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Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Lakeside Jaunt

Ok so Im lying... it wasn't a jaunt.

Training just got tough... bloody hard in fact... and the funniest thing of all is that it was all totally self inflicted.

I cant quite remember exactly how the whole thing started but as usual (whatever David J might say) this plan had its roots firmly in the sensible camp.

As you probably know by now, next year my aim is to ride from Banff in Canada to Antelope Wells, a small border post between Mexico and the U.S.A. Not only that but the ride is off-road... crosses the continental divide 30+ times ... is 2700 miles long and just to make it that little bit more challenging... is a race.

Crazy right? Yup!
The thing is I had no idea what exactly was possible in terms of milage for me off road in a day... so it was time to find out... see exactly how much tougher than a day on tarmac it would be.

Somehow... and not sure exactly how.. Id managed to con .. I mean ... pique the interest ... of two slightly barmy friends of mine into joining me. We looked first at entering the Strathpuffer .. a 24 hour winter race in Scotland... but had underestimated how many other people there are with a screw or two loose... and places had disappeared by the time we had geared up to enter... quite possibly to Nic's relief! So we were left with plan b... organise our own version. In order to illicit a handshake agreement I dialled down the Crazy slightly (though its still right up there) and we opted for 12 hours of off roading on the physically demanding but not overly technical Lakeside route in Kielder Forest Park oop north.

Chosen by Nic and Dave after their recent excursion there I have to say it was the perfect track for our needs. Nic and Dave are planning an LHS challenge next year and they also needed to find out the limits for the mountain biking option.
My main request for the weekend riding was that some of the biking was in the dark to give me an opportunity to test out lights in a place where the only other light available would be that from the moon. Not to mention the fact that I need to start conquering the fear element of riding in the dark .. off road... in the middle of nowhere. A fear ... which if im honest with myself (and everyone else) .. is pretty high but one that has to be conquered for the Tour Divide next year.

So with these things in mind we found ourselves lined up at the trailhead early on the saturday morning...
I was eager to get going with the kind of nervous anticipation that hits me when i set out to do something without the knowledge that im actually capable of completing the task.

Nic and Dave had brought their new motorhome and it meant that supplies of hot chocolate and cooked food would be available at the end of each arduous lap.
What a bonus... but one that wont be available in the middle of Montana next year... but you gotta walk before you run... so I was utterly grateful 😃

My bike ... a Trek Xtrail 29er was kitted out with my Apidura seat pack stuffed with energy bars... gels and spare clothes in order to get used to carrying a bit of kit.
The 29 inch wheels are perfectly suited to rolling over anything that the trail can throw at you and after months of getting used to this new way of riding... I love it! The dynamo hub was an addition with the Divide in mind as it charges my mobile..  lights ... basically anything with a usb.. as I ride... providing I go over 5mph. This was an opportunity to test out its effectiveness at keeping me juiced up in connectivity terms on a long ride where there was nowhere else to charge stuff (unless I cheated and used the motorhome power supply)

We were fortunate to have arrived at the lake to find that it wasnt that cold and wasnt raining... but it did mean that I was probably slightly overdressed.  I had two... count em... 2 baselayers on in anticipation of mind numbing cold.. as well as a winter cycling jersey/jacket. Fine when standing around shooting the breeze but totally dehydrating the moment the pedals start to turn over 45 RPM.

Nonetheless we set off clockwise round the lake. The gentle undulations at the beginning of this hellish day lulled me into a false sense of security. The track was wide and obstacle free (apart from a seemingly endless supply of gates which had the effect of killing off any momentum on the trail for the first couple of miles). This meant that we cycled 2 and even 3 abreast chatting away in between the lung busting steep climbs.
Because im used to generally cycling by myself... having someone around to reply to my utterances was nice. For this first loop we stopped to take photos... eased into the day... the knowledge that we would be still cycling (hopefully) in 12 hours time at the back of my mind. 'Its not a race... its an endurance test'! Despite that... we kept up a good pace and my phone was merrily charging away.

After the first few miles... the track undulated more... meaning flat road was a rarity... it was either sweating uphill in lower gears... or speeding down the other side skidding round the corners.
The Lakeside trail is around 26 miles and not being familiar (yet) with it... it did seem to last forever. Not being quite as fit as I was earlier in the year... it was hurting a bit. I had worries about keeping up with the other 2 as they have managed to get out training on a far more frequent basis but for the first loop at least we all felt ok and I wasnt lagging as Id feared.
There were distractions along the way... with a huge sculpured head... big chairs and various other features of interest along the way. Given that it was only the first loop I was feeling good and the beautiful autum reds and oranges in the early morning misty sunshine took my breath away at times. The relections on the glassy smooth lake surface provided some of the best picture postcard photo moments which were taken advantage of on a regular basis.... until we reached approximately halfway round where as if with some invisible line.. the cycling gods had said.. ' right... this is where the fun stops and the hard work begins'. The undulations got steeper and longer with some climbs winding up the hillside in a very short space of track... meaning the gradient on the bends reduced me to a crawl at times. Once..  totally misjudging the gradient.. I turned a corner.. and came to an absolute abrupt halt... causing a traffic pile up behind me.
This is where I was glad that I have opted for flat pedals and not my usual clipless because I would have toppled over.
All this said... I was still smiling and my headspace was in a good space.


So where was I.... oh yeah... in a good place. The trail was pretty much deserted and we barely saw anyone on this first loop. The 26 miles were completed in just under three hours... not racin... but not dawdling either. Apart from the legs... mountain biking demands a huge amount from the whole body. Arms... wrists... hands (in particular mine hurt)... all were taking a battering from the rough trail and the constant whole body adjustments that are made with every turn of the handlebars and pedals. Ok... I was already knackered. Add to that was the sinking feeling that I hadnt either eaten or drunk very much on this loop and from experience knew this would come back to bite me in the arse later on. (And for those that are interested... my arse was feeling fine at this point)

So we gathered ourselves... enjoyed a quick bacon roll and hot choc (thanks guys) and then debated the merits of cycling round anti clockwise for the 2nd loop. (Totally David's idea so everything that follows is his fault!)
Anti clockwise won because the thought of having a different perspective of the trail won us over. Unfortunately this meant a kick arse slope out of the car park... typical!

To say that the hills were worse from this side was an understatement...
Ok so it may havd been that we already had 26 difficult miles in the legs... but they went on and on. Up and Up with a short downhill as a reward (totally out of proportion) and granny gears were truly the order of the day for me. Grinding up..  the headspace started playing games with me. And judging by the almost total silence with which we cycled the 2nd loop... I wasnt the only one suffering. David... clearly fitter than I currently am..  was seemingly taking the hills with ease... and this is where cycling with others can be both a blessing and a curse. At points on this ride (sorry mate) I hated David for the apparent ease with which he surmounted every gradient whilst my legs were swiftly turning to jelly. My headspace was contemplating whether he was just better at hiding the pain... wondering what Id done in setting out for myself a clearly impossible task next summer... telling myself that if 40 miles was doing this to me... how the hell was I even thinking of lining up for the Tour Divide when clearly I would fail miserably and make a fool of myself (not that I have ever really worried about that!) None of these thoughts took hold in my head (and I dont actually hate ya David) but this is just a glimpse of the psychological warfare that one must wage with oneself... not allowing it to take hold... not allowing yourself to listen to the screaming muscle fibres as they twitch and spasm. 
This is where cycling with friends can be the bonus... it just takes a sarcastic comment... a smile ... some words of shared pain to make it all ok. And that is part of the challenge that I enjoy in solo cycling... getting yourself out of your bad headspace by yourself. Can be tortuous. But all it can take sometimes when by yourself is a beautiful view or a spectacular sunset or just a bit of food and suddenly the world is a good place again. I honestly could write a thesis on the subjuct (dont worry I wont)... but in short it makes you appreciate the small things.

To say that by the end of the second loop I was done in would be an understatement but more hot food awaited and loop 3 loomed large. Given our state of weariness... we debated cheating and going out for the easier half of the clockwise route round and then coming back... cutting out the tortuous steep long hills of the second half.  Thoughts turned to lights... given that half way round it would be dark. Two front lights... one rechargagable and one battery reliant coupled with a ridiculously bright headtorch was my answer to the oncoming blackness and we set off. I was feeling buoyed by the excitement of tacking the trail in the dark which made me forget my destroyed quadruceps ... at least until the first climb when I crunched down the gears into granny gear 1! Hey ho... the pedals were still miraculously turning.
The first easier half (and by easier... I mean pretty tough but there is the grand scheme to compare it too) dragged along as the daylight faded but I took comfort in the fact that the legs still worked (just) and my headspace was much improved from the last loop. By the time we got to roughly halfway... our lights were casting our shadows on the edge of the surrounding forest and aside from the crunching of the gravel under our tyres .. the evening was still and quiet. The drizzling rain was lit up by our lights but it remained reasonably warm. 
It got really dark.. really quickly... like someone had turned off the light... but it was really cool and had raised the spirits. Cheating was no longer an option it seemed and as we reached the halfway mark... the quiet determination in all three of us stood up and waited to be recognised. There was no way we were going to take the easy way back... complete the loop was the only option and so we pressed on... each of us seemingly lost in our own little worlds. My right knee was starting to complain and the gradients but I ignored the nagging pain and just turned the pedals... made easier with the knowledge that there was not much to go given what we had already completed.
I dont think I was the only one with aches and pains... as mentioned previously off road riding uses all muscle groups.. all over the body and we had been battered... bruised...but not finished off. As the lights of the car park eventually came into view ... the relief was palpable but also the sense of achievement. Yes.. Ive ridden a hundred miles day after day on road.. which hurts like hell but this was something else! I reckon that for every mile off road we did on this day... it compares in terms of effort/energy expended and effect on the body ... it equals 3-5 miles of tarmac riding.. dependent on quality of tarmac and gradient. 
And we had just done 78 miles off road! 

Having said that I was exhausted... almost broken... totally done in by the end of lap three would not be a lie. But the comforting thing for me was that... despite this being totally true... if you had told me that I could have food and a drink and a short rest but then had to go out again... I could have done and then possibly even again. Yup I would have been slower... the hills would have hurt EVEN more and I may have had to hike a bike up some of them... but I could have done it. The question remains whether I can then have 3-4 hours kip and start again the next day... time will tell and I may be found wanting next year out in the wild backroads of the USA... but the point is...
Im not afraid to try.

The next day found us all able to walk (a bonus) with a minimum of aches and pains (remarkable) and I already found myself planning in my head the next testing training ride. And here it seems I have found willing partners in crime with Nicola and David suggesting (without any prompts) that we organise more training rides. Perhaps because we have all suddenly become painfully aware of the extent of the challenges we are setting ourselves and just how much fitter we need to be😃

Massive thanks to Nic and Dave for Going With The CraZy ad infinitum

And there ends this ride report...
To continue to follow the Crazy ... please go to www.facebook.com/OneChallengeAtATime and like my page for updates on training ... kit... and planning to take on the Worlds Toughest Bike Race at the end of June 2017.

Be Free.... Stay Alive
LHS