Monday, 5 October 2015

A little exploration does you good.

Sometimes it's worth doing a little exploring, while things may be known to others it's nice to be able to find them for yourself rather than having them handed to you on a plate. With Cath off doing the Yorkshire Dales 200 I'd got the time to myself to locate a couple of descents in Swaledale that I knew about and knew of their approximate location but had never been to or ridden.

The first began near the road and I'd remarked to Cath several times that "That gully starts round here", so parking up near where I thought it would be I followed the first path through the heather that I came across and purely by chance got the right line! A piece of singletrack snaked its way along and down an old "hush", a very old (back to Roman times) means of mining, until it opened out in to a set of mine workings. All very rideable so I walked back up to the car.

The second trail is known as the "Pipeline Descent", I've seen it in a couple of videos and had read a blog on how to get to it, though the latter didn't make a whole lot of sense plus it was described from the opposite direction to how I was intending to get there.

Setting off from the Dales Bike Centre, it was the usual ride along the banks of the Swale until it was time to gird the loins and head up on to Harkerside Moor. I must still be suffering from the cold of a couple of weeks ago and felt like I was struggling and my legs just weren't working. Ahead on the upper traversing track was a group of riders, probably watching me heave my way upwards though they'd gone by the time I reached their position. As I got on to the plateau I could see them contouring the edge of the moor - exactly where I needed to be heading! They must be aiming for the same descent. With the morning dew still on the grass it was quite easy to follow them threading my way through heather and patches of open ground.

The group were just beginning their descent when I got to the start. Declining the offer of the last two to go ahead as I was sure I'd be slower than them (I'm always really slow on descents) I watched them on the first part. The ground wasn't steep but there was really just the one line through it - a semi traverse before pointing downhill as the angle eased and a blast through more heather to the start of the next drop. I committed my usual sin of going too slowly and had to dab but there was really only one short section that was hard. The next part of the descent was in a shallow gully so no chance off falling off and rolling down the hillside, you just had to keep rolling downwards. There was a slot in the bed of the gully about twice the width of the bike tyre so it was a matter of ensuring you followed that. Halfway down there's a couple of blocks across the line so you need to keep some speed going. After that it's just more heading downwards to the moorland below.

I caught the group up a little later, they were on an Orange Bikes demo day and Stu the owner of Dales Bike Centre was with them showing them some trails. After a chat (and to get my breath back) I headed up and across the moor to find the other gully descent. A bit of road climbing and I was there.

No stopping and I was straight in to it, nowhere technical, the hardest part was making sure you had your pedals set correctly so you didn't catch any of the rocks to the side. The whole thing was over far too quickly but then in the workings below I got the wrong side of a drainage channel so a quick dismount and a hop over it and I was on my way again. The rest of the ride was a simple blast down old mining tracks and the road back to the Centre.

After some grub I declined to head out on the second demo ride and drove up the dale to Muker. One published ride that I'd not done in Swaledale was the ride over Kisdon, a curious hill that divides the upper dale - the river runs to one side, the road and habitation are on the other "dry" side. The only problem was that I wasn't entirely sure how to get across the river to begin the loop.

In the end I simply road back down the road until I came to the bridge that we'd crossed on the YD300 and grunted and groaned my way up the tarmac climb on the other side. Eventually the tarmac gave way to rough farm track and I was following the Swale in a wonderful semi-abandoned part of the dale.

All too soon the track began to head upwards towards the wonderfully named Crackpot Hall then it was back down to the level of the Swale where a three-way fingerpost sign gave no indication of where to go (I'd no map with me hence the earlier uncertainty on how to cross the river), two fingers simply said "Pennine Way" and the third, pointing back the way I'd come: "Bridleway". I took a punt and headed down to the bridge and pushed up the other side until another sign indicated "BW Keld". All that remained was the climb back over Kisdon to Muker.

This started off OK but after about 100 metres my legs and lungs simply gave up so it was a case of pushing the bike to the top of the steep section and the first gate. The rest of the climb was steady and soon loose stone gave way to grass, the general angle easing all the while. A couple more gates and I'm at the top. There's hardly any time to savour the views as the track drops away  quckly and begins a helter-skelter of a descent down to Muker pausing only for several gates and losing 250 metres of height in about 1.5 kilometres. Not a route I'd like to do in the opposite direction! A gentle roll back to the car and I'm done.

Somewhat curiously despite my feeling that I wasn't up to par, Strava shows that I recorded some of my best times on the rides including some top ten times.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

I see Thin People

Sometimes it's good to do something new, it shocks the body and mind and gets you out of a rut. So it was that I decided to enter the Kielder 101. That's kilometres not miles. It's a mountain bike race in and around Kielder forest with the "unique feature" of heading over to Scotland for part of the route.

Registration is on the Friday night so after that and something to eat I turn in for the night, kipping in the car - the campsite was full though apparently they were letting people pitch up without having booked.

I wake at 0400 with the arrival of more cars and having failed to get back to sleep get up at 0600 and make a brew and have breakfast. More people arrive and bikes are removed from cars and assembled and tested. The start is at 0730 with a final briefing at 0715.

Like a pro road race, the start is neutralised behind a vehicle for the first couple of kilometres then we turn off the Forest Drive and it's every man and woman for themselves. The first mile or so is uphill so everyone gets strung out before the first bits of singletrack.

The nature of all open races like this (fell races are similar in that you can be on the start line between the national champion and someone who is in their first race) is that you pretty soon get in to a group of riders that you pass, get overtaken, pass again. So, at least as far as the first border crossing I'd keep seeing the same people.

Apart from the first couple of kilometres and two road crossings the entire route is off-road, a mixture of fire road, single track and event specific sections that cut through virgin terrain. The first of these was a "short cut" between two fire roads and  mainly consisted of picking your way through moss covered tree roots.

The second food stop was at Newcastleton in Scotland, one of the options was being able to pack a bag with your own food and have it ready for you there, so savoury food rather than sweet was in order plus a restocking of my on-board supply then it was off again.

The rider I was with at this point would pull ahead for a while then stop and try and stretch his back - "Pilates on the bike is hard work!" Eventually on a climb I think he stopped for longer and I didn't see him again.

By now everyone was well spread out and between the second and third feed stations, 30Km in distance I saw only six riders - two passed me and I passed four more. I didn't stop at the third feed station just got my timer clocked, I'm well inside the cutoff, and then on my way. A long drag uphill then bits of singletrack descent to the road. Just one uphill to do.

Marked on the map as "Scorpion, the sting in the tale" it seemed to drag forever, just when you thought you were heading downhill you'd be taken in the opposite direction and yet more climbing. Eventually there's basically no more up and it's a case of sweeping down the singletrack descent. At one point there's a marshal who notes the two technical options ahead. I get off and walk, "Good choice!" says a voice behind. A rider catches up with me but declines to pass. The last technical section is down two sets of steps then a roll in to the finish and a "well done" and a handshake.

My official time is 6hrs47, I'd been aiming for 7hrs so am pleased with that.

No photos or video but here's the Strava trace.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

The Sandstone Way

"What is it?"

"I don't know, it wasn't there yesterday"

"Where's it come from?"


"What's that?" said the third.


"Does it move?"

"Not seen anything."

"Ooh, that's new." Said the fourth "What is it?"

"We don't know"

I roll over. There's a line of cows looking over the fence at us lying under our tarp.

With fine weather forecast for the bank holiday (now where have I heard that before?) on Friday night Cath came up with the suggestion of doing The Sandstone Way up in Northumberland. A slight problem in that she was heading down to her sister's for the night and would be back mid-morning so we (by which I mean I) had to get things sorted that night.

The general plan was to drive to Berwick, leave the car there and get the train down to Hexham, ride the route back to Berwick and drive home. The winds were forecast as strong south westerlies so we'd be going with the wind on our backs. All the descriptions of the route are for a north to south direction, this meant I had to reverse the downloaded GPX files (what I didn't realise at the time was that the route is slightly different depending on the direction you travel). I also ordered the route map from Amazon and hoped that the one day delivery would get to us in time (it didn't). The final problem was booking the bikes on the train, even now you can't book a bike reservation online to go with your ticket.

Fortunately on Saturday morning five minutes at Skipton station procured both seats and bike reservations, phew! Now we just had to get to Berwick in time to catch the train. The roads were generally clear, unusual for a bank holiday, and we arrived with plenty of time to spare. With the bikes kitted out we were ready to go. This particular train had a guards van with bike racks, unfortunately it was at one end of the train and our seats were at the other so a long walk through first class was in order - at least it was before we had started the ride! A change at Newcastle then we were crammed on to a two coach Sprinter train which became even fuller after the first stop at the Metro Centre and half of Primark's stock got on board. It was a relief to get off at Hexham.

Now we just had to find the start of the ride, I had partly remembered it began by the golf course near the river so we headed there and just began riding alongside the river. Eventually the GPS indicated we were on route. The rest of the evening consisted of riding along, realising (from a frantically buzzing GPS) that we were off-route, back-tracking and carrying on. The route is well signed for going N-S but not so much going S-N and not having a map didn't help matters.

We were on the lookout for these.

We had no bike lights with us as we weren't planning on doing any night riding and the sun was starting to set, in such circumstances you are very much dictated to by nature so time to stop. Ahead was a drop to a river which looked like it was sheltered but had the potential to be very midgey so we decided to stop out in the open The tarp went up quickly and just as quickly the wind dropped and we got mugged by the flying death. Eventually the breeze returned and we ate our tea and had a few sips of whiskey. By 2100 we had turned in for the night.

Our first bivouac.

In the morning we were up and away by 0630 having used the last of our gas making a brew. Not many people are up at that time and we try not to wake the occupants of the first farms we passed. A couple of ups and downs and we roll in to Bellingham which is one quarter of the ride. The Co-op was open so we grabbed some breakfast before pressing on.

The next section was frustrating as it wasn't obvious and was also hard work - it is new trail to link up existing bridleways and as such isn't yet marked on the ground, there'd be occasional tyre marks to show we were on the right (non) track but it was mostly guesswork. We eventually reached a good track and the next few miles went easily enough until we once again went wrong. Another trudge through rushes and long grass to find a hidden gate and we'd be back on track. A good bit of singletrack across a moor and we were spat out on to a road, this led in a remarkably straight line to the start of a long forestry section.

Now forest tracks are forest tracks and there's only so much you can take. After a point of indecision we took the wrong track which actually turned out to be the right track as we had a fantastic descent through bright purple heather to the Coquet valley. Some more bad route choices (we should have just followed the road) got us to Rothbury where we had a big meal in a cafe and managed to buy a map.

Among the heather above Rothbury.

The climb out of Rothbury is technical and would be a great descent (probably the only good one going south) but as a climb it was easier to push. What it did do was get you on to an easy but brilliant track contouring round the edge of the moorland through more irridescant purple heather. All too soon and we are descending back in to the valley. We've decided not to head out to Alwinton but use one of the shortcuts to get further north before nightfall.

In the event we miss the turning for the next bit of bridleway so have more road work to rejoin the route. We decide on bivvying at the next available site but in an arable valley this is harder than you might imagine. Eventually we find a spot and settle down, along with the cows.

A well deserved crab sandwich.

Another early start the following morning and we make good progress getting over the last major hill and down to the coast for a not too late breakfast. All that is left is an amble along the coastline back to Berwick. Unsure as to where the route actually ends we ride around in circles for a bit before deciding that the signpost with a sticker on is it. We're done!

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

A Dales Mini-adventure

Individual Time Trials (ITTs) are long distance mountain bike rides that as their name suggests are meant to be ridden as an individual. They aren't a race in the same way that a road biking sportive isn't a race but that doesn't stop people comparing times. The individual aspect can also be misleading in that if the course is well known then it may have a mass start and in this case you will likely find yourself riding with other riders at some point. The individual aspect really refers to self-reliance.

One point about ITTs is that they are usually at least 160Km (100 miles) in length which is quite a commitment for many people to step up to. Some of the publicised routes are linear which introduces the problem of getting back to your starting point though many do finish at or near railway stations. With this in mind I thought of doing a 100Km loop in the Dales as a sort of stepping stone to the longer distance.

A bit of studying of the map and we came up with a route that fitted the criteria and apart from a few kilometres at the start and finish had surprisingly little riding on the road to link things up once we got in to the meat of the riding. It even include some bridleways that one or the other of us hadn't done before. The general plan was to do about 60Km on the Saturday, bivvy out and ride the remainder on the Sunday morning. Even better it was a fine forecast for the weekend.

After a steady spin along the road to Buckden it was the first climb of the day up the bridleway to Cray. I'd done this on the YD300 and had to walk quite a bit of it so was pleased to almost clean it. Once up on Stake Moss it was a case of heading along just making sure that we didn't miss the turn for the bridleway down to Thoralby. Up here you can't see the nearby dales so it feels like you are on a huge plateau extending to the horizon, quite spooky really. The intial part of the bridleway to Thoralby is lovely grassy riding but the second part has been "upgraded" by the estate and is now a loose vehicle track, not very pleasant at all.

A choice of ways just before Thoralby so we head uphill and find ourselves navigating blind as we try to find "Folly Lane", in retrospect it might have been better heading the other way! By the time we crossed the river at Aysgarth Falls we were getting hungry so headed to the cafe - this is one aspect of ITTs that might seem slightly strange - you may use any facility along the route providing it is open to anyone. Suitably fed it was on to Carperby and a climb up on to the terrace above the valley floor. We've done this route along the terrace a few times, the YD300 does it in the opposite direction, so no navigation problems.

There was now the obvious problem ahead of the climb up the Roman Road. It's not steep but it is nearly eight kilometres of uphill on rough track. Being a Roman road it is also strikingly straight so there is always the way ahead in sight. Once at the top though, there was little more climbing left to do before the night's stop. Actually with a slight change of plan it was pretty much all descent. While on the short road section at the top of the road climb up Fleet Moss a group of road cyclists went past and I suddenly realised that I knew them - a bit of shouting and they came back for a chat.

The Roman road continues down to Ribblehead and is a cracking high level ride, the area to the SE towards Penyghent is barren and feels very isolated. Cut left and we follow the Pennine Bridleway down to Ling Gill our intended stopping point for the night.

Bivouacs are a continuous reassessment of what you've done before and adaptation to the current situation. You'll never get everything absolutely right: you'll have brought too much gear; not enough gear; the wrong gear; etc. There was quite a breeze where we planned to set up so found somewhere more sheltered - big mistake! As the sun went down it became midge hell. Our previous use of the tarp had been either as a classic tent like ridge or A-frame or as a lean to against a wall. With a clear night forecast we set it up as a half pyramid to keep any wind off us but be fairly open to allow us to get the "out in the air" feeling.

Another reason to head out on shorter routes is that you can test out strategies without feeling pressure from the event or distance. Food is one such item or strategy. There's a balancing act between carrying too much and tiring yourself out from the extra effort and not taking enough that you can't refuel. There's also the option between cooking food and eating it cold. The former requires that you carry stove and fuel but on a cold bivvy warm food is a psychological boost. Eating food cold provides as much calories but often weighs more and takes up more space. The last couple of trips we've gone for a midway option: take a stove to make brews but eat cold food. It's almost the best of both worlds in that you get something warm but because you are only boiling water and not cooking there's no messy pans to deal with. An extension of this is to take dehydrated (either shop bought or home made) food and rehydrate with boiling water in its own bag, again no messy pans. For trips during cooler weather this is probably the preferred way to do things.

All was well and we settled down to sleep. Another brilliantly clear night with several satellites passing overhead and a few shooting stars from the tail end of the Perseid shower and the Milky Way quite prominent. At some point during the night I awoke after dreaming it was raining: the sky was now half clouded over. Within a short while it had begun to drizzle. Having a down sleeping bag out in the rain isn't a good idea even though we had bivvy bags over them. So we turned round and kept our heads and the exposed part of the bags under cover of the tarp.

Morning was dull and grey rather than the forecast bright day. A brew and a sandwich and we were away within half an hour of getting up. The descent in to Horton is on a limestone track with a rubble bed in places, quite interesting in the wet. Getting in to Horton we made use of the cafe to grab some food to take out and headed up the track to Penyghent. This has been improved slightly since I last did it and I managed to ride it all. 

Following the usual "head to Hull Pot and lose where the bridleway goes" we began the long contouring track around the back of Penyghent and Plover Hill. This has been improved in places but in others it is little more than a flattening of vegetation crossing moorland and unsuccessfully trying to avoid the peat bogs. Some short sections you have to walk but it is mostly rideable. Eventually we began the descent to Foxup but rather than drop all the way to the valley floor we cut back up to join the road to Stainforth. Along this for a while then it's our last bit of off-road trail on the trail down to Litton. The last time we did this it was quite wet and greasy but today it's dry and fast.

On the road it's a steady ride back down the Dale to the car (via the cafe at Kilnsey!) for a total of 101Km. We'd cut out one bridleway above Ribblehead so very slightly shorter than originally planned but still a good couple of days out. 

Here's the video.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

YD300 Kit

I've edited the previous post on the Yorkshire Dales 300 and moved all the stuff about kit and strategy here. So this post will discuss what I took and why I took it.

The forecast was for a little bit of everything: sunny with a bit of breeze on Saturday then rain early Sunday becoming sunny again. I hoped to get away on Sunday morning before the rain arrived as putting wet bivvy kit away is neither nice nor easy.

I took the following, with the exception of the spare cycle top and the rear light I used everything but just as importantly I didn't require anything extra. If the weather hadn't been so bad then I wouldn't have used the baggy trousers, the jacket and the waterproof.

(H) = goes in handlebar bag
(F) = goes in frame bag
(S) = goes in saddle bag
(B) = goes in camelbak.

(H) tarp + lines and (F) pegs
(H) sleeping mat
(H) sleeping bag
(H) travel towel

(B) Hope Vision 2 light with battery and extension lead
(B) Moon rear light
(B) Garmin
(B) Tracker
(F) Anker backup batttery + cable for Garmin
Gopro + 2 spare batteries and card and chest harness.
(B) Toolkit
(B) spare brake pads
(B) Tubeless solution
(B) Inner tube.

(S) Spare socks
(B) buff
(B) waterproof top
(S) airtex top
(S) spare cycling top
(S) Long baggy trousers as waterproof
(S) Jacket

(F) chamois cream
(F) Wet wipes
(F) first aid kit
(F) Phone - turned off!
(B) cash and debit card.

(F) wraps
(F) marzipan, 1 block is 500g and 2200Kcal
(F) gels
(F) energy bars

All that, other than the Camelbak, went on a Cotic Solaris, here it is all ready to go. I'm not sure of the total weight, probably in the 16Kg range

In addition to the kit above I wore a pair of bib shorts, cycling top (both in Skipton CC colours), helmet, long fingered MTB gloves and photochromatic sunglasses.

The bike performed brilliantly, the only mechanical (if you can call it that) was the cadence sensor coming loose, I think a stone flying up had cut one of the bands that hold it to the crank. I noticed it when leaving the cafe on Sunday morning.

Speaking of cafes (and food).

Part of the strategy in doing something like this is where to refuel, you use a lot of energy - the Strava estimated some 12,000 Kcals for the ride, depending on how fast you are riding then you have to aim to get to a particular location and grab what you can. This being a rural area there are no 24hr shops. The first aim was to get to Dales Bike Centre and their cafe before 5pm, after that it was a case of find the pub furthest along the route that was still serving food, a bit of a game of chance especially since I wasn't sure where all the pubs were. Sunday would just be a case of grab things as I found them which would become easier throughout the day as everything opened up. There was still a big section from Bainbridge to Horton in Ribblesdale with no chance of supply.

A few of us grabbed an evening meal at the pub in Gunnerside - I'd last visited this pub in 1976 (as a slightly underage teenager!) when doing the coast to coast walk. I got there at 1905 and wasn't sure if I could make it over Buttertubs and down to Bainbridge before that pub stopped serving food - a strategic decision: carry on, risk bonking and then missing last orders or grab food now and lose daylight. I chose the latter. The food was good but took nearly an hour to arrive so in retrospect it might have been better to grab some snacks and head on.

All that said, the cafe in Feizor serves a mighty fine breakfast

A word of praise here: both the Penygent Cafe in Horton and the Feizor cafe opened early when riders turned up on their doorstep.

I took a Camelbak rather than use frame mounted bottles for two reasons:

  1. With the frame bag in place I can't fit a cage and bottle.
  2. There were significant stretches across dry areas and I felt that I needed more water than one or two water bottles could provide.
The Solaris only has mountings for one bottle cage - it's not really designed as a bikepacking bike.


The other main strategy is where to kip. It seems that most, the leading two riders excepted, chose somewhere around Dentdale, this was just over halfway distance wise but it was less time wise. Other than Stuart and myself who chose the same spot it seems that everyone else was spread along the dale.

There's a choice between bivvy bag and tarp. Both have their advantages: a sleeping bag inside a bivvy bag can be stored as is and is very quick to set up and put away and even if it's raining you are unlikely to get the bag wet. Not much room for anything else though. A tarp takes a bit longer to put up but gives you room to have your kit to hand without it getting in the way.

With the night being forecast and turning out very warm it might well have been possible to just use a silk sleeping bag liner inside a bivvy bag. This would have been a very light and compact system but you would be very exposed if anything went wrong.

What would I have done differently?

In the circumstances, not much really. If I'd felt that I stood a chance of a quick time I would have perhaps gone with silk sleeping bag liner and bivvy bag. I had ten hours of stopped time out of my total of 35hrs50, some of which might have been opening gates and the like. But I also had the following stops:

Askrigg: 15 mins
Dales Bike Centre: 30mins
Gunnerside: 1hr20
Bivvy: 5hrs
Feizor: 1hr20
Grassington: 10mins

I'm surprised at the bivvy time actually since it felt like we were there for much less time. The real timewasters were at the pub in Gunnerside and extending the breakfast at Feizor. The first might be better done by carrying the evening meal and cooking it at an appropriate time. The breakfast was just me faffing and timing - if I'd left a couple of minutes sooner I wouldn't have seen Simon and the other rider come in.

Monday, 29 June 2015

On an ITT no-one can hear you scream!

I try to push on the pedal but it's no use, the pain is too much and the air turns blue with pain and frustration. Again I get off the bike and massage and beat the offending muscle. Back on the bike but this time it's the other leg, off the bike and attend to that. I'm on my own, I think, on the track up Great Pinseat above Swaledale and I've only done 110 of the route's 300 kilometres.

I stagger on, walking and pushing the bike even on the flat, eventually I reach the summit and can freewheel down the other side. Then there's another hill. The reality is that there's more of those ahead, a lot more. Quitting is looking the sensible option. There's an old joke about fighting a gorilla: you don't stop when you are tired, you stop when the gorilla's tired. Except this gorilla cannot tire, its unyielding stones impervious to fleeting rubber.

My companion for the last 50Km has moved ahead and the rider behind isn't catching up (I later learn that he too is suffering from cramps) so I'm still on my own for the crux of the route: the descent in to Gunnerside Gill is steep, technical and hard to find the correct entry point. I get the wrong line and resort to walking down 45 degree boulder strewn heather. The old mine workings mark the end of this and the route down to Gunnerside is dry and fast. There's a pub = food.

The idea of a Yorkshire Dales ITT had started last year when Stuart Rider had attempted the Highland Trail 550. He'd had to withdraw but it gave him an idea of a similar event in the Dales. So when he announced it, I signed up. So did another 60 or so. The original route was 320Km and had another, big, hill but with a bit of tweeking the distance dropped down to just over 300m. Oh, and the small matter of 6700m of climbing. In the event just twenty started on Saturday morning and only ten finished.

Simon Lerpiniere on Stake Moss

The gorilla is winning. I know there's a descent coming but it's nearly midnight and I'm weary and becoming prone to mistakes. The descent is fast but with some lose sections. Time to stop. Fittingly the bivvy is at the highest point of the route at the head of Cam High Road. A wall provides some shelter from the wind. It's never truly dark through the night at this time of year and I drift in and out of sleep. There's the occasional very light shower. One of my wraps suffices for breakfast and I'm on my way.

The rain arrives about an hour later. On a fine day the route over the shoulder of Whernside and across Great Wold has grand vistas, today it's grim. On the climb on to Great Wold I pass another rider with a mood to match both mine and the weather.

Temptation: I come to a T-junction. I have to take the left towards the forestry and then down to Horton-in-Ribblesdale but I know that if I turn right and go through the gate then in less than a kilometre I'll pick up the route again where it joins the Pennine Bridleway and crosses the Ribble. Local knowledge can be a cruel thing. By the time I'm at Horton, I've run out of water. I can't see any outside taps from which to refill. Head down to hide from the rain and carry on.

Stuart's idea was to include as many of the best tracks that the Dales have to offer. I'm beginning to feel like he's included all of them. The route is intestinal in its loops and there will be more such shortcuts on offer later in the day with the route ahead in sight but an hour or two's riding away.

Wet limestone is very slippery and once or twice I nearly come a cropper on the lanes leading off Sulber Nick. I'm out of the clag and things ahead are looking a little brighter. Passing Austwick I've a choice of ford or clapper bridge - I chose to walk the bridge, wet slate is also very slippery. A couple of kilometres ahead is Feizor and a cafe but it doesn't open until 0930. Completely unsure of the time I turn on my phone: 0950. Decision made - I'm having some breakfast!

The rather filling full breakfast at the cafe in Feizor
A couple of riders arrive and I dally longer than is needed but we are social creatures and company feels good. Having seen no-one since the rider leaving Dentdale I spend the rest of the ride shuffling around in a small group that is dispersed over a ten minute or so gap.

My hands are bruised and sore, holding the bars is increasingly difficult, the soles of my feet are burning and I have to continually adjust my position on the pedals. None of this matters, the end is in sight, another minute or so of concentration and there's 10Km of tarmac left to the finish though I convince myself it's only 5Km. One last climb and the descent in to town then it's just the ramp to cross the railway, "Attack! Attack! Just one metre of climb to do!" Quite what the bloke walking beside the road thought of the shouts of a filthy, smelly rider on a bike I've no idea. Turn on to the last road, pot hole avoidance and then finally ride in to the yard nearly 36 hours after leaving. My first ITT event is complete.

Here's my ride on Strava.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Back o' Skiddaw

Before I began looking at the Bob Graham Round I'd done no walking in the Northern Fells of the Lake District. Even then I only visited the summits of Skiddaw, Great Calva and Blencathra that are on the round itself, Mungrisdale Common was visited as a default since the route passes within a few metres of its "summit" (probably the least prominent summit of any of those in Wainwright's books).

In the last couple of years I began visiting the remaining fells as part of getting all the Wainwrights done and last year I completed the Northern Fells book with a day on the mountain bike ticking off the last four. Of course concentrating on the fell tops means that you leave the valleys largely untrod so with a ride organised around the bridleways of the area it was a chance to put that right.

Over the years there has been quite a bit of mining in the Lake District - the lead mines of Newlands and the copper mines around Coniston being the best known examples but there were several mines in the Northern Fells and these lasted until quite recently, the tungsten mine in Grainsgill    for example closed in 1981. One of the legacies of these workings are a series of tracks that are ideal for mountain biking.

A bit of road work to begin with then the tracks began. One thing about the Northern Fells is that they don't peter out in to lower ground, they just stop so you get great views from the Pennines all the way round to the Dumfrieshire Hills. The track snakes its way around the fell sides undulating along but generally upwards weaving its way in and out of sets of old mine workings. Eventually there's no more up and it's a blast of a descent to the next little bit of road.

A short climb up this then another section of track, greener this time, leads down to the longest road section leading round to the start of the track to Skiddaw House. I've walked down the first tarmac bit of this when fell bagging but other than crossing the tracks at points when on BG recces and attempts the next fifteen kilometres was going to be all new to me.

The challenge on the first part is blindingly obvious: the climb up by the side of the waterfall of Whitewater Dash. Fortunately it's mostly up a bit then recover on a flattish section then up again. Unfortunately the last hundred metres or so steepens and becomes loose so maintaining traction and forward momentum begins to take too much energy so it's just easier to get off and push. From just short of the gate however it becomes rideable again. Once at the high point of the track it's a fast blast down to a ford across the beck. Left line or right? Cath chooses right so I follow her and we both come to a halt in the middle of the beck! Not the only ones apparently.

A short climb up to Skiddaw House and it's an enforced wait as one of the riders behind punctures both tyres. There are a couple of teams out reccying the BG that I can see, obviously I know where to look. With the wind it gets pretty cold by the time we are moving again. The track following the Calder is singletrack for the next four kilometres or so, constantly interesting chosing the best line around and over rocks and boulders until eventually it becomes landrover track then tarmac and it's freewheel back down to the cars.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Wet Highland Way

It's always good to have a little adventure now and again especially somewhere new. Of course with having traipsed through the fells and hills of the UK for over forty years there aren't that many places that are both reasonable to get to for a weekend and that are "new". The advantage of a new sport though is that areas you know well in effect become new as the sport uses a different part of the landscape.

So it is with biking, particularly mountain biking. I'd thought about doing the West Highland Way by bike but tales of the section along the upper part of Loch Lomond being serious hike-a-bike (think carrying your bike up 20ft high steps) made me consider just doing the northern half from Crianlarich to Fort William.

Due to its popularity you have to book bikes on to the train on the West Highland Line so that immediately commits you to a schedule. The plan was thus: drive up to Crianlarich on the Friday night; ride to just past Kinlochleven on the Saturday and then finish off the WHW on the Sunday morning; get the 1140 train back to Crianlarich and drive home.

Of course there's a catch. In this case it was the weather with a deep low passing through the area on Saturday with both strong winds, gusts to 45mph, and heavy rain showers. All that you can do is hope that you miss the worst of it all.

Friday night saw us find a small hidden road where we could doss out for the night - all accommodation in Crianlarich being taken. About 2am it began to rain. 

In the morning we headed in to the Crianlarich Hotel for breakfast, as we were paying I asked if there was anywhere we could leave the car overnight. "Our carpark if you want, just leave details and when you expect to be back." Sorted!

Joining the WHW from Crianlarich is a bit of a climb, in fact the biggest climb until we got to the Devil's Staircase leaving Glencoe, at least we were in the trees and out of the wind. Once on the WHW it was a rolling track until the final drop down to cross the main road, it was fortunate that there were bridges across the burns as they were all in spate. The next few Km were in the open and quite hard work heading in to the wind but once back across the main road again we were rewarded with some nice riding along the crest of some moraine which brought us in to Tyndrum.

This was likely to be the last opportunity for a cafe stop so we headed in to The Real Food Cafe - one of those establishments who just seem to have got things right. Sat at the "breakfast bar" we had a chat with a solo cyclist doing the Land's End to John o' Groats and a bloke who was heading out to the islands to spend time studying dolphins.

Then it was back out in to the rain and onwards along to Bridge of Orchy. To a large extent it didn't matter if it was raining or not as the track was covered in an inch or two of water so you were going to get wet whatever. Bridge of Orchy came and went, we decided to take the road round to Victoria Bridge rather than go over the small hill that the main WHW takes.

Leaving Victoria Bridge takes you on to Rannoch Moor. The main road is further east and most simply blast over getting to something more interesting beyond the moor. We were on the old military road which winds its way round the foot of the Blackmount which is generally good going with long gentle ascents and descents. We stopped at Ba Bridge to grab a bit of food - a walker was there trying to warm his hands - everyone seemed to be suffering with the weather.

The descent in to Glencoe was freezing and we decided to head in to the Kingshouse for something to eat. Despite the unseasonable weather outside there was no heating in the bar! We ordered a couple of soups and I nearly dropped one of them on the floor as I was so cold. We still hadn't got enough food inside us so ordered a main meal each as well.

Then it was decision time: the WHW goes up over the Devil's Staircase and drops to Kinlochleven and is the most direct route but with the high winds we were unsure if it was safe or not. The alternative was to ride down the main road to Glen Coe village then follow the old road round to Kinlochleven. We headed along the main road for the first part and by the time we got to the point where the Devil's Staircase began my mind was made up. I'd had enough of gusty winds and traffic trying to squeeze past so whatever the conditions were like up top they were preferable to mixing it with idiot bullies on the road.

As we began the ascent (which is basically a push) three mountain bikers  were blasting down. A bit of a chat "It's OK up there" and "The descent is 95% ridable" and we continued on our way. Cath was getting tired and I was pretty soaked through despite having a winter jacket and two waterproof jackets over the top of that.

The descent was mostly ridable, I probably did 90% of it with the missing 5% being down to the wind blowing me about. We were both glad to get to the landrover track that marks the end of the technical part, it was also in the trees so not as windy. This was just as well as we were both on the edge regarding safety so we thought about getting a room for the night in Kinlochleven.

Unfortunately there was no room at the village as the World Cup downhill was on in Fort William and pretty well all the accommodation in the area was taken. So it was press on and bivvy out. 

The climb out of Kinlochleven is a push and about halfway up I found a flat spot in the trees that would have to do so began setting the tarp up. By the time Cath arrived things were ready and we just had to try and dry ourselves a bit and get in to our sleeping bags. I'd spare clothing inside a dry bag but the rain and wind had been so bad that even this was wet. With some food and a couple of shots of whiskey inside us we settled down for the night.

This was Cath's first night sleeping under a tarp and apart from the completely knackered state we both were in she didn't find it too bad though she said she took several hours for her feet to warm up and there were mutterings of "I want a divorce"! at various times :-)

In the morning we just wanted to get going - so there was the procedure of putting all our wet cycling clothes back on - not pleasant. At least it wasn't raining and we had the rest of the climb to help us warm up.

The track over the Lairig Mor was one I'd not been along before, it's steady going but with a few ups and downs. Even with no rain there was still a lot of water on the track. As the track becomes tarmac the WHW cuts off to the right, another decision time: 7.5 miles on the WHW or 4.5 miles on tarmac. With Cath being so tired we took the tarmac option. Even this wasn't as easy as it might have been, even the downhills in Scotland have climbs!

Finally we were at the top of the last descent, no more ups, and we rolled in to Fort William with an hour and a bit to spare. A supermarket raid and we sat in the station stuffing ourselves before the train from Mallaig arrived and we could relax as we trundled our way back to Crianlarich.

Here's a short video.

Wet West Highland Way from Bob Wightman on Vimeo.

I'd intended the trip to be a steady introduction to bikepacking for Cath, in the event it turned out to be anything but - the Saturday was one of the hardest and grimmest days in the hills I can remember. We were both close to the line dividing being safe and being in trouble.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Seven Stanes

I'm not a fan of mountain bike trail centres, it's not that I don't like them, it's just that I prefer being out on the fells and hills with views other than row after row of Sitka Spruce. Last year for example I visited our nearest trail centre, Gisburn Forest, just once when I did a skills course, that was it for the whole year.

What this does mean however is that I'm not up to speed on riding such trails. They have a definite "language" as it were and are designed to be ridden so you don't get a closed gate around a blind corner for example.

The Seven Stanes in Southern Scotland are a series of trail centres that have developed over the years and have proven very popular. Ten years ago for example there were few bike shops in Peebles and Innerleithen now it's like ski shops in a ski resort! This is a reasonable comparison as the set-up is pretty similar in that there's a couple of defined areas where the sport takes place and a nearby town to cater for pre and post ride activities and servicing.

A long weekend was planned with The Tribe, visiting Ae, Glentress and Innerleithen. We were delayed on the drive up by a fatal road traffic accident so arrived at Ae just as the others were setting off. We did try to catch them up :-) 

I'd not ridden at Ae before (we had gone a couple of years ago over Christmas when stopping nearby but it was covered in snow and ice) and the description of The Ae Line, the main red graded route, made it sound quite hard. In the event it was steady with just a couple of sections that I had to walk - not knowing there was a rocky hump round the corner that needed lots of speed to get over, that sort of thing. We didn't quite catch the others up.

We were stopping in Innerleithen so an hour's drive later we'd a beer in hand.

Saturday was Glentress. A leisurely start then along the old railway line now converted to a cycleway and we were ready to go. Except we weren't: a couple of mechanicals meant that the group split in to two. It had been ten years or so since I'd last been here so couldn't really remember any of it though in the main it's just follow the arrows of the relevant colour, either that or the rider in front.

Steady climbing got us to the highest point of the ride which is at the start of a section known as Spooky Wood though since a lot a felling it's not very spooky. It was here that my lack of trail centre language skills showed since within 50 metres of the start of the section the rest of the group were disappearing in to the distance! 

Knowing that a flat rock is the take off point for a jump and that the landing is safe means you can just go for it. So while the rest of the group flew over and off everything I was rolling over the obstacles and losing speed. Worst are the double bumps - you are meant to launch off the front of the first and land on the back of the second except you need to be going at quite a pace to manage this and landing short could have consequences.

With a short cut to get back to the start point of the section we had another go at it - better this time but still not a lot of air! The rest of the ride was pretty straight forward really. Time for a cafe break. 

After the break we headed off up the hill again to ride the Blue trail. Apparently a lot of money has been spent on this as it's popular with families though being later in the day it was pretty quiet when we went round. Again we did one of the sections a couple of times: a nice fast swooping track.

Sunday was the cross country route at Innerleithen, again I've done this years ago, today it was promising heavy showers becoming constant rain. The start was only just over the river from the hotel and sure enough just as we were setting out it began to chuck it down but stopped about halfway up the main climb.

The cross country route is a bit of an odd beast really, most trail centres mix up the climbs and descents so although you get the elevation gain done it's not one big hit. Not Innerleithen! Out of the car park and climb to the top of the hill with just one or two very short sections to give you a break. One of those sections is through an old quarry and is good fun - just let the bike go and gravity will do the rest.

With the wind and impending showers the summit wasn't the place to hang around so straight on to the descent with the first section being well surfaced and fast. A bit of fire road and we headed to one of the easier sections of downhill track: "Make or Break". Again my lack of trail centre language skills meant that the others were well ahead. The last section is a roller-coaster (literally) and is mostly a matter of letting your bike go and keeping off the brakes. More swooping, up, down, over, round and we are back at the start.

Here's a video of the weekend.

The Tribe mountain biking at Ae, Glentress and Innerleithen.

What's interesting (and obvious really) is just how specific skills and fitness are. I'm used to long rides with generally low technicality and rarely ride at trail centres. The others do a good proportion of their riding at trail centres so are used to shorter rides but with harder technical features. At the end of each day I felt as if I was only just warming up having only ridden 30Km or so whereas the others (of all age groups both younger and older than myself) were weary and had tired legs. On the other hand they were quite happy blasting down trails at speeds way in excess of what I was comfortable with, typically in the region of 60-80% faster.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

More Long Days

I'd wanted to do a long MTB ride for some time, I'd done a 100Km ride last September but nothing particularly long since then. With Cath over in the Lakes last Saturday for a girls' ride I'd got the day free to myself.

The driver for this is that I've entered the Yorkshire Dales 300 ITT (Individual Time Trial), a 300Km ride through the Yorkshire Dales - the name might be a giveaway. An ITT is basically a long bike ride on your own but you are allowed to use whatever facilities you come across providing that anyone else doing the event or route can do so. This means that you can't pop home if you live near the route for example because no-one else would be able to do so. With one or two new bits of kit I also wanted to test them out to see how they affected the bike's handling.

I'd done the first part of the route as far as Conistone earlier in the year but I'd been both unfit and the ground conditions were slightly soft so it had felt hard work. Having had a week of dry weather that side of things should be better, it depended on me. My plan was to ride the route as far as Askrigg in Wensleydale then head home taking in parts of the latter parts of the route but with options to cut things short if necessary.

Despite a slight headwind I got to Kettlewell in good time so a visit to Zarina's for some refreshments was in order and then on to one bridleway I'd never been on: up to Moor Top then back down to Starbotton. This was basically a push up and partly a push down. Some good views though.

Once at the summit of Kidstones, time to turn off the tarmac again and head over Gilbert Lane and Stake Moss. I've done this once in the reverse direction but never south to north and had memories of big rocky steps on the climb but the estate or national park had filled these in so it was just a case of pressing on. It was here that I met the only other mountain bikers of the entire day.

This part of the Dales is a large plateau, sufficiently large that you don't really see the surrounding valleys so the effect is of the uplands beyond merging in to one. It really feels different up there, there's a similar effect further west at the top of Fleet Moss which is where I'd be heading after the descent in to and climb out of Wensleydale. 

Another cafe stop in Askrigg and time to leave the outward route and head back. There's just the little matter of the climb up the old Roman road, again I've done this once in the other direction. In the event it was just a long steady climb to join the highest road in the Dales interrupted by a chat with a farmer rebuilding a dry stone wall and a couple of trails bikes.

The change in direction has had another effect - the wind is now on my back and I've gone from only just keeping warm to being in short sleeves to avoid overheating. The clearing skies and sunshine also help.

The descent down in to Ribblesdale is a blast and I hardly see anyone until just before Horton. Another cafe stop! Then I'm ready for the last leg: a couple of big climbs, one off-road, one on tarmac and I'm above Malham with a route choice. Either head east with the wind in my face to Weets Top and then down towards Airton or short-cut via the road. 

Aware that time is now slipping by I go for the easier road option. At Airton I ring Cath for a rescue from Gargrave and by the time I've negotiated a couple more sections of bridleway we arrive at the meeting point at the same time. I've been going for ten hours including stops and have done 133Km. I'm tired.

This Saturday I'd got an invitation to join Garstang CC's annual jaunt up Great Dun Fell (and one or two other hills), 100 miles of the best, well biggest, climbs the Pennines and Dales can give the cyclist.

Come this morning and the weather isn't looking too good but despite having said that I'd retire to my man-cave in the event of atmospheric moisture I headed over to the starting point in Sedbergh, delayed slightly by an accident near Settle where the car had managed to put two rather large holes in the roadside wall. I arrive in Sedbergh to see two cold figures huddling in a shop doorway. Time to get parked up and on our way.

The route headed out up the Tebay Gorge via a series of minor roads before we headed over Orton Scar and down towards Appleby. A bit of detouring around the town and we were ready for the climb.

The first part looked easy enough but we were going reasonably slowly then out of the saddle for the first steep part. By the time we get to the first gate (open) and cattle grid we are just about in the clouds. Steady away and we reach the false flat. "From here on a clear day you can see the next bit head straight up the hillside" is the helpful comment but with 30 metre visibility you just get on with what's in front of you.

There's nothing too hard but there's little respite. The second barrier requires dismounting but it's easier now until the last 100 metres rears up again. No time to hang around at the top as it's snowing!

With the strong side winds and driving sleet and rain I take it steady on the descent. By the time we get to the bottom we are soaked through and chilled to the bone.

From here to the cafe stop in Kirkby Stephen is rolling terrain, hopefully we can get warmed up but it proved a forlorn hope. An executive decision in the cafe and we decide to head straight back to Sedbergh. Of course as we near the end of the ride the sun starts to poke through the clouds however Lamp Moss which was to be our next climb is at snow level so it was probably best that we didn't go that way.

By the time we got back to the cars we'd still done 112Km, Michael who'd organised the ride decided to put in some more miles to get a hundred miles in - keen! Weather wise it was one of the grimmest days I've had on a bike.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Long days in the Saddle

We've used the Settle to Carlisle railway before to get to a distant starting point and then ride home. One time we rode back from Kirkby Stephen via Buttertubs and Fleet Moss, another we rode back from Garsdale Head on the Pennine Bridleway.

With Cath away on a weekend's biking in Swaledale I thought I'd get some distance done on the mountain bike so headed down to Skipton to catch the early train. Except I didn't as there were engineering works on the line so a replacement coach service was in place. There were just two of us on the coach and the other lad got off (after we woke him up) at Settle.

My plan was to start from Horton in Ribblesdale and begin by taking the Pennine Bridleway as far as the tops between Stainforth and Settle then work my way to Malham, Kilnsey, a couple of moors and back to Skipton. About 100Km in total.

I started to head in the wrong direction - North - to pick up the route near the new(ish) bridge over the Ribble. Very fancy it is too. Once over the Ribble and across the main road it was a long steady climb on to Sulber Nick. The first part was pretty cut up by the resident cattle but once out of their enclosure it was fast riding over the grass covered limestone to Long Lane. I normally ride up this so it was quite nice to not have to fight upwards through the steps and loose rock. A turn left at the bottom and I was soon in Austwick.

The next few kilometres were a complete contrast to what I'd just done, instead of open views I was riding ancient valley rights of way enclosed between stone walls. A bit of road work to get to Stainforth then the first big hill of the day. Which meant get off and walk as the bottom couple of hundred metres are silly steep. Once the angle eased it was back in the saddle and full gas again. Unfortunately no sooner have you gained height than you have to lose about half of it before climbing again. At the top of this climb I decided a food break was in order as the next few Km were heading directly in to the wind.

Those next kilometres were hard work! and I was quite glad to turn uphill(!) and start to get some help.At the summit the route didn't head towards Malham but away from it, down Stockdale Lane. In dry conditions and with the wind behind me it was pretty quick. I even managed to clean one section that I'd not done before - getting the right line helps as does being able to see where you are going!

Back on tarmac again it was a left turn and over to Kirkby Malham then Malham and another chance to grab some food. Whilst sat on the bench I thought I'd check out a persistent squeak that my drivetrain was making, I thought it was one of the pedals. It turned out that the bearings in the bottom bracket had gone! Effectively the end of the ride so I thought I might as well have a coffee and cake in the cafe before nursing the bike back home.

There were a couple of bikes outside the cafe and it turned out that they belonged to a couple of club members so plenty of time for a chat. Getting home was a matter of taking the roads and taking it easy - I wasn't going to do any damage to the bike itself but I didn't want the bottom bracket fitting totally disintegrating on me.

Despite cutting the route short, I still managed to have done 75Km so not a bad day out. One internet order later and I'd replaced the bottom bracket, which had lasted about 2000Km, with a Hope one.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Jealous Guy (or Gal)

Last year I bought myself a new mountain bike, hence all the posts about mountain biking! I was looking for a hardtail to use to get in to remote Munros and the like. In the event I spent (considerably) more than I had originally planned and didn't use the bike for my original purpose. The bike handles 95% of the off-road riding I do, the remaining 5% is at trail centres, but I can muddle through or apply rule #5.

Whilst we were sorting out my bike, Cath picked up one of the display frames and couldn't believe how light it was. "I've bought the wrong bike" she thought to herself. Since then she's secretly been hankering after something similar and with a significant birthday in the offing she decided to go for a test ride on one back at the Dales Bike Centre. Originally she was looking at a 27.5 inch wheeled bike as her FS bike uses that wheel size but with her lack of height we reckoned that the original 26 inch version would be best for her so she borrowed the shop owner's wife's bike. This was the 26" version of what I have, or rather it's the original Cotic and I've the 29" version. The effective wheel diameter on the bike was actually greater than on the 27.5 wheeled hire bike, due to different tyres.

Well she really liked it so colours and parts were decided on and an order was placed. Then the waiting began. Two weeks later and the email came through that it would be ready at the weekend so we headed up to Reeth. After a bit of fettling with getting the seat the right height and so on, time for a test ride.

Proud owner of a new bike!

Riding a hardtail is a little different to a full suspension bike, you have to be a bit more active in moving about the bike. You can't just sit there and let the rear shock absorb all the little bumps you have to be up off the saddle anticipating rougher stuff and picking your line. We did a loop on the south side of the valley that we'd done before in various parts. The climb up and round the valley was in to a stiff headwind but once we began heading over to Apedale it was on our backs and we made better speed. One last climb over Greets Hill then bridleway and road (with a strong sidewind this time) back to the Centre.

Heading down Apedale.

All in all she's really pleased with it. One thing that does look slightly odd: the front rotor is the same size as that on my bike but with the smaller wheel size it looks absolutely massive as if it's a full on downhill rig!

Friday, 20 February 2015

A Dales Loop

On Saturday Cath was leading the Skipton CC club ride so I had the day to myself to fill. Having kept myself indoors on the turbo-trainer for virtually all of January to avoid icy roads I was keen to get a longer ride in.

It always helps to have an aim when getting out and for this ride I was looking at both distance and pacing. Pacing isn't that hard to do on a road bike in flattish terrain, if you've a heart rate monitor you just aim to keep your HR within certain bounds. Things get more interesting and harder when there's lots of up and down involved add in riding a mountain rather than a road bike and it simply adds to the interest.

I'd worked out a route that took me through Skipton, Appletreewick and Hebden mainly via roads before striking uphill past the old mines at Yarnbury and dropping down to Kilnsey (cafe stop). The second half crossed Mastiles Lane (with the added incentive of trying to clean the initial climb) to Malham Tarn, down to Malham, up on to Weets Top, down to Hetton then over Barden Moor and back home through Skipton. A total of 96Km.

Riding a mountain bike on the road is an exercise in frustration, even with the forks locked out it isn't particularly efficient with low pressure tyres set up for off-road activities. It wasn't until the climb up from Parcival Hall that the tarmac finally came to an end. For two kilometres. Then it was back on the black stuff to get to Hebden.

I'd ridden down the track between Hebden and Yarnbury but never up it. It's actually a very steady climb with a few small rocky steps and a couple of beck crossings along with several gates to break up the flow. Riding through the old mines was surprisingly hard work - along with a headwind the surface was that slightly soft texture you get following a thaw (the last time Cath and I were up here it was sheet ice and we did a total of 6Km in over an hour). It was like riding on sand.

It was a relief to get on to the tops and scurry along next to the occasional snow bank. Mossdale came soon enough and I only had the top three gates to deal with on the descent to Conistone as the farmers were out feeding their stock so the lower gates were open. Across the valley to the cafe at Kilnsey: 3hrs15mins for the first 48Km.

Half an hour and I'm replenished but I've one of the big climbs of the day to come: Mastiles Lane. Since I was pacing myself for the whole ride rather than rushing at individual sections it didn't turn out too bad - I nearly had to put a foot down right at the top when I spun on some exposed damp limestone but managed to push through. 

Then it was on over to Malham Tarn. One of the problems with drawing out a somewhat convoluted route on a map is that once on the ground you can see shortcuts to points ahead. So it was that I could see Weets Top all of ten minutes to the south when I still had to go west to Malham Tarn, down to Malham and then climb back up. Very tempting!

The climb up to Weets Top from Goredale along Hawthorns Lane is a real drag, quite steep and seemingly never ending. Then, when you do leave the road it's still uphill at a similar angle. The payoff is that in the next 6Km to Hetton there's very little uphill. Which is probably just as well given that there's another hard climb coming up.

I've never managed to clean the climb from Rylstone up on to Barden Moor and so it proved today, just one section just below the top defeating me. The ride over the moor and down to Halton Heights is a blast with one quick change of line to avoid a cyclist coming up the track (only the second I'd seen all day).

The last bit of off-road is one I've never done before: Halton Heights down to Halton East. A good firm track at first there's then a section of rather deep muddy dips to get to the fell gate. From here on down it's very bumpy and muddy.

Once back on tarmac it just remains to get home - with one last hill in the way. Total moving time was just under 7hrs giving an average speed of 14kmh. Not bad since it's the longest ride on the mountain bike that I've done since early September. That time I'd done 8Km extra in the same time so I've a little extra fitness to get back.

Overall not too bad - didn't feel particularly fatigued afterwards and I could have kept going at that pace for some time longer.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Data, Data everywhere nor any time to Think

(with apologies to Tenysson)

Take a close look at many club cyclists and most triathletes these days and they and their bikes will be kitted out with an array of electronic devices that not long ago would have only been available in well equipped sports laboratories. Heart rate monitors, power meters and the like all communicating with a central unit that can display this information to the cyclist in real time as well as broadcasting it further afield. The data is also recorded so that it can be analysed post ride. Most of the head units are also GPS enabled so that the rider can plot their ride on mapping software.

But other than bragging rights (colloquially known as "willy waving") what's all this data used for? Well for many, not a lot. Online systems such as Strava will use the GPS data to map out your rides and show the times over whatever segments you have passed through potentially handing out "cups" or "King of the Mountains" should you be particularly quick but other than displaying the rest of the data not a lot is done with it. Training applications such as TrainingPeaks or Golden Cheetah will provide basic analysis of the personal data but ignore most of the GPS derived data. There is then the problem (and it really is a problem) of how to do the analysis of the data and how to draw the correct conclusions from it, i.e. convert data to information.

With the generally crap weather that the winter months have brought us recently I've been spending a lot of time on the turbo trainer which while hardly interesting is better than doing nothing or sliding around on icy roads. Simply getting on a turbo and spinning away is deadly boring, after twenty minutes you've had enough. Fortunately there are ways round this with varying degrees of cost depending on what kit you already have. Many GPS units let you set up workouts that let you vary the effort you are doing so you can set them up to make/encourage you to do two minutes' hard effort every ten minutes or whatever takes your fancy. It's a bit basic though. There are also video services such as Sufferfest - you set up a computer in front of the turbo and ride along to race footage along with exhortations to go for it.

I settled on Trainerroad (TR) which is sort of halfway between the two: it consists of predefined workouts but has on-screen instructions and tips to help you along. Another advantage was that it is power based rather than heart rate based so no dealing with the lag between changes in effort and your HR going up or down. Although I don't have a power meter TR has power profiles for lots of turbo trainers in their virtual power section - not 100% accurate but so long as the values are consistent then you can work against them and it's a bit cheaper than £600+ for a power meter! The TR training plans also include regular fitness tests as each workout is adjusted to your current fitness level - an estimate of how much power you can sustain for an hour known as Functional Threshold Power (FTP).

After a couple of weeks following one of the training plans based on my estimated FTP all was going well. The workouts were hard but then that's the point but I was completing them OK and either matching expected power or exceeding it. Some of the workouts in the plan are 90mins long - there's no way I could sit on a turbo for that length of time without some stimulus but with things to do and targets to meet . Then on Monday things went a bit wrong and I had to finish the workout without completing the last effort. Although slightly different in number and length of efforts, the workout was no harder than one the previous week but I felt as if I'd been trying to sprint through the efforts rather than a measured output. Time to look at the data.

A quick look at the data in Strava (it shows HR, power, cadence, etc but doesn't do any real analysis) showed my heart rate was constantly climbing from effort to effort. Cardiac drift isn't unusual in exercise but rather than a sawtooth profile where each effort is similar to the previous one, each effort carried on from where the previous one had left off. By the third effort my heart rate was at 95% of my theoretical maximum for nearly the entire ten minute effort! Although the rest intervals had my HR dropping back to reasonable levels it was obvious that I wasn't really recovering.

Moving over to Golden Cheetah and comparing the distribution of my HR with a previous workout showed the problem. Whereas the previous week I'd spent less than 30% of the workout in upper zone 3 or higher, this workout it was over 60% and that while producing less power. My power output was even more telling: at the end of the third effort my power dropped by over 30% with no corresponding drop in heart rate. Plotting heart rate vs power was even more telling. I was starting with a cold or some form of infection.

Rather a lot of time spent in Zone 4

This is from a decent session, virtually no time in zone 4.

Sure enough by Wednesday morning I'd got the tell-tale tickle at the back of my nose/throat. By Wednesday evening it hadn't really developed so I chanced doing the planned workout which I completed OK though my power tailed off for the last effort. By Friday it was back and even short efforts on a ride over to Wycoller on Saturday had my HR soaring so it might be best to lay off the training for a while.

Actually the efforts on Saturday showed that the limited turbo training I've done so far has already made improvements: there was very little muscular stress and the limiting factors were my heart and lungs going in to overdrive! This is somewhat unusual for me: my muscles are normally screaming while heart and lungs are ticking along.

Went out for a quick ride this evening it was a bit icy so times weren't brilliant, especially on the downhills where you had to be careful of suddenly coming across sheet ice. The climbs though felt good, not as fast as my fastest times but those were done in daylight and on dry ground rather than at night with ice and snow.

I wasn't expecting anything outstanding but was pleased with how things went especially with regards muscle efficiency and lack of tiredness in my legs. Will be nice to get out of the other side of this bug.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Close to the Edge

There are times when you step a little too close to the edge for comfort, the wrong decision leading to trouble rather than adventure, maybe even a statistic rather than a learning experience. Sunday's ride was pretty close to that. 

The plan was pretty ambitious for the time of year: start at Cray at the top of Wharfedale, head over to Helwith Bridge via Littondale then back via Cam High Road and Semer Water. About 40 miles in total. With good weather forecast it was just about doable. Sat in the car at the meeting point with the car rocking in the wind and sleet covering the windscreen it began to look less likely. The forecast however was for a decent day and was meant to clear up.

There were only two of us, Simon and myself, all the others having found reasons not to come along and by the time we set off the rain/sleet had stopped and things did look a little brighter but the wind was still strong. Strong enough that I didn't need to brake heading down a 15% road. The first bridleway down in to Buckden was hard work (and this was going downhill), the effort only broken by Simon getting a pinch flat at the top of the main downhill.

A quick bit of road then it was on to the first major climb, Firth Fell. I'd only been over this once before many years ago and that was in the opposite direction. Today it was a mixture of riding and pushing/carrying. The ground was pretty sodden  but at least we were out of the wind. That all changed when we reached the crest and even with shelter from a wall it was hard going to get to the gate on the summit ridge. All I remember from the last time here was pushing up over rock steps so I'd got it in to my head that it would be a walk down. Wrong! Simon set off like a rocket (well compared to me) and was soon a yellow blur in the distance. 

I was wearing glasses which in hindsight was a mistake as I could hardly see but I'd done most of the steps by the time I realised what was going on and only stopped at the point where I thought it was going to get really tricky. As it turned out it was no worse than what we'd already done. Another dismount lower down when I got blown off the bike and then I'd rejoined Simon at the midway gate. A bad line choice let him get past me and it then started getting a bit sketchy as the ground was soaked and the wind and rain were pushing me around. Definitely not enjoyable. The last bit of the descent followed a stony track down to the road at Litton.

What should have been a steady amble along the road to the start of the next section was a battle in to driving wind and rain. At the bridleway junction we stopped and assessed our situation. To carry on would mean at least two hours pushing and riding in to the teeth of the gale and we were both wet and cold already. A check on the time and we'd done a quarter of the route in two hours and it was nearly midday so there was no way we were going to get round. Turning tail we headed down the valley and pulled up at the door of The Falcon in Arncliffe just a couple of minutes before 1200. Sat by the fire in the pub we looked at our options and decided to bin it. Simon rang his wife who kindly came out to pick us up and take us back to the cars.

It's been a long while since I've been out in such horrid conditions, the temperature was just above freezing (and actually rose slightly while we were out) but that was immaterial in the face of such strong winds. The Spine race redirected runners from going over Penyghent due to 75mph gusts so we weren't alone in deciding that discretion was the better option. Clothing wise I wasn't too bad - the only bits of me genuinely cold and wet were my hands - US designed ice climbing gloves. My feet were fine - I'd updated my sock regimen to thin inner, plastic bag then SealSkinz over the top so although damp they were warm. It's surprising just how having a small part of your body being wet and cold can affect your outlook, but then again having numb hands that can't operate anything isn't going to do anyone any good.

So what if we'd carried on? Well the next section would have been much longer riding in to the wind with no chance of any shelter and I think we'd have been turning back before too long anyway. We weren't (well I wasn't) approaching hypothermia but it wouldn't have taken long to make us that way. For a 16Km ride it was very hard work, I've done 100 mile road rides that have been easier. 

Experiences meted out, lessons learned.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

That was the Year that was 2014

The year was interesting for many reasons, not the least being seeing how I'd recover after my hip replacement. Cath wouldn't let me even get on the turbo until I'd seen the surgeon at six weeks post-op. Fortunately he was fine with me getting on the turbo trainer, as it happened the roads were a bit icy anyway so it gave me a chance to get some fitness back before I returned to the road.

I think that I was generally unhappy/nervous of riding in a group so I didn't really do many rides with either of the clubs I'm a member of, more than likely worrying about any potential impacts on my hip. Despite my concerns I managed to ride over 10,500km during the year and averaged a ride a day. This was a mixture of road, commuting, touring and mountain biking. Even avoiding group riding I managed four crashes, two when commuting and two on (err, off) the MTB, fortunately none of these caused any serious damage to my hip or any other part of my body - the MTB incidents were more slides on mud and had me laughing as much as anything.

After much deliberating I bought myself a new mountain bike, I'd been looking at getting a hardtail to ease getting in to and out from remote hills particularly in Scotland. In the event I spent (quite a bit) more than I'd originally intended and didn't really use it for the purpose I'd got it for but did bike to the summits of four Lakeland fells which felt quite novel - the descents were certainly very knee friendly! Of the year's distance over 1500Km were on this new bike, it feels like it's become my "go to" bike and I almost have to find excuses to ride the others. I'm down to just eight Wainwrights BTW, will have to get them finished off this year.

We had a week cycling round Orkney and Shetland, I'd been to Orkney before when climbing the Old Man of Hoy but had never been to Shetland, Cath had been to neither. I don't think I wrote about this trip but we visited sites ranging from the prehistoric to the cold war (the prehistoric were far more interesting).

Obviously with all that time on the bike my hip isn't giving me any problem now, I still get an occasional twinge but it's muscular and likely related to old nerve endings around the incision firing rather than the joint itself.

So what of the coming year? Well we've already got holidays and events booked for the year ahead, the first of which is the Tour of Flanders at Easter, also I've put my name down for the Dales 300, a long distance Individual Time Trial around the Yorkshire Dales so I'll need to get both fit and sort kit and strategy out for that. Regarding fitness, I think I'll have to be a bit more rigorous and planned in my training - that's gonna hurt! I think this year will be different :-)