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

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

The 3D 300

The highlight of the ride was getting a puncture 30 miles from the end, when dark and wet all around me.

Doesn't sound right does it?  But there is a lot about these Wessex rides that doesn't make sense.  I completed the hilly Dorset Coast 200 in my best time.  I'm recovering from this tough, 3D 300, surprisingly quickly.  I thought I was just lucky on the 200, to have a glorious day of sunshine and excellent riding company to accelerate my progress, maybe it was a fluke  I also had excellent company on and off on this 300, but the weather certainly did not work in anybody's favour. I might have to start believing in myself a bit more.  

The weather was awful.  At the first control, in Axminster, people were not saying much.  I was drenched and cold.  'Don't stay long', said PaulD as he was leaving, 'it's too cosy in there'.  It wasn't cosy for me mind.  I got colder and colder and more and more miserable.  I exaggerated my shivering in the hope somebody would tell me to take the train home.  The thought of shivering on a train home and realising I could get warmer outside than I was inside got me back on the bike.  'You know you want to' said Blazer.

And it did warm up just a couple of degrees maybe, enough to take the edge of it.

Apologies to anybody who was affected by me not having mudguards.  This wasn't intentional.  The race blade mudguards are so easy to clip on that I had left it to do till the morning of the start.  They would have got knocked off in the car anyway.  However, during the week I had added an extra rear light for extra visibility. It seems I had a homing instinct to put the light exactly on the spot where the mudguard would need to be clipped on.  I had also secured it extra tightly so that I wouldn't be faced with a light falling off whilst freewheeling down a potholed descent.  In the absence of fettling time I opted for visibility over vanity.  Wrong!  The lights got covered with red mud so that I ended up with neither.

The red soil in that area is amazing.  I loved the lane in the picture below.  The tumbling down piles of earth here and there indicate badger sets.  And I did see a live badger (you normally only see dead ones along the road).

Badger country
The view coming down into Sidmouth with those 'red cliffs' are spectacular.  A bit further was another great view (over Seaton?).

View over Seaton (?)
There is meant to be a great view from Hardy Monument also.  I decided to put my feet firmly on the ground there and walk up.  Otherwise, I saw myself being air lifted into the Dorset sky, Mary Poppins on a bike, the wind was so strong and blustery.  Even up in the sky there wouldn't have been any views, it was dark.

Plodder, Peter, Priddy and P... Blazer
Above is the group I got to the finish with.  Absolutely marvellous company.  They were waiting for Hummers who was catching up after a puncture.  Later on, it was Hummers who had hung back for me after I had repaired my puncture.  Oh what a beautiful moment, when you see red flashing lights again.  Thanks Hummers!

In Seaton, I got an ATM receipt.  I was putting a base layer on, hidden inside a shop entrance, whilst eating the sandwich that Mrs CharlieB had prepared for me.  This was going to be another minimalist stop.  But Priddy ran up the road out of 'nowhere'.  'We're all in the four seas, come and join us'.  The way he said 'the fours seas' was like something I was meant to know about, and the only reaction could be 'Of course, I'll come with you'.  Sausage and chips with mayonnaise I had in 'The Four C's'.  Would make a nice contribution to YACF's thread 'Grammar that makes you cringe'.  Their tag line is 'Coffee and Cream, Cod and Chips'.  Half an hour, at least, we were there.  Half an hour!  I don't do hours, not even by halves, I do minutes normally.

Crediton was another control in a station cafe. There was only one other person in the queue, so I put an order in. The cup of tea came, but my food didn't, not even by the time I had taken off my overshoes (which takes ages), taken off my cycling shoes, taken off and wrung out my socks (outside), refilled my water bottle, tweeted, took a couple of photos, put my gloves on the radiator, changed my gps batteries (outside again), helped myself to a flapjack off the counter which I had paid for earlier, went to the ladies, chatted about bees to Peter Loakes (which can take ages) ... Then Pete Mass came in and I offered my food, when it arrives, to him. I packed up and went.

Peter the organiser and rider at Crediton
Arriving at Peter's house was a moment to treasure.  And seeing others arrive, shaking their heads. Hummers had settled in and had a smile on his face.  He was loving all this.  Hummers, the master, he had coaxed people into his Wessex web and and we're all his now.  At the perfect moment, when everyone was down and out he delivered his line: 'Ready for the Porkers in two weeks time then?'. He was loving all the reactions of 'not in this weather'!  The sadistic grin on his face!  We have all fallen into his trap.  He reminded me of the figure at the end of this 3 minute PBP video:

Hang on ... Simon Gent?

What went well?
  • no saddle problems (moved saddle forward and wore a hardly worn pair of shorts)
  • ate well
  • never thirsty
  • easy to fix puncture
  • didn't get lost - a couple of missed turnings - thanks to AndyP for gps files
  • cycled hard all the way - no CCD (cyclist collapse disorder)
  • no pain in neck/shoulders - did loads of stretches
What could have gone better?
  • mudguards
  • was cold in those shorts
  • 'waterproof' socks not waterproof anymore
  • didn't enjoy myself till the puncture
What will I do for the Porkers?
  • new brake blocks!
  • new waterproof jacket
  • new shorts like the 3/4 but thicker/warmer
  • new 'waterproof' socks
  • re-rig map trap gadget
  • take the spare batteries for the light
  • buy extra rear light so can permanently fix in correct position
  • better, brighter headtorch
  • back to taking two spare inner tube
  • get saddle bag to avoid little backpack
  • enjoy myself(!)
Other thoughts?
A big big thank you to all the riders (including Peter, the organiser).  Every encounter during stops and on the road brightened my day.  Also thank you to Peter's helpers and the CharlieB family.

The few photos are on the slideshow till the next ride or here: 3D photos