30 August 2012

Camino de Santiago day 12: Triacastela - Palas de Rei

We only managed to get out of the albergue after 9:30am, possibly due to the long day we had the previous day. For once, we were not the last ones to leave; there was a group of four other Spaniards (two guys and two girls) who were also on bikes, who took longer. As we were heading out the door, I put my sunglasses on my head and one of the lenses promptly fell out. Not only was this annoying due to the sun, but meant my eyes wouldn't have protection from dirt/rocks/bugs that fly at your face more odten than you'd think while mountain biking. We resolved to try and find some new ones in the next big town of Sarria.

The day was already very hot when we left the albergue and was forecasted to go up to 35 degrees C (95 F). Immeadiately out of Triacastela we hit a pretty steep climb on the trail that saw me walking, and feeling very discouraged! A random local had lost one of his horses and asked if we had seen it. Obviously not. We then hit the roads for the descent and passed the sign for Samos, where we had briefly contemplated staying the night before, and we so glad we hadn't attempted it.

Descending through the clouds and into Sarria.

As we started the descent we entered into an area covered by clouds which was quite chilly, and addded extra layers. At the bottom of the descent was Sarria, a main starting point for those who are walking the Galician section of the camino. We found a cafe and had some coffee and pastries, and bought some freshly made bocadillos (sandwhiches) which we would eat later. I also found a bike shop very close by and bought new glasses, so it was a rather efficient stop.

Overlooking Sarria
After Sarria the scenery was beautiful and green, though tough on the bikes and legs; not as many walkers as we expected though. We also passed the 100km to go marker -- these markers with the distance to Santiago had started appearing once we entered Galicia -- and we thought to ourselves how small a distance 100km is when we're audaxing.

Alberto at 100km

When we got to Portomarín we stopped and had lunch in a park, and then went through the centre of town which seemed a bit run down, though it had a nice central street. We filled our water bottles at a restaurant on the high street, which the waiter was happy to do - this made a nice change as we had experienced some problems filling our bottles the day before. We told him this and was scandalised - especially as it was 4pm and well above 30 degrees. We had set our sights on Melide as a stopping point but realised this was a bit out of reach, so decided to call albergues in Palas de Rei and reserve some beds.

Galician cow.
We had another long climb out of Portomarín to Alto de Hospital, about 10km and a mixture of road and trail. I found this really difficult, again not due to my legs but the heat. We always seemed to be climbing mountains at the hottest point in the day. We finally reached the top, but it wasn't the last climb of the day - there were plenty more ups and downs on the way to Palas de Rei.

On one of the hills we struck up a conversation with an American guy who was walking the camino from O Cebreiro. He told us about a trip to the Andes where he had trekked to 15,000 feet in remote locations, but with a group that included a cook, someone to wash your boots every night, etc. The mountain cabins they stopped at even had hot tubs! We all thought it was a bit ridiculous.

Miguel climbing in the heat.

We finally reached Palas de Rei about 7pm. The owners double checked that there were only three of us, as apparently there was a group of four cyclists also booked in for the night. We guessed it was our friends from the previous albergue. While we were chatting to the owners we heard them receive a call from the four cyclists that they were still planning on coming, they were just taking longer than expected -- we knew the feeling!

The place had a bar-restaurant attached which the owner said was the best food in town. We were a bit put off by this and so resolved to look elsewhere. As we were getting showered, etc, Tim, the Kiwi cyclist, arrived. He had taken several hours off in the heat of the day. The four of us walked around town and had a nice menu del peregrino and we learned about Tim's PhD in ecology and his 6 month trip to Antarctica. How cool! When we got back to the albergue we also ran into the quartet from the morning, they said they hadn't reached the albergue til 9pm!

We went to bed knowing that, in all likelihood, we would reach Santiago the following day, as it was only 63km away. This left us with mixed feelings, and we couldn't believe it had already been 12 days since we set off from London. We toyed with the idea of pressing on part of the way to Finisterre if we reached Santiago early enough, and set the alarm for 7am - ever optimistic that we'd make an early start.

Stats for the day:
Odometer: 68.61km
Moving time: 5h30m
Stopped time: 3h15m
Max speed:60.4kph
Moving average: 12.4kph
Overall average: 7.8kph

28 August 2012

Ride report: The Kidderminster Killer 200

The season is going well. We've got a few 200s, 300s and one 400 km rides in our pockets. Some of them were tough, especially those in colder weather. But none of them, with the exception of the Dean 300, were particularly hilly. When I saw the elevation profiles of the Kidderminster Killer for the first time, I thought it would be a great idea to enter. This ride has been running for a couple of decades, and had just been taken over by a new organiser. People seemed to described it as one of the must-do classics, and I certainly agreed after I finished it.

The ride traverses Shropshire and enters Powys (in Wales) for a few km, before making a return to Belbroughton (south of Birmingham). Phillip, the organiser, had talked about the many meters of climb that featured on this ride. Some 3700 m, which on the maps looked more like 3000 m. Still, plenty of climb that would certainly test our legs. In a few hours I also convinced Lucy to come with me, but she would be doing a shorter version of the ride, yet plenty hilly as well with 2200 m of climb.

Kidderminster Killer 200 route
Time came and we got on a Friday evening commuter train to Birmingham. From there, after the obligatory picture (after all, Birmingham did not look that bad!) we headed down to Frankley, in the south of Birmingham, for our overnight stay. The routes out of Birmingham were not too bad, traffic was relatively light (for us Londoners!) and roads were wide. Yet we only saw one other cyclist! We set the alarms, prepared our kit and tried to get good sleep.

From Frankley to the start we had an easy 10 km mostly downhill ride. What seemed an easy spin to warm up the legs, soon turned into me being worried about an incredibly loud noise coming out of my rear wheel. With not too much time to stop and check it, we slowed down and got to the start for 7:45 am. Plenty of riders were lined up and ready for the off. On this occasion, however, there was a different vibe. No sandals, no steel frames (or very few), no mudguards, no carradices, no beards. On the other hand, loads of shaved legs, carbon frames, tiny saddle bags and super fit looking club riders. Not what we are used to in the South East. There's hills on this ride, and people know how to shave weight off their bikes/bodies I suppose.

5 min till the start and I managed to lock myself in to the toilet. I still had to check the rear wheel to see if there was anything abnormal about it. I started to sweat, as door was locked and my bike needed my immediate attention. And I did not want to be the last rider already at the start of the audax. Another guy came to my rescue, locked me out and I managed to get on my bike just in time.

Stage 1 (Belbroughton - Scott Farm Museum near Henley, 68 km)

Getting ready for the off
We set off in two groups. I got to start on the second group, but quickly managed to catch up with the others. Everyone seemed to be putting in a good average speed for the first 10 km, which then relaxed a bit once we were all in a big peloton of ~60 or so riders. This was very enjoyable, and we got a tow for a while, until the first bumps appeared. This formed the first few groups, and I soon got talking to the guys from Derby.

The Derby riders all seemed quite seasoned - no doubt, they do have a great cycling county unlike us in London. I soon learnt that one of them had cycled from Derby to the start, and intended to cycle back, making it a >400 km event. After setting off at 3 am, his plans were to finish at 1 am. Hats off to this guy!

Crossing a railway on a cycle path
The terrain was generally quite flat, although we were warned by the organiser that it climbed steadily and so we should not be surprised about a lower than usual average. I certainly wanted to take it relatively easy given the overall amount of climb that laid ahead. After I got dropped by the Derby guys, I got talking with Jim from Birmingham. He was doing this only as his 2nd 200 km ride, also his hardest and furthest (overall we will end up riding 216 km!). He was also sporting a very mediocre bike, which proved once again that the rider and not the bike makes the difference!

At 67 km we were more than ready for a quick break. Our ride also included a voucher for a coffee at the farm, which was appreciated. To my surprise, we managed to be amongst the first ones in on this control. I ordered a yummy scone with cream and jam, and had my cultural talk of the day.

I sat down with two guys from the black country which happens to be an area to the north west of Birmingham. I could tell accents were different throughout the ride. Jim was quick to point out that their accent was quite characteristic from that region, and I too was quick to mention my difficulties to understand it. After nearly four years in the UK I was embarrassed not to understand more than 25% of what they were saying! To make things more interesting, one of them made a joke about his own accent. Although funny for the accent itself, it was obvious that I would not be get anything. I tried to remind myself that I too have real difficulties understanding some of my own fellow Spaniards from places such as Almería or Málaga.

Farm stop
Being well fed and watered, Jim and I set off for the first hilly section of the day. We'd averaged 24 km/h thus far, which was not bad at all.

Stage 2 (Scott Farm Museum - Montgomery, 37 km)

Traffic had been pretty light since the start, but it was going be even lighter from now on. Country lanes and the first few hills appeared on the horizon very soon, although nothing too serious just yet. Plenty of sheep were seen along the lanes in this very rural part of the UK.

Rural Shropshire
Long Mynd was the only climb of the day that I had ever heard of beforehand. Passing the little village at the bottom of it, we were soon confronted with silly gradients that got me immediately out of my saddle. The UK does not have big mountains like we do in Spain, but the gradients are as challenging if not more than down there. I was soon on my biggest brand new 27 rear cog, without noticing any difference with my old 25, but tried to remind myself that it must be a little easier. Yet with that gear, I found it difficult and had to zig zag along the road on a few occasions. I observed how my fellow riders from the black country were too struggling, despite having a triple chainring!

Long Mynd, at last
The climb went on for a while, although the gradients relaxed quite a bit after the first few sections. I made it up in one go, passing a few others who had easier gears and were taking it easier. Also saw a few mtb-ers, which always make me extremely jealous on these sort of terrain.

The summit, or that's what I thought!
Once at the top of the climb, or somewhere near, I stopped to wait for Jim. I had reached the summit of the day, with nearly 500 m height. The downhill section looked nice from my spot, but I feared my rear hub making those ridiculous noises and having to take it easier. As I had earlier found out, I needed to keep pedalling if rolling faster than 30 km/h. That's fine if on the flat, but not on a descent. Pedalling while braking isn't nice. Also it does not feel safe to keep pedalling and braking when the downhill gradients are 20% and you want to stick your butt out of the saddle for added safety. This is why I do not ride fixed gear.

Descending the Long Mynd

The sun is trying to make an appearance on our way to Wales
In one of the downhill sections of the Long Mynd, we spotted a group of audax-looking guys coming out of a car park. I then thought that it may be a feeding station or even a secret control, but then I reminded myself that there is not such thing on UK audax. As it turned out later on, these guys were part of the CTC annual meeting which was being held in the Shropshire mountains that exact week.

After a few more climbs, we entered Wales. It was rather obvious as the signs were now in both Welsh and English, which always give you a sense of how far (and fast!) you can travel on a bike. 

In Powys, Wales

I think I will stick to Montgomery for now...
Montgomery was our second nominated control. We had one last hill into the town to climb. With a few other riders we decided to have some food at the Ivy House Cafe. Weather was magnificent now, and I somehow felt strong and wanted to press on, but then having food was equally a good idea.

A few other sweaty riders were already enjoying some of the nice meals in here. We got our stickers as proof of passage and I ordered the soup of the day, worrying that anything else would upset my stomach later on as it sometimes happens on audaxes. The service was rather slow, but the food was yummy and not too pricey for our London standards. 

Rather scenic paintings at the Ivy House Cafe in Montgomery with fellow audaxers
Almost an hour later we set off again. I texted Lucy, who was on the her 120 km ride, and made an estimate for my arrival time back in Belbroughton at 7:30 pm. "More hills to come" said the sticker, and another 107 km to the finish. 

Stage 3 (Montgomery - Ludlow, 52 km)

It was rather hot now, surely above 23C, and sunny, at last. Jim and I worked together with a few Breacon Beacon CC guys against some light headwinds for quite a while, until the hills started and we parted separate ways. The terrain was very nice around here, all bright green, with plenty of undulations, and no cars. Having this on your doorstep is something that I would love to able to enjoy, one day.

Montgomery, Powys, Wales

The sun is finally out!
These sections promised more hills, although not as high as the Long Mynd. The legs were starting to get a little tired, or perhaps were not as fresh as before the food stop? In any case, the first proper hill was the most challenging of the day. Most of the riders ahead of me were already walking and that worried me a little. The hill did not look particularly steep from where I was. It was all covered by thick vegetation, so you really have no sense of gradient.

I cannot walk on my road shoes with their big cleats, so walking is never an option. I have never walked any hill on this bike, not because I have not wanted to sometimes, but because it really isn't practical. At some point though, I was overheating, legs were hurting so much, and I became very thirsty. It was time to stop for a drink and some deep breathing. One the guys, who was already walking, went past and said he always walks the steep hills as he has not enough strength or the desire to tire himself out so badly. Fair point. I later learnt that he was a very experienced hill walker and he'd only taken up cycling a couple years ago! I reckon he got up most hills walking at an average speed similar to that of many of us on the bike.

The hills were short, steep, and relentless. The good thing was, we were approaching Ludlow, a town well known by foodies, with a couple of Michelin-starred restaurants, and the last official control. We were well within the times, but to keep the calories levels up, we stopped at the suggested café for yet more cake.

Ludlow, only 55 km to go
Aragons restaurant had an interesting cake menu, yet at very steep prices. Even for London standards. But looking at my companions' cakes, I had to try one. The sticky toffee pudding is perhaps my favourite cake in the UK, and so the choice was simple. Although it took them quite a while to serve it, it was well worth it, with locally-made strawberry icecream that would definitely challenge the best of italian equivalents.

Superb sticky toffee pudding
Stage 4 (Ludlow - Belbroughton, 60 km)

Jim and I set off just after 5 pm to tackle the last hills. The arrival in to Ludlow had preceded an amazing descent, that I could not enjoy fully due to my rear hub. Loosing all that height could only mean more hills to come. When you've done more than 100 miles, hills are not longer (that) enjoyable and you wished you had a triple chainring or even some mtb gears. 

The sun was still up, it was warm, and there was no traffic. Lucy had already finished her ride, so I felt I had to press on a bit in order not to make her wait for me more than necessary. Jim, however, was feeling the km and we took it a bit easier. I was still feeling ok, no stomach problems during the whole day, and legs going strong again. I think for the first time in a while I had done the correct thing with the food and drinks, avoiding dodgy food, sticking to soup, cereal bars, fruit, nuts, plenty of water and the occasional chocolate bar. I do not recall what town it was, but as I was riding along a lane, another rider pointed at some strange looking tower on the left. It was a replica of the Big Ben!?! 

Maybe this was day-dreaming?
Over the last 20 km the route got flatter, going through some nice country lanes. Towards the end I somehow noticed that I had accidentally dropped Jim behind. He did not have a front light and the sun was setting. I stopped, retraced and could not see him anywhere. He seemed rather confident with the routesheet and was local to this area, so I was sure he would find his way back to HQ. 

The last few km I tried to press on a bit. I was feeling hungry and the organiser had announced plenty of food upon arrival, yet I tried to make the most out of empty lanes, sunset and 20C.

I eventually made it back to HQ at 8:45 pm, 12:45 h after I had set off. I indulged on bacon baps, cake, more cake, tea, and plenty of water. It had been a tough day on the bike, yet I did not feel particularly tired or sore like I did last year in North Wales. 

The food at the end was a nice end to an amazing route. Philip, the organiser, and his helpers had done a great job and we will do our best to be back for more next year. Also well done to Jim and Davvy, both new to long rides. Not an easy 200 km, but they both finished it in good spirits.

Riding back to the hotel was uneventful, but in complete darkness. Yet I truly enjoyed cycling on country lanes in the dark. Need to put a few more night rides in before the end of the summer!

The stats for the day were as follows (plus around 3000 m climb):

- Moving time: 10h 25 min
- Stopped time: 2h 10 min
- Moving average speed: 20.7 km/h
- Overall average speed: 17.1 km/h
- Total distance: 216 km (plus 20 km to and from hotel)
- Max speed: 65.9 km/h

23 August 2012

Ride Report: From Clee to Heaven 100km audax

When Alberto decided he wanted to tackle the Kidderminster Killer 200km audax, I was worried. It seemed like a very tough ride. Fortunately there was a 100km event the same day, still plenty hilly with 2 AA points (the Audax Altitude Award, a  system in Audax UK for denoting hilly rides), but I knew that over 100km  I could handle it.

Happily, Paul, a guy we sometimes cycle with, was also doing the 100, so I wouldn't have to be completely on my own. Still, this would be my first ride without Alberto so I was worried about any mechanical issue that might crop up, or even a puncture wouldn't have been fun to deal with on my own.

My concern only heightened over the first 30km when we passed at least five people with punctures. I was seriously starting to wonder whether there were tacks on the road like in the Tour de France! The roads were wet from the rain the night before, which certainly contributed, but many tires were of the lightweight variety which just aren't as puncture proof. I hoped my Cotinental Gatorskins would get me round; they've never failed us on an audax.

The first portion of the ride was a relatively flat run to Ray's Farm near the village of Billingsley. We made relatively good time and arrived in good spirits. We had a  £1.60 voucher for Rays Farm included in our entry fee, which was nice, though since we would loop back to the farm twice I knew we'd definitely be spending more than that. I ordered a bacon bap and a Coke; knowing that we'd have to climb immediately after the stop, I was hesitant to order anything heavier, although the cakes looked amazing. The Coke had come in a bottle, and was a bit too much for me to drink quickly. No matter, I hid it in some bushes near my bike and would drink the rest when we got back to Ray's Farm some 50km later!

In the Clee Hills
We headed off again into what was meant to be the toughest section of the ride. We headed up into the Clee Hills and for the most part I felt great. I felt I was able to take the hills faster than I would have in the past (though this may have been psychological, without Alberto there to zoom up the hill at the speed of light!) and my legs weren't complaining too much. There was one hill I ended up walking part of - but so did two of the men I was riding with at the time, so I didn't feel so bad.

When we reached the top of this hill we stopped to have a quick snack and to try to send some text messages; Rays Farm was in a valley and we didn't get any reception there. I had a text from Alberto saying that his ride was going well, and told him that mine was as well. It started to drizzle lightly, which didn't bother us as it was still quite warm, although it made for a scarier descent.

We had been warned about the condition of the roads, due to some of the rainest summer months in a long time. They were gravelly in places, but actually not too bad, and although I had to take some of the descents cautiously, I loved the route. We were rewarded with many nice views and I was sad that I didn't have my personal on-bike photographer with me as there was no way I could stop to take pictures every time  we had a nice view.

We arrived back in Ray's Farm and I found my half bottle of Coke waiting for me in it's hiding spot. It was still relatively cool as well! The bacon bap had gone down so well the first time that I ordered another! Still feeling good, and surprisingly in touch with the peloton compared to normal, Paul and I set off for the final 40km back to HQ.

Severn Valley Railway
We crossed paths with the Severn Valley Railroad just as a couple was standing there to tell us that the train would be coming past any moment. We decided to wait and watch it pass, how often is it that you get to see a steam train go by up close like that, while out on a bike ride! As we were about to head off again a group of four others, two locals who looked like they had decades of cycling under their belts and two others who might have been slightly older than Alberto. We cycled with them through Severn Valley Country Park but separated when they used their local knowledge to divert from the route sheet to take a busy A-road for a more direct route back to HQ. It was faster, but we opted for the more pleasant route!

Around this time a strange feeling started to come over me. For the first time that I can remember on an audax, I didn't really want the ride to end! I've noticed that even on the most enjoyable rides, the last 5-10% of it is spent waiting for it to be over and looking forward to arriving in HQ. But on this ride, my legs felt fresh, the sun had started to come out, the roads were still quiet and the views beautiful, and I was a little disappointed when we pulled into Belbroughton at about 4:45pm.

The organiser had baked at least five or six different types of cakes and was serving bacon sandwhiches to boot! I had some cake (didn't think I could make it a three-bacon-bap day!), said goodbye to Paul, and watched the last of the 100km riders arrive and then depart for home again. The organisers showed me great hospitality, chatting to me and helping me make dinner plans while I waited for about four hours for Alberto to finish his ride.

As he arrived and sat down to eat, I couldn't resist any longer and ordered my third bacon sandwhich of the day. And it tasted great!

17 August 2012

Camino de Santiago Day 11: Foncebadón - Triacastela

We were the last ones to leave the albergue, as usual, and we only got on the road at about quarter to nine. We cycled 2km down the road to the cruz de ferro (iron cross), and saw the view to the East which supposedly stretches to Leon on a clear day. Then we headed on over the top of the mountain and arrived at the very top, Manjarin, just a few minutes after 9am to see the spectacle of a man dressed as a Templar Knight giving a speech about the spirit of the Camino and what it means, etc. It was all a bit cheesy and touristy but one of those Camino moments I guess.

 Cruz de ferro
Listening to the templar knight in Manjarín
We had made a plan that the guys would descend on the trail and I would take the road which follows down the mountain. Carlos (the previous night's hospitalero) had said that the camino trail was quite difficult even for walkers, so I knew it would be a nightmare for me and my poor descending skills, but the guys wanted to try it. So, we said our goodbyes and agreed to meet at a town a few kilometers down the road.

Here's Alberto's report from the trail: "On our way downhill, lots of walkers were surprised to see us on the trail. The Spaniards we had met the night before said 'why would you go on trail when you could take the roads?!'. Miguel was doing very well with the descent. It certainly wasn't as bad as Carlos had described, although I could see for a novice rider or a walker who wasn't in the best shape that it could be tough. We met Lucy at the agreed town to check in and then turned back to the trail while Lucy carried on on the roads, until we reached Villafranca at the bottom of the hill."

Miguel descending the camino
Meanwhile I enjoyed a beautiful descent down the mountain on a very quiet, well-paved road. I didn't take the road as fast as I could have, both because I was by myself and so thought it best to be cautious, but also because I wanted have time to enjoy all the beautiful views!

We cycled through the town of Villafranca del Bierzo, which looked like a nice town, but carried on further across the valley. We were following rougly the route of the new A-6 highway that goes all the way from Madrid to A Coruña in the Northwest corner of Galicia. Alberto's family lives just off of it, down in Madrid! It was pretty spectacular to see the big, modern highway passing high above us. We were going along the N-VI, which had been largely replaced by the A6 so the traffic was pretty light. In any case the Camino followed the left shoulder of the road and was protected from the traffic by a guardrail so we felt pretty safe.

The road was pretty flat so we just kept pushing on, stopping in Vega del Valcarce for a quick bite. Shortly afterwards we started to climb O Cebreiro. There was some confusion about how much further we had, as Miguel thought he had been told that the hostel of O Cebreiro was at the base of the mountain, but I thought it was at the top. It didn't really effect things as we were going to keep pedalling anyway!

In La Faba, we asked a local about the best way to get to the top. There were three options: the camino proper, which we had heard would be very difficult as it is very steep and rocky, a small road that is shorter and steeper, or the N-VI which was less steep but a longer route to the same destination. The man recommended the smaller road because it had the best views, so we decided to take that one.

We followed its instructions!
It was late in the afternoon by this point and the temperatures were around 30 degrees. Not when you'd ideally start the final tough climb of the Camino, but we did it nonetheless. There was very little shade on the road, and whenever a bush did appear we all pointed our bikes in that direction just to get the tiniest bit of relief. I found that my legs were coping quite well with the hill, but the heat was really taking its toll. I had to a few times under bushes to drink lots of water and let my heart rate settle down again, but really enjoyed the climb. We all took it at our own pace and soon were spread out across the climb -- looking to the switchback above me I could make out Miguel in the distance, and he in turn could make out Alberto above him.

Starting the climb
Alberto took this picture from his vantage point further up the mountain. If you look really hard you can see a slight blue dot near the middle of the picture, that's Miguel!
Miguel and Alberto found a fountain and stopped to dunk themselves in water, but at that moment I felt I wouldn't get back on the bike if I got off, so I continued on and soon was passed by them again. There was one merciful section just before La Laguna that was relatively flat, and even better was at an angle that meant it was completely shaded by the mountain. That respite was necessary to get us ready for the next section, which was an incredibly steep bit on the way out of the small town of La Laguna.

Alberto reached the top of O Cebreiro first (naturally) and caught up with Tim, a Kiwi cyclist who we had seen a few times on the road (although we had mistaken him for Italian for a while due to his tricolore cycling shorts!). Once we had all reached the top and had our rest and some food, we tried to figure out where to spend the night. Once again fooled by optimism and the Spanish capacity for understating the gradient, we thought it would be a fast descent down to Triacastela, 20km away. Miguel and Alberto teamed up with Tim to take the trail, while I would take the road.

View from the top of O Cebreiro
It turns out there were a few things wrong with this plan:
1. It turned out Triacastela was 28km away, not 20.
2. It was not downhill to Triacastela. There was actually a not-insignificant uphill for about half of the distance and then a descent to Triacastela.
3. The road we had been on prior to O Cebreiro didn't head to Triacastela!

Fortunately aboout 2 minutes down the road from O Cebreiro a man in a car pulled over and asked if I was on the Camino. When I told him I was, he told me I was on the wrong road! I had to return to the town and take a different road instead. I was so grateful for that man! I have no idea how far I would have gone before I would have realised my mistake otherwise.

I returned to town and asked at the bar just to make sure I was now headed on the right road, and sent a text to Alberto telling him the situation. By then we had realised that Triacastela was a bit further but it just seemed better to stick to the plan and head there, rather than try to change our minds once we had already separated from one another.

The guys were having a nightmare of their own in that the uphill was really steep and they even had to push their bikes up some of the hills! I took them nice and easy on the roads and eventually reached a downhill section. (Not before getting offered a ride by a taxi driver who was passing -- I turned it down!)

A few km before Triacastela I heard a voice shout 'Lucy!' and braked to see Miguel and Alberto through the trees on the side of the road. We said our hellos and agreed that we'd see each other in Triacastela soon. When I got to Triacastela, I started asking around at the albergues seeing if any had spaces. It was nearly 8pm by that time and many were full, but the guys arrived and we managed to find one that still had spaces, although not three beds in the same room.

We saw Tim arrive in Triacastela as well, but he opted for a casa rural outside of town for the night, a bit pricier, but might have been worth it for the opportunity to sleep in a room by yourself!

We stayed in the albergue Xacobeo which was actually quite nice, although a bit expensive. We managed to make it to the supermarket just before it closed and cooked pasta for dinner in the communal kitchen. We could tell we had entered Galicia because people had left the kitchen a complete mess and the place just generally had the atmosphere of a normal hostel; what a contrast from the night before!

Stats for the day:
Moving average: 14 kph
Overall average: 9.3kph
Max speed: 65.1 kph
Odometer: 105km
Moving time: 7h30m

15 August 2012

Ride Report: Rutland Ramble 200 km audax

In September 2011 we did a ride around Cambridgeshire where we met a guy who lived in Rutland. Back then we had never heard of what it turns out to be the smallest unitary authority in England, after the City of London. According to him, it was a fabulous cycling place, and so we included it on our to-do list straight away. I have also heard that is the only county in the UK without a McDonalds, which is yet another good reason to go visit it.

Conveniently, a new Audax ride had been set up by the Bedford CTC and we were quick to enter. We like to support new events and new organisers, and Bedford has good transport links with London. Came August 11th and our alarm set off at 5 am for a 7:30 am start. The route we had ahead of us was a lumpy 210 km, following a square shape heading west of Bedford, then North, then East and finally South back to the start. Navigation was meant to be rather easy (thanks to Paul for plotting the route). I would be taking my tourer, as I am still trying to break in its leather saddle. 

We had planned to take it rather easy, as we've been sort of idle for a few weeks due to my PhD exam preparations combined with the Olympics. Also the weather promised to be nice at last, so full value for money it was. We were both highly needing some sun exposure, as it has been rather dull ever since we returned from Spain after el Camino.

Bedford to Blisworth (42 km)

The start was uneventful, except for our fellow riders Dan and Paul, who were both late and would need to play catch up to the first control.  36 of us were ready for the off. Lucy and I set off on our own and behind the main peloton. We took the first 40 km rather easy until the first control. Bedford was surprisingly big, and took us longer than I had anticipated to get out of it. It seems that the nasty A428 was the only way west out of town, and despite being so early on a Saturday, traffic was not pleasant at all and we started wondering if the route was going to be the same for the remainder of the day. We are known to hate A roads and always stick to country or minor B roads when cycling on our own, but when doing somebody else's routes you risk these things.

Some sort of fog had settled in some areas in the early morning
At 24 km/h moving average, we got the first control in good spirits and ready for some food. Jackie, the organiser, had brought some Belgiam buns, water and some bananas. Paul and Dan arrived a few minutes later after I suppose it was a quick first km to catch up. From there on, the four of us would cycle together until the finish.

Blisworth to Wistow (54 km)

The second stage of the ride was just over 50 km, using quieter lanes on the way to Wistow. The were also getting a bit more lumpier, but nothing too significant, really. After our tour in Spain, we do not get too scared when people over here talk about hills. At least not when involving rides in the Southeast of England.

The four of us made progress and chatter along the way, making for a very relaxed ride catching up on rides, tours and other stuff.

Paul (left), Dan (centre), machaca Lucy (right)
The roads were also more scenic than in earlier sections, with some nice canal bridges and plenty of green farmlands. At one of those bridges we stopped to do something rather unusual for us this summer in the UK: apply sunscreen. I took the opportunity to eat one of my wraps and a banana, as I was feeling quite tired possibly due to lack of sleep the night before and also the fact that we had barely eaten any breakfast.

Having a quick rest

Love the canals
Shortly after this break, we made it to the control, where a kind helper was stamping our brevet cards. He also suggested we carried on a bit rather than eating at the café. It seemed rather busy and apparently prices were inflated. The helper was quite keen on learning about where I came from, which was mostly triggered by the fact that I was breaking the rules by wearing a jersey from a Spanish cycling club based in the Pyrinean town (i.e. Benasque) where I go skiing in the winter. I am obviously not a member of this club, but their jersey is cool and practical. 

We chatted to other riders, filled our bottles and intended to pedal another 10 miles to a different café in a town called Hallaton that would cater for cyclists at reasonable prices. Our controller was ranting a bit about audax being taken a bit too easy these days...but then I made my point: it's sunny! you've got to enjoy the sun. Remember that most UK audaxes will have to be cycled in overcast and/or rainy conditions. He agreed. 

Wistow to Alwalton (60 km)

With a rather empty stomach, we pressed on to the café the controller had suggested. What I thought it was going to be a quick 10 km, turned out to be more like 16 km (10 miles) of weird sensations on the bike. A headwind coming from the east was not helping. I was too hungry, tired and did not fancy any of the bonk rations we usually carry with us. I tried my best to wash down a few dry mango slices and somehow made it to the café in Hallaton. Once again, eating on an audax was proven a bit difficult this time, and have to remind myself to eat plenty before during and after a ride. 

Not really knowing how my stomach would react to food on this audax, I went for the soup, which is usually a safe bet. Also a milkshake that turned out to be chocolate milk, and a piece of cake. None of these was particularly great food, but did the trick and I got to replenish my energy stores. 

We left the café with a bit over plenty of buffer time on the next control. Even though we were taking it really easy and stopping plenty of times, we were still well within the limits. On a day like today, anyone can complete a 200 km audax, if well fed and hydrated. Even on a heavy bike like mine. 

Rutland was coming up next. The terrain turned a bit more lumpy and the views rather scenic, with the viaduct in the background.

First glimpse of the viaduct. Note Dan's perfect match of socks and frame. He is a professional of the rules.

The machacas and the viaduct

A nice sight
We made good progress to the third control, while climbing up some of the "toughest" hills of the ride. None of them really significant, but definitely slowed me down and had me on the granny ring a few times. The tourer rocks on the downhills, it is ok on the flat, but you can feel its weight on the inclines!!

One of the inclines in Rutland
Because of our slow progress, we would not make it on time for the café in Alwalton and so Paul diverted us to a Little Chef nearby. This was a truly new experience for both Lucy and me. Four years in the UK and still had not had the pleasure to eat in one of these chains! Lucy did the right thing by not ordering anything other than a drink, but I played adventurous and ordered eggs on toast. Two plasticky things came on top of two plain toasts. Never seen such a bad looking egg ever before, but hey, I was hungry and managed to eat them. Little Chef box ticked and never again.

Alwalton to Bedford (56 km)

I was glad to be heading back to Bedford. We were all a bit tired after the lumpy sections and headwind, although still quite enjoying the nice weather. Navigation was easy, sticking to the B660 for quite a while passing through some pretty towns including Old Weston, Catworth and Kimbolton (with its rather posh looking School). We were ok with time, but definitely not our fastest 200 km.

Quiet B660 and a few more km to go
Sunset around this time of the year is at around 9 pm, and according to our calculations, we will be back at the HQ by 8 pm. The terrain eased out a bit, and shortly before 8 pm we made our arrival to Jackie's house, the final control.

The organiser's house and final control
Jackie had some food for us. This was much appreciated as I was still hungry. Have learnt my lesson once again of eating loads on long rides. Looking back, I had not eaten more than on a regular day, and I had spent more than 10 hours pedalling. I am glad I did not bonk or anything, but have to sort this out for the future rides, even it means carrying my own pasta supplies and waking up even earlier for a big breakfast.

All in all, it was an excellent ride except the first stage with those nasty roads. The company was superb, and I am glad I could manage ok with the heavy tourer. The weather had been very kind to us, with the thermometers not going above 23 degrees or so. Perfect cycling temperatures.

We are now getting ready for a hilly 100 and 200 km ride in Shropshire.

The stats for the day were as below:

12 August 2012

Cycling to the Olympics

Tower bridge - Olympic style
Over the past few weeks, Olympic fever has truly gripped London, Alberto and I included. Cycling has  had an important role to play in this, especially because of Team GB's fantastic success both on the road and on the track. 

Last Sunday I went to Richmond Park to watch the women's road race, staking out roughly the same spot that we had at last year's London-Surrey Cycle Classic. Although it wasn't technically allowed, I managed to bring my bike with me on the Overground train so that I was able to cycle to Richmond from the station as I normally do. As I had hoped, it was slightly quieter on the side of the road than the men's race the day before, so I was able to get a good spot. It was still a fantastic atmosphere as we watched the peloton leave London to head into the Surrey Hills. There were plenty of cyclsts out to watch, and ready to take advantage of the closed roads as soon as the riders made it through. 

Awaiting the peloton in Richmond Park
I was all ready to relax in the park and pootle around until they came back through on their return to the finish, but almost as soon as the peloton had passed it started to rain steadily. I took shelter under some trees and waited for a while, but eventually decided to head home and catch the end of the race from the comfort of my living room! 

A few days later, Alberto and I had tickets to the women's basketball quarterfinals at the olympic park. We had heard a lot about the cycle parking infrastructure that had been put in place, and equally as much about the terrible queues to leave the Olympic park and get on the train back to central, so we decided to cycle there. 

We met up outside Alberto's work and headed to Regent's Canal which was pleasantly quiet at just before 5pm on a Tuesday. The Canal took us all the way to Victoria Park, where the cycle parking lot was located. We had heard that it was being under-utilised and definitely found that to be the case when we were there! The cycle parking is about a ten minute walk from the entrance to the olympic park and on our way there, we passed many bicycles parked to the railings closer to the entrance. Understandable that people wouldn't want to walk all that way, but we were glad that ours were safe and sound behind security. 

Cycle parking facilities in Victoria Park
After enjoying a walk around the park and some great women's basketball matches (Russia vs. Turkey and France vs. Czech Republic), we watched tens of thousands of people head towards the tube station while we took a different exit and headed back to our bikes, feeling very smug that we had beaten the queues! 

Outside the olympic stadium
The velodrome
It hasn't all been rosy -- London's critical mass ride coincided with the night of the opening ceremony and resulted in hundreds of arrests, and a cyclist was killed by an olympic bus near the park, underscoring the fact that while cycling may be increasing in popularity in London, the infrastructure is not being improved to match. 

Sill, it's been great being in the host city of the Olympics, even though we were initially skeptical that it would have a negative effect on our ability to cycle. Actually, the roads have been very quiet so if anything, cycling has been better than normal. If only we could convince all the cars to stay away from London permanently!