Monday, 22 April 2013

I made a promise

Yesterday I rode the White Horse challenge for the fourth year in a row. My performance was nowhere near as good as the last two years, partly down to poor form, a wheezy chest and the lack of inclination to go faster. Jennifer has done her usual excellent job of describing it, or if you are so inclined, you can read my triumphalist versions from 2010 , 2011 or 2012.

By the time you have read that lot you will know how special this ride is to me, and I'm pleased to say that with the possible exception of George and Simon, I still hold the ACG record for said challenge, better luck next year boys when better weather and the Mendip Rouleur will return. And I did the hill in 6-06 last time out. Actually the ACG didn't exist when George and Simon rode their WHC, so that makes me the official record holder too!

But of course, triumph, disaster, records, form, kudos, status, whatever, it is all as nothing. And in case you think I'm disappearing up my Selle Italia, don't.

Think on this.

And when I go, I hope my friends will say something like this about me.

Normal service will return on 6th May.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

May you stay forever young

First of all, if you haven't already, and if you would like to, without any pressure from me, please feel free to sponsor me. I am going to do Ride London in August for Macmillan Cancer Care. The organisers are hyping it up as the cycling equivalent of the London Marathon, which I hope it isn't. If it is, it will mean dodging people riding bikes dressed up as elephants (riders not bikes, though you never know, the British public can be so hilarious)

I'm not going to pretend that the ride is difficult, except for the fact that I'll be doing it on virtually no sleep as it is on the day after I get back from holiday in Crete. But the cause has become even more special to me now, and gives me a nice focus for the next couple of months. Some good displacement activity.

However, it is very important that I raise lots of money. I'm not going to preach at you, not yet anyway, but I really appreciate every single penny that you can spare. Thank you to everyone who has already been super generous already, it will make dodging the pantomime horses so much more rewarding.

Earlier today I went out with the ACG to Fyne Court, a National Trust property deep in the Quantocks, just round the corner fromJoe Strummer's old gaffe in Broomfield. I seem to remember making a Clash reference last time we headed that way, but this time there were only 6 of us to start with. You can't have too many Clash references. Fact.

I was supposed to be doing a sportive in the New Forest but I really felt like some friendly company today. I had already decided to join the ACG ride when the sportive was called off because of flooding. The re-arranged date looks pretty good for me, so it was an ill wind and all that. Actually, it was a great big arse of a southerly gale for most of the day, which was tough on the outbound leg of Martyn's route.

Gary and Mike stayed with us till Woolavington before peeling off for other commitments. BPs and in-laws for Mike, a North East derby for the Mackem. I see Paulo di Canio is working his magic already. Don't worry Mackems, plenty of time for a falling out, there usually is with Paulo, probably about three quarters of the way through next season, off in a strop. MMW.

The rest of us, Martyn the machine, Trevor, Adrian and myself, puffer cyclist, headed down through the hood of Bridgy, and up the hill out of Enmore to Fyne Court cafe itself. There was much talk of getting old, being ill and most importantly, how were we going to stay out of the wind on the way back.

It is an inspired choice for a coffee stop, it's off the beaten track, has bike racks, is very clean (important to a certain Mayor), and has great coffee and cake. It's also about 30 miles from Axbridge, so makes for a great 100km loop.

They were also looking to generate a "feedback culture", always laudable, but for one day only it was kind of the wrong thing to ask me. I'm not going to tell you either, when I've worked it out for myself, I'll let you know. This just about sums it up though.

We finally found the tailwind as we coasted down to the levels and headed north. I could not only hear my own thoughts but also the voices of the rest of the group, and I hopped on the back of Martyn's or Trevor's wheel for most of it. Trevor peeled off at Weare, braving the wilds of Burtle, before the three of us climbed Mudgley and blasted back to Axbridge. 66 miles done.

I finally found a giant frog in my garden, very much alive and not squashed by the local drivers, obviously it knows when it is on to a good thing! Sorry for the lack of scale, it's about three feet in diameter at the shoulders.

To finish, some beautiful words for anyone who is, has been or will be in love.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

The shadowy man on the touchline

The shadowy man on the touchline
The scrambly boy in the mud
Scoring a goal that wins it
Seeing him when I should

Setting his sense of injustice
Fighting me in his own way
Clashing and sparking a teenager
Making me have my own say

Working to feed his own family
A man of his very own time
Mistaken, bolshy, and brave
The only Dad that was mine

Buying me drinks for the disco
Getting me toys at the shop
Invading the pitch at the rugby
Finding that West Ham top

As his breath ebbed away
And all of his life was done
He loved me and shaped me
For ever I'll be your son

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

The train never comes back

This song reminds me that there is so much about the past that I can not change. You can't change, only learn, make it better.

A bit like the Joker Sportive that I rode at the weekend. Jennifer has written a great review as usual, and now two days later I know why I was so rubbish and so much worse than last year. My lungs again, not going to bore you with it, but what is probably a very minor sniffle has triggered my asthma again and my lung capacity is back at 75% of my normal.

So my riding time of 5 hours 36 minutes for the 75 miles was 47 minutes slower than last year.  And the total time was about an hour longer too, indicating more faffing and stopping for breath.

So it's a bit like back to square one again, I think that I've pushed it a bit too far, I did 163 miles last week, most of them in pretty cold, dry, windy, dusty, salty conditions. On top of the 80 on Exmoor on the previous weekend.

I got up Gold Hill though, took this at the top:

And got all four jokers in my usual KBO fashion:

So with the White Horse Challenge looming in just over ten days I think it's going to be unlikely that I'll be fit enough to ride at my best, or even as well as in 2010 when I did 5 hours 41 minutes. I need to let go of the sub five hour goal for another year! Step forward Martyn, you can be the protected rider!

I think that it's most important to realise what you have got at times like these, rather than concentrate on those things you never had or wish you could have back. So, in that spirit, my legs are OK, the bike works and the company was brilliant. The lungs? Well, I'll have to develop a Plan B.

Monday, 1 April 2013

The best you can do is to fake it

Sometimes it all comes together, and as if by magic, the perfect ride appears. Of course, perfection is a very dangerous thing to aim for (as I'm always telling my participants & coachees), because it leads to all sorts of nasty obsessive and compulsive desires and behaviours. And we wouldn't want that, would we?

A few months ago I had an idea to travel by car for an hour before starting our ride. That way we could cycle some really lovely, and different, routes to the ones we usually do. For weather and other reasons, our fist ride at the end of February didn't quite come off, but Martyn came up with a great idea to ride out from his workplace in Huntworth (not Bridgwater!), and a generous offer to use the place for secure parking and changing/tea facilities. Coupled with the delights of the Quantocks & Exmoor, seven magnificent companions arrived on Saturday morning for a bracing ride.

Given we skirted close to Broomfield, that was pretty appropriate I think. Martyn, Trevor and Jon I had met before, but it was a first for me to meet Tim, James and Ed. We rolled through the suburbs of Bridgwater and soon we were out in the country and tackling the gentle climb up to Fiveways that goes around the back of Fynne Court. So far so good, and we then carefully negotiated our way down the 17% gradients and the twists and turns of Cothelstone Hill and into Bishops Lydiard.

Actually it didn't quite all come together. I got my timings a bit wrong and sent a text from BL but we failed to hook up with Gary at Wheddon Cross, and as the weather has still not acknowledged that it is in fact, definitely and definitively, SPRING!!!!, I don't blame him in the slightest for hurrying off before we could haul ourselves up to him. He would have been waiting 30 minutes too so a good call in the conditions.

For us though it was the gradual gradients out of BL before hitting the first tough climb of the day, as we slogged out of Elworthy and onto Exmoor proper. The climb had split us up but we all re-grouped at the top, although we continued to do a certain amount of that for the rest of the ride. I was touched by the trust placed in me to know where I was going, as I was the only one who had downloaded the route, pleased to say Laurens did a fab job as ever.

The hills roll up and down to Wheddon Cross, before a steep hill up towards Exford, although the latter village is in a dip, but we were now experiencing temperatures close to freezing. The wind had been pushing us onwards, but it wouldn't be long before we felt its icy blast on the exposed moor, so time for a coffee. The Exford tea room was fantastic, nice and cosy, indoor loo and genial host.

So far the roads had been surprisingly quiet, as was the tea room. Which is a shame because it's a great place. We all scoffed, drank, then scoffed some more. Good job too, because straight out of Exford the road pitched steeply upwards and yet again we were split asunder. Once on the moor we had a cross wind, but also some beautiful views. I've cycled on Exmoor quite a few times and I always seem to get the low cloud.

Not today. You could see for miles and miles, down to the coast and across the Bristol Channel to Wales. I contented myself with these few snaps:

We descended off the moor and swooped down the toll road into Porlock, accompanied by a group of bikers (what is their collective noun?) I don't know why, but I thought it was very funny seeing them all waiting to pay their toll to get through the gate.

We did likewise and headed into the tourist area. For now, the crowds were out on Easter Saturday. I managed to avoid the idiot who stepped into the road without looking behind him and we pushed down the A39 towards Minehead. With the traffic, the stiff headwind, and the hills, we were getting split up, so I attempted to bring us all together in some form of team formation. It was partially successful but as we headed out of Minehead we started to hold up the buses and the cars.

In part this was because the road is quite narrow, but also because the other side of the road was totally clogged with people heading towards a Christian conference for Easter. The traffic was backed up for miles meaning cars couldn't overtake us. Is that some type of metaphor?

We pulled over a few times, including once where we managed to coincide with the steam train at the station, and eventually headed again, for the hills over towards Stogumber. The cold was taking its toll so we pulled into a cafe cum tourist attraction just after Cleeve Abbey, for some extra refreshments and sustenance. It also had a watch and clock repairing service, as well as a random collection of farm animals and no Spring blog post can be without one of these:

On this day, the prize of alpha male must go to Martyn. In fact, I'm beginning to wonder if he is in fact human. Jon and him were the only ones to make it up Crowcombe Hill without resorting to walking some of the way. And while Jon has a triple to make it slightly less than brutally impossible, Martyn managed it on a compact with a 12/25 on the back. What?

I have cycled a few hills in my time, but I haven't had to walk up any for years. Stop, and take a breather maybe, but walk?  I think the hill is about a mile long and three quarters of that are above 20%, with long pitches above 25%. I think I could do it if I had more miles in my legs generally, or less on a single ride.

Once over the top, we all clipped in to our bikes again and sailed down the last few 15 miles back to Huntworth, negotiating the Saturday afternoon traffic in central Bridgwater, and a final route that looks like this if you have Garmin access or this if you don't. I can officially confirm just over 80 miles and just over 8000 feet of climbing, so a tough ride for the conditions and time of year.

Thanks to all my companions for the day, a great ride made by all of your good humour and banter. Special mention to Ed and James, both making a big step up from previous longest rides, and coping admirably with the terrain, look forward to seeing them all on an ACG ride soon, with the rest of our band too I hope.

And particular thanks to Martyn for his facilities, and the inspiration of following his disappearing arse up Crowcombe. I will be back again make no mistake! We are planning a ride for 5 May, again from the Huntworth HQ, probably going south for the winter this time, so come along!

Because all the best rides are not ones you do on your own.

Next post will have exciting details of how you can give me money for a very worthy cause. Bet you can't wait!