Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Puffing Puffins Day 1 Oban to Isle of Jura Sat 8th June 2019

Day 1 17km and 175m
2 ferries CalMac Oban-Port Askaig Isle of Islay then Feolin Port Askaig-Isle of Jura
Oban: Ready for the grand depart
The pull of Scotland had not left us. We planned another west coast tour, in June to coincide with the fabulous weather on the islands the past 5 Junes... this optimism may be optomistic and may bite us on our butts, along with midges!  This time we wanted to explore in more depth some of the islands of the Inner and Outer Hebrides that we whizzed through on our Tour d'Ecosse back in 2016. After several evenings faffing with CalMac timetables we decided to adopt a 3 mini tour format to our fortnight, all starting and finishing in Oban.

Sat 8th - Weds 12th June 2019  Inner Hebrides Jura and Islay
Weds 12th - Sun 16th June Inner Hebrides Mull
Sun 16th - Sat 22nd June Outer Hebrides Barra to Harris and return

This gave us options to amend or abort if anything went wrong with us our bikes or weather fairly easily. We also had known resupply in Oban each time we passed through. We managed to avoid having to spend an overnight in Oban by judicious Cal Mac planning and syncing same day transfers to next island.

We tried to make the train work, but we would have lost 2 days of holiday and spent a fortune. Just too much strain from Bristol to Oban, starting from London is fine as you can use the sleeper with no changes and your bike is securely booked on. From Bristol, with all the changes and the risk of not getting bikes on trains with luggage, even if booked, it was too much to risk. So we drove to Oban. 

Fortunately my parents live in the Lakes for a quick Friday night stop over. This time we are camping mainly, it's far less risky to always have your accommodation with you. Self inflating camp mats are the way to go for Puffing Puffins.
Now just to put it all in the 4 panniers between us.
We started with the Islay/Jura tour as there are only two ferries to/from Islay each week. Out 16:45 Oban-Port Askaig Saturday afternoon, back on Wednesday lunchtime. So already we are dictated to time wise. We're not sure how others tour so freely, unless they have weeks stretching ahead of them. Then we worked backwards to make best use of our time. We loved the rugged remoteness of Jura on our last tour and planned to get there on Saturday night and camp at the Jura Hotel for 2 nights, to get acclimatised, and ride as much of the single island road that we could.

We arrived in Oban around 2pm. We have to find somewhere to leave the car and do some food shopping, no shops will be open until Monday morning on Jura. In fact there is only 1 shop in Craighouse. We drove round in circles a lot, bought supplies in Tesco and eventually settled on an industrial estate on the outskirts to park after quadruple checking that there were no parking restrictions nor were we causing any obstructions. Panniers on and my bar bag fixed, the new set up handling took a little getting used to. Only the tent was bungeed onto Steve's rack separately, for the first two days anyway, more of that later! 2.8km down to the ferry terminal and into the ticket office for a return to Islay, with very little time to spare, £19.70 each, bikes are free. The ferry takes 4 hours via Colonsay. we had jsut enough time to munch a late lunch of roll mop herrings and a dressed crab from the seafood shack on the pier.
My bike set up
Sophisticated lashing
Bye bye Oban for now..see you Wednesday

A 4 hour crossing via Colonsay. We had dinner on board, very unmemorable, chilli I think. We sailed the length of Jura up the Corryvreckan strait where George Orwell nearly died before penning 1984, on Jura, in 1949. No whirlpool was sighted.
Ferry life, I loves a ferry me
As we docked we could see our connection. The last Feolin ferry of the day to Jura waits for the boat at Port Askaig by advance telephone request, Unless someone asks for the 21.30 crossing in which case you have to wait for the 21.30 crossing.

Feolin Ferry Port Askaig, Islay

The Feolin ferry takes 5 minutes Port Askaig to Jura

Coming into port Isle of Jura
After disembarking we follow the one island road to Craighouse, a couple of cars leave us to silence. The spell has taken us over and surrounded us already. The spell of the Western Isles. They are magical, and just a little midgy so we don't linger whilst we linger. we had forgotten that there is a bit more up and down than we remembered but 14km later we swoosh into Craighouse.
The east coast of Jura 21.30pm in June

We head into the Jura Hotel to pay for 2 nights camping, £5 a night for both of us and a deposit for the shower block key, £1 per shower. Utterly brilliant. The tent was up in ten minutes, a little slow but we got better as we got into the pitching and striking camp routine. A quick drink in the bar and bed.
Craighouse panorama Jura Distillery is next door to the Jura Hotel
Strava failed for me today

Monday, February 04, 2019

GWR Chalke and Cheese 200km Audax Saturday 12th January 2019

It's been a year. A year since I wrote a blog post not a year since I rode my bike!

I have started a draft post for our Cairngorms mountain biking outer loop trip last summer. I haven't written up any of last year's rides or audax. Oh well, I missed my 8000km target for 2018 by 1500km but it was my highest annual total to date in 3 complete years of Strava. I completed the 200km Raglan Castle Audax last July in the foulest wet and windy weather in the middle of the heatwave summer! My hardest ride to date. Lots of errors on my part, over estimating speed, underestimating weather and food needs, worrying about delaying a very patient ride buddy (Blair) and not being able to drop back as my Garmin froze at 100km. It was far too far to ring up the patient husband and drag him over the bridge to pick me up. I'm still not sure how I did it other than not wanting to let down my ride buddy or inconvenience my husband!

I have ridden a 200km audax or charity ride once per year in summer in the three years that I've been riding "properly." So about 10 days ago I thought I'd have a go at a winter 200km randonnée (an audax of 200km) because everyone else just bangs them out so surely I should stop making excuses and just get on with it. I haven't made myself any targets this year. Do targets motivate or intimidate? (Edited to add a few days later that this may not actually be true now.)

Audax are self supported rides. They are not signposted, don't have broom wagons or feed stations. You get a designated route for Garmins/Wahoos etc and written directions if needed. Collect a brevet card at the start and collect stamps or receipts at the controls, which are normally at cafés shops or pubs at the extremes of the route. To stop short cuts answers to some information controls are also required. They are not races but to complete an audax officially it has to be done in "audax time" which roughly equates to 15km/hr minimum average INCLUDING stoppage time. I reckon I should comfortably be able to average 20km/hr moving time. However this always seems difficult in practice due to unforeseen and/or adverse conditions.

I know that Will, who organises a series of Great Western Randonnées of varying lengths, plans the best audax routes. I have completed 100km Wells and Mells and Old  Rail Trail and 200km Plains Trains and No More Automobiles in spring/summer 2017. I signed up for his Chalke and Cheese 200km audax starting at Warmley near Bristol; south east to Salisbury, south west to Shaftesbury, north west to Cheddar and north east back to Warmley. I hadn't realised earlier it was a little less elevation than the summer version Chalke and hAAArd Cheese so once I realised that it could be a possibility, I waited until the last minute to enter as the weather forecast had to be good. 9 degrees and 15km/h westerly wind and overcast and 10% chance of rain is brilliant for January. I paid my £7.50 entry fee on the Wednesday evening after my 100km "practice" jaunt earlier that day. Steve agreed to get up at some ungodly hour to take me for the 7am start, as no way could I add another 30-40km riding to the start and back afterwards.
I joined up with a local Wednesday group I had ridden with a couple of times to see how a 100km ride was feeling, as I needed to do my 100km Gran Fondo for January anyway. Up Burrington, round to Glastonbury and back via Wedmore the flat way as a group of 5. It was hard work and I certainly could not have done 200km starting at 9am that Wednesday! It was not necessarily the wisest move as most "training" gurus say to rest before a big event, anything other than loosening up in the week before doesn't help your outcome. My average speed was only 20.6km/hr. I needed to do that over 200km including night riding and probably nobody to take turns into the headwind!

I spent the next two days feeling slightly sick. I was at work for most of the time for distraction and didn't do my normal gym/spin classes on Friday morning to rest my legs. Yes I've given in and mix gym and outside cycling these days.

I brought my bike inside on Friday evening to load up with my seat post bag. My major concern were lights, or lack of, as I knew I'd be riding 3-4 hours in the dark in total. My eyesight is not the best and I don't have a dynamo so I took both our sets of rechargeable good "to see" lights and a third set of mini daytime "be seen" lights. I also had my phone, a battery pack, Garmin and multi charger lead to complete the electronics chaos. My Garmin 1000 would need to be charged up at controls too as that doesn't last for navigating 200km at my pace. However, I was pleased that my new all weather all roads/tracks audax/touring/adventure/gravel bike was running smoothly, I have finally got the hang of indexing gears. I now have disc brakes and 32mm touring tyres and I had ridden Skye for 500km since new, so she was run in. For the first time ever I made a list of everything I needed to check off in the morning. I still forgot my sandwiches in the fridge! I did have 5 Graze bars, 3 bananas, salted peanuts and extra electrolyte tablets for my two bidons. I even remembered the IKEA pencil for the brevet card.

I had broken the route down into the 4 sections between the main controls from the route above and uploaded to the Garmin, in the past I have missed controls so it makes sense, as the Garmin is not great on routes over 100km. I psyched myself up for just 4 manageable rides.

1/4 Warmley-Bristol to Boyton-Wilts (Ginger Piggery Café)  55km 500m ascent

Alarm set for 5.30 we set off for Warmley at 6.15 which was actually cutting it a bit fine. We arrived at the car park and I stopped Steve driving into it, height limitation hanging sign! Thank goodness as he did admit he hadn't clocked "bike on roof" at that moment and that was nearly the end of my Chalke and Cheese! I quickly mounted my seat post bag full of supplies like bananas and flapjacks, loaded first route on my Garmin, attached lights and collected my brevet card after waves of welcome from the lovely El. Apparently I am riding in the company of Jasmijn Muller, I never saw her! There were a lot of bikes, bodies and flashing lights. This is my first dark depart. A few words of wisdom and caution from the organiser Will, who was also riding (like many others) on a fixie to make it harder. Nobody is stealing my gears. "If you beat me back post your signed card in the box at the Hollybush that the bar staff will have." said Will in all seriousness. "Me back first, ha ha ha" I thought! Steve went off home for a lie in.
Chalke and Cheese 200km Audax Grand Depart at Warmley, Bristol.  Pic @Eleanor Jaskowska
Off we went at 7am in the dark. We held up the minimal traffic crossing over onto the bike path in the Bath direction. It was all very civilised and quiet (everyone's bikes running as smooth as silk at this point and no chatter) pootling along crocodile style trying not to focus on the mesmerising flashing tail lights. I was glad it was steady and quiet, it really settled my nerves. I set my mind on just riding to Boyton and looking forward to coffee and cake.

It seemed like someone turned the lights on whilst we were inside the two tunnels, some creeping daylight appearing as we emerged and the first obstacle overcome, the night riding in a big group. I left at the back of the bunch on purpose so that I could see ahead better and not have to deal with faster people passing. Will and the ACB crowd waved cheery hellos as the passed, having started last of course being the organisers, shepherding the flock. Mostly on fixies too.

We came off the path at Midford and onto the road, and the first hill of the day. We passed through delightful villages, rode through Rode and I found myself riding at the same speed as a local guy called Bob. We were to spend the rest of the day together. I had a route on my Garmin, he had not ridden as many audax as I but was experienced and having a team definitely made my day. The reassurance that two heads are better than one, someone to chat with a little, although in practice not that much. Mainly I didn't want to let him down, which in turn meant I didn't let myself down.

The tailwind meant we made ok time, but not as good as I hoped. There was a very long stretch into the westerly to do this afternoon that my head was not looking forward to. Followed by Cheddar Gorge in the dark.

We arrived at Ginger Piggery (Ginny's) Café in Boyton around 9.45am A large latte and a huge piece of lemon drizzle cake fuelled me up, a quick chat with Mildred (I had only met her a couple of times off the bike so good to see she was at the start too) and Will's dad who was stamping our brevet cards. Thank you Will's dad. Thank you to lovely Ginger Piggery staff, not at all  phased by smelly grinning mad audax types, they just cut the cake slices larger than normal.
Ginny's Café Boyton, overrun with audax types!

Large latte and huge lemon drizzle at Ginger Piggery
Hi Mildred!
There had been a bit of a wait and the rain set in whilst we were inside. A 45 minute stop is not efficient but I have learnt my lesson about proper rest and fuelling for me. I just cannot eat on the bike, I briefly stop and snack but need to stop properly every 2-3 hours. Ideally we would have been there 15 minutes earlier and stopped 30 mins max. So 30 mins down in my head from ideal. It was me that kept Bob waiting.

2/4 Boyton-Wilts to Broad Chalke-Wilts 29km 195m ascent

A very short leg, but an info control is needed at the easterly point of our loop to prove we hadn't cut the corner off, so a quick halt in Wilton (near Salisbury) opposite the very statuesque Italianate church to answer the question on our cards. No time for pics, off we race to the General Stores in Broad Chalke. We're still 15km short of half way and the rain has been quite persistent and the wind is getting up. The café was busy with riders who had not stopped at Boyton, our plan was to push on but we purchased sandwiches and jelly babies to fuel us for the tough stint coming up. We made sure we kept our dated and timed receipts as evidence.

3/4 Broad Chalke-Wilts (via Shaftesbury-Dorset) to Wedmore-Somerset 85km 690m ascent

A couple of kilometres out of Broad Chalke a beaming cyclist appeared riding in the opposite direction, quite a normal occurrence but I had to stop and have a quick chat, not just the cheerful hello as is normal, as it was my audax pal Blair. I knew he was doing a different DIY 200 audax and our routes overlapped for about 20km in total, the chances of passing each other were very slim. He was riding strong and at his halfway point. We had completed the Raglan 200km Audax back in July, he didn't leave me behind when my Garmin failed halfway round. No time to linger and chat for long though. Onwards.

This was the tough section. Forecast was for 15mph moderate westerly winds, in actuality it was only just off a gale, 35-40mph westerly. Officially the route was Shaftesbury, Bruton, Wells to Wedmore. Somehow, when sectioning my route, it rerouted and I had not noticed, as the totals were very similar so I didn't examine in detail. My route turned out to be Shaftesbury, Wincanton, Castle Cary and Glastonbury to Wedmore via Sustrans advised route. Bob had a paper route, I cannot see to follow paper route so I said I had to stick to my route otherwise I'd get lost and had no time to faff as so tight on time anyway. He did follow me, we had not met before, quite heroic or daft? We did waste some time trying to reconcile the routes. My route also managed to miss the info control, but heh-ho. we are not trying for Paris-Brest-Paris qualification. This is one of the first official BRM qualifiers, hence the large numbers for a 200km in January!

It got very tough after Shaftesbury. The route was very pleasant off main roads, but relentlessly up and down. We battled the whole way into the sapping wind. Bob didn't have mudguards so I couldn't ride behind him as the lanes were liquid mud/cow pat. The rain eased off but the perceived temperature was dropping off. In no danger of freezing but once tiredness sets in and wet clothes the body feels colder. I also drink a lot, I still had 1 1/2 full bottles at Broad Chalke but ended up having to stop at a house and ask for refills, a very obliging teen did the honours with a smile and only a slightly bemused face when faced with a mud splattered middle aged woman in lycra at dusk!

On and on, we were having a mouthful of sandwich here, a Jelly Baby there. I even tried eating Jelly Babies from my pocket but they just went slimy, yuck! I have to try and crack this eating on the move lark, you need constant energy on longer rides. In fact if you start to feel thirsty or hungry you have gone too long without drinking/eating and slow down/fatigue will already have set in.

It was a relief to come into Glastonbury but from the south, through lanes with many parked and occupied caravans, a few people out walking with dogs all very friendly.

Now back on more familiar roads and we push on to Wedmore through Godney. at least the hills have subsided now.

The run into Wedmore was in the dark, gone 5pm, still within maximum audax time just, lights fully on now. Our average speed had slipped from 23 km/h at Boyton to about 19kmph. the control was at Wedmore Village Stores and more sandwiches were purchased. Unfortunately the promised coffee machine was off and with nowhere inside to sit we had to picnic on a bench outside and the public toilets were shut. I was very wobbly at this point. I shovelled sandwiches, nuts etc in but a warming cup of tea and sitting inside for 20 minutes would have helped the most. I was surprised that there were a fair few of us about, quite a lot more in the pub but no time for the pub for us.

4/4 Wedmore-Somerset to Warmley-Bristol 44km 508m ascent

We set off again just before 6 our cut off time to reach Warmley was 8.30pm. 2.5 hrs for 44km. Easy peasy, yeah right NOT!

Given the long long slog to Wedmore and rapid loss of oomph, I had been absolutely dreading Cheddar Gorge as the major and penultimate climb of the day. I have ridden it many times before, know the significant kicker bends, length etc so there should have been no worries at all about tackling in the dark. Riding Cheddar in the dark was a first though. I settled into a plod, was pleased it was early enough that there should be no joy riders screaming about (there were a couple) I felt great, yes I did stand up for that bend but was a bit alarmed to see Bob tumble. He had caught a stone or something and crashed down hard at the steepest bit. I waited at the top of the bend and he assured me he was OK, he will be sore in the morning. The climb was ethereal, I loved it. The walls loomed and it was so peaceful, except for the odd idiot boy racer car but mostly just peace. I was so glad it was not raining.

We crossed over at the top and I warned Bob about the descent down West Harptree, we took it very carefully and were soon down into Bishop Sutton where I basically ordered us both to stop at the Spice Inn for a quick bite to eat, audax style not a sit down curry! Oh my it smelt so good. Bemused diners likely wondered what the heck those nutters were doing wolfing down flapjacks and bananas and swigging pink liquids from mud splattered bottles. It was 7.15. Bob was having light issues so I leant him one of mine and fortunately they held out to the end.

We pressed on, actually a few riders around now as we were on the right route this time. Into Pensford and then the small matter of bloody Publow Hill, I halfheartedly got out of the saddle but quickly dismounted. Bob had already done the same and it was just as quick to walk. Back on and we were on a race against time, so near and yet so far. Through Keynsham conurbation and the Warmley sign before the last pull up and a sprint to the arrivée at The Hollybush pub.

Oh my goodness we had done it. Well it was minutes after 8.30 but Will said we'd been locking up our bikes for ten minutes, so we agreed. We were full value audaxers!

Bob headed the 4 miles home and I rang Steve who nobly came to pick me up. I had a lovely Thatchers with the audacious sociable inclusive bunch that are audax participants. We phoned ahead and picked up fish and chips on the way home, after being so short of fuel I found it hard to eat half.
The most welcome cider.
Excellent organiser Will of Great Western Randonées. Started after me, in hours before me on a FIXIE!
My brevet card is in that box for validation! Beer for Will
209km (plus a few in the Two Tunnels)
2241m elevation
10hrs 42mins moving time
19.5km/hr average speed (not good)

Full value audax!! Not bad for January.

The only logical conclusion is now I have a bash at Randonnée-Round-the-Year (RRtY)

I may regret this.

Paris-Brest-Paris is NOT on my horizon!

Monday, February 05, 2018

You know what they say about winter miles: Jack and Grace Cotton 100km Memorial Audax - Saturday January 25th 2018

I need to get the party started for 2018, far too few audax last year so I set out to book the traditional January "one in the bag" audax, but I'm too late. All sold out. We are added to the waiting list and we're delighted to get places during the preceding week, and the weather looked good. I use the Royal "we" loosely as I am not so sure about Steve, I think he is just humouring me. Last weekend was an utter washout with no riding or golfing. I rode Jack and Grace Cotton Memorial Audax 2016 as one of my first two years ago. "The One with the exploding inner tube." That was the start of the "I heart cycling 2016 Challenge" year.

The J&G in 2016 was the first of 12 monthly Strava Gran Fondos of 100km+ that year. Last year I kept up the tradition, so suitably my 25th in a row is the one I started with as I have not done my Strava Gran Fondo yet this month. It seems I am committed for another year now.

I was invited to a 50th birthday party at Bristol Harbourside on Friday night. I went to my spin class, but not core, as I had to be at work an hour early at midday. Race to work on my bike, stand up for 5 hours which always creases my back. Ride home. That's 22km of utility cycling plus a spin class today.

I was only going to have a couple of cocktails and be home early, a few more than a couple granted, but I did go home on the bus not my bike. Not quite as daft as I look.

I pulled some kit together and get into bed just after midnight. An hour later I am woken by a sharp searing pain in the side of my left kneecap. The good one, not the ten year old replaced right knee that I normally nurture. I couldn't sleep, the dragging pain was whichever way I lay. About 4am I got up and gulped two slow release ibuprofen down and a few pints of water. I probably slept an hour, but was awake again before the alarm. Steve thought he was going to get out of going out in the rain and wind.

I hobbled downstairs and gingerly rode round the block. By the time I came back inside I had decided it would be worth testing for 10km. Dragged the husband out of bed and ate the obligatory porridge with blueberries. I really hate porridge but it's passable with blueberries and de rigeur on ride days.

The bikes were strapped to the car roof and off we went to Filton/Aztec West. Start times are between 8.30 and 9.30 we were on time. Here is the route:

The weather was not the best. Strong south westerly winds and drizzling. Steve hasn't ridden a bike for more than commuting since Greece last September.

We pottered off at 9, me feeling a little hungover and my knee a wee bit sore. As the day wore on my knee totally stopped hurting. Really strange.

We flew up to the first info control at Littleton on Severn (time of the last service at the church), and then the second at Berkeley (weight limit displayed at the bank). Info controls are self certifying, making sure you don't cut corners on the route.
Berkeley Information Control Gathering
Bananas were consumed. We flew past Slimbridge (birds galore) and the fields got flatter and the boggy bits more and more evident from the recent heavy rain. The first control was at Epney at the Anchor Inn. A traditional riverside pub. They had organisational skills. Made up ham, cheese and bacon baguettes and lashings of tea and coffee. Our brevet cards were stamped with flamingos and back on the bikes for the slightly longer second lumpier half, into the wind.

We were thrilled to have averaged 25km/hr to Epney, excellent speed for us and Steve is enjoying it.

The next bit is a little built up round Quedgley to the south of Gloucester, at one point I'm leading out a train and follow my Garmin down a turn that turns into a muddy path and a sprung loaded gate to cross the main railway line. Only Steve follows me, everyone else keeps going and we emerge from our boggy detour, after waiting for a real train before dashing across the tracks, seeing blinking bike lights disappearing in front. We knuckle down and catch up by Stonehouse. Now we're on familiar roads from when we lived in the Stroud area. The bike path crosses the main A46 at Stonehouse but the lights for bike crossing take hours to change.

It's getting wetter, the road surfaces deteriorate further and we're all covered in mud, even with mudguards. A proper good audax! The haul up from Dursley and it is quite a trek onto Tortworth Farm cafe where we are very much looking forward to excellent cake and steaming mugs of tea.

Two nasty hills, that I had forgotten about, and we are rewarded with the best sausage roll ever (I am not a sausage roll fan generally) and a huge gooey piece of millionaires shortbread at Tortworth Farm Cafe. The odd crumb is pictured below.
Calling in the reinforcements
Mucky Ducks
Am I too late to the party?
The reward for a long haul to the second control was less than 20km to the Arrivée at The Swan pub back in Almondsbury. It was a very very long 20km into the wind and rain, we had to sit outside at Tortworth so hadn't warmed up. Steve was suffering, but he was riding brilliantly considering he had no training, which isn't really very sensible! We do make it and a very welcome Thatchers cider awaits and it's not dark! After very pleasant chatting with fellow audaxers we pedal the last couple of kilometres back to the car and even washed our bikes of all that grime.
Arrivée at The Swan in Almondsbury
Jack and Grace Brevet Card 2018

It was good we got round given Steve had done no cycling of any distance in 4 months. Our speed dropped from 25km/hr for the first half to just 21km/hr at the end. Headwind.

The following day I went on the club ride to Weston and bagged a second 100km for January. much wiser to cycle into the headwind for the first half of a ride!

Unintentionally I have bagged my biggest cycling week in over 12 months 281km in total with Mon-Fri utility and commuting cycling. Not bad for a gunky January week, and the fact my knee was in agony on Friday night! Winter miles = summer smiles, I have been told.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Trains Plains and no more Automobiles 200km Audax Saturday 15th July 2017

I had such a good time on the inaugural Great Western Randonnées (GWR) Wells and Mells and Old Rail Trail Audax back in March, that I was keen to do another one by Will, the organiser with a penchant for detail and the odd hill. I really must get myself an Audax Club Bristol orange shirt.
The next one was 200km. Plains Trains and no more Automobiles from Bristol to Stonehenge and back.
I have ridden 200km once back in July 2015, but it was a charity sportive (Break the Cycle) with feed stations, signage, mechanical backup and the all important "ring from anywhere and we will come and get you broomwagon" I didn't have a Garmin then, so route finding was a huge challenge for me. My BRCC club mates looked after me that day, and I was thrilled to get from Bristol Rugby Club to Bath RC and then Gloucester RC and back to Bristol. A 180 km or so and I rode to and from the start to make 200.

Riding a 200km audax is different. You are responsible for yourself. Route finding, food, mechanically and physically. Yes your fellow audaxers look out for anyone obviously struggling with a puncture or looking a bit lost, but you cannot guarantee anyone will be around. Especially if you mess up on the route finding bit!

Without thinking about it too much I paypalled my £7 entry fee about six weeks before. Audax fees (unlike sportives with lots of costs of support and signage) are so reasonable that if I back out I won't be destitute. I would let the organiser know so that someone else could ride and nobody would lose out. A couple of my ride buddies said they were signed up/thinking about it.

Once you have paid it is honourable to commit.

I had sensible training already in place, three hilly 100km + rides in the Lakes at the beginning of July, since christened Tour de Lakes. For various reasons that training/mini tour didn't go to plan. Just one hillyish 100km ride. The weekend before I did go out on a BRCC club ride and rode a good 100km ride and forced myself up two big hills in the final few kilometres to test my metal. I slogged up Portbury, descended Belmont and forced myself to turn around and go back up again in blazing sunshine even though I was a couple of miles from home!

I wasn't confident enough in my ability not to roll over and go back to sleep at a 5.30am alarm. If I passed that test I didn't really admit to many I was intending to ride, in case I cried off after a few miles. Mainly I didn't want other kind cycling friends feeling obliged to ride at my slow pace.

I did know that riding the flat 18km up to Warmley really wasn't sensible, it would be a straw to break this camel's back After expressing this worry a couple of days before, Steve looked horrified and stated "but I'm taking you of course." He is the best, no ifs no buts he was getting up to drive me up there at 6am. Now I cannot fail.

Porridge and blueberries by 6, I stash bananas, Nakd bars, electrolyte tabs, cheese and pickle rolls, 2 pieces of fruit cake, sun cream and a battery charger for the Garmin. No way will it last 200km at my speed! We arrive at the car park next to Warmley waiting room at 6.30 and greet the Weston Wheelers, my audax buddies. nobody looks too full of beans. Some are partaking in the bacon butties but they're not my thing. I sign on and collect my brevet card. 210km to go!

Part 1 Warmley to Blunsdon 56km 450m

Some have peddled off, and seeing that it's still 10 minutes to go I decide to leave as well, I will be passed very quickly but it's nice not to be last from the off. My club mates roll past with cheery greetings 15 minutes later, I think they were surprised I'd turned out! That was the last I saw of them.
The first town is Malmesbury, after a haul up through Dryham Park. I cannot believe I have never been here. As with all previous audax the interesting towns and villages just whet your appetite for a return visit to explore properly.
Malmesbury Church
58km later, and a lovely pleasant roll with a hint of a tailwind into Swindon and Cricklade Railway completes the top side of the square and the first control is the Station Café for obligatory beans on toast in Blunsdon. A nice ride all done by 9.30. I can go home now, if I want. Or I can turn south.
Swindon and Cricklade Railway
Blunsdon beans were rather inefficient. A lot of prep goes into beans on toast, perhaps made from scratch? A quick turnaround it wasn't. With hindsight I was glad I did have my beans though!

Part 2 Blunsdon to Boynton via Stonehenge 85km 700m

Next up is an 85km jaunt to Boyton, south and then west.
Through Royal Wootton Bassett...
As it says on the sign!

After a little detour on a bike path track I was relieved to get back to the road and saw another couple of audaxers and headed for Stonehenge. Through army barracks and past lots of "Keep Out" signs and Stonehenge loomed ahead. This part was on a gravelly track but it gave a great view of the stones and kept us away from the hoardes. I stopped for a photo but nobody else around. Not the best photo ever!

Salibury Plains and Stonehenge
Now the long push west on the rolling Salisbury Plain. Overcast and a very strong westerly was blowing. I had no one to chaingang with so I just had to keep going, on and on and on on those up and down rolling plains with rather more fast traffic than I'd like. I used this sign as an excuse to stop for a breather and some sustenance. still quite a way to the next control
Tanks crashing into sign too
Finally I rolled into the Ginger Piggery. A lovely café and my friends from the Weston Wheelers were wrapping up their lunch. I was cross eyed by now. I knew I had to get on my way quickly to make the cut off, so I ordered a large pot of tea and sat down with them with a roll and some fruit cake I had brought with me. Far too often the controls are too crowded to get food speedily and as I am not speedy I had planned to be more self sufficient this time. I did feel very guilty, but as it happened it was wise planning as the cafe had totally run out of food bar a slice of Victoria Sponge. The need for savoury carbs was kicking in. I received some messages from the BRCC guys ahead very concerned that I would be without food, they had had to go to a garage up the road.
The Ginger Piggery
I did rest a while, my Garmin having a boost from the battery pack. I wasn't the last to leave.

Part 3 Boynton to Warmley 70km 850m

Just 70km to go, a short club run, realistically 3.5 hrs pedalling time.

I bashed on, there were a few more audaxers around on this section. It was a relief to turn north and know I was on the home stretch. Just the small matter of the nasty hills around Radstock and then the last 15km are downhill. Quite a large bunch had stopped at another café so I was feeling good that I may not come in practically last. I got up all the Radstock Hills, and stupidly didn't just eat one more Nakd Bar, anyone can polish off the last 20km right?

I passed the Warmley sign, after quite a hairy descent on busyish roads but being nearly back was keeping me going and knowing that Steve was waiting for me at the Hollybush Pub in Warmley, just round the corner from our start point,  no way could I contemplate riding home too.

I went round the corner and 4km from the pub is a very slight incline, that stretched ahead. My legs were not aching but my body and brain disengaged, I could not move. I stood on the verge, ate something, drank some more. Parties of triumphant audaxers passed me by, all enquiring kindly if I was OK, which I assured them I was. After 15 mins the food had worked through enough and I slowly pedalled up the biggest hill ever (not) and made it to the finish. Just within cut off time. A bemused husband was wondering where the heck I had got to!

Boy was I glad to be back and the elation quickly took over. My first official 200km audax done. 10 hours peddling time and exactly 21km/hr average

I'm very proud of all my audax cards, but this one is perhaps the biggest achievement.
My first Brevet Randonnée aka 200km audax

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Tour de Lakes 1st - 2nd July 2017 DNF

Looking North East from Shap Summit memorial
I had a week's holiday at the end of June and planned on visiting my mum and dad in Penrith. By taking my bike on the train from Bristol (an epic story in itself) I then plotted a solo ride to Settle mid-week to see a friend for lunch, returning by train, and sneaking in a mini two day tour when Steve came up for the weekend. 300+ kilometres and 4500m of ascent under my belt hopefully. Unfortunately the weather was foul in the week so I went to Settle both ways by train, but the forecast looked much better for the weekend.

We planned a mini 2 day tour based on the 210km Tour du Lakes Audax held earlier in the month, Steve drove up on Friday night and had Monday off so we didn't have to rush back. The official event was a one day 200km audax, starting and finishing in Kendal and ridden anti clockwise, but we wanted a tour, not an epic day out! We planned a two day loop from Penrith riding clockwise so the shorter day was second. We were going to meet mum and dad at a hut at Wasdale Head, which adds 10km onto each day. Wastwater is the lake just inland from Whiehaven on the map below.

Official Tour du Lakes Audax route June 2017
That should be 2 x 100km ish days with about 1500m of climbing each day. Mmm, a bit simplified in retrospect.

IMPORTANT Do not leave planning your route until the night before. Wasdale is halfwayish from Kendal not Penrith!

So on the Friday evening, whilst Steve was thrashing up the M6 I sat down at dad's laptop to trace and split the route. I quickly realised my assumed mistake and started to amend the route as 140km and 1750m of climbing on day 1 was a bit ambitious as we haven't ridden that much recently.

Day 1 Penrith to Wasdale Head First draft
The long drag is up to Shap summit. After Kendal it's flat with a lovely route along the bike path through Grange over Sands (lots of cafés) before looping back inland to the hills around Broughton in Furness and then up and over Eskdale before travelling the length of Wastwater to the climbing hut at Wasdale Head (my parents are members so we could stay if they were present)

The forecast (on Friday night) was no wind Saturday and dry all weekend, with a westerly breeze on Sunday. All pretty good considering it has been a torrential week up to now.

I had only recently found out that there is a car ferry across Windermere just south of Bowness, £1.50 for a passenger and a bike, and used a lot on the direct Coast 2 Coast routes. I can cut that bottom loop off and make the day more manageable, by heading west to Broughton.

Day 1 revised Penrith to Wasdale Head via Windermere
I had knocked 20km off the route but added 200m of ascent. Sounds a bit better.

Yes we know the Lakes are hilly, and brutal hills on a bike, hence why we were doing an outer circuit and not doing all the famous passes like Wrynose, Hardknott etc We will leave that to the Fred Whitton athletes!

After a bacon buttie we headed off around 9.30. That breeze is a a sharp breeze, and a southerly so the dreaded headwind. Quite a battle up to Shap summit. Shap village itself is only half way.

Shap summit is quite a wild place in winter!
Shap Summit Memorial
Before the M6 was built in 1970 this was the route north on the A6
The descent was quite hairy with gusty winds, but we survived and the A6 was wide but the traffic was minimal and very considerate, although it can have a lot of gravel lorries especially on weekdays.

Our route then turned westwards avoiding Kendal centre, and we got caught in a few routing niggles. We were not going to attempt vertical grass and bracken strewn bridleways so worked our way slowly to Bowness via Crook.

So far I had been dreadful. Trailing behind, no wind in my sails or energy in my legs. We needed lunch. We thought it preferable to get over to the other side of Windermere and find somewhere to eat.
Windermere Car and Bike Ferry
Faffing to get a ticket from the machine meant the ferry left without us and then it was a good half hour wait for the next one. There was no café and in retrospect we should have gone and got ourselves some lunch or a pack of sandwiches in Bowness to save time. We got something to eat at the Ferryman's National Trust café, but the toilets were back down by the ferry, so after that little back track we finally set off around 2.30 having only 60km under our belts. I did ring mum and dad to say where we were before we lost signal. Mum had decided to stay at home so dad set off to Wasdale in the car soon after with our breakfast and sleeping bags and change of clothes.
View from National Trust Courtyard Café at Claife
The ups were steep, the roads were narrow and gritty and the weather closed in. Fine drizzle turned to proper rain but as I'd been so hot I didn't put armwarmers and jacket on until the top after Crooked Birch. No rain was forecast at all. It was proper wild and remote. The only form of life we saw on the way up was a lady running with her dog, she was an impressive mountain goat and kept passing us on the bits we had to walk. I certainly didn't take anymore pictures.

All day we had been descending like snails, so our average speed was atrocious. We got off route again when Garmin wanted us to go up a vertical grassed bridleway and we came round via Foxfield, adding on another few kilometres. We had lights on by now, and staggered into Broughton in Furness around 5.30.

We still had 30km and 800m up and over to Eskdale to do. If we went round by the coast it was further and more ascent. We dived into a pub (Kings Head), absolutely dripping and shaking after failing to get a mobile signal walking around the village. No food was available as all tables reserved all night, not even a bowl of chips was possible, same at the pub opposite. We ordered hot coffees and I thought we should call it a day. We had no mobile signal and we knew dad would not have one in Wasdale either. We ended up borrowing the landline to leave a message with mum and around an hour later dad drove to Gosforth to get mobile signal and rang mum so he knew where we were.

Ironically we used to work in Barrow in Furness in the late 80s, when we were first married and 'before children', and we escaped the grim town for the hills as much as possible at weekends. Steve remembers the famous Mixed Grills at the Kings Head. I only remembered the centre, not the pub. A great mixed grill is still not my meal of choice! Eating out was a very rare treat back in the day.

Our actual abandoned ride:

I spied dad circling the square around 8.30, a sigh of relief he had found us. The pub really were wanting us out, even though we had bought three rounds of drinks. Bikes loaded into the car and we started the long drive back to Penrith in the diametrically opposite corner of Cumbria rather than going to the hut and attempting Day 2, and risking the Wasdale Inn being closed or full for food too. 40 minutes across the infamous A590 that is the only way in and out of Barrow to the M6 at Lancaster and then all the way up to Penrith. We picked up the best fish and chips ever, just before closing time at 10 in Penrith and my mum, a hot shower and comfy bed welcomed us and eventually I stopped shaking from cold. We did worry my parents a bit, but as mountaineers they don't get too fazed by epic adventures. Dad had had an incredibly boring day, sorry dad!

On the same day last year we had embarked on our Tour d'Ecosse, no one to rescue us then if we'd messed up big time, we would have ruined our holiday. The Tour de France 2017 kicked off today in Dussledorf too. Well done Geraint Thomas on his Time Trial stage win on day 1, first ever yellow jersey.
Mum's garden
Obligatory sheep!
It feels like failure to me, we haven't got an extended tour planned this year and I'd been particularly looking forward to our mini tour. One solo day once, last summer, I cut short at 130km as I ran out of daylight and had no lights with me, other than that I have always achieved what I've set out to do. I'd dragged Steve up a long way for a weekend, and inconvenienced my mum and dad big time, although they were not not cross, just sad for us. However, it was the sensible decision, no point in forcing an accident due to being overtired,, or being hit as a result of very poor visibility. I really did not have the legs today. We will put it down to experience and carry on!

On Sunday we all went out for lunch and had a nice walk at Aira Force! It's nice to spend time with family too.
Not cycling at Aira Force on Tour de Lakes Day 2 DNS

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Wells, Mells and Old Rail Trail 100km Audax Saturday 11th March 2017

This year Audax Club Bristol, aka ACB, are organising some new Great Western Randonnées showcasing the West Country. The first one is Wells Mells and Old Rail Trail 100km with 1.5 AAA points for climbing. My entry was in back in January and I saw it as a lovely day out after the tough test of Gospel Pass Audax last weekend. A walk in the park. A stretch of the legs. Only 100km. OK there are some hills lumps in there. Also the small matter of 15km each way to start and finish.
Painting of St Alfred's Monument (by local artist hanging in Red Lion Pub, Kilmington) Pic Russ F
For various reasons I mapped my route on Ride with GPS at nearly midnight on Saturday night, I find my Garmin works better at route finding if I trace any provided routes, so I am far less likely to get lost, and breaking into sections means I know where the controls are. Flipping heck we're going as far south as Dorset and into Wiltshire. This is the official route:

Stage 1 Whitchurch to Wells 26km 347m

I managed to leave home by 8 as planned, slightly concerned about finding the cycle path on the new Bristol South Link Road. The signposted gate was open from Festival Way near Ashton Gate at the cow crossing place, and other than negotiating a couple of farm gates, as the route is also for cows to get to their fields, it was all quite straightforward. A nice wide separate cycle path, steady climb, far easier than the haul through Ashton Gate and Hartcliffe Way. Not too much urban sprawl after this bit 15km done and we haven't started yet. I am having problems with my gearing again, stuck in the small ring, not a big deal would be a none starter today if I were stuck in the big ring again.

I've arranged to meet Lynette and Pete at Whitehall Garden Centre where the start and finish controls are. The normal routine of picking up the control card, a little self seal bag to put it in and greeting fellow audaxers from BRCC (Russ, Julian, Lynette, Pete, Robert and Yann) and other familiar faces from previous audax.  The Weston Wheelers were out again. It is lovely to feel part of the audax "club" now. Everyone is open and friendly and not at all cliquey like some cycling sportives and events. Everyone is respected for turning up and taking part, never mind what gear or how fast you are. Lots of encouragement, and mechanical help if needed from fellow "daxers."

We're all under way at 9, it's nice to be out of thermal trousers and wearing shorts and leg/arm warmers today although it is overcast. We are lucky with the weather, no rain today.

The first ten kilometres are quite sociable as we head south to the familiar territory of Chew Magna and down the west side of Chew Valley lake. Familiarity means you know the first serious test of the day, West Harptree Hill and I am deliberately plodding. I know from experience that trying to push anything early on is a disaster for me, it takes me hours to warm up to my best.

Thankfully up West Harptree with no walking and it's a pleasant yomp across the top of the Mendips before the sharp drop down to Wells. It's Saturday market day but with plenty of other riders about and the Garmin working well, there were no worries about getting lost, just temptations to stop at the lovely varied stalls as we were walking in the throngs. I find the Love Coffee stand in the market melee. Coffees purchased and consumed, and a gold star sticker in my control card. Hang on, the guy says everyone was getting one, I thought I was extra special! Time 10.30
Love Coffee on Market Day in Wells Pic Pete H
 Stage 2 Wells to Kilmington 33km 534m

Now we are going out of familiar territory. We walk through the Bishop's Palace by Wells cathedral and pick up the bike path through the town city in a south easterly direction. Lovely lanes but we skirt Shepton Mallet and push on to Bruton with Redlynch being our most southerly point, racking up some more stiff climbs, and we turn north easterly towards King Alfred's Tower.
King Alfred's Tower Stourhead
Some cheery soul (ACB organiser!) had chalked encouragement on the road, mentioning something like gradients of 15%, "come on audaxers you can do it."It's a very tough climb, and a fair few cars and riders on the lane.I bottled at the nasty final kick and managed to walk up. Heroic Lynette cycled the lot. What a great spot, but flipping Alfred did get a few swear words flung his way. A pause for group congratulations, picture taking, chat, admiring of scenery and gulping water and bananas.
Yann Pete and Lynette at the top of that blooming steep hill
Lynette and Pete posing
King Alfred'd Tower
Pete Lynette and I, we made it half way round. Pic Pete H
We were relieved to coast down to the Red Lion Pub at Kilmington, nearly missing it. Pete was having such fun up front he shot off and ignored two women hollering his name, for some unknown reason! The pub looked very nice, the food looked good but unfortunately so many people were ordering we thought we could wait a very long time. A fossil stamp on our control cards, more cereal bars and bananas. I have not been able to shift onto my big front ring all day, Yann kindly has a go at fixing it, but diagnoses something like grit jamming in my internal tubing (ohh err missus) and we leave it as being stuck on granny ring all day is not a problem today! It was a bad move to wash all that Welsh mud off Doris yesterday. A group decision was made to push on to Mells Café. Time 13.05

Stage 3 Kilmington to Mells 19km 222m

Woo hoo, swoopy downhill bit. Well for 1/2 a mile. What a lovely part of the country. We wound our way up a steady climb and then a nice easy run into Mells, past Nunney Castle. Our cunning plan worked well as we had left many people, who had arrived at the pub ahead of us, in the pub waiting for food, and the lovely community run Mells Café attached to the Post Office and village shop, had empty tables and only a couple of others waiting. Get in.

Soup, sandwich and a huge pot of tea was perfect. I had got to the stage of needing real food, bananas, nuts and Nakd bars were not doing it for me now. The soup was spinach and purslane. I have never come across purslane before, but full of omega 3 and combined with spinach, meant Popeye and Olive Oyl had a very healthy lunch. I loved it! Not so sure of Pete's opinion mind. Yann kindly let me steal some of his leaves for my cheese sandwich, perfect!
Mells Café Spinach and purslane soup as green as green can be.
Yann enjoying his panini and 'leaves'
Back outside and the Weston Wheelers rolled in , we had jumped ahead at the pub,

Weston Wheelers joined BRCC
There is even a bike pump at Mells café. Stop here if you are in the area and support a worthy community enterprise because it's a great shop and café! Time 14.30

Stage 4 Mells to Whitchurch 26km 392m

Not far now, but the last stage was lovely but quite punishing. We were glad to have eaten. This is the section incorporating the "Old Rail Trail" aka Colliers Way Route 24 of Sustrans National Cycle Network. What a find! I had no idea this off route trail was here, not that far from us, and unlike the Strawberry Line the surface is smooth tarmac and not grit. It was also downhill the whole way. We were careful as plenty of groups, families and dog walkers also out enjoying the traffic free path. It will connect up to the Bath Two Tunnels route, if it doesn't already.

After that came the last 3 1/2 hills. A good test of the legs and I failed again at the top of the last one. Legs and lungs on strike. Oh well, not too much shame.

The last few kilometres back to the Final Control at the start in Whitchurch. We beat the Weston Wheelers again by being cunning, not that audax are races or anything. Lynette beat me in the final sprint, grr. That was tougher than Gospel Pass audax last weekend!

The garden centre staff were now packing up. All those people who have spent the day garden centre visiting and gardening, how knackering. I'd far rather do what we did. Tremendous day.

Our final congratulatory stamp on our cards, we thanked Will and the fabulous team for organising and manning controls, Wells and Mells audax 2017 DONE! Time 16.55
Wells and Mells and Old Rail Trail Brevet card complete with motivational stickers and stamps.
Lynette and I rode back home together in the drizzle, well to my house, she did an extra 10km on top again. Ride w GPS indicated 1300m climbing, we did 1900m! A well lumpy day over 130km.

Postscript - The Sunday Recovery Ride

There is this theory about recovery rides, to stretch out after a long ride. I am not so sure. I had decided I was going to do half the BRCC Sunday Club run the day after the audax, as Steve was playing golf anyway. I was seeing it more as muti-day training. After all we rode day after day after day of hilly riding in Scotland last summer, and I need to get fitter, stronger and faster. It took 5 miles warm up to get my knee to rotate properly again.

I load up an amended route and as I am awake head off out to Backwell at 8 to meet the BRCC crew. Lynette turns up on foot, declaring that I am crazy, but Julian is there, he did audax plus extra to make 100 miles yesterday and is doing the full hilly route today. Julian is a machine!

After buying more bananas, and sharing them out as I couldn't carry a whole bag, off we set, at a leisurely pace for the others and a lick for me. 25km chasing round the Yatton flatlands.

The test is Burrington Coombe. Off they all shot, I set a record, for my slowest ascent ever. My right (replaced) knee is very swollen and sore and I have burning legs. I said goodbye to the others heading off to Wookey Hub café, and looped off round from Charterhouse and descended down West Harptree Hill (reversing yesterday's route) to Chew Stoke. I had meant to reward myself with coffee and cake at New Manor Farm cafe on the eastern shore of Chew Valley lake, but in my haste I shot down the west side and couldn't face going round. Not even for cake. That is two cycling weekends on the trot I have not eaten cake. Heroic or what? My legs were not co operating so I went the fastest way home, the drag up to Winford was painful and slow. Last whizz down to Barrow Gurney and along the shocking state of Wild Country Lane and home. Pleased I went out, but not sure I achieved any extra fitness nor recovery! I spent the afternoon in the bath recovering properly.

190km and over 2000m climbing this weekend. not too shabby. I did 66.6% of BRCC ride in terms of distance, height climbed and speed of the others!