Thursday, 6 October 2016

So I Rode My First Sportive

It seems a rites of passage, after buying a road bike that you need to do a sportive. Not to prove your worth, more to allow your bike to do what it was designed to do. So with much trepidation from me, Rich and I represented Team Pannier in the 65 Roses Holme Moss Classic.

Handing over the £25 online was easy but what do you need to do next? What do we take with us, food, water, clothing? Normally we'd have our sturdy hybrids weighed down by panniers and so taking the items you need for one day required a different mindset. Information on their (and British Cycling's) web site were patchy to say the least. There would be refreshments and food but where and how much was not very clear. I remember reading Mark Cavendish saying he always took food along with him during races as then you wouldn't be relying on anyone else.

The weatherman wasn't much better, changing his/her mind daily as to whether we'd be having wind, cloud or rain. Normally on a long ride like this it would take us all day with our panniers and we'd be stripping off and redressing more often than a Spearmint Rhino employee. We wouldn't have that luxury this time, perhaps I could scrunch up a light jacket in to my saddle bag?

So come the day, with a bit more information, we were pretty sure there would be sunshine and there would be two food stops. Now all we had to do was ride 65 miles pretty much non stop. Something I'd not done before on my road bike and actually hadn't done on my hybrid without having at least a one long lunch stop.

Arriving at the start felt quite normal, not dissimilar to a half marathon start, registering and putting on a number, just it was the bike not me that wore the number.

Looking around at the other cyclists I could see some cycling club jerseys, some mates riding together and lots of bikes. Luckily my knowledge of bikes is limited and so I couldn't be put off by thinking everyone had a better bike, or vice versa, I wasn't worried people were viewing me as "all the gear no idea" mainly because I had no idea.

Last minute toilet stops done and I probably ate something before we headed over to the start. Original plans to have a mass start had been cancelled as they couldn't close the road to other traffic so we were let off in batches of what appeared to be anything from 20 to 50 riders at a time. Being at the back meant we had no idea what they were saying over the megaphone apart from "wave if you can hear this" which I duly regretted doing.

As we were let loose on the roads of South Yorkshire we found ourselves in a ground of maybe 40 riders, making our way out of Rotherham.  Riding in a group was great fun, we could pretend we were in a real peleton and to all intents and purposes we were and no one was going to tell me otherwise. It actually was quite easy and not much different from normal riding in our Team Pannier groups of 4-6. People seem to wave at the floor a fair bit (this was to point out pot holes / bad surface) and there was the odd loud shout "GLASS" - thanks for that in my ear Rich. My favourite though was a gesture to say this whole area of road is bad which generally looked like they were trying to waft away a bad smell they'd just dropped.

These kind of actions are normal to people who ride with cycling clubs. There was also shouts such as "car right" when going on to a roundabout or the "car up" / "car down" calls that confused me so much on previous Team Pannier rides. Still it was good to be riding as a group even if I did feel a fraud.

Driven on by the group we were doing a quick (for me) average speed and it felt good. We were ticking off the miles but surely this speed couldn't last. Suddenly we were an hour in and it didn't feel like we'd settled in to a rhythm. Still grouped together with a lot of other riders we hit a hill that turned out not to be just another blip but a steady continuous rise. This strung the field of riders out and settled everything down.

At this point we were holding our own and passing as many riders as those who were passing us. We'd settled in to a rhythm and now were starting to recognise who was riding at the same pace as us. A couple of guys with Digitec on their backs turned out to be boss and employee of Digitec and we yo-yo'd back and forwards passing each other periodically.

Just over 20 miles in we reached the first food stop in a pub car park and they'd kindly allowed riders to use the facilities there. I however was more interested in what refreshments were available. Luckily for me (and them if they didn't want a stroppy man in Lycra to deal with) the selection was fantastic. Cake, cake, CAKE! Victoria sponge, chocolate cake, Mr Kipling slices, oh it was good. Not quite the rocky road we'd been spoiled with on the C2C pointed out Rich but it didn't stop me filling my face. They was also some odd but much more sensible and healthy options. Plain rice cakes (pass), cooked potatoes in their skins (pass) and bananas (go on then). With topped up bottles and emptied bladders we cracked on probably no more than ten minutes after pulling in to the car park.

Off and across Ingbirchworth reservoir full of sugar it felt great. The weather was amazing. No need for the jacket that I left back at the car. We'd been blessed. Heading off at different times from others that had stopped we were suddenly riding with different people and chatting to one guy we nearly missed one of the not so obvious arrows marking the way. Turning just in time we headed on and across busy roads marshalled by volunteers.

Heading down towards Holmfirth we were now heading towards the big event, Holme Moss. Having ridden up it previously from the "easy side" with Team Pannier we were to attack it from the other side - the same way the Tour de France had! Weaving through Last of the Summer Wine country we seemed to be one of the few riders who stopped at traffic lights and believed in staying on the road.

I remember thinking when we previously came down from Holme Moss heading towards Huddersfield that the downhill went on and on. I wasn't wrong as we headed back the other way. Rich, having ridden it before had warned me that it started with a kick and it did as we began to climb out of Holme Bridge to Holme and saw The Moss.

Having been sad and looked up the Strava segment for the climb beforehand I knew from Streetview where the official start was. At that point I started to push on but could feel the 20+ miles we'd already covered in my legs. With an unusual sunny day it was warm from the get-go.

Rich stomped out a good tempo and as we hit the start of the segment we could see a spread out field ahead of us, most riders in single file, scattered ahead and behind. Slowly I started to pull a few people back, it was great to have people ahead to aim for. As I struggled to get in some of my lower gears (not my bottom one thankfully) a couple of riders passed me, reminding me there were certainly people out there moving quicker than me. (My local bike service in Bristol guy has sorted my gears out for me now).

The climb is certainly not hidden and you can see what is ahead of you most of the time. Whether that's good or bad I'm not sure. It does however let you pace yourself and with quarter mile markers all the way up you could really judge your effort. With a quarter of a mile to go I upped my pace all I could and crossed the line giving all my energy.

Pulling over by the ambulance I was greeted by a friendly paramedic who offered me some very nice flapjack. Muching on that and grabbing a photo at the summit with Rich I turned to see if there was any more on offer. There wasn't and I wasn't keen on the banana alternative offered. Seeing my disappointment another lady from within the ambulance shouted out she had a Toffee Crisp - JACKPOT!

With that in my mouth we headed down the other side and how anyone can describe that as easy must be mad. I suddenly had flashbacks to blowing up attempting to climb it last time. Wow it was steep in sections.

On to the flat we had a quick stop to literally stretch our legs and then we were back on the main road and it felt like we were flying along. Dropping down hill, using each other's slipstream we were soon at the Flouch Inn. The next pit stop and a chance to thank the ambulance team for my Toffee Crisp! Wow they got there quick. They must have had one too.

On from there we were surely on the home straight. Soon we were off the main road, taking a right up a short climb instead of following it around to the left. Riding on from there we followed the road round to the right and down a great section of downhill. Down to a junction. With no arrows pointing the way. Ah!

This was not good, Rich consulted the route on his phone. A car stopped to give us directions "where are you heading to?" well we could tell him where we were heading but could he tell us the 65 Mile Roses route? We had no choice but to turn around and head back up the steep hill we'd just come down. These were extra miles and vertical feet we could do with out. As we pounded away at the pedals another cyclist whizzed pass us, no race number on the front but as I turned to watch him pass his number was on the rear of his seat. I called out to say it was the wrong way but I don't think he registered in time.

Arriving at the turning we didn't quite realise we'd missed it right at the start of the decent. Every inch of downhill had been retraced. We were now tired. Our pace had dropped as we felt the effects of the forty miles we'd already covered. We tried to take in the scenery and enjoy the setting. But when you're tired none of those things register, not even the nice weather. We just wanted to finish it now.

I took another energy gel, one last shot at getting some sort of pace going again. Whether it was that or the feeling of closing in on our goal but I started to get some energy back as we hit the outskirts of civilisation. We were no longer out in the sticks, we were riding in residential and industrial areas and it felt like we were either in Rotherham or close.

Stopping at two sets of traffic lights we were now a four, catching one rider in front, one catching us from behind. As a four we made our way through junctions, spotting arrows leading us back to base. We started to get a bit of a lick on, the old guy (not Rich!) complaining we were making him work to stay on. All in jest but it was a sign of how much the two of us had upped the tempo knowing we were not far away now.

Coming in to the home stretch we got a mini round of applause from the volunteers checking people back in which was much appreciated. "Are there many people still out there?" I asked breathlessly. "Not many" she said. "Oh" I said, a bit disappointed that our efforts hadn't left more behind.

Looking back it was a great experience, very tiring and, while a different kind of exertion, it was comparable to a half marathon. A great achievement and something I'd like to do again. As Rich commented, it put in to perspective our normal Team Pannier rides. Usually we do that kind of distance carrying our own clothes and supplies. Admittedly over a longer period of time but wow we've done some good rides.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

A Tale of Whoah!

First things first, thanks John for giving an outsider access to Team Pannier's sacred blog site. Second things second, sorry to all the other Team Pannier members for my intrusion, especially those of you who don't know me. Neil, John and Rich have all suggested to me at various times that I might like to tag along on one of your adventures, but I haven't yet summoned up the nerve.

Anyway, be that all as it may, I wanted to record a recent incident in a blog entry somewhere, and this seemed like a good place to do it ...

Friday 24th July 2016 will be remembered by me for two things, the first being the result of the Brexit referendum (which I won't go into here) and the other being a crash I had on my bike in the evening!

It was a lovely Friday evening, and my wife was due to go out to meet some work colleagues for a meal at 7:30. At work, several of us are taking part in the 'Global Corporate Challenge' in which teams of seven of us try to accumulate as many 'steps' as we can over a period of 100 days. Cycling miles are converted into an equivalent number of steps, and it seems that cycling is a great way of accumulating decent step counts. In this regard, I am a victim of my own success and had managed to earn an average of something like 21,000 steps per day. I felt a certain amount of pressure to maintain this average, both for my team, but also for my own satisfaction and pleasure. I've really been enjoying getting out on my bike and had just started commuting (12.5 miles one way) a couple of days a week. Anyway, I decided that I'd go out for a quick hour on my bike whereas I might otherwise have not bothered, with it being a Friday evening and with Colette going out.

I had done most of the ride, and was on the downhill return home (normally very enjoyable). This particular time, the whiz down from Owler Bar had been marred by hail stones which were surprisingly painful on my forearms whilst travelling at a speed of more than 30 miles per hour. Ironic that I was thinking that this would be the talking point of my ride.

One of my favourite parts of the return journey is the ride through Totley, and especially if the traffic lights are on green towards the bottom on Baslow Road. I love speeding through the lights, and trying to keep the speed up over the slight rise that comes as the road passes over the railway. I was doing exactly that on this occasion, and then approached a junction which I have long suspected as being potentially dangerous to cyclists.

Time for a picture:

You will notice the silver car on the left emerging from the junction. This is a particularly awkward junction for cars which join from the road seen on the left parallel with the A621 along which I was travelling. When cars get to the junction from this direction, they tend to be oriented such that they can't see back along the direction I was travelling from. There is also the potential for aggravation amongst motorists queueing to join from the slip road and those already on the side-street. For all these reasons, I am always wary at this junction.

On this particular occasion, there was a car already with its nose out blocking the cycle lane. That set alarm bells ringing right away. My initial though was that the car would pull out in front of me - I was still a way off from it, but no, it seemed that it was going to stay exactly where it was. I may have weighed up two options, but the first option didn't really get any serious consideration, and that was to slow down, ride up to the car and shrug my shoulders in an annoyed way at the driver, so the second option was to give a relatively wide berth to the car and ride around the front of it, hoping that I had been seen by the driver, and thinking that even if I hadn't I'd be able to get round it before it had made any progress.

I was approaching the car and making ready to wave my left arm at the driver in a gesture of frustration, but right then, a car which was sat in the central reservation area turned right, immediately in front of me. I had time to think 'What on earth!' (or thoughts to that effect), and then I struck the side of the car. I think I also thought that I was doomed.

Next thing I knew, I was on my hands and knees on the road, having not quite made it as far as the car which was still sitting in the cycle lane. The car which I had hit wasn't around at that moment, as the impact on its side had done nothing to halt its progress. The driver of the car in the cycle lane got out and asked if I was alright, and encouraged me not to try to get up. Try to get up was exactly what I did do though because I was quite keen to see if I could get up. Thankfully, I was able to get up and walk and move my arms. I looked at the driver, still wanting to question why he had seen fit to block the cycle lane, but the irrelevance of the question to my current plight stopped me, and I just looked at him with a fair degree of silent incredulity.

Before not too long at all, the driver of the car I'd struck, and his two mates, who I assume were passengers, approached too to make sure I was alright. He apologised several times and stated that he hadn't seen me at all (which I completely believe) and admitted it was his fault entirely. One of his mates seemed very concerned about the state of my elbow which was bleeding fairly profusely and offered the following pearl of wisdom "You want to get a couple of stitches in that mate".

I got my bike out of the main road and found my thumb to be painful and therefore suspected it was broken right away. Offers were made to call an ambulance. The driver of the car I hit offered to take my bike home (I don't know how he'd have fitted it in his car).

I insisted I was fine and would call Colette to come and get me and the bike, and take me to hospital. This led to a bizarre ten minutes where I was trying desperately to operate my phone without success. Hurdle number one, it was raining slightly, enough for the screen to be wet and for the fingerprint recognition not to work. I was keen to photograph the car I had hit, but couldn't activate the camera app because the screen was wet. I'd swipe to the top of the screen, but then go past it without having registered enough swipe and the app would ping back down to the bottom of the screen. I did then eventually manage to phone Colette on our land-line, but my Bluetooth earpiece was active and Colette couldn't actually hear a thing I said. She therefore knew I was trying to get in touch,  but didn't know why and where. I think she thought I was unconscious in a ditch somewhere. Eventually I did manage to turn the Bluetooth off and to make a proper phone call which did get through.

Once they knew that I had arranged for someone to pick me up, the various parties were happy to leave me and go on their way (as I had been asking them to do for some time). Of course, I got the registration and name and address of the driver who had cut me up. Unfortunately, I didn't get any details of the cycle-lane blocker. Oh yes, as the car which I struck set off, I noticed that the impact had broken the window of the rear passenger side door.

This might be a good place to add a link to the Strava record of my ride, for those that might be interested.

I suppose this is also a good place for a picture of the damage to my bike.

That's about it ... a twisted shifter, and a twisted handlebar, although looking at it now, I'm not sure how one twisted in one direction and the other twisted in the other.
So, on to the hospital visit.
We went pretty much straight to the hospital and arrived at about 8 (the crash occurred at 7). I walked towards the reception area at the Northern General A & E, and there was a man waiting in front of me in the queue. He looked at my elbow and stepped aside for me to go in front of him ... very decent of him. I explained the situation to the receptionist behind the thick glass screen via an intercom and was directed to the waiting area where a display informed us that due to unprecedented levels of injuries, our wait would be typically 1 hour and 40 minutes. 'Unprecedented' - not just 'unexpectedly high' but unprecedented! How unlucky!
Sure enough, we did have an epic wait and were finally assessed at something approaching 10 o'clock. I told the triage nurse about the whole thing, believing at the time that I'd struck the vehicle with my head. Because of the potential for a head injury, I think, I was placed on a trolley bed and wheeled off to a booth. After another wait, a young doctor came to see me, who was a cyclist himself. He decided that my thumb needed an X-ray, but my shoulder and ankle (which were also hurting) weren't broken. So - another wait, the I went round to X-ray - waited - was X-rayed - returned - waited. The doctor then returned with a colleague who had a look at the laceration on my elbow (I think they held the skin back and had a look through to the bone underneath) they then decided that I needed another X-ray on my elbow ... so a bit more waiting (less this time thankfully) and another X-ray. There was then a bit of wound cleaning, and we were shipped off to another area for assessment to create some space in A & E. By now, it was about midnight and the unit we were taken too was a cross between 'You're Back In The Room' or whatever the hypnotism show is called, and bedlam ...
There was a lady in there who was after a very specific form of medication which the nursing staff were unable to give her because they couldn't know for sure that she was supposed to be having it. There was also an old chap who gave out a load moan every now and then, and required a bottle to wee in every then and now. The lady seeking medication was very persistent, very intellectually challenged and very coarse. Every now and then, she'd drop the 'F' bomb, which would then trigger the bloke in the next bay to shout 'Language!'. She'd sometimes apologise, and sometimes hurl more foul and abusive language his way.
So we put up with this for probably an hour and were then told that I was to be admitted to the Huntsman ward for clinical assessment by the 'plastics consultant'. Apparently the injury to my thumb fell between two schools, the orthotics, and the plastics. I think the plastics people were also going to look at my elbow, so the whole lot fell to them in the end.
Colette finally went home about 2 am when it was made known that we may not be seen for some time, but shortly after that, I was indeed seen and told that I would be having an operation to put pins in my thumb and to clean out and stitch up the elbow wound at the same time.
I went for the operation at around midday on the Saturday. As the operation involved both local and general anaesthetics, I had no feeling or control of my right arm when I came round, and wasn't allowed to leave until I could move my fingers again, and feeling had returned. This happened around 11 pm and thankfully I was allowed to go home ... another round trip for Colette.
That's pretty much it ... sorry if it is a bit rambling - I just wanted to capture it all.
Oh yes - here's my injured hand:

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

C2C Day Three: Roll Into The Mist

The previous night had been a big a great time to relax and enjoy a beer and some salty food. On the drive out to get the Chinese I'd thought up a very naughty thought. As we were now off the C2C it would do no harm grabbing a lift back up the hill, back to the start of the hill. Only no one seemed to agree with me. So we were to head back up that endless wonderful downhill we'd done the day before, only this time it wouldn't be so wonderful.

Heading in to the hotel adjoining our accommodation we all stocked up on an all you can eat breakfast, including my Dad who didn't have any riding to do! Still as we sat in our Lycra under a massive chandelier we could see a lot of people in a worse state than us as the leftovers of the previous days wedding tried to eat their hangover cure.

We had an added luxury that morning in that we could shed some weight and not just by Andy heading to the toilet. With the Love Bus leaving us at the start and then meeting us at the end we could leave all non essentials behind and ride like the rest of the people on the route. The previous night we'd had fresh 'disco' clothes as Jon had called them, today we had fresh riding gear and nothing else needed.

Heading out of the hotel we were down the now small feeling descent and on to the climb. Tapping out a steady rhythm Spanners pulls level "I'm not letting you have this one". "Oh no, we're still doing this are we" I thought. "You can have it" I said, hoping to bluff him and he'd ride at a steady pace. Of course he didn't buy it, of course he didn't. How did I not realise he was going to take this seriously. Looking back he'd shed his panniers AND his pannier racks. Not only that but he'd announced it! Now he was accelerating away from me.

No Panniers For Spanners
Tired and not ready I thought I'd see how my legs felt. I pressed a bit harder and responded OK. Keeping him ahead of me I started to enjoy the climb. It was a beautiful day and the steep start of 15% had changed to a much more flattering 5%. The hill had duped me, I'd thought my legs were getting better, that I was improving as the climb went on. I started putting everything in to the climb, trying with all my might to pull him back. I was nowhere. He was disappearing around corners ahead of me and the gap wasn't dropping. In fact looking back afterwards on Strava's excellent Flyby feature (where you can see where you are on the road compared to them) I can see I matched him early on but at the end when I was putting it all in he was opening up the gap. The last hill was Spanner's, it had been great having a sparring partner and he'd really pushed me on, I'd enjoyed the last hill as much as the others, especially in the sunshine.

Sweaty and overdressed we all stripped to the waist, applied sun scream and we were off downhill. It was now free wheeling territory and not just because of a mechanical issue this time. It was a weird feeling, great to have an easier ride but it also meant we were getting closer to the end of the ride. We'd had such good weather and a great time in beautiful surroundings. We were off road for most of the ride in to Sunderland and able to chat our way back to the bus.

We took in the sights, The Stadium of Light came in to view and now we were beside the water we knew any uphill would have a downhill. Neither were particularly welcome on tired legs and the more it dragged out before getting to the end, the more we just wanted to see it end. Andy and Jon were certainly looking forward to a pint at the finish. If only we could find it.

Even when we got to the sea and the beach we couldn't find the official end. Having been slowed down by a lifeboat training exercise we'd travelled around the last couple of miles with my Dad on foot. With it out of the way we'd headed out in to the mist to the lighthouse. Photos taken there and on the beach, we were done. The end it turns out was an arty piece with a hole in the middle which was great for photos. So Andy and Jon got their pints and we got to eat our weight in saturated fat for one last time. Job done.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

C2C Day Two: The Wheels Come Off

It’s all in the name and we’re not called Team Pannier for nothing. Carrying our own gear may slow us down slightly but it also gives you a great sense of freedom and independence. This is never more the case than on the second day, travelling from one hotel to another with only the supplies you brought with you. It does also make you vulnerable, you have to make sure you take everything you’ll need but at the same time you have to keep the weight to an absolute minimum. Famously on our first ride Spanners brought such a large array of items you might guess he’d got his nickname from that. He brought a massive box of tools and bike parts amongst other important things such as his electric toothbrush and a pile of not-so-light reading material. Well over the years we’ve managed to get the amount we take down to a bare minimum which does result in the strange sight of Spanners going out for his evening meal in shorts and flip flops - no matter what the weather is.

Getting up that morning and heading out to The Rooster café we were just looking for weight to put in our stomachs to fuel the day ahead. After five plates of full English or sandwich variants of the sodium filled breakfast tradition, we were ready for the off. We had an exciting day ahead of us as we were about to travel across the North Pennines and all the beauty and hill climbing that that involves.
Out of Penrith we headed out straight up a hill in the sunshine, what a lovely day and what a good decision to take the correct route this time. Of course last time we took a massive detour (you can read about it on the original C2C posts) setting off from Penrith at lunch time. This time we got to experience a new section of route and Andy wouldn’t hear our “one time at band camp” comments for a while. Or so we thought, in a laughable amount of time we were at the pub we’d reached around 5 last time. The amount of detour we did really came to life and was in full view as we crossed the village green and gained half a day.

That was good because on everyone’s mind was Hartside, a hill that held many memories for us from the previous trip, Neil having a melt down, me and him pushing up the last sections (never too proud to push) and the café being closed at the top. From what I could remember at the start you couldn’t see the top or even the climb ahead and so you were always guessing where it started. This time we had a clearer idea and we knew what to expect.

As we felt we were near the start of the climb we had a quick pit stop to de-robe, take on supplies and have a final psyche up before hitting the pedals. As we crossed the road on to what we thought was the start of the climb we were hit with something we hadn’t planned for or expected – a head wind. It wasn’t a small one either, it made the lower levels a lot harder than expected and made any great effort futile. Dropping back to chat to Rich we rode side by side looking at it from a positive point of view “hopefully when we get closer to the hill we’ll be more protected” “as the climb zig zags at least we’ll get some tail wind”. With one last stop to gather together we then pushed on.
It soon became clear me and Rich were happy to battle the wind together and we chatted as we climbed up the winding road. Looking back down below us we could see clearly the bright jerseys and windcheaters of our cycling buddies. Yet despite our lower than normal tempo, every time we looked back the gap seemed to have grown. As the wind hadn’t died down I sat in behind Rich’s big frame and sheltered from the wind as we came on the main road section of the climb. The desired shelter from the hill had worked to some extent but we were still feeling a lot of wind resistance, then we turned a corner and we had the most wonderful feeling – a tail wind! Never had climbing up hill felt so easy, Hartside isn’t the steepest of climbs, it just drags on and on but now, for a short window it felt like a breeze to ascend.

Arriving at the (thankfully) open café we took on plenty of food, raiding as much supplies as possible without risking a shortage later. Being on the summit Rich and I were now fully open to the elements and quickly added as many layers as we could. Having eaten our snacks and got changed, the other three now arrived. Andy had some mechanical issues and had to stop a couple of times of the ascent to try to fix them. That explained the gap that had opened up and the wait at the top. Not questioning it any further we decided to head out of the wind and grab a hot cup of coffee. Eyeing up the tray bake we all snacked and drank, content knowing the big climb was done. Having bought our drinks through the outside hatch Rich and I headed inside for some quick warmth. Finding the last two seats in the café – it’s popular with both bicycle and motorbike riders – we shared a table with an oldish couple.

Having finished I left Rich at the table and stretching my legs, I stood enjoying the view from the window. Turning around I could see a tall attractive blonde woman asking Rich if my seat was free, looking her up and down Rich seemed quite keen for me to confirm I was indeed done. However he soon finished up as her biker male friend came over to join her.

We now had two nice steps to look forward to. Taking our team photo at the summit sign and then a long, long descent in to Garrigill. We remember the long down hill drag fondly from before as after what felt like hours of climbing we were finally ticking off the miles. However setting off this time we knew it was going to be different, Andy set off quickly and keeping up with him was a task. The headwind was making the descent a pedalling affair and not much fun. Soon however I was catching Andy up as was no longer pedalling and just taking the freewheel ride down. Passing him he shouted through the wind about struggling with traction. Spinning his legs I could see what he was on about, his legs were on but his cogs weren’t home. We all pulled over as the route took us off the main road and paused to look at the problem.

Neil, Jon and I thought about the problem and came up with two solutions:

Andy could walk for an hour or so to the nearest pub and my Dad could pick him up. He was at the football so it would be quite a few hours from now. Andy could at least watch the last day of the football league unfold.

- Andy could walk for an hour or so to the nearest pub and then order a taxi to take him to the nearest bike shop.

By the time our great minds had come up with this Spanners had taken the wheel off and had a screwdriver at the innards of Andy’s bike. Poking about at the rear cassette (the rear cog thing so I gather) we could only watch on in wonder and awe. We had no idea what he was doing and he would probably modestly say that neither did he but clearly he did. All of a sudden he had the wheel responding to the cassette again and we were very excited that he’d fixed it. However not happy with how it was then responding he took it apart again. This turned out not to be his smartest move as he then chased ball bearings across the tarmac that dropped out. Painstakingly putting them back in he put the cassette on again, only this time it didn’t work. Not knowing which way it tightened he tried one way with the screwdriver and then the other.

Next we needed oil. Who had oil? Anyone? We had enough sugar to sink a ship but nothing oil based. Or did we? Neil suggested sun cream. So Spanners is there putting one ball bearing after another back in to Andy’s bike, coated in sun cream as teams of riders road up past us. As it got on to an hour later we were finally cheering and hugging Rich as he got Andy’s bike going again. It might not have had his lower gears which may make going up steep hills but we could get going again. The only problem was that a brief look on our phones found that the nearest bike shop on route was just the other side of Garrigill, UP over the other side.

The hill out of Garigill was a hill I’d not forgotten and had in fact being psyching myself up for. I knew it was after Hartside and was the climb that had stopped us getting to the pub before it stopped serving food last time. There wasn’t a danger of us going without food at this point, it was still only early afternoon unless Andy’s bike gave in of course. Last time we’d come off the long, sweeping descent from Hartside and hit the wall that is the bottom of the climb and a wall mentally as we had to walk pretty much all of it.

As we came down towards the climb we all let Andy push on just in case anything went wrong. Andy and Jon hit it first with Neil and Rich just ahead of me. As I turned the corner in to the steep climb I could see Andy stopped ahead taking off layers. Spinning my legs quickly I closed the few yards to Neil and Rich and pushed on towards Andy at the side of the road. At first I thought we’d all be stopping with Andy but looking back everyone else seemed to be pushing on so I did the same. I opened up a gap on Rich and thought that would be it, I’d be away. However as the road continued to climb I turned and could see Rich slowly closing the gap. I pushed on, now the early exertion and steep ramp at the start we starting to tell. Again Rich closed and before we crossed the road (B6277) he was beside me. We crossed together and we were both at our limit, neither wanting to cede ground.

The previous year Rich had left me for dead on Holme Moss, asking me to come round him on a steep climb I had burnt myself out early on and never recovered. There weren’t those doubts in my mind this time, I was going to keep with him until the top. Dropping in behind him I let him lead and sat on his wheel, occasionally coming level with him as the gradient eased. Riding side by side I could see another sharp rise in the road ahead, I had to be ready to spin my legs through the climb to keep with him. As we hit the base of the incline I increased my cadence and pulled away from him, across another shallow rise to a steep section again. Once more I span my legs and I was away, the elastic had snapped and I could see the summit. Giving everything I had I finished flat out, cresting the hill breathless but happy in the sunshine.( You can view the climb and its gradients on a wonderful web site set up by a gentleman named Ben Lowe from Sheffield.)

Rich drawing up beside me only a short time later gave us time to hatch a plan, Rich would ride down to the bike shop in Nenthead and explain the issue with Andy’s bike and see if he could help. I’d wait for the others and then we’d meet him down there. It had never occurred to me that Andy’s bike could have failed again and luckily it hadn’t. I can’t imagine what that hill must have been like without the full range of gears but he certainly didn’t make as much of it as we had seven years ago. It was just a question now of whether he could make it down the steep descent to Nenthead, oh and whether a small bike shop in the middle of nowhere has the right parts for his bike.

Arriving at the bottom we were greeted by Spanners telling us the man in the bike shop could fix it. So we had no choice but to sit in the pub and have a bite to eat and a drink. This was a really pleasant experience, we could sit in the sun, eat a baguette and Andy could even enjoy a pint of Timothy Taylor’s Landlord while wearing his cycling jersey of the same brand.

The man at the bike shop was an absolute star, a real bike lover and an old school teacher. You could tell he just loved working with bikes, talking about bikes and being around other people who liked bikes. We chatted outside and inside his shop as he worked. Parts, boxes, magazines and postcards scattered around his small shop / workshop it was a fascinating place. He’d been cycling in Peru and his favourite place was New Zealand from what I remember.

He explained what was wrong with Andy’s bike and also what was right. Turns out Shimano something or others are better than the other type you can get. As he found another fault with the bike he then overheard us talking about Viz and brought out his own copy for us to read. He charged a very reasonable rate for parts and labour to say we were in the middle of nowhere and he could have  charged whatever he wanted. We were happy we were back on the road, Andy had new parts on his ten year old bike and the bike shop man moved on to the guy next to us to discuss his bike.

As the C2C is a popular route we often pass and are passed by the same people. Often riding in groups there are charity rides and friends like us out on a ride. We’d been passed by a group of guys all riding Genesis bikes at Hartside, they were all working their way through pint after pint at the pub. Another group of Scottish riders were riding in charity t-shirts and one guy warned us the hill we were now about to climb out of Nenthead was the worst of the lot. After getting him to repeat this a few times and deciphering his thick Scottish accent I worked out that it’s 1.5 miles of climbing. Surely not, how can that be?! Of course we’d finished here on day two last time and that first climb was straight after breakfast when we were at our strongest. I wasn’t prepared for this, I’d given my all on the climb out of Garrigill and now I had to do it again.

It was now 3pm and the mechanical issues had sapped quite a bit of time out of our day. We’d cycled 30 miles and still had another 30 to go. Admittedly apart from this climb we were pretty sure it was an easier second half left and we should make good time. Jon was always a good voice in these situations, often optimistic with timings and usually not that far out. The previous night he’d been out by an hour and a half but his optimism probably stopped it being two hours.

We now had full fat coke and white carbs inside us, it was time to press on. Jukebox led the way and he was off, Rich following him. Andy and I riding side by side as team Genesis passed us on their bikes, no panniers of course but pints to carry. They also didn’t have far to go for their evening meal, stopping in Allenheads just up the road that night.

Whether it was the energy from the pub or wanting to get to our accommodation in good time I don’t know but Neil pushed on, even on the descent he was ticking the miles off. We soon passed the place where we stopped for lunch last time, astounded that we’d stopped so soon after breakfast we’d obviously either found the climb harder last time or they’d let me listen to my stomach. As Neil set the tempo in the valley (any excuse from me to make it sound like we’re in the Tour de France) we reached a café where we stopped last time (did we do any riding?) and Neil was waiting for us.
That led us on to another climb, do they ever stop coming? This was actually my favourite climb of the weekend, I’d just finished yet another fun size Mars Bar and was in the mood for it. The road out of Allenheads (I struggle typing that, I hate where an extra ‘S’ is added where it shouldn’t be, it’s Tesco not Tescos, ASDA not ASDAs and yet it is Allenheads we’d agreed before we got there). Anyway, the road out of Allenheads is a beautiful climb, snaking through trees before bringing you out on to the tops above the trees. Amazingly it has its own ski / snowboarding centre so it must be pretty high. On the ride itself I had Jukebox and Spanners chasing me and I really pulled away from them opening up a sizeable gap, more proof that I’d trained well for the ride and was doing well. Or so I thought. Having seen video footage since the ride I now know that Rich was videoing as he rode and Neil looked like he was out for a casual jaunt, sat up vertical on his seat with one arm down by his side. Still it felt good.

Sheltering from the wind on the top, we worked out we just had one climb to do. An off road section that took us up to an old railway type station on the moors. As we dropped down in to Rookhope we knew that this was it. Signposted off the road we took a quick comfort break and set off uphill yet again. Only it wasn’t that easy, the surface was not suited to our thin tyres. We may have been riding hybrids and mountain bikes but everyone was on thinner tyres for the roads. Slipping everywhere we went from side to side trying to find a better line. Spanners led the way and I tried to follow. Faltering on the surface Jukebox passed me and Jon and Andy closed in. With no other choice and unable to continue Andy, Jon and I pushed our bikes. As the other two pedalled they kept the same pace as us on foot, the conditions not allowing them to pull away. 13% gradients and rocks don’t make easy riding.

As the gradient eased so did the surface and they started to pull away. Jumping back on (it was easier to ride than push) I set off after them. As with other climbs, the top never reveals itself until you get closer. Riding up Neil and I were struggling, I was trying to keep going as long as he did. Agreeing we only had to get to the pile of rocks we could see at the top. Thighs were now burning as we fought our bikes and the hill. Still a rocky surface it was the hardest I'd had to push and with the summit so close to our grasp we couldn't stop. With a consistent 12% gradient on an uneven surface there was no surprise we were on empty when we got to the top of the climb. Collapsing with an Aldi or Lidl version of a Snickers bar (swaps are great in these situations) I knew we were pretty much done for the day.

Heading down from that high point, we were on a rough, raised stone dirt path / road. Bone jangling and concentration sapping it was hard going. Jon, Rich and Andy made good headway and Neil and I steadily followed, struggling to maintain a fast pace that the descent should have served up. After a short while we crossed a road and we were now on a surface more akin to a goats trail than a cycle path. With our pedals catching every so many yards it was all we could do to stay on and keep progressing. Constantly choosing the best track and regretting it twenty yards further on. It started to get wetter and soon coming around a corner we were faced with a big puddle to get through (I'd make it sound more manly but it was just a puddle really). Going through half of us managed to end up with a wet foot or two. It didn't seem to matter. We knew it was downhill all the way to Consett now and soon we were on proper cycle paths. Riding all together the conversation turned to food and Chef and I discussed the prospect of a Chinese that night.

Not much later we were getting text messages saying my Dad was at the accommodation, it couldn't be far now. Getting this close to stopping always made the last miles hard, every turn you're longing for it to end, it wasn't challenging any more, just a drag to the end. We reached the point at which we needed to turn off the official route and what a treat we were in for. All down hill in to Allensford, a great long ride downhill hitting some great speeds, down, down, down. Wait a minute, what's this? Uphill? Steep uphill? Right in to the accommodation? That's not on! Still within minutes we were at the front door of our luxury accommodation, all booked at a bargain price - thank you AirBnB.

With the "love bus" and our chauffeur now with us we had the choice of any Chinese restaurant. We chose the one with the best reviews and headed out. However seeing the prices inside we ate our complimetary prawn crackers and got up to leave. You can take the boys out of Yorkshire... The hostess quickly called us back with a 30% discount for takeaways and we were happy! Two pints later and plenty of the best prawn crackers (ever) we had our takeaway. Wanting to grab some takeaway beers on the way back we stopped at a Tesco Express and ended up with discounted hot cross buns and cookies we didn't need - you can take the boys...

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

C2C Day One Again - Some Things Never Change

So you've met the Team Pannier Six before but now one of them has got a bit older, thinner on top, considerably taller and wears a 'tache. Or more accurately, John AKA Dancing Bear put career ahead of enjoyment and we were a man down. Quicker than you can say "grave", "jump" and "in", we offered up his prepaid accommodation to our chauffeur for the weekend, my Dad, Ced.

Off we set at a ridiculously early time. Well 8am. That would have been considerably early back in 2009 when we last did this ride, only this time we were doing it a little differently. Older and a little wiser we were hoping to not get lost and do it in two and a half days this time. This was compared to three and a half days last time and they were well packed days with twelve hours in the saddle on two of them!

So our early departure this time was not on the bike but was in the love bus, our mini bus hired with trepidation, hoping we could fit 7 people and 6 bikes in. As you now know, Dancing Bear's absence gave us extra room and the panic was over. Vanilla and Jukebox stripped out the seats and the bus and Team Pannier were a perfect match.

Trekking up north, we had no idea how we would fair this time. What we did know is that some things don't change and I was thinking about my stomach and planning food stops on the way up. What kind of pit stop strategy would we be engaging, a one, two or three stops?

I'd like to say, "soon we were in Whitehaven" but we weren't. We had many miles to cover and travelling the route in the opposite direction we'd be cycling didn't help either. Arriving at Penrith having still not cycled a mile and knowing we had to be back there that night was not ideal. Neil and Ced had been sharing the driving and as Ced did the last leg he gave us the option of getting out early at Penrith and saving ourselves some pain. We joyfully turned him down and headed to the start of the C2C.

Unloaded and no doubt breaking some traffic laws by parking in a pedestrian area, we were ready for the photoshoot. That was after we'd hunted for a toilet (they'd got rid of the public ones since we last were there) and spent a long time getting ready for departure. With our back wheels in the sea, 3-2-1 we were back on the trail to Sunderland. That's right, this time we were going to the original end of the C2C, no visit to Newcastle and Tynemouth this time. Yet some things never change, within minutes of leaving we were stopping for one thing and then another - including toilet breaks, having still not found a public toilet.

There's always something 'technical' that's not quite right at the start, a seat too high, a squeaky wheel, a faulty phalange etc. Well Andy (AKA Vanilla Stripe) had issues with his new pannier bags and pannier rack. He had been singing the praises of Aldi's gear on the way up but soon we were riding back towards Whitehaven looking for a missing bracket at two miles an hour. After not finding the needle in the haystack, Spanners came to the rescue with what is the cycling's equivalent of Blue Peter's sticking back plastic - a cable tie.

Looking at the start of the route it was a steady uphill for the first ten miles and yet with our enthusiasm and our services Greggs inside us we didn't even notice. By the time we hit High Lorton however we were ready for some refreshment and a village store sign pointed the way. Walking in to the most perfect village store in a wood log cabin style building we saw the idealistic rural village setup. Money on the counter left from the previous customer as clearly the shop owner was on the phone. We took some of the home-made cooked goods on the counter and did a runner! Not really, we left our money, motioned to the owner what we were doing and stepped outside. As we filled our boots on the most wonderful chocolate brownie / rocky road / tiffin we could even fill our bottles up at the signposted tap around the back. Not content on just one piece, Spanners nipped back in for a further two bricks of sugary explosion. It turns out the whole village were addicted to the stuff and it was made by the 'chef' at the school - clearly the shop keeper was off the phone when he went back in.

We knew from there it was on to Whinlatter Pass, the first climb of the ride so far and just one of the two that we'd heard about before we did the original ride back in '09. From somewhere we'd heard that it compared to Hartside as the hardest on the whole route, yet we'd found it fairly easy last time despite having had a drink at the time (I'd only had a pint, some of the others were riding on two pints and a whiskey chaser).

One thing that the two climbs did have in common was that they snook up on you, you started climbing before you knew you had reached the bottom. Little 'undulations' that added up and before you knew it you were out of breath and fearing the main event. Yet that's the thing, that's what makes these climbs hard. Steady and sapping. Looking at Strava I make it out to be 3 miles of climbing.

On the officially diverted route due to unstuiatable surface it started off sharp and steep, followed by some false flat and an endless, breathless, wait for the climb to start. As we finally headed off the main road on to the off road track we felt like we were properly hitting the climb. A rough track made up of stone that had clearly seen lots of HGVs rolling over it, it was fine for their big wheels, a bit trickier for ours. Spanners attacked the climb, spinning those big old legs of his, I (Little Horn) chased with Jukebox not far behind. Slowly I closed the gap and eventually edged ahead just before the steep climb flattened out. As we dropped the tricky surface certainly wasn't straight forward and Spanners bombed pass - clearly his bigger balls giving him more speed on the descent. That and his better bike handling.

As it lifted again I thought "I've brought him back once, I can do it again". How wrong I could be, I managed to start bringing him back but Spanners better bike handling again gave him an advantage as we hit shoe deep mud. How do I know it was shoe deep? Because I was pushing through it as Jukebox pulled up behind me. We all gathered at the end of that section with only Spanners having got through it without pushing. Andy had taken a hit, we're not really sure how big as he had what appeared like tractor marks on his back. He never did really explain what happened to him when he came off.

Andy's Tyre Marks Shown Clearly On His Back

It was very much a case of checking our brakes after that before a descent in front of us. We hadn't been through a car wash but we definitely needed to check those pads and discs before leaving the green light. This was even more evident as we went past the point where Spanners went over his handle bars last time. We may have been laughing about it but we all concentrated on the decent - an off road section which was more suitable to mountain bikes tyres than the slicks we were riding on.

It was now after 4pm and we still had half of the day's miles ahead of us. However, apart from an unknown detour towards the end we were pretty confident the hardest climbing was done. However we hadn't eaten anything substantial since the services on the way up and entering Keswick we knew just where to call.

Ever since we'd started the ride we'd been saying "last time we did this", "last time we did that", it had started to become "this one time at bandcamp" and poor Andy was probably tired of it. He'd been polite, listened to our stories and nodding despite having heard them before. However I think he liked our knowledge as we led him to a pub with a decent  pub garden, real ale on tap and FOOD! We had a small bar snack ("Mega Lasagne"/chicken burger/chips) and a drink. This time we knew this pub wasn't our last stop and we certainly weren't round the corner from our bed for the night. We'd save ourselves for our curry later.

Coming out of Keswick there was a little kick up to a stone circle, something I'd got used to seeing in the south-west but didn't realise how many there were in the north. Always glad to have an excuse to stop at the top of a kicker we had a mini photoshoot by the stones before pushing on.

And push on we did, the next fifteen miles were pretty tough. As we got closer to Penrith we needed to deviate for a couple of reasons. Firstly there was a bridge out of action and a diversion would be in place any way. Secondly our accommodation was based the other end of town from the cycle route so in theory it made more sense to take a direct route to the hotel.

After a period of off road paths and fields (often shared with ewes protecting their lambs) we started to zig zag around roads to keep off the main road. They were sapping to the legs but they were doing a lot more damage to our minds as time after time we turned away from the direct route and hit another hill. Jukebox kept us going with a rendition of Lump by The Presidents of the United States, think it was something to do with a "boggy marsh". Chef and I chatted at the back as we hit another gradual climb, a conversation of what would we have at the curry house later keeping us entertained for another mile or two. I was now very jealous of his mega lasagne and wish I'd gone for more than just the chips in Keswick.

Neil (Jukebox) had warned me that we needed to travel down to Pooley Bridge first before we could head on to Penrith. This, I gathered was a bad thing and something Neil was not keen to do. Not that there was an alternative but a mental block I think. It was now getting harder by the minute as our energy reserves were running down and time was ticking on.

Back home it was the kid's bed time and I was keen to call home before it was too late. Spotting my opportunity I pushed ahead on a climb to buy myself time. Panting and sweating at the top of what turned out to be the last, tough hill I grabbed my phone quickly. *no service*. Thankfully my phone came to its senses as I dialled. It didn't matter though, all I got was an answer phone. So leaving what can only have sounded like a heavy breathing pest message I jumped alongside everyone else to try to bash out the last however many miles.

The problem with going off route means you can no longer rely on Sustrans to have planned the route to not be too undulating. It also means you don't know exactly how many miles are still to go and have to keep stopping to check Strava to make sure we're on route. This, the lateness in the day, and breathing difficulties had worn Neil down completely. Whether he was just trying to give Vanilla his own bandcamp moment but Neil flashed-back to our first ride and proclaimed he couldn't make the last 7 miles.

As always we're a team, Team Pannier leaves no man behind and we all struggle at some point. The back seat is taken up by all of us at some point and no one bitches about waiting as we know around the next corner it might be us. So again we pulled together, Andy with his medical training gave Neil some steroids (AKA he let him use his inhaler). And that seemed to do it, Neil was soon off the front guiding us to the meca that was Travelodge.

This was not the time then to get my call returned from home, riding up a slight rise in the road I answered on speaker phone. I probably sounded the same as my answer-phone message and we decided to end the call. How my wife believes that I'm away at a cycling weekend and not some deep breathing weirdo thing I'll never know.

As we questioned Rich and Strava's ability to get us to our bed for the night he came back with some sort of phrase that suggested we could spit on it, or something, from where we were. Sure enough by the time we'd got around the corner Jukebox was stood outside Travelodge. At half past eight we'd finally made it to Penrith, the same place we'd passed through all those hours previously.

The inside of a Travelodge never feels like a new experience and when we've got inside the room the only difference is where we plug in our devices. A quickish turnaround saw us in a taxi driven by a very well dressed and polite local. Agreeing with our choice of Indian restaurant he dropped us at the door. An hour and a half later and he was picking five full and tired men up and taking them back from they came. Pointing out where to go for breakfast he earned his tip and we'd earned our sleep.