Tuesday, 30 November 2010

An adventurous weekend

What a few days. Just had to share.

Saturday I raced an eight hour adventure race in the New Forest. I knew from the first 100 metres that I was in trouble. Stuart Lynch had stepped in at the last minute to race with us after our team mate was injured. He's the ex World Champ and one of the world's leading racers. He flew. I panted. We (my fella and me) spent 3 and a half hours trailing 30 metres behind him on the run. The bike wasn't so bad. I could keep up. Just. Flat out. Freezing cold. Exciting. Loved it.

On Sunday morning we were stiff and a bit sore, but at 8 on the dot, Stuart arrived at our flat, along with Adidas Terrex team member Mark, who I'm going to Patagonia with in February for a 7 day expedition race (http://www.patagonianexpeditionrace.com/). We were going paddling and then mtbing. I was desperately trying to clean our bikes, but the hose pipe was frozen and I was out of time. The bikes went on top of the car, still damp...

After a bit of faffing we set off on the paddle from Rhos on Wye (Why) down to Bigsweir. It was -7. We watched the ice form on our cags and along the shafts of our paddles. The kayaks were covered in a film of ice. The rudder stopped working. It was beautiful. People stared.

At Bigsweir we left the boats in a ditch and walked to the car to change into bike kit. A bit of motivational discussion was required to carry on, and we had to take one of the bikes apart and spray everything with de-icer before it would work! But we carried on.

A hot chocolate later at Clearwell Caves and it was dark. So we rode on through The Forest of Dean, hooning through the frosty singletrack. It was beautiful, peaceful, freezing and magical. I loved every second.

Monday morning and I was grateful to be going to work (via the osteopath). As I was getting my quads pummeled, I received a call from my boss. "Fi, meet me at Chepstow, I'm riding with Rob Penn." We met Rob at a book event a few weeks ago and he is interested in our research (into the image of cycling).

So I drove home, changed back into my warm kit and headed out on the bike. I rode 2 and a half hours in -5 degrees. My third mad day in a row. Writing this on Tuesday I can't believe I'm still alive. The training is obviously paying off. I am working out when I can get out running again!

2 months til Patagonia. Bring it on!


Sunday, 28 November 2010


This weekend was meant to be a double header in the Scottish cyclocross calendar with two races in Glasgow, but because of a last minute change in requirements of the local council, Sunday's race had to be cancelled. The situation didn't go down too well with the racers since this was the second race to have been cancelled at late notice in this series.

However, disappointment aside, Saturday's race was quite an event!

Most of the UK has seen quite a bit of snow over the last week, but central Scotland escaped the worst of it until Friday night. We woke up to a few light centimetres of white stuff on Saturday morning.

We've had plenty of very cold cross races in Scotland, but no snowy ones that anyone could remember. Saturday saw cold and snow.

Since I was helping out with lap counting for the first few races, I didn't have to strip off to my cycling kit until just before my race, which was a good job...it was freezing!

I eventually had to shed my puffy and several base layers, just before my race to fit in a quick practice lap. Well, actually, it wasn't so quick! I rode around with a few other riders and we all exchanged anxious glances as we got back to the start line. Although the temperature was below freezing, the sun had softened up the ground on sections of the course and created a sort of snowy-slushy mud which had the consistency of wallpaper paste.

Although the course had no real technical features, it proved to be a really challenging race. Frozen brakes turned the descents into icy/muddy skid fests and saw the course tape broken all over the places as riders careered through the tape at the corners and the bottom of descents. The slushy mud made the climbs feel like everything had gone into slow motion - I was pedalling for all I was worth, but was just inching forward through the brown, muddy snow. Then frozen gears meant that I (along with lots of other riders) had to finish the race in completely the wrong gear because I couldn't change gears any more! Mind you, running proved to be the easiest way to get round bits of the course anyhow.

I've never done a cross race where I've managed to do so few laps, but this was a toughie! There were lots of cold, broken people on the finish line, all asking the same question - "How did I manage to do so few laps?"

I quickly put back on all the layers I'd taken off to do the race and went back to lap counting - relieve not to have to be riding round the course any more, but wishing I could be somewhere much warmer.

By the time we eventually got home, I found that I'd managed to get frost nip on my left foot, so I was relieved not to have to go out and race again today. Instead I spent the day watching the snow fall outside....I'm not sure we'd have been able to get to the race today even if we had wanted to!

Since I'm commissaire at next weekend's race, the Scottish champs, I won't be racing again until the grand finale of the series on Mull at the start of December. I think I'll spend the next few weeks investigating those foot warming techniques Jenn mentioned earlier!


Tuesday, 23 November 2010


Not a whole lot of adventuring going on at the moment, more plodding round the same old loops when time and wellness allow and more waiting for winter proper to arrive (hurry up snow). None of which makes for good reading. So, inspired by Ira (who makes beautiful bikes and thinks a lot about adventures, and makes me think about them too every time his words pop up in my reader), here are four things which make winter better.

I went to Minnesota in February to cover the Arrowhead Ultra and learnt a lot about surviving cold weather. Since then I've pretty much given up on winter boots: I've tried all of them and none of them work for more than two hours, so the current long ride set up includes two pairs of socks, a pair of oversized Sealskins with a hole cut in the bottom, overshoes and a sheet of reflective insulation, plus a possible bright spark of an idea which involves sewing/sticking a pair of overshoes to a pair of tights and seeing if I can make the whole thing watertight (Yorkshire nights are long). For shorter rides when I don't want to deal with the whole clumsy mess, chemical shoe warmers are the answer. Toasty, simple, great. Except I've nearly run out of the American imports so need to source some hideously expensive UK ones. Damn.

Embrocation. If you're lucky enough to be able to use the full strength stuff without volcanic skin eruption then consider yourself blessed (and try putting it on the back of your hands/top of your feet - The Enforcer swears it works better than wool). If you can't, like me, then La Gazzetta Della Bici's Verde oil is ace: much milder, smells gorgeous and still does a good job of loosening things up if you will insist on going out in knickers when the temperature is hovering around freezing because your legs look better in them than they do in tights. It adds another layer to the particular smell of a cyclist's home, too: lemony-eucalyptus, WD40, Persil and something slow-cooking in the oven. Lovely to open the front door to.

My sheepskin boots were a gift from a dear friend who clearly knows me very well (or has just been on the receiving end of my icy feet one too many times). They get worn pretty much every day of autumn, winter and spring and have been known to make the odd trip to the post office by mistake. Yes, they're granny-esque but they're warmer and much tougher than either slippers or Uggs. They've saved me dropping screwdrivers, a hammer and the filleting knife through my toes on various occasions, too. Maybe they should make a steelie version for cosy workshop use.

Proper tea in a proper tea pot. Another gift from another friend and one which has weaned me off my bad coffee habit. At least until elevenses time, anyway. Rituals are one thing (kettle on whilst I potter about in PJs, pot brewing whilst I get washed and dressed, tea drunk with the three-biscuit breakfast over the sifting of the inbox, flickr and twitter of a morning), pleasure is another (Booths have a fabulous English Breakfast blend, not so keen on the Russian from the new shop in town but really looking forward to cracking open the "espresso of teas" Assam). Bone china for breakfast, pint mug at teatime.

Simple pleasures.


Saturday, 20 November 2010


Where to start?

I've never been more east than Eastern Europe and I've always, always wanted to go to New Zealand, but it was always just that bit too far to go and I just couldn't find enough justification to spend that much time sitting in a plane. That was until the Singlespeed Worlds for 2010 were announced and they were in Rotorua, New Zealand.

All of a sudden, a trip to NZ to visit my aunt and uncle, see the country I've always wanted to see, catch up with some friends and ride a race seemed like the perfect honeymoon for Chris and I (okay, so it was a year after we got married, but we never were all that conventional!).

So after months of planning, we left work early on a Friday night and headed off to catch a flight to Auckland via Heathrow and Hong Kong.

The journey out was fairly uneventful and passed relatively quickly (I say relatively, because 24 hours sitting in a plane can only go so quickly). The most exciting bit, other than actually landing in Auckland, was probably landing in Hong Kong. Looking out the window, it looked just like something out of Swallows and Amazons... little craggy, tree covered islands popping up through the sea mist and little, brightly coloured fishing boats bobbing about just below us. A definite note to self to try to go back and spend more than 4 hours in the airport there!

Anyway, we got to Auckland, a bit sleepy, but generally ready to go. We only spent one night in Auckland before picking up our ace campervan and heading down to Rotorua.

We had 5 days in Rotorua before the race and spent most of them doing tourist stuff with my aunt and uncle or riding around in Whakarewarewa forest, where the race was going to be.

The town of Rotorua is different to anywhere else I've been before. It's in a volcanic (live volcanic) caldera and so has lots of thermal stuff going on. From bubbling, steaming hot pools of water in the town centre, to stinky bubbling mud pools, to the infamous sulphur point. Riding around town and seeing steam coming up through the ground, or rising up from a clump of trees in the park is very different to riding around town here in Edinburgh, that's for sure! Oh, and the black swans swimming around on the lake are very different to the swans we have here in Holyrood Park.

The only word to describe the riding in Whakarewarewa is awsome! The forest is massive - a combination of managed pine forest, giant redwoods and natural bush. There are also over 100k of bike specific trails in the forest which are maintained by Rotorua Mountain Bike Club.

The trails are all graded in a similar way to the trails here, from beginners trails to black "expert" trails and the National DH course and they're all really well marked, so it's pretty tough to get lost. It is, however, very easy to end up out in the forest for a lot longer than you had intended because it's so difficult not to ride just one more trail just to see what it's like...and, oh, we might as well do that one now that we're here.

The mix of trails, terrain and technicality was incredible. All singletrack, some of it buff and swoopy, some of it mad and fast, some of it lung busting climbing, some of it heart-in-mouth descending, but all of it fantastic! It was just like riding through tropical forest with tree ferns (Ponga trees apparently) and palm like cabbage trees alongside sequioas.

Race day was Saturday and it's possibly the busiest singlespeed race I've ever been to. With over 900 riders there were a lot of people and a lot of interesting bikes. Saturday was the first properly hot day since we had arrived in New Zealand, so it was off with the arm and knee warmers before we headed to the start. The race start wasn't the usual Le Mans, bike hiding thing of most SS races. Instead we had to do a kind of NAScar thing...900 folks riding around in a circle, very slowly for 2 minutes until someone quietly opened up the tape and riders started piling off up the first bit of track.

The trail started with a bit of a witch of a sandy climb which saw most riders off and pushing, especially since the traffic was very slow moving. The climb was worth it though, since we were straight into a bit of fast decent which had most folks grabbing bunches of brake.

From then on the trail got quieter and much more fun. I decided to opt out of all the beer shortcuts, only because it seemed a shame not to ride all of the trail. I managed to find a bunch of blokes to ride round with who were about my pace and skill level, so we kept egging eachother on to ride the techy stuff and make it up the climbs. After the first lap, I was completely out of water, so I had to stop at the beer stop and drink a beer to be able to get some water. (No! It's not just an excuse!).

Most folks didn't go out for a second lap, so there were none of the traffic jams I'd come across on the first lap and I could go as fast (or as slow) as I liked down the techy descents. I managed to clear everything on both laps and was feeling pretty pleased with myself until I got the the watersplash almost at the end of my second lap. I got through the water, up the little slope on the other side and then started down the sloppy descent back towards the fire road just as my uncle jumped out and shouted "Go on Jac!". I looked round to see where he was and lost it. Luckily he had a camera and managed to catch it all on film...

Just around the corner I rolled into the finish area to be handed a beer and catch up with everyone to share the usual post race stories and watch the decider for next year's Worlds. That also gave me the opportunity to check out some of the fantastic costumes. Those of you who know Damo will be pleased to see that he really outdid himself this year...

The decider was a sort of horizontal bungee where the contestants had to stretch the bungee as far as they could and place a beer can the furthest from the start. You'll be pleased to hear that the team from Ireland won, so we'll be going to Ireland next year and hopefully I'll see some of you there too.

There's a lot more to tell and a lot more pics to share from our NZ trip, but I'll save that for later.


Friday, 19 November 2010

Rob Penn

Last night, a crowd of us went to see Rob Penn speak at Waterstones. I've read his book, 'It's All About the Bike' and found it really interesting and rather inspiring. This guy is Seriously Passionate. He wrote about the history of the bicycle, right from it's crank-less, chain-less, odd-wheeled early days right the way through to the sleek carbon shiney days of now.

Rob is a down to earth guy. He swears, he giggles, he speaks with fire in his eyes. He loves his bike and loved the process of building it - by visiting each and every manufacturer individually in person and selecting the finest components whilst gaining a history of the company and a patchwork history of the bicycle.

I'd recommend to anyone.

But what of the colour? Well he knows its controversial. His eyes turned down and glanced at his paper when he got on to the subject. People hate it. Almost everyone, he said, hates it. Apart from him. And that's the point. The frame was designed for him and every component selected after careful though. For him. It is a weird looking machine because we're used to seeing a certain style of bike these days - angles and smoothness in the right places. He's got carbon forks on a steel frame and carbon handlebars and carbon brakes on a bike with a Brooks saddle and hand built wheels. It is eclectic, and so much love and thought went into it. For that reason, I think it's beautiful.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

winter's here. note to self...

ride when the sun is shining whenever you can. steal the time. dawn rides, lunchbreaks, storm surfing, sundays.

and when you can't: embrace the filth.