Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Drag the past out into the light

Spoiler alert : this is not about cycling.

And there are no pictures.

It's absolutely rubbish this grieving malarkey. Gets you at odd times, like driving into work, and late at night when you start looking at Alan Yentob but always end up with Paul Hewson and Kite. Which rhymes appropriately with how I feel.

Sorry to burden you lot, cyberspace with this but how else can I sleep. Still better than Bunny's lot at the moment, and at least I have 100 top U2 tracks from Youtube in my ears as I type. And now I have Beautiful Day, which basically says, life is awful but it's still beautiful. Which is about as much sense as I'm ever going to get out of this at 1AM, GMT, BTW.

I was, I thought, doing well. But actually I was just buffering with business. Or busyness. And now the bandwidth is bigger and all those connections get made in a really raw way, and it's hard. But then, what would she say? In modern parlance it would be FFS, MTFU and get out on your bike.

At a place called vertigo? I can certainly feel that all right, never mind the holes that twinkle, and there is quite definitely no God. Just give me what I want and no-one gets hurt. Really?

Not content with the rain, no, make that the flood, the weather gods are about to chuck cold northerlies, freezing temperatures, and quite probably ice and snow in our direction.

Do your worst, I've had enough of you. My best winter base layer, and fleecy bib-tights can fend you off in concert with my polartec buff.

Thursday I'm riding to work.

OK so I lied. Here's the picture.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

The way I laugh there way up high

I have had a busy week with trips to London on Tuesday and thursday, both of which necessitated me being on the 6AM train from Temple Meads. Which means getting up at 4.30AM, and enjoying the delights of First GReat Western to Paddington, tube hell, and "don't know, don't care and I gotta go mate".

That is not a complaint, it's a FACT. When you add in yet more terrible weather, a dizzying spell of vertigo, which seems to come and go with varying symptoms, all add up to not much opportunity or inclination for riding the bike. And it's junior's birthday weekend (when a simple party transformed into a whole weekend requiring my presence I can't remember, especially since most of the time these days he does his best to not be with his parents) and yet again as it's persistenly raining I'm not out today or tomorrow either.

But yesterday I thought I'd go back to my cycling roots and try a bit of night riding. OK I was tired, it was Friday evening and pretty cold. But it had been sunny all day, I didn't have to get up in the morning so I thought I'd give it a go. I vainly tried to persuade the Cycling Mayor to come, but she wasn't having any of it, so it was just me and the night.

My earliest proper cycling forays were back in Devon, I rode my bike everywhere (a Raleigh Arena bought in a bike shop in Burnham for some reason).

Not just for fun but as a means of transport, and particularly in my part time job as a paperboy. The landscape of Torbay is not exactly flat, so every evening and on Saturdays I would cycle a round trip of 6-7 miles and a fair few feet of climbing to deliver the Herald Express to a disparate group of customers.

Most of this took place in the dark, or so it seemed. I had a set of lights driven by a dynamo which seemed to make more noise than my wheezy chest, but it kept me seen and seeing. I certainly had no thought of hi-viz or helmets in those days, and I'm sure the Highway code was fairly peripheral to my cycling.

When I got back into cycling about 10 years ago, the main time I would go out was after baby Junior was tucked up in bed at night, and though the lights and clothing had moved on, the darkness seemed to be much the same. Somehow I have got out of this habit, I think it's because I can't really be bothered to do short distances anymore, and the early starts with work are not conducive to hard efforts the night before.

Somerset has been inundated this week, but I wasn't expecting it to be quite as wet as it was. After warming up through Winscombe and Sandford I headed up the road towards Burrington, which was still full of the same type of large puddles that had hampered my journey home the night before on the A38. In a car. Being at the bottom of the Mendip slopes there was still plenty of water still coming off the hill, despite there being no rain for over 24 hours.

As I turned up the Coombe itself it soon became apparent that these were not normal conditions. The cattle grid was submerged, and once over it, the road soon took on the characteristics of a river. Which didn't make the climb any easier. It was only when I was about halfway up that the road surface went from torrent to damp, and I was free to enjoy the peace, quiet and spectacular views of a moonlit night ride.

I carried on along the road at the top, heading for Green Ore lights, periodically having to slow down for more deep puddles in the dips, occasional gravel and deep, thick banks of mist. As you would expect, the temperature would suddenly plunge every time I hit one of these, and my goggles would mist up immediately.

I headed over the first set of lights and then took one of the back roads into Wells, past the old Slabhouse pub. The mist played havoc with the vision, so I had to take it fairly easy, despite the good surface and there being few cars about. I tried to take a few pictures on my phone, but the camera isn't good enough, so you will have to take my word for how beautiful a night it was.

I had intended to take a flat route back, but realised that any of the roads on the levels could be flooded, meaning possible detours and delays, and although I had plenty of life in the lights, I wasn't too keen to cycle slowly, which I would have had to have done with all the debris about.

Nothing for it, I would have to go home over the top of the Mendips and headed for Old Bristol Hill. Which was OK because the slowness of the climb made it relatively easy to avoid the muck, water and gravel on the road. I would not be going down there at the moment though. I decided to stick to main roads and head for the gorge, only to find it shut when I got there. I thought about risking it, but had heard it was closed because cars were getting punctures. As the temperatures were plunging because of the absence of any cloud cover I really didn't fancy that, so I circled back up to Charterhouse and then down Shipham Hill. Which was also full of gravel, so I came down there with my hands on the brakes too.

A ride in the dark can be great fun, and I was pleased I went out, enjoyed the scenery, didn't get too wet and managed to get in a couple of proper hills to boot. And the timing looks to have been pretty good too, as I write there is more water tipping out of the sky and I can only imagine more gravel will be washed onto the roads and the lanes of the levels will be flooded. So good luck to anyone venturing out tomorrow, wrap up warm and take your flotation devices and pontoon bridges.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Flying high above the sadness and the fear

I rode to work a couple of times this week. On Wednesday, at Barrow Gurney lights, a car tried to go, where there wasn't space for it to go as I took the corner at about 20 mph. As I was taking the immediate right turn down the back road, beautifully called "Wild Country Lane" (and there are a few good reasons why that name is apt), I stayed right, indicated and turned.

I'm not going to list the stream of invective and abuse from the man, sorry, the idiot, driving the car. "Arse" was involved, safe to say it wasn't tolerant, mutually-respecting language.

I sighed, inwardly and outwardly, I really did. The poor soul would be held up by the traffic jam I could see he was headed towards in about 10 seconds. I'm just so tired of the noise and the abuse you get, seemingly just because you are riding a bike on the road. And holding the line as well and not cowering in the gutter and the potholes.
All of the commuting this week took place in grey and drizzly conditions of varying degrees. Lots of mud, lots of fog, and that dampness that comes with Autumn. Some of that lifted a bit yesterday when junior MR and I went for a walk down to the village along the Strawberry Line. Besides having a proper, and wide-ranging conversation, we watched a football match at the park, did a few errands and looked through the window of the car showroom.

It was the first time I had that thing where you think, "I must send Mum a picture of this, she'd be thrilled", before realising. She loved her sports cars.

So despite the near-freezing temperature, it was so lovely to see the sun shining in a crystal-clear sky when I looked out of the window this morning. Is it a metaphor? I hope so.

And even better, by the miracle of e-mail, social-networking and talking to each other, we managed to assemble six riders (Martyn, Trevor, Paul, Steve & a worryingly-full-of-potential offspring, Isaac) for a group ride towards the Eastern Mendips. This is not a territory we frequent that much, but holds much promise, especially at this time of year.

Views for one thing, spectacular vistas from the ridge line above Crosscombe towards the levels, Glastonbury, Brent Knoll and the Poldens. This is a view I took later on which shows how clear the air was today after all that mist of the last week.

Then as we circled back and came down Constitution Hill into Wells, we were afforded a splendid view of the cathedral. And there were other sights too, the trees, hanging on to the last few remaining leaves, offer some spectacular last gasps of colour before the monochrome of Winter sets in. 

Our coffee stop at the Rock Cake Cafe coincided with the arrival/departure/etc. of about a dozen or so other cyclists of different groups and varieties, and it all made for a very convivial atmosphere. Paul decided to head straight back to Brent Knoll with a group he knew, and we did a swap, acquiring Mark from their group for the rest of the ride.

Meeting up slightly later meant we avoided any lingering ice and all made it home in one piece, always good.

Our plan had not survived contact with the terrain, and so after a little jaunt up to the top of Old Frome road, we circled back into Shepton, where after an unplanned detour (see what happens when I don't have a Garmin, I get lost!) we headed up the road on the other side of the Crosscombe valley back to Wells.

Gradually people peeled off, first to go were the Downs, man and boy, the latter may be lightning up hills, but his stick-thin frame (it's not about the bike!) finds it hard going on longer jaunts, especially on the flat. What's that saying? "Youth and skill are no match for old age and treachery".

I suppose I was next, as I headed for Mudgley Hill and Rug Hill and Cheddar, and the rest headed for the flat lands by the sea. I had enjoyed the company tremendously, and it was also nice to have some time to myself, enjoy the fresh air and let my mind wander a bit.

Today's route looked like this, well for me it did anyway, and included an extra loop into Winscombe to make it over the 50 mile mark, necessitating a climb of Alpe de Winscombe. Just to make sure I circled around the Barton road, and came up the lane. With the trees and the low-hanging sun, I took a couple of minutes to capture the moment, the beauty and reflect that this year I really have had some wonderful support from an awful lot of people. And sometimes just riding the bike in the sun, along the ridge looking out over the landscape, is enough to transcend the murk, the mist and even the idiots who are in too much of a hurry to see we are all going to the same place.

Enjoy the ride. I did.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Don't tell me what to do

I own four bikes at the moment. Three standard road bikes and a mountain bike, the latter is slowly dying a rusty and corrosive death in my shed alongside a hybrid bike bought for Mrs Mendip Rouleur when she had a short-lived burst of enthusiasm for cycling about six years ago.

Although I'm not riding much at the moment, today's ACG ride was my first and only one of the week (and btw the week runs from Monday to Sunday), and I have only ridden 661 miles since I came back from the Pyrenees at the beginning of September. With the sportive season drawing to a close, and frequent trips to London during the week, and my Dad at weekends, there have been few opportunities for long rides, commuting and social rides respectively.

And my motivation is not really sparked yet by the thought of 2013, well it is in one sense. I am very, very excited at the thought of going to watch the Tour de France in the mountains, my favourite mountains too. And doing some riding with Stuart will be great fun too, and a couple of the days will be really demanding. But it's not a "challenge" in the way that this year's trip was.

So when it's wet, a bit cold and the roads are very muddy and full of leaves, it is hard to get out and ride. And it also means that the bike gets a nice coating of mud and grit, and when the really cold weather comes, it will get a salt wash as well. So all this punishment is a bit of a disincentive to riding, and I have been half-looking for a "winter bike" for the last 18 months. Only thing is, I can't really justify a fourth road bike, especially as the third one is locked in my sister-in-laws garage in Ireland, and would do the job for me.

The idea would be to have a second-hand bike, or one coming to the end of its days, that could be ridden into the ground, never cleaned, and robust enough to take the Winter punishment. As well as fast enough to get me about at a reasonable speed. And yes, maybe even to ride the Hell of the North Cotswolds on. Looks like I need to bring the bike back from Ireland.

Today was an ACG ride, and I decided to do this as today's route. A few hills, some flat, the seaside, and a nice downhill at the end to finish. And there were seven of us to boot, great company and lots of opportunity to chat as well as go on the front. Very, very muddy. And yes, I cleaned the bike now so it's almost as good as new:

Except with just about everything new apart from the frame, cranks, pedals and wheels.

In other news this week I have been sucked into a Twitter debate about helmet compulsion. That's weather they should be compulsory, not the compulsive wearing of cycling protective gear. Although with the accidents that have happened this week, to Saint Bradley and Shane Sutton no-one is safe. Even before then I had been reviewing my safety apparel on the commuter run, after seeing how hard it was to pick out cyclists now the clocks have gone back.

Last week I added these to some of my spokes:

Spoke reflectors. Very uncompliant, but I hope they will reduce my sideswipe accident risk.

The Twitter thing. I posted a reply to someone advocating making helmets compulsory for cyclists. I always wear one, it's my choice, but I know that compulsion, besides being wrong on a philosophical level, actually deters people from cycling. Which causes more health problems from loads of fat kids playing x-box. I speak from personal experience.

Besides, there are very few bike accidents caused to heads without cars being involved. So do we insist that pedestrians wear them? It's only sensible, because if they trip over and bang their head, or worse, get hit by a car mounting the pavement, it will keep them safe. No-one would ever go out walking.

But opponents can't see it. The answer is simple. Make roads safer, tackle driver behaviour by culture change, make cyclists obey the highway code.
Enough, I have a life that needs attending.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Come ride with me

This might be a bit early, but I was looking at my plans for next year and thinking about which events to enter.

I have already forked, and it might as well be a gilded fork for the price that's charged, for the Dragon Ride, and secured a place in the bet sportive on the planet, aka Dartmoor Classic. All being well, Stuart and I are going to watch the Tour in the Pyrenees and do a bit of riding with Pyractif, the best cycling holiday company on the planet. FACT.

I've put in for a place in the Ride London ballot, and may do something charity-related, because I really feel I want to do something for a cancer charity. And of course it's the Mayor's birthday at the end of March, her life is just about to begin, so it better be special. I was toying with offering to plan her a route, but don't tell her, she'll try and make me make it all flat and fast.

And that set me thinking. Over the last few weeks I have come up with three or four routes, all by myself and ridden them in the company of you lot, and it has been great fun. Even the ride yesterday around the Forest was very picturesque, and lacked some conversation and a coffee stop. My point is that I have now ridden pretty extensively across the south and west of England, enough to plan a few longer rides that I don't have to pay to enter.

All I need to do is persuade a few people to get in their cars to drive an hour or two to the start point, and ride with me. We could do the rides under the auspices of the ACG, so pay £5 for membership and you'd get a nice ride, great company, a coffee stop, and I'd guarantee everyone a great route, which can be downloaded onto Garmins in advance.

And anyway, we all know what the G stands for.

What do you think? Interested?

Saturday, 3 November 2012

All new cycling, almost

New. College, broom, Look, ways, clothes. But in today's case, Forest. As is the way of the English there is of course, nothing new about it, being nearly 950 years old.

I am spending the weekend with my Dad, and took advantage of a beautiful morning today to cycle across the forest to my Mum's grave just outside Christchurch.

It was cold and crisp, and very sunny as I rolled down the slight gradient out of Alderholt. Then gently pushed it up the slight gradient of the next half mile. And that set the pattern, with the exception of a couple of short climbs it was an undulating day, through rolling moorland, forest and heath. All very picturesque and a reprise of some of the route of the ride I did back in August.

Talking at the graveside. Umm, what is that about? Yes I did it, had quite a monologue cum conversation, and no I'm not telling you what it was about.  Afterwards I cycled across the corner of the forest before heading west across the Avon causeway. It's the slightly elevated road across the flood plain of the river, and flood was the operative word today, and heaving with swans.

Their legs going fourteen to the dozen no doubt.

After that it was more undulations and then a nice road into Dorset and a final sprint with the wind at my back. 50 miles, most of the new. Here is the route, and I am ever so slightly ashamed to say that I had a wry grin at the weather back home in Somerset. And glad when it clouded over here, for it goes to show, that sometimes, if you seize the moment, you get the best of it.