Sunday 30 October 2016

When three became two

When four became three, I was not filled with glee. When three became two, I knew what I had to do.    

This week saw me complete 3 run commutes into work. Each run was along the towpath. The first run was ran interval style and the other 2 were simple jogs. My pace got progressively slower with each run. My commutes to and from work are what I will miss most when I leave my current job.
After much menace (flat battery, power cuts and flat tyre) my buddy Chris rocked up for a Friday night adventure. For a while I had been excited about going on a wild camp and this was the night that we turned these jolly thoughts into action. Thankfully, Chris is as mad as I and was happy to drive all the way from Windsor so we could crash out in some local woods. We both loaded single-speed cyclo-cross bikes and cycled into the dark, looking for the 'Woods of Doom'. After some undulating tarmac we turned off-road, crossed some field, gently climbed some single-track and found a perfect place to set up our camp under a canopy of trees.
For an autumnal night, the temperature was great - it was really warm. So perfect was the weather, I was still able to cycle and walk around our camp in my SPD sandals. I had recently gotten a tarp (20 quids from Decathlon) but the weather was so great that it wasn't needed. Made use of the tarp though by using it as a ground sheet. We placed our bivy bags on top of the tarp and were able to dump all our stuff. After a quick snack we blew up our air beds and shoved them, alongside sleeping bag into our bivy's. We chatted and drank into the late hours of the night and wrestled with some spiders and other bugs. Rum was my drink of choice, Chris had this stuff that tasted like marzipan.

After a while we climbed into our bags, chatted more and looked up at the night sky. No stars were to be seen as it was cloudy and we were really looking at the tops of trees. The canopy of trees looked panoramic, it was as if I was in a 360 degree sphere like thing. Looking at the trees with the light back ground really felt like we were in a scene from E.T. We chatted until we fell asleep.

When I awoke, I needed to pee. I climbed out of my bag and struggled to walk about 10 paces ahead. I must have drunk a little too much rum. After my comfort break, I couldn't re-trace my steps and was disorientated and lost. After much faffing, I heard Chris call out 'Tim, I hope that's you'. Goodness only knows how I got to this side of the tarp without walking over it to get there. I was able to navigate my way back into my bag but strangely I had lost my sandals. Not the first time I have lost footwear on an adventure with Chris.

Relatively comfy sleep despite waking at often times throughout the night. Strange noises could be heard which was kinda spooky. We heard owls and what sounded like eagles and monkeys too. I could picture rats but these turned out to be squirrels when morning light came. At times, I thought I heard the sound of wolves but it was the barking of a roe deer. All kinda creepy, yet beautiful too. Don't think I'm ready for a solo wild camp just yet...
Needed a further comfort break as morning neared but I didn't want to walk around camp without my sandals. Took Chris and I ages to spot them some distance away. As dawn broke the tree canopy really looked like a kaleidoscope and leaves slowly changed from a grey colour into brighter yellows. Just beautiful. The now visible, sweet and active squirrels could be confirmed as the culprits making noise throughout the night and dropping tree litter from high above.  
Morning provided a great opportunity for me to try my new BRS 3000T titanium camping stove. A fantastic ultralight stove that weighs in at 26g, gets the thumbs up from Ray Mears and cost me less than a tenner (came from China, purchased on eBay). This was the first time I had used gas on a camping trip and it performed just fine. Much cleaner and quicker than my alcohol stove (which I love, just in a different way). My porridge tasted yummy and my green tea was just right. I used a Wildo original fold-a-cup (less than 3 squirrels from Pedal + Tread) which is, as the name suggests, a foldable cup (weighing in at 22g) for my porridge (instead of eating out the bag) which made stirring easier but it lost temperature quickly and left me with an additional item to clean. Cups are easier to hold than bags though and this made sure I didn't get burnt or drop my precious food and make a mess.
Despite this experience being mostly fantastic, my Garmin had gone AWOL which was a real loss. We packed up camp and spent a while searching for Garmin. We followed out tracks but my Garmin was never found. As we ventured home, rain started to gently drop. How great that wet weather stayed away whilst we camped.

Once back at Doo Little, my kind wife cooked us up some cheese on toast complete with Worcestershire sauce. Yummers. Oh, and much tea too. This fuel loading was what we required in preparation for our next adventure. Indeed, my brother Robin had rocked up with his new GT road bike and the open road lay ahead.

Contrary to the title of this blog, two had become three. Rob, Chris and I essentially cycled loops near my village clocking up about 20 miles. We cycled along country lanes in drizzly weather admiring the beautiful autumnal colours. We visited a cafe in Alcester and ate some lovely toasties before returning to Doo Little. A great end to my training week - cycling AND camping. Many thanks to Chris and Rob for making this happen.

With the help of Ron, I managed to sneak in a further ride in on the Sunday. Rob was still down, so the three of us went a-cycling. We cycled the Deer Route and had a great time. Bonus!

Sunday 23 October 2016

Will letters turn into numbers?

'Over the pain and I'm past the bleeding,
It's not the tracks, it's where they're leading.'

Attempted to start this week on a more positive note than of late. Didn't really work, think I set off on the wrong foot. Thing is, am not sure which foot I set off on. Ha! I decided I would run into work on Monday and had planned to run from Kings Norton Rail Station - this didn't happen as a truck was preventing my access to the car park. No bother, I parked up at Bournville and ran along the towpath from there. The towpath was still closed from Selly Oak, however, some 'rough neck' had removed the 'no passage signs', so off I ran only to reach a lack of suitable path near University. I was able to make my way through and around the big holes but suffice to say the towpath should have remained closed. The run itself wasn't too bad and for the first time in ages I ran interval style (6 x 1 min run, 3 min rest) with warm up and cool down either side. I ran this way just because I could. Mentally and physically I felt great but this was soon thwarted once I met with and had to deal with work related menace and nonsense.

Ran again on Tuesday, but this time avoided the menace section of towpath. Faced a different menace this day - the weather was quite vile and wet. No real worries, my Adidas top prevented any water seeping through.

Wednesday and Thursday were kinda rest days. No exercise took place. I head a real headache the one day and brain strain the next. My days of supporting the BTP are coming to an end. I would like to point out that I have never worked for the BTP but have supported them on a suicide prevention project for over two years now. Despite this 'joint working' venture, I think it's fair to say (in my humble opinion) that BTP have provided me with little in terms of support. Was it George Orwell who said "all pigs are equal but some pigs are more equal than others"? Yes, I think it was. Anyways, my brain became fried as I attended meetings to discuss my future role and was approached regarding a potential new project. Watch this space...
The only day I cycled this week was Friday. Nothing special. Just a commute into work and back.

Saturday came and I was rudely awoken by my daughter Lunar at 5 a.m. Early wake meant an early run. I ran a few laps of Cannon Hill Park clocking up about 6k. Is kinda weird to start running in the pitch black and continuing until it's daylight.

No rude awakening on the Sunday! However, still had an early start because I had to work this day. Early start means... yeah, you got it, an early run. Just like the previous day, I ran some k's around Cannon Hill Park.
So tired by end of week, plan to turn my k's into zzzz's....

Sunday 16 October 2016

P-P-Park Run

Should have been doing some of this myself. The girls above are Jackie and SJ, not my girls (who'd have guessed?)
Doom and gloom took up way too much room in my headspace this week. Just couldn't get myself to feel right mentally and as a direct consequence, I started to feel physically drained to. Paralysis of will, minimal motivation and 'whatever-it-was' messed with my head big time. I had plans but just couldn't put them into motion. I wanted to go camping but despite being excited about the prospect wasn't brave enough to go for a wild solo trip. Friends of mine were interested in camping too but were either ill, partying or otherwise engaged. A solo camp is definitely on my bucket list. I wanted to run but couldn't find my legs (what sort of an excuse is that?)! I wanted to cycle but my lack of sleep was making the effort way too hard each morning to even look at my bike. No exercise or training took place at all on any of the week days. 
Hanbury Park Run (5k)
Once the weekend came, I changed my game plan and felt a trifle better. Maybe having a work free weekend helped?! I decided to go for a Park Run! This Park Run was different to my previous 7 runs. This run was different simply because I chose a different venue. Instead of running around Arrow Valley, I chose to run Hanbury Park Run. This was an altogether different run - way less congested and off-road. I preferred this run and despite having a relatively slow time (25:47), it was still a PB, indeed my Hanbury PB! The social element was still here and I chatted some with a guy called Paul. Hayley from tri-club was also here, both running and marshalling, so it was great to see her and give her a high five. Felt great to run after a short lapse, even if it was only 5k and my shoes got covered in sheep poo. 
My beautiful Melody
Further adventure was had after my Park Run. My girls (SJ, Lunar and Melody) had a mini adventure at the Lickey Hills. Despite us not going long or far, we scrambled a little through the woods and climbed a tad too. Looking back at the photo's, SJ and I are so blessed to have a couple of beautiful little monkeys. 

Wow, a week with no cycling and only one run. I will get my mojo back and cycle some soon! I have booked a place on the Snowdrop Audax next year and am willing to try and get a place in the Rapha Prestige event next month. At least I'm not spending monies on bike bits right now....

Saturday 8 October 2016

Doom and Gloom / Finding Netherton

Lack of posting for a while because my life went a little topsy-turvy. Gremlins had messed with my head-space. My daughter Lunar told me that aliens had stolen the moon while she was sleeping. Don't panic though, Lunar informed that the aliens have put it back. Life resumes to a relative norm...
The furthest out great adventure I recall since my last post was when I caught up with my buddy Roger. Roger is my blind buddy who owns an old tandem called 'the Beast'. Anyways, we cycled his tandem again on this adventure. Our trip was a trek to a 'new-to-me' cafĂ© and back. We covered about 60k and ate a real tasty bacon and egg bap.

Shortly after the above adventure, menace happened. I had numerous work related meetings and had to be interviewed for my own job. I was informed on a Friday that I would find out my fate that self-same day. I didn't. The powers that be informed there was an issue.
That issue was not resolved until the beginning of this week. I cycled into work on the Monday with a feeling of doom and left with a feeling of gloom. My job was given to another.

After the above menace, I think it's fair to say my week went a trifle wonky. My headspace became mashed up and everything that was right was wrong again. Argh!
Before the week was out, I figured I'd take my bike out in the hope it made me feel better.  I had wanted to cycle through the Netherton Tunnel for an age now. So, during the end of the week, I went in search of nether Netherton (see what I did there?)!
The 'off-road' start
My trip started from home. My bike of choice for this adventure was my commute bike - a Genesis single-speed cyclo-cross bike. Pretty awesome that my bespoke Alpkit frame bag fitted this machine (as it was made for my Cannondale). I cycled about 22k to reach Stratford where my of-road adventure began.
What a better way to start than being attacked by a big swan and finding a Maccy D's. The swan was real evil hissing at me. The Maccy's was delicious.
I figured I would follow the canal all the way to Netherton, just because I could. I had cycled and ran stretches of the canal network before (but never this much in one go). The canal network stretches for miles and I think further adventure can be sought here. The first real thing worthy of note was Edstone Aqueduct - this is the longest Aqueduct in England!
After about 21k along this canal I came to the first 'cross roads' (that doesn't sound right). At this junction the canal continued to Birmingham by either taking the Grand Union Canal or continuing to Kings Norton. The Grand Union could take one to Oxford or London too, I am led to believe.
On my commute run/cycles into work, I am usually facing the sign (above and below) from a different side. I had never followed the canal from Stratford into Kings Norton before. If one ran from Stratford to Kings Norton along the canal, it would just about be 2 miles short of a marathon!
Before I left the house, I informed Lunar that I was going in search of tunnels. The first tunnel I encountered was the Edgbaston Tunnel. Have ran/cycled through this tunnel many times on my way to work.
Much canal was followed into Birmingham. My next encountered tunnel was heading in the direction of West Bromwich. I think this was the Dalton Tunnel. It could have been Galton or Balton?!
Passed through the tunnel and it wasn't long before I reached Sheepwash. This was another fork or junction. Straight on would have led to Wolverhampton, but turning left would take me to Netherton!
Wonder where the name 'Sheepwash' came from. No sheep here. Ooh, but there was a rather neat looking tunnel straight ahead!
Yes indeed, Netherton Tunnel lay ahead. It looked very dark inside. How exciting!
According to Wikipedia 'Netherton Tunnel was the last canal tunnel to be built in Britain during the Canal Age. The first sod was turned by the Lord Ward on 31 December 1855 and the canal opened on 20 August 1858, providing a waterway connection between the Black Country towns of Netherton and Tipton. It was built to relieve the bottleneck of the adjacent Dudley Tunnel which is very narrow, has alternating blocks of one-way working, and had waiting times of eight hours or more, and sometimes several days.

The Netherton tunnel was built with a width of 27 feet (8.2 m) to allow two-way working of narrowboats; and is brick lined throughout. It has towpaths running through it, one on each side, which enabled horse-drawn narrowboats to be pulled through it. Chainage (distance) markers are still visible on the Eastern wall. The tunnel was fitted, from the start, with gas lighting over the towpaths, though this was later converted to electricity and it is now unlit.

The air vents that run along the line of the tunnel and provide ventilation, and a shaft of light into the canal, are known by the locals as "pepper pots", because of their shape. They are brick-lined and the openings are covered by an iron frame or grill. The wide bore and good ventilation mean that boats using the tunnel today are allowed to use the power of their internal combustion engines, which is prohibited in the narrower Dudley Tunnel.

The tunnel cost £302,000 as opposed to the £238,000 estimate prior to construction. The main reason for the project being overbudget was the extra works necessitated by the condition of the ground through which the tunnel passes'.
Seriously dark. Good job I had bike lights!
A 'pepper pot'
The tunnel was long, dark and far. Water was dripping down in places too. Oh, and in many places and for long stretches, the floor was flooded and un-even.
Woo Hoo! I had found Netherton and cycled through the Netherton Tunnel. All 2,768 metres of it. One day, I will take my kids through here too.
Once through the tunnel, I cycled a little further and studied my maps. I didn't know exactly where I was. I could see Dudley Tunnel was straight ahead. I stopped to ask a random fella for advice. He studied his phone and chatted with for a while but he didn't know where I was on my map either. He suggested I turn *that* way and head to Brierley Hill and check out the waterfront?
I followed the way the chap suggested and came across the above signage which didn't help me know where I was. I got talking to another bloke who quite bizarrely took a picture of me to show his wife?! I figured I'd carry on (especially as it was down hill).
Not sure if the above pic was before or after Merry Hill. I stopped at the waterfront (not waterfall) anyway and had lunch at a 'spoons pub. Delicious. Then, I cycled some more.
I had gotten onto the Staffs & Worcs canal heading for Worcester. Had to stop at Stewpony Lock to take the above pic. Not exactly sure what it was but it appeared to be some sort of whirlpool 'thing'. Very pretty and really quite weird.
Not long before I passed through another tunnel. This was Dunsley Tunnel and hardly a tunnel at all. Still, a tunnel all the same.
Was really kind of nice following towpath. The quality of the track varied big time from tarmac to gravel and at times single-track. Dirty puddles from time to time. A tree root here and there. Frequently uneven. But, it was quiet and peaceful following the canal and the sights were pretty. One day, I'd like to take a bivvy with me and camp out under the stars
The above sign made me smile. Another weird vortex thing (below) was encountered again. Oh, the sights you'd see if only you were cycling with me!
Another tunnel was passed through. Am not sure what this tunnel was called but think it may be Dunsley or Cookley? This was the last tunnel I cycled through on this wonderful adventure.
I left the towpath and canal network at Kidderminster and joined the busy main roads. I wanted to return home and see the wife and kids before it got dark. My route took me to Bromsgrove, then Redditch before taking me back to Doo Little. I cycled about 150k in all, mostly off-road and had a grand old time!

Happy New Year 2022

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