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...