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Journal

Filtering by Tag: OutsideIsFree

Three Days in Jersey.

10,000km.cc

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Date: Friday 30th October - Sunday 1st November, 2015
Distance: 292.4km | Elevation: 2,423m
Start kms: 8,261.1km | End kms: 8,553.5 | % complete: 85.5%

Destination: Jersey

Jersey, the island I grew up on and the place I still call home despite having not lived there for nine years, is not a big place. 

In fact, it’s tiny — 45 square miles to be exact. Eighteen years of living there means that there’s very little of it that I haven’t seen. 

However, to ride its lanes is to remind myself of two of the somewhat paradoxical joys of cycling.

The first is the reassurance and comfort found in riding through a well-known spot. 

Setting out before sunrise three days in a row doesn’t necessarily require a cast-iron determination or unwavering discipline. It tends to just mean laying my kit out on a chair the night before and fetching my bike from the garage. Both go a long way towards providing an early morning nudge to honour the agreement I made with myself the previous evening. 

Waking to the sound of my alarm and the low-lying mist of a cool November morning, putting on my arm warmers and getting on the road was made infinitely easier by the fact that I wouldn’t need to engage my brain in any major way. There was no route to follow, no turn-by-turn directions being dictated from my handlebar stem — no matter where I found myself, I would know where I was. Letting my legs take me where they could, I simply dropped my right knee and lent to the left or swung to the right with the curve of the road if and when I felt like it, seeing where it took me.

That turned out being the majority of the island over the course of 72 hours.

Much of it was covered alone, some of it with my dad and parts of it with a very old friend. Between the chatting, the reminiscing and the occasional ice cream, I drunk in the sights, sounds and smells I’d encountered countless times before but that still felt in some way new. An impulse turn would bring me to a forgotten, sun-lit nook I’d neither seen nor thought about for years.

Reaching a fork in a road, I followed the road less travelled and found myself passing through never before seen surroundings and, for a short moment, I found myself lost. Everything was unfamiliar: the narrow, gravelled road, its verdant hedgerows, the new view down onto the coast and out to sea.

That would be the second joy and creator of the paradox: even when you think you know a place, you don’t. There is always something left undiscovered, hidden and waiting to be found. 

The feeling can’t have lasted for more than a few seconds before I recognised my surroundings and was able to place myself exactly. 

Every time I return home, I ask myself why it is I left. The surroundings are beautiful and the pace of life is enviable. Plus, there’s the draw of always being by the sea.

I’m not ready to move back yet — London still has its claws sunk firmly into my skin and, with its promise of the incessantly new and constantly different, it shows no sign of loosening that grip any time soon. 

But three days at home was a nice reminder that, whilst London offers the opportunity to see a little of a lot, there’s something innately satisfying about knowing a lot about a little. 

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Hell of the Ashdown+.

10,000km.cc

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Date: Saturday 27th June, 2015
Distance: 206.5km | Elevation: 2,661m
Start kms: 4,430.6km  | Finish kms: 4,537.1km | % complete: 42.7%

Destinations: New Cross – Knatts Valley – Turners Hill – Linfield – Ashdown Forest – Brasted – Crystal Palace – New Cross

I’m no endurance athlete. 

That’ll come as no surprise to anyone. 

However, my limited experience of doing any form of long-distance exercise is that there comes a point where the psychological endurance becomes as – if not more – important than physical fitness. 

With this in mind, and with the Rapha MCR-LDN ride now on the foreseeable horizon, it was about to take down a psychological milestone. 

200km. 

Hendo and I formed a 2-man peleton for the day to take this on. My longest ride was sat at somewhere in the region of 180km. His was 160km. The route we’d planned for this was 206km. 

Speed was therefore absolutely not the key. Instead, it was simply a case of conquering the new distance and hopefully getting off at the other end without feeling as though we couldn’t possibly do any more. 

The foundation of our route was taken from the still fairly recently launched Strava Local, a great collection of cycling and running routes in and around some of the worlds major cities. However, with a full day at our disposal, we were able to add on an extra 70km or so by heading out a little further South East and taking in Knatts Valley for the third time in four weeks. 

Another habit we’d started a few months ago and were keen to keep up was covering more than 100km before the first rest stop. 

In the past, we’d generally taken our first break at the 50-60km mark, stopping for half an hour to take on some food and rest the legs. That makes sense when you’re calling it a day at 100km, but coming back to the psychological element in play over such distances, getting out of the saddle to rest less than a quarter of the way into a ride makes the whole thing feel a lot longer.

Now fully au fait with eating on the bike, we were able to pedal on through to 115km before dismounting for the first time. I can’t speak for Hendo, but after rolling through several towns that had nothing to offer in the way of eateries, I was incredibly happy to see the beckoning bench of a small deli in Lindfield. 

Over half the distance down and at our furthest point from home, post-lunch saw us making our way back up towards London though another new cycling realm: Ashdown Forest. A long and gentle incline would have made for more of a challenge were it not for the thrill of new surroundings and enjoyable scenery. 

The combination of the high, afternoon sun, the clear skies, the dry scrubland to the left and to the right of me, and the sheep and cows roaming the banks and roads came together to create the impression that we weren’t in East Sussex, but on a far-off Spanish island. 

We closed the first loop of our figure-of-eight route at just after 165km, joining already covered ground in Brasted. With minutes to spare, we were able to get our order in at Tarte, a cafe we’d ear-marked for the journey back. Operating on the principle that breakfast food is the best food, I chose granola with yoghurt and lemon curd to push me through the final 50km. 

And my god, I needed it. 

As I’ve mentioned before, our rest stops are always in fairly well-populated towns or villages. Towns and villages tend to be located close to water. These are, in turn, generally in a basin or valley. Consequently, more often than not, the first thing we’re faced with is a hill. 

In this case, that hill was not only present, but almost named correctly: Brasted Hill. 

More Bastard than Brasted, I was immediately calling on my granola to fuel me up as the gradient became steeper and steeper and I churned through gears until I had none left. Snaking from one side of the road to another and doing my best to stop my heart beating out of my chest and up to the top of the hill before me, I felt sorry for the car crawling up the hill behind me.

But not enough to even consider the possibility of stopping to let it past. That would have required energy I had no ability to draw upon at that point. 

Looking to learn as much as we could from ‘the longest ride to-date’, the greatest lesson came in the final stretch of the day: the need to communicate constantly. If there’s a car down, a pothole ahead, glass on the road, an obstacle in the road, it needs to be vocalised to everyone as audibly and obviously as possible. 

The first time this became apparent was on the final (relatively small) climb of the day, which took us up to Crystal Palace. Tired, sun-beaten and a little jaded, concentration was beginning to lapse. As Hendo and I approached a red light, he slipped from his pedal  and swerved into the back of a BMW. I heard the thud and crunch of something breaking and quickly turned around expecting to see him lying on the floor. 

What had actually happened was that he’d managed to accidentally force his handlebar through the brake light of the car, leaving it smashed. The driver was incredibly patient and understanding about the incident as the two swapped details to settle reimbursement. 

The next incident was a far closer call on the descent into East Dulwich. As we coasted past Dulwich Park, I swerved to my left to avoid a traffic barricade that sat across the road. 

Hendo saw me swerve. 

He then wondered why it was I had swerved. 

As he pondered this for almost too long, he made the final decision to follow suit, moments – metres – from clothes-lining himself from his saddle and likely a few broken ribs. 

Needless to say our final few kilometres – with the promise of a cold can of Irn-Bru and an even colder tub of Ben & Jerry’s awaiting – were filled with exaggerated hand signals and loud calls to guarantee we made it home to our indulgences. 

It was better to point out the obvious than for someone to fall victim to it. 

Lessons learnt, milestones surmounted and legs still capable of moving, the only major issue beyond weariness and its impact on reaction times was a sharp, burning sensation in the balls of our feet. 

The constant – and at times heavy – pressure being put through this specific point over and over again made itself known in a very physical way for the final 50-60km. 

No doubt Google will hold many helpful (and yet more unhelpful) solutions. 

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Back into Knatts Valley.

10,000km.cc

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Date: Sunday 21st June, 2015
Distance: 100.7km | Elevation: 962m
Destinations: New Cross – Knatts Valley – Clapham Common

Start kms: 3,938.4km | Finish kms: 3,950.1km | % complete: 39.5%

It turns out I wasn’t the last in the group to be introduced to Knatts Valley. Both Saul and Gorrod had yet to venture in to its hedgerows and so, now fully inducted, I took it upon myself to be their guide. 

In an effort to mix things up, I decided to take us through the valley in reverse, approaching from Eynsford. Whilst I’m not exactly sure why, my preference is definitely for the run in from Shoreham – I think that’s down to the difference of the descent in, with the former feeling that little bit longer and slightly faster.

It was only a few months ago that Hendo and I were in Richmond Park with Saul, dropping him on the hills and helping him out of a ditch on one of his first proper rides out of London. Without wishing to sound condescending, and whilst a small part of me was left pining for these headier days as I sat on the back of the group, the speed at which he’d progressed was unbelievable. 

He was like a whippet up every hill the route placed in front of him. 

Grossly under-estimating the length of time it would take us to get from the M25 crossing to Clapham Common left us pacing back through central London fairly aggressively. The result was the gradual flagging of each of us as we got inside the 10km mark – the conversation died down, the heavy sighs got louder and the questions of “is the this cafe much further away?” became more frequent. 

Thankfully, the answer was “no” and, even better, that cafe was the always delectable FIELDS.

As I neared my front door, it became clear that I was painfully close – but not close enough – to breaking the 100km mark. I diligently peddled past to complete my victory lap and bring me safely over the threshold.  

Details:

Up in the highlands.

10,000km.cc

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Date: Wednesday 27th May, 2015
Distance: 46.3km | Elevation: 459m
Destinations: Gleneagles – Muthill – Gleneagles

Start kms: 3,337.3km | Finish kms: 3,383.6km | % complete: 33.8%

Mid-way into a 10-day UK road trip, Ashley and I spent 2 nights in Gleneagles Hotel, where it turns out it’s not only possible to while away your day in spas, restaurants, bars between golf and shooting sessions, but also to hire Condor bikes and explore the surrounding roads of Auchterader. 

Gleneagles being the Mecca of all things golf, I naturally chose to body-swerve the greens and fairways entirely in favour of some Scottish roads. 

With the help of a couple of Garmins pre-loaded with several routes, Ashley and I set out to explore Strowan Road and its surroundings. 

The roads were as quiet as you’d expect given the fact that they surrounded an idyllic retreat and the undulations were as present as you’d assume them to be in an area named The Highlands. 

What I had failed to anticipate was the considerable contrast in temperature compared to London. A month of committing to attire consisting of bib shorts and jersey-only meant that I’d turned up woefully unprepared. My true colours as a soft, southern twat were at risk of being exposed, made immediately obvious to anyone that might care to gaze longer than a couple of seconds on my goosebump-covered, purple/red-coloured arms and chattering teeth.

Ashley had already laid claim to the only vaguely suitable cycling jumper I had, so I strictly adhered to Rule #5.

The Condor Italia RC bikes we’d hired were by no means top of the range – and I suppose a £2,500 frameset, one of Condor’s higher-spec numbers, is an unreasonable expectation for a morning jaunt – but they were comfortable runners. 

This comfort was made all the better by the addition of bar-mounted Garmin cycle computers. Whilst I’ve benefitted from the navigational prowess of the Garmin Edge in the past, I’d never used one first-hand and I was entirely sold on the merits of using it over a mounted iPhone – battery life, size and clarity and three of numerous realms it trumps the latter. 

The Scottish scenery had put on the most ominous, looming, moody outfit it could find for the morning. The clouds hung dark, grey and heavy over the surrounding hills and valleys. The threat of rain was constant. 

With so little in the way of weather protection, I was living dangerously, but it made for some truly phenomenal views and superb panoramic shots. I was willing to risk being battered by the rain for both. 

Thankfully, it did manage to hold off for the majority of the ride, with increasingly frequent droplets welcoming us back to the hotel before an all-out downpour. 

That was our cue to hit the spa. 

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Wasting time by saving time.

10,000km.cc

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Date: Thursday 21st May, 2015
Distance: 46.7km | Elevation: 251m
Destinations: New Cross – Grand Union Canal – Heathrow Airport

Start kms: 3,290.6km | Finish kms: 3,337.3km | % complete: 33.3%

When does saving time and money become a false economy? 

When you end up late and out of pocket. 

In planning a week-long road trip that would take my fiancee, Ashley, and I from London, up to Scotland and back down to Somerset, I’d managed to save myself around £100 by choosing to hire my car from Heathrow Airport rather than somewhere more central (and therefore infinitely more accessible – a detail that will become pertinent momentarily). 

However, that cost saving would translate to a substantial outlay of time on trains, tubes and buses – or at least it might have. 

An early start and a two-hour cycle would see me avoiding any travel costs, negating the need to drag several bags around Londons transport network, allow Ashley to stay at home and make some last-minute preparations and give me a chance to get in some much-needed kilometres ahead of 10 days off the bike. 

So a plan was hatched: an early morning cycle to Heathrow, pick up the car, throw my bike in the boot, drive back via the house, load up and be on our way to Scotland by 11am whilst saving a cool amount of cash. 

That’s what should have happened. 

I did get out early. 

I did cycle the 46km from New Cross to Heathrow Airport. 

I did make good time.

What I didn’t do is pack my wallet or any form of photo identification. 

Which meant I couldn’t pick up the car.

So Ashley couldn’t stay at home to do any last-minute preparation.

Because she had to get in a taxi and drive to Heathrow quick-sharp to clean-up my mess.

And that transformed a cool saving into a painful (and larger) expense.

A 2-hour delay as a result of the wait acted as a liberal dosing of salt to a very open wound. 

We made it to Scotland, but not before I was forced to coyly sit in a Sixt Car Rental foyer, clad head to toe in lycra for 120 red-faced minutes whilst reflecting on my actions and working my way through a banana and a protein shake (both of which I had remembered to pack).

This truly was the royalest of fuck-ups. 

Details:

Mitie London Revolution | Day 2.

10,000km.cc

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Date: Sunday 17th May, 2015
Distance: 166.4km | Elevation: 1,802m
Destinations: Ascot – Chiswell Green – Lee Valley — New Cross

Start kms: 3,087.8km | Finish kms: 3,254.2km | % complete: 32.5%

With the coming of our second day of cycling came the addition a third rider to our group. 

Freddie, a friend of Saul’s, had missed the first day of riding due to work commitments, so had spent the wee hours of Sunday morning driving out from London to Ascot with his bike to meet us. Arriving just after we’d finished for breakfast, we were introduced and I marvelled at what was a solid ten out of ten for effort. If I had spent my Saturday working and not set out with the pack, I’d have most likely forgone an early start and a day on the bike in favour of a lie-in and a leisurely brunch.

With everyone adhering to their own slightly less stringent start times — no doubt thanks to the draw of the breakfast buffet — the start line was considerably less congested and we were able to continue the northward trajectory we’d started the previous day relatively quickly. 

Being British, I’m not sure I’ve escaped one post since the beginning of this year without mentioning the weather.

Rather than apologise, I’m going to justify myself.

If we exclude January, as I didn’t so much touch a bike for those 31 days due to injury, I have 3 and a half months of riding on record. In that time, I’ve banked around 3,000km and a considerable amount of that has been on long, weekend rides. Of those longer rides, there is only one morning that had me taking on the rain. Given the fact I rode 1,968km in February and March, I find this pretty remarkable. 

I suppose the convoluted point I’m trying to make is that this was yet another sunny day. I therefore continued working diligently on my perma-kit. 

Crossing the Thames for the third (and penultimate) time that weekend, we were all moving along at a reasonable pace and, more importantly, feeling comfortable.

I’ve often viewed long cycles as an invitation to devour an incomprehensible amount of food at the end of each day and that tends to hang around well into the following morning, leaving me feeling sick and slow. Having made that mistake numerous times before (both whilst cycling and when just going about my day-to-day business), I’d avoided eating to the point of paralysis at dinner the night before and at breakfast that morning.

Unsurprisingly, I was feeling the benefits. My mind was focused less on keeping food down and more on taking down hills. 

And there were a lot of them in the first half of the ride. There was less in total than the day before, but the ones that had been thrown in were certainly more of a challenge. 

During each appearance thus far, Saul has found himself lying on the tarmac at one point of a ride or another, so it’s only fair I celebrate our first crash-free ride together. It being the second day, the heat and hills combined were taking their toll on some. Legs began to give-way and riders snaked their way to the top of the steeper climbs, we watched as one poor chap reached the peak of a hill, only to momentarily lose his balance and, in almost-slow-motion, take a tumble.

He was fine, if not a little embarrassed 

Thankfully, we all remained on two wheels, but Saul was beginning to experience some pain in his knee. The symptoms sounded remarkably similar to what I’d experienced at the beginning of the year. 

Fuelled by Jelly Tots (an essential ride snack as of their introduction during this event), we looped our way back eastwards via Kings Langley, skimming St. Albans before abruptly finding ourselves riding parallel to the M25. 

We were almost back. 

The usual traffic light and congestion rule applied itself from around Enfield and into Lower Edmonton. Whilst navigating the queues,  we wheeled past someone dealing with a puncture what could only have been 3km from the finish. We offered assistance, but she insisted she was fine. 

Making a concerted effort to avoid anything that looked even remotely like glass, a pothole or a jagged stone, we crossed the line to the soundtrack of something upbeat, bass-driven and energetic. 

I want it to have been something classic and somewhat ironic, like ‘Eye of the Tiger’. However, it was probably a forgettable EDM chart topper by someone like David Guetta. 

What I do know is that medals were donned, photos were taken and back-slaps were exchanged. 

Freddie, who had only managed to do day one of the previous years event, had now completed the set and got himself a medal. He just needed to figure out how to get back to Ascot to collect his car. 

Safe to say it wouldn’t be on two wheels. 

Having had a bit of food and drink, Saul and I climbed (and at this stage, this isn’t poetic license, it’s a factual description of how it felt to throw a leg over the frame and place our backsides back onto the saddle) onto the bikes and began the relatively short, but psychologically long journey home.

Somewhere around South Tottenham, Saul’s knee could take no more and, rather than risk doing any long-term damage, he made for the overground — an incredibly sensible decision based on my experience. 

Me, I conquered the final 25km that got me home but after 2 days of unadulterated cycling, I can’t say I enjoyed it. A solid 5km along the gravel paths of Regents Canal had me on-edge as I incessantly visualised having to deal with a last-leg puncture. Having a backpack full of overnight clothes strapped to my back didn’t help matters, either.

The irritation and annoyance was mostly tiredness though and the warm glow of achievement quickly washed away any dissonance I was experiencing as soon as I crossed the threshold of my front door.

I’ll certainly be signing up for next years ride.

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