Monday, 13 October 2014

Reaching for the Skye

The original plan was a 9 day bike-packing trip to the Isle of Skye, what actually happened after a two hour drive through torrential rain on a Friday evening with darkening skies and blustering winds, was a last minute self-catering cottage booked for a week.

And so it began. All change. A quick trip into Fort William to purchase suitable footwear - packing for a week of cycling is quite different to a week of walking but I refused to buy anything more than a new pair of Salomon trainers as I have a house full to overflowing with walking gear, even if it was 400 miles away!

View over Portree from the cottage
This was only the second of the annual 'trips with friends' we'd planned all those years ago in Aviemore - me, Steve M and Chris G. The first one to Anglesey was a few years in the making and then there has been a gap of another 4 or 5 years so we're actually working on two a decade. But considering the amount we drink on these trips, that might well be a good thing.

The two bedroom self-catering cottage, Mountain View, just outside Portree couldn't have been more perfect. It had everything needed for a comfortable week including stunning views in all directions. Mornings started with a quick look outside to check the sunrise and every evening half an eye was kept on sunsets and cloud formations. Low cloud and rainbows were also a feature, as was the resident hare.

Each day was different with hill walks, beach trips, distillery tours, castle visits and the odd ride here and there. Despite the bad weather on some days we still managed to get out and about - bad weather equals moody skies and great photos remember. Although I'm not so sure the trip to the most westerly part of the island, Nieste Point, on a day with 70mph winds was such a good idea as I couldn't actually hold the camera still enough to get a sharp shot!

Fortunately for me, Steve Makin is a professional standard photographer and if you're going to be stuck on a dramatic isle for a week at the changing of the seasons, there's really nobody better. We'd be driving somewhere, one of us would spot a shot, get out, take some photos and jump back in; only to repeat the same actions a few miles down the road when another glorious view appeared. Evenings were spent reviewing the 100 or so photos taken each day, and drinking a formidable amount of alcohol. On a good day I'm as quick as Steve on a bike, on some days I'm as enthusiastic as he is about riding, unfortunately I'll never be as good as him at taking photos.

Another incredible week with one of my closest friends and a great way to relax after such a busy summer. Just what I needed: an old friendship strengthened, new friendships made, new places explored, a hobby encouraged, knowledge gained and a change of perspective in many ways.

The full photo gallery is available on my flickr page. And to see how it can be done, Steve's flickr gallery is here.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Bang, whoosh, bang, whoosh...

That's been my day. Life is a rollercoaster but to be on one today that's travelling so fast has thrown me a little bit and left me flailing.

It started wit a phone call from the Cycle Chilterns project funder saying that we had been unsuccessful in our bid for a one year project extension. Bummer. So the project will finish in March 2015 as planned and I'll be out of a job. I'm okay with that bit as that was the plan from the start and an extension would have been a bonus. It's the feeling that we're just really starting to get going and gaining momentum and that extra year could have really seen some good stuff happening. But not any more.

Then it's the Dacorum Borough Council regional launch of the Tour of Britain today - a celebration of one of my greatest project achievements of getting stage 6 to come to the Chilterns and finish in Hemel Hempstead. My crowning glory if you will. Ironic that one of the reasons the bid extension was turned down was because it had a weak economic case and wasn't value for money enough. Now I'm not quite sure what our government classes as value for money, but I'd have thought a 100 times return on investment was pretty good (for what the project has put into the Tour of Britain compared to economic impact it will have on the Chilterns). Obviously they have higher expectations. Anyway, the closer we get to this, just 2 months now, the more awesome it gets.

Bang. I get a phone call telling me that one of the people I was working with quite closely during 2013 died of cancer a couple of days ago. This piece of news stopped me dead in my tracks and I've been next to useless for the last half an hour. Time to cut my losses, call it a day and go enjoy the world outside my window and try and get my mojo back for the duration of the project.

The day will end by installing a new cycle hire fleet in a business in the centre of the Chilterns. Again, another project success that I'm quite proud of. Well, I guess only time will tell if it is a success, but just getting to this stage has been a bit of an ordeal. A hire fleet at our disposal will be of huge benefit to the project, local clubs, ride leaders and organisations. A fantastic asset and legacy for the Chilterns AONB whatever happens.

Right, off to see what else can possibly happen in the next 11 hours.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

My first crit race

By Sara Randle. Aged 35 and a fifth.
Yep, it's true. All these years I've been riding/racing bikes and I've never done a crit race, or a road race for that matter. But somehow I was talked into by a friend, "oh, it's very low key with a huge variety of riders. You'll enjoy it". Famous last words!

Due to the recent weather it was kind of a last minute decision so I wasn't prepared at all (surprise, surprise) and before I knew it I was at Stourport sports club for the last round of the Wooly Mamil Winter Crit Series.

I guess if you're going to do something for the first time at this age you might as well do it in good company and my pre-race companions were World Champion MTB rider Tracy Moseley and series leader Maxine Filby (my 'friend' and driver for the day). T-Mo, her young club mate and I spent much of our warm up comparing how totally out of place we were:
"It'll take me half a lap to clip in with these road shoes" I said, "it took me an hour last night to find them!"
"Are you allowed mudguards?" asked Tracy.
"Are you using MTB pedals T-Mo? Are peaks on helmets acceptable or will I be shunned?"
"If I'd have known, I'd have worn mine, and baggies" she said.
"Crikey, I can't even remember the last time I rode a road bike," I said, "and I've never ridden this bike, it's Paul's."
Fortunately Max took all of this in good spirits and laughed off our completely amateurish and un-serious approach to what we were about to do.

Start line. Off we went, down to the first corner, sharp left, into brickwall-like headwind. Second corner, how dodgy?! Pick a line girls, any line, just stick to it, eh?! Third corner, a 180, sprint surge down the hill, what the hell?! Chase to pack, next corner, sprint surge, oh my god! Fifth corner, sprint. 180 degree turn, lap 1 done. Chase. Corner. Brickwall headwind. Click, clank, crunch... gears gone. And so were the group.

I managed to maintain a steady gap of around 100 metres to the group for some time, passing a number of riders on the way and picking up my own little group. Then I think I got a bit bored and decided I wasn't going to bridge the gap, finally the leaders lapped me andI  sat up. I wondered, if I got lapped enough, would I have to complete the full 30 minutes plus 5 laps? Hmmm...

By now I was around half a lap behind Tracy which meant we passed each other on the opposite sides of the long straight each lap. We started having short conversations and waving. I also started chatting to the other girls. I do that a lot in racing. Finally I got the whistle signalling five laps to go and the quicker I got these over with, the quicker it would all be over.

Off I went again, head down, 5 to go! Still chatting to everybody I came across. The leaders (Max!) lapped me a second time on their finishing straight. My final lap was a very relaxed affair with another rider finishing with an exceedingly gentle 'pootle finish' to the line. All very civilised.

Well, that was a learning experience. I had no idea what it was going to involve and got completely caught out, not least because of gear problems, on a bike I'd never ridden, but because of the speed of racing and the full on, continuous sprint/surge/maximum effort intervals involved.  I averaged 18.6mph for 45 minutes - never done anything like that, ever. Still, it was fun in some ways and I think with a bit of practice I might be able to get the hang of it.

Overall report: must try harder.