Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Ogre Quake sort of weekend

After a good couple of months of waiting, my new bike was finally back in stock so I headed off to Swanage Friday afternoon to pick it up from Charlie the Bikemonger - purveyor of all sorts of interesting & niche bikes and associated things.  Unfortunately for my arms & downhill speed, the suspension fork is still to arrive - so fully rigid on a 29er it was for the weekend.  The Surly Ogre is not particularly fancy (I don't think I've ever had a fancy bike - money seems to get spent on travelling to interesting places), but it is extremely versatile.  I've bought it for its ability to carry loads off road - sturdy is a good word, heavy not so favourable - and still be useful for riding fun trails while hauling bike-packing gear (pretty much light camping gear) between overnight stops.

I stayed the night at cousin Pamela's in Poole, always fun, before heading off too-early Saturday for the Quantocks in Somerset.  I was to meet people I met at last week's event, but having to repair their broken bikes before an Alps trip put paid to that.  As it happens, riding by myself worked out well as I could stop whenever I needed to & tweak things on my bike & get it right.  The Ogre climbs well, as I expected a hardtail 29er to, but I got quite a nasty shock at the start of some of the descents - so bumpy, looking forward to the Reba fork turning up.  Noticeably cooler than the previous two weeks (we're officially out of the heatwave now, but it's still pleasant) it was easy riding and I managed to tackle the infamous Chimney without incident.  With no one to wait for, I ignored photo stops.

John & Anna weren't home when I arrived, so I wandered downtown in the sun for some lunch. On the way back I got to call 999 for the first time (I think I've managed only one 111 call back in NZ) - such excitement. About halfway back I noticed a lady pull to side of the road & stop with quite a bit of steam coming out from underneath the bonnet/hood of her car. It seemed a lot of steam really, so much so that I started to think it was smoke - I crossed the road and standing downwind it was easy to tell it was smoke. As I chatted to the driver about what to do, really hoping she wouldn't try to open the bonnet/hood, a small lick of flame poked its way out; calling the fire brigade was a logical progression. Seven minutes later with the road closed, an engine arrived - by which time the whole front of the car was on fire, as well as the road beneath, a tyre had exploded & the windscreen sported a large hole. The flames were quickly extinguished & the poor lady had the rather soggy remains of a car left.

The inaugural Quantock Quake was on Sunday - thankfully the start was brought forward two hours to nine o'clock to miss the heat of the day, this worked a treat as it was cool until the sun broke through at about ten and things got rather warm. Apparently it has been many years since a MTB event was held on these hills due to previous associated incidents - so it was officially not a race, but a sportive (although we all started at once). It was a well run & fun little event - only just over eighty riders - & I got to ride parts of the Quantocks I've never before. Six of us Combe Raiders were there looking rather swish in our shirts - those, not our supreme riding, attracted plenty of comments. I got home fifth in the not-officially-a-race, so I was quite pleased with that as I was really slow downhill trying not shake to pieces but quick enough uphill to regain time lost. John did rather well and got back second, a good fifteen or twenty minutes in front of me.

By the time we got back to John & Anna's it was proper baking (for England) and a good opportunity for a barbecue. The rest of the afternoon was spent eating, cleaning bikes a bit (no water needed, for a change) & entertaining the twins.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A small local adventure

Rather amusingly, parts of England - including where I live - are in the grip of an official heatwave (Level 3!).  The weather has been extremely settled & good recently, but it is amusing that there have to be nationwide alerts if summer actually turns up properly on consecutive days as no-one seems to know what to do (the last heatwave was in 2006).  Level 4 is apparently a national emergency, so I look forward to seeing what state of panic ensues if that happens.

With sleeping inside being a little difficult (at least it's not humid) I thought last night was a perfect opportunity to try out a few of the bike-packing items I've bought recently.  That is - a Thermarest Neoair inflatable mattress that provides a lot of mattress considering how tiny it packs down, an Alpkit bivy bag and a very cheap & lightweight sleeping bag.

So with my sleeping bag strapped to the handlebars of my singlespeed & everything else loaded into my Camelbak (better & more permanent carrying solutions will appear after new bike is collected), I headed out into a very pleasant evening to scout around the forest for a suitable bivy site for the night.  It was very nice riding in the cool of the evening & there were few people around (it's nice to see someone riding an identical bike to one which you had ten years ago)  - but I didn't want to get too far from home as the following morning I had to ride home, shower, make lunch, breakfast & then ride to work before seven o'clock.

On my well worn route to the centre of the forest, I found a few potential sites & eventually settled in a small clearing in some woods well off the beaten path.  It's a simple arrangement to set up - ground sheet, mattress then sleeping bag inside bivy bag on top of all that - so I wasn't expecting many problems & there weren't any.  It has been sometime since I've slept under the stars, so it was nice to watch the night take over from dusk as I lay staring at the sky.  Shortly after, a herd of horses walked through seemingly crashing through the undergrowth (I bet they weren't, but it was so quiet it sure sounded like that), grabbing a supper of grass noisily as they went.  I was a little nervous that they'd be so startled by my presence that I'd some how get trodden on, but it wasn't quite as bad as coming out of a tent in Nakuru National Park & discovering a herd of giant water buffalo staring at you.  A frog visited me too - that was odd as I was nowhere near any water, I thought.

Anyway, the rest of the night was uneventful - but it was still a bit warm, so sleep was fitful.  Eventually the alarm went at five and I got up, decamped, watched a herd of deer close by and rode home - somehow I got to work even earlier than normal.  So a successful little outing trying the gear & adding a small amount of adventure to my normally quiet week.  It's nice to know the forest is so convenient for more than just riding - it'll be easy to head out to safe surroundings to test more overnight gear in the future.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Blenheim Palace

With another gorgeous day present & me not participating in the rest of the weekend's cycling events (a sportive on the road - pffft) - I had a whole day to get home in no hurry at all.  With family & friends absent from the obvious stopping point on the way home (Bristol) I started scratching around for something to go & see as I drove home.  Somehow I remembered that Blenheim Palace was not far off my route home (ten miles extra as it turned out) & I'd been meaning to see it one day as it was the birthplace of Winston Churchill and conceived to honour the first Duke of Marlborough, John Churchill, after his famous victory at the Battle of Blenheim.

The grounds are extensive & well worth walking around on such a pleasant summer's day.  I of course enjoyed the history throughout the house and just moseying around.  My little photos may be better than me rambling on...

The smell of all of the roses reminded me of my grandparents, but Colin St was not quite the same sort of palace.

Just riding mostly

It's been a bit quiet on here for a while - mostly because the weather, somewhat unbelievably, has been really good for a while here in the south of England & I've been riding my bikes a lot.  However, I've stayed relatively close to home (within a couple of hundred miles anyway) and have been riding at places I've been to before, so there haven't really been many stories to share or any new photos.

Consecutive weekends riding in Wales (a bit wet, with disappointingly short rides), Somerset (another short ride - but my biggest crash in years, nothing on a dislocated shoulder though) and the Isle of Wight (a small group from the local MTB club & actual heat) were leading nicely up to last weekend.  For some reason, I thought it would be a good idea to enter a so-called MTB Marathon in Shropshire in the middle of summer - back on Long Mynd, where I rode at the end of May.  Mainly I think it was because I've been riding increasingly long distances to keep my riding interesting & challenging on the local terrain - but I find that I know few people around here with the free time or inclination to go out for long rides.  So signing up for a 75 km event seemed like a good idea - a ready made route & people to ride with/near.

Not being a bank holiday weekend, it only took four hours to get to Shropshire & I was setting up camp in the late afternoon - with twenty or so groups of campers.  By the time I got back from the dinner at the pub at the bottom of the hill, I was astounded by how much the field had filled with tents.  This event was clearly a lot more popular than I was expecting.  By half-seven Saturday morning, I was baking in the tent (I was pleased I'd impulse-bought a super thin & small sleeping bag for the summer) - but I managed to drag myself back down the hill for a Full English to fuel the first few hours' riding.

Ten o'clock seemed to be a bit late to start such a long ride (there were shorter options - 25 & 45 km - that started at the same time) as it was already a scorcher.  Having ridden here recently, I knew the first climb was a long drag up a bit of seal & then forestry roads - so I was happy to start near the back & just spin.  That was a mistake, as I forgot I "just spin" on a 1x9 quite a bit faster than most.  The first descent was a little unnerving as I still don't trust my bike completely after the crash two weeks ago - no sooner was that over, the second climb started with a real kicker & just kept going in the sun.  There's always a lot of satisfaction to be had riding past most of the field walking up a hill.

On the long course there were three feed stations & they were fantastic.  Plenty of bananas, biscuits, energy drink, water & home-baking (mmmmm - Welsh cakes, & flapjacks).  The second was just past the halfway point after a really sweet few kilometres of forested singletrack that was off of Long Mynd & a joy to discover.  It was quite tiring, but nice to be out of the sun.  Things got a little easier through the third quarter & the climb back up on to Long Mynd & the highest point of the day was only about half of the gradient earlier in the day.  By now, I was just trying to get to the end & drink plenty of water.  Sunburn wasn't really a problem as the sunscreen I applied beforehand was now covered in dust & I actually looked tanned - I say tanned, in the cold light of day I probably just looked dirty.

As we'd lost all the shorter distance riders, things were a bit more spread out & I got talking to a couple from just down the road in Poole - mostly because Rachel was wearing a New Zealand riding top & both she & Andy seem to get up to plenty of adventures.  Andy managed a puncture on the last descent off the mynd - I thought that was one of the best downhill sections of the day.  With a couple of kilometres to go, my leg tried to cramp - but not so much that I couldn't ride through it.  I was pleased to ride off the camping-hill down to the finish line through some technical switchbacks in one piece & get home in less than five & a half hours with no signs of heatstroke.

So much for a post that said: "I went for a long ride up some hills & it was very hot".  If you've made it this far, I can't even post a photo as I was unusually not carrying my camera.  All I've got is measly GPS track.