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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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.

zombie

 

OK, so it’s really a thinly veiled excuse to play the excellent Zombie, but I thought I’d share with you some of my thoughts about avoiding exhaustion on the bike.

This is me back in 2010 about 300 miles from home at what ended up being the somewhat premature end to the first proper bike tour I’d attempted; you’ll notice I’m not doing so well.

All joking apart, by this point, I was quite seriously exhausted both mentally and physically; the reasons for this were many but essentially fall into 3 categories which apply to all forms of cycling:

  1. Fitness – As you may be able to tell from the picture, I wasn’t in the worst shape of my life ever and really wasn’t carrying all that much extra weight, my legs were strong and I had plenty of stamina. Or, so I thought. As it was, I really hadn’t done any training for the tour other than the occasional ride in the evenings; worse still, I was staying away from home during the week, indulging every day for over a year in a Hilton breakfast and the very best food & drink Nottingham had to offer that I could afford with my expenses.
  2. Equipment – Again, on the face of it, I had all the gear; but it turned out I also had no idea. My custom built Graham Weigh cyclocross was super light and I was towing along the legendary BOB Yak single wheel trailer. The problem was, I was running road gearing on the bike and I bought all of my camping gear in a mad half hour rush on the Saturday; we left on the Sunday. I had a HUGE 2 man tent weighing in at over 2.5kg, an equally huge sleeping mat at just over 1kg, one of those single burner stoves that comes in a plastic case (I have no idea how much that thing weighs!) and so on and so forth; you name it and it was at least twice the size and twice the weight it ideally should’ve been.
  3. Fuel – This is actually the one thing I did get right; every morning we ate porridge for breakfast, snacked on bananas, malt loaf, fruit & nuts, baguettes and the like throughout the day and feasted on hearty, healthy food in the evenings. We also had energy drinks on the bikes constantly to replace the salts and electrolytes we were sweating out in the heat. There was even a Kendal Mint Cake or two nommed along the way when the going got really tough.

They call it ‘bonking’ when your mind wanders off somewhere else and you get a song stuck in your head for hours and hours or you focus on your left knee then your right knee then your left knee, right knee, left knee, right knee… It’s unpleasant, I tell you and it can be downright dangerous too because when your mind starts wandering, so too can your bike and, before you know it, you’re trying to figure out how you ended up in that ditch at the side of the road.

In one particularly dark moment, I remember nomming a whole chocolate covered Kendal Mint Cake, washed down with half a bottle of Gatorade atop a long, steep climb we later realised we shouldn’t have made. I was bonking that day, bonking hard.

So, how to avoid the dreaded bonk? Well, it’s really quite simple and, again, it breaks down rather nicely into 3 categories:

  1. Fitness – Train, train, train. You may think you’re fit right now and, indeed, you may have a good level of underlying fitness but commuting to work and back with a clean shirt and a fresh pair of boxers is just not the same as climbing a hill with all you need for a week’s camping. I put a minimum of 75 miles on the clock every week just by commuting but when I come to tackle a 30 mile run into the local hills at the weekend, I find it a bit of a struggle. A lot of that is due to my body becoming conditioned to storming the 7.5 miles to work as fast as possible which is really good for building muscle but does little to build fitness and stamina and almost nothing in the fat burning department. Longer, slower paced rides (which is the style you want to develop for touring) will help shed the pounds, build stamina and you can enjoy the countryside too!
  2. Equipment – Think! Do you really need to take that? Really? On the 2010 tour, I was so desperate to save weight, I was throwing away my socks every day after wearing them! For the 2011 tour, in addition to a minimum 20 mile a day training ride, I’d also replaced almost every piece of camping equipment I’d bought the year before and every single thing that went in the trailer had to earn its keep. Believe me, you’d be surprised by how few clothes you actually need when you need to pedal them around with you!
  3. Fuel – An old friend of mine who’s a personal trainer used to tell me “My body is like an engine and the food I put in it is the fuel” and, do you know what, he was dead right too; feed your body well and it’ll serve you well, feed your body badly and you’ll suffer. You want to focus on getting slow release energy foods into you at the start of the day; things like muesli, porridge oats, bananas and the like are the best. If you’re heading out in the afternoon, a good bowl of beetroot soup for lunch will set you up really well for many hours in the saddle. In-ride snacks should be oaty flapjacks, malt loaf, bananas (is there anything they can’t do?) and, if you really need it, a sugar rush from some Kendal Mint Cake or an energy bar but, with a sugar rush comes the inevitable crash so do use with caution.

And so, there it is. Chill out a little, don’t sprint away from the lights so quickly and don’t feel too bad about dropping another cog on a hill climb. Get the right food inside you and, if you’re going to be out for a while, take the right food in your pockets. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, make sure you’re fit enough to do the kind of riding you want to – it’s supposed to be fun, remember and, contrary to popular belief, bonking is not fun.