Words fail me on another rainy day

Map reference: very wet Leith Hill to Box Hill loop, 100k, 1,200m climbing

Carbs and caffeine: Gorgeous Gerties, 61 West Street, Dorking, PH4 1BS, gorgeousgerties.co.uk, banana and coconut cake and coffee x 2

How many times can I tell you about my rides in the rain and how miserable they are? Jen was there being made miserable too, and that helped, but basically it started raining an hour or so into the ride and didn’t stop. There were various types of rain. There are 50 Eskimo words for snow and really, for all our boasts about the richness of our language, where are the 50 words for rain we should have?

I’m not going to go on about it. Instead I shall concentrate on a lovely tea shop we were driven into in Dorking. Gorgeous Gerties is on the antiquey end of the high street, the first bit you hit if you descend, soggy or otherwise, from Coldharbour. It has a sheltered porch bit at the entrance, perfect for stashing the bikes, and is a cafe with vintage department shop attached. Actually, probably the vintage bit comes first, but the priority for us was the coffee and cake.

We had to walk to the back to view the cakes, passing stands of jewellery and pottery and all sorts of gifty things. Given the state we were in, it was surprising how much of it we stopped to mull over. Particularly as we couldn’t really buy.

Cake and coffee eaten, we felt we should push off, so paid up and collected our bikes. By then the rain had turned torrential. We hovered in the porchy bit, hesitating about what to do; discussing our options. The lady from the shop came out and suggested another round of coffee. That was clearly the best option, so we parked the bikes again and trooped back in.

The rain lashed down, and then finally slowed a little. We decided to do the final two hills; Ranmore Road and the side of Box Hill.

From there it was simply a case of slipping down into Epsom and taking our normal commute back to Wimbledon. The rain drizzled to a stop and finally we saw a little sun. We don’t have many words for sun either, but that’s more understandable.

Note to self: watch the weather forecast, I don’t think another rainfest will do you any good a this stage.

Why did the chicken cross the road?

Map reference: Practice run of Gran Fondo Dragon Ride, 224km, 3990m climbing

Carbs and caffeine: Costa in Neath, Carpanini’s Cardiff Arms Cafe, Treorchy CF42 6BN and the burger van at The Storey Arms car park at the bottom of Pen Y Fan mountain, plus endless cheese rolls, cake and jelly babies. Actually, I say endless but we were running low when we finally got back to base

One of the many benefits of my father living in the Brecon Beacons is I can do practice runs of the Dragon Ride. This Bank Holiday falling two weeks before the event was perfect. So with back pockets stuffed with food, Husband and I set off in fairly dismal weather. I think this will be a fairly short blog as we spent three-quarters of the ride up in low-lying cloud, with visability low and speeds to match. We saw wild ponies, they’re pretty easy to spot even in cloud. Sheep, the white ones are harder to spot and the babies a nightmare, as they trot across the road to follow their mothers, but we saw them early enough to slow down and divert as necessary. 

At one stage there was a gap in the relentless gloom and we saw two chicken idling on the right side of the road as we approached, with no other vehicle for miles around. The chickens panicked and, having the brain the size of a pea – this is probably being unfair to one of my favourite green vegetables, and we all know frozen peas can be very useful – they shot across the road into our path. We all made it out of the exchange in one piece but our chicken supper later seemed appropriate, given the unnecessary scare they had given us. 

Apart from these few points of interest it really was quite a gruelling ride and we stopped three times to take on caffeine and carbs. I can highly recommend Carpanini’s Cardiff Arms Cafe. They made us so welcome, insisting we roll our bikes into the cafe and sit down for our mugs of tea. It’s an old fashioned sweet shop, plus cafe, with old bench-style seating. Very different to our normal couthy Surrey places, but none the worse for that. We spoke to some locals who were genuinely interested in our crazy pastime. We felt much, much better for their delightful company, and the good strong cuppa.

Our rolling time including these stops was 11 and a half hours, which is absurd. I think moving through the wet air slowed us down and of course descending was slow due to the fore-mentioned visability versus moving hazard issues. But we did the distance and the climbing. In fact, since we were taking off the tail in and out of Margam, which on the day are on the motorways, it’s a mystery as to why the distance wasn’t nearer 200k. And we also seem to have found 1,000m more elevation, although when I get home and plug my Garmin in to the computer, it will correct any GPS errors and the figure will probably go down quite a bit. 

I think the extra climbing must be down to Husband’s ‘shortcut’ across the hills back to my father’s house. The air was blue for a while there as I reluctantly followed, but luckily the sheep didn’t seem to mind. Baaa-loody hills…

Note to self: keep working on back exercises, apparently from behind it’s obvious you are still very lopsided 

All hail to the train

Map reference: About 7 hills, Wimbledon to Dorking

Carbs and caffeine: Peaslake Village Stores, sandwich, tea and cake. Picked up delicious smoked cheese for later

This week I have a busy cycling schedule, with three weeks to go to the Dragon Ride. It started yesterday with a plan to do my 10 hills Surrey ride with Jacqui and Jen. I knew it would be a steady pace, so already had it in mind to chop a bit off the end if necessary. All was fine to Peaslake – six hills climbed, no drama. We then stopped to refuel and as we slurped the last of our tea the thunder started. There wasn’t much option to do anything but commit the shorter route to memory (I’m still carrying the map and notes I made last week) and get going. By the time we reached the top of Radnor Road, a very pretty climb straight out of Peaslake, we were soaked and rivers of sandy water were running down the road.

We pedalled on, it was freezing rain and, unbelievably for late May, as we started a long descent, the rain turned to large brutal shots of hail. I was in short bibs and it was really, really painful. I was hunched over my thighs trying to protect them, my vision was obscured by my dark glasses and frankly I yelped all the way down.

We were still in the wilderness and now all three of us shivering, soaked to the skin, with shoes full of water. The weather eased with a tantalising few glances of sunshine, and then, as we hit another descent, another freak hail storm attacked. It was ridiculously painful, and by now my legs were covered in red dots from the icy attack. We ploughed on through Coldharbour and down into Dorking.

Thankfully Jacqui was searching her mind for a solution as we looked at Box Hill in the distance, shrouded in grey. I was thinking for ways of routing around the hills, not to avoid climbing, but because it was noticeably colder up top. But with an hour and a half’s riding in front of us, Jacqui had a more fundamental idea… the train.

So we hopped on at Dorking and shivered our way to Raynes Park. Together we laughed about our predicament and the state we were in, but the child in our heads grizzled. I have seldom been more uncomfortable.

But Jen’s last words, as we parted, were to hope we were going to do the ride again on Thursday, which is the plan. She’s a ray of sunshine, and I do hope she brings more of it with her when we try again tomorrow. I’ll let you know.

Note to self: phone brother and get him in line for tomorrow’s ride. Cake, jelly babies etc etc

Dawn call to ride out…

Map reference: Ten Surrey Hills, 124k with 1,756m climbing

Carbs and Caffeine: Peaslake Village Stores http://www.peaslakevillagestores.com/

Up at 5pm on Monday, I decided to get on the Turbo to work off my frustration at the way my back problems have impacted on my training. The back held out so I texted Jen and promised her hills if she would come out with me the next day. She was surprised to be contacted so early but, being the trooper she is, agreed to come. I’ve mentioned Jen before, she’s super fit, rides a heavy, clickety bike… and talks a lot. She has never tested her endurance riding before – although I believe she has some marathons under her belt – so it would be an adventure for her. And even more of an adventure if I didn’t get the route right.

This was my second attempt to follow my basic Garmin on a route I have ridden with a friend. I’ve mentioned my belt and braces attitude before, well this time it was belt and braces with extra safety pins. I poured over the map on Monday, printing out a section in the middle which was very unfamiliar and marking it with google mapped waymarkers. Then I wrote out the whole left-right-left instructions. Finally, I got two large sticky labels and wrote out the route in a point-to-point fashion to be stuck to the back and front of my phone case. Then I nearly forgot to take all of the above, but thankfully remembered at the last minute or I might now be writing this from the safety of a bed at the Priory Mental Hospital.

Anyway, it worked. Jen was patient as I had to stop a couple of times and get out my soggy bits of paper, but I felt a great sense of achievement at having completed the route ‘properly’. There are plenty of hills out there, so it wouldn’t really matter, but Strava told me I was fourth fastest female this year up Barhatch… particularly pleasing as this hill beat me earlier this year.

As for the pedalling bit? Jen was awesome. I could tell she was a little bit tired at one point as she actually stopped talking, but she just pushed on and on, even as her gears sounded like they were giving up. We munched through nearly a whole pack of jelly babies supplemented by fruit cake and biscuits. Sensibly, we had a proper sandwich at Peaslake with our cuppa. I felt hungry for much of the time and our pace was steady rather than lightning but it was good to bank the miles and the climbing. I feel disappointed that I felt so tired an hour from home, but perhaps it’s not surprising with the hiccup I’ve had with my back.

Talking of the back, my physio friend Jacqui worked her magic on Monday, sticking her elbow deep into my muscles until I could have wept. I was very sore that evening, but the freedom of movement the next day was amazing. That’s what you need, friends who’ll answer your dawn texts to go out for a ride, or stick their elbow into your gluteus maximus until you beg for mercy.

Note to Jen: get ready for another go; more fruit cake, hydration tabs… and jelly beans

Steady as she goes …

Map reference: playing around in the Leith Hill area, 130k, 1700m climbing

Carbs and caffeine: tea and Cornish pasty at Peaslake Village Stores plus my rice cakes (see Musette munchies page)

Testing my back again, but this time I set off slowly from home. Husband was with me and he has been working his legs hard lately so he said he was glad to take the pace down a notch too.

It was blowing against us all the way out to the hills from Wimbledon and we were perhaps 10 minutes slower than usual on our leg to the Black Swan in Ockham http://www.blackswanockham.com/. It’s a waymarker for us, as well as being a good pub to visit (I believe Brad Pitt was spotted there once).

By this time I had already taken some paracetamol and some Ibuprofen but the back was holding up with the chemical support. I was attempting to follow a ten-hills route that I had done with a friend and therefore had on my Garmin. I have an Edge 500, which is about as basic as it gets, but I like it for being tiny and neat. Although I always take it off my bike when I stop, it’s not a magnet for theft. Understated is the word I am looking for, I think.

Anyway, this was my first real attempt to follow a map on it. I was pleased that I could set off from home doing my preferred route and then pick up the route and for several hills the route was clear enough. You get no map as such, just a line that wriggles in the shape of the road, with an arrow on it. So, at a left turn, you get no indication of a road junction, just the line bends left. On the twisty turny roads of Surrey it’s a little confusing, but we managed for about three hours before we lost satellite for too long and were too far off track to find our way back. It didn’t matter, as by that time we were in the vicinity of our familiar Peaslake and were able to¬† route a different way home.

I am now using my iphone to record for Strava and Garmin for my own records. It’s a bit of a belt and braces solution, but it should mean I won’t lose segments. I wouldn’t like to use my Garmin to map completely virgin territory, but I am increasing my knowledge of the roads of Surrey and Sussex all the time, and it’s fine for these excursions. It’s never a bad thing to keep the old grey matter going anyway, although it’s hard when you get tired.

We did manage to get back on track for Hill 9, aka Ranmore Road from Dorking. It’s quite nasty but only because it is long. I think the steepest bits are about 10%, so at a steady pace it’s perfectly doable.

Overall it was a long steady ride. We did about half the climbing I will face in the Dragon Gran Fondo and about two thirds of the distance. With six weeks to go, I’m glad we banked the distance, even at a pace of just under 24k/hr.

Note to self: rest and stretch today, Turbo tomorrow.

Pain and peas… a miraculous cure

Map reference: Cobham into Sussex, via Quell Hill, 22%, 120k

Carbs and caffeine: sandwich, coffee and chocolate at Kirdford Village Stores, plus many painkillers

Any regular readers will know I’ve been struggling with a bad back. I’ve also been struggling with the knowledge that I do need to get in some longer rides. I think I’ve done well on the winter base, this should now be the fun bit. With this in mind, I snapped up Keith’s offer of a longer ride out into Sussex. Every cyclist needs a mappy friend like him, and if you can find one with a plethora of trivia about the countryside you are passing through, more’s the better.

Within half an hour of riding I was on my first round of paracetamol. Half an hour later I had to break my pledge not to take anti-inflamatories and hit the ibuprofen too. Nonetheless it was a beautiful day and Keith confidentally rode us to ‘a climber’s climb’ called Quell Hill. I shall resist the puns on Quell, suffice to say, it is a real challenge; kicking hard at the bottom, and winding up through trees leaving the top obscured. After the initial shock, I just settled into grinding up as best I could. It’s a mindset thing, basically it’s faster than walking unless you are reduced to the speed where you actually fall off. I was pleased to get to the top. And the descent was unbelievably beautiful, views across the Downs; stunning and well worth the pain.

But, that said, the pain was now becoming more of a problem. We rode on for about another 10k with a lump ominously swelling towards my right hip. At last we wheeled into Kirdford, an old-fashioned village store, with an old-fashioned welcome. If they thought it was strange I bought a packet of frozen peas with my sandwich and coffee, they were too polite to mention it.

I slid the peas down my bibs and we had a long stop to chat, which I was grateful for. I kept the peas where they were when we pushed off. Frankly with all the padded Lycra and stuffed back pockets, I don’t think a bag of peas in the shorts was very noticable. The trip back was worryingly painful. My companions talked of fetching cars, but I really felt I could make it, if we could knock off the speed a bit. Keith rode with me all the way back to my car and I gratefully swung myself off the bike.

As I drove around the school run I expected the pain to kick in as the painkillers wore off. It didn’t. In the evening, I expected the pain to kick in. No pain.

This morning I was sure I would wake up in agony. I didn’t. In fact I am more comfortable today than I have been in days. It’s a miracle. I can recommend the frozen peas and a long ride method for back pain to anyone.

And did I serve up the peas for tea? No, I am not that eccentric.

Note to Lucy: I’ve put my recipes on a page called Mussette munchies