Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Tuesday Average Joe's Ride

Admittedly Tuesday Average Joe's ride was nearly called off, the weak inner voices whispering whilst commuting home through an April blizzard.  Snow, proper snow, northerly winds, pictures of friends log-burners on Facebook.  Come on!  Who rides on an evening like that? 

But boy, I am so glad I didn't cancel. It was a fabulous ride, one of the best.  The storm clouds hovered and glowed an angry amber, yet not once did they soak us as we swooped, dodged trees and got caught up in the tight twisty singletrack of the woods.  

With no significant differences in pace or skills, and everyone happy to have a go at something a little different, we had a lot of fun.  Be it the not-that-easy steps by the church, the sneaky steepy leading from a private carpark (ssshhh no one saw) or the behind-the-houses singletrack.  We were all grateful to live where we do, and be blessed with so much variety in riding, right on the doorstep.  

I love the big social group rides, but there is something to be said for a smaller, compact group, where you can just enjoy the ride without worry of keeping so many folk together. Flow is everything, and for once, I found mine.

Ephemeral evening runs

Still trying to keep afloat in this busy life, and too late home to make the Monday Not-Club social ride. I just needed simplicity for the evening, so threw on the fell shoes after downing a cup of tea and half a big bag of raspberry bonbons.

It was slow to start, trying to shake off the tiredness of a workday on a vicious climb through the woods, but once it leveled, so did my rhythm and I found myself just wanting to be there, and no where else, for the majority of the run.  It was a perfect evening with transient light, one minute gold and optimistic, brightening new spring growth and glowing through the horizon.  The next, ominous grey, rain closing in, streaming from the heavens in the distance, but never hitting home.  The trails stayed dry as a bone. 

The inside of my ankle started to hurt more, a niggling injury picked up with the change to fell shoes a few weeks back.  I never have problems in the Vibram Five Fingers. Whether the injury is down to lack of stability (particularly on hard surfaces where the studs can't dig in), technique, scrunching my feet up (a bad habit when running or riding) or just shear carelessness throwing my protected feet about, I am not sure.  There is no doubt I run more mindfully, and my feet spread out naturally, in the VFFs.  

I didn't want to stop running though, the pain wasn't that bad, and continued to ignore time, following yellow footpath arrows blindly on a bit of exploration, trudging up steep fields, into singletrack and suddenly popping out onto a main road and letting my feet fall easily with gravity as the tarmac took me back to known trails again. I just wanted to be there, right in the moment, keeping a comfortable rhythm, interrupted only by gates, stiles, and some funny little goats as I cut across their pen. 

On the way home though, I eventually caved in to the cameraphone and grabbed a quick memento of the bluebells.  Every year they arrive, and every year we celebrate their blue-beauty for the short time before it's lost again. Like running without injury.....they do say good things are not meant to last. 

85 km return loop to Bredon

Saturday was a spectacular day in so many ways.  Riding with a friend who I haven't seen for many years, and who, as it turns out, now lives relatively local, and who also has a love for the magical Bredon Hill

The route saw us travel from Colwall, up and over the Malvern Ridge and traverse the big open space of the Severn Valley.

There was a mix of hardpack dry bridleways, quiet lanes, and singletrack. Rape was out en masse, seemingly brightening as we passed in the warm sunshine. It wasn't all easy going though, with a few roughed up fields, deep hoof prints making passage much more challenging, but never to the point of loosing our smiles.

There were a few stops throughout the day, for this was a leisurely trip.  Coffee in Tewkesbury out and back, and a sit down at the top of Bredon, to enjoy the reason we came.  What a view across the valley to home!  It's always stunning on Bredon, such a peaceful place, barely any folk about and a slightly 'spiritual' feel.

Not a place for technical mountainbiking, although no doubt there are bits and pieces hidden off the escarpment.  Just a wonderful place to pedal, up up up the gentle backslope, following age-old trails running between the patchwork of agricultural land that rises far higher than expected.  There is a little woodland too, sparse and warm from the penetrating sun.

Of course, it is still only a small hill, but in contrast to the Severn Plain and Evesham Vale, it sits proud and content, with huge vistas to be admired between opening gates and concentrating on the fast rocky descents back to the valley.

The way home was just a reversal of the way out.  Yet not the same, for heading the other direction provides completely different views, and climbs, plus the overbearing presence of that Malvern Ridge again.  To be tackled this time with tired legs.

There was no rush to get there though, the miles ticked off easily with the constant contrasts of the route. Urban traffic-free routes in Tewkesbury, the the rarely cycled Longdon bridleways and a wonderful little bridge crossing.

This is Phil topping out on the toughest climb of the day.  Such a perfect day's riding.  No pressure, good steady miles, lots of distance covered and exactly what was needed after a very tough week of work and training.  I think we both have extra appreciation for just being able to get out on the bike too, as Phil also is recovering from bone plating surgery. Enforced time off the bike just makes a true rider love it even more.

Saturday night was a rush over to Pontrilas MX as Steve was racing Sunday.  I slept. And slept. And then slept some more.  I had felt a little fried on Saturday, over-reached with training, maybe? Possibly a virus taking shape?  Certainly a little below par. However, 11 hours sleep overnight in comfyvan worked wonders, and recovery set in.  Between Steve's races I did little other than eat, with an insatiable appetite, read, get as much sunshine for Vitamin D as possible, and sleep some more.

The MX is just fantastic, all that noise, dust (the riders hate the dust, but sssshhh, don't tell them, the red Raglan mist makes the photos look great!) and battling.

Really the best way to spend a Sunday. Such a friendly bunch of people, I always feel welcome. There is a real family feel about the events, and it is just so great watching Steve ride.

Monday, 25 April 2016


Far too much club politics and discussions about members-only events on Thursday ride.  That is all. 

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Weekly stuff

It was a great turnout on the Monday Not-Club road ride, with a big mix of ability, and bikes.  I rode the 29er MTB to keep the other mountain bikers company. It rolls so well it wasn't too much effort to keep the steady pace, which left hands free to chat and take far-too-many photos. 

The Hillend view over to the ridge was pretty special as always. The cloudscapes rolling away in the distance, highlighted by the last of the evening light.

Camera selfie timer practice

Perfect group selfie-timer even if I do say so myself......

Freewheel competition.  The MTBs didn't get far.  The roadies, on the other hand, rolled for literally miles.

The turnout for Tuesday 'Average Joe's' ride was also pretty good, just the right number for a jolly social, with a bit of tech thrown in, and lots of smiles in the evening sun. 

Jo came out for the first time in a long while, and it was brilliant to see how much her riding had progressed.  Kash joined us too, another lady rider who's perseverance with riding has really paid off and can now tackle both the tough Malvern climbs and descents with ease.

We regrouped by the rock-slab-of-doom. Always a good place to pull a group together. It's the top of a long climb and thus the faster riders get to play around on the slab, whilst the others catch their breath.

After a few refusals, Jo nailed the slab like a pro. It is one of those funny things. Very intimidating from the top, but once you've nailed it, you wonder what you were even worried about.

We finished with a few more fun descents and straight to the pub. Really loving the atmosphere on the Tuesday, I hope it continues to take off and becomes a self sustaining ride.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Solo powered audaxing again

How to tackle the April RRTY? That was the question. Options were endless. A flat easy 200? An event to be mollycoddled round? A DIY from home? A new route? In the end I went with a route I knew, with enough climbing to keep things interesting but that wouldn't stress my arm too much with out of the saddle work. Plus company. Really excellent company from Mark, Brian and Bairdy. 

Entries went in to Mr Blacksheep's Kings Priests and Castles permanent 200 km route and we set Saturday as the date, and the audax-loving Royal Hop Pole as the rendezvous. 

Saturday morning this happened. 

Bairdy text, he was out with a headache and I pondered the likelihood we would all DNS as I drove to Tewkesbury to meet the others.  I prayed for their 'I can't make it' excuses as I sat waiting in the pub, watching the snow fall out of the window. 

Of course, Mark and Brian are reliable as sunrise, and they turned up on time to also drink coffee and stare out of the window. However...between the three of us, there was no chance of bailing and we were on the road to Ledbury by 8:20 am.

The sky blued as we reached Ledbury, although the biting northerly wind still made itself felt as we obtained our first 'proof of passage' of many. Old school audaxing is fun, finding places with stamps, obtaining receipts and hunting out working cash-points, but only when you aren't on the time limit.

Luckily, even with my serious lack of audax fitness, we were never close to full value, having plenty of time to sit around in Cafes and recover. The arm was fine all day, but my legs were totally unresponsive for the first part of the ride, loosing power at the slightest incline and false flat.  The guys showed just how good riding companions they are, slowing their pace, and waiting for me to catch up when I dropped off the back without any complaint.  It was like the legs had forgotten what to do (and I suspect mentally I was concerned about my longevity for the day, thus subconsciously operating on 3/4 power to save as much as possible for the later hilly kilometers). I felt the weakest I have ever felt on the road bike, but happy as larry to be cruising along in the sunshine and just being out, able to travel the distance under my own steam.

After Earl Grey tea in Ludlow, the proper climbing started, and the legs came back to life. How I have missed the Shropshire lanes. Stomping climbs that make the heart pump, legs burn and sweat pour, but drag you kicking and screaming right into that moment, where nothing else matters other than reaching the next crest and the instant satisfaction of knowing you've made it.

The weather warmed as the day progress, and we passed through towns, villages, up steep climbs, down huge sweeping descents with views for miles. Bluebells, primroses and wood anemones glinted against the fresh green of the verges. People drank beer in the sunshine as we passed, such a change from the icy greyness of the morning.

Mr Blacksheep messaged later in the ride, and arranged to be at the Royal Hop Pole on our return to validate our ride.  What a fabulous organiser he is.  Such an asset to Audax UK. Volunteers like this are few and far between and we really must value them.

It really was a perfect ride, and topped off spectacularly by Mark and I bailing from bivvying in freezing temperatures in favour of chips n mushy peas, a warm fire and possibly far too much tea. 

Friday, 15 April 2016

First proper week back

Monday night was a steady social road ride set up by a local rider Mark.  Another Facebook Group, but isn't that one of modern life's little pleasures? It makes meeting new riding friends and socialising so easy to do.

Such a fantastic ride, really pleasant pace, great company. The weather too was calm, clear and with a gentle mist forming over the fields.

Of course, it was also a great ride at it was my first time on the road bike in 7 weeks.  It will take a while to regain road fitness, but it was such a pleasure to be whizzing along on the drop bars again, covering miles so easily.

By the end of the ride, we all agreed it was one to stay on the weekly schedule, and I hope, work permitting, to make it out on a Monday again.  It's a lovely gentle start to the week and I'm grateful to Mark for taking the time to set it up.

Tuesday was another big biking day.......the first ride back on the Enduro since it had that intimate meeting with a tree.  It was just the best thing ever to be able to fly down the hills, full pelt, hopping over the rocky bits and riding down steps.  Like a puppy finally allowed off the leash.  The arm was fine, although I was wary of doing anything properly off-piste.

Being able to ride was only a small part of what made a brilliant evening.  For a start the weather was perfect and the violets were out in the Purlieu.

Mostly though, the ride was about the people, and again, it was a great group of folks.  I had posted up a potential new weekly ride on  Facebook to run concurrently with the Tuesday Tech group.  An ordinary, everyday, middle of the road MTB ride for anyone to come along to.  I don't intend to lead the ride, just get people together for fun.

It was a bit short notice, but four riders still turned up including two faces I hadn't met before. My riding buddy Grove helped set a perfect pace up front, which was great for the newbie female friend who joined us.  Caroline did amazingly well on both a fitness and technical perspective, especially considering she has only just got her bike. There is so much pleasure in seeing people successfully push their boundaries.

Our Thursday ride was also another success, notably interesting as the local cycling club appears to have spectacularly imploded in on itself.  I'll leave the club politics out of this, just as we did on our ride, because, quite frankly, it's totally irrelevant. Everyone out had a brilliant time, including yet another new female face who joined us after hearing about it on that steady Monday not-club road ride. Authoritarian committees luckily can't control the whole of Facebook, leaving the local riding community able to keep forming those important links and friendships outside of any structured club format. Social media is blamed for so much, however, people always forget the positives we now take for granted, like meeting new people and sharing post ride photos and banter.

What with riding myself, and an exceptionally busy (albeit interesting and rewarding) work week, there isn't much time to write the usual descriptive entry.  However, here are four of my favourite photos from last night, taken between the storms and sliding about in the mud.

Hopefully decent blogging (aka writing) will resume soon, but at the end of the day, it always falls second to actually getting out there and riding. Happy trails.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Bivvy kit and bike load tester

The other half was racing motocross locally, so it seemed like a fantastic opportunity to do a test ride carrying full bivvy kit. It's really important to assess handling and load stability before disappearing off into the wilderness.

The ride was mainly quiet lanes, with a little gentle off-road on the Ledbury town trail and Ryton bridleway.  Just one more day until I hopefully get the all-clear to start mountain biking properly again from the consultant, fingers crossed.

The bike felt heavy initially, but once rolling it rides just fine. Granny gears are definitely necessary on hills with full kit and I was most grateful for the 2x10 set up.

I should back track a little and write a little about loading. The dropper post has been changed out for a normal rigid Thompson seat post.  This allows me to tightly clamp a post-mounted rack with some basic panniers kindly given to me by a friend. They aren't sealed so I would be a little concerned about water finding it's way in during a heavy storm. However they work well with the rack, being a perfect size to avoid both my heels and the brake discs.

Sleeping kit (bivvy, OMM bag, inflatable mat) was carried in the panniers, and the tarp and sleeping bag liner I have on order from 3Trees will be added when they arrive this week. A spare pair of gloves, the Paramo, a spare buff, the water filter and cleaning plunger, jet boil and spare gas are also in the panniers. A dry bag carries a change of clothes, shower kit, a book and a tiny reading light. I also threw in a fair number of emergency food rations including packets of cous cous, Trek bars, cashews etc. Finally, for this test run, I took jeans and a jumper to wear when I got to the races. Water was in the rucksack bladder and tools, spare tubes, pump, lighting etc also on my back. There is lots of room to shift some of this to the bike including putting tools in the water bottle holder, and using a dry bag with bar harness on the front if desperate. I hate having things on the front of the bike though and am staying away from this option for the time being.

It was also a good chance to investigate the Ledbury Town Trail again with an eye to leading an occasional complete beginners ride. The problem with Malvern is, no matter how slowly we pace the steady social group, some people are never going to be fit enough to enjoy it.  Even on the most steady routes there are still some climbs.

Around Ledbury I could put together a true beginner friendly route, suitable for those who find pedaling to the shop enough of a challenge.  It's a really fantastic little trail running atop the former railway line, though the parks and alongside the road in a coppice.

Traffic free in the main too.  I think a few folks will love it. :)

After around 14 miles of 'long way round' lanes, passing the wild daffodils still out en mass in Dymock and Ryton I found the bridleway leading to the motocross track. 

 A lovely bit of trail, easy to ride and exceptionally well drained due to the red sand which prevails throughout the locality.

As I stopped to grab a few photos, I could hear the roar of the bikes reverberating around the hills. Just a few hundred meters of bumpy descent and the test ride would be complete. Sure enough, the kit held up, and the bike was easy enough to handle.  I wouldn't want to be heading down technical descents carrying all the extra weight and without a dropper post, but general bridleways and lanes are a pleasure and there is something immensely satisfying knowing you have enough with you to survive for quite some time.  

Finding our van in amongst the other 5876935 white vans at the motocross though, that was the biggest challenge of the day.