Sunday, 30 December 2012

Gonna ride the world like a merry-go-round

It was the best of years and it was the worst of years.

Well I have finally done the last ride of 2012. Yesterday Martyn and I headed out into the worst cycling weather I have encountered in the UK. We were only out in it for three hours thank heavens, and of course the rain stopped just as I rolled onto Rouleur territory.

I even texted him as I was leaving, for despite all my best intentions, the rain was coming down so heavily, the roads so awash with puddles and the wind so stormy and wild, that even I had second thoughts.

But he'd already left and didn't get the text till we were snug in the cafe, so on I went, into the maelstrom.

By the time I got to Axbridge I was soaked to the skin, so I thought, wtf, may as well press on for three hours. The gorge was closed to motor vehicles but we ignored the signs, and despite the stream of water now occupying the road surface it was quite nice to ride up it. Very quiet, no traffic, and as long as you dodged the falling rocks it was fine.

Only joking, but there is a lot of gravel, and road grit which is not being cleared by motor traffic. Also a fair few potholes which are steadily increasing in size. It will also take them ages to fix the surface in a piecemeal fashion, so I am hoping to see a wholesale re-surfacing of the gorge in the late Spring.

Once up on the top we benefited from the strong tail wind to speed through the murk and rain to the Rocky Mountain cafe. Which was closed, so we went to Hartley's cafe instead. As it had a roaring fire and a welcoming host it was the ideal place to stop and re-group and to try and dry a gloves and hats.

We headed out into the rain again and did our best to warm up by pedalling like mad down the Horrington road. I hit a bump and my faithful KOM Cateye computer flew off. I quickly re-traced my tracks (allowed in order to rescue inadvertently discarded equipment) only to find that the car following me had done its worst.

Don't worry I re-cycled the battery before I chucked it in the bin. It may have been on many trips with me and many miles too, but it's function over form that counts if you are a bike computer. And Laurens seems to be doing such a fine job too. As you can see from the route he recorded, 45 miles in wet and windy conditions.

The last bit of the ride, like the last few months of 2012, were about slogging it out and getting to the finish. Across the flat lands we went via Wedmore and Badgworth, until we came to a penultimate stretch, down the A38. I was flagging, but Martyn is a relentless machine, and towed me to the turn.

We went our separate ways, and I rounded off the year by circling back past the Webbington Hotel and home. One solitary cyclist was all I saw all day, and he looked like he was going somewhere purposefully, rather than being a mad dog or an Englishmen going round in circles.

Round about now, every year, the media, the blogosphere, the twitterverse, Facebook, all of that, start to spout a lot of guff. Their man of the year, woman of the year. What are your plans and goals for 2013? Will you hit the ground running? Aside from the latter sounding a bit like an oxymoron, the answers to those questions are quite simple really.

Man of the year? No not him, although he did pretty well, "for a boy from Kilburn". OK Brad, you can stop saying it now, time for a new line. Not even a cyclist, or an Olympian, or a poet, or someone from an L & D self-help book.

I'm going for what I would describe as a "top bloke". And the reason? Because he made my son feel calm and proud to lead out the Irons on a grotty April evening at Ashton Gate.

The photo is a bit blurry, and apart from James Tomkins well-directed header, so was the match. And I don't know what Rob Green was thinking about, maybe all the money he was going to make sitting on the bench at QPR.
But it's quite something to see your son leading your favourite team out at a match, even if he was the mascot.

Kevin Nolan may be a footballer, but he was fantastic that day. And he is probably the reason we got promoted, and that day at Wembley was one of the best I have experienced as a fan. Just.
I went to a match for the first time since then last week, and it re-connected me with all of the things I love about West Ham. Much as I love cycling, football will always be my first love. And you never forget them do you?
Top woman? Stupid question really. You always wish for more time don't you, afterwards, and I have been pondering on how to make more of the time that is given to me. Watch this space.
I did a lot of riding in 2012, more miles at a faster speed with more energy consumed than ever before. Tougher rides and more centuries, mountains, climbing, and definitely more extremes of weather! I could bore you to death with all the data I have, but I want to remember 2012 with these two pictures, both taken by very special people who love cycling even more than I do.
One for the sheer joy and the other for the sheer challenge.
So many thanks to Mark Cox and Chris Balfour respectively for those shots, and much else. Mark's daughter ran a cafe for a day to raise money for cancer research, and it was a real pleasure to ride down late that day and buy the most valuable cupcake in the world. Chris and his wife Helen run Pyractif, the best cycling holiday business in the world. Fact.
I have already talked about planning some longer impromptu rides and the planning for those is coming along nicely, as is another germ of an idea I have. Be cool, wait for the announcements, which will be along directly. But I'm planning on having a lot more joy out of cycling in 2013, and that's a fact too.
As for personal challenges, I have a few in the offing. The Tour of Wessex is always hard, just hope the rain stops by then. I'd like to break five hours for the White Horse Challenge (it opens next Monday, please enter and I'll give you my winnings if you ride for me), and along with the joy of watching the big Tour in the Pyrenees I hope to ride a tough challenge with Bunny called "The Devil's Pitchfork". I'm just aiming to finish it alive.
Most of all I want to thank everyone again. Thanks for thinking of me, for your prayers, best wishes, messages, texts, e-mail, all of it. And thanks to the people who rode with me, cajoled me, waited for me, poured water over me (on Hautacam especially, Helen), and the ones who told me to MTFU.
Finally thank you to the great British weather. Other weathers are warmer, drier, calmer, but then, they are not on TV every night.

Monday, 24 December 2012

When all our dreams come true

Well, it's nearly Christmas. And if you are reading this in Vanuatu it already is. The really good news is twofold. First, I am not allergic to the  French co-op premium lager (4.8%) that I bought on a whim this afternoon. In the co-op. Second, despite the torrential rain that yet again seems to be falling on Somerset, I have got to ride a couple of times in the past week.

The last few months have been, how can I say, character-building? Or affirming, or something like that, I dunno do I? (One for you there Stuart). I have spent a lot of time on the train between Bristol Temple Meads and Paddington, and last week I took the opportunity to pioneer a new field of photography, landscapes from a train.

Here's one I took earlier:

That is sunset near White Horse Hill, home of the eponymous challenge, which opens for entry the first week of January. I really, really want to break five hours on this one. I did 5-08 two years ago, and 5-06 this year, but most of the first flat 40km I was pulling a group along, and so this year I would be very grateful for a few big guys to share the work. Step forward Martyn, Trevor, Ian, Skip, Stuart, Steve, and obviously Chris, the time for a super team is now!

Last Friday I rode to work on a nominally dry day. In so far as very little rain actually fell on my head while I was riding my bike. The legacy of the previous few days was horrendous however, and it all made for a very slow and bedraggled commute. It was a nice way to finish off the week, and in a sense the working year, especially as I feel my professional life has gone pretty well in 2012. The bike commuting helps ease that process. It will be nice to do some of it in sunshine again.

Then Saturday was a journey of a different kind, to another spiritual home. This time with junior sat next to me, in the car, in the pub (don't panic, soft drinks only in a smoke-free zone) and at the match. We didn't win, we lost in fact, but despite the difficulties of driving for 7 hours in the rain, I really enjoyed the trip. I am connected to the place you see, and although trips will never be as frequent as they were, the fact that my son is starting to develop a healthy dose of bias and partisanship, gives me a nice warm glow of pride.

This is the view from my seat at half-time, we were at the end where all the goals were scored.

Yesterday we had a family day out to @Bristol, which although fun in a way is great because it has a Planetarium with really comfy seats. And I did have a snooze until Mrs Mendip Rouleur was forced to wake me up because I had started snoring. But I was there and didn't take the disguised trap of a way-out that said, "you don't have to come if you don't want to". Not so much an offer, more of a test.

I like the Square in Bristol, partly because it reminds me of where I, and my Buckland ancestors came from, but also because it has a 15 foot relief map of Britain on one of the walls. And the only thing better than a good map, is a good relief map in 3D, with cycle paths of Britain on it.

Which brings me to today. The Mince Pie run to Sweets cafe at Westhay, organised by Somerset Cycling. They reckon a hundred of us were stupid enough to cycle out in rain, wind and floods. The levels look like something from the middle ages, flooded fields, roads and ditches. For once an out and back route of just under 25 miles seemed sensible, picking up Skip on the way, meeting Grant and Martyn there, and dropping Grant off in Cheddar on the way home.

Of course the sun, just visible from my living room window, popped it's head out as soon as my bike was washed and dried and put away. He then promptly put it away again, decided he didn't want to play, and got ready to chuck it down again tomorrow.

This is the view from my living room. It's warm and cosy there at the moment. I'm spending a couple of weeks chilling out, the occasional ride, family stuff, watching the Hobbit, that kind of thing. We are even planning to tidy up the dumping room. Best laid, so fingers crossed.

But most of all I'm spending time reflecting on three things. Obviously all the people we have lost this year, my Mum, but also, other people's Mums, Dads, loved ones. Death can diminish us, but it also can strengthen and renew us. Because they leave stuff with us, sometimes annoying, tough, and also sometimes funny or inspiring. So learn, laugh and be inspired.

Second, I think I am still very fortunate. I have health, a roof over my head, food in my stomach and three bikes in the shed. Although I do now need a new shed. Others are not, so I feel I should do my best with what I have. And be grateful, and yes, Princess, be generous.

The third thing? Well that's the cliche. Never apologise for making cliched remarks. You can look out of the train, or across the pitch, gaze at the map, or out of your living room window. Ultimately it keeps going on around you. So we might as well join in and be part of it.

Merry Christmas.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

My I don't have to run day

It's a pretty dry Christmas for me so far. In the alcohol department that is. On Thursday we had our departmental "lunch" at the Hotel du Vin in Bristol, and for tortuous logistical reasons, involving a morning trip to the smoke, and the need for a car to take me to the 6AM train, I elected not to partake.

Funny watching everyone else have a few though, one of my colleagues is pregnant, and she and I had a snigger at all the hangovers on Friday AM, as well as reflecting on all the BS, that people earnestly spout when they have had, maybe, 3 drinks. I'm sure that's me too, I think it sounds erudite and profound, but really, it's bollocks.

Then yesterday, no wait, Saturday, it was the ACG Christmas party at the Lamb in Axbridge. For the first time the Leisure Group have their party, so numbers were a bit depleted, and JT was also feeling the after effects of giraffe-fighting. I'm sure that will be the next self-defensive technique they teach the NHS. I turned down a lift and decided to be sober again, partly because I planned to ride on Sunday, partly because I just don't feel like boozing I guess.

I'd rather spend my energy on manically finding things to do. I'm a bit worried about what is going to happen when all the domestic tasks run out. At work it's fine, I'll never be not busy, it's like a never-ending tunnel of tasks on a conveyor belt that you can never get to the end of. But in the house, well, there may come a time when I have done all my filing (oops, done) tidied the shed (yes), sorted my old clothes for the charity shop, balanced by bank account (sad but tick that one off too.

Our downstairs dumping-room looks a big project, and I'm sure Mrs Mendip Rouleur will always find me some cognitive displacement activity. I'm in trouble otherwise.

Still, there is always the bike, and today, in the company of Martyn and Paul I managed to tip over last year's mileage figure to set a new record for a calendar year. More on all that  later in the month.

 It was a glorious sunny Sunday morning of a ride, well until I decided to peel off on my own for an hour at the end to hit the 55 miles that I needed to do. Then it absolutely poured down on me, heavily for 40-45 minutes. At least it rinsed some of the mud off, carefully collected as the three of us had ambled across the levels via Wedmore, Shapwick, and Lower Weare, in a pleasing figure of eight pattern.

We stopped for coffee at Sweets, where it became very apparent that Martyn is in fact a steam engine, as copious amounts of the stuff evaporated from his shoulders and turned the new conservatory cum atrium cum cyclists area into a tropical sauna. You will have to trust me on this one, but it was quite marked, obviously these camera phones are not as good as the moody Cartier-Bresson shots of yore.

The ride felt like an incredibly flat one, but Laurens has recorded nearly 2000 feet of climbing. I suppose that could have been from popping up over by the windmill, the Webbington drag, and then my last 15 miles or so at Loxton, Banwell and back home up Winscombe Hill.

The roads across the levels are still pretty damp and mucky, and it was nice to have Paul with us for his mudguards. His bike was also considerably cleaner than ours, re-igniting the whole winter-bike train of thought. Especially after the discussion of Dawes steel tourers and audax trips, which got plenty of airplay last night. I have kept my old Ultegra goupset from my Di2 upgrade, and I think I have some old brakes knocking about. Could be the genesis of a bike project for 2013-14 winter.

I'm not at work tomorrow or for the next 2, possibly 3 Mondays, so all that manic-ness will have to be confined to the rest of the week. Time to start the e-bay search I reckon for all those secondhand components. And some knowledge to put it all together, I mean, how hard can it be?

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Eyes full of tinsel and fire

I know it's a cliche, but I'm becoming quite a fan of the Antiques Roadshow. Or more specifically, the looks on the faces of the antique owners, who are quite often just that, when told how much their precious item is worth. I'm sure any serious antique aficionado will look down their noses at the programme, in much the same way I look down my nose at a hybrid, the entertainment value surely comes from the anticipation, the greed and the disappointment.

I'm also sure that really doesn't reflect well on me, I mention it because I have been back home almost 8 hours and only just got round to blogging the Adventure. All sorts of stuff creeps into my life at this time of year, 87% of it so boring I don't even want to re-live it, the remaining 13% is Christmas-related and usually involves outlays of cash on number 1 son.

Ho, ho, ho.

I am also tremendously excited about the release of the new Peter Jackson film, "The Hobbit - an unexpected journey". Not just because it's a wonderful story and I love the way Jackson has created such brilliant films of Tolkein's work. Not just because there are going to be three films to sustain my interest for the next 30 months. Or because Martin Freeman is in it, and I love him.

What I like most of all about it is that it will give me a whole host of new analogies and metaphors to use at work. Let's face it, my training room is becoming stale and tired of cycling-related tortuously-crafted and endlessly-repeated tales of gradients and struggle, headwinds and changing gears. Etc. And when you start to hear people on rubbish TV shows talking about their "amazing journeys", it's time to move on.

Middle Earth it is, rings, quests, mithril mail and dwarfish steel, not to mention Elvish, that's the future. Come to think of it, Influencing Skills training in Elvish might just be what the legal industry has been waiting for.

While I'm on this tangent, here is confirming proof that buzzards like pumpkin.

We are creating some kind of food-dependency in our local ecosystem, re-cycling our food waste to those that need it most. I thought buzzards were carnivores, but it seems that this individual like the seeds and/or the flesh from this remnant of Halloween,

It is definitely Winter. I'm playing that game of trying to engineer commuting journeys for the better weather days. Or rather, the least crap weather days. I almost made it this week, cycling in to and back from Bristol on Friday. It was cool, damp, windy and mucky, but apart from that it was OK. Oh, and icy as well.

Friday's route was fairly slow because I wanted to get to both work and home with my collarbones intact, darkness, despite lights, being the inhibiting factor. And I finally had to wash the bike, it was so mucky, which was a bit annoying because I knew I would be washing it again today.

As is the way, yesterday, which was jobs and "take junior swimming day" was sunny and clear, dry and crisp, not a breath of wind. Today was dank, drizzly, and ferociously windy. I had planned the ACG route with the Winter in mind, avoid flat places covered in water or exposed to the gales, and try some new hills. I also decided to take the ride leader bit far too seriously today (did anyone notice?). We had a couple of newbies, nice chaps, but not quite making it up Cheddar gorge as fast as the other six plus me.

I hung back to offer route guiding and encouragement, but eventually they agreed/told me to go on ahead, and as they had to be somewhere by 11, it all worked out amicably.

On other hills and descents I tried to shepherd/warn of hazards, in a guide of Aragorn-like way, a bit gruff, a bit rough, but well-meant and not too controlling. At one point in today's ride it did begin to feel like we were in the Misty Mountains as the tricky descent into East Harptree was quite literally now a river, a new ford having been built with some nice variable-sized gravel to throw you off your bike. This was not a a little trickle of water, this was "get off your bike and carry it" time.

Eventually coffee came, and we cut short the planned route to head home. Before we did so, we had one of those conversations about doubling back, figures of eight, out and back routes etc. Young Isaac, whippet thin and clearly the only sensible one amongst us, looked up from his empty plate at the so-called adults. And these people have jobs?

Here is today's route, and you can see there was a fair bit of all three types of journey going on, although I have yet to find a magic ring that can help me disappear.

Monday, 3 December 2012

All the right hills, just not necessarily in the right order

Forgive the paraphrased plagiarism, from the late, great Erick Morecambe addressing Mr Preview. And kids, I was there and old enough to understand it, the first time around.

I've mentioned before how we could get some informal or impromptu rides going, riding some great routes based on our knowledge of the area within about an hour's drive of our Mendip base. Although we are not a formally constituted body, the ACG does have a certain level of organisation, some 3rd party liability insurance, and a team kit, albeit without any red, claret, blue or green in it.

Those failings aside, I have been planning for 2013. I intend to ride officially, at the same time as organised, and advertised, and have/will pay my dues for these:

  • Mad March Hare (because it's fun & I want to do it in the warm, ha)
  • Endura Lionheart (because I had a Facebook argument with the organiser, oh dear)
  • White Horse Challenge (my favourite, & I hanker after sub 5 hours)
  • Somerset 100 (I'll be 77 again, you can be whatever you want to be)
  • Tour of Wessex (all 3 days heaven help me! Please enter too, it's fun, honest)
  • Dragon Ride (it's a matter of principle)
  • Dartmoor classic (the best, without Tina Turner's help)

But, I am going to hold off entering others until I hear from you lot. I know lots of lovely nice routes, as do you, in other sportive territory, and I want to see if you will pt your wheels where your vague interest is. So, if I were to organise routes in the following areas under the aegis of the ACG, would you come?

  • Jurassic coast & the Dorset downs
  • Cranborne chase & surrounding countryside
  • New Forest
  • Exmoor & the Quantocks (I will rely on some local knowledge for this one)
  • Bath & Salisbury plain
  • The Mendips (obviously)
  • One or two others (maybe)

Rides would include a cafe stop, full Garmin-friendly route, parking at the start, shared lift co-ordination for bikes & riders, no mechanical support (other than our common sense and mutual sense of obligation) no motorbike outriders but also no idiots overtaking us on blind bends or over-priced feeding stations with jaffa cakes and expensive energy drink.

Routes would allow 5-6 hours of riding in stunning countryside, great company, and brilliant weather is guaranteed. If you are in the ACG they would be free (membership is £5 per annum) and if a non-member you can ride with us five times (I think) before you have to stump up or go ride elsewhere! (we don't turn people away).

It doesn't take a genius to work out that these are loosely based on some other sportives which I shall not name. We wouldn't do them at the same time as the official sportives, no-one gets dropped, we have a laugh and it costs us little. Certainly not an average of £33 which is what sportives are rapidly turning into.

So are you interested? If so (this is the participative bit) YOU HAVE TO TELL ME!

Things like, what, where, when, which etc. etc. More details the better, and I'll start some planning over Christmas.

Over to you peeps.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

As cold as it gets?

You have to capture these kind of moments. I absolutely, categorically assure you that I am not gloating. No really. I promise. Besides, it's nine and a half years since we beat Chelski, so given the relative stature and resources of the two clubs it could be another nine and a half years before it happens again.

Whoever would have thought that I could warm to Sam Allardyce? I should say that I am partly responsible. I had just explained to my Dad why Carlton Cole was such a frustrating player, how he rarely changed important games, and looked too tired and off form to contribute much today. Then he scored one and made another. (I'm not having that "assist" rubbish BTW, you do that if you drive past a broken-down car with a family looking helpless and hapless, and offer your assistance).
West Ham celebrate

I did love Rafa Benitez's post-match explanation. All Chelsea have to do is realise it's a game of two halves, take their chances and play better. Who would be a football manager? I never knew what a tough job it is.

All this was very far from my mind when I woke up at 7AM this morning, ready for a planned 8AM ride out from my Dad's house on my own. I had planned to do this back on Monday.Then came more rain and on my commuting trip on Thursday I was a bit surprised to find that a lot of the back roads were still deeply flooded. As the temperatures were also heading south at a rapid rate, it was fairly obvious that a lot of the roads would be at risk of being icy for the first few hours of daylight.

So in true risk management style, I decided to head for Salisbury not by the planned back roads, but via the A road that runs up the Avon valley. Now Laurens has a temperature record, and he was showing about minus 6C as I set off. I think he is a bit pessimistic by about 2 degrees, I cross-referenced against my car thermometer, but even so it was chilly. And very, very foggy. The mist in the air condensed on me, and by the time I got to Downton my handlebars, gloves, coat and tights had a nice layer of ice on them.

The traffic was also beginning to annoy me. Where are all these people going at 8.30AM? And despite the fog they weren't hanging about either, so I decided to risk the back roads up the small hills to the south of the city. There was some ice, and the fields had lots of frozen water in them which must be the remnants of the flood. But I was sensible and rode slowly before coasting into the city itself and paying a visit to the Cathedral.

The attached link will tell you that Salisbury has one of the only cathedrals that was built in one go during the medieval period, to a unified plan. It may have taken them 60 years, but it still makes it our most beautiful church.

 And there was also a donation box (into which I popped a pound to say thanks for these photos) next to the curious "talking telescope".

I was tempted to have a go, but even though the fog had largely lifted, it was still bitterly cold, and I didn't want to lose the benefit of the sunshine that was now starting to break through.

After navigating the city streets I swung south and headed up the hill towards the racecourse, HQ of the Joker sportive. Skip and I entered last year and her gear cable let her down, but she gamely battled on and finished. I think.

I was now on back roads again and there was a lot of ice on the descent on the other side of the hill. So much so that I decided to change the plan again and stick to the main road that crosses the hills towards Blandford. At first it was quite nice, an easy climb followed by some undulating roads with magnificent views.

But then the road took on the character of a race track, and it turned into a dual carriageway. Time to risk the back roads again. Which actually took me back to my original route at Broad Chalke, and as the temperature inched above freezing, the roads proved easier to navigate and specifically descend on. A couple of tough climbs followed with more spectacular views of the countryside, and not so great views of my freezing face!

Eventually the route brought me to one of the most wonderfully-named villages in the whole world. FACT. Although Sixpenny Handley has nothing to do with money, some of the signposts in the area seem oblivious to that fact. Older readers will understand this, as will Latin speakers, maybe. And if you don't understand, just admire the signpost for its own sake, its setting and its old-fashionedness. After all, everyone loves a signpost.

From there it was a pretty standard loop back over the chase to Cranborne and Alderholt, to complete a nice anti-clockwise circle of 45 miles, that looked like this. After a practice on Thursday this is Laurens' first proper outing, and you can see that there is oodles of data available. I have already mentioned the vagaries of temperature, I also thing the calorie counter is under-recording, at least in comparison to my Polar watch. Yes, I wore two heart rate straps to test it! I have a lot to do to get the most out of Laurens, but so far I am really enjoying his company.

As ever the scenery of Dorset, Wiltshire and Hampshire was fantastic. By the way, there is a story that if you fish in a stream up the road from here you can catch fish from all three counties. I'd go to Sainsburys but it does emphasise how wonderfully higgledy-piggledy the county boundaries are. Long may it remain.