Thursday, 26 February 2009

Half a Transalp day.

I've been too scared to scrutinise the Transalp itinerary because I know that there are some fearful days in there. 80km doesn't scare me, but 3000m of climbing does, particularly when the temperature is going to be in the high 30s.

Sunday's ride sees Chris and I in Pitlochry to do a loop which goes south on the Rob Roy Way to Strathtay and then returns over the hills to Loch Tummel and back to the starting point. The first section starts with a stiff but manageable climb past a stone circle before a cracking descent to Strathtay. It's a mix of narrow, twisting trail with little rocky sections and very fast bermed sections which end in the middle of a golf course. My eyes are watering from the wind and a testicle/saddle interface and I fully expect a biker/golfer interface on the last bit before the road. It's fast and furious and obstacles come thick and fast. We use The Force.

There's a pleasant interlude along the road past small flocks of gentile old ladies who look at us in bewilderment as they totter to or from the Kirk. All the vehicles are Nissan Micra 1.0s. The main climb takes us up to 650m past Loch Derculich and it gets progressively windier until we're being blown uphill or blown sideways off the broad land-rover track. There's some bad language. The track traverses below the top of the hill and then starts to go down, very steeply. I poured oil on my front brake the day before, so it is functioning sub-optimally. The downhill track has only recently lost it's snow and it has the texture and firmness of ice-cream that has been left out of the freezer for 20 minutes. It's also very rutted and I'm not enjoying it very much. The last section is firmer and more fun though it finishes through a series of switchbacks which are very steep and having only a back brake is making it pretty scary on the corners. By the time we reach the gate it has begun to fade and the air reeks with the smell of burning pads.

There's a lovely bit of riverside singletrack which takes us to the Soldier's Leap in the Pass of Killiekrankie. We stop at the closed visitor centre for some food before the steep climb up to the Bealach na Searmoin on Ben Vrackie. We cycle some of it but the wind and low energy levels mean a good deal of pushing. Pitlochry lies some 500m and 5km below. The downhill takes only 11 minutes.

Total distance, only 40km. Climbing, 1600m. Half a Transalp day. I need to get to the stage where I can do this twice, 8 days in succession.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Norn Irish greeting

Originally uploaded by stuartie_c
I'm just testing some Flickr wizardry which will send photos to a blog automatically. This should show a picture of Chris extending a middle finger in the manner of a quaint Norn Irish greeting.

It's from our Pitlochry ride on Sunday. This was fun. More later.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009


Getting to work is something that must be done in order to finance the extravagantly expensive summer holiday riding from Mittenwald to Riva del Garda.

One way to do it is to sit in my car like an automaton and drive there, listening to Terry Wogan and playing "chicken" with the school-children of Crossgates. Another way is to share a lift with one of my numerous colleagues who live in the same town and do exactly the same commute, on their own, listening to Terry Wogan. But I'm much too misanthropic in the mornings to thole the company of others.

There is a Third Way. Ride my bike. This has many advantages over being in the car. It's cheaper, it's much more involving, it's free exercise and it gives me an almost overwhelming feeling of smugness when I get there.

I've been keeping tabs on progress; time, average HR etc. Most days it takes just over an hour for the 13 miles from Dunfermline to Kirkcaldy on the Kinesis, a mix of road and off-road riding. My best time was 59mins and 36 secs until today when I took almost 3 minutes off it, without really pushing it too hard. The farm track beneath Hill of Beath was pretty manky and soft, so I could be quicker yet. The route TO work is mostly downhill, though it has a 3 or 4 pretty sharp wee climbs that still get the HR up to 190. Coming home is much harder work because it's pretty much all uphill as far as Mosmorran. Today, for the first time, it began to feel easier. I can push a bigger gear without my legs filling up with lactic acid and the final climb back up Townhill Road to my house didn't make me feel dizzy, despite being starving all the way home. There are other factors which dictate the speed and effort required such as the wind speed and direction and the pressure in my tyres - pumping them up to 50psi last night just might have helped...

If there are any negatives to riding to work, the chief one has to be getting up at 6am which I hate doing. Once I'm up, I'm fine but actually getting out of bed takes a great effort of will. It also requires being organised enough to have enough clean clothes at work. I'm paranoid about discovering I don't have any trousers to wear.

So far, however, the positives far outweigh the negatives. Better still, the school-children of Crossgates are safe to wander across the road without looking or thinking, like a slovenly-dressed bovine herd or "itinerant degenerates bleeding westward, like some heliotropic plague". Maybe that last bit is stretching the point a bit too far...

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Not throwing in the towel.

I wake up with a feeling of dread. Partly it's due to a loss of motivation, but there's something else there too. A gnawing fear in the pit of my belly. Of course! Celtic are playing The Rangers at lunchtime.

OK, so there's nothing I can do to influence the outcome of that particular event, despite all the old superstitions, but I am the only person who can do anything about the motivation thing. I'm fed up of sitting in cars, fed up of soggy trails, mud, the endless drudgery of washing my bikes. The Gypsy Glen ride was superb because all the mud was frozen and the surface was firm and dry and grippy, but now the wind has turned around to the south west and a horrid primeval slime has risen up through the crust of the Earth to thwart my efforts and my enjoyment of being on the bike.

I've had 4 days off work, though to be honest I'd much rather just work non-stop through February, weekends and all, and get the free time in April and May. Thursday sees fresh snow over the existing ice which makes even walking inadvisable. This assuages my hangover-induced guilt at having spent Wednesday evening in the Cafe Royal rather than going to circuit training. Things thaw quickly on Thursday evening so I get out on the roads for two hours on Friday. It's very slushy everywhere which is just a bit shite. I spend Saturday looking for inspiration for Sunday's ride, but draw a blank.

So it's now Sunday and I've not decided what I'm going to do. I get the bike sorted out and charge up the GPS for about 15 minutes. I'm just going through the motions. After a lot of fannying around I actually leave the house and get on the bike. Within 10 minutes I'm coated in the primeval slime and my drivetrain is dissolving in it. Curses! This isn't fun. But I press on, down to Limekilns. The sun comes out and thaws my icy mood a bit. I head on up Submarine Hill and do the sprint to the top. It doesn't last any longer than 30 seconds, but it still gets my heart-rate up to 195 - not seen that number before. I do another loop and another sprint up the hill. It's a short hill, but it is brutally steep near the top just when you think you're going to puke. The challenge is to do it without changing down a gear; I manage this the first time but not the second. I let the dizziness subside and watch the submarines below.

There's more primeval slime on the way past the cemetery and I stop to talk to a friendly dog-walker. I tell him about my primeval slime theory. He gives me a funny look. By the time I get back to town, I've only been out for an hour and 20 minutes; there's a danger that I'll get back too early and the football will still be on. If I check the result, I'll influence the outcome in favour of The Hun, so I keep going. Out to Crossgates, through Coaledge and down the hill to Aberdour. Back along the cycle paths to Dalgety Bay and up the hill to Fordell. I haven't eaten anything except the low-calorie "Go-Ahead!" bar which was the first thing that fell to hand. The GPS runs out of battery power at exactly the same moment I run out of energy and there's still about 7km to go with the dreaded climb back up Townhill Road.

I did think about quitting at a number of points, but I kept going. It was only 3 hours over 55km and less than 1000m of ascent; what might be considered a very easy day by Transalp standards. Oh, and Celtic earned a magnificent 0-0 draw at home - good to see they haven't thrown in the towel either.

(The route is here, if anyone is interested. Or indeed, reading)

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Injury and Weight obsessions

Ok so I have put it off but now I have to admit I do have an injury. Tracing things back I remember the fall that started it all. I could say I was being over exuberant but I don't believe in that, after all mountain biking is about speed. Conditions had been poor with snow and more importantly sheet ice making it pretty treacherous and slow going on the climbs. So when I started on a natural downhill with mud and roots but no ice(or so it seemed) it was engage big ring, pedal like mad and disengage brain. The trees were whizzing by mud flying from my wheels, I flicked the wheel to skip over a large root only to slide on the icy root and fly off the bike landing badly smacking and twisting my knee.

I've damaged a ligament in my knee caused by twisting it in the fall. It became progressively worse and when I rested it it didn't get any better. With the Transalp getting ever closer I decided to pay for some professional help. Now two treatments in, my knee is much better and I have been back on my bike but taking it gradually.

With time on my hands I have been able to investigate that important issue of weight. With 22,000metres of climbing every unnecessary gram is going to be felt on the climbs. Questions like what is the lightest helmet, backpack wheels tires etc all came to mind. I found myself thinking about buying a Giro Ionos helmet at approx 200 grams it will be 100 grams lighter than my current helmet but is costs £125. I can save 100grams by changing my multitool to the speialised EMT race multi-tool. Oh and I could get Stuart to cary my pump and spare innertubes to save even more weight........ At some point though I looked in the mirror and realised that the extra 7-8kg that I have gained since starting Teacher training is where my focus needs to be. So all I need to do is expend more energy than I eat its easier to do more exercise than it is to eat less so I know which gets my vote. Just one problem my knee so we are back full circle.......... time to investigate more weight saving through the power of the pound.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

A proper day out.

All this cycling to and fro between Dunfermline and Alloa is all very well, but a man can see too much of Oakley and Bogside.

Time to get out in the hills.

Despite heavy legs and a pathological dislike of getting up when it's still dark, I get out of the house before 8 and pick up Chris before heading to Peebles to meet up with the DCC guys. The plan is a loop which goes south on the Southern Upland Way before returning over the Kailzie Hill ridge and the superb descent into the Gypsy Glen.

After a warm-up along the road to Traquiar, it's straight into climbing. Paul ("I've not been on the bike for 6 months") leads the way. It's not a day for hanging around as the wind quickly robs us of any heat built up on the climbs. We get to the fast descent to Blackhouse and it's a bit dicey in places leading to a few "shiiiiiite!" moments.

Chris and Craig have been this way before, so they know what comes next. What comes next is a tricky, wet section of singletrack and an unrideable fire break which seems to go on and on. "Unrideable" we agree. "Dave Winton's ridden it", protests a lone voice of dissent. There are mumbles of grudging respect...

A snow-bound heather bash ends before anyone spits the dummy and the trail becomes rideable again, though it's steep and when it isn't steep it's snowbound. Again. The far off cairn on the distant hill is soon gained and then it's time to go downhill for a bit. Stewie looks relieved. The first part is snowbound and icy too. There are a lot of comedy falls as front wheels dig in and catapult riders over the bars.

It doesn't take long to get to the last climb. It's dry and firm and I'm feeling good - no sore legs now. A quick re-group and we're off down from Kailzie Hill on perfect trails to the Gypsy Glen. It's fast and flowing. Everyone is happy. I stop for photos and then nearly blow it on a steep rocky bit as the others look on, only just managing the corner at the bottom. The last bit is muddy and we slide around a lot and laugh like schoolchildren, but not in a sneering way, like schoolchildren often laugh.

A top day out which serves to remind me why I put in all these hours cycling as fast as I can past Oakley and Bogside.