Thursday, 28 October 2010

Four Go To Anglesey

I was more than a little surprised a few months ago when an old cycling buddy, Steve Makin, asked me if I wanted to go on a walking trip with him. I've always known he was into walking and went on regular trips, so do I, but we've just always been cycling together. Walking had never really occurred to us. So we were probably due a trip. Initially the tiny little Welsh island of Anglesey didn't sound all that exciting, but given the year I've had - the lack of exercise and the total absence of holidays - plus the fact I've never actually been to Anglesey and the plan to do some pleasant coastal walking, the idea started to grow on me.

Thursday morning started with a lovely scenic train journey with the final leg from Chester to Holyhead meandering along the north Wales coast on a sunny Autumn day. I had a good feeling about the weekend. Steve picked me up from the station and we were off to the beach overlooking Puffin Island for a bit of wildlife spotting. I saw my first seal! And two dolphins! Then a gentle wander around the coastal path (with a few, er, detours), dropped in at a Norman abbey and back to Beaumaris for a real history lesson at the 14th Century Beaumaris Castle, one of many built by Edward I in a ring around North Wales.

The Friday walk was to be the longest, potentially 9 miles from North Stack just outside Holyhead to South Stack via the highest mountain in Anglesey - at a whopping 220 metres! Okay, so not exactly a mountain, but still fairly craggy and steep up to the trig point with views of Holyhead harbour and south down to Snowdonia. The weather had turned slightly now and being right on the coast the wind had picked up.
Dinner was leisurely hour long affair at the cafe near South Stack. Down the road to an iron age settlement just as the rain started and we decided to cut the walk short and head back to the car. Time for a swift pint or two in Red Wharf Bay and then back to Trecastell Hotel for yet more alcohol and dinner, awaiting the arrival of CG, Matt and Fraser the Dog.

Saturday continued the theme of 'leisurely' and was a little more focused on sightseeing and photography, with some amazing photos from Steve and Chris on their flickr pages. The weather laid out the morning plan with an impromptu stop to climb the Marquis of Anglesey column and coffee at Llanfairpwllg-thingymabob-gogogoch (you know the one I mean!) just because it was there and we could and we'd never been.

Saturday afternoon involved a deliciously leisurely lunch at Rhoscolyn and a walk around the cliff tops heading towards Trearddur Bay. An extended camera stop for a couple of perfectly placed rainbows and some menacingly artistic storm clouds meant we didn't quite make it, but we did spot an enormous grey seal basking in between some rocks and spent as much time staring curiously at him as he did at us!

Sunday was a real treat - a trip to an ancient copper mine Parys Mountain. This place has to be seen to be believed and I could sit here all evening trying to explain the atmosphere and the colours, but you might as well you go and visit and see for yourself.

And that was that - coastal walks, seals, storm clouds, ancient monuments, a trip through Welsh history from the Bronze Age, through the Romans, Normans, Edward I, Industrial Revolution to present day island life, all with great friends, great banter, beer, wine and exquisite food. If I only have one holiday a year, this will do.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

0-100 in 2 days

And that's still faster than my poorly Ford Focus. A broken cam belt has resulted in an enforced bike commute to work over the last couple of days. So what's wrong with that? Well, the fact it's 25 miles each way for a start. Now, bearing in mind I can count the number of miles I've ridden in the last two months on one hand, this was going to be quite a task.

Luckily I'd ridden the commute a couple of times during the summer, so I roughly knew a few routes. But those were on lovely summer evenings, on quiet country lanes, birds singing, sun shining, gently spinning along without a care in the world to get to work to start night shift. And similarly the ride home - fresh mornings, bright blue skies. You know how it is.

Skip forward a few months to yesterday morning - 8am and still a hard frost, a biting wind. Bike panic as I realise various things are wrong, can't find all my lights, leave 20 minutes late, the usual route is closed and the only other route I'm totally sure of is the longest one at 25 miles. End up time-trialling the last 8 miles at around 19mph and arrive at work late, cold, soaked in sweat, wheezing (having not yet totally recovered from a cold last week), and then find the shower is out of order. I should also mention that as I was unpacking my bag, I discovered my front light had accidentally been turned on at some point - it's relevant for later on in the story.

But it gets better. I was not looking forward to the ride home. It always takes slightly longer, closer to 2 hours as there's more up hill, add to this it being dark with my eta just after 11pm and having minimal lights with me, things weren't looking good. I have a feeling that just a few miles into the ride my rear light failed, I can't be sure exactly when but now I know why that car was beeping at me on the dual carriageway. Around half way through my front light started flashing. Oh dear, that's not good. This was also around the time I noticed just how many street lights are no longer in use...

I rode the next few miles on a mixture of extremely low beam and flashing mode, trying to squeeze as many miles out of it as possible, even resorting to totally turning it off when I did reach a row of street lights. With around 6 miles to go it failed completely. It was well passed 10pm by now, and the temperature had noticeably dropped - luckily it was a clear night with a bright moon that I was now using to light my way through the dark country lanes between Chesham and Hemel Hempstead. But with continuous passing traffic my night vision was shot to pieces.

Suddenly a revelation! I remembered the tiny keyring LED torch I had on my house keys, better than nothing right. For the last 5 miles I held it, like a shining beacon of safety in the pitch black. If a car approached from either direction I'd swing it side to side so it caught their eye. On the last, winding, bumpy downhill (usually descended around 30mph) I slowly crept down, one hand on the handlebars and brake, the other holding the light low enough so that it illuminated the white line at the edge of the road and my aim was to ride 6 inches to the right of it so I didn't crash into the bank or veer off course.

I finally arrived home, freezing and exhausted, some time after 11pm. It had taken me over two and a half hours to ride the 25 dark miles.

Today wasn't much better. My legs were heavier than expected after yesterdays ordeal and it took almost 2 hours to ride to work into a headwind in the pouring rain. This time I was prepared for the ride home though and had a total of 8 lights with me. Lit up like a Christmas tree I felt mildly safer but they're not roads I would choose to ride on at any time of day, never mind late at night. Almost home, and making reasonable progress, there was a familiar hissing noise... Lady Luck finally took pity on me and just before my tyre was unrideably flat, the slime sealant in the inner tube sealed the hole. Oh thank the Lord for slime filled inner tubes - a product my fellow riders have made a jibe at me for many times over the years. In this case they were my lifesaver. From there it was slow going, but the my lights lasted the distance and I made it home in one piece.

So after 100 eventful and difficult miles, my entire body aches - from my neck, shoulders, arms, hands, lower back, legs, knees and everything in between. But maybe it was the kick start I needed to get back on my bike. My theory is that tomorrow will be the true test. I've got the day off; I'm either going to spend the day on the sofa with tired legs wondering how to lose all the weight I've put on in the last 18 months, or I'm going to feel invigorated and can't wait to get out on my bike. Time will tell...

Monday, 12 July 2010

The Week That Was

It's an odd life being a mountain bike event organiser some times, you never quite know what's going to happen next or where you going to end up.

It all started just over a week ago with my second car accident in 3 months. I've decided now that Dalby Forest is jinxed - I've only ever had two car accidents in my life and both of them have been the night before travelling to Dalby for an event. Nothing major, just a three car shunt this time, very frustrating. My jinx continued when I arrived at Dalby for a week of possible riding only to discover I'd forgotten my riding shoes, also something I have never done in 15 years of mountain biking. So this lead to doing half a lap of the Dalby red route in t-shirt, shorts and trainers (and helmet) balancing precariously on spd pedals.

The Dalby event presented its usual carnage with various ambulances and helicopters popping in and out, yet again highlighting the distinct lack of skillful riders in British mountain biking. This added more fuel to the fire that had been ignited last Tuesday when I sent a rather scathing email to British Cycling criticising their recent approach to exploiting what some organisations are starting to see as cash-cow mountain bikers. (See, it really wasn't a good week!)

Leaving all negative thoughts of Dalby behind it was off to the familiar, relaxing and safe environment of Kielder - well usually, just not when there's a crazy gunman running round the area obviously. Plans to ride off into the wilderness were somewhat thwarted by the possibility of running into either the crazed gunman or "the men in black Range Rovers". I don't think I've ever seen so many armed police officers in a day and driving through a small Northumberland town where every other car is a police car is rather an odd sight.

Still, on to the safety of urban life in Newcastle-upon-Tyne for lunch with Saddle Skedaddle. Sadly, even this didn't prove straightforward and the local car thieves were taking advantage of the police pre-occupation with crazy gun man by smashing the driver side window and breaking into Paul Davis's van whilst it was parked outside the Gateshead Travelodge overnight. Luckily they were the stupidest car thieves on the planet (sorry, you'd already figured that one out as soon as I said 'Gateshead' right) and, whilst getting away with a lovely little Tom-Tom, a large chain lock and a couple of in-car chargers, they'd somehow missed the laptop, brand new iPad and 800 quids worth of brand new bike parts and prizes, opting to go through the cupboards for food instead.

The 9 day long trip ended with a very windy and cold 6 hour drive home. Today was spent doing the mundane parts of life - washing, cleaning, hoovering and reading the post. Sometimes normality is ace.

Thursday, 24 June 2010


Well as you can see from my last post, I've been fairly busy. Many of you will know what with. And for those of you that don't, it was obviously mountain bike related (the clue is in the name!) Including a couple more rounds of the British Mountain Bike Series, which were pretty wet and miserable in all honesty. Even Margam, and it NEVER rains at Margam. Except when it does rain, and when it rains, boy does it rain!

I was also the Marshal Co-Ordinator on the UCI Cross-Country Mountain Bike World Cup in Dalby for the first time - or the "UCI XCO MTB WC" as 'they' like to call it. We just called it "Dalby", because that's what it was. It came, it went, it was hard work, but I did get a free week in a swanky hotel in Yorkshire. Can't complain I suppose.

May saw the first running of the 24 Hours of Exposure, the UK Solo 24 Hour Championships and okay, I might be a little biased as this was one of our, SIP Events, events, but it was way more fun and as usual I was as excited as a child on Christmas morning. So excited in fact that I managed to drop another bottle of Single Malt. This seems to be a common theme now, having dropped Deano's bottle of single malt at the Montane Kielder 100 last year, only to have it bounce off the flagstone floor and roll into the middle of the Kielder Castle courtyard totally unscathed. Lady Luck only shines her light on you once though and sadly the 24 hour bottle didn't make it, smashing to smithereens in the centre of Newcastleton at the rider sign on just before the race. So familiar am I with these kind of mishaps and cock ups that as I walked past the start area and the bottle fell out of the box, followed by a loud smash and a very pungent waft of peaty malt, I barely broke my stride and popped the now empty box through the open window of an event vehicle with a small shrug of my shoulders. S*%t happens.

Unfortunately some are now calling this 'Single Malt' event a tradition, even some sort of bizarre sacrifice to the event Gods. So the question now is, do I keep up the tradition of smashing, or attempting to smash a bottle of fine Scotch at every event to bring good luck, or do I chance it as I'm loathed to spend yet more money on excellent alcohol that nobody will get to drink. Discuss.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Fantastic Days!

...are few and far between these days. Those truly magnificent days when everything just drops in to place, the world seems perfect, life is good and you wish the day would never end; you wish that you could somehow spend the rest of your life in that day. Yesterday was such a day.

A long overdue walk with Tony (TalesFromTheRock) and the Gods were smiling upon us. Weatherwise it was by far the best walk I have ever been on with Tony - a bright blue cloudless sky and perfectly still. Up on the Black Mountains the view stretched for miles with the Brecon Beacons, the Malvern Hills and even Clee Hill visible for once.
Big views

This was a practice walk for the Big Black Mountain Challenge in May and followed a section of the route that included the toughest ascent. It was also the first time I've been walking with Tony's Bernese Mountain Dogs - when it comes to companion dogs, there's no better breed than this! They barely strayed more than 3ft from us all day and Rocky insisted on a cuddle every time we sat down. (Yes, they really are that soft!)
Close by

A few hours in and we were both still revelling in the gorgeousness of the day: the ribbons of snow on the Brecon Beacons, the glistening reservoir, the silent valleys except for playful Skylarks (and 240lbs of panting dogs!) If only I could have cooled off as easily as the Berners (Spot on the left, big Dad Rocky on the right)
Cooling off on the snow

As the miles ticked by we circled back to the car and the paths got busier with families on Easter holidays. I enjoyed one last look around and savoured the oh-so-perfect moment and time stood still just a little longer.

And then, as if the day couldn't get any better - an ice cream van in the car park! 16 miles and 6.5 hours of sun bathed mountain walking with great company, a warm, satisfied feeling inside, (no knee pain/rib pain or blisters for once) and an ice cream. If this isn't the definition of a perfect day, then I don't know what is.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

BMBS Round 1 down...

...4 to go. They say the first one is always the hardest and the first round of the British Mountain Bike Demo and Race Series at Sherwood Pines over the weekend was most definitely the proof of the pudding. There have been some pretty big changes to the race series this year, including adding a whopping great demo weekend to every round. The outcome of which is more work for all involved (and when I say all, I mean just 4 of us).

I've only been working on these particular events for a year now, and although it seems a lot longer I've actually only done 5 weekends, making it still a relatively young working relationship with the head honcho Martyn Salt. And as with all good organisers, there's always an element of trust to be earned before they stop checking everything you do, twice. Can't blame them, it's their event and their reputation on the line (and to be honest I'm the same with my event), but in the end things just get too big and too busy and you have to let go a little and have faith in those around you. I think we're almost there, almost.

The bad weather held off until Monday morning and all in all things went pretty well for a first event with so many new elements added to the mix. And as per usual the post-event aches and pains have appeared. For this kind of work it's not really a lack of fitness, but a lack of general physical activity that's the problem. My day job involves sitting in a chair watching TV, so heading out into the forest doing manual labour for a few days comes as a bit of a shock after 6 months off:

My shoulders and neck ache from hacking down trees and branches, my lower back hurts from standing up for 16 hours a day, my legs ache from running down all the singletrack, my feet hurt from walking and running on rough ground, my hands are cut to shreds and even my fingertips sting from all the zip ties, clips and staple ends. I'm glad I've had two days off to recover from this, even if they did go quickly.

Still, given the choice to race at these events or work on them, I know which I'd pick any day of the week. Can't wait for the next one! Must remember to sharpen my machete though.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Whinlatter Challenge-ing

First proper event of the season (barring the Glentress Demo) last weekend, the Whinlatter Challenge in the Lake District. Only in it's second year this event is going from strength to strength and with the addition of more purpose built trails, Whinlatter is also improving as a trail centre.

Saturday was set up day and I took the unusual step of marking the course by bike, rather than vehicle. This is something I've been talking about doing for ages, it's so frustrating spending 4 or 5 days at event venues and never actually riding a bike!

So a quick spin around the new blue grade Quercus Trail - lots of swoopy loveliness by the way and some of the biggest berms I've seen on a cross-country trail - a slog up to the top of the red trail and back to the cafe for tea and cake with the south side all marked. Richard Staton and his team had marked all of the north side trail so that was us done for the day. (I do like these quick and easy events.)

Sunday saw quite a mild start and even though I still had a cold, I'd volunteered to ride as Tail End Charlie. I also managed to avoid getting smacked on the head by a loud speaker this year so didn't have a concussion or pounding headache to deal with, always a bonus.

Four hours later the weather had turned and I'd almost completed the first 17 mile lap(!) riding behind one of the most determined 9 year olds I've ever seen. This is not a course for the faint hearted, with plenty of hills and some tricky descents that he'd battled his way through. Sadly he didn't make it to the finish, but it really was a brave effort.

I caught up with the back of the field and continued taking in the course and stuffing empty gel packets into my 'paper boy' bag. (Why do people drop those?!) It may look ridiculous, but those bags are very handy and always attract funny looks and crowd banter.

A quick tear down, a few more miles ridden and we were away before dark. A total of 20 off road miles for me and my longest mountain bike ride of the year. Hopefully get some more in at the first round of the British Mountain Bike Demo and Race Series at Sherwood this weekend - another excellent place for some eco-friendly course setting up.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Down to Business

So with the Christmas/December break behind me and another year over it was time to move on and get things back to normal. 2009 was a helluva a year, not least because I chose to take redundancy in the worst economic crisis in living memory and then decided to set up my own event business, SIP Events Ltd, and organise a mountain bike race; but not just any old mountain bike race, I thought I'd go for something that had never been done before, an event that many said couldn't be done - a logistically challenging 100 mile single lap off-road race in one of the remotest parts of the country. By 8pm on Saturday 5th September 2009, 200 people had proven the doubters wrong and the Montane Kielder 100 was receiving glowing reports from all involved! I think the free beer and burgers was helping though. It was without doubt the highlight of my year, possibly even the highlight of my last 10 years!

2010 was supposed to start with a big fitness kick - illness and bad weather put pay to that so I used the time to redesign and build various websites. SIP Events had a makeover, Kielder 100 had a small update and I also added the all important, all new 24 Hours of Exposure to the family (a work in progress).

With that little lot up and running I'm slowly getting back into the swing of things including some quality ride time. I have a good feeling about 2010, and so far it's living up to my expectations.