Sunday, February 28, 2021

Improving February

I wanted to do 100km this weekend for one reason - to make February better than January. On the whole February's been shitty - training, trail conditions, state of mind, work. I looked at previous years - is February always shit? No: sometimes its January that's shit. 

Generically since October I have been 200k down on last year's training - the obvious impact of less cycling commutes and distance-wise, more walking before work. The only redress that seemed feasible with the time available was to make February less shit than January & do 120km in the final week. I did one 20k commute, 2 walks & a 10k run. I got up Saturday & was so tired. I shopped for bike bits then walked into town for lunch.

On Sunday I wrote up last week's ride then finally found the motivation to get out, at which point it was 2:30pm.

• • •

I did the Math. 100km offroad -10 hours riding. Back by midnight. Not comfortable but doable. I wanted to ride on the TPT because I haven't been that way in ages. I had 2 things in mind. A big loop to Glossop & follow the Peak 200 route home or TPT, a ride over cut gate & extend it in the Hope and Derwent valleys if I felt like it. I went outside for lunch. From my slightly chilly stone fronted house to full-on summer in the garden. I'm glad I hadn't dressed in full fleece leggings yet.

I dressed less modestly in shorts, leg warmers, tee shirts & arm warmers, one layer of socks and sandals. I realised it would get cold later so threw in my synthetic coat, fleece, waterproof socks, a waterproof coat "just in case" and grabbed my warm gloves, a packet of crisps & extra cereal bar. That'd have to do, I'd just had lunch. At the last second I crammed in an emergency meal also "just in case".

• • •

I took the off road trail to Malin bridge, crossing the stepping stones cautiously so as not to get my socks wet then rode high on the Hill above Hillsborough to avoid traffic. Wharncliffe was full of down hillers having a great time in the sun - I splashed past the stables through the mud alongside happy pony riders who stuck to the best line.

People were everywhere but except for 1 mountain biker who half-wheeled me before dinging his bell in my ear, I was the fastest person on the trail.

Somewhere around Penistone, up on my 10km / hr schedule I decided 100km was feasible if I just rode to Glossop then turned around & came home again the same way. Potentially I could be home well before midnight & still have enough food without having to break into cold emergency pasta.

At Dunford Bridge I had a sit down on the benches. It had gone a little dusky, I was at elevation & after the short sharp road climb was open moorland and then descent. I ate my crisps & the fleece went on. The climb was easier than it's ever been before - odd.


I reached open moorland as the sun was doing its big-red-disk-in-the-sky thing and I smiled hard as a flock of lapwings wheeled in the sky whooping at me. Fluffy cows standing on the trail forced me onto the path then my FSA dropper post - freed by from the weight of a seat pack - actually worked and I descended to Salter's brook style. On the long rail trail in to Glossop there was only one thing on the radar -the setting sun. At its most vibrant just as I passed the reservoir where there was a bloody Pylon in the way. Still, it added a sense of scale. 


Hanging around with 2 walkers, we pretended we were on holiday somewhere exotic. 

It's otherwise a long, sometimes tedious route, being hemmed in by trees or railway cuttings. I watched the numbers click up praying for 50 km when I could turn tail and head home. At 47.9, I dropped out into the carpark in Hadfield & set about following the Peak 200 route as a means to an end. I momentarily considered popping into the shop to get coffee but passed by a woman walking on the pavement who cheerily said, "You wanna watch you don't get yerself killed on that bike".

Nice. I stopped to prop my bike up to put my rear light on which didn't work so I set it to charge & lit the spare which just lives in the mesh pocket of my rucsac. These two things combined (plus the prospect of riding further either up or downhill) helped me overcome my need to hit exactly 100km so I turned tail & headed right back the way I'd come - past the echoey bridge, dark dog walkers, the long distance running couple.

My feet started to get cold so I stopped &added my leggings and waterproof socks. I was a little doubtful it would work though as the outer layer just crushed the life out of the wool layer - and my toes. I persevered for a while but things were just getting worse so I stopped at the next bench to switch into the thickest wool socks I had. That worked for a while as I felt the blood rush into the space which had been completely dead.

I went for a pee to gather my thoughts in the undergrowth. Meanwhile a tawny owl wheeled in the cold air over my bike.

There was still an issue with my feet on the exposed bits of trail where just enough breeze was forcing all the warm air out of the fabric - constantly.

• • •

I had to get into something windproof - and fast. I had two solutions - risk the waterproof socks alone or add my spare waterproof gloves as it was only my toes that were exposed. My heels and midfoot were fine.

When I opened my rucsac on the next bench, the gloves were the first things out of the bag, closely followed by my thermartex windproof blanket. It was reassuring to know I had that. With my penknife I could, potentially, fashion some windproof socks by wrapping bits around my feet then tucking it in the cuffs of my socks. I also toyed with the idea of phoning for a lift - I was that worried. I didn't want to miss the HT because I gave myself frostbite playing stupid games with sandals in the hills in February.  Lesson learned.

• • •

The gloves fit loosely over my toes & the cuff sufficiently snugly around my mid-foot so they wouldn't come off. They were also secured with the toe strap on the sandals. I tried tucking the fingers under my toes but that just impaired the blood flow so I let them flop about. Thankfully there wasn't much walking to do, though a few of the vehicle -proof gates really pissed me off. Good news though - steadily but surely the blood was returning to my feet and the realisation that not clipping into the pedals but riding on my flats improved the situation even further.

Apart from the damage to my toes, I felt like a bit of a fraud. Last weeks 100km was so much harder earned. I decided this little 8 hour out and back jaunt was hollow by comparison. In the coming miles though I was set to put in some serious effort, pushing fast to keep my feet from falling off & get home before I bonked. The adventure was only just beginning.

I broke the return trip down - 4km to the hard climb which would surely guarantee me warm feet. That climb was 2km then 10km to Dunford Bridge where my warmed feet would be exposed again and will definitely cool right down on the descent. Then 30km of constantly falling railway track and a few tunnels.

• • •

The railway was tough to call. Not so steep I'd have to freewheel but could I spin enough on it to stay warm? I had a perception - rightly or wrongly - that it would be warmer. I'm not sure if that is because I reasoned it might be out of the wind or just because "it's not Manchester" which is always cold and dreary.

The steep hill climb delivered. I managed not to fall over my floppy foot-fingers and despite waiting to cross the Woodhead road, my toes could be described as toasty by the time I passed the lapwings again.

I crossed and dropped into the catchwater again, enjoying the hillside scenery even though trucks rumbled by overhead on the Woodhead. With warm toes I was ready to leave the world behind again and descend back to the solitude of the trail. More pushing out of the brook to the final Woodhead crossing gave me enough warmth to mount my charged bike light on the frame, put my headlight on my lid & crack open a bag of beef jerky for "dinner." At 7:30 I knew I wasn't going to do the last 2 hours without some calories. Only when I stopped to look both ways at the crossing did I notice the epic blood moon rising to my right like a second Sun. I descended to the TPT carpark, vaguely disturbed that I had failed to put on my biggest gloves but overjoyed that my windproof jacket and foot gloves both did the trick to keep the rest of me warm.

• • •

I perfected a glove change from my frame bag while riding along and once my fingers were warm again, set about snacking my way home, the blood moon fading to a white disk as the sun finally sank away to the West behind me. My feet seemed to warm even further when I fed them and I used that to get me through Penistone where I worried about being ambushed in the dark so clipped my feet in.

The only remaining threat to my feet was riding through muddy puddles so I skirted through the concrete roads around the stables rather than tackle the bridleway churned up by a million hooves then had a little push towards the top of the final steep climb.

• • •

My backside had finally fallen out with my saddle again after 85km so I finished off the trail with a mixture of freewheeling and standing climbs.

I clipped back in the pedals for the Oughtibridge-to-Hillsborough ride but there wasn't a soul out in the woods. I cruised the pavements through the shared cycleway, changing red lights, one way systems and tram tracks to the main Rivelin Valley road. Everyone who passed me in a car left tonnes of space. I must have had my lights on bright or possibly I was riding like an exhausted person with their toes hanging off.

I turned onto my road with gusto then, after a few pedal strokes, headed for the nearest drop kerb and jumped off to push.

• • •

I did not get back on. I had to stop halfway up the hill to rest. There was no way I was making up the missing 5km. I stopped my Garmin at the back door.

Recovery time 4 days." This is more than your usual effort." You're telling me !

Mission complete.

An experiment. Being ahead of my years.

February 20th and plans were hatched for my first long weekend of riding (from home) for a while - well, since October really. How many times have I restarted my HT Training now? I fully loaded my heavy (comfy) bike and set off into the hills at 1:30pm after some mechanical tinkering on my drive chain and installing cleats on a new pair of sandals. I headed out full of good intentions to ride at adventure pace. The sandals were teamed up with a pair of wool socks or a pair of waterproof socks. Bear with me I'm nearly 50. I'm allowed. Although the forecast was clear and positively tropical, I'd stepped out the door earlier just with Sandals on my feet (clothed,obvs) and run hastily back inside to the sock drawer.

• • •

To be clear, the sandals are NOT a fashion statement (when were they ever?) but the experiment is:

  • Warmer feet as they dry when wet
  • Warmer feet as the shoes dry when wet
  • Less impact damage to toes, arches heels etc.
  • Warmer feet because I toughen TFU.
  • Easily slip on and offable at camp / rest stops.
  • Dry feet in the morning as shoes dry overnight.
  • Less issue with wet socks because of dry shoes

I have acknowledged the downsides:

  • Mud and shit between my toes
  • Lack of foot protection-more risk of crushing /breaking something
  • Aesthetics.
The socks are intended to prevent the first and do absolutely nothing to enhance the last issue except hide my ugly toes.

• • •

I rode up the easy side of the valley. I even engaged a little road riding to avoid the steepest climbs. At my usual stop and faff point I took time to adjust something before settling in to climb onto the Rod Side Road. Nobody mentioned my sandals. I rode through some puddles and my feet stayed warm as the water ran away. Hurrah. I descended to Doctors gate, had a bit of a hike then picked my way across the boggy moorland interchanging between riding and pushing so as not to chew up the Peat Bogs or widen the trail any further. The descent at Cut Gate was the first real test of exposed feet but I found the extra care I took improved my ride so I was pleased.

• • •


I sat in the hut overlooking the Ladybower for a decent snack break before dropping to the rapidly emptying trails. Plenty of city folk were still out walking the lap of the main path. Everyone was in high spirits (some more than others) and no-one mentioned the sandals, though a gang of twenteens at Slippery Stones put paid to any desire to stop and enjoy the tranquillity.

At the bottom of the Lockerbrook descent I stopped to consider my options. I quite fancied the steep hike up through the forest but didn't want to be late for a play date. I consoled myself with the ride up the fire road & Summer Pastures to finish off my first loop of the Peak.

• • •

The fire road was still wonderfully peaceful except for the undertone of the coming of spring birdsong as the sun set on the day, I sat at the top of a culvert to eat some snacks before continuing past confused joint-smokers onto Summer Pastures. I stuck on the dynamo light for the old landrover tracks and had to supplement it with the Exposure head light as the terrain got boggier.

The breeze got up substantially and as I battled it, then eventually gave up on an incline and started pushing, I took a look around me. It was a grey and ugly evening. The sun doesn't set. The light just slips from your conscience. Mam Tor, Lose and Win hill, the Giants were all still there and were still beautiful grey hump-backs layered in the evening sky.

I looked around to where the sun should have been to be treated to a glorious orange rectangle of light, hemmed in by one cloud bank and the next and a block to the East with Mam Tor to the West. And then it was gone.

Finally the waterproof socks were put to the test as I had to dab into a bog to stop myself peeling off and the muddy water came pouring in. It's hardly surprising they're no longer waterproof socks, I've been wearing them since BB200 2019.

• • •

I thought it advantageous that I've done this section a thousand times & had some recollection of the route as I navigated across open farmland & obscure gateways in the darkness. I crossed the remaining bogs in a laissez-faire fashion - after all, my feet were already wet. My only effort was focused on ensuring the bike did not get more bogged down than necessary.

On skirting around the hillside, I was hit side-on with the full force of a 40 mph gust and my rear tyre completely let go.

(admittedly on the edge of width suitability for an over- wide Spanx Rim). Both me and the bike landed unceremoniously sideways in the wet grass and sodden earth, a C-shaped tyre mark etched into the grass for the rest of the week. I've never leapt up so fast as moisture seeped into my leg warmers and the elbow of my coat.

At least I was still pumping out substantial therms from the effort and with all the vents opened on my coat, it dried in no time.

I practically sprinted over to New road and then after the first, steep pitch got out my phone, switched off flight mode a set about texting my play date to say I'd be late. Before I could get started, my spot had done its job and the message came in "it looks like you're a long way from the park, do you want to meet elsewhere?" A new plan was hatched but first I had to climb over the hill. Stanage Causeway or the road?

• • •

Selfishly I chose the Causeway. A light moved around near the top but wasn't getting any closer. Someone else was still out on millstone edges and lights flickered towards Shatton Moor.

Above the Plantation the wind battered at me again but it was increasingly obvious that a rocky nook on Stanage was a party venue so I kept riding as long as I could, my lights picking up a Union Jack Tesco bag filled with cheap pish beer. I called out a cheery "Hello" as I passed and a gruff Glaswegian voice chirped back "Y 'artreet pawl?" followed by a very girlie "Hiya" from the token female.

Once out of chatting range I fell off the bike to push the last pitch of open flat terrain to avoid being blown off sideways into the heather.

• • •

As soon as I turned 90 degrees I hopped back on and promptly got blown to the pole and down the other side. The wind also forced me effectively through the drug dealers at the carpark - so rapidly I had to pull the brakes on through the ciccanes to avoid being blown off the road into the dry stone walls. At the bottom of the steep climb to the moors again I checked on my play date's location and cursed to see he had already reached Houndkirk. I'd been hoping I could meet him in the bottom of the valley but no, I'd have to ride up *that* hill. I don't think I rode it all. As soon as I turned into the wind the battle was too much and I was already hungry.

• • •

At the top some lights flew towards me as I battled my way across in the headwind. It wasn't my mate which is a shame as I was ready for some company. I dropped into the woods at the top of the Mayfield Valley then heard my name being called through the trees. Ha Ha! Frend.

We rode on together to Houndkirk past the drug takers and the moorland petrol heads and disappeared into the undergrowth to brew up dinner.

I made some attempt at pitching a shelter but it was windy and my attempt was both half arsed, lacking intelligence and thwarted by a substantial breeze which, despite being sheltered by the trees, still penetrated through.

With a mix of hoops, goretex, foam pads, my fat arse, helmet, a pile of sandals, a titanium windshield and a lot of matches, we made enough fire and water between us for two hot meals, two hot porridges and two coffees.

As the shoes piled up around the stove, my waterproof socks dangled from a tree inside-out to dry. Meanwhile my feet were tucked under a windproof layer and were toasty warm. When I went for a pee between courses, I slipped on my damp-dry sandals and my socks continued drying uninter­rupted. This was going well.

After a rest we headed back to the Norfolk Arms. Thankfully it wasn't open to distract us with chips and beer so we made do with refilling my water bottle from the outside tap.

We headed back onto Hound Kirk. I was now a bit shivery from all the sitting around and had decided to keep the "waterproof" socks dangling from my bag while wearing the socks I normally sleep in with my wool socks over the top. When we reached the end of Houndkirk and my buddy turned for the city I was tempted to join in, head home, change into my bed then head out later in some real shoes but, I decided no experiment should be left without a conclusion so I opted to see it through.

When I reached Longshaw I already needed more food so I found a log and chomped through most of a sizeable meal.


The feet continued to feel cold through 2 thin layers all the way across Curbar but the care I was taking of my feet also worked to conserve my energy stores as I backed off hammering more of the technical problems and chose easy lines or had a little walk. I've really come to love walking with my bike more than ever nowadays.


Whilst the descent to Baslow chilled the feet again, the little spin along the lane out to Haddon helped warm them up again and I started to settle down. I was going to make my target for the day - to ride to Monsal. I haven't been to Monsal for over 12 months and its really not too far away - or so I thought. It is the joy of riding long distances that all of a sudden places you'd drive to in the past suddenly, sub-consciously become much closer by bike.

When I reached Haddon Hall my brain stalled at the choice between A and B roads (the Broad included a visible steep hill).

• • •

Of course I opted for the B road but I had to open my sweetie bags get the sugar in whilst pushing up the hill and I had several conversations with myself -and other people - on the way.

There was a bit of a party atmosphere at Monsal Head. Horse riders, mountain bikers, local walkers, some roadies testing themselves. There were one or two cars in the car park but people snapped a pic then left. I was quietly disappointed there were no takeaway coffees on offer, but completely understand having seen the catastrophic litter effects in the parks in town. I did a lap to Ashford in the Water and Thornbridge but there were "no entry" signs, before dropping down the hill climb and climbing back up to the trail the official way, past all the empty holiday homes, conspicuous by their abandonment.


The trail itself was much quieter than it otherwise would have been on the first weekend of spring & that was nice.

There was still a spattering of families, dog walkers, runners and E- bikes but no abseillers, scout groups or huge multi-family crowds.

• • •

The dog walkers were in control and there were no retracting leads in sight.

The tunnels were cold and all too soon it was time to leave Millers Dale station (still no coffee) and switch to the more challenging PBW/ LW combo. The PBW always feels like it should tie in neatly to the Monsal Trail but - unless I'm missing a trick - it does not. More hiking up impossibly steep terrain before it flattened to slithery limestone or mud trails between dry stone walls. My feet were toasty warm now. Layers came off a leg warmers were only retained for the purpose of staying warm on the downhills or not being arsed to take them off.


• • •


I diverged from my usual route around Tideswell and Peak Forest and it turned out to be very pleasant and rideable. When I arrived at the plunge into Bradwell I was absolutely ready to go home. On the push out to the main Hope Valley Road it took me all my effort to overtake - at a social distance - a family of 2 kids and 2 parents as I span past in my un-roadworthy top gear. It was a relief to get back onto the Thornhill trail. So much so that I stopped for a refuel before tackling New Road and Stanage Causeway for a second time in one ride.

"You been out camping?" asked a dog walker. "No, training for an event in May. Lugging this lot around in hope". He wished me luck. I ate the rest of my lunch - at 1. 30pm. I checked my Garmin. I'd ridden 100km. It felt like a giddy milestone.


Up at the Ladybower and again, normal people went about their normal exercise. No rests on New Road this time. It did start to rain though.

As I swerved around the puddles at the bottom of the Causeway I pondered putting my waterproof socks back on. They were still saturated from their bog hopping but I thought they'd at least add wind resistance to the mix. In the end though, I couldn't be bothered. I rode all the way up to the pole this time. The wind had dropped, the partygoers had gone. Thank­fully they took their beer cans too. The drug dealers at Redmires were replaced by city dwellers getting in their last walk of the weekend.

• • •

The hard part was just re-starting for my feet. Although I'd conceived a quick jolly down the trails to wrap up the day and warm up the body, the call of hot toast and tea was too much so I high tailed it straight down the road, with only a few punchy climbs to warm me up, followed by the long, fast whoosh into the house, the sandals' last trial! Yes it was cold. Yes my toes ached with cold when I walked in the door. Yes my socks were soaked and went straight in the washing machine but no I did not have any knee pain at all during this weeks ride at that is a good thing. And so, fortified by tea and toast I went to bed.


• • •

As rides go I was over the moon to get two big loops in after a layover. The sandal experiment was a success I intend to repeat with profound apologies to the fashion police and any friends I might consequently lose. Finally - a ride with a friend (a real one who doesn't judge you for your footwear) - even if it is just over Houndkirk - is always worthwhile. And so, whilst I wait for my vaccine appointment, the Highland Trail is still on, at least at some point this year.