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Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Its all about the kit!

Following several mildly disasterous fully loaded outings on my bike I thought Id blog a bit about the kit and my thoughts in set up so far for anyone thats interested. Some less technical posts will follow.

As a general rule... Im not kit crazy (whatever some of my friends may think). I havent actually weighed my kit yet.. yet being the operative word. .. rather going on the feel of it. I have had 3 fully loaded test rides. 2 short and 1 longer... all provided lessons about me and my bike... which is another way of saying they didnt go too well.

My first impression is that the kit bags I have are good... verging on the great BUT whereas they worked with my road bike perfectly ... there are a couple of issues with my mountain bike. Aside from the fact that I am now fully convinced that I need to shed even more weight!

The frame bag doesnt leave enough space for bottles on my bike in the places where there are clamps. I can either get a smaller frame bag (Im looking at the Alpkit possum) and cut down or pack the kit better or mount my bottles elsewhere on the bike. To this end I have tried several different ways of mounting bottle holders... so far none have been great or secure. I tried my frame bag with a side entry bottle holder but its still difficult to get the bottle in and out while riding. So I think the less/better packed kit and a smaller frame bag is the way to go.

My handlebar bag is a success. I have packed my sleep system in such a way that I will just need to roll it out and blow up the air mat and then it is all ready to collapse into. Basically I have just rolled everything up together (video will be available soon) and put it in my handlebar bag.. Bed in a bag!! Simple. It sits under my handlebars well and doesnt effect the handling of the bike at all. With care Im sure I could compress it even more but at the end of a long day on the trail... I know that even badly rolled up ... it still works.

A new sleeping bag was purchased... down to keep me warmer and weighing in at only 650g ... lighter is better. Just hoping its warm enough at high elevations.

Rear pack.... brilliant. Apidura and carries loads. No issues when previously used in NZ and has been great on training runs so far.

Cockpit... i.e handlebars and attachments to make hands hurt less.

I have umm' d and errr'd over whether to go with aerobars or not. They provide extra mount points for camera... lights... etc and will provide a different hand position. But extra weight and a question of how useful they will actually be. I have some I used for NZ and am considering purchasing a cross bar (for mount points). This issue is yet to be decided.

I probably need to add feed bags to the bars to hold snacks that I can easily get to. Again more weight but useful to eat on the go from.

My new mount point for the garmin etrex 30x is proving a good position... its more stable and read more easily whilst going along. It is on an accessory bar out in front of my handlebars.

Kit weight

Yup I know I said I havent weighed my kit... but it feels bloody heavy on the hills. I have paired down my sleep system as much as possible so thats a no go area for shaving weight off.

Tools... always needed in the middle of nowhere. Difficult to cut down on...
Which leaves clothes!
Again im facing wearing the same set of bike clothes for the entirety of the race but need to ensure that I have enough layers to be warm/ward off hypothermia at higher elevations at night.

A new jacket/raincoat is warm and will hopefully enable me to stay dry. Baselayer is a must have. A good pair of socks with maybe a spare pair. A spare pair of bike shorts. 1 jersey. No underwear... no off the bike clothes... no spare jersey.  Question of whether to buy a down jacket to help keep me warm in the cool mornings and nights. Or if im cold... get up and cycle!!
1 pair shoes ... as not using cleats... i have a good pair hiking trainers that work well with my bike.
Short of cycling naked... I have paired it down as much as possible.

Apologies go out now to Louize Evans and her husband Mark. Louize has kindly offered to pick me up at the end (if I get there) and my clothes might be slightly oderous to say the least! 

Other additions are a first aid kit (minimal with lots of brufen and steristrips... you could probably re-attach a severed limb with steristrips!)
Electricals to keep the phone and cameras working to keep everyone updated when signal allows.

So as you can see... there isnt much room for weight improvements but I will go through my kit list with a fine tooth comb to weed out "luxury" items.

My final decision... which will be part sorted friday ... is the type of tyre Im going to use. Converting on Friday to a tubeless set up is one thing... choosing a tyre set could result in a separate blog post... given the amount of research im doing.

The conditions along the Tour Divide will includes ( not necessarily confined to..) mud.. gravel... water... snow... tarmac... more mud... thorns... sandy desert like conditions.. rocks... have I missed anything? Essentially all terrain. Therefore what I need is a protected sidewall... hard wearing compound... with good mud shedding capabilities... grippy in adverse conditions and because its a race... good rolling resistance.. i.e Fast.
No one tyre claims to do all this so its a balance of probability and the result... I will update after Friday!

I will also carry a water bladder for the stretches with little water availability in a rucksack with space for lots of food to keep the legs going round.

All the above is basically a guessing game as to what will work out there on the trail. No doubt I will miss a vital piece of kit or some of my kit may not be used... but I need to cover at least base 1-3 and improv to base 4 if necessary.

No doubt any keen cyclist or friend out there reading this will have suggestions or observations about my kit observations thus far. Please ... feel free to suggest... comment... laugh at or otherwise engage with this post.

Follow the journey by liking my facebook page :-
www.facebook.com/OneChallengeAtATime

Or through Twitter :- Lid999
Or through Instagram :- lydiafranklin

From here to Banff to Antelope Wells... at least thats the plan!

LHS

Sunday, 19 March 2017

(Fully) Loaded

Kit was packed with consumate care making sure I had everything I would take on the Tour Divide. This was my first fully loaded run out and after the disaster of last weekend (see previous blog) I was a little nervous that this would be worse.
I got up early and after some faffing was on the road to Winchester and the start of the South Downs way. My plan was to cycle out until around midday... turn round and cycle back... hoping to do a huge amount of mileage in the process.
So it didnt work out quite like that. I managed a paltry 41 miles in many hours of cycling albeit in pretty crappy trail conditions. The mind boggled at such a pathetic attempt but as the disappointment cleared ... the analysis began....


Having uploaded the route GPX to Ride with GPS (https://ridewithgps.com/trips/13466774)
Looking at it - once the mud had dried out a bit I did manage to keep the speed up a bit.  Total moving time was about 5 hours with a stopping time of nearly 4 hours!! this is where I need to eliminate some of the faff. During this ride I was also doing some filming for a possible documentary /short film that I hope to do of the Tour Divide. this takes up time - clearly I need to incorporate this within the cycling time better. But it needed to be tried out.  I stopped for food 3 times and whilst this is necessary to maintain blood sugar levels and avoid the bonk (cycling terminology for totally hitting the wall) - again this is an area where I can improve.

Looking at the scenery, enjoying the view is another area that I need to minimise, though I Imagine that this will be difficult in the spectacular landscapes I will come across.

the trail conditions I encountered are hopefully worse than many sections of the Tour Divide.  this was all grass/mud/uphill/mud and whilst im not expecting perfect conditions for the Tour Divide - I am aware that much of it is on forest roads which hopefully will be in slightly better condition than the majority of this trail. that said I'm sure that some of the Tour divide will consist of tricky conditions, and here therefore is the upside of the run yesterday...

I Had FUN!! I was smiling even through the most annoyingly slippery gloopy mud conditions and at times even laughed out loud at how ridiculous this must seem to many of my less craZy friends out there.

another bonus is that by doing this run out (one of several planned) I familiarise myself with my kit, how it feels cycling fully loaded, and hopefully will eliminate any silly mistakes by learning from them now.

The KIT!

Well it performed well.  I had no bike failures, no kit malfunctions.  I have learnt that I will need several short USB connectors to avoid them dropping down into the wheels! this happened on a particularly bumpy section and totally ruined the USB.  a shorter USB would have been safer.
My leatherman type tool, fell out of it's pouch during another bumpy section and I didn't notice but although that is lost forever, I now know to make sure it is secure.
My new jacket was certainly not as hot as my old one and I never overheated like I have previously. The layers that I used served well to protect me from the cold, wind and rain and although I got slightly chilly when stopped for more than 10minutes, I soon warmed up again.
My waterproof socks worked wonders even with all the wading through mud and water on many of the hike-a-bike sections.

My sleeping 'bed in a bag' was secure on my handlebars and never once felt unbalanced or skewed.


Things that didn't work!

2 things gave me a little cause for concern!.  My SPOT tracker, whilst looking like it was working - all lights blinking green; - did not send tracking data to the website.  The check in/ok message did lodge on the SPOT page but did not share to facebook like it was supposed to.  i have sent a message to the support line and hopefully they will help me resolve that issue.  It is however an old model, not sold any more, but it may be that I have to upgrade it to a newer version.

My USB charging hub

Whgilst this may work - the cable I took didn't work well. this is something I must remember to include in my kit as spares - several more USB charging cables as they have a tendency to break in these conditions.


And now to the most important things for success on the Tour Divide - my head and my legs.  firstly the legs worked a hell of a lot better than they did last weekend in Grizedale.  Despite the mud and slow progress, my legs never felt too bad.  

My headspace was the good bit - as I was having fun, I never felt mentally bad even with the lack of progress.  And for the outbound section, I trialled cycling without my music in my ears - as they may be times on the Tour Divide where power has run out and I have none.  Cycologically music is the thing I turn to when I'm feeling crap so will need to keep it for times when everything is against me.


Cycling in the UK in March is not necessarily going to replicate Tour Divide conditions BUT if I can struggle through these then conditions in Summer on the Tour divide may be a nice surprise. OR provide a completely new set of challenges!!

I'm hoping to upload a short video of the ride in the next few days to try and show what it was like.  I also plan to do a long ride around Swinley forest complete with all kit to try and get some time on gravel roads and see if that goes better and another attempt at the South downs is not out of the question though perhaps with slightly more clement weather :-)

So that's that... the journey to the Tour divide continues.  follow the journey on www.facebook.com/OneChallengeAtATime

LHS

Monday, 13 March 2017

You learn more from the difficult dayz....


Training weekend in the Lakes... Grizedale forest to be exact.... 
This was a chance to try out carrying kit and a few tweaks on the bike... 

Coming hot on the heels of 9 out of 10 days at work... including the new 14 mile cycle to work and the 14 miles back and a late night... a 4am start and a 5 hour drive to meet up with nicola and david j at Grizedale Forest .. was not the best way to prepare for what we hoped would be another epic ride or two. To say I was knackered was an understatement! But... I reasoned... with all the 'Lid Logic' I could muster... THAT is precisely how the Tour Divide will be.

I had packed an approximation of all the kit that I will be taking with me from Canada to the Mexican border and packed it into the bike packing bags as it would be for the start in June. New innovation... well for me... was the packing of my sleep system... but more of that in another post to come. The bags were packed ... the bike was ready...and as I drew up to the visitors centre to be greeted by david and nic's grinning faces .. the weather was ready for us.  Drizzling with a vengeance.. to say it was a grey day would  be doing the miserable weather a disservice. 
Not only that.. but a car rally had blocked off half the forest to our use leaving us to head out on the road to get to the forest roads. 

I had put on both the saddle and frame bag for the first run out and the first thing I noticed was exactly how heavy it all was. As I rolled out straining on the pedals in too big a gear... a crunch ... a grinding... and my chain snapped... and I hadnt even got out of the car park!! Fortunately I had learnt from a previous outing with the Johnstons when Id had to push David 4 miles back when he had had a similar issue. My chain links were put to use and a quick repair was effected. Take 2 then..

Out we went up the road... and up... and up.. and up and it was a sinking feeling as I realised my legs werent gonna play ball. Even on smooth tarmac it felt horrendous and as we turned into the forest with the rain getting heavier I was already in a mental battle with myself.  We had decided to stick to the forest roads... wide gravel paths for the most part but being Grizedale... most of it was up. Even small rises were feeling like mountain passes and with each pedal turn.. my heart sunk way further. I was not having fun. Normally I would be on my own with only my own head to fight with but I was hugely concious of the fact that nic and david didnt seem to be struggling the way I was and I was holding them up big time. Thoughts of turning round and cruising back to the car park took over my mental space yet I kept the pedals going round feeling the worst id ever felt on a bike. (Not quite true... ive had much worse days.. but thats how it felt at the time)  The loop we did was only 13 miles but by the time we had returned to the car park for lunch (bacon and hot chocolate .. thanks guys) I was soaked... knackered... and had had enough) I think Nic knew this as when we started suiting up again... she took pity on me and suggested we stop for the day ... and go and get a drink in town. Torn between feeling bad for cutting the day short and the body being totally fried.. we agreed on this plan. 
Unable to appreciate the beautiful forest surroundings I hoped that a bit of a rest and a good sleep would rejuvenate my body for the next day. Then came the first slip of the day... literally. Heading up the grass bank to go and pay for the car park... I slipped... caught myself... took another step and promptly fell flat on my face adding to the covering of mud and at least providing some laughter for the day!

Hot chocolate and cake swiftly followed by dinner. By this point I was struggling to keep my eyes open... literally falling asleep in my lasgne. Fortunately David and Nic are too nice to take pictures.
It was still hammering down when I made my way to my campsite equipped with a tarp and my sleep system. At the farm I was pointed towards a very boggy field and asked if I could set up the tarp on the gravel of the car park... asking me to wait a moment the young man dissappeared and in his place his mum who no doubt seeing my bedraggled exhausted state offered me the bunk house for a night! Hmmmm wet and cold v warm and dry.? Needless to say I passed up the opportunity for further practice for the Tour Divide and crashed in the warm and dry... literally... I was asleep by 8pm!! A massive thank you must therefore be extended to Abott Farm campsite for the rescue! 😁 When I finally got up in the morning I awoke to no rain and a beautiful view and generally felt better.
And so to Day 2...
Determined to have a better day (haha) I set out to Grizedale planning to leave behind much of the kit off my bike. 

It wasnt really raining for a change and the forest was now devoid of the noise of the rally cars. No mishaps out of the starting gate but the tracks were all churned up by the cars leaving a quagmire in many places. Boy was it hard going... like cycling through sand and the lack of bags was not making the huge difference to my progress.... my legs were still shot! 
I was able to appreciate the beauty of the forest a bit better today and despite the lack of cooperation from the legs... was managing to get up the climbs at a steady pace. 
The profile was once again mainly up..
 And the downhills... although fast... were over quickly and didnt really reward for the effort. We did get a view of the lake and there was a fun section of grassy doubletrack which came to an abrupt halt at the base of a very steep and slippery climb... the back wheels spun... the foot went down and that was that... hike a bike to the top of that section!
At some point David's bike began emitting a few squeaking sounds and as he stopped to look at the problem... i noticed he was riding a singlespeed.... essentially one cog at the front instead of my 2. I hadnt realised he was riding that and he gained a whole heap of respect from me as the climbs must be infinately harder with less gear range. I asked him why he picked that and was informed that they are easier to maintain and much more reliable as there is less to go wrong! Further down the track David's back wheel siezed and despite some on the trail attempts.. either it kept siezing or became loose. Prompted laughter when myself and nic pointed out that we had recently been told singlespeed is much more reliable!! 😁
All this meant that our cycling had come to an end... much to my relief frankly as I was done in already. His rear hub had gone and he needed a new one. This meant that I was saved from having to go really slowly and painfully any more miles.

My performance this weekend left me feeling pretty dejected initially... as you can imagine..despite Dave and Nic pointing out that we all have bad 'bike dayz'. But a couple of days later the positivity has reset itself and I realise that the best lessons to be learned are found when things go wrong so here is a run down...

The jacket I wore on the first day... whilst it kept me dry was overheating me... leaving me dehydrated and energy depleted. I need a jacket that has more breathability yet is still another warm layer and remains waterproof and packable.

The sleep system... although only unfurled indoors was quick to unpack and pack away and worked well.

The water bottle placement on the handlebars was easy to get at... secure and made drinking on the go easy.

My slightly adjusted gps position meant that it did not rattle around so much and was easier to read and utilize.

My frame bag doesnt fit my mountain bike well enough. If i get a triangle frame bag... it will hold as much stuff but enable me to access another water bottle on the frame. They arent expensive and will effect a big change.

Above all... I have realised that I need to pack WAY LESS KIT!
Less kit = lighter bike= faster and easier!!
So i will sort out the kit for my next serious training run on saturday and put these things to use.

Above all... I need to remember that this challenge facing me is as much mental as physical and whilst I may have bad dayz on the bike... my mental strength WILL prevail!

It's alright... It's ok 😁

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Predator attack (EEK!)

Whilst not much mountain biking has not been achieved in the last month I have spent some time researching my fears..

Wild animals in the UK conjour up images of foxes... badgers... deer... animals that are way more scared of me than I am of them. Catch a glimpse of one of those and it will be them that run away not me.

Therefore one of the more scary aspects of the Tour Divide is an unexpected wildlife encounter. On this ride it is me that is scared of the animals and not the other way round.

And so began the research into the native predators along the route and the likelihood of 'bumping' into one of these magnificent creatures... hopefully figuratively and not literally.
My reading pre signing up to the dotted line started with books and blogs documenting racer's stories... many of which had at least one mention of an encounter. This info has been backed up by comments on a thread on the Tour Divide group on facebook where nearly everyone who commented had a story to tell about a sighting or encounter with a bear or a mountain lion. Chances are then that I too will see some of the native wildlife... hopefully at a safe distance and not charging at me... mock or otherwise 😁

Recently I have delved deeper. Initially mostly at bears because I assumed that was more likely. With websites dedicated to 'bear awareness' full of info on how to avoid an encounter in the first place. Turns out bears like food smells... therefore advice on hanging all smelly items (presumably not including myself after several weeks on the road) from a tree... keeping food away from camp... bear proof cannisters.... the triangle rule, where camp and food and bike are kept away from each other in a triangular shape.



Above are pictured both the grizzly bear and the black bear. It is important to understand the differences as they may not be black or brown. Both species of bear vary in colour and so if you can recognise what it is you are dealing with... you have a better chance. 
Best of course is not to get too close to either sort. Singing... whistling and shouting alert the bears to your presence and give them a chance to move away. Anyone who saw my video of 'Its alright... it's ok' in New Zealand will know that i managed to successfully scare sheep... hopefully it will have the same effect on bears.

Now if i do encounter a bear there are different schools of thought on what to do but mainly the advice is to back away slowly... speaking calmly ... not giving eye contact. If its a black bear... climbing a tree isnt useful because before you have got up to the first branch they will have overtaken you!! Adult grizzlies however... do not climb well. One recent retrospective study suggests that you have a better chance if you run away although if you are unlucky enough to get caught you then have a better chance of being killed than if you had stood still. 
Most bears will mock charge first... if an actual charge happens ... im supposed to wait until they are 20ft away and then spray the bear spray. If they are closer than that and bear spray is not an option... hit them on the nose. 
Some people say 'play dead'. This may work... or may not... and then you fight back.


One site I went to said ' if you play dead in a mountain lion attack.... you will be'. So with mountain lions... you never turn your back as they like to attack you from behind. You throw sticks and stones and shout at them. The names may not hurt but the sticks and stones may break their bones... or at the very least convince them you are not easy prey.

Anyone who has ever read my blogs knows I hate dogs when im cycling... so wolves have gotta be similar... in which case they will hunt me in a pack... dive in front of my wheels... all whilst im going uphill.... pretty similar to Oaklahoma then... and I survived that!!

So those are the main fears where predators are concerned.... or at least I thought so...

Until one person added the comment on my fb thread.
' I never had a problem with the bears... the Moose however... is a different story!'
And then came stories of snakes... tarantulas... scorpions... armadillos... lightning and bad car drivers. 

There was a ray of hope in all this scaremongering... one racer from last year suggested that I would be waaaay to exhausted to care... good to know😁

So what have I done with all this info??

Firstly I have bought a length of rope to take with me to either hang stuff from trees... or failing that to wrap around trees with my bivvy in the middle  to confuse the bears!! I will be buying bear spray on my day after arrival and it will be on my person or on my bike in reach at all times.
I plan to eat well before I camp up so that there is no recent food smell in my camp.
If possible I will bivvy in or near towns or in proper campsites with bear bins..  failing that I will pick my spot carefully. Many towns of the few that we go through have a post office lobby or a church porch that I will be able to kip in.
If in the middle of nowhere and there is no good spot to sleep... I will keep cycling... at least thats the plan.. or at least until im too tired to care.

All this information hasnt really allayed my fears but im hoping for 2 things...

1... This detailed info on exactly what I face will make everyone sponsor me and I will raise huge amounts of money for LHS...

2... That despite my fear... I will stay flexible and sensible without compromising my attempt to get to the end with a decent time

I dont think this is too much to hope for 😁

With very little time left until D-day.. I will be blogging more about my preparations and a few 'small' training runs I have planned. Please like my fb page One Challenge At A Time and share with friends and family so that you can join me on another journey.

Fight the fear... Embrace the Randomness ... but above all... Go With The CraZy!