Sunday, 10 January 2016

Tiny lanes, big floods.

It was that time of the month again. No, not that time!  Randonneur Round the Year (RRTY) and Audax Altitude Award Round the Year (AAARTY) time.  Currently two months into a third consecutive year of these challenges, and, due to the time constraints with mountain biking, I am making do with fitting in one very hilly road ride a month to cover both.

This month, a more concentrated loop, weaving in and out of yet-to-be-ridden hilly Herefordshire lanes, was the choice.  It was a slow one, really slow.  Partly from my own lack of oopmf.  The legs and lungs were OK, but I was tired after very little sleep and had no motivation to do anything other than get round steadily.  It was easy enough to plod round, 200 km, 3382 m climbing on the Etrex and there was no struggle on the climbs.  A couple of off-road sections through muddy footpaths and gravelled common-roads added interest, but mostly the views made the ride.  Views I see only at this time of year, when the hedges are short and bare.  Sweeping new growth of winter wheat glows green against the browns of the empty trees and scrub.   Distant hills come and go beyond the veil of rain and the ruby red lights of Marcle Mast stand out intensely against the grey skies.

Mostly, the lack of speed was due to the state of the lanes.  The new DIY mandatory routing option is great, it allows submission of a pre-planned GPX route and means routes can be designed to stay well away from any main roads, town centres, or the vicinity of psychotic stalkers (I don't have one, but it's good to know, for future reference).  I love the lanes, tiny little lanes that run along valley lines, looking across flood plains, surge upwards through high hedges and cross ridges perpendicularly.  With this, of course, comes the lack of maintenance, poor drainage, gravel strewn corners, big floods at the bottom of plummets where bike control is already a struggle, aggressive drivers that don't want to wait 10 seconds for you to get to the next layby, horses (for which I always stop and wait), and junctions at the start of a steep hill.  Tough riding, but rewarding non-the-less. 

These 200s always leave me with lasting memories. This time, the mix of the potent scent of brassicas partially rotting with their roots in water, and a farmhouse venting perfumed tumble dryer emissions will not be forgotten. Neither will a short diversion through a small-scale suburban housing estate, which was such a contrast to the rural repetition of narrow lanes.  Preened front lawns, stand alone garages and Stepford wives.  My only real stop of the day was at a garage, cemented in the 1980s, with the friendly owner writing down all sales by hand in a ledger, and helping people fill their tanks.  Cheap coffee it may have been, but the conversation over a packet of ready-salted crisps was priceless and left me smiling for the big descent that followed. 

Our winter hasn't really started, we are in limbo with yet more 7 degree days.  A grey morning and copious rainfall in the afternoon.  The dynamo went back on at 1:30 pm, when the skies blackened to apocalyptic proportions and dusk came several hours too soon.  A relentless soaking, summer gloves and too much laziness to stop and retrieve the Paramo from the saddlebag meant an uncomfortable few hours....but were they really?  Thank goodness it seems I still have the ability to just switch off to discomfort, even if I don't seem to have the ability to drag myself out of Zone 2.  I remember a time where I would smash round a winter 200 as hard as possible.  Those days are long gone.  I probably still have the ability, but not the want.