Thursday, 30 April 2009

A week of two halves...

It’s been another blur of a week... It’s just really dawned on me how close the Coast to Coast attempt is and how much there still is to do... The weekend was a bit more laid back though. Well, for me more than Josh and Dave (sounds a bit like some comedy double act! I will resist the cheap laugh here). They were racing the Kielder Enduro Avalanche and along with Rob, Zoe and Emily came to stay at our spacious and palatial residence... Both Friday and Saturday nights we furnished ourselves with the finest Indian cuisine (the takeaway round the corner) and everyone slept like sardines on the floor... perfect race preparation! Charlotte and I went to watch the prologue and I personally loved watching everybody getting all nervous and unnecessary for a change (I usually don’t go to races; just do them. A very different experience). After wandering around the course and watching Josh ‘n’ Dave floor themselves in four minutes of lactic turmoil, we headed back to Morpeth, kidding ourselves we would get an early night. I had a 6 hour training ride scheduled, with threshold intervals, so it was important that I ate well and slept.... ahem...

Rob and Zoe didn’t go back to Kielder on the Sunday and I suggested that, along with Charlotte, they headed up to Thrunton Woods where I would find them, briefly show them a few trails and then continue on my merry way. This worked a treat and I managed to follow my nose, as if in the boots of a stranger, and bump into them. Like some kind of tracking hound. We whipped round some of my favourite bits and had a jolly good time. It’s funny when you take others around your own patch it transforms into The Best Ride in the World.... Why does that happen?

Anyway, I boshed out my six hours at a good pace in constant undulating hills. The early intervals had their impact and by the time I pulled up at Morpeth Mansions I was bushed.

It was great to have the team up and have a bit of a social. Something that doesn’t happen often enough. Well, if they choose to live in the South....

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Road trip. Northern stylee.

What a wicked week! Had little time to write because I’ve been so busy riding! On Wednesday I met my good friend Dougie from Fort Bill up at Glentress. As I’ve said before, I’m not really a great fan of trail centres but if there is one that I always enjoy it’s Glentress. Maybe it’s the constantly evolving trails? Maybe it’s the cafĂ©? Or maybe it’s because when I ride there, it’s usually a bit more of a social. Despite heavy damp mist crossing the border, Glentress seemed to sit in a bit of a pocket; not clear but not muggy and cold as it was when I left Morpeth.

It was good to catch up with Dougie and we meandered around at a steady pace chatting away. We then bumped into two couples and all ended up riding together. Maybe it’s the way when some bikers get together but we really had plenty to talk about and it was change for me to not be focusing on ‘Training’. Well, I say that… as time went on, one of the guys, (riding an SX Trail – you know who you are!) and I engaged in a bit of friendly ‘duelling’ on the descents and fast singletrack sections…. He was pretty quick and it took some big efforts and a dip into the lactic to occasionally pull away from him… A good rider and a great sport!

Managed to talk Dougie into a night and a day in Northumberland so we drove back down over the border. Thursday dawned and I wanted to show the big man some of the great trails around Thrunton. I knew conditions would be perfect as I imagine they have been up and down the country recently. It was perfect, and as usual for this little known gem it was deserted.

My plan for the week was to spend the weekend in the Lakes, and watching the excellent weather forecast unfold I realised this was going to be a classic weekend. (Not difficult to talk Dougie into another night or two!) I had big back to back rides pencilled in; 6 hours on Saturday and 8 on Sunday. This isn’t really Dougie’s scene so I sent him off round the classic loop: The Back of Skiddaw. He’d considered going to Whinlatter but I talked him round! The Skiddaw loop really is an absolute classic and gives an experience that could never be matched by any trail centre I’ve ridden. As Dougie had never visited the Lakes before, it was the right ride as there are virtually no navigation issues. (I set him round clockwise as you face Skiddaw from Keswick; going up Dash Falls. It always amazes me how many people do it anti-clockwise and loose all the height on the road towards Bassenthwaite….).

I set off up Lattrigg and headed out to Skiddaw House but with no intention of descending Dash. This has to be some of the best and most scenic singletrack anywhere. I continued out towards Mungrizedale along the flat but fast and fun trail that remains generally walker free due to the distances from Keswick and the roads. This is the type of place that is stunning on a good day but grim on a bad one…. Well today it was springy peat joy and the sun was already generating some real warmth.

I turned right and settled in for a few road miles. The next instalment was to head toward Matterdale End, turn off the Coach Road at and climb the ridge to just under the peak of Helvelyn. This climb is a beast; it’s the shallowest angle up to the peak but is essentially grass, peat and draggy moss that never seems to dry out. Friendly duel number 2 started! Mountain Biker versus Fell Runner! Despite an apparently un-athletic gait, this guy just kept going like some kind of remorseless running zombie… Regardless, his style was brutally effective and he pulled away from me as my wheels were increasingly pulled into the ground. It was really hard work for a good twenty minutes before the ground firmed up. As the ridge levelled out I caught The Running Man again… I commented on how hard it was to catch him and he gave me a knowing look. It was the type of cheeky grin that could only be made by those who are secretly aware of their magical abilities…. (I actually passed him 4 hours later in his car; sweat still glistening on his brow…). Respect to that man!

After desperately trying to look like ‘it was really nothing’ to go past him, I turned off left to head down Sticks Pass. Unfortunately the track has been sanitised substantially, (sorry; I meant to say sustainable improvements have been made) but it’s still a steep fast, slippery, rocky and sketchy descent all the way down to Patterdale. Next, I headed round the back of Ulswater for one of the best bits of trialsy singletrack in the Lakes. The bone dry and ultra grippy surfaces had me riding up and down things I didn’t think I was going to make on several occasions…. It’s been a while since I’ve ridden here and I totally forgot what a long road slog it was to Pooley Bridge and round the lake to start the climb back to the start of the Coach Road. Oh well, good to get the legs spinning after the stop / start / balance fun of the last section.

Up the road, past The Smiling Running Man, across the deserted and sun dried fell track (yes; sun dried!) and down the high speed rocky plummet to St Johns. Home. Curry. Relax!

A good early night set me up for Sunday’s 8 hour beasting…. Dougie was heading back up the coast and he kindly dropped me off at St Bees. The plan was to ride a solid section of the Coast to Coast just to get an idea of average speed and consolidate a couple of navigational issues. Out of St Bees, I joined the Coast to Coast cycle path. Surprisingly for me, I actually quite enjoyed this section! It’s a nice smooth path, the morning sun was slowly creating heat, glinting through Spring green trees and there were many cheery locals out walking. This will be a great warm up come the day.

Occasionally, I would catch a glimpse of the Lakes fells and it reminded me why I was here…. I dropped alongside Ennerdale water and in the distance Black Sail Pass loomed in the hazy sunshine. I breathed deep in anticipation of the big wake up call lying just beyond Black Sail Hut. Off the bike and carry. I have decided not to force these sections. Get off and push earlier rather than later. Conserve energy. Steady not fast. Save that for when it can make a marked difference. My pacing was perfect. In fact it took me forty minutes to get up and over. Well pleased with that! Next slog was up to Bulatt Bridge. More pushing across ankle twisting round rocks. The pedalling got easier past the bridge and the unpredictable swoop down to Eskdale began. Great fun, but plenty of random big holes to catch you out….

Slog number 3… over Dunnerdale. Even the flat on the top is unrideable…. Sawn off tree stumps and peat bogs make running the quicker option before the singletrack gets fast and fun again, down to the steeping stone crossing. Nice hot day; just jump in the water, wade, clear the peat of the legs and cool down.

I’m sure the short section of road to the bottom of Walna Scar has been placed to strategically intimidate…. The pass faces you directly and puts the ‘loom’ into looming…. It’s a monster. Long. Long. Long…. And just the sort of gradient that has you spinning the granny ring, fighting for traction, getting off, getting back on… But a focus on good pacing had me cresting the pass having exerted just the right amount of energy… Not too fast. Not too slow.

Then the fun began! I love this descent! Fast, steep at points and the odd major feature thrown in for good measure. Bizarrely, I did not see a single person all the way down! Weird on such an amazing day. Seat down and sliding round corners in blazing sunshine it was a far cry form the last time I rode down here with Paul Errington in the pitch black… Both great in their own way.

Through to Tilberthwaite. Up the road to the Loughrigg descent but I chose to dip left into Grasmere, (and then back on the road to Keswick) rather than attempt The Terrace on a sunny Sunday afternoon. My years of working in Grasmere and Ambleside taught me that that is a no no… So far I had ridden for 6 and a half hours. I calculated that I would have reached Troutbeck about forty five minutes later if I had continued. This bodes well. 55 miles of gnarl at about 7.5 miles an hour. The average I need to achieve for a sub 24 crossing is 8.75mph. My speed will pick up once the Lakes are behind me. Some days I think ‘Yes’ it’s possible. Other days I say ‘No it’s ridiculous’. Today was a ‘Yes’ day. It can be done in under 24 hours. Will I do it? I hope so. If I don’t, somebody will crack it eventually and the best of luck to anyone who decides to give it a one hit run. I’ll be happy to complete it no matter what happens. It’s an awe inspiring and intriguing challenge that has really caught my imagination. So many variables to consider. The calculating and wondering will get its final resolve next month. I can’t wait.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Another quick one.... had such an amazing week. Coach let me loose on some big endurance rides (without the hard efforts apparently! Ho! Ho!). Just check this view back from the bottom of Black Sail Pass. Try getting to this spot without blowing a fuse!

Mountain biking means many things to many people. We all have our own ideas about the 'essence' of the activity. But if you asked me to describe what I love about riding, I couldn't express it in words as well as this picture does.

More about an amazing and enlightening weekend soon.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Home on the range

Sun streamed through the bedroom blinds... there was not a cloud in the sky... Marvelllous! Quick cup of caffeine. Out the door at seven.... and into baltic temperatures. This is when my Skins come in useful; you know it's going to heat up eventually and a heavier tight would leave you cooking mid morning... but then you actually stay cool. Clever. It actually stayed pretty chilly for a good while as I headed off up the road on my mountain bike and in the direction of Harwood forest. This takes about 50 minutes. The plan was to ride through Harwood, over Rothbury Crags, into Thrunton Woods and then back along the road, after boshing out some intervals in the middle. About 4 and a half hours.
Recently, I've ridden away quite a lot on my mountain bike or locally on my road bike so I'd kind of forgotten how good the Northumbrian trails can be. It's a funny place; often overlooked but this is really unfounded. Thing is, you just have to spend some time digging around as the good riding is not so obvious or well known. Today I decided to string some of the 'best bits' together and also I did them in reverse. The weather was perfect and the ground just the ride side of bone dry; peat is always better with a bit of spring in it. Turned out to be a cracking ride with great variety and plenty of challenges (check the pic of root alley). Funny thing is, I've ridden down that in the middle of winter in the pitch black.... no-one for miles and and hour from home... bit spooky...
Heck I'm missing winter already.

Just a quickie...

I'm going to the 24hr Worlds. In Canmore. In the Rocky mountains. Soon.


The end.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Reality bites

It's very hard to estimate just how long the Coast to Coast is going to take... There are a number of reasons for this. My reccy missions have been of varying lengths and differing paces; some were short hard blasts and some were all day sessions. The weather conditions have also changed; the descent off Tan Hill was hard and fast in a couple of inches of snow on one winter's day but the far flatter fields out from Fremington were soft, draggy and more energy sapping on another.

I have also been unsure about the North York Moors section; Osmotherley to Robin Hood's Bay. Surely, I thought, the hardest part was the Lakes and the Moors would be the final straight; the end in sight. Well; now I know better; it's going to take a deep breath and some real deep digging to pull through the home straight...

More on that in a while. This particular weekend of reccy was to be spent with Partner in Crime Paul Errington and was billed as two days plugging two huge gaps; Saturday was Shap to Tan Hill and Sunday was the Moors.... I manage to convince Paul this was relatively straightforward. Paul blindly follows me on my missions. Paul might not do this again...

Saturday was a fairly uninteresting ride technically. Quite a lot of road with some pleasant green lanes but quite a lot of wind and cool showers so fairly hard work at times. The climb up the back of Tan Hill is pretty consistent though.... and long. And then it turns to muddy farm track. Which then turns to just mud. And marsh. And becomes completely unrideable. Here is one bit that will keep me on toes come May.... When the track finally run out you end up on a huge soggy plateau criss-crossed with hidden streams, many covered by long grass... which hides slippery angular rocks. Nice. Thing is, the bridleway points straight across this martian landscape, (Marsh-en, get it?) and then turns left up a huge rock strewn bank onto a road. This was hard to read and do in broad day light. What will it be like in the middle of the night!!!?? (I've woken up in the middle of the night since this reccy staring at the ceiling pondering this problem....)

Anyways; it'll come good I'm sure.

Sunday dawned an altogether better day. It was warm and sunny but still a bit windy. We set off from above Osmotherley, both looking forward to a day of Moors singletrack. Didn't quite work out like that. All the climbs were real slogs. Some were uber steep. Some were uber long. Many were unrideable. Almost all gave no return. A mile of steep as you like woodland singletrack... Must be good over the top? Er, no; wide moors access tracks. Technical trialsy climb out of Scugdale... surely a sweeping vista of bouldery bridleway will greet us? Wrong a again; a road. Going up. This was the general pattern for the day. Even the down hills were draggy, slow and hard pedalling. It became apparent that our average speed was wanting... Then, the highlight of the day; Cut Road Path. Gritstone boulder embedded in dry peat. My favourite! Superb technical riding and with a stunning backdrop of the steep sided valley below. Where is everyone?? You don't get this at a trail centre! Wonder how I'll deal with this level of technicality after 20 ish hours in the saddle? Like a drunk pinball probably.

Besides this highlight we were both feeling pretty worn down by the relentlessly tough but generally unrewarding riding. Then the real fun started! We dropped down off the moors and into a sequence of brutal road climbs. But I got my mojo going and steamed up a 33% hill chatting away to an increasingly quiet Paul. My how he laughed when I told him we had taken the wrong turning and I thought we should go back down! Well, actually he didn't think it was funny at all... Thing is, he really was not laughing and it was only my rose coloured glasses, (well, light enhancing anyway) that prevented me from realising that I was seconds away from an emergency forced sprint... I just told him he would be at work on Monday wishing he was on the hill again...

Anyway, the clock was running down... and we still had a loooong way to go. So we cut it a bit short dipping out right at the bottom of another 33% climb that I had to crane my neck to stare up. Kind of made the Kenda climb on the last lap of Mayhem look flat....

Oh dear.

A few more road miles and we shot down the road to Robin Hood's Bay. Not the most inspirational day's riding. Pretty grim actually. And quite sobering.

Not to worry; I will uphold my blindly optimistic outlook on this ridiculous endeavour and say that on a good day, with good winds, good luck, and an attack of super human qualities IT IS possible in 24 hours...

I was feeling pretty good after 8...