concentrated on the main road crossing ahead.

An (I'm assuming) couple who had stopped to (look at the view) chose that moment to turn the headlights back on full beam and I tried my bestest to keep my eyes on the trail and ignore the dazzling flickering lights as someone wandered around the car to relieve themselves in the long grass.

Down the hill was a little tedious from here.  I couldn't decide whether to continue following the Pennine Bridleway or give up and get on the road.  Every time I pondered a road I was nervous of ending up in a town filled with drivers and drunk people so I just kept following the line on my map which seemed a good pick to be honest.  I kept expecting Mossley to show up at any time but it was a good 2 1/2 hours before I found myself somewhere I vaguely recognised on the map - except for riding past Diggle, whose reservoir I had slept at 20 hours earlier.

I was still outside of Mossley though when my Garmin finally died its death and I dug out its replacement.  I committed to sticking on the pink line though instead of riding around the border villages of Tameside and worked my way back up onto the Moor.  A "No cyclists" sign on my route had me a bit confused as there are quite a few pleasant bridleways around there but I dutifully dropped down and climbed back up again to Higher Swineshaw res before stumbling across the perfect bivi spot just as I was starting to get properly sleepy.  My plan to ride as much as possible to get dry riding done had worked and it was time to bed down before the rain came.  It was 1:30am.

With rain on the way, I was happy to find that the Thermarest just about fit inside the bivi bag with me and my sleeping bag in it too.  It was a tight squeeze but it just went.  I spent most of the night asleep with my face open to the elements (a first for me) except to sit up at 4am and retrieve my midge net as I was getting bitten on the face.  Netted and hooded I went straight back to sleep and woke up to the drizzle at 5:45.  I pulled the bivi over my head and closed it off except for a 12 inch breathing hole.  The perfect fit over my shoulders meant that very little condensation from my breathe made it past my shoulders and into the rest of my bag so when I properly woke up at 6:30am to heavy rain I was still relatively dry.  I waited out the worst of it then decided I'd better get up in the drizzle and pack away in a weather gap.

A beautiful spot

The other way
Deep rumbles of thunder in the distances added an urgency to my packing and I was lucky enough to get my sleeping bag packed up before the heavens opened for a few minutes, soaking the bivi and mat.  I was OK in full waterproofs this time (learning from the Peak 200 attempt) and even my shoes didn't seem to wet out too much.  It eased to a drizzle at I headed down hill to Tintwistle.

Dropping onto the main road I checked the route.  I was about to leave civilisation until getting to Penistone about 50km away.  I definitely needed to find breakfast.  It was 8am on a Sunday morning.

A few glances down side roads revealed nothing but a corner shop/paper shop and then I found this wonderful place.  I called in the door to check they really were open and a cheery "Yes" had me beaming from ear to ear.  I locked up and fell short of ordering myself a "Full" or "Monster", instead going for the "veggie" which she hadn't done in a while so I had to remind her what was in it.

With "no eggs" and "a bit of extra everything" I tucked in.
The only downside is, there was still no decent coffee - it had been 24 hours since my last coffee at Meltham but I could not complain.  I stuck £2 in the charity flapjack box and headed out on my Sunday bimble home.

As Pennine Bridleway became Transpennine and I wiggled my way over to Dunsford Bridge again, the rain actually ceased enough for me to remove waterproofs and enjoy the final passage over the "hard bit" in the company of sheep and a good wild pee stop.

From Dunsford bridge it was like the home run.  Gently downhill all the way to Penistone and lunch.  Pie and peas are the best at the Penistone caf.  More tea and bants with some ageing road cyclists heading the other way.

The hill climb through my local Wharncliffe woods, wearing my patience a little thin and I had little time for the horse riders who had been "going for ages" and needed to know how long it would take them to get to the pub.  At their plodding pace.  Their whining almost made me feel guilty as I plodded away at speed.

Home.  I wasn't looking forwards to the climb up the hill.  In the end the only climbing I did was to get off my bike and push as soon as I ran out of momentum.

I bartered with the rest of the clear weather and sat in the garden to drink a cup of coffee (finally) in the last of the glorious weekend weather, before retreating to the bath and then the bed.

A fucking brilliant weekend out.  200km 4000m.