Sunday, 30 September 2007

Cheddar Bikefest

Mixed Pair, Saturday 29th September, Cheddar Bikefest.

The Saturday morning drive to the Cheddar 8hr bike fest had the usual Mendip fog and drizzle associated with early starts, bike racing and autumn. We arrived with the intention of riding a practice lap but too much faffing and chatting to Anthony White (2007 Mayhem solo winner) left us with just enough time to carry a box of food up to the start before the race briefing.

Rob Lee (race partner from Extreme-Endurance) opted for the first shift, namely to get a bit of a lead over our competitors. We had worked out a schedule based on 35minute-ish laps, written roughly on the back of a nutrigrain box. Little did I know that this was to change dramatically.

The Le Mans start was hilarious, as the runners proceeded over a series of BMX rollers before a harsh switch back and up a steep ramp to their bikes. Rob was 3rd off the run and just as I was geting ready to settle in to a nice 35ish minute lap routine, the first rider flew back down into the arena... after just 17 minutes. Eek! Rob followed shortly after and I knew our Nutrigrain ponderings were to be completely ignored.

After a few laps, Rob shouted 'I'm doing 6' which at this rate was going to take less than 2 hours. So a quarter of the way through, I was still at the start, twiddling my thumbs and watching the sweaty faces of riders returning time and time again. It was a weird feeling being congratulated for being in the lead when I hadn't even got my tyres dirty!

Eventually I went out for my first 4 lap stint. The ramp out of the transition zone got my heart rate up into the 160s straight away and then the climb started so it never dropped. Towards the end of the gnarly, rocky climb there was a steep section which in the dry could have been fine but tyres were slipping so madly that it was too much effort to stay upright and quicker to walk it.

Then the insane descent began through 'Witches Wood'. To my delight this is where I made up most of my time. The diagonal roots took a combination of skill and bravery to cross and on every lap I was caught out my something, but with a bit of confidence and a lot of brain-disengagement I managed to descend pretty fast. Apart from crashing into the bridge (and destroying it) on my penultimate lap, I kept the downhill smooth and lapped consistently.

The race proceeded and by 4hours we had pulled 10 minutes on the team behind us - only half a lap. Eventually Rob lapped their girl after 5hours and it was my job to just keep the lap times consistent and do the glory lap in less than 28 minutes. I cruised in to victory - my first ever outright win at a mtb race. Cheered on my Debbie, Russel, Zu Zu (and the cow bell) we collected our prize and drank tea while I waited for the night time trial to start.

The night TT was simply an exercise in being up for it. I was the only girl who entered so it seemed a sensible 20 minute investment for the sake of winning some rather snazzy new lights. (For the record, I was first girl home). Come on girls. get with it!

Massive thanks to Rob Lee for teaching me how to ride singletrack over the past month, for generally organising me and for getting our lapping perfect and despite feeling unfit kicking ass as only Rob can do.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

silly season

is here again. Going to work...

...and going home.

The dark winter stretching out like, well, a very stretched out long dark thing. Lights on, thermals out, treble carbohydrate intake.

Doesn't help that in the space of thirty minutes yesterday, I survived one incredibly close shave at the hands of a teenage Citroen driver (squealing tyres, shocked face, and one of those ever-decreasing defensive circles where you try to turn hard enough to avoid going over the bonnet, whilst not turning so tightly that you end up going under the wheels, and just watch the wing mirror/passenger door coming closer, and closer, and closer...), one attempted heel piercing by a rabid Jack Russell (who then got taken for a nice long walk), and one enthusiastically intentioned but thankfully mis-located punch thrown by a drunken cycle lane promenader. All on the way to a nightride where Oli bounced off a badger and I realised that 80psi in cross tyres does nothing for freshly knitted ribs.

And then I got hit by a cyclist on the way home this evening.



Monday, 24 September 2007


Yesterday was the Maxx Exposure ride. As it looked like being a nice night, I'd planned a substantial (>80) nightride to Washington and back, for no other reason than friends were doing it and I could do with some practise...

Spend the day quietly bimbling about carb-loading (aka eating cake), bike fiddling and cocoa making, before finally departing after 7 as the sun goes down and the sky turns all sorts of purple. Spin over meridian, along the road, dodging rabbits, get to bottom of Blackcap, turn left through gate and square up to horrible climb -


'Fixed' expensive light fails for fourth time in three months.

Some swearing.

Re-assesment. Okay, I have a blinky light and the puncture Petzl. There is just enough daylight left to get me to the top of the hill, I have been looking forward to this all day, I am not going home now and I can always walk back down the hill if I need to. Proceed at snail's pace up rapidly darkening horrible climb. Discover it gets no easier when you can't see it. And did I ever mention how much I hate climbing on gears? Time passes so much slower when you're thrashing about in 22/30...

Reach summit and remove layers. Hair wet with sweat, breeze cooling. Break out the thermos, replace layers, plus more and watch the first specks of light appear over Kingston Ridge. Clearly riders - there is no road up there, and the white pinpricks are moving at a sedentary speed which reminds me just how large that lump of chalk is. High on the facing ridge, I have a great vantage point and watch them descending, like parachute flares, before climbing up out of the valley towards me, blinking and twisting in the trees.

Some time later, after the lead riders have passed by, the clouds smudging moonlight all over the sky, Nigel arrives. On his cross bike - hmm. Brief chat whilst I surreptitiously peer at his beam pattern - yes, it'll do. I fall in alongside and we bimble gently - well, okay, we fly at a ridiculous pace to the Beacon, where he leaves me to no doubt continue along the route at the ridiculous pace and I turn to retrace my steps in a quieter fashion more suited to stiff, cold legs.

The moon is out and it's two-thirds full. As my eyes adjust to night vision again, the city lights behind me look like fires and the water on the dewpond is rippling white. Black cows kindly shuffle off the trail and by looking up and to the left a bit I can keep tyres to singletrack across the tops. The climbs are hardest, in shadow and full of holes; the descents, braille riding, bike moving freely beneath me, obstacles felt and reacted to, senses quickened. The pace is mostly pedestrian but as I warm to the darkened world I am reminded of a saying recently thrown in my direction - if life throws you lemons, make lemonade. Night rides are all too often an arm's race, trying to stay clear of the person with the brighter light, tolerating helmet lights being shone in your eyes. Solo excursions are apt to be scary, with monsters lurking on the peripherals of the pool of light and noises in bushes that seem darker than they are because inefficient eyes are tuned to something brighter. Riding by moonlight renders the hilltop a friendlier place, and civilisation more distant, somehow, even though I'm frequently passed by Maxx riders going the other way, some who banter, most saying hello and a few who just try to run me over...

I make the trip west once more with Matt and Dave, both honorary Northerners who I'd forgotten would be here and whom I'm glad to see as they have two lights apiece, more than enough for me to hitch onto. Both are quieter than usual, and for once I feel like the one out of place trying to make the small talk. I give up and we pedal gently along in silence. It seems more appropriate somehow. Waving them off I feel a pang of sadness; I should have been going with them, but the descent home remains.

Back along the tops once more and then left, down behind the hill and it's steep enough to be buried deeply in shadow. Properly dark, in fact. Right off the back of the saddle, feel and react, don't think too much, be brave. And do not, whatever you do, tell your mother that you did this. The fact that I'm on a test bike with 5" front and rear is no doubt a great help but soon I've let go of the brakes and am proceeding through the darkness at something approaching a proper pace, deliberately not looking or trying to see, just feeling, remembering what little I can, letting the bike guide itself into and out of the ruts, over the waterbars, between the banks. When the moon emerges from behind the hill and the trail is thrown into contrast it's like someone flicked a switch; it feels like daylight and the shadow of the ridge is cast pinprick sharp on the fields below. It all ends too soon and from the road I look back along the ridge for signs of riders; none. There are no cars on the road and even the kamikaze rabbits have declared ceasefire for the night. A couple of lone jets bank for Gatwick, engines loud, lights shining; I close the door behind me satiated by something which turned out to be far more than the sum of its parts. Lemonade, indeed.


Thursday, 20 September 2007

collateral damage

Home again and making a concerted effort to unpack and tidy up whilst listening to the dismal sound of all the hopes and dreams born of a few days of freedom quietly crunching themselves back down into the screwed-up paper bundles from whence they came...

SSWC - was awesome, as we knew it would be. Badaguish rocks hugely and hard work by TSPC (paddling like ducks underwater, sailing serenely by with nary a frown) meant a weekend of cat herding ran more smoothly than it had any right to. Rode well and came second. Others seem to be more pleased about that than me. Perhaps because the race was secondary to the riding, the trails, the chatting and supping, the quietly sitting, the coffee, the pancakes, the bikes and the friends.

Onwards - to an epic multi-day ride out and over the mountains. Poring over maps, worrying about cloud levels and weather, just get on with it. A handful of mostly positive surprises weathered about worn cleats and pain barriers, tenacity, sleeping out, big skies and wilderness. Much time thinking about next year. Excitement builds.

Fort William - the proper ('their?') World Cup. Noise, just so much noise, and a small town's worth of bike people all in one place making it. Just huge.

In the middle - breathtaking night skies, some tramping, some chilling, half a day basking in the sun, half a mountain's worth of secret local's trails sniffed out on a dribbling, disintegrating fairytale treasure map. A lot of green and a little welcome decadence to help the week go by.

And finally, Raasay.. Incredible island, all grey-hilled beauty and sweeping vistas. Incredible people, who worked so hard to bring a unique event to fruition. And incredible conditions - gale force winds gusting to force 9, rain so heavy that I didn't need to drink all race, instead sipping the water that was running down my face, and trails so absorbing and demanding that yet another however-many-hours-of-gerbil-racing did not once become wearing. Trophies of island yew for the mantlepiece meaning perhaps more than any other earnt this year.

The collateral damage?

One pair of shoes, two ribs, a bike.

A good holiday.


Monday, 17 September 2007

All change

So this weekend I am moving from a large flat to 1 room in a small shared flat and I am using the opportunity to strip my life down to its bare bones and take the 'stuff' that's really important to me. What this has made me realise is that, in a rather cliche'd, Hugh-Grant-film-esque fashion, stuff isn't important at all.

I have had no trouble taking box loads of rather smart clothes, gorgeous books and armfuls of CDs to the local charity shops. They may wonder why I am throwing out most of last season's Jigsaw collection but I don't care. I never wear it. If you can't ride a bike in it (and let's face it mohair isn't always the best attire for mountain biking) then I don't want it.

With an armful of jumpers and jeans, one smart suit and a suitcase of bike kit I'm off. All the books i have read are in storage, the ones I haven't are in my office (which I now have to use rather than working from bed like I have been for months) and I don't even have a toaster to my name.

Do I mind? Well we are programmed to get to our twenties and 'buy house, fill house with husband and babies, stop having fun' and although I am itching to have somewhere I can actually call 'home', living simply and clutter-free does have it's benefits. I lead a totally selfish existence where my every intellectual or physical whim can be fulfilled without so much as a inquisitive glance at someone else. I want to be a perpetual student - I am. I want to ride and race my bikes as much as is humanly possible - I do.

And believe me, that's the only time I'll be saying 'I do' in the near future. The future is full of simplicity and I like it.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Learning to love the trailcentres

So I've always been rather anti trail centres. I have always loved the big skies and unpredictability of map-and-compass riding and have ridden my bike across most of the large open places in Southern and Middle England. Until last weekend I'd been to Afan once and Cwm Carn twice.

But then Dusk til Dawn is approaching and I'm doing it in a pair. That means I'm out of my comfort zone and need to learn how to ride singletrack. Solo-ing means I can plod along at my pace with noone else to worry about, noone to let down and noone to disappoint. Just pedal and smile and sing and chat and ride as hard as I can and hopefully get to the end with no major problems.

But pairing. Jeepers, that means going fast, not making mistakes, watching my watch, timing my laps, getting it right. Yikes.

And last weekend, and yesterday, I went to Afan and rode hard all day, learning how to ride singletrack quickly and smoothly. I practiced cornering and sprinting, climbing and descending. I loved it and loved the trails. That swooping feeling as you lean the bike at the perfect angle round a tight switchback, or balance perfectly to take a rocky drop off without losing pace. You just don't get that out on the moors.

So I'm a quiet convert and I'm liking being out of my comfort zone. (You know when you've cracked when you consider riding 12 hours solo comfortable!)

See you at Thetford.