Sunday, 14 December 2014

Wet Feet

A slight change of direction. This blog started out as a way to ease the boredom and to record my recovery from a climbing accident. It moved on to bits of climbing and then in the last fifteen months or so, the lead up to and recovery from a total hip replacement. So to (belatedly) avoid becoming stale the focus is shifting to individual facets of my general activities rather than a blow by blow account of the activities themselves.

Most sports require gear and the participants in those sports tend to accumulate and compare gear. Now these aren't gear reviews with their "this only weighs xxx grammes" and "You can really feel the extra strength in ...", they are reviews about gear. While makes and models might be mentioned, that's more to stress a particular point than praise or damn the kit.

On Saturday we were in Ambleside for a group ride over in to Langdale and round Tarn Hows and Loughrigg - here's the Strava trace. At this time of year you have to take whatever weather gets thrown (literally) at you. Cath had been in Manchester for the week on a course so I drove up to meet her at Windermere station. I was on time but the connecting train wasn't so she was an hour late. The weather was horrible, driving rain at just above freezing, the UK speciality. On the way back from the pub the skies had cleared and the pavements were already icing over.

Crinkle Crags and Bowfell from Waterhead

The morning dawn crisp and clear with the temperature well below zero. The car park was patchy black ice - lovely. We set off at roughly the designated time and managed to stay upright and by the top of the first climb it was snowing. Over the course of the next few hours we road through snow, slush and water and by the time we got back all seventeen of us had very cold and wet feet. The YHA drying room was a popular location to get changed!

We'd all got a variety of shoe/sock combinations from dedicated mountain biking shoes to full on hiking boots; wool socks to Sealskinz; some had overshoes. So basically nothing had worked or rather coped with the conditions.

The mountain biking industry is dominated by North America - not surprising really since it's the largest market - so a damp corner of north western Europe is not going to figure highly in the design of products. I'm reminded of a conference call we once had with a supplier of safety sensors (who were based in Israel):

Us: The sensor's fine except for one point, the casing doesn't protect it from horizontal rain.

A moment's silence ...

Supplier: You don't get horizontal rain.

Us (in a resigned voice): Oh yes you do.

In a country where the limited rain falls straight down why would you even think that it could come at you from any direction. In a similar manner much of US designed kit is designed for dry dusty conditions, consequently it struggles in UK conditions.

I was wearing Sealskinz inside Merrill walking shoes - in my switch to flat pedals I haven't got round to purchasing a cycling specific flat shoe - which I thought would stand up to the conditions. Obviously not. I'd used a similar setup when training for my Bob Graham Round, on one occasion we started from Wasdale in rain, climbed through sleet to above the snow line then spent the day climbing and descending through the freezing level and yet still had dry feet. Something was obviously different.

What I think caused the difference was that my running shoes have little to no padding and they are designed to let water out rather than keep water out. Newcomers to fell running often ask about waterproof shoes thinking they would be ideal. If the shoe is "waterproof" then if you get water inside the shoe it has no means of escape. In the case of walking shoes and MTB shoes it then soaks the padding from the inside. Now rather than being damp, the foot is continuously immersed in water.

So ...

What should work is a lightweight shoe that is oversized to allow loose fitting socks so as not to restrict circulation, mesh outer so that water can get out. Something similar to a fell running shoe but with a flat sole that can engage with the pins on flat pedals. Add either a loose fitting overboot or a gaiter to keep wind chill down.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Mirky, mucky riding

I managed to use up some of my holiday allowance last week. We were going to have a few days away but Cath had managed to double book a couple of events so we ended up just having one night away. I'd never visited Chatsworth House so we planned on a couple of rides in the area along with a look round the house and gardens.

I'd got a new rear tyre the previous weekend and was running it tubeless. At the top of the first hill I got the feeling that the tyre was a bit soft and as soon as we went off road I felt a thud. Out with the pump to put some air in. Unfortunately unscrewing the pump from the valve also unscrewed the valve insert, resulting in a completely flat tyre! With no way to inflate the tyre Cath nipped back to get the car and we headed for Chatsworth House.

The following day was again overcast and we did a loop starting from Calver and in to an area of the Peak I'd never visited before, partly because there's no crags in it. Unfortunately quite a bit of the ride had been "sanitised" so what had been an interesting descent was now little more than a blast on old road planings. There was one good bit along a rooty-rocky track to a ford but after that there wasn't much until the traverse above Baslow Edge which while not technical at least wasn't road.

Saturday was another grey overcast day and Cath was leading the club ride so I decided to have a blast along the Pennine Bridleway down to Widdop and back. The lane down from the house is really muddy at the moment and I managed to fall off within 50 metres - oops! Everything went much better after that but it was pretty muddy getting to Wycoller. I thought I might have problems getting up the fields out of Wycoller but I managed to get a decent line with some traction. The next couple of kilometres are the most technical of this part of the way and there's quite a bit of avoiding rocks, slots and holes. Before too long the surface improves and then it's a blast down in to Thursden (I saw the only other biker all day on this part).

The climb on the road over to Widdop felt hard with the slight headwind and also slightly worrying in the fog with drivers not switching their lights on so you didn't see them until they were a few metres away, it was a relief to turn off and cross the dam and start the climb up Gorple Gate. This was as hard as ever though the top part isn't as loose as it used to be. The traverse round to the gate is wet and gritty then it's the blast down the track to rejoin the PBW. Up, big down, big up and a big down get me back to Thursden and then it's back home the same way out with a cafe stop at Wycoller. I was so muddy when I got home that I needed to rinse my clothes twice before putting them in the washing machine.

Sunday was actually a nice day, Cath suggested a route out of the VP Dales MTB guide. I'd done most of the tracks before but nearly all of them in the opposite direction. The one track I hadn't done was the descent down in to Littondale. Most tracks in the Dales are rocky so are pretty much all-weather and all year round so apart from the odd big puddle there's no real problem in most of the first part of the ride. The descent in to Littondale is damp though and being both steep and either grass or limestone means that we need to take care not to let the front wheel wash out.

A bit of a bite to eat at the bottom and then it's road work to get to Arncliffe Cote and the big climb of the day. The bottom of this is again wet grass over limestone and it's basically a push as it's too steep to gain traction in these conditions. Further up we can ride more and more but it's heavy going. We get passed by a group of lads who've ridden over from Hetton and who are the first mountain bikers we've seen all day. Once on top there's a chill wind and there's no hanging around but it's a blast anyway down to Street Gate.

All that's left is the climb up to the Settle Loop and then follow this back towards Langcliffe. It's not all downhill though and there's a few short climbs before the final drop down to the road where I happen to bump in to someone I worked with at my last workplace so after a quick chat it's the final climb up the road before dropping back down to Stainforth on the Pennine Bridleway.

A total of 90Km mostly off-road for the weekend which does feel like hard work.