Tuesday, 9 May 2017

FNRttKust 2017

This time last week we were all making our way to Brussels.  Except for Claud.  Claud's train never left Swindon.  That was a great shame.  Claud was wearing Lion of Flanders cycling socks and everything!

I made my way to Brussels with the help of my sister Kris who drove my bike and I to Lichtervelde train station.  Me not finding my lock was on my mind, and Kris suggested we visit the local bike shop - there was plenty of time.  I'm pleased we did.  Not only was I able to buy a lock, I had a good laugh with the owner and stepped back in time 30 years.

"Hooglede velomaker"
He made a couple of philosophical statements, like 'you can buy a bike in every sweetshop, but you can't buy sweets in a bike shop'.  Or did I mis-hear that?  His point was that bike shops are disappearing.  Well, if you are in Hooglede (which is near Gits), you might like to pop in before this one disappears.  You can't buy sweets, but you can buy pots and pans and have your dry cleaning done to boot.

Kris left me in good spirits and totally up for the ride, the fifth and final edition of the Flemish Night Ride to the Kust.   Once in Brussels, after a super fast train journey, I was even more smiley as I saw Tintin and Snowy popping up from behind some buildings.

Kuifje and Bobbie
I made my way to the Grand Place and had my customary waffle with strawberries and a hot chocolate. Yum!  It didn't take long for Fridays to arrive.

The Fridays!

We left at 11PM as planned - amazing!   We were lead out by our Brussels specialist BalkanExpress.  The Eddy Merckx factory was a photo opportunity not to be missed.  At Groot Bijgaarden we were joined, as planned, by Frank, a local randonneur and friend of the Fridays.

It was a quiet night. We had no mechanicals, no rain and no headwind.  The most noise we heard was being shouted at in Aalst, as usual.  No, not as usual, more than usual!  I had told Frank that we usually get shouted at and he replied 'just shout back'!  So we did, and the punters loved it.  Think I heard an 'Allez Eddy'.

Some of the more unusual experiences were being stopped by a hedgehog (makes a change from the kangaroos)

It's a hedgehog!! (photo by deckertim)

and yorkshire preferring to walk the route than cycle it.


The middle of the night stop is at only 60km, so we can't be hallucinating yet.  But when you enter our hosts' house and see the tables 'groaning with food' as StuAff put it, you think you have arrived for something more wonderful than a mad cyclists tea party in an 'Alice in Wonderland'  kind of world.  I wanted to try everything and began regretting eating that waffle in Brussels!

Thank you sooooo much!!
Yorkshire was sure that this stop was overhyped, but 'it turns out to be quite the opposite' she said.  There was soup, two types of soup, quiches, three types of quiches, croissants, three types of croissants, chocolates, lemon cake, brownies, bread, cheese, ham, fruit, yoghurt ....

And then we left holding a take-away bag with more of the home-made yumminess.

On to Bruges, making good time, even ahead of time.  This is going swimmingly.

Smedenpoort - Bruges (photo by deckertim)
I love the stretch between Bruges and Ostende.  That's when the sun comes through.

However it's also the stretch and the time of day when Sunday cyclists come out for their training.  I want to emphasise that cycling clubs in Belgium are at the top of the pecking order.  They have priority over everything and everybody.  You see, amongst them will be the future Tour de France winner.  So if they want to go four abreast whilst we hug the path edge, single file, then that is what needs to happen.  Don't fight it, let the future Tour de France winner and his entourage do his thing.

There is no point being annoyed at the road works either, is there.  But I must admit that I was ggrrr'd to find the smooth tarmac of the 'Groendreef' dug up.  We were nearly there and I had visualised sailing into Ostende, through the park, onto the esplanade ... Never mind, it's not too much hardship really.  Just like club cyclists on the tow path, we should expect some road works somewhere along our 143km route.  It's 142 now, yet again a couple of kinks have been removed, thanks to Frank's advice.

Going along the esplanade was a treat.  That is proper Ostende.

Ostende (photo by deckertim)
Caruso didn't disappoint either.  What a breakfast!

Sums it up.
So that was the fifth and final FNRttKust.  There are options for next year.   It could even be self running.  Date, time and location is known, people could just turn up. There is the 24 't Hoekske in Gent and the Bruges station break is convenient enough.  In Ostende, there are plenty of options.  Caruso was initially chosen because they open at 7AM - not that we ever got there at that time!  

Thanks to everybody who has joined and contributed to the FNRttK ride over the last five years - it went from strength to strength.  The last version has been billed 'the best ever'. It certainly was the longest, ETA was spot on for the first time, had the most riders, we ate the most food and had the least mechanicals.  It will be hard not to turn up next year ...

Photos are here: Photos
Photos by Tim: Photos by Tim

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

FNRttKust 2016

Night rides are always an adventure. An adventure more for some than for others. The tandem riders, R and S, had the best share of it having to deal with a longer (3 hours) and longer (5 hours) delay at the Eurotunnel. They pulled out all the stops to get to Brussels. BalkanExpress was a hero in assisting them with options for parking/riding/meeting us. The Eurostar travellers got a potential delay fright also but were not affected. And this year, it was Gordon who had the pre-ride puncture. My 9 minute train delay is not worth mentioning.

No, my real sense of adventure came when a police car strolled along side us. 'Titus!', I was screaming in my head. Titus is our own Friday bobby, but Titus couldn't make the ride this time. I was aware that not all of us were wearing hi-viz vests, we were not always sticking to the cycle paths, what else? Are flashing lights allowed, are they mounted too high, too low? We're all going to get arrested. Instead of cycling all night, we'll spend the night in a police station. Weak tea ... no, coffee in a paper cup. I thought all this in a flash, when the police man wound down the window, smiled and said in English: 'One of your riders has a broken chain'. Oh, is that all! A chain breaking is one of the more 'advanced' mechanicals you can have on the road, but now, it didn't matter. It also doesn't matter when you have chain repairer extra-ordinaire mmmmartin taking charge. Well done mmmmartin on doing the allegedly impossible which is to fix an 11 speed chain with a 10 speed chain link.

Chain repair about to begin
We left Brussels later than planned, but that didn't matter either. We were all present. I texted our middle of the night hosts to say we're setting off an hour late and after getting a reply of 'no worries', the ride could begin. Hurrah!

Let's go!
I really, really enjoyed the event. This was helped by hearing re-assuring comments of appreciation during the ride. I was worried how the towpath detour near Aalst would be perceived. I don't mind going off-track when I'm on my own, but in the company of others, I go a little twitchy. But I should never have, BalkanExpress, John and others were at hand to put us right and nobody seemed bothered.

That was the point where I relaxed my shoulders and thought what a wonderful team effort this ride is. Everybody puts energy into logistics, the bikes, the route, the riding, and, maybe unwittingly, the atmosphere. I guess that's the spirit of the Fridays!

The Fridays!

After Karen said "See you next year", and several people mentioning they've already put next year's date in the diary, I now can't wait for the 2017 edition, which will be the 5th anniversary.

For that I have a grand Ostende finale planned. Well, grand-ish! Although I think the Oosteroever and ferry option was better than going the ongoing-road-works and tramline-plenty way, I have a third option in mind. I'll do a recce. If it doesn't work out, we'll stick with the ferry (with optional Fort Napoleon and sea view detour).

The North Sea

The other optional detour we'll factor in, is the Bruges scenic tour. It appears that the 'kletsekoppen' are not everybody's cup of coffee, especially when you're on a tandem. Going through tourist free Bruges is a unique experience, but you certainly don't have to risk your upright position for it.

In my mind it was a mild night, but in reality it wasn't. It was a bit nippy. But no rain! Ten days earlier the forecast was for 9 hours of rain. We didn't have a drop of it, although something was falling out of the sky when we went past the Aalst brewery.

'It's better than my Christmas' replied John after I likened Karen and David's table setup to Christmas. A three course meal we had, with cutlery to match! That asparagus and pea quiche was superb! So was the soup, and the humus, and the cake... The fact that, as vegetarians, they even bought ham for us, shows to what extend they cater for us. Very generous and absolutely splendid. We can't thank them enough!

Anyone for spiced pumpkin soup?

We leave replenished for the longer than you think Gent-Brugge stretch. I'm going to give up on worrying about the Bruges stop also. We'll time the ride to go to the posh Carpe Diem tea rooms for 7AM, if we're later, then we'll go to the quicker Panos at the station.

Perfect for a quick stop - but loos are 'normally' closed till 9AM

The night was topped off with an amazing sunrise. The sun over the misty canal always makes for good photos.

R & S' observations on the cycling behaviour on the towpaths prompts me to add a few notes on this. You know that coureurs are god in Belgium. And club cyclist are pretty high in the pecking order. They own the road and in our case the towpath. I kept shouting out when cyclists were coming our way, but I also kept looking behind me to see if everybody was ok. It can be scary when they race through us.  But you can't tame the proud Flemish cycling lions. Best we stick to single file and hold our breath on that stretch, when the Sunday morning club runs are happening.  Still, R & S got the last laugh when the tandem engineered a free ride with the Maes fiets club.

Spot the tandem

Here's to a fantastic edition of the FNRttKust. I was pleased to hear everybody who was going home, got home OK, and everybody who was continuing their journey got on their way.

Sante! Well done everybody!

The rest of the photos are here: MyPhotos

Sunday, 10 April 2016

The Boat Ride 200 PERM

It was a day for bullfinches, buzzards and bumblebees.  I could add bluebells also.

At the most northern point, Stoke Bruerne, I felt connected because of the Grand Union Canal that passes through Hanwell also.

Stoke Bruerne
The 'Road Closed' sign reminded me of the rope across the Solovetsky Monastery shop: it's there to be climbed over!  The road turned out to be closed for cars, but not for cyclists or pedestrians.  Try not to get angry!

I didn't have a good time collecting receipts.  The first tea room's receipt didn't have the location nor the time.  I explained and they stamped a card that still didn't have the location nor the time.  The first pub was open, but not open for business.  The second pub was jam packed full of Grand National punters that I walked straight back out.  I took various photos for proof of passage and then I gave up and relied on my memory that you can use gps logs for validation, which indeed is true.

I didn't take many other photos.  I wasn't inspired, didn't see any buckets in trees.  I wasn't very mindful either.  My mind was elsewhere.  Shame on me.  But I couldn't help but look forward to the next day's Southall Vaisakhi.

I was pleased to get home in time, but all in all, I'm putting this down to a training ride.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

FNRttC Southend

I was on the hunt.  Not on a witch hunt,  that's just a bonus.  But I found a tree!

Lovely tree
This ride was a game of two halves.  The first half was in the dark, in rain-ish weather and with tailwind all the way to Southend.  The second half was in daylight, in glorious sunshine and with a stinger of a headwind all the way back to London.  I had a great time!

Of course, the first half was in the company of the Fridays.  Riding out of London, it has become second nature to take note of buildings.  Here we are by the Shard.

Fridays by the Shard
It wasn't long before there was a puncture.  We got off our bikes, parked up and sheltered from the drizzle whilst the repairs were being done.  Then, because it has become second nature to look up at buildings, waw! we were right by the Walkie Talkie coming up like an alien looking to see what we were up to.

The Walkie Talkie
The half way stop was a good service station, overwhelmed coffee bar staff type of stop.  I often feel like helping out.  But we had plenty of time, so there was no need.  We were not on an audax.

Thankfully there were two of them

The run in to Southend wasn't so dramatic, as it had already been light for a while.  I was still taken by the exotic look of the seafront, because of the palm trees.

Palm trees in Southend
Breakfast was in a great cafe overlooking the beach and sea.  That was a great spot to enjoy a full English breakfast, soak up the sun and have chats about rides past and future.  There is revival in the air.  Like me, a few others had taken a break in 2015, but are now out an about looking for new adventures.  I didn't want to leave, but I had planned to ride back to London, so as to get some more miles in, in preparation for the Texas Stampede in May.  Reluctantly, and after asking Titus for some oil, I set off.

It turned out to be a fantastic journey back.  Sun, sun, sun!  Sun means ice cream.  After a night of drizzle it was appropriate that I stopped at the Puddle cafe.  

Ice cream at the Puddle cafe
I did my usual straight through everything route which takes you through the estate backstreets of Ilford to tourist laden canal towpaths.  With that sunshine, people were out creating a festival-like atmosphere.  I was tired from battling against the headwind and the pesky little climbs dotted around London, but I was loving it.

An even bigger smile appeared when I came across this:

Many, many thanks to Titus, Martin, TECs and all the Fridays (including Simon) for yet again, a wonderful experience.

The rest of the photos are here: MyPhotos

Monday, 4 April 2016

The 3Down 300

It's a good audax when it's sunny enough to treat yourself to an ice cream.  It's an even better audax when you have the time to treat yourself to an ice cream.  And it gets even better when the ice cream you choose is locally made: New Forest Ice Cream.  That was a very nice treat!

It was a tough ride though! I found it physically and mentally much tougher than the hillier Dean 300 a couple of weeks ago. The headwind on the way down to the New Forest sapped energy and morale.  And on the way back it rained for a good few hours.

Still, on a day when you have local ice cream, you see your first Great Grey Shrike, can admire the huge Bozedown Alpaca Farm and enjoy the picturesque Test Valley, you can be happy that you're out and about.

I was in good company also with James and Roger.

Having a break with James and Roger
We helped each other along.  Great team work!  I loved the way Roger shouted out the instructions.  At first they gave me a fright.  Imagine you're in zone doing a 5 miles stretch, mesmerised by the rhythm of the pedal revolutions and soothed by the sound of rain coming off our wheels.  And then you hear this  shout coming from the back.  I thought something bad had happened like he'd forgotten his brevet card in Fordingbridge or he had just run over a stoat. But no, they were very helpful 'left at T and immediately right' instructions shouted out at the top of his voice.

I took a couple of pictures of the New Forest and noted how it's not new and in places looks nothing like a forest.  Wiki tells us that 'Nova Foresta' was recorded in the Domesday book in 1086, and the reasons why it was called 'new'.

The New Forest
There is a great variety of animals you see there: the ponies, donkeys, black pigs, Highland cattle, and other cattle I don't know the breed name of (Galloway?).  The sun was still out then and I loved the cattle's colours of brown, sandy, copper, red, black, grey all blending into a lovely scheme.

The most bizarre moment was when I saw a bucket in a tree.

Bucket in a tree
Thanks to Ian and team for organising.

Photos are here: MyPhotos

Other thoughts:
  • Finishing at 1:15 AM
  • Very nice welcome back at HQ where soup and bacon rolls were presented.  Thank you!
  • During the dark section, a deer crossing the road right in front of us
  • Hearing owls

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

The Dean 300

I was at the start on time (ref 2012) and Andy was at the start on time (ref 2014).  All was looking good.  But where were the organisers? Did they not get to the start on time?  News of them having set up camp at the back of the Peartee car park travelled like messages in an ants colony.   A trail of riders eventually made their way to the back, picking up brevet cards just in time for the 6AM off.

False start
I had entered the Dean not being sure if I would be fit enough for a hilly 300.  But the more I talked myself out of it, the more I saw it as a challenge.  By Tuesday I was completely up for it and even the forecasted low temperatures didn't put me off anymore. 

The Dean 300
'I had to try'.  This is what Michael said also.  Although he had booked a Travelodge room for the Friday night, he went back home to pick up a crucial electronic gear shifting battery.  We saw him the next day.  Despite having had only 1.5 hours sleep he said 'he had to try'.   Michael, Pete and I ended up in a triplette.  It's always good to have company after dark.   I knew Michael was digging deep when he asked whether there was a cat sitting in the middle of the road.  That rubbish bag looked nothing like a cat!

The ride went very well.  I was pleasantly surprised.  The high gearing on my new bike didn't trouble me too much although I did walk up the 14% climb to Somerset Monument and also up Hackpen Hill.  At least Hackpen Hill has a name, I thought.  From Chepstow onwards I had planned to count the hills from 1 to 10.  The first climb towards Thornbury, after the Severn Bridge, didn't seem so bad, so I didn't count that one.  I certainly couldn't count the ones I walked.  By the time we got to Lambourn it was time to give up on the counting idea.

Sometimes I can't tell if we have headwind or tailwind.  Early on I put my buff over my ears and pretended there was no wind at all.  When Pete and I crossed the Severn Bridge, the angle of Pete's bike told me for sure which direction the wind came from! Our triplette did well to take it in turns to battle against the wind.  Pete seemed to revive, having not felt very well in he first half, and took the lead a big proportion of the time.  Thank you Pete!

Camp Hackney
I didn't feel broken like I normally do after a long ride.  I could still talk and even complete my brevet card!  It was great to finish back at camp Hackney where there was a tent, outdoor heater, soup, tea, beer, laughter, company and Andy.   Andy came out of his van to say hello, give a blanket, hold my torch whilst I did my brevet card, have a chat.  How wonderful!  This has been the best finish to the Dean ever.

In previous rides, I would be totally shattered, struggle my bike in the car, struggle myself into a sleeping bag, sleep till I get too cold, then drive off to the next service station.  This time, there was the welcoming finish party, and then I made my way to the Travelodge hotel.  Wheeled my bike into the room.  Had a shower and ate rice pudding.  Then! Then, I still had the energy and inclination to get my brand new chain link pliers out.  Took the chain off the bike and put it in a pot of degreaser.   Amazing! The next day I completed the chain cleaning and compared the job to professional oven cleaning: 'comes out shining like jewellery'.

I didn't take many photos.  It was a rather grey day and I was in minimalist mode.  I did take a photo of the farm though.

My minimalist mode was in full action in the Malmesbury Waitrose.  I had started eating my chosen cakes before I could pay.  And when the man at the till asked if I had a Waitrose card, he looked up at at me and answered his own question by saying 'it would slow you down wouldn't it'? Perfect!

Many thanks to Justin and Chris for organising.  Much appreciated.

Photos are here: MyPhotos

Other thoughts:
  • Lots of wildlife, dead and alive: badgers, deer, various birds of prey including the red kites.
  • Familiar faces like Frank and Steven
  • Chatting with fboab
  • The kilometers clicking away quickly, till I got to 279 which seemed to last for hours.
  • The women at the Newent Co-op asking if I'm doing 'that 300'
  • Getting a hotel room before and after the event makes so much sense!

Sunday, 13 March 2016

The Kennet Valley Run

We got all the seasons' weathers: frost, rain, sleet, hail, snow, sunshine, wind, gusts and if a rainbow was a weather type, I'd add that in also.  Apt that I was using Continental Grand Prix 4 Season tyres.

Myself, I was dressed for one season only: winter.  I was ready for the predicted RealFeel™-1.

There was a big turnout as you can tell from the amount of brevet cards that were laid out on the table at the start.

Brevet cards
It looks like others are dressed for one season also
There were familiar faces, like Titus.  He's more familiar from the FNRttC than from Audax.  But there is a trans-discipline movement in full swing.  There are several Fridays having a go at Audax.  Friday Miranda did the 100km version of this ride.  Her blog post reminds me of my early audax ride reports: treasuring the brevet card, absorbing all the advice given but needing to find your own way, the landscape and wildlife, teething problems with GPS and navigation, finishing with a great sense of achievement and wanting more.

Finishing this ride earnt me my first two audax points since July 2014.  I felt like a newbie myself, and especially with a new bike I am adjusting to.  It was when I got a puncture that I realised how out of audax routine I am.  I had to think!  When passing riders asked if I was ok, I replied with a hesitant yes.  And the riders hesitantly continued on, probably thinking 'she doesn't sound too sure'.   I was ok of course, just getting used to the feel of the bike and learning its quirks.   These quirks are things like how the bike balances with the front wheel off, and how things fall out of the new saddle bag compared with the old.

Had my own puncture soon after I took this picture
I had been prepared for the hills around Bratton.  A good break and meal at the Pickleberry Coffee and Gift Shop set me up nicely and I didn't struggle too much compared with previous years.  

The Kennet Valley Run is a great ride and I always enjoy seeing the white horse.

I also enjoyed the long sunset, meaning I didn't need to cycle in the dark too long.

I made it back by 7.30PM, at the Village Hall where there was plenty of tea, soup and cake to be enjoyed.  I chatted with a few people and then drove back home.  What a great day that was, and I'm ready for more.

Many thanks to the organiser Mick Simmons and team.

The rest of the photos are here: MyPhotos

Other thoughts:
  • Plenty of kites
  • Seeing two people artistically painting the inside of a bus stop, can't remember where
  • Nice to visit the Tutti Pole again, but didn't hang around too long
  • Happy, very happy, with my new bike.  Will change back mudguard to my old SKS race blade ones. Need a little more clearance.