Oh, the weather outside is… delightful!

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Photo: Nikki Pugh

Despite being a generally cold country, and despite having a winter every single year, the UK just never seems to be prepared for the ‘adverse weather conditions’ when they arrive.

Yes, it’s that time of year. Snow has fallen, winter is looking beautiful, and the public transport system is in chaos.

I was supposed to be getting a coach to London today, but since they decided to close part of the M4, I would have spent around 4 hours getting there, only to be late to the CycleFox Christmas Market, and then spend another 4 hours to get back at stupid o’clock in the morning.

So, I made the difficult decision to not go, and instead went to play in the woods with Adam, Lucy, and her friend Nikki.

Because, snow.

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Smiles all round! Lucy, Nikki and Adam.
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Proof that I was there too. Photo: Nikki Pugh

I’ve discovered that mountain biking in the snow may just be my new favourite thing to do.

We met in Ashton Court at the start of the Nova trail, and took each section at our own pace. I started off slower than the others (though I was stopping to take photos at first), but later on I was able to keep up with Nikki, which was reassuring.

We then progressed over to Leigh Woods, which I’m less familiar with, and did a bit of Yer Tiz. By that point though, it had already been well over an hour, and none of us could feel our fingers and toes, so we decided to quit while we were still having fun.

I actually found my confidence really grew today. I focused on my cornering technique, and found I was really able to power through some of the bends. I also found it easier with the big, deep puddles, which sounds counter-intuitive, but it helped me stop worrying about picking out a line, and just put some trust in my bike. It worked every time, though I don’t know if I’d have this same trust on an unfamiliar trail.

And… and! I even attempted part of the red trail. Whilst practically blind. I consider myself suitably challenged today. I couldn’t do the whole lot, but I did about half of what the others did. Once I saw Adam and Lucy slipping and sliding over a steep, rocky part, I backed out and cycled to the top of the hill to wait for them. Perhaps I could try that part another day when it’s dry, and when I can actually see where I’m going.

Yeah, I was practically blind due to my glasses steaming up. I think I’m going to try and wear contact lenses, because it was quite terrifying when I couldn’t see properly.

Also I definitely learned that I need to invest in some decent waterproof socks. My poor toes were not very happy afterwards. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been so cold in my life, and when we got back and changed I thought I’d never warm up again.

Not much else to say, other than it was super fun, and absolutely beautiful. So here are some pictures of the snowy trails.

 

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Now, go ride.

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A confession, and a trip around Chew Valley

So, I’ve not been entirely honest with you.

Last time, I told you about acquiring a new bike – Phoebe the Cotic BFe – and I felt the need to justify it by explaining that I part-exchanged Regina for her.

That’s true. What I haven’t mentioned yet, is that Phoebe is the second bike I’ve bought since we last spoke. Sorry.

And there’s no way of justifying this one. It was an all-out purchase. Because I wanted it.

This is Edie, the Genesis Equilibrium Disc 20. She’s really, really sexy.

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With a 725 steel frame and carbon fork, she’s surprisingly light and zippy, and the perfect bike for a long road ride or sportive. Despite her turkey-warbling rear brake (I need to sort that out), she’s an absolute joy to ride, and today I took her for a spin around Chew Valley, with my dream team, Lucy and Ania. You may remember them from my spontaneous 200k.

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We decided not to be so bold this time, and did a comfortable 56(ish) kilometre route down to Chew Valley Lake, and back up to Bristol via the Whitchurch Way cycle path.

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It transpired throughout the day that all three of us had considered cancelling, as we were all feeling a bit run down and tempted to have a Sunday lie-in. I’m so glad we didn’t though, as it was a really lovely ride through some beautiful countryside.

This time of year the weather doesn’t really make for picturesque photos (though we did see a rainbow), but here’s a little glimpse anyway:

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In terms of the route, the first two-thirds was the same as the route I took back when I first tried clipping in and riding solo. We took the Bristol-Bath to Saltford, and followed the Avon Cycleway (route 410) through Compton Dando, Stanton Drew, Pensford and finally Chew Valley.

One of the highlights of this part was encountering some running Santas.

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Another lie. These ones weren’t running.

Turns out today was the Saltford Santa Dash, so that provided some comic relief. Lots of people dressed as Santa, many with dogs in tow. I wish I’d gotten a photo of the pug dressed as an elf. Probably the highlight of the entire day.

When we reached Chew Valley Lake, we rewarded ourselves with coffee, chips, and ducks. Lots of ducks.

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From there, it became unfamiliar to me. In the past I’ve continued south, into the Mendips, but this time we turned back towards Bristol and joined the Whitchurch Way (route 3). It’s a really lovely traffic-free cycle path, which takes you all the way into Bristol city from the south.

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I have to admit, I did find some parts of today pretty challenging. Edie has an 11-spd 11-28 cassette, as opposed to the 9-spd 11-32 cassette I’m used to riding on a daily basis, so climbing hills becomes a little harder. It’s good though, because it forces me to get out of the saddle and really put my legs to work, and that can only spell out good things for my quads and glutes.

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What Ania looks like after climbing a hill, versus me.

Back in the saddle, back in the mud

Sorry it’s been a while. Multiple things have resulted in me only really riding to commute for the past month or so, and therefore not really having a lot to say. I don’t just want to spew out some garbled train of thoughts here, I want to talk about things that I think are worth talking about.

So I’m back, because I have something to tell you!

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while, will already be aware of the fact that I’ve been wanting to ease myself back into mountain biking, despite my confidence issues relating to a previous crash.

Now the time has come. Meet Phoebe, my new Cotic BFe.

Before you gasp that I’ve acquired yet another bike, I have had to make a rather difficult decision. I can only justify it to myself by operating on a one-in-one-out system, and so I said an emotional farewell to Regina.

This has been tough, because I have a real sentimental attachment to my Orange RX9. We’ve had some awesome adventures together, including riding to Oxford, around the Yorkshire Dales, and the Mendips.

Regina is a super fun bike to ride, and she is very distinctive to look at. She’s become an iconic part of my blogging identity within Bristol’s cycling community. People have recognised me from the bike I’m riding.

But the fact is this: she’s a CX bike. She deserves to be racing through the mud.

When I got her, I was upgrading from the same Ridgeback hybrid (RIP Ripley) I’d been commuting on for three years. I wanted something affordable, with a racier riding position, drop bars, and disc brakes. She was one of the few options available in my size, and she came with Crosstop levers, which helped me transition to the hoods comfortably. She was exactly what I needed.

But now I have Dori as my go-to bike. A touring bike is perfect for year-round all-weather commuting. When I got her, I told myself that Regina would still be a weekend fun ride. She ended up living in the shed instead.

Back when I was musing about the need to fit in when it comes to various cycling categories, I toyed with the idea of trying out cyclocross at some stage, without fully understanding what it was. I know what it is now, and while I know it looks incredibly fun, to me it really is just a race. Unfortunately I’m not motivated by racing. I like mucking about, and being able to take my time when I encounter something technical.

I liked the idea of getting into CX, but was massively put off by the fact that in order to do so, I pretty much had to just turn up to a race and jump straight into the deep end.

The main thing that appeals to me about CX is the mud. I like being off-road and getting dirty. So it just makes plain sense for me to spend some time on the trails and do them in my own time, gradually building my confidence. And not only this, I want to do it with a bit of front suspension.

So I’ve exchanged Regina for Phoebe, and I honestly don’t regret it.

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I’ve been out for a couple of rides now – one with companions, and one alone. I feel so incredibly proud of myself, to have moved on from the trauma of my crash and get back out on the trails. I’ve been craving a chance to get back out into the woods, and I’m planning to do this as often as possible.

(She says, sitting in her pyjamas at her laptop when the sun is shining outside).

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I just fucking love being in the woods.

I love being surrounded by trees. I love the splash of mud against my shins.

Since I’ve talked to my colleagues about it (most of them being MTB enthusiasts), I’ve been inundated with recommendations of awesome places to go riding in the local area and also in South Wales. I have every intention of branching out as soon as I can, but for now I’m trying to be sensible.

I’ve learned from my past experiences, and I know where my limits are. For now, I’m planning to make a (hopefully) weekly trip to Ashton Court to do a lap or two of the blue Nova trail. I’ve ridden this a few times before, and I like the idea of getting to know a trail and building my confidence first, before branching off.

When I went riding with companions, I was led through Leigh Woods and the 50 Acre Wood, and I’ve had a taste of what’s to come. It’s exciting, but I’m taking my sweet time. I don’t want to end up in the middle of the 50 Acre Wood alone, lost, and suddenly encountering something I’m not ready for.

So here’s to more mud, more confidence, and more MTB.

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If you’re not dirty, you’re not doing it right.

#WednesdayWisdom: The Importance of Visibility

This isn’t about visibility in the ‘high-vis hero’ sense.

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Photo: Cycling Weekly

Last week’s Groundswell event left me mulling a few things over. Numerous themes were raised that I felt deserved some exploration, and one of them was the importance of being visible. Not to traffic, but to other would-be riders who may relate to you on a personal level.

Let me explain.

During the event, Joe and Elly felt it necessary to cover a few frequently asked questions, in order to save us the time of asking them ourselves. One of the timeless questions they’ve heard over and over again, is ‘how can I encourage more [women/people of colour/poorer people, etc.] to cycle?’

While well-intentioned, this question is quite a problematic one, for two reasons.

  1. It’s usually the result of a projection of one person’s experience, onto an entire group of people.
  2. They’re almost always already doing it.

Projection

This question, when asked, is usually proposed by a person who doesn’t belong to the group being discussed. A man may ask about how to encourage more women to join his local cycling club. A Caucasian person may want to diversify their local club by making it more inviting to people of colour.

There’s nothing wrong with this, of course. It’s good to want to diversify your social groups. It’s nice to want to share your experience with others. The issue arises, though, due to that person’s projection of their experience of cycling onto the group in question, despite their experiences being vastly different.

For example, a man in a male-dominated cycling club may want to encourage more women to ride with them. In his experience, the group is welcoming and friendly, the routes they take are scenic and beautiful, and generally they always have a great time. What woman wouldn’t want to join in?

But a woman’s experience of this same scenario may not be the same. She may feel intimidated, being the only woman in a large group of men. Their joviality may not resonate with her in the same way. She may feel like she doesn’t belong there. She may experience behaviours on the roads from motorists and pedestrians, that the men may have never encountered, such as cat-calling.

And it’s not just women who may have a different experience on this street. In certain areas, a person who appears to be noticeably poorer may be likely to be treated as inferior by middle class drivers. Or on a practical level, they may just not be able to afford to invest in the kit and the equipment needed to accompany a group on a long, fast ride. On the other hand, the risks are much higher for some. A person of colour, in some neighbourhoods, could be pulled over by the police on suspicion of stealing the bike.

So it’s not a bad thing to want to share your experience with others, but it is important to realise that your experience may not reflect theirs. Of course, these terrible things may not happen. But the likelihood of poor treatment can be higher for some groups, and their perception of this participation could be influenced by those fears.

They’re already riding

Just because a particular group aren’t joining in your club ride, doesn’t mean they don’t know the benefits of cycling. A white middle class male-dominated Sunday club ride may be bereft of women, for example, because those women are already off riding together, perhaps with a Breeze ride, or equivalent. A neighbourhood with a high population of people of colour may have already formed its own collective of riders.

With a little research, it’s clear that there are many lesser-known groups, clubs, and organised rides that are already catering for diverse and minority groups.

This is where I come to the point of visibility.

If you are seen by others to be riding, someone who may relate to you is more likely to see you, and be inspired to do the same. Women like to see other women riding. If poorer areas are filled with commuter cyclists, others may be inclined to sell their car, ride to work, save a lot of money and then in turn inspire others to do the same.

Being more visible – to people who can relate to you, and picture themselves in your shoes – answers the original question of how to encourage others to ride.

You don’t need to project your personal experience onto others in the hopes of actively encouraging them to immerse themselves in your idea of what cycling means. It’s likely that many of them are already riding in a way that is meaningful to them, and they’re inspiring others along the way.


This article was inspired by one of the Groundswell movies,  Colour Lines and Bike Lanes: Creating a place in the movement.

You can watch the movie below, and read more about it here.

Taking Dori off-road

I told you that I’ve been allowing myself some play time on the bike. I also mentioned that my confidence and skill level has really started improving.

I decided to take myself to Ashton Court to practise riding on gravel. I sometimes do Parkrun there, and I know the route it takes goes up a gravelly climb. I figured this would be a good place to start.

Originally I’d planned to take Regina, my lovely Orange CX bike, but alas, I stupidly cross-threaded one of her pedals in my eagerness to get out on a ride. Silly me. So I took Dori instead. She’s more than capable of these things, and knows gravel well already, despite our relationship still being in its early months.

I’m pleased to say the gravel climbing went well straightaway, so I attempted some gravel descending. It was okay at first, being a nice, gradual decline. However I must admit when it dropped steeper I lost my nerve a little.

To my left I saw an opening that led into the woods, and what looked like a bridleway, so I decided to explore that instead. It was nice: a bit muddy and riddled with tree roots, which made for an interesting challenge.

In the end I grew so much in confidence that I did something I didn’t think I was capable of. I took Dori – my steel touring bike, with her 32c tyres – onto the mountain bike trails.

Despite not being the right bike for the job, she certainly held up well.

Not only did I go on the trails, I spent about an hour flying through them, occasionally picking up a good pace and taking on some technical parts that would normally freak me out if I had time to think about them first. It was the fact that everything was moving so quickly that helped me keep my nerve. I didn’t have time to chicken out, I just tackled what came and reacted on instinct.

I had an absolute blast, and didn’t fall once. I felt in control of the bike, and on the few occasions where I felt I was losing control, I was able to stop on a flat part and regain my composure.

I’m so bloody proud of myself.

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Photo: mbswindon.co.uk

August Adventure, Day 2: New Forest to Steyning

If you missed part one, click here.

Needless to say, we were pretty exhausted when we got up in the morning, and we still had a fair way to go on our journey. It was lovely to spend the sleepy morning under the trees though, cooking some hearty porridge on our stove and sipping a hot cup of tea.

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As it was a Monday morning, we decided to wait until after 9am to get going, so we could avoid the rush hour traffic.

We headed for Hythe, where we got our first ferry of the day. I made the great mistake of buying us coffees before we boarded, which made for a very stressful journey to the end of the pier. Pushing an extremely heavy and imbalanced bike with one hand, and holding a very hot cup of coffee in the other, proved to be more hassle than it was worth, particularly when we had to negotiate two sets of chicanes at each end. I dropped my bike more than once. On two occasions, a complete stranger held my coffee for me. #damselindistress.

Learning from that mistake, we kept the rest of our ferry trips coffee-free.

We arrived in Southampton and set off on the next part of our journey, though we weren’t there long before we crossed a bridge into Woolston, where we joined a nice coastal shared use path. The day would be filled with these paths which, while pleasant, don’t allow you to pick up much speed because of the sheer amount of people milling about, walking their dogs and their offspring.

Once again we had problems with the Garmin. It seems taking it on a ferry confuses it, and for the next few hours we were without turn-by-turn directions because it thought we were following a ‘trail’. We had to rely solely on Adam’s map-reading skills, and the teeny-tiny screen which occasionally decided to zoom out completely on its own. Bloody thing.

The second ferry took us from Hamble le-Rice to Warsash. It was a dinky little pink boat. The captain insisted it was fine for us and our bikes to board, though it wasn’t the easiest feat!

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More flat roads and coastal paths. It was pleasant, but after a while I found it a little boring. I never thought I’d crave some hills, but they do break it up a bit and make it more interesting.

I was also conscious of how slowly we were progressing, due to negotiating shared-use paths. At this point I was starting to worry about how long it would take us to reach Steyning, as it was getting later all the time and it felt like we were moving so slowly.

All we could do was keep going. We went through Lee-on-the-Solent towards Gosport. One of the nice things about this route was going past the Titchfield Haven Nature Reserve.

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In Gosport we got our final ferry, which took us into Portsmouth. Having finally finished the aquatic section of the route, we turned the Garmin off and on again, as it still hadn’t moved on from that ‘trail’. Unfortunately, while this was a success in terms of getting it working again, it also lost us some more time, because when it switched back on, we had to re-load the route. For some reason it takes forever and a day to calculate routes, particularly one as long as this. We found ourselves waiting around a lot.

By this time it was the evening rush hour, which we hadn’t considered as much as the morning. We left the coast and rode inland towards Chichester, where we stopped at a pub for the usual chips and soda.

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By the time we left, it was around 8pm, and the sky was beginning to darken. We still had 30 miles to go, and our Garmin had mysteriously switched itself off.

It had been plugged into a cache battery and was at 100%, but despite this, we just couldn’t get it going again. After waiting about 10-15 minutes for it to calculate the route, it would reach around 85% and then switch off again. We went through this a few times, growing more and more frustrated, tired, and cold.

It was fast approaching 9pm, we still hadn’t left Chichester, and we couldn’t use Google Maps because my phone’s battery was low from the previous day, and Adam’s GPS is broken. We weren’t having fun anymore, so we reluctantly pedalled to the train station.

We got the train to East Worthing and managed to find our way from there. We arrived at the house at around 10:30pm, with an Indian takeaway in tow, and quietly stuffed our faces in silence.

If anyone else has experienced these kinds of issues with a Garmin, I’d like to hear about it. I can’t work out if ours is defective, or if it’s just an unreliable piece of tech. I hear mixed reviews all the time.

Despite the troubles, it was a really good experience. It taught me to ride in lower gears, for one thing, and it was my first time doing two long-distance rides consecutively. I’m definitely up for another!

 

August Adventure, Day 1: Bristol to the New Forest

We’re not going on holiday abroad this year. Instead, we’ve been looking forward to a week away in West Sussex. Long story short, we landed ourselves an opportunity to house-sit for a friend while he was away, and he lives in the quaint town of Steyning.

We knew nothing about the place, only that it was about 10 miles away from Brighton, so we planned a two-day cycling trip to get there, taking a scenic route via the New Forest for a spot of camping, before pootling along the south coast.

This was the whole route in its entirety:

Route

We set out at 6:30am on the Sunday morning for the first 80 miles of our journey. It was a nice and easy start on a familiar route, riding along the Bristol-Bath Railway Path. I’ve ridden this way so many times, but this time my bike was fully loaded and heavy, and I felt the difference very quickly. Luckily we’d given ourselves plenty of time, so we sat in a low gear and pedalled gently, starting as we meant to go on.

We stopped in Bath for a coffee, and then joined the Two Tunnels Greenway. This made me super happy, as it’s one of my favourite local rides. If you’re not local to here but visit at some point, ride the Two Tunnels. It’s an incredibly therapeutic experience.

Once we reached Midford, the Garmin did what it does best. It took us on a route that was completely unsuitable for cycling. Apparently you can ride all the way to Frome on bike paths, but we ended up on the A36 instead. After a while we got sick and tired of being passed by cars driven at a ridiculously high speed and close proximity, so I used Google Maps to re-direct us. We rejoined some nice and quiet country lanes and made our way towards Market Lavington, and then south towards Salisbury.

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En route we stopped off in Westbury to take a look at the Westbury White Horse, one of the oldest in Wiltshire.

Still using Google Maps rather than the Garmin, we somehow took a wrong turn and found ourselves on the A303, which is a rather horrible dual carriageway. One of the good things that came out of it was the remarkable view of Stonehenge that we hadn’t been expecting, but the road became more and more perilous as we went on, and it stopped being fun.

We pulled into a lay-by to buy some locally-grown strawberries, and the man at the stall very helpfully pointed us in the right direction.

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We’re just so mature.

There was a small, gated road on the other side of the dual carriageway that we could take, but that meant crossing, with our ridiculously heavy bikes.

We found ourselves running across two lanes when there was a gap in the traffic, hauling the bikes over the metal partition, before running again across another two lanes. It was scary. Also all the lifting credit goes to Adam. I physically couldn’t do it.

Once we were back on a nicer route, we made our way to Salisbury, passing through a town with a name that made us giggle, and stop, and take a photo.

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Salisbury Cathedral

I’d never been to Salisbury before, and definitely intend to go back when I’ve got more time to explore it. It’s a very pretty place, with an astounding cathedral, that we sadly didn’t have time to stop at. Next time.

We did, however, find time to stop at a pub for chips and a pint of lime and soda. This has become our staple snack on all long rides. The Salisbury 5-4-3-2-1 marathon was still in progress so we felt it better to get out of the runners’ way and give our bottoms something else to sit on for a little while.

Once fully revived, we left the city centre and headed south towards the New Forest.

It was such a beautiful place to be riding in, with fields of purple flowers surrounding us, and deciduous woodland everywhere we looked.

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We thought it was lavender. It wasn’t.

Eventually we arrived at a campsite in Ashurst, where we were finally able to shower and rest.

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We got to try out our new Solo Stove for the first time, which was a pretty cool experience. It runs on twigs, so we had free fuel everywhere we looked. It also meant I got to learn how to build a fire (with the help of matchsticks) and keep it going. It also served as a nice way to keep ourselves warm as it got darker.

We were tired, but feeling good. We’d gotten all the climbing out of the way that day, and knew that the next day would be mostly flat coastal paths, with some ferries thrown in for good measure.

Just as well, really, because neither of us got much sleep. I don’t sleep well at all when camping, which is such a shame, because I love the experience. Despite having an eye mask and ear plugs, and keeping myself dead to the world, I just couldn’t switch off. Adam slept some of the night, but was plagued with the sounds of planes, trains and automobiles.

It meant we weren’t on top form the following morning, which I’ll tell you about next time.

Century Riding: The Extended Cut

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This weekend I set out to ride my first 100 miles, and ended up doing my first 200k.

How did this happen? I guess I have peer pressure to thank. And Lucy (of Brain Cranks), who added an extra 25-mile loop onto my route and convinced me to ride it.

It was partly down to wanting to achieve something even greater, partly not wanting to ride home alone with a dead Garmin, and partly wanting to beat Adam’s record. All three goals were achieved.

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Saturday morning was grey, gloomy and wet. I overslept. I couldn’t eat my porridge because I was nervous. I had to take a detour on the way, to get snacks. The morning got off to a stressful start, and I spent a lot of it worrying that no one would turn up for the ride, and that it would be a complete and total failure.

In all honesty I was torn, in terms of what I actually wanted to happen. Half of me wanted a huge group of women to turn up, so I could boast that my first time leading a ride was a huge success, and really impress the badass women of The Adventure Syndicate. The other half of me wanted it to be a small group of familiar faces, so there was less pressure on me as a ride leader.

To my relief, the latter happened, and it was still a huge success.

I think, had a large group of strangers turned up, particularly confident roadies expecting to bomb through the Welsh hills at lightning speed, I might have crumbled under the pressure and turned back. As it happens I was joined by Lucy and Ania, and the three of us embarked upon our drizzly adventure together.

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Photo credit: Lucy Greaves

Miles 1-25

We started outside Roll for the Soul at 8am, and took an indirect route to the bridge via Westbury-on-Trym and through Hallen and Awkley. I used to commute part of this route, back when I was very new to riding, and had to get off and walk up most of the hills. It was my first time returning to the area as a more seasoned cyclist, and a small victory to climb the hills without even considering the need to walk.

As we made our way through quiet country roads, we settled into a comfortable but decent pace, and chatted about our various achievements on the bikes.

We neared the bridge, and made our first windy journey across the River Severn, into South Wales. This was my first experience of cycling across the Severn Bridge, and I was relieved to see that the cycle paths were completely segregated from the road traffic. It was quite a surreal experience, feeling the rush of wind and the vibrations of the other vehicles reverberating through the bike. It was also awesomely atmospheric, with the low hanging cloud caressing the surface of the water.

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There’s another bridge in the background, somewhere

Once across the bridge, we made our way through Bulwark and into Chepstow, where we found ourselves on the same route I’d ridden last weekend through the Wye Valley. We climbed the first part of the A466 and descended into Tintern, catching another glimpse of the stunning abbey as we flew by. At this point we were more than ready for our first coffee stop, and promptly pulled into The Filling Station for some well-needed coffee and biscuits.

Miles 25-50

Topped up with caffeine and sugar, we continued up the Wye Valley, which remained familiar as far as Redbrook, before turning off towards Monmouth.

Weirdly, both times I’d ridden this section between Tintern and Redbrook, I found myself struggling to maintain a decent cadence. The road appears to be pretty flat, and in some parts there even seems to be a slight downhill, and yet my legs burn and my pedalling is slow. I wasn’t the only one to experience this, either. I wonder if there’s an explanation; it shouldn’t be that hard to ride along a flat road!

On top of that, we had a lot of climbing to do, and I found myself really starting to question my physical capabilities. Would I make it through the rest of the ride? We weren’t even halfway through yet, and I was faltering.

It definitely felt like a longer 25 miles than the previous section. But for every climb there must be a descent, and despite my previous distaste for the downhill, I relished every opportunity stop pedalling and plummet down into the valleys.

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Photo credit: Lucy Greaves

We followed some really pretty country roads and eventually rolled into Usk, where we stopped at Sprokwobbles for a hearty lunch of jacket potatoes, well-needed coffee, and some light yoga stretching in the garden.

While we rested, I decided to check the elevation profile on the Garmin to see how we were doing in terms of the big climbs. I saw that the biggest was about to present itself, and started to feel a bit nervous. There was much self-deprecation and talk of walking up and meeting Lucy and Ania at the top.

Miles 50-75

Nevertheless we rolled on, and the climb turned out to be a really good one! Following the B4235 towards Shirenewton, it was a very long but gradual climb. One thing that upset me a little, is that when you look at the road on Google Streetview, it used to be flanked by woodland on both sides. When we rode there last weekend, there has been a lot of tree felling, and the left side of the road is more open. It always saddens me to see trees being cut down, and it’s a great shame for that to be happening, however if I look on the bright side, it did afford us the most spectacular view of Wales’ rolling hills.

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IMG_20170717_142011_063Another rewarded for reaching the top, was the presence of an Alpaca farm! We enjoyed a quick rest, some water, and looking at their cute, fuzzy heads. We then climbed a tiny bit more and descended back into Chepstow for the second round of the Severn Bridge.

By this time of day (around 3:30pm) it was even windier than before, and we experienced some pretty scary side winds. I remember at one point my whole bike shifted to the left, like some enormous force was effortlessly moving me aside.

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Photo credit: Lucy Greaves

From there we took an indirect route to Thornbury, via Elberton and Littleton-upon-Severn, and stopped for coffee and cake (or in Lucy’s case, an entire cucumber).

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Miles 75-125

It was at this point that Lucy had intended to leave us, to go and do an extra long loop and make her ride a 200k.

I was in a lot of pain with my back, super tired, and feeling good about the fact that there were only 25 miles left to go. The thought of my bed was beckoning me, and I told myself this last leg would be gentle, easy, and relatively quick.

Then Ania decided she wanted to join Lucy on the extra long loop, and my Garmin signalled to me that it was on its last legs. The thought of cycling home alone without directions was a little frightening, and throughout the day I’d kept myself open to the idea of extending the ride, just in case I felt capable. I didn’t feel all that capable, but with the ibuprofen clearing the pain in my lower back, and Lucy and Ania grinning encouragingly at me across the table, I couldn’t help but agree!

So I put the Garmin away, Lucy took over as the navigator, and we set off on our final 50 miles.

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Photo credit: Lucy Greaves

Departing Thornbury the way we came, we continued north through Oldbury-on-Severn, Shepperdine and into Berkeley, where I remember visiting the castle a couple of years ago. It’s a really cute and quaint town, and its castle is noted as the place where King Edward II was imprisoned and murdered. A good day out that I recommend!

At around 7pm, the sun finally decided to grace us with its presence. In the golden light we looped round, returning south through North Nibley, Wotton-under-Edge, and Kingswood. This was a bit of a tease, as I live in a part of Bristol called Kingswood, but alas, not this one. Next was a fairly sharp climb into Hawkesbury Upton, before descending through Petty France, Little Badminton and Acton Turville. At this point the roads became familiar, as I had ridden them out on my last trip to Oxford.

On the final strait to Bristol, we descended through Hinton and Pucklechurch. It was coming up to 9pm, the sun had once again departed and been replaced with low hanging grey clouds. The air around us became heavy and wet, and in the gloom we joined the Bristol-Bath railway path and rolled into Fishponds where we rewarded ourselves with junk food and alcohol. The perfect end to the perfect day.

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Epilogue: a reflection on The Adventure Syndicate’s tagline

I mentioned before that I planned this ride as part of a collaboration between The Adventure Syndicate and Cycling UK, to celebrate the Women’s Festival of Cycling. I agreed to it when I saw Emily Chappell tweeting about their plans, and in a moment of fandom, decided I wanted to join in.

The moment I saw that it was a 100-mile ride within the space of 2 weeks, my stomach turned, but I was determined to make it happen. I’d said yes to someone I idolise, and I had to deliver the goods.

As I put the route together and registered the ride, I was partly sure that I’d end up backing out of it somehow. I’d plan the route and hand it over to someone more capable of riding it, because I certainly didn’t feel able to.

But when it came down to it, I wanted to do it. I wanted to be part of something big, and I felt that with a group of amazing women around me, I would be carried along by their support. That is exactly what happened. It was a small group, but it was an amazing group nonetheless.

The Adventure Syndicate’s mission is:

“to increase levels of self-belief and confidence in others […] and we passionately believe we are all capable of so much more than we think we are.”

I have never felt this to be as true as I did on Saturday night, shoving a battered sausage into my face and telling myself over and over again, “I just rode 200k. I just rode 200k.”

If you’re a woman; if you love riding your bike; if you compare yourself to the elites and constantly feel like an impostor; if you want to achieve more but feel unable to; go and read all about The Adventure Syndicate. Attend one of their talks. Sign up to a ride with them. Follow them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

I cannot believe that this time last year I was just commuting on my bike, with the occasional 15-mile pootle to Bath that wore me out. If I am capable of this, then so are you. We all are.

Popping the carbon cherry

With my first Century ride fast approaching, I toyed with the idea of borrowing a carbon road bike for the day, as a way of cutting some time. My thinking was: lighter bike, faster climbs, faster descents, and home before you know it.

So, I borrowed a Giant TCR Composite 2 (2012) – a serious endurance road bike, which probably weighs less than me. That was one of things I felt quite wary of. I had visions of the bike just crumpling beneath my heavy body.

Giant TCR Comp 2 2012 – at a glance

This is quite an old model now, but it’s still a thing of beauty.

  • Lightweight T600 carbon frame
  • Advanced-Grade Composite fork with alloy steerer
  • PowerCore bottom bracket
  • Shimano Ultegra shifters and rear mech matched up to a 105 front mech
  • 2012 Shimano brakes and chainset
  • Giant PR-2 wheels with Giant PR-3 tyres

The ride

Starting from the centre of town, we headed out through Long Ashton and onto some country roads, away from the angry drivers and out where the air is a bit cleaner.

As always with a new bike, we had our fair share of teething problems. Adjusting saddle heights, tilting handlebars backwards, tweaking the SPD tension, re-angling the saddle, and various other things. Eventually we got going, out into the summer heat.

Admittedly, despite planning a 20-mile loop, we only strayed out for about 10 miles before we decided to turn back. It might have been the heat to a certain degree, but mainly it was the fact that neither of us were enjoying our bikes very much.

The verdict

Carbon is fast, I know. I felt it as I shifted into my higher gears and threw myself down various hills. It’s light, too, as I learned when I climbed a pretty short but sharp one.

I’m sure that if I rode it for the full 100 miles, I’d probably make faster progress, and take the climbs and descents in my stride.

The truth is, though, I hated it. I hate carbon. There, I said it.

I totally see the appeal for others, but in my opinion you’re sacrificing all that is nice about riding a bike, to gain some extra speed.

To summarise:

  • My wrists, my bum, my poor aching body. You literally feel every bump in the road.
  • Oh dear god the noise. Thanks to a hollow plastic frame, you hear every click and grind echoing as you freewheel. On busy roads this isn’t that bad, but in quieter areas I found it quite embarrassing and irritating.
  • Skinny tyres scare me. Every time I experienced a bit of gravel or general debris on the road I tensed, with visions of toppling over.
  • I felt a bit unstable. I think I’m just more at ease knowing that the bike carrying me weighs more, and is up for the job of carting my heavy load around.

Sticking with steel

I’m definitely a steel convert, and I’ll be riding Dori on Saturday. She may be heavy, but she’s got a great gear ratio for climbing hills, and the 32c tyres mean that I gain speed while keeping traction. After riding the TCR, getting back on Dori was like reclining on a sofa.

As I said, I see the appeal for others. If you’re one for speed, then it makes sense. I’m definitely one for comfort!

At least now I’ve tried it, and I can make an informed decision on the right bike for me. Another notch on the belt, so to speak.

Wye Valley Loop

I’m getting back on the Saturday Independence Rides, and today I had my first experience of cycling in Wales.

If you’ve only joined the blog recently, basically, I’m using the Saturdays when my boyfriend is working, to get out and ride solo, in order to build my confidence and gain a sense of independence that I’m currently lacking.

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It’s not a super long one, because I wanted to have some time this afternoon to get other things done (guess who just made burger patties, ready for a BBQ? Hello summer).

I decided to take the train to Chepstow so I could get stuck straight in, rather than risk being a bit butchered before I’d even gotten started.

However, this was my first mistake, since I spent about 45 minutes waiting around on a platform, which is more time than I actually spent travelling.

When I arrived, I must admit that I didn’t get off to a brilliant start, misreading the Garmin and taking the wrong turn immediately out of the station. I quickly realised though, and turned around. After that it was pretty smooth sailing in terms of directions – I thankfully didn’t have any huge mishaps.

A couple of times throughout the route I missed some turnings where the Garmin was trying to take me down a hidden bridleway to cut out some of the main road. However with the tarmac being so smooth, and there being little traffic, it just didn’t make sense to leave the road, so I ignored those detours.

I quickly joined the A466 and followed it all the way up the Wye Valley, alongside the river. I knew the first milestone would be Tintern, as I’d spent an afternoon a few months back, planning a route to visit Tintern Abbey, but was put off by what looked like an immense climb and descent.

Turns out I really didn’t need to worry. The elevation profile on Google Maps looked a lot worse than it actually was, and I was oblivious that I’d reached the summit already, until it was time to go back down again. And what a descent that was!

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Tintern Abbey

From Tintern it was a really lovely ride along the river, through some quaint towns. I saw some beautiful countryside, rolling hills, cows, sheep, and plenty of uphill climbs.

I found my energy levels wavered a bit. Some hills I felt able to push myself in a higher gear, whereas others saw me spinning in my granny gear.

I eventually stopped in Redbrook, and took the opportunity to sit in a park overlooking the river Wye while I had a peanut butter and banana sandwich (really, is there anything better?). I was soon joined by another cyclist who’d thought to do the same.

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The river Wye, as seen from Redbrook

I didn’t actually realise while I was in Redbrook that I was already at the top of the loop on the map. I think I’d anticipated a much longer-feeling ride. 30 miles isn’t a great feat for me anymore but with the added hills I expected it to feel a lot more arduous.

Don’t get me wrong, I was nowhere near the end of my climbing at this point! There was still a heck of a lot more to do, and the biggest hill was still to come.

I’ll admit, I’m a little out of practice and have been dealing with ill-health for a little while, so I did find myself occasionally needing to stop and have a short breather. I’m much fitter than I’ve ever been, but I’ve got such a long way to go still.

At the same time though, I have no shame in stopping if I need to. The fact is, if I’m going up a long hill and my body parts are screaming at me, I’m soon going to stop enjoying the ride. A quick breather and a swig of water later, I can get going again, feeling refreshed and happier, and the next part doesn’t seem so bad. It works for me. I’m not in it for pain.

I couldn’t believe it when I saw the sign for Chepstow, 10 miles away. I was amazed at how quickly I’d made my way round the route. A good part of those remaining miles were undulating hills, which are pretty good climbing practice if you make sure to keep your speed from the descent to bolster you up the first part of the next hill.

I feel my confidence coming in leaps and bounds, from getting into the drops and not braking the whole way down a long, fast descent, to taking the occasional gravel in my stride. I did take one detour with the Garmin which cut out a busy roundabout, and took me along a little gravelly path. I didn’t let it phase me.

The final few miles into Chepstow were pretty much all downhill, and I found myself speeding down some winding roads, feeling a rush that I don’t experience very often. I need more of those.

It was an awesome ride, and one that I’ll definitely be doing again. Only next time I’m going to give myself the whole day, and I’m not going to bother with the train.

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Another shot of the Wye

Epilogue: The other reason I did this

So there was another reason I chose to do this ride today.

In a joint effort with The Adventure Syndicate and Cycling UK, I’ve organised a 100-mile ride as part of the Women’s Festival of Cycling. I’m still ironing out the route, but this was an opportunity for me to decide between two potential roads. I think I know which one I’m choosing.

Route details to come, but there’s a Facebook event for the ride. If you’re in Bristol, come join!

Full disclosure: I do not feel physically capable of doing a 100-miler next week, but hey ho. I made my bed. Now I better lie in it.