Thursday 27 June 2019

Wales 500 Part Two

The Sunday dawned dry but a bit overcast so looked good for day two of the Wales 500. Again an early start meant no breakfast at the hotel so we headed on down to the event site and availed ourselves of the services of the burger van.

The plan today was for me to head out to the furthest part of the course where we were to set up a checkpoint. I was introduced to fellow volunteer Rod Jones who was coming with me; we looked at each other and realized we already knew each other! Thirteen years ago we had worked together as cycle commissaires on the Trans-Wales MTB stage race. Rod had led the race on his Honda CRF230 and I had been the sweeper in my heavily modified Land Rover Discovery… small world indeed.

We set off for our checkpoint taking a direct route rather than following the course, to ensure we got there before the competitors. Taking the A4103 towards Hereford the ride started well until a few miles down the road it started to spit with rain, then the drizzle set in, then persistent rain and finally a monsoon like deluge!

This continued all the way to the BP Petrol Station at Ponterwyd on the A44 not far outside Aberystwth (yes we had just completely traversed Wales from East to West) where competitors had a fuel stop at the garage, whilst this might have seemed a perfect spot for our checkpoint with fuel, toilets, shelter from the rain, hot coffee and food it lacked one vital element…. A phone signal!

So our final destination was a remote car park at Llyn Pendam as despite being in the middle of nowhere it was high enough to have a signal but sadly no shelter, food or hot coffee and needless to say “toilet facilities” were of a very basic nature.

At the garage the first two competitors had just arrived as had the Course Openers, Jonny and Stuart and as we stopped for a hot drink, many more piled in and all seemed very reluctant to leave!

We set of up the hill to Llyn Pendam in conditions that were truly grim, the rain was still hammering down and the cloud had descended so visibility was only about 10 metres at times.

Arriving at the car park we set up shop to await the competitors, they were doing a loop to the north before passing us so we had some time to wait. After several hours without incident, well apart from a few competitors arriving from the wrong direction! The weather improved, the rain stopped and the sun even came out!

We finally got the news that the course was clear as Jonny and Stuart had swept the loop so all four of us decided to set off to clear the final 200km of the course, including the Tarrenig and Radnor Forests. This was done "at pace" as we knew the course to be clear for some distance ahead of us. 

We had a great ride on forest trails and twisty back roads; I lost touch with the other three after I had to stop for an oncoming truck on a single track road section and soon after came across the last two competitors. They claimed not to have seen the other three but certain I was on the correct route I tailed them along the amazing road down the Elan Valley and eventually into Rhayader where I spotted the others, stopped for fuel. Rod headed for home from there and the three of us continued onwards picking up the final competitors again in the Radnor Forest. From here it was a tarmac only ride back to Malvern and a very welcome Paella from the caterers!

The evening was spent working out the results, awarding medals and having a debrief on what was a very successful event. 

I eventually left for home at around 11.00 pm and soon realized I should have included my heated jacket!

By now the fatigue from the day was setting in big time, with very severe pains in my neck, shoulders and back. By midnight I reached the M40 and realized I needed a stop, Starbucks at Warwick Services providing some much needed rest and caffeine. 

I eventually arrived home at 1.00 am, very pleased that the Monday was a Bank Holiday and I didn’t need to get up for work.

Mind you it was a satisfying feeling rolling up to work on the Tuesday with the bike still stickered and muddied up!

Friday 21 June 2019

And so to the Wales 500….

So on the Friday afternoon I headed off to….


Yes I know that’s not in Wales but it is where the event is based out of, the Three Counties Showground to be exact.

Seeing as last year I had suggested having registration open on the Friday night to ease the queues on Saturday, I thought I really ought to turn up and help, so set off on Friday afternoon to take a direct cross country route to Malvern, via Buckingham, Aynho, Chipping Norton, Moreton in Marsh, Evesham and Pershore.

 I turned up about 20 minutes before registration started and we were swamped! It seem the majority of the 190 competitors decided to turn up that evening and by the time we closed at eight, 130 riders had signed on. 

The snack wagon had pretty much run out of everything except chips but at least the bar was still open. As I had been booked into a hotel in Great Malvern, I couldn’t really partake but had a good night chatting, then headed off to the hotel.

I was up at 07.00 although unfortunately the hotel didn’t start breakfast until 08.00, I headed to the showground on deserted roads ready for the day. Thankfully the snack wagon had restocked and I was able to grab a bacon roll and a cup of tea. 

After registering the rest of the riders and carrying out a briefing the riders set off on their short 106 km training route, that apart from a short off road section in the showground was all on tarmac. 

The concept of the Wales 500 over those at Kielder and on the Isle of Man being to make it more suitable for first timers. I left on the bike before them to ride to my static marshaling point, the idea was that I would check everyone past then move a short distance up the road to a petrol station where I’d see the riders pass me again on the return loop. Well that was the plan!

On the way out I’d passed signs saying “Long Delays” and a diversion. As it was the weekend, I ignored them and sure enough the roadworks were deserted and the road clear, so I didn’t think there’d be any issues. Having arrived at my marshaling point, I called back to event HQ only to discover that several riders had become confused by the diversion and followed it. Although they eventually got back on route, it was not good as the concept of the event is to stick as closely to the road book mileage as possible. 

I headed back, “making progress” on the narrow country lanes, which was fine until I started meeting competitors coming the other way!

Reaching the end of the diversion, I witnessed a group of riders heading in that way but they had clearly worked out how to get back on route as they were indicating to turn back onto the correct route. I rode round the diversion but didn’t see any more riders, getting to the start I parked up and directed traffic. Certainly a lot of riders were indicating to follow the diversion until I waved them to continue on route. I made a “modification” to the sign, Which was fortuitous as I then got a call to say the route was blocked ahead and a diversion of our own was required.

Again I had to make rapid progress on narrow roads but at least this time all the bike traffic was headed the same way. Arriving at the last turning before the closure, I directed all bikes to carry on as they would rejoin the route a short way ahead were I was assured a rider had stopped to redirect everyone.

After some time the last three riders on course arrived (the beauty of everyone being on live GPS trackers) and I led them off. Unfortunately the rider redirecting everyone had gone and we missed the turning back onto the route, so took a bit of a detour before catching up again at my original second marshaling point. After this I was able to tail the riders back to the finish.

That evening we had the fun job of sorting the results, as we deemed those who had arrived early and worked out a way round the road closure to be on the official mileage but also those who had been redirected would be too despite having done a shorter route. Obviously anyone deviating from the route elsewhere was penalised for it but we had to work out a penalty system to account for those riders who had done one of the two “official distances” so that riders who went wrong elsewhere didn’t appear above them if they just happened to get the correct distance. The competition being judged on route keeping accuracy as well as adhering as closely as possible to the official distance. We had previously discovered that you could take the wrong route but still get the “right” distance!

To mitigate this we had to visually check the track of every rider to verify the results from the tracking company but managed to do so before some excellent food from our evening caterers arrived. Sadly the bar didn’t fare so well and managed to run out of beer only twenty minutes later!!!

For some bizarre reason they had not thought to restock after Friday night. At least there was lots of free wine offered and when they eventually got some more beer delivered, free beer! This was good for me as I was leaving the bike at the showground and getting a lift back to the hotel with John. 

After some more good chat and a few beers, we headed the 10 minutes back to Great Malvern and our beds for the night.
To be continued….

Road books, bicycles and all things French...

On the biking front I planned out the second of my road book training events in the Peak District, essentially last years route in reverse with a few extra green roads thrown in. On Good Friday I headed up to the Peaks for a final recce and surprised myself by managing 10 hours riding on the day. Needless to say I wasn’t in a fit state for much at all on the Saturday!

The following weekend was my annual trip up to Leicestershire and Rutland to assist in the running of the Rutland-Melton International CiCle Classic, now Britain's biggest (and arguably the best) one day cycle race. Now this involves two days of setting out the course and usually involves knocking in dozens of wooden posts for direction signs, sponsors banners, rope and tape barriers etc. This is achieved with a slide hammer but was quite evidently an activity completely at odds with myasthenia! Repetitive muscle movements especially of the shoulders and arms bring on severe fatigue very rapidly so this task had to be left to others and I spent a lot of time driving the van, so at least I got spend a lot of time sitting down!

The race went well with a major change to the route this year that seemed to be a great success and certainly changed the character of the event. 

It also gave me the opportunity to recce some potential routes for the road book training event I have planned in this area for August.

I wasn’t able to take part in the Peak District road book event the next weekend myself as I was off on another holiday. Our friend Mike had arranged a surprise holiday at a friend’s villa near Carcassonne in South West France for his wife Linda and asked if we would like to come along?

Not only did Linda not know where she was going but she didn’t know we were coming too, in fact Mike only announced we had “offered” to drive them to Luton Airport to save the cost of a taxi on the morning we were leaving. We managed to keep the subterfuge going right up to the point we pulled our bags out the back of the van in the car park!

A very different holiday to Italy with relaxation very much the name of the game, lie ins, leisurely lunches, historical sites, picturesque villages and a drop of wine (or two) were the order of the week.

Once back home again I started preparing for the Rallymoto Wales 500, a report on that will be appearing soon 

Thursday 6 June 2019

Mountains, Myasthenia and Me

Yes it’s me again!

I can’t believe I’ve left it a whole two months (OK nearly three) to update the blog, so what’s been happening?

Last time you graced my blog with your presence, I was just starting to learn to snowboard in preparation for our holiday at Bormio in Italy with friends Jill and Andy at the end of March. 

Well it sort of went OK, a bruised coccyx on the second lesson was quite literally a pain in the arse! Thanks to co-codamol I was able to continue but it took several weeks to heal. Now I won’t say I was transformed into a snowboarding god but I gained just about enough confidence to get down the slope without falling over (too much). The three hour lessons at the snowzone were just about doable as the fatigue due to myasthenia generally kicked in big time at around two and half hours. So I knew how to pace myself when I got out on the real snow.

We arrived in Bormio, sorted out hire gear and were taken to our ski lodge, the Café Rhododendri by skidoo, all good fun! It was quite strange being “stranded” up at 2250 metres in the evenings as the only way in or out was on ski/snowboard or via skidoo. Or on a Piste groomer as it turned out later!

The next day dawned bright and sunny, the late season snow was a bit icy but there was still plenty of it. I headed down on my own to build up my confidence not wishing to have to try and keep up with anyone or hold them up. Jill and Andy (on skis) and Grainne (on her brand new snowboard) set off for Bormio 2000.

After bumbling around on the slope for a bit and getting a bit frustrated as I seemed to have lost the vast majority of my new found snowboarding skills, Andy caught up with me to say that Grainne had taken a tumble and hurt her shoulder but he thought she was OK.

Sad to say she turned out to be anything but OK; after a trip to the local hospital the diagnosis was a broken shoulder, An almost identical injury to that she suffered two years ago on her other shoulder!!!

To say she was gutted was a major understatement, first run of the first day and her holiday was effectively over. She had her essay to finish for her prescribers course so spent the rest of the week doing that, so at least had some lovely scenery and minimal distractions but not exactly what we’d planned!

I booked a couple of snowboard lessons and had to spend a lot of time on my own, punctuated of course by the occasional cappuccino of course. 

I can’t say my snowboarding improved by much and the fatigue was pretty bad at times. The altitude didn’t seem to help either. I think sleeping at 2250m was part of the problem, I remember from my mountaineering days that 2400m is the level at which altitude sickness can start to occur, so we were not too far off that. The Myasthenia has been pretty well controlled of late but I discovered the exertion of snowboarding was a real challenge.

One of the highlights of the week was getting a trip out on the Piste Bully’s grooming the slopes at night. The drivers stopped at the Café Rhododendri every night for their dinner break, so it’s a bit of an exclusive for residents only, Which on most nights was only the four of us!

After our return, life returned to normal for me and recuperation, fracture clinic and eventually physio started for Grainne.