Thursday, 26 December 2013

Thanks

Thanks to all those who rode with me this year, either on the bicycle, or in other ways, all too numerous to mention individually. You encouraged me, gave me your wheel, fixed my punctures and tucked in errant clothing.

That's enough metaphor-stretching.

Look forward to seeing you in 2014.

Pictures from my ride on Christmas Eve. All, as ever, mean something.

















 


Sunday, 22 December 2013

Heart is on my sleeve

I told my osteopath I'd have a quiet December, and since the last post,as far as cycling goes, that has been largely true. A couple of Sunday rides, where the coffee/cake/bacon sandwich have been the objective. There was quite a lot of inadvertent climbing last week, rather than hard and fast miles. Together with a couple of commutes, characterised by lots of rain, muck and headwind, have made for a gradual wind-down as Christmas and the New Year approaches.

There was the small matter of my niece's wedding, where my siblings and I got together for the first time in a while, it was lovely to catch up with them all. Notice how much taller my elder brother is, he is in fact 7 feet 5.

Gandalf & the Hobbits

Then I have had the visit of my sister, her partner, and my younger brother. Wherever you live I bet you take its beauty for granted. You only really find out what a great place you live in when strangers come to town and tell you so.

We had a great night out watching the The Waterboys at the Colston Hall, and the drive into Bristol over the suspension bridge seemed to impress. But not as much as our walk over Cross Plain, Wavering Down and up the Strawberry Line.
Light at the end of the tunnel
Mike Scott. What can I say. Supreme lyricist and tunesmith. Fantastic visionary, musical pioneer. Just genius. Songs of incredible memory and meaning, played with aplomb, with Anto Thistlethwaite and Steve Wickham adding in dollops of sparkling inventiveness too. That means something.

My brother and I debated which song they would play first, he was right and I was about as wrong as it's possible to be, my guess was the last song. And if you understand the significance of this photo (apologies for the poor quality) then you too followed the raggle-taggle band in 1988.




Today I was up and over Shipham Hill just in time to see the remnants of the sunrise. It was cold, very windy, and wet. It's December, that's what you get. But the company and the coffee stop was good, and neither of us wanted much more out of the day. We didn't go far, in fact we went less than our original limited plan, mainly because neither of us fancied being blasted to kingdom come by the wind.

An easy ride, nothing spectacular.  Ordinary , but good.



Sunday, 8 December 2013

You've got to promise not to stop when I say when

I'm not going to dwell on it, but I found out yesterday that someone I knew quite well at University had died last August. He was just 50 and had a wife, and two children under ten. I'd lost contact with him in the last ten years, but it was still a bit of a shock.

Today's post aims to celebrate all that is good about life, and in particular to remind you all, in my usual clunky, preachy fashion, that what is most important in life are not your jobs, your money, your possessions, your status, or even your Ultegra Di2. Nice though all these things are, what sets a happy life apart from a miserable one is the quality of your friends and family.

Yesterday I had a very odd day where I became incapable of keeping anything in perspective, and I am very grateful to Mrs Mendip Rouleur for guiding me through my own personal maelstrom. I give her a hard time a lot, so I'm going to do something I rarely do, and say thank you to her for being with me. At all.

And today, it was great to be out in the rain, the muck, the silage, the bad driving, the hedge clippings, the headwind and the potholes with three great stalwarts of the road, Steve, Martyn and Dave. I think my face may have been the cleanest at the end of the ride, but it was probably a close-run thing.

 
As is traditional on days like today, the sun came out just as the ride was finishing, but today I really didn't mind, I'd had a great day, just trundling trundling around the levels, drinking coffee and eating cake at Sweet's café, and generally enjoying myself. Here's the view from the layby on the Axbridge by-pass, just to prove what a lovely day it was.
 
 

 
Congratulations to the Princess on getting mobile, look forward to seeing you dashing off on mad adventures all over the country. SO for you, and anyone else who has been waiting a while, here's this.
 
 
Merry Christmas.

Friday, 6 December 2013

You've got to walk in a straight line

I've come in for a bit of abuse recently. It all concerns my slightly, no, my very obsessive nature, and in particular how it plays out with planning bike rides. Like many cyclists I don't like going over the same ground twice on a ride, so I do all I can to make the rides circular. Preferably clockwise, though this isn't essential. Merely preferable.

I have no idea where this comes from, just like trying to avoid the cracks in the pavement, it's something that started a long time ago. I've largely grown out of the pavement thing by the way. Although I do get an uneasy feeling if I catch myself walking on those chasms of doom.

Yesterday I was up in London to work for the day. Aside from the usual angst and frustration of the non-quiet carriage (I think one day there will be a massacre in a quiet carriage, as someone's seething, silent rage, boils over, and he [it will be a he, neighbours will say he always seemed like such a quiet chap] will either rip one of the folding tables from the back of the chairs and decapitate the transgressors, or else batter them to death with his Blackberry), it was the usual busy day.

Of course London is business made corporate. Everyone charging about as if what they do is so important and the centre of absolutely everything. Anyone with half a brain will know that the literal centre of the world is in fact Galmpton.

I digress. Once again Monmarduman  and I failed to hook up for lunch (he was busy doing something important I think ;-) ) so I was left to wander the streets of Cheapside to hunt down some lunch. Which meant M & S food on Cheapside. Where I continued my statistical monitoring of the self-serve tills versus the manned ones. I join one queue at the same time as I watch someone else join the other, and see who finishes their transaction first. So far it's manned till 42, self-service 0.

Think about it, if you do something hundreds of times a day, for a living, you are going to be faster than someone who only does it, at most, daily. At peak times the manned tills are, well, fully manned. All be women usually so I think we need to re-thing that nomenclature.

Walking back to my office, I passed this window.



Every PC on display, and there must have been a couple of dozen on them, had this little bit of motivational bollocks written on them. You always know when one of these straplines is utter claptrap if the exact opposite would make no sense whatsoever. I think most of this sort of thing is a waste of time.

If anyone thinks about it at all I suspect they are like me, and poke fun at it. For instance, did you know that First Great Western are "Transforming Travel"? If my experiences over the last few weeks are anything to go by they are living up to their aspiration, by making the journey from London to Bristol as unpleasant as possible. But I don't think that's what hey had in mind.

First Bus on the other hand have moved on. They are now creating better journeys for life. Presumably because travelling on any form of motorised transport in Bristol feels like a lifetime.

I made it back to the office safely despite all the black cabs trying to run me over. This was my circular route. You see, I can't help myself.

But that's what a strange town will do to you.

Back to cycling next time, Promise.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Tempting Fate

Back at the end of April I found myself off work for a day when I had expected to be on it. Work that is. I didn't want to just sit around the house, but I was finding it quite hard to concentrate on anything, so of course the only option was to go out on the bike.

It was a nice sunny day, a bit windy as I recall, but it was one of the first days that I wore shorts after a long, long Winter. Recalling the Christmas party conversation, I resolved, and succeeded in doing A pair of trousers. Which of course includes Draycott Steep, considered by many, including me, to be the toughest hill on the Mendips.

I was on one that day, for all sorts of reasons, so it's no surprise that I got up that hill fairly easily. It was a marked contrast to most of the cycling I had done up till then in 2013. I hadn't done the miles, my health had been sub-optimal and it had not been a good time generally. In fact, the optimistic target of 6000 miles I had set myself for the year, a jump of about 5% on 2012, seemed such a long way off that I had all but abandoned hope of achieving it. Despite two thirds of the year still to go.

What do you do in circumstances like that? Well according to Jennifer I should just write it off as one of those years, and come back stronger next year. Good advice. As was the advice of another friend who told me to enjoy the cycling, and not worry too much about hitting targets and achieving goals. Definitely the basis for a more contented life.

Unfortunately, those that know me know that I don't ever give up. It's one of the things that define me. And causes me a lot of grief sometimes, as well as a lot of amusement and bemusement to friends, family and work colleagues. C'est la vie. That's French. One for you ;-)

And yet something seemed to happen over the Summer. I did adjust the target slightly, to beat 2012 by 1 mile, but it still left a very tall order to be filled. I had another couple of tough months, got pasted in the Tour of Wessex and beaten up in the Dragon Ride and wrecked in sundry other sportives I did in June. But when I came back from the Pyrenees in July, and the weather improved considerably, I started to get a modicum, then a smidgeon, and finally a full complement of form back.

By the time I came to do Ride London, I was flying, enjoying my cycling and just starting to believe that I might not have to write off 2013 at all.



So much so, that the sad, obsessive weekly mileage target figure (the number of miles I need to do per week to hit the annual target) started to come down. From a seemingly impossible 160 miles per week at the start of July, to about 100 miles at the beginning of September, it has, as of today, reached the very doable figure of 19.27 miles per week for the last six weeks of 2013. Yes 116 miles is all it is going to take.

Now, being of a somewhat superstitious nature I now feel that the fates are well and truly tempted. What could possibly go wrong now? Easy. Well, cast your mind back a few years to the Winter of 2010, when it was practically impossible to ride a bike, or drive a car come to think of it, because of the appalling snowfall we had in November and December. I sneaked my target in the last couple of weeks.

I have also been playing a bit fast and loose with my front wheels. This picture, showing my wheel on the commute last Friday night, with its very effective spoke reflectors, records the last time the wheel saw service.


The wheel had been juddering a lot in the last couple of weeks since K-1 came out for the Winter. So I consulted the experts, the Internet and Paul at Cheddar cyclestore who duly confirmed that the rim was very badly-worn. So, not wanting to tempt fate I decided to have the wheel re-built. While I wait I decided to substitute one of the old wheels that came with K-1, tyre, inner tube and all.

Despite pumping up the tyre, and it seemed OK last night, I soon discovered this morning, five miles out, that it was a bit on the flat side. Nothing too bad, but sub-optimal. I checked my pump, thinking I'd add a bit of air, only to find the pump was seized and useless. I decided to press on, metaphorical fingers crossed, and hope I wouldn't get a puncture and have to call on the sleepy Mrs Mendip Rouleur to come and get me.

A few weeks ago Martyn and I had been humbled by Steep End Down as we got off and walked for 100 yards on the Steep, while he sailed up it. It was the first time I had walked on that hill for years, and left me a bit surprised given my resurgence in form. Well it's one thing to fly around the levels all day, or cycle to Bristol, but I have obviously not been going up enough hills.

So I decided to have another goal, because I thought I was hard enough. Weather was grey, misty, dank, and cold. The road surface was slippery, full of leaves, and surprisingly busy with traffic. October, one of the wettest for years, has certainly left its mark, my lungs are beginning to feel the onset of the rotten weather, and all of this did not point the way to a successful ascent.

But what did I say about not giving up? And I'd learnt from Mr Down. Slow and steady. Huff followed puff, followed curse followed grimace. One of my slowest, no doubt, but one of my proudest achievements. The Steep in November. 2-1 to the Mendip Rouleur.

The rest of the ride? Who cares. A few smaller hills, lots of mud, mist, got mixed up a couple of times in Somer Valley CC's sportive, before rolling home with 33 miles on the clock. And absolutely knackered.  It's been a hard week, two trips to London, one a late night, a couple of tough cycling commutes to Bristol, one of them in sub-zero temperatures, and not forgetting my flu vaccination. OK that last bit is an irrelevant embellishment, but you get the picture.

One last thing. I picked up the bike to start the washing process and the front wheel fell out. I'd failed to tighten it properly when I put it in yesterday and had done the entire ride, including the 40 mph descent of Shipham Hill with a wheel that could have fallen out with one bump.

So I need all of you to pray for good weather, for the next week at least, as I have an ambitious plan to knock off the last 116 miles by Saturday lunchtime. It will involve riding to work twice and then again on Saturday morning, but at least it gets it done. As for the rest of the year, well I'm going to have to resort to the old sales management ploy of doing as little as possible.

Targets are always based on your achievement in the previous year aren't they? Once you have got one year's target, the last thing you do is pile the miles on. You only end up with a bigger target the next year, and who wants that?

 
In other news, the countdown has started, so here is A bang on the ear for my sister!

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Textspeak


Come by train if that’s easier

If I hear more I’ll let you know

Here’s your verification code

Want Indian food or not?

 

I must have been watching you

Thank you for booking a table

A cheque will be sent to you soon

He’s denying everything

 

If you go out keep safe

Where do you want to meet?

Got to drop my son off

Payment will be taken

 

Software for your phone

For doing what you did

Any subtle changes yet?

Just politics with a small p



Sunday, 3 November 2013

I should have lied like everybody else

It's Autumn, time to bring out the mudguards and the winter bike. Which in my case is K-1, still full carbon, but now starting to show it's age. Cables for gears? How quaint.

But when I'm on K-1 I'm fearless, scared of absolutely nothing.

Apart from leaf mulch, that can be quite frightening at this time of year, especially in combination with roads that are more like rivers, and covering up the hidden potholes. There was large amounts of it on the Exmoor Beast a couple of weeks ago, and even more today. Dave and I did one of our typical biathlons - a combination of steep hills and muddy lanes, and at times a boat would have been more useful.

Then of course there is the dark. That can be a bit scary, particularly if you are sleep-deprived, as I was earlier in the week, and on your second commute in a row. It's not so much the dark that scares me, more the things that come out of it. Full beam headlights attached to cars coming around corners, drivers in a line of traffic deciding to do a sudden )-turn without checking their mirrors, random wildlife (badgers/deer/rabbits/birds, I've narrowly avoided collisions with them all and more). Particularly bad at this time of year when the clocks go back, and drivers are not fully used to the change.

Potholes, definitely a bit scared of them. (see "the dark" above). Combined with surface water and a bit of leaf mulch to boot, they make a lovely puncture-creation device at best, and something a lot worse if you are hurtling down a hill at speed.

White vans fill me with dread, and as with all stereotypes I'm sure it's unfounded, but I seem to get passed much more closely, at faster speeds and with more aggression by said vehicles.

But apart form that, as I said, fearless and joyful. And the selection of cycling-related pictures from this week's escapades show.

Because the compensations, the health, the fresh air, the fellowship, the countryside, the components, the carbon, and yes, even the lycra, out-weigh all of the other stuff. And today, despite strong winds, hail, rain, mucky roads, spray, cold, and all that, it was a great day. Not just because of the outside either, it was one of those days when most of the ACG were either off doing a sportive, hunkering down on the sofa or trapped in their homes by visiting in-laws.

But Dave and I discovered a little bit of Paris at the Rock Cake café near Croscombe, all in aid of Children in Need, to which both Dave and I gave generously!




This time of year is not my favourite, despite all the beautiful colours. Less light, that's what I blame it on and I always struggle a bit with my mood in the time between mid October and the run up to Christmas. So anything anyone can do to raise a smile is all right in my book. Especially if it's for charity.

Song of the week.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

A shallow piece of dignity

My paternal grandparents were both born in working class Bedminster in the 1905. Generations of the Mendip Rouleurs came from working class and maritime occupations in and around Bristol, and I won't bore you with it all.

My grandmother worked in the Wills cigarette factory, while my grandfather patrolled the perimeter as what was then called a night-watchman. Nowadays it would be "security" or something else more complicated.

They met in their, and the, early twenties, got married, and moved to Swindon in 1929 when Wills opened a new factory there. My Uncle was born in 1930 and my Dad five years later. The convenience of being born in 1905 meant Grandpa missed the war, and they settled into a solid life of work, sport and cigarette-smoking. The latter ably supported by their employer who doled out the free fags.

A pretty unremarkable lineage that I'm particularly attached to, along with my Huguenot antecedents on my mother's side, and some stone masons and glove makers from in and around Yeovil. If they made one of those family history programmes about us, everyone would be yawning after 10 minutes, because nothing particularly remarkable ever happened to any of us.

But I was listening to the line in "Design for Life" today. Not the ones about bottles although that's pretty apposite too, or scars (more me than him) but the one about these temples of working class learning.

My Dad was told that University was not for the likes of him. By his own parents. But he didn't listen. And though he had to go and get a job at 16, he enrolled in evening classes, and got himself some qualifications. And a better job. And another one. And eventually he ended up with recognition from the chief of the establishment.


Not bad, considering from where he came.

So if you, or I, are sitting around amusing yourself to death, and wondering where to go, take it as a sign. Don't be told your own limitations, get off your arse and do something. It doesn't matter what, just as long as it's something your kid might one day blog about. If they still have blogs in 30 years time that is.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Turns me into a gutless wonder

It was great to hear Nicky Wire of the Manic Street Preachers say that he was still full of rage and anger this week. Sometimes there is a tacit acceptance that people mellow and calm down as they get older. I would prefer to believe that some people just get better and concealing their feelings and passions about the world, to fit in, to be socially acceptable.

I was watching a Robert Peston drama, sorry documentary, this week, about retailing of all things. Not really my thing, shopping, but it was an interesting interlude between a shared watching of Waterloo Road and Dad's Army. The programme focused on Philip Green before straying into the story of the rise of Primark. When they showed a woman saying she didn't really connect the collapse of Bangladeshi sweat shops with her pleasure at wearing clothes twice before she felt able to throw them away ("because they are cheaper than a bag of chips"), it was almost like watching someone else as I let out a stream of invective and profanity.

I think the work vacuous came into it, to give it some kind of moral intellectualism. I felt good though, that I could still feel the outrage, even if I can't actually do anything to stem the tide of rampant consumerism and pointless celebrity culture. Now where is my HTC kit, oh, it's hanging on the hypocrisy hanger.

I was due to ride Ken's Autumn colours Audax today, a 100km undulating ride on Exmoor. But family circumstances dictated I needed to be around the house in the afternoon, so I had to bail. I'm sorry if I let anyone down, hope you all had a great time. Instead I decided to cycle up a few hills in the near vicinity, and do my 100km more locally. I even got to see some real mountain goats in Burrington Combe, looking down on the pot-holers and cyclists below.



The final route had a very pleasing rule of three to it. It also fulfilled the no-doubling back rule, and at over 5500 feet of ascent (Garmin & Strava seem to dispute the actual climbing figure so naturally I'm claiming the bigger number!) it was not short of effort either. Still haven't got to grips with Strava, can't summon the competitive spirit for this one either.

It was nice to have time in my own head as well for a few hours. I am an introvert by preference, and as it says we like being on our own with our ideas and thoughts. In so far as 100km is ever relaxing, it was a very refreshing change to have a conversation with myself instead of you lot. Nice though you all are sometimes I just have to be on my own.

Of course it was very wet, pretty cold, and at times windy, but I mixed up my direction, route, hedges and exposed bits, and there wasn't an awful lot of flat in this ride, so I kept pretty warm for most of it. Winter is coming though, that's for sure.

So the cycling calmed me down a bit. But it's still there you know.

It's time we all did something, isn't it?

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Enough to last a lifetime through

On the outskirts of the village of Butleigh Wooton, near Street in Somerset, is a small lane called Westfield Lane. It's a fairly innocuous narrow lane, single track, with verges and fields either side.

Today I saw one of the most stupid, as opposed to malicious or aggressive, bits of driving that I have witnessed for many a time. Doubly unfortunate because it came in the middle of a fantastic ride that I was part of, eight of us doing an undulating loop around that part of Somerset, enjoying some very pleasant Autumn sunshine.

Steve, Martyn, Russell, Stu, Rob, Mike, Paul and me had set out from Axbridge around 9AM and meandered over the land, via Cheddar, Westbury-sub-Mendip, Easton, Wookey Hole, Wells, Shepton and Evercreech, before rolling over the topsy-turvy landscape that stretches between Ditcheat and Glastonbury.

Our plan had been to head for Somerton for coffee, before heading back via High Ham and Pedwell Hill. Then came the incident on that lane.

The road in question is long and straight, about 4-500 yards clear visibility in fact. We were heading up a very slight gradient as we came onto the straight bit, as a white van rounded the corner at the other end, coming slowly towards us.

I was riding in the second position behind Stu. I thought the van was going to stop at first, at the big clear area at the corner, but no, he kept coming towards us. He was going so slowly that I thought he would pull over onto the grass verge to let us pass in single file. He did not. He wasn't going that fast, but there was so little room on the road, and any manoeuvres would be complicated as the road was coated in very thick mud.

Ahead of me Stu got through a tiny gap, I was going to pull over at a gap I could see ahead of me, only to find when I got there that the gap was filled with deep potholes on either side, a terrible camber and about three inches of mud/puddle. Somehow I squeezed through in the gutter, just after the said gap. I was about six inches from the side of the van.

Five second later, Steve must have also got through, but the rest of the group encountered the van with no gutter to squeeze by in. Whoever was first just had to break, and on that slippery surface, he had no chance of staying upright.

I heard the resultant crash as four went down into a collected pile of bodies and bikes, and fortunately the van-driver then decided to stop. If he had been going much faster he would have hit them, as it was a couple came to rest up against his vehicle.

Paul had banged his head on the ground, split his helmet with a follow through impact that had cut open his temple above his eye. Mike had a cut and swollen elbow and leg, Russell had cut his leg and Rob had cut open his elbow. All had varying degrees of mud over their kit, and the odd tear or too, a few minor adjustments needed to be made to the bikes.

Martyn had managed to unclip and stayed on his two feet, but the four most affected were all naturally shaken to some degree. Eventually all were dusted down and on we went, regrouping at the top of the hill, and decided to head for home the most direct way we could. As we were doing this the van appeared again, having turned around and come back up the hill.

The driver? Well it turned out he was driving some kind of works van, he was probably about 20-25 and he seemed to have no idea what was going on, or how he had contributed to the accident. His passenger, a young woman, offered us the use of a first aid kit, which I'm sure was well-meant but we politely declined. I did calmly point out to the driver that next time it might be an idea to pull over and wait, but I don't think he really took it in. The lights were on but no-one seemed to be in.

So we decided to do what cyclists always do in these circumstances and head for Sweet's café. As usual there were loads of other cyclists about, including some who had been participating in a hill-climb competition on High Ham, so just as well we hadn't gone there after all.

It's amazing what coffee and cake can do for you. The injured four all headed off together across the levels for their respective homes, looking for a chance to bathe their wounds, and get the sympathy of their families, no doubt. Rob head for home, and the Martyn, Steve and I decided to do some hill-climbing of our own. We all safely dispatched the steep ramp round the back of Mudgley, but shamefully Martyn and I had to climb off our bikes 100 metres before the top of Draycott Steep.

Hats off to Steve for holding up our honour with a fantastic climbing performance. There was just time for another near-death experience involving a mobile-phone-using driver of a people carrier as I went down Cheddar gorge, before we all headed home.

My route looked like this. You will have to connect with me on Garmin to see it, but I can confess that I have finally come over to the dark side and joined Strava, more for the comparisons with myself than anyone else. It's very interesting to know that I am ranked 329th of 600 or so people up a steep climb on the outskirts of Shepton Mallet, but I am more interested to know if I'm getting better or not. I hope it's moderately interesting as a way of  displaying routes to readers like this one!

Anyway, here is the gang, relaxing and recuperating back at Sweet's! Fortunately, I decided not to photograph any of the MAMIL blood!





And of course, open goal and all that, this post wouldn't be complete without this.

Stay safe out there.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

This is the End

I have not been blogging recently. You can't really count the poem I wrote last Monday night, it was not related to cycling in the slightest, just my musings when I couldn't sleep.

A friend remarked that I wasn't blogging because I don't have anything to say. Maybe. Life goes on, we go riding, I commute to work, I work, it doesn't get easier but I am getting FASTER!!!!. And Cav keeps winning. Thank goodness.

I've done a few sportives and some great riding with friends and both at the same time. The Cheddar sportive last weekend was great, as was Friday's trip to Dartmoor to see the Tour of Britain. Another friend made a great observation about my picture, that all the ground weren't looking at Simon Yeats's winning attack, but down the hill for Bradley Wiggins. Media icon.


Still Bradley's back is unbelievably straight and he sure has great cadence. As all the fans would know.


But of course, before we all fall out of love with cycling, disgusted at so many bandwagon jumpers, let's just remember what is important again shall we?

And like a game of chess, I am wandering about my long-term strategy and intermediate tactics. For the blog I mean. Because I actually have quite a lot to say, I'm just not sure you are ready to hear it yet. To show from where I came. But you will be. And it all means something. It can't not.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Late night surfing for answers



Late night surfing for answers

Tragedy, suffering, visible mourning, everyone sees.

The silent, stealthy pernicious hole appears as if,

From nowhere, but unfelt unless you have one

Like a collapsed star in the middle of your heart.

 

You carry on, you get better, you even plan

For a changed future you hope will be different

But on your birthday, there are no candles and

No-one can ever bake a cake as nice again
 

So you stay up and search for some answers

In the songs or the music on YouTube

And sometimes you almost articulate what

Is going on in that missing bit of you

 

But the rest of the world goes blithely on

With its trains and talking and humdrum days

Whilst you look out at a sky you can’t share

In the way that it’s really meant to be



One battled like mad, fought to the end

The other welcomed but feared it

And your time, my time, is coming soon

So watch the sunset, and feel your heart
 

Friday, 30 August 2013

How arm warmers & gilets are the best cycling kit ever, and ten other random thoughts




I'm doing this sportive on Sunday. No idea what the connection between Lewis Carroll and Malvern is, and I haven't got time or inclination to google it. Let me know if you find out.

I have been doing a lot of riding and not a lot of blogging or much social media in general. But that may change, or not. Tomorrow I'm off to the Academy of Football to see the Irons take on Stoke, much like I did for my first ever match nearly 42 years ago.

Anyway, here are my random thoughts, the intro was the deep and meaningful bit.

1. Anniversaries and Birthdays.

2. Bike lights and clear sunglasses

3. Spiders' webs

4. Is 2013 the windiest year in the history of the world?

5. How quickly it all changes

6. No I don't need a rest, I need to ride my bike even more, like now when I'm riding 8 days out of 11

7. From Monday I have got, or maybe get to, take seven days off riding.

8. Some people can't resist changing documents or giving you their opinion. It's wearing. But I always win wars of attrition so look out.

9. Non-sticky glue never is.

10. Some people change their name when they get married and others don't. And some do and don't at the same time.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

We just walk on by

So now I understand what all the fuss is about!

For the first time ever I have entered the mysterious world of Audax. Actually it's not that mysterious at all really, just a bit different to what I have been used to with organised rides. In a number of respects. Friendlier for sure. And more relaxed and informal. But don't tell people it's not as serious, for there is a whole other world of competitiveness and rules and leagues going on, the like of which I have yet to fathom.

The audax in question was the Three Towers Audax, starting from North Petherton village hall. So as James, Trevor, Martyn and I were all riding, it made sense to meet up at Martyn's work to be sure of some parking and facilities.

Despite some very heavy overnight rain, and a nagging blustery wind from the north-west, it was a pleasant enough morning, and the four of us duly went in and paid our £8. Yes, that's not a typo. For that you get everything you want/need with the possible exception of mechanical support. You get a route card, but you also get a whole heap of friendly people to help you out if you are not sure, and we picked up Paul from Wedmore who did a sterling job on that front.

But really, do you need a signed route? Mechanical support is nice to have I guess, but I know of few people that have ever needed it. Timing? As Martyn says, I have a Garmin and a bike computer, and anyway, with a mass start at 9AM, they time you anyway. With a watch. And a pen.


The route itself was named after the three towers it passes: Burrowbridge, King Alfred's and Glastonbury. It was fairly flat and with the odd lump and bump, and of course the vicious little kick up past King Alfred's Tower. I was probably the slowest in the group today, Trevor is so strong and I can't believe how good Ed has become this year, powering up the climbs and cruising effortlessly on the flat.

A few knowing souls had this device on their bars so they could follow the route card.

For the tech-savvy generation who may not have seen one before, it's called a clipboard.

A nice reception of tea and cakes awaiting us in Ditcheat village hall (one of the controls) and this was replicated at the finish, as well as baked beans on toast, which is possibly the best recovery food ever!

The route also includes our ride to and from Martyn's factory, and you can see that for the second week in a row, I wasn't hanging about. Hanging on, yes, I'll grant you, to Trevor's slipstream mainly, but I did do the odd turn on the front, and pleasingly was asked to slow down at one point. You have to take you achievements where you can, these things don't happen that often in that company.

Elsewhere this week, Junior and I have been Gromit-hunting, a sport that is sweeping through large swathes of the Bristol population this Summer. Yesterday we knocked off 36 to take out total to date to 42, which means we have 38 to go. We started pretty early on Saturday morning and by 10AM there was a huge queue to get into Harvey Nicholls to see their sculpture. It was almost as vicious as the bloke at the top of the Peyresourde.

By lunchtime there were hordes of families swarming all over the Gromits so Junior and I retired for the day to re-group in a week or so. But here is my favourite to date:


This is for someone who needs to hold onto her dreams. She knows who she is, play it loud and annoy everyone!

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Shining above you

I admit it, I was sceptical about Ride London. First of all it is run by the organisation that runs (deliberate btw) the London Marathon, so what could they possibly know about bike rides? Second, Boris Johnson is involved. I'm not a fan, he is, as one of my former colleagues was once described by one of his school teachers, rather struck by the cleverness of his own answers.

And of course the so-called "ballot" to enter, was nothing of the sort. It was a rigged operation in political correctness and an attempt to rob the MAMIL of his natural habit - the closed-road sportive. And of course there would be so many newbies about that there will be crashes and bad riding galore.

But I'll admit that I was wrong, on so, so many levels. Not that it wasn't a logistical challenge to get there, although that was solved by my own genius of sleeping at the the Academy of football, an honour and a privilege. And by being very fortunate in having a friend, aka The Cycling Mayor who was kind enough to do all the registration legwork when I fouled up my dates and ended up coming back on that day from Scorchio.

Jennifer will give a great write up as usual on her blog, I have a few observations about my day. I was at the front of my starting pen so was able to get away reasonably sharpish, out of the Olympic Park and down the deserted and empty A12. Dual carriageway. In the middle of London!

Pretty soon I was through the Limehouse tunnel, into the City and whizzing past the Tower of London. With groups forming, fast ones on the right, slower coaches on the left, there was always a wheel to follow. And with no junctions, no traffic, no signals to obey, and barely a rise in the road, it was a blast through the City and West End and out across Chiswick Bridge and into Richmond Park. I think I covered the first 20 miles in the first hour.

Despite the crowded road the standard of riding was actually better than on many a sportive I have been on recently. And there were crowds of people cheering us on by the side of the road. Particularly in some of the town centres, Richmond, Kingston, Pyrford, and special mention to Dorking!

A couple of small hills, Leith and Box, slowed progress a bit out in Surrey. But once over those I seemed to collect a few groups behind me too and if anything, the pace intensified. It certainly did after I topped up on full-fat coke a gel and an energy bar, although this didn't do much for my stomach's sense of well-being! The food stops were OK, but a bit chaotic, so I preferred to stay self-sufficient.

Laurens didn't record the full distance as the satellite reception is not too good in the tunnels, but an average moving speed of 18.2 mph and total official time of 5 hours 45 minutes is none too shabby for the 100 miles! Leave it on the road just about sums up my route although it was actually the West Ham car park which we returned to through open roads later on. Oh the shame!

If you have followed these pages before, you will know that I was sponsored to do the ride for Macmillan cancer care, and you will also know why. It is exactly a year since my Mum was diagnosed, the last normal weekend had been our family trip to the Olympics, so there is a sense of coming full circle. I even cycled past a house we used to live in when we were kids. I am very grateful for all the sponsorship that I have received, and it was also great to get specific "come on Macmillan" cheers from the roadside, over and over again.

I had my teary moments, of course I did. You know what, I'm actually human! But I also feel that it was a very cathartic opportunity to move on. I'm still sad, but I think my Mum in particular would be telling me to get a grip and pull myself together. Can you see where I get it from?

So this is for them, and Ride London was the best way I could remember them. On my bike, in the fresh air, going fast,
And this may be the cheesiest video ever but I still love them.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Climb every mountain

Just a short post today, a week after my return from the Pyrenees. It's a bit like BC and AD, only less religious. Maybe.

I'm in mourning. Not that it was much of a shock. Out of form sprinter with poorly-organised lead-out train loses to in-form sprinter with well-drilled model of , err, efficiency. Let's leave the stereotypes there before I get into trouble. My Mum would be so proud, it's all her fault really.

What Cav really needs is a brilliant Australian lead-out man to sort it out for him. Or not a lanky lad brought up in Kilburn riding for the Belgians, that might help. Well he was born in Ghent so technically he is one.


It wasn't as hot as in was going up the Port de la Bonaigua a week ago last Wednesday. Not was it as long, after all 55kms of continuous ascent is hard to beat anywhere, but it has been quite warm in England this week. It topped 30C on my way up The Wrangle on Friday as I came home from work. About 30 minutes later as I was starting my descent of Shipham Hill I had one of those awkward moments, when someone you know nearly kills you with their van. I was doing about 25mph in a built-up area but she was gracious enough to say she hadn't seen me.

It was a fortuitous meeting though as it reminded me that she does personal training and weight-loss stuff. Something I'm determined to do as the big 5-0 approaches next year. I really struggled with form for the first 6 months of 2013, but I feel I have turned a corner. Now I want to see an open road with a tailwind and a slight downhill gradient running to September 2014!

For the fourth year in succession Jennifer and I rode the Great Weston sportive. It is more of a fun-ride to be honest, and strangely it starts and finishes in different places. For most, this involves complicated logistics of buses or friendly wives or other such stuff. For us it means getting up early and riding into Bristol, doing the ride, then riding home. This also makes it more of a reasonable distance, but because I like to keep Jennifer on her toes we never ride the same way into Bristol.

Still, as far as comparisons go I can report that this was the latest in a line of four improvements for the said event, each year I have done the 85 (or so) miles faster and with less effort. So I do seem to be fitter even if I am heavier. Although weather plays its part too, but it's enough of a circular route to make valid comparisons.  Still in my one-man campaign to prove all this data I keep actually has any purpose other than to feed a compulsive need to feed an obsession, at last I can prove something inconsequential. I'm winning my competition with myself!

My main preoccupation today was insects. How many insects does the Tour de France kill every year. In 85 miles today I killed about a dozen, but I think if you are in the middle of the peloton you probably kill fewer. Then again, those in breaks or sprinting to get back to the main bunch must murder dozens. I would conservatively estimate that the total for all 21 stages is around the 100,000 per annum. Based on 20 insects per rider per stage, with 180 average riders per stage.

If you are sadder than me, you may come up with a different figure.

Keep it to yourself.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

French cycling at its best

Day 2 dawned much as Day 1 had ended. Very warm, bright sunshine, and a building full of excited cyclists. We had travelled back from Foix to the base of Pyractif in Bertren, and awoken to the tranquil sounds of an erratic church clock and an errant red male chicken.

This time the atmosphere out on the roads was a little less febrile, perhaps because we were away from a main town, or perhaps because it was just earlier in the day. All the talk was of how Froome and the Sky boys had already won the race, but if you saw that Stage 9, it turned out to be an exciting and tense affair, suggesting that the race may not be as one-sided as had been thought.

We all cycled up the long valley to Luchon, through the sprint point, where naturally Stuart had to win the mock sprint, and then for us at least, into the town to get some water.

The roads were by now closed to traffic, and this was some 5-6 hours before the race was due to come through. I had cycled down this side of the Peyresourde before, a couple of times in fact. I remembered it as being quite short and pleasant, but of course, going up an 11km climb is not quite like that. The heat was intense, and there were loads of spectators, encouraging us from the roadside as we made our way up the climb.

It's a contrast to the boys from South Wales who lobbed stones at me on the Dragon ride in June, this genuine warmth and joy at others cycling up their mountains. The main obstacle, besides the heat, were the gendarmes. They must have been given instructions to stop all cyclists and make them walk, and we had to do this three or four times, before getting back on and riding another kilometre or two to the next set.

Eventually, just in front of the col sign, we were forced to stop for good. Stuart and I chose a spot amongst the French and settled in to wait. Which we didn't have too long to do, for the Tour de France caravan was soon upon us. Lorry after lorry, cars dressed up as tyres, or houses, or 2CV, came rolling past. Tremendous excitement, engagement and a massive scrambling for tat ensued, as freebies of minimal value were viciously fought over by the crowds of grannies, old men, kids (big and small alike). Our closest rival for swag, a 70 year old French patriarch, was very adept at skewering the goods with his pointed stick, before stashing them in a large rucksack his wife had brought for the purpose.

It's hard to imagine the cynical English having such a fun day out with so little to show for it. That's what I love about that day, the sheer exuberance, the fact that whole families make a day of standing by the roadside, even if the understand little of cycling and they know their man won't win! It's French cycling fun at its best.



After that it was a case of waiting for the main action, the Tour de France. Which duly came and went, and by now you will all know what happened, the Sky team had a bad day, but Froome was strong enough to stay at the head of the field and preserve his lead.

Plenty of good photos though. As you can see, we were withing touching distance of the riders, in fact some of the team cars passed frighteningly close and frighteningly fast. The racing was interesting to see, especially the speed that they charge up the mountains.


Spare a thought if you will for a certain Mr Cavendish, cleverly hiding in the cars to pull him the last few feet up the mountain, and suffering in the Gruppetto. You can spot his UK national champions jersey in the penultimate photo.





After that it was time to re-trace our path back down to Luchon and then on to Bertren, and catch the the highlights later on the TV. Avoiding thousands of spectators was a bit hairy, but once down a couple of kilometres we were able to let rip and enjoy the fast, sweeping descent on a mainly closed road.

The rest of our trip consisted of day rides from Luchon, and you can see the photos of that on my Facebook page. It was a great trip, plenty of climbs, a trip to Spain, lots and lots of funny moments, but mainly just messing about on bikes for fun. I rode about 400 miles, so around 50+ a day, and the Tourmalet, Mente and Port de Bales were as tough as ever.

But Pyractif are supremely helpful, well-organised and know both their cycling and their landscapes. We had a mix of escorted, supported and solo rides, a cafe trip one day to Aspet, a re-enactment of a Tour stage (where I famously cycled up the wrong valley (who cares it was a nice gentle climb), and virtually no rain at all. One shower on the descent of the Port de Bales and that was it, the temperature never dropped below 30C and the sun shone for 7 glorious days.

Oh, and the food is to die for! If you want to go to the Pyrenees, go there, you will have a fantastic time. I'm thinking of organising a trip there for the ACG next year (and anyone else who is interested). If we can get a group together of up to 9-10 of us we can make it great value. The cycling isn't all HC climbs and epic days (although there are plenty of those too), there is rolling countryside too. But I can guarantee you great food, pleasant motorists, and wonderful scenery. And the company will be good too.

Interested? It will be fun. I've come to think that the best rides are the ones you do with your friends, no matter where you are, but if you can do it somewhere warm, pleasant and different it's a bonus. I'll be canvassing your opinions very soon.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Mon vaccances pour vue Le Tour (en Franglais)

 
Personne pas critisee mon spelling ou mon syntax pour cette poste. Parce que, pour un poste seulement, j'ecrit en franglais. La langue universale pour les Anglais qui pense ils understand parce les Francais somme dit. Je suis un des ces idiots.

Cette est le raconteurable de le jour premier mon vaccance a les Pyreenais, pour regarder Le Tour, le culture de la Tour et Frances de La Tour. Non, le derniere c'est un joke mal, certainment.

Allez, mon ami Stuart, et un groupe des Australiens, trois Anglais d'area du Bristol, un Canadien (qui est un petit peu petit) et Simon, un Kiwi avec un grande frame et un humour dry,  et un Ecossais de wire, depart de la ville de Foix, avec notre hostes, Pyractif. Chris et Helen Balfour, les prorieteurs de cette entrprise, sont le plus marveleux companie de vaccance cyclisme dans tout les Pyrennes, non dans tout le Monde. Bien sur.

Nous avons ascendee a la pic de la Col de Pailheres, un climbe de hors categorie, pour regardez le caravan de la Tour. Moi, avec un famille francais, et j'ai gagner un cap de pois rouge. Quelle delighte. C'est tres chaud et durs, certainment, mais vous connais moi, Kay Bee Oh. Eventuellement, j'arrive a la col, avec les autres, et nous takee notre place pour regarder l'action de la jour.

Volia les photos:







Le petit Columbianne, Quintana, il move le velo a grand vitesse a la pic des montagnes, mais pas de vite comme les garcons de ciel. Mon Dieu, c'est vite! Incroyable d'accord, ils pas de les steroids et le ee pee oh, c'est un talente extraordinaire, voice larse de Monsieur Froomechien, il me passe a tres, tres grand, grand vitesse.

Apres nous descend a Ax les Thermes et retournez a Bertren, pour le jour du Tour prochaine a la col de Peyresourde. A demain, je racontee cette experiance, il est difficille d'imaginez, mais c'est plus excitement de la jour premier. Oui, je connais!

A bientot.

Si vous ne comprends pas cette poste, vous doit viitee Le Google translate et selecter "Franglais" et La Langue appropiatement pour vous. Merci.