Thursday, 25 December 2008

Christmas Day

Charlotte and I went for a chilled walk on Christmas Day. We were lucky to witness this incredible sky; enjoy and Happy Christmas.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Only one finish line

December. 6 am. Pitch black. The horizontal misty rain wraps around me, blown on the blasting but unusually warm south westerly wind. It was far from ideal conditions for a mission over Garburn Pass. But, being a ‘prepare the night before, get up, go, and ask no questions’ type, creates a robotic response that overrides logic and reason; the body acts and the mind follows. Habit is a very powerful tool. Getting out this early on a Sunday morning also stirs magical childlike emotions; a bit like having a midnight feast whilst everyone else is asleep; a deserted Lake District all for me.

This entry could have also been titled, ‘Baptise my Bootleg’ as this was my first big ride on the new team bike; how would we get on...? This entry could have been called many things because riding in the Lakes stirs so many emotions; it empties my mind of the day to day junk and fills me with focused enthusiasm for mountain biking. I just love the type of trails you find here.
Speaking of enthusiasm, my upcoming Coast to Coast attempt has given me plenty to get animated about over winter... what a fantastic challenge! Fitness is obviously a factor but this is hardcore mountain biking. What will prepare me for the challenge? Why, lots of hardcore mountain biking that’s what! (‘Really dear, I would love a lie in but unfortunately I MUST do this bit of reconnaissance...’).

So that was the plan; over Jenkins Crag, Garburn Pass, out to Mosedale and back. Joystick on helmet I scrambled up to Jenkins; half decomposed winter leaves had fallen and formed a thick slimy sludge that made traction elusive. Despite having ridden over this hill a hundred times, the plunging bridleway down past Town End and into the valley bottom was not a route I had used before. My Coast to Coast reccy missions so far have taken me on routes similar to those I’ve done so many times, but added some interesting new twists...

Onto the start of Garburn. First light was just breaking faintly through the mist as I struggled on the edge of traction, kicking just enough to clear another rock maze. The ridge above me started to take shape but as I gained elevation it was clear this was not a good day; the wind swirled and gusted and the rain turned from misty to heavy... By the time I crested the pass the gale was so strong it was drowning out the blasting techno playing on my MP3... and it was time to think soberly about the descent. On a clear day this steep, loose and technical drop is ‘challenging’. In half light, with a river flowing down it and buffeting gales it leaned towards suicidal... Drop your saddle and hang on to your hat; we’re going down! The surefooted confidence of my new Bootleg blew me away. I hit all the lines to the inch and at no point was I in danger of loosing it. The steepest section has some big boulders down the middle that are raised above the rest. This is the fastest but hairiest line. I pinned it and dropped out the other side at full tilt dying to hit the switchbacks.... oh yes; we were going to get along just fine!

Down in the valley I got some respite from the blasting wind up top. Cruising over to Sadgill I rode another track that was new territory; a BOAT with some of the steepest, rockiest hairpins in the Lakes... just what Traffic could you get over there?!?

It was soon after that I realised what a serious undertaking the Coast to Coast is. Bad conditions made me lazy; I should have got the map out again but even in the valley, the map would end up wrapped around me like a big soggy sheet of papier-mâché (The Satmap has many advantages!). I turned right too early and ended up on exposed, marshy and wind swept moor land. I pushed on for quite a while before I realised my mistake.... and I wasn’t even tired. Yorkshire Dales at midnight after fourteen hours in the saddle? This will demand pure focus and concentration.

Anyway, at this point I decided to call it a day; I had cracked another key section of the route. I retraced my steps back to Ambleside.

My schoolboy error on the fell had really made me think. There will be no margin for error on the epic solo ride I will be attempting. There will be no friend to keep me on track when my head goes. No lap times to gauge pace by. No, ‘Is it one or two more laps till the end?’ No pat on the back or words of encouragement from friends and spectators. Most crucially there is only one finish line. How long will it take to get there?

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Insult to injury...

Why is it that the first thing anybody asks me following Sunday’s pussy action is, ‘So how was the cat?’

‘Lucky to be alive’, I reply…

‘If it hadn't scarpered, I would have finished the little b*****d off!’

(Animal rights activists need not apply).

Sunday, 14 December 2008

When Animals Attack.

Today was to be an early one and a morning spent on my CX bike. Heading into the Northumbrian hills as the sun rose and the snow radiated its own eerie light was a very special start to the day. The snow got gradually thicker and it became apparent that a great deal had fallen over night.

I was struck by my attachment to Northumberland; it may not have the grandeur and scale of the Alps or the Greek mountains for example, but it is incredibly atmospheric, unspoilt and peaceful and that’s why I love it. I am sure many cyclists feel similar emotions when they ride their patch. Perhaps this is because when on a bicycle we have the time to notice the nuances of the landscape around us; to explore at a speed that allows us to see so much and at the same time absorb it all...

The winter weather was doing some extraordinary things. There were patches of freezing fog that would suddenly be punctuated by an unexpected gap exposing electric blue sky. Temperature inversions produced thick swamp like clouds that wallowed in the valleys below me whilst snow flurries drifted across the silent fell tops. Wish I’d had my proper camera! Well, turned out to be a very good thing that I hadn’t brought it...

The snow got too thick to continue deeper into the hills so I changed tack and headed out to the East towards the coast. This way I could check the surf... recently the East coast has been getting some the most consistent quality swells it’s ever seen.

The road had cleared by this stage and I congratulated myself for negotiating some pretty treacherous conditions...

Mr. Tiddles lay by the fire, stretched, licked his balls and thought about the exciting things he would get up to today. Life on the farm was fun and Mr Tiddles told his brother just what lucky cats they were to live in such a beautiful place. ‘How about we go and explore the woods over the road?’ Mr Tiddles suggested. His brother thought this was a splendid idea on a crisp winter day; ‘But we’ll need to be careful crossing the road’.

‘Bollocks’, said Mr Tiddles, ‘Let’s pin it as hard as possible, not taking a blind bit of notice of anything. What are you bro; a cat or a pussy?’

‘OK, Mr T. Let’s do it...’
I had about 2 nanoseconds to clock the cats because I was going about 30mph... not even enough time to pull a kitty-hop. One of them smacked into my front wheel and flipped it from under me. There is something particularly horrible about road bike crashes. It’s the suddenness, the no time to respond and the downright hardness of concrete.... add to this a 10 meter slide on my hip and you’ve got a recipe for pain. I lay there for a while wondering if I’d broken anything. Yes I had! Flippin STIs, mudguards, mobile phone, torn clothes... and I had some pretty nasty gravel rash...

Oh well, only forty miles from home... unusually for this time of year I was not looking forward to getting into a hot shower...

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

I am Northern. I am weak.

Pack your shorts; we're heading South! It's Team Training Camp II; the Bristol edition.

After a white knuckle Steven King style drive from Northumberland (freezing fog / zero visibility) I arrived late on Friday night and installed myself in a boozer round the corner from Rob's until he turned up (it was purely to keep warm you understand). Rob resisted the cold clutches of 'The Fish' (a nickname that I personally feel is completely misleading) and it was time to hit the hay for an early start on Saturday. Tomorrow was Christmas Day. Well sort of; it was '09 New Ironhorse Team Bike Day which is much the same thing. The team was also doing a photo shoot... and it was going to be cold.

The whole team hooked up and we headed over to Ashton Court to meet IH Martin and our New Friends. My personal New Friend is called Bootleg and out of the box the bike looked spot on for me. The elegant single pivot design combined with some well thought out colour coordination make the Bootleg one slick looking machine. (Watch this space for pics of the bike after I have complimented it with some personal spec choices).

We set off into the woods and found some choice locations for some photos. After several 'One more times' we got the shots we were after. Can't wait to see the results. But I didn't say it was cold, did I? My kidneys were actually vibrating by the time we got back to Ashton Court cafe for greasy burgers and lashings of tea. Oh well; I don't think anyone noticed and my 'Hard Northerner' persona survived another day. Back to Rob and Zoe's for a 'Team Talk' and some top scran courtesy of Zoe. Clive and I then hit boozer and I once more demonstrated that a Geordie can actually visit a Public House and leave without getting mortal (just).

Early start; I've never been to Afan before and I was really looking forward to it. But boy it was cold! I had to change my stem before I set off and I felt like that bloke in Touching the Void; you know when he's hanging trapped on the rope and he has to try and use the little loops of cord to climb back up the rope but his hands won't work? It was kind of like a bike mechanic's version of that... Anyways, it was quite a big group that set off up the climb. Well, I say set off; what I really mean is tore off up the hill like monkeys after coconuts. Leading the charge was Martin, proving yet again that downhillers also go up! We stopped at the top for a breather. It was then that I realised Martin is actually an alien from planet Zarg... he was wearing shorts and a short sleeved top! Oh my God! It was about minus five!!! (I was wrapped up in the finest thermal swag along with Diver Style neoprene overshoes....) My kidneys were again on the critical list and it took my best efforts to not to whinge like a small child. Some of the girls that were with us also had short sleeves on.... (I must tell them about the Bigg Market...). It was then that I realised; I am not a true Notherner. My genetic make-up is all wrong.

When we got moving again, (my enthusiasm was probably a little obvious) we did some great traversing and descending. It was only a small portion of Afan but enough to make me want to return one day. The Bootleg was spot on for this type of trail; fast and flowing with the odd lip to pop off.

So after a Gullivers Travels size portion of Welsh Rarebit I headed off in The Volvo of Truth back to sunny Northumberland. Never again will I make jokes about Soft Southerners!