Monday, 22 October 2012

Giro de Nottingham - Day Two

Up early in the morning the team were raring to go, well at least they were keen to go down for breakfast. It seemed after a night's sleep and a decision to go for it today the mood was positive for the day ahead. After an all you can eat breakfast we were loading up our chariots for stage 2.

The team headed through the city centre and even through the shopping centre - despite all the shops being closed. The start of that days route would take us away from our intended finish and further south along side the canal. It felt great to be riding at a good speed on flat ground and only a headwind stopped it from being perfect.

Team Pannier now in its third official outing was starting to look like a more slick outfit (and that had nothing to do with John and Neil's Lycra). Riding as one peloton the team formed more of a line as they looked to maximise speed and take advantage of aerodynamics. The miles flew by and along with the beautiful scenery it was a great time to be on the bike. The canal route took the team past lovely lock side pubs, beautiful fields and hills (in the distance thankfully) and started to loop to the west and then started to turn north.

It wasn't long before the M1 was crossed and a choking fog descended on the route. It seemed there was a fire not too far away and this triggered in Neil's mind that he'd seen on the news that there was a woodchip fire and people had been warned to stay indoors! We then had cyclists coming towards us with hankerchiefs over their mouths. Maybe it was REALLY bad ahead? Luckily it wasn't much further before it cleared and we were pushing on.

Knowing that the trail ended further down the line and that there was an unknown section of riding coming up it was important to get the miles in the bank. Everything certainly seemed to be going to plan and it was looking like half the miles had been covered before lunchtime. In fact at 11.40 the team had done close to 25 miles. Keen to push on Jon set us the target of 30 miles before lunch.

At this point the team reached the end of the cycle route and headed off on Spanners speculative route. Having only been able to use the Sustrans mapping system it wasn't clear whether we would be following cycle routes, bridal paths or b roads. As we made our first turn the first thing we were hit with was a hill. Not Rich's favourite at this point - put him on a flat or a downhill and he could push the speed with the rest but the weight of his panniers were slowing him down. In fact on getting back he threatened to put them on eBay "if I haven't got 'em I can't fill 'em".

The route then weaved its way through a housing estate before coming to a bridal way. It looked like the right route on the map and, having conquered closed routes and water crossings in the paste, this wasn't going to stop the team. With a short run down a foot path and a lift over a style the team were soon on to a track used by cars down a field. Following it down the team found themselves on a farm. With no one to ask for directions the team picked their way through chickens and pig poo. Letting themselves through two gates and walking past the farmers front window the team eventually came to a main road - and back on track by the looks of things.

Having lost faith in the planned route it was decided to go more direct on the roads, hills or no hills, main road or not. A steady pull out of Heanor and we headed toward Codnor. With food now in our mind we noticed a pub but decided there was bound to be a nice pub in the next place called Somercotes. Sure enough there wasn't anything up to scratch and we pushed on to Alfreton. Spotting a pub at the top of a hill Spanners was sent in to check it out. Rich came out saying it was alright, John suggested we pushed on with thoughts of the previous days pub in mind. Chef sat out of the front of the peloton and pushed the pace on.

The route continued to go up and down as the canal cycle route seemed a long time ago. With the undulating terrain the miles were ticked off a lot slower and with no lunch inside them the progress seemed to be slow. Coming out of Alfreton Jon spotted KFC and McDonalds. Suggesting it first half jokingly and then seriously. Not matching the previous day's high John pushed on. Called back by his team mates he protested this was not what he wanted. They agreed that if he didn't want to eat there they would push on. It was now 1.30 and the pressure was on to find somewhere to eat, if they didn't find somewhere John would be in BIG trouble.

The end of the adhoc route was in sight as the team turned off in to an industrial estate and soon worked their way on to the Silverhill Trail. More trails meant less chance of anywhere to buy food and the pressure was certainly mounting on John. The only hope was that it was a disused railway and the old pubs that used to be by railway sidings were still there.

On a flatish trail it was good to be getting some miles done again but running on empty the team weren't going as quick as they had been earlier that day. Progress was still slow and the 35 mile mark still hadn't been reached. So with no other choice the team asked some walkers (aka the enemy) where to stop for food. It was pointed out there was a carvery pub 500 yards up the road, just past the turn off for the route home. One mile later and with the team only just pulling away from the gentleman in the mobility scooter they finally reached the turnoff for the pub and scrambled up the hill towards their oasis.

Or hell? I guess it depends what you want from a lunch but the boys didn't seem to be pleased to be queueing with half of Derbyshire for their lunch. Spanners and Jukebox had a "Yorkshire" carvery, no, not one filled mainly with Yorkshire puddings but one big plate loaded high to share between them instead of paying for two. There was silence at the table as everyone tucked in or was it just tiredness after the miles and beers of the day before?

Stocked up on food the team made their way back on to the trail and the mile ride back to the planned route. Diverting off on to the Five Pits Trail it was clear that the trail wasn't based on a flat railway line. Every slight incline now felt like Alpe d'Huez as the legs search for a bit of power with each turn. Soon it was another motorway marker to tick off as we went through Tibshelf. It may have services there but it is a small village and we passed it in the blink of an eye.

We knew now we only had Grassmoor to tick off before we were at the end of another trail and heading in to very familiar territory in the form of Chesterfield. As we rode out from Grassmoor and headed towards a place we had spent nights out in the past we saw the famous crooked spire. This was a real moment of realisation 'we're close to home'. Coming in to Chesterfield, Rich, Neil and John knew it pretty well and it was easy picking our way through the town. Jon predicted we'd be home (i.e. Neil's) by 5 - no way sai John, 5.30 at best. Even so it was a lot more promising than the previous days prediction of getting a train.

Heading out towards Unstone we discussed how maybe Rich and John should cycle ahead as they got to Dronfield - our home town. This is something done by professional cyclists whenever they get chance to go through their home town. However I think Rich and John knew what was coming, a couple of steep hills!

Regrouping on Dronfield Bottom the team cycled together the final miles within site of each other and headed out of Dronfield and in to Yorkshire. Heading up to Greenhill the team suddenly realised they'd lost Jon. Ten minutes later and he was back having taken a wrong turning and the four cycled as one as they rolled down Bocking Lane to the end of the ride. Bang on 5 o'clock.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Giro de Nottingham - Day One

Team Pannier set out on another expedition but this time they were shunned by one of their own members. Jon had decided to go 'sans pans' - he would ride with just a rucksack. Having read the Guardian's cycling blog this was clearly a no-no with tales of regret and aching backs. I set off smug in the fact that he would soon regret this faux pas and want to rejoin the team at the first opportunity.

So where were we off to this time? With two coast to coasts in the bag it was clear to all what we should do, whatever we do - stay away from the sea where cliffs only lead to uphill roads. So Sheffield, the city furthest away from the sea was the scene for the start for our next expedition. In fact it was to be a tour of previous university cities with Jon, John and Neil all attending Sheffield Hallam and Rich taking us back to his university roots in Nottingham.

The plan was to set off from Neil's house and head through the centre of Sheffield and out east and then down to Nottingham for an evening out in Spanners old haunt. Day two would see the rest of the clockwise circuit route completed as the team would head south out of Nottingham and then back up the west side back to Sheffield.

Day one got off to a slow, relaxed start as Jon's promise of riding over to start was renegotiated to a lift as the start time of 9 came and went. Once all together they were waved off by a small fan club of parents and other halves. It was a quick start with a nice downhill to Millhouses Park and then a zigzag through the city to   the offical start of National Cycle Route 6. With the traditional picture at the start taken it was straight to the hills as the team climbed out of Sheffield.

Once on top of one of the seven hills, it's just like Rome don't you know,  it was steady progress as the team negotiated control gate after control gate (example above). They're designed to stop motorbikes being ridden on the cycle paths. The only problem is you can't fit a bike through them, we all had to stop and turn our handlebars sideways to fit through. It was slow progress and as some unsavoury characters eyed up our machines it was not the best place to be slowing down. It wasn't helped by Rich mentioning his last time riding that bit of track, he was asked by a friendly chap how much his bike was worth - bet he rode it quick that day.

As the slow progress continued we were already quite behind schedule. The hills and gates were not a cyclist's dream and yet the peloton were in good mood as the sun was out and we were stretching our cycling legs for the first time in quite a while. The talk amongst the camp was quite different from the first C2C, the four all now a bit older and certainly with more dependants. Talk this time was of babies, children's TV and the annoying theme tunes we couldn't get out of our heads. Even Jukebox was struggling to overcome Timmy Time.

Heading down in to Rother Valley we managed to crash a women's triathlon and soon started passing all the ladies on the course, they may have been only jogging but we still showed them a clean pair of heels. We wowed at the cable water-skiing and yurned for chips as we stopped for a quick comfort break and took in the wonderful smell of food. Despite the lovely aromas, suntan weather and surfer dude music in the form of Grouplove's album we decided to push on.

As an adopted Bristolian I (John) was enjoying being back in my native Yorkshire and this was none more evident than riding through the car park at Rother Valley and the car park attendant, a guy in his twenties, shouting top of his voice "ey up, you alright?". Ah friendly northerners, how I've missed you.

So the team headed out of the valley and of course that means hills and a bit of a test as the team headed through Wales (the village not the country). Then it was some lovely little villages and countryside before pulling up beside a canal. This was celebrated as we all know canals are generally flat. This became a double celebration as we found The Lock Keeper pub beside the canal for lunch. It was a perfect setting, in the sun, pub grub and some miles in our legs.

After a spot of lunch we hit Worksop. Or it hit us. It didn't start well, the team lost the scent of the trail and soon we were at a roundabout not knowing which way to turn. A quick consultation of the map on phones (Spanners and Jukebox now enjoying the delights of smartphones) and we were back on track - even if it did require a quick dash across the road, down a bank and across a field.

We then headed off up in to a housing estate and, already aware of our less than salubrious surroundings, we were greeted with a call of "lock 'em or lose 'em" from a local. Cracking a nervous smile we pedalled on looking forward to the end of Worksop. I think the irony was lost that we were worrying for our possessions as we headed deeper in to Robin Hood territory. Thankfully it wasn't long before we were hitting the wonderful sites of Clumber Park and another chance for us to show our age as Neil revealed his National Trust membership would come in handy if we needed parking.

By now the weight on his bike was starting to slow Spanners down and the unexpected and unwelcome hills of Clumber Park were cheered up a little by the different calibre of person we came across in the park. There was one certain lady who we all noticed as she rode on her bike unsupported. With plenty of tattoos and two heavy pieces of luggage to carry herself we were soon speculating about what her job was.

It was then a twisting ride through the woods, and as tradition seems to have it, we passed the back of Center Parcs as we rode further through Sherwood Forest. We then came on to some nice trails as we passed Rainworth (my wife tells me it's pronounced Ren-earth) and towards my father-in-laws village of Ravenshead. He lovingly refers to the area as "all fur coat and no knickers" but it certainly looked a lot more upmarket than some of the places we'd ridden through. Heading out the top of Ravenshead it was starting to get dimmer as we reached 5 o'clock.

We headed across the A60 and in to Newstead Abbey, passing a sign saying we needed to pay to get in if we were on a bike. It was quiet and no one stopped us so I'm not ashamed to say we didn't pay to go on a national cycle route through the grounds. I am also not ashamed to say I just lost out on a race through the grounds - with an Aston Martin. As there are speed bumps on the road he kept slowing down to go over them and then speeding up. I however could keep up a steady pace and with the help of some downhill (finally) I came in to his slipstream at every bump. Sadly I think he'd had enough of me in his rear view mirror and then burnt me off.

Coming out of the security gates at the top we paused to catch our breath and Spanners started on a rant not dissimilar to Jukebox's famous breakdown near Hartside. From this previous experience Jon instantly knew what to do "someone give him some chocolate" and sure enough with Mars bars inside them Team Pannier pushed on towards Nottingham. The chocolate coupled with some downhill sections really got the team moving and they were through Hucknall (yes we sang Simply Red) and in to the heart of Nottingham in no time. Or flat Nottingham as it had been constantly been described by some members of the team (cough Spanners). Sure enough there were enough ups and downs to match any similar period on the route so far. Dipping in and out of valleys the team steadily spread out and as John pulled up along side Jon and Neil, Neil announced we were here. "The post code leads us here so we're right on top of it". John stayed put as Jon and Neil rode on to find the Igloo Hostel. Rich pulled up alongside and declared "we're here". Literally here, we had stopped outside the entrance and not even realised it.

The team may have been there but it wouldn't prove to be that simple. The promise of being booked in with some Swedish Au Pairs didn't look like it was going to becoming true. Despite our mixed-dorm booking confirmation they had no booking on the system. Having cycled a fair few miles and snacked on sugar and caffeine all day it was surprising how calm we were. As they tried to find room for us by moving people about Neil set about searching for accommodation with his phone. Within a short period of time he had not only booked us in to the Purple Palace but he had sweet talked the staff to storing our bikes inside. He then guided us through a non hilly route and to the door in five minutes. What a result, Jukebox had done brilliantly. The staff there were brilliant and while they couldn't promise us any Swedish au pairs, they did look after us very well.

It was then a dash to get changed and back out ready for curry and a pint. I swear the only reason Chef goes cycling is to have a pint as he led the way to the pub - Rich's local knowledge seeming a little confused. Whether it was the passing years, the change in the city or, more likely, the alcohol filled years he stayed there being just one big blur but he struggled to get his bearings and we actually walked past the curry house we were aiming for before he realised that was the one.

Settling down for a pre food pint we started to discuss the day and started to worry about the following day. Plans were put forward for a change of route, for a route with constant train stops should we run out of time or even an abandonment of the trip all together. It was decided we were no team of quitters, if we'd set out to do this route then that's what we would attempt the next day - plus we could easily grab a train if we needed to...

So after a curry in the place where all the celebrities go, well Cliff Richards and Jane McDonald, we headed back to our own rooms, with our own tellys to watch Match of the Day. Rock on.