Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Dystopian dream

My dreams have been taking a dystopian turn. This morning I was in some sort of (prison?) camp that contained a school-like building (all lino floors and heavily painted radiators) and a field area with a wire fence. I was being taken to see the unfortunate people and felt a mix of anticipation and unease. I would have to confront my discomfort at my privileged position compared to the unfortunate, I would search to balance my curiosity against having respect for their humanity, and I would have to be on my guard a little to make sure I wasn't going to be exploited myself. So out I went to the field, and along the wire fence was a row of fellow-fortunates, all sat on the ground in sleeping bags (why sleeping bags when it was blazing sunshine? I don't know, but don't ask Freud). As I approached, there was a signal from the other side of the fence and the ragged line of fortunates wriggled back. We were under the control of the comfort of the unfortunates - it was us who wanted to read them. I joined the line, and we did a little wriggling hokey-cokey until finally an unfortunate stepped forward (what happened to the fence? - it's a dream, they're allowed to cheat). I spoke to him, I have no idea what about, but as the conversation went on he lunged forward and made to grab whatever he could. Fortunately, the sleeping bag was pulled tight and my possessions were inside, but he found some sunglasses on the floor. I sat shocked for a second and looked into his unashamed face. Would I have done the same if I were on his side of the fence?

It was getting too disturbing and as I turned to leave, I saw many other fortunates pulling out of their bags and heading back to the school. They must have had similar experiences. Maybe they had learned all they needed, or maybe they required time to reflect on things. As I walked back, I wondered how they could avoid any of the unfortunates coming with us but, as I had that thought, I felt a tugging on my rear pocket. The confusion and disquiet of my earlier confrontation now blazed out with a single tip. Grabbing the hair of my "attacker", I quickly dashed him against a wall. As I saw his pudgy, panicked expression, I recognised him as another fortunate. I wanted to beat the unfairness out of him, but my restraint was holding. Then, of course, I woke up. You should have been expecting that... I did say it was a dream.

Conclusion? Maybe I should re-read Brave New World.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Nietzsche Would Have Ridden Singlespeed

Man is a bridge to the superman; man must overcome himself: all that jazz. Nietzsche would have ridden a singlespeed and ridden it up this hill. He'd have seen the point of struggling in a battle that you can never win. Toiling against a hill that's not just long enough and steep enough but, in the winter, grossly unfair. It's not just about muscle, not just about technique, it's an examination of your psychology. The hill is hard, it's harder than you are and it will beat you, but will you commit yourself fully to taking it on? If you are going to fail, will you fail with a whimper or a cry of exhaustion? At any moment you could fail. A couple of inches of leaves remove every visible detail from the trail and drag at your every pedal stroke. And then as every fibre, every twitch, every ounce of concentration is keeping you moving straight up the gulley, a hidden tree-root spins the back wheel out from under you. The frustration is beyond words, but the hill is here to teach you lessons not to patronise your self-worth. Accept your limitations, get back on, accept that it will probably happen again. It's one dark gulley of the soul and I love the chance of success it offers in the summer just as much as the certainty of failure in the winter.

Arriving at the top is like returning from another world. To be without the insistent strain, the mocking and impassive mix of gravity and terrain - it suddenly seems strange. The world has more colour and intensity, and you just happen to be at the top of an excellent trail down to Wendover.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Not yet a human fly

Well, I've had my first attempt at climbing... and it was really good fun.

Just like the first time I went mountain biking, there was an initial period where I had to make a step change in my perception of what is possible. Watching Phil or Nik flow up the wall and even across the roof really opened my eyes. But more than that, I had to open my own ability to commit to things. An interesting head game - just the kind of thing I like (see riding planks).

So, under the tuition of Phil, off I went to try to figure things out. Bouldering was hard with no clear idea of where I was going and the need to swing my feet around to make any progress. Still, I managed a couple of little moves, even if they did require close direction from the ground.

Then over to an inclined wall with holds on it. "If you saw someone riding a mountain bike the way you're holding onto that wall, you'd laugh at them". OK, lots to think about - stop stressing my arms so much and use those legs that I spend so long building up. I try to relax and stand more, rather than trying to pull myself along. I try to remember how lazy and economic Phil's motion is. As I start to make my way up, he advises to me to pretend the wall is a woman and lean right into it (little did he know there's a specific woman in mind these days, but that's a whole other story). At maybe 2m up, I am up close and personal with the wall and he tells me to put my hands behind my back. It's scary, but I don't fall off. That's interesting - maybe I'm more stable than I thought. I go up a bit further and then freak out a bit. I can't see where I could go next and there's a bit of ball/harness interaction going on.

Back on the ground, I watch Graham getting a lesson in how to belay. It looks kinda hard, but a responsibility that I'll have to take at some point. Whether he's working for Phil or Nik, they both make it look easy. Damn them.

Eventually I get back to the wall where I'd freaked out but this time with more commitment. I take some useful direction from the ground. I accept that, if I fall, the rope (and Nik on the end of it) will hold me. And I make it all the way to the roof. A claimed 7m according to the internet (which we know never lies), but I'm awful at judging distance. This time the grin is huge when my feet hit the floor. Another sport that's not as good as mountain biking, but very good all-the-same.

We do some other stuff, and as my confidence builds my arms decide they aren't having it any more. It's great to watch the others tackling their own progression, and I feel eager to push my own. I had expected fear of heights to be a big problem and, in a way, I feel cheated. Since I was concentrating so hard on what I was doing, I just sidestepped the fear, instead of having to conquer it. Maybe that is a kind of conquest. I do know that trying to raise my hand to eat an apple seemed like an awful lot of effort and if that isn't a sign of an evening well spent, then I don't know what is.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Swimtrek in Malta/Gozo

My first impressions of the water were the blue, the depth, and the grin so wide that it interrupted my breathing. We had jumped off the boat under sunlit cliffs and my trepidation had duly been slapped by the shock of the water. But as I started to swim, as I started to warm up, the grinning had taken over.

A dozen of us were out there in two groups - finding our way; feeling salt in our mouths; and searching for a group dynamic that would tie us together for the week. I soon found myself attached to the feet of Keith, taking advantage of his open-water experience so that I had only a very small world to worry about. It helped to calm the scary and exhilarating feeling of being a small dot in a big sea. I could dip fully into the joy of swimming without walls and I could marvel at the pitted cliffs rising above me in gold and sinking below in blue.

And as the first swim went, so had the first evening of the trip. The unknowns of 14 people who had come from different directions to the same place. The trepidations melting into enjoyment as a dynamic emerged. Past experiences and future excitements had fizzed up and down the long dinner table.

Back on the first swim, the calm seas couldn't last forever. As we turned around one false headland after another, I started to hope that the next one would reveal the bay that we were headed for. When it finally did, we had come around the island and I had my first experience of "lumpy" water. We just had to swim down to a clearly visible rock and into the bay. No problem - just like the final hill on an mtb ride. Thus began the labour. Waves pressing against me like London commuters, holding me back. My hands caught water too early or too late, and my breaths often caught water instead of air. Maybe there is something to this open water business. The cliffs were crawling past now, but they were moving. The primal bit of me thought, "Yeah!" whilst the most of me thought "Food... tea... food... tea..."

In the end there was tea and there was food. The protection of the bay gave us calm waters and the November Mediterranean sun bathed us in what must have been about the finest place on earth for that moment.

And that was just one bit of one swim and one bit of one dinner. Swimtrek was a great adventure - full of laughs and sunshine and swimming. They've made something that's nearly as good as mountain biking. And since mountain biking is the best thing in the world, ever... that's not half bad.

My photos
Eric's photos

Friday, October 05, 2007

Cheddar Bikefest

It's all Adam's fault. In defiance of the knee problems, I'd started riding again and it had been fun. The pain wasn't any worse, and I could get out on bikes again. And then he went and mentioned Cheddar Bikefest. An 8hr race with a dodgy knee? Tempting... very tempting.

Deciding about Cheddar was postponed, but the riding was coming thick and fast. Commuting through the Chilterns, cheeky night-rides in Bracknell Forest, a long ride in the North Downs where I could watch James' tyres tickling autumn leaves off the ground, a post-work death march round the Chilterns for some unsuspecting victims. All good stuff and a new physiotherapist who might be able to help me out. It was kind of her fault too. Anyone's fault but mine. I asked her if it would be a bad idea to do an 8hr race and she said it wouldn't do any permanent damage.

So that was how I ended up sitting in stationary traffic on the M4, listening to England vs. Tonga and hoping to get to Winscombe before midnight. I felt like a fraud - I used to ride endurance races, but who was I kidding now? And did I have all my gear? And did I have enough food? And would the toothpaste-tube/gaffer tape repair to my tyre hold up? And would I have the strength to crawl over the line if it all went wrong?

Eventually, the traffic moved and after that, I finally arrived. Just enough time for lemon tea and an exchange of fears with Adam before bed.

Race day came with all the usual doubts. There's going to be a whole crowd of real bikers there, and then I'm going to be this fake with my stupid bike with one gear. Putting on my cycling clothes helped. At least my body had some residual memories of the good rides and the strong rides. Some confidence chipped away at the doubt.

We arrived at the event pretty late. With 1/2 an hour before the start we were still queuing to register. That's not what I need. What I really need is the time to take a dump. All the usual buzz is going around: "What's the course like?" "What tyres should I use?" "I hardly rode at all this year - I'll be slow." "No I'll be slower." I try to think positive. After all, soon I'll be riding my bike and I like riding my bike.

15 minutes to go: We're attaching race numbers, and preparing bags to take up to the solo riders area. You can hear the race briefing going on. I hope it's not important. Soon we're spinning up from the car to the start line, laden with fig rolls. Winding through the crowds of team riders, there are minutes to go before the start. It's going to be a Le Mans start, with us running around a BMX track to our bikes. This is going to be tight. Another solo rider's support person offers to carry our bags up for us, so all we have to do is find somewhere to drop our bikes. The PA announces "12, 11, 10, 9, ...". I pull my seatpost up to about the right height and we jump the fence. We nearly reach the back of the pack before the start and I have my gloves on by the first corner of the run.

Adam and I enter the lap together and it starts with a crowded climb which isn't too steep, but is sprinkled with roots. It seems like a good idea to get up some speed so that I can carry momentum over the slippery sections. "See you when you lap me," calls Adam. This seems awfully hard right now and I'm not looking forward to doing this climb repeatedly over the next few hours.

We turn right through a gate and along a trail where the best line involves putting your arm through a hedge. The hedge turns out to be quite solid. Two more gates, a nice, open 180 degree sweep around, and we have a little descending. I pick a fairly natural line and this feels like something to look forward to each time around. We pass some marshalls (kids in army uniform - a enthusiastic staple of mtb races!) and then switchback up the hill. This is a challenging climb it soon gets steep and rooty, but just on the right side of do-able. Then it gets steeper and rootier. Then it gets impossible. One of my fears came to pass: I was going to have to push on every lap. At least I was comforted by the fact that everyone else would have to push, too.

Eventually, the trudging was over and we were into another do-able climb. Balancing my way up the wet rocks, I eventually reached the top and took a right turn towards the main descent. In the whole 8 hours I never really got a good hold of the top section. Loads of roots, rocks, and off-camber. All of it slicked up by the rain. The only solution seemed to be momentum and quick reactions. That stuff passed and gave way to swoopiness which could be great on your own and "interesting" with slow riders around. Then into "witches wood" pointy wet rock deflecting you all over the place and, again, it's momentum that keeps you going roughly in the direction you intended. Nearly at the bottom now, and I can go left or right of the tree. It turns out that left is a disaster of a line. I scoot my way back onto the course and hope that the soreness in my nuts will go away soon. Body behind the saddle and chest on it in order to duck under a tree, and then a little swoop downwards. We duck into a gully and then back out again, and I notice the exit seems tricky: Steep up with rocks in it. Lumpy-bumpy singletrack that seems designed to test how badly your forks deflect takes us around towards the main site. Nearly home and a surface of wet wood chippings steal some energy. Finally, we ride through the middle of the BMX track and across the line.

Starting lap 2, I feel a bit more bullish. There's less traffic and the lap is less than 25 minutes. Everything is going well until that up/down gulley near the end. The tape around the course has fallen down and I miss the turn in. Waddling back, I rejoin the course having lost my flow and promptly fly over the bars trying to get up out of the gulley. It doesn't seem to have hurt but leaves a sour taste for the lap. And then as I pull into the arena I can see blood dribbling down my arm. Not too much, so I ignore it and resolve to take the gulley better next time.

And another lap starts. My thoughts are still too cogent and I haven't reached the endurance riding zone. So I start to think about giving up. And while I'm thinking, most of the lap disappears under my wheels. This time the descending is fun. I'm picking slightly better lines and enjoying the angry buzz of my freehub.

Past 2 laps, I stop counting them and just count down to the next food stop. It was maybe 4 laps before a fig roll. A little longer before I swap camelbak bladders for more water. On that occasion, a kind supporter of another solo rider refills my second one for me. She seems amused by how grateful I am, but it makes a big difference. Over the course of the race, I talk to all 4 other singlespeed riders. They all seem up for the idea of fixing the race, having some beers and then just riding the last lap together. But that would be giving up, and I have to beat Adam by a healthy margin.

So the race goes on and, as I get more tired, the thoughts of giving up have no more space in my reduced brain. I ride, I push, I eat, I drink. Until 18.00, that's what I do. At 17.00 I see Adam lying flat on his back in the solo tent. I stop to attach my lights and he says I have to get 2 more laps in. That's what I had in mind, so I'm going to time the next one. He's going to accidentally leave it too late and only do 1. Fair play to him, he's still going in the longest race he's ridden. I set off, knowing that I'm laps down on the RAF guys and laps up on the guy in 4th. It's only for pride (and fun) now. Lap 1 comes in at about 25 minutes by my watch, so I take it easy on the second. Walking big sections now and chatting to other riders.

I roll home with 10 minutes to spare, and it feels like a job well done. Hot chocolate, a toastie and some cotton clothes bring me back to the real world satisfied. Coming 3rd out of 5 is not the greatest achievement in the world, but it's better than a kick in the teeth and it was fun. And it was the first time I got to stand up like a podium finish. Maybe I will train through the winter...

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Sad Truth About The PCT

Well, I'd been trying to keep the dramatic tension for anyone who didn't know about how the PCT ended for me. The rate and detail of posts about it probably gave the game away though, so other topics are going to creep in-between, but the story will get finished. After a while my knee packs in and I come home, but stuff happens first. Interesting stuff :)

Also this means I can let people know about Morgan's solo progress. The last time I heard from him was yesterday and he'd passed half way. I'm happy for him, impressed by him, and pretty damn jealous of him.

So another interesting thing is a another possible knee self-diagnosis... Who knows if I'm right though. We're approaching the 1 year anniversary though and it's hard to remember what riding was like when the limiting factor was my lungs, my legs, or my willpower.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

PCT Day 4: Mt. Laguna to underneath Sunrise Highway

Our plan for the day was to head along the Laguna rim and see how well my knee held up. Unfortunately, we were behind schedule and would need more food, so we decided to split up for the first section. Once again, Morgan was taking up the slack caused by my failing knee - this time it was so that I could get a head start at around 8am, and he would go to the store to get food when it opened at 9. We were to rendezvous 10 miles down the trail and I was to coddle my knee by taking breaks and stretching as much as possible.

It felt great to be moving again and I was soon stripping off layers in the morning sun. As I headed gently downwards, the terrain was still quite wooded and it felt kind of like home. I was having more visions of mountain bikes, but this time it wasn't me riding them. Maybe I was getting into this hiking thing after all. I was making steady progress and, since I had the map, marking arrows at ambiguous junctions for Morgan.

In terms of feeling like a progression, there was little stimulation. The trail "just" followed along the rim, but it was one of those days you get in the mountains where you just run out of superlatives. Your breath gets taken away so often that you have to be careful not to stagger down the cliffs that have you agog. Where the road to Julian had had fleeting glimpses down to the desert, now I could stand at the edge of the train and see the mountain plummet down to the sand. I could take in the scrub that hung on so tight to the walls, and the brown swirling desert down on the floor. Looking way out I could see more mountains out to the other side. I wished that Morgan was there, but I contented myself that he'd be seeing this soon enough and I should just be glad.

I made my way along for a couple of hours, pointless competitiveness kicking in and making me determined not to get caught up until I'd made it to our meeting point. Despite this, I managed to maintain some semblance of being a grown-up and every hour I put my camping mat down in the dirt (usually right there on the trail) for a stretching session. Lying there in the scorching heat and easing my worn legs into a variety of positions, it was hard not to laugh. What would I say if someone came along? "Yeah, I'm hiking the PCT but my knee is bust. I reckon I can fix it by stretching!"

As it turned out, I wasn't the most ridiculous sight out there though. At one point, the trail had turned away from the desert valley and towards wider, flatter, chaparral covered expanse. The sand was reflecting heat back up and there was no shade at all (aside from the desert umbrella!). Then, from the haze comes this guy running along with his bare chest that red-brown colour of someone who's spent too long in the sun, or maybe the colour of the inside of a medium-rare steak. With his Oakleys and his little 0.5L water bottle, he was the perfect Californian. Still, I had to admire the apparent working-order of his knees.

Eventually I made it to the meeting point with Morgan and set myself up on a picnic table to wait. It had been a depressing last hour as my knee had started to fail again and every little downward slope had me reduced to shuffling. As always though, taking off my shoes and looking out across the land made me feel better, made me wonder if it was all in my head. Soon enough, Morgan arrived too: striding along with his straw hat beginning to fall to pieces.

We had Top Ramen noodles (Brits: that's super-noodles) to add to our existing supplies and he'd got himself coffee so we were stocked for the trail. The water at this picnic ground was from a trough for horses and it featured both dead insects floating on top and live wriggly things swimming inside. It was time to break out the water filter for its first use. The filter was simple - attach one end to a container, dip the other in the dodgy water and pump away. We managed to load up with water and we were soon ready to see how far we'd get before sunfall.

The very first bit of trail was astounding. It passed close to the existing road and up a broken one which was luxuriating in the lengthening shade provide by a high wall to West. This wall was covered in graffiti from kids who could easily make it this far from the road. Turning your back on the scrawls, the view was once again awesome. Down into the desert again, but here the vantage point framed our view with nothing but reddish brown rocks. We took photos and drank it all in before turning up the road for more progress.

It wasn't long before my knee was a serious problem again. We were in an area that had been heavily burned by wildfires and as I ducked under a sooty tree we had the idea to make a walking stick. With the stick to support my weak leg it was possible to go much faster down the hills and not to risk falling. So it was with tripod footfalls that I made my way along and we chatted the afternoon away. It was to be our first night out in the real wild with food to be cooked rough too, so pretty soon I was looking for a clear area where we could use the stove. In the end we settled on top of a huge granite slab and enjoyed super-noodles with the setting sun. It was just like the photos you see in outdoor shops but immeasurably more awesome.

The day ended with a bit more progress along the trail and then a frantic search for space to make a camp. My little tent and Morgan's bivi weren't going to need much space but a lot of the trail was narrow with either thick brush or steep cliffs coming off. Eventually we found a spot, pitched up (half by feel) and tried not to think too hard about wildlife hazards. I drifted off hoping that no-one would steal my stick.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

PCT Day 3: Julian

Sleeping much past dawn was difficult on a trip like this but we gave it a go, and it was a pretty leisurely 8.00 by the time we reached the post office and shops in Mt Laguna. Of course they weren't open, so we killed time watching the lack of hustle and the lack of bustle. By the time the shop finally opened and Morgan got his coffee we had some semblance of a plan - get to Julian and do some internet research to find possible self-treatment options for my knee; get back to Mt. Laguna for exercises and general relaxation then, knee-pending, push on along the trail.

It seemed like a good plan, but as we headed for the road to hitch a lift, I was unable to walk 100m with my pack. Morgan carried both and I felt the true meaning of lame. It was to be my first ever hitch-hike and Morgan had been entertaining me with stories of his previous hitching exploits. He maintained that out here, with backpacks, it would be a breeze. When we made it to the road every car we saw was going in the wrong direction for a while and then, on the first chance to use our thumbs, a van pulled up. Morgan dashed up to meet them, and I tried to hide how badly I was limping. They were going to Julian and happy to take us all the way. Hitching was easy!

The driver, Lonnie, introduced himself, his wife, and then his daughter, "She's called touch-her-you-die." "Haha, but really, what's her name?" Morgan asked. "Touch-her-you-die." There was nowhere else to go down that line of enquiry, "So what takes you to Julian?" It turned out that Lonnie knew all about the PCT and had helped hikers out before. He and his family were heading to Julian to get pie. Julian markets itself on pie - better than nothing, I suppose, and pie is good. We went through the usual round of small-talk, I trotted out the usual vaguely correct description of my job to be met with, "You design ASICs then?". Lonnie's bewildering expertise included nursing, electrical engineering, and piloting small planes.

Lonnie's Small Plane Story

On a flying trip out with his wife one day, Lonnie was having difficulty finding the runway. The weather was fine, he could see roads and buildings and knew he must be in the right area. He was looking for an airfield that he'd never been to before and he knew it was quite small, so seeing a strip of land that looked about right and a group of building that looked about right, he set in to land. The runway was short and narrow, with no margin for error, but he managed to touch down, keep the plane straight and stop before he ran out of room. So far so good, but he soon noticed a patrol car heading his way. All flashing lights, sirens, and excitement, the officer rushed up to speak to them. "You can't be here!" he said. Lonnie was confused, "I thought this was XYZ airfield." (I forget the name)
"You can't be here! You need to leave immediately!"
"Where am I?"
"You're in ABC State Prison, you can't be here!"
(I forget that name too)
Lonnie had mistaken an internal prison road for an airstrip, made an impossibly hard landing, triggered an alert for an attempted breakout, and exploded the tiny mind of the prison officer in the process. Once things had calmed down, it was decided that his wife would travel to the airfield by car and Lonnie would have to get the plane turned around before performing a tight take-off and flight to the real airstrip. Everything worked out in the end, but Lonnie is a man who knows very well what happens if you ignore inconvenient details on a map and that was a subject close to our hearts.

It was an interesting drive, there's no doubt about that. Not just for the conversation, but also for the views from the mountains down into the desert. We could see where the next few days might take us and it was epic. Many little worlds in valleys, knit together by the mountain range and each fading into the same desert at the bottom. This was more like the PCT we'd dreamed of, and the one we weren't prepared to give up on.

At Julian, Lonnie gave us a quick tour of the town before bidding us farewell and dropping us off at the library. Knee research suggested two possible problems Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS) or Patellofemoral Syndrome (that second link I found much more recently). At the time ITBS sounded more likely and Morgan knew a good method for working the IT bands - lying sideways on a foam roller and moving it up-and-down from knee to hip. "Excruciatingly good" was an apt description. This exercise (using a fuel container wrapped in a towel) and resting did smooth things out somewhat... but more on that later.

Having done the work, and scratched the email itch, we headed into Julian as a pair of smelly, cheap tourists. We had pie and the pie was good. With hours left to go, we set out to hitch back to Julian. This time things weren't so easy. The junction of roads left nowhere good for cars to stop, and the wind blew hard, but we kept our humour for 4 hours. The first car that stopped was a woman on her way to an AA meeting (Brits - that's Alcoholics Anonymous, not Automobile Association) who said she'd pick us up on the way back if we were still waiting. We really hoped that it wouldn't be necessary. As it turned out a friendly dentist who rode mountain bikes gave us a ride, even though it was entirely out of his way. It was another fine example of the kindness of ordinary Americans. He was slightly less wacky than Lonnie, but he was soon to be heading off for an MTB trip in Mongolia at an age where other people might be just looking forward to golf and retirement.

There was time for one more slice of Americana before we retired from the day. As we walked up the road to the camp-site, a local shouted over from his yard, "Are you guys hiking the trail?". We said yes, and he asked where we were from. We said we were English and heard the voice of America, "You guys are real allies, not like the French. Tony Blair's welcome here any time. He's a great leader." Not wanting to get into that, we just appreciated his enthusiasm and bid him goodbye.

A whole day gone and no trail miles, but characters aplenty, a renewed determination, and a plan of action. It wasn't hard to sleep that night.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Why ride a singlespeed? (Part 2)

Here's another good reason (Part 1 here):

  • Because it's not the fastest way to ride a bike. I'm hugely competitive, but that competition is directed at myself. Deliberately riding a bike that's inefficient acknowledges where the real challenge lies: not in beating other people, not in achieving an 5% improvement in my average speed, but simply in sustaining my effort for the amount of time I want to ride for. And that's not all - anyone who has ridden along a flat road with a 32:16 ratio (or, even worse, my usual ration of 32:18) cannot take themselves too seriously. And if they do need to watch the bit in The Goonies where the older brother gets dragged along by a car whilst riding a BMX - that's what you look like with your little legs spinning like a pinwheel.

PCT Day 2: Lake Morena to Mt. Laguna

Those damn dogs! Sleeping in a hick town where every resident has a noisy dog in their yard isn't easy. I'm so jealous of Morgan's ability to sleep through anything. Today we head for Laguna - at 6,000ft elevation some climbing will be necessary.

However, before we even get beyond sight of Lake Morena, the first blister crisis comes on. My battered feet start to burn as one has burst. I should have pierced it the day before, but I had hoped it wouldn't be necessary. Instead I was sat on a rock with the hydrogen peroxide, hoping that the pain would go away. Strapped up, and treading carefully we pressed on to finish the 6 miles to Boulder Oaks camp-ground for water and a breakfast stop. The route took us under a major road and made for one of many jarring contacts with the rest of the world. As school buses, trucks, and commuters bustled past our slow progress felt idyllic and the dry grass was a world of yellow. It was in this field that we saw our first snake. Generally the snakes were put in a poor performance, we saw only 4 between us on the distance between Campo and Warner Springs. Even verbal taunting didn't bring them out. Lightweights. Anyway, this particular snake was narrow, kind of yellow ochre with black markings, and its tail was hidden in the grass. If it was a rattler, it wasn't putting the effort in.

Eventually, we made it to Boulder Oaks and Morgan set off to find a working tap whilst I attended to my feet again. Old blisters feeling slightly better, but new blisters at the sides of my heel. Having a third item to add to my putative letter to Mr Salomon, I once again took knife to my shoes. This time trimming the edges of the insole where it had rolled over to make a lump around the edge of my foot. The "sterilise needle, clean up mess, hydrogen peroxide, strap" routine was getting pretty familiar now. As Morgan came back, the news was: no water.

So we had breakfast with water from our packs and got back on the trail. The water report said we would cross a road and we could go 1 mile off-trail to reach a spring that had been running a couple of weeks ago. Arriving there involved throwing away a load of height on the tarmac, and then we found the spring dry. Bummer. The next chance was back up another mile and along the trail for nearly 2 hours before diverting back off it to a camp-site. It was a hot trudge round to there, but we were getting towards the mountains and views along (the gloriously mundanely named) Fred Canyon were a great distraction from pointlessly sucking on my camlebak. The miles rolled by, and eventually we met the jeep trail down to Cibbets Flat Campground. Running water! Toilet paper! We clearly hadn't completely adjusted to trail life yet.

We spent a few hours hanging out in the shade and considering how far we had to go to make Mt. Laguna before dark. It was going to be pretty tough with the required elevation gain, but we could should make it. The trail snaked in and out, but gently upwards for hours. Just chapparal, kinda big hills to the sides and ever bigger hills above. As the shadows got longer every stick started to look like a snake, but they must have all been at home drinking gin and knitting because each stick was just a stick. A marker we had been looking for to indicate that we were getting there was a "Horse Meadow" and as we got close things got surreal. Lush green grass, overhanging trees, running water. Had we just wandered into an English summer?

The lengthening shadows were beginning to be a worry as switchback after switchback crept us up towards camp. Finally we seemed to stop climbing and reach some woodsy singletrack that even Morgan (roadie scum) could appreciate. Picking nice lines to ride and willing myself through the last few miles I could feel an ominous weakness in my knee. When we finally made it to Burnt Rancheria camp-ground I was tired, confused and hurting. Fortunately Morgan stepped up to sort things out so that I could go for a shower, and hopefully find some resolve underneath all the dirt.

Wandering around the camp-ground looking for the shower block things just got worse. In the fading light, my knee kept failing and I was lucky not to just fall. The shower helped my mind, but the body still wasn't playing the game as I tried to get back to our camp. Over orzo and veggie chilli I told Morgan about the knee and we decided to take the next day off for stretching, research into what the knee problem could be, and possible replanning. 40 miles in and doubts about whether I could continue. At least there were no dogs to keep me awake up here.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

PCT Day 1: Near Campo to Lake Morena

We got up "early" to put some miles behind us before the heat of the day really took hold. Later, we would come to a whole new definition of early, but for now we dragged ourselves out of tent and bivvi sac then spent some time faffing with where to pack stuff. Having laboured along with a full load of water the previous day, we actually looked at the map (!) today and dumped the majority of it.

The first real steps of the PCT were springing and lovely. Coarse sand, exotic (to me, at least) shrubbery, the sun rising slowly across the low hills. The path wound along like some manicured singletrack, just waiting for a mountain bike to swoop through. Clearly, my head had not yet adjusted to life on foot. It wasn't long before the heat started to build but we made some distance and were rewarded with views down into Campo Valley as the PCT wound in and out of the hills of the Hauser Wilderness (The trail is graded to be very shallow so every change of elevation brings with it a clutch of switchbacks). A burrito breakfast propelled us on towards Morena Butte, with only Hauser Canyon in the way.

At this point simple things like the Manzanitas were exciting. You find the red bark peeled back like some sort of flesh trees that would be on a Slayer album cover. We laboured our way up towards Morena Butte and I had the first occasion to deploy the desert umbrella. It worked amazingly well, shading fragile English skin from the sun and providing some respite to the heat.

Unfortunately, too little map-reading led us astray and a simple descent into Lake Morena involved a 2 hour diversion. Lesson learned: read the map, don't just rely on trail markers. Once down to Morena itself, the Malt Shop was much less Happy Days than I'd hoped but still a welcome treat.

The day had taken its toll on my feet though. Disregarding the wisdom of Ray, I had ignored the building pain and now I had blisters to contend with. Some Hydrogen Peroxide cream (mmm... fizzy) and some patches later, I was ready for shoe surgery part 2. There was a hard spot in the sole right under the ball of my foot. Nice quality control Saloman! I hacked out part of the insole to account for this and crossed my fingers. It felt better, but with my feet taped up it was hard to tell.

So, we camped down in Lake Morena, tried to avoid talking to the crazy ex-marine for too long. - he was carrying wheely luggage of the sort that people take on planes (how heavy?!) and also believed that the saliva from chewing beef jerky meant he had to drink less. To his credit he had made it all the way from Warner Springs, though.

Monday, June 25, 2007

It turns out that I kick ass

They finally got around to posting them and I finally got around to checking the results for the Dyfi Enduro: I was 2nd in the luddite (singlespeed) category and 29th overall.

Pretty satisfying especially considering my complete lack of riding from September until a few weeks before the event.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

PCT Day 0

All good things start from 0 and so it was with our PCT hike. After entertaining us with artichokes, pasta, and beer the night before, Cam drove us down to the start of the trail on the Mexican border. Well, actually he drove us via his office for some just-in-time planning of little details like water reports and also via a fast-food joint for the burritos which would be lunch, dinner and breakfast over the following 16 hours. Before getting to the trail-head it would be rude not to thank Linda for her role in the artichokes, beer and last minute stuff; and unconscionable not to thank Celia who did us so many favours it could be a blog by itself.

At the monument marking the start of the trail we looked out to the border in the south and bumpy chapparal-covered terrain extending north. We took photos and flicked through the register for a while and then a brown pick-up with twigs and other "camouflage" approached. It was a minuteman who seemed pleasant enough, but we steered well clear of talking politics. His moustache, trucker cap, and "doing the work the government won't" t-shirt were right on cue, but he did disappoint by chugging iced tea rather than beer.

Eventually we set off, our packs bulging with all the water we could carry. Our aim? Get far enough away from the border for a quiet night's sleep and get some miles in the bank for tomorrow. Before we'd even passed Campo, a map-check revealed no map. Dropped in the clearing between the monument and the start of the trail-proper. Doh! We made it a few more miles that night, ate burritos, and made camp. Even that short distance had me jumping to shoe-surgery. A slight rubbing in my toes before we came out to the PCT took on a whole new significance, so I hacked out part of the toe-box that was being folded into my feet. This seemed to help and Day 0 ended with excitable sleep and a chorous of coyotes.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

PCT Resupply Schedule

For those who may want to track our progress, or send stuff, here is our resupply schedule

Today, we walk

Today's the day that Morgan and I start the PCT. After a hectic couple of days around LA, including arriving straight off my flight and into helping to Morgan to move house, going to a gig, getting up at dawn for more moving house, and then running around packing food and running errands; things are settling towards the walk. Compared to all this, the walking is going to be a piece of cake.

Cable issues mean no photos yet, but coming soon... Matt sleeping with a dog, me sleeping in a pile of resupply boxes, the Elvis wig, and other chaos.

We owe thanks to a lot of people in LA and around who have helped us out and been incredibly kind.

Woohoo... It's finally starting :)

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Desert Umbrella

When I first heard about hikers using umbrellas to combat the heat, I though of Gogo Dodo (see right). Ha! I'd never use something so ridiculous. And then I read more about the ferocious heat of SoCal, and I softened. Then I read Catra's blog - she just started on the PCT and it sounds hot out there. I put aside images of Dodos, costume drama parasols, and Englishmen in bowler hats; I got down to M&S and bought me an umbrella. Add a space blanket for heat reflection, et voila, behold my creation...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

I got me a spork!

I just like saying it, too. Spork! Spork! Spork!

Actually, typing it is less fun than saying it.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The truth about Lena

Everyone in image processing knows her face, but until today I could only speculate about what lay below the shoulder-line.

Lena is a standard test image used in image processing books, papers, and software tools. It's good for its mix of highly detailed areas, smooth areas, and sharp edges. She's also much more pleasant to look at than zone plates (argh! My eyes hurt again!), mandlebrot sets, or pictures of buildings. And as it turns out she's a Playboy model from the 70s who had no idea of her fame until she was invited to a computer graphics conference. I'll never look at test images quite the same way again.

Full story and details here.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Dyfi Enduro

The Dyfi Enduro was on May 6th and, as usual, it was awesome. The last outing for my knees before the operation, and there is no better even to ride your mountain bike at.

It's based in Machynlleth which, in Glyndwr's day, was once the capital of Wales. Nowadays, it's the alternative capital of Wales in another sense with the Centre for Alternative Technology, a great bike shop, and a hippy cafe. And then there are the trails of the Dyfi Forest where long fire-road climbs go up and rocks, roots, mud, and steepness go down.

The Dyfi Enduro takes the laid-back attitude and the in-your-face trails, and puts them together to make the most fun enduro of them all. Then to cap it all, they throw in random spot prizes, home-made flapjack, and weirdness. What weirdness? Well, after the first long climb has nicely separated the field, the sound of a band can be heard on the wind. Yes they have a rock band in the middle of no-where. Round another corner, and now there are cheerleaders. Now you're just spoiling us, and we haven't even ridden down any hills yet.

You only need to look at the grins in the photos to know it's great. And ask yourself what you want to see at the top of a hill, angry XC guys in Lycra or this lass...

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Feet up, arse down

Doctor's orders... Must be idle this weekend.

The arthroscopy on my knee is done. They didn't find anything wrong, which is good because it means my knee's not just going to fail. But it's kinda bad because it cost a lot of money to get no solid conclusion about what's wrong. Once the recovery from surgery is over, it might just have got better by itself. Hmm.

Anyway, rain, enforced sofa time, and an impending adventure mean I'm back on blogging.