Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Whiteleaved Oak

Recent visits to Wiltshire enlivened my interest in folklore and paganism. So many enchanting places in the UK, one of which is right on our doorstep in Malvern; the little hamlet of Whiteleaved Oak, and the tree now associated with it's mystery. I'm not really a big believer in the paranormal and sit resolutely on the agnostic fence, however, this doesn't stop my fascination. Here is a winter picture of the White Leaved Oak itself, taken without a filter on a very basic digital camera, around 10 years ago. Those were different times. Before smart phones and editing software, and it was one of the first ever pics I felt pleased with as a standalone image. 

A Wikipedia search for the Whiteleaved Oak threw up a Web link to a locally written and produced book about the hamlet and the strange folklore that surrounds it.  I could collect the book and combine it with a nice steady ride out that way to meet the author Brian, if he was willing to meet. 

Of course he was willing. This frail elderly gent may be past his physical prime, but mentally is still as sharp as a razor, keen to meet new folk and discuss his book and the sidescript of global warming and the state of our fragile planet. Time was lost sat in his dining room over a cup of black coffee and I left with a signed copy of the text and an enthusiasm to see the white leaved oak again. 

Immediately time and direction were lost in the Bermuda Triangle effect of Ragged Stone and Chase End. I lived near here for a couple of years and walked and ran these hills many times a week. Yet I still managed to get lost among the bracken and was most surprised to find myself on the top of Chase End with the bike. I genuinely had no idea how I had ended up there, I was aiming for the side of Ragged Stone!  

With some skill, no tyre grip and a lot of luck, I slide my way back off the steep side and finally found my way through Ragged Stone to the fields below. 

It had been a few years since my last visit to this supposedly mystical tree, and what a sad state it was in. All the presents, gems and guitar playing teenagers in the world won't save it now, with one loan living, but diseased, branch left to sustain the giant trunk. 

I left the guitar playing teenagers to get lost in their idealistic chilling, and headed off home via the heights of the Malvern Ridge.

Luckily the folklore and strangeness of the Whiteleaved Oak hamlet permeates much deeper than finite vegetation, leaving even an agnostic notably pondering the underlying feeling that swirls around this area. 


Being Who You Are

2016 has been, by far, the busiest year I have had, and it has also been one of the best in many ways. I often have long deliberations whilst I am driving (recently 1000+ miles a week) about meaningful blog entries, comment and observations that I would like to put into words. Sometimes I astound myself at the pretentiousness of believing I have something useful to say, and then other times I really feel the need to get something written, even if no one agrees with it, or even reads it. 

However, as it is, I have neither the time or inspiration to think that deeply and co-ordinate thoughts when the 'to do' lists grow. It's all a choice how we allocate our hours, minutes, seconds. Right now, mine is given over to long work days, riding, spending time with a fantastic partner, and trying to keep in touch with those others I care for.  There are a number of folk I value deeply, and most of them probably have no idea what an inspiration or source of comfort they offer. Would sacrificing any of this be worthwhile to write some text likely to be lost amid the white noise of the world wide web? 

I think not. 

Over recent years I have changed significantly in my perception of purpose, and who we are. As time passes I have felt that things happen when the time is right. You can, (and maybe should?) work to be a better person, to help more, to get more done, or to improve whatever your bugbear is, but stressing about these things not happening is a pointless waste of time and energy. In the same way, there is little point in trying to fit in with folk; true friends accept you for who you are, with whatever flaws you have, and however big the fuck-ups are that you make. 

That's not to say it's alright to deliberately be a selfish twunt. It's saying it's OK to make twuntish decisions, realise you are wrong, and to move on from it. It's also OK to make decisions that other people may think are twuntish, but that you know, deep down in your heart, are the right ones for you to make. No one is perfect, and no one is every one's cup of tea.  I used to wish I could be 'cool calm and collected'. Well, in the same way as I will never be a prima ballerina, I will never have standoffish quietness and captivating assurance. No. I will always be excitable, loud, probably annoying to some, and massively emotional. I will no doubt continue to break or loose anything fragile, electronic, expensive or small. BUT I will continue to love the rollercoaster that life throws my way, and continue to love the folk that stay in my sphere of influence, despite having to dodge the fallout from the bull-in-a-china-shop way I stumble through life, and the fact I am, mostly unintentionally, egocentric. This paragraph being a classic example. It was supposed to be a general comment about letting things be, and it has instead become all about me. Ha!

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Catching Up Part 2

I seem to have amassed a huge number of photos over the last few weeks or so and I'd like to get some down here with a little accompanying text, mainly for my own memories. So many memories! I hope others find them worthwhile viewing. Many have relatively long back stories which I won't recount in detail but hopefully the snapshots in time will provide interest on their own. 

The Tuesday night riders, now affectionately known as the Average Joe's Syndicate. The name was originally a tongue in cheek way to represent an 'ordinary every day kind of ride for ordinary every day riders'. As it turns out, one of the main protagonists for keeping the ride alive, and who is now one of my favourite riding buddies, is another Jo, here in the late summer greenery of the Forest of Dean. I can't say our rides are ever really that ordinary though, it seems they regularly have a sense of adventure, whether we plan for it, or not! 

The name stuck, and the rides (both the regular Tuesday and our occasional weekend get togethers) continue to be great fun with a really sound group of folk. Everyone has bounced off each other and the pace, along with the tracks we ride, have increased substantially over the summer. 

I certainly have seen a massive benefit in chasing Jo down scary off-piste stuff, and I think she would say the same with regard to being airbourne. 

This is another of our Tuesday riders, Mat, riding the rock slab for the first time. 

The best thing of all is that the progression has come without pressure to perform. We all just ride, and no one seems to mind if you stop half way down a descent in a panic, have a flap, fall off or spend ages chatting about really random stuff. I love riding with these folk. 

Long may it continue as the nights draw in and our lights come out.

I am most blessed to have riding buddies all over the UK, and often lucky enough to get shown around the home turf of friends. Another wonderful long day was spent on the Wiltshire bridleways with Stew and Tony, and, yet again, I was left at the end of the ride feeling very blessed to have the privilege of their company in such an outstanding location.

After a drizzly misty start, the skies turned blue as the late summer grasses fell aslant in wind, our wheels rustling through mile after mile of soul-riding. 

I have also been away on a Mountain Bike Swindon organised weekender. I could go on and on for hours about what a great bunch of folk the MBS lot are. So welcoming, friendly and accessible to all riders. I went along to join the ladies branch for a nice steady weekend. I wish I had time to tell you all about the people I rode with. This is Hilda, keeping it real and rocking the technical black trail on a hardtail. Hilda did the most impressive save I have ever seen on a particularly steep berm, it still makes me smile to think about it now. It brought a whole new dimension to the saying 'if in doubt, ride it out'. 

Brechfa is a rather great trail centre, enchanting forests, a real variety in trail types and features, and good for a mixed group. 

This is wonderful Sharon, the great organiser of the weekend, and much appreciated by all. To put together a bunkhouse for everyone, keep things running smoothly, organise food, barbeques, go to A&E with an injured rider and generally keep atop of everything requires proper project management skills. I guess that it's no surprise Sharon is also a Girl Guide 'Brown Owl'. The world needs more people like Sharon, who volunteer and donate so much of their personal time to helping others.

There were vegan burgers (lots of, including at the bunkhouse barbeque)

To top it all off, the owner of the bunkhouse had three rescue rabbits in the garden. 

I nearly pulled out of the Brechfa weekend due to time and work pressures, and feeling rather frazzled. I'm glad I made it. It enlivened, provided a chance to really get away from everything and chill out with some great folk. I think I smiled for the whole weekend!

Why this photo? It's pretty uninteresting I guess, but the black ominousness (what a word that is!) of the skies conincided with a similar internal feeling in me. By the time I was home a fever had begun, and by that evening I was laid flat with a nasty bout of norovirus that knocked me about for 48 hours, and took a week or more to get over. Luckily I had pressed on with finishing this ride, for it kept the AAARTY alive for another month. 2016 has been a just-hang-in-there kind of year for Audaxing.

September's 200 km climby audax was a good one though. The roadie came out for it's once-a-month dust off, and a trip over the Gospel Pass to Hay. It was hilly from the outset, with 3500 meters+ showing on the Garmin Etrex by the end of the ride. Worth every grunt and bead of sweat uphill, as the views were stunning, the sun was warm, and I felt strong the whole way round. Quite frankly it was the best 200 km loop I have ever put together, and I hope to do it again sometime. 

A brief bit about my trail/technical riding in general. I think it's been a pretty good summer overall. Can't say I've done anything spectacular, but I have definitely got more confident (if not better) at riding exceptionally steep terrain, done a little air-related stuff and am fitter than ever at climbing. The climbing strength has improved since I gave up all hope of finding a suitable gym again and have thus stopped squatting heavy weights. It seems my quads are benefiting from not being severely battered once a week and the lifting was compromising my pedaling way more than I realised. I have been trying to fit in some basic dumbell work at home, just to maintain a basic level of upper body and core strength. I could do with being much stricter with fitting it in each week, but hey ho, some is better than none, and I do what I can. I really miss the gym I used until it closed down, the people, my once-a-week routine, but you can't turn back the clock. Time to move on with fond memories. 

Thanks to other-Jo for the pic below. :)

I took the hardtail with me on a work trip to the East Coast, and managed a few hours of exploration finding urban singletrack and miles of coastal cruising. 

There is very little better after a long work day than pedaling steadily in the sea air, with the still-warm sunshine on bare shoulders, in trainers and rolled up jeans.

This Sturdy Cycles hardtail frame is one of the best investments I have ever made. Whether it is loaded with luggage, cruising aimlessly, or smashing out miles, it is everything I needed it to be.

The hardtail has also returned to Scotland on a work trip.  It was an intense few days and I was starting to feel a little saddened that I had the bike with me, and yet I may not get to ride in such a stunning part of the world. After two days of rushing, rushing, rushing, I made the excutive decision to take some time to myself in the early morning of a Friday. It was less than an hour, but every minute was valued, exploring a magical little forest on the outskirts of Aberdeen.

It was long enough to find the place full to the brim of walking trial and mountain biking tech. I had neither the time or tyres for the endless steep rooty trails, jumps and drops, but there was more than enough to pedal the hardtail to the Tappie Tower and see the 360 degree views over the coast and inland to the rolling hills. It was pouring with rain when I first arrived at the carpark, but stopped as I got out, and started only once I was back inside the warm and dry cab. Sometimes karma pays you back for your efforts tenfold.

The trail bike has also been on work trips, for smashing out steps and scaring myself stupid doing things I shouldn't when I'm tired. 160 mm modern trail bikes really do let you get away with murder. 

The Enduro is another bike I wouldn't change at the moment. Well, not now it finally has a decent shock on the back. The Cane Creek has been taken off and replaced by a tuned a RockShox Monarch with a piggy bag can, and a specific tune for (in my words) "a small person that rides like an elephant" The tune was done by Matt at

I will miss the summer this year, but I am also happy to see the seasons change. The most stunning season of all is just around the corner, and those autumn colours always warm the heart, no matter how cold the mornings become.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Had a bit of a break

Not of bones!

Just a break from blogging.

Things have been hectic to the point of unmanageable with work. I've been running all over the UK, currently in Scotland and have visited 16 towns in two days, driven around a 800 miles, and I wont even admit to the number of work hours. Another long day tomorrow on the massive drive down South via yet more sites (another 530 miles to drive too).  It's like audaxing, but without the pedalling. Since the start of August I have been away from home in one way or another every week. When I've not been working, I've been riding. Other than when I got norovirus which knocked me for six for 48 hours.

I will return to blogging. There are exciting things coming up, and I have a number of photos from recent times I'd like to post for posterity.

Ok ok, maybe one photo for now. No editing. That was the colour of the sky a few weeks back on an evening ride with my good riding buddy Jo. We had rain, fog, and then this amazing golden light. It was dumbfounding. Like someone had put tinted lens over the entire world. It was just the best thing to be there with someone else who truly appreciates mountain biking, and how it incorporates you into the magical world we normally take for granted.