Wednesday, 3 August 2022

Against the clock

TT against the clock
My plan was to sample competition this year, TT's to be precise. I didn't fancy the cut and thrust of group racing or track events. Hill climbs are another discipline, but they don't run until the end of summer going into autumn.

The course I choose for my debut was 10 miles, with a target time of 30 minutes. I have often ridden the roads so I had an idea what it would be like. Pacing was the main unknown. Going too fast at the start could mean I'd be exhausted quickly. But not pushing enough would also produce a slow time. 

There is more I could do to the bike and what I wear; but that's for another day. And will depend on how seriously I take it. This time I just wanted to see what's involved. The season will finish before I can attend my second event.

Arriving early to sign in and do a warm-up ride helped control the nerves.  Russell, Oxted CC chairman, was also competing. He does a lot of these and took me through the prep. A ride around the course to stretch the legs and open the lungs. It gave me a chance to checkout the lanes, paying attention to the junctions. I didn't do too bad, posting a time of 28:59. 

How do I improve it? 

I was at my max heart rate for nearly 90% of the time.

heart rate

So I can't increase that very much.

There are eight junctions; I could attack them harder. And accelerate out faster. 

The human body causes most of the drag so a lower profile position is more aerodynamic. A bike designed for speed would also be an advantage. 

Stronger legs would get me up to speed faster, and allow a higher gear. As would a lighter bike.

It seems like I'm talking myself into buying another bike doesn't it? That will have to wait for quite some time, unless a premium bond number comes up.

For now I will work on free improvements: strength, position and technique.





Sunday, 31 July 2022

Freedom

the smell of memory

As I rode to meet Matt this morning I passed by a newly harvested field. The smell of fresh hay wafted over me. It took me back to my early teens. My brother and I owned a pony one summer. We spent most weekends at our uncle's livery yard where is was stabled. We slept in the hayloft. I say hayloft; it was actually a lorry body on some bricks. My aunt, uncle and cousin slept in a caravan. After mucking out we'd ride around the small field or along the local lanes. Sometimes there was trip in a horse drawn cart, very occasionally driven my us. The rest of the time was spent exploring the surrounding woods. I think I was about eleven, my brother eighteen months younger. We often travelled there by ourselves on bicycles. A distance of just over ten miles each way. We always rode on the road and it never felt unsafe, mum and dad weren't overly concerned. I think we had been riding to friends houses for while by then.

We were free for the weekend. 

This was over forty years ago, so no phones, I don't even think there was one at the yard. Today's children don't know what that feels like, most wouldn't be interested, some would but don't have the opportunity. 

It's such a shame roads are so congested and made dangerous by uncaring drivers that our early experiences are not available today. It's why I am so passionate about the need to provide infrastructure that would encourage more outdoors activity. There are so many benefits I don't know why it's vigorously fought against.

I know adults who would adopt alternatives to car trips if they had the confidence to ride some of them. Their children could be set free in the way I had been.

Sunday, 17 July 2022

London Calling

outside Purley hospital

A training day at work could have meant a Saturday off the bike. But James suggested we ride in, a second Moof IT CC event.

My only reservation was the route, if we followed the one I would have driven it didn't appeal. Congested main roads and junctions could have made the journey a bit of an ordeal. But James had  ridden in before and said it wasn't that bad.

I meet him outside Purley hospital at just after eight in the morning. It started as expected; a painted line to indicate a cycle lane, not a safe solution. Going through central Croydon was better, bollard protection and a shared use path on North End. Although on the return journey this was a little tricky due to the number of people. We just slowed considerably and it was still much better than the Wellesley Road. The council have closed a lot of side streets to motor traffic to prevent rat-running. I'm not sure if they have affected the West Croydon section of London Road. It was much quieter than I expected, the 20 mph limit that most seemed to accept helped a lot. As we rode on there were more bollards, quiet back roads, cycle paths and fully protected lanes across the bridges. I had a rough idea where we were as we got closer to Moof IT's westend office. It still surprised me when we popped out onto a road I knew and I realised a busy, potentially dangerous road or junction had been bypassed. The pace was relaxed but we still made it to Trafalgar Square quickly, so much so that we had time to stop at the Rapha store on Glasshouse Street.

Rapha store on Glasshouse Street

You can take your bike in whilst you shop or drink coffee. It was just ten minutes from here to the completion of my first bike commute. I'm not sure I'd want to do it, as James has done, during the week though. 

My thoughts:

I saved money by not using public transport.

The journey was quicker than the aforementioned public transport. I don't think it would have been affected by much if it had been a busier weekday.

Why would anyone drive into London? Public transport or a coat would have been fine if the weather hadn't been so good.

Generally the provision of bike infrastructure is good or brilliant. Especially as you leave Surrey and get closer to central London.

I know my home county is more rural, but there is still plenty that could be done in our villages and towns. And making the many A roads that join them safer to use on a bike would insentivise more active travel. Instead most councillors and MP's either do nothing or work to block any improvement. 




Friday, 15 July 2022

More thoughts about long distance rides

must eat more 
After Cornwall I still had a week off work; which helped me recover, but didn't help me get back to my routine.

A typical weekday is breakfast, work, dinner, an hour on the trainer, television and bed. With six sessions of twenty press-ups spread thoughout.

Weekends are a ride with Oxted CC on Saturday, typically around 60 to 70 miles. Then shopping, a bit more television, dinner then bed. Less press-ups and maybe some gardening: cutting the grass and hacking back the shrubbery. Sunday has a coffee ride to meet Matt then house work.

It was hard to restart riding the trainer and complete the press-up target.

I had lost weight. A long day on the bike tends to mean a calorie deficit at the end. My appetite declines as the day goes on. So I have to eat even if I don't feel like it. And the meals need to be bigger too. It wasn't a problem in the past because I'd never ridden so far, day after day. 

It's taken until this week to get back on track for exercise and to put on weight.

I watched videos and read books to prepare myself.

They do mention eating, but mostly as a side concern. I hadn't appreciated how much I'd be affected. 

Another lesson learnt. 

I've decided to ride shorter days on long journeys, so that should give me more time to eat.

Wednesday, 13 July 2022

Thank you for being there for me.

thankyou
 
This post is dedicated to everyone who should hear this more often. 

We don't say this enough. We should let people know. 

Being British the stereotype is to stay silent, especially as a man. Other countries may be equally reserved.

It can be hard to say how you feel to a family member, or friend.

Don't leave it too late.

When it is said to me, I tend brush it off. It's not that I don't appreciate the semtiment. I don't know how to react. Hearing those words feels good though. 

We all need to practise as we would any other skill. I'm hopping I'll get better.

We don't need to over do it. Just mean and acknowledge it.

I don't know if it's okay to set challenges. 

But here goes.

I ask that everyone thinks about those around them; and lets then know they are appreciated.



 

 


Wednesday, 6 July 2022

The road ahead

the road ahead
 

I have had some time to think about my Cornwall ride. It changed me. Regular readers will know I wanted to test myself, and I did. It became more of a mental battle than the physical one I thought it would have been.

The first two days especially were a grind, there is no better word to describe them. I have ridden similar distances; it wasn't the same this time. Maybe it was traveling so far alone, and then ending the day in a b&b. Staying with my sister after two days was a very welcome respite.

I had thought of myself as a potential ultra distance cyclist, covering big distances in a short period of time. I'm not so sure now.

The ride back was different; over three days the distances were reduced. My mood at the overnight stops improved. The satnav grief had affected me, and not to have it on the ride home was welcome. 

I will still push my limits, with other goals in mind.

Maybe to see how many days I can ride. Each one being a more reasonable 70 to 80 miles. I will hopefully have company at these distances.

Pre Cornwall I avidly watched videos of long distance riders, not to compare myself. But to wonder if I could do anything similar. As I started to write this post I had one on pause, it was about the prep needed to complete big distances in little time. I didn't want to see any more. The training I do is easily enough to allow me to achieve reasonable targets, that allow me to relax and take in my surroundings. I don't think they have the same luxury. I no longer want to ride head down to push out the miles.

The coffee mornings with Matt on a Sunday often include musings about for example Lands End to John O'Groats. How many days should it take? I was in favour of the shorter timescale; meaning at least 100 miles per day. And I wasn't interested in an organised, group event. Now however I have looked at companies that provide a package. It includes the route, accommodation, technical backup, luggage transfers and companions. It all seems so much more civilised. It's still hard work, and very much a challenge, but without the potential to become that dreaded grind to just get it done.

Wednesday, 29 June 2022

Recovery

well done me


I write this as I rest from the week long ride to Cornwall and back. 

I gained a lot from it: 

Proof of my recovery.

A good indication of where my physical limits may be.

And possibly most important to me; that I have more control over myself and how I react to life.

I am stronger mentally than I had thought.

The week before this adventure I had a telephone mental health counseling session. Beforehand I filled in a survey that would form the basis of the conversation.

It was questions I had used before previous therapies. This time I found myself surprised by my answers. I seemed to be choosing more positive responses. I wanted to be honest so ticked boxes with my first reactions.

When the therapists called it was the first thing about which she remarked. I had gone from a score indicating a very depressed person to one who had little indication of a problem.

We talked about what had happened to possibly cause such a change. I suspected it was my broken hip; let me explain. 

Looking back at the immediate aftermath I hadn't really broken down and regressed mentally as I might have expected. I was disappointed with the result of the x-rays and scans. With a bit of a big dip when told by the consultant that there could be lasting implications. 

But those feelings didn't last. I think this was partly because the day after the surgery I had a visit from a physio. He said I could get out of bed if I wanted, and using a frame move around the ward. I had some exercises to reduce the swelling and stiffness. I could do as much as I wanted. So I did; spending all of my time whilst in bed flexing my leg. The rest "walking" around the ward. I saw small improvements each day.

The next two weeks were a rollercoaster for sure; with some very dark times. I was very frustrated at the limits imposed on me. But I never gave into thoughts that I wouldn't fully recover, I just needed to work hard enough, it was down to me.

I said to my therapist that the experience had maybe taught me that I was a better, stronger person than I believed. This was helped by feedback I was getting from family, friends and my cycling club. Everyone was congratulating me on my progress, encouraging me to push on. The difference this time was my reaction to the words. In the past I would have told myself they were just platitudes; not true of me.

As I reached a new milestone those words took on my resonance, and without me realising were reinforcing my positive inner conversation.

I reduced the priority given to my negative monologue.

The discussion was so positive that we agreed that I could put future meetings on hold for now. I had the tools to recognise the start of a downward trajectory, and turn it around.

I'm not saying I am cured, but that I am better than I've been for a very long time. It's like a switch had been flicked to a new position.

We concluded that whilst crashing a bike was maybe not a recognised treatment for depression. It had had a positive outcome for me.

I keep saying this. Talking has been the deciding factor in my turnaround. 

If I hadn't done so, the outcome of my crash, and life's pressures in general could have produced a very different result.

It's why I rode to raise money for Mind. They promote talking, crucially providing resources for those who don't have the support network I am lucky to have.

Thank you to everyone involved over the last few years since I started my recovery.







Monday, 27 June 2022

Riding for Mind

made it to cornwall


My charity ride for Mind is complete; sponsorship link. The original plan was 250 miles straight to Cornwall. And then a three day ride back. 

The change in circumstances - a broken hip in February - meant that wasn't going to be possible. I had to make it a two day ride.

This was my third and longest multi-day ride. The first was four days to Paris and the second a two day ride along the South Downs Way (SDW). Both were with Matthew and Richard. Next year I hope to roundup some companions for a six day ride.

I packed heavy for both trips, including a full size camera. This time I carried the minimum and relied on my phone for pictures. They were both weather affected. The Paris trip by rain for most of the first day. The SDW by rain leading up to the trip. Which meant the first day especially was almost all very thick mud. 

Just having the simple tasks of finding food and staying on route was brilliant. And being with my mates of course.

Back to the Solstice epic.

I'll start with packing, it took me a few goes to be sure I had it right. I did the first round on Saturday. And decided the bag was too heavy. Some stuff was removed and that was supposed to be it. On Sunday I needed to check I had the essentials, so an unpack was necessary. Then that was it. Until Monday when I wanted to remove some more weight and again check that I had what I needed. I was sure I'd forgotten something as I left the house.

The first day started at 4 a.m. and ended 165 miles later in Stawell. It should have been around 150. More on that later.

leaving at 4 am


It was a little chilly as I left the house, getting really cold within a few miles, my hands were freezing. I had to put on my full length gloves. 

view near farnham
Farnham

I was making good time, passing near Farnham, through Alton and Bighton around 08:30.

stop for food at bighton
Bighton

Avington country park
Avington Country Park

I reached Winchester before 10. The roads were quiet and the weather was great.

country views passed Winchester

country views passed Winchester


I was too early at the Mill Arms, Mottisfont for a coffee, but there was a comfy chair if I had had time to wait.

Mill Arms, comfy seat

The next village with a shop was Lockerley. Unfortunately having very little food for a vegan diet. Crisps have plenty of carbs and the energy drink was welcome. 

It was a theme of a lot of the ride; the route I was following missed many bigger towns and even villages. It meant that food stops were less common than I would have liked. 

lockerley
Lockerley

It wasn't until nearly 2 p.m that I was able to stop to eat properly. At the Carriers Arms in Stockton. Great food and a warm welcome. I was too hungry to take a pic of the food.

Carriers Arms Stockton
Carriers Arms Stockton

The rest of the day was okay until I got to Bruton. I was tired and not paying enough attention to the directions given by the cycle comp. It took me on a big figure of eight before I realised something had gone very wrong. It was displaying a map of the Birmingham area. The turn by turn was still working, but I couldn't see how to return to the route without knowing where I was. I continued using my phone and google maps. Stopping every few miles to check my progress and note the next few junctions. 

I eventually made it to the Ivy Cottage in Stawell. Di and Steve were talkative, they had the most time to talk of all the places I stopped at. I asked about food and was told the best pub for a meal was two and half miles away, and that the kitchen closed in less than thirty minutes. So Chris gave me a lift, returning ninety minutes later to pick me up. The pub was the Ring O' Bells in Moorlinch. Clive the landlord welcomed me, it was like walking into my local; one I'd been visiting for many years. He said Trish could cook me a curry, and it was perfect. I haven't tasted better. I was introduced to the regulars, who came over for a chat after I'd eaten. It was just what I needed after a solo ride that had gotten very stressful.

Day two should have been 100 miles to Camelford. The computer had other ideas. The hills increased in frequency and steepness. The temperature climbed quickly, I'm not ashamed to say I walked up some. Without the luggage they would have been hard, with it I had to admit defeat.

Somewhere north of Taunton


Somewhere north of Taunton
Somewhere in the Quantocks

I was meandering through Somerset, mostly singletrack gravel covered lanes. The pic below was at the beginning of a very bad stretch.


singletrack gravel covered lanes

It quickly became impossible to ride up the hills, I just didn't have any traction. I'm glad I continued walking. The descents were incredibly dangerous. Very steep, twisty, potholed and completely covered in gravel and stones. I think this slow progress continued for nearly a mile. 

Finally into Devon
finally into Devon

I entered Devon at about 1 p.m. I tried to smile for the picture, but was just too tired and hot to be able to muster one. I think the stress of the cycle computer routing was also having an effect. The turn by turn was still okay, but the map had me in Wales.

At just before 2 p.m I rode into Bampton. I was cooked, buying too much food and drink to attach to my bike. I looked across the road and saw a church, hoping I'd find a sheltered corner to have a rest.


sheltering from the heat. Bampton
sheltering from the heat. Bampton

I stayed for the best part of ninety minutes. Again smiles were in short supply. The bike proved an ice breaking with people walking through the churchyard. A brief chat was most welcome. I hadn't realised riding alone was starting to take its toll.

The first place I was looking forward to came south east of Okehampton, the Granite Way. A cycle path alongside an abandoned railway line. It was mostly shaded; and flat. It crossed the Meldon Viaduct.


Meldon Viaduct
Meldon Viaduct

View from Meldon Viaduct

View from Meldon Viaduct

The views were great, the viaduct not so much. The original structure being completely built over.

In to Cornwall

The next highlight; entering Cornwall. Again slightly tempered by the computer stress and heat.

I got to Launceston late in the day, about 9 p.m. I made a wrong turn and was completely lost. My brain was fried, even using my phone I couldn't get back on route. I was just over twenty miles from my sister's house. I couldn't work out how to get there without using the A30; a motorway in all but name. Eventually I gave up and called for assistance. Sheila and Jill came to my rescue.

Launceston town hall
waiting for my sister

I was disappointed, to be so close, and not to have ridden to the surprise sign my sister had prepared for me. See the top of this post.

I had a great rest day, my sister and I chating non stop. It was brilliant to completely unwind, and relax. The trials of the past two days almost forgotten.

Then it was time to head home. A friend of Sheilas; Jill, who had helped save me on Wednesday, was driving to Salisbury and offered to give me a lift. I didn't have anywhere to stay there until Saturday, so elected to be dropped off at Exeter. It looked a straightforward trip to the b&b. I tried to use the cycle computer, but it still had me in Wales; soon totally losing the plot. I saw a sign for Seaton; knowing this was close to Colyton I continued without it.

countryside south Devon

It was so relaxing to just meander along the quiet lanes. 

Saint Winifred's Church, Branscombe
Saint Winifred's Church, Branscombe

Stopping for lunch at the Masons Arms. The landlord was right; it was a very steep hill out of the valley.

Masons Arms. Branscombe
Masons Arms. Branscombe

I arrived in Seaton mid afternoon a relaxed man.

Seaton seafront
Seaton seafront

I didn't expect the trams. But it made a nice reason to wander around for bit.


electric tram

And take some pictures.

electric tram

As I rode into Seaton there were signs for Colyton, happy days. 

On the edge of the village was a nice spot to sit and call everyone who was waiting for an update.

The White Cottage b&b was friendly and comfy. Another great find, they recommended that I book a table at the Kingfisher beforehand. They were right; as I walked in it was a busy night. Seeing my name on a table was very welcome. Tasty food too.

The river Colly

The river Colly


As I left Colyton a long hill needed to be climbed, not great so early in the day. I had decided that if the cycling computer was still playing up Salisbury should be easy to get to just by following signs. And then I could catch a train home.

Devon views
Devon views

Dorset views
Dorset views

Somerset views
Somerset views

As I entered Dorset and then Somerset the roads became flatter and my pace increased. The computer was working perfectly, hopefully this was going to be a good day. This and the shorter distance improved my mood greatly. I arrived at Milborne Port and stopped at a pub with an interesting name.

The theme with my pub meal photography; I eat the food too quickly to want to pause for a picture.

The Tippling Philosopher
The Tippling Philosopher

Did you know the cow could be the most dangerous mammal in the UK if you discount pets? I climbed a stile to take a comfort break out of site of the road. A herd of cows were some way off, so I didn't give them much attention.

killer cows
killer cows

As I left the field I heard a noise behind me, the cows had gathered around where I had been. They were pushing at the gate. I'm not saying they would have attacked, but I would certainly have been jostled by them. Apparently at least twelve people were killed in such circumstances between 2008 and 2014.

winding road
the long and winding road

I made good time, the weather was much cooler. Arriving in Salisbury around four. The only blight was a painful knee and developing saddlesore. Again the option of the train for the next day was considered.

Salisbury Cathedral
Salisbury Cathedral

Before checking into my b&b - the Qudos. I took a moment to sit by the river. And update everyone.

away from the crowds Salisbury river avon
The River Avon


The Qudos is centrally located, with a self service buffet breakfast. I always ate as much as I could every morning at all of the stops. It would be my choice if I were to be visiting the area again. Before leaving I lowered the saddle a little to see if it would relieve the pressure. It worked; my knee was a little stiff, but eased up quickly and the rest of the day was almost pain free.

My route quickly had me on a cycle path that brought me to Mottisfont.

 
cycle path

Passing the library.

Mottisfont library


More beautiful countryside.

beautiful countryside


I then started to recognise some of the places I had passed on Tuesday, my route then having gone around Salisbury.

Avington country park
Avington country park

Arriving at Alton it was lunchtime I saw a small square off Market Street that looked promising. On all sides were chain pubs and restaurants, I wanted an independent establishment. I found one in the far corner, the Dill. I sat at the window and ate my mushroom burger.

The Dill Alton
The Dill Alton


It felt good to be on roads I ridden before, until I wasn't. At one point I was directed down a bridleway so stoney and sandy I had to walk. Another quarter mile at a slower pace.

St Laurence church Seale
St Laurence church Seale


I passed through Guildford and Leatherhead then Walton-on-the-Hill, Hooley, and finally Chaldon. I was home.

Some thoughts from this adventure:

I relied totally on technology and it had partially let me down. To be fair the computer had been okay in the past.

I have often written about testing my limits, only thinking physically. Whilst I was tired at the end of each day it was the mental toll I hadn't considered. The first two days had really pushed me the most. Perhaps I now know a limit; it's how far can I go alone. The next multi-day ride will need to be as a group. 

No-one to talk to, then eating alone in the evening and at breakfast. At each stop I looked for conversation, but everyone had their own lives and schedules. I was just someone passing through. 
Except the Ring O' Bells on the 21st. It was brilliant chatting away to the locals.

I called Marcia, Sheila and Michelle in the evenings, before falling asleep. An important part of my day.

I don't know how people travel many days alone. Especially if they aren't in contact with anyone on a regular basis. What did they do before mobile phones and the internet?

I need to slow down, reduce the daily distance target. To quote Jurassic Park; just because you can, doesn't mean you should. The shorter days were much more enjoyable even taking into account the tech failures.

Here are links to the places featured in this post.