If the hat fits…

Mayor Making 2015 groupI’ve been a tinsy bit busy this week…can’t imagine why…but I have managed to ride twice.  Not that either of these rides went entirely according to plan.

On Wednesday, to compensate for not getting any exercise in on Monday and Tuesday, I planned myself a 60 mile route.  Not the world’s most exciting route, to be sure, but with nowt better to do, and nowhere else to be, I figured I might as well.  Get out there, enjoy it, etc.  However thanks to the bl**dy wind (will it ever stop?), which eventually I really couldn’t face fighting anymore, I gave in, turned right, headed for home, and it turned out to be just 40.  Tant pis *gallic shrug*.

Cycling time: 2:33
Distance: 39.9 miles
Avg: 15.6 mph
ODO: 9482.5 miles

On Friday Gary H and I did the usual kind of Sweets coffee loop.  The man who “hasn’t done any training” hasn’t gotten any slower as a result even if that is true though, and keeping up was hard work.  I wish I could do no training and still be that fast! *sob*.  Ah well, we’re all built different, right?

Cycling time: 1:43
Distance: 28.0 miles
Avg: 16.2 mph
ODO: 9510.5 miles

However after both these rides, I was WAY WAY tireder afterwards than I should have been.   Even after resting in between rides.  Proper bone deep stuck on the sofa weary.  Too many sportives?  Too much else on my plate?  Not enough food (distinctly possible and probably not helping either)?

So, however gorgeous it may be out there, and typically it really is, I am not riding the bike today.  I’d like to but…  I may not tomorrow or Monday either.  Just as well I don’t have a sportive this weekend right?  I get the feeling I may need a break.  Sometimes you have to listen to your body I guess.  We’ll see…  Maybe I’ll go walking instead?  And maybe I’ll ride anyway.  I wouldn’t put it past me ;)  Still today, if you want me, I’ll be sat in the sun somewhere being busy doing nothing.

In the meantime, as the photo above reveals, on Monday I was duly installed as the Mayor of Axbridge again.  It went well, mostly, the usual hiccup, but nothing that doesn’t happen every year, and my two were awesome.  Kudos to my mob :)  So here I be, with a new hat and everything.  The Cycling Mayor once more, in more than name alone ;)

BTW I’d like to thank Paul from The Lamb Inn, in Axbridge, and Butcombe Brewery for donating the beer for my Mayor Making.  Credit where credit is due.  Nice beer too :)

new hat new Mayor old Mayor from one Mayor to another

PS: for those of you currently enjoying the unusually lovely weather on The Tour of Wessex, I think you’ll find that’s because I’m not there, and I shall be invoicing you all for my non-attendance shortly ;)

Black Rat Cyclosportive 2015

I’ve done the Black Rat Cyclosportive before, and this was to be my third time.  However it’s been different every time.  It was based in Portishead for my first in 2012, when it went around Somerset and also for my second, in its “Three Bridges” incarnation in 2014.  This time The Black Rat had relocated to Clifton Rugby Club for a route that wouldn’t be dissimilar to last year but with less bridges and no Avonmouth to negotiate – so I was definitely up for doing it again.

Clifton Rugby Club is, however, not that easy to find.  The satnav was convinced it was a car showroom.  The entrance on the other side of the uncrossable dual carriageway wasn’t open, so clearly wasn’t the right one.  Hm.  So, I drove around circuitously a bit in the hope that I would find inspiration…which, when a black arrow hove into view I did.  I followed it and found the entrance lurking on the side of the one way road that I couldn’t have gone done coming from the direction I’d arrived anyway.  I gather there was a different postcode to use somewhere but clearly that had passed me and many others by.  Some sort of signage would definitely have been helpful, and if it wasn’t for the marshals at the entrance I could use when I found it, it still wouldn’t have been obvious that I was in the right place!

Still, here I was, marshalled to park on a grassy field in the sun, where I would later be joined by both my Dad and Alan.  In the meantime I headed off to register in the club building.  Being early the event was still sort of setting up around me and there certainly weren’t any queues for anything.  I’d remembered my 613 number so found the right place on the table to be given all the usual, and also a free High5 gel.  With at least an hour in hand I had plenty of time to use the facilities and grab a cup of free coffee too.

registration ready to go

The forecast was for pretty much the same as my last ride, sunny/cloudy/breezy/mildish, so I’d figured out what to wear already.  Lightweight longs, toe covers, bamboo s/s base layer, merino s/s jersey, arm warmers, and gilet.  Which made for a whole heap less faffing than sometimes.  Well, apart from trying to get the bl**dy seat post timing tag on – not easy with my huge saddle bag!  As I was sitting in the car wondering what to do next Dad walked past looking for me.  And shortly afterwards Alan walked past on his way to register.  And then there were three.  Not three to ride together, as Dad was doing the short route, with some of his club members around.  But Alan and I were both down for the 100 mile route, aka the Granfondo, his first in quite some time, and we were going to be sticking together for the duration.  ‘Rah – company!

Having said that, I then managed to misplace Alan until just before they started sending riders off…I was starting to worry I’d be riding on my own after all!  So with no time to waste, we joined the queue, and waited for our turn to be briefed and sent on our way.  The rider briefing was a tad rambling but covered the usual bases, and we were on our way at 8:37am, up that one way road, and up the dual carriageway.  Not for long though, very shortly we turned left into country lanes, at which point I found myself wishing we’d been let go in smaller groups as things got a bit clogged up.  Still at least the rider traffic stopped us hurtling off too fast too soon right?

I spy a bridge path to the bridge

I’m often a bit blasé about sportives this days but knowing that I was doing it with Alan who’s done less of ‘em than me, I’d paid more attention to the elevation of the route than usual so that I knew that with the exception of one lump, we were in for pretty flat times all the way until the Severn Bridge.  I figured that lump would be a good test of my insides anyway, although since I was back to popping pills like smarties, I was already dosed up and not too concerned.  So we bimbled our way around the country lanes, doing a reasonable speed but not pushing it, and that lump, whilst a bit testing on early legs, went fine albeit predictable slowly.  Good start :)

New Severn Crossing on the bridge

Right, off to the (old) Severn Bridge.  Which I love riding across.  And today was no exception.  You can see it shining white like a beacon from quite a way off, and it always cheers me up.  After the wiggly cycle path to get to the bridge proper, we stopped for selfies and the like to immortalise the moment, before enjoying the scenic if slightly windy ride across to Wales.  It sure was pwerty :)  Unlike the housing estates of Chepstow that followed, but they passed by soon enough.  We then bunched up for a while at the traffic lights in the centre where the route split was last year, which have possibly the shortest “go” phase anywhere, though I’m pleased to say no-one was jumping them!

Chepstow Tintern Abbey

Wales is where the hills are.  And oddly I like Welsh hills.  They’re, mostly, long but not too steep.    We climbed out of Chepstow past the racecourse and beyond and then flew back down to the Wye Valley to once more immortalise Tintern Abbey.  By now I was having a serious case of déja-vù but hey, the abbey looks much nicer in sunshine, no?  Shortly after the abbey came the route split.  Which didn’t seem to be marked, and the marshal who was occasionally shouting out which way was which was more interested in his mobile phone than whether or not we were going the right way.  Luckily I caught the tail end of his last holler and we went straight on whilst the other two routes went left.  Suddenly where there had been lots of riders around us, there weren’t!  And then we passed some signs marking another route split…curiouser and curiouser!  We carried on our merry Granfondo way as indicated…

Today’s event turned out to be awfully like the Wiggle Wye Valley Warrior, with the addition of the Bridge, and the subtraction of Symonds Yat.  Sounds good to me!  I hadn’t realised quite how identical it would be but then even if I had, having liked that route, I’d probably still have done it :)  When I met an up I knew I knew I could do it, and when I met a down I knew I could properly get in to it.  Lovely :)  It was however all new to Alan!

St Briavel's Castle first food stop

As we carried on, the Wye Valley was just as beautiful as ever, though the bluebells were a little past their best by now.  It really is pretty around there.  Of course you have to climb out of the valley eventually, which was a new climb to me I think, up to St Briavel’s Castle.  It has a Moat Society and everything, who knew?!  The first food stop came at the 50km mark shortly afterwards, where we were marshalled over a timing mat, so they’d know who’d really done which route presumably.  The stop was in a pub car park, a pub which had very salubrious toilets, and outside there was plenty of food on offer, both sweet and savoury.  Although being me I just had half a banana *grin*.

timing mat games Staunton

Off we went again, with more familiar roads.  The next big up.  The church at Staunton.  Monmouth. And once again, espied from a distance, Lydart or Trelleck Hill.  Again!  But I was doing well on hills today.  Well full stop actually.  I was feeling really strong, which was…unprecedented?  I actually left Alan behind going up and he didn’t catch me until near the top when things were easing off.  My best time up there ever I’ll have you know.  Two minutes faster than two weeks ago! :)

Lydart ahead again views and riders behind

Time for the second food stop, at 80km in, at another pub, in Trelleck.  They were waiting on a delivery of more food but there was still a range and enough to go around.  And they still had bananas :)  I was keeping my bottles well topped up today, but with the food stops so well spaced out it probably wasn’t essential.  We had a bit of a chat with one of the organisers, and checked up on the rest of the route with him.  I thought we’d done the four hills that I was expecting so far, so there was due to be a flattish/rolling section before one last big one, which he confirmed.  Always good to know.  And, for a change, I wasn’t asking because I was hating the going up bits, I just wanted to be prepared :)

second food stop green bridge

We headed off once more, but Alan seemed to be flagging a bit, although he reckoned I was just haring off a bit.  Yep, I was still feeling strong :)  I did suggest he took another gel though, and I reined it in a bit and tried to make sure he was always on my wheel – it’s always easier to follow a wheel, right?  Shortly after the stop and a bit more up came the next route split, a very sharp right turn, a bit out of the blue, and again not that well signposted.  We had to retrace a little bit and locate/check the signs so as to take our right turn rather than head straight back to Chepstow.  Which also took us down possibly the best descent of the day.  Fab views but steep and fast and not technical so no photos I’m afraid!  So much fun :)

white windmill third food stop

As promised the next section was indeed more on the flat side, with views, windmills and bridges – I do like having something definite to photograph :)  Again I was riding within myself, with Alan behind me.  All of which took us to the third and final foodstop, once again at a pub, with the same selection of food.  Alan was feeling it, and my left knee was playing up.  Knowing there was a final big hill coming up even I thought a gel might be a good idea, not to mention it making a change from bananas ;)  And that final hill, the long slow interminable climb up from Usk towards Chepstow was just as tedious as it always is!  Although better in the dry and sort of bright than in the rain to be sure.  Knowing it was the last climb of the day and that the rest of the route would be down or flat was motivational too.

national express Alan

It was as billed.  There was a long, long, long, enjoyable downhill and then we had to deal with Chepstow before we could go over the lovely bridge again.  There was some confusion regarding signs and directions around the racecourse and also at the beginning of the bridge, but after some debate with other riders we all took the right path and crossed the by now distinctly windier bridge, but on t’other side this time.  Which was still fun, even if Alan doesn’t look like it was.  This left us with around 16 flat miles to do.  Into a killer headwind.  It has to be said, this was not fun.  Alan was on my wheel with little left in the tank, my head was down, and yes, we were dragging our average speed up nicely, but man, it was hard work!  And when we missed a right hand turn sign somehow, it being small and not that obvious on the pole on the RHS under a tree where it was, and we had to stop, deliberate, and retrace again?  I did have a minor sense of humour failure.  Still, it did mean, whilst stopped and trying to check GPS maps, that I took the final dose of pills that I’d been putting off taking since we were so nearly back, so it probably had a silver lining.  Head down again, route relocated, we continued to eat up the final few miles until finally we were over, or under, the Finish line and sitting in the sun with a well earned pasty and some cider.  Result :)  Black Rat done!

finish line cider and pasty

Cycling time: 6:44
Distance: 100.7 miles
Avg: 14.9 mph
ODO: 9442.6 miles

I was so pleased with how strong I felt out there.  Really, I was on one, which is very rare.  I’m really pleased we both did the 100 miles as planned, and company made the whole thing practically pleasant.  In fact time/speed wise it’s one of my best centuries in quite a while.  Go us!  As events go I like it.  I like the route, I like the hills, I like the organisers, I like the foodstops, and I loved the free cider afterwards – especially when they had too much and we were encouraged to fill up bottles and take it home with us!  But I think the signage needs some work.  One sign per junction just ain’t enough, and although there were some repeater ribbons, more would have been good.  Let’s face it, it’s very rare that I go off course on a sportive…and I’ve had some experience of these things *grin*.  I’d still do it again though – and I’d also recommend it :)

Fly you fools

heaphys still life

 After the rain has fallen, which it did all day yesterday when I should have been riding and therefore wasn’t, comes today.  When it was neither raining nor windy, which would appear to be somewhat of a rarity these days and as such should be taken advantage of.  So Alan and I went out for coffee.  And cake of course ;)

Apparently I should have been going slower, and I should stop surging up hills.  I’m sorry, surging up hills??!!!  I’m fairly sure Alan must have mistaken me for someone else ;)  As for the speed thing well, yes, I know we have a sportive on Sunday, so it may not have been wise, but the legs were working and when they’re working and I have it together, which would appear to be somewhat of a rarity these days, they should be taken advantage of :D

Cycling time: 1:40
Distance: 28.8 miles
Avg: 17.2 mph
ODO: 9341.9 miles

alan and his favourite cake

Too many people take second best

Ok, I’m lying. Of course it doesn’t have to be perfect.  What’s perfect anyway?  And good enough is frequently good enough :)

Today was about checking the legs were ok before the Black Rat this weekend.  Ok, I’m lying.  Again.  It was actually about seeing if I could go up a hill without another meltdown.  In the company of Alan once again, who will also be with me on Sunday.  We actually had sunshine, warmth, and no wind.  No word of a lie.  Yes, I know, miracles do happen! ;)

sunny Burrington Combe

And as it turns out, that hill?  Yes I could.  Burrington Combe.  Again with the not a lie ;)  Best time up it in a year as it happens.  Not just this year.  A year.  Good enough ;)  And I wasn’t pushing it, because I’m still too scared to do that.  But clearly there’s some form lurking somewhere there, when everything else is under control.  And having earnt some fun, Longbottom and Shipham were an absolute blast. So t’was short but sweet as rides go, but well worth it on the PMA front :)

Cycling time: 1:16
Distance: 18.9 miles
Avg: 14.8 mph
ODO: 9313.1 miles

Alan behind me


I’m a survivor

Today was an ACG ride.  A very well attended ACG ride.  Though our numbers were a somewhat movable feast, there were, for the most part, around 12 of us.  Guy led us on a merry dance around the Levels to Fenny Castle for coffee.  And then off up and down the Mendips for those that fancied such antics.

I’d really like to have joined them for that latter part.  Cycling me is feeling pretty good at the moment and although I know I still ill compare with my peers going up hills, I also know that I will get up them and that I am getting up them better than I have been.  However it was not to be.  There were indications early on that ups and me were not going to be friends today.  But on the flat after that, hey, I can do that, and I did, and I enjoyed it.  I’ve not been out with the ACG in quite a while, and catching up with everyone, be it on the bike or over coffee, was lovely.  But while they were all drinking coffee to wash down cake, I had to use mine to wash down shiny pills.

Chris on Cheddar Gorge

So I decided that I would go up Old Bristol Hill with them, see how it went and then make a call for the rest of the route.  I think it’s safe to say this did not go well.  It went well from a Strava point of view to be fair, which is weird, but from a pain perspective?  Really not so much so.  Doing more of the same was clearly going to be neither a good idea, nor pleasant.  So it was time to bail.  Chris very kindly volunteered to join me, or escort me, or just generally make sure I got home in one piece.  Which I/we did, because by then it was mostly a case of fighting the killer headwind on the flat along the top and then trying not to let it take us by surprise on the way down the Gorge.  I wasn’t entirely all together though, and I’m not sure how well I’d have done without the company.  Gratitude be due :)

Apologies to all for bailing.  It’s really not my thing.  Mea culpa, but I didn’t really have a choice. Hey, I was still out for a couple of hours, I made it up a big hill, the sun came out, the hills were green, the sky was blue, and the flowers were not all yellow.  It was very pretty out there and once again, I’m a survivor :)

Cycling time: 2:13
Distance: 33.3 miles
Avg: 15.1 mph
ODO: 9294.2 miles



We just gotta be strong

sunny levels

Dichotomy.  Maybe that’s what I am.  Or that’s what I was today.  Two things which are entirely different.  Or maybe it’s more like the angel vs devil on your shoulders thing.  There was the cycling me, which felt pretty good, unlike Alan.  And the other me who has been happily stabbing me with a pitchfork all day.

Sometimes you can ride your worries away.  Sometimes you can ride away from your worries.  Although that does tend to involve riding back to them but hey, the break is good.  Today riding pushed it away for all but some of the ups, and I didn’t feel the effects of pushing through it all until I stopped doing so.  I was pretty happy out there, all told.  Maybe I should have stayed on the bike – life’s alway better on the bike.  Or at the beach ;)  But beforehand I didn’t think I could do it, and I still did, and that’s just the way it is :)

Things go in circles.  Or cycles.  Well I do anyway ;)

Cycling time: 1:49
Distance: 27.9 miles
Avg: 15.3 mph
ODO: 9260.9 miles


Wiggle Wye Valley Warrior 2015

For the fifth weekend in a row, and the last one for a little while, this Sunday was predictably time for another sportive.  Welcome to the Wiggle Wye Valley Warrior.  My son, also predictably, asked me “wye” I was doing it, given the ‘orrible weather forecast…*groan*.

This was a question I asked myself when the alarm went off at 6:00am, and I didn’t need to draw back the curtains to know it was raining, I could hear it!  What with that and pills and pain I came much closer than usual to bailing altogether, and just rolling over and going back to sleep.  But, well, clearly I didn’t, otherwise this (rather long!) blog wouldn’t be here.  And besides, I don’t, do I?

So, coffee, pills, breakfast, and time to go.  On the upside, Chepstow is only 45 minutes from here, hence the later than usual start, and I got to go across the old Severn Bridge which I always like. OK, so I prefer riding across it, but I’ll be doing that on two different sportives later this year, and it wouldn’t have been much fun in the cold and damp and windy anyway!

HQ was at Chepstow Racecourse, with parking being opposite on a large muddy gravelly sodden car park.  Nice.  I was not looking forward to negotiating that with the bike and cleats…but for the time being I was wearing boots and it was time to walk to registration in the racecourse building.  Same old routine as ever, find your desk, get a timing chip stuck on your helmet, get a Powerbar bottle/goodies (unless you’re on a press place), grab a map, number and cable ties.  Easy.  Oh, and I loved my number by the way – 1234!  Even I can’t forget that.  I remember being 501 once…   Right, just time to nip to one of the many toilets and head back to the bike.

So. Hm.  Well yes it was damp.  Drizzly.  And with more damp forecast.  But it wasn’t very cold. And warmer was forecast.  But wet plus wind can make you very cold.  And what’s in a forecast anyway?  Oh, fiddlesticks.  I hate wearing the waterproof so stashed it in the saddlebag in case damp became proper wet later.  But this would mean precious little space for stashing layers later if I needed to so…  Toe covers, lightweight shoe covers, winter bib tights, bamboo s/s base layer, summer s/s jersey and my winter jacket.  With mitts, winter collar, and with the over gloves stashed in a pocket.  Well the winter jacket has vents, and zips, and I can push the sleeves up quite a bit.  At a pinch one of the s/s layers could come off laters and probably fit in the saddle bag too.  I thought, or hoped at least, that I had every eventuality covered!

start pen rider briefing

Which brings me to time to get going.  Time to gingerly negotiate the muddy car park, clog the cleats up with gunge, and somewhat ruefully reflect that at least the rain would wash the mud off the bike once I got going…  Over the road, and down to the start line where I was luckily straight into the next bunch being prepared to go.  I couldn’t really hear the briefing, though I doubt they had much to say that I haven’t heard before, and I could see the board with the signage on, and heard the bit about route splits.  Having made it here I was determined to ride some, but I still hadn’t decided which route I was going to do – the 101, the 79, or whatever the short one was.  That would be determined by how the weather went and how I actually felt out there.

And off we go.  To cycle along the very beautiful but very increasingly damp Wye Valley.  There’s a reason it’s an AONB you know.  And there were carpets of bluebells, fragrant wild garlic,  vibrant yellow oil seed rape, and lots of green.  Well wet is good for green and it was kinda raining.  Although the kinda of stuff that gets you wet without you really noticing that it’s heavier than you think, if you see what I mean.  It still didn’t feel like time to put the waterproof on though.  Does it ever? ;)  At some point it occurred to me that things looked kind of familiar, and wasn’t Tintern Abbey on the route around here somewhere?  I quickly looked around me, in the nick of time, to see it just about to fly by behind me on the right hand side.  Whilst photos in the rain don’t usually happen, there have to be exceptions to the rule, and since this might be the only pretty thing I saw all day if things got properly head down and miserable, I retraced my tracks a little and, voilá, one damp Cistercian abbey captured for perpetuity.

Tintern Abbey

Off we went again.  As you do.  That would be the royal we of course, since I was back to riding on my own as usual.  And I’ll have to admit I was kind of bimbling today.  I’ve not had a great week health-wise, and having had my insides sort of painfully implode on a couple of hills lately which, I can assure you, is a seriously weird and unpleasant feeling, I was keen to avoid making that happen again.  And as it’s unpredictable, you can never tell if…when…  So that was how today’s ride was going to be.  Being more than a little terrified of my own insides, today was going to be a bimble.  Still, as things started to go up, after one up there was one of those Wiggle signs saying “Well done”, I have to say I hadn’t really noticed it was a notable hill, so that was nice.  Encouraging even :)

wet blurry riders mine

Things brightened up a little.  Which meant that there were gaps in between the damp, and the waterproof could stay where it was.  I swear I carry that thing more than I wear it!  When there was a little sun it was also definitely warmer.  But the weather was/is unpredictable, so would it stay nicer?  Anyway, the first food stop came around 20 miles in which was maybe a little early, but I stopped anyway.  I’d not drunk much yet, so didn’t bother topping up my bottles as I figured I could do that at the next one at that rate.  I could eat half a banana and stash the winter collar though, before heading back out.

first food stop riders first food stop supplies

There were plenty of riders out there today.  I never once couldn’t see another one, or felt like I might have gone off course because I’d been on my own for so long.  Plus the signage was really good, so getting lost was probably unlikely.  Well, all apart from one right turn at the bottom of a steep descent about 30 miles in which a lot of people missed.  The rider in front of me pulled up having seen it, and I had to slow up a little too fast, but hey, at least I got the hint and went the right way.  The riders swearing at him from behind me went past and disappeared into the distance…I wonder how far they got before they realised?

>Goodrich Castle arch bridge

I’ll get on to the number of riders out there in a bit…bear with me.  In the meantime, back to more valleys and hills.  All very pretty.  Goodrich Castle flew by on the right, there were pretty bridges and arty sculptures.  I was doing ok, but I was still feeling too tentative on the pushing it front, and hey, it’s not a race right?  To be honest, I’d known from the outset I wasn’t going to do the very long route.  Nowt to prove these days, and I was almost tempted by the very short one!  But that seemed a tad daft, even for me, so it was going to be the “Standard” route for me.  Which I was hoping would have cut out Symonds Yat…no such bl**dy luck!

foot bridge deer sculpture

Which, with a minor detour, brings us to traffic.  Wales was pretty busy today.  Especially as the world woke up, realised the weather was improving, and that it was a Bank Holiday Sunday and they should be out.  With lots of “them” on the road and lots of “us”, things weren’t always entirely civil, and there was some bad behaviour on both sides.  And to add insult to injury, there was another cycling event running the same day, on a lot of the same roads, though frequently in the opposite direction.  So that’s two way traffic of two sorts on narrow not always two way roads…oooh, we were NOT popular.  I’m thinking cycling organisers should maybe communicate and stop this from happening?  Especially as the other event, the Monmouthshire Challenge is part of a two day event which has the Forest of Dean Spring Classic, on the same roads, the following day.  You know what, I did kind of feel sorry for the motorists, and that doesn’t happen often!

A lot of this came to a head on the aforementioned Symonds Yat.  It’s a killer climb, up a narrow road that’s even narrower at the bottom, with precious few passing places.  The other sportive may not have been here with us, but plenty of impatient motorists were trying to get down/up as we tried to go up.  We all ended up stopped and stuck at one point waiting for things to clear, which led to that “will I ever be able to get back on again” worry.  The lady in the car next to me was, very kindly and whilst chatting to me, waiting to let cyclists come up.  Sadly she hadn’t realised that this was just backing up the traffic behind her and blocking the road even further up…and tempers back there were rising…

Still, the bottleneck cleared, I did get back into my cleats, and I did get up.  Unlike most around me.  Or any, actually.  *grin*  I hope the Mamil who failed to uncleat and rolled over onto the road in slow-motion almost comical fashion is ok, whilst being glad that he did it just far enough ahead of me that he didn’t take me down with him!

Symonds Yat top Symonds Yat behind

Yes, I made it up Symonds Yat again.  That’s three for three :)  The footbridge over the road at the top marks the end of the worst, though it does keep going up for quite some time afterwards.  It is, as a rider in red passing me commented, the hill that keeps on giving ;)  But there were pretty things to look at, and what comes up must come down, which is always good.  Although that down brings you into a busy Monmouth.  Very busy.  With a bridge, lots of cars, traffic lights, some weird back streets to negotiate, and then the busy high street.  Did I mention how popular we were?

horse and cart pretty church

Having gone down, and out, it was time to go back out into the countryside and as it opened out, a familiar looking climb loomed ahead.  Ah, that one.  *groan*.  Lydart I think it’s called.  I knew it was a long one and it was going to take a while.  Having done it on the Forest of Dean Classic I knew I’d probably be ok with it though, and hey, with a hairpin, and being long and gradual really, it’s practically my kind of hill.  Time to engage crawler gear and just get on with it.  Which I did.  Stunning views too, if you felt like looking over your shoulder that is.

Lydart hill ahead Lydart hill behind

By this point things had been tricky on the layer front for a while.  Sun/hills meant I was a little too warm.  When it clouded over, the wind blew, and the drizzle fell again, I was a little chilly.  Should I stash a layer or not?  More worryingly, because I was overall probably a little too warm, I was drinking more than usual.  Having said that, the tramadol has that effect too.  I was seriously starting to think I might run out of drink by the second food stop which didn’t come until somewhere around the 60 mile mark, which I think was too far from the first.  I made it with mere mouthfuls to spare, and was very relieved to top up my bottles – riding when fretting is not great.  Neither would riding dehydrated have been!

second food stop

Having opted for the standard route as predicted, and not taken the right turn in Monmouth to do otherwise, this left me with only 19 miles or so to do.  Which, if it wasn’t too hilly, wouldn’t take too long.  And as it was much nicer out there by now, this left me feeling pretty positive.  And I won’t say that changed too much but, after some more flat, and more pretty valley, there’s a very very long climb back to Chepstow.  It just goes on and on and on.  I wasn’t suffering particularly, but I did get pretty bored of the constant upness!  Another amusing sign encouraged us to “Finish Strong”.  Which hey, great, I’d love to, if you’d stop making me go up bl**dy hill!  Still, even bad things come to an end, and the last 5 miles or so were pretty much down again, which just a little kicker of a hill to get us back up to the racecourse.

brighter views finish strong

Ok, so today was a bimble.  Maybe I hadn’t really earnt my Finishers medal and t-shirt.  I always feel I should have done the long route to earn those.  But as I drove back over the Severn Bridge and the heavens opened again, I reflected that if I hadn’t opted for the shorter route I’d probably be slogging up that long hill, or one similar, in the pouring rain and I decided I could live with it ;)   What I did do was have a pretty enjoyable ride, in some stunning scenery, with an awful lot of climbing that I managed just fine without pushing any painful limits.  That’ll do me nicely :)

Cycling time: 5:47
Distance: 79.5 miles
Avg: 13.7 mph
ODO: 9233 miles

tshirt and medal map

Room to breathe

 Life has been a bit stressful this week.  But riding has given me some room to breathe :)Heaphy's refreshmentAlan and I have been out twice this week.  Once to Fairyland.  Once to the seaside.  Both fairly flat, and both fairly fast.  I’m not on the best form this week, thanks to the usual, but it’s been good to be out there.  And without company I probably wouldn’t have gone out there at all.  I’m lazy like that ;)

Cycling time: 1:44
Distance: 29 miles
Avg: 16.7 mph
ODO: 9121 miles

burnham coffee

Cycling time: 1:55
Distance: 32.5 miles
Avg: 16.9 mph
ODO: 9153.5 miles

Thanks Alan! :)


White Horse Challenge 2015

I’m getting used to the 5:15am alarm.  To leaving as the sun is rising.  As I drove over Winscombe Hill, a deer and I shared space for a little while, before it vanished into a hedge and I carried on my way.  Near Banwell tiny lambs were gambolling around in the fields.  And, unlike the night before, it wasn’t raining.  All of which seemed fairly auspicious as these things go.

Right then, White Horse Challenge, here I come.  As ever, I beat the satnav to Shrivenham, arriving early enough to get a parking space on the field behind HQ.  Which was good because I knew there was going to be a whole heap of faffing this morning, and that takes time.  I have gotten my kit wrong far too many times lately, so had been obsessively checking the weather forecast for days, and had brought a whole variety of kit options with me.  First off though, registration, on the basis that walking over there and back would show me how cold and windy it really was out there.  Plus, it being earlyish, there wasn’t as yet too much of a queue for the four portable toilets outside, so I thought I’d take advantage of that.


Registration was easy.  I signed alongside my name, my timing sticker was stuck on my helmet, and I was left with just my bike number to sort.  I passed on the free coffee, grabbed a map and two cable ties, and headed back to the car.  Being outside had demonstrated that it was indeed cold and breezy but, on balance, not quite as cold as it was last week.  Well, probably not.  So, what to wear?  Ooh, decisions decisions.  I mentally ran through my options, and what I’ve been wearing out there lately and, here we go, from the bottom up; toe covers, winter bib tights, s/s bamboo base later, s/s summer jersey, l/s winter jersey, lightweight gilet, winter collar, mitts, over gloves.  I was really hoping that I would have gotten it right this time…

Time to get going then.  My steed and I headed back across the field, where I joined a much longer queue for the toilets again.  When I emerged and headed for the start, I found Gary waiting for me without even having to look for him.  Yes, just for once I was doing a sportive in company.  Ooh, the novelty!  We’d had a chat beforehand and agreed that if either of us was as crap as we thought we were, and we ended up not being able to ride together, that neither of us would get grumpy about it, which sounded like a plan.

ready to go

Time to go and put that plan into action then.  Riders were leaving one by one as they wished, no bunched starts here, so we duly rolled over the timing mats together and headed out into the chilly Wiltshire countryside.

Now, if last week’s sportive was a ride of two halves, then this week’s was a ride of three thirds.  The first 25 odd miles are fairly flat.  Which is good because it means you get plenty of time to warm up.  There is the odd up, but nothing drastic.  However, all of two miles in, on one of those, and probably also something to do with not being warmed up yet, my insides screamed into painful life.  And I use the word screamed because that’s what I felt like doing.  I was already on the latest pills but it would appear they were wearing off!  It fair took my breath away, and I was out of breath already.  This did not bode well for the rest of the ride, let alone the hills :(

royal wootton bassett Broadtown

Still, on with the show, right?  25 miles of scenic flat back country lanes.  Which we did fairly fast as it happens.  I was muddling through, though probably not as conversational as I might sometimes be.  I hadn’t warmed up yet, bits of me were screaming, and it was still pretty cold!  I sat on Gary’s wheel as necessary, and we made our way around to the first climb of the day.  I’ve done the White Horse Challenge several times before, and today familiarity was a good thing.  For some reason it made the whole thing feel like a shorter event because I could break it down into chunks, and I knew all the challenges ahead.  And the first climb of the day – past the White Horse at Broadtown – I have done many times before.  However today, what with the pain, I was kind of dreading it.  I was very worried that going up was going to hurt even more which, unsurprisingly, didn’t appeal.  And I was also annoyed because I’ve been doing pretty good up hills lately and to be sabotaged by my own body seemed unfair.

start of Broadtown

So I was very pleased when it actually went really well.  We’d agreed to meet at the top and yes, initially Gary drew away from me.  But as we got going, and my crawler gear engaged, I got it together, overtook some other riders, and by the time we reached the top I was on it and actually overtook Gary as the road flattened out.  It was, as I commented at the time, a lot better than I expected, which did massive amounts of good stuff for my PMA.  And it hadn’t made the pain worse.  ‘Rah!

first food stop

Which brings us to the second third of the ride.  Which started with a technical down hill, some flat and fun, and the first food stop, when I took the next dose of pills, ate half a banana, and popped into the village hall toilets.  We set off, and headed for more hills.  Which in this case would be the A4 past the next White Horse at Cherhill.  It’s a very long gradual climb which is very attractive but, sadly, had a bit too much traffic on it.  Still I was warmed up now, the pills were working, and I was feeling a lot better.  On form even.  I actually accidentally left Gary behind me, but I waited for him at a relevant point, and we were back together to go through the stones at Avebury.  Which formed the pattern for a while.  I’d get ahead, then wait, and then we’d try again.

Cherhill Avebury

The stretch from Avebury to Hackpen is fairly rolling and fairly enjoyable, but without many places to stop.  It’s not that wide a road which probably explains why the black Ferrari going past us all apparently nearly took Gary out – they’re wide cars!  It just made me grin when it went past me – I love fast cars :)  Our next rendezvous was just after the right turn for Hackpen Hill, where we took a bit of a breather.  Gary was feeling a tad dizzy, so the maternal in me nagged him into not just eating but also taking a gel.  He did what he was told, though he may have been cussing me under his breath ;)

Hackpen Gaz

I love Hackpen Hill.  It’s pretty, you can see it from miles off, the White Horse is lovely, I know I can do it, and I LOVE the flying stretch to Marlborough that comes afterwards.  Stick followed by carrot.  Overall it’s one of my favourite patches of road.  The hill has hairpins and everything, and it’s steepest at the beginning and then gets easier – the way all hills should be.  And again, it went well, I even overtook people on the way up.  And I waited for Gary at the top, which was handy for taking photos :)

I love this bit

Having said that, the elastic holding us together was starting to stretch now though.  Yes I’d waited at the top, but I then had to go have the fun I’d earnt.  And I really did enjoy myself.  Fast flying downhill?  Of course I did.  But I did leave Gary behind again.  I waited in Marlborough though, as Gary and a small posse that had grown around him arrived, all of whom I’d overtaken on the way down ;)  We headed out of town down Chopping Knife Lane, which is a fab name, and set off into the middle of nowhere, with hilly wooded climbs, pretty villages, and yes, I’d dropped Gary again.  I think I only have one speed.  It’s either the speed I can go at at any given time, or no speed at all, and sadly today it wasn’t Gary’s speed.  As I carried on there were quite a few more hills, including the one that has no name and no White Horse but is probably the worst of the lot!  I went up it with two other riders.  They both ended up walking.  I did not ;)

wooded climb i always forget this one

I reached the food station at Froxfield, about 68 miles in, feeling fairly positive, and did the usual.  I wasn’t that hungry though and actually, looking back, I didn’t eat that much today.  One small flapjack, half a banana, some Clif cubes, and one gel.  And about 1l of Nuun.  I can’t say I felt the lack though, so I guess that’s ok.  Anyway, Gary arrived shortly after I’d emerged from the toilet, and I was pleased to catch up with him again.  Or have him catch up with me I guess ;)

long and yellow second food stop

Which brings us, inevitably, to the third third.  Which was less fun.  I dropped Gary again, and decided to just keep going.  I felt a bit guilty, but the pills were wearing off slowly, it was still cold, and I needed to get this ride over and done with.  I also knew he’d understand.  Mind you there was also a killer head wind, and there were times I missed the chance of a wheel to sit behind!  So off I went.  There were more ups, and I knew that the big climb at Uffington was still ahead of me.  There was also lots of long draggy climbing through yellow fields, on long straight roads, straight into the wind, that just seemed to go on and on and on…  Talk about a slog.  My hard earned average speed was ebbing away by the mile, along with my PMA…*sob* ;)

up and trees straight into the wind

Finally, and somewhat later on the route than I expected for some reason, we reached that last hill.  Uffington, aka the Dragon Hill apparently.  Which does have a White Horse, but you never see it!  It’s also a timed hill climb, which always brings forth a wry smile…as if!  On previous rides this has been a pretty busy place, with spectators and the like.  It was quiet today, apart from the obligatory photographer half way up of course, which was actually quite nice; less pressure to perform!  And actually it was fine.  Just another hill.  A big one to be sure but hey, done it before, did it again.  In fact I apparently did it the best I ever have.  Go me! :)

Uffington view

Right.  Enough with all the up stuff.  With only 6 miles of down and flat to go it was time to sprint to the finish.  So I did.  Which was fun, even with that bl**dy wind :)  Finally it was time to cross the finish line, print out my time, and drink fizzy orange while I waited for Gary to join me, which he did a little while later.  I’m pleased to say he was still talking to me.  Don’t you just love it when a plan comes together? ;)  White Horse Challenge done :)


Cycling time: 5:51
Distance: 89.9 miles
Avg: 15.3 mph
ODO: 9092 miles

I’m a bit disappointed with my time; I think it’s actually the slowest I’ve ever done it.  Which is weird because I swear it felt easier.  And I did good up the hills.  I guess what with the wind, and the whole screaming on the inside, and the painkillers, well…none of those are probably conducive.  But disappointment not withstanding, and all things considered, it actually went pretty well.  It’s a nice ride, on a nice route, with lovely scenery, and I got my kit pretty much right!  I had a fairly good day out, and it made a really nice change to do a sportive in company though, even if we didn’t stick together for the entire thing.  I may have to try and persuade more of my friends to join me at more events :)

Free to be whatever I choose


Time to ride the bike in the sun and see if the legs were still working.  Which they were.  On a route that was carefully planned to maximise the use of tailwind across the levels.  And it was nice out there, as you can see.  I had a good time :)

Cycling time: 1:43
Distance: 27.5 miles
Avg: 16.0 mph
ODO: 9002.1 miles

Today is MaxiMe’s birthday so, just for once, that’ll be all for me today.  Priorities :)

me and my shadow swan nesting