Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The Dean 300

I had a 'Sneezing Panda' moment on the way to Oxford (Sneezing Panda).  It was going to be a glorious day.  I was looking forward to the day's cycling, the Dean 300, my favourite ride.  How wonderful, I thought, a full day's worth of doing your favourite thing.  Forecast was fantastic.  I was hoping for scenery, sunshine and skylarks and knew that I was going to get all of that.  I was basking in anticipated, but guarded, enjoyment.  300km is a long way, a lot can happen, I know that much.  And I was loving Rob da Bank's show on the radio.  A bonus of early Oxford starts on a Saturday, is listening to Rob da Bank. He was playing some great new tunes.  When he summoned the 'Six O'Clock Cockerel' is when I had my 'Sneezing Panda' moment.  Six o'clock!  But that is the start of the ride! And I'm in the car! What am I doing here?  I knew it was a six o'clock start.  I can still see it on the route sheet as I was laminating the sections.  How come I'm still on the road?

It is the years of audax experience that told me to consider the options calmly.  I had allowed myself 45 minutes fettling time, so I was still going to arrive with the organiser present at the start.  Getting hold of the brevet card is all that needed to be done.

45 was reduced to 15, and I was off.  Soon, in the wonderful misty landscape with the sun trying to come through.

All that mist has a golden lining!  I was lantern rouge.  No doubt about it.  As a novice audaxer, I thought being the lantern rouge was a bad thing - it signalled failure to me.  Words like 'bad thing' and 'failure' do not exist in the audax language.  Being the lantern rouge is something to aim for!  And now, I had given it to myself on a plate.  Congratulations!

First control, Stow.  Ahh, fabulous.  It had already been wonderful with scenery and skylarks.  And it was going to get even better when the sun comes through!

I sat on the pavement eating breakfast with a milkshake.  I noticed how red my shins were.  Strange.  A cyclist arrives.  It's Lycra Man!  I was so pleased to see him.  My second reaction was lantern rouge related.

I pointed out my red shins.  How can you get burnt in the fog and with the sun behind you?

Lycra Man can set quite a pace.  And me on my racing bike, managed to keep up with him.  Soon we were in the next control and caught up with other riders, Bez, Julian, Pete....  I have the last of my lantern rouge thoughts.

The Dean is the most fantastic ride.  If you had visitors and wanted to show off the country side, you could drive them around the route.  I struggled to visualise that though.  The thought of sitting in a car for 300km put me off.  Cycling 300km is ok, but driving it seems like a marathon. Odd, no?

Stephen under Blackpool Bridge
You'd certainly have to stop at Blackpool Bridge: "The only Roman Road junction with the original road surface still intact" - Bike 99 Site.  I hadn't taken notice of that bridge before.  Just like I had never spotted the water mill in Upleadon.

On two occasions, I tried to take pictures of birds.  On both occasions, a car drove past at the right time to scare off the birds.  Aaaargghh!!  Cars!!  Those things that get me to and from an audax ...  While I was in angry mood, I brooded on a phrase that is being used more and more: 'raw honey'.  Makes me so angry!!  Honey is honey.  It is only because the commercially accepted norm is to sell heat treated honey, that they have to add a word to indicate it has not been heat treated.  They never called it 'heat treated honey' did they.  And what's the opposite of raw?  Cooked?  You don't get cooked honey, why would they use the word raw?  It's honey extracted from the comb with nothing added, nothing taken away, nothing done to it.  I do agree, that it is the best.  A type of 'Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivĂ©' type of campaign would be appropriate.  Freshly extracted honey is the very best.  So if you know a local beekeeper, ask them when they might be extracting next (they will not tell you an exact date!), and ask if you may buy a couple of jars - pay them generously, it's worth it.  That freshly extracted honey flavour, smell and texture, last around 10-20 days I'd say, depending of the time of the year and locality.

Forest of Dean
Big thank you to the organiser.  Thank you to the Solihull CC rider, for the company whilst completing the last legs in the dark.  I appreciated us chatting along as it was getting colder and colder.

Other thoughts:
  • fancied ice cream in Chepstow
  • no problems climbing upto Somerset Monument
  • being on my racing bike reminded me why I bought an audax friendly bike
  • seeing the tandem and waving at Chris.  Sorry to have missed fboab.  
  • cold feet first and last thing
  • seeing Jason leaving Stow in opposite direction
Photos are on the slideshow till the next ride or here: Clicky
Also nice photos by fboab: fboab's pictures

Monday, 12 March 2012

The Kiwi Hunt 2012 Ride Report

We found the kiwi! He had flown from Wellington and was the last to check in at 6:45 for a 7am start! Craig was the only kiwi seen on the ride.

Start of the Kiwi Hunt
 I did hear another one mind. That was whilst riding between Greymouth and Otira. Hearing the distinctive call early that morning made me smile. I had just entered 'determined' mode. This last day was going to be the hardest, with a lot of unknowns. I had been 'treading water' up to now, managing to stay in time limit but failing to gain the expected time buffer. This was unsettling me. I figured I was going to have to do more. Right! No more photographs, ultra efficient breaks and harder riding. I was not budging on my 1 hour planned sleep in Greymouth, although Paul did try!

This thought of working harder solidified whilst climbing up to Otira. As I was going parallel along the railway, I was recalling the couple of times I have taken the TranzAlpine train. I would have admired the scenery and wondered what it would have been like to cycle the route. Here I am now! Might as well make the most if it!  And I was. The cycling was going well. The weather was great and we had the Otira hotel coming up as break stop. I was happy.  I bounced into the hotel. I spotted the drop bags which cheered me up even more. Then the guy behind the counter (was that Bill?) looked at me as if he knew me well and said: 'You're late!'.

I was late, it's true. Duncan had kindly booked a room for me to use for a couple of 'early' hours. But it was already 10:30. We laughed in mutual recognition of the situation and got down to the business of breakfast. Yum yum!

I don't regret not taking any more photos.  It was on one of those TranzAlpine journeys that the person sitting opposite me said: 'Only in New Zealand is reality more beautiful than photographs'. A retrospective thank you to her.

Lake Hawea
Now for the Otira gorge.... It really is no good asking locals what the climbing will be like. Kiwi Craig's answer was :'Oh, it's beautiful. Beautiful scenery on both sides, national park territory.' I had asked a couple of 'friends' also, earlier in the week. They pounced on my mistake of calling everything 'hills'. One of them blew up like a red balloon trying not to burst out laughing whilst the other was trying not to fall off her chair. The one on the chair composed herself and calmly said: 'Nah, you don't need to worry about the hills, Els..... The mountains on the other hand....' The balloon exploded and there was a thud on the floor (a little exaggerated, forgive me). Thankfully my girlfriend, Sarah, had given me the best clue when she was questioning why people go on about Arthur's Pass when it's the Otira gorge that will be the tough bit.  How right she was! I was walking at that stage. And I don't now if it's because earthquakes are a big topic or if I was hallucinating, but on turning into that last bend, that most steepest of bends, I found myself looking at the ground and my feet, because I was sure I was sliding backwards. A little bit further, still walking, a double truck had ground to a halt. Silence ... A whole stream of cars and trucks gradually reverse ... Then the double truck tries again and makes 'the grade' this time.

I continued towards Arthur's Pass. Lovely waterfalls everywhere. I was on a high again. There was only Porters Pass to go and I was still in time. But this is where it turned nasty. Why didn't my girlfriend warn me about Porters Pass? She explained afterwards, what did you expect, it's the alps! Climb after climb after climb, and the headwind took hold. My morale was going, I was struggling. Duncan was on the road a couple of times. He knew.  He knew what was happening and turned up at the right time. Water, energy, food, a little pep talk. He helped me to focus just on getting to the next control, to do what I normally do.  A huge motivator was the knowledge of yacf and twitter followers. I felt responsible, I couldn't let anybody down.

The day before, I also had an act of human kindness happening to me, that would have got the PBP rider 2071 crying for sure (watch the video from 25:56 to 27:  PBP Video).  A colleague's in-laws, never met them, were going to put a caravan on the route, for me to pop in and take a rest. I called it the Wafelbakker van. 'It's not going to be visible from the road', Zoe wrote, 'you'll need to turn into the side road before you see it'. I turned into the side road, and, and, and ... There it is!! I was doing a triple backflip with reverse pirouette, and as I was building momentum for the final dismount, fireworks were going off all around me. It's the Wafelbakker van! There was a note on the open door 'Welcome Els'.

The Wafelbakker van!
Inside were all the luxuries and thoughtful touches you could wish for: makeshift shower equipment, toothpaste and brush, fruit, bed, of course, and on the bed was a small parcel addressed to me. It was a card signed by work colleagues, wishing me well. How amazing! I opted for sleep rather than read all the message, but I got the gist: there were many many people behind me, willing me on. On leaving the van, I noticed the number plate: DAY 4. As if it was a message, this was going to pull me through day 4.  The Wafelbakker's are the very first PBP style, Kiwi Hunt road side supporters and deserve a medal!  Thank you so much!

Card from colleagues.
When I saw Duncan for the second time providing road side support, he pointed up 'that's is it, that is the top'. He had to repeat it, because I couldn't believe it. All the previous climbs tagged as 'could be the last one' hadn't been. I did a weak high five with Duncan. All the way downhill now.  That's it, I was going to make it after all, save a serious mechanical or getting lost in a bad way, which I'm perfectly capable of. But it was downhill in lovely countryside. I got to Oxford in time. It was looking good, no need to rush. Even time for a 10 min kip.

As it was getting dark though, everything was catching up with me. As if I had let my guard down, I was slacking in speed and concentration. I was on this long, long dead straight road, a never ending straight road, with oncoming fast traffic, headlights not being dipped. My environment became a world of hallucinations and, a first, I was hearing voices. My gps switched off and I had no more spare batteries. My front light stopped working, so I clipped on my backup light. Then that stopped working, so I fixed up my dynamo light. I now wonder if I was imagining all this. Still, I felt lost. I called Duncan for orientation. His calm voice gave me confidence: all the way to the end, then a right, then Shirley Road. I did all that and started to recognise parts of Christchurch. Just needed to get to the Gloucester, Worcester, Hereford Rd area. I went up and down these roads, but just couldn't find Duncan's house. I couldn't call him again! Sarah would be waiting for me, I had given her an ETA from Oxford. I called her, she gave me instructions, but I still couldn't get out of this loop. She then came to find me.  'Stay put" she had said. Apparently I carried on. And when she told me to do a right, I did a left. But, she found me, and led me to Duncan's house. I had been so close!!

I phoned Duncan, because no one was at home, he was probably looking for me! 'Just post the brevet card in the letterbox'. Right, the letterbox. It was a huge letterbox, I was inspecting it. It was bigger than a huge bird box, a letterbox for a giant's house. That little brevet card would get lost in there. If I posted it and while it was floating down to the bottom in slow motion, there could be a chance that a gust of wind catches it, turns it at right angles and the card slots in a gap at the bottom through to the underworld of Christchurch. 'Hurry up!' called Sarah. 'Yes, I'm doing it! Just have a last look, it's the right letter box, no? And could somebody get in from the back ... Then I heard the door of the car being opened in a manner that meant: ' If you don't post that stupid card right now, I'll tear it up. I popped it in and exclaimed : 'I did it'! And that was a reflection on posting the card, not on officially completing the ride.

I can't wait to receive that card back, it has the signature of one of the Audax UK greats, Julian Dyson! I loved Julian's company. Such a jovial guy, a true audaxer. Never complaining, but dealing with the situation. For example, on leaving Omarama, he said he got cold in the tent so decided he might as well get back on the bike. That is after 360km, in the middle of the night, you have to realise.

Unfortunately he abandoned the ride as his averages were getting too low. This wasn't a problem to him, instead he helped out Duncan in providing support. He didn't need his assos cream anymore so gave it to me. I had huge problems with saddle sores. They got worse as I changed into fresh shorts, which is meant to be a good practice. At the Otira hotel, I retrieved my Rapha shorts again. Damage was done though. Those last 60km from Oxford seemed like twice the distance probably because I was riding whilst standing up most of the time.  Once home, I walked up and down the stairs like a penguin would.

I'm thankful to Paul and Duncan as they helped to change my gear cable which was fraying (shame on me, hadn't spotted that!), discovered after the gear changing got worse and worse. Paul I and linked up often, but we didn't quite have the same rhythm. Apart from lovely Craig, the others were way ahead of us. They're the type of riders who enjoy 7 hrs sleep per night and make it up the Otira gorge without sweat. Just a stroll in the national park probably. And here was a top tip from Julian which I'll add to my list. For a 'body reboot' you need two rem cycles, which take 45 mins each. So it is a good rule of thumb that if you can't afford much time off the bike, make it at least 1.5 hrs at the time. Thank you Julian!

A highlight for me was all of the west coast, absolutely love it. I like the wilderness, the lush tropical forest so close by. Then you come to the glaciers. We were lucky to get glorious sunshine.  Mind you, my bottom lip got badly burnt.  The next day I looked like miss botox extraordinaire. The night stop at Lake Paringa, was wonderful also. We had a fully equipped youth hostel type place to ourselves (I believe another last minute act of kindness). I took a shower and changed into fresh clean clothing. Bruce was there, Bruce was the straight talking support van man.

It's Bruce!
I had been concerned about this being a pointless ride - which is more than a randonee reference.  Why spend 100s of pounds on a flight, to do a ride, half of which will be in the dark and half of which you'll forget because of the state you're in! Why do this in a country which I believe is best seen on foot? But I didn't come to see the country, I came to do the first ever 1200 randonnee in NZ. And if you're going to do a 1200, NZ is not a bad place to do it in!  Sarah's dad helped me out with the question why we do these things: 'Because it is worthwhile doing while you can', he said.

Pictures are on the slideshow till the next ride or here: Photos
Mark's stunning photos are here
Duncan, the organiser's photos are here

Craig's ride report: Hallucinations in Haast

Other thoughts:
  • We had paparazzo!  A photographer/documenter, Julian made acquaintances with, turned up at the start.
  • Before sending us off, Duncan said that the weather would be 'OK'.  Several laughed.  Duncan then corrected himself: 'Mostly'.  Several laughed again.
  • Indeed, we were very, very lucky. This would be a very hard ride in bad weather. The terrible headwind on the last day, Duncan said, wasn't  so terrible for the locals
  • Didn't need Marcus' water purifying tablets.  But I did see Craig get water from a river -  so it is done.
  • Hope my experience can be a yardstick.  I'm not fast and I'm not a good climber.  I've struggled on two of the three Bryan Chapmans I've done.  So if you can do BCM on little time off the bike, you can do the Kiwi Hunt.  However a Kiwi Hunt with BCM weather, and I very much doubt I would have made it in time.
  • Long long stretches, to Omarama, to Wanaka, to Lake Paringa, to Greymouth, to Christchurch.  Don't think it was a coincidence that all these were in the dark.
  • Legs stiffening up on descents, the whole descent became a dread of the 'kick in again' time.
  • Two kilometres of 16% apparently.
  • Vital statistic: 9 riders
  • Craig finished 19 minutes out of time, but earlier in the month had completed a mountain bike 1000 brevet.
  • Aaron of Chain Reaction Cycles in Fendalton helped me with a few things.  He knew about PBP, through working for Michelin.
  • Riders can sign each other's brevet card - sometimes nobody else about!
  • Big thank you to Duncan for organising
  • Big thank you to all supporters/followers and the Wafelbakkers!
  • Big thank you to the Weston family for exceptional hosting and putting up with my pre- and post-ride fettling on bike and mind.

FNRttC Brighton - March 2012

Never again! This has been the worst FNRttC ever!

That is because I didn't do the ride. After bailing out (I needed a couple more days Kiwi Hunt recovery) I thought to join the riders on arrival at the Madeira cafe.

The Madeira Cafe ready for FNRttC business

It was a wonderful spring morning - I wondered what the night ride would have been like. I wasn't prepared for the quantity and quality of words posted on the forum afterwards:

  • What a lovely bunch of people you all are - GregCollins 
  • One of the most enjoyable FNRttCs I have done - Sittingduck 
  • I really, really enjoyed that - my fave and best FNRttC to date - ed! 
  • What fabulous fun. A splendid ride - hatler 
  • thank you for all contributing to one of life's great pleasures - hatler 
  • Spiffy ride - Tim Hall 
  • What a brilliant FNRttC - ianruk 
  • I think this might just have been the best one yet - TinyMyNewt 
  • what a lovely bunch of people to spend the night with, I'm so lucky!! - TinyMyNewt 
  • well, that was a delight - dellzeqq 
  • What a splendid bunch you are, and how lucky am I to know you! - dellzeqq 
  • A definet top FNRttC - Nigel182 
  • Can't wait for the next one! - Christophe 
  • What a fab ride that was! - Mice 
  • Magic. Just magic. - rb58 
  • By heck that was great. - StuAff 
  • One of the best FNRttCs I've been on. - Martin235 
  • it was definitely one of best night rides. - thegreenman 
I tried to reconcile and tell myself that, if you haven't done many FNRttCs, then this could easily be the best ever for you. But some of these quotes are by regulars!  McWobble wrote "I can't really put my finger on why this FNRttC was so good."  That is the magic about FNRttC, rides seem to get better and better. Or is it that the first of the season is a re-awakening?

It's not all that bad.  Seeing people arrive, especially the new ones, and learn how they enjoyed the ride is wonderful. Catching up with regulars, is like catching up with friends. A touching story by Katie Sutton, reminds you, what a ride can mean to people.

The other benefit was that I could see the Brighton seafront from a different angle. I took some photos: Clicky

Mice posted some lovely photos here: Clicky

The Kiwi Hunt write up is in progress - amazing how a ride can take time to sink in and translate into words.