Wednesday, 28 May 2008

A Perfect Bank Holiday Monday?

So another bank holiday rolls around (aren’t there a lot in May?) and the dilemma of what to do. Actually it’s more like a quad-ilemma but I don’t think that’s a word, so we’ll go with double dilemma for now.

Option a) Cancel your leave and have a long lie in followed by a relaxing day at work with no office staff or managers around, take it easy, watch some TV and drink as much free tea and coffee as you can manage, get home around midnight then have another day off.
Aha? Interesting. It’s a possibility but it is still work. And it does mean travelling into central London on a Bank Holiday – there’s probably engineering works on the train line, replacement bus service, tourists everywhere etc etc and I hate all that!

Okay, option b) Don’t cancel your leave. Have a long lie in followed by a relaxing day on the sofa, eat what you want, watch want you want and listen to the rain pounding on the window from underneath your cosy, warm duvet. Just generally kick back, relax and take it easy.
Oooh! Like your thinking. Now that does sound like a good way to spend a Bank Holiday, because I am still ill obviously…
Well, obviously…
And that sounds like just the kind of thing I need – but I’ve been doing that for the last couple of days really and I’m a bit bored of it now.

I see your point, so how about option c) Go on a mountain bike holiday to the lovely Swiss alpine town of Verbier – take in the fresh mountain air, stay in a luxury chalet, drink lots of ice cold beer, ride great trails all week and just admire the views.
Hey! Now you’re talking! Just one problem – there was a slight error on my part when booking the flights and now they’re going to cost a fortune and I can’t really afford it at the moment because I do have a new bike to pay for…

Fair enough. So option d) Get up at 6am, drive 100 miles in the pouring rain and spend the day doing building trails on a steep, slippery, muddy hillside, hacking through shoulder high bracken and thistles, getting scratched by thorns, stung by nettles and give yourself blisters on your thumbs whilst desperately trying to stay upright in the thick mud and the driving wind and rain. Get soaked to the bone, covered in dirt, freezing cold and totally wear yourself out.
Well apart from the obvious…
You mean the early start, the mud, the rain, the cold, the wind, the manual work, the blisters, the thorns, the nettles, the slimy bugs…
Oh yes, I’d forgotten the slimy, nasty little creatures, well remembered…
Thanks, so where were we? Oh yes, nettles, the slimy bugs, that nasty little drip that drops off your sodden woolly hat and down the back of your neck. So apart from those…
Yes, apart from those… Oh, arse!
(sigh)I’ll get my car keys, you fill the thermos, it’s going to be a long, long day…

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Wild Boar 24

Finally managed to put a race report up for The North Face Wild Boar 24 that I rode last weekend. You can read all about it on the Races page. It wasn't my best attempt at a 24 hour solo - I've never, ever ridden with such heavy legs! The Tour of Ireland obviously took a lot more out of me than I realised. Also proven by the fact I've been off work sick for the last week. Time for a little rest and recovery before the summer kicks off properly...

I did pick this up while I was there though. Some Scottish guy had made them specially for the event and bought a few down in different styles and rotor sizes. This is a 203mm one with silver colour detail rather than black. The centre piece is stone. Nice huh!
Wild Boar 24 clock

Thursday, 22 May 2008

It's Here!

My spangly new bike frame! (giggles like a small child) It was like Christmas morning when the delivery man knocked on the door, even though it was stupid-early o'clock I couldn't wait to open the box. And here it is:
Dekerf frameDekerf frameDekerf frame
Dekerf frame
Sweet huh! Have to say a great big thanks to Michael Golinski at Dekerf Cycle Innovations for getting it to me so quickly. It really is a thing of beauty and I hope the build I've got lined up does it justice (sadly my photographs don't). Hopefully it should be built in the next couple of weeks, but I'm still waiting on a few parts.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Kellogg’s Tour of Ireland – Final Stage Kilkenny to Dublin

Tour of Ireland Stage 4 map130miles, 10000ft of ascent! 9h14 ride time
Avg speed 14mph; Max speed 44mph
Avg heart rate 133bpm; Max heart rate 167bpm
Calories burned 6600

Monday and the final day started with a short walk back to the college in the morning sun. It was promising to be a lovely day. My legs were slightly sore this morning after yesterday’s epic and my aim was just to get through the day, no matter how long it took. The route would take us up and over the Wicklow Mountains south of Dublin with the hilliest profile so far.
Tour of Ireland Stage 4 profile

The first hill came after just 4 miles and though we had been asked to stay as a group until we left town, there was little point trying to hang on to any big groups as the field would split the minute we started climbing. We started and I was definitely going through a rough patch for the first 20 miles or so as we climbed up onto the moorland. Luckily I was alongside my trusty riding companion Julia again, we’d spent most of the Tour riding together now so it seemed only fitting that we would do the final stage together.

It was a school day again and after the quietness of Sunday’s country lanes and deserted villages the cheers of the school children lined up along the playground fences was a welcome sound. Paul was slightly up ahead with Mark and Dave, two of the Irish guys we’d also spent much of the past few days with and we formed a small group of familiar faces to get to the first feed station at 50 miles. Each dragging climb was followed by a long, fast descent but it still took three and a half hours; this was shaping up to be the longest day of the whole event.

Stocked up again with energy drink, gels and bars we headed out to start the real climbing! Mark and Dave were local and knew the area well, we had four very big climbs ahead including Wicklow Gap and Hollywood. Slow and steady would be the order of the day in the baking sun. The first climb was 1100ft over a few miles with an equally long descent back down in to the valley followed by another similar climb. Our group was spread out, each taking the climb at their own pace, but we’d soon come together on the flat. Thankfully my legs had come back now and I was feeling pretty good.

It didn’t bother me that we still had a long way to go with lots of hills and it was going to take a few more hours, this is what I did each day now. It’s funny how your perception changes so quickly. Only three days ago I was daunted by the idea of riding 115 miles and being out on the bike for six or seven hours; now it was normal – get up, have breakfast, ride bike, eat dinner, go to bed. That was it, that was my life.

One by one we ticked off the big climbs, with the last one marked by a feed station at the top of Wicklow Gap. I put a windproof gillet on for the final descent as it was apparently a bit of a monster. On the way down we gathered more riders to form into a larger group along with the Dulwich Paragon guys to get us the last 40 miles to the finish. The scenery was stunning. We were riding around some lakes and the water glistened in the bright sunshine – what a perfect final day.

We were riding at a fairly steady pace, though this was all relative now. Previously my steady pace was about 12mph, it now seemed to be somewhere around 18mph. There was still lots of chatting and laughing and the two-up through and off had become second nature, considering I’d never done it before last week. Just as the Dulwich guys decided to up the pace slightly I turned around to see Paul, Dave and Mark had dropped off the back of the group of 10 or so. As I’d been riding at the front for a while I wasn’t sure what had happened and somebody mentioned there’d been a mechanical problem of some sort. I assumed this was them and that they would soon join back on.

After a few miles there was still no sign so I pulled over to wait for them, Julia kindly waited with me. It had been such an incredible challenge that I wanted to cross the line with IP, and if there had been a problem it was going to be easier to ride in with five of us rather than leaving just the three of them. If there’s one thing I have learnt during this trip, it’s the difference riding with a group can make to your overall speed. A while later the three of them came around the corner and we started off so they could join onto the back of us. Mark was really suffering and we were handing him all the energy gels and drink that we had left. He was shocked when Paul had waited for him, he was even more surprised that Julia and I had waited for them to help them home. I don’t leave anyone behind when I go mountain biking and I’m not going to do it on the road either.

We still had 20 to 25 miles to go. These are Irish miles remember and it had become clear over the days that distances could vary: 1km could be anything between 500m and 3km; 50miles would be somewhere between 45 and 60! So after 105miles, knowing the stage should be 125 miles, plus the fact we had a detour of 8km (but nobody knew whether this was 8km more or 8km less) we had anywhere between 15 and 30 miles left.

It was a pleasant evening and the four of us took our short turns on the front, all the time keeping an eye on Mark at the back. At 5pm I hoped there wasn’t much further to go, this was the longest day, but also a fantastic day. One last short climb (just what I didn’t need!) and the 20km sign. Finally! A little bit further on was the 10km sign – I told you we were using Irish miles. And then we saw the finish at the Westmanstown Leisure Complex. But today there wasn’t a sprint, it wasn’t every man for himself in a final bid for glory. Instead there was a real sense of achievement, the completion of a tough challenge that each of the five of us had played an essential part in. One last glance made sure Mark was with us. Dave and Julia had gone slightly ahead on the last climb, but as we turned into the car park they were standing by the timing mat, waiting for us so we could all cross the finish line together.

Compulsory hugs and handshakes took place just beyond the finishing arch. There was an overwhelming feeling of relief and satisfaction from everyone milling around packing their bikes away and it wasn’t long before more new found friends who had already finished came over to have a chat. Then it was time to collect our medals and watch the Presentations whilst having a roast dinner – not presentations for first place or fastest riders or any of that rubbish, just thank you’s to everyone involved and a few special momentos given to people for their help. I had a couple of pints of Guinness to celebrate, swapped email addresses with some people, thanked the organisers for putting on a first class event and headed off to my hotel in Dublin to meet up for drinks with an old friend – but that’s another story…

Monday, 12 May 2008

Kellogg's Tour of Ireland - Stage 3 Galway to Kilkenny

134 miles, 8000ft of ascent, 8h18 ride time
Avg speed 16mph; Max speed 33mph
Avg heart rate 138bpm; Max heart rate 175 bpm
Calories burned 7000

What a day! I’m exhausted! Things started off really well when I managed to get down to breakfast on time and get a decent meal; I knew that was going to be important today. Then it was back to the NUIG Campus. To try and keep the finish times a bit more condensed they were setting off the slower groups first today. Don’t ask me how, but this meant I found myself at the very front of the fast group and set off first, leading the peloton through the streets of Galway. I was so excited I had butterflies, but it also meant my legs turned to jelly. Fortunately my new found friend Mark Harding was on the front with me and told me just to take it steady and relax, they would come past if they wanted to. It was an awesome sight, I managed a quick glance back as we went around one roundabout and saw the 100 strong group snaking behind us! We sat behind the Lead Car for a full 6 miles before some idiot came and moaned at us to get out of the way – it’s not a race ya know.

Having started at such a steady pace meant by the time riders did start to overtake us and pick up the pace (only very slightly I may add, we weren’t slacking at the front) I was nicely warmed up and even managed to stay in the middle of the pack for the first 25 miles. Again, to be riding this quickly in the peloton for such a long time was exhilarating and a fantastic experience; it really does make such a difference to the effort needed to maintain a fast pace and somehow feels like ‘proper’ riding.

Sadly it wasn’t to last and my new found legs couldn’t quite get me over the first small hill at the same speed and I dropped slightly off the back. I maintained the gap but couldn’t quite get back on. I passed a rider who had stopped and when he came up behind me shouted for me to jump on his wheel, he’d get me back to the group. He flew past and I barely managed to hold his wheel but we did close the gap – just as we got to the bottom of the next climb.

I decided I would just let the peloton go. This was far too long a stage to keep being left behind on the hills and then putting massive effort in to chase down the peloton, I actually wanted to finish this stage! So I cruised along for a few miles by myself as we started the climbs up and over the moorland. A familiar voice shouted from behind; it was Julia, one of the people from the group yesterday.

We rode the next 20 or so miles nice and steady, riding alongside each other chatting. At around 50 miles I.P caught us up and we stayed together until the hot food station at 58 miles. Our intention was to try and find a group to ride with, this would make the remaining miles go a lot quicker and easier. We set off with six Dulwich Paragon riders but they soon split when the road climbed up out of town and into the hills.

Then came the worst part, the incredible steep climb out of Silvermines up to the second feed station, 1000ft climb in around two miles! The gradient was too much for my 39:27 gear and I had to stop three times to catch my breath, heart pounding and legs screaming. I had a long break at the feed and lots of food. The descent was no better – steep, slippery, covered in pine needles and gravel with sharp hairpins. Then another hill! I got off and walked this one, I had nothing left in my legs and we still had 60 miles left to go. It took almost two hours for me to recover.

Julia, Ickle Paul and I just kept spinning along, counting down the miles. “100 up” said Julia. I hoped there would be another feed station somewhere but nobody had mentioned one. Luckily at 102 miles there was, I was so grateful. The prospect of having at least another two hours, if not more, of monotonous pedal spinning along undulating straight roads was soul destroying. A lone rider came down the road and joined us at the feed stop. Now we were four, it might at least be a bit quicker.

I'll have to continue this one later. I was too knackered last night and now I have to go rider another 125 miles over the Wicklow Mountains! Safe to say I finished yesterday, it was really, really hard, I was exhausted. But at least I did finish, many didn't and apparently the broom wagon had to go back numerous times to pick up riders. Eek...

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Kellogg's Tour of Ireland - Stage 2 Cavan to Galway

120.5miles, 4133ft of ascent - 6h33m ride time
Avg speed 18.4mph; Max speed 37.1mph
Avg heart rate 138bpm; Max heart rate 170bpm
Calorites burned 6500

Another early start and after breakfast at the hotel the coaches picked us up at 7am to take us to the bikes at Cavan town leisure centre. The food truck arrived and everyone stocked up on the plentiful supply of Kellogg’s nutrigrain bars, Rice Krispie Squares, Hi-5 energy gels and drink and of course, bananas.

At 8.20am the peloton rolled out of town again and soon picked up the pace. Today had been described as an undulating stage with no real hills. I had planned to get into the middle of the pack and try not to do much work today. I’m not used to such long and sustained effort when riding and didn’t want a repeat of yesterday. Within a few miles there was already a split starting to form between a huge and fast rolling main peloton, containing over 100 riders, and the rest of us. I found myself on the front of another big group, desperately trying to chase them down. There were three of us doing all the work and after a few miles making little progress one of them decided we should stop trying and form our own little group of around seven riders. There were sighs of relief. Maintaining the 23mph pace was starting to take its toll and we all knew we couldn’t keep it up for much longer.

They weren’t wrong when they said the course was undulating and the seven of us soon found a happy rhythm spinning along the roller-coaster like roads. I’ve never seen so many long, straight roads. We would ride for mile after mile, each taking our turn on the front of the group, only to turn at a junction onto another long, straight, undulating road! We picked up a few stragglers from the front bunch along the way – some were so tired they just went straight out the back of our group.

Just past the big road crossing on the N4 and it was my time for my 15 minutes of fame. One of the media cars pulled up alongside us and seeing as we had four women in the group riding at the front (there seems to only be about 15 of us in total) they chose a particularly short, sharp climb to have a chat to me on camera. I think I made sense through the heaving breathing, but I’ll have to see if it turns up on the event DVD or not.

At 53 miles we reached the first feed station in under 3 hours. The first group of the main peloton were just about to leave, making us the second group to arrive – so we weren’t exactly taking it easy. I was glad of the soup and roll and took on as much fluid as possible. The problem I have riding at that intensity is I forget to eat and drink. I knew this would be a problem later on on such a long stage. We didn’t stop long and our merry band was joined by a few more riders who had decided the peloton was just too much for them. We decided we were the ‘poursuivants’ group (a la Tour de France) and set off again.

More long, drawn out, undulating roads and a hard working group of 10 riders chatting and laughing whilst clocking up the miles – I haven’t done much road riding but I don’t think things can get much better than this. Each rider seemed to go through a rough patch at some point but was allowed to sit at the back for a while to get their legs back. Those who were feeling good worked on the front and swung off whenever they felt like it. Nobody was left behind and we even slowed up to wait if a rider had stopped for some reason – pretty good for a random group of riders who didn’t even know each other.

There was one big hill for the day and it came at 75 miles, nothing compared to yesterday though and we were quickly over the other side. The usual warning shouts of “gravel”, “hole”, “dog” (don’t ask me why there are quite so many bike chasing dogs in Ireland but most of them seem to have death wishes), “left”, “cows”. Cows?! There was a screech of brakes and skidding tyres – three cows had escaped from their field and were standing in the middle of the road. The farmers were trying to herd them back in but we spooked them and one decided to try and Frosby Flop a 5ft high stone wall – no small feat for a fully grown cow! We moved aside and ushered the other two into the field.

Being an unofficial and small group we had very little in the way of motorcycle marshalling but the Garda were stationed at most of the main junctions. As we approached the final feed station at 90 miles the rough riding surface was making it tough and I was flagging somewhat, starting to drop off the back. One of the guys dropped back for me and I sat on his wheel until we reached it. I shoved handfuls of Nutrigrain bar into my mouth, topped off with energy gels. This must have worked; along with the fact that we only had 35 miles to go and it wasn’t even 2pm, we’d been blasting along without realizing it.

Finally signs for Galway and a motorbike marshall escorted us into the busy town centre full of Saturday afternoon shoppers. He did a fantastic job of stopping traffic on the busy roundabouts and the Garda controlled traffic on all the junctions. Thank God they did because we were now steaming along like a freight train and nothing was going to stop us. Again, this was a very unique experience for me and the special treatment added to that feeling of being a pro rider that the event creates.

It was every man for himself around the final few winding streets and into the university campus to pass under the Kellogg’s arch. Dave won the sprint, with me 50 or so yards behind. The rest followed in quick succession. Our little group had ridden together for most of the 120 miles and enjoyed every minute of it. A group photo was in order and the official photographer obliged, followed by another interview with the cameraman. The official time is probably closer to 7 hours, but I had a ride time of 6h30. The peloton that included Jamie Burrows, former Lance Armstrong team mate; the ParkPre professional sportive team and a young Irish pro rider, not forgetting Ickle Paul Davis, arrived a full hour before us but we were still the second group in and there were smiles, handshakes and pats on the back all round.

A shower on the university campus, plenty of tasty food in the union bar and then coaches over to the Days Hotel for an early night and some well deserved rest ready for tomorrow – the longest day of the Tour and the day the hills start. I’ve prepared myself for a good 10 hours in the saddle, anything less will be a bonus.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Kellogg's Tour of Ireland - Stage 1 Lisburn to Cavan

116miles, 8544ft ascent - 7h16mins
Avg speed 16.3mph; Max speed 65mph!!
Avg heart rate 146bpm; Max heart rate 184bpm
Calories burned 6500

So after last nights food, registration, bike setup, introductions, riders briefing and general praise of sponsors at the Lisburn Leisureplex by the organisers Joe and Marc Barr plus various representatives, it was off to the Premier Inn in Belfast for a well deserved nights sleep before the first stage.

A buffet breakfast at the hotel and then everyone was bussed back to the Leisureplex to leave bike bags and drop off kit bags before trundling down to the official start line. It started to rain. As I approached the large red inflatable Kelloggs arch there were plenty of supporters lining the streets and there was a real sense of occasion. The organiser's speech had said that we would be treated like professional riders - with all the logistics, food, accomodation and mechanics taken care of. All we had to do was turn up and ride and as the 230 something riders lined up it felt like a proper peloton; A peloton which is actually bigger than that of the Tour de France.

We would be accompanied along the way by numerous motorbike marshalls and some of the route would be accompanied by the police. Riding through the middle of Lisburn all the traffic was stopped, red lights ignored and the peloton filled the road. Now this is bike riding.

The flattish start meant large groups stayed together and moved along quite quickly. The adrenaline was pumping and it was a whole new experience for me. We started to climb up into the mountains and there was a long line of riders stretching into the distance. It had stopped raining but was still misty and grey - perfect conditions as far as I was concerned.

At the top of the reservoir just 5 of us were together with me and Ickle Paul Davis doing most of the work on the front, maintaining a respectable 18mph in fairly windy conditions. The first feed station couldn't come soon enough as this was the longest I had ever spent continuously in the saddle. Having marshalls stop traffic at all the junctions meant we didn't have to worry about stopping, something very rare in everyday cycling. After 3 hours and 50 miles we finally pulled into the feed station to stock up on Kellogg's nutri grain, rice krispie bars and Hi-5 energy drink. No sooner had we arrived than group 2 were leaving. We decided to try and sit on the back of group 2 to make things easier. I never really realised how much easier it was to ride in a group, but as I cruised along in the middle of the 50 strong group, doing a steady 22mph with my heart rate barely reaching 140bpm, the benefits became apparent.

Again, the climbing quickly split the huge group and I found myself stuck at the back, climbing in single file through heavy traffic. As soon as the road opened up I tried to get our straggling group of 20 or so back together and then chase down the quicker group of 20 in front. Riding from the back the others soon jumped on and realised what I was trying to do. The going was tough sitting at the front and we still weren't closing the gap. Suddenly my bottle cage came loose and fell left, jamming itself between the frame and the crank arm! I came to an abrupt halt but fortunatley didn't cause an accident. The group powered on and I was left by myself with 50 miles to go. This was going to be a long, long day.

A few more flattish miles and then a very steep climb. Thankfully I.P was waiting at the top for me and we rode the rest of the day together. We had no chance of catching the group in front and I took it fairly easy for a while. My legs were heavy from chasing down the group and I needed some time to recover. The miles passed slowly now on undulating roads. We picked up another guy who kept getting cramp and towed him to the hot feed station at 90 miles. By now it was raining again.

Just as we arrived, group 2 was leaving. We let them go and waited for group 3. This would be much easier than riding the final miles by ourselves as we'd all been working hard on the front of various groups all day. Hot soup and rolls were a welcome snack and then we were on our way in a group of 20 or so, rolling at a steady pace. Again the roads were straightish and undulating and hiding in the pack was a welcome relief.

I was glad to see the road sign for Cavan. Except for 24 hour solo races, this was the longest ride I have done in about 10 years - and doing over 100 miles in 24 hours is a lot different to doing it in 24 hours!

Each member of this group took turns on the front and we reached Cavan about 5pm. I had a narrow escape at 30mph avoiding a water bottle that fell from a bike just in front, the back wheel fish tailed and I came to an almost complete stop, but soon caught the group on the final run in.

Ah finally, the finish line. At last! Then it was a short ride to the leisure centre to pick up our gear, shower and head off on the coaches for food. If only it was that simple.

My kit bag was one of the last to be loaded on the van in the morning and they'd decided there was no room so put it in another van. Sadly, this van hadn't arrived at the finish and nobody could contact the driver who was somewhere out on the route. I was soaked to the bone and freezing with nothing to change into. They didn't even know when my bag would arrive. I.P was in the same position. I wasn't happy.

Now having worked on many events for organisers throughout the years I understand more than most that problems and mistakes happen, it's life. The mark of an organiser is how they deal with those things and I have to say that these guys are first rate! Three of us were soon in one of the swanky BMW event vehicles being chauffeured straight to the luxury Cavan Crystal hotel for a hot shower; they even bought us dinner at the hotel restaurant rather than having to make another trip to the offical food venue. As they said, it's all about the rider.

My bag turned up and I went for dinner. Then an early night, ready for the 3, longer stages still left. I have a feeling this is going to be a long weekend...

You can read all about the event and see the route on the official Kellogg's Tour of Ireland Cycle Challenge web page.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Back to Earth with a Bump

All good things must come to an end; it was inevitable that after my great week playing about on bikes, that it would end. In fact it came to an abrupt halt.

I read somewhere not so long ago that Noel Edmonds believes the universe is constantly trying to give us exactly what we want, but we either ignore the signs, don't listen or fight against it. I've always be someone who goes with the flow and happily cruises along through life taking whatever it throws at me and not really worrying too much about anything else. This may be one of the reasons why I enjoy life so much - I have no inclination to fight against the universe and it obviously appreciates this and leaves me alone. Most of the time...

Now and again however it gives me a little reminder that it's still there, watching, waiting for me to start a rebellion. There was a small skirmish on Sunday but my pathetic attempt at a power shift was rapidly overthrown. I should have known. All the signs were there, I just didn't see them.

It was the Forest of Dean Classic sportive and I'd decided to drive over to Monmouth at 6am as a last gasp attempt to get fit for the Tour of Ireland. (I know, I know, it's far too late to gain any fitness but at least I'd give my legs a spin and I had to feel like I was doing something.) Anyway, 6am, the sun was shining. Pah, what do the weathermen know - rain my foot! I picked up my kit bag and as I loaded into the car I felt a sharp pain shoot across my lower back. Ow! Sitting in the car was uncomfortable to say the least. But I persevered.

Somewhere near Oxford it started to rain. I turned on the windscreen wipers and they started smearing an inch wide strip right in my eye line. After a few miles I had to stop to clean the wiperblade and as I leant over to pull it up I felt another sharp pain in my back. This was going to make it a very long and painful day. I looked back up the road and thought about going home. But no, I persevered.

On the A40 approaching Birdlip there was a huge black cloud somewhere over Gloucester and three, large, consecutive lightning strikes! Now if that isn't a sign from a higher power to turn around now or face certain doom, then I don't know what is. But still, I persevered.

I finally arrived at Monmouth and set off on the 85 mile route. Just minutes into the first of the fourteen climbs my heart rate was unusually high and after riding out of the saddle for a few minutes around one of the hairpins my shoulders went dead; a sensation I usually only encounter at the end of a long ride on a steep climb. Being a finely tuned athlete (ahem!) I knew there was something very wrong, and persevered...

Just a couple of miles later my recurring knee problem started. For some reason I thought I'd be able to ride it off the way I had done on the last couple of rides. After 15 miles it wasn't easing. After 20 miles I was dropping into the lowest gear on any incline so I could spin up rather than having to put pressure on my knee. At 25 miles I was wondering which was the shortest way back to the car. At 30 miles I was standing in a torrential downpour, removing my number and getting directions home. I quit. I was beaten. But the worst was yet to come...

I started the drive home and soon got tired. I couldn't seem to keep my eyes open. I was feeling slightly unwell by this point and even though I clocked up 46 miles on the bike, hadn't felt like eating anything. Traffic was slow and it was taking longer than usual. I pulled over to take a snooze, jumped out of the car and promptly threw up. Another deluge started as I was standing by the car.

So there I was, standing on the side of the A40 in torrential rain, throwing up, with a bad back, a sore knee, a headache and the first signs of flu. The universe had reasserted its authority without any room for doubt about who's boss and it's not a theory I will be testing again in the near future. From now on just stay quiet, watch, listen, and the universe will take care of the rest. Trust me!

Sunday, 4 May 2008

It's A Good Life

700 miles, 6 days, 5 cycling venues, 4 hotels, 3 bike rides, 2 new beers and a curry with an old friend - throw in a machete, an Army Major or two, some old trails, some new trails, some 'are you sure this is going to work' trails, lots of mud, more beer, even more rain(!) and Joolze Dymond hanging out of the back of her car taking photos and that was last week.

It kinda reminded me of my student days and my first years at work, when I'd take all my cycling and walking gear and disappear for a few days. It's been a long time since somebody asked me where I was staying that night and I said I didn't know. Thankfully my friends still realise that I could turn up on their doorstep at any moment wanting a hot meal and a bed and are very accomodating.

I like that; That feeling of going where the wind takes you for as long as you want and doing what you want. There's a certain sense of freedom that comes with it. It's very simple freedom but can be hard to attain these days (especially once you've bought a house and got a proper job - though some would say I've yet to get a proper job).

So now I've got the taste for it again, hopefully there's more in store. Though where on earth I'm going to find time to wander off for a week this year is anyones guess. My next couple of months and the logistics involved have been planned with military precision; Something I've only had to start doing over the last few years. I still prefer the old way, it's so much more fun.