Sunday 30 December 2012

End of a year (2012)

Since my last (permanent) audax, I didn't cycle too many miles. I cycled a lap of the TTT 20 route and finished the year by cycling a lap of the Deer Route. Of course, I would have liked to have cycled more but working nights hampered this.
I would like to end the year with a big thanks and happy new year to all those who have followed my blog, especially those who have contributed to it in some way. A huge shout out goes to my dear wife SJ for allowing me to cycle so much and being the best wife and support a guy could ask for. And a high five goes to all my cycling buddies - you know who you are (and those that read this blog know who you are too)!

For those that are interested, I cycled a total of 4,309 miles this year. This was down quite a few miles from the previous year but, hey, I'm a married man now! I started to record my mileage in 2009, and to date this is what I have cycled:

2009 - 3,160 miles
2010 - 5,287 miles
2011 - 5,207 miles
2012 - 4,309 miles ....... a total of 17,963 in 4 years.

My running never really kicked off, but this year I did manage a total of 118 miles.

What does next year hold?! Well, one will have to check out my next post in the new year to find out my plans for 2013. However, I can inform that I still plan to cycle, hope to become a father and hope to keep this blog going. If anyone has an interesting blog they would like me to follow or a link they would like me to add to my own blog please let me know.

Peace out my friends, I'm sure wheel meet again!
Oh, and one last thing.... I believe my cycling fashion has improved at last!

Monday 17 December 2012

Stroud 5 Valleys 50k Audax (Dec 2012)

December saw me complete the Stroud 5 Valleys 50k Audax Perm. This is a ride that I have rode on several occasions now. Each ride is not without incident.

On the way to the start I saw a dead deer on the road. Although kinda seasonal was still very sad. Rudolph must take better care!

Started at the usual Leisure Centre in Stroud and didn't stop until I reached the first 'proper' control in Haresfield. There were 2 information controls before this point but the information required was already in my head from previous jaunts. These first few hills were cycled up slowly and cycled slowly down too because although not icy, was very very wet. The new neo-guard fitted to the front of the forks worked really well and prevented any water splashing up into my face. Totally rated!
Reached the Painswick control with no real bother. Once at the control though, a Londis Shop, had to wait ages for the shop keeper to serve me. Said shop keeper looked very witch like with her aged face, wart like features and her black and silvery hair. She saw me waiting to be served but continued to talk over the phone (probably discussing spells) for an age. Just as I was about to give up waiting she served me but there was no 'sorry for keeping you waiting'.

Was happy to leave the Witch of Painswick and cycle the hardest part of my journey (in my opinion at least) to Bisley. I shot past one particular right turn and had to back track (was this the witch's doing?). Am pleased I conquered the long steep hill to reach control. The Post Office had ink this time around so my brevet card got stamped!

Left Bisley and flew down the descent to Toadsmoor Valley (sounds witch-like don't you think?). Just after turning left I saw an elderly woman who had fallen on the ground but luckily an ambulance was approaching. I think this made me miss my turn. New hills were cycled and I reached Minchinhampton all the same. It was at this control I saw a geezer on a penny-farthing!
The stretch to Nympsfield was quite dull. I often find this stretch quite boring as it's just a slow up hill climb with little in the way of scenery. At least the skies were blue as opposed to their usual grey on this occasion.

The final section always makes up for the section before. A super zoomy descent back into Stroud. No menace cows blocking the road this time either - bonus! Cycled  a total of 59k this time around, 9k was added due to mishap. I think this was my quickest time round in about 4 hours (though admittedly, I didn't stop for lunch).

Saturday 15 December 2012

Not snow much fun ...

Following last weeks fall off in the icy conditions, I decided to not venture outside in the ice this week. The week proved to be frosty for the most part too. Everywhere looked beautiful and white - strange considering there was no snow. A white Christmas with no snow and that put pay to cycling lots, whatever next?!

Didn't feel comfortable not going out and cycling, or 'training' as I like to call it. With that in mind, I thought I'd do a little alternative training. The first alternative involved a run.

Cody and I ran the Handlebar Route. This route was created a while back when I was into my running (with SJ) and when mapped out formed the shape of a handlebar. We covered 5k running over the fields of Studley. Well, I ran 5k - Cody was lazy and would miss out sections. Cody refused to run up the hill to Studley Castle. This was the first run we had completed together for such a long time. SJ wouldn't run with us just because she was 32 weeks pregnant!

My next training session was indoors. Indoor and on a bike! I had borrowed Ron's turbo trainer. This turbo trainer allowed me to cycle my bike (used Scotty, my geared mountain bike) in my kitchen and allowed me to alter the resistance. I cycled for 30 minutes in a high gear and medium resistance and was absolutely whacked and dripping in sweat. Plan to look at turbo training sessions and use this trainer more frequently if the weather remains nasty over the winter period.

By the time the weekend came around, the weather had shifted. Not glorious weather, but not bad and certainly no ice. Taking advantage of these better days, I completed a lap of the TTT 20 route using Florence. My time was slow, but it would have been slower if we did have snow! Hey ho!

Monday 10 December 2012

Kings, Castles, Priests & Churches 200k Audax (Dec 2012)

Last weekend saw me complete the Kings, Castles, Priests and Churches audax. This was a 202k Black Sheep event that I have ridden at least one time before. This time around, I had the company of Aid, Chris and Ron. What was more – I rode using Slinky, my new cycle machine. The map below demonstrates the basic route.

The event started in Tewkesbury, with the official off time being 8 a.m, though riders were ‘allowed’ to start at 7.30 a.m if they preferred. My gang and I were just 4 of 36 riders to start this event. The organiser (Mark Rigby aka Black Sheep) gave us all these bright day/night glow strip things that could be snapped around an arm or leg (or bars and bag in my case) just before we set off. I wonder if he was expecting us to get lost or something?

It was a good start, just light enough to not require lights and not freezing or raining either. The past few days and weeks had seen awful weather and freezing conditions. The roads were wet, but Slinky was equipped with new mud-guards that Chris had fitted the night before. The new guards meant I had to remove my new front tyre (grrr) as a 700 x 23/25 tyre was too fat for said guards. My trusty, gimpy looking 700 x 23 yellow tyre had pride of place back on the front wheel.

I felt a little redundant on this ride as I usually  navigate. Chris and Ron navigated this time. Ron used GPS and Chris used both GPS and a traditional route sheet (mine) that he had placed in his funky home-made route sheet holder. I was not navigating as my route sheet holder had not yet been placed on my new bars.

My new bars (Easton AC 70’s) were great. They were able to offer numerous hand positions and felt comfy and awesome. The top of the bars are flat and my palms felt comfortable resting there. Because the bars were flat though, it meant that there was less room for all my gadgets. I had placed my speedo and Lezyne light on the bars but there was not room for my Ay-Up lights or my route sheet holder. Maybe a GPS unit on the bar stem would free up a little room?!

As Chris and Ron were navigating, I didn’t pay too much attention to where we were or where we were going. Ron and Chris would cycle ahead and Aid and I would follow. The first stretch passed okay with no major issues, concerns or things of note, except Aid’s bag. Aid was carrying a huge back pack full of water, gels, chocolates and goodness knows what else. Am convinced he will not carry the same again! Our first stretch took us to Bromyard. Our ‘usual’ café in Bromyard (the one that serves a hot curry) was packed full of cyclists so we ate at another just opposite. We all ate beans on toast (proper audax food) with egg for good measure. This was swiftly washed down with a cup of tea.
 The next proper control was in Ludlow. We stopped just outside the castle but didn’t stop to eat as the café was busy and Ron and Chris were keen to bounce this control. I ate one of Chris’s flap jack’s though and wow, they were his best yet! Whilst Chris and Ron went in search of a cash-point I chatted with Mary. Mary often cycles 200k events and we had caught her at this control – she had started the event at 7.30 a.m.
 Since I was not navigating, place names just came and went and remembering my adventure has proved a little difficult. Hills followed the Ludlow control, that’s for sure. I think Aid wished he didn’t have his big bag and I bet he had hoped we ate at the last control. None of the hills were overly steep but they did drag on a while. Ron’s wheel (or hub) was making funny sounds throughout and it would only be a matter of time before his wheel collapsed. Aid and I had a sneaky chocolate bar (from his bag!) when Ron stopped to inspect his wheel one time. The graph below represents the hilliness of the ride.
Ron had much misfortune. At one point in the ride an elderly gentleman with white mutton chops (looking a little Santa like) reversed into Ron (acting a little Satan like) and knocked him off his bike. The OAP then preceded to reverse into a vehicle and appeared oblivious to it all.

A little misfortune befell upon us all. A bridge had been washed away in the menace floods that hit this part of the country a short while back. This meant we all had to get muddy feet and cross over a man-made causeway. This was like something from the Bear Bones adventure. We all found this fun really, though a certain few 'others' complained big time (refer to YACF forum).
If my memory serves correct, we reached the penultimate control just as it was getting dark. We were in a lovely cafe called 'The Chocolate Box' in Kington. We all ate different foods, I chose a plough-mans lunch. This lunch of mine was peculiar in that it was vegetarian. The waitress kindly gave me extra baps too which she made a point of showing to all. After much eating we were off.
The next stretch took us to Wormlow Tump, which was such an excellent place name. Cycling in the dark freaked me out a little. We had spotted ice earlier and loose tarmac was difficult to pedal over and now it was dark too! Am sure we all took precautions - my brakes were held tight on the steeper descents. Just before the control, Chris was faffing with his lights, so Ron and Aid carried on whilst I waited for Chris to fix his issues. Once fixed, Chris and I reached said control and awarded ourselves with chocomilk. Poor Aid and Ron never found control and went without!

Chris and I were not sure how far ahead Aid and Ron were and just as we were discussing this we found them. Because they missed control, they stopped to take a photo of a pub for POP purposes. Once a four again we sped off. This last section was not as demanding as the earlier ones and am sure our pace picked up. Ron's wheel was not sounding good. Am not sure how but just before the end, we were down to 3 - Aid had gotten a second wind and sped off. I thought Aid was going to pip us all to the post, but he didn't. Aid waited for us all to rejoin and then we reached the arrivee as a group of four. As Ron turned the last corner, his wheel collapsed. We were the last guys back (I blame Chris ;) ) but we all made it within the cut off time and were pleased with our efforts. 202k cycled, 2 AUK points awarded, 1.75 AAA points awarded and a pat on the back!

ps No one liked my cycling sense of fashion...

Wednesday 5 December 2012


The weather this past week was pants. We all know December is often wintery and cold, but this past week sucked. The roads were frozen over but the fields did not freeze solid, they just remained mega sludgy. This made mountain biking quite difficult.

Fed up with getting a wet bum all the while, I purchased a mudguard for Queenie (my single speed mountain bike). A new Raleigh rear light was also purchased as these were at sale price. With Queenie all made up, I decided to take her for a spin.
As noted above, the weather was pants and I decided a road route was probably my best option. I figured I'd take Queenie around the tried and tested Deer Route. This was the obvious choice really - I have ridden this route all year round, in all conditions. Frosty and frozen patches were present all along the route so I took extra care and cycled at a slower, sensible pace. The few off road sections were great and I liked the sound the frozen puddles made as they were cracked open with the weight of Queenie and I. It was a chilly ride and I should have added more layers. I was virtually home before too long so the cold feeling wasn't too much bother. As I turned the final corner to reach my abode - crash, bang, wallop! Ouch! I was down, the icy conditions beat me. I ripped my pants and had a nice road rash across my thigh and cut my elbow open. My new rear light smashed and even a bar plug came un-plugged. All in all, I was okay and was able to recover the bits that went astray. 

Cyclists beware - the ice is out there!

Saturday 1 December 2012

The 'Mountain' / A New Machine

Visited Aid in Newbury for my first cycle ride of the week. We took our mountain bikes (mine being my trusty single speed) around a route Aid had devised and called 'The Mountain'. The Mountain is essentially a big hill along a lovely stretch of road near Aid's home. Aid informed me of highest points, parachute landings and other bits of trivia surrounding this mountain. Neither Aid or I thought I would be able to beat this hill on a heavy single speed bike, but smashed I did! Ha! Not sure what the gradient was, but fair to say it was steep and one was awarded with awesome views once at the top. Following this lovely view point we cycled along road and towpath till we found a suitable place to eat - a lovely Burger King. Perfect. After much munching we cycled more road, towpath and canal - the canal had burst it's banks and the towpath was under water. Nice ride that covered about 40k.

Another reason for visiting Aid in Newbury was to convert my road bike. We visited a Specialized concept store and essentially removed all the bits and pieces from Cayo (my 'old' road bike) and placed them on a new frame. This new frame was a Specialized S-Works SL3 frame set. In addition, new bars (Easton EC70), new front tyre (Roubaix Armadillo Elite) and a saddle (Brooks Titanium Swallow) were added and 'Slinky' was born. Slinky looked awesome and after new brake blocks were fitted and her wheels trued, she felt awesome too! Plan to convert Cayo into a single speed machine (watch this space, my buddy Chris Hodge has already agreed to perform this operation).
Took Slinky out for her debut ride on Saturday. I cycled my TTT 20 route. Slinky felt like a completely new bike. The bars felt wider and further forward. Weight was noticeably reduced and it felt easier to speed up ascents. My bum felt happy but the new saddle was quite slippery. Felt a slight niggle in lower back but feel after little tweaks here and there, Slinky really will be my dream machine. Completed the TTT 20 route in an average time of 1 hour and 12 minutes. Happy days!

Cycled a total of 47 miles.

Thursday 22 November 2012

Stroud 5 Valleys 50 (Nov 2012)

Completed the Stroud 5 Valleys 50k audax this week with Ron. Have now completed this ride a number of times. Even though the ride is (essentially) the same, the experience is always different.

We started at the usual control point in Stroud - a large free car park. Our start time was relatively early, just gone 10 o'clock. The first info control came after just 4k (and a big hill). The information control asked what the woods were called but the sign was missing (as it was last time I cycled this audax) - luckily I knew the woods already and was able to answer 'Stockend'.

The next control (information again) came after another big hill, only down hill this time. We had to turn left at the bottom of this hill to check out the phone number of the B.T phone. Again, I knew this information already.

Cycling to the next control was a little bit menace. A large silver transit van came a little close to Ron, so close I thought he was going to come off. Luckily Ron was okay. We climbed a wee bit during this section and past a farm where a dog ran at me last time. This time, no dog was to be seen. After more climbing we reached Painswick, the next control.

The next section led to Bisley. This section was the toughest of the whole ride. Both Ron and I battled these hills here with relative ease and didn't put a foot down. I was really pleased, last time I pushed a little after I lost traction on a switch-back menace piece of hill. After all the climbing came The Bear pub. This pub is where I have stopped many a time for a delicious meal. Today we had reached the pub very early and it wasn't open. We headed to the post office for POP purposes. The post office would usually stamp a brevet card, however, the stamp had ran out of ink! Worse still, the till would not print a receipt either. The post office worker kindly signed our brevet cards.

From Bisley to Minchinhampton we noticed just how windy it was. Leaves were swirling in the wind (according to the news, the wind reached speeds of 50-65 mph) making pretty patterns and tree branches were creaking. The wind never actually hindered us, it always appeared to be on our side, pushing us along. In addition, we had a fast descent down the Toadsmoor Valley. As we continued, Ron took me on a different (but correct) route to the control. Ron had downloaded a GPS track and the correct route took us up additional hills. Both routes led to same control - all roads lead to Rome!

The Minchinhampton to Nympsfield section was a bit of a drag, as I often think it is. This section is a slow up hill drag with little to look at. Scenery was hidden by tall hedges and the skies were grey. We passed a postman and he was really cheery and impressed we were cycling up a big hill. The post man said 'I take my hat off to you'. He couldn't take his hat off, he didn't have one on! We stopped at the Rose and Crown pub at the end of this jaunt. The pub was great and we ate an awesome steak! Ron also purchased some dodgy liquid stuff...
The last section was super zoomy. Mostly down hill with a strong wind behind us. Again Ron's GPS took us a slightly different way. We reached the arrivee in no time and felt great. Both of us had a great day, cycling 52 hilly k's in under 5 hours.

Tuesday 20 November 2012

After Dinner Dart

After a lovely dinner and a pleasant sleep at the Metropole Hotel it was time for breakfast! Chris and I were feeling hungry after yesterdays dinner dart. We got up relatively early and eagerly went to where breakfast was being served. Sadly, bacon and eggs and the like wouldn't be served until 8 o'clock. We figured this was worth waiting for, so in the 'waiting time' we had, we readied our bikes for the adventure that lay ahead. When breakfast came it was great! I had all the usual stuff and lots of it! I located Sheila Simpson (event organiser) during breakfast too and was able to hand in my brevet card from yesterday. Sheila was supposed to give me a new brevet card for today but some toe-rag had claimed it already (no real menace, just meant I had to post Sheila POP's). Before leaving the hotel, I removed much mud from my front brake blocks and forks - there was so much mud, it looked like I had removed a birds nest from the front of my bike! We then spent time chatting with other audax folk before we eventually left the hotel.
Brrr, it was cold outside the hotel. Everywhere was frosty and frozen. It must have been about 2C when we left. Surprisingly, Chris looked pretty pleased. Strange fellow.
Our return route to Talybont-on-Usk was awesome. We followed a new route that Chris created, which avoided big ascents but included big descents. We followed the river for a fair amount of K's, I wonder if this was the river Usk? For POP purposes we stopped at the same pub as we did on our inbound adventure, the White Hart. We purchased some tea and ate many biscuits, courtesy of Metropole Hotel. After an additional couple of Twix bars we set sail again.

The trek to Hay-on-Wye was great and full of adventure. We reached the troll bridge and awesomely the troll was there this time. We stopped and chatted with the troll a fair while and he informed us big time about himself and his bridge. The troll's name was Grahame and he purchased the bridge in January 2012. Grahame the troll took a photo of us as we crossed his bridge, and once Chris had paid the troll charge we were given 4 pieces of troll rock and a little booklet about the history of the bridge! How awesome was that?!
We educated Grahame the troll about the big oak tree nearby (shocked he didn't know about it already) and hastily made our way there. The tree was as oakish as ever. I wonder how long till I visit this tree again?!
Next stop was Hay-on-Wye itself. We stopped at a cafe opposite to Hay Castle and I ate a delicious carrot and coriander soup. Suitably fuelled, off we went.
The trek into Tenbury was fairly rolling and better than I had expected. The first hill out of Hay wasn't as menace as I thought it would be. This was a long section though and when we finally reached the control it was dark. We stopped at a garage and gorged on peanuts, cheap chocolate and Lucozade.

We found an easy to navigate route to Worcester, essentially following the same road. This road started off well being mostly descending in nature. After so long though the road started to ascend and ascended for miles. We had made a poor choice really and cycled many additional K's again. It seemed like an age to finally reach Worcester. Once in Worcester though, we awarded ourselves with burgers from McDonalds and my headspace was all happy again!

Worcester to Bidford was relatively okay. I think Chris experienced a low here though - I pointed out that home was only a few K's away in one direction but that we were cycling extra just to visit a control  point in Bidford. The only available control point was a cash machine at a (closed) garage but this provided the necessary POP.

Our last few K back to Studley was no real bother. Sure we were tired, but this was a bonus because the roads appeared to be shorter than normal. Once in Studley village we had to cycle to a cash machine for our very last POP and woo hoo, job done! We had completed a back-to-back 200k audax! And how did it feel? - you might just have to ask us!

Cycled 226k during this After Dinner Dart.

Monday 19 November 2012

Dinner Dart

Saturday 17 Nov 2012 saw Chris and I complete our first ever Dinner Dart. This was an audax event with a few twists. We were required to cycle a minimum distance of 200k starting from anywhere and finish at the Metropole Hotel in Llandindod Wells for the annual AUK dinner! We could start at anytime and choose whether to ride Thursday, Friday or Saturday. Any adventure that finishes with a feast has always appealed to me!

Preparation was not too difficult. Chris and I cycled little before the event (I did a quick lap of the Deer Route with Ron in the week, but that was all) and readied our bikes in the usual way. Chris fitted panniers to his bike and also this funny looking 'Scott oiler' thing. The Scott thing is a device to keep the chain lubed whilst on the move - by pressing a lever, oil is released over one of the jockey wheels and a 'lot of folk who have got one, swear by them'. I had to create the route before hand and send the chosen controls and map to the organiser (Sheila Simpson) before the event. With my poor navigational skills and the like, I was surprised Chris trusted me with such a task. Google maps was used to help create the route and the controls were as follows: Studley (start) - Bidford-on-Avon - Worcester - Tenbury Wells - Hay-on-Wye - Talybont-on-Usk - Llandrindod Wells (finish).  Studley was the obvious start because that's where I live and Tenbury Wells the finish because that's where the dinner was! The created route came out at 203k! (We planned not to follow the Google map instructions fully, but cycle part of Mark Rigby's 'Rough Diamond' route between some controls).

We started on the Saturday at about 7 o'clock on a dark, wet and cold day. The rain was pouring but luckily was not too heavy. We were suitably rested and my dear wife SJ had fuelled us with pasta the night before. We went to Tesco Express in Studley village for our first proof of passage (POP) where I purchased a bottle of water. I realised I had forgotten my glasses so we headed home again. After this initial false start we set off again and wow, the rain had stopped. I would like to report that we reached the first control without incident, but that wasn't correct. Early during this audax I had navigational issues and added about 10k before reaching the first control in Bidford. I think I took us on a circular route, but hey, I avoided the dual carriageway! We both purchased a cheap naff looking chocolate energy bar for our POP, but wow, this bar was delicious! Bonus!

Our trip to Worcester was pleasant. My head space was filled with my courting months with SJ as I cycled along the same roads I used to drive to see her. SJ and I had a lovely date one time in Spetchley and snogged on the Spetchley Bridge. On that occasion we took Cody Menace through Spetchley Gardens where an old lady gave poor Cody a telling off. I repeated some of these stories with Chris and we stopped here to take pictures of said bridge. 
Just past the bridge we stopped again - Chris had to repair a puncture. This puncture was from the night before! On the night before, Chris was pumping his tyre and BANG, we both heard the tube pop. The tyre remained pumped though because the tube blew so hard that it was caught between tyre and rim and remarkably kept pressure. Bizarre! Once this tube was removed we saw just how big the hole blown in it was - quite! After this quick fix we headed on and reached Worcester.
For POP purposes I went to the post office and purchased a black jack and a fruit salad - the poor post office worker had to write me out a receipt for the grand total of 4p! We had originally planned to stop here for breakfast but decided to bounce this control and speed along to Tenbury. We were behind schedule due to puncture menace and navigational issues.

Nice trek into Tenbury Wells. Reached this control from a different direction to what we had planned but this worked well. Must have been a good section because we appeared to make up time here. After stopping for a while at Burford Garden Centre (where we ate rosemary and squash soup, carrot cake and washed this down with tea and coke) we were only 15 minutes behind schedule.

Cycled to Hay following different roads to my usual jaunts - largely because navigation had gone wonky again. These new roads were nice enough though and no real menace was encountered. The entry into Hay-on-Wye avoided the big sign stating 'town of books' and also avoided the short steep climb I had become accustomed to. We still had a short steep climb, but a different one. The stop at this control was relatively short. I purchased a funky post card for POP using the tourist information centre (who will happily stamp brevet cards - note to self for future).

The cycle to Talybont was a long stretch. The photo's prove we were having fun and spirits were high! Was slightly disappointed that the troll was missing from the troll bridge that we crossed coming out of Hay. Last time we crossed that bridge, the troll supplied us with rock! Oh well, at least we didn't have to pay the troll charge. We were hoping that we didn't have to light up before reaching control but this wasn't the case. It got dark pretty quick but before we knew it we were racing down a super descent followed by a tight switchback and then awesomely we were at the control. We stopped at the White Hart pub in Talybont-on-Usk. We had some hot chocolate to warm our cockles and then decided (after a little thought) to eat a 'quick food' snack of pasty and chips. Mmm delicious!
Leaving Talybont, we both felt pretty great - the last section to navigate and then dinner! As is so often things went wonky big time and quick time. For starters the road was very muddy. I didn't have mudguards and my front brakes kept getting clogged with mud. The quick food seemed to have a good effect on Chris - he started cycling stretches quick time speedy style! Sadly, I was following Chris quick time speedy style but  we were going in the wrong direction! We cycled in the wrong direction for a long stretch and added a few hours and many k's to our ride. When we noticed our error we were both a tad dis-heartened. Not to worry, we turned around and cycled on and on but at a slower pace. Navigating became more difficult and we would have to stop frequently to make sure we were on track. This last stretch involved quite a push and hills of 10% and 16% had to be climbed before a ring twitching 25% descent followed. Slight rain started to hamper things a little too. However, we reached LLandindod Wells and stopped at a garage to get a final POP. I think time-wise we had just made it (14 hours on 200k audax). The garage staff informed us that the Metropole Hotel (the arrivee) was just up the road. We sped up and up and up the road and then woo hoo - we reached the Metropole! We had (luckily perhaps) missed the AUK meeting and (sadly) the AUK dinner. However, the hotel was very obliging and served Chris and I our well deserved 3 course meal in another classy room of the hotel. I ate salmon, Welsh lamb and crumble. We crossed paths with audax officials before crashing out and they were more than happy to sign my brevet card without being strict on any minimum speed. Nice. The pictures below clearly show how we both felt (and looked) after completing a 200k dinner dart!
So, how would we both feel after completing a 200k back to back event? Read the next blog instalment 'After Dinner Dart' to find out! :)

Cycled 245k to complete the Dinner Dart.

Saturday 10 November 2012

The good, the bad and the lovely


For the past couple of weeks I have mostly been single speeding. Indeed, all my bike adventures have been using either my trusty single speed mountain bike 'Queeny' or my single speed road bike 'Florence'. Have cycled routes with both Aid and Ron and hit the Deer route, the Bread crumb Trail and incorporated urban routes too. My road bike covered the TTT 20 route.


The bad news is that my 'best' mountain bike is currently in the bike shop. Brake menace. I have Avid Elexir R brakes and they have played up a few times. This time they are proper broken and after 2 bleeds are not working. The brake is being sent to the manufacturer for a complete, full on service where any wonky parts (such as dodgy piston or calliper, or even a hole in the hosing) will be replaced and brakes should be like brand new. We'll see. The damage - about £70.

Well check out the pic's and see for yourself. These jerseys were real (relatively) cheap and are available from the Ay-Up online store. Groovy! The badge 'Brevet 4000' was for completing 20 x 200k audax events.

Sunday 28 October 2012

Stroud 5 Valleys 50 (Oct 2012)

26 October 2012 saw me complete the Stroud 5 Valleys 50 audax, for a second time. This was a 50k permanent audax that was quite hilly in nature (1 AAA point). The event was considered 'a short ride with plenty of vertical-seeking interest'.

The event started in Stroud. Almost straight away, I passed an aptly named lane - Beard Lane! How comical I thought.

Shortly after passing Beard Lane, I passed a lovely arch. Arches appeared to be a theme on this audax. How pleasant I thought.
This particular arch had a lovely inscription on the top of it. The inscription read 'Erected to commemorate the abolition of slavery in the British colonies...'. Nice.
These nice words were great to think about as I climbed the first of many hills. At only 4k into the ride came the first control point. The control was an information control and asked what the name of the wood was at top of said hill. I have cycled this route before and am sure the wood in question used to have a big sign stating name - this time there was no sign. Luckily there was a Parish notice stuck to a fence stating 'no motorcycles in Stockend Wood'. Ha! The next control was an information control too. This time I had to write down the number of a particular BT phone. How random I though. At least I had reached this phone without mishap - a steep, wet and slippy 25% gradient took me to the control in Haresfield.

Like the last time I cycled this route, I took a wrong turn here. This was soon noticed and I got myself back on route and passed Harescombe. Then a 1:6 climb followed and I knew I was back on route! Just before I reached the Painswick control, I took the photo below which was the second lot of arches I noticed on ride.
Painswick to Bisley followed next. I liked to think of it as Pain to Lunch! Ha! Hilly affairs continued, a particular 1:7 on this section. Then soon followed my much anticipated lunch. I stopped at the Bulls Head (I think that's the name), where I stop almost every time I cycle the Cotswold Corker. Loaded up my carbs by eating a large lasagna and potato side dish.

Luckily, leaving Bisley starts with a lengthy descent, which is just what I needed after my feast. After about 5k of down hill to the Toadsmoor valley things started ascending again. Less than 5k further and I saw my third lot of arches at the Minchinhampton control.
Left Minchinhampton and headed for Nympsfield. Despite being in the countryside, this section looked sterile and bleak. Not an overly hilly section but a climb all the same. The control was optional - information or a visit to the Rose & Crown pub. I had already eaten so chose the information control where I had to name the catholic school. I felt a little uneasy as I took out my camera to snap the school sign. The school was called St Josephs.

The final section was not hilly much at all, just 77 metres of ascent. This made a welcome break from the days climbing. A random cow slowed things down though and took dominance on the road.
Cow would not allow the truck to pass. Despite horn blowing the cow did not move. As stubborn as a cow!
Miss cow smiled nicely for my camera though. Doesn't she look pretty?! Ha, this did make me chuckle.
Miss cow continued to stay in the middle of the road after the photo-shoot too. I wonder if she's there now? Hope she hasn't been ran over. Shortly after passing cow, I continued a short way and safely made it to the arrivee. I had cycled about 60k in all, 10k being as a result of poor navigation. I enjoyed this ride and being such a short ride had time to kill and legs that were not completely spent. I cycled back to Beard Lane before packing up and going home, just for the comedy factor.
Cycled about 60k in about 5 hours during this audax. I think I will cycle this one again. Maybe a few times over :)

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Banbury Cross 200 (Oct 2012)

This week saw me complete the Banbury Cross 200 audax for the second time. This was a special audax for me, in that it was my first event for the 2013 season and more importantly because it was my 20th 200k event (and my 46th audax to date).

Like the first time I cycled the event, I chose the anti-clockwise route (believing it to be the easier option) and I chose Broadway as my start and finish control. The weather wasn't brilliant and drizzle was present throughout most of the day. Initially it was foggy too. The first stage to Cheltenham was no real bother, especially once Cleeve Hill was beaten.

Stage 2 was largely as I remembered it - a big hill for starters followed by a lengthy mostly descending road. The photo below was taken not long after climbing Lilleybrook Hill. I took the picture just because I considered the building interesting. 
Am not really sure what this structure was - maybe a buss stop? I think I cycled past this same feature when I rode the alternate route on the Cotswold Corker. Continued my journey passing through Cirencester and Latton. Then, just like last time, I encountered problems. The route sheet stated 'TR $ Waterpark Storage. Over (A419) Bridge'. I have still to find the sign indicating 'Waterpark Storage'. Last time I just continued straight on. This time I took a right and thought I was on the right track as I cycled over a A419 bridge. Silly me, this wasn't right at all and soon I was momentarily lost. This added about 8k to my overall distance. On the flip-side, I entered Cricklade from a different direction and was able to take the photo below. Doesn't it look nice?!
The next stage led to Witney, or more importantly lunch! I stopped at the self same cafe as last time. This time I opted for a smaller breakfast (for the sake of just £1, I wished I hadn't). Suitably refreshed I headed out again.

Leaving Witney, I headed for Bicester. I was quite uncomfortable really, my saddle felt harder than usual (maybe because I had not been on my road bike for a while). As the road crossed over a river, canal and rail line, I was suitably distracted. Before long I was in Bicester.

The Bicester to Banbury section was memorable on 2 counts. As stated earlier, my poor back side was suffering. With this in mind, the voices in my head were telling me to stop at the next buss shelter and apply bum creme to my butt. How pleased I was to see this shed like buss shelter, only to turn into disappointment as when I entered said shelter it was occupied by folk. The second bit of menace was when a passing toe-rag threw a sub-way drink at me as he sped past in his car. This drink missile caught me on the side of my leg (could have been worse) and I felt a little sting for a while. Oh, the joys of long distance cycling! Still, I reached the fair lady and all was good.
The final leg to Broadway proved interesting too. Lovely roads that required little in terms of navigation. Speedy ascents at times and little pulls at others. Other than the miserable weather, lighting was my only issue. It was now dark and misty. My Ay-Up lights mounted on my helmet had failed (didn't re-charge battery) but luckily I was equipped with my new bar mounted Lezyne light and I had a Petzle light mounted on my helmet too. The Lezyne light was great at illuminating the road (and obviously could be seen by passing traffic) and the Petzle light was great for reading my route sheet. However, with my Ay-Up lights missing it was hard to read passing sign posts (luckily this was an easy to navigate section). My rear lights were great. I had fitted a 'spoke lit' light to my rear spokes and it worked real well - looked light a bright fire spright was following me, real impressed. Before so long I reached the arrivee in Broadway and completed this audax. Better yet, I can now claim by Brevet 4000 award!

Cycled a distance of 208k in about 11 hours.

Monday 15 October 2012

Bear Bones 200

The weekend of 13-14 October 2012 saw me complete my first bike packing adventure - the Bear Bones 200. Most will probably not be familiar with bike packing, so here is some information that was stolen from the Bear Bones Bike packing site: Call it whatever you like, bikepacking, off road touring or cycle camping. It all really comes down to the same thing, loading up your bike and heading off on a self propelled, 2 wheeled adventure. It could be argued (as I have in the past) that there are subtle differences between the 3 things above but if you're planning to wild camp and ride off road, then what we call it doesn't matter … most aspects will remain the same.

The Bear Bones 200 is a 200km independent time trial in mid Wales. This was the 2nd year running of this event, but a first for me and my 2 friends - Chris and Ron. The route was completed using our mountain bikes and we were required to navigate as there were no way markers. As part of the challenge we had to carry minimum kit that consisted of a sleeping bag, tent, lights and a mobile phone.  Each entrant was awarded a coloured badge on completion of ride (black for under 24 hours, blue for 24 - 28 hours and a green for all other finishers), we had aimed for blue.

Bear Bone 200 badges of honour
Below is a detailed list of my kit:

Ay-up lights and battery on bars
Speedo on bars
1 man tent strapped to bars inside 13 litre dry bag
2 x bottles

¾ sleeping mat
Sleeping bag
Silk sleeping bag liner

Ay-Up lights and battery mounted on top
Petzl light mounted on top

2 x tubes
Tools (Alien, 2 x gas, gas tool, patches, levers, lighter)
Tooth brush and paste
Wet wipes
Spare batteries
Bum crème sachet
Meds and first aid kit
Chain lube
Waterproof jacket
Spare socks
Silk shirt
Thermal base layer
Waterproof gloves
Food, bars , gels and water tablets
Plastic bags

Full length gloves
Baa baa skull cap
SS Base layer
SS jersey
LS jersey
Arm warmers
Baggy ¾ shorts (camera, phone and money in pockets)
Assoss shorts
Shoes and shoe covers

My memories from the event are recounted below:

Chris, Ron and I left Doo Little about 5.40 a.m and started the long drive to the start in Wales. We left so early as we planned to have a Mc Donald's for breakfast - sadly this didn't happen (glad I pinched a slice of toast before Ron rocked up). We were a couple of hours early for the start. The start area itself was naff - there were no toilets, food, drinks or seating area. In fact there was just a field with a wig-wam perched there at a peculiar angle. Inside the wig-wam was the organiser shouting at folk not to stop there cars and just park before they sunk in the mud. Of course, every car stopped to hear what the organiser was shouting about. We parked OK and then set about readying our bikes.
My bike was relatively clean at the start. The yellow straps holding my front bag on the bars were way too long and fiddly. The bungee cords holding the red bag onto the saddle were naff too and the bag swung like a donkeys... This problem was fixed by using the yellow straps to hold the red bag and investing in a Wild Cat harness to fix the bag to the front of the bars. This is what the Wild Cat website says: A universal solution for storing generally cylindrical items such as a sleeping bag, tent or other such items under the handlebars, as an alternative to a front rack and panniers. It features a padded panel with a unique and secure strap assembly that provides maximum stability and resists working loose over rough terrain, with minimal interference to the frame to maintain predictable handling.
  • Unique strap system that does not interfere with the headtube, to ensure predictable handling and reduced wear to the frame
  • High quality 19mm polypropylene webbing in a single length to maximise strength under tension
  • Webbing double bar-tacked for strength and durability
  • VX21 upper face for abrasion resistance against handlebar and controls
  • Extra ballistic nylon reinforcement against stem
  • Padded panel wraps securely around your gear providing additional protection against handlebar controls
  • Intended for use with your own dry-bag or equivalent, and suitable for capacities up to approximately 10-12 litres. 
There were more idiots like me. I think 60 plus had registered for the event. 40 plus were to start the event. (Only 20 plus completed the event).
At 10 a.m we were off. I had to stop almost straight away (at the first barn building) to pinch water for my bottles. They said that the first 20 miles were going to be the hardest and they were right. Chris (pictured above) was caught smiling during the first descent but soon we were all gritting teeth as we had to push bikes up a real steep incline.
Bike Packing was synonymous with Bike Pushing!
Ron (pictured above) was caught smiling because he was eating my soggy crisp breads at our first lunch break. I had taken precautions and filled my pockets with lots of food - beef jerky, cheese, crisp breads, Peperami, M&M's, Oreo's and Snickers (plus gels and energy bars). At this stage I was already wet and covered in mud. If one is to invest in waterproof socks, go for the above the knee option - my calf length socks were filled with water.
We were all smiles at our second lunch stop. After cycling in what seemed like a deserted wilderness for hours we spotted a small community that had set up camp for 4x4 racing purposes. We stopped and made friends with the burger bar. Amazing burger and fantastic cup of tea. This is what every adventure needed!
All along the route, windmill blades could be seen. Was only right that I got a photo of one.
River crossings were a regular feature too. I think we must have crossed about 20 during whole event. We even had to cycle about 3k in the river at one point. Waterproof socks (but longer ones required) and chain lube were great ideas.
After hours of off road tracks, fields, marshes and mountains we hit Rhayader and then the beautiful Elan Valley. We had actually gone off route when we hit Rhayader, but this was great news for us 'an answer to prayer'. For the first 50k or so, I had been struggling because my granny chain ring was bust up proper and wouldn't turn the chain (and because of this, my lowest 9 gears were missing). If I tried to use the granny gear I would experience chain suck. (This was particularly annoying because I told my local bike shop about this menace but they didn't diagnose problem). Anyways, we found a bike shop here in Wales and they fitted a new SLX granny ring and fixed the issues! We were able to use a tap here too (I had taken water from a stream but this was my preferred option).
Damn, the Elan Valleys dams were beautiful. Amazing. Glorious.
Water, water everywhere. These damns water Birmingham too. Cannon Hill Park in Birmingham even has a model of the Elan Valley dam network.
 My thoughts went back to family outings in my yester-years as I cycled past these dams.
And now I had cycled here too. In fact I had cycled here in the past also, with Christopher Poole. Old Mr Poole - wonder what he is up to now?!
Doesn't my bike look grand against the back drop of the dam?! My new handlebar harness allowed me to attach my overshoes to the front of the bike in an effort to dry them out.
 I think this Cycling Elan Valley was a first experience for Ron and Chris Hodge.
My mother likes photo's taken from behind, so the photo above is for her. I know that sounds kinda weird and just hope you know what I mean.
We crossed that lovely bridge above.
And if my words weren't proof enough then here's more photographic evidence. I really was camera shooter happy at this point. I wonder if Chris has Go Pro footage?
This was the last picture I took before it got dark. Seriously dark and no moon light! I was pleased I had taken my Ay-Up lights. What followed from here was a lengthy cycle along the dams with a sheer drop to the one side of us and plenty of switch backs and small bridge crossings. The weather turned sour here and started raining (did I mention we experienced hail near the start of the ride too) big time. We were climbing for a time and splashing through puddles just looking for signs of civilisation. And then we saw lights in the distance. And after a few more pedal strokes, we found a pub!
This was what the pub looked liked the following morning once day light had re-appeared. Such a warm welcoming pub. And did I mention the grub?!
Well, let me tell you - not long after entering this pub we were treated with 3 bowls of chips which we ate whilst warming ourselves on a nice fire. Much of our damp kit was drying on radiators around the pub. After our chips, Roger (the landlord) gave us seasoned potato skins. Mmm. It was only right we had some drinks (Guiness for Ron and Chris and a red wine for myself). We were speaking to the locals for a time a certain chap thought we were 'mad' when we told him of our plans. So concerned was this chap about our welfare that he asked the landlord if we could stay in the pub. Roger was more than obliging and sorted us out a room for the night. We drank a little more and then headed for bed.
I guess this was not the picture most folk had in their heads when I said I was going Bike Packing. Certainly not the usual tent or tarp option. At least Ron got to use his new sleeping mattress. 
After a relatively decent nights sleep we started getting up at about 5.30 a.m. All our gear had dried out and we were well rested. No tent to pack away. No cold or wet shoes and clothes to put back on. No scrambling through pockets and bags trying to find food. Roger (bless him) had cooked us all some bacon and egg sandwiches followed by further bacon rolls. Lots of tea washed all this down and we felt set up for the day. We had cycled just short of 100k at this point.
Boy was it cold when we set off. Puddles were frozen over and a mist loomed over the land of Wales. We soon warmed up once the blood started getting pumped around our bodies.
I was expecting a lot more descending today after yesterdays climbs. This didn't work out however. Climb came after climb. As Ron pointed out, the hills only ascended to the summit.
For a minute there, I lost myself and felt I had become Bear Grylls. Then I wondered how even Bear Grylls would survive here, in this apparently sterile environment. We saw little in the way of wildlife, save lots of sheep. (I smacked one said sheep on a hairy descent). At one point I saw a bird of prey and what looked like a dead ferret. All interesting things to think about.
For a while we had good cross country tracks to follow. The weather had improved big time compared to the night before too. Shiny happy people.
The mist still hung about. I can see why folk believed in dragons. We all though we met a dragon at the start too ...
This was one of my favourite parts of the adventure. A nice lengthy descent with stunning views. The long curly road with mountains either side reminded me of the Gospel Pass. 
We followed this road for a while and then hit a rocky descent. (I think the rocky descent was here anyhow). This particular descent was treacherous - jagged rocks sticking out like sharks teeth. As I flew down, pssst, my rear tyre had punctured. I shouted at both Ron and Chris to stop as they flew past me but neither of them did. Fixing the puncture was no major hassle but a menace all the same. All fixed up, I caught up with the others and on we pressed. After a while we found a youth hostel. We hoped to fill our bottles up with water here but we couldn't get in, the door was locked and no folk about.
Had to use the next best option. The water tasted fine. I preferred bottled water though because I didn't have dead sheep floating thoughts in my head.
My head was filled with various thoughts as we cycled along. Thoughts like 'how long till lunch' were amongst the most common. The wonder of God's creation was a recurring theme.
Just when we thought that hills couldn't get hillier they did. We encountered the Devils Staircase. This hill was a beast and reminded me of Bushcombe Lane on the Cotswold Corker. We all climbed this hill successfully (with loaded bikes). One site on the internet reported that Even the Russian Milk Race team had to walk up here. Another site on the internet reported the following: Statistics can be misleading and an average climb of 4.5% seems a doddle. The last km of this climb is no doddle. The steepest section just after the cattle grid goes straight up at something like 25% and then there are two hairpins to the top. When you get to the top you have a bit of a flat section then hold onto your hat as you go downhill over some switchbacks, made a lot easier by some lovely new tarmac. Final descent takes you to the road round the reservoir with some great views and lots of sheep. The Devil's Staircase is situated in Wales . Starting from Abergwesyn, the Devil's Staircase ascent is 5 km long. Over this distance, you climb 227 heightmeters. The average percentage thus is 4.5 %.  
Then things went real pants! Don't get me wrong the views were stunning and the weather was bright. But ...
 ... the ground was deep and marshy. Which meant we were pushing bikes and not cycling them. We pushed for hours.
And hours. And hours.
At least Chris got to be King of the Cairn once he was at the summit. What followed was much menace of marsh land cycling and pushing. I must have fallen off my bike a hundred times and both Ron and Chris had tumbles too.

We were relieved when we had safely navigated back to the Elan Valley and Rhayader. (In fact, it was Chris and Ron who were navigating - they both had fancy GPS units). We stopped in Rhayader and ate chips and kebab (fish for Chris). Whilst tucking into our food, the guy who fixed my bike the day before popped in and said 'hello'.

After our penultimate meal, we set off once more. We followed roads initially and watched the sun set. The guys had minor issues navigating and finding our way became slow after the lengthy speedy descent away from Rhayader. We were back on off road trails and progress was slow. My body was achey and my head space went into stand-by mode. After some time, Chris suggested we stop and eat energy bars. What a great idea this was - I ate my peanut brittle bar and then we had about 3k of descent that led to the finish! Never had an energy bar proved so potent!
At the finish we were awarded with a green Bear Bones 200 badge and a bacon roll. The bacon roll was no where near Rogers standard. The badge was great - but we had to pack and push 218k over 2 days just to get this piece of cloth!

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