Sunday, 11 October 2009

The ladies like a nice bell!

Saturday morning, 08:00 and I prepare for the day's assault on the canal. Neither Nick or Keith could make it today as Nick was intending to go to Coed Llandegla in Wales on Sunday and can't go out biking twice in one weekend, which is fair enough, and Keith was being a good Uncle and taking his niece to Blackpool as a birthday treat, what a good egg.

However, the training regime was graced with the first appearance of Gaz! Unfortunately Gaz is already physically very fit, and a nutter!

So down went the porridge for fuel and in the pocket went a handful of Jelly Beans for an instant sugar rush which my daughters had been begging me to take for the last few rides. After those went a Nutri-grain and Coco-pops bar (I know). Upon reflection, I should have put the Jelly Beans in a bag as they turned into a sticky amorphous lump within 30 minutes of riding!

As well as the food, in went the emergency toilet paper ("A mans gotta do what a mans gotta do") and an extra pair of socks, not to be worn on the feet but rather as an emergency extra padding for the padded shorts. I kid you not. Next time I'm going to be wearing a rucksack as the amount of baggage in the only pocket on my mountain biking shorts is getting ever larger and only one leg is lifting it!

I was supposed to be meeting Gaz at 08:30 but the preparation's weren't going so well.

First it took me 20 minutes to fit a new pump holder because of the curved frame on the new bike and then when I tried to pump the rear tyre up a bit, the new pump simply let all the air out.

Gaz arrived and pointed out that somebody had switched the innards of the new pump around! The bastards! So, around they went again and worked perfectly, thank god for that!

The target was 50 miles on the canal, not including the 1.9 miles from my house to it. Off we went.

There's a hill up to the canal which is about a half to three quarters of a mile long. On all previous trips I've made it about halfway up before having a breather, then a bit more, and a bit more.

Gaz was my partner today .....

Three quarters up I panted "". Like an American military trainer Gaz responded "Feel the pain, love it! No rest till the top, RAAAAARGH!" Shit ......

That set the tone for the day and we hadn't even got to the canal yet! We made it to the top without stopping and I have to say I felt a little impressed with myself, and a lot like sitting down!

After a quick breather we headed off in the direction of Liverpool. We were aiming for an average of 12.5 miles per hour. That was going to be tough!

The towpath between Altham and Church just doesn't exist, it's basically a grass embankment with a worn cycle path just over a tyre's width wide in parts. The new bike, with it's full suspension and 'pro-pedal' assisted damping came into it's own here. It soaked up the bumps and was immeasurably more comfortable than the hardtail!

We made it past Church and on to Rishton. At this point Gaz took point and set the pace. For the next 12 or so miles, the towpath alternates between asphalt and hardpack mud and we kept up 13-14 Miles per hour. It's pretty hard work keeping up with Gaz and at points I fell behind, but caught up each time Gaz slowed to pass dog walkers, joggers or fishermen. The locks at Blackburn provided a little respite, being able to freewheel for a few minutes.

The gay bell came in handy at each bridge and every group of walkers, letting people know that the YMCA on wheels was approaching. Of course there are still people who upon hearing the bell, take their hands out of their pockets and walk determinedly in the middle of the path, refusing to turn around and acknowledge your approach. I find it amusing to ride as close as possible to them and swerve back in again. Only for these ignorant arses though, everybody else who moves out of the way (and thankfully that's the majority of people) gets a smile and a polite 'Thank you' or 'Cheers'. Most people fall into the second category.

After another brief respite freewheeling down the locks just past Wheelton, we pedalled another couple of miles and at the 20 mile mark we arrived at Botany Bay in Chorley. Time for a rest.

A Nutri-Grain bar, a mouthful of Jellybeans and a few mouthfuls of water. Nectar!

It was at think point that Gaz suddenly realised something, and when you think about it, he's spot on! After we both agreed that our arses were a bit painful, Gaz exclaimed "You know, I don't think this pain in my arse is anything to do with muscles! I think what's happening is that the hairs are being pulled out! I'm gonna have to have a 'Back, sack and crack!'"

He's right you know! The pain is immediate when you sit down, then it goes away again. It's the instant you sit down that the combination of cheeks, hair and saddle make for a good set of tweezers! Time for some hair removal cream to be applied to the old buttocks methinks! Good spot Gaz!

Onward we pedalled until I was eventually able to stop Gaz and say "That's it! 25 miles!" and so we turned around and headed back. 7 miles further and we were back at Wheelton and stopped sat the 'Top Lock' pub for some lunch. We both ordered a Hot beef and Onion sandwich and a coffee and shared a plate of chips. They were superb. The nice man behind the bar filled up our water bottles for us too! Result.

Our average for the first 25 miles plus the 7 miles back to Wheelton registered at 11.3 mph. Not quite the 12.5 we were aiming for but the lack of towpath and the wet grass contributed to slowing us down for the first 6 or so miles. Still 11.3 isn't bad. We didn't expect to be able to keep up that pace on the way home but soon surprised ourselves when we got on the asphalt. Gaz was leading yet again and I was following. I was amazed to see that at points we were keeping up 15mph for decent stretches. The beef sandwich and chips had given us a decent boost obviously.

35 or so miles in and I started feeling it. Botany bay loomed ahead and realisation set in. "We're only just getting back to 'Botany Bastard Bay! There's a long way to go yet!"

The next 20 miles were hard. Interspersed with periods of standing just to give the bum a rest! (Can you imagine John Lennon joining us and singing "Give Cheeks a chance...."?)

It was around the 38 mile mark that we were back in Blackburn. It happened on a nice long stretch. We approached a couple of Ladies walking their dogs and for the hundredth time that day I have a couple of rings of the gay bell. The ladies turned around and moved to the side and said "Thank God! At last! Somebody with a bell! Thank you so much!" Wow! What a reaction! A lesson for you all there, as gay as it seems, a bell works wonders!

I must admit, I was silently chuckling to myself each time I rang the bell when approaching groups of lads fishing or blokes walking menacing looking dogs. Gaz was always at the front and I'm sure they all thought it was him! Hah!

Eventually we made it back to Altham and the trip computer showed 50.3 miles. We'd done it. 1.9 miles home and it was time for a well deserved pint. I think that if we can manage 50 miles at this stage, then we should be able to cope with the full distance of 127.25 miles next May, but god will it hurt! I salute the people who've done it before us and especially Colin Dobson who did twice in 2 days! I must introduce him to Gaz!

Right, where can I get some Veet?

Monday, 5 October 2009

Here comes the rain again

Two rides to report this weekend and although neither could be classed as canal training, valuable lessons were learned!

The first was on Saturday. It was meant to be a training ride for the canal with just myself and Keith deciding to go and it was meant to be early, but when my alarm went at 07:00 and I wearily rose and looked outside I felt like I'd been transported overnight to the subcontinent in monsoon season! The heavens were wide open, the rain was torrential and I may even have seen a cow blow by the window! (Not really).

I was determined that this unfortunate turn of events was not going to stop me and I so I waited until 08:00 before sending Keith a message. "Up for it?" read the text, but even as I pressed send, I knew what the response would be! Two minutes later and the phone rang. "Morning!" I answered, "Are you mental?" came the reply. "Yep, fair enough" I thought but pressed on in the vain hope that if I could persuade Keith to go out in the East Lancashire version of a biblical flood, then I really should go out myself. "It's not that bad" I ventured but Keith was sensibly adamant, "Not a f***ing chance" he replied. To his credit Keith did agree to go out eventually, but on a local, tarmac based ride. We agreed to disagree and decided to wait to see what the following morning would bring, there was a chance that we would go to Coed Llandegla in North Wales with Nick and Ash to experience the trails there for the first time.

Later that day however, the rain had gone and the sun came shining through. I called Keith again and asked whether that local ride was still an option and 30 minutes later we were off. We didn't really count on the fact that the wind was as strong as ever and we were intending on riding up hills. The higher we got, the stronger the wind got. When we eventually made it to the top of a local hill called 'Black hill' (which is neither Black, nor a hill but a brown mini-mountain) the wind was so strong that pedalling slightly downhill became hard work!

The rest of the ride was fairly uneventful apart from a comedy moment where we rode through a field where a seemingly lost Jack Russell terrier barked and growled at us as we rode past then stopped to open a gate before riding through. The sight of 2 grown men opening a gate as hastily as possible while laughing nervously was probably somewhat pathetic!

With Nick being unable to contact Ash for the rest of that day, we decided not to bother going to Wales on the following morning and to take a trip to Lee Quarry in Bacup where we'd been a few times before.

Sunday morning dawned and there was no rain, nor was there a wind! Result!

Nick arrived at 08:00 (These early starts are getting out of hand!) as did Keith and 5 minutes later Nick's van was loaded up. At this point I suppose I should make mention of my futile attempt to stop my new pride and joy from being scratched on the journey by placing an old tablecloth between Keith’s and my new bike as I tied them to the shelves in the back of Nicks van. In doing so I accidentally let go of the Bungee Cord when it was at full stretch and the hook on the end spun around and hit the top bar and created a nice centimetere long gouge. For F***’s sake …..

We made it to the quarry and unloaded. This was Nick's first attempt as riding off-road with his new SPD shoes and clipless pedals. For the uninitiated, these are the kind that fasten the rider to the bike. Typically when a rider takes on this feat for the first time, hilarity ensues. Inevitably, two minutes later, hilarity ensued.

Nick, experiencing an almost Zen feeling of being at one with his bike seemingly forgot that he was attached to it and joyously pulled a wheelie while riding uphill on rocky ground at 1 or 2 mph. I like to think that right then, somewhere in the world, at that moment, someone put one palm to the side of their mouth and cried "Timberrr!". Nick fell sideways, and being unable to twist his foot in time to unclip himself from his new body part, the first bit of human to hit the floor was elbow. In an unfortunate twist of fate, Nick had decided that this stunt would be best performed on the edge of a ditch. Sacks of spuds have been known to move more gracefully! Throughout this barrell roll, there was a look on his face of utter confusion in not being able to stick out a leg to stop himself. Once he came to rest, on his back, he groaned, but ironically was no longer attached to his pedals. Keith and I hooted with laughter. That’s what mates do, laugh first, then ask about injuries once your breath has returned. There were none so we laughed again. Thankfully Nick laughed too as despite his trip into a ditch in a quarry, no sharp edges had broken either his or his bikes skins. Lucky bugger!

Despite the fact that we're supposed to be training for an feat of endurance, our location and the next 3 hours of riding meant that we actually only covered about 8 miles. There were a lot of hills involved and quite a few periods of standing around watching while one or another of us attempted either 'drop offs' or jumps. I’ll admit to possibly being the least daring on this occasion as I'm not yet totally confident in my new steed and the rocks and mud were generally fairly slippy.

We watched one brave soul ride virtually sideways down something that none of us would have attempted walking down, and when he hit the bottom at full speed, he fell off and stopped dead. 20mph to zero in an instant. He too rolled around on the floor a bit but after thirty seconds or so, was up and on his bike again. Impressive!

For the rest of the morning we generally larked about like children and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. By the time Keith reads this, I wouldn't be surprised if he too is the owner of a new bike. We both decided to get one around the same time and after these last two rides, I think Keith is even more eager to splash the cash!

Lessons learned this weekend:

1. Don’t count on English weather.
2. SPD's and clipless pedals? er, no.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

The dark side

Not too much to report on tonights ride. You'd think I would have learned from the 'Four Kin' light episode but no. The dark caught us up before we'd managed to do more than 5 or 6 miles. I think we probably only managed 8 or 9 in total so a wash out really.

It wasn't helped by the fact that despite me being slightly excited about going out for the first time on my new bike, when we got to the only downhill offroad bit we planned on, I got a puncture. Within 20 yards of leaving the tarmac and had to walk it down the best bits to find Nick. Bastard.

By the time the spare inner tube was on and Nick had called me a 'useless bastard' 15 times for asking whether there was anything different I needed to do to take a disk brake wheel off, and how the hell do you get it back in between the brake pads, oh and not having a pump with me (Oops) that the light had gone and the long journey home became adrenalin fuelled. Not because of anything that should excite us, oh no! Because we had absolutely no idea where each other were and only slightly more where the road was! Neither of us had lights (Ok I had the factory reflectors still on but there was a distinct lack of light to be reflected!).

Other than the puncture though I can safely say that the new bike helps, a lot! It will be interesting to see what it's like on the canal and whether it makes that easier too! What I'm really looking forward too though, is getting the bugger offroad a bit and going on some decent trails with a few jumps and drops! With a bit of luck I might be joining Nick and Ash for a trip to Wales at the weekend so the Canal might have to wait until I've satisfied my lust for a bit of fun rather than plain endurance!

A final thought. I still have the bell fitted that bike sellers must put on by law. It's the only gay bell in the village, and for that reason, I'm out.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Hissy fit

So, Saturday morning. 6.30am. Alarm goes off. Am I startng to take this a bit too seriously?

Ah well, up I get, down with the porridge, on with all the gear and out we go. This time I'm taking the bike up to the canal in the car instead of riding it there. Not because there's a bloody long hill on the way which means I'm usually knackered before even starting on the canal, but because I have to be back by 10:30am to go on the local pub's 'Fun' run at 11:00am. Not running but walking it with the kids thankfully.

So eventually it's 7:30am and I'm on the canal. It's bloody cold and I'm looking to do a 30 miler so I've decided that I'm heading the Leeds way, because after 15 miles I can have a brew at Barrowford locks and turn round and come home. I didn't notice on the way there but I must have had the wind behind me but I certainly noticed it in my face later!

The last time I went this way the topsoil had been ripped off along a decent stretch of the towpath between Altham and Hapton and we ended up riding over the top of whatever it was built with in the late 1700's (manly corners of broken bricks giving a less than pleasant ride!). Fortunately it's now been resurfaced with shale. Unfortunately it's not been compacted yet which meant that after riding all of 2 miles on it I was sweating like a Blackpool donkey carrying Fern Britton on a Summer's day!

The droplets of sweat pouring off my nose were coalescing with the fluids coming out of my nose due to my cold. The wind meant that my frequent Farmers Blows were occasionally misdirected either across my cheek or onto my shoulder. By the time I got to Burnley I must have looked like Slimer from Ghostbusters! Not pleasant!

Anyway, onwards and upwards as they say. I got off the towpath at the Gannow tunnel and wound my way around the cycle paths at Gannow top before getting back on. The slope down the hill to the towpath has either an off-road ramp or a flight of steps. I chose the ramp because after attempting riding down half of the flight of steps last time I found that they're just far enough apart so that about a quarter of a second after back wheel lands, your front wheel goes down the next step. This has the effect of making you look like an clockwork chicken pecking the ground all the way down! The unavoidable noise of "Ooh, Aah, ow, ooh, oow, oh, sh..,..ii..,..ii.,!" as you go down does nothing for the street cred either! (That and having laughed for 5 minutes at Keith's last attempt).

I flew down the ramp thinking "Nice one, I won't have to pedal for at least 200 yards" ..... and had to suddenly slam my brakes on at the bottom due to a dopey looking Labrador standing slap bang in the middle of the towpath. It's owner looked at me like I was mad, when in fact it was he that looked like an extra out of Deliverance! (.. other side of Burnley you know ..)

Once past Gannow, it's a fairly smooth ride for the next 10 miles or so to Barrowford. It should be fairly pleasant too but, and it's a big but, the towpath is infested with nasty hissing bastard Geese! I hate them! You can see them from miles away and your heart sinks. The closer you get, the dread increases, because you just know that the aggressive arseholes are going to go for you as you pass!

In three groups of the bird versions of Demon spawn, I think maybe 6 went for me! Luckily all were on the water side of the towpath, because I wouldn't try to ride past them on the other, I'd definitely get wet!

Only one came close enough for a Shimano cycling shoe to be flicked out at it but sadly I didn't decapitate the bugger! Next times a winner!

Finally I got to Barrowford locks and had been dreaming of the hot cup of sweet tea I was going to buy for about 6 miles. I counted myself a litttle unlucky that the shop didn't open until 10 and I'd got there at 8.30! .... Balls! Must remember that for next time.

After a 10 minute breather, a load of cold water and 3 Lucozade tablets, back I went. The wind was in my face this time and it got cold pretty quick! But I didn't mind because the 'bastard Geese' were all in the water. If I wasn't trying to get home in the same time it took me to get to Barrowford I might have got off and thrown something at the buggers. Next time I might borrow and take a catapult! (I'm only kidding before you go all RSPCA on me!)

I made it back to Altham in only 10 minutes more than the way out. Quite pleased with that as the wind was in my face and I had to slow down more often due to dog walkers, fishermen and the obligatory carrier bag and Stella can carrying alcoholics around Burnley. Must have been a pretty good night though as their bags looked fairly empty.

Home and a shower and then the fun run at 11:30. No running involved but hey, I'd done my exercise for the day thanks.

With a bit of luck the new bike will arrive on Tuesday so hopefully the next ride will be easier and more comfy. Might even go for a PB and 55 miles. We'll see.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Flat is better

Unfortunately there was only me who was able to ride tonight but then it wasn't supposed to be a 'training' do as such so I'll let them off. Valid excuses all round apart from Keith who had "Just had me tea" and thought it "Might get dark". Well I think we now know who wears the trousers in Keith's relationship with his bike, and it's not Keith! And it's not his bike either!

So, off I went with my cycling glasses to stop the flies getting in my eyes. Sadly, it's late September and it's 6:30pm and I'd forgotten to change the lenses from the Stevie Wonder models to the clear ones so there were plenty of "Never mind the flies, wheres the bloody road" moments, but more of those later.

I decided to see whether all this work was paying off and find the steepest hill I could and whether riding up it would kill me or not. So off I went, round the top road of our little village until I came to the crossroads at the Higher Trapp. Straight on to "Smokey Pad", right to "Sod this, I'm going to the pub for a pint, who'd know for God's sake!" or left up "Jesus Christ!" hill.

Unfortunately I'd eaten a Banana just before I set off so the energy boost won and left I went....................for about 100 yards! Jesus Quentin Christ on a bike! That hill is STEEP! I'd got to the first corner and had to stop. I wasn't sure if the luminous flies that appeared to be all around my head were inside my eyes or we'd been invaded by pissed up little aliens who'd been eating glow-sticks! Turned out they must have been inside me because after about 3 cars and a bus had driven by with each driver looking at me like I was not only green but mental, the flies had all gone.

They came back every 100 yards after that though!

Finally, I got to the top, caught my breath, thanked Jesus, Buddah and Jehova that I'd given up fags a few months back and ventured left down the hill past the riding stables. It was at this point that feeling the need for speed (going downhill), I thought I'd best put the glasses on so I didn't get blinded by Kamikaze flies.

It was kind of unfortunate that it was going dark and there was a canopy of trees virtually the whole way down because I couldn't see shit! In fact, it's a bloody good job that the one car I met who was coming the other way had his lights on or this would have been a really short Blog!

I slammed on and rode up the banking, only brambling one leg. Even though I had the Blues Brother's gigs on, I could just make out that the friendly driver advised me to "Get some Four Kin Lights!!". I don't know who makes "Four Kin" lights but from his gesture I think they must be like those Miner's light affixed to your forehead! What a good idea! I'll get some tomorrow!

By the time I got to the part where I needed to pedal again, the sunglasses were back in my pocket, and from there it was only 10 minutes home. The bike went in the garage and my wobbly legs took me to the pub. Another training session was over and the 100 or so calories that had been burnt were replaced with 600 or so of Carling's finest.

Top Bombing!

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Time to start training

127.25 miles.

Doesn't sound impossible does it? Well we're up for a challenge so thats what it's going to be. To ride 127.25 miles, from one end to the other of the Leeds to Liverpool canal in one day (but the other way around. Mainly because we can get one train home from Leeds but it takes a couple of train switches to get back from Liverpool).

At the time of writing, not only has the challenge been set, but a few friends have expressed an interest in joining, namely Keith, Nick, Ash, Russ (Who doesn't yet have a bike) and Gaz (Who doesnt fancy the Canal route so is going to 'race' us on a road route instead! Oh God it's turned into a race already!)

The training so far has consisted of two rides, one of 34 miles along the canal which Keith and myself took part in and to be fair walked it, but, on bikes, but, you get my drift, and another of 45 point something, which was just 3 days ago involving Keith "I can't keep going at that pace!" Butterworth, Nick "My ass is on fire" Root and John "Oh God make it stop!" Prior.

The legs can still feel it, but thats ok, because we're not intending to actually go for the big one until May 2010, by which time some of us intend to have shrunk, others meanwhile intend to have grown. You can make your own guesses.

Let the training commence! (It did 2 weeks ago but I hadn't considered writing a blog at that point). 50 miles either this weekend or next. It probably won't be this weekend as the local pub, The Stork Hotel, has a family fun run in aid of McMillans and a Cystic Fibrosis charity on which my daughters and I will be, erm, walking.

As this challenge now seems to be taking on a life of it's own, it may as well turn into a charity event. Someone might as well benefit I suppose and so suggestions are welcome for charities of choice.

PS 50 mile training runs 7 months before the event? We'll p*ss it! Or will we?