Yesterday, I returned from a 25 mile ‘bash’ on the bike so wet, so completely soaked to the skin, that I left a pool of water on the garage floor. It then took me all of 15 minutes to pare off the several layers, wringing each one out as I created a sodden mound on the kitchen floor. The saving grace of the whole experience was that I had strangely enjoyed the ride (despite the rain), and that by virtue of all the layers, I hadn’t actually got cold. However, because of a serious accident several years ago, when I came off the bike on black ice and broke my femur, I now carry a tightly rolled ‘space blanket’ in my back pocket in case of emergency. Avoiding hypothermia in the cold winter months is a key element of survival in the event of an accident, especially on a remote country lane.
Today, however, was a different story. Bright and occasionally sunny, I headed down into north Bedfordshire to meet up with the Wednesday group at a hitherto unknown country café between Gamlingay and Potton. The Christmas menu just happened to be out on the tables. As we chomped on our cakes and bacon ‘butties’, one of the group had a ‘bright’ idea……why don’t we go for a full 2/3 course lunch on one of our pre-Christmas rides?
Groan……I considered the prospect with mixed feelings. Nice to have a Christmas lunch, but what about the 25 mile ride home afterwards? Rarely do I eat a meal mid-ride…..
Club cyclists can pick up the scent of a café from several miles. And some of them (cafés, that is) are in the most unlikely of places. I rode out this morning, under a bright blue sky, to meet up with the mid-week group at a little café on a small local airfield, just south of Peterborough. Conington airfield is used largely by flying clubs, and is a centre for training. About 20 years ago, I remember having a flying lesson from this very airfield, the product of a Christmas present from Jenny, and the flight route I chose took us over to Kimbolton, where we circled the Castle a couple of times, taking photos, before zooming back to base before my stipulated hour was up.
This time, it was eating ‘bacon butties’ and watching a student helicopter pilot go through his paces. And don’t be fooled by the map. I didn’t actually venture onto the A1. For those who know, the old Great North Road runs parallel to the A1, and is much quieter.
Another cracking ride. After so much recent rain, mixed with liberal dashes of sunshine, the English countryside is looking its best. Farmers must be happy………?
It was good to re-connect with the Sunday Club run, though not to ride in the mix just yet. But all in good time……..
And a new member, who seems to have joined in my absence (or maybe we’ve never been out on the same run before) introduced himself as being a former student of mine (and I did remember him!). He told his ‘old’ Spanish teacher that he has continued with his Spanish, listening to podcasts in the car as he drives around the country. As the smile on my face broadens, he also tells me that he’s off with a couple of old classmates to follow the Tour de France through Switzerland……on their bikes, of course.
Learning Spanish and riding bikes…….could it get any better than that?
Ever heard “It never rains but it pours”?
Well, if there’s a 50/50 chance it is going to rain, 9 times out of 10 it will…….
A dozen cyclists turned up at the coffee stop in Cambourne, all of them believing that it would be a rain-free morning, some not even carrying a rain-top (how daring is that?), and we sat outside under the veranda, wrapped up in supplied blankets, soaked to the skin, sipping our coffees and nibbling at toasted teacakes.
Enough to send a shiver up the spine……
Cambourne is one of those new breed of town, built in the last 10 years, to accommodate the expanding population in these parts. I’ve watched it grow from a cluster of houses, to getting its own supermarket and schools, and now it’s rapidly heading towards 10,000 in population. Of course, a town of that size is going to have cafés, and one in particular has become a favourite with our mid-week group, called Green’s.
With many people now on holiday in the run-up to Christmas, the place was overflowing with customers, so this bunch of cycling reprobates had to sit outside…..albeit in the bright sunshine. How we suffer……
Our mid-week group, which likes to call itself ‘The Slugs’ (possibly some reference to the average age?) was boosted by a younger contingent yesterday because of the holiday, with a resulting boost in the average speed (damn it!). We must remember to ban these ‘juniors’ in future…… 🙂
Some of you may enjoy studying the route maps of the rides on my recent trip to Cumbria and the Yorkshire Dales. They make fascinating reading. The relief contours tell you a lot about the terrain. We don’t have any high mountains in this country, but we have hills and gradients that compete with anywhere on the continent.
Continental road engineers mastered the art of levelling out the climbs, by creating the switchback. British road engineers, on the other hand, looked for the shortest route over a hill and built the road accordingly……ie. straight over the top. Hence, we have roads of 20%, 25% and, yes, even 30%. Thank goodness this one over Wrynose and Hardknott Passes was off our route!
We cyclists like to boast and brag about the murderous climbs we’ve conquered, and complain bitterly about the climbs that have conquered us. But we never give in……..
Returning from Cumbria on a psychological (ie. mental) high, with nearly 500 miles covered and 30,000 feet climbed in a week, the body protested vociferously and rapidly succumbed to a chest infection…….what many women mistakenly(?) refer to as ‘man-flu’. Oh dear…..we men are grossly misunderstood……..sometimes.
It took me the best part of a week to shake it off and, when I woke this morning, I said to myself: “This is the day to try those legs, to see if they still function”. So I climbed on my road bike and headed off to a village hall in deepest Northamptonshire, where the local community puts on a simple lunch, and met up with a small bunch of other cycling cronies.
Not only did the legs still work, but they worked surprisingly well, and the chest didn’t heave too much with unpredictable coughing. The pace was a relatively lively 24.2 kph (15 mph), with a north-westerly headwind going out, and plenty of assistance on the homeward.
Moral: if you’re worried about losing fitness through inactivity, a week off the bike doesn’t make such a huge difference. It won’t help you to win races, or improve your PB in time trials, but you’ll still be able to breeze along with the best of them.
Today’s climb over the Pennines would bring my total climbing for the week to 30,000 feet….more than the height of Everest….if ever you could climb Everest on a bike. But would I have the legs to haul myself once more over the backbone of England, to catch my train from Darlington?
In the event, I had little to worry about. The 1400 foot climb from Brough was gradual, perfect for consistent cadence and, the cream on the coffee, I had the wind at my back! So the descent into Bowes was very fast, especially on the 5 mile section of closed road, where I had no trucks to contend with, and had the whole carriageway to myself.
Now, to prove the perverse mentality of some cyclists, I was asked why I hadn’t caught a train to Penrith (instead of to Darlington). The latter, after all, is 70 miles away, and on the other side of the Pennines….lost for a meaningful answer, I simply said that I had thought Penrith station might have been axed under the Beeching cuts of the 1960s…….
It was a superb day to cross the country, with stunning views from the tops of the hills, this remarkable ‘kodak moment’ with the ancient castle at Barnard Castle, an encounter with the earthworks of a Bragantian fortification, said to be the base for Catherine of Bragantia,
and the fascinating story behind this toll suspension bridge built in 1830 over the Tees.
A perfect conclusion to a week and 475 miles of cycling…..in what might be argued to be the most beautiful corner of the British Isles.
The pounding of hills and the ‘storming’ of passes draw heavily on the physical energy bank. After five successive days of serious climbing, bagging over 23,000 feet of climbing, a shorter, more gentle ride was called for…..so I headed off NE following the upper flanks of the Eden Valley, and discovered that these parts will be ‘en fete’ when the Tour of Britain comes through Cumbria in September
….and as I turned off the route to check out an ancient druid stone circle (Long Meg and her daughters), I met up with a group of Hertfordshire riders who were following the same route
41 miles of gentle climbing and fast descending, with views of the northern Dales on my right, made a perfect antidote to the severe stuff of previous days.
So tomorrow is pack-up and move-on time, and make my way back over the Pennines to Darlington for my train back home. And despite what the weather is doing in the south, we are promised sunshine all day……in this the wettest region of England…..can you believe it?
After 6000 feet of climbing yesterday, and with the promise of heavy rain from 1pm today, I decided a swift morning ride down to the Solway Firth, with a lot of flat riding, would be the order of the day.
So along with two new riding companions, Tony and Deryk from Cheltenham, we zoomed down to the coast, to the western end of Hadrian’s Wall
where variously, walkers and cyclists, were heading off to follow the length of the Wall….to Wallsend, of course, but probably not the 1050 miles to Rome.
Serendipitously, we had chosen the route that turned out to be rain-free…..when we got back to base (after 70 miles and 3500 feet of climbing) we heard the horror stories of rides elsewhere. Such is the weather round these parts.
But as I pen these words, the campsite outside is under a deluge, and I fear the worse for my little lightweight tent…..and my prospects for the night. Watch this space for the next episode…..
….which took us into the heart of the Lake District, along the length of Thirlmere
up the 25% climb of Red Bank outside Grasmere
winding our way over Little Langdale
another 25% monster, and the ‘dessert’ was the iconic haul up the Struggle
which deposited us outside the Kirkstone Pass Inn, shrouded in mist, and the beginning of the scarily fast descent to Patterdale.
The mileage today, some 70 miles, is largely immaterial compared to the 6000 feet of climbing. And my Garmin tells me I expended over 4000 calories in the process……some serious eating now needs to be done!
A 2 hour train ride dropped me and the bike in Darlington, with the prospect of a 70 mile crossing of the Pennines, the range of hills running the length of northern England, linking north with south, but separating east from west. It was a homecoming to the county of my birth…..and as I had always suspected, there was blue blood running through my veins…..
…..land of the prince bishops.
Barnard Castle is a jewel in the crown, with its stunning Bowes Museum, a huge attraction both because of its location, as well as its content
Then as I laboured along the unavoidable A66, the long-awaited summit was announced by the border crossing into Cumbria
…..running close to the highest pub in England, at Tan Hill, and no mistake about what the terrain holds in store….
…..but to my relief, the next ten miles were a glorious descent into Brough. I had caught good weather crossing the backbone of England….in bad weather, it can be a bitter experience.
But then I have to re-cross it in a few days time to catch my homeward train……..
……or be beaten by the weather?
The accuracy of weather forecasting these days can create dilemmas. In the days when forecasting was more of an art than a science, we cyclists relied heavily on the potential inaccuracies of forecasts, and took our chances anyway. Today, however, its a different scenario. Three weather apps were telling me this morning that rain would set in shortly after 10am. Dilemma: do I go out with the club (and get seriously wet) or head out for a pre-breakfast solo ride, cover the same distance and stay dry?
I’m not usually a fair-weather cyclist, but today I fancied my chances of staying dry, then settling comfortably to watch La Course, the ladies’ elite race around the closed circuit of Paris, followed by the final stage of the Tour de France, where we might witness Froome’s overall victory followed by Cav’s winning sprint finish on the Champs Elysée. It’s hard to believe that three years ago we had never had a British winner of the Tour, and now, in the last four successive Tours, we have already clocked up three wins, had our first dual winner, and boast a sprinter who may (one day) overhaul Eddie Merckx’s record 34 stage wins.
So I gave myself just three hours to get an 80 km/50 mile ride in before the rain, and I had timed it (almost) to perfection. I felt the first spots five miles from home, and caught the first shower with just 2 miles to go. With well-disguised delight, I pitied the dozens of sportive riders whom I passed en route. They were going to have a seriously wet ride, and most looked ill-prepared both for the cycling and the weather.
In the tradition of elite riders in Grands Tours, I stayed in the saddle for three hours and snacked on an energy bar from a back pocket. In imitation of the elite riders? No. For the much more prosaic reason of beating the rain……..
I told some ‘roadie friends’ (all of them retired and of a certain age) that I was going to the York Cycle Rally and, despite its 70 year history, none of them had heard of it. I was amazed. When I explained a little of its history and the kind of cycling it catered for, one of them said “Oh, you mean old school cycling?” ……in other words, a polite way of referring to the predominance of white beards and hairy legs!
All of which, of course, got me thinking. This event had been founded in 1945, just after the war, by a group of cycling enthusiasts, and its only objective was to bring like-minded people together to enjoy, what was then, a burgeoning sport, especially amongst the working classes. Over the years, the numbers swelled, it was relocated on The Knavesmire, (York Racecourse), traders saw an opportunity and exhibition marquees were erected; grass track racing was introduced; and the programme expanded to include Audax rides, social rides, veteran bicycle parades, pub runs, and something that came to be named ‘bicycle belles’…….no need to guess what that was all about.
But sadly, in 2013, because of waning interest amongst traders and the changing buying habits of the cycling public, the event had to be cancelled, only to be given its re-birth two years later by a group of enthusiasts who had decided that the future of the event was not going to be so money-dependent, nor would it lean heavily on the support of traders buying exhibition space in marquees. So, after a two year ‘interregnum’, the York Cycle Rally was reinvented and restored, once again occupying its traditional mid-summer weekend in the calendar and, though they didn’t come in their thousands to fill the racecourse with tents and campervans, they did come in their hundreds. And there was something for everyone……..and there were bicycles of all descriptions. If something had a set of wheels and it was human-powered, you would likely find an example of it somewhere on the Knavesmire.
My two day weekend became a six day venture, when I decided to cycle there and back. It was quite an undertaking, adding nearly 500 miles to my annual calculations.
Stay tuned because I will share some of the routes in the next couple of posts.
….be ever at your back!
Fat chance that will happen on a circular route……I headed off to join the club at Wimpole Hall, a noted stately home in Cambridgeshire administered by the National Trust. It has a fine, spacious café that can accommodate a lot of cyclists descending at the same time.
After half an hour of banter and refreshment, I set off with the B group (the second quickest of the three groups) and we headed up the steep hill out of Wimpole and into the 25mph wind. The pace was a bit grim, set by one of the strongest members of the group, and we lost a couple off the back. Another guy was complaining, but managed to keep with the pace…….and a young lad in his teens, with the physique of a climber (ie. zero BMI), climbed the hills as if they weren’t there. He led the way, dragging the rest of us to the top.
But there came a moment when I had to peel off to make my own way due west, to get back to my village. And guess which way the wind was blowing? You’ve got…….right into my face. It was cruel…..
But having said all that, you have to remember, a grumbling cyclist is usually a happy cyclist……. 🙂
As I headed off to join the Thursday group this very chilly morning, Jenny asked me if I was going to stay out and have lunch with them.
“I’m still undecided” I said. When she asked me why, I replied “Well, to tell you the truth, I’m undecided………about being undecided”. Hmm……….interesting.
I explain this away by suggesting that the Irish ethnicity in me simply wants to be sure, to be sure…….. 🙂So, did I stay for lunch? To be sure……I didn’t! A soup lunch back at home with my wife was too strong a draw……..(do I hear the sound of violins?)
A recovery ride?
So, your curiosity has got the better of you? Did this man get back to base yesterday without succumbing to the “efectos laxativos” of the dreaded bar of chocolate? Well, sorry to spoil a good story with the truth….if there were any negative effects, they were felt this morning. I struggled to get out of bed and had little appetite for breakfast. I did a typical retired man’s thing by walking to the kiosk to buy a newspaper, and then spending the next hour reading it. I thought to myself: I should be spending more time like this, in cafés, reading the national press….doing what ‘normal’ people do.
But the road beckoned once again by mid-day. As I headed north, directly into the wind (again), I passed several hand-cyclists, and for a fleeting moment, I envied their low-slung, streamlined posture. Just the trick when the wind is blowing at 25 mph in your face….…..but my envy was short-lived, to be replaced by my total admiration at what they were achieving. And these weren’t just leisure cyclists. They were in serious training for something, and they were moving…..
Approaching Órzola, the furthest point of my ride, there were uncharacteristic dunes of white sand sweeping down to the sea, and I noticed several amateur naturalists, with their expensive cameras, at close quarters with a flower that was growing out of the sand. My curiosity got the better of me. I stopped and asked one of them, a German, what he thought it was. He told me he thought it was a ‘cistanche’, and it was the first time he’d ever seen one. The equivalent of a ‘lifer’ in the birdwatching world?
In Órzola, sitting on a café terrace overlooking the sea, I chatted to the barman in Spanish, and he eventually said to me: “How long have you been living in Lanzarote?” “Oh”, I said “about 4 days”. He looked at me in surprise and said he had thought I was the rich English businessman who lived in Costa Teguise. “You look just like him” he said. I resolve, then, to seek him out in Costa Teguise and give him a surprise. Wonder if he’ll accuse me of impersonating him…..
Turning back towards base, I decided to take an inland route…..which means only one thing on Lanzarote……mountains.
I was all set for a 50 mile club run this morning, but as receding sleep gave way to a gradual awakening, stirred by the familiar tones of the weather forecast on the radio, the words “last night was the coldest night of the year” had me quickly reassessing my options.
Downstairs, I found the kitchen weather station and confirmed that it was still below freezing, following some heavy rain in the last 24 hours. Not good news. I noticed a psychological twinge in my right leg, reminding of the broken femur I incurred on black ice some 6 years ago. That was bad news indeed……. it was almost 6 months before I could climb back on the bike.
So discretion was the better part of valour. (I discovered later in the day that the club had cancelled the planned ride, anyway). So while the icy conditions persisted, it provided a perfect opportunity for a brisk walk with Jenny, ending with a great coffee down in the village centre, and meeting up unexpectedly with 7 former pupils who, variously, had come from wherever they now live across the globe to spend Christmas with their families. A serendipitous change of plans? I would say so…..
But the afternoon, with its persistent sunshine, brought an opportunity to head out for a couple of hours, keeping to a route that was well clear of ice and, as the sun dipped below the horizon and the temperatures began to plummet once again, I noticed my profile lengthen from its usual 6 feet to something over 20 feet……. and, of course, we live in an age when we all self-indulgently grace the web with our ‘selfies’.
If a poet, or indeed any wordsmith, could adequately put into words the almost indefinable pleasure of riding two wheels, we wouldn’t need the images. Where words are inadequate, little video-clips like this give an inkling of the sheer poetry in motion of a group of cyclists who simply enjoy ‘making momentum together’.
Click on this and experience a little of a year in the life of Cottingham Road Club……