Saturday 26 April 2014

Practice Commutes

Thought I'd start this blog by sharing a lovely picture that was on the front of a card my awesome wife sent me. Yup, it was a belated anniversary card. Hopefully my wife will think it's fine that it's also a belated blog! Ha!
This week began with a practice commute to Axis house, my soon-to-be work base, and back. Commuting appears to be the way forward as I will have no parking space of my own (and am in the centre of Birmingham) and train fare would be just under £8 a day (let alone the fact I wold still have to find a way to Redditch to start train journey. Is a just under 40 mile round trip too much for the likes of me?!
Practice BTP Commute
I took out Kay-O, my single-speed road bike for the first practice commute. The route (plotted by my buddy Chris) was quite varied and included road, cycle-way and tow-path. My single-speed coped well with the journey as a whole but one hill had me beaten - maybe gears would have helped or perhaps a re-run and I would exert more of an effort knowing the hill is here. My thin tyres coped OK too but I felt they took quite a beating and I would not take them bouncing up and down the many curbs on route. At times my wheels would spin - a thicker tyre would be of benefit but frame will not allow for wider tyres. Mud-guards are essential (though I only had a rear fitted). Rim brakes were poor - disc brakes would definitely be a better option. My drop bars were fine though I initially thought flat bars would be required - it was nice having drops for the speedier route home. Look pedals and cleats were a poor option - too much walking up and down steps (to access canal for e.g.), a change to SPD's is a must. This first run took me 1 hour and 36 minutes to reach base and 1 hour and 17 minutes to return.
Practice Home Commute
Mid-week and I took Queenie out for a few test runs or series of 'shorts' as I liked to call them. These test runs were simply to look at different options of reaching Beoley on my pending commute. The run to Beoley is the first section of said commute. Chris had showed me a route that used a cycleway to reach Beoley that went past the very pretty Arrow Valley Lake on a mostly flat gradient. This 'lake' option was pretty, flat and about 6k long. The 'road' alternative took off about 0.5k but was relatively busy, not so pretty and more undulating. I don't think I will ever use the road version. The 'urban'  route used buss only lanes and took nearly 1k of the distance but was not as pretty as the 'lake' version and again slightly more undulating. I guess my commute will use the 'lake' option most but take on some 'urban' alternative to break up too much monotony. Is great having choices. I had fitted a cheap bell with awesome effect on these 'shorts' and will add a bell to whichever bike I use to commute. I think Queenie is possibly to slow to use as a commute bike (single-speed and heavy MTB) but I will give her a chance and perform a practice commute.

Sure enough, I took Queenie out for a practice commute over the weekend. I attempted to follow the same route as earlier in the week but discovered I had actually gone off route. Instead of cycling lots and lots of tow-path, I diverted onto the Rea Valley cycleway. This was much more picturesque and took me through Cannon Hill Park. Only menace was the number of runners filling said park and the many traffic light crossings. Probably a better route overall though and nice to have choice! Queenie sure coped better with the bumpy tow-path (compared to Kay-O) and her disc brakes were great. SPD's sure made a difference too. The big hill I feared was conquered, but only just and my chest felt like it was ripped open - gears would definitely help here. It took me about 1 hour 40 mins to reach BTP base, about the same as last time. Queenie kept topping out and I know with a more 'perfect' commute bike I could take considerable time off and power flat and descending sections. All in all, quite happy that my big heavy single-speed MTB was up for the commute task and will most probably be used until an alternative commute bike can be sourced/funded!
My return home was essentially same route in reverse. I stopped to take a picture of 1 of the many green signs lining the Rea Valley Cycleway. Greener - yes! Faster - no! Fitter - not yet! Return home was slow, about 1 hour 40 mins again. I was expecting a faster finish but sadly was not able. Queenie kept topping out but still seems like a slightly better choice of temporary commute bike compared to Kay-O.

Cycled 145k this week. Total cycling this year now stands at 2,744k. Maybe next week will be my first real commute.

Monday 21 April 2014

Easter Arrow to York

Last week saw me complete the Easter Arrow to York or the Easter Fleches to York as it is also known. This was an audax event with a complicated set of rules. In a simplified nut-shell version, it was a team event that covered 400k in 24 hours. I have attempted to recount my experience below.
Bikes ready for adventure
My buddy Chris came over the night before and we readied our bikes in anticipation. As usual, I was going to use my Specialized Roubaix and Chris his 'home made' machine. The chain stay on Chris's bike had a nice encouraging quote.
The rest of the team gathered at my abode 'Doo Little', just before 8 a.m. on Good Friday. My wife SJ made sure we started our adventure in the best possible way and made us all a cup of tea. Not sure what baby Lunar made of the lounge being full of lycra-clad folk.
The Team
Our team was called 'The Long Distance Lumox Lads' and (from L-R) consisted of Ron, Doo, Chris, Jamie and Andy. This was the first time any of us had entered an arrow event. This was going to be the first time Ron and Chris had ridden a 400k event.
The Off
At shortly after 8 a.m. we were off! It was initially quite chilly despite being sunny and bright. Jamie and Andy had already cycled from Birmingham to reach Doo Little and now we had to cycle just a few k more to reach a start control in Studley. HSBC ATM was our first control proof. From first control we had a nice, mostly country lanes cycle to our second control in Alcester.
Andy, Chris and Ron at the Alcester Control
Despite having breakfast less than 10k away, we all fuelled up that little bit more here in Alcester. We didn't stop long before cycling more gorgeous countryside. Our next stop was Edstone aqueduct - the largest aqueduct in England!
Edstone aqueduct - the largest in England
A quick break from cycling already!
Andy and the Edstone aqueduct
This stage of our adventure was quite varied - we would cycle along roads, cycle lanes and tow-paths. In fact much of our adventure was like this. Occasionally we would cycle through parks and share paths with walkers but no real menace was encountered at all.
Chris, Ron and Andy cycling tow path
Before reaching our third control in Rugby, we cycled past the iconic castle of Warwick. Such a beautiful castle and such a beautiful day. A stop for a snap was considered essential.
Warwick Castle
Rugby was to be our breakfast stop. We found a cafe but they were not serving breakfast because it was Easter. (Don't folk have breakfast during Easter?!) We continued a little way and were stopped by a local Vicar who gave us some hot cross buns. The buns were delicious but were not quite enough to satisfy our hunger. A 'spoons pub saved the day and provided our first fry up of the adventure.

Our next stop was to be at Great Easton. Up until Great Easton we didn't cycle more than 60k between controls. The weather was nice and only the persistent head wind was menace. We were expecting a cash machine or similar to be used as control proof but we found an awesome little pub instead.
Great Easton control
We were served to drinks and snacks by a couple of bunnies. This pub certainly had the Easter spirit! Some folk even said that they had caught a glimpse of the 'Easter Bunny' himself outside…
The Easter Bunny?!
After Great Easton it was a 60k trek to St Ives. Well, we were not 100% sure it was St Ives - according to the route planner it was but at our destination point it said St Ives was 2 miles away. It mattered little really as there was few suitable places for control purposes anyhow - a random shop between destination point and alleged St Ives was used for proof of passage. The nearest pub 'The Cock' was overly expensive so we continued just a little further and stopped at the Axe and compass (I think). We had to wait about 30 minutes for our food but it was a worthwhile wait! We all had an amazing burger with fries. Mmm delicious. I layered up here too as it was now starting to get chilly as the bright weather and light was starting to fade.

St Ives to Kirton was our longest slog at 83k. We cycled a lot of flat road here but being so dark it wasn't so spectacular. I remember the same roads during LEL were more exciting - that was probably due to 100's more cyclists occupying the road and an awesome tail wind. At least I was able to test out my new dynamo light - an exposure Revo MK 1. I have to report, my light was truly awesome - the whole team agreed.
Exposure Revo MK1
We were all looking forward to a curry at the control in Kirton but when we finally arrived the curry house turned out to be take-away only. It was cold now and we wanted somewhere warm to eat and freshen up. The pizza shop said they were closed but they were obviously open and just wanting to shut shop. I spotted a Chinese take-away that said it closed at 10 p.m. but looked open despite being 11 p.m. Indeed it was open and it was a most awesome shop too!
The Best Chinese!
A very kind Chinese guy welcomed us all in and allowed us to sit down while he prepared the most delicious dishes imaginable. He left these dishes open and provided us with forks and chatted to us while we warmed up and ate. He also took the above picture and treated us to free drinks. I so wish I took more note of the name of this establishment and the owners name. The only thing I took was a rather shady photo of the nice guy.
Mr Nice
So nice it was to be fuelled up as we headed out into the cold and continued our journey. Don't remember too much about this stage, only that it was long (about 70k), dark and chilly. I gave Chris one of my socks as he said his foot was frozen solid.

We finally reached Market Rasen at about 3 a.m. A local pizza joint was located and we thought this would be ideal for control purposes. A policeman was outside and we felt that our bikes would be safe under his supervision. Once inside the shop we ordered pizza and warmed up our feet. And then it got rowdy as lots of drunken hooligans and the like filled the premises. Some folk were nice and interested in our mission, others were clearly drunk. Mr Police dude made a few trips inside and out and kept control of the chaos.
The cause of the chaos?!
Once we were fed, we continued into the darkness. This was a long stretch to Pocklington and we saw the night turn back into day. The Humber Bridge was crossed during this section too which was nice.
The Humber Bridge
On the bridge we crossed paths with another arrow team but they said they were behind time by a good hour or so. We were racing time, this event was harder than any of us had reckoned. The head wind had slowed us down somewhat and despite not being overly hilly, we had a few ascents to battle.
Hilliness profile of our Easter Arrow to York
We hadn't reached Pocklington by the 22nd hour so we had to find a 22nd hour control. This was one of those 'funny rules'. A local ATM in Market Weighton was able to provide us with the necessary proof of passage. Pocklington was not too far away and we raced to get there, ever conscious that time was ticking away. Pocklington was the penultimate control so we stocked up on supplies for a final time and then we were off!

Despite the last section only being 22k it felt a trifle longer. I had started to feel tired and much of my motivation had now wavered as my head-space was telling me that we would make it to York within the 24 hours. Chris and Ron still seemed to have fire between their legs and led me (in a more zoomy style than I cared for) to the arrivee, a lovely 'spoons pub in York. Woo Hoo, we had completed our mission with just 8 minutes to spare! As luck would have, Jamie and Andy appeared not long after. What a great adventure and what a wonderful team. Will any of us be doing this again? - I don't think so! At the arrivee we ate and drank and celebrated as is the usual custom. Some random lady called 'Crinkly Lion' kept us fed with her free cakes. What a bizarre end to our adventure!
Chris and Jamie at the finish.
Andy, Ron and Doo all finished (off) too!
According to my Strava log, I had cycled 425.5k in 18 hours and 38 minutes (and 49 seconds) and climbed some 1,764 metres. That didn't include my stops. As stated earlier, my control proofs recorded that I had just 8 minutes to spare!
My Easter Arrow route to York
Heading home was a long drawn out affair. Jamie and Andy left first. Ron managed to get an early train. Chris and I waited hours for a space on the train (not being able to get an earlier train).
Bikeless and fancy free, I wonder what next adventure awaiteth me? ….

Monday 14 April 2014

Dorset Coast 200

Last week was pretty amazing on the adventure front. Not only did I cycle a single-speed jolly and run my 5k Studley triangle route, I also completed the Dorset Coast 200k audax. How awesome.

My Dorset Coast adventure started with a trip to Windsor to meet up with my buddy Chris. From Windsor we headed to a quay in Dorset. The 'night before' our epic adventure was to be spent on 'La Mystique', a speed boat belonging to Chris's mother. This was my second stop on said boat and it really was quite a bizarre experience. Is not everyday you look out of your bedroom window (or port hole) and see 'things' moving up and down and left and right. Nor does one normally wake to the sound of a creaking rope.
GPX track log of the actual route cycled
Our adventure proper, started from the Parish Hall in Wareham Quay. A big bunch of cyclist's had gathered here ready to start this classic audax event - now in it's 37th year. (This was the first time Chris and I had entered). 
'Found' this cheeky taken snap on someone else's blog -
Hospitality was amazing from the start - here we were 'looked after' by means of a free drink. This event was real value for money - entry was only £12. At 7.45 a.m. we were let loose and headed towards Sandbanks. This short section was super zoomy and everyone appeared to be racing the largely formed peleton along. Within no time we had reached the Sandbanks ferry and looked forward to our mini cruise, which was included in the entry fee.
A ferry load of cyclists...
...including Mr Hodge!
Once off the ferry we cycled quiet roads that passed many beaches. One such beach was the infamous Studland beach - a nudist beach no less! Was that hot that even I peeled off a layer here. Cycling these beautiful coastal roads was great and my head was filled with thoughts of past holidays.
Lovely coastal roads
Layered up, but these layers soon came off
Our pace was initially very fast on these lovely roads but it wasn't long before we started to encounter some climbs. We had to climb up towards Corfe Castle and had Steeple hill and the climb to Daggers Gate after passing said castle.
Time for a little YMCA dance before the beautiful Corfe Castle. Ha!
This ride was turning out to be truly awesome. The sun was shining bright, the skies were blue, the roads were quiet, the company was sound and the views were spectacular. My bike was running smooth (despite the buckled front wheel) and Chris was real pleased to be back on his DIY build (despite the random creaking). Only slight menace was that one road was closed because the MOD were firing shots. No real bother, we just cycled a few different roads and joined set route a little further along. The run into the control was nice as it skirted alongside the beach and sea of Weymouth. Was only sat here on deck chairs with SJ and Lunar just last year. 
Stolen pic from old bat's blog
The Criterion Cafe was used for control purposes and we were given a free drink again. As is out style, we purchased beans, egg and toast here for fuelling purposes! The stop was also used to remove even more layers, boy - it was a proper summers day today!

Stage 3 was entitled the 'Roller coaster to Devon'. This section was super hilly - the event didn't have 2.75 AAA points awarded for nothing. Chris and I were both on relatively good form and no hill was too menace to be fair. Chris said he actually enjoyed climbing some of the tougher hills. The hills only went as high as the summit and then the descents were butt clenching zoomy affairs - awesome!
Hilliness profile of the Dorset Coast 200 (2.75 AAA)
Perhaps the toughest climb took up and past Abbotsbury Swannery. Not totally sure what this swannery was exactly, but a big 'Lord of the Rings' type building sat on top of a big hill. With much puffing and panting we climbed up to and away from said building in glorious weather.
Can you spot the building? Looked way bigger in real life!
Greatly undulating roads took us all the way to Axminster. As tough as some of the hills were, I kept expecting to tackle tougher ones but they just didn't appear. The killer hill did not exist. Axminster County Primary School was our control. At the control we were given free sarnies, drink, cake and soup. I ate a sausage and pickle sandwich, had a cup of tea (and much water), sponge cake and tomato soup. Made use of the water closet here too! The controller was slightly bonkers and was acting the strict teacher role and demanding we ate more cake or face detention.
A random feed stop
Stage 4 started up a big hill but again nothing we couldn't handle (despite being full of food). Both Chris and I were expecting a tough, tough hill, but again it never appeared. The route sheet said 'follow tortuous route' but this didn't mean 'hilly' as we first thought it might. We think the whole torture thing was probably attributed to the The Keep we passed or the crazy speed bumps near control perhaps? The control here, the Top o' Town Cafe was nasty. Shame really as everything else was perfect (perhaps this was the torture element?). Chris had a wet soggy KitKat and I had a soggy sausage roll. Let's not dwell on this and move on ...
Chris and The Keep
The final stage was a relatively flat stretch that took us back to the Quay in Wareham. We cycled this in a leisurely style just enjoying and making the most of our day. I stopped for a comfort break in the aptly named 'Tincleton', though Piddlington would have been equally suitable. We made it to the arrivee in good time. We had cycled 208k and climbed just under 3,000 metres in about 11 and a half hours. What a great adventure and definitely one of my favourite audax's to date. 
A new medal for the collection
Cycled a total of 238k this week. Total distance cycled this year now stands at 2,173k.
Ran 5.1k this week. Total distance ran this year is now 90.3k.

Sunday 6 April 2014

Not a lot to jot

Not a great week on the activity front. With 6 menace night shifts, what did one expect?! Still, as usual, some adventure was had.
On Wednesday, I received 5 brevet cards in the post ready for the York Arrow. This is the 400k team event (audax) that I had entered and managed to get Chris, Ron, Jamie and Andy to join as part of my team. Our team is called 'The Long Distance Lumox Lads'. The organiser never commented on my created route so the presumption is all is fine. Am quite looking forward to this adventure - the first time I have entered a team event and certainly the first time as captain. Chris and I rode a back to back 200k dart, so this will be a good progression.
My only cycle and only adventure of the week was a short blast around the BG SR 2 route. This ride was like riding in the Great smog of London back in 1952 - the UK was heavily polluted with sand and the likes from the Sahara. How bizarre, but true.

Measley scores on the doors - had cycled only 42k this week and did not run at all. Hopefully next week will be a little more active. Looking forward to my planned April events...

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&#...