Thursday 27 September 2012

Cotswold Corker (Sept 2012)

No blogging the past couple of weeks because my bikes did not see any tarmac or trail. The powers that be made me work compulsory night shifts which resulted in me feeling to rough to cycle and really quite sleep deprived. Have had planned adventures floating around my head though and made some preparations ready for the Bear Bones 200 (an off road 200k time trial) and a From Anywhere Dinner Dart (an unusual 200k audax).

In an attempt to both start moving my legs again and prepare for the Bear Bones 200, decided to complete a Cotswold Corker permanent audax using Scotty, my mountain bike. Scotty had recently been serviced and what better way to test her out. For those that regularly read this blog, they will know that the Cotswold Corker is a very hilly event (scoring 1.75 AAA points), which I have completed several times now. This is probably my favourite 100k (hilly) permanent audax event.

As usual (for me) started the Corker from Winchcombe. It looked like it was going to be a bright day, so I left my waterproof jacket in the car. Cleeve Hill was the first hill encountered and it didn't prove to be any bother. I started the next hill at Bushcombe Lane in a fairly confident mood. This is the biggest hill on the Corker and I beat it the last time I cycled. The only worry I had was whether or not I would lose traction as the roads were slippery and wet. Climbed slowly up the hill in first gear and just as I reached the last turn just yards before the summit - screech - my chain had slipped off the cassette and into the spokes. Grr! I nearly came off too! Disappointed is not the word. Grr! Put my bike back in gear, caught my breath and headed off again. Screech - ugh, the same thing! Walked the few yards to the summit and listened to the voices in my head screaming things they shouldn't. At least I had a nice descent back into Winchcombe!
After Winchcombe came another hill, a long slow hill, that took me to Guiting Power and then on to Northleach. This stretch is always nice to cycle as it is probably the most scenic. Stopped in Northleach (it was a control) and purchased some strawberry flavoured water which was nice.

Nice quiet country roads were followed from Northleach control pretty much all the way to the control in Bisley. Despite the fact that there were a few climbs here (some quite steep) the thought of dinner in Bisley kept me suitably distracted. Another distraction was the beautiful lone deer skipping along in the open fields. Even the pigs on the pig farm made a nice sight too. I always think of the 'Centurion Super Grimpeur' audax when I pass through Daglingworth (an info control on this audax) as said event starts and finishes at the village hall here. On reaching Bisley, I went to the Post Office (as the lady there stamped my brevet card) and then to 'The Bear' pub for lunch. I had beef lasagna, chips and a large coke. My feed was nice but a little over-priced.

On leaving the pub it had started to rain (should have taken my rain jacket) so I took shelter for about 10 minutes until the rain had eased (but not quite stopped). This stage - Bisley to Andoversford is usually quite challenging. It has some really steep descents and a big climb (reaching 288 metres). I said  'usually' because the route sheet had directions for an 'alternative' route and today I followed this alternative route, just for fun. This alternative was definitely easier but took me away from quiet secluded roads onto busier roads. It was nice in that no great care was required on menace steep descents and I was awarded with a lovely view of the Malvern Hills.
This alternate route also passed through Seven Springs which is the source of River Thames spring water. After passing through Seven Springs, an ascent led to where the original route would have taken. Once here (just outside the Kilkenny Inn), a super fast descent took me to Andoversford, the penultimate control.

The final stage was only 10k and led back to the start in Winchcombe. This stage was no real bother and it was nice that the rain had stopped and the sun had come back out. I often remember this as a fast stage, but to be fair, it still has a few climbs. The last few k are very zoomy though - once past Belas Knapp, it was downhill all the way to the arrivee! This put a smile on my face!

Cycled 100 kilometres and scored 1.75 AAA points in just under 6 and a half hours.

Monday 10 September 2012

Mr Pickwick goes to Hay in a day (206k audax, Sept 2012)

Saturday saw me complete the 'Mr Pickwick goes to Hay in a day' audax. This was the 4th year running of this event, but the second time I had entered and completed it. Ron and I completed this event during 2010 in beautiful weather and our faces were printed in Arrivee magazine. This year, I cycled with Ron again and we took Chris Hodge out for the day too.

The route can be seen on the map below. Basically the ride followed two large arcs - the one passing the South of Hereford, the other passing the North. Mostly lanes, minor roads and B roads were followed though there were a few menace A roads here and there.
No hilly (AAA) points were awarded on this ride. That's not to say this adventure wasn't hilly. There was a fair few ascents to battle (climbing nearly a total of 2,000 metres). The picture below shows the general profile.
27 cyclists took part on this epic adventure, the youngest of which being only 13 years old. Every cyclist finished within the time limit too - one rider finishing with just minutes to spare. Another rider, Aid Payne, was unable to start due to work and family commitments plus a major case of man flu. Let's hope this blog entry has made him feel a wee bit better.
Chris, Ron and I readied our cycles at the Council Offices car park. This took a little longer than usual as we had removed all wheels to enable us to fit said bikes in Ron's wagon. Once the bikes were set up we headed to the start, which was the Royal Hop Pole Pub, a few metres away.
The start was unusual in that most Black Sheep events start from the car park where we readied our bikes. Popular demand (apparently) caused the start place to be moved to the pub. Made little odds to me - at 8 a.m as planned, we were off. The start was cold and wet and misty. Visibility was very poor due to this thick layer of mist which stuck around for about 3 hours. I had originally planned to ride sleeveless as Michael Fish's buddy's had promised hot weather in the high 20's. The mist caused my glasses to steam up, my helmet to drip and my shorts to feel soggy. Normal pretty views were blocked from sight. I took a little comfort in watching the line of brightly coloured cycle tops follow one another. This bright line didn't last too long either - we were with Ron and he was eager to be at the front of the line. After cycling about 35 or so K, I was in familiar territory. I had cycled these same roads a few weeks back during other audax events. This was great news as I remembered zooming past a lovely quirky house before entering Hoarwithy - this time I was able to stop and take a photo!
After Hoarwithy came a short sharp ascent followed by a swift descent. The mist was still hanging about but I was able to spot the control at the 50k mark. I had safely navigated to the control! Ron had cycled past it because his GPS did not detail control points. Chris was ambivalent and had a general lack of faith in my navigating. We stopped and ate much carrot cake. Beans on toast was not an option, this was a Londis shop and not a cafe.

Stage 2 was a very easy to navigate stage that led to Hay-on-Wye. Essentially we just cycled straight crossing over one cross roads. I had cycled to Hay a few times recently and could have taken a more rural option. We followed the route sheet and made good time. Ron had made himself a captain and was forcing Chris and I to join with him and take turns to pull and tow. This pull-tow phenomena enabled us to zoom along at a speedy pace and cover much ground. At the last climb into Hay, Chris and I had reverted to chatting nonsense and watched Ron's competitive edge kick in and we saw him race a couple of others to the control point. I think Ron won, but I joked that he was beaten. We reached the control at 11:40 a.m, just 21 minutes after the control had opened. We stopped here, just for a breather really, and decided to carry on and stop for lunch in Bromyard.

Stage 3 was my favourite stage. This was the stage that led to Bromyard. The thick mist had vanished by now and we were cycling nice rural roads which offered great countryside views all around. It wasn't long before we encountered the infamous troll bridge in Whitney-on-Wye.
I have crossed this bridge on a few occasions before and each time have been harassed by a troll to pay the troll fee for continued passage. Contrary to popular belief, bridge trolls work a job share system. I have proof of this, as each time I cross said bridge, I pay the fare and take a sneaky photo of the troll. The troll working this shift was the nicest troll I had encountered to date. After Chris had paid the fare for us all to cross (10p each), the troll smiled for a photo and handed out rocks! How cool was that?! Not sure if we should take candy from a troll, but we did all the same.
After safely crossing the bridge we continued on our journey. We had big smiles on our faces and rock in our mouths. For safety reasons, Chris wanted to stop and inspect the rock we were eating (to ensure no foul play by the troll). The rock was lettered, it read 'Whitney-on-Wye Troll Bridge'. How cool was that?!
This candy provided us with the energy required to go searching for an old oak tree. Not that too much energy was required, mind you, the oak tree was huge. The oak tree was ancient and has been recorded in the Domesday Book. The event organiser (Mark Rigby) informed that 'even 1,000 years ago, the tree was recorded as being of considerable size, and considered an asset of the village'. With a keen eye, we spotted the tree.
We decided to stop here and inspect the tree. Ron had heard rumours about magic trees and pots of gold. There was no gold inside the tree, but there was plenty of room for us 3 cyclists (plus bikes I reckon).
Once inside the tree we kinda underwent some psychedelic type trip. I remember swirling, dancing and bright colours. And then, as if by magic, the tree spat Chris out and tried to swallow Ron and I.
Wow, what an experience that was. Chris was spat out. Ron was far out. Someone commented 'Tim, you're out of your tree', I replied 'that's not my tree man'. With us all together once more, we continued on our adventure. We were getting hungry now, no lunch inside yet and it was way past lunch time. Once we had seen signs for Bromyard we were real happy and knew a lunch was waiting for us there.

Bromyard was reached at about 2:50 p.m and as can be imagined we were all 'Hank Marvin'. Ron and I had stopped at the Flowerdew's cafe in 2010 and ate the World's Hottest Curry. We wanted to do the same today and coaxed Chris to try the same. A delicious curry was served and soon devoured but it lacked the hotness from previous servings. A look out of the window informed us it was time to go. Bromyard had been taken over by lots of weird, wonderful, strange and peculiar peoples. This included a bunch of Black Orcs, which everyone knows means trouble.
The final stage was the longest and stretched for 66k. Am pleased to inform that we cycled this stage without any mishap or menace, save Chris and Ron having to keep re-lubing their chains (we do not rate muc-off dry lube, however, muc-off wet lube has worked fine). We reached the arrivee in good time and before it had started to get real dark. We clocked into the arrivee, the Royal Hop Pole pub at 6:44 p.m, woo hoo, job done! We completed these epic 206 kilometres in 10 hours and 44 minutes. We then ate and drank to excess and recounted our experiences...

Weekly totals: Cycled 263 miles.

Wednesday 5 September 2012

Severn & Estuary 200 (Cheltenham)

Tuesday saw me complete the Severn & Estuary 200 audax with my cousin Aid. This was a great event that started and finished in Cheltenham. The official route spread over 202k, but with the variations I added, we covered 135 miles. The suggested route is shown in the map below. We roughly followed the map in a clockwise direction.
We took the organisers (Steve P)  advice and started the event from Moorend Park Road. Steve said we could start 'Chez Moi', which I think meant from 'his house'. My French ain't that great, so we started near his house and parked on the road. In fact, we were directly opposite the surgery which doubled as emergency services! I took a photo of our bikes against the surgery sign believing Steve would accept this as a suitable start proof and then we headed off (at about 7:40 a.m.)
We started out on a bright sunny day (although there was a nip in the air) following a relatively busy A46. This road was quite amazing though as it kept getting higher and higher and offered fantastic views to both the left and right. This event scored no hilly (AAA) points but climbs were aplenty and the first climb was here, right near the start. The climbs were soon rewarded with butt clenching descents. A particularly fast butt clenching descent took us through the very pretty place of Painswick. The voices in my head remarked that this indeed would be painful if we were cycling in the opposing direction. After such a lovely descent, I had problems with the route sheet destructions and had gotten us momentarily lost. A local provided directions (we had missed a turn and were about 6 miles from our first control). We were faced with a choice - onwards with technical directions or turn around and climb a big hill. We climbed the hill. And boy, what a big hill this was. A beastly 14% hill that switched here and there. We gritted our teeth and made the climb (a car hadn't and was precariously perched upright amongst some trees). Once at the top we had reason to smile again - we had just conquered a big hill and were now rewarded with a super zoomy descent right into Wotton-Under-Edge, our first stop control.

The fantastic views had disappeared some-what during the second stage and it had become quite overcast. After an initial downhill, the roller coaster style roads had become less common place too. This was a mostly flat (though undulating all the same) section. We hit a cycle path after passing through Wickwar and Chipping Sodbury but we were only on this path for about 200 metres. We passed through several strangely named places including Pucklechurch which made me chuckle. Just before we reached the control in Keynsham we were awarded with a nice descent and the sun had come back out. Awesome!

Stage 3 was a real short section. We only had to cycle some 12 k's to get from Keynsham to Chew Magna. I remember cycling through here on previous audax events. This control was like the others in that a nice descent took us there. Chew Magna itself was a strange place, it was very rural and had standing stones to mark entry and exit into the place. Once in the centre of Chew Magna a few shops appeared but it soon became quite rural once again. A random chap from the previous control had said 'Oooh Chew Magna, terrible for traffic there'. This random chap was clearly a loon!
Somewhere near to or from Chew Magna was these rather weird reservoir pools. That's what Aid said they were anyway. Well, he actually said they were rice paddy's before changing to his final decided answer.
I think all this recent long distance cycling had messed with Aid's head. We continued on our way and passed through Winsford before following directions to Hobbs Lane. We had a battle in this lane with several million triffids!
We won the battle and continued to Wraxhall ready for our next battle. This next battle was in the form of Wraxall Hill. This was a big nasty hill that essentially went up! We climbed to the top and then not long after had a super fast descent (notice the patten forming here) down Naish Hill. This hill led to a place called Clapton in Gordano. Am sure if we cycled this anti-clockwise, we'd be clapped out in Gordano. A swift right turn took us into Portishead, our next control.

We didn't even scan the High Street in Portishead. The first cafe we saw was where we stopped and ate. Hunger pangs had gotten hold of both of us. As is our style, we had a bumper English breakfast, at a very reasonable price of £4. Delicious! We had hot drinks too before pressing on.

On leaving this cafe in Portishead we felt great. We had eaten! We were about half way through our adventure. The sun was shining bright (we both had burned a little). And we cycled up Harbour Road, woo hoo, we had cycled to the sea! Aid was really chuffed he had cycled past signs for Weston. On we carried, following the route sheet provided by Steve P. The directions took us through an estate and onto what was essentially single track. Pleased I had cyclo-cross wheels. Am not sure what Aid was thinking as he followed this, the National Cycle Network (NCN) route 26. After a short stretch we passed some red cranes and loads and loads of cars all neatly parked in a (where else?!) car park. These were the self same car parks and vehicles that grab my attention whilst driving over the Avonmouth Bridge on trips to Weston and the like. Wow, we were really here! How cool is that?! Continuing on this NCN26 route we joined the old Railway Avon Cycleway. Adrian really felt he was a chuffer!
Once we went through the under-pass we were blessed with great views of the Avonmouth Bridge. It felt kinda funny knowing that we were to cross over this real soon. I momentarily thought back to my LEJOG trips when I crossed this same bridge a few years back.
Before crossing the bridge we had a brief respite. I felt like a spanner, but it's important to get tooled up if you're named 'Tim Taylor'. (Pun)
During our respite I consulted the route sheet. In a unique manner (certainly to me) Steve P had given numerous multi-choice options. It appeared that we could have left Portishead and not touched the NCN26 route at all - however, we would have to had cycled up St Georges Hill. I think I made the best decision. I didn't consult Aid...
After scenting our mark, we set sail for the bridge.This truly was an awesome bridge and a pleasure to cross. Quite exquisite.
Once off the bridge we continued to race towards and through Aust. We really were racing as we had a tail wind that pushed us forward. As we were flying by we caught sight of the Severn Bridge.
In fact, we caught sight of the Severn Bridge and the Severn Bridge. That might sounded confusing, but there were actually 2 Severn Bridges. The one pictured above is the New Severn Bridge and this is the bridge we thought we were going to cross. I have crossed that bridge several times on various audax rides. It soon appeared we were not going to cross this bridge at all as we cycled straight past it. However, we made our way to the Old Severn Bridge and crossed it! This was an awesome bridge too and the first time that I had crossed it. Am sure it wont be the last! 
It was fun crossing the bridge and it seemed to stretch for miles. Miles of smiles! Once off the bridge we passed a big welcome to Wales sign and reached Cheptsow our control point. The High Street was reached by bombing down hill and passing through a pretty arch. There was a pretty funky chip shop here too. We didn't have chips, we had chocolate purchased from a previous stop.
From Chepstow, we had 2 route choices. The first choice involved passing Tintern and the second choice would cross the River Wye. I let Aid choose here, but warned him about the major steep hills by Tintern Abbey. As it turned out, we took neither option because my navigational skills encountered problem. We had agreed to follow the second option but in the end we took a DIY route following through Tutshill and St Briavals. This was a relatively hilly section and made more difficult by the beating sun, but no worries - we were having fun! To reach the control we had to climb. So climb we did and reached Coleford the penultimate control.
I lied and told Aid that the last stage would involve just a little climb and then lots of down hill to the end. I didn't mean to lie, it's just that I had gotten us lost again. Well, I hadn't really gotten us lost as I knew where we were and where we were going, but I had taken us off route. This meant that the little climb I had warned Aid about, turned into a big fat nasty lung busting climb. Worse still, this climb didn't take us to this really fancy garage in Cinderford that sold those delicious nourishment shakes that I so badly wanted. Oh well. Another climb (or possibly two) and we reached Little Dean. This was great because now the route switched to the much awaited down hill stretches. We really did have some fast descents along some quite zoomy roads. We took a few additional stops to eat junk and drink liquids (I was on the look out for nourishment drinks but that didn't materialise). At one stop, I fixed my helmet and rear lights as it was starting to get dark and we continued on our way. Aid was sporting his new Lezyne light which he totally rates. We followed signs for Tewkesbury before following those for Cheltenham to take us off the main roads for a spell. This worked great and after only about 5k we were Cheltenham bound. We reached Cheltenham shortly after but had not yet reached the arrivee. The arrivee was not marked on my route sheet. Luckily my iPhone provided the necessary gps required to take us to the arrivee. Was awesome to finish this great ride and nice to 'come home' to a welcoming party - Aid's ma and Pa and his son Tom were at the arrivee to congratulate him on being such a wonderful audax cyclist! Rightly so, we had cycled 135 miles!

Happy New Year 2022

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