12 New Things – February and March.

I took on a challenge at the start of the year to try something new, related to cycling, every month. Here is the post I wrote about the challenge, which I’ve dubbed ’12 New Things’.

I’ve smushed three things in to two months for February and March, because screw the rules, and two of them were unplanned.

So then….

1. I Rode 90 miles – the furthest I’ve ridden my bike in one day.

We don’t need to talk about the fact that I set off intending to ride 100 miles. Let’s focus on the fact I managed 90, and that that is Quite A Long Way.

pre-ride coffee and map pointing

It turns out that photocopying an OS map in black and white has it’s downsides. Roads, paths and indeed very muddy bridleways all look the same. We may have got slightly lost and done some accidental off-roading, which massively delayed us and meant we couldn’t do the whole route – but it’s all part of the fun, right?

Don’t tell me to get a GPS garminy thing* – I like maps. Next time I’ll splash out the big dollar on colour copies.

(*unless you’re paying)

In all seriousness, after getting over being a bit annoyed for not doing a century, I felt the kind of deeplyhappyandtired that only a good bike ride can bring. I’m proud of myself and Carine for what we did that day, and more importantly, it was a really enjoyable day on the bike. We took in 90 miles of beautiful Sussex and Surrey scenery in the sunshine, and it was worth every pedal stroke – even the ones going in the wrong direction.

accidental cyclocross

2. I tried my hand (legs) at roller racing.

The Rollapaluza guys were providing the entertainment for the Matrix Vulpine Launch in Manchester which I went up to last weekend. So it would have been rude not to give it a go.

I’ll tell you now – it was the longest 30 seconds of my life. It took me all evening for my body to get over it. And a week to get over the emotional distress of doing it in such a bad time. (Just kidding*)

*mostly

photo (c) Rollapalluza

photo (c) Rollapalluza

3. I watched track cycling at a velodrome.

Before Saturday, I’d never set foot inside a velodrome. Somehow I managed to win 2 tickets to the Revolution Series finale at Lee Valley (thank you Evans / Hoy Bikes) – so I invited a friend, and we bought beer, and watched people ride their bikes really bloody fast in a circle for a couple of hours.

women’s omnium

It was fun, and a very different experience to watching any other kind of cycling.

The velodrome is an amazing building, and the nerdy bit of me got all excited looking it close-up after the racing had finished.

lee valley velodrome

And no, I still can’t ride no handed ;-)

Put the kettle on – mine’s a pint.

I haven’t stopped eating for 3 days. Well, I’ve just stopped. The hunger has finally gone. After countless bowls of porridge, dishes of pasta, bananas, crumpets, toast, flapjacks, pints of water, pints of tea – I finally feel human again.

Every time my tummy has grumbled at me this week, I’ve thought back to Saturday’s bike ride – the reason for my hollow-stomached hunger. Each fork full of spaghetti has built back a bit of me that I left on a muddy bridleway in Surrey or a bit of gravel strewn lane in Sussex.

I want to feel hungry in my legs again.

Let’s go on a bike ride.

Dear Summer, I’m sorry.

Dear Summer,

I’m sorry.

I made a terrible mistake. Winter will never come close to what we had.

She promised me the world, Summer. She said there would be crisp, bright mornings and beautiful tyre trails in crunchy, frozen grass. She said we would see our breath in the cold, clear air. Bright blue skies would cover us, she said. She promised carpets of snowdrops, chirping robins, snuffling hedgehogs. The sound of dry twigs cracking underfoot.

Her promises were empty, Summer. She took everything I had and gave me nothing in return. It has felt like a constant battle against the elements, and my body is weary. We had a fleeting moment in the sun – and then it was over – replaced with black clouds. It has been dark for so long, but I never forgot your sunshine, even in the darkest moments.

Her embrace offers me no comfort. I avoid her, hiding inside. Making excuses. Lies and deceit. A bitter atmosphere lingers and seems like it will never leave.

Even the taste of water is better with you, Summer.

I long for long days with you again. For sunshine spilling through windows in the morning. For coffee on my doorstep, and beer in the garden. For scorching tarmac and dry, dusty paths. For salty skin and beads of sweat. For little patches of cool under trees. For short sleeves and smooth legs. For cold showers and open windows blowing curtains.

My heart is breaking for you, Summer. Please take me back.

x

Daughter, ‘Winter’: YouTube

 

12 New Things #1: ‘Look mum, no hands!’

At the start of the month I took on a challenge for the year. Instead of new years resolutions, which I tend to think are a bit silly, I decided to get on board with Jo’s annual challenge from the road.cc forum:

The game this year is to become a better, more experienced cyclist by trying one new thing each month. Be that attempting a distance you’ve never managed before, a bike related activity that has passed you by or a cycling skill that you have yet to master.

Here is my post about the challenge, which I’ve dubbed ’12 New Things’.

So, um, where the hell did January go? Half way through the month, having put together a list of New Things for most of the rest of the year, I still didn’t have anything for January. After not very much thinking, actually, I settled on riding no handed. Specifically riding no handed CONFIDENTLY. Confidently enough to get food out of my pocket and eat it.

So, how did I do?

Shockingly. (Although if you read my blog very often at all, that probably isn’t a shock.)

On a group ride I told the others they had to ride in front of me because I was going to be wobbling all over the place whilst attempting no-handed riding. I managed to keep the bike upright, but the minute I sat up properly the bike would swerve, causing me to freak out, squeal like a girl*, and put my hands back on the bars. Advice from friends was to sit up with my weight back a bit (counter intuitive), to look ahead (makes sense) and to practice whilst going at a relatively decent speed (also counter intuitive). This advice all helped, and I did manage to ride no-handed for longer than I have before, but there was absolutely no way I was going to be getting anything out from my jersey pockets whilst doing so.

Another attempt saw me get blown off the bike path by the Brighton sea breeze, to the amusement of some passing tourists. I didn’t come off the bike or anything exciting like that, but I promptly concluded that 25+mph winds are not the best conditions for learning to ride no handed.

A quiet road on a ride with a friend gave me a good chance to practise without spectators (I went faster down the hills to get ahead and make a fool of myself alone). I was still not-at-all-confident, but the few times I managed to sit up properly with both hands off the bars my tummy did a happy little somersault. I kept trying to remind myself that I can steer with my core, that you don’t balance a bike using your hands, but it’s hard to retrain an (overly stubborn) brain.

Now if I’m going to get all defensive about it, which I am good at doing, the rules of the challenge are to “attempt” something new every month. Which I did. I had never properly tried to ride no-handed before, and I can honestly say that I have done that now. I didn’t try hard enough though, so whilst repeating the mantra “if it doesn’t scare you it probably isn’t worth doing” I am taking this challenge in to February with me, along with challenge #2.

So see you on the other side, where hopefully I will have some kind of awkward danger-panda style ‘cycling selfie’ as proof of my achievement. Either that, or a broken arm.

 

 

*deliberate irony 

 

It isn’t always an escape.

I try to ignore the familiar feeling. Butterflies, some call it – but butterflies makes it sound pleasant. How about moths? Moths eating away at my insides. I spoon porridge into my dry mouth despite feeling sick. I find my kit and get dressed, slowly. I put on my socks, and sit on the side of the bed, looking at my feet. 

I root around for my shoes, and catch a glance at the cyclist in the mirror. She looks like she’s got it together – like someone who takes things in her stride. She isn’t the person I feel.

One more cup of coffee.

The caffeine rushes through my system and makes my heart beat faster.  Perhaps I shouldn’t have had that second cup.

I walk out the door, push aside the thoughts and get on the bike. Click, click – shoes into pedals and wheels turn.

There is lead in my legs and a lump in my throat. I blink back the prickling feeling in my eyes.

I can’t do this.

Imagined expectations and constructs of the mind take on weight, feed on my fear, become tangible. Suddenly the straps of my helmet seem tightened around my throat – choking me.

I have to get off this bike. Now.

 

…………..

Anxiety is a cruel mistress and takes many forms. My anxiety is not rooted in cycling – in fact riding a bike is one of the things that can really, really help with it. All I’m doing here is sharing an experience.

 

Saddle-sniffing and other adventures: a tale of much faffing.

On Thursday I went for a bike ride with my good friend Carine. A 25 mile spin was our plan – Thursday is a school day, after all. We grabbed a quick coffee before setting off;  it would be rude not to. There was a bit of rain, but we were dressed appropriately (no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes, as they say) and so we set off all caffeinated smiles and cheery chit chat.

Before long the light rain had turned into that icy rain which stings your face – not quite hail but heading that way. The freezing rain and relentless headwind attacked us for a while, but died down as our route took us inland, and the sun started to peek out from the clouds.

On a small road somewhere between two places with funny names, I put my bike in an easy small-ring gear for a little climb. I’ve been ignoring the fact that my gear changes have been a bit unreliable recently – one of those things I’d got used to and pretended wasn’t happening. Bad move, apparently…

Claud point blank refused to shift back in to the big ring. The lever was moving and I could hear the chain guard moving, but the chain wouldn’t budge. We stopped, and I attempted a diagnosis. Is there some roadkill in the mech? Nope. Is anything obviously bent/snapped? Nope. I poked various bits of the bike with a stick, stared at it a bit, spun the pedals, poked it some more. This extensive process led me to a number of conclusions, mostly to do with mud and bike grease, but the important one being: the bike is broken and I am not the person to fix it.

Bother.

Whilst this was all going on, I heard a screech from the bushes at the side of the road. The coffee was getting it’s own back on Carine who had decided to let nature take it’s course on the er, nature. What I don’t think she had bargained for was the company of a rabbit with myxomatosis, camouflaged in Sussex roadside mud. A voice from the hedges shouts “I nearly peed on a rabbit!”

I nearly peed on a rabbit!

She didn’t relieve herself on the rabbit, you will be relieved to hear.

Moving on…

We decided we had better cut our ride short to get my bike sorted, so turned ourselves around to head back for Brighton. Thankfully my bike was perfectly rideable – just in an annoyingly easy gear. Gloves back on – the usual faffing around. I look over to see Carine sniffing her saddle…  ”Is it shit?” (more sniffing) ”I think it might be shit!” Animal shit picked up from our tyres, I would like to add – the ride was not *that* exhilarating. We never did conclude whether it was or it wasn’t, but a few tissues later, we were on our way.

Is it shit? …I think it might be shit.

We rode back the way we came, muttering about how it was all part of the fun (it isn’t) and enjoying the fact that we were riding bicycles, and that the sun was getting brighter by the minute. And then: crunch. Glass sparkling in the brighter-by-the-minute sunshine had been unavoidable on the cycle path, and a shard had found it’s way into Carine’s front tyre.

Ah, just when we were almost home. Never mind, we’ll get that fixed soon enough. Wheel off, tyre loose, tube out, tube in, tyre back on, pump, pump some more, crack. Crack? That wasn’t part of the plan. The valve had snapped off in to the pump.

Let’s try that again. With the other pump.

Yay! It’s finally getting hard!

When we finally made it back in to town, we headed for The Velo Cafe to get Claud fixed (cable tension issue…now fixed), and ourselves fed.

Next time we’ll earn our Mac & Cheese with a bit more riding and a bit less faffing.

Twelve New Things

I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions. Mostly because they’re associated with giving things up, breaking habits and denying yourself pleasures – and that’s boring. That said, I do usually write a list of things I would like to do over the year. A list of stuff I actually want to do; some might be more challenging than others, but all good stuff, and no ‘lose 3 pounds’ or ‘drink less gin’ in sight.

Christmas was slightly stressful this year – and the festive season came and went without a list being compiled. That said, I did have a few cycling related ideas floating about my head, waiting to be put on paper.

It was a few days into January, sipping on some leftover-from-new-year wine, that I came across this on road.cc: the succinctly named ‘road.cc “Attaining A Higher State of Consciousness” Challenge 2014′. The idea is ”to become a better, more experienced cyclist” by trying something new, related to cycling, for every month of 2014. The size of the New Thing isn’t important, it’s about finding things which will be new to you – whether they will deemed to be impressive by other people or not.

I like this. This is a good idea.

Let’s do it.

——

I’m going to add to this as I go along, and no doubt I’ll change things too, but here is a start on my Twelve New Things list…

  • Get Cross. Enter a cyclocross race. Crying is permitted, chickening out of racing is not.
  • Ride a Century. 100 miles on the bike – because somehow I still haven’t done this.
  • Pay it Forward. Give a balance bike to my niece for her birthday, and help her learn to ride it.
  • Ride Across Borders. European ones, specifically. To Berlin, more specifically.
  • Mount/Dismount . Learn to jump on and off of a bike without crashing or rendering myself unable to bear children. Helps in cyclocross races, I hear…
  • Le Tour, Live. Watch a stage from the roadside.

Half baked ideas…

  • Something mechanical. Having friends who know how to fix bikes I take it for granted that they can help me out. I should learn some skills. Self sufficiency FTW.
  • Some kind of multi day UK ride. Probably as a practise for the massive Europe ride.

Catherine Wheel

Water from the soaked tarmac collects with each rotation and the droplets, illuminated by my bike’s front light, spray like sparks from a dancing Catherine Wheel as they flicker upward from my tyres.

The last of the car headlights pass and a sudden, all-encompassing darkness descends. A fleeting moment of utter disorientation as eyes adjust and focus is found. There is nothing but what exists within my bubble of light. Complete concentration turns my whole body tense: I have to tell my muscles to relax: don’t make things harder for yourself.

Streetlights line the next stretch of road, and for a while another rider joins me. She is a shadow, cast upon the hedgerow, following every pedal stroke. Town lights stretch out ahead, and the faint outline of a Welcome sign is a welcome sight: food, friends and dry socks are not far away.