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!

Happy New Year 2022

Happy New Year folks. I wonder what's in store for 2022,  - something crazy, something new? It's a shame Covid is still here and I&#...