Sunday, March 28, 2021

Loaded training. Superb outcome

 Oh to capture the complications of the past week for posterity without it sounding like a chain of excuses.  I don't think I can manage it.

It started with THE JAB.  Everyone can make up their own mind on this right? I was determined to want, get and love THE JAB.  As it was, it left me exhausted, poorly and paranoid.  I had blood clots (generalisation) 6 years ago and since the "headlines" spent a few days of last week convinced I was dying (faster than normal).  Fatigue, prickling in my lungs and then a lump on my neck.

I walked to the walk-in centre and snoozed in their reception until a nice nurse told me I was probably having a viral response to the vaccine.  I walked home again much lighter and dropped some cash on the bits for my bike I had been putting off on account of being, y'know dying.

On Friday night, with a ride planned at the weekend, I told my buddy I was optimistic about feeling much better and promptly pottered off to sleep for 9 hours which, yes, made me feel much better on Saturday morning.  I spent the day loading up my bike for a big training practice with my heaviest sleeping bag, stove, full fuel bottle (I drained the last lockdown stash into one pot) and even a change of shorts in case the weather improved.

The shakedown ride was mostly climbing which is a relief since the bags were a bit shaky, carrying all that weight.  Me and my sons watched the moon come out from behind a canopy whilst sipping whisky and catching up on our mental health (talking shit) until it started to rain.

On Sunday substantial fuelling of porridge and coffee was required to stoke me and L over to Longshaw for a second breakfast and first review of the new café facility.  We walked straight past the bike rack, instead selecting a location under the yew trees sheltered from the rain and the wind coming in across the moor.  All this, having not noticed a perfectly acceptable outside covered area to the rear of the cafe... although no view of the moors from there and there weren't any chairs and tables so we were happier with our dry spot in the dirt under the yew trees.

The coffee was better than the one at first breakfast and the hot sausage rolls were even better still.   

We traversed to Calver gap where I lured L past the cafe in the carpark and on to the next section of bridleway, promising a lunch stop "in a bit".  

At Eaglestone we discussed plans for the rest of the day and L and my body ganged up on my brain so we turned towards the Eastern Moors and a rapid traverse to the city instead of heading further afield to Chatsworth.  Since I'd never ridden this trail before (in recent memory) and have been planning to for some time, I enjoyed the new views/new lines.

My guide led me to a pleasant pond / quarry combo for lunch as we soft-pedalled along the track behind three runners on their way out to a dip in the pond.  We had a chat with the runners and they reassured us we weren't intruding on their swim as we brewed up hot drinks and shared out the feed I had brought with me to see me through a much longer day.  

On the shorter ride I enjoyed following L, punching my legs harder against gravity and the hefty load on my bike to try and keep up (not walk) and I managed bog crossings without getting wet feet.  He guided me across the Eastern Moors without me getting stuck on impossibly steep shit and then finally we parted ways at the big oak, me heading to Houndkirk (Sheephill Road) through Blacka and him descending the other side to home.

I was distracted by tea at the Norfolk arms - it would have been a beer but tea is all that was on offer - and destroyed the flapjack I picked up in the morning whilst watching the lama farm from above.

Due to the "early" (it was now 3pm) finish, I had the strength left to descend Wyming Brook them pick myself back up the side of the valley to Fox Hagg (pushed the easy line) before dropping to the bottom of the valley again, climbing the Byway and riding the final stretch to home off road, picking up some ballsy descent QoM throwing the loaded bike around a corner in the dirt, foot-out.

It was nice to get not-exhausted-just-tired for once although an hour's sleep after my bath reminded me that I still have plenty of recovering to do.

It was a 10/10 for company, café and quality this weekend.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Bridges. and gates.

In this week I vowed to myself I would ride every day to begin some training consistency instead of boom or bust.

By Wednesday my rides were a short, windy, rainy drag and finally on Thursday I'd had enough. I didn't get out in the morning and a work thing that came up in the evening had me stuck at my desk without caring.

However, on Friday I was raring to make up for it. I took the gravel bike out first thing, got completely caked in crap for 2 hrs then went work with wet, muddy hair by 8.45 ready for my meeting.

I didn't get out again. On Saturday I eventually forced myself out. It was a flat ride - mentally, not physically - and I hate those. A bike ride should make me feel better - or feel something. The only thing I got from it was a real need to get out for a proper one on Sunday.

Dutifully I packed bags for an all day ride on Sunshine as I wanted to see how 100km on her felt compared to Midnight.  Two weeks earlier, I'd walked back into the house, spent, cold & unable to sit on my saddle for the rest of the week.

This week, I was to make my final decision on which bike to take to Scotland. The decision is mostly made. After last week I decided 8 weeks away from the gym has ruled out Midnight. I haven't been doing the lifting I'd like and need the extra speed from the lighter bike. I threw on an old saddle bag so as not to wear out the good one and strapped on the shiny new bag that arrived in the post on Friday - a full frame bag that is disappointingly small compared to the Cotic's bag, even if it does fit as snug as a glove.

What started out as essentials packing filled the frame bag with pump, tools, tubes, lunch + snacks and warm gloves.  Up front 2 stem cells carried snacks and a sugary drink bottle (new experiment) and the seat pack contained spare clothes: fleece, 2 pairs of socks, more gloves, waterproof trousers and warm weather shorts to replace my fleecy leggings if I was really lucky.

I ditched my rucsac in a fit of warm weather optimism and just brought a waist pack camelbak with my coat in it.

My intention was to ride the Peak 200 big loop but I set off for the TPT the "easy" long way rather than drag myself over Derwent Edges and Cut Gate in the bad peat conditions.

When I reached my local park a family were staring at the stepping stones in the river. I wasn't going to ride the ford anyway but even the stepping stones were up to 4 inches deep in fast flowing water. I instantly fell off the first one putting my right foot in full flow but at least to even it up the left foot was submerged by the second stone rolling deep under. At least I tested my new gaiters and rode away to wait to see just *how* wet my feet had got (quite,but not sodden).

By the time I got to Hillsborough I realised I'd left my Spot in my rucsac and when the rain started I discovered none of the gloves I had with me were waterproof as one pair didn't even make it into the packing. I went for the thickest pair to keep the showers off and hoped for the best.

Wharncliffe woods was busy with DHs. Enduro bros and sisters everywhere. I joined the more sedate TPT, chatting to a mum/ daughter team out for their first post-lockdown ride and getting tired heading back to Oxsprings into a headwind and uphill with the little one refusing to sit in a slip stream.

I remembered my long day plans rushed on. A brief text sent from Dunford bridge bus stop - site of at least 2 ride retirements, "At Dunford bridge. Weather as usual. Persevering. Textin6 be9ng crap". As the rain became more intense it was a mistake to take the phone out of its waterproof case to take a photo earlier and the screen was not playing ball. I gave the phone a wipe before everything got soaked and packed it away  in airplane mode. 

I managed to combine the first summit pass of the day with the heaviest rain. Cross-winds lashed at me over the road into Salter's Brook. A number of ankle-deep puddles significantly increased the dampness in my boots but I still rode through them all, resigned now to some significant Highlands Training. As soon as I disappeared out of view of the Woodhead and the wind, I retreated to a sheep snug for a pee, convinced no-one would be walking here in such conditions. I didn't want to put it off until I had descended and cooled down. A good wild pee with my coat slung over my shoulders like a cape, rain drumming overhead like the reassuring noise in a tent.

I scanned the view and the sky for a peek of sun. lt shone, silvery behind a thick grey sky and I urged it, out loud, to get a move on and do its thing.

• • •

I'd just finished dressing again when the Park Warden walked past and gave me a cheery wave. I mumbled something about the sun getting on with it and looked skyward again but where the sun had been was just grey sky. It had abandoned me in shame.

I passed the lapwings in reminiscence for the sunset 2 weeks ago and congratulating myself in getting out of the house 3 hours earlier this time. I enjoyed the descent to the valley floor even more while dreading the onset of shivers that would come with the smooth, unchallenging trail and even gradient below me . The rain continued and by the time I'd reached the third bench I could feel the it starting to rundown my leggings into my gaiters or socks and on into my boots. I decided to stop & put my waterproofs on now - rather than keep hoping the rain would stop and everything would get better. I had not noticed the incremental shift from spring showers to full on wet day. I've been out of Manchester too long.

Without shelter for miles I found some trees (still without rain cover but at least out of the wind) and changed into dry socks,waterproof socks, put my gaiters back and added the waterproof trousers on top. I was still soaked but instantly warmer. The gloves were wet through now but after balling my right hand into a fist for 5 minutes, I finally managed to pump in enough therms to stay warm if I rode fast enough. This was going to be a tough day as I set about making the easy part of my ride hard too.

When I spilled into Hatfield I made no hesitation about going into the corner shop to request some Marigolds to use as emergency backup to my remaining dry (wool) gloves. I really hoped this would work out as these new gloves are super toasty.

"I stood in the doorway dripping on the mat and the shopkeeper swaggered into the back, returning with a yellow packet. "Have you got 2 pairs..." I was going to ask for XL size too but he cut me off with "this is the last pair" so I reluctantly yet hopefully handed over £1.20 and headed off down the road with some extra useless weight. It might just save my life if I had to wear them UNDER my wool gloves, they were a size Small .

• • •

On the outskirts of Glossop was a larger mini market but I couldn't be arsed and persevered with what I had. The forecast was for the rain to ease off.

I wiggled over to Charleshead and talked myself up the hill climb. New born lambs with sodden wool turned into punk hairdo's, their pink skin exposed underneath looked at me questioningly.  I reassured them it gets better, reassured myself the rain would stop and kept pedalling. I crossed the Chunnel road nosing at the detached holiday cottage / granny flat / office hovel that looks oh so tempting every time I pass and back onto the moors, content to be free of the bustle of Cars and turn out my back light but I let the front light dynamo run on. I'd need it soon anyway. 

I considered where I was - especially since I accidentally found myself off course on an unfamiliar footpath and instead of tracking right to get back on track, I went left taking myself further off course. I cursed my mistake but found a farmers track that linked the two and had an easy trace back up to the route. I was enjoying not being on "an attempt" and needing to backtrack to undo my stupidity. The track was obvious when I got there and I made a plan then and there for getting home sooner rather than later. I had emergency food with me but would have no shelter for some time. I actually cursed not having the tent. Had I been on a longer course in these conditions I would have had an early stop, eaten, rested a few hours then gone back out again until I dropped into another sleep. Instead I dropped into Hayfield, made a straight up the other side, over Lantern Pikes now enjoying the familiar descent, instead of teetering down it like I did the first few times. 

When I passed this way on my attempt I'd stopped for a chat with a hiker in the mid summer sun. It was hard to place what time that was - maybe three hours earlier than now? I wondered what time I'd make it to my steep spot - maybe 9pm instead of midnight. Shortly after my sleep spot was *that tree* a big old oak which I'd sat under to eat second breakfast because I was back on home ground and felt like celebrating.

I passed three people on the Pennine Bridleway -3 separate female fell runners enjoying the conditions. Where were all the men?

'The next time I looked at my Garmin screen "Rushop Lane" flashed across the screen. I'm familiar with these trails now but seeing those words on the screen gave me reassurance I was back on home turf as I fought my way over open moor land in a cross wind still making mistakes but now with the bike handling.

"But what if you crash out here alone in the clag" screamed my head... but my heart was happy + did not give a shit if we died in the rain. I managed to dig out and take a massive gulp of sugary drink which helped a bit but a few sideways moments had me pushing my crappy spare wheels and tyres in the cross winds a little bit more than would have been strictly necessary.

The open moor finally reformed into tenable rocky tracks there were only the gates to battle with. They resisted the rain and their muddy puddles and the latches got more and more annoying as I became more reluctant to touch anything or move my fingers in my gloves for fear of a fresh flow of cold water coming in and the tepid warm(ish) water from my hands being squeezed out.

I happily realised it was no longer raining then seconds later it felt like the night suddenly arrived as the sky in all directions darkened and it started to rain... again. Surely I was nearly back?

A familiar-ish descent led to a stream crossing that was now a raging torrent. The sheep looked at me and raised their eyebrows. A concrete pipe length lay across the stream acting like a weir more than a bridge. I stood on the tussocks at the edge and wheeled my bike into a foot deep puddle then balanced on the pipe - hoping it wasn't slippery - whilst trying to disengage my pedal from the mouth of the pipe where it had become lodged. More Highlands training. Over the lump ahead and into the next stream bed where there was a proper bridge though I lost part of my bottle contents tipping my bike on its tail.

• • •

Once across I realised I had made it to my sleep stop from last year. What a lovely place - though if I'm being picky - not really flat enough for a comfy stop.

Unfortunately it made me check my watch and while it definitely wasn't sleepy time it was nearly dinner time. By the time I'd got on the next climb my stomach was rumbling - it was already too late.

I looked for easy to reach snacks but for some reason nothing would do. For some reason the pasta meal in my bag was what I wanted. I decided to make it up in my bottle so it could sit on the bike and "cook" while I pedalled. I decided it would be a good "experiment."

I didn't want to waste fresh water so I took from a stream, mixed in the foods screwed the lid on and put it away.

A little further along I realised I'd not really added enough water but never mind... and carried on riding, fuelled by the last of the sugarey potion I had downed in order to free up the drinks bottle.

Finally I was at Rushop edge. I negotiated the last frustrating batch of sheep gates then stopped the course and turned for home.

Apart from the soaking wet thing, in Normal Times I'd have cautiously locked my bike to a picnic table at the back of a pub car park and had myself a dinner out but I'd lost all appetite for cold pasta from a bottle in the Castleton bus shed and the pubs were shut so I whipped down Winnats pass getting an all-time PB for a clear run and hoped there wouldn't be any sheep on the road.  I then got a tail wind ride into the village where I stopped behind a car to check in "Castles ton. Cominbg home!'

The tail wind sped me through Hope to Bamford and all I could ponder was how to get home. I'm SO BORED of New Road and Stanedge. Surprise view was too much "climbing" after the"climbing". The A 57 involves the risk of dick motorists and the potentially undignified need to get off and push but it's all down hill after the top... which might be cold. At Bamford I stopped at the garage for the convenience of eating *something* under floodlights and out of the wind. Unfortunately out of the wind was not out of the rain and the concrete forecourt was too wet to sit on. 

The pasta had formed into an inedible dodgy mass in the bottle. On inspection I just tucked it away to deal with later. I didn't even think to ditch the weight. I crammed a few bits of beef jerky in my mouth along with some chewits and M&Ms and ate the lot at once. In normal times I might have even thought to go into the Londis and buy something, yet I take heart from now thinking Bamford is so close to home that I'm not that bothered about filling an empty stomach.

The A57 was fine, as tail-wind-assisted as a climb up a gorge can be.

• • •

I didn't need to walk. The last bits are exposed and were easy and the weather was so mild that the accelerated descent didn't cool me down too much at all. I even found the energy for the climb into Crookes so I didn't have to climb the steep hill to home at the end.

The house was filled with the aroma of pizzas there was no time for a shower - just a dressing gown and a heap of sodden mucky clothes discarded on the back door mat to worry about tomorrow. It might seem soft by Highland Trail standards but it's a start. I just have to get rid of the dressing gown and the cosy house... Oh, and work on getting up and doing it all again tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Daily Shrine

TSK walked through the door, back from work.  "Do you want a cup of tea?" 

"No", I grumped past him, "some stupid bastard pledged I'd ride every day this week".

Actually, sometimes twice.  Which I managed on Monday - two mountain bike rides.  Long ones too - and satisfying ones where you see the sun rise and the sun set and your legs hurt from carrying up hills and your arms hurt from slashing through the undergrowth.

Monday day was a blur at work.  I made HT plans at the weekend and couldn't wait to carry them out so I spent the day on Monday sizing up a new frame bag for Sunshine.

On Tuesday morning I needed to catch up with work stuff so started at 5:30am and finished my working day at 5:30pm. 

I slithered out for a road ride afterwards.

Last night I dreamed that the bathroom floor was caving way underneath the toilet and the whole bathroom was falling into the kitchen so I went out to go to an interview.  I stayed in a hotel and had breakfast with a load of people from the Highland Trail but when I placed my order I came back and they had all gone and I was faced with eating breakfast opposite a suit.

It was a metaphor.  I left the breakfast table and went to watch a play with my theatrical family then realised I didn't know what time my interview was so I had to leave early and I never did find out what time the interview was.  I woke up, swung my feet out of bed and went to the bathroom.  There was 2cm of water in the porcelain bowl we keep on top of the toilet as a rain gauge - a bowl on top of a bowl.  The hole is in the ceiling of the bathroom, not the floor and it's very real.  I was moderately pleased I live in a house that allows me to spend some of my spare cash on bike and soon I'll be somewhat be free from mortgage shackles.  It's my urban cabin in the woods.  I'll be free from a mortgage and living in a shitty crumbling house.  Sometimes I don't know if it makes me happy or sad.

I got up - just early enough to go for a ride but that didn't happen.  It was viciously windy and raining outside and not at all tempting.  I went upstairs and scrawled through social media.  Couldn't face starting work at 8:15.  Couldn't face going outside either but gradually I wanted to be out more than in so I dressed in cycling clothes, selected new shoes to try out (no cleats yet) and added a waterproof hat and coat.

I padded into the back garden and pottered about my bike.  I felt epic as the screws (where the cleats in my shoes will go) clattered on the tarmac and the rain pattered on to my Carradice.  I expected JP Robertson to appear in next doors garden to capture the stony grey sky and my gritty determination as I put my house keys in my bike bag, swung into the ginnel and tickked down the hill.

A short, bleak ride along with the motorists to Hagg Hill where they suddenly disappear left to skirt Southwards around Sheffield and I keep going straight on.  I'm so used to them overtaking then swerving left, it doesn't piss me off anymore.

Instead I rumble along happy (I'm still dry and warming up).  I'm aiming for that place where I just want to be on the bike - nowhere else - and at the moment I can dig that.  There really is nowhere else I'd rather be.  The simple stroke of pedals, sway of bars, sloosh of water.  I could keep going all day.  I'm not quite on the pedals I'd hoped to be on and these touring pedals aren't brilliant as flats.  My feet fly off them once or twice when I forget they're not attached.

The rain soaks through my shoes into my waterproof socks and I can feel it's chill but my feet stay dry.  The new socks are, thankfully, impenetrable.  I've been trying them out with different under-socks - most of my cycling socks are a bit shit in them.  Bamboo is OK.  This merino linen blend is bloody good at keeping my feet warm.

At fairy glen I can't resist a trip onto the middle road, past the pub, twisty round the lanes and momentarily think about ascending the 1/6 incline offroad but without cleats on my shoes yet, decide it's not a good idea.  

I could carry on up to Rivelin from the top of the road, do Wyming brook and Lodge Moor but I'm already late for work so I take to the A57, now quieter with the reduced commuter volume safely ensconced at their desks.  I wind around a few urban Crescents to miss the school and dodge through Crookes traffic to home, on the downhill water sloughs off my front tyre and straight into my face as it's almost impossible to get a mudguard to fit Lauff forks.

For the first time this morning I'm glad I'm not on a long ride and can sit at my desk for a few hours with a cup of coffee and shoot the shits with my grads.  

I might even make it out again later.