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Author: Chris

In Praise Of The Mini Adventure

Just enough luggage
Glorious mornings
Calm days
Moody evenings
Back roads
Basic shelter from a hedge
Open store shelter
Trails
Quiet canals
Cold winter tracks
Getting ready for bed
Night lights
Well earned breakfasts

There’s a seemingly inexhaustible supply of aspirational features in the media telling of remote adventures into the wilderness or continent crossing epics, of living life beyond the confines of an average adult’s lifestyle.

Whilst it might seem wonderful to indulge in a similar adventure for ourselves practically speaking this is going to be a very big ask for most working adults and, in reality, something only a very few are fully committed to do.

These stories may seem to imply that only such wild, grand adventures are of any importance or benefit. This maybe true if you’re wanting to sell articles, magazines or gain sponsorship but if you simply wish to enhance your life then nothing could be further from the truth.

The Oxford Dictionary defines adventure as:

  • An unusual and exciting or daring experience.”

That’s a broad definition but note the key ingredients are simply “unusual”“exciting” or “daring” and its not hard to find those ingredients.

Balancing the typical adult demands of work and family can make disappearing off for weeks or days on end unacceptably or irresponsibly unusual.

There is no reason to feel too saddened or trapped by any of that as you can still derive great benefit from remarkably fine adventures very close to home, wherever that maybe.

Short bike packing trips can be the perfect mini adventure. Set off alone on a Friday night and ride into the darkness for as many hours as you wish and then camp out before riding home again taking as long as you wish. Riding well into the night is pretty unusual for most cyclists and just sleeping in a bivi or makeshift shelter, is pretty darn unusual for most people period. Riding any distance alone isn’t very common either.

Things happen when you do something like this. Being alone on a bike forces you to confront yourself and listen to your anxieties or inane mind chatter. That can be uncomfortable because you may discover you’re probably a little more neurotic than you ever wanted to believe! The “stuff” that you may normally, subconsciously, avoid facing by immersing yourself in a hectic life with endless distractions can now make it’s presence felt.

No matter, you now get to enjoy all the benefits of adventure therapy out alone on your bike. Riding a bike demands you focus your mind on the road, traffic, navigation, and staying safe but at the same time there is also a sense of space for you to think clearly. I feel it focuses me in two directions.

As the hours pass you can find clarity about other challenges in your life and learn to quiet the nonsensical ramblings of the mind. You feel more exposed riding alone at night but you also feel an increased sense of freedom. You experience a heightened sense of your vulnerability but your also get a greater sense of your strength. Sleeping in a bivi bag can feel claustrophobic or safe and snug. Every experience can feel good or bad, being alone on the road heightens your every sense of this, and continually challenges your resolve to choose to make the best of everything.

Or maybe not, you may hate it and swear never again but either way you’ll be far wiser and than if you’d never left…

 

Saddle Quest ~ In Search Of Enduring Comfort

 

In this post I share what I’ve learnt about saddle comfort.

I’ve been cycling since I was a kid as a way to stay fit or get about locally. It is only in the last year that I’ve been riding regularly for several hours at a time or even days on end. My biggest single challenge with any of this has been dealing with saddle discomfort.

The cycling industry doesn’t like to put newcomers off by dwelling on this but it can take months to fully acclimatise your sit bones to the demands of sitting upon a bike saddle for hours on end.

As a new cyclist you have to begin slowly in order to accustom your bum to the saddle experience; no matter what brand or design of saddle. Just complete very short rides on alternate days to begin with, there are no shortcuts, it simply takes time for your tissues to develop and adjust to this new demand.

A gradual process is fine for acclimatising your sit bones but if you’re also experiencing numbness and tingling in your soft tissues then something else needs to be done as you can never acclimatise to that. Such tingling or numbness can lead to longterm issues and needs to be taken seriously. (One long five day endurance trip I took lead to months of discomfort but fortunately no lasting issues.)

Some things I’ve learnt..
  • Tilting a saddle down to reduce perineal pressure tends to place more weight onto your hands as you stop yourself sliding forward. This can lead to nerve pressure resulting in numb fingers or cyclist’s palsy.
  • Saddle width needs to be matched to sit bone width. Wide (130mm+) sit bones on a narrow saddle particularly cause soft tissue pressure.
  • A professional bike fit is money very well spent. I had an in depth hour long fit and follow up fit with Kernow Physio that included video analysis and physiological measurements to get an optimum starting position. A follow up session some months later further refined this. The whole process gave me an understanding of the dynamics my bike position, ideas on how I can improve aspects of my strength and flexibility as well as insight into how I can make further micro adjustments if necessary. Get a professional bike fit, no online article or video is any kind of substitute. Scott at Kernow Physio say this about the importance of also combining physiotherapy assessment with a bike fit. “…Full Physiotherapy assessment: This is a key asset to Kernow Physio as one of the most important aspects of a bike fit is understanding how the client moves. And experienced Physiotherapy knowledge certainly helps this. Kernow Physio is one of the few bike fitting companies to be run by a fully chartered Physiotherapist. Key assessment areas include flexibility, true leg length discrepancy, restriction of hip, knee and ankle movement, and a footbed assessment if required.” It worked for me.
  • Even just a few millimetres of adjustment (of many different components) can make a significant difference.
  • What feels comfortable for 4 hours may not prove so comfortable on much longer rides.
  • Good core strength stabilises the pelvis and back which aids comfort. It’s necessary to cross train and combine other exercises beyond cycling to support longterm cycling comfort and endurance. With strong, flat abdominal muscles your pelvis tilts forward less and reduces perineal soft tissue pressure.
  • There is no one size fits all solution. Seek the best advice but also trust your judgement; only you really know what is right for you. Very few experts in bike fit or coaching actually have much experience with unsupported ultra distance cycling.
Saddles I’ve tried – in order

Selle SMP Extra

Used on my previous bike. I had high hopes for this but try as I may I couldn’t get a comfortable position with it.

 

 

 

 

 

Stock Genesis saddle

This came with my Datum bike but didn’t work well for me.

 

 

 

 

Brooks Cambium C15 Imperial

I so wanted this saddle to work for me. I love how it looks and initially it did seem very comfortable but after over 1000+km of testing I had to give up on it. It was Ok when riding up on the hoods but in the drops or on TT bars my nether regions went to sleep (I think the non cutout version maybe better as it should result in less sagging in the middle)

 

Ergon SRS-M

This at first seemed like the solution to my problems but again I couldn’t get a fit that allowed for comfort and blood flow in an aero position using the drops or TT bars without tilting the saddle nose down. Any nose down saddle position had me putting too much weight on my hands to stop me sliding forward. This then lead to nerve constriction and numbness and tingling in my fingers.

 

 

Selle SLR 

This is the saddle endurance cycling supremo Kristof Allegaert uses and having watched him cross Australia on one during the IPWR I thought it was worth a try. Once again I had the same issue of needing excessive downward saddle tilt to maintain blood flow in more aggressive riding positions which lead to excess hand pressure.

 

Infinity Seat N series

Aside from perineal pressure there is also the issue of saddle sores where your sit bones make contact. I haven’t suffered particularly badly with this but it’s something I’d idealy avoid. I read many glowing reviews about the comfort of this saddle and it’s design intrigued me. Sadly, my sit bone width at circa 130mm resulted in my sit bones resting, very uncomfortably, exactly on the edges of the cutout rather than within it. I could also tell that even if this wasn’t the case that I was still going to have perineal pressure issues. Another one for eBay and a real shame that  http://infinitybikeseat.com don’t provide better pre-purchase sizing guidance.

 

ISM PN 1.1

Success! This is the saddle I rode the 2017 TAW race on with virtually no blood flow or nerve issues and only mild saddle sores. I find I can move around a lot on this, but still stay comfortable, depending on whether I’m on the hoods, drops or TT bars. The pressure on my pubic rami bones took a few weeks to get used to but then I was set. It’s not quite perfect but certainly the best I’d found until I upgraded to the new PN 3.0.

 

ISM PN 3.0

This is a seriously good saddle for my needs. Virtually zero blood flow issues riding in any position. Compared with the PN 1.1, the wider back offers more pelvic support and allows me to sit back onto my sit bones if I want. The slightly different to curve to the top of the saddle fits my anatomy better. Small changes compared with the PN 1.1 have resulted in even better comfort. There maybe more comfortable saddles to be had but I’m content with this and no longer looking elsewhere. My focus now is on managing friction and eliminating saddle sores. Check out ISM’s design theory here.

 

Thanks for reading, I hope you’ve found this useful and wish you happy, comfy riding.

eTappery & Post TAWR 2017 Upgrades

Sram eTap and gear ratios

Riding in the Transatlantic Way Race highlighted one particular issue with my bike that could be improved; gear shifting. I bought it as a stock 2016 Genesis Datum 10 equipped with Shimano Tiagra 10 speed gearing. This mostly worked well but I had occasional issues with the left shifter intermittently refusing to engage and change from small to large chainring. It would begin working again after much random flicking of the lever but the reason for this problem never became apparent . This was not confidence inspiring at all and as the inner workings of the shifters aren’t readily serviceable I wanted to change this set up to something more reliable.

In my earlier post about the upgrades I’ve already made to this bike you’ll see that I opted for old fashioned bar end shifters and I’ve been riding very happily with these up until the race. I chose them because:

  • They force frequent hand movements which reduces sustained pressure on your nerves which lessens numb hand/finger issues. (Something that had been a problem for me already)
  • Simple, reliable, serviceable, repairable.
  • You can tell more or less exactly what gears you are using, day or night, just by the feel of the shifter position.
  • You can jump as many gears as you like up or down very quickly.
  • There’s an enjoyable tactile quality to shifting.

So all good then! Well, almost… During the race proper I was riding well over 15 hours daily, day after day, in highly undulating terrain and that makes for a  huge number of gear changes. Consider that I rode 242km last Sunday in similar terrain and made 1,537 gear changes (81 front and 1456 rear: data thanks to eTap and Wahoo Elemnt ) it is easy to see how these endurance events change so much of what we may be used to on a bike.

Using this rate against my average 322km a day on the TAWR suggests around 2000+ gear changes a day. It is hardly surprising that by day six I was getting a sore right hand and a blister on my little finger. What is the easiest way to make 2000+ gear changes daily over multiple days? Push button electronic shifting of course.

A second, and much bigger issue, became apparent one night when I was slowly climbing a narrow, windy, undulating pass. I couldn’t see beyond the limit of the beam from my light and this made it very hard to see the gradient ahead and anticipate my gear changes correctly. Added to that, not being able to shift from the hoods or brake levers made things even more difficult. This was true on some daytime climbs as well so I resolved to look into electronic alternatives once the race was done as I find that for ultra cycling anything I can do to make life on the bike easier helps. What might be just a minor niggle or annoyance on a weekend century ride can become a real problem over long multiple day rides.

My first thought was Shimano Di2 as it’s a well proven system chosen by many top ultra cyclists. Di2 however involves a lot of wires, connections and a single central power source. None of which should be a problem when regularly well maintained but contacts, wires and connections can very quickly wear or corrode unseen during extreme conditions.

I love the purity, style and history of Campagnolo as a brand and really wanted to delight in their offerings but I just couldn’t. I quickly eliminated their EPS system because it seemed far less likely that it could be safely made handle the large 36T rear sprocket option that I want to be able to run as well issues with battery placement and ease of charging whilst on the road etc.

To my mind, when compared with Sram’s eTap wireless system, Di2 and EPS seem needlessly complex and dated. I’m convinced that all manufacturers systems will become wireless over the next few years.

Sram’s eTap system requires 4 batteries (2 rechargeable in the changers and two CR2032 penny batteries in the shifters) which may initially seem complex but as it is highly unlikely that all 4 batteries will fail at once I see this as an advantage. The batteries are light, the charger is tiny and can be powered from a USB power bank or dynamo hub. There is no junction box, no cabling, no remote battery to be hidden, just a very tidy self contained system.

Added to that the eTap shifting system really appeals to me. Press the left lever and the chain climbs up a sprocket, press the right lever and the chain drops down a sprocket. Press and hold left or right lever and the gear change continues up or down as far as you want. Press and hold both together to shift the front chainrings up or down. It’s superbly simple and intuitive, and leaves the brake levers left solely for braking. I instantly settled into using the system and virtually never miss shift whereas with STI shifters I’d get it wrong surprisingly frequently (I know blame me not the system…but..). A further advantage of electronic shifting is being able to set up satellite shifters to change gears at the push of a button from on the aero bars or the drops etc. I have Sram eTap Clics neatly installed in the bar ends and I find this really let’s me “settle in” better on the rolling roads I tend to ride. The brakes have sockets that allow for up to two satellite shifter systems to be added so for the ultimate in flexibility you could have Clics in the TT/aero bar ends and Blips on the drops or bar tops.

Batteries and tiny charger. Protective battery cover with charge status indicator is a nice touch

Apart from the obvious high cost the only downside is having to charge/change batteries to keep everything working and this is what put me off going electronic initially. eTap batteries are small and light so carrying charged spares plus the tiny usb charger that can run from a power pack or from my hub dynamo is no big issue. A full system failure is extremely unlikely and at worst I might be stuck with either using a single front chainring with a  working rear derailleur or with shortening chain and cobbling together a single speed set up which maybe no worse than a failure with a mechanical system. The long term reviews I’ve read suggest excellent reliability so I hope it never comes to that!

There is definitely a tactile delight to full mechanical systems but I don’t think they are the optimum choice for ultra endurance racing because with ultra distances anything that makes time on the bike easier and more comfortable is an advantage. Of course, having said that, it maybe that if you are heading somewhere truly remote that a fully serviceable mechanical system maybe a safer/wiser option.

I’ve found that the slick ease of eTap makes everything I’ve used previously seem like an antique and as the vast majority of my riding distance is in the UK with fairly ready access to spares etc. I’m very happy to enjoy this luxury.


Gear Ratios

I’ve been running a Sram PG1170 11-36 cassette with a Shimano Ultegra medium cage rear derailleur up until now and with no issues. Web searching showed that many people had run 11-36t cassettes with the Sram Wifli eTap system even though Sram advise on a 32t maximum and, happily, I’ve had no issues either with my 11-36t or my Ultegra chainrings for that matter.

I’m pursuing optimum with this bike and to that end I have modified my cassette by mixing the sprockets from my existing 11-36t with those from an 11-25t PG1170 cassette that I found heavily discounted online. The standard PG1170 11-36t and 11-25t gear spacings run as follows:

11,12,13,15,17,19,22,25,28,32,36

11,12,13,14,15,16,17,19,21,23,25

The three largest 28,32,36 or 21,23,25 sprockets are joined together and cannot be split but the other individual sprockets can be swapped about so long as you start with the 11t so I’ve combined the two to create an alternate 11-36t cassette as follows:

11,13,15,17,19,21,23,25,28,32,36

This gives a more even gear spread through the middle of the cassette (as illustrated below) which makes for more economical riding with fewer changes in cadence. That’s the theory at least and it’s working very well around my hilly Cornish terrain and on recent rides my most used gears have been the new 50 x 21 & 50 x 23 ratios.

It’s now pretty much the perfect bike for my needs.

 

 

Trans Kernow 17

Distance 338.9mi moving time 27:35:16 climbing 29373.36 ft – Total duration 55:01:37 stopped time 27:26:21

So what is Trans Kernow? Well the organisers, Rockets & Rascals Plymouth, describe it as follows:

“It may take one day, it may take three days. We don’t know what route you’re going to take, all we do know is you have got to get to a few definite places, you’ve got to do it without any outside help and you’ve got to do it with a smile on your face. There’s no number board, there’s no prize for winning, there’s loads of feed stations (they’re called cafes, shops or even fancy restaurants) but they’re not always open, there’s no accommodation provided and we don’t even give you a map. The joy of Trans Kernow is its simplicity. It’s one great big adventure, or more specifically it’s many adventures taking place at once, all in Cornwall. The window of Trans Kernow is from 21:00 on Friday 28th April until 15:00 on Sunday 30th April…”

I signed up as it seemed like a perfect excuse for some extra training miles, and also because I thought it would be fun to be a little more sociable on some rides for a change.

I decided to increase the distance for myself by adding in riding from Falmouth to Plymouth for the start on the Friday and back home again on the Sunday because, after all, I am training for the TAWR which will be a lot tougher. The Trans Kernow was never billed as a race and I did not approach it as such; rather, my plan was to ride a segment and allow myself plenty of recovery time before riding to the next, with the idea being that I’d be putting in a lot of training miles but without over-taxing my system unnecessarily. It also seemed more fun to arrive at the checkpoints around about when they opened and compare tales with other riders.

With my trusty Genesis Datum cleaned, oiled and loaded, I set off for Plymouth at around midday feeling fresh and motivated. The weather was kind with gentle winds and plenty of sunshine; but as ever with Cornwall there was no shortage of hills to be climbed. I made it to Plymouth in a respectable 5 and a half hours door to door. One thing that troubled me in anticipation of the night ride to St Ives due later was that my route included riding back up over some of the very steep hills I’d just come down on the way across. This is a regular feature with Cornwall, A and B roads are hilly with occasional steep sections but minor roads are frequently very steep and also twisty making for slow hard climbs and slow descents. Great for training, less great for making decent progress. The saw tooth elevation graph below the map above gives a good indication of just how bumpy a ride is in these parts.

This was my first visit to Rockets And Rascals and what a great place it is; a proper bike shop and cafe serving mighty fine coffee. I arrived to find Simon Paice (Who’s also signed up for TAWR) sat drinking coffee and joined him to discuss the weekend ahead and our hopes and fears for the TAWR. It was great to finally meet a fellow competitor.

The next few hours were very chilled as I relaxed to the great live music of Jacob Riddall and met some of the other riders. I attempted a nap in an armchair in preparation for the long sleep deprived night to come but the excess of fine coffee actually made it more of a 40min restless day dream; I’m sure it helped a little though. Shortly before 21:00 we were ready for the off and gathered for a farewell photo.

It seemed the vast majority of riders had chosen to take a route using the Torpoint ferry and so not very long after the start I was once again off alone into the darkness heading towards the first tough climbs of the night on my route taking me between Trenaton and Liskeard on the same back roads I had ridden down earlier. Next time I really think I opt for some easier, faster roads!

Somewhere close to Victoria I began to meet a few of the people who’d taken taken a ferry route and finally ended up riding with Tom Probert the rest of the way to St Ives. Tom gave me a real schooling in how light strong riders can fly up hills.

Tom is around 62kg and I’m around 81kg; on gentle inclines I could keep up with him but needed 220w or so to do so. On steeper inclines I needed to be in the high 300’s or more to stay in touch and I can’t keep that up for long at all, especially in the early hours of the morning after a long days riding. I had to content myself with watching him spinning steadily away up the hill whilst I ground steadily along at my 250w-ish hill speed.

I find a power meter really useful for pacing hills, as without one it is very easy to start too hard and burn out mid-way up. The first minute or so may feel easy but in reality I can easily be pushing over 400w without really knowing it until the leg burn hits. That’s not a good endurance approach; far better to be steady all the way.

Tom says he loses this power to weight advantage on the flats and descents soon enough, but the experience did have me wondering about how I’m going to get along as a heavier rider amongst those competing in the hilly TAWR; time will tell. I can probably shed a combined 2kg or so from myself and my winter bike packing kit by then which will only help.

The weather was extremely kind to us Trans Kernow riders on this first night with zero wind, clear skies and cool rather than cold temperatures. The only improvement would have been a blazing full moon…

It so happens that Tom has entered this years Transcontinental Race so we easily passed the time discussing endurance race equipment, training, tactics and, sadly, the tragic passing of Mike Hall, the event’s organiser, during the inaugural Indian Pacific Wheel Race.

We made it into St Ives at 03:45. Tom was riding directly onto Falmouth whereas I was ready for bed after nearly 150 miles of riding. We said our goodbyes I quickly found myself a sheltered bivi spot next to a boat on the harbour arm and was soon asleep.

 

At around 07:30 I awoke to a glorious sunny day feeling remarkably refreshed after so little sleep. Chris King had arrived at around 05:00 and was on hand to stamp brevet cards and guard bikes while myself and some of the other riders, who’d arrived during my sleep, went in search of morning coffee.

I was keen to get across to Falmouth and relax for a couple of hours lunch and soon headed off up the hill out of St Ives with a couple of the other riders, where it appeared that, on this occasion, I was the stronger climber. As I was here for training more than socialising I left them to it and carried on over to Falmouth solo. Solo that is until I was on the outskirts of town when one Johnny Van Hol caught up with me. As a Falmouth local I was able to guide him directly to The Hand checkpoint where he duly rode off again rapidly. It turns out that he managed a blistering ride time of 13hrs or so averaging around 16mph for the whole TK route which he rode in under 24hrs start to finish, so kudos to him!

Relaxing in the courtyard outside The Hand was a delight with the warm spring sunshine soothing my tired body and mind. Meanwhile the cafe across the way was doing a brisk trade with hungry cyclists and I have to say the poached eggs with wild mushrooms and veggies were truly excellent, though not quite substantial enough to compensate the amount of calories I was burning this weekend. My wife was going to drop by around 12:30 for a coffee and to see me off on the Widemouth/Bude leg of the adventure. Now, what I should have done until then was to grab a nap but instead I’d drunk too many cups of excellent coffee from the cafe and was a bit too caffeinated to rest. Oh well…at least I could treat myself to a good sleep tonight in Widemouth.

That afternoons ride across to the north coast was pretty wild and windy but as it was mostly a tail wind things weren’t too bad, and with views like the above to delight in all was well with the world, apart from some heart stopping cross wind moments when passing gateways in the hedgerows. You know, the ones where you feel like you’ve suddenly been blown half way across the road into the path of traffic… I’m not keen on that!

The final leg of this ride became a challenge as my route took me to Boscastle and back out on the coast road and included some tough climbs. Once again I cursed myself for not seeking out a flatter route. Finally I arrived at Millook Hill complete with a 30% warning sign, eek! This hill seemed to go on and on and in my weary state I finally got off and walked but as I pushed round a bend there was Trans Kernow organiser, Steve Toze, also walking. We laughed and rode down into Widemouth together where we met another couple of weary travellers about to head to their AirBnB rest stop for the night. It was well past 18:00 now and I was ravenous so I left Steve to manage the event and went in search of food.

The Bay View Inn was my first port of call and I settled in for a couple of hours feeding, quaffing ginger beer and spending too much money. The surf was pumping in the bay that day and it was great to sit and watch the surfers as the sun went down. I surf but was way too tired to feel in anyway like I wanted to be out there as well, which made things extra relaxing.

Rain was forecast and I was a little worried about it coming in overnight so I had a word with the landlord about finding a sheltered bivi spot and whilst he wouldn’t let me use his covered terrace he did say I could set myself up in the lee of the ice cream hut. This turned out fine with soft sand and perfect shelter from the cold wind. It was a bit of a dance avoiding getting any sand in my bivi but I was soon tucked in and getting lulled to sleep by the sound of the nearby surf.

I awoke bright and early, just as the first few spots of rain began, and was packed and heading for Plymouth just before 06:00. This really did turn into a very, very wet ride but at least with it being early on a Sunday morning the roads were quiet. I breakfasted at the first open corner store I came to, munching on scotch eggs and a fresh cooked sausage roll washed down by very bad coffee. Roll on the Rockets & Rascals cafe! Strangely, I quite enjoy cycling in the rain and made it to Plymouth soon enough at around 10:30. I rolled in to find the place was full of soaking wet, shivering cyclists… not the main Trans Kernow bunch but rather another Sunday ride group.

I found myself a quiet table and ordered coffee followed by a bacon sandwich and smoked salmon & scrambled eggs all accompanied by huge slabs of tasty artisan bread. This was  probably more bread than I normally eat in a month but it went down very well. (..see nutrition)

So that was my official Trans Kernow ride completed; I was just left with the small matter of cycling back to Falmouth. Ummm, well I’d already decided that my slow hilly route used on the way to Plymouth was not to be ridden again today. It was close to midday now with other Trans Kernow riders arriving drenched, tired, but happy. We exchanged a few tales but much as I’d have liked to hang around and drink more coffee the road home beckoned.

I decided to take the Torpoint ferry and high tail it back home down busier roads. Foolishly, I included a stretch of the A38 in this, but never again; being overtaken by vehicles traveling at 70+mph is exhausting and, in my opinion, just isn’t worth the risk.

My ride time for this final stretch was only 4:30 but with many food and coffee stops it actually took me 6:15. Another eye opener for what is ahead in Ireland come June…I’m going to have to ride far longer and stop far less frequently.

A high moving percentage will be the only way I can achieve a respectable finishing time. I’m hoping race mode will draw out new levels of endurance from me, but really I have no idea and nothing to compare it to… Exciting/scary!

Thanks to Steve Toze and the Rocket & Rascals team for hosting this event. I’m already looking forward to next year’s Trans Devon!

WGC Day 4 – The Big One

DAY #4 – DISTANCE 225.8MI, MOVING TIME 17:56:50, CLIMBING 13,156 FT, AVE TEMP 9C / 48F

A bright, cool, day greeted me as I emerged from my snug little bivi tucked away in the Savernake forest, near Marlborough.

Immediately before sleep the night before I’d polished off the last pieces of chicken that Martyn and Sarah had given me, as well as a banana. I think the protein combined with the other nutrients from the banana did a great recovery job whilst I slept, because my legs were ache free and I didn’t feel stiff at all. Note to self: always fuel up well before sleep to optimise recovery. Chilly but content, I was packed up and off in search of breakfast by 06:30.

Once again I used my programmed route as a general starting point and then refined it on the fly to follow either B roads or more minor looking A roads. Sunshine and following winds made for decent progress but I can’t say it felt particularly safe.

As previously mentioned these busy roads seem particularly plagued with dangerous potholes and sunken drain covers, and as a cyclist one dances the dance between holding a primary mid-lane position in the road, or alternatively hugging the shoulder or kerb so that vehicles can pass more easily.  The first approach aggravates drivers and can easily lead to them making some very ill-advised and dangerous overtaking choices. Opting for the kerb hugging position makes it inevitable that at some point you’ll have to suddenly swing out into the road to avoid potholes or the general debris that tends to accumulate along the road side; again, dangerous.

As both options are problematic I try to balance it somewhere between the two whilst also making a point of slowing to let traffic pass on winding stretches of road where it can quickly build up behind me.

Thankfully the drivers I encountered on this day passed wide and behaved very considerately, though even then there was an issue with the generous overtaking. This takes the cars’ and trucks’ wheels into the general grit and debris that accumulates between lanes in the middle of the road, and as a result you now get showered in dust and grit…. Doh!

Those are the negatives but on a positive note you enjoy the totally immersive, exhilarating experience that cycling on the open road gives you. I love that, and today it was made particularly joyous as a result of the NE tail wind that was mostly helping me down the road.

I was hungry though, and happily, around 30 miles into the day, a sumptuous breakfast opportunity presented itself at The Farleigh Road Farm Shop, near Bath, on the A36. I was in a fine mood at this point and delighting in my adventure. So with a full English breakfast washed down with 2 coffees and some provisions purchased from the farm shop I was soon ready to crack on again.

Before this trip friends had joked to me that “…at least it’s down hill on the way back to Cornwall”. Clearly it isn’t, but it had been feeling a little that way due to the helping wind. On approaching Wells however, things certainly took a turn into the downhill realm with a highly memorable white knuckle descent down to the town.

I recall an afternoon of steady climbs and increasingly frequent speedy descents. I was now finding the traffic more wearing than the exertion of riding with the constant hyper-vigilance required being both absorbing and exhausting.

As evening arrived I decided to indulge in some quieter time and left the A361 to ride the towpath along the Grand Western Canal cycle route as proposed by my RideWithGps plan. What a welcome respite this was compared to the endless hustle of A roads. I had myself a small picnic, a brief power nap and in my exuberance recorded a little live video of all the serenity.

It was around 17:00 now and I was still something like 120miles from home with at least another 10 hours riding to go. I decided to just carry on into the night and see how I felt. It was clear that I’d have to get back onto fast roads again soon in order to make better progress.

The arrival of dusk was welcome as this brought not only a glorious sunset but also the general calm of evening roads and approaching night. I was mostly on B roads now as I crossed Devon.

I had been using my iPhone a lot for navigation over the last 2 days and my power bank was nearly drained as a result. I thought I could probably make it home as it was but a top up would certainly be prudent. By around 11pm I was speeding along again on the A3072 and starting to head a little more west than I thought ideal. It was time to pause and review my onward route more seriously. Happily, I soon happened upon The Golden Inn in Highampton and pulled in.

A lone publican greeted me (apparently all his customers had just headed off to a stag do or similar) and kindly let me indulge in a bout of device re-charging whilst I quaffed orange juice and soda and munched on pork scratchings (Fat and salt cravings…). He clearly thought I was mad but humoured me none the less whilst recounting his battles with his insurers who’d refused to pay up when the pub had caught fire some years back.  Happily, it seemed he was now winning that battle.

My immediate issue was deciding my route home. The quickest would surely be the A30 but I’d sworn to myself and my family that I was not going risk life and limb on that speed strip. I wasn’t keen on the A39 either so opted for chasing B roads until I made it to the A395.

It was now the early hours of the morning and decidedly cold and windy. Although I still felt pretty energised the cold was now getting right into me even with 4 layers of clothing, including a quilted jacket and Gore waterproof. The temperature was around 5c but add in the wind chill factor and it felt truly icy. This meant I was warm to hot on the ascents, but soon freezing on the descents. The descents seemed to be increasing and I began wishing for hills just to warm me up.

The night took on an increasingly surreal quality with the howling of the cold NE wind across the moors interspersed with the occasional passing of big lorries making night runs. As I approached Camelford I concluded that this just wasn’t safe anymore and that I’d have to take a break.

My mind was starting to picture nasty scenarios of what might happen if I crashed and injured myself during one of the many, increasingly frozen, high speed descents (…I’d likely die of hyperthermia on the roadside before anyone got to me).

Finally I made it up a hill to BP’s mystically named “Camelot Valley Truckle Garage”. There I found an illuminated corner in which to take stock whilst sheltered from the bitter wind that was moodily whistling around and rattling every loose panel on the garage canopy.

Huddled in the corner I felt the warmth swiftly leaving me again so I decided the only thing to do was grab a nap in my warm bivi cocoon with superb Thermarest Neoair mat and down quilt. Magically, I awoke an hour and half later, at 04:30, warmed through and ready to finish this ride. Just 50 something miles to go…

Riding into dawn is a true morale booster, as the cool of the night recedes and tranquil roads with new vistas greet you. The mild warmth from the first rays of sun was so very welcome.

This was a great final run home; the sun shone, the wind had eased considerably and Sunday morning made for quiet roads. Happy days!

It was only as I approached St Austell that I realised I’d not seen the sea for nearly 4 days which is very unusual for me as I live on the coast and work in the yachting industry.

St Austell may be around 30 miles from my home but I already felt like I’d arrived. This sweeping approach to the town was glorious and set me up for the final few hours.

I made it home at around 10:00 feeling elated and somewhat less tired than I probably should have.
I duly celebrated with a protein shake washed down with a couple of bottles of Cornish stout! Still feeling whizzy from the ride it was several hours before I finally took myself off for an afternoon sleep.

Conclusions

  • This type of riding definitely suits me. Yes there were some tough times and long days, but over all I relished the entire experience. I never thought that I’d made a bad choice in taking it on. I want more of this kind of caper!
  • This 4 day trip represents less than half the distance of Transatlantic Way Race. I had ridden it very inefficiently with far too many stops for navigation and recovery. For the race proper my moving time percentage will need to be far higher. I’m under no illusions as to how much tougher the race proper will be.
  • Comfort. By the end of this trip my backside was decidedly uncomfortable with parts of me feeling numb that really shouldn’t. The tips of all my toes were permanently numb (it seems I subconsciously grip the inside of my shoes with my toes). The tips of some of my fingers are also permanently a little numb from the cold and hand pressure. Even now, several weeks later, none of these issues are entirely resolved. All this was after only 4 days on the road…

There’s a huge difference between what seems comfortable for a 6 hour ride and what is really comfortable for 16+ hour rides day after day. I don’t expect that anyone can hope to be truly comfortable riding a bike for days on end as it’s just not what our bodies are designed for, however I intend to do everything I possibly can to improve my bike comfort in the coming weeks. Sure you can “man up” and push through these things but that’s a young man’s type of foolishness. I’m aiming for better than that.

 

WGC Day 3 – The Re-Group

Day #3 – Distance 92.2mi, Moving Time 7:54:25, Climbing 3140 ft, AVE Temp 6c / 43f

For some strange reason I remember turning the light off by my bed at exactly 03:47 and, surprisingly, I was then wide awake again at 07.37. I briefly considered chasing more sleep but, no, there was an adventure to be completed, so better get to it.

Over the previous couple of days I lost a huge amount of time to navigational difficulties and riding slow cycle paths. It was clear that if I returned home down my previously planned route that it’d likely be Sunday before I got home, as this also followed many back roads and tracks. A revised route was essential and creating this was my next priority.

My clothing was getting a much needed wash and my lights, power bank, and phone were all put on charge. The Anker power bank I’d brought with me had really served it’s purpose by letting me ride at night with my Wahoo Elemnt continuously backlit (vital for map reading and second guessing some poor cuesheet directions) and particularly with all the power hungry supplementary iPhone navigation usage.

The hot seat…devices charging. Map, computer and remnants of a huge mug of tea…

 

This new route planning, however, was not going well. RideWithGps either wanted to route me down major A roads and motorways or down cycle ways, tracks and back roads. I wanted primarily B roads with some lesser A roads as required.

After quite some while I gave up on RideWithGps and switched to Mapometer instead. Mapometer has a checkbox option for cycle routing offering “keep to roads”. Sadly, ticking this checkbox did not actually to do anything. Dragging tracks to re-route down faster roads was not working either. Both apps kept creating maddening minor road diversions or confused double backs…

Time passed, a lot of time, frustrating time. Finally I set a deadline that I would set off again, regardless, by 14:00 and knock around 100 miles off my return journey that day. This would leave me a big ride to finish on Saturday but I still wanted to complete a 180+ mile day to see how I coped.

Thankfully, Martyn’s wife, Sarah, was wonderfully on the case with making sure I ate and drank loads. Between bouts of route planning I had 3 full meals, including scrabbled eggs, roast chicken, sheperds pie and lots of salad and green veggies.

Martyn had kindly adjusted my front disc calliper to stop the pads binding before he headed off to work, which just left me the simple task of lubing my chain and checking my tyre pressures. (I’m running Schwalbe S-One 30c tubeless at 70psi)

Shortly after 14:00 and with my feed bags full of roast chicken pieces and bananas I bid farewell to the home comforts of Martyn and Sarah’s and headed into the busy world of St Albans, Reading and Newbury. Though cool, the sun was shining and a stiff breeze was blowing from the north east; the perfect direction for cycling to Cornwall.

Ready to roll

Progress was a little haphazzard as I kept second guessing the route and seeking faster roads. Still, it was surely swifter than the journey up had been though I wasn’t enjoying the generally impatient traffic and hustle and bussle of the city. I looked forward to getting out of town and cranking out some miles.

Amusingly, I managed to end up at the other side of the same road in Temple that had had me doubling back and careening along a river bank on my way up due to a gated community claiming the road as it’s own. Happlily, from this side of the highend housing the escape route was no great drama.

Near the outskirts of Newbury I stopped at a corner shop to stock up for the night. I was just weighing up the risks of padlocking my bike or not when 3 guys armed with guitars and keyboards stopped to admire it. “You don’t want to leave that mate…not around here” “We can keep an eye on it for you, oh and they do great samosas in there…” Result! Another triumph for human kindness. Sadly I briefly considered that these guys might just be setting me up so as to rob my bike…! The workings of my jaded, city weary, mind…

Re-provisioned I joined them outside and got chatting between mouthfuls of the indeed excellent samosas washed down with less excellent Red Bull.

One was a keen cyclist and fascinated by tales of my trip so far and the upcoming TAWR event. It transpired that he’d also suffered the disappointment of riding down the little road in Temple, near Hurley, that ends in a posh gate…

Buoyed by this pleasing encounter I returned, somewhat refreshed, to the road with a vague plan of seeing how far I could get by about midnight. That would give me the chance to re-charge with maybe 5 hours of sleep before dawn and the final push home.

By this point I’d ditched my progammed route and was back to navigating old school style. Town to town and choosing the roads as I went. My pace improved greatly and was helped by the quiet roads night riding offers when you can also readily recognise approaching traffic from the lights ahead. There were still a fair few hills but on these faster roads they were no where near as steep and progress was swift with some exciting high speed descents added in as well.

Midnight arrived and a minor road turning off the A4 duly presented itself. I rode a few hundred metres to get away from from the noise of the traffic and then pushed my bike into the quiet shelter of the woodland alongside.

It was silent and windless but for the sounds of the inhabitants. At least 2 foxes were barking my arrival, then there were pheasants, oh, and what seemed to be an owl impersontating a cuckoo. It was cold though, and I wasted little time clearing my bivi area of bigger twigs and branches before rollinng it out, cleaning my teeth (This feels incredibly cleansing when the rest of you is a damp sweaty mess), messaging home and rapidly falling asleep as the sounds of the forest subsided…another good day.

One more to go, and not just any old day…

 

WGC Day 2 – The silly one

Day #2
Distance 160.1 Mi, Moving Time 15:03:55, Climbing 8,061 ft, Ave Temp 6c 43F

Day 2 dawned and I awoke happily warm and, remarkably, somewhat drier than when I’d wriggled into my little bivi cocoon 5 hours or so earlier.

My weather check the day before had suggested that sunshine and unfavourable northeasterly winds were to be the order of the day. Right now though it was bitterly cold and anything but sunny.

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Managing Weight Loss

My typical breakfast. 3-4 eggs plus blanched fresh green veggies and mushrooms with oil and butter.

Nutrition and diet is a massive subject with any number of highly qualified experts offering equal and opposite opinions as what we should eat and particularly what we should eat for athletic performance.

I don’t claim to be any kind of an expert but I am able to report on what is working for me. A few years ago I became increasingly aware that I was slowly gaining weight to spite eating an apparently healthy, clean, mostly vegetarian diet with very little processed food and few bad habits. Was I just getting old? Was this inevitable? Yes I’m getting older for sure but surely that does not have to mean getting fat and slow.

Extra weight is no help for my preferred sport of windsurfing and is certainly no help for cycling either. Something had to be done!

It so happened that around this time I’d been noticing many positive mentions of Wheat Belly on Facebook and decided to look a little deeper.

Wheat Belly‘s Dr Davis (A cardiologist) states that:

“Over 80% of the people I meet today are pre-diabetic or diabetic. In an effort to reduce blood sugar, I asked patients to remove all wheat products from their diet based on the simple fact that, with few exceptions, foods made of wheat flour raise blood sugar higher than nearly all other foods. Yes, that’s true for even whole grains. More than table sugar, more than a Snickers bar. Organic, multigrain, sprouted–it makes no difference.”

That’s quite a thought and if you study “Wheat Belly” it you’ll find that Dr Davis offers some very convincing reason to seriously question eating wheat. However being a little distrustful of American “fad diets” and authors becoming rich and famous on the back of them I read a little further into the subject of grains and hit upon the Paleo Diet.

“The Paleo Diet is based upon everyday, modern foods that mimic the food groups of our pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer ancestors.”

The idea being that humans have evolved over many hundreds of thousands of years to eat and digest “pre-agricultural” foods and that these foods still represent our optimum nutrition. You hear of very few people who are meat or vegetable intolerant but many have real problems with wheat and dairy.

Eating predominately nutrient dense single ingredient foods simply makes good intuitive sense to me as does the idea of avoiding refined and processed foods where possible.

If you dig further into the why’s and wherefore’s of these diets you can get embroiled into all manner of plausible arguments for and against and backed up by scientific studies either way. I find all that somewhat exhausting, much like researching the existence of UFO’s or covert illuminati governments and other conspiracy theories. The only certainty is that we cannot depend upon “Government guidelines” to accurately guide us in any area of our lives!

I prefer to make an informed choice, trust my instincts, try things out and gauge the results. I don’t have any health issues or obvious food intolerances that I need to consider.

To this end in September 2013 I drastically reduced my bread, pasta and fruit consumption and increased my fish, meat, fat and vegetable consumption. I quickly lost weight and felt far more energised. I went from 89kg down to 83kg by Christmas that year.

It was a fairly effortless process as I simply felt less hungry on this diet and quickly stopped craving bread and toast, though I did not stop eating bread and grains altogether. The hard part was, and still is, dealing with the convenience of just grabbing a sandwich or a slice of toast etc. particularly when away from home.

However in the years since then my weight gradually climbed back to over 88kg by August 2016 as old bread and pasta habits crept back in.

It was in July of 2016 that I began riding my bike more and thinking increasingly about improved fitness and weight loss again. This slowly progressed to me going full on into signing up for TheTransatlanticWay race.

Getting trim is a bit different this time round as I am now expending 30,000.00+ calories a month training. However I am now back down to a lean 83kg and targeting 80kg or lower as my race weight.

To achieve this I’ve applied principles that make rational sense to me but don’t demand rigid weighing out of my food or calorie counting and the like. I simply eat combinations of nutrient dense single ingredient whole foods with few grains and fairly low carbs.

Post ride I quaff a whey protein drink or some roast chicken plus some fruit but otherwise I’m still on a low-ish carb paleo-ish diet of wholesome simple and mainly organic foods. No sports drinks, gels, bars and other sports nutrition industry paraphernalia. I feel great and am losing weight and gaining strength month by month without cravings, harsh hunger ignoring self-discipline or others challenges.

As of writing this the race proper is about 13 weeks away and I am now researching and planning more refined nutrition strategies for that because I am acutely aware that fuelling adequately for multiple long, long days in the saddle is very different to my current day to day needs and training rides.

A lower carb diet allows your body to adapt to using fat for fuel rather than carbs. I want to optimise my fat for fuel metabolism in a balanced and sustained manner that let’s me enjoy the ride and does not require me to be chowing down handfuls of Haribo, Mars bars, doughnuts and other high calorie low nutrition junk.

I’m undertaking a very long 4 day “rehearsal” ride in a couple of weeks and shall report back on progress after that.