Sunday, 28 February 2016

Passing on the Baton

It was just another Thursday Social this week. Good turnout of great people, but I was getting tired of herding mostly experienced riders that really don't require a leader. It's hard work leading, week in, week out, waiting at turns, never putting in full descents, missing out on technical options, worrying constantly whether the pace is too fast and the couple of people at the back are getting fed up with seeing the main pack disappear. Every week the ride description asks the faster riders to spend time at the back, but I so often see the brilliant sweeper Jenny bringing up the rear, without any of the main pack keeping her company in her valuable role of supporting the riders at the tail end. 

It's so rewarding to see new and less confident riders come out, but they rarely do and if they make it, it's seldom they return. There are always promises from people, how they will try, how the ride will be perfect for their friends and partners, when it gets lighter, when work isn't so busy.  

There is no doubt about it. Slower riders tend, on the whole, to be so because they have better things to do than ride.  Many, not all, slower riders stay slow because they are embarrassed to be at the back, frustrated, wishing there was someone out who was even worse, so they don't return.  If they did return, week in, week out, they'd get faster and the chances of them riding with other less confident riders would increase.  BUT this isn't the point, in fact it is exactly the culture I wanted to get away from.  That 'mustn't be last, mustn't hold up group' culture.  I hate it.  It's a social ride, it shouldn't matter. The entire point of the ride is to provide a platform for everyone, no matter how slow, how unfit, and how irregularly they ride to be part of something and feel welcome.  

Faster riders don't help. That sounds overly harsh, let me elaborate.  Of course the quicker riders don't mind waiting around at the top and never criticise anyone for their riding.  The group is exceptionally friendly and welcoming.  However, faster riders, no matter how they try, have little interest in reducing their pace enough for the slower riders to become incorporated into the group rather than left with the sweeper until the next regroup point. Faster riders have no idea how hard the folks are working at the back, gasping for air as they try and keep up.  They pay no attention to the rear of the pack, only trying to keep up with the tyre in front. It may be a social ride, but faster riders tend to be that way because they are pushers, they push themselves to be their best, and it's difficult to switch that off, even in a social setting.  As  a leader I have done nothing to stop this, often sending the quicker ones in front on the climbs to get them out the way of buzzing tyres and let them use their legs.  I'm pretty useless myself at setting the climbing pace and rarely like being up front for that very reason.  

I often feel guilty as I'm the one who hears through the grapevine that people have felt 'slow', feel like they 'need to get fitter' before they come out again, feel like 'the main pack just rushed off' and, to be honest, there is only so much that can be done.   I love helping people ride bikes, and am happy to sacrifice my own riding to do so, but everything has it's limits.  The ride has taken on it's own life, and I just want to stand back, switch off and ride without thinking for a while.  After several years it's time to pass on the baton, I just hope more volunteers than the ever-brilliant Jenny can be bothered to pick it up and help out.  The ride needs confident slow folk, or fast riders who can genuinely put their inner chimp to bed for the night, to lead it.  With a change of blood maybe we can see some new faces back out.  

Wednesday, 24 February 2016


It was a strange week last week. I felt in limbo, but wasn't sure why.  Tired, listless and waiting. Friday morning the tiredness turned to exhaustion far beyond what a normal working week with a little riding should evoke.  Dragging myself around Hereford from site to site did nothing to help and by the time I was home it was clear the weekend would be a write-off.  

Proper viral illness, the kind that chills you, burns you and makes you feel like you have been through the wringer.  

The annoyance of a lost weekend turned to gratefulness when, by Sunday, solid bed rest (rather than having to work through it) had progressed the virus beyond systemic and I was able to get up and feel on the mend, albeit with that 'underwater' feeling of a head cold.  

Monday, however, threw another challenge in, when the time of the month arrived all singing, all dancing in a 'I'm going to make you wish you were dead' way.  The lack of riding had robbed the system of all those natural painkillers. No lovely endorphines left, just asprin.  Oh, how it was needed.  Luckily, with enough reporting to fill two days, I waded through the paperwork in batches, trying not to throw up when the cramps became some of the worst.  Having experienced a lot of intense pain through injury, I can concur, menstruation is becoming a major issue in my later years as month by month the agony worsens.  I never thought I could become scared of my own body. 

Finally though, the tides began to turn on Tuesday and I was able to get out.  I had to get out, as I was behind at work and knew I needed to be back, up and running (around) Wednesday.  Feeling constantly dizzy, almost drunk, I went for a short walk in the VFFs, to feel the fresh air on my face and cold ground beneath my feet.  Totally empty legs, but getting moving helped ease the last of the cramps, ease the pressure on my sinuses. It was wonderful to be on the hills for 20 minutes under a blue sky.  Plasticine mud squeezed between my toes, short stubby grass felt like carpet and I felt free as the VFFs moulded around the rocks of North End Hill.  

By 7 pm I was caught up, prepped for the week's site works and feeling like normal life was taking back over.  Still dizzy and pondering whether it was partly an inner ear issue due to the head cold, I headed out to trundle about in granny gear on the 29er.  People are often so critical of others 'you should be resting' 'you shouldn't be riding' 'you should listen to your body'.

Well I was listening to my body and I knew, through years of experience, that it was time to get moving.  Not race around getting out of breath, just moving without heavily breathing, just moving to get the blood flowing and aid the immune system do it's work, just moving to relieve the stiffness from sitting around, the stress from work, and to be out there.  

By the time I was home, the dizziness was gone. 

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Vibram Fivefingers (how I adore them)

Oh I really want more.  More pairs of lovely toe-snuggly loveliness.  They make me feel comforted. I can't begin to explain the tactile pleasure of feeling the trail beneath my feet.

Four short runs in, and I have no trouble with my Achilles tendons, or any trouble with foot pain.  I do have sore calve muscles.  Not injured sore, but 'wow, these muscles are not used to this new style' sore. Running hasn't been far, or fast and, in fact, involves much walking whilst the adaption to this new style is ongoing, but it is such an exciting time; the very start of a new journey that there is no rush to complete.

There are no plans to spend all running time in VFFs however, and footwear options for tougher extreme fell terrain are being considered, for when the new style is habitual.  These Walsh performance shoes look amazing and seem to have very positive reviews.

In the meantime, here is a photo from this morning's pre-work run/walk, because, well, this is what it is all about.  There would have been no time to ride, but just enough to slip on the VFFs and loop around the defrosting gravelled trails of home.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Audacious Audaxing

There aren't many times I feel a 200 km Audax is audacious. Most of the time it involves riding around a nice loop, tiring myself out, and being home before dark to drink tea

Saturday was not one of those days. Saturday was a day that tested kit and preparation. A reminder of why exactly I carry around so much blummin stuff, especially on winter explorations. 

That's not to say it wasn't a brilliant day, it was, overall, a memorable epic with fantastic riding, and a number of challenges to surmount on the way.  

It all started well. I got out of bed for a start. Biggest challenge ticked off early, although the fact I was really looking forward to some time in the high places of Powys helped considerably. Breakfast was eaten; another challenge that normally defeats at 6 am. It was just above freezing and not raining. 

After a bit of a stuttering first km, fiddling with the horrid neoprene overshoes to unobstruct cleats, I found my rhythm and knocked out a steady 30 km, just enjoying the early morning quiet roads and that strange atmosphere that comes with a North East wind blowing a haze over the far-hills.  I smiled as a farm collie came tearing out of the yard, knowing that, in pretty much all cases, they are all bark and no bite.  Sure enough, he calmed immediately when I called him over, the farmer putting a friendly hand up as I passed.  

Then the back end all went a bit squirmy. A flat. I'd actually had one at 10:30 pm the night before when the tube randomly split and the tyre deflated instantly. But why now? Wheel off, tyre checked numerous times, nothing. Figuring it was probably just a tiny gravel cut the fixing began. No simple task.  That new Co2 inflator is the best thing ever? Not so bestest when your hands aren't strong enough in winter temperatures to screw the cartridge in and break the seal. Trying to do this wasted a canister as I messed up the attempt so I reverted to the old lezyne inflator. As I was faffing in the muddy lay-by, all fingers and thumbs with cold hands, a white transit pulled alongside.  Obviously a serial killer, the man looked at me with a vacant stare and asked if I had everything I needed. I was entering flight or fight mode as I responded with a "yes thanks" to which he replied "ah, well if you get stuck I'm in the workshop just literally there on the corner".  Not a serial killer afterall then, and I hung my head in judgemental shame as the wheel finally dropped in and I worked out the complexities of the new bolt up axle. 

After possibly breaking the world record for the 'longest puncture repair time for a simple issue' I was back on the road following the pink line.  It had changed a bit.  There was white arrows and the Garmin was beeping at me at turns.  Suddenly I came out on the A44.  The Garmin was telling me to turn for home.  Goodness knows where it was sending me, but thankfully resetting the unit put me back on the breadcrumb trail to Powys.  It was lucky this happened 'on home turf', and I knew I could whizz down the main road to Leominster. Having already passed through the control village of Risbury, the diversion would have no effect on the validation for this 'old school, non-mandatory route' DIY.  

Fingers were returned to normal circulation status in Leominster, where the great public toilet block is big enough to wheel the bike inside, has warm water and a hot air dryer. They were never cold again after that.  

After Leominster, the sense of journey began, firstly the long steady false flat along the traffic quiet A4110 to Buckton, and the start of the beautiful Shropshire lanes.  Adorable little lanes in this area, with the small bridge crossing at Bucknell ford, and friendly faces happy to say hello as you pass their homes. 

Although there were a few warm up climbs early on in the ride, the climbing proper arrived after Bucknell, passing to Clun via Obley. You can see the kick on this profile, approximately 65 kms in 

But you have to climb to get the best of Powys, and it was worth every pedal stroke to get to the top.  

After the intimidating Pentre Hodre climb, which comes into view long before you hit it, rising upwards in a grey ribbon of imposing pain, the lane topped out and I started the descent. Immediately something felt wrong with the back brake, but a little caliper realignment sorted it and I was good to go. A difficult descent followed, on a pot-holed, gravel-strewn, very muddy lane, with a steep gradient and ability to produce speeds way too fast for the conditions.  Tentative descending paid off, and I landed at the bottom in one piece, ready for coffee.  

Except my routing had other ideas and I skirted the top of Clun before I realised, and dropped onto the B4386 on route to Anchor.  Consideration was given to returning to the village centre, as coffee and beans on toast was rather appealing, but figured I had done quite enough faffing for one ride and I might as well press on over the Kerry Ridge and tick off the highest point before the forecast snow. There is something very special being over 400 meters, it feels like the top of the world.  

Winter weather was closing in a little as I finally stopped for a hot drink in the tiny shop at Beguildy. The lovely lady proprietor let me sit on an upturned crate in the minuscule store, whilst I drank surprisingly good filter coffee and we discussed the change in society since they moved to the store in 1977.  The pace of life is so fast now.  Tesco vans whizz up and down making deliveries to folk who, at one time, would have relied on small local businesses.  What was once a pretty isolated area of Powys is now, like everywhere, 24/7 society, and these valuable little gems are few and far between.  

Getting back on the road, I still hadn't eaten anything except sweets since breakfast, so forced in a roll whilst climbing out of Knighton.  "Interesting", I thought.  "This could be good, I've never crossed to Presteigne this way".  Distracted by some exceptionally cute Corgis as they barked a warning, I didn't realise the predicament until I was on it.  Thank you Google 'follow road mode' Thank you very much. 

Interesting it was. A steep unsurfaced, muddily-unrideable climb that went on, and on, and on.  I pushed for a good while, figuring I couldn't have missed that much when I checked the route over on streetview. 

I may have missed rather a lot.....

20 minutes later the Byway turned into a field.  To persist or not to persist? That was the question. 

Persistence paid off.  Kind of.  Well, in a 'thank goodness I'm a mountainbiker' sense. The track turned into some deep muddy ruts and, with descending gradient, I could ride again.  Just about staying upright, the wheels kept rolling as the brakes clogged with mud and the bike slide relentlessly about.  Then it steepened downwards, with rock slabs to negotiate, stoney gullies and, thankfully, eventually, just about at the time I was about to go over the bars, some tarmac.  Technical riding on a roadie with slicks is one big adrenalin rush. 

Oh, lovely tarmac.  Tarmac that continued all the way to Presteigne.  I rolled through town and pedalled happily toward Kington, knowing I was on the road to home, just 80 kms to go.  Then, hisssssssssssss. Another flat.  This time it got serious. One tube left. One CO2 cartridge. And the rain was on the way.  The Paramo coat that has been carried around for many many rides finally got some use as I immediately layered up knowing this could take some time. Sure enough, the CO2 inflated the tyre, but the terrible Lezyne attachment unscrewed the valve core on the way back off and all the CO2 was instantly lost.  It was time to resort to manual labour.  Struggling, like normal, to get anywhere near a decent pressure, arms tired out, only to watch it instantly deflate again when the pump was unscrewed.  This continued.  A gentleman stopped in a pick up  and asked if I wanted a lift to Kington, but I really didn't want to, partly because of stranger-danger, but mostly because I really wanted to finish the ride, dammit. The leatherman, thrown in a pocket last minute the night before, got used to tighten the valve core.  It still unscrewed.  I rang Steve in 'I've just ridden 120 km and don't want to stop but this stupid pump is stupid' tears, sniffling as I explained the predicament and where I was in case of rescue.  I decided to have another go, or three. Finally, persistence with the leatherman paid off and the pump unscrewed, leaving the core in place and air in the tyre.  

The rain hit and the Paramo stayed on, keeping me warm as the kilometers dragged in a haze of concern over the barely inflated back tyre.  I tried to force myself away from dwelling on the tyre and appreciate the route as it was exceptionally beautiful, even on the grey winter day.  Out-breaths became visible as the air temperature dropped, and the verges were full of snowdrops.  A proper winter ride. 

Then a turn, and a sign....25%.  "Twenty five whole percent? Arthur's Seat? Why, oh why, do I do this to myself?". Still, the extra traction from the low pressure prevented the back from slipping out on the wet roads, and the climb definitely took the mind games away from puncture worries.  

Such satisfaction to reach the top, see the views, and coast down the other side in a warm haze of endorphins.  That's why. 

Another distraction followed. Evidently is was going to be a far later finish than normal, but no longer could switching on the lights be avoided.  Regretting taking the dynamo off, I reluctantly fumbled around whilst riding, trying to switch on the rear Cat Eye.  Normally a simple procedure that doesn't even require a stop.  Holding the hand behind revealed no red light.  Another attempt to press buttons whilst riding past houses in a small village, yet the reflection in the windows showed nothing.  On reaching the A465 junction for the run into Hereford City something had to be done to ensure visibility on such a frantic and dangerous road. Investigating the problem answered a 'what the hell was that?' question from earlier in the ride.  The ping ping that I thought was my back light falling off was, in fact the battery cover, and batteries from it.  Although I had checked the bike over when I heard the noise several hours previously, it was a case of "saddle bag secure - check, lights present - check, pockets done up - check, ah it must have been a stone flicking up".  Still, preparation saved the day and a small back-up red light kept me alive on the trunk road.  

Weighing up options and time, I diverted to the closest bike shop, NTFO.  I was later than normal, but not close to the time limit.  Acquisition of another tube and red light was a sensible idea, and I hoped they would let me use their track pump to properly inflate the rear.  It may have only been 30 km or so home, but it was a cold wintery evening, and an extra light on the busy commuter lanes would be a godsend. The young staff were brilliant, helpful and even pumped the tyres up for me, although I was probably in that 'she looks like an old woman in need of sympathy' phase by then.  

The psychological relief of having a tube in my pocket and additional red light was much greater than expected and I relaxed into the riding again for a short while, intermixing with Saturday traffic on the way out of town.  Then started to feel a little drained. Suddenly it dawned how little I had eaten and I stopped, sat sheltered from the rain against a pump-house wall, scoffing veggie-chicken-nugget things and pondering the last three significant kicks to home.  

The food worked a treat and I enjoyed the remainder of the route, which took me on the high road adjacent to Marcle Mast, the intense ruby red of the lights glowing against the grey skies and the outline of the Malverns still visible in the distance. It wasn't long before reaching Ledbury and picking up the back lanes to home. 

It was such a good day psychologically.  It's been months since I've had 'the bit between my teeth', determined to finish, wanting to finish and tackling challenges rather than choosing an easy life.  That cup of tea and hot shower on arriving home never felt so good. 

Friday, 12 February 2016


Finally a little work-life balance again, with an early morning pre-work run in those new Vibrams, and the normal post-work Thursday social ride.

The Vibrams.  They are a revelation.

It's very exciting having a new challenge and chance for quick, faff-less daytime escape. 

Riding Lanes on the 29er

Tiredness.  Two early starts and standing around for hours doing nothing interesting whilst soil is being pulled from trial pits is surprisingly tiring.  Especially with a big gym session on Tuesday.  I don't know why I don't blog about the gym, it's one of my favourite times, which is why I continue to go, despite the fact is destroys my legs for the remainder of the working week. Even with 40 minutes of early evening sleep I was still tired.  There was no way a tough technical Wednesday ride was going to happen. 

Some steady spinning on the roadie though, that would be perfect.  Bike was ready to go (on an audax, still) and I got it out to the garden gate before I noticed the glitter fairies were here.  Finally, beautiful clear winter skies and frosts. 

However,  this year there will be no riding of road bikes in the ice. Quite frankly, it is stupid and dangerous and totally unnecessary when there are mountain bikes.  Roadie back in, kit into backpack, 29er out.  It is, however, much harder to stay steady on the MTB.  They just need more effort, even on tarmac.  With the cold coming in quickly, the extra effort wasn't all bad, and the work soon warmed my core and fingers. 

Colwall.  Typical West-of-Malvern village, with a green, phone box, post box, notice board, and a strong smell of hash and vegetarian food.

It was dark.  Moonless.  The light pollution from Malvern silhouetting the hills as rabbits hopped about trying to avoid the beam of the headtorch.

I rode up to Wellington Heath hoping to get a better outline of the hills on the way, but it was just too dark, so the best was a vague fuzzy haze and the twinkles of West Malvern.

There were badgers running, a brown owl in a tree and rabbits everywhere, but the only one I could get a photo of was this unfortunate furryfella, as I stopped to check he was dead and not just injured. What with traffic, badger baiters in Ledbury and the barbaric and pointless government cull just over the county border, badgers in our area have a hard time living a natural life.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

I went out late on a Monday night

Well why not?  It wasn't raining.  The skies were clear, and the hills, deserted. 

Storm Imogen may have been showing her face, but she only won the battle once, leaving me jammed into a ditch and having to walk for a stretch until I could actually stay upright in the crosswinds battering the western upper flanks of Sugarloaf.  The rest of the hour was steady pedalling, sometimes flying as the massive tailwind did the work, sometimes going nowhere in the slick-mud and 45 mile an hour headwind.  

Monday, 8 February 2016

A very different weekend (warning, running content)

Saturday was a washout. The rain hammered as I led awake at 5 am, pondering the 6 am alarm to get me up and on the road for a 200 km DIY audax.  The route was pretty all weather, although exposed at 450 meters over in Powys, and had been designed soley with views and escape in mind.  There clearly weren't going to be any views.  Feeling a little under the weather, fighting off the fever and cold that had hit the better half very hard in the week, there was no desire to escape anything, but particularly not the duvet. I turned off the alarm and ignored the little voices whispering "but the bike and kit is ready"  "but you haven't done a long ride for weeks" "are you going to bail all the time now?" "are the days of endurance over?" and went back to sleep.

The day was lost in a massive sort out of 'stuff and things'.  As I get older it becomes so much easier to let go of things and a good deal was taken to the charity shop or sent for recycling.  Chore after chore after chore ticked off the list.  So many things that have been put off for many months, sorted. I think most people would have felt a smug sense of satisfaction.  I just wished I was riding. Heading into town, the torrential downpour continued unabated, and I stood in the Co-op perhaps a little relieved I had been weak and given in to the duvet afterall.

Then, in the corner of my eye I saw a cyclist, soaking wet, in a cap, walking in just as I was about to walk out.  The face looked a little familiar and I turned to look at the bike next to the door.  "That's an Audaxer's bike" I thought.  Saddlebag with a sewn-on patch gave it away.  "Hang on, that's a Hope R8 light, and, in fact that's a Raleigh".  All the pieces fell into place and I realised I had just walked right past Steven Abraham, just bouncing back after a tough attempt at the Highest Annual Mileage Record (HAMR) that had been marred by a drunk moped rider. A year and a month of riding solidly, most days 200 mile+ and even recovering from a broken ankle on the bike.  The overall record was taken by the impressive Kurt Searvogel in the end, but Steve was the driving force to enliven the world record, still holds the UMCA record in his age group, and shown just how tough you have to be in the UK to attempt it break the overall.  What with our road network, mental drivers and hellish weather systems to face every day for an entire year, Steve is the UK's long distance hero and here he was, in the Co-op, in the Green.  Of course I had to run back in to speak to him, feeling rather guilty whilst he dripped pools of rainwater all over the floor and I stood there in my wussy everyday non-riding, and very dry, clothes.  Still, if I had gone out on that DIY, I wouldn't have seen the inspirational Steve.  That's fate, right?

Saturday evening was taken up accepting a marriage proposal (just thought I'd drop that in there) and getting ready for a day trip to the Motocross International at Hawkstone Park. Pondering when I was going to fit in any kind of exercise, suddenly a whim hit to try running again.  I'll not go into detail, but I used to run, a long time ago, and pretty regularly on and off for a number of years.  I've never been quick, but always enjoyed it and was very sad to have to stop when I started developing agonising pelvic pain everytime I went out.  Pain so bad it made me throw up more than once.  Never identified the cause, but needless to say, cycling became the only option.

A few months or so back,  I had the pleasure of reading 'Eat and Run' by the outstanding ultra runner Scott Jurek, a fantastic book and thoroughly motivating.  In addition, 'Born to Run: The Hidden Tribe, the Ultra-Runners and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen' by Christopher McDougall was another fascinating read and left me pondering my running form, how terrible it is and whether minimalist footwear and changing to a fore-foot landing would help cure the pelvic pain once and for all.

So I got up, early on Sunday, put on my (normal bulky over-engineered and over-cushioned) trainers and went out to start on what could be a very long and slow journey to correct a 'bash bash bash elephant feet' style into a graceful toe pointer.  2 minutes in and my calves were on fire. 8 minutes in and I was grateful to be climbing upwards, sliding around in deep mud, a massive grin on my face and finally a new challenge. In total, 20 minutes were running interspersed with 9 minutes of walking to ease the calves and ankles, and 1 minute spent trying to retrieve a trainer from full-on-suction mud without getting the shoeless foot in the drink, and the other trainer stuck completely.  It was messy, hilarious and I was loving it.  Suddenly all the inaccessible-by-bike areas were opened up, and I found new places just 10 minutes from home.  What surprised me the most was how little I returned to heel striking.  Just a few times in the whole run, and as soon as I fell back into my 'comfortable old form' I pulled myself back out and straight onto my fore foot.  Running uphill has always been my strongest point, and downhill my weakest, but this was exaggerated more so by the change of form, and, I guess, the mud.  So strange to be stood on the top of a steep slope that would be easy to ride down, pondering how the hell I was going to get back down on foot.  Same principle in the end, brakes off, look where you want to go, and hope.

Later in the day, calves were on fire and some Vibram Five Fingers had been ordered.

A fabulous day at the motocross was then topped off by an hour's evening ride on the roadie. Carrying full audax kit, in the rain and wind, I finally got to ride.  It was great, legs felt strong, steep hills were climbed and an hour was spent happy, feeling good and just enjoying riding for the sake of it.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Dry at last on the MCS Thursday Social

It was another quiet turnout for the weekly Thursday, with just nine folks despite the drying trails and clear evening.  However, numbers aren't everything and it was a top notch quality ride, blissfully mud free with almost-dust and clear views.  

The conversation barely left discussions about how wonderful it was to be riding in the dry. Indeed, how very long it's been.  You must grab such fleeting moments with both hands, for soon we will be under the torrent of Saturday's storm and the trails will turn to rivers again.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

More Explorations on Hometown Turf

It was MX practice at Frocester for Steve so I grabbed the chance for another mini adventure, riding from the track to Mums on Pigeon Sense.  No map, no Garmin, just following a vague homing instinct and seeing what I could find.

First though, there was the big ol' climb up Frocester Hill.  Great views across to the Severn Estuary made gaining height even more worthwhile. 

A narrow footpath dropping off the side of the road was just visible, barely used by the look of it. Figuring it was worth an explore, I dropped in the steep entrance and followed it through the bracken. Sure enough it was a good, natural feeling, single track descent, in need of a bramble trim, but steep enough to be fun, with a couple of corners.  The lower section ran over some common land and finished opposite a vaguely recognisable bridleway.

The footpath had been fun, but of course this also meant a significant drop in elevation, and an increase in mud.  To be honest, it wasn't all unrideable, the first section of double track and surprisingly much of the field crossing was fine, and pretty, even with clouds hanging over Cam and Coaley.

The snowdrops were out everywhere.  It was impossible to resist taking photos.

Without really noticing any gain in elevation, I made it to the top of the field easily enough, but then the mud began.  The bridleway passes back into the woods and there was a stretch of probably 200 meters that was just impossible to climb, hub deep gloop formed from the steep banks funneling run-off into the trail.

There was no rush though, no time pressure and no need to be anywhere else, so I carried on to see what would happen.  Sure enough, the trail began to change and I found a wonderful off-shoot that ran parallel to a fence, continuing for a fair time.  Dry, pedalable and with great views the whole length.  Why is is so special to be right on the horizon of a woodland, trapped in, but seeing escape?

This is a bit of a naughty photo.  That gorgeous piece of singletrack?  Well, yes, that's it - about 10 meters in length linking one muddy forest road to another.  The muddy forest road did, however, lead to another follow-the-fenceline trail, topped with savage barbed wire for extra excitement.  Even better was the surprise to find it finished on a juncture with main Uley Bury bridleway, just in time to fly down the steps at the bottom and try not to scare the walkers.

Following on from visiting Eyam, the Plague Village on Saturday, I thought it appropriate to grab a shot of Smallpox Hill whilst passing.  It's actually a pretty place when viewed from a distance, but with a horrid past of isolation of victims and suffering. Thankfully Edward Jenner lived just up the road in Berkeley so we no longer need to see people die of such a painful virus.

Hoping to ride a fast, albeit quite flat bridleway found last year I headed round the lane.  To find, erm, not fast.  In fact, I didn't even persist on this one.  Definitely a trail for dry weather.

Resisting the temptation (just) to ride down the steps of the war memorial, I headed up through Cam Hopton, knowing there were footpaths running over the river and heading into the council estates of Everlands and Kingshill.  No cycling signs are meaningless here, bikes obviously pass though. There are much bigger things the council should be worrying about.  Let the kids ride where they like and have fun! As when they are riding, they aren't up to other activities, far worse.

Urban singletrack

Urban northshore

This area of three storey blocks, steps and strange wall-lined footpaths is regularly in one of my reoccurring dreams.  I have no idea why, I guess something happened there as a child but my mind has blanked it out, although the dreams are never nightmares.  Who knows.  I do know it was exceptionally surreal to revisit it after so many years.  It must be 25 years since I have been here.

Eventually I headed back to mums, but made a last minute decision to investigate another strange little footpath I knew as a child.  After pushing through the metal barrier at the top, I found myself in a hidden passageway between the two main roads.  High walls, open grassland, into high fences with 90 degree blind corners and then suddenly, back into reality.  I wonder how many folks actually use this path?  It's pretty claustrophobic, but brilliant all the same.