Monday, 10 December 2012

2013 Plan

When the Olympic Games finished I started doing things like baking and putting on weight.  I reached new 'heights' in both.

I wondered whether my audaxing era was over.  I've had a fantastic year, how can I ever top 2012?  Maybe some leisurely touring is the thing to do.  I've got my cycling pilgrimage planned, that will be a gentle touring kind of riding.  That's good enough, in fact that is just perfect.

Then I received an email from 'the russian guys'.  The Chui Tract 1200.  Interesting ... it's in Siberia, connects Russia with Mongolia, amongst the Altai Mountains.  No, of course I'm not doing it.  It would be just one week after finishing the pilgrimage.  The pilgrimage is the main event, I don't want anything overshadowing it.  What about my knees ... I've been off the bike for 4 months ... Altitude goes from 181m to 1836m, whereas the Kiwi Hunt went from sea level to just below 1000m and look how much I struggled on that one.  And anyway, if I did do this ride, I'd have to do a hilly series again, maybe even the 'never again Bryan Chapman 600'.  If I did all that, then I'd almost have to make the pilgrimage into an audax, because I'd be in the running for the 25000 brevet.  And 'all that' could put the pilgrimage itself in jeopardy.  No, no, no!

So here is the plan:

13 Jan -  The King's Worthy 100 - DONE
16 Feb - The Poor Student perm 200 - DONE
23 Feb - One of Manotea's perms 200 - DOING ON 3rd March
02 Mar - The Kennet Valley Run 200 - NOT DONE
03 Mar - The Ditchling Devil 200 perm - DONE
16 Mar - The Dean perm 300 - DNF
28 Mar - FNRttC Felpham - DONE
06 Apr - The 3Down 300 or - DONE
07 Apr - The Dorset Coast 200
26 Apr - FNRttC to Brighton - DONE
03 May - 'Flemish night ride to the coast', not an official FNRttC - DONE
11 May - The Severn Across 400 - ENTERED WITHDRAWN
18 May - The Bryan Chapman 600 - ENTERED WITHDRAWN

26 May- The Pilgrimage 3000, dates confirmed with John Spooner - DONE
18 Jul - FNRttC Newhaven - Dieppe - DONE
... more FNRttCs

Fingers crossed that the knees hold up and fitness returns.  It will be one ride at the time, except you need to book ahead for the longer rides.   We'll see, it's a dream plan, a little top heavy.  But, there it is, I feel better now.
The Chui Tract 1200

Saturday, 8 December 2012

2012 Review

One year like this will see me right for life!

That is a play on words of a London Olympics song (Elbow - One Day Like This).  What a year!

Here are my cycling highlights:

  • The Kiwi Hunt 1200 in February: the toughest ride I've ever done.  I was completely out of my mind at the end of it.

  • The Easter Arrow: an unusual event because it is a team ride and everybody arrives around the same time. 

Here are my off-the-bike highlights:
  • Did the Park Tools Mechanics course led by the lovely David Eales of London Bikehub
  • Being Gamesmaker at the Olympics
  • Seeing Bradley on his Olympic gold winning time trial
  • Seeing dressage at the Paralympics, won by Natasha Baker
  • Bradley winning le Tour de France
  • The Jubilee and our street party
  • My knees seem to have recovered from all the early season strain
  • And finally, I have won the Willesden CC ladies audax champion trophy!
Let's get planning for 2013!

Monday, 24 September 2012

A night ride to the coast

Southsea was the destination, Southsea on the south coast, a ride organised by Hummers.   I had been looking forward to getting to Hyde Park Corner.  It's always a moment of anticipation.  I don't know why really, because the location is well known by now.  And many of the cyclists are familiar also.  Still, a night ride always brings something new, like the company I had whilst waiting for midnight.
Waiting for midnight
Cycling to Southsea was a first also.  I loved the route, starting off along the north bank of the Thames.  Going through Richmond Park is a bonus because there are no cars, and you can hear the owls.  We don't wish for punctures, but for me the punctures were welcome.  It was wonderful being in Richmond Park, looking at the sky, hearing the sounds, just being, whilst waiting for the 'all fixed, we're off again'.

TimO's route capture
I was almost disappointed when Plodder's trike went through the gate without needing to either take the gate off the hinges, or the wheels off the bike.  Any moment now, the park police would pay a visit, I thought, but it all came to nothing.  Plodder did a great job of being tail end charlie.   He kept me company a lot of the time.  Indeed, I was happy to just plod along, but was concious that we were having a slow ride.  6:14 and we were still in Haslemere!  More punctures!

If ... you can mend a puncture when all about you 
are standing

The run into Southsea reminds me of the Whitstable finish.  It's longer than you think, but absolutely wonderful.  Great scenery, the dawn light gives a unique atmosphere.  People start to smell breakfast and the pace picks up.  

I don't think I knew that Kipling had lived in Southsea ...  Uncanny, how I captioned the above picture with a reference to Kipling's 'If' poem.  Not only did I subsequently discover that Kipling lived in Southsea, but that he also wrote 'The Mother Hive'.  It seems he was an enthusiastic beekeeper.  I must read more of his work!

I could visit his house, Batemans, in Burwash.   I could use it as a practice pilgrimage.  Because the real pilgrimage is on!  During breakfast at the Yellow Kite Cafe, I gave John Spooner a get out opportunity.  But John said yes.  He nodded when I asked for confirmation.  Yes, it's on, we're doing it!  Next year, John is joining me on a cycling pilgrimage to the Solovetsky Islands in Russia, where the patron saint of beekeepers founded a monastery.   I'm so happy.  A great adventure awaits ... all else being equal and my knees get better ...

Thanks to Hummers for organising the ride and to all riders for the good company.

Photos are on the slideshow till the next ride or here: Southsea


Sunday, 12 August 2012

Vologda - Onega - Ladoga 1200

'Let them all go', I told myself, 'don't follow them'.  Sounds like the beginning of a meditation session.  Rather than referring to thoughts, this was about riders.  It took no time for me to be at the back of the field.  Whilst I had been chunking up my bike with wide puncture proof Marathon Plus tyres, everybody else seemed to have gone the ultra light racing bike way ... except for Ivo.  Avi, the UK based rider from Israel, inspected my bike and saddle bag, encouraging me to remove any excesses.  All in all, Avi thought I had packed quite sensibly.

Whilst cycling on my own, I was confident of my schedule and pace.  As the tortoise and hare effect was taking effect, I found myself amongst other cyclists and could sense this urgency again.  It's best to listen to this sense, because the locals know more than you do!  They were telling me that the last few sections were on very bad surface and that the hills were yet to come - you could lose a lot of time!  I compromised my schedule a little, but with hindsight there was no need, I was not on the time limits.  My conclusion is that there is more of a racing attitude here, hence the light bikes and the 'rushing'.

Think of all the time you save in not having to navigate or slow down for left turns, right turns, roundabouts or red lights. Imagine the equivalent of the Dean without instructions (the Dean is 300km with over 100 navigation points).  Just straight on.  Napramo, napramo, napramo, they say in Russian.  Now I know why the word is always repeated three times.  You know Russia is huge, but it's not till you cycle one and half days on the same road that you live a bit of Russia.

When the scenery wouldn't change away from pine forest, I lost heart, thinking, if I really want to cycle 1200 km without scenery, I might as well put my bike on a velodrome and go round in circles.  At least I would have two bends to help me go round the bend.

My strategy was to do the opposite of meditation.  I was inviting thoughts and followed each one.  When that ran out as well, I congratulated myself.  So often I long for 'head space', some time to myself with nothing to think about.  Now I have it.  Without thoughts and scenery I did neck and shoulder exercises over and over again, at least till the crest of the next undulation which would surely lead to ... the next undulation.

[465x700, 112kB] : Bekijk IMGP5211.jpg
Photo by Ivo
And when the first right hand turn came, I missed it!  I can hear you laugh.  I laughed also, because I had a GPS to put me right again.  Imagine the days before GPS.  You wouldn't know you'd gone wrong for another 300km!

Claus didn't laugh.  He went wrong a few times. Unfortunately you lose more than time, you lose energy and morale.   It can turn a good ride into a miserable one.  Claus has a lot of experience though, with 6 PBPs under his belt, he knows how to handle these situations and finished with 30 minutes spare.

Claus points to the Solovetsky Islands
I reminded myself of my promise to enjoy every single moment.  My new tactic was to take more breaks.  And every time I stopped I observed something new.   There was the mushroom on the road, the birdboxes, hearing cuckoos, the pine marten, the fungi on dead trees, the rock graffiti, the water springs, the sounds, the colour of pine trees, the smell of the forest, ...  I was living Russia more and more.

Things you see when you take a break
Every checkpoint was a haven!  I loved the controls.  No queues, no tickets, no money, no instructions, no directions, no system, and once, no water.  Not a problem though, Mikhail was on his way  back from the spring and there was plenty of fruit juice.  As you arrive, you become part of the happenings.  Unintrusive, somebody comes towards you and asks for your brevet card. Depending on how you are feeling you move towards a seat, or food, usually both.  Food, drinks, chats would then just present themselves.  I thought the people at the controls were amazing.  It's like they had a natural radar going, checking everybody had what they needed at the right time.  I never had to ask for anything.  At one of the later controls by lake Ladoga, I had one of those moments where I couldn't make a decision.  Anna saw me just standing there, and said 'sleep'.  She was right!  That is exactly what I needed.

Food at Kroshnozero
She showed me to the tent I could use.  Wonderful.  I crept inside and she asked if there were mosquitoes.  'They must be killed', she said and walked away.  I expected her to come back with a super bazooka to blitz them all in one go.  Instead I spent a couple of minutes getting good at one flick mosquito killing.  Then, I shut my eyes and savoured the moment of being by lake Ladoga.

I had a lot of sleep on this ride, the most I've ever had on a 1200.  I had trouble leaving the checkpoint by lake Onega.  I was tired but ahead of time at the 633km mark.  I ate, relaxed and absorbed the atmosphere.  There was a gentle cooing going on, the fire being attended to.  I slept a good couple of hours and when I opened the tent saw the view of the lake with moon shining over it.  I got goosebumps.  'It's beautiful here', I said out loud to nobody.  But there was an unexpected response from a helper: 'It is', she confirmed.  Now it was even harder to leave.

This break set me up nicely for the next leg to Girvas, which was just above 100km with 5 instructions.  I would have a full night of riding under a white night sky.  You could ride without front lights which I did for a little while for the experience.  During the day I had noted how cars always have their lights on, whether it's day or night, so I soon switched my lights back on.

I did get the dozies and was beginning to see things.  In trees and in the clouds, I kept on seeing St Zozimus. St Zozimus was on my mind.  He is the patron saint of beekeepers, and I was moving in his territory.  I told myself to keep my feet firmly on my pedals and not get carried away with 'visions'.  You begin to understand how people have described visions.  An obsession with something or somebody, a couple of days with food and sleep deprivation, add a bit of heat exhaustion and you have a recipe for vision success.

Fitting though, how by the next control, Girvas, there were beehives.  The only beehives I would see during the trip.

Beehives in Girvas
Why didn't I knock on their door?  I have so many questions.  It's a big regret, but I'll be back.

When the controls weren't out in the open, they were often in schools.  They are great because there is so much space.  Usually there is a gymnasium where the mats can be used to sleep on.

More sleep at Girvas
There was a classroom with images of 'important' people all around the walls.  I deciphered Lobachevsky and Euler.  Grigory commented that the one on the right, in the picture below, is Lagrange.  Stuff for universities!

Lobachevsky, Euler and Lagrange
The bag drops worked out really well also.  Two bags, four drops.  What a treat.  I think there was a leapfrog system going on, where a control team would leapfrog to the next.  We kept seeing the same helpers. Having lost sense of day and night, and then seeing the same people, my 'tunnel phase' was kicking in for sure.

The section to Mandera was really hard.  It was only 60km and I can't quite remember why it was so hard, but I felt relieved to get to the control.  Around 23:30 it was.  Maybe it was the road surface which made it hard, and it had started to rain also.  It was darker than the other nights.  Mandera checkpoint was in a cabin.  It was surreal.  You enter the field, you see a few bikes, a couple of tents and the cabin, but it was quiet. It appeared that nobody was around.  What is going on here?  The bikes have their red lights flashing.  Is everybody asleep in the tents?  Then I walked around the cabin, found the door open and Tatiana, again, lively as ever, is feeding everybody with macaroni, sausage, cheese, biscuits, tea ...

The business end of the Mandera control
I used one of the tents for a sleep.  And there I experienced a first.  For once, I was inside when a thunderstorm broke out.  BCM, LEL, PBP, everytime I'm out in the rain.  I tried to feel smug, but I couldn't. Chikara, the Japanese rider on a recumbent, was out there (amongst a few others) and I knew he was having a hard time.  If he's feeling anything like I was on that stretch, it would not be pleasant for him.  It was haunting and beautiful at the same time, when I could hear him call out Hiroshi's name.  He's arrived, he's here.  He called out Hiroshi's name several more times and then there was a reply: 'Chikara, my  hero, welcome'.  Oh, I was moved.  I got up and joined Chikara for 'breakfast'. I drank tea but I couldn't eat.  I felt bad for refusing the porridge offered.

I set off in the drizzle.  It was the moment I had to pull myself together.  Just get through it, the morning proper will bring a new horizon.  It was a horizon in the form of a 24 hour cafe, with people!  There were other riders, and Lars and Pavel.  'So nice to see people!', I said.  I was elated.  'People!'.  I can talk again, we can share experiences.  It doesn't take long to realise others have gone through a tough time also.  'Mini crisis', said one of the Russian riders.  There was good coffee, and I ate pastries.  Pavel and Lars had formed a nice partnership. 'Take!', said Pavel intently, when Lars hadn't immediately picked up his coffee from the counter. I saw them again at the Winter War memorial, the Cross of Sorrows, where Lars recounted the history behind the statue. The cross represents Finnish and Russian mothers in sorrow for the dead.

Lars and Pavel visit the Cross of Sorrows
I have since followed up by learning about the Finnish/Russian border, Karelia, the Mannerheim Line and the difficult situation of Jews in Finland: Finnish Jewish Soldiers in WWII.

Photos by Pavel at the 24 hour cafe.

The Salmi checkpoint was next, at 1063km.  On the way back out of the control, I stopped several of the riders coming in, to explain where the control was.  I didn't want them to miss it, like I had.

At 1109km, there is an instruction: 'straight on, the road gets worse'.  UK audaxers have the habit of pointing out potholes in the road.  Not so in Russia.  If they did, they would be riding 'hands free'.  At times, you see cars coming in the opposite direction, and veering into your lane. You wonder how long they've been on the road, or if they are under the influence.  But they are only avoiding potholes.  You end up doing the same, seeking out the smoothest parts of the road.

I did see some people under the influence.  It was another bizarre moment and I can't remember where.  There was broken down car being jump started, cans on the roof.  At another location I saw a car being held off the ground from one side by two people, a guy underneath doing repairs.  I didn't want to take a picture in case the flash made them drop the car.  They were all very friendly and seemed to be having a great giggle.

The last stretch is indeed quite lumpy.  I still had plenty of time, so could have taken more rest.  But the draw  to the finish was too much.  I carried on.  As soon as I arrive at the finish, the multi-lingual Vladimir and a group of volunteers suggest we go out for something to eat.  I shower quickly and join them, together with most of the 'foreign' contingency.  We were shown how to drink vodka.  Back at the control, things are still happening, but I don't know exactly what is happening.  There is a bit of a stir about hotels being available or not.  I was all too happy to stay put and sleep on my bike bag which turned out to be most comfortable.

The adventure is not over yet!  The next day, there's the loading of bikes onto buses and vans, for the journey back to St Petersburg.  There is loads of toing and froing going on.  Vladimir told us the bus would not be leaving before 12 noon.  Interesting way of putting it I thought.  It gave me time to go to the shops to buy a few snacks.  On the way there I bump into a rider.  He stops me and hands me a coin of 10 roubles.  'For you', he said, 'it has my home town on it.'  Now Voronezh Oblast is a bit closer to home also. Thank you Evgeny (I think it was)!

These chance encounters are wonderful.  Just like seeing  Pavel in the middle of St Petersburg on my sightseeing day.  We took photos and chatted for a bit, the best we could.  Saying goodbye wasn't easy.  Pavel shook and held my hand, looked me in the eye, saying: 'Goodbye'.  He said 'Goodbye' again, whilst thinking of the next English words he wanted to say: 'Next year ... 1000 ... you must'.  How can you say no? I nodded and said a cowardly thank you.

Another thing that was absolutely wonderful was the crescendo applause the 'foreign' contingency received on arriving at the after-party.  We arrived just in time to see everybody leave.  There was a big gathering outside the restaurant.  As we got out of the taxis, a few people started to clap.  More and more joined in, and then I realised the applause was for Chikara!  Chikara, the Japanese rider on the recumbent, who showed enormous strength and determination at every stage.  'What else could I do but carry on', he replied, when I said I felt for him at the Mandera control.  I gather he is the organiser of a 1200 in Japan.  It's dangerous mixing with these great people!

The star in the Baltic Star cycling club is Mikhail, the organiser. That man was tireless and never without a smile.  When did he sleep?  And what an equally extraordinary group of helpers he had around him.  Eight cars with three people each were on the road.  How many more people were involved behind the scenes?   I reckon there is no need for 'problem solving' in Russia, because nothing is a ever problem.  Mikko, from Finland, shared a saying: 'In Russia, nothing works but everything works out'.  I think it should be shortened: 'Everything works out' (except for getting to the after-party on time!).  During the pre-ride gathering, Mikhail was in action.  I couldn't keep my eyes off him, he was mesmerising  There was a moment, where he was taking money, adding up, from memory, what each person owed from a combination of jerseys, trains, invitation letters ... somebody wanted to pay in euros, so he looked up the exchange rate on his phone, but then somebody called him at the same time.  This, whilst his daughter was trying to get his attention, and me trying to get the K-Z sheet out of his hands so that I could fill in my phone number.

A quiet moment for Mikhail
Big thank you to Mikhail and everybody involved.  What an experience this was.  Mikhail came to the hotel with t-shirts, medals, photos and to ask what we would like to see improved.  For me, there was only one thing and that is to have the routesheet in advance.  Then you could format it to fit into your maptrap gadget. Instead, I went 'blind', relying on GPS alone.  Keep an eye out for the next edition in 2016.  Edition 3 which will take on a new format, there a big plans already.  A whole new adventure awaits ....   Baltic Star.

Other thoughts and things I don't want to forget:
  • Skylarks, lapwings, chiffchaffs, hedgehogs, butterflies
  • You don't normally start talking to yourself till day 4
  • Ran out of family sized bottle of Russian strength mosquito repellent.  No fear, as I had backup in an audax sized bottle of organic insect deterrent which at least had a placebo effect.
  • Sandals are the way to go (mozzies/midges get into you socks!), except it can get cold at night
  • Somebody shouting out to me: 'Tour de France!'
  • Picking up food in the shops was always a nice interlude and towards the end, it was where I saw other riders
  • Formulating an audax language, call it Randorand if you like. Anna saying 'sleep', triggered the thought that so many words have the sound 'ee'.  During LEL 2013, with an international attendance,  it might be wise to avoid phrases like: 'I bet you want to hit the sack', 'Would you like a bit of nosh', or 'A cuppa cha?'.  All you need is 'sleep', 'eet' and 'tee'.  There would also be 'seet', 'cheese',  and 'beef', maybe they'll want 'heet' and 'cleen', and of course 'pee' or 'wee'.  When you go to intermediate classes you'll learn about 'breeveet' and 'speed leemeet'.
  • I found Claus the best communicator.  He didn't speak all languages, but his ability to 'connect' was better than anyone's.  He would also cut through any conversation going on too long, summarising a saddle/short combination type discussion, with a 'Ja das ist scheisse'.  
  • Thought they could nickname this 'The butterfly ride'
  • Telling myself how I liked the rhythm of the rider in front, after a while I realised it was my own shadow
  • Pavel had a 3 day train journey back home.
  • Sightseeing in St Petersburg.  The Russian State Museum.  Chuffed to see Florensky's painting by Mikhail Nesterov.  Many weddings taking place. Honey shop.
  • Kept a 500 roubles note, because it depicts the Solovetsky island and monastery.  
  • Big thank you also to Ealing Bike Hub for their continuing and generous offers of  SIS power bars and electrolyte sachets.  They really have become part of my ritual.  I've been given other products to try out also, but it's the bars and sachets that I miss when I don't have them. Bike Hub
  • The YACF forum has a topic, and Ivo's excellent ride report:  VOL1200 on YACF
Photos and videos:
  • Mine
  • Pavel's (excellent picture of Lars 225/348)
  • Atmospheric photos by Alive
  • Ivo's
  • A couple of me in san-sane's series
  • Any cyclist must look at picture IMG_44775 on page 10 by severin-andrew
  • Professional photos by Elena
  • Artistic set by Ekatarina 
  • Video from irbes: irbes (02:13 is the party in full swing, I turned up much later)
  • Video by igor: igor

With Tatiana at the after party

Sunday, 29 July 2012

FNRttC to the Continent

Where were you on Sunday 22nd July 2012?  Let me rephrase. Where were you when Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France?

You could have been with the Fridays in Paris.

Photo by StuartG
Bradley was born in Belgium, did you know?  So whilst the Fridays went east to Paris, I went north to Belgium.  I could have gone to Ghent.  Did you know that Bradley was born in Ghent, Belgium?  But I didn't go to Ghent, where Bradley was born.  I went to Rumbeke.  It's where my parents live, and there is a gem of a tenuous link to be had also:

Bradley is the first Briton to win the tour, and that, 100 years after the first Belgian won the tour.  Bradley is from Belgium, sorry, Bradley was born in Belgium.  And the first Belgian to win the tour, Odiel Defraye, was born in Rumbeke, where I am from.  There we go, Bradley and I are connected.

It was a weekend with all the best ingredients: the Fridays, night riding, an audax, Le Tour, family, great weather, good food, many things to celebrate and the Olympics to look forward to.

Meeting point
Everyone was relaxed at the Hyde Park Corner meeting point.  It didn't have the school trip nervous giggles like the Friday's tour to John O' Groats had at the start.  A 'stranger' handed over a passport to Simon and that signalled the kick off of an adventure.  No talk of bollards, no roll call - we were on our way to Newhaven.

Thought it was going to be a long night, when, before we had even crossed the Thames, there was a tyre blow out.  Not a problem though.  Some Fridays live in central London, and popping home to pick up a spare tyre is done naturally.

Time to chat
I always love the surreal entrance into Gatwick airport.  With a suitcase and flight ticket in hand, you wouldn't dream of using that back staircase hidden by the bins.  But with helmet and bike in hand, up we go.  We park the bikes by the familiar Costa Coffee.  It's a new era, the days of Mr Exit are over.  Gatwick is London 2012 ready.  You don't even have to go upstairs any more for the toilets.  They now have the poshest public toilets I've ever used, on the ground floor.  You could wheel your bike into those cubicles, do a bit of fettling, change the bottom bracket or something, nobody would know.  Wash basin right there, inside the cubicle, as well as Dyson type blade hand dryers.  My derrière didn't seem to want be clad with lycra anymore, so I used the facilities to change into casual shorts.  Always a good look in combination with lycra knee warmers.  Mr Exit was missed, but the security people had a go at doing their job by asking which flights we were on.

The cafe in the Newhaven ferry terminal was good for another surreal moment.  One minute a guy was serving breakfast, next, the same guy was checking our tickets.  Ugh?  We all got on the ferry.  Together with several other groups of cyclists.  Wiggomaniacs, they are called apparently.

Base camp was at exactly the same location at last year, right hand side of the bar.  I lost bonus points for having a sleep during ferry drinking hours, but not as many as TallMart and DavyWalnuts would lose later in the day.

I had been warned: 'Good luck with that lot'.  Just getting off the ferry was a challenge as TallMart went Toutes Directions whilst Centre Ville is what we needed.  Fair play to Teef who called him back round, as my voice wouldn't carry the distance Mart had already cycled up the hill. 'Let's meet in la Troubadour' said Teef, after we checked into the hotel.  It was my turn to go in all directions, but could I find la Troubadour?  Fair play to Teef again who came out of Le Cafe des Tribunaux, asking what I was doing walking by just like that.  TallMart was still sitting and DavyWalnuts was still standing at that stage.  There wasn't anything Teef could do to keep that going, mind.  DavyWalnuts disappeared into the night, admitting he couldn't keep upright anymore.  And TallMart, nobody knows what happened to him, or what happened has stayed on tour, fair play to Teef again.

Ian, now better known as Laurent for wearing a Fignon jersey, and I had a seafood meal in one of the Dieppe seafront restaurants, before heading back to the hotel.  I had an early start the next morning.  Ian didn't have the restful night I had, as he was called up by TallMart, asking to be picked from hospital.

It took a while for the fog to lift and the sun to come through on Saturday.

St Laurent Chapel in the fog
Google map routes in France sometimes includes 'off road' tracks through fields.  Whilst exciting because you never know what you're going to get, it can mean losing time (being on a DIY audax). It happened several times, once I stopped to watch deer, once I ended up on top of a hill with excellent views, once I bumped into a horse and cart, once I nearly came to a show stopper as the route was interrupted with pipe laying works, once I did need to turn back as the route was blocked. I ended up needing to push it for the last 100km.

Under? Over? Ladder?
I had a lunch stop in Hesdin, even though I wasn't half way yet.  Quick service, rosbif, potjevleesch, chips, Jupiler, le Tour on screen and overhearing the proprietor praising Bradley Wiggins.  I wondered how the other Fridays were getting on with getting to Paris.

Pushing it towards the end was not a problem.  I was keen to get home to my parents, arriving around 18:30.  No punctures but one spoke pinged kaput.  I had an urge for oil again, like I did last year, this time being able to pick up a bottle in a Carrefour.  The rest of the ride happened in silence.

Once home, we celebrated my latest cycling achievement (ride report to follow!) with champagne and Belgian patisserie.

On Sunday we watched Mark and Brad make history in France.

Thanks to Simon for organising the Fridays French trip, and to all the riders for making it another memorable one.

Photos are here: Photo Link
Read this post for the Mr Exit story from two years ago (had to correct that thinking it was last year): Mr Exit

Monday, 25 June 2012

6 July Russian 1200: Vologda - Onega - Ladoga

East to west, we are going, and around the two biggest lakes of Europe: Onega and Ladoga.    I wonder if we'll get a chance to see the endemic species of seal, Ladoga seal.

The details are here:VOL Route Details

The route is unusual in that it is not circular, nor 'there-and-back'.  I will arrive in St Petersburg on Wednesday 4th, and will take an overnight train to Vologda.  In Vologda, there will be a day 'free'.  The ride starts on the Friday at 7AM.  After the finish on Tuesday (1AM) we'll take a bus back to St Petersburg.  I fly home on Thursday 12th.

Around 70 riders are registered. There a few familiar names like Ivo and Abraham Cohen. Jan, who did the Kiwi ride, and another Belgian will also be present.

The photos taken on previous editions of the ride leave me intrigued and drawn to the area.

Do leave a comment if you know of any points of interest along the route.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

The Fridays Tour!

The Fridays are doing what they do best, which is to cycle to the coast.  The coast, this time, is John O' Groats, northern Scotland.  I joined them for the first night.

Hyde Park Corner meeting point
Same meeting point, same time, just heading north.  This meant going on the Kilburn High Road.  It was brilliant!  It was like PBP with lots of cheering and clapping from people by the road: 'What are you doing', 'Where are you going', 'Can I come', 'Why', 'What for?', 'This is for fun?', 'I'm coming with you', .....  A policeman in a van said: 'Keep going north for another 400 miles or so'.  This has been the most entertaining FNRttC exit from London, ever.  I wondered if England having won a Euro 2012 match earlier in the evening had anything to do with the jolly atmosphere all along that long road.

In fact, even on my way to London, there was already a jolly atmosphere.  A guy on the train pointed at my bike and asked if that is one of those you can lift with one finger.  I said 'No, you need twelve fingers'.  He thought that was hilarious and continued asking questions of what, why, where, when, why, why, why, concluding it was all wickedly wonderful.

A point of interest was going through Olney.  A chance glance to the right and I saw this:

Bucks Lace Industry

When I see 'lace', I think Brugge.  And indeed, a little bit of googling will tell you that it was the Flemish protestants who brought lace to England during the 1560's, and Olney was one of the areas they settled in.  The history is nicely worded here: Flemish and Huguenot Migrations

Olney was nice.  It is particular nice after having gone through Dunstable.  Simon had insisted we stayed in a group for going through Dunstable.  He had made the effort to hold up riders so that the last group could form.  He warned us once, he warned us twice.  Then he pleaded.  'Please', he said, 'stay in a group'.  Dunstable is like Reigate in that it can be scary to cycle through because of people 'under some influence' coming out of nightclubs and late night bars.

McDonald's was our middle of the night stop.  Being June, it was just about getting light when we arrived.


A few people were doing calculations.  Miles done to Hyde Park Corner, miles done to Hockliffe and by the time we get to Bingham,  'I will have done over 200 miles'.  Several people were doing their longest distance ever.  Ross had gone out to Land's End so that he could do the full Land's End to John O'Groats.

Louise and Ross
There is a support van on the Fridays Tour.  We caught up with the van in King Harry Lane near St Albans.  'King Harry' reminded me of King Harry Ferry, which I used on my Land's End to John O'Groats trip in 2005.

As it was time for the group to head north, I did a little sightseeing.  I couldn't miss this church, standing on high ground, near the station.  It looked impressive inside, but unfortunately it was locked.

St Mary's Church by Sir_John_Ninian_Comper

The group is already in Scotland as I post this. There is news of exploding wheels, more McDonalds, having a 'very, very, very good time', rain, sun, pork pies, egg benedict, hills and washing machines.  No, I'm not envious at all!!

Good luck Fridays!

Slideshow is not working, so for the photos click here: Fridays Tour Photos

Thursday, 31 May 2012

The Hellfire 600

'Nunney Catch in time' ...

That tweet must have puzzled all but those in the know that Nunney Catch is a control on the Hellfire 600.   It is a little village in Somerset and has a castle (not that I saw the castle).  It is also the end of the hilly stage 7 out of 8.  If you make it there before the control closes, it is 'AAA audax downhill' all the way to the finish.  I was holding back my emotions as I typed in 'in time'.  It is not over yet!  However, during stage 8, Andrew and I had both independent and synchronous bouts of smiling, grinning and loud out laughing at the prospect of completing the Wessex Series - we were on our way!  And when we did finish, we didn't even get off the bikes to start celebrating.  That was with the help of AndyH who had brought champagne.  Thank you Andy!

Andrew and I celebrating (photo by AndyH)
It was an incredible weekend and it started with me being hosted by Mike, whom I met on my 3rd audax back in 2007. Yes, we spent some time working it out on Friday evening! He switched on the answer machine and there was a message from LadyVet wishing me well on the Hellfire.  She said she would be 'Wessex green' with envy if I got the badge.

Green Wessex Series badge
My conclusion on this series is that everything has to go right during the rides and about 4 months leading up it.  Then you have a chance of completing it.  I have had so much luck on the way.  For example, I was using my transparent document holder which hangs around my neck (as you can see in 'the badge photo').  All my valuables safely tucked inside my jersey when zipped up.  Only, at one of the controls I had another 'mother of sneezing panda' moment when I found my credit card wallet missing.  That is fatal, all those receipts ... gone.  No proof of passage ... series over.  The transparency of the holder must have helped some clear thinking as I wondered if, in haste, I had put the wallet between the holder and my body.  And indeed, there it was, receipts (and some other things less important like credit cards), stuck to my sweaty body!  Phew! Moving on ...

It was in the 'long lane of laughter' that it sank in that we were in for a great treat.  The best time of the year to be cycling, and in fantastic weather.  The route may be a hilly one, but the scenery and views you get because of it are wonderful.

Long lane of laughter
The guys might have suffered in the heat a bit more than I did.  I never ran out of water and was able to share some with Andrew, when he had run out.  There was quite a bit of sharing and caring going on.  Charlie offered his newish front tyre, which I swapped with my worn back tyre.

Charlie and I swapping tyres

Andrew used my gloves, I ate one of his power bars.  I lost of one my rear lights to the road and the road gave me a puncture.  My backup rear light wouldn't work, so Mel lent me one of his. I took his picture also.  Hmm... Mel doesn't gain anything here ... except height out of Shaftesbury.  Thank you to Priddy, for oiling my jockey wheels.  I had promised Andrew I would clean my squeaky bike squeaky clean, but it started squeaking again half way through the ride.

A couple of things didn't go our way, but only a couple!  I feel responsible for missing Drew's house.  I had looked up the location on Google view and thought it would be easy enough to find. But I should have acted on my instincts in thinking that a phrase like 'the bottom of the Cheddar gorge' is open for interpretation.  Something like 'pretty much en route' is not good enough for me.   I tell myself I'm old and smart enough to work it out, but the reality is that my orientation only works when the instruction is 'straight ahead'.  Compare that with Andrew.   He should be a red beret!  After 24 hours non-stop cycling, you could blindfold him, spin him around 50 times and he would still point out the ridge we cycled over in the morning and that the hills 'over there' are to be tackled in stage 7.

It was already daylight, so time to have a kip!  We saw a blue sign  with a bike and people on it, and took that as a sign to rest both.  15 minutes, we promised ourselves.  And as if that was too tiring, we had an impromptu pause half way through as Pete cycled passed.  The tric tric tric of his cassette was an effective eye opener.  It appeared that Pete had missed Drew's house also.

We were revived after our sleep.  In hindsight, I would have been better off with a kip at Taunton Deane.  I had the dozies pretty much all night, so can't have been riding very efficiently.  Every now and then, Andrew would ask 'Are you alright'?

Of course I'm comparing the Hellfire 600 with the NZ Kiwi Hunt 1200 ride.  I was completely doolally after the 1200, whereas I was able to string some sentences together back at Shawn's house (I think?).  I was using different bikes, and the 1200 would always have been hard it being in February.  What they have in common is that I thought both were a challenge above my station.  So I am completely over moon, that both the Kiwi Hunt and the Wessex series have worked out, with the help of excellent weather and a whole load of good luck generated by people around me.

So let me finish by asking to be standing as I propose a toast to Andrew Preston, who celebrated his 50th birthday the weekend between the Porkers and the Hellfire, and makes his first series a Wessex Series.  I told him he does everything the wrong way around!

Congratulations to the incredible Andrew!
Other thoughts
  • Hummers and Shawn at the start
  • AndyH, PaulD and CharlieBoy on the road - absolutely brilliant!
  • Message from LadyVet
  • Lots of tweets of encouragement
  • Sound of cuckoo
  • Post ride tea at Shawn's
  • Hosting, drop off and pick up by Mike - thank you so much!
  • Meeting Simon Gent!
  • Wonderful that the 4 new Wessex Series randonneurs 'stayed in touch' throughout
  • Bit of a bizzare toilet break in the art gallery at Malmesbury.  We wheeled our bikes in amongst the art work and they didn't bat an eyelid.
  • AAA audax, or triple A audax, stands for Audax Altitude Awards
  • Taking loads of brufen and applied brufen gel on both knees at every stop
  • Hottest between 1 and 3PM
  • 1 puncture, was worried my tyre had got too thin, it was troubling my mind, hence swapping tyres with Charlie.  I always check my tyres before a ride, but I was wrong in thinking the tyre would last another 600.  It could have, but if you have any doubt, you have to act on it, otherwise it will trouble you.  The mental preparation and well-being on these rides are as important as the physical.
  • Good luck to those who are attempting to complete the series later in the year, and next year (Chillmoister/Lee?)
Photos are on the slideshow (not working? seems to be stuck on the 3D) till the next ride or here: Photos
YACF thread: Who wants to do a Wessex Series
Roll of honour: Wessex Series Super Randonneurs

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

The Porkers 400

This was the most nervous I have ever been before an audax.    And I don't think I was alone.  There was a vibe at the start.  Everybody has to get a starting receipt, getting the start time to be as close to 2PM as possible.  We couldn't all get a receipt at the same time, so at 5 minutes to 2PM I decided to just do it.  I had a quick look at the print out, make sure all was OK, and saw the time was 14:00 on the dot! Photo below shows Priddy getting a bank receipt.

Poole start
And then we were off.  Getting out of Poole meant the group was soon split up by red traffic lights.  But amazingly, there was re-grouping on and off all the way through to the end.  The first re-group was at The Lobster Pot cafe on Portland Bill.  I ordered a crab sandwich.  George repaired a puncture.  AndyH looked pensive.  A casual cyclist said to AndrewP: "I know you, you come to my fish 'n chip shop".  

The Lobster Pot cafe stop
We were off again and from then on AndrewP and I cycled together for the rest of the ride.  We lost AndyH who had set off with us, but Andrew turned back to find out what was up.  What a hero!  I carried on, as I would be forever worrying about finishing out of time.  Unfortunately AndyH felt it wasn't his day to do the Porkers.  

I am very thankful to Andrew who accommodated my 'must not lose time off the bike' obsession.  When I had the dozies too badly to carry on, I wanted to do my 10 mins kip whilst standing up trick.  This was not a problem to Andrew, he would wait for me!  I shut my eyes for about two minutes when cold hands prevented me from dozing off properly, so we set off again.  There were very cold pockets of air about at night.  Brrrr...

Despite the cold patches, and some headwind at times, the weather was in our favour overall.  It couldn't have worked out better, as it had been raining the whole week before, and on Monday it was raining again.

Below is a photo of another re-group.  It was a milestone to get to 'Hummers' Control'.   I kept hunting for lines of re-assurance: 'We're here on time, we'll be OK now, no?'  Nobody will tell you it will be OK, there is still 150km to go, with plenty of hills, anything can happen.  

Hummers' Control
The number of tweets and photos are correlated to how hard the ride is. Last tweet was at Taunton Deane services at 165km.  The scenery was wonderful, but I don't have any pictures to prove it.   Either you're climbing your heart out, or concentrating on the descent.  Stopping for a picture means time off the bike ... not on this ride!

We had some amazing wildlife experiences, in particular the badger 'display'.  I had already been happy on the 3D to have seen a live badger.  But this was a whole family on the road running ahead of us.  They are the mammal equivalent of partridges, in that they just carry on running in front of you.  No wonder you see so many dead ones on the road.

Priddy, Peter, AndrewP and I finished together.  I was hanging on for dear life at the back!  They would wait for me when necessary, as we were getting into Poole.  Thank you!  But I will never forget that sprint I did so as not get caught in red lights again.  I was crying and laughing at the same time.  After 400km, finishing a hilly ride with a sprint!  We got to the organiser's house and Shawn remarked 'That's how I expect riders to look like when they finish a 400'.  All I wanted to do was to rest my head and put my legs up.

My next line must have been predictable: 'There is no way I could do another 200'.  But it's not looking so bad for the final 600 ride in the series.  We finished with time to spare and the following day, I was already seeing things through rose tinted glasses.

Thank you to all the riders, Hummers, Shawn, Arthur and Christine.   It was a team effort, and one to treasure.  Who would have thought I would write the next line: 'I think I'm beginning to look forward to the Hellfire 600' .. note the 'think' and 'beginning' though ...  I'm not at all sure.

Other notes:
  • 2PM start is unusual, to finish 5PM next day
  • Finding parking was challenging as 24 hour parking is not enough.  Train station was perfect though.
  • Couldn't make use of Arthur's generous middle of the night open house offer
  • Great to see Hummers, and Shawn, at the Winterborne Whitechurch control.  Christmas cake was perfect given the cold temperatures at that spot.  Cycling through the cold is one thing, but standing waiting for people is another, Thank you!
  • At the start, George had pointed out the 6 climbs after Shrewton, on the routesheet.  I had memorised Sixpenny Handley.  'That's the last one' he had said.  
  • We followed the red half moon for a long time
  • 15 entered, 11 started, 7 finished.  Congratulations to the finishers. And I feel for those who didn't.  I had prepared myself to be in that category and told myself to see this event as an 'attempt', to come back to another time if necessary.
Photos are on the slideshow till the next ride or here: The Porkers 400 photos