.... is running out .. FAST. Not as fast as for those who are starting on the Grand Depart... but fast enough.
So I hit the Ridgeway again. Certainly the best training out there for a tough ride. The Ridgeway at this time of year is mud free which leaves a whole new set of challenges. The hard packed chalk and flint is a bone rattling experience with the ruts and furrows adding a new level of danger. .. But more of that later.
The sun was shining brightly as I headed out of the door and drove the familiar route to the start point. It was still slightly chilly and I was wearing the layers that I will be wearing in the race... a baselayer (merino wool so it doesnt walk away by itself after 3 days) cycling shorts with cargo shorts on top... my LHS cycling jersey and my down gillet on top.
I got out of the car and preceded to load up my bike with all the bags.... it took 20 minutes to set up. My new bottle holders on the underside of the down tube and on the top tube were firmly fixed in place with the zefal gizmo 3 ... a bottle holder clamp that doesnt need the normal fixing points.
This was the first time Id tried the one on the underside of the down tube and I knew that if it could hold in place on the Ridgeway... it would hold on anything!!
My kit was everything I will be taking to the Tour Divide and although it feels heavy... I cant find anything to cut from it without compromising safety... so heavy it is. I may weigh my kit before I leave just for interests sake 😁 but for now it is what it is.
As you might know from previous blogs... the Ridgeway starts with a lung busting climb straight off the bat and this time I was frustrated by a car coming down the track. Despite that I managed not to stop and kept on up. My aim today was go as far as possible within a few hours then turn round and come back.... minimizing my stopping time. Therefore today was the day to practice eating and drinking on the go... using my stem cell on the handlebars for easy access to food. I hadnt eaten prior to starting out deliberately trying to simulate days where I may have to cycle a few miles before finding food.
Despite the sun... I wasnt too warm and the miles up to the point that I had turned round before went by fairly quickly. Very familiar to me I passed by landmarks... the old rail bridge... the steep descent ... now dry and slippery with sharp flint exposed... the bridge under the A34 and the bumpy field with barely a track to follow. All this was punctuated with several stops to let horses and their riders by. The best being the group of about 20 sleek racehorses making their way to the gallops. Their riders were appreciative of me stopping as racehorses are very skittish and dont like bikes much!
So it was all going well. The legs were working well ... the speed was good over this type of terrain... the sun was out illuminating the view and causing the yellow fields to glow with radiance.
It felt like the summer was arriving and filled me with peace.
I continued onto more unfamiliar terrain. More obviously chalky... the trail was a bleached white. Difficult to navigate due to the uneven hard ground ... the jolting was trasmitting through the bike to my hands causing a degree of discomfort. For those who have read about my previous challenges you will know that my hands were completely screwed up after Route 66 and although the numbness and 'claw' appearance disappeared within a few weeks of returning... my hands occasionally cramp up in a painful parody of the previous events. This means I am very aware of the need to change hand position regularly.. to try not to grip the bars too hard and to regularly exercise my fingers when out on a ride. I utilized the end bars well but was unable to use the aerobars die to the technical nature of the terrain. Im hoping that there will be more opportunity to use them on the gravel trails of the Tour Divide.
The palms of my hands had that fuzzy feeling... a precurser to the numbness and cramping. It made me more diligent with changing hand positions.
I continued onwards... enjoying the general isolation... the views and the fresh air tinged with warm sunshine. As I proceeded I could see clouds gathering in the distance ... nothing major ... but to keep an eye on for sure.
One section of trail I thought I recognised from years ago. The ruts formed by 4x4 ATV'S and tractors had almost proved my undoing when I was riding from Swindon to Reading in a day. This was before I had started my quest to find my breaking point and was just for fun... no training involved.
I was going down this same hill that I was now climbing up... speeding down without a care in the world and as I did I got funnelled into one of these ruts... with the grassy sides rising up making escape impossible. My pedal caught the side of the rut and I went flying... my bike cartwheeling over me and landing on my leg. A sharp pain up my leg and my first thought had been that it was broken. In the middle of nowhere... no SPOT tracker in those days... in pain. Once id recovered from the shock, the pain in my leg subsided and I managed to stand and weight bear. Not broken so I got on my bike and continued my ride.
And was the spot where it had happened. Care would have to be taken on the way back so I memorised which was the best track for on the way back.
I was still going well and I reached wayland smithy (an ancient monument) in good time. 20 miles...I resolved to go at least another 5. That 5 miles involved some steep climbs and found me on the top of the highest point yet with Liddington castle just off to my right.
Those clouds that had started to gather were now covering the sky... corresponding with an increase in the wind velocity. As I was stopped I noticed how much colder it was when stopped and resolved to keep this brief.
I had had an idea whist plodding along to get everyone involved in the blogs once out on the ride... I quickly videoed my idea...
Anyone that wants can send me a word... anything... as long as not rude/swear word etc... and I will find a way to include it in one on my blogs. So far it had yielded an interesting array and will give me something to think about as I cycle along... Mugwump... hmmm... (thanks to Nicky for that one!! 😁)
And so it was time to turn back. And of course this wind that had started gusting with a vengeance was none other than a headwind.
I have been trying to change my mindset about headwinds...
Out on the road nothing can be more demoralising than a headwind that batters you for hours... reducing you to a crawl... and simultaneously reducing your morale to rock bottom. Several hours of this and you can end up a shell of your former self. Believe me ... I have experienced this several times. And so how to find the positive from this uncaring force of nature....
My new mantra... "Be grateful to the headwinds that force you to slow down... they give you more time to enjoy the beauty around you".
It is however a work in progress and whilst I was not hurling expletives at the wind... I was finding the return journey hard. Not only because of the wind but also because of the out and back nature of my ride... it means you know what is coming up. All those sketchy downhills that you negotiated on the way out... need to be climbed up on the way back! Out on the road on an A to B ride... once its done is done!
I had been snacking and drinking regularly but it seemed like it hadnt been enough and as I felt the lifeblood drain out of my legs during this battle against the elements and the terrain... I gulped down a gel and some dextrose tablets along with several oat bars to try to stave off the impending bonk. When you have really and truly hit the wall on previous occasions you can see it coming... but by then its often too late and you are in for a few miles of torture before the food and drink kick in. This time however I timed it right and the total bonk never hit. It was still pretty hard work crawling up some of the inclines. If they had been just gravel or at the very least smooth... they wouldnt have been so bad. Instead the ruts and flint and washboard effect all combined to push me into the granny gears and grind my way up.
It was up one such climb that I heard a crunch and then a ping as my chain uncerimoniously snapped... my rear derailleur pinged back and got stuck behind my rear cogs and the chain whipped round... lodging behind all that... in short... totally b€£%#@@d
I lifted my bike off the trail and proceeded to try and un-lodge the chain and rear derailleur. A bit of sweat and grime and some brute force later I had untangled the lot... leaving me with the snapped chain in my hand.
At this point a couple.. who were out geocaching... asked me if I was ok. Fine I said... I should be able to fix it. The grntleman expressed surprise as 'he wouldnt be able to' and then said they had to be getting on. Inside I chuckled to myself... reasoning that if I couldnt fix it then I may well be in trouble on the Tour Divide. I dug out my chain tool and a quick link for my chain... took off the broken link and replaced it with the quick link. At some point during this process... I had put my quick links down in the grass.. which prompted 5 mins of panic whilst I searched for them. Stupid. But it did remind me of the need to be deliberate and careful about putting things down on the trail. A similar careless moment in NZ had resulted in me cycling backwards 5 miles to retrieve my phone!
Panic over and chain fixed in pretty quick time I continued onwards. Being very careful when changing gear to avoid a second snapping as I was now out of chain links and would be most likely walking home if it happened again!
The rest of the ride was a slower affair... the headwind reducing me to lower speeds and the legs reducing my speed on the climbs so it was with some relief that I found myself at the top of the final descent to the car.
All in all it had been a good outing... despite the technicality of the terrain I achieved good speeds... stopped less .. the kit worked well and I dealt with the mechanical issue easily.
My SPOT tracker tracked the ride well and the tracking pings can be seen on my SPOT shared page
If you copy and paste the above link in your browser you can follow my SPOT tracker on all my rides. For the race there will be the Trackleaders page... details of which will be available near the time.
I will be riding again to raise money for Love Hope Strength Foundation. My Just Giving Page is now open.
LHS raises money and awareness of the Bone Marrow Donor list by swabbing people at gigs and festivals. It also raises money for cancer care through hikes up mountains and this year in a walk from Wrexham to Bangor culminating in the annual Snowdon Rocks. For more information please go to www.lovehopestrength.co.uk
The training continues in the countdown to my hardest challenge so far ... 2700 miles from Canada to Mexico.. off road... self supported .. on the Tour Divide Race. Keep an eye on my facebook page One Challenge At A Time for blogs.. updates and photos. Please share and help spread the word. Together we can Fight Back against Cancer