Category Archives: Events

Events I have done, or plan on doing…or…whatever!

Great Weston Ride 2017

A little while ago I did the Maratona dles Dolomites again. It did not go according to plan. And maybe I’ll write about that at some point, and put some photos up, or something. Or maybe I won’t. Suffice to say I couldn’t do what I wanted to because I was in far too much pain, and even my natural stubbornness can only get me so far… 

…but let’s move on, shall we?  On to this year’s Great Weston Ride which was, as this year continues on trend, a repeat.  In fact this year’s edition would be its 8th.  And my 8th too.  It’s traditional. Apparently I’m part of the furniture now 😉

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So the event is a given, but the cast varies year on year.  Originally this was due to be Matt and I, with Alan, and it was billed as an easy have a nice day out, remember you’re riding with me and I’m crap, kind of a ride.  However some time not so long before the ride it turned out that James would be riding with us.  Young whipper snapper, whippet, race snake James…  Alan reassured me that this would make no difference, and things would proceed according to plan…

…which did not get off to a great start.  After the usual early start, Matt and I headed off to rendezvous with the lads in order to ride to the start as usual.  I’d assumed that we were meeting at the normal place, and hadn’t twigged that we weren’t.  (Never assume, it makes an ASS out of U and ME…right?)  So unsurprisingly they weren’t where we were when we were supposed to be, a little later than we’d intended on being there.  Too much faffing as ever…  And having presumed that, being all of 5 minutes late, we weren’t actually coming at all, Alan and James had headed off already.  Marvellous…  However a quick phone call ascertained the wheres and wherefores and whereabouts, and eventually we managed to join up on the road from Winscombe to Sandford.  Let’s get this show on the road then shall we?

Alan had mapped out a route, and plugged it into his gadget, so unlike in previous years, we managed to make it to HQ at Long Ashton Park and Ride without getting lost.  Well, if you don’t count the bit where Matt went flying on ahead on a downhill and missed the right turning onto the cycle path that we were supposed to take, and had to be hunted down 😉  Other than that it was a fairly uneventful and pretty sociable ride.  As we rode through into Long Ashton, along with a fair few others, a great many other riders were going the other way, already on their way out.  It’s a good thing there wasn’t much traffic around to annoy at that time of the morning 🙂

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The weather was passable, albeit rather more breezy than I’d have liked. We parked up outside the car park block building, and did the usual.  Which in my case involved rather a lot of queuing to get to use the Ladies.  This ride, being one for charity and of a length and format that makes it more open and welcome to all than your average sportive, attracts a mixed bunch of riders and has a better gender balance than usual too.  So 3 toilets (if you include the disabled one) and a lot of women in layers of kit and bib shorts?  Queuing ensued…  

That done, and it was time to go and register.  Organiser Darren was already on the front line, briefing batches of riders before letting them loose.  I found my queue, to sign the usual bit of paper, be presented with my bike number and cable ties, and told to help myself to 9Bars.  There was a bit of confusion with regards to Matt’s registration but we got that sorted, and picked up extra cable ties as we were at it.  Well they were skinny little ones, and I know from experience that those won’t go around my handlebars, but Matt informed me that if you string them together, it’s doable.  Not something I’ve tried before, but hey, it worked, even it did look a bit haphazard.  

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Alan and James were raring to go, and chomping at the bit which, I’m sorry to say, did not make me move any faster.  There was my bike to be loaded up and checked, another quick trip to the facilities and then finally, much to their relief, we were all joining the next batch to be briefed.  Darren can probably give that briefing in his sleep by now!  It didn’t take too long before we were set on our way, and everyone was hurtling off.  Which always makes me laugh, because all of 100 metres up the road, the traffic lights always grind everyone to a halt *grin*.  The second set do the same…  We managed to get split up a bit.  Alan must have got away and through the lights before they changed, and James wasn’t initially with us either.  

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We turned left to go through Long Ashton, rather than go straight on.  The standard and original route has been maintained through the years but there are several additional loops on the way that you can take should you wish, to add miles or metres climbed, or both.  Or neither if you’re me, because I’m all about tradition, remember?  Besides, what with my form and health being as it is these days, pushing it in any way is pretty much out of the question.  I know the basic route, I mostly like it, and knowing what I have to deal with helps me cope with it.  It’s a ride that breaks into nice chunks, and that makes it mentally and physically more manageable somehow?

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So, out through Long Ashton, and then under the A370 to take the rat run that is Barrow Gurney.  Except it isn’t so much these days, now that the South Bristol link road has been completed.  And, presumably in honour of the reduced through traffic flow, the route through has been resurfaced, and smoothed, and landscaped, and ok, there are still the obligatory speed bumps and traffic calming bits, but it was much nicer to cycle through than before.  Unlike the unavoidable drag up the A38 afterwards which was as unpleasant as always but is at least blessedly fairly short!  As the miles passes, what with traffic, of the two and four wheel variety, different riding styles, the need to change layers, faff or whatever, four regularly became two x two, and James and Alan got plenty of restorative rest waiting for us to catch them up and for us all to head off together again.  

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The next bit of the ride is my favourite bit of the whole thing.  Turn left, and head towards Chew Magna.  The road rolls a little bit, in a generally climbing way, before you get to hurtle along, downhill ish, flying past lots of other people and having whole heaps of fun.  And this year was no exception.  I still loved it 🙂  All good things come to an end, and turning right at the roundabout here marked the end of the fly past, and set us heading South towards the Mendips.  What with the weather being currently fairly nice, quite a lot of people were taking the advantage of the lay-by where the route crossed the Chew Valley Lake to stop and/or regroup, and quite a few supporting families were cheering on their athletes as they arrived.  As we were currently pretty much together, we carried on past them.  

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The big challenge on today’s route is Burrington Combe, and to get there involves one of my least favourite patches of road from West Harptree, through Ubley and Blagdon.  It’s draggy, includes a fair few ups, and has one of those momentum sucking road surfaces.  Having said that, although I was having to do hills my way, i.e. at no speed at all as pushing hurts, it all went better than usual, and better than expected.  Provided I take it easy at such points, I seem to manage to plod my way up hills fairly successfully, and it went surprisingly well.  Matt stuck with me, while the boys did their thing, and before long we were all gathered together at the first stop at the bottom of the Combe.  This is a liquid & mechanical support stop only, but if you wanted anything else, including facilities that are rather more salubrious than the public toilets outside, then the Burrington Inn had it all.  Quite a few people were clearly planning on a longer stop than us, with friends and family joining them for refreshments inside and out.  James held on to my bike while I topped up my bottles and nipped inside to “freshen up”.  I’d have loved to purchase some fizzy orange, or some such, but there was quite a queue and I didn’t fancy joining it.  Such indulgence would have to wait until later…  

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I rejoined the boys, and the conversation headed off in a techy direction, with much discussion of gears and ratios and the like, so rather than fall asleep standing there, I took my leave and got myself a small head start. We’d agreed to meet up at the Two Trees junction at the top, and they were bound to get there before me however much of a lead I got, so it seemed to make sense.  And I enjoyed it.  Yes, Alan and James went past like I was treading water, and yes Matt caught me.  But I did good by my standards if not Strava’s.  I like Burrington Combe.  It’s my kind of long slow climb, and I didn’t even spend the entire time in bottom gear.  My oval chain rings come into their own on climbs like this and somehow make the whole thing feel smoother and more constant.  Even the last kicker of an up after the cattle grid at the top, which isn’t the end even if you really wish it was, wasn’t too bad.  Well, ok, it hurt, and made things hurt, but that’s nothing new and the legs thought it was ok 🙂 Having accepted how things are these days means I can just take a little of the pressure off myself and just get on with doing it?

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As planned, after life had flattened out into a longer drag, James and Alan were waiting for us.  Time to eat, drink, discuss how the ‘race’ had gone (James won, quelle surprise), and then time to go and do a little of what I do best.  Yep, plenty of down and flat and flying across the top, almost chain gang stylee, doing what I can to make for what I can’t, and I definitely held my own and did my fair share.  The wind was fairly challenging up on the top here, which is often the case, and it did make some of it rather more of slog than we would have liked.  It was also rather damp up here, and with the damp and the wind and the elevation, it was distinctly chilly.  I’m not sure whether it was actually raining or whether we were just riding through a cloud though!

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Having been on top of the world for a while, it was time to head for the Levels.  We reached the junction with the main road, where the loop that takes in Cheddar Gorge had riders joining us from the right, and turned left to head for Priddy.  There’s a nasty narrow little steep kick out the village here, and just for once, and possibly the only time today, I was proper feeling it, and from behind Alan and James I got myself out of the saddle and kicked my way up and past them both…which came as a bit of surprise to everyone, including me.  Go me!  Sometimes #thisgirlcan *grin*.  

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Time to roll a little down some little country lanes to get us to the big descent, down Westbury Hill, or the Quarry Hill as it’s sometimes known around here.  Today was a day for being careful, what with it being damp under rubber, frequently gravelly and bendy, with plenty of riders around, and the possibility of vehicular traffic in either direction.  This didn’t mean a degree of controlled fun couldn’t be had, and having passed a more sensible Alan, I followed Matt down the hill.  At some point a car came the other way, and I can’t remember whether I was ahead of Matt at the time, or just didn’t notice from behind, but his life got a bit squirrely on a bend as we passed it, which was a bit hairy apparently!  Almost too close for comfort… Luckily that was all it was, and we all had our own version of fun getting to the bottom,  to the junction with the main road to Wells.  As ever, there were marshals making sure we all stopped there, and advising us of approaching traffic if necessary, which was much appreciated.  We regrouped briefly, before crossing over safely and finishing the last bit of the descent down into Rodney Stoke.  I managed not to drop & total my camera here this time around too!

Time for a bit of Level pegging.  Which came with an unexpected amusement factor.  The car not so far in front of us had realised she wasn’t going to be going anywhere fast, what with all the cyclists around, and overtaking being a tad tricky hereabouts, so she’d let her dog out the back to run along behind her slow progress.  Which is, I suppose, one way of walking the dog!  We overtook her, having a chat as we passed, obviously, because if we hadn’t I wouldn’t know what was going on, now would I?  It was fairly fast progress, and fairly sociable too, as we stuck together in a chatty group all the way along to the little kick up to Cocklake, from where we turned left to Wedmore.  

Wedmore was, as ever, a little tricky to negotiate.  Traffic, parked cars, cyclists, motorists with very important places to be, and the ever-present risk of being doored by someone not paying attention en route to the local gallery/boutique/pub…  SMIDSY…  I’m always careful here, and we were careful here today.  Having turned right, and with that main flashpoint behind us, it was time to head out into the countryside again, and head for the next stop, the proper food stop, at Hugh Sexey school in Blackford.  

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Which was, as usual, a smörgåsbord.  Free drinks, of the hot and cold variety.  A wide range of cakes on sale inside, with bacon buttes on sale outside too.  Time to take a well-earned break then…  I topped up my bottles, and debated the merits of cake before deciding not to risk it – my insides were feeling delicate enough as it was on the pain front, and eating something that upset my IBS would definitely not help.  I grabbed some free squash though, I’m getting far better at hydrating these days.  While Matt joined the rather long queue for bacon butties, I nipped inside to use the dinky facilities, which always makes me smile.  Well, it is a First School, so everything is a little bit smaller scale…or seems that way anyway.  I took Matt’s place in the queue for a little while so that he could do the same, and once he was back I headed back out into the throng…where I found Alan and James chomping at the bit again, ready to head off.  Apparently they’d decided to do the next bit on their own and have a bit of a race to the finish.  And we were too slow for them, and wouldn’t mind being left to our own devices, would we?  Hm.  I may have been a bit under-amused.  Well, after all the promises that this was not what would happen?  I could have told you it would, but I’d chosen to believe the hype.  (More fool me, n’est-ce-pas?)  Rather than express my opinion on the subject vocally, I chose to wave them on their way, whilst taking a pew on the lawn near our stationed steeds, and waiting for Matt to rejoin me instead.  Well it’s not like I blamed them, but I did think we’d been doing ok, and I’d seemed to have been on the front for a fair bit of the group riding…*sulk*.

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So off they went, and back he came.  Given that it was indeed now just us two, we decided to chill out a bit…but not too much, because that would mean chilling out literally not figuratively, and although it was definitely brightening up now, it still wasn’t precisely warm.  So time to head off again then, with about 20 miles or so to go, and not much by way of lumps to deal with in those, which is always good!  The next stretch is a little bit rolling before hitting the flat straight bits around Mark.  Once more a little detour took us off the main, and very boring Mark to Highbridge road, which remains an improvement on the original route.  It avoids traffic and is far prettier.  Well it’s proper Levels and if you’re going to come and ride around here, that should be done 🙂  Although this bit is flat and fast and I was feeling pretty good, Matt wasn’t doing so well.  I’d turn round to check he was behind me, and he wouldn’t be…so I’d wait for him to catch up and we’d be together again and then…we wouldn’t.  We arrived in Highbridge, and discovered that he’d had a slow puncture for a while, and riding on that lack of tyre pressure had a lot to answer for! We pulled off just before the traffic lights on the little railway bridge into town, and I took it easy while he very efficiently changed the inner tube and got everything back up to pressure and back up to speed!

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Not that speed is something you can really do in Highbridge, or on the roads out though Burnham-on-Sea and out to Berrow.  Too much traffic and too many obstacles, though the views of the beach and the Severn river at Burnham somewhat make up for this.  It was still a relief when we finally got to stop playing with the traffic and turn right, off the main road, and hit the quieter lanes that head towards Lympsham, with about 10 miles to go, as a very lovely sign confirmed.  It is nice to count down 🙂  Well, ok, it was sort of quieter.  After a nice quiet straight patch, we joined the road that takes tourists to and from their caravan sites around Brean.  It’s narrow and wiggly and the surface is atrocious, so sticking to the LHS to let cars past often isn’t an option…not if you want to stay on your bike, and/or avoid pinch punctures.  We were as courteous as possible however, and waved cars past when we could, and went as fast as we could in between times so as not to be too much of a hindrance.  Traffic can’t go that fast around here thanks to those roads either, so it worked out just about ok.  

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The miles were ticking by now, and I was still feeling perky.  Even having been re-inflated Matt was flagging a bit, but we really didn’t have far to go now.  Down the lovely straight bit alongside the railway line, with the sun pretty much shining now.  Then the usual wait to turn left onto the fairly busy A370 before the detour through Uphill to get us to the final finishing straight along Weston Super Mare’s sea front.  It wasn’t so much of a sprint this year, though we did try.  It’s not easy with the number of traffic lights along here that have a tendency to stop play!  And then there we were, pulling off the road, onto the lawns, going over the Finish Line pretty much together, and another Great Weston Ride was done 🙂

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We were presented with our medals which, if they fitted my frame, could have been nicely fitted to the front of my bike, such was their design this year.  I grabbed a bottle of water too, and had a quick chat with Darren who was lurking around keeping everything under control.  I also got to meet rider No 1 – which is a privilege he has due to the sheer amount of money he has raised over the years for the Great Weston Ride’s charity – Prostate Cancer UK.  Chatting done, we headed off in search of Alan and James, who were to be found taking it easy on the grass not far from the bar, clearly having been there for ever.  Well they’d already had their free food and the odd pint…and having gotten in that bit earlier (a considerable bit clearly…), they hadn’t had to queue much for either.  The queue for the bar was, luckily, not insurmountable.  The same cannot be said for the food queue…which we ended up leaving until considerably later.  Better to be sat chilling with your mates and drinking the odd cold one that standing up on your own for hours doing neither right?  Sadly all they had left by way of lager was Fosters…ick!…but needs must.  Don’t worry, it won’t be becoming a habit!  Matt had to resort to drinking cider…which really isn’t his thing either.

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So there we sat, and chatted, and debriefed.  At some point later on food was finally acquired and consumed and very nice it was too.  More lager (if you can call it that) was consumed.  And after a while Alan and James headed off back to his place a couple of miles down the road where James was parked.  And a while after that I prevailed upon eldest to come and pick us up, since riding home had never really been on the cards, and staying on the lawns in the sun for an extra pint really was 🙂 

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Great Weston ride 2018 done.  How was it?  As lovely as ever really.  Sure we were slow.  And things were sometimes fairly painful.  But that’s normal these days, and Matt’s support and my drugs get me through that.  All that not withstanding, it went well, and we had a good day out.  It might have been a different case had it not brightened up in time for the après ride to be so nice.  And the queues at the food stop and at the end weren’t great, with the latter being way beyond not great.  But that’s the kind of feedback they take on board every year and every year it gets a little bit better.  Since I really enjoy it, and I’m part of the furniture, barring unforeseen circumstances, it’s safe to assume I’ll be back there in 2019.  Maybe even 2020. I reckon 10 times in a row would be pretty cool 🙂

 

Tour of Pembrokeshire 2017

So it’s a year of repeats. Three for three.  This time being the Tour of Pembrokeshire, which it would appear I do every year.  I do the Prologue every year too.  Well, any excuse to visit St David’s and Pembrokeshire – it’s such a long way away that I wouldn’t visit otherwise – so getting there twice a year is great.  

Having said that…I wasn’t going to do it this year.  Not again.  Until I did the Prologue and discovered that rather than same old same old, it was going to be all change this year.  And a change is as good as a rest, right?  Here I go again then…but not on my own this year.  This year Matt would be joining me, and having company made the whole idea yet more appealing.  That and getting to hang out with Peter, the organiser, and other friends who I’ve made over the years of doing this event. 

So…  It’s not easy to get down to Pembrokeshire at a reasonable time on a Friday night if you work.  Which we both do.  Luckily we both managed to finish earlier than usual.  Matt made his way from Didcot to mine.  We loaded up the car and set off down, or up, or along, various damp motorways, and got to HQ at The Cow Shed at Crug Glas Country Hotel and Restaurant a little after 8:30pm, which was pretty good going really.  Registration had been open all day, with various entertainments, food available, etc, and was now in the final phase, and winding down rapidly.  Tour patron Tori James was giving a talk about her amazing achievements, and although we were officially too late for food, we were allowed to sneak in, grab a couple of pints, grab some fish and chips, and lurk in a corner at the back.  Having heard her talk at the Prologue we didn’t need to be paying too much attention, though it was a lot easier to stay awake for it this time around!  

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Sustenance sorted, chatting done, and we headed back to the main building to check into our once again lovely room – it’s a truly fab place to stay.  Not cheap mind, but…you get what you pay for, plus not having to get out of bed at hideous o’clock the next morning is always well worth it!  Not that we were going to have to get up as early as some.  The 130 mile route had the early bird start slot, our 85 mile route got to have a bit of a lie in.  Like I was ever going to do 130 miles around here!  I know the terrain, and I know how slow I am these days, and how many breaks I have to take – I’d be out there for days doing that!  So yes, 85 miles for us.  No brainer 🙂  And to ride bikes you need bikes, so before heading for bed, we got the boot unloaded and the bikes out of the car, before they were locked away safe for the night inside The Cow Shed. 

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It wasn’t the best night’s sleep ever.  Nothing to do with the room.  Or the very comfortable four poster bed.  All of which are normally very conducive to such things.  However serious pain and drug side effects are not.  I tried…but…  Ho hum.  I probably still got more sleep that I would have done if I wasn’t staying on site though, I find you always tend to fall the most asleep as the sun is coming up, and not having to get up before that happened meant I managed to grab a little of shut eye before the alarm rudely awoke us up

So, up and at ’em right?  Hm.  I was feeling horrible.  And scared, and sad, and ouchy, and apparently had a tendency of looking like a rabbit in the headlights.  There’s photographic proof of that, but I won’t be showing you that!  Outside our window riders could be seen parking up in the field, and not at all helping me when it came to me trying to figure out what to wear, as there was a wide range of layering going on and no consensus at all.  As our bikes were already ready and waiting for us, over at HQ where breakfast was also being served, all we had to do was faff a lot indecisively.  OK, so the weather was looking ok, but it was damp under wheel after the day before, there was plenty of wind, and there were definitely chilly edges to the day.  So…

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S/S Cyclosport jersey. L/S winter Cyclosport jersey – oddly never ever worn before. Cyclosport Gilet. Long summer bib tights. Mitts. Head scarf. Options in other words, with storage space for stashing things, and pockets and bags full of food, gels, and the usual baggage.  I was just about holding it together, though I was a little bit weepy around the edges (I’m such a girl)…and eventually it could be put off no longer.  Time to go and see what this year’s Tour of Pembrokeshire would hold.  

First things first – breakfast.  I’m not sure if it was free or not, it may well have been, but as guests of the hotel, we had a token to hand over for our breakfast and were allowed pretty much what we wanted.  I really wasn’t hungry, but Matt wasn’t about to let me get away with not eating, so it was porridge & a bacon roll for both of us.  Oh, and coffee of course.  I ate the porridge, with plenty of brown sugar, which I still had to force down, however lovely it was.  Fodder, fuel…not food really.  And I really couldn’t face the bacon roll, so it went away into Matt’s back pocket for later consumption.  Hey, at least I ate, right? 

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Having arrived after registration closed yesterday, that was the next thing to get done.  As a guest/press, Peter hadn’t officially registered us beforehand, so we had to join a small queue of people filling in the necessary paperwork on the day.  Peter’s other half Helen was in charge, so we chatted in the meantime. This year’s new timing system was apparently proving a little challenging in various, but not insurmountable ways.  Once signed up we were both presented with our timing chips, bike number & ties, map, and post-ride food voucher.  The number on the timing chip and the bike number didn’t match, for some complicated reason, but notes were made to make sure everything was going to be recorded properly. Which meant it was time to load up and label the bikes.  The ties turned out to be those little twine twisty things rather than cable ties and they were both fiddly and short.  I could have gone back to our hotel room to get cable ties but I couldn’t be arsed tbh.  My bike number ended up vaguely attached around various cables, all bent and coggled before we’d even started.  

Which is what we did next, after the obligatory trips to the toilet.   Most of the long route riders had already left, as planned, and we were in our window for heading out.  Having joined our queue, and taken the usual range of photos as the two groups in front of us moved through and off, it was finally and unavoidably our turn to be cheered on, briefed, and let go.  Right then.  Once more…etc.  Or however many times more… 😉

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Actually getting underway felt better.  And as we headed northwards away from Crug Glas down the drive, with views beyond towards the sea that could actually be seen this time around, things started to look a little more positive.  Cloudy skies were brightening, I was on my bike, I wasn’t on my bike on my own, and hey, only 85 miles to go, right? 🙂  I was kinda looking forward to seeing what the new route would be like, whether I’d be up to it, and so forth.  I know how beautiful it is around here, and I also know how hard cycling around here can be!

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First off, time to head west towards the very beautiful city of St David’s, a few miles away down flattish country lanes.  Surrounded by plenty of other riders, we were off to a good start.  Sadly one of the changes to the route means that navigating St Davids no longer comes up the road past the Cathedral which, considering how beautiful it is, is a great shame.  I’m sure the local council and health and safety have their reasons, but it’s the one thing I really wish they hadn’t changed.  Plus the climb up from the river below the cathedral up into the city proper is, and was, killer.  It’s not short enough, it is quite steep enough, and there’s always an audience of curious spectators wondering what the hell you’re all doing there!  And it hurt.  Literally but unsurprisingly.  And surviving it without complete meltdown or interior explosion was reassuring.  Sure, it hurt, but hey, I was armed, and besides, what’s new? 😉

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After flattening out a bit, the climb continues until you’re heading out of St David’s along the High Street, past the old venue, and onto the main A487 road out of the city.  This is a road I’m familiar with, having driven it many times to get to and from the Tour, and it was decidedly novel to be doing it on a bike.  With all of us spread out like a lycra dot-to-dot along the road, the traffic wasn’t best pleased to have us there methinks, although they were doing their best, mostly, to be respectful.  Over to the right of us were sea views, and the road rolled up and down fairly pleasantly.  Well, not everyone thought so, some of the steeper ups had a few walking up them.  10 miles in came the picturesque & colourful coastal village of Solva, after a slightly hairy descent.  Everytime I’ve driven down the road into Solva I’ve mused that I never wanted to cycle up it and…here I was cycling up it.  Ouch!  Steep and long but…actually maybe not quite as bad as I thought it would be?  Definitely a grind though!  A few miles later and it was a case of more of the same, albeit on a bigger scale, with the lovely windy descent into Newgale, with the long wide bay opening up in front of you.  A short while enjoying the beach, and it was a bigger longer climb back up to the top again, where we took a short break to enjoy the view, take photos, and grab a bit of food etc.  Man it sho’ was pretty 🙂

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We continued along the A487 for a while, playing with the traffic until finally, with somewhat of a sigh of relief, we turned left and inland.  Where we discovered Roch Castle.  I can’t believe I’ve never seen it before, or heard of it.  It’s now a very expensive hotel/venue, so I think cycling past it may well be as close as I ever get to it!  Time for more rolling country roads, with notable climbs from Wolf Castle, and then a really nasty steep and somehow unexpected climb at the 30 mile mark.  Blimey that was tough!  It may not have been the longest climb of the day but it was definitely the steepest, and after a fairly pleasant start to the day it came as a bit of a shock to many.  Not me, in that I know what Pembrokeshire is like and I’d been expecting things to get more challenging for quite some time!  It was definitely a better start to the ride than usual – much easier to warm up and get into the swing of things, and less relentless.  The weather was warming up a bit too, and it being a little later in the day, there was quite a bit of support out on the route, both from families supporting riders, to spectators just watching the whole thing.  Somewhere along the way there was a family with a range of young lads all trying to pass jelly beans out and I don’t know who was more pleased when I actually managed to slow down enough to take one from a small outstretched hand – me or him!  It was very cute and very cheering.  Support really helps the PMA 🙂

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Although we’d been taking the odd break as and when necessary, the first food stop was still a very welcome thing.  32 miles in, at Maenclochog Village Hall, it was busy, bustling, full of riders, staff, cadet volunteers, and plenty of provisions.  The food at the Tour of Pembrokeshire is superlative, with a wide range of sweet and savoury, locally sourced, including flapjacks, jam sandwiches, faggots, welsh cakes, banana, and much more.  Including boiled potatoes – my personal favourite – sweet food does my head in when enroute all I’m eating is sweet bars and sweet gels. So potatoes for me, faggots and jam sandwiches for him (madness!), and we both topped up our bottles with whatever suited.  Tea and coffee were also available, served by a lovely group of what could possibly have been grannies.  Hot drinks weren’t necessary today, but I’ve done the Tour on days when I’d pay for such!  It was nice to take a break, warm up a bit in the sunshine, and use proper facilities in the village hall – bib shorts are not conducive to side of the road breaks!

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Time to head further inland.  We’d identified a few places on route where we could have bailed, and the first of these was here, where the shorter 60 mile route got to leave us.  But however things were going on the inside, I hadn’t ended up in tears yet, and we were doing ok, albeit slowly.  So we didn’t bail – go us!  Life started to feel a bit more moor-ish, with exposed hills looming around us.  Rather more normal roads took us through trees, past bluebells, and along in a generally rolling way, with gradual climbs and nice descents. The miles ticked by, and the big climb of the day loomed.  It’s deceptive.  If you don’t know it’s there, and forget to look up at the crucial moment, you presume that the first chunk of it is the whole thing.  A longish grind on a normal road, with glimpses of views growing behind and to the left of you.  And then you emerge from tree and bank cover and there it is…the other side of a cattle grid…stretching up and up and away into the distance.  I realised where I was and what I was in for early on.  I’ve done it before, and did it again, albeit slower than ever before.  Matt hasn’t, and after a while dropped back behind me.  Hills were ever best done at your own speed so I carried on, though not regardless, and concentrated on keeping going.  The views are stunning here, but concentrating on the front wheel and keeping going rather than the distance to be done tended to work better for me, with just occasional meerkat moments to try and both appreciate and capture the scenery.  Man it doesn’t half go on – the climb and the scenery!  Eventually I reached the top, where there’s a small lay-by/car park.  I parked up on a bank, took a pew, and waited for Matt.  Having had to resort to walking for a while, it took him a while to catch me, but I was grateful of the chance to take a breather and properly appreciate those views to be honest!  As he took his turn to recover we chatted to some other riders who joined us there and, as it turns out, were doing the 130 mile route and were there for the second time around.  Rather than be a longer route, the 130 is the 85, with a loop that that route does twice.  Yet another reason not to be doing that route I think – no novelty value second time around, especially when it includes that climb twice!  

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It was pretty good to know that the biggest climb of the day was out of the way, and the descent after it was pretty cheering too – I do love down hills, and this one was great 🙂  Time to go in search of the second food stop which was at one of the events’ sponsors – Bluestone Brewery – and as such involves a detour off the main route really, aptly named the Bluestone Brewery loop. Not that we were complaining as it was quiet, and mostly downhill.  In fact the last downhill was a corker, which is probably why there was a marshal on it to warn us to slow down.  We did get tutted at for overtaking a group of gents who clearly thought we were fools and they were experts and knew better, and so on….but believe it or not we do both know what we’re doing, and we had fun without coming a cropper or endangering anyone else!  Downhill is the one thing I can do! Honestly, male cyclists can be ever so patronising – like those that kept telling me how well I was doing going up hills as they passed me today.  Imagine me saying that as I overtake a MAMIL? I think not…

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Matt got a puncture at the bottom of the hill which, though annoying, turned up to be fortuitously timed as the Bluestone Brewery was quite literally just around the corner. We made our way there so he could fix it at leisure while we took a break, got comfortable, refreshed, and enjoyed the sunshine.  I’m still not sure about faggots and jam, but Matt still was!  It was definitely warmer now, if not toasty, and sitting in the sun was lovely.  The gilet had vanished a while back, and zips and sleeves had been going up and down regularly en route. Sadly beer as refreshment would have been unwise…but man, a beer in the sunshine would have been nice!  Motivation to get back to HQ maybe?

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Right then, the home straight. Out of the brewery and a right turn to get us back on our way again, with another 30 miles or so still to do.  And not flat miles either.  Well, this is Pembrokeshire, right?  So you’d have thought the next few miles along the flattish river valley would have come as somewhat of a relief, but actually it felt like a real drag – probably not helped by the wind seeming to be constantly head on.  Yep, Pembrokeshire may have been being sunny, and verging on warm, but it still had a healthy wind going on all day!  Fighting hills is, oddly, better than fighting the wind, or at least that’s how I find it. And there were more hills to fight – a couple of doozies.  The worst of which came in Fishguard which was, laughingly, a timed climb.  The Continental Stop and Call Hill Climb in fact. And which was actually not at all amusing, and very hard work, and pretty gratuitous, as there are far easier ways out of town!  Ouch!  I slogged it up, and I did make it up without walking – I remain stubborn like that, however much it hurts.  Matt sadly dropped back and eventually resorted to stretching his legs, and I waited for him at the next food stop which was conveniently at the top of said hill.  Once more time for a short break, refreshment, and the ticking off of another stretch done.

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From here on in we were back on what is pretty familiar turf for me, albeit done in reverse to previous Tours.  I’m always happier by the coast, and although we weren’t actually down by the sea much, there were lots of lovely views over towards it.  Although there were a few more climbs to get through, things definitely got more back to the kind of rolling we’d started out with, and knowing we were nearing the end did wonders for the PMA as usual.  Mind you, actually getting there still took a while and felt like it took even longer.  Thanks to the one way parking/entry system in place at HQ to keep traffic and cars separate, we had to do a very weird loop to get in, taking us from ever so close, out, and round, and back again.  Wiggling along narrow little country lanes, with leaving traffic going the same way as us, we, along with others, started to worry we’d gone wrong somehow and were lost.  Heading away from HQ will do that to you!  We carried on though, and clearly we weren’t lost as eventually we found ourself being waved into the turning into the other entrance to Crug Glas, and it was just a little ride down the drive to be finally rolling under the Finish Arch.  

‘Rah!  Tour of Pembrokeshire done!  And other than pre-ride wobbles, I made it through a sportive without crying, which I really didn’t think was going to happen early on.  Sure, it hurt.  Sure, it took us forever, and we were slow (though not quite as slow as Strava says, since the Garmin seems to have failed to autostop at the brewery beer stop). But it was beautiful and we had a nice day out in actual sunshine, as the ridiculous patches of sunburnt forearms I discovered later proved. I think it’s safe to say it went better than last time!  I like the new Tour of Pembrokeshire a lot.  I may have to do it again 🙂

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So I guess “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” is actually true, but in a good way.  All new routes, but still a great event.  I think the new route is great.  Better in fact.  It’s still challenging but somehow less relentless, and the challenges seem to be better spread out.  The organisation is always spot on, from food stops to road signs, marshals and supporters.  I would say that I don’t think the 130 mile route should just be longer by virtue of repeating bits of the route, and I do think they should bring a 100 mile route option back, as for some reason ticking off a century always feels good, and I reckon we could have coped with another hour out there.  But the Tour of Pembrokeshire remains my favourite sportive – even more so than before 🙂

Time to celebrate our survival then.  We could have stashed the bikes in the car and got sorted, before settling down but nah, that felt like something that could wait.  Instead we walked our bikes over to HQ where the sun was shining, lycra was lying around, live music was playing, and all felt well with the world.  It felt even better once I was sat down inside with a pint of cold lager!  We dug out our food vouchers and, leaving our drinks under the eye of an obliging fellow rider, we grabbed food.  Jacket potato or a wrap topped with, or filled with, whatever you wanted from a selection of chill, pasta, veg, all sorts really…  And man did it ever taste good! Huge though it turned out to be, I even managed to eat most of it.  Refuelling is important apparently, and I get told off when I don’t eat 😉  And there pretty much concludes the official Tour of Pembrokeshire blog. The rest of the evening included more beer, much relaxing, chatting with Peter and others, and the usual kind of après ride stuff.  Our lovely room in the main hotel was the perfect place to kick back and relax, and the huge copper bath tub was still fabulous as ever.  Being on the Saturday, we had time to spend doing beach things on the Sunday, and all in all, it was a pretty kick ass weekend 🙂  If you fancy trying it yourself, the dates for next year’s event have now been released – Saturday 19th May 2018.  I’ve booked our room again already.  See you there?

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White Horse Challenge 2017

This year seems, so far, to be one for going back to events that I’ve not done recently.  This time around, having been unable to attend & review it last year as I was doing the Tour of Pembrokeshire, it was the White Horse Challenge.  Which again, like the Mad March Hare, I’ve done a fair few times, and do like.  And, as it turns out, one of the BKVelo group who’d signed up to do it was unable to, which meant that Matt was able to join me for it too, even if I would have to call him Jon all day… 😉

So.  Welcome to Sunday 23rd April.  The day after eldest turned 19, which we celebrated on Friday in an attempt to be vaguely abstemious the actual night before.  And we took Saturday easy.  Four of us enjoyed some lovely weather, visited the beaches beyond Sand Bay, had the odd pint afterwards in the sun outside The Oakhouse in the Square with friends, and did the usual faffing and preparation.  It was a good day, albeit a slightly ouchy one, which bode well for the Sunday to follow.  

Saturday night however was not a good one…  Slightly ouchy became proper ouchy.  The heavy artillery came out.  Mentally I was pretty restless, as I get pretty nervous and stressed before events these days.  And thanks to that and the side effects of the zoladex that I’m on, the latest step in establishing the next steps (if any) to be taken in my treatment, I got f*ck all sleep.  Not the best foundation for a day ahead on the bike.  Marvellous. 

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But waking up to sunny skies helped.  And at least I didn’t have to be trying to sleep any more.  HQ for the White Horse Challenge is at Shrivenham, about 1.5 hours from here, so the alarm (as if it were needed) kicked us into action at 5:00am.  Matt loaded up the car, we drank coffee, I forced down breakfast, because apparently food is considered to be a good idea, and we got away a bit after 6:00am as planned.  

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Matt drove, being my chauffeur extraordinaire as ever, while I tried, and failed, to get some sleep.  The sun shone, the wind did not blow, and we arrived where we supposed to be around 7:30am, to be marshalled onto the parking on the field near Shrivenham Village Hall.  Parking was already fairly full, and we were up at the end of what proved to be the penultimate row.  Several lines of cars were lined up and discharging expensive bikes and posh lycra.  Outside the nice warm car the weather was lovely, but distinctly chilly.  A short walk across the grass, trying not to get damp feet, got us and our helmets to HQ.  As usual there were queues for the few portable toilets outside, and, as usual, the toilets inside were queue free, and let’s face it, much nicer to use.  So I used those ones before rejoining ‘Jon’ at Registration.  BKVelo’s remaining representatives Martyn & James were already there, sitting on the stage looking laid back and taking it easy.  Well if I could ride like they do, I would too!  After a brief chat with them I joined my non existent queue to register.  Can you join a non-existent queue?  Hm.   Anyway…  Tables were set out by rider number batches and presumably all the others in my batch had already signed up.  Go 549!  Matt wasn’t quite so lucky, but it still didn’t take long.  While he waited his turn, I signed my name, had my timing sticker stuck on the LHS of my helmet, and was given my bike number.  Formalities done for both of us, we rejoined BKVelo for a bit of a catch up before they headed back to their cars to get ready.  Which was to be the last we saw of them…unsurprisingly considering the speed they go at!  Shortly afterwards, having picked up a map, cable ties, and a couple of free cups of tea, we followed suit.  

Much faffing ensued.  This early in the season, my sportive skills are still rusty.  Bikes to be reassembled, pockets to load up, and endless conversations about kit options.  Most around us seemed to think that shorts were a good idea, and also team kit.  Both of which were debatable…  With only one fairly long route option available, this event seemed to have attracted a more ‘pro’ crowd than usual – the average price of the bikes, and the kit on display, demonstrated that.  It was good to see quite a few woman around though, which is so often not the case.  

Shorts weren’t going to do it for me.  Do be serious.  It was cold, and I get cold.  Having had a good ride in similar conditions with Alan during the week, I was fairly sure that I had my outfit sorted, but that didn’t stop me worrying.  So…summer tights (long), s/s base layer, l/s winter jersey, l/s mid weight jacket. Mitts with over gloves.  Neckwarmer and head buff.  And gilet.  Yes, I know, it sounds like overkill, but I know, from painful experience, that I get cold.  And then stay cold.  And that’s on a good day.  When my ouchy is off on one, as it was, I get even colder.  Layers it is and was.  

Riders were allowed to leave between 8:00am and 9:00am.  We could have rushed and gone over earlier, stood in the shade amongst all the milling riders, and headed off first thing but…that didn’t appeal.  And there’s no rush for such things is there?  It’s not a race, right? 😉  So by the time we were properly ready and happy to get going there weren’t many left hanging around at the Start Line.  One more trip to the facilities and at 8:13, IIRC, we were rolling over the start line, and on our way.  

Brrrr…..chilly!  But sunny.  PMA was doing ok, ish.  I know this ride, and I’ve done it lots, but for some reason the first 30 miles or so didn’t seem that familiar.  Weird.  Funny how the mind works…  Wherever I was going, it was however fairly flat.  Fairly easy.  Which is good for warming up.  Not that it was warming up!  It was SO pretty though. We were all set for a long day in the saddle, and prepared for that.  So we chatted, admired the scenery, stopped from time to time for whatever – bits in eyes, calls of nature, photo ops, or just to take a deep breath so as to keep calm and carry on.

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It still wasn’t getting much by way of warmer as the miles ticked by.  But gradually things started getting a lot more familiar.  The flat country lanes turned into villages and then Royal Wootton Bassett which I know well, from well before it becoming Royal, and which I also knew meant the first of the White Horse’s big hills was looming large ahead.  Well ok, it wasn’t, not visually anyway, but it was mentally.  I wasn’t worried about it from an ascent point of view.  The Broadtown climb is a long gradual one with the odd bend, steep enough but not too steep, and I’ve done it before so I know I can do it. I was more worried about how I’d feel doing it, as it was likely to set the tone for the rest of the ride.  We headed down the high street, admiring the old buildings , and then out towards said hill.  I wasn’t in any rush – it was time to eat, drink, gird my loins, and get ready.  Oh and try and spot the darned horse so I could immortalise it for blog purposes – easier said than done…but easier than sometimes since the weather was clear and I knew roughly where to look!  Feel free to see if you can spot it…

spot Broadtown if you can here comes the first climb

And it was as expected.  A long slow drag up.  It went ok, as these things go.  Hard work, but doable.  I even dropped Matt for a bit…although he’d caught me by the time we finally reached the top, where I could breathe a sigh of relief and get back to enjoying the scenery.  I’m going to say this a lot I expect, but man it was beautiful out there today.  Green trees, grass, hedges, crops, yellow oil seed rape, bluebells, blue skies…just lovely.  

it was all yellow trees before descent

Which is just as well  I’d been doing ok, but going up that hill kicked things up a level. Ouchy was getting worse.  Which was not great.  The scenery helped distract, make it all a little more tolerable.  And the descent a couple of miles later on was great.  A marshal was on hand to warn us to slow down a bit, which is necessary here as it’s wiggly and narrow near the top, the road surface ain’t great, and if a car is coming the other way, you can easily have had it.  We hadn’t, and so, as it opened up and straightened out, there was whole heaps of fun to be had 🙂

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After the fun came more flat.  Country lanes, quiet roads, the scent of leaking gas – there’s been a leak around here for years I reckon as I notice it every time!  The first food stop was ahead of us, but the time for my next dose of shiny pills came somewhat before that.  So we stopped, took a breather sat by the side of the road, and I lost it, and cried for while, and then resorted to the big guns again, having found a nifty way of carrying a couple of doses around with me.  Sat there, with round 30 miles done, screaming on the inside and dripping on the outside, I really couldn’t see how I was going to manage another 60 miles…and this is a route that has no easy bail out options.  Oh dear…  

first food stop fodder first food stop

Time to just carry on and see what happened then.  And another few miles got us to the food stop.  We were among the last there, and staff gossip had only a handful of riders behind us and the couple of gents who were also taking refreshment there.  Not that we cared.  Knowing that wasn’t going to make us suddenly go faster!  Time to top up bottles, grab some food, use the facilities in the hall, and sit in the sunshine getting it together for a bit.  Sat in the sun, out of the wind, I was practically warm for a bit.  I forced down one of the ham rolls that we’d brought with us as an antidote to the standard sweet fare, and tried not to worry too much about what lay ahead…  

Cherhill Avebury

Time waits for no-woman, and the broom wagon was lurking around.  I wasn’t quite ready to suffer that ignominy.  Bailing after 30 miles?  That’s just a training ride, right?  Besides I knew that some of the best bits were ahead.  Cherhill, Avebury, Hackpen Hill, the Marlborough Downs…  So it was time to zip the layers back on and up and to head out again.  The broom wagon may have been removing the odd sign on its way – it passed us going in the opposite direction heading toward the food station – as one of the next roundabouts was distinctly lacking in signage, but I pretty much knew where I was going, so it wasn’t a problem.  And where we were going was the long A4 drag past the white horse & monument on Cherhill, up the appropriately named “labour in vain hill”.  Well our labour wasn’t in vain as, although we laboured on for quite some time, (and over-laboured the re-use of the word labour), we made it to the top without incident; easier said than done with the sunny Sunday traffic flying by in both directions.  From there we flew down to the roundabout for the left turn to Avebury.  A little up and down, clinging to the curb so as not to get in the way of the ambulance that clearly had somewhere very urgent to be, and we were passing the famous standing stones, which is always kinda cool.  Given the weather, plenty of tourists were out and about and enjoying them too, which looked enjoyable, but it always feels kinda cooler to be flying past the stones our way 🙂

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Out the other side, where the road gets wider, and swoopy, and kinda fun mostly, apart from when it’s busy, which is frequently.  It’s a case of getting the next few miles over and done with, as the Downs line the horizon, and slowly in the distance, Hackpen Hill gets larger…  Time for another break first.  It was definitely one of those days…  Well like I said earlier, we’d known it probably would be, a long day riding our bikes in the sun – a day out, not an event.  I needed a comfort break, and a gel, and a hug, and so after we’d turned off the main road, we took a short time-out for all the above.  We were just past the half way mark, the passing of which had helped add a little PMA, so I managed to take a break without blubbering this time.  The fact that the drugs were mostly working may have had something to do with that too 😉

here comes hackpen hackpen  

All comfortable again, time for Hackpen Hill.  Another long drag with hairpins and plenty of up to it.  You can see it from afar, wiggling up the hill, but again done it before, and did it again.  Go me!  Matt struggled rather more than me – I think it definitely helps to know your enemy when fighting your way up it.  Familiarity but not contempt though.  The views going up and from the top were amazing, and made it all worthwhile.  I like hills like this one.  I may be rubbish at hills, even worse than I ever was, but that doesn’t stop me kinda liking them sometimes.  Hey, I just have longer to appreciate them than you do 😉  I’m not sure Matt appreciated it at all…  

Matt on Hackpen Hill ready for the Downs

Welcome to the top of the Marlborough Downs.  Having done the up, I’d earned the Downs, and the down from here to Marlborough is one of my favourite stretches of road anyway.  It’s about 15 minutes of mostly down, with a bit up up towards the end to get to the town itself.  Now that I can both do AND enjoy.  And I did.  Muchly.  After losing some of his lunch, Matt got to see why I love this bit too, and a little while later we finally reached Marlborough high street where a couple of marshals spotted us coming and pointed us in the right direction.  Well, the left direction anyway.  They were looking a little demob happy, probably because their work here was nearly done…lucky them!

chopping knife lane matt in the forest

Before we left town we stopped at a petrol station for manna from heaven.  AKA fizzy orange.  It’s my pick me up, and I needed one.  It turned out to be a funny old place, half empty, with a small girl hurtling round the place on a scooter, while her mother (presumably) served me, and asked me what all these cyclists were doing going past her place today.  I explained, and she did the usual normal person’s double take, you’re all mad type thing.  Which oddly made me feel a little better.  Sure, I was doing, and feeling, rubbish, but we were still doing something way more impressive than sitting on the sofa, right?  Thanks to fizzy orange and drugs and the miles counting down now I was definitely feeling a bit better, but Matt was suffering a bit now – this was hopefully going to be his longest road ride ever – and from hereon in he did have a tendency to be a little slower than me, and behind me on the ups.  I don’t have speed, but apparently I still have stamina, which is good to know!

bluebells the hill with no name

We headed out of town and took the left turn down my other favouritely named road – Chopping Knife Lane.  Our is not to wonder why…  The stretch after this is lovely and quiet, down what is more of a track than a lane, along the side of a wide valley.  This is followed by country lanes, cute villages, forest climbs…all beautifully quiet, and the perfect place for carpets of bluebells to flourish.  I love bluebells 🙂  And then there’s THAT hill.  The one I always forget is there that suddenly, after a right turn over a river, is the road ahead of you.  It’s steep.  With a nastily wiggle in the middle, and it goes on for longer than you think it’s going to, or want it to.  Ramsbury Hill I think.  Up which I plodded as ever.  I did my own share of wiggling to reduce the gradient a little, and it was proper hard work.  I very gradually made my way up, ahead of Matt, having got the jump on him at the start since I knew it was there, and then it was done.  Another tough hill under my non-existent belt – I was wearing bibs 😉

middle of nowhere Froxfield food stop

After recovering, and a fair few miles of swoopy in the middle of nowhere roads, admiring the rolling scenery, we made it to the second food stop at Froxfield Memorial Hall.  Where they were quite literally packing up around us.  Not that this stopped them being friendly, or meant that they didn’t have provision enough for us.  We took a little time to stock up on gels and fluids, as well as to get rid of some of the latter – food stops at village halls are the only way to go 🙂  

timed Uffington climb amazing Uffington views

So, two thirds done, or thereabouts, and one third to go.  The home straight then?  Well, kinda.  A chunk more miles, but only one real climb left apparently.  One hell of a hill at that.  The timed climb challenge that is Uffington.  The foodstop staff conveniently forgot to mention the other two fairly substantial ups we had to get over on the way there.  With ups come downs though…so it wasn’t all bad 😉  Still, they weren’t hills in the way that Uffington is.  Knowing the route as I do, it was really tempting just to miss that out completely – as it’s just a little loop of the main road.  But to have made it this far and then bail on it?  I couldn’t bring myself to do it, even if I was worried about how much it was going to hurt and if I’d make it up there again.  Nope.  Up we go.  Well, after a brief chat with the marshals at the bottom first, one of whom had made his way here from that first food stop I think.  The ride was definitely closing up behind us!  Off we went and, somewhat oddly, it wasn’t quite as hard as I remember it??!  Maybe because we had it to ourselves and I wasn’t having to dodge other riders, or feel the pressure of spectators watching to see how I was doing.  (Having set off late, we did most of today completely on our own).  Whatever the reason I think I actually enjoyed most of it.  Not the first steepest bit but yes, after that, with Matt leading the way for a change.  I sat back and took time to look at the views, and maybe to give myself a little pat on the back.  

finally relaxing rider

And that was that really.  Time for just a few miles more, down and then along, at a fair pace if not a sprint, to get us back to HQ.  Where we were, as expected, nearly the last ones back.  Not only was the actual ride time rather worse than usual, but what with all the stopping, we’d been out on the road for considerably longer than that!  Not that we cared.  We’d done it 🙂  Matt had done his longest ride ever, on pretty much sod all training, whilst having to look after me.  I’d done my longest ride in a very long time, in lots of pain, and on shed loads of painkillers.  All things considered, we both rock 🙂 White Horse Challenge done!

Cycling time: 6:26
Distance: 90.0 miles
Avs: 14.0 mph

OK, so we didn’t break any records, and I’ve had better days but…pain not withstanding, I did kind of enjoy myself.  I still like this event.  It’s small but perfectly formed. It’s well run, the scenery is amazing, and the hills are challenging but nicely spaced out.  I may have to do it again.  Again 🙂

empty timing tents empty car park

 

Mad March Hare 2017

Writing my sportives up is taking even longer than me riding them these days, which is saying quite something.  So I should start by apologising to the lovely organisers of the Mad March Hare for this taking me so long, when they were kind enough to ask me back again this year.

You see the Mad March Hare was, for a very long time, the first event I did every year.  From what I think was the very first one in 2009, until 2014 in fact. And then for a couple of years I didn’t.  Various reasons I guess – other commitments, amongst others.  So I was quite touched when they got in touch and asked if I’d like to come back this year and do it again.  Touched, and quite probably a little flattered.  And hey, it’s not like I didn’t like the event.  So clearly, my ego and I said yes.  They were kind enough to give my partner Matt (aka chauffeur, coach, domestique, support crew, crutch) a place too, to make sure that I’d get there, and get round, which was proper appreciated.

So, all set for March then.  Well, our places were in place anyway.  Training, health, etc….not so much so.  And having my best bike nicked a couple of weeks before didn’t help on the state of mind front…but it’s not like I’d have been doing the event on that anyway – it was after all my summer bike, not my slog around wet winter country lanes bike.  Or even sunny Spring lanes.  Which was what we were all hoping for, right?  And for a while it looked like that might be on…

…but as the event approached, the forecasts became less like guess work, and more likely to be accurate.  I found myself tagged in a fair few pre-event tweets that suggested that Rule #9 was likely to be applicable, and the weather we were going to be riding in was enough to indicate insanity on our part, in a positive #gladtobemad kind of way.  Oh marvellous…just what a girl needs for her first sportive of the season.
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And they weren’t wrong.  It was a perfect storm of a day.  Not enough training, not enough sleep, not a good patch, and given the weather upon arising to face the day?  Not enough PMA either!  But…hey…faint heart never won anything, and the weather hadn’t been great lately anyway, so I figured I knew what to wear and how to ride in rubbish weather, and so despite all the usual misgivings, it was the usual stupid o’clock Sunday morning start. I was too afraid to load the car up the night before though, just in case.  Well, I’m not paranoid, as clearly they clearly were out to get me weren’t they?  So there was even more faffing to get ready than usual, as both bikes had to go on the back of my tiny car first thing.  Matt made it look easy though…which is just as well as I wasn’t feeling like anything was going to be easy today.  

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Time to head off into the wind and the rain and cold…though the levels of any of those were somewhat theoretical from inside my nice warm car.  It was an uneventful journey up, broken by a short stop at the very posh M5 Gloucester services that I’ve been meaning to stop at for years but never have.  And it was way too early in the morning to enjoy all that it reputedly has to offer…it still being mostly closed…so all I can say is that the toilets were nice enough!  Unlike the walk to and from them, which proved the weather was actually horrible in practice.  Yep – proper windy. Yep – proper damp.  And blimey…was it ever cold!  Oh dear…

Getting ready in the boot outside registration

We arrived at the event’s designated parking location a little later than scheduled, at the rather Phoenix Group site which has plenty of decent parking and also automatic gates that would later be locked behind us.  I remember paying being non-optional last time which, at £2 a pop, wasn’t a big deal.  Remembering to have change for the guy with a bucket at the entrance was though.  This time is was optional, which meant that we could both get into the car park without paying, and also sort cash out to donate later – which we did, it being collected for a good cause.  

But it was miserable.  Pissing it down miserable.  Freezing cold.  And the car park was a few miles from the event proper, so there was no other option than to get sorted and head over.  No faffing about going to and from.  No sheltering in a nice warm building in between times.  Ah well…  Matt put the bikes together while I hid in the boot, put on all the layers I had with me, and tried to summon up the enthusiasm to ride my bike.  Even Matt put on layers.  Including, shock, horror…leg warmers!  Which I think was a first for us riding together…  In the meantime it kept raining and we all got colder…  

wet bikes waiting in hope portable toilets

Thanks to my health issues I often need a get out of jail free card, so we’d done quite a lot of studying the route beforehand, and had located a few bail out spots on route, albeit unofficial ones, as the Mad March Hare only has the one 72 mile route option. Knowing this was somewhat of a comfort.  Still I was seriously contemplating turning tail and going home.  Like for real for a change.  I was this close to calling it.  But it seemed unfair to the event to not at least go and register and check out what was going on, having made it this far.  We kinda decided that one of those options was going to be opted for, if we did it at all and we headed off.  We’d taken long enough faffing that we were one of the few left leaving.  Holding out for better weather had not worked and it was still flinging it down, so the two or three miles wet ride to HQ were neither pleasant nor heartening.  At least they were well signposted though, so we didn’t get lost. 

Stair rods. Cats and dogs.  And a marquee in a school play ground full of sheltering riders, huddled around the entrance looking hopefully outside for signs of improvement.  We made our way through them to the registration desks inside. We were supposed to have brought photo id with us to register but I only have my passport, as my driving licence is still old school. I pretty much refuse to lug my passport, all £76 worth of it, around with me, in case it gets lost somehow.  Especially today when going back to the car wasn’t an option, and it would have had to sit in a back pocket inevitably getting damp and soggy regardless of what sort of plastic bag I put it in.  So I had no id.  Luckily the lady behind the desk took pity on me and let me off.  After all, who’s going to steal a place on a sportive on a day like this?  So I signed whatever had to be signed, we collected bike numbers with integral timing chips and maps and the like.  And it still hadn’t stopped raining.  Worse still I was going to have to use one of the four or so portable toilets.  Marvellous.  Disrobing soggy kit and then putting it all back on again.  Nice.  Ah well, needs must…

registration riders waiting in hope

And after all that it still hadn’t stopped raining, and it sure as hell hadn’t warmed up any, and it was still blowing wind chill factor on top of that.  But we’d got this far.  And I like the Mad March Hare guys, and I’d said I was going to review it, and you know, a woman’s word is her bond.  Or something.  So we decided that we would indeed do some of it.  See how we got on.  Our basic plan was to head out for a bit on the route, nip across cross country at some point, and head back on the return route.  Right then, once more unto the breach dear friends.  Off into the wild wet West Midlands wilderness…and man was it ever unpleasant.  As we headed out, nothing had improved.  Understandably there aren’t a lot of photos to show this – you try taking photos with soaking wet hands in winter gloves in the rain whilst moving.  And stopping was actually worse since when stopped, minus all that air rushing past, you actually got warmer for a bit and setting off again was ‘orrible!  Matt managed a few snaps with his little go-pro type thing though.  

As we set out, on a route that was flat to rolling, a constant stream of cyclists passed us going the other way.  Yep, wise men of many sorts were deciding that bailing was the sensible option.  Returning to the start.  Not passing Go.  Etc. But we had a plan, and we stuck to it.  We did 8 miles or so of wet English country lanes heading out.  It did dry up a bit as we went along, a bit too late for it really to matter, what with the water, water, everywhere going on. The hills hurt me a bit, unsurprisingly, but there wasn’t much that really counted as hill by most people’s standards.  We discussed the fact that the triumvirate of wind, rain and cold was just too much.  Any of the two would be tolerable.  All three…not so much so.  

wet and not waterproof two way riders

We reached what was possibly our turning point and, although the weather wasn’t as bad by now, we were both soaked through despite waterproofs and layers, I was getting proper cold and, let’s face it, riding a bike is supposed to be enjoyable and this wasn’t.  So we did as planned, and nipped across to pick up the return route, where we did another 8 miles or so of the same, and there was more rain, and more ick but a lightening of spirits as the end was in sight.  Being far ahead of those who had carried on to brave the whole route, and also ahead of those who had turned tail early, we had the return route to ourselves, and also our return to HQ.  We were signalled as to which entrance to return into the school, which, as it turns out, doesn’t seem to have worked that well as either they hadn’t yet turned the timing mats/arch on, or somehow we didn’t cross it.  Either way, it turns out that neither of us recorded a time.  

riders in the storm wet village

We made our way back to the rear of the school to hang our dripping bikes up onto the dripping bike racks.  One of the members of staff came over to see how we were, sympathise if not empathise, and also retrieved our timing chips.  There were a handful other riders over in the marquee, but first things first – free coffee and free bacon rolls – something the Mad March Hare is and has always been known for.  The catering had its own separate tent and was set up to handle things military assembly line style.  In previous years queuing has been an issue and they were clearly keen that this not happen again this year.  Methinks it probably wasn’t a problem today…  The coffee was hot and I have no idea whether it tasted good or not, it was bl**dy lovely as far as I was concerned.  And the bacon roll was awesome.  I don’t usually go for such things – they don’t fit with my IBS etc – but today?  Exception to the rule.  Matt resorted to taking his shoes off and going barefoot – which although seemingly mad, actually ended up with his feet being warmer if not drier.  

layered up Matt wet church

Over in the marquee, sat on a bench, we debriefed, laughed at the stupidity of doing such things, rued the fact that the Purity beer available to purchase wasn’t really what the doctor would order today, and cheerfully relieved another member of staff of one of the emergency foil space blanket things they were handing out to keep riders warm – there were a couple there who were really struggling.  Admittedly the real reason we took one was because it’ll come in handy again on the start line of the Maratona later this year – a tactic I observed, admired, and nicked from the last time I did it – but I nearly ended up using it for real later…

hot drinks lined up bacon roll assembly line

Sadly it was time to get going again.  Sitting around wasn’t going to get me much warmer and it certainly wasn’t going to get me back to the car.  It may have been drier overhead but nothing else was.  And putting my very cold, very wet, very heavy gloves back on my still freezing hands was absolute hell.  The ride back to the car park was much better signposted than the last time I did it, all bar one turning, but missing that that could have been because I couldn’t concentrate.  Seriously, I have never had pain in my hands like it.  How can something so cold hurt SO much?  Shouldn’t they just go numb or something?  Apparently not.  All I could think about and feel was my screaming hands…so the rest of the riding got pretty short shrift on the paying attention front.  We got back to the now closed Phoenix Group gates which, before we could press the let us in button, magically opened before us, letting us get back to my car without further ado.  Which was just as well.  The minute I got off the bike I started shivering.  Like full body shaking shivering, teeth chattering, uncontrollable stuff.  As ever, it’s just as well Matt was there, as he took over.  He sorted the bikes out, and loaded the car, and looked after me.  I stripped off my soaking wet layers off as quickly as I could, considering that my limbs weren’t doing what they were told, got into the few bits of warm dry clothing I’d brought with me, got wrapped up in Matt’s big coat, and got made to sit in the car with the engine and heater running while he finished up.  At which point we’d completely forgotten about the space blanket…d’oh!

too cold for beer time to go home

We exited the site a little while later, past two solemn statuary herons on the way out, seemingly silently commenting on our stupidity.  (Plus, if we stay really still, you ain’t seen us, right?) And it was an interesting drive, with ever brightening skies, predictably.  There was me curled up in a million layers still shivering and needing the heater on full blast, while Matt drove in what became sunshine and wished he was wearing less and that he could open the window 😉  I don’t think I’ve ever had the cold hit me like that…and hopefully I won’t again.  Mad!  It would appear that the Mad March Hare defeated us.  Out of 1000 or so registered (I think), only 654 turned up.  And massive kudos to the 525 who actually finished it.  Maybe we counted as two of them 😉  Chapeaux one and all really.  Later on, after a warm bath and warm food and cold wine, we both got a phone call to check we weren’t actually still out on the route, and had got home safely.  As I said before, for some reason we hadn’t recorded a time, and I guess our collected timing chips hadn’t been noted either…  But we did it – Strava says so 🙂

None of all this has anything to do with the event really.  I still like the Mad March Hare.  It’s a good event.  It gets better organised every year – they really take on board rider feedback and improve things.  It’s still a nice part of the world, and when you get to them, the hills out there are lovely too – not that that was something we got to prove today.  To be honest, I’d prefer the car park to be at the venue, not 3 miles down the road, even on better days.  And sure, there were a few bits of disorganisation today, but I think that was mainly down to the atrocious weather, and things would probably have been different given one of those better days.  Organisers can control many things…the weather is not one of them.  Hopefully they’ll have me back next year, and we’ll all do it better 🙂  I’m also doing their new Mad Summer Hare sportive on 3rd September – so hopefully that will show how much nicer riding around here can be on a good day too 🙂 

Cycling time: 1:28
Distance: 17.5 miles
Avs: 11.9 mph

Riding is not going that well at the moment.  I’m spending far more time on the spin bike than the real thing and I seem to have lost all confidence in going riding on my own.  So given crap weather, or a lack of company, or my pain levels, or the stinking cold I’ve just spent two weeks with, well…I don’t lack for excuses not to be out there when I probably should be.  It’s hard to explain, but having my bike nicked seems to have been the straw that broke this camel’s back to be honest – I feel like they nicked what was left of my mojo along with it.  Cycling used to be something I loved and that’s a little lacking at the moment.  The insurance company were great, and I have a new bike that I’m trying to get used to which is probably great.  But it’s not myy bike.  Let’s just say we haven’t bonded yet.  If I didn’t have to train for the Maratona I think I’d take a proper break from cycling – just go out as and when and if I felt like it – but I don’t want the Maratona to be a disaster, so I really have to get some training in.  It’s all a bit of an uphill struggle at the moment…in so many ways 😉

Tour of Pembrokeshire Prologue 2017

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Somehow, without noticing, some things just become a habit.  Well, not so much a habit as a tradition actually, a word which has less negative connotations.  And somehow, the Tour of Pembrokeshire has become just that.  Traditional.  I don’t always ride the whole event.  I don’t always ride the whole event when I’ve signed up to do so, I’ve frequently been forced to bail to shorter routes!  But I do seem to always do the Prologue ride.  It’s the first thing of the season.  OK, so this year my season is massively unplanned, and disorganised, and up in the air.  That didn’t stop the Prologue being the first thing on my calendar however.

So a while ago Matt and I made our way as far as West as you can go without falling into the sea, to St David’s and beyond, to the fabulous Crug Glas (which I love), the hotel where both the Prologue and the event itself run from – albeit from the Cowshed venue on site.  It’s a bit of a trek – 3 hours plus driving – and it wasn’t the most comfortable of journeys.  Having been doing ok, in annoyingly alliterative, tediously typical and practically predictable fashion, I was heading for a seriously bad patch.  Which is just one of the reasons Matt was accompanying me; to play chauffeur, since driving long distances is unwise normally, and not doable at all if I’ve had to resort to the heavy guns.  Having had to get up at 4:30am in order to get to our destination by 9:00am, it’s not like I’d have been awake enough to drive anyway – I’m not really a morning person 😉  Sadly driving is actually more comfortable than being a passenger…it’s a bit of a Catch 22 thing…so though it was safer that I not be driving, it did make things somewhat worse…

Anyway Matt got us to the seriously freezing carpark outside the Cowshed, in time and without incident.  And man was it ever cold.  Oh, and wet, and so windy the little windmill on the farm was spinning so fast it looked like taking off was actually an option.  Marvellous…*sigh*.  Ah well.  First things first.  Time to head inside, nip to the salubrious toilets, sign the register, and say hello to a few familiar faces – organiser Peter, and Jim, and the rest of the team, back in charge after a brief hiatus last year, and after all this time, also friends of mine.  Fellow Cyclosport writer Sean was also there, with a different hat on, and a nasty chest infection thingy which meant he was going to be playing support car, and not riding.  Half his luck… 😉

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We didn’t have a lot of time to spare before the various groups of riders were due to be let go, so we skipped coffee and headed back to the car to unload and reassemble the bikes, and put on every layer we had brought with us.  By the time we were ready I couldn’t feel my fingers well enough to zip up my overshoes, which hardly boded well for the day ahead!  As we finished up, various groups were starting to gather in the courtyard, only just leaving Matt enough time to get our bottles filled up.  There were two route options available today – 45 miles or 28 miles – with groups of varying abilities being set up for each route.  What with everything – my health, the weather, it being early in the season, etc…we’d decided that 28 miles sounded like more than enough.  Well, considering the average speed that the terrain around here usually results in, even that was likely to take over two hours so…discretion, valour, etc.  Besides Peter was to be leading the slow, short, group, and I thought that it might be a good time to catch up with him a bit.  By the way if you don’t like these excuses for our route choice, I’m sure I have others… 😉  He also announced to the group, as we set off, that I’d be helping them learn a bit about group riding etc.!  News to me…and as if!  I may, just about, know what I’m doing for myself, but I’m by no means qualified to educate anyone else!  Ah well, I figured I’d try, but that no-one was likely to need my kind of help anyway, especially not with Peter around.  (And I was right…they didn’t!).  Off we headed out for what turned out to be a fairly typical Prologue ride.  Unlike the event proper, it’s not the world’s most organised affair.  Our group had about 19 people in it, and keeping that kind of group together is virtually impossible even on a good day.  Today, on narrow roads, with varying abilities, lousy weather, and a fair few drags, it was literally impossible…  

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…so the group stretched, broke, reunited, got rained on, the rain got worse, the wind got stronger and was mostly (as ever) not at my back.  But the scenery was still stunning, and beautiful and lovely – when you could see it.  The route has been changed so that we didn’t come up past the cathedral the usual way, which is a shame, but St David’s was still lovely.  The company was good.  It was sociable.  And I felt pretty good – in that my legs at least were ok.  I was wearing lots and lots of layers, and keeping mostly warm and dry, though as the ride went on, I did start to cool down.  But I just can’t go up hills when the pain is there, as up makes it worse, and because my body is fighting on another front, there’s not as much in the tank as there ought to be.  But I’m kinda used to it these days.  Resigned to it.  Sure, you’ll drop me on every single hill, and I will zone out and plod and just watch the road ahead of my front wheel, and get there eventually.  But I’ll catch up on the flat and, on any downs that there are, drop you like a stone 😉  Sadly there weren’t many of those today though, and the road conditions were such that care and attention and caution was called for.  So I was slow out there.  Matt kept me company the whole way around though, so even when the groups split up, and when we got totally separated from them towards the end, I wasn’t on my own.  OK, so I had to yell to get his attention a couple of times when he hadn’t realised how far behind him I’d dropped, but essentially he was always there, joining the roll call of those who have had to drag me around Pembrokeshire.  Hey, at least this time around I didn’t end up in tears! 😉

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En route I did get to chat to a few of the other riders, notably Tori James, the youngest British and first Welsh woman to climb Mount Everest, and part of the first all female team to race to the magnetic North Pole, amongst many other things; she’s the official Tour of Pembrokeshire patron, and would be giving us a talk later.  But mostly it was a bit too horrible for chatting much.  Typical Welsh weather some would say 😉  And I was, and am, SO glad we didn’t go for the 45 mile ride!  Maybe it’s one of those things too – bad weather for the Prologue, good weather for the Tour?  I certainly hope so, since I’ve agreed to do that again this year, and Matt’s coming along for the ride too.  He has no idea what he’s letting himself in for… 😉

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To be honest, I wasn’t planning on doing it again.  Been there, done that, would have the t-shirt if there was one.  But it turns out that a fair few changes have been made to this year’s event.  On the Saturday, for the main event, there’s now a new 133 mile route, dedicated to local rider Paul Ties and Tour of Pembrokeshire stalwart, who is sadly no longer with us.  There’s also the Fred Rees Skoda 60 mile route and the 84 mile Mavic route, and they’re all new and different.  And that works for me.  The option to do whatever route is appropriate on the day – and to not be repeating what I’ve done so many times before, whichever route I do.  And no, I will not be attempting the Paul Ties route – that would be insane!  On the Sunday there’s also a 40 mile family/recovery ride route for those who feel less ambitious, or who want to spend a weekend riding with friends and family.  Whichever route you or I do, it’s a great event, in a beautiful place, that’s really well run & organised, where I can catch up with friends, and stay at Crug Glas again.  So yes, I’ll be doing the Tour of Pembrokeshire in May.  

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Anyway, back to the ride, albeit briefly.  It all sort of passed in an increasingly damp blur…  Somewhere near the end, as mentioned before, we got both separated from the others in our group, and also slightly lost.  So when we reached the entrance road to Crug Glas again, albeit a few miles sooner than expected, and it was still raining, and blowing a storm, and my fingers weren’t entirely there…there was no way we were doing anything other than turning left for a very unpleasant final couple of miles riding fully into that blasted, blasting wind to get us back to HQ.  Prologue ride done!  We weren’t the first back, as there were a couple of other rather shell-shocked looking riders loitering around, one of whom was heard to comment that if he’d known it was going to be like that he wouldn’t have turned out for it.  I don’t suppose he was the only one thinking that today!

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Since lunch etc wasn’t due for a while, and the other groups weren’t back yet, the best thing to do seemed to be to go and check in to our very lovely room.  I should mention that I’ve been lucky enough to stay here a few times now, and I totally love it.  I never get to stay places this lovely, being usually a budget hotel gal, and this is just so far from that!  Once again Room 1 was mine, and it was just as fabulous as ever, complete with large windows, four poster bed, fireplace, and general classic luxury.  The large copper bath beckoned…but running that would have taken too long.  What was needed right now was a very long hot shower, and clean, warm, dry clothes, with some time sat by the fire to pull myself together again!  Once re-heated, re-dosed, refreshed, and reassembled, lunchtime was fast approaching, so we headed back over to the Cowshed to refuel.  Everyone else was also back now, and equally ready to carry on with the second act.  

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The social part of the Prologue was far more enjoyable than the ride for sure.  A two course meal of beef/veg bourguignon followed by various choices of sticky pudding, with a bar, and good company?  What more do you want?  There were a few formalities to be done; thanks given by and to the organisers, and also some feedback gathering for them, to see what we’d all thought of the routes and so forth.  Then Tori took to the stage to tell us about her adventures, and her exploits properly qualify as legendary.  And probably motivational too, if you’re not me – I know that kind of thing is way out of my league, especially these days.  Beside which, polar expeditions? Everest?  That all sounds awfully cold to me…and I think we’ve already established that I don’t do cold very well 😉  A few of the others in the room had possibly also struggled earlier – thanks to the combination of exertion, warm food, and a dark warm room, a couple of heads were definitely seen nodding…including Matt’s!  Well dragging me around is very tiring… 😉  

But all good things come to an end, and finally the 2017 Prologue reached the end of the road. As people slowly dispersed, it was time to say our farewells, arrange to rendezvous with Peter et al at the Sloop later, and head back to that lovely room to chillax for a while.  Another Tour of Pembrokeshire Prologue under my belt.  As rides go I’ve definitely had better, but the après ride more than made up for the ride!  See you all in May!

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PS: Typically the next day was amazing.  Blue skies, sunshine, blue seas…we even went to the beach and Matt went swimming!!  Ah well 🙂

Broken wings

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For all that I’m not well, I tend not to think of myself as ill.  As an invalid.  It is what it is, and you just get on with playing the hand that life has dealt you.  It’s only pain, right?  So I get on with it.  We all have sh*t to deal with.  But then again, if I don’t take it into account, if I ignore it too much, then ignoring it bites me on the ass, and ignoring it ceases to be an option.  Since I’m currently sitting here with a patch on my arm, the latest dose of tramadol taken two hours ago and not doing the trick, and having resorted to my first ever dose of oramorph which is now working its way into my system to deal with what is blandly referred to as breakthrough pain…I guess I should probably own up to not being 100% healthy though?

Before you get more bored than usual, and wonder what this has to do with anything, you’ll be pleased to hear that this does actually relate to cycling.  After deciding to let the Christmas period happen without stressing too much about lack of riding or workouts, it is/was time to try and get back to it.  You don’t get around the Maratona without some training, right?  And yes, I’m doing that again, with Steve and Mike.  Furthermore Mike and I would like to try and throw in the Stelvio while we’re out there.  It’s just possible that not only is my health is questionable, but that my sanity is too! *grin*.

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So Christmas has now passed.  And I’d been having a pretty good patch, by my standards.  I’d had a week or thereabouts of being pretty just on the patches.  Which for me is unusual.  So I’d done a couple of home spin bike workouts.  And, although I’d had the odd twinge and was starting to think that maybe…on Sunday Alan and I went for what was for me the first ride of 2017.  

It worked out ok as it happens.  He was doing some 60+ mile route, including me in the middle, and also hopefully coffee if I was up for stopping.  Our 30ish mile mid section ended up being a little longer, which is what happens when you leave your wingman behind and don’t make proper arrangements as to how to meet up again…but that’s by the by.  We decided not to have a coffee stop as my time was tight, and I was feeling ok out there and stopping also means getting cold and then having to start again.  However I started to flag a bit around an hour and a half in, and as I didn’t want to push it on my first ride back, and what with that thing I said about ignoring stuff earlier and trying to listen to my body more these days, I decided it was wiser to call it quits and to come back via a somewhat more direct route on my own.  So I left Alan, conveniently just before Sweets, to carry on his way, able to do his own speed and also to have the coffee that he’d really wanted all along.  Meanwhile I rode home at my own speed, riding within myself, glad there weren’t any hills between me and home, and generally just getting the miles necessary to get there done.  It all kind of worked out for everyone I think 🙂

But yes, as those pre-ride twinges suggested, my good patch was due to wear off.  It’s a cyclical thing, so I was pretty much expecting it.  So the fact that this bad patch proper kicked off after cycling is possibly purely coincidental.  However there are a couple of things that are guaranteed to make it worse, and sadly cycling is one of them.  So maybe Gibbs is right and there’s no such thing as coincidence. 

Anyway…  Lots of people are talking about their cycling goals for next year.  Mileage to be done, metres to climb, epic events, targets to reach, etc, etc…  And yes, I guess I so have one, in that quite clearly I’m doing the Maratona again.  I’d like to do the full route, again.  Faster than last time would be nice, but really…let’s be realistic here…   Generally I’d like to do “better” this year than last year.  Bail a little less, ride a lot more.  And I am going to have to do a fair bit of training somehow or none of that is going to be happening.  But as goals go…?  I think the best I can really do is to resolve to ride the bike when I can, hopefully with friends, accept that I can’t when I can’t, and admit that maybe I am a teensy bit of an invalid…  Woman, know your limits!  Maybe if I take it easy, listen to myself, train carefully, and with the support of Matt and my very lovely friends, I can learn to fly again 🙂

invalid1
ˈɪnvəlɪd/
noun
noun: invalid;
  1. 1
    a person made weak or disabled by illness or injury.
    “she spent the rest of her life as an invalid”
     

it's only pain

Evans Ride It Wiltshire Downs 2016

Welcome to my last sportive of the season…

I’m very tempted to just write “Had shit day, went home”.  But such paucity of words does not a blog make.  Even if it is a fairly accurate and concise of how my day panned out…   So here goes.

I was having a bad patch.  For whatever reason*.  Still, as usual, I wasn’t going to use that as an excuse not to go and do what I’d said I was going to do.  Besides the main reason I was doing this weekend’s sportive – the Evans Ride It Wiltshire Downs – was because I did it last year, enjoyed it, and really wanted to do the long route this time around.  So I wasn’t going to bail, now was I? 

Things were not in my favour however.  Maybe an eagle had dropped a tortoise somewhere.  Or the goat’s entrails had revealed gastro-enteritis.  Not only was I suffering in a big way, but the weather was not great.  In fact it was feckin’ freezing out there…just as it had been all week.  I knew I was going to need a lot of layers.  I wasn’t sure that was going to be enough.  I wasn’t sure my painkillers were going to be enough.  I wasn’t sure I was going to be enough.  Having had some truly hideous times on the bike of late, I’d reached a stage where I was almost scared to go and ride the bike.  Why go there again?

But going I was.  And I wasn’t going on my own.  For what, due to the apparent cancellation of the Wiggle Bitter Beast, would turn out to be my last sportive of the season, I had company.  Yep, I dragged Matt along again.  Mostly in the hope that he would drag me around! 😉  Plus misery loves company, right?  It also loves not having to drive too far…and HQ this time around was at Wiltshire College, nr Lacock, which turned out to be not much more than an hours drive from home.  Driving was a good excuse for not having to talk too much; I wasn’t really holding it together, and talking when you’re that close to tears is tricky.  Still, it was an easy journey, as was finding the college, at the end of a very long drive.  Having been here before helped, and we were marshalled to park up on the gravelly, somewhat muddy, car park much the same as last time around.  

I didn’t want to get out of the car.  What and leave my warm cosy safe little box?  But I did.  Kinda.  Only to discover it was just as cold as I thought it was, and that standing up didn’t feel good.  Matt gave me a hug, partially to warm me up, partially because I clearly wasn’t feeling great, at which point I promptly burst into tears.  Go me…or something.  

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After a little while I got it together, and managed to MTFU for a bit.  Time to go and try and do what we were actually here for.  Which meant starting by registering.  We decided to walk over there and then come back to faff, and the walk around to the hall demonstrated what I already pretty much knew.  It was COLD!  And not nice.  The toilets however were both warm and nice, and inside, and alongside what looked like a common room.  I was half tempted to stay in there and play pool all day instead…!  However…  The queue for registration was pretty non-existent, probably because we were running pretty late for our nominal start slot.  We both signed up, and were presented with our High5 bottle packed with goodies, for having booked our places early, and also a High5 race pack for the day.  Another good reason for not riding to registration – we’d only have had to go back to the car to stash stuff anyway!  So, duly equipped with timing chips and numbers and the like we made our way back to the car to faff.  

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Matt took pity on me and made me sit in the car while he reassembled the bikes.  I decided that I wasn’t wearing enough and swopped the odd lighter layer for more heavy duty ones in the meantime.  At some point he disappeared off to answer a call of nature…only to be confronted by kangaroos!  Ok, so they could have been wallabies but that’s none the less bizarre…the best you usually bump into on such trips is the odd curious cow!  How mad is that?  And it made us both smile, which was definitely an improvement and perked me up a bit.

So, with even Matt wrapped up in what passes for his idea of warm clothing, and everything all sorted, there was no putting it off any longer.  Time to revisit the common room, rue leaving it once again, and join the queue for the start.  Such as it was, since most were out and under way already.  However I reckon this was better than having to stand around in the cold and queue anyway.  A small group of us gathered at the starting gate to be briefed about the signage, warned it wasn’t a race, and the like.  And then we were off…out into the cold, bright, and breezy.  *gulp*.

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A lot of the ride is a bit of a blur.  It’s safe to say that I was a bit distracted.  And the first 45 minutes of any ride is never good, since it takes me that long to warm up and warming up of any sort seemed unlikely today.  But it was pretty out there, and the first few miles were fairly flat and I was riding the bike in good company, and hey…  So when the first route split came at 7.5 miles in, for the Fun route, and Matt presumed we weren’t taking it, he wasn’t wrong.  Although a little bit of me did wonder if I’d come to regret that…  The idea of doing this event again had been to come back and do the Long route having been unable to do so last year, and that was still currently the plan.  It’s only 80 miles after all, with the Medium route being 62 and the Short being 36, and t’s a beautiful part of the world to cycle around.  I wanted to see more of it. 

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Things started to be somewhat less flat.  Not what you’d call massively hilly, it’s not that kind of route, but enough for me to feel it.  And not to be feeling it.  Poor Matt was having to nurse me along as my pain levels were increasing, my temperature level wasn’t, and conversation and scenery were not proving sufficiently distracting.  And when we reached the next route split, not much further down the road, where we really should have turned right, to head for being Long or at least Medium, there was no presuming.  I really wanted to.  I really did.  But…  So we pulled over to talk and think about it.  And cry, if you’re me.  Yes, again.  Partially because it hurt, and partially because I hated having to admit defeat, but it was feeling like I really didn’t have much choice.  Man it was frustrating!  We chatted it through, and map gazed.  Decided we couldn’t just go and lurk in the Cross Keys pub opposite, which probably wasn’t open anyway.  And figured out there actually were other options open to us, as there were bits where we could rejoin other routes if we took the Short route and things turned out to feel better than expected, which helped me feel a bit better about bailing, and ruining Matt’s ride plans.  So, having once again pulled myself together, we headed off to be Short.  

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Even doing the Short route, I’ve ridden around here enough for a lot of it to be fairly familiar, and even though there were hills, and they hurt, I got up them, and with the sun now shining, blue skies above, and the Wiltshire Downs spreading out around us, it really was pretty.  Oh to be a bit warmer though…the wind really wasn’t helping, and I don’t know what more I could have been wearing but what I was wearing just wasn’t enough.  Mind you, a lot of that seems to have been just me, Matt wasn’t suffering half as much, which is one of the wonderful side effects of being in pain – my body is too busy coping with other things to get warm, or something.

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I can’t remember where the food stop was, mileage wise, but it was very welcome whenever and whereever it was.  It was at some convenient village hall, with the usual variety of food/drink outside and one toilet inside.  One toilet and a very long queue…  However also inside, off the hall, was a small kitchen, where tea/coffee making facilities were available.  Manna from heaven!  I may be a bit of a coffee snob, but today the idea of a cup of hot instant coffee was positively appealing 😉  So Matt made coffee whilst I found a place to sit on the floor against a wall, and then there we sat.  Hot “coffee”, the next dose of pills, a gel…all things that were likely to be restorative.  Although I decided to give the toilet a miss,; I just couldn’t face standing in that queue, or to be fair undressing and exposing any more of me to more cold.

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Matt was feeling a lot more chipper than me.  And warmer.  In fact, after some debate, this lady ceased to protest too much and gave in to his generous offer that I wear his cycling top over all my kit.  God knows how he was warm enough for that to even be possible, and I seriously doubt it was a good look for me, but it turned out to be a really good idea.  We set off again, and slowly things started to feel better.  I stopped being freezing.  The pills started to do their thing.  The sun shone, and having decided to stick to the Short route, I started to cheer up.  Knowing you’re heading for home does a lot of the PMA too, and I started to feel like I might actually complete this route at least!  The routes had joined up at some point, and we could have opted to do some of the Medium/Long route but…some days it’s just better to quit while you’re behind 😉    

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So there were more long open roads under open skies, with stunning views, which were just as lovely as I remember them.  More climbing, which like labour, I have blotted out.  Pretty churches.  Autumnal colours in the fields and the woods and the leaves on and under trees.  We stopped from time to time, just to give me the odd break to breathe a bit.  And it was lovely really.  Sadly.  If only…  What was also lovely was the final descent of Bowden Hill towards the end.  After a long gradual climb up through country estate feeling territory, it’s a lovely fast drop, with bends and, if you’ve done it before which I have, it can be SO much fun.  You do have to be a bit careful – there was the odd car around, and quite a few sunny Sunday walkers around too.  But we hurtled off nonetheless, and I finally found a tiny bit of mojo and remembered why riding a bike can be so much fun.  And it was fun for quite a while, as it goes on for a bit!  

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And then that was it.  Back on to the college estate, back over the plentiful speed bumps, and back over the Finish line, feeling a lot better than I had done going the other way, all of a few hours earlier.  Job done…albeit badly.  

Cycling time: 2:40
Distance: 36.6 miles
Avs: 13.7 mph

Ah well.  Ho hum.  Etc.  Another one best consigned to the history books and best forgotten.  It probably doesn’t feel like I’ve written much about the actual ride but let’s face it – it was only 36 miles, and took but a couple of hours – so there wasn’t much actual ride to write about, right?  If you want more ride stuff, then it’s a nice area, the route is nice but with rather too many fairly main road sections, and the signs were small, hard to spot sometimes, and there weren’t enough of them either.  Is that better?  

So that was my (our) day, and that was the ride, and clearly it wasn’t a good day at the office.  But it could have been worse.  I could have been doing it on my own.  It could have rained.  Very few events involve kangaroos.  And I did get round which, all things considered, is a minor achievement of sorts.  One day I’ll do that blasted LONG route!! *grin*.27-me-a-little-more-cheerful

*In case you were wondering, we’ve worked out why things had gone quite so pear shaped…  The latest brand of my patches and I weren’t getting on…some form of skin reaction to them seems to have meant that I wasn’t absorbing their yummy goodness.  So for about two weeks I wasn’t getting the pain relief that clearly I do actually require…which clearly wasn’t great.  On the upside at least I know I do really need them, right? 😉

Cotswold Edge 2016

Right then.  Time for my second sportive of the season organised by the Southern Sportive team.  Last time it was the actual Southern Sportive.  This time it was the Cotswold Edge Sportive – a new one to me.  Well, variety is the spice of life right?  Although I seem to have spent quite a lot of time cycling around bits of the Cotswolds this year, so it’s definitely variety, not novelty…

I spent the weekend prior to the event having a life.  Which was a great deal of fun, but not conducive to proper preparation.  You know that thing about proper planning preventing piss poor performance…?  I really should bear that in mind.  Getting enough sleep and eating properly would have been a good idea.  But hey, old dog, new tricks, some people never learn 😉

Still, the morning got off to a good start.  Ish.  The alarm went off at 6:30, and I left at 7:30 as planned.  Pain levels and sleep deprivation meant that the motorway drive was a little…interesting…but I managed to stay awake.  Just.  It’s a good thing it was only a 50 minute (very cautious) drive on fairly empty motorways to HQ at the Renishaw site at Wotton-under-Edge.  Which turned out to be a very nice location.  Picturesque.  With lots of landscaping and the like…all of which was enhanced by the early morning sunshine.  I was marshalled to park up in the car park and since I could see registration from where I was sat, I decided to go and register before faffing.  The short walk over there revealed that although it was sunny, it was far from warm, and that there was quite a lot of definitely not warm wind to add a little ‘je ne sais quoi’ to that.  Marvellous…  I gave the team my signature, and in return received my skewer timing chip, a couple of rather short cable ties, my bike number and a waterproofed map.  I really don’t like skewer timing chips…as I mentioned when I wrote about the Southern Sportive…but as this is run by the same guys, at least this time I was expecting it.

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Time for a trip to the facilities, which were around the other side of the building.  I walked past the start line, and bumped into organiser Martin, who was busy getting ready to start things going.  We chatted briefly, and he promised to try and turn the wind off 😉  It may have been a little walk to the toilets, but it sho’ was perty – past a very lovely lake and views over to what might have been the Hawkesbury Tower.  And the facilities were very lovely too, so no complaints all ’round really.  

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Back to the car then.  Time for faffing in the sunshine.  Clearly this was going to be a cold day, and if it wasn’t going to be a cold day in hell, I was going to need layers.  Which in this case ended up being winter longs, s/s base layer, s/s jersey, rapha winter jacket, head scarf, neck scarf, ear protectors.  This was quite a lot more than quite a lot of people seemed to be wearing, but I know what I’m like with cold, and I’m starting to learn that getting cold or being cold seems to go with the territory when I’m in pain so…lots of layers it was!

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While I was faffing the tannoy system had been sharing the stream of rider briefings with us all.  I arrived at the start line just as the latest group was leaving so although I didn’t actually officially get a briefing, I didn’t need one either.  I tagged on the back as we all carefully went over the timing mat to make sure we all beeped properly.  Apparently the position of that timing chip thing is important – vertical positioning is better than lateral.  Mine was fine, natch, but a couple of others had to stop and readjust before heading off…

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The first thirty miles, minus the odd early drag, seemed fairly flat to me.  I could have been imagining it though, as I really couldn’t get into it somehow.  I couldn’t get properly warm, even if the neck tube did need to come off about 10 miles in.  Things hurt.  Being all wrapped up, and dosed up, with the low sunshine and long shadows, with eyes constantly having to adapt from light to shade, seemed to make it all a bit surreal.  It also made the signs harder to spot.  I didn’t get lost though and even if I had I’d probably have been ok – I’m starting to know my way around here.  Bits of the route were from the Severn Sportive but in reverse, so familiar but not familiar.  I’d have figured it out somehow.

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Since I was on my own and mostly the only rider in sight, and there wasn’t too much challenge going on, I got a bit bored, and what with the bored, tired, cold, ouchy and medicated, I kept zoning out, and doing that nearly falling asleep thing.  Not good, as I’m sure you’ll agree.  And man I hate being cold!!!  Still, at least my iPod shuffle was working this time, so I had music for company, which was a big improvement on the last sportive.  And it was mad pretty out there.  It is the Cotswolds after all.  It’s not often than you nearly get knocked off your bike by a Bentley, right? 😉  Pretty and posh then…  Pretty, posh & prosperous doesn’t translate into money being spent on the roads though – there were some really nasty road surfaces along the way, with a lot of gravel and mud around.  There were also less signs warning about this than I was expecting, after such roads being marked so well on the Southern Sportive.  There may have been less of those signs, but at least there were still plenty of repeater ribbons, which I still love.  There’s nothing like the sight of a little orange ribbon blowing in the wind, just when you’re starting to wonder if….and then there it is, reassuring you that you’re going in the right direction.  And that wind was still there, blowing them around, and it was cold, and making cold even colder.  Sulk, whinge, moan.

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I didn’t know which route I was going to do.  I knew it wasn’t going to be the Short (37 miles) route though, as the split for that had come 4 miles in.  I still had time to decide.  Which brings us to the first stop, around 29 miles in, at around 11:00am.  It was next to a playing field and tennis court and fairly exposed.  There was certainly nowhere to hide from the wind, and any bits of me that had managed to get hot and sweaty quickly got cold, clammy and unpleasant.  Still at least there were toilets this weekend, in a little changing room block.  Not that the lights worked, so you couldn’t close the door unless being plunged into pitch blackness is your thing…luckily no-one came along at the wrong time!  Back to the food table and supplies were really sparse.  The mechanic was doubling up as staff, and helping anyone who needed it, wrapped up and looking warmer than seemed fair.  I put my neck scarf back on, topped up my water bottle, and grabbed a couple of orange quarters.  Considering how I’d been feeling I decided that a Powerbar smoothie might be what was called for, in case lack of food was any part of the problem.  Whilst sat on a curb, mulling things over, I also took the next dose of pills and rang a rather distracted Matt for moral support.  And managed not to burst into tears this time around, which probably counts as progress 😉

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Right then, time to head off again.  Straight into the biggest climb of the day – which was a real killer compared to everything and anything else today.  It was hard painful work.  It came with a silver lining thought; it got me a little bit warmer for a while!  And up there, on top of the world, there were some amazing views, when you could see them.  It was a bit bowl like up there, and a lot of the time those views were frustratingly just out of view beyond the current horizon.  Tantalising…  But it’s a bit churlish to complain about that really isn’t it?  When those you could and did see were so fabulous?

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The next route split came along shortly – and it definitely wasn’t going to be an Epic day.  Which was annoying.  But I still wasn’t warm, and things were still painful, and I had an open Sunday lunch invitation if I happened to make it back home in time.  The Epic route might only have been 18 miles longer than the Standard 62 miles but things were painful enough as it was, so pushing it seemed unwise, even if the pills were starting (finally!) to cut in.

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Standard route then.  And after a rather lovely down, came the second food stop, only 16 km after the first, but with 35km to go.  Or 10 miles and 22 miles if you prefer.  It was staffed by two very friendly and very chatty ladies who seemed to be really enjoying their day out in the sun and talking to everyone.  Mid chatting I ate orange quarters and jelly beans.  According to them the rest of the route could be summarised as one big hill ahead, then flattish along the Severn, then back up the escarpment to the finish.  Allegedly.  I decided another gel wouldn’t do any harm.  Which it didn’t.  Especially when there was indeed another big hill.  Up to the Tyndale Monument I believe.  Which the food stop lady, in tour guide mode, had informed us was dedicated to the Tyndale that translated the Bible into English.  Hm…   Regardless of what you might think about that, it wasn’t as bad as the killer hill before, and was in fact a nice climb.  Yes, yes, I know, I do like hills really.  By the top of that I was nearly warmed up.  In fact the day had nearly warmed up.  So of course not long afterwards it started to cloud over and cool down again…  Honestly…*sigh*.  

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Climbing done for the time being, it was time to go and see the River Severn.  Although I’m not sure why.  The loop out there and back seemed a bit gratuitous, especially since it involved going out there and back again along some of the same roads, and it was really confusing having riders going in both directions on the same stretch of road.  It tends to make you think you’re lost…which as I was on my own, I could have been.  Did I mention I was on my own for most of the time?  And hey, the Severn is pretty, but it wasn’t that pretty!  So when it was done, it was a relief to have looped that loop and be heading back to HQ.  Back into the trees ,where a suicidal squirrel played chicken with my front wheel…  Luckily I didn’t end up on the tarmac and it lived to spend the rest of the day looking for more nuts, not that it needed any…, which presumably is why it had had to cross the road in the first place.  But it was a close run thing!  

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No running up the final climb up the Costwold escarpment though.  It was steeper than I’d expected, and longer, and it being later in the day, there just didn’t seem to be anything in the tank.  Bit like all the hills today.  They were fine, I kinda liked them – the legs worked, the lungs worked but…there was no zone, no push, no get up and go.  Still, at least I got up them, and I got up this one too.  Being near the end probably helped!

26-finish-line

Climbing over and done with, essentially, flat was better.  But busier.  The stretch to get back took in quite a few more major roads, which had their fair share of traffic on.   One example of which made my brush with the squirrel look like a mere bagatelle…and another of my nominal nine lives was shaved off by a motorist with absolutely no patience and even less driving skill!  After all that I got back to HQ in one piece for a rather anti-climatic finish.  Even though I’d bailed to the shorter route, there weren’t many people around.  It felt more like when I do the long route on an event and I’m nearly the last in…  

Cycling time: 4:25
Official time: 5:00
Distance: 62.5 miles
Avs: 14.1 mph

There were two people at the Finish line to take my timing chip, and then I took a short walk back to registration and refreshments, where those riders that were still around were.  The car park wasn’t empty though, and riders were still trickling in, it was just in a sort of dribs and drabs way, so I decided I didn’t feel too bad about things.  I also decided to start by getting the bike in the car and getting warm clothes on me – I never really had got warm all day!  That done, I headed back over and paid £1 for a cup of tea to defrost me internally, tell Martin that once more I’d failed to do the long route I was signed up for, and to get my token finisher’s medal.  Which made it time for me to get back into the car, turn the heating on, and negotiate the busier and better drive home.  Back to having a life, and to having Sunday lunch 😉  Cotswold Edge done.  Not great…but better than it could have been.  I’ll take that 🙂

Black Legend 2016

On to the next sportive.  Which was a little while ago, so some of the details may be a little hazy now, not helped by the fact that I failed to make copious notes afterwards.This time around I’m talking about The Black Legend Sportive, run by Purple Patch Running.  Which seemed a bit odd to me.  A running club organising a cycling event?  Weird.  Still, that didn’t mean it wasn’t going to be a good event, right?  It was off to a good start by being based in Hungerford, which is not a long way away from me.  HQ was at the John O’Gaunt School in Hungerford, which is just a 10 minute drive from Jct 14 on the M4, and thus easy for me to get to.

registration start-line-riders

I rocked up sometime after registration opened to discover a small car park that was half empty, and didn’t seem to be filling up fast.  I started to get the feeling that this was going to be a small event…  But hey, good things come in small packages or something.  Registration was in the school hall, once cleated shoes had been removed, where the tumbleweed was metaphorically blowing around…  Still, not having to queue is a good thing, right?  My entry envelope included a bike number, helmet number, and 2 cable ties.  But no timing chip…as timing today would turn out to be a manual affair.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that but still, it was a bit unexpected.

rider-briefing out-on-to-the-downs

I didn’t have to queue for long at the start either.  I think there were only six or so of us who arrived at roughly the same time to be briefed and sent on our way, as riders had been being let go in dribs and drabs for quite some time before I’d done enough faffing to consider myself ready to go.  During which I discovered that my iPod shuffle had somehow managed to completely run out of charge, even though I’d charged it the day before, so I was going to have to do the whole ride with just my thoughts for company.  Marvellous.  I had three route choices today, the Epic 80, the Standard 65, or a Short 45 miles.  Given that it was only a week since my last sportive, which hadn’t gone well, I was already thinking that taking it easy might be wise.  Lack of musical accompaniment wasn’t going to make the long route any more likely…!

up-a-green-tunnel-hill caution-steep-hill

Not that I had to make that call straight away.  All of the routes covered the same first 25 miles to start with so there was no rush to decide.  We headed off and I was very shortly out there on my own, which was how things pretty much stayed all day.  Off out through the affluent area of Hungerford, past a great many lovely properties I’ll never be able to afford.  I went through the village of Inkpen, which made me think of Inkheart, and Inkwings.  After a nasty hill five miles in, I turned left in the village of Faccombe to go up another hill, which made me giggle (think about it…).  Did I mention it was just me and my thoughts?  They do go weird places when unaccompanied and undistracted… 😉  And yes, that was two killer hills in the first 10 miles.  No fair!  It was chilly and grey which may sound unattractive but actually made it easier to follow the route and (very large) signs than the recent early morning dappled sunshine on events has done.  Besides I had my layers pretty much spot on today, having been very keen that I not be cold, so I was a fairly happy bunny with things the way they were.

selfie-pair country-pile

Having gone up there were some lovely views, and I actually passed another couple of riders who’d stopped at the top to take selfies and photos of the landscape, which was novel.  Not the photos – the riders!  I took my photos en route, as ever, but stopped playing David Bailey in time for the steep and rather technical descent.  Things flattened out after this, and also started brightening up nicely.  Things were looking up, but not up 😉

first-food-stop-well-labelled the-swan-inn

The first food stop came at 25 miles in, the car park of the Swan Inn in Great Shefford where the landlord was very kindly letting his (very swish) facilities be used.  I kinda wished I could have stayed there, it looked like a lovely place, and the thought of sitting in its beer garden in the sun with a cold beer…?  Ah well, maybe another time.  The lady manning the food stop was friendly and chatty and probably bored witless after standing there for hours more or less on her own.  Initially it was just me there, and even when joined by the top of the hill two and a whippet who could probably do the long route twice over in the time it was going to take us three to do the Standard route, it was never what you’d call busy!  And yes, I’d pretty much decided to do the Standard route.  I had places to be later, and no desire to push any boundaries today.  Anyway, the food stop was pretty well stocked (and labelled!) and I discovered that today mini scotch eggs were what I wanted, which wouldn’t be what I’d normally opt for but hey, they tasted good, and I’d been told to make sure I ate properly for a change.  So I sat down, chatted a bit, ate those, and kicked back a bit.  Sometimes it’s just nice to sit still in the sunshine.

mini-scotch-egg route-split

I headed back out again on my own.  And headed into more familiar territory.  I’ve done a fair few sportives around here, and have a couple ahead too.  It’s a beautiful area, even more so under blue skies.  But that wasn’t enough to make me change my mind.  I still turned left 5 miles later at the route split.  Right then.  15 miles to get to the next food stop.  And those miles weren’t flat!  There were another couple of big hills between me and that, but the descents were better this time, and I was loving being out in the sunshine not feeling too terrible and just being me and my bike.  More cute cottages, more well behaved countryside.  All good.  There may even have been some stashing of layers and rolling up of sleeves 😉

10 second-food-stop-emptiness

The next food stop was as quiet as the first, set in a little car park in front of a pretty church, complete with a little toilet block – always good.  Once more, me and some mini scotch eggs took a breather sat on a curb in the sun.  I certainly wasn’t feeling as bad as the last sportive but I was still aware that pacing myself and taking it just that little bit easier than I might want to was the way to go.

second-food-stop-food second-food-stop-church

By my reckoning I only had around 20 miles to go, which seemed doable.  Which it was, being more of the same.  Scenic.  Rivers to cross, and canals.  A couple of fairly big climbs.  Including the kicker that is on the White Horse Challenge and that somehow I always forget, I think maybe my memory blocks it out!  And as I turned a corner there it was in front of me again…dagnamit!  It’s long, gets steeper, and wiggles…  Still, I got up it,  Again 🙂  To be let out to play on top of the world for a while, amongst fields of gold, playing tag with the range of awesome cars doing the Classic Harvest Tour, who I crossed paths with several times.

rolling-golden-hills classic-harvest-tour

They were having fun, I was having fun, although I probably admired their cars more than they admired my bike 😉  Before long we were back in Wiltshire, where the rich people were still living, and I was still being somewhat envious.  Can’t afford their cars, can’t afford their houses neither! *grin*.

canal prosperous-hungerford

Did you know there’s even a village called Prosperous?  It didn’t surprise me…but it did make me giggle *grin*.  Well I presume it’s a village, not just a adjective used to describe Hungerford, which is kinda what the signpost made it look like 😉  The miles counted down, as I passed from  Wiltshire and back into West Berkshire, and very shortly I was back at HQ, and rolling under the Finish Arch with a complete lack of fanfare, bells, or whistles.  Ah well, at least it was purple 😉  Two ladies were sat watching over the finish line, probably a fairly thankless task, and one of them gave me my medal, while the other noted my admission to having bailed to the short route (though that doesn’t seem to have made it as far as the official times list).  There you go.  Black Legend done.

Cycling time: 4:36
Official time: 5:11
Distance: 65.9 miles
Avs: 14.3 mph

finish-line black-legend-medal

Usually when I write about a sportive I use “we” rather more often than today.  But it was definitely an “I” day.  99.9% of all the cyclists I saw today were not on this sportive, just out on Sunday rides with their teams/groups/whatever.  It turns out that only around 60 riders took part.  Which would explain a lot.  The lack of atmosphere for starters.  I pushed my bike over to the main school entrance and parked up, so as to go to the toilets and try and purchase something cold and fizzy.  Which I did – well kinda.  It was the only can of such on offer – coke I think – and it wasn’t cold either.  But hey, at this point beggars couldn’t be choosers, it was better than nothing.  As I sat outside on the steps drinking it, and checking in with the world, there was just one other rider loitering around, who came over for a chat.  He’d done the whole route and still had a reasonable ride home ahead of him – so chapeau to you Andy!  We both agreed that today, though pleasant enough, had been somewhat lacking.  However scenic, I don’t think I’d do it again.  I can ride around pretty places completely on my own, and time myself, any time…and there are other events around here that are better.  Harsh maybe, but true.

Southern Sportive 2016

Since my last sportive, I’d been lucky enough to have a couple of weeks pretty much pain free.  Which, in my world, means just being on the fentanyl patches, and not having to layer up with tramadol.  I also took myself off the pregabalin which I’m not sure was helping with the pain but was most definitely making me much more drowsy.  So, a good couple of weeks, as these things go.  Right up, predictably, until the day before my next sportive.  So I spent a damp Saturday wandering around Didcot Railway Centre, feeling sorry for myself and trying to get the pain back under control, which took most of the day.  Marvellous…

So what would Sunday bring?  Well PMA right?  It could just have been one of those days.  It didn’t have to be one of those weekends.  So when I woke up on Sunday morning, in Didcot at Matt’s, not feeling too bad, I was feeling fairly positive.  I even decided not to take the pills since, when I’m not habituated to them, they have been known to make me drowsy, and I didn’t fancy falling asleep on the bike again.  And yes, I was in Didcot, not Somerset.  Usually I do sportives from home, but since Matt’s place is only around 1:15 away from HQ, and my place is 2:30 away, it seemed to make sense.  So where was HQ and for what?

Churcher’s College, Petersfield, for the Southern Sportive, since you asked.  I had a lovely drive down the A34, with the sun rising through pastel skies, surround by fields wreathed in low lying mist, and even occasional fog for novelty value.  I wasn’t heading for early doors, as I’ve ceased doing that, but even so when I arrived the college was quieter than I expected.  I’ve done this one before, and I’m sure there were more people around last time.  Still, at least that meant it was easy to park.  The pre-ride instructions had indicated various other options, should the college have been full, and I’d been a bit worried that I would end up having to use one of those.  I needn’t have been though, I just drove carefully through past other cars discharging riders and bikes to park up on the tarmac as marshalled.  Easy peasy.

gathering-to-go reception-desk

It might have been nice and sunny out there, but it was still really chilly.  I was wearing just a little more than usual, basically summer kit with base layer, arm warmers, decent gilet, and my summer longs…but the trip to the toilets and registration convinced me that shorts plus leg warmers was going to be the way to go, as that combo is actually thicker and warmer than my lightweight tights are.  Registration itself was easy.  A short queue until my turn came, whereupon I signed my name and was given my bike number, and a timing chip to attach to my rear skewer.  I also picked up a waterproof map for the route and the emergency contact details on it.  Well you never know, right?  I headed back to the car, clutching my bits and pieces, with helmet and camera (both of which I’d taken with me) only to discovery when I opened the boot and put them all down that I’d already misplaced the chip!  I was just about to retrace my steps when a very lovely lady jogged over in my direction, asked me if I was me, which I was, and so reunited me with it.  Honestly, I swear I’d forget my own head sometimes…

martins-rider-briefing lake-view

Time to get on with faffing.  I reassembled the bike.  Swopped leg layers as I’d resolved to.  Attached the timing chip.  I’m not a fan of that system – I prefer skewers to be working on holding the wheels on, without anything else getting in the way.  Which might be irrational but hey…*shrug*.  I then joined a small group gathering at the start line at around 8:30 – the very end of my recommended start time slot, if I was doing the 100 mile Full route I was signed up for.  Not that I was concerned, 8:30 still felt like plenty early enough to me.  Once there was enough of us waiting, Martin Harrison, the event organiser, gave us a thorough briefing before letting us go on our way and out on to the road.

into-the-countryside railway-bridge

We were out of Petersfield almost straight away and it was nippy out there.  Especially in the shade which, with the bright morning sunshine casting long shadows everywhere, there was a lot of.  The constant transfer from dark into light and back again made it really hard to spot obstacles, especially potholes, and also signs.  As there weren’t many other riders around me mostly, if any, vigilance was essential and even then I nearly missed the odd one.  Luckily this ride is big on repeater ribbons, one of my favourite things, and if ever I worried I was off course I would shortly be reminded I wasn’t.  Very reassuring.  By the way, did I mention that chiaroscuro is one of my favourite words?

pretty-start up-a-hill

The hills started pretty much straight away.  One at 2 miles in, one at 5, both quite big, and both a bit of an ask that early on and so not warmed up.  The second one, Halls Hill I think, came complete with NT car park and walks at the top, and it sho’ was perty up there.  Ups bring downs though, which is generally good.  Unless they come with warning signs.  As unlike some events, who are to my mind rather over cautious and over use their Caution signs, today such signs meant what they said.  So if it said be careful down hill I was (yes, I can do that!).  And when one such sign warned of a sharp dangerous bend ahead, about 8 miles in, I’d slowed right down by the time I got there, which is why losing my back wheel on the gravel there was merely heart-stopping, not disastrous.

Ups had proved that life wasn’t pain free.  But I was riding my bike at my own pace, under no pressure, and so when the route split – for the 45 mile Short Route – came at 10 miles in, I didn’t even consider taking it.  I still fancied doing 100.  It was pretty out there on the South Downs.  And sunny.  There were lots of very clean very shiny sports and classic cars around making the most of it, quite probably related to the Goodwood Revival which was just down the road and on this weekend.  But it wasn’t warm.  I kept waiting for it, and me, to warm up, and it kept not happening.  And slowly I started to feel a bit less than great.  Not warm, the ouchy patch getting battered by pedalling, and even though not on the pills, I was starting to get woozy and to zone out from time to time.   There were gradual deceptive ‘am I really going up?’ drags, and then bigger more definite hills like Harting Hill.  All of which went fine, but which hurt somewhat.  Literally.  Not great.

first-food-stop-staff first-food-stop-riders

So I was quite looking forward to the first food stop, around 24 miles in.  Sadly, lurking in a lay-by off a more major stretch of road, it was rather underwhelming.  There wasn’t a lot on offer, the staff were busy chatting to each other, and there weren’t any toilets.  I topped up my bottles and sat on the grass for a bit, feeling a bit grumpy and not great, before heading off.  Clearly I was going to need to make alternative arrangements…

classic-car wide-open-fields

The next route split came a couple of miles later and I decided that the way things were going, 100 miles was not going to be an option.  Ah well 🙁  Time to bail, and look towards 70 miles instead.  I turned left, off down lots of country roads, through recently harvested fields, on my own.  I was looking for somewhere to answer the call of nature and failing dismally as the scenery was more open and wide than hedged in.  It wasn’t until around 32 miles in that I finally found somewhere to pull over.  Which I did.  And did what had to be done.  And realised that I was just feeling wretched.  The woozy patches hadn’t gone away, I couldn’t get warm, the pain was proper back and kicking off, and I was all wobbly and off balance.  I’d just pushed it too far I guess, without realising, as usual.  I sat down on the grass, and kinda lost it.  I haven’t wiped out like that since the Tour of Pembrokeshire… 🙁  After a bit I rang Matt and literally cried all over his virtual shoulder, which definitely helped.  And Facebook did its bit too.  I posted a photo of the lovely view that was being wasted on me, and various of my fab mates piped up to support me and wish me luck.  So I sat in the sun, with my virtual mates, drank, ate, thought about what to do next and later, and took those blasted pills.

wipe-out-view

I did get it together eventually.  Well I didn’t have much choice did I?  I had 38 miles to do to get back and that was that.  Which wasn’t going to happen if I sat around feeling sorry for myself.  So back on the bike then.  I tried to remember where the next food stop was, distance wise, and focussed on getting to that.  At least the route was nice.  Still pretty.  Cute thatched cottages, pretty pubs, etc.  I wasn’t paying massive attention.  My world had sort of shrunk down to just me and making the wheels go round, but I did try and make an effort to look around once in a while and enjoy the ride a bit.

its-a-sign-right country-pub-with-flowers

Finally, as the middle of the day drew near, that sunshine started to have actual warmth in it.  Quite quickly as it happens.  I started thinking what had seemed the unthinkable…that I might actually get to take layers off!  Not yet though.  First off I got lost.  As I approached Rowlands Castle, an arrow on the bridge ahead pointed sharp right.  So I went right.  As a few riders were ahead of me, I figured I was probably on the right track.  But no.  As the nearest two slowed up and I caught them, and we chatted, it turned out we were all getting more and more convinced that we’d gone wrong.  There were no signs.  None of those lovely orange ribbons.  And all the other cyclists we saw were either going the other way, or not on our ride.  A couple of miles down the road we made the decision to turn tail, and me and the boys in blue, as they were literally but not figuratively, headed back, chatting all the way.  As it turns out if we’d just turned left where we turned around we’d have rejoined the main route anyway!  Ah well, it was all extra miles, right?  Like I needed them today…

orange-ribbon so-beautiful

It also turned out that the right turn we wanted had come just after the bridge not before.  Where there was an attractive looking cafe/shop just along from the corner, surrounded by colourful riders taking a break in the sunshine – whether ours or not who knew.  I was so tempted to stop and find some fizzy orange, but since I temporarily had company I didn’t.  However it turned out that two of us three had drawn ahead and left one behind and so I ended up heading off on my own anyway, while those two reunited behind me somewhere.  Time enough for fizzy orange later hopefully…  They caught me a while later and passed by, when I finally got to stop and stash my remaining limb warmers though.  We bumped into each a few more times on the ride – the first of which being at the next food stop, around 48 miles in.  Provisions were still sparse, though those manning it were a lot friendlier.  Still no toilets however.  It did have quarters of orange though which for some reason seemed just the thing, and I had an orange worth’s of them, sat on the curb, not being sociable.  I was feeling better.  But not great.  I rang Matt again, to reassure both him and myself that I was going ok and getting there.  Which I was.

second-food-stop-riders second-food-stop-food

I hung out for longer than usual, and those few that had arrived before me were long gone by the time I set off again.  Which didn’t stop me catching those blue two again and passing them later on.  Clearly I was feeling quite a bit better then.  Lots of the talk at the food stop had been about the main big climb that still awaited us – Butser Hill.  Which was actually lovely, being my kind of long gradual slog.  There were two climbs there I think, but it all sort of blurred into one.  And the views up on the top along the ridge in between times, were just amazing.  Proper good for putting things back into perspective.  On both sides – over to the coast and even the Isle of Wight beyond I think, and then also inland.  Just beautiful.

which-way-shall-i-go long-climb-upwards-somewhere

As was the descent the other side.  Which I’ve definitely done in reverse.  I wonder if it was on a different event or on this event with the route done in reverse?  Not that it matters, as I still had a smile on my face when I popped out on to the A32 at The George & Falcon. Time for a brief moment of nostalgia…family sailing trip memories and the like…Dad will know what I mean 🙂  And then a brief stretch up the A32 and a right turn in the very pretty West Meon had me headed back for home with about 10 fairly flat miles to go.  East Meon was even prettier!

boys-in-blue-ahead pretty-church

In fact that whole last section, finally warm, pain under control and, after those climbs, less hilly, went pretty well.  Even if it was a little much too little too late.  I pushed as much as I could, whether wise or not, just so as to get back as soon as I could.  Sooner done, soonest mended.  There were a few main road stretches which weren’t much fun – the traffic being a little busy in the sunshine, and with no marshals to help with crossing and the like.   Which were followed by a gratuitous suburban loop around Petersfield, which I imagine was there to add mileage, to get me back to HQ and rolling over the mats at the Finish Line, seriously relieved to be back.  A young marshal was standing by to reclaim my timing chip from me, presumably to stop me losing it again, and I was given a voucher for a hot drink.

suburbia finish-line

Cycling time: 4:49
Official time: 5:45
Distance: 70.6 miles
Avs: 14.7 mph

It may not have seemed like the day for a cup of tea.  But I knew there was fizzy orange in the car, and a cup of tea just appealed for some reason.  First things first though, time to own up to Martin that I’d done the shorter route, and to be given my bronze medal which, all things considered, was a miracle.  Oddly Strava thinks I did pretty well but it certainly didn’t feel like it.  It’s so annoying to be on form and to be sabotaged by myself!  I then went and got my cup of tea and sat on the curb in the sunshine, in a little social media world of my own for a while.  Southern Sportive done.

finish-timing-desk chilling-out-afterwards

One of the things that had been worrying me earlier was finishing the ride feeling the way I did and then still having to drive all the way back to my place.  I wasn’t sure I’d make it.  So from one food stop to another, after texts home, and talking to Matt, we decided that going home could be done the next day, and that today going back to Didcot was the wisest thing to do. Which, after loading up the car, taking more pills, and getting sorted, is what I did.  It was definitely a good call.  Driving was not a lot of fun in lots of ways and I was getting sleepy by the time I got back there.  Where I spent the rest of the afternoon just curled up on bed taking it easy.  It’s hard to explain, but having gone beyond, and had everything sort of overflow, it sort of takes a while to put it all back together again?  Next time maybe I should take the pills beforehand? 😉

medal

Ah well, it wasn’t the end of the world.  Just one of those things.  In a great many respects it was a lovely ride.  The route is nice – scenic, and challenging but not too much so.  It’s well organised, though the food stops need work, and there were some main road crossings and sections that were a bit unpleasant.  And a few more riders around would have been nice too – but I don’t know what you do about that, as I imagine they would have liked more entrants too!  How about we all do it again next year and make it an even better day out?