26 December 2013

My top five magic moments on a bike in 2013

2013 has been a great year for me and cycling. I audaxed less, but deepened my involvement in the audax community. I couldn't travel abroad, but cycled in the UK more than ever before. I did less intentional 'training' than I had hoped, but found myself stronger than I ever have been. As has become my tradition, here are the most magical moments I've spent on a bike in 2013.

#1. Winding my way through the mountains on the west coast of Harris: Our tour of the Outer Hebrides in April was basically magical every moment. Harris' west coast was so beautiful, we rode it twice (in order to circumnavigate that island).

#2. Pedalling against the patriarchy on the hottest day of the year: As part of Rapha's Women's 100, some friends and I planned a Feminist 100km ride in East Anglia. I had so much fun cycling with only women, and being solely responsible for navigating was a great challenge that increased my confidence.

#3. Volunteering at the Loughton control of LEL: Ok, so I wasn't technically on a bike when we helped out at the start and end of LEL, but we did use our bikes to get there. Audax is a truly inspiring community, and LEL epitomises everything that is great about it. It was an absolute pleasure to be a part of it.

#4. Rolling into Oxford after completing the Poor Student Perm: I haven't audaxed much this year, and in fact approached the last month of the Audax season without a single completed ride. It felt good to complete an audax, but even better to finish feeling like I had ridden just at the limit of my ability, but not outside of it.

#5. Rolling along the A93 through Cairngorms National Park: On our second tour in Scotland this year, we crossed the Cairngorms one on of the best stretches of road we've ever been on -- the A93, a day and a half of pure cycling bliss. We enjoyed gorgeous weather, quiet roads, and the company of our good friend Mateo. 

2013 was our last year of cycling in the UK for quite some time. Although I am so excited for our next adventure, I'll really cherish these moments, and many others, of our time there.

24 December 2013

My 2013 in pictures

As it has been the tradition for the past couple of years, here are some of my favourite pictures in 2013. 

January. Snowstorm in Epping Forest. This could well be a regular day in most of Scandinavia right now. But on a very cold and snowy Saturday morning, Dan and I set off to ride the fresh snow of the Epping Forest, still within the M25 of London. Even though we did not have any winter tyres, the snow was soft enough to allow some pleasant miles. 

February. Lucy (in pink at the front) leads a team of machacas including two serious ironmen triathletes down to Brighton. It was a typically English February morning, temperatures not much above 0 degrees celsius, damp roads and leafless trees. I rode this following a tough 200 km audax the day before, and could barely keep up with the guys (and girl!)
March. Pico Gallinero in the Spanish Pyrinees. Spain has some really good mountains, and lots of snow in the winter, despite what lots of people in the UK might think. It does get cold up there at 2600 m! I managed to pack a weekend full of off-piste skiing following a snowstorm the day before. 

April. The road to Tregaron on the Yr Elenith audax. This has to be one of the finest rides one can do in the UK. A 300 km audax, held in April, and superbly oganised by John Hamilton. It traverses Shropshire and goes into Mid Wales and back. The weather was typically Welsh (i.e. wet, windy, and cold) but I had a blast and wish I could return to these roads every now and then. Hugh, on the picture, kept me company most of the way.
April (II). Setting up camp in sunny  Hushinish. One of our most favourite cycling trips, if not the most, was to the Outer Hebrides in Scotland. We had sun 80% of the time. This picture was taken in the idyllic Hushinish beach, where we camped with a view of South Harris
May. Somewhere in Wales, with already 300 km under our legs, on the Bryan Chapman. This was my second ever 600 km ride, and the highlight of my audax season. The aim was to cross Wales South to North and back down within 40 hours and 8000 m of climbing in between. We had great weather, not a single drop of rain, and lots of sun on the second day. The company couldn´t have been better: Javier, a super-fit Spaniard also living in London, led the group on numerous occasions and put up with me for 38 hours.
June. Wearing a headnet on the A838 near Tongue. Scotland is known for its stunning landscapes, fjords and friendly people. But also for its midges. On a warm and calm summer day in Scotland, you get lots of flying tiny biting insects called midges. They can easily ruin your evening, as was the case. We ate on the go (literally!) and with headnets on. So yes, the photo was not taken on a Cambodian floating market, despite all looks!
July. The start of the London-Edinburgh-London. Having decided against riding this 1400 km audax, we did not hesitate to volunteer and give something back to the community that had worked hard for us in may of our audaxes. We registered riders from all over the globe, made baguettes and teas, cleaned, fixed bikes, and ultimately had a great time and met lots of interesting people. If you don´t ride next time, make sure you volunteer!
August. 5:30 am. The start of the Old 240 (miles) audax. A very wet, cold and windy hilly 400 km ride through the Yorkshire Dales. It took us almost 25 hours of real tough riding, where I very nearly bailed out had it been a bit easier to get back to the start. I completed my second ever super randonneur series, this time with lots of climbing points

September. Riding along the Schuylkill river in Philadelphia. Not all has to be long distances, rocky trails or touring. On a visit to Lucy´s family in Philly, we took on the trails alongside the river and simply had a good time.
October. 8 pm at sunset. A short overnight solo trip to Dunwich, on the Suffolk coast. Other than a very stiff headwind on the following day, and some heavy rain overnight, it was great

November. After the gales and rain, the sun finally shone. As a good-bye England weekend trip, Lucy and I visited the Peak District National Park, where we endured some heavy rain but still had a great time. In the off-season is a great destination to go cycle-camping from London

December. A crisp start to our climb to Puerto de la Fuenfría in Madrid. Back to my beloved Sierra de Madrid. Even though it was sunny and mildly warm initially, we encountered so much snow on the way up that we had to abandon our plans to climb to the Bola del Mundo at 2200 m. It will have to wait to warmer times, or spiky tyres.

18 December 2013

MTBing near Madrid

After a few days in Madrid spent mainly unpacking the surprising amount of stuff we had managed to accumulate in five years in London--and trying to cope with the psychological consequences of making a choice to be unemployed and homeless for a year--we were ready for a break.

Alberto suggested we take a route that was a favourite of his as a teenager, on trails through parkland that roughly follows the tracks of the commuter train into Madrid from his parents' home in Las Matas. We grabbed the bikes that were most close to being fully assembled -- Alberto's mountain bike and my Long Haul Trucker and set off into the late afternoon sun.

Alberto looking out over Madrid - the smog is startling though!
Despite it being December, Madrid was enjoying a warm spell. After dull, cold London it was thrilling to be in long sleeves without a jacket. A couple times we dipped into shady spots which were quite a bit colder, and even had some snow leftover from the previous week. We enjoyed some great views of the Madrid skyline and the trails were in great condition -- something I'm just not used to with most of my MTB experience limited to the Surrey Hills.

Crossing the railroad tracks to head home along the other side
It was a quick ride, only about 15km or so, but it felt great to be out on the bikes again and enjoy the time we have in Spain.

The following day we took an absolutely outstanding ride up Mount Abantos, above the town of El Escorial, but as we forgot to put the memory card into the camera, we have no photographic evidence of that ride! It certainly whetted the apetite for more off-road riding in sunny Spain though. Which is good, as we need to try and keep our climbing legs for Ecuador in less than a month's time!

01 December 2013

It's official!

We've told our families, our friends, and our jobs, and all that's left is to say it on the blog - we're leaving London to cycle around South America!

We've been talking about taking a long trip for quite some time, but of course it never seemed like the right time. It still doesn't, but we've decided to do it anyway. We've decided to leave London for good, and it just made sense to take a trip before we settle down again somewhere new.

We leave London on Tuesday, although you wouldn't know it by looking at the state of our packing. We'll be spending December with our families in Madrid and Philly before flying to Quito, Ecuador in January 2014.

We plan to head towards Ushuaia but don't have much of a fixed route at the moment. We'll see when we get there. We have no return flights either but we're planning to be away for roughly a year.

This is of course equal parts terrifying and exhilarating, and now that we can talk about it on the internet we'll be sure to share more with you as we get ready to step off this cliff!