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.

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