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.

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.