Sunday, November 29, 2020

Ice Crystals.

The last 6 weeks have been a bit of a write off for my long riding exploits. I have focussed on improving my strength and speed as part of a larger plan and also have been both busy and focussed on a short, difficult training course. The exam was on Monday this week. After one week of targeted sanity training as a break from studying and revising, I came out of the exam to 4 days of frantically catching up with the day job. I promised myself my November bivi this weekend as a reward for finishing the course. 

I've been reading "Under the stars" by Matt Gaw, my anticipation for a release from the four brick walls of my house, growing with every page turn.  

A father of two, Gaw's book describes his observations of UK dark skies areas in stark contrast to the light polluted conurbations of UK cities - Bury St Edmunds where he lives and London. He travels to Galloway and to the Isle of Coll, bivis with the stars, walks in the woods without lights, cries, laughs (mostly at himself) and finally manages to persuade his kids and wife out for a night but falls at the final hurdle when the children refuse to lie down in the goose poo at the RNIB reserve.

His descriptions of constellations and the smear of the milky way across a blackened sky bring inspiration but with Lockdown, my chances are limited to a limp into the Peak to be sandwiched between the orange glows of Manchester, Sheffield and Barnsley. It is also due to be a 98% moon.

I still hadn't seen my lockdown bike buddy Landslide since our mad rush over to Wales for the BB200 so our plans hatched to get November done together. Without any real weather incentive last weekend, he seemed happy to wait for me to surface from my training course. My only demand was that we go out Friday night.

I knew I didn't have the patience to wait out Saturday morning to get out for a Saturday night bivi. Chances wavered between me doing a long ride and failing to make it to night or going out for a day ride and getting too tired and not going out again.  It would be slim based on some reduced leg muscle right now. I thought it more likely I'd slink home and put off bivying all together. So I insisted on a late departure after dinner on Friday with a decent ride to finish off on Saturday. 

 For the first time in weeks I cut work short, loaded the bike and perfectly timed myself to get out the door (except for some mad hunting for my spot tracker). I wanted  the Spot in case I had some riding to do on my own on Saturday and once I'd realised it was 'lost' I wanted to find it again but eventually I left without it. Although I'd remembered all my gear, I realised that aside from my breakfast porridge I was relying on a selection of accumulated snacks from previous rides to sustain me through Saturday. 

My earlier intentions to go to the shops had been quashed by management tasks and Microsoft outlook and by the time I did make it to Asda with Landslide in tow to mind the bikes, my focus was on the beer I'd been promising myself all week.

Chores completed we rattled along the allotments trail, lights blazing, then hiked our bikes up the rock garden.

I'd finally warmed up and had to stop to lose my gloves and layers, finally realising my Spot Tracker was still dangling from my handlebars from its last outing though it was now invisible amongst all the bags. I noticed the leaves glistening like jewels in my lights and realised it was going to be an interesting night.

We hiked bikes up through the quarry to cross the A57 then descend its byway to the base of the Rivelin valley. We climbed back up, finding a small white bhudda meditating in the stream below the golf course. While Landslide snapped his pic, I stretched out my hamstrings now tight and complaining about 2 rides in one day interspersed with a lot of sitting down.

The descent from the Buddha is rocky and exciting and I meant to take it carefully given the glass beer bottle that was now sharing my rucsac with my dry fleece top, hat, spare gloves and electronics. However, Landslide took a different line to me and we found ourselves rolling down it side by side, almost in sync and running a dual slalom all the way to the bottom where I got so excited I nearly stacked several times trying to get my weighted dropper post to spring back up again.

We cruised along Wyming Brook, puffing up the climbs now. I criticised myself for hitting the bottom gear before remembering I'm on my heavy bike with older (higher)gear ratios packing a LOT of stuff for a November bivi.

At the A57 Landslide suggested that as it was 9:30 we should hotfoot it down the road to our destination, the Ladybower. I was having none of it and sternly turned us towards Sheffield then straight up Onkersley Lane, past the Good Dog (Lockdown or no Lockdown he was in bed) and up to Rod side.

• • •

I'd refused the A57 option because it's always longer than I think to cross the moor at Hollow Meadows but Rod Side is also long. Quiet though. Not a single car passed and then we were onto the Byway, passing cows lowing noisily in the farm shed when we went through the gates. Who needs Security alarms when you have nervous cattle?

Finally I allowed us both a break and through the cold air we cut down to the reservoirs on the A57. I battened down all the hatches - hood up, zips all fastened - but still spun my legs furiously to keep warm. A couple of cars passed. They were loud but muted by the hood over my ears. Each time I thought it was Landslide passing, "wow! He's tanking it" turned to alarm and caution as I realised it was a tonne of metal instead.

The first gravel climbs alongside the Ladybower reservoir were bittersweet.  Our legs and brains were crying out for bed but our hands were freezing. Every little rise brought us new levels of warmth and comfort and our brains were engaged by chatter as we were finally able to ride side by side, reminiscing about the bizarre abundances of wildlife that gathered here during the" Summer" Lockdown when nature took over from humans.

Eventually - thankfully in time - I realised I needed to look out for our spot. When I found it, it was not great so we continued on up. I was nervous about climbing higher as I knew it was going to be colder at elevation and more exposed on the moors.

Still, Landslide seemed to be on for an outdoor bivi and, well, I couldn't be arsed to think of anything better. I read the landscape ahead - clearly visible as shapes in the moonlight - against the OS maps - and concluded there was a probable flat spot ahead.

Sure enough, as we reached the shoulder of the climb, the hillside opened out. I was coveting a sheep dugout for shelter but better than that, amongst the tussocks, a sphagnum moss bed emerged, glistening in the moon.


There was just enough space for two pitches in between the grassy tussocks The surface moisture was frozen into crunchy broccoli florets and the ground beneath seemed sufficiently drained and/or frozen to remain dry for the night ahead. We both pitched just right. Our spaces forming a tiny human head to toe chain up the very gentle upward slope that was only perceptible lying down. I proudly unearthed the little pouch of goodies I keep for my pitch - a freebie plastic "waterproof" bag with a zip lok closure. In the freezing temperatures its elastic properties were overcome and as I opened it, it split into small fragments of plastic paper. My pegs, toothbrush and paste, handed warmers, zip ties, antihistamines, lip balm and earplugs were held together by broken folio-remnants of "what was".

• • •

Landslide got a hot feed off some packaged concoction while I dined out on faffing with my flat tarp then drinking the beer I had so lovingly transported. It had cooled to the right drinking temperature after 3 hours on my back.. It took a fair effort to get into though. Once I found my penknife, getting the bottle opener unleashed was a task at a higher level which Landslide managed for me as I sat by, ready to tackle it with my house keys.

Once "settled" the head torches went off and we admired the moonscape. Light colours were discernable, the yellow grass for the most part. The dark greens of pine and holly and ocre of bracken melded into dark grey. The reservoir was only visible as blackness, occasionally highlighted by a brief passage of a motor vehicle far below.

• • •

The silence was incredible. The cars were inaudible, engine noise filtered out by the narrow valley walls. From time to time an aeroplane passed overhead but there were no other sounds. We picked out the Plough, Orion and Cassiopeia, Landslide's wife's constellation.

I released myself from the entrapment of bibs to go for a wee and in doing so exposed all but a sleeveless vested body to the raw elements of minus 2°C. Re-dressing into my wool top then my synthetic down then my Paramor jacket, the layers piled back on, each one blissfully warmer than the one before.

That and 1 litre less of water to keep heated left me feeling super toasty. White landslide danced in the moonlight to stay warm, I felt quietly confident about the night ahead, though I was still a little dubious about my bag's -7C rating, I'd survived-5 in it last year.

He disappeared into his lovely new hexamid shaped tarp thingy whilst I faffed a bit more - to no real result. I still don't like the big Tarp. It is both too big (to support well) and too small to form a decent tunnel that I can sit in.

Eventually I got into my bivi bag.The initial warming coming from the sheer level of effort it took me to wriggle into the thing

I was a bit hyper. I'd been looking forwards to this for weeks and now I was here the brain didn't want to sleep and the moon wasn't helping matters. I didn't really mind. I was happy to lie still and appreciate the scenery and the few stars that were visible in the moonlight.

The wakefulness became an issue when the shivers started again. I recognised them as another call for a loo break so staggered back out across the tussocks to my dedicated reed bed. More star gazing.

I came back to my bivi disappointed to see it looking quite saggy and crestfallen. In my attempt to get the best views, there wasn't much central support and the whole thing looked like a saggy blanket.

It was beautifully encrusted with fallen mist, iced into crystalline patterns with a central welt of melted moisture where it hung down and touched my nice warm body. The worst thing is, I couldn't be arsed to do anything about it. I was like that neighbour in the street whose lack of loft insulation is blindingly obvious between November and March.

• • •

Back in my bag, all was well again except for one of my good gloves had strayed out of the bag with me. I dragged it back in. That would have been an unpleasant start to the day.

The shaking started again a little later but this time I realised I really did just need more layers for my legs. My fleece leggings weren't enough. I emptied my rucsac looking for my buff or waterproof trousers but only found my fleece Jersey and some soggy biscuits. I tried laying the fleece over me for a while and eating the biscuits but it didn't work for long. Finally I remembered my saddlebag and pulled the last few items of clothing out of there. The trousers went on over my down booties and my buff added a much-needed barrier between the cold air on my face where I needed to breathe and the warmth inside my sleeping bag. Also, one last glance over to Manchester left me convinced the cloud bank that had been loitering there all evening had finally acquired the momentum to start making progress in our direction.

In a final slap in the face I wondered if I could hear a pack of dogs barking and the brain momentarily worried we'd be mauled by an errant group of hounds that mistook us for Badgers.

It wasn't enough though and at 3am I finally fell asleep.

• • •

Once I was gone, I was out. The next thing to wake me up was a flapping noise. I was mortified. This would be me again! I looked at the watch. 7. 50 am. The sun was rising somewhere but our view was just soggy tussocks and a dirty grey duvet snuggling the higher slopes across the valley. I'll give it credit, it was swathing us in relative warmth.  I had been sleeping face forward on my front with one arm out of the bag and was perfectly toasty, bordering on too hot.  I was relieved to find it wasn't my tarp that was flapping but Landslide's. Completely accidentally, I had pitched mine perfectly. Low end into the breeze. It was so low, the wind flattened everything to the ground. It was perfectly tensioned, and flap-free but it acted like a pathetic wet plastic blanket. Landslide congratulated me on my no-holds-barred romanticism of wild bivi camping.


We lay in bed to make our plans as our tarps flapped (his) and pressed me into the ground. There was no chance I could brew up here from my bed. Our plans to continue up onto the moor would lead us to remaining at elevation for quite some time a potentially we would disappear like Gorillas in the mist. Any sheltered spots would still be bloody cold. The plan developed into a descent back to the valley floor and a ride home "on the other side" with breakfast en route.

We packed up swiftly once the decision was made. My wool gloves had sprung a leak in one digit, my finger tip poking out the end and meaning I had to double it up with a random pair of smelly gloves from another ride. The exposed fingertip still lost all feeling until it was safely ensconced in the big crab claw gloves along with its mate.

I looked forlornly at my bivi bag - Stu's old one. I both love it and hate it. I'd been cold in it and felt like I had no room to move. I'd breathed into it to get warm and it had laid limp and damp against my face, dripping breath moisture on to me, sometimes ice crystals and yet I had slept. Though the surface that had been on the damp ground (no longer frozen) was wet, my sleeping bag and mattress were both, dry as a bone inside the bivi.  This is reliably predictable now, yet always surprises me. It's light, it's stealthy it's incredibly waterproof and breathable. If only it had a little more space for my feet.

• • •

We didn't need to ride far to drop down below the windshield of the hillside and find ourselves nestled by a stream with plenty of big flat rocks to sit on and perch stoves on. A small bird flitted past bursting song into the air and we gleefully brewed porridge and coffee. The last of the Glen Nevis honey being shared out. As we collected our water it started to patter with rain but it didn't really matter, we were both already dressed for it. I just needed to add my gaiters to stop it running down into my boots from my trousers.

Landslide beamed with happiness.


On our way back to civilisation we planned our response to the inevitable question, "did you cramp out"? 

"Nope just practising."

Practising is a superior response to "training"

"Training" opens up further lines of enquiry. The nicest people want to be in awe of what you are training for. There are other people who want to know what you're training for so they can do it to or so they can be sure that they have done something similar or better or harder. 

Practising implies a more generic repetition, relative new-ness and a non-specific skill rather than an event. Practice is difficult to question.

It's also far more legal than the actual process of camping out.

We agreed that if a man in a green (ranger's) jacket asked if we'd been camping out, the default answer was "Nope, we're just practising".

• • •

Back down at the reservoir, the public appeared. Lots of runners, serious walkers, families with kids in wellies, proper mountain bikers on full sussers, the kind who know bikepacking exist but whose friendly banter dries up at "By eck tha's carryin' a-lot-of-shit (one word) on that" if they acknowledge you at all.

We pulled into the carpark and mingled with runners in between toilet trips and disposing of our beery spoils from the night before. There was no way I was walking up the hill with a bottle in my backpack, never mind riding the downhill on the other side. Yes I made Landslide walk up the downhill though in retrospect, letting him guide me up the fire road would have both been easier and opened my eyes to a track I've not used in 20 years and I really can't remember why I don't like it. 

As we approached the sleep hill I realised I was already warm and should have adjusted my layers when I'd stopped at the toilets.

I decided to be brave and try out my new water "proof" leggings in this rain to see how good they are. If you can't test your kit less than 20 miles from home, where can you test it? Besides, I didn't fancy sweating up the slog in Goretex trousers, getting just as sweaty on the inside as wet on the outside.

• • •

Up at the "Climb up the downhill", landslide ploughed on ahead while I faffed with layers and gloves and smiled for downhillers ripping by on over-expensive full sussers, with all the skill of dancing monkeys.

L waited for me by a new bivi spot and we carried on together as the trail became more rideable.

Faced with the choice of summer meadows without the sunshine or descending the burms to Hagg Farm, L opted for burns and I let him go first with no intention of catching him, then he held the gate for me so I put a rush on and kept going to get to the next gate to return the favour, L chomping at my wheel all the way down.  

Eventually the rush got the better of me and I went sideways on loose stones, dropping myself and the bike into the bank in a slo-mo flop. My buddy checked I was Ok then streamed post to get the bottom gate. Despite crashing it was a PB.


We paused at the bottom to admire the wet then in a fit of enthusiasm I powered up the other side on a hill called "try not to walk this bit". I didn't walk it but the consequent loss of oxygen to the brain meant I struggled to get through the gate at the top.

It was back into the public domain for the flatter ride around the reservoir. Back to looking forward to short climbs that gradually forced the blood back into my fingers where the thin gloves I'd worn for the climb were challenged to keep anything warm on descents and the flat roll along the Lake shore.

Finally at the last bend two mountain bikers called out, "have you camped out?" As I climbed up the other side of the stream bed I heard Landslide call out, "Nope, just practicing!".

• • •

I was targeting the next bus stop for a refuelling break to shelter from the rain and change into dry, thick gloves. It didn't disappoint, although the Yorkshire Bridge Inn would have been preferable outside of Lockdown.

The climb up New Road had felt like an insurmountable slog before but with full bellies and warmer gloves I got into a rhythm and enjoyed it. I rode on through places where, in previous years, I have needed to stop and" admire the view" whilst travelling fully loaded. The road climb was survived, the Causeway was enjoyed. It wasn't too busy but those that were out were jolly and friendly.

As the rain became ever heavier my new leggings wetted out although I noticed that, despite the tonnes of water rolling off my coat into my lap, the pad under my bum was still bone dry - something practically unheard of underneath waterproof shorts where the sweat coming down from the body inevitably collides with the water being blown in from the knees to mash into one wholly chafing wet mess.

• • •

After the friendly walkers, Stanage Pole looked friendly too. Shrouded in mist, rain and swirling clouds it was familiar, a million moons away from the summer Lockdown rides that had it glistening with the setting or rising sun.


My new "waterproof" leggings were definitely being challenged now. My knees were soaked as the first point of contact with the rain. My shins were so wet, the water was penetra­ting the overlap with my gaiters and leaking into my boots and socks. I guess we found their limit but I wasn't ready to stop and put on my waterproof trousers. I was nearly home and it wasn't really worth the faff. As we dropped down the hill from the last reservoirs though, I turned soft on myself.  I was done playing in the mud and the trees and it was time for lunch.

L and I pulled along side by side on a perilous descent towards a white BMW that saw fit to overtake us before pulling up indicating to turn right. We fist bumped (ish) our goodbyes whilst L joined the BMW queue and I hightailed my way through the chaotic junction towards my home. My final blood- pumping climb of the day was insufficient to cover the long breezy descent to the house. As much as I wanted to go straight inside I had a good coating of wet mud to wash off the bike. My ex army neighbour was smoking outside his house. He Loves my adventure stories of star-filled nights so was captivated by our transition from "absolutely fabulous" on Friday night to the drowned rat he saw before him.

My leggings came off inside the back door, the heating went on and I went straight to the bathroom to get in the shower, pausing only to laugh at my mud spattered face in the mirror. My legs turned into itchy, pink lobsters under the hot water.

The vegetarian Lentil stew that was in the fridge was far too healthy to eat as-is so I added large chunks of saucisson to the mix to add protein bulk before heading back to bed for my other 3 hours sleep.  My brain really needs to be beautiful again for Monday morning.

In retrospect this really has been my wildest camp yet. I've had more desperate ones, nestled on the edge of feasibility on the edge of a mountain trail in the Alps or falling, exhausted into a bus stop at 3am. I've had colder bivis - on the BB Winter ride when we failed to make the bothy and instead headed for a cowshed that was ankle deep in shit so we pitched the 2-man tent under a nearby Oak instead. That was in the days when I used to carry a 5- season bag (trust me, I thought about it). There was last January in -5 degrees when I carried the tent and sought out the cosseting comfort of Paddy Gorge, still slept badly and later, simply rolled out my sleeping bag and mat on a wall next to the A57 and had another 30 minutes kip to get me home.

This time I survived -3 degrees and did so at 350m elevation in a sphagnum bog. Given the freedom we felt, I 100% would do it again.  Grassy moorland, it seems, is my spiritual happy-place.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Of the worst kind of effort, and the best kind of effort.

Saturday 14th was a fixing day I bought stuff off the internet I really do want then loaded the bike, changed its saddle but all that reminded me I still need to change my brake hose to stop frame scuff and I got too comfy and didn't ride. I ran instead. I ran 40 minutes and achieved what 2 hours on the bike would do.

I didn't have an amazing time or any profound revelations. I followed my head torch beams, dodged tonnes of dog walkers and trudged through. I walked up some of the hills, particularly the steep slimy one. Eventually my body settled into a groove that did keep running and then I was back, damp in my coat and a bit sweaty.

The best part was the gratifying shower - physically. Mentally, I was encouraged by achieving 2 runs  of around 5km each in the week... as well as everything else.

I learned last night that if I am to reach 5k I have to follow the bridleway all the way up to the top road + drop back down to get the extra distance in. I wasn't peeved that I didn't last night, but now I know, it's another stepping stone to my 2x 5k. I'm so keen to start including the big Byway but I have to increment towards it, not just sacrifice the bike to running.


I ordered my hydro dry lights this week from Spain, no less, so lets see how those improve my wintry motivations.

On Sunday the weather was mercifully clear. I read an article about the benefits of dropping the big ambitions and focusing instead on the small, incremental daily habits that will stick, leading ironically to future endeavours going better. On that theme I went out for a better than nothing Sunday ride which turned out to be a pleasant zip over to the Bradfield side of the valley.

The sunset through just-enough-cloud to keep it atmospheric, though not enough to just make it grey. I left late so I sneaked home under dark. Nothing really hurt, I was just generically tired.

Tired enough to have Monday off? I did, but it felt like a bit of a mistake. My work day was stressful on my pm Q course and I struggled to sleep. Clearly I needed to tire myself out more often.

As the course went on through the week, I stuck to daily exercise but it dwindled from following my plan to surviving the course through stress relief... all of which worked but the entire process has left me feeling exhausted this weekend.  Today, I sat a mock exam and that was it.  Tomorrow I type like my life depends on it and hope for the best.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

This morning I ran

 This feels like an understatement.

It took a lot to do this run.  I've been trying to get up in time to run for days.  It has been two since I've done any exercise.  I've been recovering hard, apparently.  I also lifted some weights on Tuesday evening in an effort to improve my strength but ironically pulled an interstitial  muscle in my back rendering me a little feeble, to say the least.

This morning, I still wasn't really up early enough but I needed to do something.  TSK has been waiting (inadvertently or otherwise) for me to get up before he comes to bed, either so he doesn't wake me or just because he falls asleep in the rocking chair downstairs before he even makes it up to bed.  That was exactly where I found him this morning.  I kissed him then sent him to bed.

I ate my breakfast then stared at the pile of clothes next to me.

I didn't feel like being cold.  I selected a pair of cotton leggings to wear underneath my hiking trousers and started dressing for a nice walk but once the leggings were on, an appropriate running bra came to hand and enough layers to keep me warm but not too warm.  I actually felt like it.

I walked down the hill to let satellites amass then started the watch and plodded along the river.  It had a similar feel to my first bike ride - a little clumsy, a little flat footed but entirely liberating.  I didn't even care that I couldn't keep up with a vegan runner.  I enthusiastically selected the rougher trail that ends in certain wet feet as the river was high and the stepping stones are low.  Sure enough, water leached into my left shoe as I plodded along, spent pack of Ibuprofen in hand to dispose of in the bin.  

I continued on up to almost the mill pond, deciding to save that for another day, I doubled back on myself now and set off up towards the top road, but not quite with a drop back down towards the Bottom A57 road before turning into the woods again to head back through trees towards the bridleway that is my bike route out.

I waited for a horse and rider which gave me chance to breathe and admire the deadly nightshade starting to berry in the bushes then passed the lamas and remembered to turn up the hill instead of trudging down the road the quick way home.  My slow pace left me feeling on form, what an amazing way to start the day.

When I got home I felt like I'd earned a second coffee but at the same time I didn't need it and I went some time before drinking some tea.  

I'd checked my calendar last night to scald myself for the training I wasn't doing only to realise it's a rest week so I'm technically not allowed to scald myself for anything.  After last week it was exactly what I needed so I relaxed, chuffed I'd managed the run, congratulated myself on excellent planning and self coaching and looked forward to kicking it next week.

Now I might just go and jump on the rollers because I feel like that too.

Sunday, November 08, 2020


 It was 1pm when I got out on Sunday.  My lunch was already packed so I sat at the top of the hill and stared out into the gloom while I ate some fruit, a packet of crisps and drank the coffee I'd just hauled up through the rock garden.  I didn't think through the fog when I promised myself I'd sit at the top of the hill and look at the view.  Still, I had a chat with a few passing dog walkers before following them down the hill and riding back up past the apple store, checking out some more bivi spots for later in the month and then riding up to Stanage Pole.  There were far fewer hordes today.  

Up the track, the air cleared for a moment, it was like being hit with a hair drier.  The air, no longer wet, was a good 5 degrees warmer.  

The Cotic cruised happily over the drain speed bumps and we did our first bunnyhops on easy terrain over the puddles.  I decided on my usual route over to the reservoirs, running up hill and down Padley to join the busy parking bays - even though the icecream van is long gone.  Still, it was a foggy Remembrance Sunday late afternoon and the majority of people were leaving.

I was finally hungry again and this time promised myself I'd climb up the hill away from the traffic at least, before stopping for my sandwich.  I aimed for the offroad climb that I discovered when I last rode here to see if I could beat my PB up it.  About half way up I remembered I was supposed to be hungry and nearly fell off but I kept going until my back wheel span out 5 metres from the top and I had to push but I still got a PB.

I recovered by carrying on across summer pastures to the Lockerbrook outdoor centre where all was quiet.  I had the lane to myself and the descent to myself.  Good job because I leathered it and I leathered my muscles.

Standing on the pedals steering across sloping slippery rocks which had a light coating of grit and pine needles. My knees and thighs screamed at me to stop but I was having too much fun. It was too late for anyone else but there was just enough light left to see what I was doing. I knew I'd got a PB - at least I'd better. I got to the bottom out of puff and growling at my sore muscles like I'd just climbed Pen y Ghent.

I burst through the gate others had failed to close. I had no energy to park my bike so I just laid it on the floor and staggered over to close the gate behind me, still gasping. A family cycled by and looked at me like I was the monster from the black lagoon, groaning and lollocking around.

When I got to the last climb out of the valley the light went on.  I love leaving the valley this way.  Probably because I always have the hill to myself when I'm on my way out, or if I do have company everyone is happy because it's such a beautiful place.  There was just enough light to make out the water below, navy blue in the fading glow of a sun long gone and the outline of the black hillside.  The occasional late-leaving car below and the blackbirds flitting in the woods were my only company.

I didn't mind having a few hikes, it wasn't about rushing it or crushing it any more, it was about getting home. I nearly nailed the climb in the dark though - in fact I pushed it a few times and once crashed into a boulder - saving myself a crushed leg but scratching my new frame (it'll get used to it) and then dropped everything, including myself into a bog dropping off an edge.  I am always drawn to the bog and have been known to walk around it but this time, from my vantage point lying in the heather I noticed the easy line - it was right there, in plain sight.  A classic case of following my fears.

Soon after I went sideways on a rock, failed to unclip and again found myself lying in the heather.  I realised I was pretty tired and slowed down some more and even hiked out to the A57 after I decided I wasn't quite up for riding the slabs right now.

The traffic was manic enough to help me decide to ride home via Rod side, splodging through the farm puddles, opening the gates held shut with lengths of climbing tatt and conversing with the rams brought home to pasture for the winter.

By the time I got to the lanes I was broken, hungry and ready to collapse in front of Strictly Come Dancing on the TV but I wasn't done with hills yet.  Rather than face the steep rolling traverse to home, I climbed the steady up to Crookes and took one last sweeping drop into home.

Today wasn't quite such an awakening revelation as Saturday's ride but it didn't 'alf do me in ready for a good nights sleep.  I didn't really remember lots of it, nothing particularly struck me but in retrospect it was a nice day out.

And that's what it's all about.

Lock down 2.0 Struggle.

It's been just 4 weeks since the BB200. Since then I can count the number of rides I have done outside on one finger. I stumbled in to work on the Monday whilst TSK Stumbled headlong into job hunting then a nightshift.

I have - inadvertently - followed. When he goes to work I have tended to keep working then grab a few hours sleep. The problem is, when he gets home, he goes to sleep.  I get up and go back to work.

That's only sustainable for so long Not only is it exhausting, it's counterproductive as I focus on the unimportant because it's easy work I can manage. The important tasks wake me up in the night, niggling and my teeth ache from clamping my jaw shut in anxiety and frustration. Tonight I was finally tired and I fell up the stairs easily, exhausted from the week's gym sessions and 2 days hard long work hours.

As I got ready for bed I found myself asking, "who could possibly be sanding doors at 10:45 on a Friday night?".

I tried not to let it stress me and lowered myself into bed with my earplugs in. The noise had ceased. At 11pm it re-started. Now there were headlights not far from my house and an engine was revving outside.

• • •

I staggered outside in my PJs with the rest of the street, joining '6 guys and 3 women to help push the car and its smoking clutch up the hill. I live on a 16% hill.  Mostly we were all there so we could get back to a peaceful nights sleep but secretly we were enjoying the team effort and camaraderie.

Unfortunately it didn't last long. It was an insight into another world. While I felt like 8 steps pushing a ton of metal was pretty good going and repeatable often enough to get the car out of its position as a road-block, no-one else agreed and someone in a long parking space eventually vacated a spot she could just roll the car into.

• • •

We had our peace back. I went to bed again at 1145, exhilarated and wide awake and stared at the dark walls.

An age later I was awake again and hungry and exhausted. I considered taking my bike and bivi gear out instead but the fatigue, prospect of cold and discomfort prevented me from doing so. I didn't feel any urge to push any limits I felt like I need a break from them so I turned the light on. It was only 12:28. I had slept less than 30 minutes.

The thing is, I really want a bike ride - an enjoyable one. Bivi or no bivi, I just don't want it to be an unmitigated disaster.

Eventually I realised I was hungry. My night shift has led to some dodgy eating patterns too so I got up again and ate cereal with my painful teeth and wrote this blog in an effort to stay sane and make sense of it all.

The street is quiet again. My brain is quiet again. My hot water bottle is bringing me comfort, not making me feel like its a lead chain confining me to my bed. The thought crossed my mind: I can't go out it will be a waste of hot water. The truth is, I want to plan to go out - do it in an organised fashion and let it breathe life into me, not dread.

I might not make it up for dawn but tomorrow is definitely a new dawn.

• • •

Follow up. The dawn came as late as I would allow it and through the ongoing fatigue, somehow I ended up spending hours window-shopping online.

I was the shopkeepers worst nightmare I filled a couple of baskets then left the store, my purchases forever hanging in the ether - a gateway  to somewhere They will haunt my social media cookies for the rest of the winter. There weren't any items I genuinely need and I suddenly questioned my reasons for even wanting them except for justifying the three hours I'd just spent looking choosing and sizing My credit card went away and I made the best of a bad selection of clothes I'd laid out on the sofa so I didn't disturb TSK's sleep.

The fleecy leggings weren't the Rapha ones I expected but some old Endura ones where the pile fabric had turned lumpy and the pad had seen better days. I found better socks in the bottom of my gym bag. No bra, but there was one on the radiator that had dried out last night. Then I wandered around the house assembling various baselayers until I was wearing enough to stay warm.

I set out looking like a roadie but determined to ride the Cotic who hasn't been out since September.

I floated up the hill. Literally floated. It's been a while without decent suspension. My legs are stronger and were gasping for a ride and my low low gears made the hill we tried to shove a car up last night feel like a breeze, even compared to riding it on my road bike last weekend.

• • •

With relief my legs still turn pedals and gone are the searing shocks of saddle pain that followed the BB200.  Infact the slightly harsher C17  Brooks saddle felt like nothing when switched onto the steel frame of the Cotic so there's another £ton not wasted. I burned along the road in the cool November misty sunshine on cloud 9.

As soon as I got off the lane I realised this first beautiful crisp November day of lockdown was going to be busy.

After giving way 4 times in 400m, I headed to the bottom of the valley and up the other side where it would be quieter.

• • •

The first steep climb that Mr Landslide named "Fairy Dell" warmed me up and I shed my layers like a lizard. Another mile along the lane I used my regular stop-and-faff trail to eat some M&Ms (Lunch 1.0) and adjust the floppy strap on the bag I'd just attached to the bike.


Something had been niggling me. The thought that the undergrowth was dying back. I've done a few rides this summer where I've noticed the undergrowth closing in on the path - but it didn't seem like many.  Now it was all dying back. What did I do all summer?  

The Adventure syndicate are doing Match the Miles this weekend. I thought back to "last years". How had I been so fit back then? I must have really slacked off this September!  It took me a few minutes to realise match the miles was in May!. This year! As in 2020! It was but yesterday and decades ago, all at the same time.

It was safe to get back on the bike once I'd got that one sorted out.

• • •

I don't really remember struggling on the green lane although I had expected to. At least it was empty. As I turned the corner which heads straight up the contours I thought, "this is nice, nothing special". A roar of a fast car with a big exhaust startled me and then he was gone. Silence prevailed once more except for the patter and trickle of the stream next to me and my wheezy breathing and I realised that this ride... was everything special. 

This was exactly the ride I needed and it gave me exactly the feelings I wanted.  That life was breathing back in.

It far outstripped the anticipation of new kit and being a few hundred quid worse off.

• • •

At the top of the climb more unwelcome traffic buzzed left and right. I breathed again when I turned onto Bingley Lane past the veg garden where the gardener in her best yellow hi-vis coat and Nordic knitted hat weeded between root veg. My next off-road turn passed a couple of lads. One on a cheap MTB, the other a moped. An illicit, un-distanced rendez-vous? I said hello, they both said "Reyt" in unison. 

I beamed.  The young people spoke to me.

The Good Dog wasn't out today. He avoids petting during Lockdown. Lockdown is the only time I have passed the farm and not seen The Good Dog

• • •

Down the hill to the A57 full of motorists going to, or returning from, the Peak, for their daily exercise

It's fine though, I'm soon away from it and rumble along the Wyming brook trail, my cowbell jingling. A little dog that looks like an arctic fox seems right at home in the November air.

The only decision to be made out here is this: short direct single-track with steep hike-a-bike or top road with nice sweeping descent along the cliff. Whichever I choose I can do the other later.

I pick the easy option for now as I'm getting hungry. A couple of 1990s road bikes are locked up at the top carpark - sensible. Along the road people are queueing in cars to park and exercise up to Stanage Edge. Cyclists and runners jog and wheel smugly by.

When I arrive at the single track along the cliff top, my favourite spot is taken up by pic-nic-ers and just as I'm about to compliment them on their choice of spot, I notice they're also making their way through a bottle of Bollinger.

The whoopy descent is very satisfying. Sunshine, the Carbon bike and lightweight summer tyres always slip on the off-camber rubble leaving me praying for the sideways slide to fizzle out before momentum takes me off the edge of the path. The steel bike and winter tyres I successfully fitted last weekend stay planted right where I need them to be.

In the woods at the bottom of the hill my ride gains purpose as I cram 2 cans, a plastic bottle, crisp packet and a spent firework into my camelbak.

Jet pack?

Further down I'm stopped in my tracks by a pop up "Apple stall" offering Rouge beauties 2 for £1 and tasty-looking flapjack.

Waiting for mother and son to pass, I considered splurging out.  It's the kind of thing I would have done on a desperate day out.  "Never look a gift horse in the mouth" is one of my bikepacking mantras.  I realise I have missed the Gift Horse. Maybe tomorrow.

Up the final climb towards home. Everyone stops to one side to let me pass and I ride the whole thing smoothly. This is all the bike, not me. I'm puffing like Ivor the engine when I reach the road and in retrospect I'm 1 minute 18 slower than my fastest time. I zigzag back across the A57 into the quarry which is a hike a bike on the way up and on a bad day too, if you ride down it.

I use the excuse of two student goths up-coming to get off and walk the steepest of drop offs but midnight doesn't flinch at the rest of the descent, despite me failing to clip in one foot and having a completely disengaged moment going over a significant rock (that was a PB!). Crossing Hagg Hill, I cheer on a couple of student roadies travelling at 90 degrees to me. Then they turn left at the top and we're all heading the same way. Them on the road above, me on my trail through the allotments.

I'm pleased to exit the gates at the other end as they ride past above me. Big bike, fat tyres, still got it

I dropped into my road and the soft comforting womb of my own home ready for a 3pm salad lunch but even more ready for a change into tracky bottoms. 

 All kinds of things have drifted through my head today, none of them work related. This goes a long way to explaining how exercise helps the brain to rest even when the body is becoming fatigued. When things are difficult in life, pure rest can allow the worries in, during the day as well as at 2am. Whereas physical activity gives the brain chance to breathe literally and metaphorically.

 I had every intention of going out again yesterday evening for my November bivi but it didn't happen.  The luxury of my daytime ride was I found all the things that have been a little bit off with my ride - the dropper post cable that I couldn't quite fix on my way to the BB WRT, charging my lights for the first time since Scotland. After bike maintenance, the comfort of home took over and instead I watched the Vuelta on the tele and fell into bed with TSK - our last nightshift weekend before he gets to become a human again next week.

Everyone is looking forward to that.

Sunday, November 01, 2020

A long time coming. Keeping it local.

 Since BB200 I've really struggled to get back on any of my bikes.  Nothing was wrong, I just didn't feel like it.

Days have passed in a flurry of work commitments.  Not unpleasant ones.  In a job where we're carrying out important support for Government sponsored environmental developments, it's incredibly satisfying to make my love of organising other people (engineers) into a deliverance of something meaningful.

However, I've worked some incredibly long hours and the day came where I needed to go for a bike ride.

Instead of going for a ride this week I have:

  • been to the weights room twice
  • run once
  • walked a lot
  • cleaned bikes
  • rebuilt wheels
  • serviced bikes
  • changed tyres
  • fixed up a paint job
  • re-tensioned someone else's wheel
  • Re-packed my big Carradice full of wintry clothing (full waterproofs etc).
Finally, I ran out of excuses this morning.

We summonsed the courage to be out of the house at 12:00, stomachs partially full with second breakfast.  The ride was labelled, ride where you feel like.

We headed up hill through Commonside and started to battle against the wind.  At Lodge Moor we pulled into a bus stop after only 40 or so minutes of riding and put on waterproofs as the rainbow over the Rivelin Valley got more and more vibrant, the closer the rain shower came.  We passed the Sportsman where kids played footie on the field, their parents corralled outside the pitch by a dirty rope and a selection of pub-goers stood socially distant from a bearded old man who commanded some kind of an audience.

We turned off towards the climb past Wyming Brook farm, a brief tail wind blowing us onto Soughley Lane where we both felt like giving it a poke, accelerated by the briefest of tail-winds.  The problem is, there's a 180 to this road so at first the acceleration was cut by the cross wind then after the hairpin, it was back into full-face wind and I just caught upto he-who-goes-off-too-quick before the final bend.  I was committed now and I huffed my way to the top.  I'd reached into bits of my lungs I haven't opened up for a while and it felt good and sketchy all at the same time.  It was hard but it's no wonder, I was only 12 seconds off my same time on a nice sunny day riding the Twiglet, with Chris Featherstone hauling up front.

Past the Lama farm, we decided on Chips and tea at the Norfolk Arms take away but there was a queue so we tried Dore then Totley but everywhere was shut so we disappeared into the woods instead, headed for the Graves Cafe and sat in a little pod shelter with tarpaulin over us and waited for two cheese toasties.  They were heavenly and the pod was like camping and there was Nutella cake so everything was well with the world.

I'd had enough poking into the wind so we conceded to head home, stopping at Waitrose to pick up dinner.  I must've been looking rough because a lad carrying a can of Strongbow at 2:30pm stopped to check I was OK, slumped in the remaining dry corner behind our bikes as the rain poured down outside my temporary perspex shelter.

After my Waitrose sit down, I must have recovered some legs and really enjoyed the climb up to the house.  I took in a detour because I hate riding through the village with all the parked cars and junctions and pedestrians and taxis in the bike lane so I went to pray to Buddah then dropped into home from above. 

It was the perfect length ride for a wet, windy day and a day when I just wanted a ride that felt nice and nothing went wrong.  The bike worked, I worked (hard) and I'm inspired again - just in time for being restricted to my own back yard for the next month.  

Just in time to start my Highland Trail training in earnest.