Monday, 28 February 2011

jumps and drops, tea and cake.

The title says it all, really.

Our favourite bearded trail guru, Great Rock is running a women's 'Jumps & Drops' skills day at Gisburn Forest on Friday 20th May. I will be there learning how to jump and drop, as my goal for this year is to be able to fly stylishly over the last stepdown at Fort William, which means I need to learn to commit :)

A massive bike and/or super skills aren't necessary but the desire to be a better rider is (and I'm sure we all have that in spades). Ed's got gentle encouragement (and fluffy facial hair) down to a fine art and it'll be a rare opportunity to progress your riding in the supportive atmosphere that we all know you only get with an all-female group.

Then, because it's a Saturday the day after and Saturdays are for riding, we'll be hosting a ride from Blazing Saddles in Hebden Bridge on 21st May. A sort of sociable Minxes get-together if you like - nobody will be left behind, we'll stop for tea and cake at least once and we'll take in as much (or as little) of the great riding in Calderdale as we feel the need for on the day. Because sometimes it's nice just to pootle...

If there are enough ladies to warrant splitting the group then we'll do so but don't worry about being too fast/slow, there are enough trails here for everyone. Hopefully spring will have sprung by then, too :)


Sunday, 27 February 2011

Even Grumpy Miles Count

Today's ride didn't start well. Having woken to sunshine and a vague plan to get in some steady (OK, slow) miles on my own after a short social jaunt yesterday, things began to unravel fast. By the time I'd got dressed in three-quarters and a windproof jersey the sky had darkened and I took everything off to start again with my warmest bibs, a thermal jersey and waterproof at the ready. Making extra porridge I expressed an interest in trying a route on the SatNav. I'm still finding my way around here so thought it would make sense to try and join up some places I DID know. I've only used a SatNav on my bike once before and it worked out well having my route handily placed up front, so extending my knowledge would be good - right?

Somewhere between finishing my second coffee and actually getting out the door there was a "Mummeeeeee' as I was summoned to see a particularly hysterical Total Wipeout contestant, (but then aren't they all?) Cue yet more minutes more of my life being sucked away - but really how can you walk away from Crash Mountain? And is it just me or does everyone else plan the line they'd take?

Let's gloss over not being able to find any zip ties for the SatNav, which necessitated rearranging my carefully planned pocketage of pump, money, inhaler, Shot Bloks and phone. The rain started falling when I'd progressed about a mile from home. Special freezing rain. I thought about friend John Ross who starts the Iditarod Trail Invitational today and decided it would be beyond wimpy to cut my ride short. And of course the rain got harder, as did the head wind. Honestly, I'd like to viciously document every miserable mile that passed under my wheels but then I'd have to set light to the computer to get closure. The briefest moment's happiness came ironically on a climb that was exceptionally smooth tarmac, and for a few minutes the sun waved at me too.

I would love to be able to report some life changing epiphany, a moment when, through the suffering it all came good. But that was it, the weak sunshine was followed by hail, I didn't 'ride through the pain', instead just took grim and perverse pleasure in fixing my eyes on the rain-shiny revolutions of my front tyre, knowing from experience that every groveling ascent would go towards one day in the summer when I will storm a hill somewhere and wonder 'where that came from.'

I'd given up stopping to carry out the whole performance of removing gloves, getting SatNav out of pocket, squinting at the screen through driving rain, stabbing at it hopelessly with the little thingy, working out where I'd gone wrong (through a reluctance to go through this process as often as I should in the rain), sorting out a way to rejoin my route, putting the wretched thing back before finally struggling back into soaking gloves. As a consequence I was relying on following my nose - which as anyone who's ever ridden with me will know is fatal, as I possess no sense of direction. I did try to to foil my inner (faulty) compass by consistently going the opposite way to the one I thought seemed best and finally limped home, hailstones still fresh on my jacket. No one even glanced up from their lunch as I stomped my mud splattered self up the stairs, a faintly strange feeling in the chamois being proof that even if you have the very best zip-out bum Gore tights, not getting the angle right as you hide behind a hedge, leads to unpleasant consequences.

So I'm tired now, and unhappier still because examination of my higgedly piggedly route reveals it wasn't even close to being as far as it felt. I bloody hate it when things don't come together and am taking only the tiniest comfort from the fact that even grumpy miles count.


Tuesday, 22 February 2011


I've had a run of bad luck health wise since the start of the year. A yukky flu just after New Year, followed by an equally yukky chest infection over the last few weeks have meant that I've not really been able to ride as much as I would have liked.

I thought I was well on the way to recovery, but all my good intentions of "just going for a gentle pootle" on Saturday went out the window when I woke up in the morning wheezing and coughing again. So I decided to spend my time doing something much more....tasty...

...a giant birthday crispy cake for Chris' birthday.

I promise I'll ride my bike this weekend.


Wednesday, 2 February 2011

it's all glamour.

fresh test bikes to ride always means one thing is certain: nasty, nasty weather. or, to be more accurate - nice(ish) weather that slowly leaks away whilst the hours get eaten up by emails and phonecalls until the nasty weather arrives right on cue.

this means i ride a lot in the rain, and i ride a lot in the dark. so i might as well like it.

the rain and the mud and riding home through town mostly black from head to toe feeling tired and warm. being up there with the wind howling through the trees, lights glowing across the valley, so wet you don't notice the rain anymore except for the drips on your eyelashes that catch on your cheekbones as they fall, watching tiny patches of blue sailing across the sky way up above the clouds, thinking about why the bike is doing what it does at the same time as wondering what there might be in the fridge for second supper later on...

except of course i love doing the same thing in sunshine and shorts and summertime. but that'll be here in due course. in the meantime - well, love the meantime.


Running out of excuses

Sunday was "The Big Day".

Over the last week I had got more and more nervous about the race until, come Saturday night, I could hardly sleep. I usually get nervous before races, but it's usually nerves about how I'll do and whether I'll be able to do as well as I'd like to do, but it was different this time....I was nervous about whether or not I'd survive! Would I crash horribly and break everything? Would I be so slow that I'd get in everyone's way and end up causing a pile up? Or worse still, would I end up chickening out and not finishing the race?

So when I woke up on Sunday morning, I lay in bed for a few minutes taking stock...nope, my legs hadn't broken overnight, so I couldn't use that excuse. Then I went downstairs...nope, the car hadn't been stolen, so I couldn't use that excuse either. Car keys weren't lost, bike was still in one piece, shoes hadn't disappeared, hadn't run out of contact lenses, so it looked like I was going to have to do it.

It was a really cold morning, so I packed an extra few layers into my bag and then jumped into the car. As I left the house, I could see that there was a light dusting of snow on the Pentlands and on the drive down to Innerleithen, the temperature got colder and colder (could I just say that I'd not brought enough warm kit and had to go home?) and then the snow started (maybe it would be cancelled). By the time I pulled into the, already busy, car park, it was obvious that the race was on and a few folks had already started heading up the hill.

I decided to get myself organised and head up the hill as soon as I could, otherwise nerves really would get the better of me. So after a few encouraging words from Helen, I picked up my dibber from Dan and started my slow ride up the hill.

The views weren't as lovely as they had been last weekend, so my mind was racing with "what-if's" as I rode up.

Chris had volunteered to marshal at the race and was waiting for me up at the top of the hill when I got there, with offers of chocolate, cups of tea and words of encouragement. There were only a few of us at the top, so I asked the guys behind me in the queue if they wanted to go first since I'd be mincing and slow, but they said no, so I warned them again that I'd be really slow, so could they wait a wee bit before coming down? I expected this to be met with rolled eyes or groans, but they were quite happy to give me tonnes of space. Phew!

So I dibbed my dibber and set of on the first down.

Dan had taken me down this one a few weeks ago and I'd been back to play around on it last weekend, so I knew what was coming. The full on crash last week had left me a bit shaken (and with a fat lip and swollen cheek), but I forced myself to put all of that out of my mind and just focus on what I was doing. I knew there were bits I had minced badly before, so kept expecting to get to them, mince again and come off, but I found myself down at the next fireroad being dibbed in by the next marshal before I knew it. I had somehow managed to make it down the first down.

There was some chat with other riders about what was coming up next. They started talking about how difficult stage 2 was and I started to get a bit nervy again. Afterall, Dan had taken me down stage 2 and I thought it was was stage 3 I was worried about, but all the others were talking about stage 2 as if it was the trail of doom! So there must be a bit of stage 2 that Dan didn't take me down.

Since I'm very good at getting psyched out, I decided to head back up the hill again before I heard any more about stage 2 and just get it over with.

Back up at the top, I bumped into a few familiar faces and got more words of encouragement from Chris and the other marshals. A few folks headed down stage 2 in front of me, but there was nobody behind me as I dibbed again and set off.

This one was more pedally at the top but it wasn't the trail I was expecting it to be....this was what I thought was stage 3. I knew the top bit was fine, it was the middle and the bottom bit I wasn't looking forward to. There were some pretty gnarly bits coming up that I'd had to walk when Dan took me down this one, so I was waiting for those bits to come up. I rode past a couple of guys who cheered something at me (I couldn't really hear very well through the full face helmet, so who knows what they said, but I'm fairly certain it was something encouraging). I managed to avoid the urge to grab big handfuls of brake and next thing I knew I'd reached the end of the middle bit and was greeted by cheers from the marshals and medics....I'd somehow managed to ride all the bits I'd had to walk the other week!

I knew I couldn't ride the bottom bit though. It was near vertical, loose, greasy and, quite frankly, bloomin' scary! So I rode as far as I could and then made use of all the cyclocross riding I've done, jumped of and slipped and slid down to a slightly less vertical bit before jumping back on to ride down to the waiting marshal and dibber at the bottom.

I'd made the trail of doom without crashing horribly!

The ride back up to the top for my final down was a long climb. There weren't many people around, so I had the forest to myself for the 30 or so minute amble back. After a few minutes of riding, I realised I was smiling and humming away to myself. I had one more down and I knew the last one (which I had thought was stage 2) was going to be a good one.

Back up at the top, there were still a lot of people just setting off on their first down, but Chris was still there with shouts of encouragement and offers of chocolate (I don't think everyone was offered chocolate though!).

Final dib and I was off.

The top section was straightforward enough, then across the fireroad, down the steep drop in to the fast, rooty, wiggly, tree dodging section. I knew there were bits on this section I had struggled with, like the massive drop offs (okay, maybe not massive, but they seemed massive to me) and the steep switchbacks, but again I managed to avoid the urge to grab handfuls of brakes and shut my eyes, and I forced myself to ride the first big drop off and the next few were suddenly much less scary.

Then I rode past a marshal who blew his whistle. Not being used to the whole downhill thing, I assumed that meant I had to get out of the way, so I pulled over, jumped off the bike and looked around to see the fast guys come past, but nobody came. So I hung around for a little bit, shrugged and then got back on the bike. A little bit further down, another marshal whistled at me, so again, I got out of the way, but nobody came past me. So when I passed the next whistling marshal, I decided to just keep going. By this time I could see the bottom, but managed to slide on a particularly greasy corner and gracefully sit down beside a tree....right in front of the girls with cameras.

Luckily it was only the girls who saw and they just cheered encouragement at me, so I jumped back on, round the final few lovely bermed corners, round the tree and to the final marshal to dib for the final time.

I had made it and not only was I still in one piece, but I was grinning like a looney and had really enjoyed myself.

I rolled up to the timing tent to be welcomed back by Helen and Dan who ware both eagre to hear what I thought of the course and how I'd got on. I got my final times and my hoodie (my prize for being one of the first females to enter the race), which was very welcome since it had got properly cold by this time.

I managed to get changed and watch the last few riders come down (whilst gibbering away excitedly to my friend Jo and telling her all about my heroics and adventures - sorry Jo, I must have been a real bore!) before the prize giving. Unfortunately, because it was so cold, most folks had headed off as soon as they'd finished their race, but I hung around and found out that not only was I not dead last, but I'd managed to come 4th!

My aim had been to get down the hill in one piece, without crashing or getting in everyone's way or chickening out. In the end, I was so glad that my excuses had all fallen through because if I'd used the excuses, I wouldn't have had nearly as much fun.

I'm not sure that I'm ready to take up Helen's offer to do the mini downhill in a few weeks time, but I think I'll have to invest in a full face helmet of my own once I give Jenn back the one she loaned to me (even if they're not the most flattering look for me!), and I think I'll go out to play at Innerleithen a bit more.