Thursday, 31 December 2015

Mud, glorious mud

It was another club social at the Forest of Dean.  15 riders, all out for fun and giggles, headed out into the torrential rain, gale force winds and mud.  We were lucky enough to have a guide with good knowledge of the local singletrack which got us away from the motorway-style hardpack of the trail centre and onto the slippy-slidey, rooty, stump-jump gullies and descents of the deep forest. 

The persistent rain soaked us to the skin, but the cafĂ© was warm enough to keep us from chilling to the bone at lunch, and the majority braved the rain a second time.  It didn't take long until my drivechain was grumping, grinding and misbehaving.  Then, snap, the ride was over.  The chain was mangled and a quick-connector was not going to salvage two broken links and, no doubt, further weakened ones.  All was not lost, however, Steve joined me and we had a right laugh as I tried to pump and not-brake whilst he pushed me uphill. We were back to the van in no time. 

3 months old, lubed every ride and ridden by a small female. Modern 11 speed, not so sturdy.

It was a privilege to chase the fast riders down trails, learning and hanging on to back wheels for dear life.  My ability in mud and rain is much less than the dry, but this year I have noticed a vast increase in my confidence and enjoyment on this kind of riding.   Hitting doubles blind, crashing, sliding, loosing wheels on roots, and not caring about it.  That's what it's all about, right?

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Riding in that local stuff

It was supposed to be a big ride day today.  A BIG ride, out miles on the 29er.  Yet again it didn't happen. Tired, lethargic, lacking motivation and drive. Lacking everything I need right now to be training properly for Strathpuffer.  There is no excuse, I am on leave, I have the kit, everything is ready, except me. Instead we headed for the local woods to ride in the new trail. 

However, messing about in the woods and on wee wall drops mustn't be underestimated for confidence and smiles.  Who cares about getting the training miles in when the sun is finally out?

The new trail runs well, especially after Steve took one look at the first turn, decided an off-camber high line was the only way to go, and then rode it in a treat.  He was right of course, it is 'the line', and the corner has now started to berm up and carry speed. 

It was pleasing to eventually nail a drop off a tree stump.  There may have been one or two refusals, ha! It's just a wee little thing, but scary as hell with a blind, rooty run-in, slippy wet branches to create the take-off (why do boys not think that kind of stuff is a front-wheel-wash-out waiting to happen?) and a landing on slippy clay.  Head games, all head games.  It'll be nice little sender with a bit of shovel work and some dry weather to harden up the clay.

By the end of the day I realised I'm not going to come into Strathpuffer 100% fit and ready, I am so far off the fitness I had in October I will be unable to regain it by the 23rd.  My time has run out to claw it back significantly. But this realisation has been such a blessing.  I don't think I care any more, I benefited earlier in the year with the training and have really enjoyed the time I have spent on the bike doing so.  I may as well head to Scotland at the end of January and enjoy it for what it is.  Which may be a few laps and a lot of drinking of tea in between.  That sounds like fun to me!

Monday, 28 December 2015

Secret Stuff

Today we scratched in some trails.  Secret ones, hidden away. Thank goodness for bright off-road lights to allow work to continue well after dark, clearing logs, deadwood and bramble, planning alternative lines and testing corners.

3 pairs of hands and 3 hours later there was a complete track, ready to be ridden in over the next few weeks.

No photos from today, so here's one from a different time and place.  Working by torchlight is always fun.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

The Sunday Staple - Long Steady Distance

A late start for a long ride, but then, what is a long ride? 6 months ago 60 kilometers would have seemed like a snippet of a day, and rides only fell into the 'long' category when there was no time for anything other than sleep. How quickly perceptions change, and eating breakfast at mid morning I was uneasily pondering the fact I may have to ride in the dark on the way home.  We evening-ride twice a week at this time of year and I've ridden non-stop through many a night. So why the sense of doom?  Who knows? The mind is a funny thing.

The 29er and rucksack were laden with water, lights, spare lights, tools, food, GPS and a map.  Oh and a camera.  Plus a phone. Some good luck charms. An additional waterproof coat. No sign of a kitchen sink, nevertheless the 'lightweight packing' thing has never been a forte, Perhaps time spent on exposed terrain many miles from the nearest help has left me rather paranoid regarding self-sufficiency. "Worrying about a few grams seems pointless and it's all good training carry stuff" I mumbled, heaving the rucksack on my shoulders.

Tentative plans were to head out on a quiet lanes, bridleways, urban cycle routes and unknown forest trails, aiming for a large area of woodland around 25 km from home. There is no way woodland that large would be devoid of decent mountainbiking, or at least, that was the theory.

Firstly though, there was a trip over Wellington Heath.  One of my favourite of places, I love it.  It has an enigmatic feel about it, particularly the road cutting which encloses the lane, making it feel dark and mysterious.

All sense of time was already lost, just 10 kilometers from home and I was rolling along looking out over Herefordshire and finally switching off.

This part of the county is rather devoid of legal bridleways and I had taken the decision to follow a footpath marked lane after assessing on Google satellite imagery as a safer alternative to the A449.  It was nice, the forest roads were easily pedalling over hardcore put down for the heavy lorries, the views were good, and there wasn't a person in site.  Good job as the last 100 meters turned into a private road with the typical 'Englishman's Castle' NO CYCLES signage.  Ah well, I was through and gone before anyone saw.

It turns out the small market town of Ledbury has a surprising number of cycle paths, 'town and country' trails and even some muddy bridleways. There is very little better than plotting a route on GPS software and translating it in real time on the ground, never knowing what to expect.  One minute graveled commuter paths, the next, red Raglan grassy mud adjacent to bolting winter crops.

The sun tried, and failed, to break through the thick cloud as I trundled through the 15 km of lanes soaking up the scenery and practicing my relatively new ability to ride no handed whilst getting the camera in and out my coat pocket to grab shots.  The Olympus TG-4 turns out to be a one of the best Christmas presents ever.  Shockproof, waterproof and easy to use on the move. Perfect for someone who hates stopping, has already broken 4 cameras in 2015 and who spends far too much time soaking wet and muddy.

Eventually the destination came into site. Acres and acres of woodland with a massive mix of wide gravelled forest roads and walking paths, hidden singletrack, tiny bridge crossings over drainage ditches and even the odd jump.  Clearly mountain bikes ride here, although there wasn't a lot of tyre tracks. Neither was there a lot of walkers and it was gratifying heading solo into the depths of the weald, just blindly following trails until the trees thinned and the abutting fields came into view.

Several sections were foot deep clay and unrideable, but, astoundingly, much of the singletrack remained hardpack, albeit with an exceptionally slippy 'Teflon style' surface.  This place will run well in the summer, there is no doubt about that.

The M50 underpass provided a good place to stop for food.  

Stollen, kindly provided by my Dutch friend Billy, who tells me this stuff is breakfast food.  I say no, anything containing marzipan is 'at any time, any place' food.  A whole 37 years having never experienced Stollen, I just didn't know what I was missing.

The journey back was a little easier, with assistance of a tailwind and I flew along the lanes, stopping only for horses and slowing only to grab a quick shot of a random boat miles away from any water. Boats in the countryside, always amusing.  Although with the horrendous flooding at the moment, I imagine there are some who wish they had such a luxury.

For a bit of mental training, I decided to head up onto the Malvern Hills once I was close to home. It's always harder to finish with some tough climbs after a relatively flat ride, and even tougher when hungry and wanting to get home to homemade lentil soup.  Mental strength though, that must never be underestimated and I was chuffed to get up into the clouds of the Worcestershire Beacon. Well, until I realised that packs of walkers, 5 deep, were taking over and it was just far too busy to ride, so I dropped home the fun way to a welcome hose pipe and hot shower.  And it wasn't even close to nightfall.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Grey, yet fabulous, December days

It's been a grey ol' Christmas 2015. Grey in colour, but not in atmosphere. After a chaotic year, which I shall recount at some point, it has been a relief to catch our breath and spend some time at home, riding local trails, laying in and laughing with biking friends. The club social group has gone from strength to strength through the seasons, and the wonderful 'Steady Social' rides are no longer restricted to a Thursday evening.

It was great to see a few out on Christmas Day, riding muddy local gems, all smiles despite the cloud enveloping the Worcestershire Beacon. Timbo arrived on a roadie, just to say 'hi', but joined us off-road to the top anyway. Malvern breeds nutcases, it's a fact.

Keith was atop a shiny Trek, for which countdown had begun a few weeks before, Just 15 more days to go....14...13.....

Compromises had to be made today however. Strathpuffer is boding down like a monolith, and preparation has gone to pot since an unintentional peak in the early Autumn. A 1300 DIY Audax at the very start of October gave a much bigger training bounce than expected and I was stronger than ever for a few weeks. I knew it wouldn't last, and deliberately reduced the load and took time to rebuild. However, the rebuild never came, and instead the fitness continued to plummet with nagging legs, a nagging cold and a nagging sense I had stumbled into over-training through chasing boys up and down hills on mountain bikes rather than steadily maintaining a base on smooth tarmac. Work didn't help, as most of November was spent undertaking long site days with heavy kit and climbing ladders relentlessly. More absolute time off of the bike cured the tiredness, but now there is the lack of fitness. Gone, in a big cloud of 'too much laziness'. Less than a month to go and I feel weak, unfit and seriously lacking endurance. My only reassurance is, on a good day, 'shear bluddy mindedness' can keep me going through the darkest and toughest of rides.

So today I had to pass up the chance to slide around in the mud again with friends, as, for the last two weeks, that is about all I have done. To take the day to catch up with myself, let the legs rest from the Christmas MTB socials (of which there has been many) and set up the 29er for a big long steady distance ride tomorrow.

Around mid-morning I realised I had been up for a few hours, and was yet to eat and getting very hungry, so took the chance to take the roadie out for a steady hour of fasted riding. To work on triggering the fat burning metabolism and hopefully induce a bonk. The jury is still out regarding fasted riding, but there is no doubt that learning to 'run on empty' is a key part of endurance stamina. I may go into the practical aspects one day, but for now, I'd rather focus on the ride.

It was wonderful. The grey, yet dry, skies and rushing winds provided the moody surreal backdrop of December, and the shorn leafless hedges allowed the sweeping hillsides of Herefordshire to be appreciated in full, rather than glipsed briefly through gateways. It was great to be back on local lanes, having spent barely any time on the road bike since October.  Before I knew it the hour was over. With no sign of a bonk. Maybe the fat metabolism still kicks in when it needs to afterall......