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Sunday, 25 April 2010

It's easier to ride

...than it is to organise an Audax event, and then sit around waiting for people to finish, whilst all the time wondering what's happening to them.

Admittedly, they're all big boys (and girls) who know how to take care of themselves but nonetheless you can't help feeling a bit responsible for chucking them out onto the road to get on with it.

Thus, I found myself sitting in the local pub for the whole afternoon on a sunny Saturday, looking out of the window and wishing I was out on my bike.

As was written centuries ago, the best laid plans oft go astray, and that was how the day started. Friday afternoon saw a (probably deliberately started) brushfire on Cannock Chase, right across the intended route of my shorter Audax. I only found out about this AFTER they had all left in the morning. Cue additional worry. That was followed by news that one control had put the wrong day in their diary, another had forgotten completely. Finally, on Audaxes, there are info controls, questions that are asked about a certain location to prove that you went there (and didn't take a short cut). One of mine went missing. I wouldn't mind, but these things are picked carefully, in this case a roadsign that has probably been there since being re-erected after World War II. Not this week, it's been taken down for roadworks.

Despite these vagaries, the first hardy cyclists appeared off the 150km event at 15:45. How I would love to post 6 hours 45 minutes for a 150 Audax. Probably not quite as much as I'd like to be as fast as the first finisher on the 200, back in 8 hours 25 minutes, including cake stops. In the end, the last rider on the 150 appeared at 19:55, well inside the time limit but looking on the point of expiry. Thankfully he was soon revived by the pub carvery. Less than an hour later, the final rider came back off the 200, and I could relax a bit. All I have to do now is finish off all the paperwork.

All professed to have had a grand day out, not least due to the wall-to-wall sunshine. I promised that 'weather was guaranteed' when I advertised the event, I'm glad it was better weather then I thought I was guaranteeing. I suppose the rain will fall on LeJog instead.

Still, back to riding now. A commute this week and the Tour de Mercredi with colleagues will count for 100 miles this week, and Mrs H and I will be doing the Dean Bluebell Doddle Audax on Saturday. Doddle? Mmmmmm. 1250 metres of climb in 54km. I seem to recall from my Etape blog that the Forest of Dean is a little bumpy.....

Monday, 5 April 2010

Public Transport Sucks!

During the course of the last few weeks, and especially the last few days, I have formulated an opinion of why so few people attempt LeJoG. It is not because it's a long way, it is not because it's hard. It's because it's a righteous pain-in-the-backside to organise.

Let us start by considering accommodation. Or rather, let us not. Because, you see, there's no point booking accommodation before you can be certain of being able to get to said accommodation. And that means waiting until 12 weeks before the date so that one can take advantage of rail fares that might be considered remotely reasonable, and do not require a second mortgage all of their very own. By this point, most of the 'reasonable' accommodation has already been booked by those with a great deal more faith (and probably foresight) than I. Hence, there is no room at the Lands End YHA on our intended start date of 26th June. But there must be other alternatives, right? Only, it appears, if you wish to sleep in a gold plated luxury 4 poster double bed with a price tag to match. Much as I like Ray, it ain't happening.

So lets try the train and sort out the accommodation later. On to TheTrainLineDotCom to book tickets. Only, if you need a bike reservation, you can't. No sir, if you want to make a bike reservation, you have to battle with the phone line. Amazingly, it's answered in seconds....by a machine that asks innumerable questions about your journey. Once these questions are answered, you are redirected to a 'real person' who asks the same innumerable questions, only this time, to make it more interesting, they are asked in a broad Mumbai accent which the quality of the phone line renders difficult to fully understand. No matter, we eventually overcome the divisions of our common language and decide upon a train journey and time. Tickets are available, but cycle reservations need to be checked. "Will I hold?" Do I have a choice? A couple of minutes elapse......"Hello Sir, thank you for waiting patiently" "No reservations are available".

Let's try a later train. Tickets are available, but.........."Will I hold?" A couple of minutes elapse....."Hello Sir, thank you for waiting patiently" (by now I am suspecting a scripted conversation) "No reservations are available". We try again. This time cycle reservations ARE available...........as far as Birmingham New Street. I can get my own bike to Birmingham New Street, it's only 22 miles from home, it's getting to Penzance that's the tricky bit! Many more attempts ensue, with similar results. You cannot, it seems, get a bicycle to Penzance on a weekend train unless that place was reserved by a Victorian ancestor (with an inside track to Mr Isambard Kingdom Brunel) when the railway was first built. Eventually, I decide not to try to explain the concept of LeJoG and why this journey is important to my bemused correspondent from the Indian sub-continent and ring off to lick my wounds and reconsider my options.

Thankfully, family have come to the rescue. We are now driving as far into the South-West peninsula as the traffic will allow on the Sunday, and my long-suffering wife and her father will share the drive back whilst we cycle to Lands End YHA (who do have places on the Sunday). Of course, John O'Groats Youth Hostel, Hotels, B&B's etc are all fully booked on the Friday (presumably with people daft enough to try JoGLe) so we find ourselves needing to get to Thurso the evening we finish. Still, what's an extra 31km going to do when you've already done 1400+? Somehow I think they may be the worst 31km we ever do.

At least it will be convenient for meeting my brother-in-law, who will be finishing up a trip round Scotland's West coast with a bit of surfing in.........Thurso. And he's coming home the day after.

You didn't honestly think I'd try getting a train home, did you?

Unexpected Generosity

During the course of our 108km audax on Saturday, we came across a couple of gentlemen from Lincoln Wheelers as they were recovering from the climb out of Tetford.

Whilst recovering on the undulations that followed, these gentlemen engaged our small group in conversation, pointing out landmarks etc, and generally introducing themselves. My wife was most in conversation with them, as I was antisocially leading out on hills. (We both believe its important to climb at your own pace, to try anyone else's either faster or slower is just more painful).

Unbeknown to me, eventually, the conversation turned to the perennial "have you been doing this for long?" and Linda explained that it was "all my fault" that she wasn't home on the sofa (as if..).

At the finish, these two sought me out and insisted I accept cash for my charity LeJog ride in the Summer. So, to Trevor and Lou (Lew?) of Lincoln Wheelers, I thank you, on behalf of Ray and myself, and on behalf of Make-a-Wish.

Isn't it nice when faith in human nature is restored?

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Another bunch of miles

Saturday was, at last, Mrs H's first Audax of the year. This was the third attempt with the previous two having been snowed off.

The weather forecast, at first bad for the weekend, gradually improved as the week went on, eventually promising no more than light showers, provided we finished before 4 p.m. For once, the forecast was accurate, although this was partially unfortunate as the forecast wind was much in evidence.

So, how was the 108km of the Lincoln Imp Audax? Actually, very enjoyable overall. I'm still not fond of the flatter parts of Englands Fens, and my wife now also understands about how the wind is always in your face, no matter which way you are pointing. Nonetheless, the route out from the start was very pleasant, heading down a no-through-road onto NCN1 alongside the river Witham. As is usual along such paths, skinny road tyres succumbed to flints and punctures, though thankfully we were not affected. The route was largely flat out to the first feed stop, but did climb gradually, rewarding us with the first serious downhill of the day whilst bacon butties were being digested. Then the fun started.

Lincolnshire is not all flat, it seems. Not only does it have Fens, it also has Wolds. Wolds, according to wikipedia, are chalk based hills. I care not about what they are made of, but can confirm that they are definitely hills. The steepest and hardest of the day was at Tetford. With a climb of 85metres in a kilometre, it's not Alpe d'Huez, neither is it Mow Cop, but it is enough to raise the heart rate, and enough to convince Mrs H to 'nearly get off' for the first time this year. Had the climb been a little longer, it might have forced a dismount, as it did to the guy ahead of us. He was riding fixed, he had an excuse.

The descent from the escarpment was fun, if a little winding and resulted in the day's top speeds (39mph for me, 32 for my wife....she doesn't have the force of lard on her side), the 'undulations' continuing to the next feed. On leaving the feed we were treated to a 30 second hailstorm, just enough to encourage us to put coats on before it stopped. This was beneficial later when the shower really did arrive, but not enough to make things miserable. Somewhere at this point the wind shifted so that it was in our faces, again.

GPS delivered us to the unmarked road back to the river footbridge, and we got back to the start with 6:28 elapsed, well inside the usual Audax minimum speed of 15kph. We noted on finishing that the minimum speed for this one was 10kph, so we had 5 1/2 hours to spare, not that we would have wanted to be out until 9:30p.m.

All in all it was a good day to ignore the forecasters dire predictions, and a good 65 mile ride. But today we are both feeling like it was much, much further and hillier. Such, I suspect, is the effect of seemingly constant headwinds.