Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Moving House

My waffle is moving... from now on, you'll be able to find blog posts here:


Yes, it seems incredibly vain to have my own domain. Suitably, I'll explain in a later blog post but, for now, go have a look. You can read about Mistakes not to make on the Iditarod Trail.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


I just had a "nice" ride tonight. Nice people, relaxed pace, nice time.

I'm not so sure about mountain biking being nice. At its best, it should be about fire in your belly, blood pounding in your head, and a dance through the trail. Or, it should be about epic places and worn out legs pushing worn out tyres around on a trail that goes to the horizon.

But nice seems like a hobby, not a passion. Nice has its place, but doesn't scratch the itch.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Training Actuality

Not been blogging much, but I have been training much.

Getting my head down and doing some substantial rides in The Chilterns, riding to work every day, shed-based turbo training, and running a bit.

The good news is that I've caught up on Fighting Talk podcasts while in the shed. Unfortunately, that means 1 hour a week of brilliant podcast and the rest on not quite so brilliant podcasts. Ho-hum, my power output on the bike is creeping upwards and it does seem to have genuine real-world speed benefits. Not to mention the easy bike cleaning side of things.

These are testing times for mountain biking round here. Getting up in the dark, finishing a ride in the dark. Everything is filthy and wet. But these are the conditions that make British mountain bikers tough. When you spend eye-popping effort dragging yourself up a muddy hill, only to get your ass handed to you by wet roots on the way down, and then go home and hose your shoes off, there is no answer but to laugh.

I have noticed a worrying trend recently, and I know I've been guilty of it in the past: descending into myself when it gets really foul. Retreating inside yourself and letting your body take care of keeping the bike moving is a somewhat viable tactic for shorter rides. But I really can't keep letting myself do it if I want stay well day-after-day. It leads to not eating enough, not drinking enough, ignoring cold when it would be more prudent to add more clothing. All kinds of ills. I need to embrace the world and work with it, not just scurry around the hills until I can go home to get warm and dry. That, more than 10W extra power, is my main goal in the run-up to Christmas. All I need is some bad weather to play in, and I don't think that'll be a problem.

No photos as the moment as I lost my camera on the Divide. Instead, a couple of interesting altitude profiles (ft on the y-axis, miles on the x-axis). First, a recent run:

Yes, that's down to The Thames, and then along it. Looks quite hilly until you see the scale!

And then a recent training ride:

And people say we don't have hills in the south.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Training Philosophy

Entering back into training, and I'm thinking about it. About how much is enough, and what I'm really aiming for.

I seem to do less than other people with similar goals. I seem to do too much to have any time outside training. I seem to do enough to get by and go the places I want to go when the event rolls around.

But what is it that I'm aiming for at this point? Can I ever put my finger on a single goal and say, "When I can do that, I will be ready"? The answer is no. I might think that doing regular 12 hour rides every weekend is about where it's at, but I didn't get that far before the Tour Divide. I only got up to 10 hours.

What I had instead of the 12 hour rides was more important. What I had was belief. Belief that I would finish under anything other than the most extreme circumstances. It wasn't gung-ho over-confidence, but an underlying sense that I had physical resources to draw on and a knowledge of my body.

For these multi-day things, I think it comes down to the trail moulding you. My aim is to shape myself into something like what the trail needs me to be. To also be flexible enough to adapt myself to its mould when I'm out there.

That is the goal of my training. At all sports, I lope. I don't sprint. But I keep loping. Tonight's run was 10km in about 45 minutes. Little bits of pain in my legs to begin with. Toast wanting to come back up part way through. But at ease in the last 5 minutes. In the rain and encroaching darkness, that's what I'm looking for.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Must eat fewer pies

I am a bit over racing weight at the moment. In fact, until his drug habit was revealed, I was feeling like the MTB Ricky Hatton. It's the luxury of only doing one big race a year - I can lay off for a while and do other stuff.

But I'm back on the training now. Unfortunately, my cranks weren't ready for it:

That's not really what you want to happen on a solo night ride, but I wasn't hurt when they broke so I managed to get plenty more practise with the one-leg drills riding home.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Full Circle

Way back in 2000, I was sitting on a train out of central Birmingham. I saw a free newspaper and, flicking through, I saw an advert: "Ride from London to Paris for the NDCS".

Back then, I was did no sport. I was crazy about music, my friends were all crazy about music, and I even played in a band. When I read that advert, I wished that I could do something like that ride. I had recently finished my degree and was trying to take a positive attitude to life. It was the commitment to positivity that made me question my immediate reaction: Why wish I could do it? Why couldn't I do it?

Soon after, I had signed up to do the ride and bought what I thought was a nice bike. I couldn't understand why the shop had tried to convince me to buy the lighter one. The lighter one was a bit cheaper, but it didn't have a suspension fork and the steering felt too fast. The shop said it was better, but I wanted stability and that suspension looked cool.

So it was a mountain bike-shaped-object that I propped up against the wall of the lab. And it was the same bike-shaped-object that prompted a fellow student to invite me mountain biking.

We went to Coed-Y-Brenin. Packing the bike into the car, I deflated my tyres to get them past the brake blocks. When we got there, I thought my friend looked ridiculous in his purple cycling jacket and tights. I thought that there couldn't be that big a difference between his suspension fork and mine. They looked pretty similar. I thought that the Race Face sticker on his bike was pretty funny... What a stupid name.

It was raining, but we set off into with me dressed in heavy cotton clothes. I could not believe how tough this was. My head span and the stupid gears wouldn't change, especially when I was pedalling hard and really needed them. I wanted to take short cuts, but my friend wasn't having it. We'd driven for hours to get here.

When the impossible climbing was over, we turned to riding along terrifyingly thin trails. Everything was pointy rocks, and built up so that I felt like I'd stumbled into Kickstart. It wasn't so bad - if I kept looking right down at my tyre, I could make sure it was on-line but stuff kept surprising me as I hit it. Then, at the end of the narrow bit, the track dropped down vertically to a gravel road. I just hit the brakes hard. "You can't ride that on a bike", I said. When my friend rode it and it looked much less vertical, but I pushed down to be on the safe side.

The rain just kept coming, and my clothes were heavy with it. My trousers kept catching on the saddle. Somehow, though, this was the most fun I'd had in years.

More downhill narrow stuff, and there was a serious guy behind me. He started shouting abuse at me and I wanted to get out of the way, but I was braking as hard as I could manage and just hanging on. I wished I wasn't holding him up.

We let a load of people past before my friend and I made our way down to the end of the trail. It ended with a confusing maze of roots. Every one looked slippery, but my perspective had changed since we set out. People could ride bikes on this stuff. So I tried.

And I failed. The pointy bar-ends caught me on the inside of my thigh as I crashed over them. I was OK-ish. It hurt to walk, and I needed a cup of tea, but I would be OK.

Before London to Paris came around, I had dumped the bike-shaped-object and laid down £500 on a Specialized. Again, it felt like it had twitchy handling, but I realised that it was a good thing. It was precision, and soon it was natural.

I kept riding off-road and trying to learn about this sport. Crashing on every ride, making friends to ride with, and generally having a fine old time. I couldn't believe how fast my mind had to work on the bike, and how much technique there was to all this.

So, I rode out of London as a "mountain biker". I arrived in Paris with another new idea of what bikes could do and how they could bring people together.

10 years later, and just last weekend I travelled from London to Paris again. This time working as a guide with a fair bit of cycling experience behind me. And I had the privilege to see people exceeding their expectations and extending their boundaries. I had the pleasure of Northern France and their farmer's hay-sculpture.

It's good to look back and seen how transforming cycling has been for me. To remember how many things seem natural now, but were alien then. I'm lucky to have the chance to share people's discovery of cycling. I just try to share the enthusiasm without all the crap we think is necessary. And it's great.

Weirdly, I'll soon be going back to Birmingham for the kind of music that drove my life back then. Swan, Godflesh, and Napalm Death all together at the Supersonic Festival. Moving forward, but not forgetting where I came from (until beer intervenes).

Saturday, August 07, 2010

I'm crap at pedalling

It's that in-between time now where I don't have any big adventures sufficiently close to have to be training. Usually, this means a bit more time away from bikes and spending what biking time I have playing about - trying to improve technique and just have fun. Essentially, falling off a lot.

Weirdly, it hasn't been like that this time. A combination of Emily being away, and me working from home has resulted in all-day-eating and my mind being stuck in a very small rut. The answer? Keeping up with somewhat big miles until Emily is back :)

Technique-wise, I have been looking at my pedalling, though. I've always suspected it wasn't good but I finally took Adam's suggestion and tried some 1-legged time on the turbo-trainer. It was even worse than I'd imagined. With one leg against the resistance of the machine, I could feel how little of the time I was actually driving the pedal. I jerked and clanked against the cleats. My left leg was way weaker than my right. I felt like a cheap puppet being operated by a drunk.

Turbo-training in the shed... yes the puddle is sweat!

And that's how I pedal... terribly.

It's easy to take for granted that there is no technique to the pedalling part of mountain biking. With all the corners and the mud and the stuff to jump over. The only comparison I can make is to swimming. I can spot a poor swimmer, even if they're moving quicker than average, by their lack of economy. You can see lots of unnecessary movement and splashing rather than efficient forward motion. So swimmers go and do drills. In the last couple of years, I've even done some of these drills. And suddenly it challenged the individual parts of my stroke, bringing improvements when I put things back together.

I don't expect such a dramatic change from pedalling drills, but the thought of "free speed" is mighty appealing. Maybe I don't just have to mash up and down on those pedals like a dumb singlespeeder. Turbo training, riding without a camelbak, tubeless tyres. What next road bikes, gears, and leg shaving? No!

Monday, August 02, 2010


2700 miles. Canada to Mexico. Alone.

That's the strapline for the Ride The Divide film. It's easy to focus on the first part of that statement, but the gravity of the final word is not apparent until you go there.


No-one to support you, no-one to love, no-one to share with. At times on the Divide, there's only dust and wind. And there's no help in screaming at the wind... I tried that and it neither f**ked off or turned around. The land can extend to all horizons with no features giving you either beautiful solitude or mind-eating vastness.

For a long time during the race, it wasn't a burden to be alone. It was a change from normal life and allowed me to have a Singular (subtle branding!) purpose. I could get on with just riding and being. But the burden crept up on me. By the final miles of the Divide, I decided to ride it out and get to Antelope Wells. Largely so that I could arrive that night and sooner be with people again.

While I was riding, I would sometimes imagine being at home, or out to dinner. Sharing the day and the night; some food and some drink. It would be so great to really live in a moment and not in the continuum of the race. I wanted the ease of the understanding and the bright thoughts of others.

And I wanted to ride with others. I wanted to chase and race for no reason. Face the bad weather with humour, face the dry and fast trails with anticipation. To have someone laugh at me when I fell off. Have someone to goad through the corners if they backed off.

But in the first couple of weeks of being back, the "alone" has continued to pile up. In riding I've missed people with good excuses (training for national champs) and bad excuses (feeling a bit tired) but it meant that even after being home for two weeks I hadn't shared a single ride.

So my return to the UK was plodding round the same old places. Not fast, not training. Just feeling like a ghost who didn't know any better.

Thank goodness Sam asked me to race for Singular: a weekend of bikes, beer, and hanging out? Yes, please.

We had a team of 5 for the 24 hour race at Bontrager 24/12 and it was fantastic to meet the guys. It wasn't a group ride, but it was something just as good. There is some common thread connecting those of us who race solo endurance events and it was a fun change for us to work together. They spurred me on harder than I have raced in a long time. To the point of riding that fine line between success and disaster, to the point of effort that I can only just sustain crank up towards the finish so that I collapse straight after crossing the line.

Part of the reason I want to do things like the Tour Divide is because they do make you appreciate what you've got. I appreciated that I was able to be there, in those beautiful places and travelling huge distances. But more than that, I appreciated what is here at home. It looks like I won't be writing a blow-by-blow account of riding the Divide, but bits and pieces like this will probably escape along the way...

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Post Tour Divide Answers

Well, the Tour Divide is over for me in 2010. It was an outstanding experience. From meeting other riders in Banff, to the varied environments of the trail, to the many people in businesses along the trail who encouraged me despite the smell and the voracious appetite, it was great. I'm going to try to tie some thoughts together more coherently over the next few days, but first some answers to questions people asked on here or elsewhere while I was riding:

What the heck happened in the first few days?

As a few people guessed, I forgot how to set up the SPOT in tracking mode. My brain was pretty addled, and they're not super accurate in some situations anyway so the track the SPOT showed didn't really reflect where I had gone.

My rear tyre, a Kenda Small Block 8 tore away from the bead about 15 miles out from Elkford. It had been a very tight fit on Stans 355 rims (tyre levers required to fit it) and just went bang on a flat gravel trail. I bodged it with gaffer tape and toothpaste tube to get to Elkford but when I got there I was told there was no bike shop. In the words of the woman at a campsite, "We have to go out of town to buy underwear". As it turned out, there is some bike servicing there from Shem at Elkford Bikes. He didn't have any 29er tyres, though (he will for next time!) so I had to stop early for the night and he gave me a ride to Fernie in the morning. I managed to get a Maxxis Crossmark which fitted much better and I was back on the road from Elkford by 12.00pm.

It was frustrating sitting in Fernie, waiting for the bike shop to open but it was great to meet Shem and being at the back gave me a chance to meet lots of other riders and I made my way up the TD.

Why didn't I call in much?

To begin with, I just wanted to get going and get into the race. After that, I was finding it difficult even when I wanted to. Thinking about what to say on a call-in was something that passed the time on some boring sections, but then it would be ages before I could manage to call and I would forget everything. I think it's one of the difficulties of not being American when you're doing this. I don't automatically know where to look for phones and I didn't have a US mobile phone to call in from.

I know that the call-ins add to the race, but I just found it hard to do!

The bike and the recovery drink

I took about 2.5kg of recovery drink with me because I've found it makes a big difference in training. It was good to hear from Matthew Lee in Banff that you can't really train for the Divide, but the first week adapts your body to the demands of the trail. That had been my thought with the recovery drink, and that's why I carried it. It was also handy to be able to sup a few hundred calories straight away to keep the stomach-beast at bay before going on to find real food. I was using chocolate orange Torq Recovery, which usually seems quite thick but just seemed like a normal drink on the Divide :) I did ask them for freebies and they said no, but you can't deny, it's good stuff!

The bike was an absolute joy. The Singular Swift is a well finished, lightweight, lovely handling steel frame. The EBB performed perfectly, I tightened the chain once during the race (and it was getting a bit slack again by the end). Tyres aside, that was all of the maintenance I did. To be on the safe side, I got Orange Peel Bikes in Steamboat to replace the drivetrain and I absolutely needed a new rear tyre by then. The full spec was:

  • Singular Swift frame w/ Phil Wood EBB (standard on the frame)
  • On One rigid carbon forks
  • Hope Pro 2/Stans 355 29er wheels
  • Kenda Small Block 8 tyres, then Maxxis Crossmark, then WTB Vulpine. Crossmarks were the best
  • Chris King headset
  • Hope 90mm stem
  • Easton EA90 bars
  • Cane Creek Ergo bar-ends
  • Thomson post
  • Flite Saddle
  • XT disc brakes with 160mm Ashima rotors and Ashima pads
  • Hope BB
  • Shimno XT cranks
  • Shimano M520 pedals
  • On One 32t steel chainring (swapped for Salsa 32t at Steamboat)
  • On One 18t cog (swapped for Surly 18t at Steamboat)
  • SRAM 9spd chain
Tyres aside (again!), there's nothing I'd really change from that. Money-no-object, I could shave off a few grams with lighter cranks, pedals, and brakes. Tyres-wise, I'd start with Crossmarks or maybe Nanoraptors. The Vulpine is too much of an XC race tyre and didn't have enough grip for the odd bit of steep dusty/gravelly climb on a SS. The Small Block 8, clearly let me down badly but maybe I was just unlucky.

That's it for now... Thanks for all the encouragement!

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Yippee he's done it!

Aidan has just called and he has finished!

He sounds pretty good and has just had a massive cooked breakfast plus huge pancakes with whipped cream!

Now he is going to get some rest before catching a bus to LA where he is going to spend his remaining time with his buddies.

What an amazing job 2796 miles in 19 days 14 hours and 12 minutes!

Apparently New Mexico was a tough part to ride through, lots of straight, flat featureless miles.

Anyway I am thrilled that he is done and I can't wait to see him next week.

Maybe the next update will be Aidan as I have to shoot to work now!

Well Done Aidan you are a super star! xxx

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Hurrah! It's the final countdown!

I am so excited that Aidan is nearly at the finish! I have butterflies flapping wildly around in my stomach.

He stopped last night 48.76 miles from Silver City (his last check point!)It looks as though he is still there but I reckon we will see signs of movement in half an hour or so.

Once he has reached Silver City he then has the last 133 miles to go!!!! Wahoo that is less than what he has been clocking up each day! The prediction chart thinks that he will make it in on the 20th day and 5 hours. The single speed record is 19 days and 16 mins and so Aidan may just miss that but who cares!

I think we can all say that he has done such an amazing job out there, To be in 4th place and only a tad behind the single speed record for your first time at this Epic journey is pretty darn impressive.

I am wondering whether he is going to keep his head down and try to do the whole 181.76 miles in a day, I wouldn't put it past him as I suppose he doesn't have to save himself for any more days of riding! We will just have to wait and see. Personally I think he will get in somewhere in the 19 day mark.

For anyone who hasn't seen Aidan as a film star take a look at this link:


I had to chuckle as I have written Aidan some letters that he can open along the way, for the letter at the finish there is something else inside the envelope that will be of use to him after one of the comments made by him on the video. I will not put the answer yet as I am aware that Aidan has had internet access and so I'd hate to ruin the surprise but I will reveal all tomo when he finishes!

Anyway let us all think of Aidan give him some shouts of encouragement and see him to the finish line!!!

GO ON Aidan you can do it!!!!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Podium finish?

Ok so i've just listened to people calling in. Aidan is saying that he is going to up the pace now and push into the night a bit more.

Eric who is in 3rd place called into say that he is going to slow the pace as he is going to burn out if he continues at the pace that he has been doing.

Aidan is exactly 1 day behind him, can he push into the the night and catch him....... I reckon so. This week could prove rather exciting.

GO on Aidan you can do it!

Sad times

Hi All

Firstly Aidan is fine and doing well. He is in 4th position and heading towards Salida.

I felt that I should update the blog as Aidan has been riding alongside Dave Blumenthal for a good part of the race. Yesterday however Aidan went on ahead. I am so relieved that he did as Dave had a head on collision with a car/truck and sadly died today in hospital. It is one of those times that life seems circumstantial and I thank God that Aidan was not caught up in the accident.

I can't imagine what Dave's family must be going through, but my thoughts as i'm sure yours and many others are with his wife and daughter.

I never met Dave but it seems so surreal but it also highlights what a major event this is and how all the racers are taking a level of risk to fulfil their dreams.

May everyone remain safe for the remainder of this event and I hope that this terrible news spurs the racers on in Daves memory rather than wearing them down.

Aidan is on track to finish next Wednesday, I'll be glad when he's at the end. If you would like to see some pictures of Aidan and other riders use this link:


For those who chase dreams xxx

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Two more states to go!


Well, how exciting is this race?! I could barely get enough signal on my phone whilst I was away camping at the weekend to follow Aidan, but when I could I was so happy to see him still eating up the miles. Now I have regular access again, it is truly amazing to see him moving up to 6th/7th place. Damn he's doing well! The first half is over and he is about to leave Wyoming and enter Colorado then hopefully it is all downhill from there into New Mexico!

I haven't heard from him since last week and so it was great to hear his voice on the online call in that the racers ring to say that all is ok. He was very upbeat and still had a good sense of humour as he asked if it was the tour divide complaint line as he would like to make a complaint.......... The race is way too long!!!!! He also commented that everyone is really nice to ride with, the scenery is amazing and he also said thanks to all of those who have sent him texts of encouragement!

I bet he makes it to Steamboat Springs by the time I wake up in the morning.

I have to admit that I have been doing a small tour divide of my own, in fact tour of Richmond borough! I am trying to get fit for this coast to coast that I have roped Aidan into doing with me in Scotland this September, he will find the 47 mile bike ride and other stuff through the highlands a piece of cake. So as to not make him have to walk pushing his bike beside me as I cycle at my fastest I have been going on 20 mile bike rides and they are killing me! There is one hill in Richmond Park that is frankly quite rude and results in bad language and puffing! I already had a lot of respect for all these crazy riders that are happy to go 130-140 miles a day, day in, day out but now I have the utmost respect for them although I think it is still highly insane!

So carry on pedalling Aidan, it is getting to the point now where I really can't wait to see him, if I could stretch my arm all that way, I would and give him a gentle push so that I could speak to him sooner when he finishes.

Hopefully this time next week I can report back that he has finished or is on his last day!

For those in the UK, enjoy this wonderful sunshine!

Adios Emily

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Speeding up!

Ok just a quick update as I am away this weekend and so will not be able to forward any info on.

Aidans last text was a couple of days ago and he mentioned that the tough part was "wet and nasty at the end". He has however managed to grab a chance to get some laundry done! Maybe the Mexicans won't be able to smell him coming after all!

He is now on a stretch in which he said he was going to start bivvying. This is helping him to cover a good amount of ground as he's starting the day nice and early. At the moment he has managed to move himself up to 8th place and has got a mention in the race up dates for the fact that he is making impressive progress and on a single speed!

Thanks for all your messages, I have been passing them on in texts, I have a funny feeling that he is going to get bombarded with about 8 from me when he next turns his phone on.

Taylor I have texted him, asking him to call in and I have given him the number on the website, for the rest of you, if he calls in, we can finally hear how he is sounding!

Anyway, if have more news I will update on Monday.

TTFN and have a good weekend!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Tough cruising


Just a quick update to say that I have heard from Aidan. He confirmed that the spot wasn't working but he was too tired to work it out, however he is loving the riding, generally cruising well and no complaints about sore knees or tummy upsets (others are complaining of these things when you read the race updates).

He said that yesterday was tough but everyone was finding this. Looking at the groups progress today, it looks as though it is another tough day and taking a closer look at the terrain confirms this.

He is doing so well though as he has climbed to about 11th place, 10 people have scratched already and he should be at Butte, the fourth check point by the end of the day!

Our thoughts are with you Aidan! Just keep pedalling like you tell me to just keep swimming!

Monday, June 14, 2010

He's moving!

Hurrah Aidan is on the move and it would seem that he has been for quite a while as he has made it across the American border and is now in the town of Whitefish!

Whitefish is the 3rd checkpoint and has taken 2 days 12 hours and 21 minutes to get there and is 367.3 miles into the journey. I'm thinking the spot decided to have a break from reporting back!

Its great to know that he is well on his way, we can all relax and enjoy the ride!!!

Go Aidan!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Tour divide so far....


Whilst Aidan is away I am updating his blog with information that I know.

So far things are quite varied.

He started well, he was in 5th place for most of the first day (Friday) and then he began to drop back a few places. He then stopped at Elkford. I thought nothing of this stop as Aidan had mentioned that he may stay in towns/accomodation for the first 3 days due to these areas being known for bears. However, Aidan was slow to set off which is unlike him. Usually he is up at daybreak so as to maximise the number of hours that he can travel in daylight. I did begin to wonder even more as to what was going on by the time that I realised that it was 9am and still no action. I then recieved a text from Aidan saying that he was experiencing his first technical problem.....his tyre gave out! This happened before he reached Elkford, he bodged it and limped the rest of the way.

Saturday therefore started with hitching a lift to the next town, Fernie, so as to get a new one. This set him back by half a day, then he was on his way.

With the problem dealt with, Aidan raced on and making good progress, overtaking people and covering good ground. From what I can tell is that he kept going into the night until about 2 am. If the spot is accurate he has taken some interesting deviations off of the suggested route, they look like short cuts however from a satelite view it appears as though he has decided to leave the trail and bump his way down the sides of steep mountains covered in trees! If his route for Sarn Helen is anything to go by, then this would be about right for Aidan!

Now though, Aidan hasn't moved for the past 12 hours 23 minutes and looking in more detail it took him 6 hours to cover the last stretch which should have taken 1 -1.5 hours tops. I am not sure what is going on. I can only imagine that there maybe issues with the tyres again? These were bought out there as the particular 29" ones he wanted and had been recommended were trickier to get in the UK and so he has not had a chance to test them properly.

I have sent a text in the small hope that he will pick it up and let me know what's going on, but it does appear that he is in a rather remote area. One positive thing is that there are still racers passing through the area and so I suppose if help is needed for whatever reason, it is there.

If i'm honest it is pretty stressful not knowing but I am know that Aidan is more than capable and so I am only hoping that when I wake up tommorow, there will be movement and a technical reason for this stop and that Aidan is safe, well and happy (maybe a bit miffed about bike issues).

I'll keep you updated.



Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The Tour Divide Approaches!

Well, it's been a successful few days in Canada for me. It turned out that the guy I sat next to on the plane from London lives in Canmore (about 20km from Banff), and he was good enough to offer me his sofa to sleep on for a few days. He's a nice guy and awesomely kind to help me so much. That seems to have set the tone for the other folks I've met here too...

I went for a ride yesterday with another local and it was rough going. I loaded up my bike since I should be getting used to the weight right now, but the local trails in Canmore are not very bike-packing singlespeed friendly. Steep ups and rooty singletrack awaited us. But before we even got to the singletrack, I had to have a little sit down from the climbing. And I'm supposed to be riding the Tour Divide? Oh, dear. I'm hoping it's the altitude and I'll get over it. I'm hoping that the trail itself won't involve gravelly granny-ring climbs. I'm just hoping. After a brutal 6 mile loop, we stopped back in the town and I ditched all the gear. With my bike feeling insanely light, we rode on the other side of the valley and it was fun to have more of a normal ride. The trails were flowy and fast with the odd steep rock slab. Lovely.

So now there are just a handful of things left to do other than wait. I'm going to head over to Banff later on today. Hopefully, there will be some other racers about. Then it all kicks off on Friday. I can't wait to have the first 100 miles behind me and know that I'm on my way. The weather forecast looks promising but I'll take whatever I get for the next 3 weeks.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Conwy to Swansea In Pictures

On Monday 24 May, I set out to ride the length of Wales off-road. It was to be fun; a test of kit for the Tour Divide; and a bit of a confidence-builder in respect of the big event. I largely followed the Sarn Helen route published by Mountain Bike Routes UK, but diverged to get in more off-road and where I couldn't understand the instructions. I had a deadline of being back in London by 8.20 on Friday morning to get a train to a stag do in Edinburgh. Easy.

Things went pretty swimmingly overall. The bike, my new Singular Swift, was absolutely flawless. No mechanicals, long legged, and comfortable. My actual legs also worked pretty well. They powered along every day and didn't have too much trouble with getting up to do the same again the next day. My food selection was fine. No stove and various snacks kept me pecking into my feedbag and somewhat topped up. I did appreciate buying hot food in Brecon, but this will be possible on the TD as well. My GPS worked perfectly, eating 1 set of AAs in just over a day. My kit-packing didn't work so well, but I learned a couple of things:

You have to pack the Epic Designs rear bag carefully. I kind of knew this, but this ride emphasised it. Unless you have some good solid stuff at the nose of the bag, putting your food at the back can make it slop down annoyingly. It worked really well on the last day when I had things sorted out.

The "drybag round the bars" is difficult to achieve with a big bag. My 40L bag was consistently buzzing the front tyre until I ran out of gaffa tape for repairs. It was an ongoing source of frustration and caused me to have to stop repeatedly. My plans are twofold. I will reduce the amount of total kit (in the light of the Welsh ride) and I will use an Alpkit drybag with guides for the straps holding it to the bars.

Overall, I made the ride from Conwy to Swansea successfully, though I had intended to go to Gower and back. Unfortunately, train failures on day 1 meant that I couldn't set off from Conwy until evening and the deadline of being back in London for the stag do made me ditch going over to Gower. I'm writing a proper story to be sent to whichever magazine might want to print it so on here it'll just be photos. Enjoy...

The route:

Conwy Castle at the start!

There were no sheep around and no sign of sheep poo, so this sheepfold was bed for the night.

Sunrise over a misty valley - this felt really special.

Fancy wedging your bike through that lot? I didn't either, but I managed to drag through to the point where I eventually found the right trail: 20m up the hill, where they hadn't felled all the trees. Doh!

The trails I saw at Coed Y Brenin were all coming towards me, so instead of riding against the flow it was time for fast forest roads.

At this point, I thought I'd blinked and turned up in NZ.

Standard bike + golden sunrise shot.

That post is a trail marker. Don't fancy it much.

I knew there was something funny going on with that trail. After over an hour of knee-deep pushing, you have to laugh.

Beautiful scenery between Brecon and Swansea. The trails themselves were fun too. Too fun to stop and take photos :)

I was on the Sarn Helen Roman Road repeatedly during the trip but this was one of the few signs.

It's not all forest roads. This descent was properly properly GRRR!

The final stats from the GPS and, in the background, some idea of how much drybag repair was going on(!)

Saturday, May 22, 2010


A single picture for now, but here's my Swift:

Sam sorted me out with this after the Voodoo died again and I needed something pronto to ride the Tour Divide. It's light, fast, and lovely!

Friday, May 21, 2010

When your teeth hurt... you know it was a proper crash!

One of the things I really appreciate about mountain biking is that there's nowhere to hide if you're not up to it. If you get things wrong, there's no "deferred success", no letting you down gently. You don't "not pass", you fail and there's just the smack of you hitting the dirt. That was how last night went:

Work had slipped into the way again, and I set off late. I had deliberately eaten a light dinner in the hope that I could ride light, but that was too long ago. Even on the way to the woods, I was thinking that it could have been better to stay home. But it felt like a ride that had to be done. Even in the first corner, my bike felt like a sack of spanners. Rattling over bumps, dropping the chain, spanging over the roots, everything was disjointed. With my new bike expected the next day (today!), I resented this machine. I lacked flow, and it responded in kind.

I was here to ride though, so I hit the Full 9 Yards as hard as I could. It has some great fast sweeping corners that can usually flatter your riding. They mocked mine. I wasn't as fast as fast or as precise as tidy. I carelessly jumped into a left-hander, and my back wheel clipped a small tree-stump mid-air. In the next moment, I was on the ground. My bike tumbled down towards my back and I redirected its fall into the bushes. I was dusty and hoping that I hadn't broken ribs again. As I sat there, my teeth hurt. So I must have hit my face on the ground. Everything seemed to work ok though: some grazes and a bruised thigh. The bike was fine. So I got back on and limped up the hill.

The rest of the ride was taken at a jog and that's not something I've done recently at Swinley. Suddenly, I could see all kinds of things off the trail: the trees and the deer, the sinking sun and the needles on the ground. It was nice to really feel the corners without trying to go quickly. It reminded me of that feeling you get when trying something new at swimming. I could feel the trails as I could sometimes feel water caught under my hand.

And as I rode, my iPod shuffled up some reminders of the near future. Both Josh Ritter's "Other Side" and Steve Earl's "Fort Worth Blues" mention The Great Divide. As if I don't spend enough time brooding on it already!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

All the usual troubles (and some success!)

I hate whiny blogs. So there were no posts for a while as I tried to sort things out...

Trying to do a big event always seems to push everything else harder. It takes so much time and energy that wrinkles in everyday life seem like mountains. And holes in the plan for the event seem like dark chasms. So while my attempts to reduce my load at work are still coming to nothing and I often have to work until midnight after training; and while the frame that I was going to use for the race is broken; and while my knee has been hurting again; these things are not insurmountable.

The work will do what it does and if some things fall by the wayside, I'm going to try to accept that I can't do it all.

The frame will be replaced by something different and better, but more on that when it's done!

And the knee still feels odd but doesn't hurt today. I've taken some rest, moved my cleats about 1mm - it felt better, and I've been riding with flats for commuting. It'll get there.

The fortunate side of the knee is that it has given me time to nail down those last few bits of gear (aside from the new bike!). I got myself a new 500g tarp recently which isn't ultra-ultra-light, but it's light enough for my budget. With the tarp and my bivvy bag, I'm ready for anything. If it's dry and warm, then I can just use a sleeping bag. If it's wet and warm and I can find a way to pitch it, I can use the tarp and sleeping bag. If it's wet and cold and I can find a way to pitch it, I can use the tarp and bivvy. And if it's wet and cold and there's no tarp possible, I can survive a cold wet night in just the bivvy.

So, today I cut a slot into a carbon pole that I had lying around and tried pitching the tarp using just the bike and that one pole:

Pretty successful (the funny wrinkle in the side is due to only partly pegging that side in). It's wide enough to lie under with gear. It's high enough not to be right in my face. And if I can find co-operative branches or trees, it could be even better. The pole can easily attach to the bike with velcro cable ties, and the same ties can be used to run a guy rope across the bar-ends. Sweet!

So it's back on the bike tomorrow and crossed fingers that the frame damage won't damage me!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Creating a new normal

I often think of training as being a process that shifts my idea of what's normal. At the moment, going out and doing 70-100 mile rides every weekend seems normal. "Normally", that's not normal.

The new normal I'm going for now is doing the same rides, but on a loaded bike. I'm working towards getting my Tour Divide setup ready and it's now close enough to be riding with the full weight every time. My plan this time is to use a big drybag under the handlebars and an Epic Designs saddlebag out back. And that's it - no hefty pannier racks, no frame bag.

It's been worrying me a lot that I won't have the legs to singlespeed a loaded bike with a reasonable gear ratio. For the Alaska Ultrasport, I had a 22t ring up front. That's OK for snow, but it's not going to get you anywhere on the Tour Divide. And I might be able to do 100 miles without being too trashed on my 32:18 XC bike, but what if it weighs twice as much?

Today (swapping work days around since I have to work Saturday... boo!), I found out. With 12 kg of extra stuff on my bike, I set off into the Chilterns again. I tried not to put any pressure on myself - I expected it to be slow and difficult. I expected descending to be sketchy. So I thought I'd have a go at 6 hours, maybe 8 tops.

Throughout the whole ride, though, I felt that burden. If I couldn't do this, the Tour Divide was a pipedream. I had to keep deliberately relaxing my upper body - not letting tension sap my energy or cause injury. The sun shone and the first hour and a half passed incredibly quickly. I was eating up the miles way faster than expected, averaging over 11 mph in hilly terrain. I was winching up climbs when I would usually try to dash up them, but that wasn't a problem. The top is the top, and the GPS wasn't lying about my speed.

It's a funny thing riding with a big saddlebag. It feels like being a dog with a massive wagging tail. Occasionally, it can get too excited and the tail starts to wag you. Then you're in trouble. But part of the point was to learn these things. Climbs were steady, keeping any side-to-side movement out of the equation. Descents were interesting until I learned to keep the saddle pressing gently on my thigh. This seemed to dampen the wagging and keep me where I wanted to go.

By the end of the ride, I'd reached 30 mph on a descent and felt comfortable with the handling. I'd carried all the food and water I'd needed for the day. And most importantly, I wasn't broken. Maybe this Tour Divide thing will work out...

Monday, April 19, 2010

What to eat?

Food is pretty vital to riding. In the Alaska Ultrasport last year, I made a bit of a mess of it. As people pointed out (too late for me, unfortunately!), I had gone too far down the path of the spreadsheet. I calculated calories per gram, and stocked up with large bulks of the foods I thought best fit that criteria. Taste was a factor, but I got lazy and just bought a limited range of food.

On the trail, that sucked. I didn't want to eat my high calorie food. I wanted someone else's high calorie food (luckily I could trade with other racers now and then). So the lesson was learned. Variety! I spent lots of time reading the backs of packets of food that could work on the trail. I'll take all kinds of stuff next time.

Back in the "real" world, training in normal temperatures still needs a lot of food. I had always avoided energy products: they were expensive and, somehow, just as suspect as using gears. Like I wrote before, though, things changed and I started using powders.

Initially just Maxim, since we had some from Emily's swims. Then, Torq, since it's tasty and well-regarded among cycling people. Suddenly, I could get a lot more energy into me during a ride and felt a lot less soreness on the long ones. I could keep pounding out miles with less deterioration on the bike and quicker recovery afterwards. So energy drinks are effective, but are they expensive?

This calls for a table!

Calories/g p/calorie normalised p/calorie %fat
Malt loaf (large BOGOF) 3.1 0.07 1.43 2
Torq Energy (1.5kg) 3.6 0.29 5.86 0
9-bar (3 pack) 5.5 0.14 2.79 40
Torq Recovery (1.5 kg) 3.48 0.59 11.8 1.1
Panda licorice comfits (132g) 3.7 0.27 5.49 0.2
Mars bar (3 pack) 4.46 0.13 2.6 17.4
Hovis Granary Bread (2 for£2) 2.5 0.05 1 2.4
Nairns Oat Cakes (250g) 4.18 0.09 1.7 16.3
Beer (average) 0.43 0.88 17.58 0

So, Torq Energy is nearly 6x as expensive as bread and Torq Recovery is 12x. But while this table is interesting (hmm) it doesn't tell anything like the whole story. The energy products are easy to get in you, and well balanced to have their positive effects. I can say quite categorically from my experience that they help. I'd just suspected that they weren't so much more expensive than normal food. It turns out I was kind of wrong on that point (unless you drink beer as your recovery drink - that makes Torq seem cheap).

I'm going to carry on using them, for sure. But now I know I'm paying for the privileged. For the record, my last 10 hour ride took 2 bottles (750ml) of Maxim, 3 bottles of Torq, a malt loaf, a pack of oat cakes, and a 9-bar. Immediately after finishing, I swigged down a dose of Torq recovery. End result? I felt pretty good despite doing nearly 100 miles, having two punctures and one other mechanical. And I took a photo:

Not suitable for motors, definitely suitable for bikes.

Monday, April 12, 2010


The makers of the mountain bike video, Seasons, probably didn't think of me slogging around The Chilterns when they came up with their concept but I did think of them as I photographed the same corner in a succession of seasons. To me, it says a lot about riding in the UK. We go out whatever the conditions, and the conditions give use plenty to get our heads round. The mud and the water grind away at bikes and wear through clothing, but give us beautiful green land to play in. They make stolen late-Autumn dust feel precious and the creep of Spring feel like a blessing. So here's an unremarkable corner of the Chilterns as I keep visiting it...

Friday, April 02, 2010

Big smoke, big ride

When I was asked if I would teach a course in East Ham, it did seem like the ideal opportunity to get some base fitness going again after NZ. The ride over there is 25 miles and gets interesting at Battersea as it ploughs through central London, crossing Tower Bridge, before heading out via Tower Hamlets and Stratford.

Now, I've been regularly commuting by bike for 10 years but never somewhere like central London, and it's a bit of a shock. As you head in, and the traffic starts to clog, there is no point whatsoever in waiting in line. Those cars are going to be nose-to-tail for the next 15 miles. So, you want to duck inside or out and get through. But it's not so easy, the place is swarming with motorbikes, scooters, and other cyclists trying to do the same.

Much looking over the shoulder is required, but it's fun cruising past the cars on the wrong side of the road. The sheer number of cyclists is completely alien to me, but normal to them. There are no nods of acknowledgement. People pull up in front of you at traffic lights (if they stop at all). Riders take offence if you overtake, and ramp up speed to try to hang on behind you. I took away a sense of hostility from the week of riding across London, and most of it came from the cyclists.

Still, it was strange how compelling the dance of the other traffic was every morning. The miles would fly by, the sights would be unnoticed. I would take risks that I could control (overtaking on the right) and shy away from those I couldn't (overtaking moving traffic on the left). It had a kind of buzz, and day-by-day my times for the ride went down.

The evenings were better, though. I left the school by 3.30, so the traffic hadn't hit its peak. I didn't have a deadline to get home (except the increasing debt that I owed my stomach), so I could finally look around. The Gherkin would rise up ahead of me MIND THAT BENDY-BUS! and I would cruise off down a quieter road. The blue supports on Tower Bridge would embrace me and I would watch the tourists spin around, whirring their cameras as I whirred my pedals. Hospitals and hair-dressers, I could glance at little scenes all over the city. Harlequins Rugby Club would always be busy and signal that I was nearly at Kingston and from there, nearly home.

In the middle of it all, there were surprising moments. Cars giving way without need (people outside of London may find that unremarkable, it can make your day down here), and just when I was tired and jaded, another cyclist. He set off up Kingston Hill in front of me, and I tucked in behind. I hoped he wouldn't get annoyed about towing me up the hill, but as he pointed out a pot-hole, I knew he wasn't cursing me. Both being red-light stoppers, we had a good chat about riding. Where we'd been (on the same road for more than 10 miles), and where we were going.

Where I was going was back to ploughing my usual furrows and to speculate on whether more cyclists is really a good thing. In the outer boroughs of London, I see almost no other fast-moving bikes. If we get the change we're trying to bring about, and more people do cycle, I hope the combativeness of the centre doesn't set the tone for all cycling in London.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Kepler Track

There are a number of "Great Walks" in New Zealand, and it had been our plan to take in a couple while we're out here. The Kepler Track (yes, physics fans, that Kepler) is a 60 km track in the Fjordland area of NZ that starts near Te Anau and takes in lakesides, forests, rivers, and alpine areas. It climbs from sea-level up to 1472 m at the top of Mount Luxmore. Here in NZ they call hill-walking, "tramping". Which still tickles me. Tramping has 3 association with me, only one of which is remotely appropriate: homeless people drinker super-strength cider under bridges; Supertramp, the band my knowledge of which comes exclusively from The Simpsons; and Alexander Supertramp, the name taken by Christopher McCandless in Into The Wild.

What's strange to someone like me is that you must make reservations at the official campsites (and pay for them) before setting out. I tend to side with Ray Jardine on this topic - minimal impact camping is best achieved by responsible wild/stealth camping. Official campsites make you pitch on bare hard ground that's had hundreds of tents on before. They put you shoulder-to-shoulder with people who pack beer and noise into the wild. They almost encourage littering by giving the impression that someone will pick-up after campers. And they concentrate toilet usage, causing a larger impact. Camping alone and leaving no trace seems infinitely superior for those who can, but this time we went along with the grain and paid our fees ($15 each per night!).

Rant over, we took to the trail mid-afternoon at "Rainbow Reach" - a swing-bridge access to the trail that gave us ambitious but achievable mileage targets each day. It's a lot of fun to set off with everything you need for the next 2.5 days on your back, and we whizzed along happily. The trail was very well groomed and marked, following along the river but taking ups and downs now and again. We walked in the gentle green light that filtered through the trees and were glad of the protection from the sun. Despite NZ's reputation we have had weeks of unbroken heat and sunshine!

I'd packed my gear pretty light with no changes of clothes, only a few extras to put on top if the weather did come in. Food-wise, however, we'd gone for luxury. On the Alaska Ultrasport I had made the mistake of judging food too much by calories per gram and not enough by variety and taste. This time I was going to use the relatively short trip and kind weather to experiment with going the other way. We packed pre-cooked flavoured rice with seeds to be added, tortellini in sauce (rubbish calories per gram, great taste so great for improving your mood). I had muesli bars, corn chips, and licorice (vegetarian alternative to outdoor staples such as Jelly Babies or Haribo) as snacks. So meal times were fun and pack-weight-shedding.

Our first camp-site was Brod Bay, on the shores of Lake Te Anau. We were glad to dump our food-heavy packs and cool our feet in the water. This was, however, our first introduction to sand flies as a scourge rather than a nuisance. They are stupid weak little creatures that can drive you completely mad. They fly so slowly that they can't keep up with walking, or overcome anything more than a gentle breeze but, when they do catch up with you, the bites swell up and itch for days. They'll go for any exposed flesh: hands, feet, face, lower back if you're sat leaning forward. Complete buggers.

Despite the sand flies, though, we had our tasty dinner and soon dropped into conversation various other "trampers" at the camp-site. It turned out that there is only really one schedule around the Kepler Track if you want to stay in camp sites instead of huts (expensive). So, we had our first of many meetings with (I'm terrible at names the first time) French-Canadian Couple, their French Friend, and Super-Speedy Guy. All of which we'd see in camp and on the trail for the next few days. I had to admire French-Canadian Couple's tarp skills, and they turned out to be very friendly.

Tent-wise, Emily and I were back in my 1+ racing tent i.e. practically on top of each other. As I started to put it up, though, a problem emerged. Some essential stitching had come out and one end of the fly was unsupported. To make matters worse, for once in my life, I had no gaffa tape! Eventually, I figured out how to bodge the tent, leaving one end of the fly open, but the rest of it reasonably secure. Getting in, we performed what was to be the nightly ritual on Great Walks - lie down and relax while squashing all the sand flies that came in while you did. Mmm... romantic!

Day 2 took us all the way into the Alpine section of the Walk and up to the top of Mount Luxmore. We set off pretty early with minimal faff and it was a blessing to get a good deal of the 1000m of climbing out of the way before the full heat of the day. Switchback followed switchback, and the effort spent in building this track was clear as we crossed bridges over high drops and occasional steps up the rock faces. Emerging from the trees onto open dusty landscape of the tops, we could see scenic bush-plane flights below us and Te Anau far away. Seeing the trail wind ahead, it was like I had been transported back to the PCT but this time with more knowledge and no crippling knee pain.

We wound around the peaks and ridges, along the heat of the day. Things were going well and we dumped our packs for the diversion to the summit of Mount Luxmore where we found Super-Speedy Guy making a cup of tea. We're English, that's our job! Continuing along the trail, we were to follow the tops for a while before descending down to camp by the river at Iris Burn. I experienced the slow magic of walking once more as the far off features sneaked forward imperceptibly. These slow movements would be punctuated by sudden transitions, as I realised that I was standing on the far-off peak which had seemed so distant.

Coming down, the construction of the trail was, once again, apparent. Steps took us down quickly and easily, only to hand over to an unbelievable number of switchbacks down to ground-level. By camp-time we were both well-finished for the day, and had a nice dinner with French-Canadian Couple. Early nights are easy when you're walking all day and we were in bed before nightfall.

Day 3 was back out along the river and aptly summed up by a Korean tramper we met. We asked him if he was enjoying the trail, and replied "Here it is boring and too long". To tell the truth, it kind of was. The river-following terrain was just as in Day 1 and our tired feet really just wanted rest but had 6 hours of walking to beat out. As we got closer to Rainbow Reach, though, we started to see fresh-faced day-trippers with small packs. This was a good sign, but I carefully managed my expectations. If someone who has just come from their car says it's 5 minutes away, don't believe them. You're not there until you're there, and I didn't let my feet anticipate release until I could see that final swing-bridge. It did come, though, and we had made it round 60km in about 2.5 days of tramping. We hadn't seen an awful lot of animals, but we had met some characters and seen some views.

To put some humbling perspective onto it, consider The Kepler Challenge. An ultra-marathon around the same track that we walked where (locals tell me) the record is 4 hours. Unreal.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Like Wales, but bigger

A few days into New Zealand and we're getting things done. We bought a van...

We had a swim...

And I did some kayaking...

It's odd being in a foreign country with our own Queen on the banknotes and where cars still drive on the left. Kiwi hospitality has been just as exceptional as people say it is: from the hostel (Kiwi Basecamp) owner in Christchurch helping us to choose the van, to the kayak rental shop (Captain Hector's, Akaroa) giving us a great deal on the kayak in order to help Emily's swim, to friends welcoming us in at Dunedin.

The van is a Toyata Previa. A people carrier. And I don't have 7 children. Oh, well. It has the back converted into a comfy bed, and it goes when it's supposed to so I can't complain. NZ has a real campervan culture - there are loads of them out here. Rentals, tourist-owned, and local-owned. So many people want them for touring here that there's a whole market of buying cheap vans for a few weeks or months then selling them on. We plugged into that market to get ours, and will hopefully sell it in Auckland before we go.

Our first stop was Akaroa, a small town on the volcanic Banks Penninsula. It sits on an outrageously blue harbour and serves pastries under the Tricolore, proud of its French heritage. As we drove down through the clouds, the whole area had a low grey ceiling. The harbour looked more like a large lake than a sea, and a 6 hour swim for Emily was on the agenda.

Jetlag and necessity had us up early and into the water for 7.30. The swim began with a walk across the silt left shallow by the tide. Eventually, we could swim though and the cold was enough to tweak at a few muscles. Not enough to numb my face though, so maybe 15C. We swam across the harbour and around a little cove where a boat had anchored. On this side, the land dropped steeply to the water and trees hung onto the green slopes.

The plan was to swim back to the car, then I could go pick up a kayak and join Emily for the rest of her swim. So, I loaded up, thanked the guys at Captain Hector's and headed out. We plotted a route around the harbour and the cloud finally lifted the lid on the day. With peaks and ridges all round us, and blue water underneath us, it was great day to be out and the wet bum caused by the "self bailing" (for which, read, self-filling) kayak didn't seem like too big a problem. The swim flew by pretty easily, punctuated by the sight of rare Hector Dolphins at on stage. Their fins did cause a brief heart-stopping moment, but I quickly recognised that they were the local dolphins not sharks.

Our next plan is to hit the Kepler Trail for some hiking, and then Doubtful Sound for some more kayaking. No bikes :)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

It's bike failure season, so lets sleep out

There's always a time of year when my bikes all start falling to pieces. It's come now, just as I was getting over a Christmas-acquired cold and disrupted my plans to get some good training in for the TD.

The current bike casualty list is:
  • Stuck front brake piston on Pugsley
  • Worn out BB on Pugsley
  • Worn out rear wheel bearings on Karate Monkey
  • Worn out freewheel on Karate Monkey
  • Worn out rear tyre on Karate Monkey
  • Worn out pedal bearings on Karate Monkey
  • Broken cranks on Balfa
  • Worn out pedal bearings on Balfa
  • Torn (but patched with toothpaste tube!) tyre on Voodoo
  • Worn bushings, and associated gouged stanchions on Voodoo's forks
  • Worn out pedal mechanism on Voodoo
  • Mangled LH crank-arm on Voodoo
  • Broken saddle (might be fixabled) that I use on Voodoo/Pugsley
Woe is me! I'm sure I can beg, and ebay my way out of that lot eventually.

Fortunately, this weekend is time to go to NZ for Emily's swim which means a break from bikes. We're going to buy a camper van (and sell it before we go) to tour around the country swimming, kayaking, hiking, (maybe a bit of biking), and having a fine old time. So with this and other camping adventures in mind, we've been testing out various combinations of gear...

Where some people see -5C in London as a problem, we saw an opportunity for Emily to test a potential new sleeping bag and for me to push the envelope with minimal gear. Camping out on the grass by the pool where she works was an odd experience. We headed out from home at around 9pm (just when we were warm and settled for the night), and picked our spot on the grass. Somewhere without frozen footprints so that we could make our own smooth ground. Up with my tent for her, and down with my bivvy bag for me.

My aim was to see how my +7C rated summer bag would perform when wearing cold-weather clothing that I might take on the TD. For the uninitiated, a bivvy bag is a breathable waterproof outer shell to put a sleeping bag in. It looks like a green body-bag, but gives you an acceptable level of protection for just 300g. Point number 1 was that my sleeping bag zips up on the opposite side to the bivvy. Tricky, but not insurmountable. Point number 2 was that when it's cold, you need to do it pretty much all the way up which is pretty claustrophobic, but that's something to get used to.

To be honest, I don't think I slept at all that night. City noise and uncomfortable (but not dangerous feeling) cold added together to keep me restless. I knew that I wasn't warm enough and doubts nagged about whether it would do any harm. My mind jumbled and circled possibilities, but wouldn't rest. I suppose the conclusion is that if -5C is the extreme end of what I could expect on a trip, then the kit is just enough.

Camping out like that probably seems even more insane to some people than going to the great outdoors, but it's a great way to test stuff with no real risk and a way to get a tiny slice of being in the wilds without having to drive way out of London.

It was the same mentality that I took to Wales at the weekend. The plan was to ride all the trails at Afan in one go, then sleep out and head to Barry for a meeting on Monday morning.

Starting from Glyncorrwg Ponds, the trail is 4 miles of twisty climbing. It was immediately obvious that lots of time on a turbo trainer is good for sitting down on moderate inclines and not that helpful for hauling up a proper hill with one gear. My arms were still attached at the top, though, so I made it to the fire-roads.

I had known that snow was a risk, particularly on the more remote Skyline trail and as soon as I dipped away from the main valley, I was on a mix of snow and ice. Wet snow ploughed my tyres sideways. Polished ice drifted me around with disdain. Pretty soon, I was walking through ankle-deep snow in my summer shoes. Frustrating as it might have been, I had my long-ride head on and this could easily be replicated in the Rockies in June so I took it for what it was.

After some getting lost, I eventually found the trail markers again only to find the trail gone. Logging by the forest owners had obliterated sections of trail completely, forcing me to carry over and around. Still could happen in the Rockies. I spied another rider ahead and he turned out to be a local who had worked on the trails. We dragged some of the more manageable stuff out of the way and he took note of what needed tackling with a saw. When I got back onto the mission, I had covered few miles and a lot of time, but I was coming back around to the trail centre.

With fresh supplies, I headed out to tackle that silly climb again. As soon as I reached the top again, I noticed my crank-arm: still bolted tight but the spline had worn round and it was pretty close to going round without the axle. The only safe thing to do was to pick a safe way down and abort the ride. Damn.

With the ride aborted, I had time to think about where to sleep. Either a cheap hotel (below) or a bivvy.

The beach at Barry turned out to be a great place for a bivvy. Quiet, dry, and with the chance of a nice sunrise in the morning. So, I settled down and watched the stars. As I lay there, they flew back away from the sea. Hang on... stars don't move. My head churned, but the stars kept moving. I'm sure stars don't move. I don't look at stars often enough, but I'm sure they don't move. Finally, my brain caught up and realised that it was the clouds moving. Shifting gear, I could suddenly make out a sensible perspective where banks of cloud drifted overhead. Shooting stars popped across my view now and again as I lay snug in my bag. This certainly beat TV in the hotel, and a perfectly restful night enveloped me.