Saturday, 22 April 2017

'Stop it now Melody...'

A belated card from my buddy
This week saw me complete 3 to work and back bicycle commutes. The weather was relatively sunny and was excuse enough for me to wear my new wonderful Oakley shades (courtesy of Lin for my b'day). Still saddened by the destruction and then loss of my last pair of shades.
Oakley dokeley
My birthday was a relatively quiet affair this year. I still got some nice stuff, like the glasses above. What Chris got me was balls though...
I didn't cycle to work on Monday because it was a bank holiday. On the other day that I didn't cycle, I was doing stuff in Stafford. Here at the hospital in Stafford, I couldn't help but think about bikes.
A rather splendid picture at St Georges Hospital, Stafford
My 2 kids are perhaps too young to cycle lots. However, they did scoot around the kitchen and run a little over the weekend. They also taught me how important it is to stretch.
I ran on 2 occasions during the week. The first run was a 5k run around my village. My second run was around Oversley Wood with SJ and the girls. I ran a total of 7k (we took turns to run around and then walk with the kids). Nice times.
It was also 5 years to the day (Sunday) that SJ ran the London Marathon. I wonder if she'll ever run it again? I wonder if I will? I wonder if the girls will?

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Southern Discomfort and other stories about the Easter bunny

Dad's bicycle by Lunar (aged 4)
Last week started with the now usual to work and back commute. Lin's Garmin continued to play up during my first commute and wouldn't start until after a couple of k were cycled. Once home, Strava reported the ride to work was ridden on 2nd August and not the 10th. Had the Garmin gone wonky or was it Strava?! Maybe both. Once home, Lunar was excited to show me a picture she had drawn for me. It was a picture of my lovely cycle. Bless her.

Cycled to work and back on 3 occasions during the week. Garmin was replaced by my TomTom for the second 2 commutes. My real adventure began during the Easter holidays though.
The Easter bank holiday really was a lot of fun. Chris H, Jamie, Andy (Toll) and my good self went for a bikepacking adventure from Windsor to Windsor. Chris had planned the routes and dubbed the adventure 'Southern Discomfort'. This was a 3 day adventure that covered just over 300k of mostly off-road mayhem.
101.7k The 3 Castles Path
Day 1 'The 3 castles path'. Seeing as Chris lived in Windsor, we all met up there for the start of our adventure. Chris was quite the tour guide initially and provided much information about 'the sights' as we went along. It wasn't long until we passed Windsor Castle, the first castle on the 3 castles path.
In between castles and throughout the day we cycled lots of single track, path, gravel, fields, tow path and it was all pretty amazing. Weather was pretty fine throughout and our first food stop was okay. Hot dogs all round.
Naughty boys!
The second castle we reached was Odiham castle. This castle looked liked it had melted or something. Pretty all the same.
Odiham Castle
Throughout the next section I remember we caught up a rather unsocial ginger cyclist. I don't think he wanted to be caught - we soon stopped following his path anyway - however, we crossed his path a little further along that day.
Winchester Cathedral
Once we reached Winchester, Chris our 'tour guide' proudly announced that we had reached the end of the 3 castles path and pointed out Winchester Cathedral. I felt robbed, 3 castles path but we had only seen 2! Jamie and I cycled just a few metres more and found Wolvesley Castle.
Wolvesley Castle
We felt like we had really cycled a 3 castles path now and that was so the highlight of our whole bikepacking adventure. Chris mumbled something about it not being the official castle and spluttered something about a great hall. It was clear he was oh so jealous about not viewing this delightful hidden gem of a castle.

(The Three Castles Path is a 60-mile long-distance footpath in England from Winchester Great Hall, Hampshire to Windsor Castle, Berkshire via the ruins of Odiham Castle. Winchester Great Hall is the only surviving part of Winchester Castle. Wikipedia)

We all came together again and reflected on our awesome first day over a feast at a local 'spoons pub. All was great until Chris had noticed that his and Jamie's mixed grill did not come with eggs. No eggs! What?! This was Easter after all. I had words with the 'egg girl', who in turn had words with the manager. The result - 2 free desserts! Bonus! I asked for 4 but only 2 materialised. I enjoyed sharing Chris's ice cream and crumble - it complemented my chicken noodles just fine!

Our day ended by cycling to the start of the South Downs Way. Here we (Chris) found a stealth place to camp down for the night. Tarps up and soon the sound of snoring after a little tipple of port from the hip flask.

Day 2 'the South Downs Way'. This day began about 6:30. Had slept pretty well considering the snoring and trumping of my buddies. Cooked up a nice porridge and washed this down with a tasty brew before we cleared camp and headed off.
First to awake
My 3 buddies, still asleep
Chris and I had cycled this route before on our mountain bikes. Lots of beautiful track but rather hilly throughout. Big climbs and fast descents throughout the day. Just to make things more interesting, decided to ride my bike with brakes that didn't work. 
94.2k The South Downs Way
I think some random walkers were impressed (or thought 'such lunacy') with the speed I sped down some cobbled, gravelly descents - truth is, I couldn't slow myself or stop. Not sure what Chris's excuse was... Both Chris and I were stopped by a fence at the end of at least one descent. Still have the scars to prove it! - a barbed wire fence was my buffer! I reached speeds of 62.7k today and Chris 67.2!
Lunch stop today was pretty amazing. We found a great pub that served up a mighty fine ploughman's lunch. Cheese so thick, oh man, was worth cycling all the hilly k's just for this.
Who'd have thought we would see a shark?!
The next stop was great too. We tasted the delights of Caroline's ice cream. Mmm, much better than Kevin's cream!
Fast down
Slower up
Not everything was fine and dandy though. The puncture pixie visited a few times throughout the day. In fact, by the end of this day, I had 2 punctures, Andy 3 and Chris 1. Jamie was the winner and had none. 
Today was tough. After 80k of tough tracks we decided to leave the off-road tracks and cycle a stretch of tarmac instead. Good choice - the tarmac led to a pub where steak burgers and rum followed! 

The camp spot tonight was on the grounds of a girls school, hidden between some trees. I had spotted the site on route to the pub - good job Andy and had remembered how to get back there. Tarps up and into bed after a quick swig from the flask. Jamie won best tarp set up again. Jamie really was the winner (best tarp set up throughout and zero punctures).

Day 3 'flat is the new fat'. I was first up again today. Breakfast was mighty fine, Heinz pasta and noodles. Delicious!
Not so smug in the morning is he?!
Camp
After packing up camp, Chris fitted my bike with new BB5 brake pads and wow, my bike was transformed. Working front brakes, wow, that really was a new experience.
102.5k Last day of The Southern Discomfort Tour
Today's route was much flatter than the previous day. The roads were still gravelly though and the sights most beautiful. My bottom was starting to feel it had been sat on a saddle for a long time now.
There was still some mad fast descents here and there and a couple of tough climbs too. Somewhere during this adventure my glasses broke and went AWOL. This became a real problem on this day as a bug got caught in my eye during the descent. Chris managed to get the bug out after a few pokes.

We stopped at a lovely cafe for lunch. It was called the Milk Churn if I remember correctly? Here, we all devoured some tasty cheese on toast and drank tea. A few other cyclists were gathered here too - one cyclist had an artificial leg. Don't think I could have cycled this adventure with only one leg.
The route was quite diverse and at one time we were cycling through what must have been an air strip. Hard to believe that the long roads we cycled were largely traffic free, in the middle of nowhere and just so awesome.
As we neared the finish, we stopped in Windsor for another ice cream. Well, we were on holiday! Pretty sure we burnt enough calories over the past few days.
Windsor Castle
Last push and we were almost where we started. Windsor Castle looked just as great at a distance as it did close up. After just a few k we were back at Chris's domicile. All agreed this was a fantastic adventure. Cheers to Chris, Jamie and Toll - they all rock!

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Inside/outside

My Melody, Spring has sprung!
Wow, completed my second week at my new (temporary) work place. Where did time go? Only felt like I had been there a couple of days. Time is never time at all. Work went ok and at this moment in time am very pleased I made a change. Highlight of the working week was probably having acupuncture. Yup, that's right, one of the SMS nurses (Helen) stuck 5 needles in each of my ears. This apparently causes serotonin to be released and essentially changes brain chemistry in a positive way. Each needle made me jump as it went in, kinda felt like I was on a plane taking off (pressure) whilst they were inserted, and my left ear bled a little after needles were removed. Did I feel better for it? - I dunno, but had a nice weekend so maybe the serotonin kicked in...

Didn't run long of far this week and missed Parkrun too. Started the week with a 5k XC run though and finished with a 10k XC run. Both runs were over the fields of Studley and were just lovely. 

Didn't cycle long or far either. However, commuted by bicycle to work and back on 2 occasions. Removed the winter tyres from my Genesis and swapped for some gravel tyres. Tyres appear to roll okay. Would have commuted to work sooner only it took me a while to bag a locker. First commute was silly - I got to work way too quick and was hardly on my bike at all. Decided to further my route and make it a bit more worthwhile by not taking a direct route and cycling better paths. Commute distance is still super short but better than nothing.
My Lunar (and SJ) indoors.
Camped over the weekend too. Well, kinda. Lunar and I slept in our new family tent (in the garden), just to try it out. Lunar is like a hot water bottle. Jamie reckons I should take her bike-packing with me next weekend. I just might...
My Lunar (and moi) outdoors (camping).

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Benjamin Allen, who the 'heck is he?!

Monday was the start of my new job. I figured I wanted the day to start well, so before my work day began, I ran a 5k circuit around my village. Whilst on my run, I posted my acceptance letter for the job I started this day. Better late than never! 
Genesis Day 1 (I have one just like it)
Day 1 was great. Day 1 was spent working from home. Simply because I was able to complete my work in speedy time, my own Day 1 (i.e. my single-speed Genesis) was taken out for a venture. What an awesome bike - had forgotten how great she rode. My ride took me on old paths from my old commute and newer paths for my new commute. Cycled just short of 50k in all. Nice! What a great start to my working week.
My second day at work didn't see me work so much but it hurt my head all the same. It's always the same old story when I start anything new and/or think hard. I think any fish's head would hurt if it was out of water. My head prevented me from training today. It seemed the mind ruled the body.

..you can't live easily 
you can't even speak
fish all of them speak
all over the world..

Third day at work was altogether different. The day was spent in Stafford attending service development and information governance meetings. Fish all of them speak. I hope to be able to speak fish in the passage of time too. After all, I am a fish out of water or perhaps a fish in hot water. I dunno. After work, myself and the Mrs went for a quick run which was nice. SJ ran a loop with me and then I continued on and ran a second loop. Loopy!

Days four and five at work went relatively well. All my health colleagues were very friendly, helpful and fun. Chris (maybe there is something in the name) was the most friendly of all. Wow, I completed a whole week doing my new job. (My new role hasn't really started as yet but that's a minor issue). So often I comment that work gets in the way of fun. Well, with this new job I no longer work weekends and hence had a weekend of fun!

Saturday saw me complete Benjamin Allen's Spring Tonic - a 200k audax organised my Mark Rigby. Ron was my buddy on this adventure and he kindly picked me up and took me to the start in Tewkesbury. A group (maybe 40ish) of cyclists gathered at the start and  after a few words from Mark we were off at 8 a.m. Mark became quite tearful as he informed us of the death of Mike Hall (an ultra distance cyclist) only a day or 2 ago following a RTA. A minutes silence was held in his honour. 
Ron was keen for us to 'jump on the buss' and benefit from a tow during the first stage. I didn't mind this fast pace start which came to an abrupt end once we hit traffic lights. The end came because Ron had his first visit from the puncture pixie. After this Mia-hap we became lantern rouge but no worries, we enjoyed a more leisurely pace to first control. Our route took us across stunning views of the Malverns and to Leominster for breakfast. Breakfast was at a pub where we had a full English. Was lucky to get there after Ron had navigated me down a 1 way street in the wrong direction.

Next stop was Hay-on-Wye. This was a pretty section but I was slightly annoyed once Lins Garmin ceased to work. It had worked for 3 hours but then the screen froze and that was that. We stopped at the troll bridge and purchased some cookies and flap jacks before a final push into Hay-on-Wye the bookshop capital of the UK. Ron suffered a second flat here and in his angst threw away his tyre and tube!
Next stage took us through the aptly named 'Golden Valley', which did appear quite golden in the shining sun. Hills aplenty here and much climbing. We climbed through Goodrich and entered the Forest of Dean. Ron suffered further mishap - some plastic got caught in his rear mech and his (was mine) map holder got busted in half. Was pleased that we were cycling along with another couple for a spell as I had so much to talk about. Once at the control we ate pastries and drank much and felt better for the remaining journey ahead.

As we left Lower Soudley, Ron's troubles emerged once more. His shifting had gone wonky and then we found out his chain link had gone duff. Tools out and problem fixed. Last leg was cycled along the Upper reaches of the Severn Vale. Just before reaching Tewkesbury we caught the couple we had cycled with earlier and used their front lights to guide us to the arrivee! Yay, job done! A couple of Desperado's to celebrate and a stamp from Mr Rigby!

Sunday was a glorious day to finish the week. The sun was shining bright. My Mrs took advantage of the great weather and mowed the grass. I took advantage of the great weather and cleaned 2 of my bikes. We both took advantage of the weather and watched our kids run around the garden jumping through water. Oh, what a life!

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Oooh we Doo like this and that and the other!

Ooh I do like a day with Mummy, Daddy and Lunar
'Ooh we Doo' like a week off work. This week began with a 6.5k run around my village. After my run, I set about packing my belongings up ready for a bike adventure the following day with Jamie.

Half the battle with bike packing is indeed packing the bike stuff ready. To help prepare for future trips and maybe see what worked and what didn't, I took pics of my bike bags and their belongings. They were as follows...
In the handlebar bag:
  • Down sleeping bag (made by the Mrs. I thought it maybe too thin for the pending adventure but hey, it needed testing).
  • Gelert 3/4 sleep mat.
  • Foil (foam) blanket.
  • Silk sleeping bag liner.
In the Wildcat (front) bag: 
  • Wet wipes.
  • Plastic bags.
  • Bum creme.
  • Wash kit (mirror, tooth brush, te-pe, deodorant, vaseline, shower gel).
  • Lighter.
  • Pills
  • Zero tabs.
  • Camera.
  • Phone.
  • Batter charger and cables.
  • Pen knife.
  • Hip flask.
  • Money pouch.
  • (Maybe add note book and pen)?
  • Arm warmers.
  • Gloves.
In the Frame bag:
  • Tubes x2.
  • Tool kit (multi-tool, levers, gas, gas tool, pump) (maybe add patches and boot).
  • Kitchen (myti mug, stove, gas, foldable cup, peg, spork, knife).
  • Cord and carriba thing.
  • Tent pegs.
  • Head torch.
  • Waterproof shorts.
  • Food (porridge, t-bags, hot drink mix, sweets).
And finally, in the rear bag:
  • Bivvy bag.
  • Tarp.
  • Down jacket.
  • Clothes bag (cycling shorts, socks x 2, long johns, boxer shorts, thermal base layer, silk base layer, woolly hat).
  • Pillow bag.
Tuesday rocked up before I could say 'wild camping loons' and I rolled up to Jamie's ready for our 'We Doo like a day off work' cycle tour the same day. It was a nice morning and all looked promising. Was kinda strange cycling parts of my old commute as I headed to Jamie's abode. 

Had been mate's with Jamie for a while but this was the first time I had actually been inside his domicile. What a lovely abode too. Amongst the niceties within his home, he has a rather splendid bright orange Smeg fridge/freezer. Enough to envy our buddy Chris. Anyways, I digress... on with the story telling.

Well, after a cuppa tea, we left Jamie's and headed for Clent, the start of our tour. It was about 15k to Clent and our route took us mostly via road, however, we cycled an off-road track up and across the Wasely (?) Hills. I was expecting our official start in Clent to be a big climb up a cobbled path but we actually started just after this climb. Bonus!
Ooh we Doo like a day off work (140.6k)
We had climbed a wee bit already so we weren't that bothered the cobbled section I was expecting  was missed (and knew we would have to cycle it later). The route seemed quite different to how I had remembered it (as I had cycled the tour before) but sure enough there was a mix of on and off-road sections. Once we reached swindon we figured it was a good time to stop for breakfast (it was around lunch time). I had a pork sarnie and Jamie devoured bacon and eggs (I think) at a local cafe. Once out the cafe, we got talking to a chap who was very interested in our bike and set up's.

In true Doo style, we got lost during our next section. Somehow we had ended up cycling through Kinver and this was not supposed to happen until our return from Wolverhampton. We back tracked and obviously ended up in Kinver again. Kinver was so pretty, we felt obliged to stop at a pub for lunch. Sausage and mash and peas and gravy was my fuel and tasty it was too!

Fuelled up and off we set again and soon were back on the route proper. The navigation problem was not the only menace issue however - it started to rain. Not too bad was the rain, however, it was wet all the same. No bother, we cycled and were generally having a good old time all the way to Wolverhampton which was our furthest out point. Wolverhampton Velodrome had closed it's gates which I felt was a bit mean - we were not able to cycle a victory lap. Instead, we went inside the sports complex and ate some chocolate washed down with a hot drink.

On leaving the Velodrome, I experienced further menace. My (Lin's) Garmin had died. I lifted the plastic cover off and could see water had gotten into it. I lifted the socket covers and worse still, could see that water had gotten into there too. Grr! No Garmin, no data, no directions. Good job I had Jamie with me!

The rain (which was not forecast) came and went as we cycled our return leg. The rain never dampened my spirits because Jamie was such good company and we cycled and chatted the wet miles away. Before long, we were back in Kinver (for the third time!) and so decided to stop at the nice pub (for the second time)! 

We were real wet. Soaked to the skin. Ah ha! No bother, I had learned from the 'Bear Bones 200' that if you're soaked through to the skin, you find a pub with radiators and dry out. Dry out we did, in this pub with radiators! We felt great once we tucked into cowboy burgers too! By the time we left, our clothing was mostly dry and quite warm.
Cheers!
The last leg was a little bit wet. Thoughts of abandoning never crossed our minds (honest...). The sunshine had turned to moonlight, in fact, light pollution provided a red tinge to the evening sky. We cycled and chatted and eventually made our way back to the Clent Hills. We didn't find that cobbled section hilly part that we were expecting at the start ... not for a short spell anyway. Once in Clent, we figured we needed to find a suitable spot to camp in. Before we camped, it was necessary we had enough water for our porridge in the morning. A quick stop at a random curry house provided the water and a hike-a-bike up a steep bridleway soon turned into a suitable camp spot. We camped (could you believe) next to the hilly cobbled section we expected to climb at the start! Perfect. 
So pleased Jamie had brought his tarp. My tarp was tiny in comparison and we just wanted to fend off the rain and camp out as soon as possible. My little tarp provided a suitable ground sheet. Despite all the stuff I brought with me, I didn't bother getting changed into dry clothes. Basically, I put on my down jacket and crawled into my sleeping bag and bivvy in my damp clothes. It was too wet to faff about. I think I should have moved my hip flask into the bag where I kept my sleeping gear because I was tucked up in my bag and then remembered my hip flask was still in a bag attached to the bike. D'oh! Jamie, oh wise one, had his hip flask on him, so we drank his damson vodka and were both content. Despite the wind, rain and Jamie's snoring, the night wasn't too bad and I slept okay (on and off all night). I got up around 6 a.m. and Jamie shortly after.
It must have been about 3C in the night and I was snug enough and warm enough in my down bag that SJ had made. My legs were cold at times (would have been just fine if I bothered to wear my long johns). My damp clothes were dry by the time I had gotten up. Everything outside was wet though. It was raining and this rain continued until the conclusion of our adventure. Before we took the tarp down and packed up, we had out breakfasts washed down with tea. Ah, this was the life. We Doo like a day off work (but Jamie had to work later today)!
Morning campers!
After breakfast (and a sup from my hip flask), we packed up and cycled in the miserable rain. The rain beat so hard at times that my face stung. We cycled together until we reached Northfield and then went our separate ways. Today was real miserable and I was soaked to the skin. But was it worth it - yes it was! I had a great adventure and hope Jamie did too.
Tandem adventure with Roger
My next adventure was Friday. This was also a cycle adventure for two. Ooh we Doo like a tandem adventure! Roger and I cycled his tandem in a lovely loop. We cycled some of the same roads that Jamie and I had cycled. I remembered speaking to Jamie about Roger and now I was speaking to Roger about Jamie. Round and round we go, let's hope I don't lose my mojo! Another great ride. Nice tail wind on the way out but a hostile head wind on the return with a tough ascent to boot. 

Would you like to pilot a tandem? Do you live near Birmingham? If you've answered yes to either of these questions then please comment on my blog or drop me line. Roger is real keen to cycle with other folk and regardless of age or experience he'd be happy for you to pilot his tandem. No experience is necessary and any distance journey is fine. Roger is blind and isn't as young as he was, so anyone able to cycle with him would really be appreciated. As time goes by, his number of cycling partners is decreasing.
My 15th Parkrun
Ooh we Doo like to Parkrun. Saturday saw me complete my 15th Parkrun to date. I ran around Arrow Valley once more and ran my fastest time this year - 22:13. Still not a PB but was quite pleased with that all the same.
Ooh we Doo like spending time with the kids and Mrs. Finished my physical training for the week by taking my family to Bidford. We hung around and swung like monkeys. Great fun!

'Stop it now Melody...'

A belated card from my buddy This week saw me complete 3 to work and back bicycle commutes. The weather was relatively sunny and was exc...