Sunday 21 July 2019

July BAM

One man and his sausage
Completed my July BAM (Bivvy-A-Month) challenge on another wet and wild night. Rob dog accompanied me on this adventure, which despite the weather, was considered really rather good. Only 5 months to go until my challenge is complete!

Had initially planned for this to be a group of Wild Campers camping. However, a great number all gave various excuses reasons as why they wouldn't be attending. Tom has never ventured, Dan couldn't get a pass of his Mrs, Jamie followed the call of the sea instead, and so on and so forth. Surprisingly, Ron declined to adventure too (however, he did join us for pre-adventure drinks at the Lark).

Despite Ron not adventuring proper, he would not allow me to trial his new wonderful bivvy - a 2019 Outdoor Research Helium bivvy, no less. I went to the effort of researching how wonderful this bivvy was and ordered one on Ron's behalf (I actually ordered 2 because, well, y'know, I figured it would be helpful for me to have one to use in the Pan Celtic Race next year). I didn't want to trail my new bivvy out on a wet and a wild night so figured I'd trail Ron's but he said 'no'. Can you believe it?
Secret camp. Where in the World...
Anyways, after a few drinks, Rob and I set off to our secret destination with loaded back packs and our cycles of choice. I was actually sporting a new back pack (rucksack) which I rate quite highly. My previous back pack (which wasn't actually mine) had been thrown away after my Fort William mis-adventure because the stitching came undone and a big hole appeared. This new bag was a Eurohike pathfinder 2 rucksack which was same size (45 litre) as the previous pack but which objectively looked much smaller. This pack was ace - it had 2 large side pockets - the one pocket housed my bivvy and the other my sleeping mat with loads of room to spare. A further pocket was on the lid of the pack (where my hip flask, toiletries, hat, head torch and wet-wipes were housed). This pack also featured a bright waterproof cover in the a pocket on the bottom - how fancy!
Hanging from the tree, a Eurohike Pathfinder 2 rucksack
We knew where we were going to camp as we had discussed this in the Lark before we set off. Am sure Ron didn't have a scooby-doo where I was talking about. In the dark, it was hard to find. Our secret location was well hidden by much scrub, vegetation and trees. The secret coordinates were bitter.iceberg.gone.
Rob and I struck up my tarp and laid a further tarp down as a groundsheet. Then Rob cooked some burgers and eggs for supper. We washed this down with a wee shot of whiskey and then listened to the pitter-patter of rain until we entered dreamland.
I was the first to awake. The tarp gave way at the one corner and a deluge of water landed all over my bivvy. (I was using my Alpkit bivvy on this particular adventure). The groundsheet kept the water underneath me too. Inside my bivvy and all was warm and dry. Amazing. After fixing the tarp, I returned to sleep for a few more hours.

When morning proper came, we could see the tarp was housing much water (it must have really rained). The groundsheet had pools of water here and there. Amazingly, Rob and I were both completely dry in our bags. Mr trousers were soaking wet too - maybe I should have worn them damp last night rather than removing them to sleep. D'oh!
Rob dog cooking sausage
Breakfast was great! Rob cooked Cumberland sausage and eggs. I made the tea on my Trangia. Delicious.

Quickly packed up after breakfast and cycled home leaving only tyre tracks behind. Despite it feeling strange pulling on my wet trousers, it felt ace completing July's BAM. Already looking forward to August!

Wednesday 17 July 2019

Fort William 1000 aDvEnTuRe SqUaD style

On 3 July 2019, I kissed my wife and kids goodbye and headed to Birmingham. I was cycling with a loaded bike and heavy backpack as I had plans to complete the Fort William 1000 audax event. My plan was to meet my aDvEnTuRe SqUaD buddy Jamie (AKA Mac) in Blackpool and we would conquer this West Coast of Scotland adventure together, just like we cycled the West Coast of Ireland the previous year.
All packed and ready for adventure.

Goodbye my love...
Reached Birmingham in good time. From Birmingham, I boarded a train which took me to Preston (Lancashire) and after a train swap, reached Blackpool South. Wowser, had reached Blackpool super early, as the audax event did not start until the following day. Since I was at the seaside and had time to spare, I did the usual tourist type of stuff - checked out the beach, had an ice cream and of course, devoured fish and chips.
Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside.
Fish and chips. Mmm, delicious!
The audax event HQ was at a scout hut in Lytham. Decided to check this out early with a view to pitch my tent and chill out. I was so early, that I was the first cyclist there. I met the 'Scout Hut Leader man', he appeared super stressed and quite grumpy. He expressed his frustrations with Andy (Audax organiser) and said his communication was poor, he hadn't paid deposits and other trivial points of little interest. Scout Hut Leader man was trying to juggle all sorts of folk visiting this hut and was disappointing many. He wouldn't let the regular scouts use the field for archery (because the dog club was scheduled at same time) and he wouldn't let me camp (because of something to do with Andy). All the commotion was mildly amusing and with the passage of time, more and more (though not many) cyclists appeared and I engaged in audax and cycle chat.

Before nigh fall came, I had finally managed to pitch my tent. I was surprised that I was only 1 of 4 such people to pitch a tent. A friendly guy called Alex was camping next to me - it was good to chat with him and I was grateful for the beer he provided.

I slept ok in my little solo (Gelert Solo) tent and woke up early as usual. I crawled out of my tent and was expecting to see Jamie pitched in his new bivy, but no, Jamie was no-where to be seen. Jamie had stayed at his friend 'Zara's', who only lived about a mile away from the start. Packed my tent away (did not have to pay the £4 camping fee) and enjoyed some toast and Alpen at the event HQ before Jamie rocked up.

Very few cyclists were at the start. I was led to believe that 200 people had signed up for this event (it was a double event, people cycling the Fort William 1000 and the Inverness 1200) but there was only about 50 on the start line. At 8 a.m, we were off!

Stage 1 Lytham to Carnforth (aprox 56k)
At the start HQ, Lytham
This first stage, as expected, was filled with lots of cyclists. Cyclists in front and cyclist behind. This was a relatively fast stage, only taking a couple of hours to reach the control. The control was a garage forecourt, nothing fancy, and this appeared to be a theme throughout. I suffered a near-death experience during this first stage too - a taxi driver decided to cut me up and turned left right in front of me. Horrors!

Stage 2 Carnforth to Gretna Green (aprox 115k)
Summit of Shap Hill
Stage 2 was a nice stretch to cycle. It brought back fond memories of my 2 x LEJOG adventures where I met the likes of my buddy Chris Hodge, Guy and the Cross Brothers, as well as the legends Clive (the Dr), AndyTractor and Simon. Shap Hill was encountered here too (and I'm sure the summit is approximately half way between Land's End and John O'Groats). I bet Jamie £2 that he couldn't cycle to the top in his large chain ring - at the top I was £2 lighter, way to go Jamie! Much of this section was cycled with a random cyclist 'Johnny Walsh' who joined us for a spell. Johnny knew some folk from the Beacon Cycling club and had completed the same IronMan event as me.
This stage also saw us reach Scotland. Aces! We had to stop for an obligatory photo of course. Before reaching here we were racking our head space and trying to decide if Gretna Green was in England or Scotland. For sure, Gretna Green is in Scotland. The control here was local services (nothing fancy).
Our mate Toll, could not celebrate in the Old Toll Bar. We thought of you though blood...
Stage 3 Gretna Green to Abington (aprox 77k)

Midges made their first appearance during this stage - as expected I guess, we were in Scotland after all. To be fair, despite seeing lots of midges and hearing reports such as 'midge report in Fort William is 5/5' they didn't bother us too much (ok, so Jamie got a swollen wrist towards then end but nothing more than that). Thing I remember most about this stage was stopping to help this young Syrian cyclist who had punctured on the side of the road. He was cycling the same event as us and was almost in tears as he had a tyre that was near impossible to get on and off his rims. It took us and an American tandem couple much time to finally help him with his tyre and get him back up and cycling. We saw lots of this Syrian cyclist throughout - he was travelling super light and for whatever reason was not collecting POP's at the controls. It was now dark when we reached this control at about 10 p.m. Local services was the control here again and we tucked into a nice Burger King meal.

Stage 4 Abington to Paisley (aprox 71k)

Leaving Abington, it was dark and also cold and wet. We were know donning our rain gear and starting to feel a little tired. The American tandem couple decided to ride alongside us and it was fun chatting with them throughout the most part of this stage. The wet weather was bringing out many slugs and frogs and it was quite a challenge to avoid squishing them. As we cycled through more populated areas we also saw many foxes and their silhouettes looked real pretty with their pointy ears and bushey tails. The night sky looked truly awesome too - it was as if the sky was painted with bright blues and pinks in front of us and moody, dark browns and blacks behind. About 8k from the control, the American couple wanted to stop as the fella wanted a hot cup of tea. We said our goodbye's and never saw them again (they had plans of abandoning and going to view some castles instead). We reached Paisley control at 3 a.m. and thank goodness this was a community centre and not services. The control was disappointing though - we were expecting beds (well a mattress anyway) but these were in limited supply and all occupied. Absolutely whacked, Jamie fell asleep on a chair and I fell asleep on a 2 seater sofa thing. How we slept with all the hustle and bustle, cyclists in and out, lights on, etc, I don't know but sleep we did, for a few hours at least.

Stage 5 Paisley to Inveraray (aprox 92k)
Erskine Bridge
Not long into this section and we found a McDonalds which served an awesome breakfast which was very much needed. The song 'Everybody want to be famous' was playing and this became an ear worm for me over the next hundred or so kilometres. This stage felt very long and we climbed some big hills here. It felt good to stop when we did as we were suitably tired and it was very hot.

Stage 6 Inveraray to Dunbeg (aprox 58k)
Jamie and I were both starting to feel a little deflated by now. We were tired. The Scottish roads were awful - lots of pot holes and not smooth, an almost constant buzzy feel in my handlebars and way too much busy A road for our liking. The controls were largely pants too and the fact we had to cycle many stretches of the same road 'out and back' style to reach a pathetic control was just crazy. Only 1 thing to change a mood and that was a sleep. Without really spotting a suitable place to sleep, we slept on the roadside itself and beat this, we both dropped off! A Carradice saddle bag makes a good pillow. Oh man, we felt so much better after this sleep (which might have been only 10 mins or so). The control was another 'nothing special' garage forecourt.

Stage 7 Dunbeg to Fort William (aprox 69k)
Oban - Connel
The cycle to Fort William was great in that it offered some stunning views. It was naff in that it followed way too much busy A road. Jamie and I decided we would not follow the audax route on these menace roads and decided to go off-track and cycle the bike paths instead. This was a good idea, the bike paths were smooth, away from traffic and a pleasure to cycle. Our time might have suffered a little, but this was a small price to pay to cycle better paths. We saw some lovely castles throughout our cycling adventure and there was a really special castle here. This castle was on a little island and how I wished I owned it. The last 10k of the stage seemed to last forever and it was great to finally finish this stage knowing that we would know be turning around and heading back to where came from. The McDonalds here made a suitable control.
Loch Creran
My castle in Appin
Appin - Duror (off the 'correct' path)
Appin - Kentallen
Loch Leven

Stage 8 Fort William to Crianlarich (aprox 85k)

We left Fort William at around 10 p.m. and we were tired and cold once more. Once it had gotten dark, we decided somewhere to sleep might be a good idea. Jamie spotted a ferry terminal, which was a bit like a bus stop (i.e. semi-sheltered bench) and we decided to stop here. Jamie promptly fell asleep and snored like crazy. I wanted to sleep but just could not, I think I was too cold to get comfortable and the breeze was annoying too. After so long, Jamie gave me his emergency foil blanket which did warm me up a little and allowed me to get some broken sleep. Many other cyclists would stop at our spot and wake me by chatting and cussing to themselves that they wanted this bench that was occupied by us. When we finally left this spot, we could see cycles were parked next to ours and 2 others were bivvying just around the corner.
Ballachulish - Glencoe
Scotland was beautiful and it was great to see odd random folk in the early morning hours sat around camp fires or camping in the wild. We too, decided to wild camp here as we were so tired. I've wild camped several times, but rarely without even a sleeping bag.
Another Wild camp for Doo
And Mac likes a spot of Wild camping too
Before reaching Crianlarich, we spotted a hotel and decided we would stop for breakfast. This was a very welcome breakfast (although tiny and relatively expensive). The breakfast provided 'food for thought' and we hatched a new plan (and I spared a few mins sleeping on it). This new plan was to basically abandon this audax and head to Glasgow instead where we could potentially catch a train and return to Preston.
£9 and a tad small for my liking
We figured we would have cycled pretty much all the route (and saved the hardship of cycling 300k of the same road we had already cycled), finish a day early and avoid the busy, poor A roads that had annoyed us so much. We agreed this was a good plan and neither us were really that bothered we would have a DNF audax (both preferring audax routes that are not out and back, on quieter roads and that have lovely (and manned) controls. By the time we had reached Crianlarich, our plan was cement.

(Almost) Final Stage, aDvEnTuRe SqUaD style to Glasgow (aprox 60k)
Bridge of Orchy
Arrochar - Tarbet
This almost last stage was cycled with happy hearts and sore legs and bottoms. Our headspace was much improved and we were able to enjoy the great views, stunning scenery, cycle lanes and appreciate the glorious weather. We stopped for ice cream here and a doze there and we cycled largely care free.

We reached Glasgow or somewhere near Glasgow anyway. My whacked body made my thinking not so straight. I do remember we boarded a train which reached Glasgow central. I might have had a doze on the train...
Train journeys often make one tired...
In Glasgow itself, we celebrated our adventure. Pizza Hut proved an awesome place to eat and kindly allowed us to take our cycles inside. How wonderful.

What was no-so wonderful was the fact that train company had made errors with our tickets and we were unable to board a train to Preston at 6 p.m and had to wait a further couple of hours. Virgin allowed us to crash out in their first class lounge as way of apology where we were able to feed and water and use their charging ports. I had a quick doze and bummer, I left my phone behind when we did eventually board a train (I got my phone back about a week later via courier at a hefty cost of £35).
I honestly didn't sleep too much...
I might have had another doze on the train. Who knows? What I do know is, is the fact that we had to get off the train at Preston and had about 30k to cycle to reach the arrivee.

Final Stage, aDvEnTuRe SqUaD style to Lytham (aprox 30k)

Jamie and I cycled this large stage at night with 2 other chaps who had also DNA'd. Much of the cycle was spent chatting the usual audax nonsense and before you knew it we were back at the event HQ. We were able to sleep in one of the bunk beds (no cost) and finally had a decent sleep until the following morning came.
Fort William 1000 (690k)
On reflection, I thought this was a poor audax compared to previous events I have cycled. LEL, in my opinion, was a far better cycle and a better way of seeing wonderful Scotland. Jamie and I both preferred the West Coast of Ireland to the West Coast of Scotland and preferred cycling in our own time (as opposed to control time limits). I'd like my 'big adventure' next year to be more like the Transatlantic Way and less like the Fort William 1000. Guess what? - SJ has given me a pass for the Pan Celtic Race 2020. Now that'll be a good adventure for sure. Watch this space...

Monday 1 July 2019

Bearded Bimblers / BMX Bandits / The bad ass badger perm / Cotsduro 19

The Bearded Bimbler (Hope this doesn't put folk off reading my blog...)
Let me start this blog post by introducing the Bearded Bimbler aka Mike Creighton. The Bearded Bimbler is a crazy kind of fellow who is engaged in some major adventuring. Oh yes, Bearded Bimbler is on a quest to run and wild camp across every UK national park this year. He is more than half way through his challenge and it's been great watching his progress and reading his stories. You can check out the Bearded Bimbler's FaceBook page here: The Bearded Bimbler. Better yet, Bearded Bimbler at often times holds the odd competition on his FB page and guess what? That's right, Doo won a rather splendid mug for a photo he submitted in one such competition.
Doo and his winnings
Better still, Bearded Bimbler is promoting and supporting 2 charities, namely the Edwards Trust and Peak District Mountain Rescue - if you can spare him a few bob for these super charities please visit here: Bearded Bimbler fund-raising. The Peak District Mountain Rescue aims to save life and alleviate distress, primarily in Upland and Mountain areas. The Edwards Trust provide a range of support services to bereaved parents and children. Please support. (Quick Hi goes to Mrs Beard too, an old work mate of mine).


Am sure I blogged about my Super Raleigh Burner BMX before. Y'know, the one Lin stole? Well, it's been stolen again - this time by my wife. SJ say's it's hers and the kids are supporting her on this one...


Latest audax event I completed was another pedal of The Bad Ass Badger permanent that I created all those years ago. This was a 220k loop from my village and back. It felt like an age since I had last cycled this distance.
My bike of choice for this event was 'Slinky', my road bike. She had recently been kitted out with a new rear wheel (thanks Chris for sorting this). This new wheel was a rather splendid Hope hoop! A RS4 hub, laced with 32 Sapim double-butted spokes onto an Mavic Open Pro rim. Oh man, she looked the business and felt rather splendid too. I chose a blue hub and Lin (thanks again) fitted new blue bar tape. With all this blue on my bike, she now looked quite Royal (red, white and blue) and I hoped it would fool my head-space into believing I had a new bike. Ha!
Cool hub eh?!
Slinky performed pretty fine really, however, it is evident that my front mech is wonky. It had recently been fitted with a new cable but the shifting is poor. I know a replacement is due but financial constraints will not allow an immediate change. The mech changed good enough to allow me to climb the big hills from Winchcombe and Cheltenham.
Slinky, re-born
Stopped at Stacey's cafe in Cricklade, as is my tradition. Only had a sausage sarnie on this occasion though whereas a full English is usually devoured. Leaving the cafe I encountered a few spots of rain but nothing more dramatic.
The Banbury Horse alongside my horse
Witney, followed by Banbury were my control points before heading home and reaching the arrivee. Drank lots of water at these controls and felt pretty uncomfortable throughout. I started to feel uncomfortable from around the 100k mark - guess not cycling long distances for a while made my body feel weird.
This dude was still here too..
Did not stop again once leaving Banbury until I reached home. I considered a cup of tea in Stratford but decided to crack on and get home to my family instead. Oh man, felt great to complete a 200k even after so long. It must have been an age too - the Midlands organiser for Audax events had changed. So long Chris Smith, hello Mike Kelly.
A lot of hot air, I know...


Would like to finish this blog post by shouting about the Cotsduro 19 event that I recently completed. This was a 100k, mostly off-road affair that I completed with Ian Cross and rode short sections with Russell Morey.
Ian picked me up in the morning and kindly transported me to the (near) start in Stroud. Was great meeting Ian again - had only cycled with him once since he cycled some of a certain LEJOG event with me back in 2010! Only a couple of weeks ago, I had been cycling with his brother on that Cycle for Uganda event. It's a very small world.
At the official start of the event, Stroud Brewery, we met up with a bunch of other riders. One of these riders was Russell Morey who I knew from my 'Redditch Triathlon Club' days. It was good to catch up with him and he was easy to spot as he was donned in Redditch Tri-Club gear. Russell's initial plan was to stick with me and Ian until we dropped him. Pah, Russell dropped us almost immediately - we did cycle sections together here and there throughout the event though.
I  cycled this event twice last year, in both directions, un-officially. This year, I cycled the official event and was pleased the route had changed somewhat. The event was the same 100k self-supported, no frills gravel ride that included a wonderful variety of single track, double track, highways and byways of the Cotswolds across it's rolling countryside and saw-tooth profile of the Cotswold Edge. This edition, however, was much easier and had far less hike-a-bike sections. It's a shame that the Fosse Way was not included as that's a pretty fast rolling section. Like previous editions, this event was run in XDuro format - 4 timed segments and heaps of non-timed bits.

The first segment came almost straightaway at the 3k mark. It was a 0.5k climb. Most cyclists were off their bikes and pushing this steep climb. I lost traction at almost the foot of the climb but am pleased to report, I got back on and cycled to the summit. Someone commented 'Oh, you know it's summer when someone climbs a hill wearing flip-flops' (of course, I was wearing my SPD sandals). Despite not racing this event, I was pleased with my segment time (4:33). For whatever reason, my times were not published at the finish (despite appearing on Strava)?!
The second segment came and went without me even noticing it. What I do recall though was some really muddy sections (bike-a-hike sections but not due to a un-rideable climb) and major steep down-hill muddy sections. I remember the weather too - a gorgeous day, so hot and sunny, must have been in the 30's!
Ian and I stuck together pretty much throughout the event, just losing each other here and there. Was great cycling together and catching up. Always great to ride an epic event with company!
My not-so smug face after falling off my bike whilst attempting to climb to this summit
We stopped for lunch at about the half-way mark. It was so hot, I downed 2 pints of coke almost immediately and munched on a tasty avocado and chicken baguette with fries. Delicious. Not long after leaving the pub, I had to return as I had forgotten my water bottles d'oh!
It was this hot! Ha!
For a change, the next timed segment was a down hill. Nice to feel the breeze on these speedy descents. Views and sights all around were pretty amazing.
Russell was a very naughty boy...
The last timed segment was around a big golf course. We stopped here and found a welcome tap. This tap filled our bottles and was great to pour water over my head and cap in an attempt to cool down. Once we had completed the loop, we re-traced our steps back to the tap and cooled once more.

Amongst my muddled memories before we reached the finish was the fact that there were brambles here and there which cut my legs and arms. There appeared to be lots of Italians on this ride. We cycled lots of wooded areas with many different tracks to choose. I punctured once. Ian made rather splendid flap jacks. Lots of nettles stung my poor legs. It was really rather splendid.

Super cool to reach the finish knowing that we had completed this really awesome event ('officially' too). We celebrated with a can of coke and some story telling. Right at the end, a random guy asked 'Are you Doo?'. This random guy was 'Rich', who reported he had been stalking my blog. How ace is that! I'm all for folk stalking my blog and should that be you, well, become a follower and post me a message! You never know when our wheels might meet!

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&#...