hello (from the other side)

If it were an Olympic sport, I would be the English champion of the world when it comes to sleeping.

When I was a young boy, I’m told I slept through Concord flying overhead at an air show. And every time my dad took us out on the boat, I’d find a spot up front and nap as the waves lapped at the hull; the mackerel obligining climbed onto the line, and later under the grill.

As a grumpy teenager, I would sleep until midday; often later.

As a crabby adult, I’d stay in bed all day, if I was allowed. Karen often jokes about me being a hermit.

Did you know Hermit Crabs are nocturnal? Coincidence? I think not.

Days one, two, and three of our trip across Northern England via the Way of the Roses under our belts, Matt and I were finally camping in our new favourite place, Pocklington. ‘Pocky’ to those in the know.

Not long ago, we’d somehow found our way back to our campsite along the darkest road ever, with only my headtorch to guide us. I’d drunkenly brushed my teeth by my tent, not wanting to try my luck searching for the toilet block in the darkness.

The awkwardness of taking my shoes off, removing just the right amount of clothes, and getting into my sleeping bag without pulling my tent down or making enough noise to wake the dead made me smile to myself. A few feet away, Matt was doing something with his crisp packet Thermarest; zips were being unzipped, zips were being zipped up again.

Zip. Zip. Ziiiiip.

My one Achilles’ Heel when it comes to my normally super-human ability to sleep is camping. I’ve never been good at it, even as a boy scout. The last time I’d camped (again in early Spring, again with Matt), I had the world’s most useless sleeping bag, and it was COLD. This time, I had my expensive new hydrophobic down filled bag (which is AMAZING), and it was pretty mild out. But I prepared myself for a sleepless night all the same.

18118862_10155216036832930_8875673534852747995_nIn the morning, I complained to Matt about having not slept at all; convincing myself I’d laid awake for hours listening to Claudia Winkleman on the radio. My vision was blurred, and it felt like someone had been stood on one side of my head all night.

If Matt is to be believed, I was snoring within minutes of all the fumbling and zipping. Loud enough to bother the horses in the neighbouring field, so legend has it. Maybe one of them came and kicked me in the head. It was either that, or we really had drunk that much beer the night before.

The morning had dawned bright, but quickly changed to grey, and we knew from the forecast it was going to be a wet day. Our luck had run out. Still, there was only the ‘Col du Pocklington’ left before a quick bimble into Bridlington, and then the train home.

We packed up, our collective tents disappearing back onto the bikes (I’m always amazed by that somehow) and we headed back into Pocky for breakfast. We spent altogether too long in a lovely cafe, watching the rain fall on our bikes.

What we’d laughingly named the ‘Col du Pocklington’ lived up to a reputation we didn’t give it respect for. Those first few miles were particularly tough; made moreso by my choice to wear full waterproof gear, and Matt’s choice of pain au chocolat for breakfast.

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18157542_10155218382632930_9202975677471055433_nAt the side of an amazing road, I cursed my waterproof trousers and slipped them off, giving the local sheep a great show. I felt much more free, and the going was much easier. The rain wasn’t too bad, and we eased into our old routine of riding side by side on deserted roads through pretty village after pretty village; right up until we took a wrong turn (totally my fault this time) and ended up on the main A166.

Our next target was Driffield, and it was only 9 miles or so on what looked to be a relatively quiet road. Matt reluctantly agreed not to backtrack and we mixed with the traffic. The road surface was good, and the terrain was a mix of false flats and long rollers. I was loving it, but as we traded places at 30mph, I could tell Matt wasn’t. He tore past me and we caught up sometime later in Driffield, trading stories of HGV near misses.

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Nafferton was up next, and we were getting close.

I was getting tired; my mind having convinced itself we were practically home after taking care of the Col. We were close, but not that close.

The roads were still great, and the weather wasn’t bad. We even encountered a considerate BMW driver who made an effort to pull off the road and let us ride through. Miracles do happen.

Finally, we were into the outskirts of Bridlington, and the finish line was (almost) in sight. The final streets seemingly taking us through every single part of Bridlington just kept coming. We caught a glimpse of the sea. We were achingly close, and I was running on a mixture of adrenalin and lemon flavour energy drink.

Matt, the consummate gentleman, waved me ahead to the finish line on the promenade, as old people strolled by in their scarves and hats, looking at us like we must be mad.

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The Garmin said we’d done 181 miles in total, a little over the advertised 170.

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We wanted to sit and look at the sea we’d come so far for. We wanted time to reflect, to tell stories. We wanted to remember the descent into Malham, the Contadoring, the laughing, the freedom, the noises the bikes made.

We wanted fish and chips, dammit.

We also wanted to ride home; either the way we’d come, or down to Hornsea and back via the Trans Pennine Trail.

But we both knew the weather wasn’t going to cooperate. We needed to find the train station, sharpish. Somehow, we managed to get there, buy tickets, and sweet talk the train guards into letting us take the bikes on without reservations with moments to spare.

The scenery that had been our constant companion flashed by through the rain-streaked windows, and we were once again glum. We feasted on a pork pie I’d bought in Pocky, and a packet of fig rolls I’d carried from Manchester.

We said our goodbyes and returned to stupid real life.

Oh, and I still have that Ashima brake disc on the Troll. It got me 10 miles. It got me to the end. It got me home. Much love Moonglu, much love.

Until the next time, my friend.

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kiss from a rose

I’m sure I’ve previously written about those little moments of pure nirvana I sometimes experience when I’m on the bike. I had more than a few of those moments when I rode the Way of the Roses with Matt in April 2017.

Day 3 of our trip was, somehow, even better than the previous two days. And, hey, they weren’t too shabby!

In the eerie deserted pool room of our pub / B&B, I flipped the Troll over and finally swapped out my front brake disc. Slotting a new set of pads in, Matt and I remarked on how much meat was still left on the old pads, and the apparently relatively good condition of the disc. On closer inspection, we discovered the friction material on the pads had crazed, which was presumably what was causing the shuddering. How close I was to disaster, we’ll thankfully never know.

Our enthusiastic host (and an equally excitable dog) appeared, and soon we were destroying the biggest breakfast in the world. Truly, it was something else.

Setting off, the wet roads told of the overnight wintery downpours we’d staggered home in. The skies were looking kind, and the sun tentatively poked out, taking the chill off the morning air as we headed South-West towards York.

18056943_10155215346127930_1830839744906454301_nQuickly back onto amazing country lanes, we were back to riding side by side, listening to my gratis brake disc chirruping away, and sharing fond memories of friends and loved ones we’d lost.

We barrelled across a surprisingly bumpy toll bridge (yet another freebie), and before too long, we found ourselves entering yet another grand park which turned out to be home to Beningbrough Hall. I couldn’t resist taking a closer look.

18056833_10155215345892930_769371148642452733_nThe sun was shining down on us in these beautiful surroundings, the birds were singing, our spirits were high, and it’d been a good couple of hours since breakfast. Time for coffee and cake with the rich people.

As we sat sipping our overpriced coffees, pinkies in the air, Matt regaled me the tale of an eccentric old woman he’d scared half to death when she ran into him by the loos.

“She took one look at me, said ‘BAH!’, and then walked off!”

I suppose you had to be there, but that had us in stitches for ages.

18157180_10155215346207930_6979333652444242334_nWe resumed course for York, ticking off seemingly endless picture-postcard villages. The two attractive women sat outside the pub caught my attention, but I rode on regardless. Matt was weaker than I, and stopped to talk to them. By the time I’d turned around, he’d whipped his camera out and was taking pictures of them.

“DUDE! What the hell are you doing? You can’t go around taking pictures of random girls!”

He seemed strangely unconcerned, and we pedalled away with him complaining about their lack of response to his ‘epic’ chat-up lines.

18157120_10155215345362930_207835168746500000_n17990835_10155215345252930_5913759468794490133_nIn York, we stopped for a quick bit of bike-balancing magic, some sightseeing, and a few handfuls of Matt’s Special Trailmix.

Now, the last time we’d cycled out of York, we got horribly lost, having taken a wrong turn down one of the tiny winding streets. This time was no different, and we were spat out onto a 3 lane roundabout, heading in completely the wrong direction. Probably had too many blue M&M’s.

The going had been good, the terrain having flattened out, and the temperature had risen several degress on the previous couple of days. We ate up the miles, and drank in the views as the route took a rare off-road diversion. Talk moved to our objective for the day as we did the maths on the remaining miles.

18058060_10155216036472930_3610454733578781470_nWe’d left the return trip open, with plenty of work-free days still ahead of us. I think we both would’ve liked to ride back home, but the weather forecast for the following several days was solid rain, so we reluctantly planned on getting the train back from Bridlington.

Arriving in the delightful little town of Pocklington, we enjoyed a leisurely late lunch and debated next steps. Matt wanted to push on to Driffield, leaving us a handful of wet miles to Bridlington, and the train home. I was tiring however, and the ‘Col du Pocklington’ stood between us and Driffield; no matter how innocuous the map made it look.

The cafe owners told us about a local campsite that had recently opened. I bought 2 gigantic scotch eggs and a pork pie for the road, and we searched it out.

We were shown around the basic, but perfectly good, ameneties, and charged a full fiver each to pitch our tents on the field we had almost to ourselves. I sheltered my tent out of the strong winds behind an unoccupied caravan, and we deposited the bikes in what our fabulous Yorkshireman of a host described as his ‘shed’. It was actually one of the biggest barns I’ve ever seen, and was filled with everything from a mobility scooter to a 50 foot trailer covered in hay bales.

We listened with pure delight as he talked about Pocky ‘igh stree’, with its collection of pubs and restaurants.

“We’ve got TWO chinese restaurants in Pocky…”

<dramatic pause>

“…and they’re BOTH rubbish.”

Forgetting the name of the indian restaurant he actually did recommend, he drew us a map with his finger on a scrap piece of plywood he found on the floor. Because, without that, we wouldn’t have been able to find the place.

We decided against taking the map with us, and found our way into several pubs where we laughed our heads off before eventually finally finding our way to the indian.

We ate too much. We drank too much. We stumbled back to the campsite in the utter darkness you only get in the countryside. We almost tripped on the map, and no doubt annoyed the miserable guy in the camper whose peace we had shattered by daring to share the field.

I slithered into my excellent sleeping bag and tried to get off to sleep.

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That day was perfect.

Everything about it was perfect.

Somebody was looking after us that day.

A kiss from a rose, indeed.

beds are burning

My belly full of great food and great beer, my head full of great memories from day one of our Way of the Roses trip; at some point in the wee small hours I had to peel myself out of my sleeping bag, which I’d rolled out onto my YHA bunk bed in some kind of protest to the freezing wind outside that’d spoiled our camping plans.

Like the exploded diagram of the inner workings of a Sturmey Archer hub, equations calculated in quantum physics, and how they put those little plastic things on the end of your laces; temperature ratings on sleeping bags have long been an utter mystery to me. My OEX Helios EV Hydrodown 300 Sleeping Bag has a ‘comfort temperature’ of 3°C. The ‘limit temperature’ is -3°C, and the ‘extreme temperature’ is -19°C. All I know is, it was far too good to use in a nice warm youth hostel bedroom; very much unlike every other sleeping bag I’ve ever owned.

Opening the curtains to blue skies and sunshine, we didn’t linger too long at the breakfast buffet. It was a cold and crisp morning, and the previous day’s abuse was all too apparent in the awful noises my brakes were making. I’d brought along spare pads, but not spare discs; a trip to the nearest bike shop was in order. But first, a whole load of climbing and descending awaited in what remained of the Yorkshire Dales.

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Matt was still Contadoring, whilst I was content to sit and grind out the climbs. You get to see more of the scenery and wildlife that way.

The less said about the descents in this section, the better. Let’s just say I wasn’t using my brakes very much at all. The roads were mercifully quiet, which helped immensely.

It wasn’t until we had left the Yorkshire Dales National Park, and entered Nidderdale, that we approached anywhere with the potential to have a bike shop. And, wouldn’t you know it, there was a descent to rival that into Malham to tackle first. This one actually had a number of oversized road signs specifically warning cyclists of the length, gradient and sharp turns to come. One can only assume people have come unstuck here in the past.

With minor trepidation, I did the only thing I knew how to do: I put my bike in the centre of the lane, and went for it. At least this was a two-lane road, with dividing lines, and crash barriers in all the right places. The switchbacks came thick and fast, just as promised, and my Garmin later reported I was again pushing 40mph at times.

There was one moment when, cresting a mid-corner camber change, the whole bike became weightless and I was completely out of control. In that split-second, I thought it was all over, but the tyres grabbed hold once more, and we arrived in Pateley Bridge; shaken, but not interred.

We wandered around town, in search of new brakes, and lunch. We found the latter in the form of slightly disappointing chicken soup and lashing of Yorkshire Tea. The former would, again, have to wait. Matt’s excellent Sustrans map suggested the next available bike shop was in Ripon, so we made that our objective for the day.

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We were soon back onto fabulously deserted lanes, and the weather, whilst chilly and grey, remained dry. Riding side by side, we discussed everything and nothing; sometimes saying nothing at all, lost in our own thoughts.

18157379_10155212247857930_3638281139122028982_nAt some point, we managed to take a wrong turn. It was likely our fault, as the entire route is so thoroughly signed. As it was, we’d started heading for Ripley, not Ripon. Matt was furious with himself for making such a schoolboy error, but I was in front when we turned right instead of left.

As we retraced our wheel tracks, that pursuing gigantic black cloud filled the sky and released its vengeance with horizontal hail blinding us, making forward progress impossible. Perhaps god had been napping before, and now was smiting us for sneaking into his house back in Wray.

No, wait. He’s fictional. Maybe it was just a hailstorm.

Anyway. The road was lined only with ditches, and nowhere safe to stop. Traffic (where the hell had that come from???) was lining up behind us as we weaved blindly across the road. Finally, a driveway came into view and I ducked behind the relative safety of a garage wall.

“We’ve gotta get out of this hail! Wait. This is somebody’s house! We can’t stop here!”

Matt’s uncharacteristic sense of humour failure was quite spectacular, and I couldn’t help but chuckle. Sorry, but it was funny. You should’ve seen him trying to put his gloves back on.

As quick as it started, the hail stopped and we soon found ourselves pulling into the rather grand Studley Royal Deer Park. (Note the 20mph limit).

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18056905_10155212838177930_7261294265135893748_nMuch joviality followed as we barrelled down that arrow-straight road, chasing the horizon, letting the sun defrost our fingers.

Ripon was within touching distance, and I was feeling really positive about it, given our grand surroundings. Matt was however recalling being there once before, and not finding it the nicest place on the planet.

Since Morecambe, it was the biggest place we’d been to, and I was just happy to know there wasn’t one, but two, bike shops in town to choose from. Earlier in the day, we’d again checked the weather forecast and made the decision not to camp.

Matt had booked us into the Ship Inn, which has a decidedly unwelcoming facade. In fact, we couldn’t tell if the place was even open. We nervously enchanged glances, I stayed with the bikes, and Matt went inside…

We were welcomed with open arms, and the bikes took over the pool room! Our twin room was clean and functional, if a little pricey, and we set off once more in search of brakes. The nice lady at our B&B recommended a shop called Moonglu, which was full of nice things. I instantly knew we’d come to the right place.

As soon as I asked for a 203mm, 6-bolt brake disc rotor, the guy went straight for the parts box out back. After much rummaging, he didn’t find one. A final check of the new stock hanging on the wall confirmed our worst fears; they didn’t have one.

BUT WAIT.

A bit more rummaging in a few more places, and he pulled out an old Ashima brake disc they’d had “for years”.

“It might get you 10 miles, it might get you farther…”

He refused to take any money for it. Much love, Moonglu. Much love.

We spent the night in traditional fashion, drinking great beer, eating great food, and setting the world to rights, like only two drunk friends can.

Staggering back to our B&B above a pub, we fully expected the place to be full of revellers, but it was in darkness. All locked up, well before closing time. We let ourselves in with the key we’d been given, and crept upstairs; nervously joking about being murdered in our beds.

Would we live to see day 3…?

the freshmen

 

Early spring in Northern England. April 24, to be precise.

Around that time a couple of years ago, my good friend Matt had invited me along for a quick overnight bike trip. We rode bikes, we talked, we drank coffee and ate cake, we rode some more, we camped, we drank beer until the small hours, and we desperately tried to sleep in the freezing overnight conditions.

It was a blast.

16142407_10155794050854863_2098317652403036742_nThe need to escape was once again growing strong in both of us, our respective lives dispensing their usual frustrations. However, my first world problems were mere trifles in comparison to the truly hellish couple of years Matt was going through.

Although, we did have fun selling stuff at the cycle jumble in January.

If I remember correctly, he let that brand new SP dynamo hub go for £25, despite my clearly thorough advice on how to price it.

Being the crazy fool he is, my lanky friend here is training for some pretty impressive trips this year. Something about a solo, unsupported bike ride across the Alps (camping), and an equally silly hike in the same part of the world (again camping). Me? I hadn’t been on the bike since… November or something. Needless to say, I was horribly out of shape.

18057781_10155210077467930_8340944974660531391_n18157077_10155210077352930_3943389049730249283_nA coast to coast ride has been on my list for a number of years now, so of course I jumped at the chance when Matt suggested we ride the Way of the Roses.

It was just the excuse I needed to get back on the bike. To shed some weight. To improve my declining mental state.

So, I started training. In the early days, I could barely ride 10 miles around the local country park; by mid-April, I was boring my Facebook friends with pictures from the 20, 30, 40 mile rides I was doing night after night. I was riding my Surly Ogre over terrain it simply wasn’t set up for. I was pushing myself. I was chasing the sunset every night. It was all coming back to me. I was feeling strong. I was eating better, drinking less, and losing weight. I was feeling happier. I was forgetting my worries.

The weeks preceeding our trip were bathed in glorious sunlight, and unseasonally high temperatures. I pulled my Surly Troll off the hook I’d hung it on so long ago, and fitted a set of flared drop bars, with TRP HY/RD hydraulic brakes, and bar end shifters. I treated myself to a reassuringly expensive hydrophobic down filled sleeping bag (more about that later), and packed up my gear. It was time to go. An indeterminate number of days lay ahead of us. We planned to camp every night, and we’d make choices about when / where to stop en route. We were going to take it easy. No worries. No rush.

On the train from Manchester to the start line at Morecambe Bay, we remarked on the angry cold front which was rolling in from the North with a vengeance. The forecast gales, rain, and snow seemed determined to ruin our trip. We tried to stay positive, but we couldn’t help letting our moods slump a little.

Looking across to the beautiful hills of Cumbria, we warmed our faces in what we were certain was the last of the sunshine. We took the obligatory cheesy start line photos and pushed off towards Lancaster.

18157070_10155210076772930_3056265565961236169_n18157418_10155210077147930_8077545131865518900_nThe route started with great promise, taking us out of Morecambe on a traffic-free path through the woods where we exchanged pleasantries with the other trail users.

Before long, we were drinking in the views afforded by the River Lune, and I was explaining the very specific purpose of each of the 5 pairs of gloves I’d brought along. In the end, I used only 3 pairs, but I still say the peace of mind was worth the extra grams.

Turning onto quiet country lanes, we saw signs for a ‘Scarecrow Festival’ in a nearby village. Our attention was soon drawn to a new distraction, however, as we pondered the ins and outs of a such a thing. It wasn’t until we rounded the corner proper that we saw the third T in this sign.

Cruel and unusual.

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As it turned out, the route would take us directly through Wray, the village hosting the Scarecrow Festival. A kind of eerie quiet held the village, with oversized characters outside almost every dwelling, shop, and pub staring back at us from their straw-filled heads. Everything was represented; from Donald Trump to Donald Duck, The 3 Little Pigs, Death Himself, and even a woman doing Pilates.

Behind each of the increasingly creepy creations lay a tale, which it seemed would be told by the property owner at set times. Sadly, we’d arrived too late, or too early for storytime.

18118862_10155210076637930_1543058072753888808_n18119486_10155209719927930_6196627986041348467_nThe lure of the ‘open for refreshments sign’ was undeniable. Inside the hall, I was delighted to find plastic tablecloths, hot soup, sandwiches, and homemade cakes; all available for tuppence ha’penny, and served up with great humour by the good people of the village. We filled our bellies, and took it as a good sign that we hadn’t burst into flames upon stepping foot into what turned out to be part of the church.

With fear of damnation fading, we purchased rice crispie cakes for the road, and made our polite exit. The bikes we hadn’t bothered to lock up outside were, predictably, unmolested; save for a brusque Cumbrian gent who quizzed Matt about our trip.

We pushed on towards Settle, the caramel from the rice crispie cakes giving us a much needed boost as the sharp climbs continued to come and go. We were both feeling unusually fresh, and our spirits were high from the freedom of the road. The sun continued to shine, and we were grateful for every minute of it.

We coined a new phrase or two on this trip, my favourite of which is a new verb: ‘Contador’. To get out of the saddle, to dance on the pedals with pure contempt for the incline.

“They Contadored their way up that climb.”

And so we did. We Contadored our way up every single one of those climbs on day 1. Almost in sync, we’d shun dropping a cog, grab the hoods, climb out of the saddle, and loudly compliment each other on the chosen gear ratio. Alberto would be so proud.

I knew then, I wasn’t in anything like the shape I used to be, but I knew I was fresh. I knew it was going to be a good trip. And on roads like this, who was I to complain about a little bit of climbing?

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Travelling as we were West to East, the stiff Northerly was a biting crosswind, often testing our resolve, and occasionally, testing our bike handling skills.

18119098_10155210076477930_8720194309273788286_nIn Settle, we stopped for a warming cuppa, and made the decision not to camp that night. I could tell Matt was disappointed, as was I.

Picking hail out of my beard, I pointed at the huge black cloud that had been chasing us all afternoon, and Matt promptly booked us into the youth hostel in nearby Malham.

I popped into the local bike shop and had a rather confusing chat about energy drinks. Eventually, they understood what I was looking for, and overcharged me for some horrid lemon flavour powders. When I checked later on, the expiry date was mere weeks away, so I guess there must not be much call for such things in Settle.

18118630_10155210076332930_751002594572818983_nBeyond the Forest of Bowland, we entered the Yorkshire Dales National Park, and the scenery just kept getting better. More Contadoring followed until we reached a plateau promising a spectacular descent into Malham.

As we approached, Matt told me about a natural stone amphitheatre near Malham; and, wouldn’t you know it, our route took us right alongside it.

I tipped my front wheel over the top of the descent, looked back at Matt with a wry smile on my face, and said:

“Be safe, my friend. I’ll see you at the bottom.”

You see, Matt is a lettuce. A great wet lettuce. Or, perhaps, he has a more healthy fear of death than I do. Either way, I like to descend. And I like to descend as fast as possible. Sometimes, that’s too fast. As my Garmin flashed up 41.4 miles per hour, I thought perhaps, here on this single lane road with its stone walls and blind turns, perhaps this is one of those times.

Reluctantly, I pulled on the brakes, and the TRP HY/RD calipers grabbed my brake discs, slowing me down better than I ever imagined they would; especially in these conditions, especially with so much weight on the bike. My confidence only increased, and I continued descending at a frightening pace, braking hard and late into the corners. Until…

18156968_10155210075982930_3863702613662900924_n“What’s that burning smell?” I asked myself.

Taking my eyes off the road for a second, I looked down at my front disc which was getting severely warped by the abuse I was giving it. On the next corner, I pulled the brakes, and nothing happened. My pads had overheated, and I had to plough into a field gate to stop myself.

When a pale-faced Matt joined me some time later, my discs had cooled off, and (almost) straightened out again.

“What’s that burning smell?” He asked me.

The remainder of the descent was, shall we say, interesting? I was using the brakes as little as possible, looking over the walls for oncoming traffic, and apexing every turn, getting as close to the walls as I dared. My brakes were juddering now, sending horrible vibrations through the forks. But, we made it down into Malham without further incident.

Checking into the excellent YHA, we were both taken aback by how they’ve changed since we were young uns. I tell you, I’ve stayed in worse hotels, and paid a whole lot more money. We’d somehow managed to bag an ensuite room to ourselves, in which we argued over who got the bunk bed.

The bikes spent the night securely locked away in a dedicated bike shed, and we headed for the pub. Much hilarity followed, along with more beer, an excellent meal, and a piece of pork pie for dessert. What? I was hongry.

By the time we headed for bed, the outside temperature had dropped to close to freezing, and there had been some small snow flurries. I was glad of our indoor digs, but was eager to camp. I unrolled my sleeping bag onto the lower bunk and slept like a log.

Maybe the weather would be kinder to us the next day…

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All photographs courtesy of Northern Walker.

you can leave your hat on

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Dried fruit, mixed nuts, M&M’s and a whole lot of determination.

This is what was required to get me and my good friend Matt through the hellish and seemingly never-ending climbs offered up by the route we picked from Manchester city centre out to our campsite at Monsal Head.

It was an early spring day, the sun was shining and we pedalled off without a care in the world. That wonderful realisation that I was only getting further away with every pedal stroke washed over me and I revelled in the knowledge I’d be under canvas that evening.

As is the way of things, we took a rather indirect route that promised the least traffic and the best scenery. And we took our time about it. We rolled along, chatting about everything and nothing. We stopped for coffee. We went the wrong way. We didn’t have a care in the world.

11023_10153755754624863_6693537081560443662_n“HILLS ARE OUR FRIENDS!!!” cried an over-enthusiastic roadie (with a mountain cassette & rear mech, I might add) as he crested the climb we’d just ground up on our loaded Surly Trolls. We quietly returned our gazes to the view and had another handful of Matt’s Special Trailmix.

Soon we found ourselves crunching down the Monsal Trail, marvelling at the scenery and scaring the bejesus out of wildlife inhabiting the trailside hedges. “You’re not exactly sure where the campsite is…?” I asked Matt as we examined several questionable looking side trails.

Naturally, we turned down the wrong one and soon found ourselves faced with a decision: ford the obviously-deeper-and-faster-flowing-than-it-looked river or somehow portage the bikes & luggage over an extremely narrow concrete bridge. Forming the least efficient two-man chain in history, we took option B and passed bag after bag to each other before we took turns hoisting our heavy steeds over our heads in some kind of obscure strong man competition.

Safely on the other side of the river, I turned right up a slightly sketchy looking bit of single track which very quickly ramped up to at least a 10% off-camber incline through the bracken as the trailside drop to the river grew ever deeper.

Defeated by all that nature and gravity threw at us, we pushed the bikes the final few yards to the top of a much better manicured trail that would’ve brought us to exactly the same spot without the ridiculous river crossing. Dammit.

10 minutes later, we were parting with altogether too little cash for a pitch in a beautiful secluded campsite we had almost completely to ourselves.

In the local pub, we demolished an excellent plate of belly pork, mash & gravy and sampled a couple of pints of local ale. In the interests of science, you understand.

Wandering back to our campsite, our bellies full and the inevitable cold snap settling in, we spotted another pub. Well, it’d be rude not to…

Continuing my scientific experimentation, we sampled several more pints of local ale and (here’s the ‘genius’ part) shunned the siren call of the open fire, preferring instead to drink our beers outside. In early spring. In North Derbyshire. Atop a hill. “To acclimatise ourselves”, I said. Matt shivered, unconvinced, but stuck it out all the same as we put the world to rights like only 2 drunk men can.

Dressed in every scrap of clothing I’d carried with me (including wooly hat and gloves), I crawled into my sleeping bag and spent the night desperately (and unsuccessfully) willing my body to sleep. Dang, that was COLD.

11023_10153755754069863_33251468225833244_nThe next morning, we shared an odd breakfast comprised mainly of questionable malt loaf, squeezy cheese and the most incredible cup of tea I think I’ve ever had.

We packed up and made our way into Buxton where we descended upon an unsuspecting cafe for a very leisurely second breakfast. Man, that was good.

The cruelly named ‘Long Hill’ out of Buxton mocked us and, by the time we reached the Pennine Bridleway, Matt was starting to regret that extra piece of fried bread.

In my defence, I did try to warn him, in between mouthfuls of extra black pudding.

Sufficiently warmed up again, our usual childish ways came to the fore as we tore up the trails, jumping the bikes over everything we could find on the way home.

11173365_10153755754224863_3323704571003065546_nIt was a fine weekend. A fine weekend indeed.

no pressure over cappuccino

Week #6 of the 2014 Chasing Mailboxes Coffeeneuring Challenge is upon us and I’m right on schedule, having bagged a very wet ride #6 this Saturday.

I was once again joined by our friend of Northern Walker fame and, given the unmitigated disaster that was his choice of coffee shop on our last ride together, he insisted I choose the location this time.

“No pressure, then…?” I joked.

We met at our favourite bike shop, Keep Pedalling in Manchester (other inferior bike shops are available) where we spent some time nattering about bikes and drooling over a brand new Tangerine Dream Surly Crosscheck being picked up. Whilst I was there, they recommended a new coffee place that has recently opened up on the other side of the city; we set out riding in no particular direction as the first few spots of rain landed on the lenses of my glasses.

coffeeneuring6 surly troll ecr grindsmith manchesterWe rode north on NCN route 66 along the Rochdale canal until we reached Middleton then looped through Heaton Park into Prestwich and down towards Pendelbury before heading back into the city along the banks of the River Irwell – if you know the area, this can be a pleasant route but it was pouring rain for the entire ride and, by the time we reached Greengate Square in Salford, every single item of clothing we had on was soaked through.

  1. Where I went: Grindsmith Espresso & Brewbar, Greengate Square, Victoria Bridge Street, Manchester, UK, M3 5AS.
  2. Date I went there: Saturday 8th November 2014.
  3. coffeeneuring6 grindsmith manchester bakewell cappuccinoWhat I drank: Standing there, dripping on the floor with my glasses steaming up, I asked what they might recommend for a freezing cold, soaking wet cyclist, especially as I couldn’t read the menu. “Cappuccino” was the response and, despite me not really liking any cappuccino I’ve had in the past, I went with it anyway.
    The friendly staff invited us to take a seat in the nice warm interior which, whilst incredibly tempting, would’ve resulted in us getting mud all over everything so we declined, deciding to sit outside as the rain had finally eased off.
  4. A detail or two about my coffeeneuring ride: Along with my cappuccino I ordered a bakewell slice which was lovingly presented to me on a custom made wooden plank – fancy, eh?
    Despite my previous forays into the world of cappuccino drinking, I’m pleased to say what I had was really quite pleasant; it’ll never be my favourite coffee but it was nice all the same. The bakewell slice was ooey-gooey and easily lived up to its billing as being “spectacular”.
  5. coffeeneuring6 grindsmith manchester bike racksBike friendliness of the locale: Finally, FINALLY! A place with bike racks! As per bleeding usual, there wasn’t a single public bike rack anywhere in sight but the good folks at Grindsmith had solved this problem by simply bolting one to the side of the place! There’s even a vintage chopper there to reinforce the hipster vibe (happily, there’s no requirement to wear tight trousers and a checked shirt or have a carefully trimmed beard).
  6. Mileage: As usual, we didn’t keep track but it was probably somewhere between 30 and 40. In. The. Pouring. Rain.
  7. Must visit: As I say, there’s a definite hipster vibe here, what with the old cable reels and wooden crates to sit on, the trendy people coming and going, extravagantly swiping their iPhones (other, non-knobbish mobile phones ARE available) and, with 2 coffees and 2 small pieces of cake costing over a tenner, it’s hardly cheap but the surroundings are lovely, the staff are friendly and welcoming and the quality of the product commands the price tag. Oh, and we didn’t feel out of place at all, despite my dishevelled appearance of which I am so proud.

We enjoyed our coffees as we sat watching the strangely relaxing fountains dance.

Later on, we childishly zig-zagged our way through the fountains on our bikes, much to our own soggy amusement.

coffeeneuring6 grindsmith manchester bakewell cappuccino fountains

bat out of hell

 

This stuff doesn’t happen by accident, you know. The hours minutes of dedication that go into thinking up an appropriate song title, drafting a blog entry, taking amateur photographs… Yes, yes, I know it’s harder work to read this rubbish but still.

Choosing the right song for today’s post started out as they all do. I was pedalling along, letting my mind wander and hoping some kind of inspiration would strike. Alas, it did not.

Oddly enough, despite being in the saddle for all of 10 hours, I didn’t even get a song stuck in my head (another excellent method). Yep, I was starting to get worried. And then, a few miles from home, my riding companion came alongside complaining that his day-long earworm had been Meatloaf’s Bat out of Hell.

Now, I happen to love that song but poor old Matt hates it.

Naturally, it was the perfect… nay, the only choice.

Behold, dear readers. BEHOLD…

TROLLFEST, THE THIRD

Surly Troll York town wall gateOh, I should point out: Trollfest, the third was an 80ish mile ride from York to Hadfield on the Trans Pennine Trail, about 80% of which is off-road. And, of course, we were doing it on a pair of Surly Trolls. And, for reasons I still don’t fully understand, we decided to do it in one day. All of this didn’t leave us much time for photographs, let alone good quality ones.

It was still dark as we boarded the train from Manchester, clutching our coffees and nervously joking about “what could possibly go wrong”. Shortly after arriving in York just before 08:30, we took the obligatory dodgy start line photo and immediately set off in what turned out to be the wrong direction.

Luckily enough, this was about the worst thing that happened all day.

Percy Pig sweets 1Apart from some of the food we took with us…

Once again Matt had been sent with a bag of dodgy looking jelly sweets, this time in the shape of ‘Percy Pig’. My initial reaction was polite yet abject horror, which didn’t stop me nomming one.

Percy Pig sweets 2As I feared, it was a weird bubblegum crossed with cheap sofabed foam kind of chewy textured mouthful of instantly regrettable sweetness with a flavour unlike anything occurring in nature… which didn’t stop me nomming the rest of my handful with the enthusiasm of a one-eyed starving dog let loose in a meat factory.

I disappeared into the woods to …ahem… water the flowers while Matt polished off almost the rest of the delicious, delicious bag.

2x Surly Troll Aldham Trans Pennine Trail TPTIt wasn’t until we reached Aldham near Barnsley that we allowed ourselves a brief photo opportunity and a moment to drop the pace a little. Since leaving York, we’d been maintaining a ridiculous pace, not stopping for anything (especially the crazy women on horseback who referred to us as “Boys… BOYS!” as we rode past).

At Selby, the plan was to come off NCN route 65 and onto route 62 (or the other way around, I forget which) but both trails were randomly closed and diverted around the back of a factory straight out of The X-Files (or so we thought)… It took us a few miles and quite a bit of backtracking to realise we (and another pair of cyclists) were hopelessly heading in the wrong direction.

We got back on track and continued tearing through some beautiful roads and trails in North Yorkshire, scaring the bejesus out of small animals, children and roadies on their oh-so-shiny carbon bikes.

“Was. That. A. Fat. Bloke. Time. Trialling. On. A. Surly. Troll?”

Yes, yes it was.

Maybe it was the 5am start. Maybe it was the extra pressure of the unplanned diversion on our already tight schedule. Maybe it was just my desire to change body position on the bike. Who knows what it was but something just told me to trust myself, kick it into the highest gear I could find, rest my forearms on the bars, dangle my hands over the front of the bike in that frighteningly unsafe way you see the pros doing it on Le Tour.

With the wind whipping through my beard, I glanced back and saw the gap increasing. Looking up again, I was greeted with a mixture of respect, revulsion and bewilderment from the lycra louts heading in the opposite direction.

Matt later remarked he wished he’d been able to get a picture of it. I wish he had too.

Surly Open Bars Carradice bag hydration packOh, I almost forgot! If you’re planning to go time trollin’ yourself, you’re going to want a Heath Robinson solution to your hydration needs.

Who says you can’t fit a water bladder into a small Carradice bag? Probably the same people who say you can’t go time trialling on a cargo bike without time trial bars, that’s who.

Anyhoo… with over 50 miles taken care of in about 4 hours, spirits were high but I was starting to feel the effects and my lingering knee problems were starting to flare up.

Also, the climb out from the end of the Dove Valley Trail past Winscar Reservoir up to Dunford Bridge at the highest point on the Trans Pennine Trail was looming ever closer. Or so I thought.

My mind was about 30 miles further into the ride than my body was. The miles through Silkstone Common, Penistone and Oxspring were awful.

To add insult to injury, as we neared the bottom of the climb we’d been dreading all day and we were at the very lowest of our lowest ebb, the heavens opened and the hail came down.

Cowering in a random bus shelter, we layered up and ate almost every piece of food we had left between us. All too soon there was nothing left to do but attempt the climb. At least the rain had eased off a little.

I’d already resigned myself to the fact I’d be walking at some point, I was staggered to find myself out of the saddle, dancing on the pedals for the initial steep section. As the incline eased slightly, I sat back down, found a sweet spot in the gearing and just enjoyed the climb. Glancing back, I saw Matt gazing off into the distance as he too found his rhythm.

All too soon we were punching the air, whooping in delight and sliding the bikes sideways on the slippery tarmac of the Woodhead Pass road.

Hepped up on a cocktail of adrenaline and whatever energy products we’d eaten, we stormed across the Woodhead Pass trail, worrying the sheep and taking celebratory pictures. I believe one of these is what the Young People call ‘a selfie’.

Surly Troll Woodhead Pass 2 2 Surly Troll Woodhead Pass purple heather Woodhead Pass Trollfest 3 Woodhead Pass selfieFrom here, it was all wild downhill with more whooping until we hit the Longdendale Trail which I attacked like a Bat out of Hell (see what I did there?).

More time trollin’ ensued and we simply didn’t relent until we piled into the pub.

Total mileage for the day: probably close to 90 – by far the biggest ride I’ve ever done in a single day.

Spectacular.

Beer & peanuts