Remember you’re a womble

The Wombles

Which makes sense if you happen to have been listening to the background music at our coffee stop this morning…  I bet they knew what G stands for too :)  And in case you’ve forgotten, it stands for Group, and there’s probably a joke to be made about mobile phone reception out here in the sticks and that today was actually a 2G ride… ;)  The two Gs in question being BK Velo and the ACG – though they’re not exclusive, it’s like a venn diagram, there’s some overlap.  They tend to be faster and have more triathletes amongst ‘em though *gulp*!

The original plan was to go to Mells, something that has been done a few times before, though not usually by me.  It being a fairly hilly route, and me being me, I reserved the right to bail if necessary, and having woken up on the grumpy side of the bed, I nearly did that before we’d even started.  Ever had one of those nights where you dream so much that you wake up tireder than when you went to bed, whilst still being mentally stuck in a slightly different reality?  Yep.  That.  Again.  But hey, I was up, and I’d said I would, so it was going to be done.

We started as 8, which turned into 6 as 2 took an easier route, and then became 7 as we picked up one more in passing in Wells.  It was a bit fast for me, which made it hard work, even if it was probably very good training for me, as I kept trying to tell myself.  It got a bit easier once I finally warmed up…though as ever that took too long!  Though I’d done my best to keep up on the ups before then, the Horrington climb was always going to leave me pootling along at the back, falling further and further behind.  But you know what?  That was ok.  I just cheerfully did things my way.  I quite enjoyed it.  And according to Strava, however dismally my performance may have compared to that of my peers today, it was one of my better ascents of that particular stretch of road, so there :P

coffee still life

It was decided to stop for coffee at the Rock Cake Café first, and then decide what to do next.  My plan, unsurprisingly, was to bail afterwards and go home as directly as possible!  However while we were all warming up in the café, outside the temperature was plummeting and, as it turns out everyone else joined me rather than going on to Mells in the cold and the wind, which was nice.  We got a bit spread out on the way back, with me nearer the front than usual, though I’m not sure how/why that happened.  But once the draggy climby bits to get back over the top of the Mendips were done, t’was time to descend Cheddar Gorge which, chasing others who were leading by example, I totally nailed!  I’d have been even faster if we hadn’t hit traffic near the bottom (not literally!), and even then, it turns out to have been my best time down there ever.  My favourite kind of QOM or, to be fair, my only kind ;)  Oh, and I should probably mention that it was quite a lot of fun too *grin*.

I’m glad I went.  It was nice to be out, and in company, though I apologise if I wasn’t as chatty as sometimes.  But it was a nice route, it blew the cobwebs away, and set me up nicely for the rest of the day.  Methinks I may have earned a pint now :)

Cycling time: 2:01
Distance: 32.2 miles
Avg: 15.8 mph
ODO: 7146.7 miles

The silhouettes you drew here

Better.  OK, there were no Snickers involved, but that was definitely better.
More fuel, less wind, more warmth, and a whole heap more sunshine :D

converging lines

Wednesday’s ride was supposed to be a couple of hours and, as it didn’t go well, it shrank.  Today’s ride was supposed to be an short easy ride just to check the bike was working ok post-tinkering and, since it was going well, it grew.  See saw, margery daw, swings and roundabouts…

still waters

But, as the bike was working well and so was I, out there is where I wanted to be, and being the Master & Commander of my own ship, though enjoying being becalmed today more than most skippers would, I went where I wanted to.  Nowhere else to be, no place I’d rather have been, and it was really rather lovely all ’round.  Odd how things work out, no?

tree tunnel swans shadow

Cycling time: 1:52
Distance: 29.3 miles
Avg: 15.7 mph
ODO: 7114.5 miles

PS: I be quite proud of myself – I changed those wheels, I sorted those brake pads and I indexed those gears…and it all works! ‘Rah! :D

You’re going to reap just what you sow

Well it started well…  I got my errands done, the predicted break in the dismal weather was here on schedule, and around 11.00am I was kitted up and ready, if not raring to go.

Mind you, I hadn’t decided where I was going.  I had some vague idea that hills might be a good idea, and was musing possibilities as I set off.  However on the climb (yes, ok, it’s not really a climb) up to the bypass my calves reminded me that they spent a couple of hours on Sunday ticking cols of a different kind and although my legs had felt ok up to now, would it be alright if I didn’t make them go uphill?

Pen Y Fan views at last

OK, so hills were out, and a flatter route beckoned.  Fair enough.  Best to listen when the body is telling you something right?  (Yes, I know, I never do that either).  Time for the usual kind of flat loop then, more of an enjoy being out rather then get any training benefit kind of thing.  But hey, the sun was shining, I wasn’t cold, and I was out…

…and 10 minutes out, the potholes on the descent of Winscombe Hill claimed another victim.  It may be a very long time since I’ve had a puncture, but there’s no mistaking it when it happens.  One very quick way to deflate both the tyre and my burgeoning good mood.  It was, of course, the rear tyre, isn’t it (nearly) always?  Time to pull over and sort it then *sigh*.  However there was a quiet off-road spot by a house in which to turn the bike upside down, a nice wall to lay stuff out on as I worked, and hey, it had to happen some time, right?  Not only is it a very long time since I’ve had a puncture, I can’t remember the last time it’s happened when I’ve been on my own, and my ineptitude usually means that those with me can’t bear to watch, or hang around forever, so they bail me out!  Still, it would appear I can still do it, and although getting the tyre back on was a bit tricky, it only took me 15 minutes or so all in, which ain’t bad for me.  Nice to know all that kit I carry around with me still works too – especially the little pump which does a nice job of getting things back up to a reasonable psi…

…but not quite high enough really, though maybe I could have tried harder, which led to a bouncier ride subsequently than I like.  Off I went, pleased to discover that the flat open roads tended to be dry and less covered in crap, thus vindicating my “no hills” decision.  But after half an hour of bouncing along into a rather tediously strong headwind, however nice it was out there, I really wasn’t feeling the love, which surprised me somewhat.  OK, so it was windy, but I was finding it harder work that it ought to have been.  And then I remembered that I’d forgotten to have breakfast, and although riding on empty has debatable training benefits, those probably apply to those who don’t have the same day-to-day fuelling issues as I do.  Oh, and to people who also do it properly, as part of a training plan ‘n all.  No wonder my energy levels weren’t up to it.  Ok, so the silver lining of the disaster that is my diet is that I appear to be losing weight, and lighter is generally good in cycling terms, but you still need some energy to push lighter around!  Oops…!

So I decided to cut my losses, cut my route short, and to just have an easy loop around and back home.   Besides which the lovely weather wasn’t due to last (though it did) and I wanted to get the bike washed and cleaned when I got back.  Why so uncharacteristically conscientious you ask?  Well, as my puncture and the state of the roads today demonstrated, as if I needed reminding, it was past time for taking my lovely summer wheels off and putting the winter wheels back on.  Which I really couldn’t do in the state the bike was in.  So clean it had to be, cleaned it was, and clean it is.  And what’s more, it now has its winter wheels on, with the brake pad positions adjusted accordingly, and the gears indexed ok (I think).  Now, considering my degree of technical expertise, this is not a little impressive.  OK, so I had to resort to a Youtube video to help me out, and I haven’t had chance to ride it yet but still, *fingers crossed*…  Go me!  I think I may have to polish it now :D.

bike work

On balance, maybe I should have stayed at home today.  But for all that it wasn’t a great ride, I still feel better for having been out, and the aftermath was constructive.  So that’s ok then :)  And yes, I do work on my bike in the front room.  Well, it’s my front room, why shouldn’t I?  Besides, it’s a darn sight warmer than in the garage! ;)

Cycling time: 1:25
Distance: 21.9 miles
Avg: 15.3 mph
ODO: 7085.2 miles

All I wanna do is take a ride into the blue

Brent Knoll

Work done for the day, with the sun shining, it was time to play.  Out with the winter layers, away with the skin.  Me and the (filthy) bike and the seaside loop.

After the requisite 45 minutes, all was well with the world, and at the beach the low sun reflected off sea and sand alike, blurring the lines betwixt and between, all spread out like mercury fallen beneath the sky.  One for the mind’s eye, not the camera however.

On the way back, overhead and over the hills, the clouds divided the sunlight in biblical fashion, as the winter shadows grew even longer and the afternoon temperature slowly dropped.  It all worked, me included.  All in all, it kinda rocked

Cycling time: 2:00
Distance: 32.2 miles
Avg: 16.0 mph
ODO: 7063.3 miles

happy feet haribo

…as did the bath I had to have to warm up properly afterwards, and the leftover Tangfastics that somewhat miraculously the mob had saved for me.  Recovery food, right? ;)



I have a Gumbie cat in mind


It’s been a bit of a non-standard week.  After walking, up Snowdon on Saturday, it took three days before my legs were even close to working properly again.  Yes, I said walking.  It’s not always about the bike, remember?  ;)  However apparently walking up mountains does not use the same muscles as riding up them, though it takes me nearly as long!  As a result I spent three days hobbling around like I’d been thrown off Snowdon, Hephaestus stylee, and that was just on the flat.  Watching me going up and down our stairs using the bannister was apparently very amusing, but I choose to believe that’s just because the mob have, unsurprisingly, a juvenile sense of humour ;)


And then, just when I was thinking I could possibly try and get back to my usual exercise routine, we sadly and unexpectedly had to have one of our cats put to sleep, and, well, life went a little pear-shaped.  Very sad times :(

Eventually, once the dust had settled, two workouts later, and with the incentive of company to ride with and good weather to do so in, I finally made it out on the bike again today, with Alan, one of the newer members of the ACG.  Even though he’d originally had hills in mind, he was more than amenable to doing a Glastonbury coffee run instead.  Easily led astray, as it were ;)  So that’s what we did.  In unseasonable warmth, with arms and (in his case) legs out!  It felt more like late Spring than early winter, and it was very lovely.  A bit windy, to be fair, but given warmth and sunshine, it seems churlish to complain.  It turns out I’d missed my bike, and I feel a whole heap better for having been out on it :D

coffee shadow

Cycling time: 1:59
Distance: 32.1 miles
Avg: 16.1 mph
ODO: 7031.1 miles





Well don’t think I’m trying not to learn

I didn’t want to go for a training ride today.  I just wanted to go for a ride.  So I did.  Nothing out of the ordinary or exceptional.  Sometimes it’s just about riding the bike, right?  Under a blanket of grey cloud, I made it up as I went along.  I took a couple of turnings I’ve always wondered about.  I even managed to get lost.  Well, lost might be pushing it, since I doubt there’s actually a road around here I haven’t been down at least once, even if I don’t remember it, and every way always joins up with some way you do know.  But I was definitely on roads less traveled, though no longer the roads not taken.  I rode out, and I rode back.  And as I turned my new key in my new lock, and then closed my door behind me, the rain started.  Result :)

Cycling time: 2:01
Distance: 32.6 miles
Avg: 16.1 mph
ODO: 6999 miles

PS: told you Dunkery Beacon was hard ;)

Beacon be hard!

Exmoor Beast 2014

You’d think by now I’d have stopped being nervous about sportives wouldn’t you?  And if you’d asked me why I was nervous, I’d have been hard pushed to tell you really.  I think maybe, after Thursday’s somewhat disastrous ride, I was just worried that there wasn’t going to be enough in the tank to make it around, let alone up the hills I knew were ahead of me.  Presumably worrying about such things, and the usual “will the alarm clock go off, will I miss it” subconscious stuff, would be why I also failed to get a decent night’s sleep beforehand – even after two days of eating properly and getting an early night…

Still, this is nothing new, right?  I finally gave up trying to sleep, after the nth time of waking up and having to check the time to see if it was even worth trying to go back to sleep, and was up at 5:00am.  OK, so it was pitch black, but unlike earlier in the night, at least it wasn’t raining!  In fact the forecast for the day was pretty good, however many times I refreshed the screen, which is far for the norm when it comes to the Exmoor Beast.

Yes, time for the Exmoor Beast again.  It wasn’t my idea, honest!  But having done it last year and enjoyed it more than I thought I would, it wasn’t a bad idea.  In theory.  Months ago!  This morning however, it felt hideously early, and rather intimidating, and all in all, who’s idea was this?!  I must be mad…but then we all knew that ;)

registration toilet queue

Having sorted all my kit out the night before, including faffing options for eventualities, there wasn’t much to do other than kit up, eat cereal, and then load the bike and bags into the car when Chris duly arrived at 6:00am.  Being nervous, I probably wasn’t the most chatty of passengers on the way down, which those who have had to put up with me being irritatingly perky in similar circumstances, might well envy ;)  But it didn’t take long to get there…certainly not long enough for me to fall asleep again, and we arrived at HQ in Tiverton without a hitch, to be marshalled by men waving glowsticks to one of the pockets of parking around the place – in our case the tennis courts.  The official start time wasn’t until 8:00am, an hour later this year, so we had plenty of time to go and register, find and queue for the toilets, get ready, and drink coffee.  The sun kept going up, the skies brightened, and even I might have cheered up a bit ;)

rider briefing

But there was no putting it off any longer, it was time to go and do that queueing in pens thing.  A later start is/was a good thing.  No worrying about lights, no groping around in the dark, and more importantly when, after the rider briefing, our pen was set off a little after 8:00am, we could see where we were going!  However…on the downside…it meant I could see where I was going! ;) I don’t remember much of the early part of last year’s ride as I was too busy trying to cope with the unfamiliarity of riding in the dark, following flashing lights, avoiding other barely-seen riders, and so on…  This time I saw, and felt, every hill!  I knew I would feel rubbish to start with, I always do, and as predicted I did.  My breathing was off on one and I just couldn’t seem to catch my breath, which is not ideal when slogging your way uphill.  It took me 45 minutes, as usual, to warm up, and in the meantime on a couple of those early big hills, my lungs and core muscles and the effort being made all combined to make me feel like I was turning myself inside out!  Not pleasant…but once we got to the top of one of them around an hour in and I stashed my gilet and head scarf I felt much cooler and much better.  I really don’t like over-heating!

tandem co-ordinated climbing

All that said, it was nice out there.  Not (yet) too windy, dry overhead, fairly mild.  The roads were damp and covered in crap though, so I was little more careful on some of the downhills than usual, especially since I was still on the summer bike, wheels, and tyres!  Although there were allegedly around 1500 riders out there, it didn’t feel too busy in the country lanes, and there were slightly better manners than at some events, so I rarely got railroaded without notice, which was nice.  So we bimbled along in my usual style, and the miles and hills passed, as did today’s guest of honour Jonathan Tiernan-Locke from time to time, making it all look easy of course.  There was plenty of up, but I’m much better with long hills than short, providing they’re not too steep of course, and they were feeling ok.  Being currently a drug-free zone it’s clear that some of those were affecting things and that now they aren’t.  Not that I’m any faster up the darn things, they just feel different.  And if that doesn’t make sense, tough ;)

its a sign playing with traffic in Dunster

After much general climbing up and hurtling down the moors, there was a fantastic descent into Dunster, which it’s fair to say I nailed.  Oh, and enjoyed immensely.  Me and my bike are very good at that :)  In fact, having swooshed past a great many, and then all the way up one up bit in the middle, when three of the guys I’d passed caught me up, which no doubt their egos insisted upon, I was congratulated on my “good effort” *grin*.  After playing with very tolerant traffic in Dunster, we arrived at the very-well stocked food stop.  Everything from soup to rolls and flapjacks and of course energy drink, water and bananas!  I topped up my bottles, queued briefly for one of the portable toilets, and passed on the food – no need to mess up my insides since they were feeling ok.  It felt nice to take a bit of a break in the sunshine, chat, and enjoy the fact that half the ride was behind us…

food stop goodies shooting the breeze

…which of course, means half of it was ahead, and that half included the biggest challenge of the day – Dunkery Beacon! *gulp*  We set off again, heading for the inevitable, along the main road through and past Minehead that is a bit busy and full of nasty draggy upwards bits – I never enjoy that stretch of road, and today was no exception.  In fact, even with flapjack and a gel on board, that dragging made me realise I was feeling pretty tired.  And pretty worried.  I know Dunkery Beacon, and it’s no walk in the National Park!  Well, unless you have to walk up it of course, and that’s probably pretty hard work too ;)

Exmoor here we come

After the relief of a bit of down, we turned left and started the trundle through the country lanes that gradually lead up to where the climb proper starts.  Riders kept going past me but hey, if they were in that much of a rush to get there, more power to them.  I was conserving energy and trying to think positively and gird my loins for the struggle ahead!  A bit of me was thinking I’d also rather have ‘em all ahead of me, out of the way, and not weaving backwards and forwards around me…

starting the Beacon Beacon be hard!

So, here we go.  Another left turn, slowly going up already, and over the dreaded, but matted, cattle grid, heart in mouth…  As the slog through the damp woods began, and I slowly ground my way up, I have to admit to having wondered about walking, whether today would be the day I would again, whether I’d have to, whether that would be such a bad thing…but not yet, right?

Make the wheels go around.  One pedal stroke after the next.  Avoid the horse-chestnut cases and leaves and twigs, pass the walkers, zig-zag a bit, keep the front wheel down, push, push, push…  At least my lungs were working now, and so were my legs, for however long that might be the case.  Steeper bits, even steeper bits, flatter bits, steeper bits…and then that bit in the middle which could be the top but isn’t, because it’s only half way; your chance to have a drink, regroup slightly and then, yes, start all over again.  The forest drops behind you, the road climbs up into moorland, the views open up, but they’re behind you, and you’re too busy concentrating on the road ahead anyway, which stretches into the distance, with every diminishing spots of colourful lycra leading the way.  On and on and on…but just that little bit less steep that it was down there, and so yes, it’s hard, but you keep going, you don’t get off, you just hit that mental zone where all you do is keep the wheels turning.  Up this bit.  Round the bend.  Up the next bit.  One stretch of tarmac at a time.  And as long as the wheels are turning you’re going up, however slowly, while the race snakes hurtle pass you, you pass the “pedestrians” and take heart from that, the inevitable photographers lurk and you do your best to smile, before returning to that gurning place inside where you are mentally and you push some more and then…you know what…?  The world has opened up around you, you’ve reached the sky, and it’s all behind you.  I did it.  Again.  I have absolutely no idea how I made it up really.  I just did :)

riders behind sunshine ahead Exmoor view

Now there’s an awesome feeling for you :)  Which probably explains why I was grinning when we passed a familiar friendly face shortly afterwards – Gaz and his camera were there to capture the moment – which was all the more reason to smile.

smiling after Dunkery Beacon windy up top

No time to hang around though – having done all that up, there was some down to be enjoying.  I always look forward to downs, but it was so windy up on the top there that I was looking forward to getting down to some shelter more!  Such fun though… :D  It wasn’t the last up, there were a few more to drag myself up, but I now knew that the back of the Beast was broken and, on past experience, that the last 20 or so miles are just a long run down the valley back to Tiverton.  Which was, with the exception of a couple of kickers, fairly flat and fast and fair flying , especially as I spent most of it sat on on Chris’ wheel – not having quite enough energy left in me to spend as much time on the front as I would have liked.  This was probably not helped by the fact that we had to fight that headwind all the way back!  I struggled a bit from time to time, but there were some down bits to enjoy as well as the flat, and we hopped from group to group, and generally had a reasonable approximation of a blast most of the way back to Tiverton.  And then there we were, back at HQ, rolling past the timing machines, and into the hall.

on the way home Exmoor Beast glass

As a small child presented us with our souvenir Exmoor Beast tankards, the tannoy, in the capable hands of Ron (of Dartmoor Classic fame), announced our arrival, complete with a whole spiel about me being the Cycling Mayor and Cyclosport writer…busted!  You can ride, but you can’t hide ;)  We went around outside as instructed, stashed the bikes, and went back in to fill those tankards with the eponymous ale, before having a chat with Ron and others while getting our times.  It was great to have the opportunity to catch up – it’s nice to do events and bump into people you know – one advantage of doing so many of the darn things!  Oh, and that beer was pretty good too, especially enjoyed sat outside in the sunshine and the after-glow :)

Exmoor Beast – done.  Again. Annoyingly, it turns out to have been a bit slower than last year, but I think I actually enjoyed it more?  Which is more important.  I had a pretty good ride, in good company, I didn’t feel like an invalid, and I don’t feel like I was outstandingly slow.  I’m pretty pleased with how it went.  Make that really pleased.  You know what?  I had a really good day out :D

Cycling time: 4:56
Distance: 66.3 miles
Avg: 13.2 mph
ODO: 6966.4 miles

Update: Of the 520 100km riders, I was 285th. Of the 58 women amongst them, I was 19th. I’m pretty pleased with that :)

And I was only half an hour slower than Mr Tiernan-Locke…who must have stopped off for a cream tea at some point… ;)

I’m relatively twisted

I think it’s fair to say that food and I don’t really get on.  Which is probably why I don’t have much of an appetite these days.  Well, since what I do eat rarely remains where it ought to for long, I can’t usually be bothered with the consequences!  I’ve also been on a bit of a health kick/diet lately, which means I’ve been eating even less than usual.  Which seems like a good idea until you then go out and ride the bike for a couple of hours, having omitted breakfast as well, and wipe yourself out for the rest of the day.  Oops…

burnham with george

It was only a couple of hours out with George, running her errands, and chatting…but it got harder and harder to keep up and keep talking and by the time I got in, I was totally spaced, had as much energy and co-ordination as a newborn kitten, and I didn’t get it together again until mid-afternoon.  But hey, at least I got to go to the beach, right? :)  Still, it would appear that if I want to survive this Sunday’s Exmoor Beast, I had better spend the next couple of days eating healthy carby stuff in reasonable quantities!

Cycling time: 2:23
Distance: 34.6 miles
Avg: 14.5 mph
ODO: 6900.1 miles

In the meantime, my plans for 2015 advance slowly, and I am mad excited, because next March I’m going on a Wheels in Wheels training camp for a week in Andalusia.  How cool is that?!  Hope springs eternal…*fingers crossed*.

I wanna take a ride, I wanna kiss the sky

And this weekend I have done both.  Seven of the magnificent ACG did a route that was unsurprisingly unchallenging yesterday morning, as it was devised by yours truly for a ride I didn’t do on Wednesday!  Well, it seemed a shame to waste the effort involved in mapping it out, in the absence of better suggestions.  It was pretty good, as it happens: good weather, good riding, good company, and good coffee at Rich’s.  Thanks to Mike, Chris L, Chris G, Dave, Alan and Rob for joining me :)

cider farm me from above

And for part two?  Today I went and jumped out of a perfectly good aeroplane again, with a friend who I made first time around; we sort of egged each other into it!  So we went back together, where separately neither of us might have done.  And we did it again.  Twice! *grin*.  It may well not be the last time either…well, I’m a perfectionist, I want to do it better ;)

 IMG_20141012_091733_edit IMG_20141012_135707

So this weekend, as you can see, I rode, I kissed another piece of sky, and both made me smile.  Can’t be bad :)

Cycling time: 2:12
Distance: 35.2 miles
Avg: 16.0 mph
ODO: 6865.5 miles

The ghosts of my life, blew wilder than the wind

Yesterday was the annual Cyclosport industry bash.  It was, as ever, quite a laugh, though my liver may well be less than amused ;)  I got to catch up with friends I’ve not seen in ages, got some very constructive networking done, and of course indulge my new celebrity cyclist stalking hobby…

…so, roll up, roll up, here’s the latest selfie selection: Mike Cotty, Matt Stephens, Yanto Barker, Dean Downing, Russ Downing, and my mate Peter, of Tour of Pembrokeshire fame.  Hey, it gave me something to do!  Thanks for being so tolerant guys :)

Mike Cotty Matt Stephens Yanto Barker

Dean Downing  Russ Downing Peter Walker

OK, so they’re all more or less famous, but to me, Mike Cotty is a legend.  He’s been inspiring me since I got his Etape-preview DVD back in 2011, to help me get my head around what I was going to do.  We’ve talked on Twitter (not that he remembers, as he talks to so many people!) – he gave me advice on other events to try, advice for the Maratona – and I’ve used his DVDs for that and Quebrantahuesos too.  He crossed the French Alps non-stop last year, and this year he cycled over 1,000km and 21 mountains from Conegliano, Italy, to Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, France, in something like 50 hours.  Non-stop.  Mental!  We had quite a long chat, about cycling and various related stuff, and he’s just as nice in person.  Meeting him totally made my day :D

And in the meantime my plans for next year may now include a proper training plan, and a training camp in Andalusia, amongst other things.  How cool would that be?  Fingers crossed…I have a few dreams I’d like to make reality :)