Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Bristol Bikefest - Sunday

When Andy posted on the Combe Raiders page some time ago, I thought doing my first MTB relay solo was a good idea. That was mainly because it was only six hours (on the Sunday, twelve on the Saturday) - not the much more ambitious twelve or twenty-four hours that I'm used to such events being. Saturday was a cracking day - even on Andy's patio on (almost in) the Avon at dinner time it was 30ÂșC; thankfully it was a little cooler on race-day.

I really wasn't all that prepared for such an event - treating it as a normal ride really; at six hours that is about normal now - although this time with almost continuous riding.  But with Andy's help I managed to ditch my camelbak for the ride and with faith in tubeless, I rode the whole day just carrying a water bottle & hoping no mechanicals would appear - riding so light was quite nice for a change.  The event started with all the first riders (there were also teams & pairs in the six & three hour events) about two kilometres from the start-finish and a few hundred metres down a hill for a chaotic Le Mans start (where you run to your steed & then race from there). Mindful that I had six hours in the saddle ahead & with my general aversion to running - I took it pretty easy & ended up near the back of the field, but there was hill to a start so I could pass people up there easily.

The course turned out to be the most fun course I've ever done in such a relay event - with some really nice singletrack, four hills that weren't killers but enabled passing, and plenty of shade.  So as I'm completely uncompetitive it turned out to be a very fun ride and there wasn't anything too draining.  There were some nice technical drop-offs that I rode most of the time, but tended to avoid later on when I was trying not to do anything stupid as I tired. With the extra distance at the start I thought I was doing close to forty-minute laps & would comfortably fit in nine laps, but after my first pit stop for a Clif Bar & water top-up I realised I was lapping a lot quicker than that & would probably be able to fit in ten laps if I didn't blow out.  So that's what I did; with a bonus third pit stop I finished with about five minutes to spare without any really pain - although a little tired as I paced myself to make sure I finished.  I had some aches in places I wasn't expecting - upper arms & just below my neck at the top of my back, I've never had any biking induced discomfort there before.  Incidentally, I was decidedly mid-field finishing seventeenth out of thirty-one (the winner did twelve) - but mostly pleased with riding ninety-six kilometres/sixty miles offroad with only about ten minutes of stopping.

So a very nice day out on the bike on some well designed singletrack - Andy & Chris also did ten laps between them, finishing a quarter an hour or so before me.  They had done the twelve hour last year, but got a bit bored.  I tend to concur, as fun as the trail was - after about eight consecutive laps it was getting a little boring.  So while it'd be nice to challenge myself & do a twelve or even twenty-four hour solo - I think I'd get too bored going around & around the same course  for such a long time (not too mention I'd actually have to think about preparation, nutrition & other such things in more detail, when all I really want to do is ride).  One of the things I love about riding is exploring places - something a lap-based race doesn't really encourage.

Unfortunately this post is even more verbose & picture light than normal - this is the only one I have from the day, I didn't even carry a camera.  The day was topped off nicely by visiting my cousins five minutes down the road, lying on their new lawn (the lawn's not new, they have recently moved there & didn't have a lawn before) stretched out in the sun with a beer. I shunned the longer, but quicker, motorway route home & went cross-country home on the A-roads - just stunning in the evening light across the pretty countryside.

Monday, June 10, 2013

en route to Bristol

Even though I'd entered a six-hour event solo, my first, the following day in Bristol there was no way I was letting a sunny weekend day go to waste. Asked the question, John recommended I go for a ride on the Mendips - I duly found a route to follow and set out early Saturday morning for Somerset.

The wonderfully clear day was once again plagued by a brisk wind, but that was at my back as I immediately hit a 1:10 climb to get up on top of the hills. The bluebells had already started to fade at home in the New Forest, so it was nice to see fields still in bloom. After some pleasant riding in the sun across the ridge top (which was wonderfully dry, but looked like it would be horrible if slightly muddy) there was flattish road and then from a quarry I was hurtled down a rockfest of a descent to Cheddar. It kept going & going and was the best downhill I'd done since Moab.

I pootled up Cheddar Gorge (the only other time I have visited was eighteen-odd months ago with Mum) a little way to see what it was like & decided it was time for tea & cakes - because apparently eleven in the morning is too early to open a kitchen and provide hungry cyclists with an early lunch.

Straight out of Cheddar it was another very steep climb up above the southern edge of the gorge. While there was no one to be seen on the route I took down into Cheddar, this path was very popular with walkers - who all seemed convinced I was mad. After another sublime descent through woods (unfortunately, a bit too much traffic here too) there was rather too much road to link to the last bridleway section. So that was a great introduction to the Mendips - I hope I make it back to ride with the Combe Raiders. Perhaps 840 metres of climbing was a bit more than I should have done - but the following day would let me know.

With a few hours to kill before Andy was home (the one I have to thank for the whole Bikefest idea & whose house I was staying at that night), I thought there were worse things I could do than go into Bath. So I continued the drive in the sun, parked up at the same Park & Ride where I also went with Mum & rode the bus into yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site. As Mum & I had already visited the Roman Baths, I had a very nice afternoon wandering around in the sun looking at the old buildings, lounging in parks & eating delicious Italian cake.

Monday, June 3, 2013


Following the exertions of the day before, I had planned a day of sitting in the sun at the NZ vs England ODI cricket that I had just learned was in town.  However, fifty quid seemed a bit steep - as one can never be sure which NZ cricket team is going to turn up (the sublime or awful) - so I gave it a miss. That was quite a misjudgement with the Black Caps absolutely pummelling the English - a shame to miss that, but oh well.

Instead I had a relaxing couple of hours in the sun strolling around a National Trust property, Mottisfont, near Romsey.  The house was originally an abbey before the monasteries were dissolved - strangely, when the remains of it were granted to someone who was clearly in Henry VIII's favour, a house was built around the abbey instead of demolishing it.  The old cellar is the most obvious of the 13th century remains.  In parts of the house there are holes in the walls & at the back of cupboards exposing interesting ancient features.

The grounds are extensive and have a lot of lawn.  I was there relatively early & by the time I left there were hundreds of cars in the parking lot - most of those seemingly belonging to the scores of families spread out picnicing, playing ball and generally just enjoying the sun.  There's a big walled garden - alas, I was a couple of weeks too early to see the mass of roses that I'm told are very impressive (curses to that long, cold spring).

The font, still spewing forth a lot of water, after which the property is named - as the local residents used to meet here back when Old English was spoken and "moot" meant "meet" (say that last bit quickly repeatedly) .
I forget what that smaller tree is, but it certainly was a mass of white.

The house was interesting enough & quite nice - the last owner was quite in to the arts & hosted many artists down from London. Consequently, there's quite a bit of art around.  I did enjoy the watercolour exhibition until it started getting a little abstract.  The most interesting feature I thought was the small waterwheel on the ground floor that was used to turn some sort of pot spinning device over an extremely large coal range.  Also, doorways hidden behind bookcases are always cool.

A pleasant little outing, not nearly as tiring as the last one.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Isle of Wight day ride

It's been one of those uncommon weekends at home - & more surprisingly, it coincided with some very nice early June weather. With no plans & wanting to see, before next weekend, if I could manage six hours of riding off-road in a day, it was the perfect time to finally head back to the Isle of Wight. This was my fourth visit to the island - strangely, the first in the eighteen months that I've been living just a few miles away across the Solent. On Garmin Connect,I found a rather optimistic looking, for me, almost-ninety kilometre course from an enduro MTB event that ran the week before; of course I could hardly drive to the ferry in Lymington - so that added another thirty-odd kilometres return.

I woke perhaps a little later than I normally do on a Saturday, but was quickly out the door by nine o'clock - I must have just missed a ferry so had to wait about thirty minutes for the next one. By about eleven I was in Yarmouth & it was heaving with some sort of carnival - that should have been predictable considering how packed the ferry was. But all the tasty food stalls couldn't tempt me as I was reckoning on being back to catch a return ferry at about six o'clock. The first bit of the course followed a very flat causeway up alongside the delightfully named Yar - the number of Rs you add is in direct proportion to how piratyrannical you are feeling.

Soon I was climbing through a golf course onto the chalk downs - very nice it was too with great views in all directions (only spoiled by the Calshot power station stack & the Fawley refinery - both pretty close to home). The ride to begin with was mostly bridleways linked by small pieces of road - not the most exciting mountain-biking, but that wasn't what I was really after. It was a very pleasant day out in the sun, with a brisk wind, and unlike the mainland there were very few people about. About two-thirds into the course I started to get a little tired, so the food stops got a little more frequent.

One of the nice things about riding on the island is that you don't have to go very far for the views to change significantly. Also, unlike the Forest, there are hills - which are much more interesting than no hills. On the return from the furtherest point and closing the second & third loops (the course was vaguely a stick to start with, then three loops stacked on top of it) it started to become sealed lanes connected with bridleways - which I was OK with. Luckily I brought about half my normal lunch, as it's more sparsely populated over there and pubs for mid-ride meals were a bit harder to find.

I ate much less on such a ride than I expected I would, so was pleased to stumble over a donkey sanctuary (whoever had heard of such a thing?) down a bridleway that had a small cafe with rather nice cakes in it (the carrot cake was saved for later & won out over the yoghurt & lemon flapjack). Of course, just after that I found a very quaint village with pubs - but I was still on track for six o'clock, so pushed on. All the singlespeeding recently has given more feasible options for getting up hills when one is tired - so that was helpful as there were still a couple of climbs to get up before the long descent back to Yarmouth to roll straight on to a ferry.

Back home by eight o'clock - that was a great outing where I could pace myself as I wanted and after which I was not nearly as sore as I should have been. Looking back through the riding diary, that's the most distance on a single day I've ever put in on a mountain-bike (it was mostly off-road) & the second highest total climbing since I got my GPS two years ago (not even close to Alex's climbfest of summer 2011) . I hope such large rides continue for the next few months every so often, otherwise the RVO will destroy me.

Monument & follies appear in the strangest places in the UK - this wasn't even at the top of a hill.
The problem with such a long route on bridleways is the scores/hundreds of gates one must open & close - this set appearing suddenly out of nowhere were a little more over the top than most.