Sunday, 27 April 2014

Only us : Nutty Nuns 200km Audax 2014

The meaning of life? Well, forty-two of course. The same number of brave souls who stumped up the princely sum of £8 to enter the Nutty Nuns Audax, which took place today. You did read that right. £8 for a fabulous route, food at the controls and the start, and fellow riders so pleasant that you want to invite them home and meet your parents.

But, grim weather forecasts of cyclonic fury, thunderstorms and the like, dissuaded an unlucky number, yes thirteen, from getting out of bed. So we were down to 29 at the start in High Ham, near Langport. Which is on a bloody great big hill, which we went down to start. There were over 150 starters for the Merry Monk, the 100km lightweight version that started after and finished before us.

I'm not going to describe today's ride in words, go and ride it, it was beautiful. There were times when it wasn't a vicious headwind or pouring rain, but not many. I loved the 60 mile leg actually into the wind, that was character-building. It was great to do it with Martyn, I think you need company on really long and/or tough rides, but there were a few in the 29 riding solo.

Alas, five of our fellowship were forced to bail, although all will have still ridden a fair way and deserve great credit for getting out of bed and having a crack.

Actually, as these few pictures do show, it was actually sunny for a lot of the time. And though we both tired towards the end, especially in the endless circling of Glastonbury Tour, on balance it was a very sunny day in our heads and hearts. The scenery, the exercise, the mutual support and real camaraderie, I think it's a rare thing. You don't see it, but you will, we are not invisible!

Here are the pictures:

Monday, 21 April 2014

Seventeen come Sunday

Despite the predicted April showers that we will probably see over the next few days, and the occasional torrential storm that will have everyone moaning, it looks like Spring has finally arrived. Even commuting to work is fun on days like this, especially when you can get a view like this first thing in the morning.

Today was a beautiful archetype of a Spring day. Despite being born in early Autumn, this is my favourite time of year. As the days are longer than the nights, and that daylight ratio keeps getting better, so it is that the promise of longer, dryer, warmer bike rides dangles enticingly in front of our Garmin mounts.

Even the kit-choice debates have moved into more optimistic territory. Arm warmers? Gilet? Leg-warmers or just shorts? Winter coats have been left behind in favour of rain capes, "just in case", and buffs migrate from the neck to the crown of the MAMIL's balding head.

Don't forget route choices either. Today our record-breaking bunch of road cyclists and Steve (Man for all terrains) Down, all managed to get to the Stable Tea Rooms at Bishop Sutton, even if we did splinter amidst punctures and "homes to get to" on the way back. Sixteen of us there were. Sixteen! Ian, Steve A, Bill, Dan, James, Clayton, Dave (thanks for taking the main party back btw), Helen, Jennifer, Robin, Steve D, Ray, Russell, Jon, Trevor and me.

Perhaps next Sunday we will have one more and then we can all hum one of these fabulous tunes. Always make me think of Spring they do, and it's the right geography too.



I'm not even going to complain about the puncture party. Jennifer picked a lovely hillside spot in the full sunshine to double puncture. Our somewhat inept efforts took ages, but who cares? What would we rather be doing, sat in the traffic?

Or looking at views like this?

Thanks to everyone for making Easter Monday thoroughly enjoyable.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

All this you can leave behind

For the fifth year in a row I rode the White Horse Challenge today. I'm pleased to say that following the blip that was 2013, my steadily improving trajectory of performance has been resumed. The only problem is that at the current rate of incremental improvement, I should break the 5-hour barrier sometime around the year 4076.

The total time, which the organisers use to award standards, was just 8 seconds better than in 2012, although my riding time was over 3 minutes faster.

On Friday and yesterday, there were a few e-mails buzzing about between me, Martyn, Jon and James as to whether we should go for the 5-hour target. I think we all wanted to give it a crack, but no-one wanted to be too emphatic in case we crashed and burned.

I won't bore you with the full description of the route, Jennifer, who also rode will do a cracking job of that. But the four of us worked very hard to stay with a fast group for the first 22 miles, until we fell off the back going up the hill out of Broadtown. We had done well to stay with them, and from then on I think we worked pretty well together, with occasional help from one or two others, until the major hills started to kick in, just after the second feedstop. Up until that point we had managed to maintain a pace that would have got us in under the mythical 300 minutes.

James was clearly climbing much better than me and Martyn, and Jon was not far behind him. So I persuaded the two of them to ride off and see if they could break the 5 hours as our pace had slipped and we were clearly not going to make it. James pushed on and missed out by 90 seconds, although Jon got caught in traffic in Lambourn and ended the day with Martyn and me.

So yet again I fell 6 minutes short, but the faster riding time shows what is possible, could 2015 be the year we do it? Perhaps we need Mr Lupton to give us a tow? I don't think I could have ridden any faster today, so next year we will have to do some things differently, train harder and hope for better weather.

Not that it was bad today. Nice breezy Spring sunshine, starting a bit chilly and warming up nicely. Shorts were the order of the day for me for the first time this year too.

But today was a brilliant day, great route, great organisation as ever, friendly too, and best of all my riding companions and me enjoying our Sunday out on our bikes. We chatted afterwards and waited for Jennifer to finish, giving her a big cheer as she did so, one of the faster women again.

The route also had a minor diversion, whilst retaining the climbs associated with the white horses. Including Dragon Hill, past the Uffington white horse. Which is really a dragon. Well I think it is anyway. It was certainly a boundary marker in days gone by. How appropriate.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Valley of the Rocks Audax 2014

"Oh yes" said Peter, "Ian Hennessy is well known for putting together some pretty lumpy routes".

Of course by the time these words were uttered, that had become self-evident. I think it was shortly before the point that my Garmin's battery failed, or I had run out of food, or switched my lights on because we had been out for so long that it was getting dark!

But it had been a wonderful day, one of my favourite days out on a bike in fact. And definitely the hardest route I have done in the UK to date. Whilst I've had tougher days, they were difficult because of me and my poor fitness or unpreparedness, or perhaps because of the weather. This ride, the 200km Valley of the Rocks Audax was hard because of its 130 miles, (I know, that's more than 200km isn't it?), and 11,841 feet of climbing, and gradients the like of which I don't want to see again. Over 25% in one case, and yes I walked.

Leaving the valley of the rocks (photos courtesy of Jamie Andrews)

Martyn and I joined a very cheery bunch of around 30 or so at Ian's house for the start in a misty Honiton at 8AM, and after quick preliminaries off we went. I'm using Martyn's record of the route and we stuck together for the whole ride bar the odd hill. We had expected to meet Peter at the start, but there was no sign and no message, so we headed off into the gloom without him.

Woody Bay from the route

I'm not going to describe it all, suffice to say that once we were down below the clouds, the weather improved, and although it never became a truly sunny day, there were fleeting moments of brightness. And only an hour or so of proper rain, splashed through the day.

Martyn on the coast route

The scenery was fantastic. Little villages, wide-open vistas of rolling countryside, the wildness of Exmoor, the stunning north Devon coast, gorges, woods, valleys, rivers, lakes, it had it all. Being an Audax everyone was very friendly and supportive, and we even had lunch in the pub at Combe Martin.

Lunch, Audax-style
Which is where we bumped into Peter, who had caught us up after starting 30 minutes late. We thought he'd soon catch us again on the next few hills, he's a stronger rider than us, but he must have expended a lot of effort to get to Combe Martin, because it wasn't until South Molton, where we stopped for full-fat coke, that he did.

The next section between South Molton and Crediton was a succession of rolling valleys, each seemingly steeper than the last, and many populated by a motley collection of land-rovers, men on horseback without redcoats, and lots of people staring over hedges into fields whilst shouting into walkie-talkies.

It was the hunt, skilfully murdering a defenceless animal while circumventing the laws of the land in the name of a "way of life". And stupidly driving their 4 by 4s too fast up narrow country lanes, nearly knocking me off. Wouldn't it be easier to go out and shoot foxes with a gun?

At the top of the highest ridge was the wonderfully-named village of Black Dog which belied its associations with the condition in being a pretty place with a wonderful aspect.

We rolled on into the final stretch, checking the directions, and eventually rolled into Honiton again just as dusk was falling. A great day out, can't wait for next Audax in a few weeks' time. And for next week and the Wild Horse challenge, or as I'm calling it from now on, the Neil and Shirley memorial ride.

Many thanks to Jamie Andrews for permission to use his two of me and Martyn.





Valley of the Rocks

Looking up the valley

Into the Valley