Wednesday 31 October 2012

Witches Dont Wear Knickers

Today is the 31st October (Halloween) and with the clocks being changed last week its starting to get dark quite early. I cycled back to the hotel this evening and by the time I had got there it was dark.  But, it was dry and I had been charging my USB Lezyne front light in my laptop all day and I was itching to try it out.  So, I dive into the hotel room, rip off my work clothes, on with the cycle gear and I'm back outside within a few minutes.

I set off at a steady pace, the light being excellent lighting all of the potholes up in plenty of time to avoid them and I settled into what I expected would be a really good ride.

After around 8 or 9 minutes, I pass out of Sonning and start to head into a housing estate heading towards Woodley in the Reading area.  I notice a lot of kids, dressed in the halloween outfits knocking on doors and shouting "Trick or Treat".  Note to self, keep on the look out for mad kids attempting to commit suicide in front of mad wheezer on push bike.

I hadn't been riding much longer when the weather started to change quite drastically.  Within a few minutes the rain was belting down, the wind had picked up and I was riding into horizontal rain. I quickly stopped, put on my waterproof trousers and kicked into a rhythm debating whether to turn back but found I even started to enjoy it as I turned and had the wind on my back for a change.

I start to approach a set of traffic lights for a cross roads and my traffic light is at red. I slow down and begin to stop.  To my left is a mother dressed in a witches outfit complete with spiked hat, with her right hand holding a young Dracula with an amazing flashing cape and in her left hand was a she devil with flashing devil horns.  Both kids looked to be quite young and the mother was shepherding them carefully to the lights waiting to cross the cross roads in much the same direction as me.

At this point there is a huge gust of wind complete with rain which lifts the poor ladies skirt and cape up over her head leaving nothing to the imagination and revealing a severe lack of underwear, definitely a little undressed for this time of year.  Her son to her right, who is maybe two steps behind is aghast and shouts "Mummy you haven't got any knickers on !". I am sure she hasn't seen me at this point because she replies "Yes, that's right dear, didn't you know, witches dont wear knickers and daddy likes me to dress up properly".

Now at this point she looks over her right shoulder and sees the lone cyclist waiting for the lights to change. I try my hardest to avoid a huge belly laugh at what I have both seen and heard. I'm not quite sure if its the red light but I am sure she is now extremely embarrassed .  But her little boy looks at me and says "I am a vampire....arrrggh".  I'm still trying not laugh so don't respond.  He goes on to say "My sister is a little desil" OK, I know he meant to say devil, but desil is close.

Finally he says, "My mummy is witch and witches don't wear knickers".  At this point I can't help it and reply laughing, "I Know I saw".  The little girl thinks this is hilarious and almost falls on the floor in a fit of laughter and the woman, suddenly extremely embarrassed, calls out his name (ok, for the story it would have been good for him to be called Nicholas, but alas I have to say it is Andrew) "Andrew, come on the green man is on...." she grabs both of them and begins to sprint across the crossing dragging them behind.

OK, so I'm wet, cold, in the dark at just after rush hour and useless at checking the weather but I can't help but laugh. At this point I turn and sprint back to the hotel with the rain getting heavier still, it's also pretty important to note that ghouls don't like bad weather either as the number people dropped to nothing in no time at all.  My waterproof jacket is working, my legs feel a little damp through the trousers, but the squelching in my trainers meant my feet were pretty wet by the time I got back.

It was a short ride, just under an hour but with a two minute encounter with a witch and her family that will have me laughing for quite a while.

So, it's official, another bit of scientific discovery, Witches (at least the ones in the Reading area) don't Wear Knickers.

Monday 29 October 2012

Dear Cyclist

The Palace to Palace charity ride is now over with and the training programme that I was on has come to an end after 11 weeks (it is recommended to wait 4 weeks before restarting it due to it's intensity).  So at the moment it's a case of a couple of endurance rides a week and trying to beat the winter weather.

A few friends and family have asked me what the next challenge will be? In fact, my wife's uncle posted up on Facebook how he would like to join me on the Palace to Palace next year.  My brother has also recently taken up cycling again (I like to think I inspired him to get fitter) so he said he was up for something too. Even my son, who is struggling with bad knees at the moment seems to be interested in getting a road bike.

I noticed two rides by the Princes Trust, the Palace to Palace that I have already completed and a longer ride (225 miles over 3 days) going from the Mersey to the Tyne. I posted up the two offerings on Facebook and suddenly my wife's uncle claims he doesn't have a bike (even though he's been giving me coaching advice for the last 6 weeks or so).

One thing though about charity rides is that they are supported by the good wishes of friends and family (I raised £262 for the Palace to Palace).  I don't want to be one of those people that is always asking for money so I have decided that next year there will be a charity ride with my new recruits, but I also want to concentrate on sportives as well. It may then be a while before I consider another charity ride looking for help from friends and family.

Just as I was trying to decide what ride to possibly do, I look on my desk at a letter from another organisation offering charity bike rides.  It's salutation says "Dear cyclist".  Does this mean I have made it ? Am I no longer an old wheezer on a bike but a fully fledged cyclist ? Maybe they know I have a new road bike and followed me on my training ride on Sunday......

..... I was out riding, getting used to cleats and the new bike.  In fact riding with cleats seems a little easier than I was initially thinking.  Twenty minutes into the ride a couple of cyclists came past me, but, unlike before on the folder where I struggled to keep up I decided "Hell No, I'm a fully fledged road cyclist".  I dropped down a gear accelerated and hung on to their back wheel for around 5 miles or so until we set off in our opposite directions.  Looking down at the cycle computer I noticed my speed was up close to 20 mph as opposed to the 12-14 or so on the other bike. It felt good to be able to have a turn of speed for a change.

I also screamed up the hill where just a few weeks ago an elderly gentleman told me how knackered I looked.  In fact as I broached the top of the hill I was still up at around 14 mph when I looked at the gears I noticed I was on the harder big cog at the front and climbing easily.

I hit one hill and saw part way up it, a guy on the granny cog of his mountain bike, I dug deep and powered by at the top of the hill I was a good 30 yards or so in front and pulling away. This hill is interesting as it isn't very long, but it is pretty steep.  At the top there is Pinderfields Hospital, I'm sure they put it there for the good of cyclists who have almost died getting up it.

Maybe the people who wrote the letter knew all of this, or, maybe they just wanted to impress me in order to gain as many recruits as possible.  Their letter was for another charity ride, over 4 days, cycling from London to Paris (280 miles) .  However, I dare not offer it to my budding recruits as I'm sure they'll run and hide never to be seen again.

There's a large number of charity rides out there and I'm waiting for my potential recruits to issue their preference. So guys (if you're reading this use the comments section at the bottom to suggest which one you fancy - or let me know if you've seen an alternative).  If you're reading this and you've done any of the rides I have listed, please give your feedback but be gentle.

To put in a team into a number of the rides listed, it requires a team to consist of 4 riders so I am also still looking for one more poor soul from friends and family (or other blog readers) in order to put together a team and they too will have voting rights (so get you're name down quick).  As I figure it, most of the rides are in August, September and October giving us close to a year to train, so no excuses.

Last week I completed a night time training session, I feel it's essential to have a target to aim for. Riding out in the evening, as its getting dark and cooler it's a challenge.  As the nights draw in and darkness falls much earlier, I really need to stay committed. I also need to be more alert, especially as I rode down a local path down the side of a river in the dark.  A guy was walking his three black labradors, which in pitch black even with cycle lights don't show up too good.  The plonker was a class 3 (see my blog swim or fly), he froze and stood perfectly still leaving his dogs to continue to wander.  Now I had cycle lights on, was wearing a white jersey and was easily visible.  Only choice was to hit the brakes and come to a muddy, leaf stridden sliding stop.  This riding at night is going to take some practice.

I have roped my brother into a sportive event for the beginning of November this year, it should be good and I am looking forward to the challenge and hoping the weather stays good.

So come on team wheezers, what's it going to be for next year ?

Sunday 7 October 2012

eee tha loooks knackered son

It still amazes me how, every time I go on my bike, I end up with a bit of story to tell.  This morning me and my trusty folder went for another training session (with only a week to go to the Palace to Palace charity ride).  Again to test whether I can possibly manage the distance of 45 miles.

Also, this weekend, my wife bought me a new road bike, so I too will be able to ride like Mr Carbon Frame in the near future.  I wonder if I will have as many tales to tell when I am riding on the road more.

Also, I'm writing this blog following a letter written into the Cycling Active Magazine this month. A mountain biker was complaining that road bikers did not acknowledge him on the road.  I have to say, that in the food chain my folding hybrid is possibly lower down to even a mountain bike, but I have never had a problem with people talking to me.  It's therefore got nothing to do with the type of bike and all to do with lycra.  If you wear it your a cyclist's friend, but if you don't, you're a hairy arsed cyclist who doesn't know how to get dressed in the morning.

The Sunday ritual was completed extremely early this morning. I set off at around 8:30am as I knew I was probably going to be out for at least 4 hours.  So it was pretty cold to say the least but as well as a new bike wifey also bought me a really good base layer.  Can't believe how good it was, it kept me warm throughout the cold morning and as the sun came out and countryside warmed up, I found I wasn't sweating too much either.  This is a real addition to the clothing wardrobe (as are the Shimano shoes with cleats for the new bike, that's bound to be another blog post as I come to terms with how to use those so watch out for it).

Last time I did the Palace to Palace distance it took me 4 hours 29, this time I decided in Wiggins style to race myself and see if I could go faster.  This was a mistake, because although I did the distance in 4 hours 18 minutes, I was starting to have trouble after the first hour or so.  I was also really stupid and taking in a different route with more hills as well (well you never know what London is going to throw at you).

At just over an hour, I started one climb that was pretty steep and started to dig down low.  Part way up the hill, the local cycling club past me by.  I marvelled at their train, 2 cycles wide and a long winding snake of maybe 8 or so rows.  Each row in their club colours,  looking at me as they went by shouting "Morning",  and me trying my hardest to hide the fact that I was puffing like a train returned their shouts.

Then came their back row, and one cyclist dropped out and kept time with me for a while.  Now, sometimes you meet guys who say "I was riding 20 years before you were born", well this guy looked old enough and could have said "I was riding 20 years before yer father was born" and he probably still would have had years to spare.  This guy was easily in his eighties.

He kept time for a few hundred yards, grinned and in a really broad yorkshire accent shouted "Eeee, tha loooooks really knackered son!". At this point he puts his hand on my back and just as I was thinking he might really help push me up the hill he laughs at me again and says "ey well lad, can't hang around here all day", at that point he put's the hammer down, left me for standing and by the time his peloton had reached the top of the hill he was back in formation.  I bet this guy was a Tour de France rider in his youth, had to be as he breezed away.

Following my road section, I then decided to take a visit to the Trans Pennine Trail.  This was a good move as it was wet, muddy and the leaves for autumn had started to fall.  This meant that I had to drop my pace, for safety's sake of course (nothing to do with being really tired and wanting to avoid the onslaught of more roadies).

I rode out for around 10 miles before turning around and heading back for home.  5 miles on the way back, a cyclist coming in the other direction stops me and says "Eee can tha help us out?".  At this point I notice that he has a really small cut on the end of his nose which is bleeding.  He says to me "Can tha tell us if me nose is grazed or cut and if it's bad?".  At this point, I notice his daughter who he is riding with, she is maybe seven and she says "I'm not scared of anything, me dads just being a wimp".

I look at the nose and tell him its not too bad and it's almost stopped.  To the daughter I say,  "I bet that being scared of nothing is what got yer dad his nose job".  She then turns around and rather matter of factly says "No Mister,  he got that because I rode through some glass and my tyre spit it up in his face".  To think I have been trying to get my son to ride with me, this guy would probably have preferred to be on his own, first so he wouldn't have been injured and second so his daughter wouldn't humiliate him in front of complete strangers.

Other than that, the ride was excellent.  A little cool, and as it was muddy and slippy it was maybe one of my last rides on the trail until after the winter.  Another excuse to try out me road bike, and try to get to the point where I can wait for and catch the old guy on his bike.

Wednesday 3 October 2012

xxx off the lot of you, im not dead yet

I decided this morning that I needed to know how much damage my holiday had done to my fitness and training program for my up and coming charity ride.  I therefore decided that, after work this evening, I would quickly get changed and out on the road.  The urgency being compounded by the darkening nights drawing in and my desire to minimise how much riding I do in the dark until I really have to.

So back from work, pannier packed, off I set from my hotel for a planned ride of around 2 hours.  I set off quite quickly, keeping my cadence and speed up.  My plan is to see how close to the half of the palace to palace distance I can do (which is 45 miles and only just a week and half away).

My start quickly gets me in front of a class 3,  this stupid woman was walking her dog which was off the lead and wandering in front of her.  Her response was to shout the dogs name followed by the command "Sit !".  The dog responded by laying straight across the path, its obedience so good, it wasn't even going to move as I approached at speed.  This caused me to slam on the breaks and wait for her to collect her dog.  Unbelievable, why couldn't she have just left it alone as it wandered harmlessly to the side of the path.  She could have also followed her command with "Commit Suicide" and "Play Dead".  Of course, everything was ok because she used the standard class 3 response, "Oh !, Sorry".

I then headed out quite quickly, to then get held up in traffic where cars on wide roads decided to move right to the left to deliberately stop cyclists being able to get through.

It was at this point I decided it would probably be dark before I got to half my ride, and I would need to up the tempo to get anywhere near a decent ride.

At the 30 minutes / 7 mile point I did a quick drink stop and then straight on keeping my rate up. Things were going good, and even with the traffic jam, I was probably going to get an average speed around 13 mph's.  Two hours, 26 miles, more than half of the target, no problem.

Stopped for a little longer at the half way mark,  1 banana and more drink to keep me going and dusk fast approaching.  It's at this point that I look up.

Circling above me is a load, I mean a swarm of Red Kites. I'm not kidding there must have been 30 or 40 birds flying around in circles just above where I had decided to stop.

For those of you that don't know, Red Kites are a large bird of prey with a wing span up to 5 feet long.  The image below is borrowed from Wikipedia, and the link to their page on kites is here.

Red Kite Picture
Now Red Kites were hunted almost to extinction as they were wrongly blamed for affecting farm animals, crops and were also notoriously scavenging around the 15th century.  In fact, Kites are the UK equivalent of vultures, preferring already dead animals or road kill.

In the UK, they have been re-introduced and after a gap of over 150 years, they are now breeding again in many counties within the UK.  But Berkshire seems to have a really high concentration and they can regularly be seen in the country side to the north of reading.  They are a success story for re-introduced wildlife within the UK, but rarely have I seen so many

Now imagine, one highly knackered middle aged man in lycra,  feeling a little tired and looking up to see a circling pack of vultures.  At this point one was quite low, so I shouted 'bxggxr off the lot of you, I ain't dead yet!'.  I think they thought of me as road kill, or, based upon where I was standing and how it was getting dark, I would be soon.  To be honest, they probably thought the sound of my voice was further confirmation of my impending demise.  They say animals have an extra sense, and I saw no road kill either up or down the lane so I'm sure it was me that they were interested in following.

So as it was starting to get darker, it was on with the lights and then back on my bike, it was time to look lively again. I was also getting hungry and thinking of dinner at this point, then looking back over my shoulder at the circling birds I laughed to myself and wondered if they were thinking the same thing of me.

Another 45 minutes and it was time for me to finish my epic ride.  22.39 miles completed in 1 hour 45 minutes, so not too bad I guess.  Timing was also excellent as on my return it was getting quite dark and had also started raining.  So it's time for my chinese takeaway (Chicken Chow Mein) and I wonder as I write this, what ended up on the Red Kites Menu for the evening.  Sorry, but it wasn't a knackered 45 year old MAMIL.