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!

Monday, March 06, 2017

Gospel Pass Audax: The Hares and the Tortoises Saturday 4th March 2017

Summit Gospel Pass 2017
So here I go again. Setting the alarm for 5.30am on a Saturday. Why?! One of my girls asked me "why do you do it mum?" The good thing about a lovely cycling friend offering me a lift to Chepstow, and wanting to ride with me at my slow pace, means I cannot let Lynette down. I cannot lose face either after publicly announcing I am having another go at Gospel even though I now know what is coming! Here come the BRCC Gospel Girls Tortoises (Backwell Road Cycling Club)

Lynette picks me up at 6.15am, bikes are already loaded as I took mine round to hers on Thursday night. The dreaded porridge has been consumed (with chia seeds and blueberries) and the sun is coming up as we drive over the old Severn Bridge to Chepstow, with winking red bike lights on the cycle lane as the tough hardy souls riding to the start roll across.

No crises as bikes are unloaded, control cards collected, but all day parking tickets purchased and displayed and fellow BRCC members Simon, Stu and Kate and James are spotted and chatted with. Unfortunately we are one intrepid member down who is very definitely ill and has turned home, get well soon Russ.

A mass start of around 130 I think. The weather is looking good this morning, with forecast showers and increasing south westerly winds this afternoon. No snow.
7.30am departure from Chepstow Castle Picture courtesy of Audax Club Bristol 
Stage 1 Chepstow to Monmouth 28km 404m includes the only info control point. All other evidence of completion will be our control cards being stamped at the 3 control points (cafés and pubs) and at the end. The two sharp ascents out of Chepstow do not allow for a nice gentle warm up. Again I am very slow and steady and Lynette is somewhere off in front. A gathering of the distinctive yellow and royal blue Weston Wheelers jerseys in a lay by indicate a puncture already, or early hedgerow breaks? Of course that was the info control point, we forgot about checking the signpost for the Offa's Dyke long distance path. Kindly Weston Wheelers divulge the answer so all is well.

We chug along, up and down and admiring the beautiful scenery through St Briavels to our first control at Henry's Café in Monmouth. An early stop at just 28km, but I didn't make the same mistake as last year and we made sure to stop for coffee, even if we were already well back in the field <audaxes are not races> Very nice latte!
1st coffee stop - Henry's Café Monmouth
First stamp into our control cards and chatted with Chrissy and Katie from Weston Wheelers who I have "seen" on Strava but never met, they are inspiring cyclists and ever so lovely and friendly too. I dubbed the Weston Wheelers chain gang the "hares" as they shot off, stopped at the info control and we all came into Monmouth at about the same time.
Life Audaxes begin after coffee
So now our audax can properly begin after coffee! The sun was appreciated, felt silly having heavy winter waterproofs stowed away at this point.
Sun shining on Lynette in Monmouth
Could you do Gospel on that?
Stage 2 Monmouth to Hay on Wye 55km 648m

Not quite as much ascent on the Monmouth to Hay-on-Wye section, but it is steady, and we get into the groove. Lynette is off again and I resist the temptation to keep up, I will not make it if I go too fast. I tend to get stronger as the day goes on, but not faster!

We can see Hay Bluff masking Gospel Pass over there:
Hay Bluff from the north
The lovely lanes dip too and from from England to Wales and back again several times.
Looking towards Hay on Wye

Gospel Pass for later!
The wind is getting up and we do enjoy a bit of a tailwind into Hay but not much compared to the headwind for most of the rest of the day.
The best Cherry and Almond Cake, allegedly. Tic 674 is for my beans!
A nice surprise in Hay. My parents are down from Cumbria for a few days, and said I was to carry on with my plans, so Steve did bring them over for a drive and they arrived at The Granary Café in Hay on Wye just before us. Steve did say he thought we should have been making better time, as I had texted to say when we arrived in Monmouth and he thought that was leaving time. Smug git!

We rolled in with the Weston Wheelers again, and also saw Kate and James who had already consumed beans at another café as Granary was heaving. Fortunately the rush was easing and we did wait and order a selection of cakes (everyone else) tea and sensibly I ordered beans for me.  Mum dad and Steve set off to mooch in the book shops and Lynette and I head off out to find it raining, but the road is indicating we have just missed a very torrential downpour. The majority of the field will be up on Gospel Pass, it does pay to be tortoise like sometimes.
Heading out from Granary café with my mum and dad wishing us well.
Section 3 Hay on Wye to Abergavenny via Gospel Pass 34km 555m

With dropping temperatures and strongish winds even in the valley, we set off through the high hedges and past fields with newborn lambs as the climbing starts in earnest. There was a fair amount of traffic and other audaxers and getting up in one go without stopping may be a tall order. It was hard going, at one point several cars halted on the steepest bend and somehow I weaved round everything and kept going, there would have been a slow domino effect of everyone having clipped in falls otherwise. The hares were slowly passing us.

Knowing that the climbing eases up after the treeline made me a bit complacent but the strong headwind hit us as we pulled up and it was a long flog, the last steep pull nearly finished me off, as my parents passed by with a cheery wave from open windows. I was very giddy by the top, and annoyingly hadn't realised that the official Strava segment finished 100m down the other side, I should have kept on going to get an accurate time. Never mind. Lynette arrives seconds later (she had to unfortunately stop for those darned cars) and the Weston Wheelers, and a large walking party gave us all rousing applause. I wondered where the Gospel Choir was, but it was lovely that it was more of a joint celebration of achievement. The highest road pass in wales, Gospel Pass DONE!
Lynette at the top of Gospel Pass
The Gospel Girls
Cereal bars munched, all our layers on for the chilly, wet and cold descent. I lead the hares and the tortoises, glad to have a free view of the road and nice that no idiots came screaming past descending at speed. The road was like a river bed, and my chain was grinding and crunching in an alarming manner on the occasional turn of the pedals. We met a tractor, several cars and a very scary incident of a quad bike with a sheep dog running free alongside coming towards us at a lick of knots. The sheep dog was unflappable and no incidents other than passing other folk with punctures.  We continued through the trees towards Abergavenny and turned the corner onto the main road, still into the wind. The Weston Chain Gang chugged past and Katie said "get in behind" I just managed to hang on for a tow into Abergavenny, or more accurately Mardy. I did not miss the pub this year like I did last year, and we pulled into the Crown and Sceptre, hares and tortoises together. I could not feel my feet at all. Lynette is very slight, a real athlete, she was feeling the cold even more. Large mugs of tea and we slowly came too a little.

Section 4 Abergavenny to Chepstow via Usk 43km 446m

I'm getting quite concerned that it is nearly 4pm and Lynette doesn't have lights. The next 25km are OK ish but then there is one heck of a long grinding climb for 10km before the final descent. I have had helmet lights on all day flashing away,and make sure my industrial commuting lights are fixed on now and used for extra safety as the light is very dull.

The pleasant 25km are dispatched efficiently enough, taking it in turns to lead out. Our Weston pals left before us so we were fairly on our own now. We turn left at Usk and eat something (me) and Lynette downs a caffeine laced gel. I could not revisit gels. I have still only ever consumed one gel in my cycling career, at this point in the audax last year!

I shield Lynette from the traffic (because I have lights, illuminating her reflective stripes on her legs) up the long steady climb. We do not have sufficient daylight time to turn off and do the extra bit on the lanes at the top and stick to the main road. The descent is exhilarating, smooth fast and crud free the road has dried out and there is very little traffic.We havd passed the tandem at the bottom and know we are not last.

We arrive in Chepstow, turn into the Three Tuns pub bang on 6pm. The latest finish time, so we are legal (ish) Reunited with the Weston Wheelers who did the little extra (and then ride back across the bridge after final control) A great day. We thanked the lovely patient organisers, got our cards stamped and left them for validation. We should get them back in the post in a few weeks. I love my collection of audax cards with fun stamps.

A quick wobbly selfie in front of the castle a the sun sets. We are very pleased with ourselves. We wrestle the bike rack back on to the car, load the bikes and we're on our way.

My right foot finally thawed out in the shower at home two hours after the finish. Left foot pink, right one white. No lasting frostbite. Chinese takeaway and red wine devoured.

The Gospel Girls had a great day out, and I was relieved we were not last, and we had no mechanicals or accidents. Thank you Lynette! March Strava Gran Fondo also completed, that's 15 months in a row now.
We made the arrivée at Three Tuns Pub next to Chepstow Castle by dusk 18.00

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Gospel Pass Audax lumps and bumps 12th March 2016 actual with 2017 preview

Of everything scheduled for the first half of 2016, "Gospel" was the biggest one for me. The guys at BRCC (Backwell Road Cycling Club) love the 100km audaxes, but they are not such a big challenge for seasoned cyclists, they regularly do 200km, 300, 400, 600 and sometimes 1200km audaxes. However, although "only" 150km or about 100 miles, Gospel Pass is not that extreme in length goes over Gospel Pass, at 550m the highest road pass and longest road climb in Wales. There is 2000m of climbing in total. It often snows as scheduled early in the season, and 'The Pass' is climbed from the steep side ie Hay on Wye to Abergavenny on this Audax. The "big one" is two thirds of the way round. A bump in the lumps.
Doris resting at the top of Gospel Pass
I knew the other guys would be a lot faster, and I did not want people feeling like they had to wait for me, so I roped Steve in to "support" me. Technically against audax rules but he did not follow me round in the car, nor give me 'stickies', or indeed supply me with anything in-between control points. His intention was to watch the exciting final Six Nations England vs Wales match in the pub/s! Importantly, I knew that if it all became too much, or I had a mechanical, or fell off and hurt myself, that I could be rescued. 

I made a few enquiries, and everyone's answer without fail was "Gospel is a toughie" It's a long way, it snows and it's not just 'The Pass'. Their body language did imply that perhaps 'I might not be up to it'...and 'was it wise trying?' Unspoken, and all kindly meant, but it did become a matter of pride. As long as it wasn't icy or totally ridiculous conditions I was going to give it my all, I owed it to Steve dragging him over to Wales for the day to drive round in the car and hang about for ten hours, and then to give up wasn't fair! 

The Garmin is helping with the small matter of route finding. There is no way I can read route sheets going along, but the Garmin seems to not work sometimes, and seize up. All my fault generally but it always happens when you most need it.

Kick off is 8am from Chepstow Castle Car Park. The BRCC guys were riding over from Aust to save the bridge fee, but I needed every last leg mile for the route. I rode a 200km event called 'Break the Cycle' last summer, that was 1750m of height, but I had not done as much prep as I'd like and March is not July weather wise! We passed some cycliss riding over the bridge as the sun rose, arriving at 7.40 to find it was allowable to start early, so already I was behind. Fortunately the very lovely Pete (he of the exploding tyres and congenial company on Jack and Grace and Flapjack Audaxes) had waited for me, deciding that chasing Russ, Gary, Simon and co was not his idea of a pleasant day out.

Pete had the disadvantage of knowing exactly what was ahead.The weather was as good as it gets in March, almost into double figures by midday, dry and a light breeze. Absolutely no excuses to back out and blame the weather either.

So the first half is Chepstow to Monmouth and up to Hay-on-Wye, about 90km. I started off even more ploddier than normal, I know if I start "fast for me" I will never make it. So Pete was a few hundred metres ahead, and I huffed and puffed up those initial and not insubstantial first few "lumps." Steve's plan was to drive up to Hay, have a decent breakfast 'full English' and then ride back until he met us coming out of Monmouth, so he had had a reasonable flat ride as he hasn't been riding during the winter.

Monmouth was too soon for cake and coffee, we pushed on. Boy was I to regret that decision later! The cake cabinet was stunning.

The next bit was relatively OK up to Hay. We spotted Steve riding towards us and teamed up as a three, but Pete and I were struggling. We needed food. So a quick downing of cereal bars and life improved quite a bit. We pulled into the control at Hay on Wye. Our mileage was at 90km (yes I cycle in kilometres not miles!) or just over half way, in horizontal terms, not really started on the vertical. We passed all those lovely book shops but no time to stop and read today.

A three quarters of an hour break for the best beans on toast ever in Hay on Wye. Perfect audax food. We marched off at 1pm for the "big one". The climbing started straight away, and we had to pause to let some cars past, and take off boil in the bag jackets.

I stay in granny gear and chug, and chug some more. At some point Pete stopped, I carried on chugging. Five minutes later our car, with Steve, Pete and Pete's bike on the back too pass me with a cheery wave from a relieved Pete that he may get to see the rugby after all. I stand up for a short while, sit back down again. I am mesmerised by the couple on the yellow tandem and their efficient cadence, they pull ahead.

But it is opening up into moorland. In the deepest recesses of my brain I remember someone saying the worst is over once it opens up above the tree line. They were right. I kept on going, not daring to stop. A much younger rider strolls past me, I have a suspicion it is Janine, who is a BRCC member but I haven't yet met in real life as opposed to online, she tends to ride speedy with Bristol clubs. We exchange a few words, and I pass her when she stops to take photos. I still cannot decide if keeping going was the best decision. I have so few photos of the day as a result. I make it to the top!
Top of Gospel Pass, tiny patches of old snow
I am on cloud nine literally and figuratively speaking, but I am not with anyone to celebrate which is quite sad. No sign of Steve (I later find out that all the parking spaces were taken so they couldn't stop) I ate something. Janine arrived and offered to take a photo, I had taken my decent jacket off and had an old shiny jersey on which is mortifying. But I suppose I look like a #ThisGirlCan picture with my great belly rolls.
Doris and I at the summit of Gospel Pass
Now the small matter of the long descent into Abergavenny. It went on and on, I was very cautious, with wet, gravelly and pot holey surfaces I did not let rip. A few people shot past. We had come up the steeper side. It was wooded valley, and the Garmin had frozen. I followed signs for Abergavenny and eventually arrived in the town centre around 3.30pm. I could not find any evidence of a pub with lots of bikes outside. I walked up and down the high street asking. A few cyclists shot past, obviously audaxers but not looking like they were stopping. I asked a couple of guys outside one pub who sent me up to the pub at the other end of the high street. Nobody there. I was angry, but it turns out that that was the pub used last year so they were not being vindictive!

Finally I call Steve. They are sat at the pub a few miles back up the road at the control point. No way am I retracing my steps. All I want is tea and cake, The organisers say I can produce a receipt instead of stamping my card at the control, so I try to find a cafe and fail, well any where I can see my bike and there is a seat. so I go to the take away place at the bus station where the bikers congregate and buy a Styrofoam mug of tea, use the public toilets and eat some cereal bars and nuts, carefully stowing the receipt.

Steve and Pete turn up as I'm finishing up, having wasted a huge amount of time. I am very despondent but decide that the worst is over and after all these highs and lows I am going to show some spirit and bloody well finish. It would have been so easy to have got in that car. It was 4pm already and a good 40km plus to go, including a long hill between Usk and Chepstow, cruel in the last 15km.
Towards Usk
I tried as hard as I could to keep my speed up as I knew I needed to finish by 6 to technically be in time, a tall order. It was hard work and lonely, I didn't see anyone else, I presumed I was last by miles and felt a bit useless. Even though it's not a race pride is at stake. The lack of proper food in Abergavenny was showing. I stopped in Usk on a corner and decided there was nothing for it, I was going to have to have a dreaded gel.

I have always carried gels for emergencies, so far in my cycling life I have never got to a serious enough situation to warrant one. I'm a real food person. Electrolyte drinks on long rides fine, but gels do not appeal. The sickly sweet gloopy consistency. Ugh. Perhaps today I am finally trying hard enough. I try to squish it down like medecine, it makes an utter mess, tastes absolutely disgusting and I nearly retch as another audaxer goes past. Hurrah, I wasn't last when I thought I was although I probably am now, but how embarrassing if I had thrown up!

I push on and grind up that hill, it was steady and relentless and I actually felt OK, I kept going, singing to myself. The gel did work, but my stomach felt horrible.

I hate to say I cheated a little and didn't take the last pull up to the top on minor roads, but stayed on the main road and back down to Chepstow. 

I rolled into the pub, utter relief, walked straight past Steve without seeing him in my rush to get my card stamped, it was 6.15.  Kindly they did so, my receipt was fine and a few more people came in behind me so my spirits were back up there again. After all that suffering I had done it and wasn't last. I'll never be first, I can take not being last.

Back to the car park by the castle and Steve snaps a few photos, after a lot of hassle he finally gets the whole castle in. He wanted to get home!
Gospel Pass Audax - Done
Walking backwards to get one with whole castle

Not too shabby in the end, I finished.
I have now finally written it up to persuade myself that I can do it all over again this Saturday. Totally sure I can't at present as I've had less preparation and this year I'm at the disadvantage of knowing what is coming! But I managed 15 days of riding like that in Scotland on Tour d'Ecosse, same height over less miles. I should be able to do it.

Watch this space, A gel may have to be utilised for a second time!

12th March 2016 Gospel Pass Audax 160km  1978m climbing