Wednesday, 11 December 2013

I'm just gonna go with "Ow"

I've been riding a lot just recently so when some friends came over for the weekend it was a rare opportunity to ride with people. On Saturday we took part in the Cycle Chilterns Brewery Ride - this involved a road ride to the Chiltern Brewery for a free beer, or two, some seasonal spirit and wine tasting and warm mince pies with brandy butter. The ride was followed by a pint, an early evening pub dinner and then more wine at my house. Well, when you start drinking at 11am on a Saturday, things are only going to go one way.

Riding on a bridleway
Riding on a bridleway. Honest, it even says so.
On Sunday we decided to go off road and explore some local bridlesways and, er, 'other' paths. Paul, Chris and Rachel had all ridden some of the routes last year when they came round for a ride. I was still injured at the time so didn't ride with them, just had the pleasure of hoovering the carpet and mopping the floor on their return. All was going well and we were having a pleasant ride in the sunshine including lunch at the cafe in the woods. After a few hours we started heading back. I checked the map and we had to look out for a bridleway and take a sharp right off the damp, muddy lane.

Bang! I was down. I'd dropped the bike making the 90 degree turn. I think I put my hand down first, although my shoulder and back hurt too, as did my hip, and I think I hit my head but I can't really remember. Oh hang on, memory loss is a sign of a bang on the head, isn't it?

Anyway, first things first, is the bike alright? All intact, just a chain off. Phew. So aside from a large mud patch down my right side, all was good. Off we went. Moments later Rachel's new Trek came out in a sympathy puncture and while the usual tag team puncture repair act took plac between the other three, it gave me a bit of time to get myself together again. I checked my helmet for any sign of damage but three were no dents, no scuffs, not event a spot of mud. The throbbing in my head said I'd definitely banged my head but it all happened so fast that I really can't remember. But memory loss is a sign of a bang on the head, isn't it?

Ridgeway path to lunch
Moving on... we were soon home for tea and cake without further incident. Though the phrase "that 's gonna sting in the morning" was used more than once.

And sting it did. A nice bit of gravel rash on my thigh, stiff neck, couple of cuts and grazes and a penny-sized bruise on my knee. In the afternoon my ribs ached slightly and my palm was bruised. I decided to have a rest day.

By chance, I've been seeing a chiropractor regularly since my injury in 2012 and fortunately I had an appointment booked for Tuesday evening. I mentioned the small bike incident to her almost in passing, after all, it's not unusual for us cyclists to slide over like that.

Well, my 'injuries' as mentioned above were nothing compared to her prognosis: a crooked neck, six twisted ribs, my pelvis had been shunted up and back on one side and I had a dislodged fibular head. Crikey, all that from one little fall. Had she been holding a clipboard standing at the end of a hospital bed I'd have thought the recipient of such injuries had just had a lucky escape from a car crash. But I've learnt over the years that professionals are keen to make things sound fancy and complicated - its how they justify their jobs and outrageous hourly rates. As it is, I'm sticking with "ow".

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

The real story

Not so long ago I wrote a blog for CTC - 'A pleasant surprise on the Chilterns Cycleway' - about a ride I'd done. It was all very gently plodding along and "hey, why don't you go ride it too, it's great!" in it's tone. But it's not entirely accurate, there were certain details I left out of the blog, for reasons that will become obvious as I recount the real story.

So one Saturday in November I'd decided I was going to ride a large section of the Cycleway to the east of the M1 that I'd never ridden. Looking at the map I figured it would only be around 50 miles, 55 tops! (Though in the back of my mind I knew this was a conservative estimate.) I also guessed it would take around 5 hours.

Now this being winter and sunset around 4pm I knew, even with these supposed "worse case scenarios" I had to leave by 11am. At 11.30 I headed downstairs to put my shoes on, complete with one bottle of water, an energy gel and £3.50 in change, in case I wanted to stop for coffee and cake en route. The experienced cyclists among you at this point might be thinking that doesn't sound like a lot for a 5 hour ride. (I also knew this, but ignored it, the £3.50 would save me.) I did pause at the door though, just for a moment; my tiny L.E.D lights were on the stairs, I grabbed them and shoved them in my pocket.

Not far into the ride it started to rain. I was wearing a soft shell with no waterproof but figured it was just a passing shower and continued with my plan. This isn't like me. On a normal day I plan the quickest route back at the first sign of rain but today was different. Something in my brain had disengaged, that bit that assesses consequences of actions, it was being drowned out by the "in denial-campus" section of my brain instead. Today, everything would be fine, what could go wrong.

Two hours later I'd only completed a pathetic 20 miles and looking at the map, I didn't seem to be that far into the ride. At this pace, it looked like it might take a bit longer than 5 hours, better pick it up a little bit. A few miles later I saw a sign for 'Offley 2', I knew this was on the return route, maybe I should just take a short cut and head back now missing out the top loop. (Unbeknown to me at the time this would have shaved off a full 20 miles!)

More time passed, the sun was shining (told you it was just a shower), over 35 miles done but it still didn't look as if I was half way round - must be an optical illusion on the map. It'll be fine. But feeling a bit low on energy I had the only gel. I finally rounded the top corner of the route and was heading in the right direction, 42 miles done. Hmmm...

By now, the light was fading and the drizzle had started again. After 48 miles I passed through Offley and sparingly sipped at the very small amount of water left in my bottle. Bit late to be thinking about that shortcut option. Fortunately the route was quite well signposted so progress was quick but I was still losing light rapidly thanks to the dark rain clouds heading in. I stopped to put on the two tiny flashing LED lights - grabbing them had been the only good decision I'd made all day. Thankfully!

60 miles done, it was chucking it down, I was soaked and getting cold and had no idea how far was left. Even if there had been a shop or cafe open I didn't have time to stop for a hot drink or a snack. This was the most urbanised section of the route so it was a race to get home safely in the dark now. I had a vague memory that Harpenden was only 8 miles from Hemel Hempstead and a road sign confirmed this.

Now came the big decision of the day: do I ride back along the street-lit road, hoping drivers could see my tiny blinking lights and avoid me; or do I take the unlit NCN Nickey Line route on the old railway. It would be pitch black but traffic-free so the only dangers would be muggers, strangers, dog-walkers, random opportunistic serial killers, gangs of youths, potholes, glass and large items of debris across the path. Nickey Line it is then, still much safer than our roads at the moment!

It was a matter of survival by now so I didn't complete the section of the Cycleway back to Berkhamsted as the article says, taking the quickest way home instead. Seventy-something miles, 6.30pm, very wet, very tired and very, very hungry and thirsty. Truly one of the stupidest things I've done in a while but the important thing is, I survived to do it all again another day... (Hey, after 20 years of riding I should know better than this so don't think I've learnt my lesson or anything.)

Friday, 22 November 2013

Here we go again

It's winter. Another summer has gone: no racing, no fitness, no epic adventures. So once more my winter training starts with good intentions. The last time my winter training started it lasted all of two weeks before I blew my left knee and was out with injury for 15 months.

That's not going to happen this time. I'm building up slowly with 10 hour weeks. Even though I've been ill this week I've clocked up six and a half hours thus far. Another 3 tomorrow will have me just where I want to be.

Things are going well. Feeling good. Legs are used to riding every day. Big plans for next year. Bring it!

God I love bikes.

Monday, 11 February 2013

The Beastway

Most mountain bikers will have heard of the Beastway Mountain Bike Race Series at some point - it's one of the oldest around having started up some 20 years ago. It's also famous for being held in London. Well, sort of; it was at the Eastway Circuit, twenty minutes from the centre of London.

There was some controversy a few years back when the plans came out for the Olympic Park as they were going to be building over the bit of land and the mtb circuit plans weren't all that clear. Still, I think something got sorted out in the end. But it did mean the series had to move somewhere else.

Luckily the Redbridge Cycling Centre (aka Hog Hill) in Ilford had been built and had some manmade mountain bike trails. So the Beastway series has been homed there for a few years. But all good things must come to and end and the organisers decided in 2012 that enough was enough and that would be their final year.

They asked for further interest in anyone looking to take on the series and obviously I, as SIP Events, showed an interest. Tonight was the first meeting of the group of interested parties and willing volunteers and as no-one else really had any organising experience it sort of fell to us to say whether we wanted to do it or not.

Decisions, decisions. What with the new job and the other events it's a lot to take on. I'll have to have a good look at it but it would be a shame for it to just stop so I'll do whatever I can to keep the series alive.

Friday, 8 February 2013

This is the life

Now this is how I envisage life to be over the next couple of years; up at 8am, cook breakfast, ride down the road to Tring for a meeting with a colleague from the CTC at the stunning College Lake Nature Reserve run by the Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT), coffee, lunch, ride home again in the sunshine going the scenic route via Ivinghoe Beacon.

All in all a pretty successful and productive day in terms of work and I managed to rack up 24 commuting miles without thinking about it. It's a tough life but I'm gonna stick with it for the moment.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Meeting Spaces

There's a whole world of business that I'm blissfully unaware of. One of those things is "meeting spaces" - basically a building full of rooms that people hold meetings in. This one was called WallaceSpace. In the old days they would have been called meeting rooms, now they're meeting spaces apparently. The only discernable difference is some bean bags in the corner and an endless supply of penny sweets, cakes and fizzy drinks, with a superfood lunch thrown in. Oh please!

At least I did get to have a go on an electric bike for the first time. They're rather fun. And rather zippy. I took a spin around some little back streets near Euston on one of the bikes provided by the Electric Bike Network, they sure do take off quickly. This sensation was audible by an "oooh!" from everybody that rode it. Good fun had by all, then it was back inside for a coke and some fruit salad chews. Just like being a kid again...

Sunday, 3 February 2013

The Big Chill Swim

Sunrise on race day
Off up to the Lake District this weekend to help some friends out with an open water swim in Lake Windermere. Cold? I'll give you cold! I was in thermals and a down jacket and the icy cold wind was whistling across the lake and going straight through me.

Swim lanes in the marina - 30m across
First off it was the 800m races. It looked okay until the swimmers got out of the water and were too cold to even dress themselves and then shivered for over an hour. And before you ask, no, they don't wear wetsuits, or anything. Just swimming costumes. As the 30m races got under way the wind picked up and the temperature dropped - at this point I was glad I'd chickened out of doing my first ever 'chill swim' event as I'd have frozen to the jetty.

The day dragged on, really, really slowly. Open water swimming isn't the most exciting of spectator sports it has to be said. Finally I'd had enough of standing around being very cold and went to get a nice hot choclate in the rather lovely hotel I was staying in, the Low Wood Bay Hotel.

Huges crowds watching not much going on
The hotel was actually the highlight of the weekend, with some of the best hotel staff I've ever come across. Add to that great beer, great wine, a fantastic breakfast buffet, gorgeous food, cracking views and a superb location right on the shores of Windermere and you've got to go a long way to beat this place.

Low Wood Bay Hotel on the shore of Windermere
The plan to go for a ride on Sunday was scuppered by bad weather so it was time to head back south. Not a complete waste of a weekend, as I say, the hotel was lovely (and paid for), but all that way to do someone a favour, lend them a bunch of equipment to help their event and then don't even get invited to the party on Saturday night. And the whole thing cost me the best part of 200 quid, can't afford to do too many more favours like that.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Second Meeting

Off to my so-called 'office' today for the first time at the Chilterns Conservation Board in Chinnor. It's not really my place of work, that'll be my sofa mostly, but I do have a hot desk and office space I can use there. There's also human interaction, which is a good thing.

Chinnor is a cracking little village on the northern edge of the Chilterns and my commute there, albeit by car at the moment, is also pretty good taking in Wendover, RAF Halton and a variety of lovely olde worlde looking pubs. And at 25 miles it'll be an awesome Summer commute, on or off-road.

The piece de resistance? Lotte's Country Kitchen in Chinnor - the pinkest little tea shop I have ever seen. Cakes, china tea pots, homemade chutneys and a cookbook written by the proprietor Lotte Duncan herself. Well, it would have been rude to have lunch anywhere else really.

I took a slight detour on the way home to pop into Wendover Woods and sat for a while watching the Red Kites overhead. Another successful day.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

It's a Miracle

I mentioned a while ago about my knee injury. One year on, numerous visits to the physiotherapists, some sports massages and some visits to the chiropractor, and I still wasn't seeing much progress. So when I heard professionals using phrases like "your cartilage looks like crazy paving", "you've got the knee of a hard-playing 50 year old footballer", "there are ligament problems", alarm bells started to ring.

The problem is, these most recent diagnoses didn't tally with the original radiographers report done in January 2012, when I had the MRI scan. I'd also been getting conflicting information about how I should approach the injury, what was best for me and what I should and shouldn't be doing. All very confusing and having a massive impact on my life.

There was only one thing for it, a fifth opinion.

After much research and recommendations from friends and acquaintances, including a certain Mr Magnus Backstedt and Julian Winn (thanks guys) I decided to go and see Mr Jonathan Webb. Apparently he's the man when it comes to knees and cyclists, this was confirmed a few days after I booked the appointment when Nicole Cooke mentioned him in her retirement statement. Looking good so far.

My only reservation was that he is based in the Fortius Clinic in London, the same clinic the first consultant I saw is based. And I wasn't very impressed with him - the half hour appointment I'd booked in January 2012 took all of 5 minutes, cost £250 and all I got was a one line diagnosis. I tried for months to get some more information and clarification on cartilage fissures from him, but he was always off skiing or deer stalking in the highlands. Alright for some!

I explained all of this to Mr Webb's secretary on the phone and at the outset of the appointment he too addressed it and told me not to worry about the politics, the most important thing is that we figure out what's wrong. (A good start!)

Well, what a difference an hour makes. He examined both knees, did the usual tests and then we chatted. I asked questions, he answered clearly. I queried bits I didn't understand and pointed things out to me on diagrams. We had a look at the MRI scan, I told him about the 'crazy paving' comment and he said there's no evidence of that.

Basically, he said that aside from the fissure my knee is structurally fine, cartilage, ligaments and all. Plus the fissure didn't explain the pain and problems I was having anyway. At this point I think I started crying and apologised, he sat back in his chair and told me not to worry, "it's a very emotional subject for sports people" he said. (Himself being a former England rugby player.)

Apparently, my main problem now is a plica. He went into detail, but coincidentally it's exactly the same thing Nicole Cooke had. Obviously he did a quick op for her, snipped it out and six weeks later she won the Giro d'Italia. I don't have the budget of a pro cycling team. But I'm confident this is what I have and more importantly, believe everything he said.

Then came the best thing I have heard in a year: "It's fine for you to ride your bike as much as you want and whenever you want". I couldn't believe it. Really? "I can't stress enough that you are okay to ride your bike and you won't be doing any damage at all. It will hurt due to the inflammation the plica causes, but other than that, it will be fine."

So there we have it; slap on the ibuprofen gel before a ride and see how I go. If I can manage the pain then great, otherwise I'd better start saving for that operation. As I stood up to leave I could have hugged him! I didn't, by the way. I did in my head, but not in his office. Outside I took a deep breath and promptly burst into tears, again. I was so emotional I had to go and hide in a little pub around the corner and compose myself over a pint. What a day! Why didn't somebody tell me that a year ago?! I can't remember the last time I was this happy!

If you've got a problem, if no-one else can help, and if you can find him, maybe you can hire the J-Webb.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Day 1

So, day one in the new job and what a baptism of fire! (sarc.) It began with tea and cake in the British Library, went on for a few hours, included lunch, more tea, lots of chatting and an afternoon train home with enough time left to jump on the turbo-trainer for an hour and cook a rather lovely dinner.

As far as first days go, I guess it was ok. I had a bit of a wander around the library obviously, a place I've never been before even though it's just a five minute walk from London Euston - a station I have used well over a thousand times in the last decade.

As that annoying little red head once said, "I think I'm gonna like it here!"

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

My New Life

Every now and again an opportunity comes along, completely out of the blue, that you just have to grab hold of with both hands and be prepared for whatever changes may occur. That happened to me in November.

I've been plodding along in my television career for over a decade and have become accustomed to the shift work, endless time off and very good money. It has allowed me to do pretty much whatever I want, including setting up my own events business and travelling a lot. Then a job came up with the CTC that really couldn't be more different.

In simple terms, it's practically my dream job. If somebody asked me what I want out of life the phrases "work from home", "have time to ride my bike", "earn a decent wage", "do something I love", "be involved in cycling" would all come up. So when a job that covers all of those suddenly appears it's almost too good to be true. Throw in "work on your doorstep in the Chilterns" and I found I had to keep pinching myself to make sure it was real. How can a job like this actually exist?

But it does exist. It is real. And it's my job, at least it will be from Monday 28th January. I'm so excited it takes my breath away. I will be the Senior Development Officer for the Chilterns Sustainable Gateways Project. Basically, I get to develop cycling in the Chilterns. My job is to get people riding bikes.

I feel like I'm standing at the gates of a new world with no road in front of me, just endless possibilities and new opportunities. A world of excitement and potential. I actually get to try and do what I've been wanting to do for, well, forever really. And it's mind blowing. It literally makes me shriek with excitement. And not just the job either but what it means for me and my life. I have just 5 days to the start of a brand new world and a new way of life; anything could happen.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

"You're Left Leg Is Haywire"

Happy New Year!
Okay, so I'm a bit late, but you might have noticed I've been away for a while. There's an explanation for that. The blog is called "Mountain Bike Girl" and has always, mostly, been about cycling. But for the last year I've not actually been riding a bike. I'm injured.

I blew my knee in December 2011 - patellar cartilage fissure thing. Basically my knee hurts, a lot, when I bend it. It's amazing how many times a day you bend your knee. Seeing the physio then threw up various other problems - ankle that doesn't fit, twisted pelvis, disfunctional shoulder, weak hip flexors, blah blah blah. In a nutshell, my left leg doesn't work properly and hasn't been working for some time.

So I've been working to relearn how to do even basic things: going up and down stairs, riding a bike, standing up and so on. In the hope of my leg working properly again at some point and my knee not hurting just enough so that I can ride a bike. Progress is slow and depressing at times. But one day I'll be back out on the bike. Wish me luck!