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For Want of a Nail (Part one)

For Want of a Nail

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

The original plan (well the current original plan which was one of many but don’t let that complicate the story) was simple.  Me, Sammy and David would be meet Ian and John in Coniston at 0930 and start riding soon after.  However, since it was raining (pretty hard) John decided a new jacket was required and Keswick was the place to get it, prompting a change in the start of the ride to Keswick, a place we were due pass through on our ride.  Same ride, different start point……..

The background to this is the weekend just passed was supposed to be the pre-lejog, big 2 hard days in a row cycle to ensure that everyone felt what it was like to get up 2 days in a row and cycle.

Driving down, the call came in from Ian ‘John wants to buy a jacket, going to Keswick for it’, ‘Ok, we will just come there and save a bit of time and start the trip there’ we respond.    Our response is paraphrased, the real response would have involved word like selfish, unprepared, **** (insert swear word here) etc…..  It’s not like rain wasn’t forecast.  However, at the time it seemed like an ok plan.

As we drive into Keswick we spot a bike shop and John’s car.  Ian’s bike is strapped to the back unsecured, we think about taking it to teach him a lesson but think better of it.  Ian’s view of security gets even stranger as he padlocks his carton of milk  to the fridge in the youth hostel for fear of theft.

The rest of us troop into the shop and find John trying on various jackets, posing as if he was on a bike to ensure the sleeves are long enough, this is not a quick process but eventually a jacket is settled upon.  Everyone then has to take a shot of the shops toilet and we are ready to go.  Well nearly, there is a job of driving round Keswick trying to find a non paying parking spot, but eventually we end back in the centre of town at the Pay and Display.  Of course no one has any change for it, but luckily you can phone a number and pay by card.  Great, but seemingly the computerised system doesn’t do ‘Scottish’ and it’s off to the newsagent to buy a packet of mints to get some change.  Nearly there, just the weekly discussion about how many layers to wear, which gloves to use, overshoes or not….  Given that it had been raining for 3 straight days, pretty much meant everything was going to be worn.

We eventually set off about 11:15 and immediately find out that however bad a road is in a car, it’s 10 times worse on a bike.  The roads are in a terrible state, flooding everywhere and rocks and scree all over the road.  We cycle gingerly, not knowing what’s around the corner.  There are no land speed records getting set this weekend.

The 112 mile route we had planned to do has 9 big hills, but although we have the route mapped in Ian and Sammy’s Garmin gps no one is quite sure when the hills are coming.  After about 10 miles Sammy thinks there is a hill coming and having put too many layers on, everyone is already sweating and it’s time for some to come off to help us the hill.  Suitable ready, off we go.  Now what we were expecting was a hill, not a wall that had slightly subsided.  This hill was near vertical, the 25% signs suddenly appearing in view, the recrimination of the route owners began.  ‘You didn’t say it ramped up so quiclky, ya ****’ ‘Is this one of the big ones’ ‘ How long does it go on for’ are the shouts heard.  Nobody knew and quickly no one could speak as everyone used all their energy to keep moving, this hill was tough and it went on for miles.  Some decided that weaving all over the road from side to side lessened the gradient, others decided that nearly falling into a ditch at the side of the road was the way to go.  However, in the end everyone made it up to the top without stopping.  I think it was one of those situations where had one stopped, everyone else would have quickly followed, but no one did, pride forcing everyone onwards.  At the top we re-gathered and had a chat about the experience.  But not for long, it was cold, jackets back on and then down.  Brakes stuck on, this was not an easy descent, windy thin roads with debris everywhere, cramp in your hands as you grip too tightly. But soon we were down and back onto the flat in a group. But not for long.

Onto hill number 2, again no real idea of what to expect, the expression ‘Fail to plan, plan to fail’ comes to mind.  This hill is hard but not too hard and has a nicer feel to it, it is semi enjoyable.  We come to the top, stop and take in the view and then quickly get going again.  This descent is better, smoother roads, wider turns and we bundle down and eventually it bottoms out.  However, there are only 4 of us now.  Ian is not with us.  We remember him putting his jacket on but surely it doesn’t take that long. We look back up the hill to try and spot but it’s a long hill and hard to see in the rain.  Eventually a lady in a car stops and tells us that Ian has a puncture.  It’s a relief that we know what’s wrong but know that there could be a wait as Ian wont be in the Guinness book of records anytime soon for the fastest time to change a puncture. And then we wait, and wait, it’s getting cold and eventually the decision is taken to start going back up the hill to help.  We go about half way back up and find Ian.  The puncture has been changed but the valve on tube keeps coming off when getting pumped up.  We get Sammy on the job, he is known as the ‘Mavic man’ after the yellow cars that follow the Tour de France to provide mechanical help.  After a bit of toing and froing it is fixed and we are on our way.  Not for long, we manage another couple of miles and psstt…… Ian’s tyre is down again.  This is not going well.  Another new inner tube, another check of the tyre, it is pumped up and off we go again, all the way back down to the bottom and ready for hill number 3.

Sammy kicks off first, followed by myself and then the other 3 are a bit slow in getting going.  Sammy is setting a good pace but I am keeping him in sight, I check back a couple of times and can see John’s new yellow jacket.  All present and correct.  As the hill ramps up, you start to concentrate to keep going, a steady rhythm is required.  My technique is counting down from 10 to 1, that’s easy, only 10 to do and then start again.  I havent looked back in a while but when I do I dont see anyone but there are a few corners so they might be round one of them.  I keep going.  Eventually I stop just short of the top and decide to wait.  Nothing.  I eventually phone David and find out the bad news, Ian’s tyre is down again.  So I wait and wait.  Eventually, Sammy comes down from the top and we decide to roll back down to help and it’s nearly to the bottom.  It is again fixed, but this is not a good sign, however there is a bike shop at the top of the hill and we will take it in there.  Off we go again, my legs not enjoying the hill the second time around.

We reach the top, where the bike shop and a cafe are situated and Ian goes off to get help.  John and I browse the shop and John decided to purchase another set of gloves to supplement the 3 pairs he is already carrying. ‘Super Waterproof’ or so they claim, they need to be.  Sammy has replanned our route for the rest of the day, taking in most of the big hills but less of the flat in between.  Ian’s tyre has been checked and been given the all clear and we decide to stop for lunch although we barely deserve it.  The standard of lunch is reasonable for a forest cafe but the prices resemble a 3 star Michelin place.  2 soups, 1 baguette, 2 cakes and a drink, £20!

Lunch duly eaten, we set off once again.  The descent is treacherous, water is pouring off the hills making handling tricky, stones everywhere.  We make it to the bottom and guess what?  Ian’s tyre is down again.  This is turning into a nightmare.  We try and work out what to do.  One school of thought is a couple of us to go back and get the cars, but the quickest way is back over the hill we came.  This is rejected due to the danger.  So we decide on fixing Ian’s tyre once again and heading back to the cars a different way involving hill number 2 and hoping for the best.  The trip back to car is fairly uneventfull although hill number 2 seems decidedly harder, although not for David who romps up and over in double quick time.

We make it back to Keswick at 17:32 just in time for the bike shop closing.  Great! No new tyre. And only 45 miles done.

Quickly, we were locked and loaded and off to the Youth hostel.  I think most of us would have preferred the luxury of a B and B and a nice comfy twin room but due to many events in the area, this was all the accomodation we could find.  How bad could it be?  Well in reality, not too bad at all.  We had one room for the five of us, while not exactly Ritz standard was clean and tidy.  The showers were hot and the setting was fantastic.  Life was ok.  Deoderant was sprayed on and we were ready to go out.

On the way out we chatted briefly to a hen party waiting on their lift.  It turned out their lift was the hen herself who didnt drink and who would be taking 2 lots of her friends to the village for her night out.  Sounds great for the hen!

The nearest town is Ambleside, a lovely spot with may fine restaurants.  We decide on the ‘Jade Garden’ for rice and noodles to fuel us for the next day.  It turns out to be a perfunctory by the book Chinese restaurant that wont be winning any awards anytime soon.  However, the chat is good and everyone has enjoyed it so far even given the mishaps that has happened.  It’s all about the journey.

We get back to the Hostel at 22:30 and Ian and David go for a drink as it too early for bed.  The rest of hit the hay and dream of a better second day……TBC

Pun on wetness

The plan – 6 of team DIFD to head down to the Lakes to take on the “Fred Whitton sportive” route on Saturday, an easy 60 on the Sunday. The “Fred” is a tough 112 miles taking in 9 significant climbs, including some of the hardest in the UK with gradients of 25%. The guide to the route uses the words “painfully” and “very, very” an awful lot in front of the word “steep”. So, guess the hills were going to be tricksy… Sunday was to be a recovery day from the significant self-inflicted torture that Saturday was promising to be.

Saturday. 6.45am start. Rain. Lots of it. Mark M had dropped out (needing to get his cycle legs back after his last few weeks of focussing on his marathon training and better guessing the impact of the weather), so 5 of us were heading down in two cars, myself with Big J; Bryan, Sam and David in the other. Gio would be in the same area taking part in a triathalon on Sunday so was going to miss out on today’s fun. Did I mention the rain?

view_from_car

the fine weather

As we got closer to our target (Conniston), John was eyeing the weather from the car, noting how very, very damp the few cyclists we were passing looked and decided that a new waterproof jacket was in order. A quick phone call or two to the other car and a detour to Keswick was made, a bike shop found and John kitted out in new bright yellow Gore jacket. Some swithering over some Gore bib shorts that happened to be a close match for out team kit (decision was we’d come back for them later) and it was back to the cars to find a parking spot somewhere on the Fred route, as the morning was moving on. Seems despite the weather there were a lot of people trying to park.

lost?

we’re not lost, we’re exploring

A brief stop on a quiet lane was rejected as being too close to a river that looked to be already bursting its banks – didn’t want to be paddling back to the cars at the end of the day. More forays along quiet roads, passing through some serious flooding (bow waves and hissing engine from the depth of water) a call was made to just head to Keswick and face the cost of a proper car park. This had its own issues – very little change, so phone based payments attempted (succes for car 1, a jog to the shop for change for car 2 as ‘your network is not compatible with this service’) and we were parked, £7 down each. Waste of cake money…

shorts_or_not

ok, when Ian’s not looking, put a fork in his front tyre…

A quick discussion on gear (long legs, 2 or 3 layers, definately waterproof jackets) and we eventually hit the road on our bikes. First stop, the flood we’d just been through (and back again), with a mix of taking the footpath (still under half a foot of water) or the road (equally flooded), picking our way through the water with care. The ‘train’ moved on, the rain coming down, the spray flying up, the road sodden – water streaming through the ironically named dry-stone walls in various spots, inches of standing water not uncommon, causing us to take to the middle of the road in an attempt to pass on through the shallowest part of the floods.

hill_one

see that hill there? that’s the easy bit

Nine miles done in half an hour (watery roads not condusive to speed) and we were at the first hill of the day – the climb to Honister Pass. A quick stop to shed our jackets (the rain had abated) and we started the climb, all in the small rings as this one of the “painfully” and “very, very” hills. Dodging to the side for a few cars/ bus we pushed upwards, Sam starting to traverse at the steepest section, David having a wobble and near dismount situation with a ditch. I pushed ahead a little to avoid the traversing (extra time on this hill? no thanks!) and reached the top, 2 mountain bikers watching us from a side path. I clipped one foot out to wait for the others right behind me, only for Sam to call “this isn’t the top, keep going” as he pedalled by me, the false peak a short respite only before more climbing to the real top a bit further on.  We regrouped for the descent, as steep as the climb, so hard on the brakes as we headed down, avoiding the gravel and debris washed on to the road by the rain.

descent_honister

Honister descent

back_honister

Looking back toward Honister

Through Buttermere and three miles or so on to Newlands, the second climb of the day. This was ‘easy’, at least compared to the last hill, again everyone climbing roughly together. A brief stop at the top to regroup, warnings to take care on the way down and we were off.

top_newlands

Having read the weather report, Sam wore his swimming goggles

I was last to go, but punctured nearly immediately. I pulled over, the others fast vanishing ahead. I started to change the tube, tyre half off, old tube out, new tube in. A van stopped, asking if I was ok, I was – just tell the guys up ahead I’ve got a flat. Pumped it up. As I unscrewed the pump, the valve started to come out, deflating the tyre. Bah. Rescrewed the valve, pumped it up. Unscrewed the pump. Valve came out again. By this point the others had decided to come kick my ass for wasting their time, getting chilled in the rain. Dissing the pump, a gas canister inflated the tube, and we were off, making our way to Braithwaite. However, we’d barely gone on a mile or two and I’d punctured again (2). This time Sam helped me change the tube (dont want the new guy pinching another tube), pump still de-valving the tube so another gas inflate, and we were again on our way. We were soon at our third climb – Winlatter. A gentler climb this time, but we’d hardly got a few hundred metres before I had puncture number 3. Sam and Bryan were well ahead, but John and David were stopped with me. John took charge of this change, taking the tyre completely off the rim, checking it over carefully and getting me to do the same, David finding the hole in the tube to see if we could find something that was causing these punctures. Nothing. New tube, inflated. Ready to go again, as Bryan and Sam came back down to see what was taking so long. Up the hill we went, nothing too steep, but a fairly long slog. The promised lunch stop would be at the top as well as a chance to get my tyre checked over in the bike shop that was there too. We got to the top with no issues, I took my bike into the shop, the mechanic taking a look at the tyre and tube. His verdict? You’ve been unlucky, can’t see anything wrong, avoid the gravel. So purchased a couple of new tubes from the shop and off to lunch (and cake).

lunch

soup, sandwich, coffee and cakey

cakey!

best £2.20 I spent all day

Ah, lunch. Baguettes, soup, coffee, water and cake. Toilet stop. A quick chat to a mountain biker who had four punctures in a day (ridiculous! no-one is that unlucky…) then back out into the rain. Down the hill we went, the wind and rain battering us as we went. As we hit the valley floor, I was again feeling too much road through my bars – flat number four! Unbelievable. Another new tube, exasperation all round and a change of plan. Time was against us (it was nearly 5pm already) so a quick try to get a lift for me and my ailing bike from a couple in a van failing (“sorry, we just live over there”), it was change the tube then a few miles along the valley floor, back over Newlands, to get to the cars. The second time up the climb seemed tougher, particularly as I was watching my front tyre, concerned it was going to go at any moment. David pushed to the front, stretching himself to hit the top first, the rest of us soon there. Me puncture free so far. Down into Braithwaite, turning back to Keswick, the train making great time, the wind now helping us and the roads relatively clear of debris and floods – the ‘best’ bit of the day, a nice fast section for a half dozen miles. Soaked, not as tired as we expected, not even half the mileage we’d planned, we were back at the cars.

http://connect.garmin.com/activity/192728842

We packed up, made a quick stop at the Co-op for supplies and headed off to the Youth Hostel. Hidden behind Ambleside up a serious hill, this YH used to be a mansion. We checked in (here’s your key, bike shed round the back, drying room in the basement), claimed beds in the 3 bunk-bed room, grabbed a shower (or trickle depending on shower cubicle choice) and put our wet gear in the drying room. The bikes were locked in the shed, a quick chat to a hen party (you chose to stay here? for a hen night??) and we piled into Sam’s car to head to Ambleside for a Chinese. Not the best grub, but plenty of it, a beer for David and me, water for everyone else, then back to the YH. A quiet pint (the YH had a small bar in reception) for me and David, everyone else off to bed. We finished our drinks and headed to bed too.

The morning would be bringing better weather (right…) and a second crack at the Fred to finish the hills we skipped. A sort of enjoyable day (some good hills done), nice lunch, bad luck on punctures, rotten weather, ok room, passable dinner and my first sleep on a top bunk in 25 years. Part 2 (Sunday) soon.

Headwinds and rain are such fun

Solo training for me this weekend – the rest of the team had sorted out a Sunday cycle (most doing a Stirling loop of 50-60-ish miles, Mark M mistakenly signing up for the Trossachs Ton thinking we were all doing it), but I was meeting friends on Sunday, so Saturday was the day for me. The weather was up to expectations – constant drizzle/ rain and driving winds – a fine Scottish June day. I’d planned on just doing a 50-ish ride, heading to Eaglesham and Stewarton and back. So, winter gear on (waterproofs, overshoes), a few treats stuffed in my pockets and I headed off. The first few miles heading out of Glasgow started with a minor mis-hap – my bottle jumped out of its cage on a rough bit of road, though I hadn’t noticed until a car following me gave me a beep, wound the window down and let me know. I headed back to recover it, only to find it had split, spilling all its contents away. A quick stop at a newsagent to grab some lucozade and I was on my way again. However, the lucozade bottle was rattling around in the cage, not very secure. So, a quick stop at Clarkston cycle centre for a new bottle (£4, with a free tube of ‘Zero’ electrolyte tabs) was in order. Bottled up, on my way again, and the rain was coming down, the wind picking up as I made my way through Waterfoot and in to Eaglesham. Luckily for now it was a tail wind, so I forged on, slowly getting wetter as the rain worked its way through the not as waterproof as I thought gear I had on. Undettered by such nonsense as a bit of water (it wasn’t that cold) made my way up to Eaglesham moor, the hill no longer much of a challenge. The wind farm was lost in the drizzle, and had a bit of fun with my glasses steaming up on some of the short climbs. Had to stop a couple of times to de-mist before the fast descents to avoid complete loss of vision, and had a few dicey moments with some aquaplaning on the wetter sections of the road.

broken bottle

Broken bottles are a known cycling hazard

I was soon on the A77, hitting the cycle path running parallel to the main road, finding my brakes had lost a fair amount of their effectiveness when I came to a not very quick halt to avoid a Range Rover coming out of a junction. Tempering my speed for the next few miles while I adjusted to the extreme wet braking required, still made reasonable time to the turn to Kilmaurs. The road to this small town passed quickly, but as I turned northwards to Stewarton, discovered that the wind was now right in my face. The wind and driving rain made the next few miles hard work, my speed dropping to below 10mph on some flat sections due to the strength of the wind. Fine training I suppose, but not good for the average. I made my way beyond Stewarton, through Dunlop and on to Lugton, hoping to get a quick refuel at Pat’s Pantry, only to find it shut – no roll & sausage or cakey for me today. Bah.

drizzly windmill

a fine photo of windmills and drizzle

On to Barrhead, passing the Balgray reservoir and a gentle climb into Newton Mearns, soggy shoes by this point, but not a big issue as the rest of the ride was mostly downhill. Racing buses down Pollockshaws road is always a fun way to end a ride, weaving by queuing cars as I went, knowing a hot shower was not far away. Finally I turned on to Clyde street for the last stretch home – in to the flat, out of the rain, out of the wet gear, most of which needed ringing out over the bath. Wettest rider ever, but strangely fun. At least it wasn’t freezing.

http://connect.garmin.com/activity/189615793

Not a blistering quick run (15.7mph avg), but a good workout and preparation for the inevitable fine British weather we’ll experience on the LEJOG.

Fine Scottish Weather for Cycling

Emails sent mid-week trying to decide on a full group run had lead to a split of folk for Saturday and others for Sunday, so in the spirit of getting more bike miles in, I’d planned on doing both. So Saturday was to be Mark M, Mark C and myself, but Mark C had to pull out, leaving the two us. A rough plan of “40 ish miles” was made, with Mark calculating routes that would allow me to ‘escape’ if my knee injury resurfaced. We met at the BBC building, and headed towards the Paisley road to hit some countryside. We’d barely gone a mile before I showed my inexperience and messed up my stopping by forgetting I was clipped in and toppling over – at least I’ve learnt to fall left (saves the derailleurs from getting bashed) and realised that landing on my gluteus maximus is the best way to go. We soon got on our way, and approached the first hill of the day, a 200m or so ascent around the Glenliffer braes. Up we went in the pouring rain, the wind blowing, Mark sticking with me most of the time to offer advice and encouragement (and a bit of wind protection), but occasionally zipping ahead to get some challange and anaerobic workout for himself. Beyond the ‘summit’ the elements still against us, we picked up the pace a little, and I got some practice at ‘tailing’ Mark as much as I could, but the cross winds and wet conditions were not the best. The view lost in the mist and rain (I’m sure it would be very picturesque if only it could have been seen), I managed a few good stints of sticking to his wheel, but improvement is still required.

Mark was having a problem with his drive train, the chain making an occasional nasty clunk in a worrying fashion and not wanting to switch between the rings at the front, but we forged on to Howwod and then on to Lochwinnoch. Here we hit the second climb of the day, a more gentle incline of around 140m. The roadside ‘watch your speed sign’ picked our speed up as we passed, my regular 6mph climbing pace lit up as I slogged by, Mark flashing up a 12 mph burst. We soon reached the top and were rewarded with a long run down into Bridge of Weir, topping 30mph and making good time, with a fun, slam on the brakes corner to add to the mix. I was after a food break (still can’t eat and ride, need to practice that), so we escaped the rain in a small cafe for coffee/hot chocolate and cake.

mmm cake

mmm cake - free soft focus effect with misted up lens

Refueled, we headed back out, the chill from our damp gear soon gone with a fine pace being set, while playing with the traffic on a busier A-road heading into Paisley. Some stop-start riding while negotiating round-a-bouts and dodging cars – one who decided it was fair game to turn left right in front of me, missed it by inches. The final few miles went without incident, except for a mountain biker who had the audacity to overtake us at the lights, causing Mark to fly off, dragging me behind to ensure we regained our road-bike honour. We split a few miles further along, our homeward routes diverging, but a good 46 miles in the bag, and a decent (considering the weather) 14.2mph moving pace .

http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/152687930

My plan for a 2 cycle-outing weekend didn’t come to pass, as Sunday I bailed, feeling worn out, having a slight head cold/ sore throat starting (excuse #145b) so decided to take a rest day rather than push my luck on the main group’s planned 60 miler.