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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 🙂

 

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. 

9-route-split 10-cross-keys

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.  

11-matt-and-a-hill-ahead 13-see-the-downs

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.

14-its-a-food-stop 15-and-theres-food

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.

16-reviewer-at-work 19-rider-support

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 😉    

25-a-bit-too-busy-here 23-pretty-church 26-autumnal-colours 20-still-going-left

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!  

29-happy-matt 30-finish-line

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.

1-lake-at-renishaw-site

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.  

2-start-line-1 3-start-line-2

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!

4-hazy-morning-views 5-ribbon-and-shadow

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…

6-green-bends 7-tower-views

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.

8-first-food-stop 9-narrow-country-lanes

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.

10-posh-country-estate 11-up-hill-under-cover

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 😉

14-modern-tower 15-route-split

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?

17-see-the-signage 19-tyndale-monument

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.

20-a-tower 21-rider-in-red

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*.  

22-canal-break-view 23-church-is-open

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!  

24-berkeley-castle 25-pretty-church

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.

Meon Vale Spring Classic

Daffodil

Welcome to the first sportive of my season.  Which is actually the second review.  I’ve gotten all behind and out of sync and well…whatever…here it is.

I was a bit nervous beforehand.  The forecast had not been great, it’s early in my season, and all the other usual worries that bother me were bothering me.  I’d spent all week telling myself it was only 80k so not a big deal really.  So it’s just as well I checked a couple of days before and discovered it was actually 100k, not 80k.  This is fine when you’re prepared for it, but not when you’re out on the course, tired, and spending an hour not reaching the finish line you’re looking for.  That can definitely do your head and PMA in.  Forewarned, forearmed 🙂

So, which sportive are we talking about?  Well this year I’m trying to do more events that I haven’t done before, which is why I’d picked the CFC Meon Vale Spring Classic – aka the Daffodil Ride – to start the season with.  (Sadly the page for the event no longer exists on their website, so I’ll point you at their Events page instead in case you want to do another of their events instead).  As with quite a few of my events, due to proximity and easy access, it’s in the Cotswolds – and in this case the northerly chunk.  HQ was at the new Meon Vale Leisure Centre, about two hours drive from here.

It was not the nicest drive in the world.  It was early, I was tired, it was cold and grey and dreary and just, well…a bit snooze inducing.  I took a break at one of the usual M5 service stations, where the early morning tumble weed were blowing around the empty car park – most normal people still being in bed at such an ungodly hour on Sunday.  HQ opened at 8:00am and I was there not long after.  It’s a new leisure centre on a new housing development, all of which is shiny and new and clean and possibly just a little bit toy town, but hey, it’ll all age and bed in.  When the pre-event email had said that coffee etc would be available at the Londis shop/cafe in the village – the big purpose built shop here was not quite what I’d imagined…not that I’d be visiting it anyway.  I had my own very good coffee with me  🙂  Interesting the pictures your brain paints with very little information though… 🙂

registration pack horse

I drove past the shop, into the leisure centre grounds, and was marshalled through a security barrier onto a gravel car park section, the small tarmac section directly adjacent to the leisure centre being full already.  Some poor marshal was having to make the barrier work every time, which struck me as a bit of a chore, so I wasn’t surprised when, walking back from registration later, I discovered they’d found a way to make it be open all the time.

There weren’t that many riders around inside yet, so no queuing for registration, or the toilets – all new ‘n clean ‘n nice ‘n all, but not very generous in number – there would be queues later…  As for registration, this is a charity ride – CFC stands for Cyclists Fighting Cancer.  So to keep costs down there was to be no official timing, though for those that wanted to compare times they’d set up Strava segments for the two routes available – 100km and 60km.  So, no timing chip to collect, just a map, bike number & cable ties, in return for a signature as usual.  Talking of costs, entry was just £12 for 100km and £11 for the 60km, plus it’s for charity…doesn’t that make a nice change?

heading to start ready

I headed back to the car, past that open barrier, to faff as usual.  It was COLD!  Even though the forecast was now actually ok, what with it going to be a fairly short ride, I didn’t think there was much chance of it getting too warm before I was done, so I had pretty much every winter layer I own on.  Having resorted to posting a photo of the bike on FB, as you do, apparently it looked like I was going on a camping holiday…oh ye who mock my saddle bag!  And top tube bag.  Well I’ll have you know they’re both very useful!  And if you’d like some better more sports related excuse, call it training under load or something…  Just think how fast I’ll be when the summer bike and summer wheels come out to play? 😉  At least my pack horse was all clean and oiled and everything – yes, I do occasionally wash it.  And photographic proof is always good…as no-one ever believes me when I say that *grin*.

route signs 1 route signs 2

Getting the bike set up was a bit of a pain in the ar*e actually.  Or is that literally?  My new (ish) mudguards may be wonderful things, but they don’t like it when the bike gets put in the back of the car…and the front one had gotten all bent of shape.  I got all bent out of shape trying to get it back in to shape!  My hands were clearly freezing, as I somehow managed to cut a knuckle without realising it…until I realised I was dripping blood all over things!  Not a big deal – just one of those little irritating on a joint things – and it stopped soon enough.  I did finally get the wheel and mudguard to stop touching each other though, which was the main point.

The rest of my car park was full now, and the marshals were busy on their radios debating whether or not it was ok to park the still arriving cars on the grassier bits.  I guess they didn’t want to the the ones who trashed all the new landscaping if it wasn’t!  I’m guessing it was though because I didn’t see them turning anyone away 😉  All wrapped up, both bike and me, I headed back to queue for the toilet, before queuing at the start line along with everyone else.  And it was as cold standing around as feared.  The guy next to me was doing his first sportive, having come back from Dubai last year…I bet he was feeling it, and I kinda felt for him!

hill ahead

We reached the front of the queue, and after a short safety briefing, were let go on our merry way.  The ride itself is a lot like the Mad March Hare, unsurprisingly as it covers a lot of the same ground.  That did add a nice degree of familiarity to it, without it being same old same old (I’ve done the MMH a good few times).  I recognised bits.  Hills especially.  All of which today turned out to be ones I’d done before, if not all on the same event, which was nice because I knew that they were totally doable.  It was all very doable really.  Pretty countryside, ploddy hills, bit draggy from time to time, not stunning, but pleasant enough.  I’d not studied the route too much and, it being the Cotswolds, I’d sort of been expecting it to be hillier, and it’s always nice when a route turns out to be easier than you’d expect!

pretty not busy more pretty

The route split came at the top of Dovers Hill though, which was one of the biggest climbs of the day, so whichever route you did, you didn’t get to get out of it.  I quite enjoyed it, in my own odd way.  I can get up hills.  And I like that 🙂  I also liked the Snowshill descent afterwards which is long, fast, and straight, without a junction at the bottom – perfect!  Especially with there being no traffic on it – of any variety – not even horse riders.  Who are a bigger problem here than in some places, as we’d been warned.  It’s a popular area for equestrians, which is probably somewhat related to the affluence of the area! 😉  Mind you, it may be affluent, but that doesn’t mean the road surfaces are better here than anywhere else.  By which I mean that a lot of them were pretty crap.  Which has nothing to do with this sportive in particular and more to do with the state of UK roads in general, and I spent quite a while from time to time hankering after the beautiful smooth Spanish roads from my training camp…*sigh*

Broadway Tower its a sign of course

The first food stop was due a little bit before halfway, in the very pretty village of Stanton, but my painkillers were wearing off well before then.  I was tempted to wait but…as it happens at the top of a long hill I found a car park that even had a toilet block so I took an impromptu break there to top up and unload, as it were.  I even went so far as swop the winter gloves for the summer ones…a decision which I reversed about twenty minutes later when I realised I was losing feeling in my fingers!  Yep – still cold out there then!

food stop portable toilets

That foodstop actually turned out to be at the 24 mile mark which, on a 62 mile sportive, really seemed a bit too soon.  That would leave 38 miles still to do…and after 24 miles I’ve usually only just sort of hit my stride.  However there it was, and it was well stocked, with a variety of food on offer, and a few portable toilets.  I topped up my bottle, grabbed a few jelly babies – my current foodstop fodder of choice – before heading off again.  It was, as I’ve probably said a few too many times, too cold for hanging around much.

pretty town houses small pile

As the miles ticked by under grey skies, the very cold continued.  However miraculously, around the middle of the day hints of actual shadows started to appear.  Both skies and spirits lightened, and by 1:30pm it was actually blue and sunny and even somewhat warmer.  Warmer I said.  Not warm 😉  On the upside, there wasn’t much wind to speak off all day – and that’s always a very good thing!  I was glad of my kit choices; it’s always nice when you get that right.

slow blue straight

Country lanes, Cotswold stone houses, thatched cottages, cute villages, daffodils, snowdrops…sounds nice doesn’t it?.  There was the slightly busier, more developed and larger, Stow on the Wold thrown in though, and even the odd traffic light for us all to dutifully stop at…though I may have cut it close at one of those busier junctions…hope I made it!  Well, I know ALL cyclists jump red lights, right?  But… 😉

The second half of the ride was flatter, and the last 15 miles even more so.  Flatter, faster, sunnier…oh go on then, this IS fun…and then all the miles were done, and there I was, crossing the Finish Line to be greeting by a small welcoming committee.  My number was clipped off for me, and I was presented with my bunch of daffodils – lovely.  Both nice touches, and I do like daffodils 🙂  I grabbed a free bottle of water and headed back to the car feeling quite pleased with myself really.  I’d enjoyed it, and it was a great way to start my season.  I didn’t beat any records, but I did feel sort of capable out there?  Like this girl can?  The first sportive of the year was under my belt – a slow but solid ride.  Cool beans 🙂

pretty pointy church finish line reception

I could have had a shower in the changing rooms.  I could have taken my bike number to the Londis cafe area and got a free hot drink.  But I didn’t.  Hey, I’m lazy…I just packed the car up and headed for home.  Back to the kids, to a cold beer, and to a nice roast dinner 🙂

Cycling time: 4:31
Distance: 62.8 miles
Avs: 13.9 mph

daffodils for riders

 

Evans Ride It Wiltshire Downs 2015

Dad's 70th birthday cake

Me oh my, I am such a long way behind. But there’s been so much going on! Riding, working, Dad’s birthday, life…what can I say?

A lot of the two weeks prior to this sportive was spent trying to get my knee better.  Resting more, riding less.  Though probably not quite enough of one and too much of the other.  But hey, I was trying…!

Ashton Windmill  Alan and his tart

Since the Welsh Raider, when things went a little pear shaped, I’d done a flat easy run with Alan, a flat short loop on my own, another easy run with the ever-patient Alan, and a nice seaside loop with, unsurprisingly, Alan again.  And slowly things had been getting better.  Riding was not pain free but it was improving, and the time required to recover off the bike had been coming down.

Cycling time: 6:32
Distance: 99.2 miles

All of which means it was time for another sportive.  The Evans Ride It Wiltshire Downs, to be precise.  It’s fairly local, which means a shorter drive and more time in bed.  And coming as it did, the day after the clocks went back, that means another hour in bed, and daylight to drive in.  Very handy!  Even better, the forecast was good, and that drive took place in autumn sunshine, something you wouldn’t have predicted considering that it spent all Saturday p*ssing it down…!

registration

HQ was at Wiltshire College, Lacock, at the end of a long, muddy, leaf covered drive, which would turn out to be pretty typical of all the roads for the day.  It may have been dry overhead, but not under wheel!  I parked up in a muddy gravel carpark a little way from registration and decided that I’d get sorted and then register rather than to-ing and fro-ing.  It being October, even with the sun shining, it was pretty darned cold, somewhere around 6°C, so it was just a case of putting on all the layers I’d brought with me, loading up the bike and my pockets, and heading off.  There were toilets in a changing room block opposite where the gentlemen were queuing and where I didn’t have to, and as it turns out, there were also more inside by registration.  I registered, and the lady stuck my timing sticker on the right hand side of my helmet which was unusual, it’s usually t’other side.  No bike number, so presumably no photography either, a map, and a High5 race day pack, and I was done.  Since I had no intention of returning to the car to stash anything, I plundered the pack for the useful and discarded the rest.

the long queue to start This is NOT a race

Back outside, and the queue for the start was stretching a long way back, which was a bit disheartening, with the thought of standing around in the cold for ages not appealing.  Still, it turned out not to be too bad in the sunshine, and the other riders around were chatty and sociable and as riders were being let away in fairly big groups, it wasn’t long until we were the next group, with me right at the front of it.  No pressure then!  After the usual rider briefing, a demo of the black on pink arrows, again novel, and a reminder that this was all supposed to be fun, we were off on our way.

Wiltshire College doesn’t half like its speed bumps!  I’m not sure when we stopped being on the estate, presumably when they finally ended!  Somewhat oddly, I seemed to have left my group pretty much behind me, so it felt like it was just me heading out into the Wiltshire countryside.  My camera had somehow run out of batteries, so there’s not a lot of photographic evidence of my day sadly…which is a shame because it was absolutely beautiful out there.  Glorious in fact.  I’ve cycled around this area before, most notably on the White Horse Challenge, but a lot of this route was completely unfamiliar to me, and I’ve never seen the Downs stretched out around me like that before.  Stunning 🙂

Food stop at The King's Arms Food stop goodies

Having got my layers spot on, after the initial chill had worn off and I’d warmed up, so about an hour then, I was pretty happy out there.  There were a few ups, but nothing too terrible, and most of it seemed to be being fairly flat or rolling.  So, on to mental meanderings and route decisions to mull over.  There were a lot of options, and route splits came one after the other – no front loading this time.  Would it be the Fun route at 15 miles?  Nah, don’t be daft.  Ok then, how about the Short at 34 miles, the Medium at 63 miles, or the Long at 80 miles?  Hm…  No rush to decide though.  The first food stop came at 28 miles in, in a pub car park, where the two outdoor toilets were proving woefully inadequate for the number of people wanting to use them.  I duly queued, and then after grabbing some jelly beans, and taking the odd photo with my phone, headed off again.  The next route split came shortly afterwards, but even though I reckon there were at least three things wrong with me, because I’m lucky like that, I still reckoned the Short route would be too short.

White Horse on the Downs coming into Avebury

I did decide however that, although the longest route appealed, and let’s face it, it was a beautiful day to be out there, it would be unwise to push it. I reckoned I could manage the 60 without making things too much worse, whereas with the 80, with the bigger climbs in the extra miles, I might set my knee’s recovery back quite a way, which seemed like a daft idea.  So when the next split came along shortly afterwards, I took it.  Which meant that I was half done already and on the homewards stretch.  A stretch that took me through more beautiful countryside but back on to more familiar turf.  Not that I’m complaining, I love cycling through Avebury 🙂  The lack of novelty did make it feel slightly like harder work though somehow, less to distract the brain from the effort being put in?  I guess I was also getting tireder, I’m fairly sure I hadn’t eaten enough, (nothing new there then), and being ill does have a habit of taking it out of you even if you are doing a very good job of ignoring that 😉  Still the scenery continued to keep my spirits up far enough.  Multi-coloured autumn leaves, close cropped fields still golden in the sunshine, blue skies stretching for miles…  Sorry, since I’m short on photos I thought I’d try poetic words instead 😉

riders over the finish line

Towards the end there was a long draggy staged up that went on for a couple of miles.  Hardish work but my kind of climb, and man, the descent afterwards was way more than worth it!  OK, so there were “Caution” signs and there were other riders who were gingerly braking their way down, but I could see all the way down, it wasn’t very bendy, and there wasn’t any traffic coming so….yep, I was the loon hurtling down on the right with a massive grin on my face 😉  A couple of miles after that and I was back negotiating speed bumps, and then crossing the finish line, where I was given another High5 taster pack.  Job done 🙂  There were lots of happy riders milling around in the sunshine and eating the hot food on sale.  I took a break on a step with a can of fizzy lemon, before making my way back to the car.

Cycling time: 4:04
Distance: 62.2 miles
Avg: 15.3 mph
ODO: 11487.7 miles

High5 taster pack

I may not have done the event justice, but I’d definitely do it again.  In fact I actively want to.  The route is lovely, the scenery is stunning, and it’s not too challenging – so it was perfect for this time of year.  Maybe next year I’ll get to do the long route 🙂

route map 2 route map 1

Pulling muscles from a shell ;)

sunny Levels

I went riding last Friday, but unless you want me to moan about the wind (amongst other things) again, it was fairly unremarkable.  Apart from the size of the slice of treacle tart that Alan ate at Sweets – that warrants a mention.  And a doggy bag probably, since even he couldn’t eat it all!  So I didn’t blog the ride, but I might as well slip it in while I’m here, for consistency’s sake.

treacle tart

Cycling time: 1:27
Distance: 22.1 miles
Avg: 15.2 mph
ODO: 9596.7 miles

Which brings us to today.  Which is of course hump day.  Again.  For some reason I came up with this particular route whilst attempting to drift off to sleep on Sunday night, with a vague idea that I might do it on Monday.  However the weather wasn’t in my favour, and life got a bit busy, and besides, hilly routes are perfect for riding with Alan, because at least I can just about keep up on those 😉

Two Trees out of saddle top of Two Trees views again

Of course it had to be a four hill route, since Alan had mentioned that we could easily have sneaked another hill into last week’s three hill route.  Gauntlet thrown down…  Be careful what you wish for, isn’t that what they say? 😉  And do you want to know which hills?  Of course you do.  And it doesn’t really matter whether you do or not because I’m going to tell you anyway.  That’s kinda how this blogging thing works.  So, in order, Shipham Hill, Two Trees, the A39 from Chewton Mendip to the aerial (which fails to have a catchy name), and Deer Leap.  How do you like them lumpy apples? 🙂

I wasn’t expecting it to go well, being back on the shiny pills and all.  But it did.  I just got on with it in a quietly feeling competent kind of way.  The sun helped, the wind didn’t.  Yes, the hills were hard work but, on balance, if pushed (which I wasn’t! 😉 ), I’d say they felt easier than the last times I variously went up them.  Which, according to Strava, is because I went up them faster.  Not PRs necessarily (though some of ’em were), but my best time up all of them in a year, or in some cases, in years!  How cool is that? 🙂  Apparently our efforts were worth a cream tea, if you’re Alan that is.  I’ll be having my reward a little later when Tescos have delivered – something cold and white methinks 😀

Cycling time: 2:36
Distance: 36.8 miles
Avg: 14.1 mph
ODO: 9633.5 miles

Ebbor Gorge smile cream tea

PS: yes the blog title today is truly terrible *grin*

No hippy chick

If I do say so myself, I do a nice line in handicapping myself.  You’d think standing up was simple right?  Not always.  Welcome to my postural/orthostatic hypotension.  To be fair, I’m used to it, but for some reason it got the better of me last weekend.  It’s not helped by my dietary habits, or white wine, but in my defence, I’d had a steak dinner and not that much wine…!  But nonetheless, mid trip to the kitchen, I found myself waking up on the floor, and the glass that I’d been carrying was in even worse shape than me, and some of those shapes were in me 😉  Oops…  Cue two days of feeling pretty wobbly, and throw in a sore shoulder, some bruises, and a large cut at the base of my right thumb…just where it ought to be on the handlebars!  See, didn’t I do well?

So this Saturday’s jaunt was the first ride in a week for me.  Even though it was supposed to be an easy coffee run, I was joined by Alan and Chris G and they stuck me on the front, pretty much all the way there and back!  As ever, in theory, this should mean that I can go at my own easy pace, but actually usually means I feel like I have to go faster in case those behind me are rolling their eyes, and wondering if it would be quicker walking 😉  Rob joined us in Wedmore, but he’s no tortoise either, so it turned out to be rather faster than some of my coffee runs are!  Good training, or something, right? 😉

Xmas in Glastonbury me in my blog

Still, the sun was shining, the skies were clear and blue, the wind was not blowing, and my winter jacket was a bit too warm!  One of those days when it would be criminal not to be on the bike 🙂  To top it all off, Glastonbury was being all festive, with the high street closed, stalls everywhere, and a veritable cornucopia of fairy wings and the like.  Gotta love Fairyland!  We even sat outside for coffee and people watching.  At the end of November!   All very fabulous 🙂  And Rob got hold of my camera…apparently I’m never in my own blog.  No fairy wings for me though…I left ’em at home *grin*

Cycling time: 1:44
Distance: 29.3 miles
Avg: 16.8 mph
ODO: 7205.9 miles

I’m still looking at my options for next year.  The Etape sort of beckons but since doing it, totting it all up, looks like it would cost around a grand, I think I’ll have to find an alternative.  That’s a hell of a lot of money for one day’s riding!  And don’t suggest the Haute Route, I know my limits.  Besides, as of yesterday, I could indeed stick to playing with kittens.  Meet Cassie, the newest member of the family.  Cute or what? 🙂

Cassie