Friday, May 31, 2013


With a fair chunk (more than half) of my working life spent making iron & my love of history, particularly industrial & engineering history, I was pretty pleased when I found that there is a World Heritage Site just west of Birmingham dedicated to one, if not the major, of the cradles of the Industrial Revolution.  Last weekend I finally managed to tie a visit to Ironbridge with some local riding.

It was here, in what was called Coalbrookdale, that iron was first made in blast furnaces using coke, not charcoal, as the reducing agent to strip the oxygen from the ore and leave pig iron.  Iron had been smelted in this part of Shropshire for centuries previously due to the ready availability of iron ore and limestone (necessary as a flux to remove impurities to the slag).  Charcoal had to be made rather intensively from carefully managed forests, so this always kept iron production low as trees take a while to grow.  It was a maker of brass pots, Abraham Darby, from Bristol who came to town, took over an old furnace & began experimenting with reducing the iron ore using coke - this was the early 1700s.

As well as cast iron pots, pig iron was also used to make boilers for steam engines, the first steam locomotive (Trevithick), rails for trains and iron for construction - it was interesting to see how such developments leading to our modern world were so intricately linked.  For instance, the blast for the first furnaces were provided by bellows driven by waterwheels - the water coming from dams behind the furnace.  This constrained the iron production in the summer months as the dams ran low - but as an improved supply of iron, from using coke, enabled more steam engines to be built, these engines were eventually put to use providing the blast for the furnaces.

There are the remains of quite a few old blast furnaces remains around the area & I enjoyed wandering around them & the Museum of Iron.  It was nice to read such words as blast, launder, flux, charge, tapped, cast, hearth, & rolling mill in the context I'm used to reading them.  I was also pleased to finally find out why pig iron is called so - something I'd occasionally wondered, but never enough to do anything to actually find out.  When iron from the early furnaces was tapped (released from the furnace to run out as the liquid it was), it ran along a narrow channel that branched out perpendicularly in multiple places to slightly larger openings where the iron was cast into ingots.   All these ingots were only on one side of the channel & they looked like piglets feeding from a sow - there you go, there's something you didn't need to know.

The hearth of the Old Furnace - that first used with coke.
An engine house on the left & charging floor up on the right.
Incline plane (two sets of rails on a steep hill)
A working replica of Trevithick's locomotive
An old iron foundry relocated from Woolwich - you can just see the primitive rolling mill in front of the puddling furnace.
Kiln at the China Museum
The Tar Tunnel - while trying to open up a transport route between the Shropshire Canal & the Severn, bitumen was discovered.
While mostly exploited in the 18th century, some bitumen continues to ooze out of the walls.
I spent more time at some of the other museums in the area - Blists Hill Victorian Village is an interesting mostly-industrial themed historical park.  Some of the features are original (blast furnace remains for example), but a lot of the buildings have been relocated from elsewhere.  The clever inclined plane between the canal & river was quite revolutionary for its time.  The problem was to connect the end of the Shropshire Canal, some sixty metres above, to the Severn.  The tunnel, originally designed to link the two, struck tar - which made the tunnel more valuable as a source of bitumen, than a conduit for the tub boats used on the canal.  The solution was two parallel railways on the very steep hill - where the heavier laden tub at the top pulled the empty tub up from the bottom as it was lowered.

I returned Monday morning to Ironbridge to avoid the sunny-Sunday-on-a-long-weekend-crowds to see the bridge around which the village sprung up & was named for.  Abraham Darby III, the third in the ironmaking dynasty (there's a term I never thought I'd pen), cast the iron for what was the first iron bridge in the world.  Being the first bridge using the technology, they could hardly let it fall over & sink in to the swamp (river) - so it was vastly over-engineered keeping Darby in debt for the rest of his life.  Nonetheless, it was a marvel of its time and drew visitors from all around the world to the see the new technology set amidst the heavily industrialised valley.

A most enjoyable part of the weekend wandering around in the sun looking at industrial relics - if you are so inclined, I recommend it; if you've managed to read this far, perhaps you are.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Long Mynd & Shropshire riding

Last time the Combe Raiders went to Shropshire to ride Long Mynd I was nearing the end of my time off the bike recovering from shoulder surgery & also, quite possibly, in New Zealand. Either way I didn't make it to what was apparently a good riding weekend away. So when John sent out an invite for riding Long Mynd & perhaps more over the last May long weekend, I was tempted. After having worked out that Long Mynd is close to another place, Ironbridge, that I've been meaning to visit for some years it was easily to justify a solo drive in holiday weekend traffic & three nights away (thankfully airbnb kept the costs down yet again).

Somewhat unusually for a long weekend, the weather was beautiful on Saturday as we met at a local bike shop & campground - Rich had driven over from Oxfordshire that morning to join in the riding fun. Long Mynd basically means long mountain; while not much of a mountain really, more of a hill topping out at just over five hundred metres - it is comparatively long. We basically found different ways to ride to the top of the Mynd and took different routes down. I'd been advised to bring a bike with gears for a change - with some good climbs I was glad I had, even if the squealing brakes were somewhat annoying & I didn't have complete faith in them.

We got some good miles in & with only three of the Combe Raiders (& some of the faster ones at that), there was a lot less stopping than with a larger group.  It was nice to be around hills & the scenery was superb - quite pastoral and green of course.  While not technically challenging, the downhills were long, fast & good fun.  Considering the long weekend & the surprising weather - we were lucky enough not to come across too many walkers as we blasted down the edge of the hill.  An impromptu lunch stop up on top turned into lazy basking in the sun sprawled over the heather.
All weekend I saw many vivid yellow fields.
John - also opted for 'spensions & gears.

Before we headed up to the ridge for the last time we met John's family and in-laws at Carding Mill Valley.  While the twins generally ran around in the sun, it was time for cake.  Unusually, there was not a single pub stop on either of the weekend's rides - but I did manage to eat an inordinate amount of cake.  The last climb up was easily the worst - long & with little traction on the steep parts, there were multiple sections to be walked briefly.  An ace day topped off with entertaining the twins and a barbecue on the lawn of the big country house (of which the others were staying in an apartment of - not an empty country house that we'd found to have a barbecue at).

Just as I was about to leave after convincingly winning at cards (who says lunch times are wasted?), a plan to ride the next evening was hatched. So after a full Sunday, I was driving back to Hopesay where the plan was to ride around bridleways that John had picked off the map.

The only problem with picking random bridleways off OS maps is that you can't really be sure if they are worth riding. The first few miles off road were a little difficult - route-finding was tricky & there were some overgrown paths. But we managed OK & the ride improved as the light disappeared - we didn't set off until well after six o'clock.  It was still very pretty countryside (more yellow fields) and we got enough climbing and miles in to make it worthwhile. 

After riding around Wenlock Edge (one of the the things about this place is the wonderful names: Much Wenlock, Homer, Mogg Forest, Monkhopton, Diddlebury, Ticklerton to name too many), we dipped down into the valley & up the other side.  We were supposed to bypass the summit, but for some time we'd been roughly circling an unidentified (to us) tower.  I couldn't resist, so after a rather brutal climb we were at Flounders' Folly.  Unfortunately we'd missed one of the few days it is open by five or so hours, so couldn't get a slightly higher view of the surrounding countryside.  With one last downhill we headed for the road, donned lights & headed back to pie for dessert.

Flounders' Folly - very difficult to fit in the frame if one is not inclined to fall off the edge of the hill.

Looking back to Wenlock Edge.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Combe Raiders Swanage Weekend

For the second weekend in a row, I was off to Swanage for a riding trip.  To make a pleasant change, I had the short drive to get to a Combe Raiders ride - fifty-five miles instead of the normal hundred to Taunton.  Arriving early due to the afternoon off work, I quite happily passed time in the local bike discussing bike-packing & my next bike.

The ten others turned up in dribs & drabs; once settled into the dormitory/bunkhouse & John had dinner prepared we headed out for a quick ride before it got dark (after being told not to bring lights, I forgot to pack the small ones from my commuter).  Most of the trails in the area I was familiar with from the SSUK 2013 events of the previous weekend, although we did find a nice little descent off the other side of the golf course.  Up onto that ridge again, I had to walk about twenty metres as the headwind was gusty & it was just too much on a singlespeed.   The downhill off the ridge & back into town was just as good & is even better when someone has opened the gate on the blind corner halfway down.

I think this weekend away had been booked well before this was decided, but somewhere along the way it turned into a bit of a celebration of D's fiftieth birthday - but perhaps that's just what the guys with wives had to use as a reason to get away for a weekend of biking. Either way, there was special Combe Raider cider, whisky that I actually found palatable & a very enjoyable Friday night. Somehow I managed to avoid the rooms with the chronic snorers - snoring stories are much funnier the next morning when it's not you that has been kept awake all night.

It would have been too much to expect two glorious weekends in a row - but Saturday was reasonably nice as we headed out to the lap that John, Rich & I had done last week (except they'd wizened up & brought bikes with gears - I was the only nutter left on a singlespeed).

Near the start of the ride - a pub we didn't go in (well, I had the week before).
"If you've got time to hold gates open - get to the back & ride up with the stragglers."  Up the first climb - Isle of Wight just visible in background.
Rich standing in front of Swanage.
As this was the same ride as I've already detailed last week - just without the two-hundred odd singlespeeders - I'll spare you the details, except I rode everything again. Normally, when riding around those with multitudes-more-gears-than-me I don't mind getting off & walking if I have to; but this time I knew I could ride all of the big hills, so made myself do so - my knees weren't so happy about that. We stopped in Corfe Castle because someone said there was a good bakery there - I had a great pasty & danish again. The climb up to Kingston was a bit easier this time around  & soon enough we were back at the Square & Compass - nice ale & I convinced myself I deserved another pasty. Back into town via Priest's Way & time for ice cream by the seaside.

Come Sunday, we'd done most of the trails of note (or so we'd been told) & were looking for a slightly easier & shorter ride before the respective drives home. Somehow, it fell to me to cobble together a route using two photocopied OS maps; I'm not sure that was the best idea for those looking for a cruisy Sunday ride - after all I was riding a tank of a singlespeed (I still can't believe how heavy it is - that had conveniently escaped my memory before I brought it back from NZ last year) & could not be thought of as taking it easy. Pleasingly for a group of eleven, we only had one mechanical for the weekend - & that was only a puncture on Sunday morning when we weren't pressed for time. Coming off the Priest's Way (this time riding up it) we found ourselves in the middle of a Wiggle sportive for roadies. For the next fifteen minutes we had a great time chasing down those ever-cheerful breed of cyclists that wouldn't even smile or return a greeting as they whizzed past us. I don't think one of them was overly impressed by being tailed by mountain-bikers - although the icing on the cake was when I managed to pass one up a hill.
I think this photo was taken to show the niceness of the countryside - very pleasant to ride through, if not as spectacular as some recent photos.
After we got over the hilarity at being sworn at by irate roadies that couldn't handle knobbly tyres passing them, we found a descent we hadn't done yet. Down the side of a ploughed field, where I was filled with my usual trepidation of riding parallel to barbed wire fencing, we were in between hedgerows and all of a sudden the trail got really rocky & absolute great fun. This was the part of the weekend I most wished I was riding the bike I had in Moab. We joined the main road back into Corfe Castle, joining up with the road contingent before stopping at the bakery again.

More new route took us north of Corfe Castle where we discovered a nicely wooded section filled with bluebells, other flowers & mostly-smooth fun trail. Up & over another ridge & we could see the village of the lunch-pub in the distance.

I had one more nasty surprise on the map - what turned out to be the steepest climb of the weekend.  Unfortunately, we could all see it coming - I was pretty sure that I would be walking up that as it looked like loose boulders at the bottom of a continually high gradient.  To get to it, we had a reasonable climb on the road where we passed more of our road friends again.  I was pleased to clear the whole climb - somehow I negotiated all the rocks before settling down to slowly push the pedals around & get to the top.  From the top of the ridge, we could see the weather closing in - there wasn't much to see from the lookout, so what else to do but head to lunch in Kingston.

We finally got rained on, for the first time of the weekend (not bad going), sitting in the beer garden waiting for a delicious lunch.  The bonus of the beer garden was we (well, D - he who got sworn at) could boo every roadie that went past.  Then the road got slick & they started crashing on the corner in the village & it would have been funny if they had not needed medical attention.  With the rain set in, we took the easy fast route back to our cars in town.

So a great weekend, where the company was the highlight, the riding was good, the food & drink plentiful and I didn't blow my knees apart - well organised John.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

SSUK 2013

Sometime ago I signed up for the returning (after a one year hiatus) national singlespeed event. I'm not really all that sure why - it was reasonably local & I think John was pleased to finally have a couple of riding buddies of the one ratio persuasion. Regardless, I pootled over to Swanage on a greyer-than-recently Saturday morning - stopping to drop off non-riding items at Mum's cousin Pamela's house (where I would stay for the weekend) in Poole.

The Saturday was a casual ride to have a look around the area. About a hundred like-minded nutters showed up near the Swanage pier. It's quite odd to see so many singlespeeds on the English seafront. Singlespeeding still being relatively niche, there were all sorts of interesting & fancy bikes - a dozen or so fat bikes too. Not nearly as many singlespeed conversions (from geared mountain bikes) as I would have expected to see in NZ - I'm pretty sure the British spend so much more time & money on their bikes than Kiwis do (also bikes are more expensive in NZ) because they have so much time to do so when the weather is inclement.

We set off in one large group and after a few miles there was a vaguely organised (a continuing theme for the weekend) Le Mans start at the bottom of the very large climb (for singlespeeds at least, & most geared bikers I imagine) up to Nine Barrow Down. I struggled up, weaving in & out of all those walking & then spent ages on the ridge getting cold as the wind & drizzle came through and we waited for the stragglers & to find out where to go next. Off the ridge, there was a nice bit of trail around a golf course & then it was rather tedious fire road to the lunch stop. By the pub stop at lunch time in the sun I was a little/quite worn out from the week at work and really not in the mood to be social & to try break into well established groups of riding buddies - perhaps (probably) I was still mourning the loss of the proper challenging singletrack of two weeks prior. Also there had been talk of the event on Sunday being fifty miles (quite a distance with a solitary gear), so I thought my legs were worth saving for that effort. I had a nice lunch by the waterside and headed back to Swanage.

My unexpectedly free afternoon meant I had the chance to visit Tyneham - a village near Swanage & Corfe Castle that was forcibly evacuated in 1943 as part of the war effort and to which the residents were never allowed to return as the MoD held on to the land for use as a firing range.  Even now, it is only open to the public on certain dates of the year - that limited access took decades to gain.  It's interesting to see a village, of sorts, in a popular tourist area that is completely untouched by the modern world - only the church & the school still stand complete, the few cottages are ruined.  It's sobering to think of the families that lived there for generations under the protection of the local lord who all of a sudden didn't have the only home they ever knew.

Saturday evening passed very pleasantly in Pamela's company (my stomach was pretty happy too) & I slept well before heading back to Swanage Sunday morning.  Since I had left the previous afternoon, John & Richard (my Combe Raiders singlespeeders brothers in arms) had arrived from Somerset.  The event assembled in the same place & we took a more direct route to the start point - the pub of lunch on Saturday.  At about this stage it became apparent that we would only be doing twenty-odd miles - I was a little disappointed that I wouldn't get to push past the distance I would normally ride & see how I'd go.

It must be noted, that even though it was a long Bank Holiday weekend, the weather was absolutely glorious.  Eventually, after noon, small groups of riders were let loose to make their way to the finish pub.  We were sick of waiting around so left reasonably early on in the piece.  It was a grassy reasonably long climb up on to the first ridge.  About halfway up it became apparent that John was going to ride a lot faster than both Rich & me, so we let him go and coming off the ridge I started to enjoy myself as I got over the shorter-distance disappointment & removal of challenge from the day.  It was back up the big hill to Nine Barrow Down - which I couldn't let defeat me as I'd ridden it the day before.

Looking back towards Swanage while waiting for Rich.
Down off the ridge in a different place, we were on the fun little bit of trail around the back of the golf course before the short climb that most had me wanting to get off & push (I didn't). We dropped down again past dozens of ramblers out enjoying the sunshine, under the steam train & into Corfe Castle.  Rich & I had long since decided that we would stop in the village at a well-renowned bakery - it wasn't exactly a competitive event; so we did just that and had the rather surreal experience of eating pasties & pastries in the sun-drenched historic village surrounded by scores of mountain-bikers and dozens of re-enacters dressed up as Saxons & Vikings - big helmets, chain mail and all sorts.
A quick snap of a lamppost & Corfe Castle.
A bit more climbing, with a horrid pinch climb on the tarmac, some nice trail & all of a sudden we were at the finish pub (Square & Compass - which must have the smallest bar I've ever seen in a pub) and it was only half past two.  Maybe I would have been able to fit fifty miles of such hills in to a day.  We basked in the sun for a while, heard John's stories - he was one of the first to finish, not that it was much of a race - and didn't really drink much; before long, eyes turned to the clock as John & Rich were heading back to Somerset & me to Poole.  We left before the pig on a rotating stick made an appearance & enjoyed the final descent back into Swanage along the Priest's Way.

So not really the ride I was expecting or hoping for, but a great day out all the same. I'm not displeased that a larger group of Combe Raiders is heading back to Swanage next weekend for D's 50th celebrations. I'd quite happily repeat that loop - hopefully the weather is just as good.

It was just as stunning a day on the Bank Holiday Monday, so after getting home late morning I could hardly waste it - so I headed out into the forest to do an easy, flat recovery ride. It definitely was a flatter ride than the rest of the weekend & thankfully pretty easy too - as it turned out to be 73 km/46 miles more on the SS. Great to see so many people out enjoying the forest.

Exmoor coastal route

The idea after such an intense riding holiday was to have a week off the bike & get back to normal life.  That didn't last long when I realised that the weather in the UK was a huge improvement on that when I left for the States.  After a day of surviving work & jetlag, I was out in the forest the day after surprised to see how much drier it was.

I got my singlespeed rear wheel back from the shop (new freehub) later that week & promptly went to Somerset for a Saturday ride that was supposed to be hilly with some of the Combe Raiders.  I was still quite excited by Moab (heck, I still am & it's over two weeks later), so John & Anna got the undoubted pleasure of sitting through a lot of photos as I tried to contain myself - Anna probably got bored & John really jealous.  Getting out the door early Saturday meant I didn't get to see much of the twins, but hopefully they'll still remember me.

We met at Dunster Castle and the four of us headed to the beach for a bit of a sandy seafront section.  It was almost warm & definitely sunny.  The ride was a good mix of nice downhills and some big climbs - one of which ended up defeating me on the singlespeed & I had to walk a little.  As always riding with this small group the put-on West Country accents abounded & there was much amusement.

There's the Quantocks behind - our more usual riding destination.
We're all still quite pleased with the shirts
After a slight detour for a much lauded plate of ham, egg & chips and a pint, we were back on the loop for a nasty climb - close to 15% for much of the first half. As this one had a slightly more reliable surface, it was just manageable - although I'm not sure that I'll ever be able to keep with John on his 29er fully rigid singlespeed (actually the bike is not important - John will always be a stronger rider for me to try & keep up with).

Eventually we ended up back in Dunster for ice creams.

There was a castle - although we didn't get much closer than this - note the map of NZ in the bottom right.

A good ride to get back in to UK riding, pleasantly dry & much fun. I was glad I made the rather mad effort to get across to Somerset on the roundabout route to London to visit a NZ friend & his new wife as they were finishing their big European trip/honeymoon. Unfortunately, my car cut out just as I reached the M25 junction on the M3 & I ended up waiting three hours for breakdown assistance - I was a little cold, tired, hungry & fed-up by the end of that. I never made it to London, limped home exhausted & have sent that rather problematic car back to the dealer - I now wait patiently for an acceptable replacement.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The hire bike post

I remember somewhere promising a post about the bike I hired for ten days recently in Moab - and there goes a fair chunk of my readership. Not having a bike suitable for Moab any more in England, I decided I would hire one in Moab. I could have bought one in the USA (either new or second-hand), but I have little use for such a bike in this rather flat part of the world & I've got my eyes on other bikes. Hiring a bike worked as I didn't have to worry about taking a bike on a plane - the first time for a long haul trip since possibly 1996 - & I would get a reasonably new bike and mechanical support from the shop. Hiring bikes in Moab is not particularly cheap (hiring a 4x4 was cheaper), but I justified it as being about the same price as the lift pass I bought for a week's skiing in the French Alps last year - & I like biking so much more, so worth it.

When choosing a bike to hire, I was aware that Megan & Alex would both be riding their 29ers and would therefore climb with relative ease. However, while I enjoy the easier climbing of a 29er I never got over feeling removed from the trail when I last rode their 29ers on singletrack in Canada. On Jeremy's recommendation, I went for Poison Spider Bikes & they offered me a 650b bike - the wheel size is halfway between the standard 26" and 29". While I'd heard a little of 650b, I had mostly ignored it thinking it was just another fad - but was keen to see what it was all about. I ended up with a Rocky Mountain Altitude 730 that was only a few weeks old.

With the brake levers switched over & my SPDs fitted, I was good to go. It proved more than a capable bike - it climbed ever so well that I didn't feel I was at a disadvantage with smaller wheels and it descended well. Admittedly, I have been riding a singlespeed hardtail mostly recently & have little need of trail bike with six inches front & rear - so that may have increased its place in my estimation. But it wasn't long before I found that the bike could take much more than my normal level of riding & I was very comfortable pushing my limits well past what I thought I was capable of. It was very forgiving and with Nevegals & Nobby Nics on, the tires were reassuring and saved me a few times from washing out.

I'd also never ridden 2x10 before - that took a bit of getting used to, but mostly because I'd been riding singlespeed so much. All week, but particularly at the start, I kept catching myself riding a geared bike like a singlespeed - pretty much, ignoring the shifters and standing up and muscling over many rises/hills that could have been conquered with much less effort by a simple gear change.

Cue bike photos:

Just a couple of little gripes: the brake levers for such a new bike were incredibly floppy along the axis (i.e. up & down, as opposed to the in & out direction they are supposed to move in) and with the sandy environment, the pivots were pretty noisy already. But for a hire bike, it was in pretty good condition. I liked the 15 mm Maxle too - as I was constantly removing the front wheel to fit the bike in the back of my Forester.

So overall, I loved the bike and the confidence it gave me. I'd quite happily buy such a capable climber and a bike that descends better than I do - although I might go up one spec level. It's probably fortunate for my bank balance that I don't require such a bike right now; but possibly unfortunate for my state of mind that I don't get to ride the trails that such a bike is built for more often.

Last Moab day - Slickrock & Klondike again

It was with some (OK, great) sadness that I ate my last bowl of camp porridge and had my last mug of Egyptian tea for breakfast - for Friday was our last day in Moab.  I still hadn't put in a fast lap of the Slickrock Trail - something I was keen to do to see how my fitness & riding had improved over the ten days.  Alex & I headed out while it was still cool & the trail was pretty much deserted.  I was quietly pleased to rattle out the trail in seventy-five minutes - about fifteen minutes faster than two other best times.

With camp packed up, there was nothing left to do but leave our little home (and go and hit the brewpub and drown our sorrows). Actually there was, I posted postcards and we finally visited Sweet Cravings, a cafe (serving breakfast, lunch and plenty of baked goodies) that we'd had the eyes of our stomachs on for some time. Megan promptly declared her lunch as the best sandwich she had ever had - my Thai chicken wrap was also worth of similar levels of praise.

There had been some discussion of what would be our final ride - Megan & I were keen for Captain Ahab again as it was so damn good, but that was hardly family-friendly. We settled on heading out Klondike Bluffs again to do a bit of riding with the Tout, before Megan & I could address our unfinished business with the singletrack that we didn't get to ride on the mud-scapade . This worked out OK as there was still much tiredness around due to the second (& as far as I know, last) instalment of Finn's night-terrors. We had a pleasant little ride together on Dino-Flow - rocky, but not too technical - before Alex & Finn left us to the more tricky stuff.

We rode a bit of EKG, which proved slow, rocky & reasonable technical; Megan wasn't having a ball as she struggled to stay awake, but we made it up to UFO and that trail flowed a lot better and was a lot more enjoyable in our not-quite-peak state. Taking the easy, but fun, way down Baby Steps that we knew was there and onto the last part of EKG & then that, as they say, was it. All over red rover; I'm not sure I've gotten over that yet.

I had to head back to town to return my trusty steed & took the chance to grab a shower. I was pleased that I wasn't charged for the few minor scratches, but especially because I was pretty convinced I'd blown the seal in the shock.

We rolled out of Moab faced with the four-hour drive back to Salt Lake City. As the weather closed in, I was well relieved to get a message from Jeremy saying that we could stay in their basement while they were away - not camp on the back lawn as was originally planned. That saved us much hassle & time in not pitching & taking-down camp in the rain and cold.

As I tend to do, that long solitary drive back to Salt Lake gave plenty of time to reflect on a fantastic biking holiday. I can't even put the variable weather down as the only negative - it wasn't always brilliant, but that was all part of the trip & gave some interesting snow scenery & riding. As for all the positives - excellent trails, spectacular scenery, great friends making for superb riding buddies, a very good bike, my riding & fitness improving significantly and some very tasty meals & beer - I'm not sure what to name the highlight, although one does tend to lean towards the riding, as it was a riding trip after all. Definitely the best holiday I've had in a long time (probably since the last USA riding trip in 2011) & that's saying a lot as I've had plenty of trips all around the place in the intervening time. Maybe it's because there's not usually many photos of me on my, mostly, solo travels - but seldom have I seen so many photos of me grinning maniacally; that's probably a good indicator of the quality of the trip.

Up sort of early Saturday morning as the others faced a 1500 km/almost 1000 mile drive back up north, we sorted everything out and then made a rather tortuous trip (due to being trapped within the SLC marathon course & new tires being bought for the others' car) to the last of Jeremy's recommendations - WAFFLES! It's not often that I sink fifty dollars on breakfast, but every last cent was worth it - delicious. Then it was goodbye time in the rain, which at least made it mercifully brief & to the point - but then I wouldn't expect much else from us lot.

Before I knew it, I'd returned the rental car, flown back to Heathrow (two planes, Mama!), tubed, trained, taxied, picked up my car and made it home - winning the not-race home as the return to Canmore was slowed by snow & ice in Alberta - and was back at work.

Friday, May 3, 2013

A Snowy Porcupine

I was adamant that Jackie should ride Porcupine Rim before leaving us as I had just as much fun, if not more, on it as we had had on Amasa Back & Captain Ahab the previous day.  This of course was more than convenient as I was extra keen to ride it again.  Alex was of course keen as well, which was also convenient as Megan was probably the most exhausted of all of us as Finn had suddenly developed night terrors (as opposed to the normal restlessness & noise-making in the  middle of the night) and kept all of us awake for quite some time absolutely inconsolable.  It was a beautifully clear morning, therefore freezing at camp; as we drove up to the trailhead the temperature dropped further to -4ÂșC and I was starting to regret the decision to wear shorts.

Considering the cold, we spent quite a bit of time horsing around at the car organising ourselves and then pretending to stab people with icicles for the camera - I await those photos, Jackie.  I knew there was a good two kilometre climb to start with, so that may have been part of it; at least that got us warmed up as Megan carried on to the sealed La Sal Mountain Loop Rd and the easier drive (when you're half asleep especially). 

On the climb, it wasn't particularly snowy (but definitely much more so than the week before); but as we got into UPS & LPS it got snowier & icier.  It was good fun breaking through all the icy puddles that had appeared in the intervening time, but the riding was a little slower - it was also a little difficult to see the trail through the snow when moving.  I was pleased that I got to see the trail and surrounds dusted with snow, it made the ride interesting - even if I didn't ride any of the downhill sections as fast as I had the previous week.  There's little point describing the ride for the third time, so here's a few snowy pictures & some others.

Snow cactus.

I ended up riding just as many of the larger drops as I had the week before and decided I wanted some photos - so made Alex take some as I sessioned this two-foot drop.  Of course, the first time I rode it as part of the trail was the best - alas, no camera waiting; it took a bit of trial & error to get a decent photo & find the best approach.
A good one of my bike & my puny legs - or so I've been told repeatedly.
Almost got all of me.
Not a great landing, but at least I'm completely in the air & the shot.
I rattled through the last piece of singletrack, but the lack of sleep started to wear a bit thin; it was with some surprise I hurtled around a corner near the bottom of the trail & found the source of the lack of sleep running towards me.  Megan & Finn had made their way up the trail from the parking lot to meet us; but I had trail to finish, so I took off back to the car.

Every time we drove up to Sand Flats to get back to camp we passed Milt's Stop 'n Eat - a diner that has been sitting on what was once Main St since 1954.  It looked like a classic American diner, so after a chilly start & a good ride it was most definitely lunch time & a good opportunity to try out the advertised milkshakes.  That's a double (I should have got the single) chilli burger below & it was fantastic, even if it doesn't look the sharpest; the butterscotch shake was also well worth it.  I can't think why I struggled to finish a large bowl of four-cheese pasta that night - maybe it was because I went on only one ride that day.

Sometime earlier in the week in a rare moment in Moab of committing to anything other than riding (in fact committing to not riding!) I had agreed that I'd watch Finn while Alex & Megan went for, what I imagine is, a very rare ride together without towing an increasingly heavy toddler.  It was time to collect for all the organising, driving, gear supply and general awesomeness that Megan & Alex have shown me - which also worked well as I was rather tired and had a very full stomach.  Jackie was having none of this child-minding business, so packed up her tent & left for more rock-climbing while Alex & Megan hit Slickrock.

Finn passed the time watching a Thomas the Tank Engine film, again, until the tablet gave up the ghost due to abuse at the hands of a two-year old while I wrote postcards.  Then we climbed rocks a lot, played in the sand & I generally contemplated the fast-approaching end of an excellent holiday, life and how I live on the completely wrong continent to regularly get a suitable mountain-biking-in-big-open-spaces fix.
Toddler throwing sand & being told off while I try not to crack up just out of shot.