Sunday, 6 August 2017

Oh bugger!

Sunday was spent surveying some more green roads in the Peak District National Park on behalf of the TRF (Trail Riders Fellowship) unfortunately all did not end well.
Upon reaching the end of the fourth green road of the day, it turned to rough tarmac, that due to an adjacent farm entrance was covered in mud and descended steeply to T junction, just as I was approaching the junction, a car swung round into the road at speed, unable to make the very tight turn he swung right across onto my side of the road....

and stopped!

With the car completely blocking the narrow lane, I had two choices:
a) Run into the front of the car
b) Attempt to stop

Naturally I chose the latter but given that it was on a steep slope on broken tarmac covered in mud, not surprisingly the front tyre gave up the grip and down I went! Luckily I was only travelling at about 10mph but it still hurt as I went down hard on my right hip, even more lucky I stopped sliding before I hit the car!

The driver it turned out was trying to follow his sat nav to Buxton, so quite why he thought a narrow lane clearly marked as a No Through Road would take him there I don't know. Of course as is common with green roads it's not a no through road at all but I don't think he'd have got his old Rover 75 up here:
Clough Head
He did do the decent thing and helped pick me up but we decided it wasn't worth swapping details etc as there was no damage to the bike and I'm sure if I did put in a claim his insurance company would say I fell off for braking too hard! Maybe option A) would have been better financially?
At the time it seemed I just had a bit of a bruise on my hip anyway but unfortunately it turned out to be a bit more!
On arriving back at the van and taking my knee braces off, my right knee was rather sore, I think the brace was supporting it and masking the fact.
On stopping at the services on the way home it was clear all was not right and walking was a bit difficult.
Once I got home and finished cleaning up and putting the bike away it was clear all was not right and the knee was swelling and seizing up...
Cue a trip to the Urgent Care Centre at MK Hospital who told me to go straight over to A&E 
At least it was a relatively quick experience arrived at 22:15, triaged, examined, x-rayed, seen again, got a second opinion from an orthopaedic registrar and was home at 00:30!
Diagnosis was that there's no fracture just soft tissue injury but by now the knee had swollen up nicely, I was on crutches and a trip to fracture clinic was booked for Thursday to be doubly sure! 
The hip has bruised up very nicely....

And Fracture clinic have referred me for an MRI scan to find out what exactly i've done (but confirmed there's no fracture) and kitted me out with a very natty knee brace for the time being...

The worse part of it all was I couldn't make the Keilder Rally this weekend and lost my entry fee as a result and it doesn't look like I'm going to be back on the bike very soon!

Saturday, 29 July 2017

The Infamous Five?

Then there were five….

As it turned out the “hilly route” out of Bridestowe was pretty much one big hill, at the top of which we switched back to a railway path although this was on the same line as yesterday the two sections do not connect. This was pleasantly level and led to some more roadwork through the village of Lydford.

Before we reached the village we were given some good advice by a local cyclist, firstly to keep out in the centre of the road on the next steep descent into Lydford Gorge to avoid some potholes near the kerb and secondly to ignore the signposted route (The Devon C2C follows National Cycle Network 27) and follow the road all the way to Tavistock avoiding some bad hills near Mary Tavy. 

We followed his first advice, which was spot on but on the second point we took a variation, as we didn’t want to go into the centre of Tavistock. We ignored a turn left on NCN27 as instructed and then shortly after a very steep climb round Brent Torr (but at least it was only one) instead of continuing straight on into Tavistock, we took another left onto NCN 327, a route that descends a minor country lane to join NCN 27 just outside the town. This gave us the option to cut straight through the town at high level on the old viaduct avoiding a climb out on the far side. 

Yes this is the view from the viaduct right in the middle of Tavistock

And this only a few hundred metres along the track

The route then got a bit convoluted diving around industrial areas, retail parks and housing estates before re-joining a railway path on the far side of town. After a short detour off the route for food, we joined the path and what a path it turned out to be!

The tunnels were cold, wet and very dark!

The Viaducts were incredible

 A series of tunnels and viaducts took us on a nice level route as far as Yelverton where we were forced to climb again to detour round the town, after crossing the main A386 we joined a pleasant and fairly level track that led through woodland then out onto open moorland. This was followed by a steep descent into the village of Clearbrook. 

Our disappointment at losing a lot of height so quickly was soon tempered by the realisation that the route continued downhill from here, and indeed as we discovered was now downhill all the way to Plymouth. A gradually descending railway path took us over more spectacular viaducts and through another amazingly long and dark tunnel , eventually descending through Plympton Wood to the outskirts of Plymouth.

Route finding got a little tricky now but we eventually picked up the correct one alongside the River Plym as far as the Laira Bridge where we crossed into Plymouth itself. The route now followed back streets as far as the Sutton Harbour Marina, where the route crosses over the lock gates… or rather it doesn’t! 

We were greeted with a sign informing us the crossing was closed until further notice, there had been no prior warning or diversion signposted so we had to backtrack a distance and ride on busy city roads with a final sharp climb to Plymouth Hoe, where we rejoined Grainne at the Pub on the Hoe (yes that’s its name).

As far as we could ascertain this was the end of the route as unlike the C2C “up north” the Devon route is not individually signposted, nor does it have specific landmarks to designate the ends and the OS map showed the route as finishing ambiguously somewhere near the far side of the lock gates (that we couldn’t cross)?

Tim and Andrea decided to go off in search of the “dipping the front wheel in the sea” picture but the rest of us decided to stay at the pub! After all we had all cycled down to sea level at the closed lock gates and certainly for me that was close enough! Of course students of Geography will know that Plymouth Hoe is on “The Sound” which is the estuary of the Rivers Tamar and Plymm and the true coast is about three miles further south! But I guess to suggest the Coast 2 Coast doesn’t actually reach the coast is being a little pedantic!

Stay tuned until the next adventure….

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Then there were two!

Devon C2C Part 2

Tim and I set off again from our lunch stop in Okehampton to re-join the former railway, only like Ilfracombe this was not situated in the town but at the top of a very steep hill. In fact we later read it’s the worst hill on the entire route…. We certainly agreed with that! And of course the rain continued to pour down!

After gaining the railway track again we followed the valley south at high level, at first climbing gradually which was not a lot of fun but thankfully it didn’t take long to level out. Tim made a comment along the lines of “at least it’s not windy”… of course it was soon after that the wind started to get stronger and blustery which combined with the crossing of some impressive (and high) viaducts made things “fun”. 

Eventually we reached the turn off to Bridestowe and our second overnight stop. A steep descent underneath one of the aforementioned viaducts and down a twisty bridleway to join a minor road and then more descending to the village made a pleasant (if still wet) end to the day. 

Despite the foul weather we agreed that the ride from Okehampton was one of the most enjoyable parts of the route (from the top of the hill that is)!

After a much need shower and change at the excellent Hunters Moon B&B there was a quick drive back to Great Torrington to collect the remaining car. 

We then retired to the White Hart pub in Bridestowe for a great meal.

On the third day the morning dawned dry and warm although a bit overcast, we eschewed the return to the railway line as this would lead us onto another main road, instead we took the alternative “hilly route” on minor roads directly from Bridestowe. After the first couple of miles, Grainne realised she was still not feeling very well and would struggle to complete the day, so decided to turn back and return to the van before she had gone too far.

And then there were five.....

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Six go mad in Devon

After the fun and games on the Cotswolds Caper Road Book day, thoughts turned to pedal powered two wheel tomfoolery.

The target this year, the Devon Coast to Coast from Ilfracombe to Plymouth is shorter and with smaller hills than last year’s classic C2C route from Whitehaven to Sunderland but with 100 miles to cover in three days, still a challenge. This year as well as our friends Tim and Andrea who we rode the C2C with, we were joined by Glenn and Wendy (all of us veterans of the 2015 Via Ferrata trip to the Dolomites).

Now you could consider this as training for rallying but seeing as I did no training for the ride apart from one thirty minute cycle from MK Hospital to home the other week, I’m not exactly sure of the training benefit as I found it bloody hard work!

Day one from Ilfracombe started with a very sharp pull from the quayside after the ritual “dipping your back wheel in the sea” photo alongside the strange Damien Hirst statue "Verity". Then it was up through the town to the former site of Ilfracombe railway station… 

Yes the hill was too steep for trains back in the day! The day started with some light drizzle but improved to a nice sunny day as the time went on.

What followed was a pleasant enough but steadily climbing former railway route for a few miles, this eventually levelled out and then switched to minor roads, which turned out to be surprisingly hilly with short, sharp climbs but eventually followed by a welcome downhill into Braughton where a coffee stop was in order! 

After this we had 20 miles of flat railway path first along both sides of the Taw Estuary (to cross a bridge at Barnstaple and then reverse the route into an unwelcome headwind) then after a smashing lunch at Framlington Quay we turned into the estuary of the River Torridge then up the river past Bideford and to our overnight stop at GreatTorrington. Where we were faced with a very steep mile uphill into the village! An evening of car shuttling ensued (thanks for the lift Pete)!

Day two dawned grey and wet and that’s the way it stayed! Grainne and Wendy decided to opt out; I didn’t blame them especially as Grainne was still suffering the after effects of a recent chest infection. They spent the day shuffling one of the cars and our van around and later meeting us for lunch.

After the very welcome downhill to re-join the route, more railway path ensued, however near the village of Petrockstowe we again joined minor roads, the railway continues but results in a dangerous section on main roads, the detour took us on a similar route to yesterday with short sharp hills (and some not so short) and corresponding descents and all the while it poured! 

The early part of the route went surprisingly quickly so that we arrived at the pre-planned lunch stop at Hatherleigh too early and had to keep pushing on (although some of us did avail ourselves of the chip shop for a quick “refuel”).

We eventually joined up again at Okehampton for a welcome lunch and a chance to dry out a little. After this Glenn and Andrea decided they’d had enough rain for one day and jumped in the van (good job we have space for up to six people and six bikes)!

To be continued….

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Keeping busy

Looks like being a lean year on the rallying front; the next event is the Ryedale Rally but as I’m already committed to a cycling trip in Devon, that won’t be happening for me. The next event was due to be the Baja GB in June, the only combined car/bike event in the UK and a road book event too. Unfortunately Natural Resources Wales (aka The Forestry Commission) imposed a load of extra costs and restrictions on the car side, which of course impacted on us as they provide a lot of the infrastructure, marshals etc. It was then hoped to run a bike only event as an alternative but this too fell foul of the restrictions imposed by “The Forestry”. So at the moment no confirmed navigation rallies in the UK this year.

On the good news front, I have already booked my slot on the 2018 Tour of Portugal, although the news of the forest fires and resulting fatalities only 60km from Pampilhosa da Sera was a shock. We have heard from Rui the Portuguese organiser and all concerned with the event are safe and well, it would appear that the affected area includes part of the course from day one of the 2006 Tour so a bit close for comfort.

In the meanwhile I’ve been keeping my hand in my doing survey work for the Trail Riders Fellowship (TRF) specifically surveying the green roads of the Peak District. A couple of weeks ago I drove to the Peaks, parking up near Ilam in Dove Dale only for the bike to be reluctant to start so I ended up having to jump start it off the van. It then ran fine for the next five, very wet hours and I was able to ride and survey ten green roads, until it died on me completely! 

A long wait for the RAC ensued in a cold, wet and exposed lay by in the middle of nowhere. When a patrol eventually turned up he agreed it needed recovery and when he discovered I only needed to be recovered about ten miles to my van, he offered to drive me there so I could return and recover the bike myself… a far more practical solution than another long wait for a recovery vehicle. Upon arriving back home it quickly became evident that the left hand kill switch was shorting on the handlebar. I had been concerned about this as the back of the switchgear is exposed, so had specifically covered the bar with insulating tape. I expected to find the tape damaged but no, for reasons I still can’t explain it had decided to short out through the plastic tape?

 In any case a quick fix and the following Saturday I was back in the same lay-by a few miles outside Buxton as I had identified it as a good parking spot. This time the bike ran faultlessly and the sun shone! I was able to stay out for seven and a half hours and rode thirty five green roads in total and completed surveys of thirty. This was because two I had done before and they just happened to be on my route and three that fall just outside the Park Boundary but again they were conveniently on route.

Next on the agenda was a road book training event in the Cotswolds, a chance to keep the navigation skills sharp. Seven of us turned up at Seven Springs near Cheltenham and enjoyed a fantastic day out. The road book was excellent; the trails good to ride (if a little overgrown in places) and the weather was mostly kind to us! We had the odd shower during the day and the last few miles on the road to the start/finish were a bit wet but nothing too serious. Everyone had a good time and nobody got (too) lost, a big thanks to Burt and Jonny for putting on a great day.

It also inspired me to get planning on my own road book training routes and my Hertfordshire route is in the final stages of preparation having secured help from the KTM Centre in Hemel Hempstead to act as the start/finish and provide the coffee! Here's a shot of work in progress....

Friday, 9 June 2017

Tour of Portugal - Day Three

Day three was a much shorter affair at just over 100km with a single special stage, this started after a twenty kilometre road section and as the day seemed bright and warm many riders were eschewing jackets for MX shirts. I thought better of it and layered up. This turned out to be a wise decision as much of the road liaison was along a high ridge and it was certainly a bit on the chilly side!

Arriving at the special stage start, I had time to remove my extra gear and stash it in my rucksack before starting. The special dropped off the ridgeline and then contoured the edge of the valley twisting in an out of stream cut defiles in the slope, which soon meant that rounding a headland to cut back into the next, I spotted the rider who started one minute ahead of me, on the opposite side of the defile passing a distinctive tree. When I reached the same tree I looked back across to see the rider one minute behind was just rounding the headland, so it would seem we were maintaining the time gaps.

A short while later the same happened, as I rounded the slope, I spotted my “minute man” passing a pile of boulders beside the track. When I reached them I looked back across but could see no sign of the rider behind! So it would seem I was either gaining on the rider ahead or at least getting away from the rider behind (or hopefully both).

My question was soon answered when I again spotted the rider ahead, now a lot closer as we climbed back onto the ridgeline, I caught him at a confusing five way junction where he was clearly hesitating and studying the road book. I had already worked out where I was going so swept past him, turned right and followed the ridge upwards. This was significant for me as although I have been passed many times in special stages, I’m not sure I’ve ever passed anyone before. Soon after the track switch-backed up onto the very top of the ridge on a wind turbine access track and then turned sharp right to descend again…. And I overshot the turn!

Luckily I had spotted the turn so only lost a few seconds whilst turning round; on the descent I passed another rider, so was feeling good. After this there followed a long section, through scrubland, open country and then into a more populated valley and through a few tiny villages. The navigation was tricky and I had to concentrate hard but was definitely in the grove and making good progress. The route climbed again to another ridge where I spotted three riders ahead of me, two together and one slightly ahead. I started to reel them in as we topped the ridge and climbed alongside the ubiquitous wind turbines on the ridge line. The track was very rocky and I was unable to catch them before we again dropped steeply off the ridge to descend again. The descent was steep, rocky and twisty and I got caught behind the two riders who were descending a fair bit slower than I wanted too! I eventually got past one by the old expedient of stuffing him up the inside on a bend and then the second rider on the next bend. Now for the third, whilst I had been momentarily held up he had got away, however I didn’t catch him as the finish of the stage was at the bottom of the slope, where I pulled up a few seconds behind him!

A long liaison followed, with some tricky sections, especially a nasty bend on a sharp climb over rock steps and loose rocks, I was now riding with Tony Whitehead again and he shot round the bend and over the steps with no problems on his 300 smoker, I got round the bend OK but had selected too low a gear so managed to pull a wheelie over the steps and chucked it away on the exit. Tony walked back down and helped me get the bike up and going again, “to reclaim a small bit of karma for my assistance the day before” I hung around for a while to get my breath back, admire the view and attempt to help a fellow rider try and get round on a KTM 990 Adventure… but it simply wasn’t going to happen! He eventually decided to go back down and head back on the road, I walked back up to my bike that I had left at the top of the slope and had to stop for another rest to get back my breath again, it was very steep and very hot!!!

After that I joined three other riders and we descended down until we reached the road and then headed back to Pampilhosa, a ritual jet wash at the garage and then it was a rush to get everything packed up and the bike prepared for loading on the truck.

The results were duly published and I had managed to claw my way up to 17th Place, not quite as good as last year (13th) but top twenty will do me OK.