Jul 232014
 

Part 1 can be found here, part 2 here, part 3 here.

Now that's what I call a bivi.

Now that’s what I call a bivi.

Day 4: I wake up as the sun brushes my face for the final part of my ride. I’ve slept like a log shaped Greg on a bed of the softest grass. The views are spectacular as the sun creeps into the valleys below me. Flowing light fills the steep sides of yesterdays final descent and runs into the sea some miles away. I’ve one high point for the day and it’s all down hill to the finish.

I spend some time just sitting, watching the animal world wake up. Sheep pop their head over my bivi ledge and stare not understanding how, let alone why, there is a large orange slug lying on the ground. Some Babybel and Penguin bars to start the morning before a luxurious 8am roll-out across dry firm trails.

Zoom

Today was to be a shorter day, but no easier than the others. No sooner had I finished the first descent of the day than I was back up again. Exposed to the warmth of the day, getting brutalised by the lack of wind. Following now the esoteric Sarn Helen trail which changed from road, to dirt, to nothing at a whim before opening up into MX shredding pools of fetid black water locked between dry stone walls.

Push, pull, drag the bike through it all. Just get passed it to the dry land ahead. Repeat. The day felt like it was getting worse, only to offer the slightest hint of perfection in a piece of fast flowing trail, or technical rocky rooty descents.

Somewhere...

Roman roads are...

Straight Roman roads cut through the terrain stopping for nothing. If there was a hill, it went over it, a forest, through it, a swamp, in it. Every now and again it would detour for unavoidable things like rock outcrops. Where it had no option it just dropped into perfect gullies full of rocks and mud. Wonderful on a light MTB, brutally difficult on a fully laden bike. Still, you’ve got to try...not always roads

The gullies lead to the final section into Neath. The local MX club use this trail extensively and it shows. If it wasn’t for its rock base, the weather and the gradient of the trail this would be a mudfest. In the dry it was astounding. On the limit of what I could ride, but had me thinking about pushing back up to go again. Probably some of the most fun riding of the trip. Over far to fast.

A trip into Neath to raid the local shop for breakfast after 4 hours with no food. Sitting down outside the charity shop cooling off in the shade and downing liter after liter of fluid and food in an attempt to stop the dizzyness. A second trip to the charity store bought some shorts and a T-shirt to wear for the train ride home. £4 gets you nice clothes these days.

 The final road ride to Swansea and the end was dull and boring. Along the canal I was brutally reminded that I was back in civilisation with locals wanting to stop me to ‘have a go’ of my bike. I roll on feigning a lack of English. In Swansea I push across the soft sand of the beach to the start of the pier. It feels only right to finish amid the sea of the south coast after starting in the sea on the north coast.

Finished

It’s done.  Just under 72 hours total time from start to finish to cover the 383km from sea to sea. Not the fastest, not the slowest, nevertheless a nice few days out. It was time for a quick wash in the sea, then back on the train to Manchester.Wash

Day four: 4hours 06mins ride time; 52km; 569m of climbing; 6hrs 15mins on the trail

Jul 222014
 

Part 1 can be found here, part 2 here.

Morning Sunshine

MMMMABBBAAAAAA – this is your 6:30am alarm sheep. Get out of bed you lazy shit. Fluffy is relentless, she wants me gone, I’ve had my time and it’s time to move. 8 hours of peaceful sleep was more than enough and I thank my host for it. Time to move on and give you back your home deary. Maybe we can meet again?

I take my time packing up, the weather is perfect and the view stunning. Sitting on the rocks letting my body warm up before another day of perfect weather and hopefully passable trails. I push for a bit to finish the Monks Trudge (Trod) before moving across to gain a ridgeline that totters between ride and push. It reminds me of a cross race, hop on-off- hop on..off. This continues for 30mins or so before I get enough gradient to ride through everything. Then down, down into the Elan Valley headwaters perfect sinuous brown trail the only real obstacles are my brain and the sheep laying on the trail basking in the sunlight. I take to herding them along in front of me, knowing they will provide a soft landing strip should I need it.

Unimpressive stone

I pass out of the valley and onto the road again, climbing up a steep incline to find early morning drivers confused by my presence on the correct side of the road. Maybe they drive on the wrong side of the road in Mid-wales? The standing stone above Rhyader proves a bit of a disappointment, but the trail into the town that runs parallel to the road – utter bliss. Fast rock slabs and baby head boulders together, this is what I remember of from the Trans Wales. Except without the rain, or dysentery.

 get into Rhyader for 11am and go straight to the hotel for breakfast. A full fry, two coffees and a coke for less than £7. I pop into the bike shop to replace my brake pads and get run of the tools, all for the price of a chat. By the time I’ve raided the shop its 12:30 before I’m leaving, just as the temperature is starting to turn up. If I thought it was warm yesterday, today was going to be a sufferfest.

Water, cool water.

This was the last real stream I saw of the day. Wading out to cool down feet and tired legs i refilled bottles and wandered along roads in ever increasing temperatures. The  wind had dropped off and was never going to rear its head again. So along came the horsefly’s, and they were hungry for blood. Every climb, every time I stopped to open a gate –they came to feast. Nothing would stop them, the smell of a sweating human was too much to resist and they feasted unbidden by my shouts or flailing arms.

This is the face of self hate

This is the face of self hate

I pushed on the climbs until I could no longer. Falling over myself to get away from them. In my hair, my beard, my clothes, everywhere. Eventually I crested a hill and found some wind that gave the briefest of respites. I was at the lowest point of the trip – hating every minute of my existence and wanting to just cease to be. The next few hours passed as such:

Ride as fast as possible on the road trails – push up shouting and flailing arms – scratch self – shout and flail – descend at warp speed.

I didn’t remember to drink much during this stage, or eat much, just keep moving. By the time I reached Builth Wells I was cooked. I’d stopped at a small post office in Newbridge on Wye to try get some anti-histamines and water. They just looked at me and said sorry, just water here. The itching continues until B.W where the lady in the chemists warns me they may make me drowsy. I opt not to tell her where I’d come from in the past 48hours.

RIDE!

I crash out in Builth for an hour beneath a tree with some shade drying out my sleeping bag. It would be so easy to stop, but I know the temperature will start to drop. But the horseflies will be with me until at least 7pm. Another three hours at least. I eat more anti-histamines, and man up.

I don’t remember a huge amount bar roads, lots of road and lots of grassy climbs. It was probably beautiful; the pictures I took make it look so anyway. But I don’t remember much except the buzzing, always biting me, hateful little things. By the time I rolled into Brecon nearly 5 hours had passed and I was starting to come around again. The weather had turned in my favour and the wind had picked up and the temp dropped by 10 degrees or so. We’re back on track I thought through mouthfuls of every food type imaginable from the Co-op.

The bemused teller at the till sold me more and more fluids until I could carry no more. This was to be my last fuel stop until Neath some 100km away, so I needed to be smart. I also had a load of change that was better off being calories rather than coins. I swing past the local dodgy chip shop and sit on a bench eating chips, chicken legs and a recovery drink. An odd combination and one that only just stays down. The heat of the day has made any food difficult to consume – but it needs to go in.

A blur

Rolling out of Brecon I feel a little worried for the first time. I’m not feeling great and I know I have a lot of climbing before I get to sleep again, I start to break it down, lamp-post by lamp-post. Kilometer by Kilometer. Small bits to step it all together. . By 10pm I’m climbing up a  long valley and the temperature has dropped, the flies have gone to bed and I’m starting to come round again. The past 8 hours have been hell, but still my body wants to go on.

I realise I’m actually on the Sarn Helen trail itself now and the speed starts to increase again, I’m feeling fast – I know I need to use this to get some more distance in. The climbs come easy, the descents even easier. I switch the lights on around 11.30 as the clear skies and full moon give all the light I need over the non technical sections.  45 minutes later and I’m riding up a perfect piece of grass when I see a white limestone face ahead of me. Within a few seconds I’m decided, this is my bivi. I spend 10mins climbing over the tiers of limestone, spoilt for choice of a perfect bivi – I settle on a 3rd floor apartment with perfect views off the veranda. I’m asleep within minutes.

Day three: 8hours 58mins ride time; 112km; 2,104m of climbing; 14hrs 30mins on the trail.

 

Jul 182014
 

Part 1 can be found here.

Morning View

Day 2: What is it about waking in a bivi bag on the side of a hill at 5am and 3.5hrs sleep is it that makes it worthwhile? I toss in my bag for another 30mins before I have to get up to join the sheep in my morning ablutions. Jacket off, jersey on, cram some cheese into my mouth, some granola bars in my pockets. Helmet, shoes, gloves on, hit the button on my GPS. 30mins from awake to rolling, a slow start to the day.

A quick up and over a shoulder before dropping down fast loose gravel into a valley trail on towards the sea and the bridge crossing at Barmouth. The fast trails fly by as I deplete my food and water supplies. I start to wonder if I’ve taken enough when a river comes by, I fill up and move on wondering if my watch is off. It can’t be this warm at 8am. Can it?Brutal PushUp and over fast bridleway trails, down grassy hills, and up the inevitable climb the other side. The general store in Llanygryn gives me an early morning laugh as I inadvertently insult its octogenarian owners poor sight, but I turn on her fridge and all is forgiven. Apparently, I’m lucky to be tall. I run out of water about 10km outside of Machynlleth but shrug it off as I know it’s mostly down hill. As ever, something goes wrong and the wind picks up for the first time cooking my body even more as the heat is driven into me. Hot, headwind, hungry. Not a great combination.

I arrive in Mach cooked, physically and metaphorically.  I raid the Spar buying nearly 3 liters of various fluids and calories beyond measure. Cheese and Haribo – works. Peperami and yogurt – works. Coke and orange juice – not so optimal. 30 minutes sat in the shade before my body temperature starts to plateau. The thermometer on my GPS says 28 degrees, in the shade, at 10am.  The biggest climb is yet to come and I know its out in the sun. I buy some suntan lotion and slather everything in the sickly sweet smelling coconut lotion.

It's me!

The climb up to the lakes is long and brutal. Out in the sun for all of it, carrying a belly and bike full of fluid. Holding me back, but allowing me to continue. By the time I crest the climbs 4 hours have passed since I’ve left Mach. 4 hours to cover <20km. Brutal, but with a huge payoff. Massive vistas, a lake that begged me to swim in it, free roaming horses wandering over for a petting. Best of all, no one but me. Not a soul. This is why I do these things, to be here and now, with no one else. It clouds over and I am grateful for it. My arms a bright red despite repeated applications of coconut smelling stickyness.

Solitude

The next few  hours are a bit of a blur. I ride along a trail that ends at the end of a sheep run. I have vague memories of having ridden here before and they grow with every push. I recall the river I climb through, the bank I scramble over. I’m here, that Valley that I rode though back in 2008 that I could never locate again, the one that goes on forever with the most glorious singletrack I’d ever experienced.

THAT valley

Bags checked, suspension opened I throw myself at it with all my legs can muster. The bike is heavy but the trails are perfect. On and on it goes before I drop into Afon Hengwm and strip to climb into the river submerging my body with the ghosts of the long deserted farmstead.   The valley is a bowl with a push in, and a push out. I know I’ve not ate in an hour so I take my time enjoying the breeze and filling up my water stores. It’s good to just sit and enjoy the silence.

BathClean as I’ll be until the end of the ride I start the long, dull push out. Were the weather not treating me so well I’d be angry. But I can’t complain. A light breeze, not too much sun, and nothing but my bike and I. After a while I open up again on some singletrack before the fire-road comes – fast and sweet on big wheels – distance covered is good after a slow going day. At least most of the climbing is behind me now.

I reach for a bottle and get air. Nothing. I go for my spare and find the same. I’ve finally done it, I’m out of water. Bugger. I think ahead. I’ve passed all the lakes and the rivers are running dry. My next chance is the visitors centre at Nant Y Arian. It’s 4pm and it closes at 5pm. I’m about an hour away. I rummage through and find a can of Redbull, warm, sticky and bitter. It does little to quench my thirst. I don’t grow wings. I do get a bit angry. I need to get there to get water. Food would also be good.

I should have filled up here.
I should have filled up here.

I ride on and on cooking in the heat which decided now would be a good time to come back. 30mins to go, 15, zero. I’m rolling into the trail centre at 5:05pm. They’ve gone home. Closed up. I’d have done the same. I grab some water in the toilet block, but I need food. I’m close to running on fumes when I pass a garage. Time to practice the Tour Divide diet; chocolate, lots of chocolate later I’m feeling a bit better. I pick up some shitty cheap white bread and sweating salty ham and cram them in my bag for dinner/breakfast.

I roll on, and on, for what feels like forever through hedgerow climbs of 20% pushing through vegetation and its inhabitants. The flies get to me, I swat out in anger at them, releasing my stress on the trail on insubstantial little black blobs. It’s pathetic how something so small can make me so angry. I sit on top of an old Roman fortification eating  my dinner at 8pm. The wind keeps the flies off and I find myself reaching for my jacket for the first time.

Golden Hour

I’ve entered the Elan valley now and I know what is a head of me. A mix of road, fast riding trails inter spaced with pushing. Lots of pushing. I had an idea it was going to be bad. I had no idea just how bad. As I roll along the trails are drier than I’d expected and I get further along faster. I drop through dried river beds being aware that I’ve not got huge water supplies left. A climb over a running river bed has me filling everything, I’m not running out again today, sod the extra weight.

Fireroad leads me down before the signpost to the Monks Trod chirps on my GPS. It’s the one section I’ve not been looking forward to. Aidans description didn’t describe it as something I’d enjoy. He’d had a hard time, I was expecting no different despite the warm weather I’d had. What I hadn’t expected was to take nearly so long to trudge through knee and thigh deep swamp to get across 10km. It was mentally harder than it was physical, but only made better by the thoughts that it’d be over soon. Finished, something I’d never bother with again. If  the Sarn Helen has a Fisherfield equivalent where you’re likely to break – it’s here. As an added bonus – you get the wonderful sign at the end.

The sign

Another trudge – when I decided the trail should be changed to the Monks Trudge – allowed me to wash all the accumulated sheep shit off in a stream. Up, up, up until I saw on the horizon something that made my day. A raised set of rocks, off the trail, out of the swamp, and on a ridgeline with wind to keep the flying nasties away. 10:30pm and I was done for the day. I stripped and bedded down taking a chance to dry out my kit. The sight of a lone sheep standing guard over me, or her flock, made me smile before bedtime. See you in the morning Fluffy.

Fluffy

Day two: 10hours 30mins ride time; 112km; 2,774m of climbing; 16hrs 30mins on the trail.

This turned out to be beside a megalithic tomb...oops

Jul 172014
 

I was supposed to be at the Tour Divide – then I was supposed to be at the Grezestien Trophy – then I was at nothing. So, with a week annual leave booked off I opted to try something ‘local’.

Sarn Helen

I’d read about a route that traversed the length of Wales from Conwy to Swansea called the Sarn Helen trail. A combination of walking trails, 4×4 tracks and an old roman road something that MTB books and magazines had touted as an 8 day epic ride. With not unimaginable distances per day, ~120km, the route looked like it would go easily in three days if I was to pack light and ride it slightly different to the normal – early start/late finish. This was in no means a racing ride, it would probably go in a single 30-35 hour push, more of a touring individual time trial. TITT?

A quick internet trawl turned up an article from Aidan Harding who had done the SH back in 2010 as preparation for the Tour Divide  -more or less the position I was in now, but a year out. Aidans ride had aimed for around the same time I had and I figured the most obvious way was to use his route as well. Consistency and all that. Nothing to do with me forgetting to copy the files onto my GPS the night before….

Conwy

Day 1: A leisurely 9am start had me on the train from Manchester to Conwy Castle as I was aiming to start later in the day. Extraordinary Welsh weather forecasts had showed that the next 4 days was going to be dry and with temperatures in the mid to high 20’s. Little was I to know, it was going to be much warmer than that. So I packed the new shiny Salsa Spearfish* with more kit than needed, but none the less the same kit I’ll be using on the Divide next summer. I may as well keep it similar I figured. With the bike and kit paired up I think I now have the perfect blend of off road capability and all weather kit. The Fargo is excellent for longer gravel/fireroad rides, but the new Spearfish is just lush. Honestly, this is one of the best full suspension bikes I’ve ever owned. Hands down.

Water!

The opening miles were on tarmac winding their way up, over, down and round valleys. With no wind and oppressive heat I started to go through my water supplies a little faster than planned. Rationing within the first 3 hours, not ideal. Eventually the climb led up the Lyn Colwyd and more water than I could shake a stick at. Tempting as it was to jump in I refilled and then started along the excellent valley trail before climbing up and out over a steep trail – read push. At this point I had my first crash of the trip.

Down, not out

Sneaking a “dry” line ended up in an OTB moment as my wheel buried itself to its hub. No time to un-clip I ended up pinned below my bike all my weight on my now aching wrist. Game over…. maybe. Hopefully not. After finally extracting myself I hobbled my way down to Capel Curig and some food. A quick icing with two cans of coke and a massive scone and jam treat and I was on the road again. A momentary lack of perception leads to crash – a note to stay a little more in the moment.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

At this point the real climbing began. Into the real guts of Snowdonia and up, up, up. Always climbing the heat kept pounding down. Searching for ridable shade at any opportunity took over as I climbed into the woods behind Penmachno. Then it started. Initially just a few water filled MX ruts, then full on hell. Kilometer after kilometer of flooded knee deep ruts like Gaia herself been repeatedly run over by all the MX and 4×4 drivers in the world. There is a place for motorized fun in the mountains, but on wet peaty forestry trails it is not. Well done for screwing it up for everyone else.

Mordor Starts

After an hour of pushing, carrying and cursing I was spat out above the trails I know in Penmachno. The road came as a wonder as my speed crept above 2kph for the first time in hours. The sun was starting its trend downwards as I rolled into the Glanaber Terrace and entered what felt like the start of Mordor.

Mordor

The traverse across the slate slag heaps and the following “trail” are a blur. I constant feeling that I don’t belong here, that I should just turn around and leave. Why keep going on, this is just shit and you hate it, leave, go find a nice pub for the evening. Cresting the trail near Lyn Pysgod I felt like it was over. I knew the road down towards Blenau and figured I’d just turn right and head for a friends house in Llanberris. She’d have gin and some floor space.

Apparently this is a f**king trail.
Apparently this is a f**king trail.

I’ve no idea if it was the near crash with the chav and his Imprezza, or the food in the Co-op in Ffestiniog but I decided to keep rolling. A quick call to Pauline to let her know what I was at and I was on the road again. 7 hours in and less than half what I wanted to do for the day. It was going to be a long day with my aim for the evening being  to sleep somewhere near Dolgellau.

But it changed, hilly roads not withstanding, the trails became ride-able, faster, dryier. As the temperature dropped my pace climbed. Riding  along trails parallel to the road to Coed Y Brenin the lights had to come out of the bag. Hammering round sections of the MBR trails the wrong way in the dark with a huge grin on my face. Back in the night, where I belong, loving every moment of it. The trails flew beneth my wheels and I could feel myself getting back on target. 10pm flew past and then 12am and the next day.

Bliss

As I drop onto the road to Dolgellau I stop to debate the turn. I can go left to a hostel I know will have space, or up the road, try Kings or just push on? I ride on, past Kings stopping only to get some water, before climbing all the way to my highpoint in the fields at the top of the valley. 1:30am, tired, I crawl into my bivi ingesting my dinner of Babybel and two Penguin bars.

Day one: 8hours 50mins ride time; 106km; 2,486m of climbing; 10hrs 50mins on the road.

*Huge thanks to Shona at Keep Pedalling for sourcing the Spearfish for me, and to Ison Distribution for making a price I couldn’t refuse.

Jun 082014
 

“A cross-country race is a time trial that starts with a field sprint” – Ned Overend

The sun is out and I’m sat in the grass; ice cold can of coke in one hand and a burger in the other. Usually I’d be pretty happy right now but today I’m just disappointed. Bikefest is still happening, and the race is gonna Finish without me. I’m disappointed because I’m a loser, not that I lost, just because I’m a loser. I’m a loser because I let my ego get the better of me, I’m disappointed with my attitude, the outcome, and the coke in my hand; it just tastes sour.

I flunked out of my own sport, the sport I love, and have lived for two decades. 5 out of the last 6 races I entered I didn’t even get out of bed for. Bristol was the 6th! the nail in the coffin. A proper loser’s attitude. Time to quit. Summer 2013.

And that was how it happened. It wasn’t because I had nothing left to prove. It was because I had nothing left to give. Totally burnt out, a shell. So I went away, and I went skateboarding, and I broke my arm, got it rebuilt. And then started to feel something inside for the bike again. At first I denied it but eventually succumbed to the call. I started riding again, I started riding every day, I started riding further than I’d ridden yesterday. I found a little bit of fitness and then started to think about racing – the usual dreams and big ideas, all the stuff that unwound me in the first place. I needed rules, restrictions, and I started with performance related goals – no race entered unless I reached such-and-such performance marker.

Back at Bikefest a year later…

photo

The horn sounds and I start as standard – lets find out where I am. The answer: the engine is good. Into the lead group and comfortable, very comfortable, and my easiest Bikefest start to date. Then the singletrack and… oh, not so good! Usually my strong set but the left hand is already struggling and control is an issue. Reign it in and stay rubber-side-down, check my ego at the door. The goal is to finish, I absolutely must finish. I settle into a pace, based on not binning-it in the singletrack.

And so the race goes: I’m the most comfortable I’ve ever been on the Bikefest climbs but I’m the least adept that I’ve ever been in the singletrack, on the UK’s most singletrack-heavy race course.

At about an hour and a half in I start to wonder if the hand will survive the test. It’s a lot of pain. Pain I can handle. The lack of control though mmm… it’s stressful. I absolutely must finish. A DNF is not an option. I keep racing.

image_1

Lap ticks off, lap ticks off, lap ticks off. I’m still really strong. I’m still really in danger of a crash. Then it rains, I crash, I finish 6th. Joint 6th with Nick who catches me at my crash but says he’s not going to sprint it out. A gent. He could have dusted me, he didn’t, I appreciate the sportsmanship.

image_2

I’m done, I fell like I got hit by a car, I bypass the coke stand, the burger stand, I’m not disappointed, and I’ve got a big grin on my face. Race analysis all the way home, a list of things to work on, performance goals that I want to hit.

image

 Posted by at 8:31 pm
Jun 022014
 

The Bryan Chapman Memorial (BCM) has been on my list of things to do for a while now. The idea of a 600km, 629km in truth, ride from the bottom of Wales to the top and back again is wonderful. Honestly, it is a beautiful route – or what of it I did – and the other bits I’ve done in the past.

So the trip started out well, until I got to the Severn Bridge and drove over it…forgetting that I was staying on the English side, not, the Welsh side…anyway at least I’ve now driven (and paid) to cross the bridge. Odd that you don’t have to pay to escape Wales though. The hotel were very nice to all the riders and let us take our bikes in, and turned the heating on. Now, normally this would be a good thing. But as it was already about 20 degrees during the evening, having the heating on resulted in a very sweaty nights ‘sleep’ that mostly had me wanting to dip myself in the bath.

After my evening sauna I was up at 4:45am trying to eat some food and failing. Some went in, most just sorta sat in my mouth and got chewed on with no real purpose. Eventually I managed half a bowl of breakfast before I gave up and started to ride the 6km to the start of the ride. It was beautiful riding over the bridge with an inversion across to Wales and the sun just rising. A great start to the day, already we were in jerseys and shorts only. No need for gloves or anything. At this point I realised I had probably taken to much kit with me.

Early morning bridge

The ride started out mellow enough, I got on the back of a nice group and just tipped along for a while. After the first set of rolling hills things started to splinter and I ended up in a group of three or four. Not much talking, not much else but pedaling and rolling through some beautiful Welsh lanes for the first two hours until I stopped for a pee and some food. I’d love to say I wolfed down some food, but in reality I managed to just about eat some bread with Nuttella and peanut butter…which is my normal race favorite food. This was a bit worrying, but I just ignored it and got back on my bike.

The first checkpoint came at 75km at a nice little cafe. I’d planned to bounce through this and get on my way, and did so, stopping only for water-bathroom-receipt. I hit the road after managing to eat another cereal bar, it didn’t taste like anything palatable and I realised that something was happening. May as well just ignore it and ride on… mistake #2.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I hit the road with a chap called Justin and we started to ride out towards Rhayader and the Elan valley. Not that I’d planned to ride up it, but it was the plan for other riders. We rolled along faster than we should have and enjoyed the scenery.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As we hit the main road I dropped off  our newly formed group and pulled over. At this stage I was having to stop to eat, not something I’ve normally had to do. I now realised something was going on and it was only a matter of time before it went pear shaped. I rolled into Rhayader and grabbed a Coke, sat in the shade and gave my legs and stomach 10mins to cop on. It didn’t help. I kept climbing up towards the second control at Nant Y Arian and had to stop a further two times.

As I made the control in Nant I knew the day was over. It took me 30mins to eat a single scone and drink a bottle of sparkling water. Normally two things I can wolf down in seconds. The game was no longer afoot. I was toast. After a bit of a man talk I rang Pauline and told her I was suffering, explained my plans and hit the road again. All the way down into Tal Y Bont my body shook, not from the cold, but because my muscles had nothing in them. It took all my mental effort to steer and brake on the descent when needed, forcing my hands to do as they were being told. At the cafe that came soon I stopped again and managed to eat a packet of shortbread with another can of coke. This time, I was trying to spend mental effort to keep it in my stomach.

As I rolled towards Machynlleth I started to think about bail out options. I looked at my GPS and saw that there was a train-station at Mach. but not one at the control at Dolgellau. It became a no-brainer as I rolled past the station and swung right into its open arms. I was done, another DNF.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

BCM_fail

The train station attendant was amazing, found me the cheapest, fastest possible way to get back to Chepstow – told me how to get some food for the trip and got me on the train with my bike. A trail angel if I’ve ever met one. The next 5 hours were spend on a variety of trains and station platforms on my way back down south. I still couldn’t eat, but managed a cup of coffee and a Twix in those 5 hours. I just wasn’t hungry.

maaa?

Arriving in Newport it turned out to be faster to ride from there to Chepstow than to wait then to take the train. So kit back on and a nice 36km pedal back to the car in England.

Night bridge

Sitting in a Burger King at 11pm in services somewhere on the M5 I finally started to get hungry again. The food still tasted like crap, but that was probably just because it was BK…

What did I learn? Honestly…I don’t know. I’ve no idea what caused this. Maybe just a case of the heat and lack of real riding. Maybe something else. Either way it’s a pain, but it is what it was. A long ride, inter-spaced with suffering and failure. Nothing I regret, just something I wish had worked out better.

Jun 022014
 

Ok so this is the deal: divide all my food for the ride into 4 piles; leave 3 on the table and put the rest in my back pockets. 2 bottles: same carb solution in both; exactly measured for body-weight and projected duration of lap. That’ll take care of lap 1 and there’ll be 3 more laps to come, hence 3 more piles of food. The lap is about 50 miles long, and has around 2500 feet of climbing, so it’s all kept simple: 4 laps = 200 miles and 10,000 feet.

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Today I’m riding on feel, so the powermeter has been taken off the bike. Why ride to feel when you own a powermeter? If I’m ever going to race again the chances are it’ll be on mountain bike, and I don’t have a powermeter on my mountainbike, so whilst I’d use a powermeter on the road I don’t have that luxury offroad. I need to remind myself how to pace myself. Maybe I should buy a powermeter for my mountainbike? Mmm… no time to think about that now, I’ll ride today on feel.

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Halfway around lap 1 and I’m travelling faster than anticipated. Engaged with the task at hand, riding comfortably, fuelling as planned and feeling good. It’s early morning, so it’s not yet warmed up properly, and I’m dressed up snug. Faster than planned mmm… should I slow down? It feels ok, manageable, let’s stay on it and see what pans out.

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Approaching 80 miles and the miles start to tell. Not much, but enough to know about it, over the main climb at mile 83 and it’s distinctly harder than it was on the first lap. Pace is still the same though and I’m approaching the hardest pit – 100 miles – will I drag myself back out the door for lap 3?

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110 miles, yeah I made it back out the door, and the test now begins. 100 miles on-pace takes focus, 200 miles just covering the distance takes persistence, but 200 miles on pace? I have to ask myself a few questions! Hungry now, and distracted, neck a bit sore, healing left arm very sore, stay focused and stay on schedule with my feeding. I’m wobbling over the energy precipice, trying desperately not to look down. “push one pedal down and the other comes back up” I stay on focus and ride the hunger storm, 115, 120, 125, 130, 135, 140, 145, 150… JUST ONE MORE LAP!

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The shortest pit-stop of the day as I know I’m right on a tipping point. If I sit down I’ll simply not get back up. Change my base layer, it’s starting to cool down outside and the one I’m wearing is damp. More chamois creme and pockets refilled, out for another lap, a mere 50 miles!

Still on pace, still focused, the miles pass under my wheels like clockwork. The last big climb stings all the way up, the view at the top seems greater than it was the last time I passed, and I’m the most pushed I’ve been for a very long time. The last remaining miles are all stomping, swaying, spinning and smiling, then suddenly I’m home, stage one of my training complete, endurance checked off the list, my test exceeded, feeling like I might just become a bike racer again…

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 Posted by at 1:00 pm
May 132014
 
sugarfree

Rob and I are in our fourth week without sugar. Thanks to some suggested reading by a friend, I think we’ve finally cracked it. So, what exactly does it mean to go ‘sugar-free’? And how does it feel?

I lacked the answers to these two questions on my many failed attempts to quit sugar over the past few months. It’s only since having a clear direction – with daily goals – and support from others who already live this way, that we’ve actually been able to go without. And, Rob’s support in doing this along side me has been essential.

The journey so far has been fascinating, and opening myself up to become truly aware of my addiction to sugar has been alarming. I was totally dependent on this substance from first thing in the morning until late at night when working. As a nation we don’t think twice about the quantity of sugar we are consuming – probably because it is legal and served up in the form of pretty cakes and ‘healthy’ fruit smoothies or yoghurt. Furthermore, it’s constantly available throughout the day in so many foods that we don’t even realise the dependancy we have on it… until we have to stop.

I’m not here to tell anyone else to give up sugar. I don’t even plan to rid it from my life forever. I’ve just needed to totally eliminate it from my system so that I can start again with a clean slate, and be more aware from here on so that I don’t develop the dependancy again.

I’ve mentioned in earlier blogs that I’m not one for diets – ‘everything from scratch and everything in moderation’ has been my mantra – and yet here I am writing about a sugar-free ‘diet’. Funny. This isn’t a diet though. This is trying to get over an addiction, probably not so dissimilar to an alcoholic giving up alcohol. Is that a diet? I’m trying to get to that place where everything CAN be in moderation again, because until recently I couldn’t go a day without cookies, cake or fruit. Can you?

You are probably surprised by my mention of fruit here, since we are brought up from a very young age to believe that fruit is great for us; get your five-a-day and all that. Fruit does have many great qualities, but it is also loaded with sugar – fructose to be precise – and when we evolved there simply wasn’t much fruit available. Perhaps a few berries here and there. As such, our bodies aren’t able to correctly deal with the sugar, and we don’t generate a ‘full-feeling’ response to it. We can gorge on sugar without feeling full, and this is probably why I enjoy it so much.

So, following Sarah Wilson’s ‘I Quit Sugar’ advice, all fruit, sugary treats, honey, agave and anything with over 5g of sugar per 100g has gone. Her general advice is to replace these things with fatty foods and protein, which do produce a rapid ‘full-feeling’ response, and lots of vegetables, nuts, seeds and coconut.

I’m not going to publish all the details here, however, if you are interested to have a go her book is available for about £7 from amazon. It contains limited scientific information, but there is enough summary to give you an understanding of why it could be a good idea to eat less sugar. This isn’t ground-breaking news. Plenty of people have known for generations that sugar is addictive, causes hormone responses (mood swings, temper tantrums – children are particularly sensitive) and weight gain. It’s just that more recently it’s been acknowledged that all the conditions that were previously advertised as being linked to eating saturated and full fats are actually caused by sugar, and not fat. Fat is essential for our health, and whole foods (including dairy) should be celebrated. The more we tamper with our food, the more problems we run into. Fat wont make you fat because it makes you feel full too quickly.

Changing our general eating plate hasn’t been difficult since our diet was already in line with the recommendations such as a cooked breakfast, incorporating seeds and nuts within cooking and using meat on the bone for extra nutrients in casseroles and curries. The difficulty for me is eliminating the snacking on fruit, cookies and cake, and finding a suitable alternative.

It’s been a tough ride of stomach aches:
1. from a recommended increase in dairy (which I did already know I was sensitive to) – so that’s out again
2. and from a sudden increase in snacking on raw nuts – very annoying. Seeds seem to be better for me.

I’ve also experienced dizzy spells and nausea. These are documented responses for detoxing from a substance, but part of me knows it’s probably also down to insufficient calories. I’ve noticed a reluctance by myself to eat since I don’t like feeling full very much, and I simply get lazy about preparing yet another snack or meal. I love baking, so it was never a chore to bake a quick cake, and the reward was a delicious sugar fix. Now, I just prefer to go hungry, which isn’t good. I need to be more organised with having easy-to-grab food available because this isn’t about weight-loss for me – far from it – it’s about wanting to improve my chances for a healthy life with my family.

It’s been difficult to know what advice to follow when it comes to Meg. She’ll be two next month and we hope that she hasn’t had so much sugar in her life already to have created an addiction to it. She’s never had fruit juice or squash, or anything other than water to drink. We’ve stopped giving her dried fruit, and she has just a couple of small pieces of fresh fruit a day. We’ve discovered that most fruit yoghurts have MORE sugar in them than a decent quality dairy ice cream, which has quite frankly been shocking. So, these are out, and a decent ice-cream is in which she only has a very small quantity of. I will make ice cream myself which can include anything from fresh cream to coconut milk or even avocado as a base. I feel pretty angry when I check through the sugar content of the latest fashionably packaged ‘healthy’ snacks for children.

I miss baking, but learning to cook more nutritious food is rewarding. We plan to take 6-8 weeks off all sugar before we decide to reintroduce it in moderation. By the end of this I hope to no longer have my mouth water when I see the cake stand in a cafe. Three weeks down and I finally have the discipline to be able to be around these things and not mentally want them because, quite frankly, I want health. I want freedom. I want to offer Meg the best start possible and be that example. And… I want to be a better cyclist and sugar is not the answer to going faster; efficient muscles free of toxins probably are.

 Posted by at 5:50 pm
Mar 052014
 

“all his life has he looked away… to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing.”

– Master Yoda

If I died today what is it I’d wish I had done this morning? What should I have done, but not, could have done, but squandered the time? So much talk, would like to, can if I want, might if I get round to it. I’d have wished I’d ridden my bike, that I’d taken the time, time we forgot, time we never get back, time that no one else cares if we used it or not.

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“What are your goals this season?” He asked. My goal is to live today. He nodded, but his eyes said he did not understand. I asked him his goals, so he told me, then he told me he had better start training next week. Exactly, I said, my goal is to live today. Next week, next month, tomorrow, they never come. He started to understand, as I do.

“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past are certain to miss the future.”

– John F. Kennedy

I never speak about my broken arm. I broke it skateboarding, at age 40. A foolish undertaking, for a man of my maturing years: skateboarding, or all things. It was a lesson in “today”. F*** everything you think you know about folly and throw it out the window, while I was doing exactly what I wanted to do, that one thing burning a hole in my desire, what were you doing? What would you have wished you’d have done had you died that day? Did you do it? or did you sit there thinking about the good old days, the days you used to skate yourself, or ride a bike on a long Summer evening?

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Breaking my arm, on a skateboard, age 40, was one of the best things I ever did; it woke me up, it brought me back to reality, back from the trap we have created for ourselves to avoid living, breathing and enjoying life today.

“If you died right now, how would you feel about your life?”

– Tyler Durden

That little box you currently hold in your hand is actually your death! Or maybe it’s a screen, on your desktop, who cares: the outcome is the same. Social media is the end of your life, the end of living, the end of all your dreams, and the only thing left is your past. Let it go, put it down, go for a ride, or a skate, try life, today, instead, you might enjoy it. I know I will.

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 Posted by at 7:18 am
Feb 182014
 

MiniEggs

Facing up to it isn’t easy. It’s far preferable to live in the blissful ignorance of believing it’d be otherwise if only I tried (but I’m not going to). It’s only when we actually try that we really find out if we can or can’t, and how we measure up.

So, I’m facing up to it.

Hi, my name is Jen. I’m addicted to sugar. I’ve only just realised since I’ve been trying for over three months to eliminate it from my diet and, quite simply, there isn’t a day where I haven’t failed. I have an angel on one shoulder supporting me to go without or choose something of worth, and then an excitable devil on the other tempting me “you’re training, you need the calories“, “just cut back to start with“, “how about a natural sweet alternative?“, “you could do with a little boost today“…

The desire to meet my sporting/health goals is clearly not strong enough for me to believe it’s worth going without a sweet treat each day, or the list of other foods that contain hidden sugar such as bread. I feel driven, but once again I’m obviously not committed. It shouldn’t be this difficult, but then I’ve never tried to give up anything before. I need to do more research and conquer a total understanding of why I’m doing this so I can back myself 100% and knock that little chirpy devil off his perch.

I’ve consumed a whole bag of mini eggs today. Very delicious but totally unnecessary empty calories. It’s time for a serious Dad chat with myself.

 Posted by at 6:32 pm