Monday 25 February 2013

The Black Cat Lunar Lark Cycle (200k DIY Permanent Audax)

This weeks big event was 'The Black Cat Lunar Lark Cycle', an audax that I had created myself. To be fair, I could have been punished for plagiarism as I stole a whole bunch of controls from the 'Lechlade-on-Thames 200' perm created by Steve Gloster. My route differed in that it started and finished in Studley and added a control in Henley-in-Arden too.

Before I cycled 'The Black Cat Lunar Lark Cycle', I participated in a couple of shorter trips. The first trip was with Ron where we cycled the well known Reed route (the Deer route in reverse). This was a cold night and ice could be seen just starting to form. At one juncture we noticed a white line chalked across the road which looked like a start line and parallel to this was a red and silver chequered post - I wonder if this was illegal car racing or something?!

The second trip was with Aid. I cycled from my abode across country lanes trying to find a lanesy route to Henley. I managed to get 2 miles away from Henley before hitting a main road. The directions to the Henley control on my DIY audax were not yet confirmed. From this main road I cycled to a point on the TROAD route and made my way to Bromsgrove climbing some menace hills (such as Cobley Hill) on the way. Once in Bromsgrove I collected Aid and we cycled to Stratford. We followed parts of the Lechlade-on-Thames perm, as I was trying to memorise the route, but we took an alternate route to Stratford in the end. A stop at Mc Donalds ensued before we decided to return home. A great amount of time was spent trying to find a lanesy way to the Greenway in preparation for my DIY audax but this didn't really materialise. After much randomness we decided to pass Bidford on our return home. The road down to Bidford was great and allowed a smooth quick passage. Again the route home from Bidford (via Wixford and Arrow) was quick and smooth too. A good days ride, despite being very cold and the fact that my front mech went wonky! My front mech ceased to shift properly and even by adjusting the 'adjuster thing' the chain still didn't shift. I figured I would be able to get by without my larger chain ring and I did just that and cycled over a 100k on this adventure.
My bike had been playing up over recent days and Chris said my front mech was bent - he kinda bashed it back into shape and I just hoped it would perform okay for my big event. Aside from the mech issue all else was okay with bike and I even fitted my Lezyne light to the front bars alongside my Ay-Ups.

On Saturday at a little after 9 o'clock, I set off on my DIY audax 'The Black Cat Lunar Lark cycle'. My friends Chris and Ron had joined me on this adventure. Three mouseketeers always ready for adventure! The event started from my abode 'Doo Little', where we all gave Lunar (my daughter) a kiss, hug or stroke before we headed out the door. Outside was very cold (?freezing) but I had taken precautions and was suitably layered up. My head was covered in my lost-but-recently-found Baa Baa hat and buff. My chest was covered with a base layer, short sleeve jersey, long sleeve jersey, shell and my PBP gilet - toasty warm.  Leggings and bib-shorts covered my legs. Feet were kept warm by wearing toe covers on my shoes and 3 pairs of socks - 1 silk, 1 wool and 1 waterproof Sealskinz. My layering might sound excessive but it was in actual fact just enough. We all stopped at the HSBC for first  proof of passage (POP) purposes and then cycled to Henley-in-Arden by following the start of the Deer Route and leaving it for the main road. This was a short, relatively fast section.
A local store provided POP for the Henley control (I purchased chewing gum), though I noticed I had forgotten to take my advice slip from the Studley control. Chris and Ron were using GPS tracking for their POP, so luckily I was able to take (beg) Ron's advice slip for POP from start. Phew! As chance would have it, the road to Stratford (from Henley) was closed to motorised traffic - this allowed us to speed along another main road with little traffic fear. In short time we reached Stratford. A local Shell garage was used for POP purposes.

The next leg took us to our first 'sit down and eat' control in Chipping Camden. We cycled the same roads that Aid and I cycled when we covered the Lechalde perm, (despite Aid and I researching alternatives in the week). Chris and Ron appeared a little concerned that I was in charge of navigating and Chris had even made a back-up GPS track showing shortest distance between all controls. I found their lack of faith quite disturbing. I think Ron became more mis-trusting of myself as the route went by - I told him there were no hills and during this section we climbed a few ascents. I didn't really remember any menace hills when Aid and I cycled here - which backs up a philosophy of mine - that, we as humans tend to remember pleasurable events over painful ones. Pleasure or pain, we reached the control all the same. We stopped at The Bantam Tea rooms (I think) and had the usual audax diet - beans and egg on toast washed down with much tea.
It felt real cold as we left control and it was snowing at times. In fact, it snowed for the majority of the route - sometimes heavy and sometimes wet. It wasn't far into this section until I punctured. Grrr! Why did it have to be me who punctured? I only punctured a week ago! Chris blamed the puncture on what he calls 'gay' tyres - Michelin Pro Race 3's. I replaced tube and replaced the tyre with my Continental Gatorskin (the tyre that I had only taken off last week). Chris and Ron were getting the chills and rather inpatient whilst I fixed my issues. With all fixed we sped along a relatively long section to our mid-way point - The Black Cat! The roads to the control were mostly traffic free, lanesy and offered great views of the country side. A number of properties within the Cotswolds were very pretty indeed and Bourton-on-the-Water was as stunning as ever. Lechlade disappointed me a little as it was not as pretty as I hoped, but at least it was as pretty as I remembered!
The Black Cat Cafe was a great place to stop and get further food. The witch was on vacation it appeared as we we served by polite, friendly staff. My choice of food was a jacket potato with tuna and salad. Delicious! Over our meal we discussed our cold feet. Ron's feet were doing fine. Chris and I weren't fairing so well. My feet were cold but not painfully so. Chris had these hand warmer packets and decided to try them on his feet. Open to research and development myself, I was keen to try these hand feet warmers too. The warmers looked like tea bags and had to be shaken to activate them and then (allegedly) they would stay warm for about 10 hours. Chris stated they had to be placed on top of the toes inside a shoe. These warmers obviously added a little bulk and I found my shoes too tight a fit. I decided to remove my Sealskinz pair of socks and lodge the warmer between my other pairs - this worked well, my toes could feel warmth straight away and I could wriggle my pinkies inside my shoe! Suitably warmed and fed, we left the Black Cat Cafe and headed for Tewkesbury.
Brrr! It was very cold leaving Lechlade. The snow was beating a little harder and I resulted to making strange noises with my mouth (kinda like farting noises) which surprisingly did warm up my cheeks - much to Chris's amusement. My feet however were toasty warm. A few miles into this section soon suitably warmed me up. Nice quiet country lanes took us through pretty Bibury (I felt Lechlade should look more like this) and Withington. Local signs for a long stretch pointed toward a Roman Villa but sadly this villa was not able to be viewed from the roadside. Once past the villa we hit main roads that took us speedily down towards the Bishop's Cleeve (always makes me chuckle) vicinity. By this time it had gotten dark but my Lezyne, Ay-Up and Bone Head combination of lights provided the necessary illuminations to take us swiftly to the Tewkesbury control. Gathered evidence at the Tewkesbury control that perhaps Ron was not suitably layered - he had a hot chocolate, whereas I had a cold chocolate milkshake!

The penultimate control took us to Bromsgrove. Much menace occurred on this stretch of our adventure. Initially things went well and I safely navigated us though Pershore and located the 'easy to miss' road, sign-posted Alcester. Problems occurred when searching for Bradley Green. First off, Ron fell off at the Stock Green junction. Ron seems to fall off quite regularly when out on these adventures but he never injures very seriously. Then my navigation went wonky and I had us all turn left instead of right - this is what happens when friends don't trust one's navigational prowess! My faulty navigation meant we never found Bradley Green or 'Flying Horse Lane', the self same lane I could not find when cycling with Aid but successfully followed on the Snowdrop audax. Grr. I gave up navigating at this juncture and handed said duty over to Ron who used to live around this area. Ron took us through a ford straight away and then led us to Bromsgrove via a route which missed out the menace Hanbury Hill. The Bromsgrove control turned out to be a local store where I purchased junk food (creme eggs and pork pies) for my POP. Ron was eager to leave here ASAP (because he had the chills) so our stop was brief.

The final leg back to Studley was again navigated by Ron. He initially took us cross country along some single-track (I had no idea where we were), followed by some country lanes into Webheath. I was again on familiar ground. We passed Redditch Ecclesial Hall, where I married my dear wife SJ less than a year ago. When SJ and I got married it was a bright sunny day, at this point in time a thin layer of snow was covering most things. After passing the Hall it was pretty much down hill all the way to Studley. To complete our cycling lark, we (aptly) stopped at The Lark in Studley, using this as our arrivee and final control! We had a great days cycling and completed 220k in about 12 and half hours. Chris's ride report can be read by following this link:

I managed to cycle 225 miles in the week which brought my yearly total up to 798 miles. 

Saturday 16 February 2013

Snowdrop Express 120k audax (Feb 2013)

The weekend saw me complete the Snowdrop Express 120k audax. This was an amazing audax and was the first audax event I ever entered and completed back in 2010. Since 2010 I have attempted to cycle this event each year. Over the years this ride has become somewhat of a tradition and my good friend Ron has always cycled it with me plus Clive (Doc), Andy (Tractor) and Simon (Si) - 3 guys who completed LEJOG with me back in 2009. Numerous others have joined us on this jaunt but they have not been as consistent as the aforementioned folk.

This time around I hooked up with Ron (as usual) plus Aid, Andy Genders and Phil Brown (my cousin, and members of my religious group). The start had been moved this year because the cafe that normally hosts this event had gone bust. Instead we started at Whitlenge Gardens which was a nice cosy cafe equally as good as the previous start control. With minutes to spare before the official start, the 'boys' - Doc (plus his friend Michiel), Tractor and Si rocked up. Perfect! 
We all cycled the first 20k together as a big group which was nice. The weather was quite chilly initially with a mist/fog in the air. Was great to catch up with the boys - the last time I had seen them was last year on this very same event. Our interactions were brief but nice all the same. After 20k I stopped for a leak and suggested the group carry on. Not long after getting back on my bike my rear tyre punctured. Menace. I had forgotten to take a pump with me, but no bother I had gas. I replaced tube and tyre and started to chase the group. My bike looked like it had a new face lift as the new fitted tyre was blue.
The chase was pretty much a solo affair. I would count cyclists as I caught them and flew past and then with less than 1k to go I hunted down my group and rolled into the first control with them. The group that is, minus Doc, Tractor and Si. As tradition has it, Doc always takes a short cut before first control and Tractor and Si like to speed on. These boys weren't seen again - I hope they all made it safely back.

The first control was at Stables Tea Rooms in Upton. Nice toast and jam was devoured here and washed down with a cup of tea. A female cyclist had found Ron's cash and credit card in the middle of the road and kindly returned it to him.

It had really warmed up when we left the control in Upton and even the sun was shining. This section was relatively short at about 40k. My headspace was occupied with my wife and daughter and I pointed out to Aid where I proposed to my dear wife, as we passed very close to this point on route. We reached the control, Raphaels Cafe in Evesham, in time for lunch. Talking of time, check out my latest gadget - a StemCaptain, just perfect for keeping time!
At this control I ate my audax staple diet - beans on toast plus egg. This was washed down with a can of Pepsi. Aid got me a Snickers bar for good measure too!

I cycled most of the final stage whilst chatting with Aid and it felt a bit 'de-ja vu' like, then I realised why - we were cycling the same roads we did on our last audax together. Better yet, we passed Flying Horse Lane - the road we missed on our last trip. Hopefully if we cycle the Lechlade-on-Thames audax again we'll have it nailed! About 15k from the finish, a cyclist called out 'Tim'. This cyclist was Trevor - the son-in-law of my retired work chum Trevor (same name, I know it gets confusing) and brother-in-law of my friend Sam. How awesomely bizarre. Spoke and cycled alongside Trevor for sometime and it was only then that I realised he was a keen cyclist! Trevor also informed that he had been following my blog for the past 18 months! Crazy, but how cool is that?! Trevor was cycling with his friend Jamie who proved to be an interesting guy. Jamie and Trevor both like to cycle audax events and it would be great if our paths were to cross sometime in the future - Jamie even has a place on LEL. With all these mad happenings I nearly forgot to record that Aid and I cycled up Pig Hill with relative ease and swiftly reached the arrivee with Jamie and Trevor (pictured below). 
The Snowdrop Express was a really good ride and I hope to complete it again next year. Hopefully all the guys mentioned today will be cycling it again too. Maybe next year will be better yet, especially if Finbar and Chris Hodge (who had hoped to take part) rock up too! Poor Finbar was suffering with bust ribs and Chris, well, you'll just have to change your daughters birthday! You guys were missed and you both missed a great ride!

Completed my desired distance for the week and now my yearly total stands at 573 miles.

Friday 15 February 2013

Stroud 5 valleys (50k perm) Feb 2013

Just over a week after Lunar's birth, I took my bike out again. This 'post Lunar' ride was a quick blast of the Deer route with Ron. As expected the roads were wet and quite muddy in parts. Ron and I discussed how awful the roads had been over the past 12 months and both hope for brighter days. Like myself, Ron had been off his bike for nearly 2 weeks and believes his mental health suffers when he doesn't cycle. Ron always appears to be a bit of a nut to me! Amongst our many and varied discussions we both think we have cycled more miles with each other in our cycling careers than with any other person. Ron also got me a funky new pair of glasses just before we set out on this trip, which was nice. These were essentially work glasses that Ron was 'testing' and they sure did the job and had anti-fog lenses too. Had only just returned a pair of (broken) glasses to Planet X so these were most welcome. Planet X are not great with their returns service but that's another story.
With new glasses on my face it only seemed proper to complete another audax. I decided to ride Steve Poulton's 'Stroud 5 Valleys 50k perm' as I desperately needed a AAA point for February. Aside from the weather, this ride was rather pleasant though largely uneventful. I started out on dry roads but by the time I had reached Minchinhampton the snow was flying thick and fast. During the last 5k or so, the snow turned to rain and the roads were obviously wet and slippy. Completed this perm in under 4 hours and was subsequently awarded with my AAA point. Happy days!

Saturday 9 February 2013

Lunar (aka the arrival)

Didn't cycle an awful lot this week, in fact I didn't cycle at all! Something even bigger and better than cycling took up my time! This 'something' was the arrival of my beautiful daughter Lunar. Just like cycling though, she was hard work, made one sleepy and was definitely worth it!

Sunday 3 February 2013

Single speedin' without the snow

Started this weeks training with a blast on Ron's turbo trainer. I didn't cycle with Ron last week or use his trainer, so was pleased with this weeks improvement already. To be fair, Ron was suffering with a case of man flu last week. Sometimes life is unfair and you guessed it, Ron had man flu this week too!

All my 'real miles' this week were completed using my single speed steed 'Florence', my track road bike. For a cheap bike, she's great. We completed 2 adventures together.
'The average person in the UK cycles less than 50 miles a year' (Cycle, The magazine of the CTC, Feb/March 2013)

My one adventure clocked just over 50 miles. This was an almost random ride where I would ride no further than an hour away from my village just following my nose. The plan was to clock up miles but be ready to return home should my wife call. At time of writing, my wife was 39 weeks pregnant and baby Taylor could make an appearance at any time! For this reason, I stopped using my mobile phone for GPS purposes and invested in another Cateye computer to record distance. Don't you think it looks lovely next to the Trek clock?! Originally had plans to complete Sam Weller's day trip to Wochma 200k audax but was not allowed thought better of it!
On my other adventure, I cycled the figure of 8 loop around Ragley Hall that I cycled last week. The difference this time around was that I used a different steed. As expected, I flew around this loop much quicker than last week (was on a road bike, not my mtb). Ragley Hall is a pretty stately home near to where I live. For those that may be interested, take a look at the photo below:
This week I was kitted out in a bunch of new stuff too. I totally rate Helly Hansen (HH) base layers and in fact consider them the best. I wore my funky blue and red HH base layer for a first time and it performed perfectly well.
The new leg warmers I purchased were a pair Santini's. These leggings looked great and were waterproof, which was a good touch. It was a cold day when I wore them and they warmed me up a little. Despite claims that Santini products were tough, the stitching had come loose the first time I tried them on - no worries, my dear wife fixed them with a little thread.
Talking of SJ, she kindly got me my last new tried and tested item. She purchased me some all weather SealSkinz cycling gloves. These gloves were great - warm, waterproof and most importantly not too bulky like other waterproof gloves I have. Have to give it to her, SJ knows best!
Had a great week on the whole. I had some new stuff which is always a bonus and completed my desired distance for the week (120k). I cycled a total of 127k which brought my yearly distance up to 451 miles thus far!

My buddy in crime, Chris Hodge, didn't complete his desired mileage though, oh no. Chris is hoping to complete LEL with me this year and is following a (not-so) strict training plan. A little project got into Chris's way... Chris built his own bike!  Yep, you read that right, built his own bike. How cool?! At the start of the week, Chris sent a photo of his bikes tubing and commented 'my labour pains have begun'. 
Further on in the week he commented 'intense at times but all good' and sent me another photo.
By the end of the week, he had a near completed bike. Chris plans to ride this very same bike during our LEL endeavour. Well done Chris - awesome job! The following pic is one I stole from Chris's blog site.
I guess a lick of paint and a bike build and she'll be ready to go?! What would I know? Check out Chris's blog here: 

Not wanting to out do Chris too much, my dear wife SJ and I embarked on a slightly bigger project about 39 weeks plus 2 days ago. SJ really did experience labour pains. And the end product of her labour - we were blessed with a little 'Lunar'! Indeed, our beautiful little daughter was born weighing in at 6 lbs and 6 oz's. Thanks and praise be to God!
Our friend Nick Stephens commented 'Fantastic! When she gets her first bike, it will be her own lunar cycle'.

Happy New Year 2022

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