Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The Bryan Chapman Memorial 600

I was only 85km in, when I was ready to call a friend.  I couldn't call my other half, because she would have said: "I have no sympathy!" (the 'no' said in a Jeremy Paxman way).  Neither could I call my mum, who knows I'm doing this to go to Paris in August.  She would have said: "Come home, we can go to Paris any day of the year!".

I had to talk to somebody who would understand and know what I needed to hear.  So I called my alter ego.  Here is the conversation:

swarm_catcher: Hi?
Els: Hi, it's me, I'm on the BCM

swarm_catcher: And you're calling me because it is tough going?
Els: Yes [sob]

swarm_catcher: But it's going?
Els: Yes [sniff]

swarm_catcher: Well tough it out!
Els: But I'm only 85km in and struggling.  Howard is probably in Kings YH already.

swarm_catcher: Who is Howard?
Els: He is Lance Armstrong

swarm_catcher: And does that help you?
Els: No [wail]

swarm_catcher: Think of Eddy Merckx instead.
Els: [sniff]

swarm_catcher: Call me back when you get to 200
Els: OK

swarm_catcher: Just don't call while you are driving
Els: But I'm ...

swarm_catcher: tduuuuuuuuuu

Then, hurrahhh!!!!  A serious mechanical problem happened.  My pedals stopped turning dead in their tracks.   Quick, feet out before I fall over! This is it, I would have to give up, and what an excuse! Perfect.  Before I examined the damage, and in seconds, I had plans A, B and C on what to do next.  I would walk 500 miles and pluck up courage to knock on somebody's door.

The cleaning cloth for my glasses, which I must have dropped whilst getting something out of a back pocket, got entangled in the rear dérailleur.  With a single reverse turn of the pedals, out came the cloth.  Sigh of no relief.

Soon after, Mr Sunshine Gary arrived.  He had a story to tell that got me stunned for the next 50km.  His bike had just 'snapped in half', stopped at a garage, got it welded, carried on.  Certainly an advert for steel bikes and a guy called Gary.  He cheered me up no end, not just the story, but his lively, bubbly, sunny character lifted my spirits.

Mr Sunshine Gary (coincidence Liam called him Sunshine Gary also?)

It was also great to chat with Barry, who caught up with me next.  I waited for Larry and Harry .... maybe I was the red lantern.  At least at every control, I would still see a few people.

I had a song on repeat in my head.  Lyrics from Coldplay.  'Nobody said it was easy'.  'Oh, take me back to start'.

As I saw Chillmoister at the halfway Menai control I blurted out: 'I'm packing'!   With hindsight, if I really was going to give up, maybe I wouldn't shout it out so loud.  I would quietly say: "My ride is over, see you at the finish".  Wise words of 'get inside and eat' did the trick.  As you eat and weigh up the options, you realise that the logistics of getting back to Chepstow, and the implications of not completing BCM are almost harder to deal with than carrying on, especially given the state you are in.

If my brain wasn't mush at Menai, it certainly was back at Kings YH.  When asked what breakfast I would like, I looked for the easy option.  One word, no utensils: toast.  I was pleased the volunteer didn't ask which spread I wanted. I wouldn't have been able to make a decision.  Not even honey came to mind.

My bag drop bag had been carefully organised (learning from Greenbank!).  I had a black bag for things I would need at night, and a white bag for things I would need for the second day.  Even that got scrambled.  I must have been looking for something I couldn't find.  Comfort probably.

If you are getting tired of reading about this self-inflicted misery, forgive me.  I need to document this so that I never do this ride again.  In fact, why don't I cancel my Audax membership right now? Join Liam in the knitting club.

The best thing about this ride were the people.  I hardly have any pictures to share. Fortunately, others did get some fantastic shots to show off Wales.  Links are at the end.

I don't remember any scenery myself.  The last day, the last 200km, was dominated by calculations.  How far to go, how much time left?  Keep it going, you've got to make it now.  No point conserving energy anymore.  Go for it! Don't forget it is 619km, don't forget the last 19, call it 20.  Recalculate.  Go go go.

There is a lot of shifting up and down gears to do on the last leg.  Relentless up and own.  This was causing a new type of hallucination.  Shift up, 'edit', up again, 'amend', shift down, 'cancel'.  Shift up, 'open chapter', up again, 'turn page', shift down, 'close'.  Shift up, 'person walks in', up again, 'another walks in', shift down, 'all walk out'.  It was bizarre, I kept asking questions: 'what am I editing', 'why am I reading', 'what am I reading', 'who are these people'.  Like in a dream, the answers never came.

People on fixed gear are unreal!  Simonp and Manotea (there may have been others), I admire you.

I asked for a receipt at the last Weobley control shop.  Force of audax habit and being on autopilot.  'Do you need a stamp', said the lovely person a the till. 'Yes! Yes! I do.  Let me get my card!!'

I was thankful for John Spooner's company in the last stretch.  We knew it was touch and go all the way.  Thirty minutes spare sounds plenty, but  a difficult puncture could still set you back by that much.  It was great to see more people come in before 10PM.  Jason could hardly stand, stumbling against the wall.  Well done everybody.  There are a few people who finished around the same time as John and I, and I wish I had been more with it to take note: Maidenhead Phil, Panoramix, JJ, Redlight?  Hope to be able to say hi another time.

After returning to the B&B on Sunday evening, I found this in my room:

"Congratulations on your epic journey."
I ate all of it, although falling asleep many times as I was doing so.   My stay at Afon Gwy was wonderful.  I was very well looked after.

Many thanks to Mike the organiser, all the helpers and all the riders.  Reading through the yacf thread, you can sense the mutual respect people are giving each other.  It doesn't matter whether you abandoned, finished out of time, or finished in a good time ... you were there.

Thanks for all the tweets of support.

I did find Howard's tweet very endearing for somebody who finished 12 hours earlier than me: "That was tough."

Photos are on the slideshow till the next ride, or here: Clicky.

Links to other albums are below:
Mr Bunbury

A few more thoughts:

  • Meeting Gary and Barry for the first time
  • Really wanted to get to know more people, but didn't have capacity
  • I was not ready for a tough first 100, they normally come at the end
  • Iddu, please believe me, not doing the BCM again
  • Except I had a desire to maybe, use a bed in Kings YH, and still haven't
  • Asking Iddu what the weather was going to do on Sunday: "It's going to be BCM weather."
  • My bike sounding like a chifchaf after the rain
  • Lost 1kg over the weekend
  • I have qualified for PBP, it is no formality! At least not if you do it the BCM way.
  • Without the weight loss over the last 5 months and 'speed' training, maybe I would not have made it.
  • StevieB on yacf: "* I could tell by Ele’s light pattern coming from behind she was not just wobbling a little but all over the road… so I woke her up and she promptly took the opportunity to get some sleep – sitting on a wall, and a few km further on - leaning on a gate! Not sure what surprised me more – her ability to sleep in any position or her ability to wake up after a couple of minutes!!"

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

The Severn Across 400

I had been looking forward to the halfway stop at Chepstow.  For the last 40km, I had been dreaming about pancakes.  Initially, just pancakes.  A bit later, pancakes with banana.  10km later, pancakes with banana, drizzled with runny honey.  Another 10km later, sun inspired, I was adding a scoop of vanilla ice cream ...  When I went into Aslan's cafe, I decided not to even look at the menu, and order what I had been craving.  This was going to be heaven, and keep me going for the next 100km and more!

Oh what a let down.  The idea of pancakes had already emerged on the Easter Arrow, when, at the Wetherspoon's in Sleaford, they had 'run out'.  How can you run out of pancakes?  At Aslan's, they didn't have the 'pancake machine'.

Once you master Delia's three minute boiled egg, pancakes must be the easiest to make, no? What you need is eggs, flour, milk, butter, a pan and 5 minutes.  You'll never run out again, with or without machine.

Still, Aslan's do wonderful breakfasts.

Pip and Mark on the 'Ultimate'

It was great to see Greenbank and Des on the road again.  Also to re-acquaint with SwissHat and JohnW.

There were many yacf names, many familiar faces and many Willesden riders taking part.  The event certainly is a good advert for the Willesden Cycling Club and Chris Beynon.  I learnt that the Willesden SR is only organised in PBP years.

These 400s are not easy.  I thought I'd be OK. After all, I had just done a 400, without too much trouble, the week before. I had reminded myself what it was about: the Dean 300 with a FNRttC added.  I knew it would be a bit hillier and there would be a headwind on the way back.  But oh my!  Those last 60km were tough on the mind.  I was pleased to have company on and off for the last 40km or so. The thought of a 600 in Wales, in a couple of week's time, is being pushed into the back of my mind.  In reality, I am scared.  PBP is something in the distant future, I don't need to think about that yet! Gulp!!

Wonderful though. I've said it before, the Cotswolds, Gloucester, the Forest of Dean, Marlborough, Wilthsire ... is lovely, lovely cycling country.  The sun was out.  It was a summery day with cow parsley in flower all along the road verges, hawthorn, rape seed fields you could smell from a distance away ....

Rape seed fields. What a waste!  Imagine if you were to put beehives all around and amongst the fields.  How much honey could you collect nationally?  I know rape seed honey is not the tastiest, but it is a sugar resource!  How many tonnes of nectar are untapped?  There may be a few hives around, but I didn't see any from the road.

The thoughts you have when cycling long distances in the dark, on your own, are thoughts you would never have otherwise.  For example, I was thinking how wonderful it would be for Kate and Wills to experience an audax.  Audaxers wouldn't encourage them to use the Boris Tandem for sure.  But we could set up a Royal Audax called 'The A to B 400' - Anglesey to Buckingham Palace.  Or 'The B to B 1200' - Buckingham Palace to Balmoral.  I bet Kate never thought of this drawback of being in the Royal Family.

Other thoughts:
  • The Brevet Cymru 400 being ridden on the same day, attended by the Faccombe 4
  • Climbing Yat Rock and Somerset Monument hill and enjoying it (I know!!)
  • Cross wind on Severn Bridge.  Thought my cold had come back, only my left nostril was being blown and held shut all the way across (ha!)
  • Thinking about the people new to 400s, I knew what they were going through, or were going to go through. Well done!
  • Making pancakes as soon as I got home!
Highlight of the weekend? Only after looking back at photos, discovering this detail at the Blenheim Tea Rooms:

Other photos are on the slideshow till the next ride, or here: Clicky