Saturday, January 4, 2014

F4 4/4 Final part of my #festive500

Falling and failing.
But let's begin with frosty.
In fact this wasn't planned to be the final ride. This was to be the middle kicker to take me towards the 300km mark and then with 2 days to follow I had two metric century rides planned.
It had been a cold and clear night, with frost patterns lying thick on the cars parked along the roads. I really like the frosty kiss on paintwork; any vehicle is turned into an icy tribute to dazzle camouflage.
Layering up I set off to the Sunday club meeting point and waited until a lonely figure came along the road.

 So, just the two of us today then. Myself and a new lad, Liam.
a quick chinwag and we were off. Given the freshness of the day I thought we would press on to a cafe a close 20 miles away, then see how we felt after that and decide the rest of the route following.
Passing through Usk and along the Llansoy gliding club straight there were a few patches of icy puddles dotted along the road. Liam and I discussed the merits of mountain bike tyres versus road tyres on ice and slush, and I half wished I had come out on the cyclocross bike. Only half wished, mind. I enjoyed the mudguards and the absence of a wet arse on the road bike.
Through Raglan and the sun was kissing us with some warmth as we headed towards Mitchel Troy and the cafe a little bit along.
Coming down towards Skew Bridge we remarked how this side of the (main) road had seen more sun and was less icy.
Oh the irony.
I was a good few lengths ahead of Liam when I saw a thick rime of icy slush across the road.
Flagging the danger to him with my right hand I began braking with the back brake. The further I travelled the more ice I could see.
There was no chance I was going to touch the front brake, there lay a guaranteed crash.
The problem now was that I had been travelling at a reasonable pace; that section is downhill and we had been rolling along at a good lick to begin with.
With a car coming the other way I couldn't head across the line to what appeared to be only wet road.
I made the decision to head towards the grass verge, in the hope I would get better purchase as I got closer to it.
I never made it that far.
Liam said afterwards that the bike fishtailed suddenly and then I went down.
That sounds about right.
With the bike sliding out to my right I went down hard on my left side.
Head, shoulder, back, hips, then a roll and head, shoulder and arm on my right side.
The speed at which it happened was what shocked me the most. In comparison to the Mallorcan crash where it all seemed slow and somewhat bouncy, this was a vivid slam of body into unyielding road.
Bang, bang, bang and stop.
I lay there staring up at the underside of the bridge.
There is a series of checks that you go through after a crash, motorcyclists do it, and I'm pretty cure cyclists do it.
You get your breath back and then check the vitals. Can I wiggle my toes? Can I wiggle my hands? Can I see? Breathe? Hear?
It's a brief pause from the situation and after that is when, for me at least, the pain begins.
Lying there under that bridge this felt bad. I'd normally be quick to try and move from where I lay but for what seemed like minutes I lay there trying to get some composure.
With my feet and legs onto the kerb and the rest of me perpendicular into the road I was struggling.
A motorist had stopped and after checking whether we wanted him to stay, proffered the advice; 'you best get out of the road, mind you don't get run over'.
I'll try, was my response.
I did. Moving up and sitting myself against the bridge walls as a couple of ladies came down from the nearby house.
The smile hides the worries and the shock. It's always best to keep these things in check until something can be done about them.
One of the ladies, or it might have been Liam, had fetched my hat from the road. It had stopped any abrasion but I could feel I had taken a proper bang to the head. I could also feel my shoulder ached and felt crunchy. My hip and back felt hot with pain.
None of these things were good.
Liam and the two ladies took turns in talking to the ambulance control centre until a paramedic, Phil, arrived.
I'll spare the details but after ascertaining I hadn't broken my back and various other checks I was helped into the paramedic car whilst my girlfriend arrived to tidy the bike up.
I was and am so grateful to those two ladies, and Liam whilst I waited. It's hard to convey that when you're the centre of attention as it were. Thank you.
The afternoon was spent in A&E with various checks, X-rays and pills administered.
With my shoulder too swollen to truthfully diagnose, and with my back and hip given the all clear I was allowed out. It wasn't that I wanted to leave, and was in two minds when the staff nurse said she wanted to keep me in overnight, but my friends Jason and his clubmate, Sian had come down to race in the Velodrome that evening and I was desperate to find a positive in the day.
Fast forward several hours, easy if you're on tramadol, and we are down the Newport Velodrome getting ready to watch Jason in his first race.
With the air still thick of Derney bike exhaust fumes they set off. I couldn't tell you what race it was, and I certainly can't remember now.
After settling in and finding a programme for the evening it began to get exciting. The meet had brought out a whole range of riders; from league riders through to National and Olympic big guns.
Jason was next up in a mens Keirin heat. The Derney bike thrumming around and bringing smoke, noise and speed to the wooden boards. Jason got his power on but it wasn't to be.
As the night rolled on there was more and more racing. Sweat, effort and speed from all who entered the wooden boards.
Sian had a great final ride in the ladies Keirin. Sat on the wheel of the Derney with Katie Archibald and Dani King behind. How many times would she get a chance to ride with that calibre of rider. She finished truly empty. Her face showing a mix of emotions, from joy and excitement through to dismay. But what an experience.
With time called on the meet the assembled riders dispatched themselves and kit out of the velodrome, and the boards settled down once again.
I didn't make my target of 500km. I failed to complete. I experienced pain and suffering which I've not had before on the bike, or as a result of it.
Next year, maybe.

Friday, January 3, 2014

F4 3/4 #festive500

This should probably have been titled F5, due to the additional Friend who tagged along with me. As Boxing Day dawned cold and fresh I was running somewhat behind in meeting my friend Pete for another ride. This meant my early journey distance was curtailed as I took a shorter route to Pete's folks' house. Trying to look at the positives I was presented with a beautiful panorama of frosty fog washing down the Usk valley as I headed towards Abergavenny.
Ah it was good to breathe in the freshness.
Time was tighter today as I had to be back by 1 to get ready for an afternoon stroll through the woods with some friends from the village. After being waved through a barriered off road into Abergavenny and some Christmassy wellwishing at Pete's we were on out way. First distraction was a troupe of lovely riding ladies.

Yes, I liked the spotty horse the most too. Passing courteously it was good to have company with Pete along and we soon began to chat. I'm quite happy to cycle alone, and I find it sometimes meditative in experience. I also really enjoy having someone along whose riding I trust and whose conversation I can relate to. Pete is one of those people.
With some friendly banter we carry on along the roads. Pete also provides me with a bit of information on the bridge we cross as I pause to add more water to the river below.

I had never known it was referred to as the 'Army Bridge', thanks Pete.
Our route for today had been defined by me and as such I made a tiny mental route planning faux pas and forgot that the Heads of the Valleys road through Clydach Gorge actually was one large climb. I had chosen this route instead of going around slightly further and up Llangattock Mountain under the mistaken thought there was no real climb.
With Pete twiddling off ahead I had some time to admire the beautiful waterfalls either side of the road, and then the industrial remnants still standing from this heritage area.
A jogger and his partner were carrying out hilly intervals underneath the pipework atop the brick arches.
I arrived at the false flat to find Pete gently steaming and enjoying a drink. He remounted and tucked in behind as we headed towards Blaenavon. There was snow and frost appearing as we got closer to the final summit.

Snow on the hills and frost on Pete's sweaty back as the wind nipped at us.

At the crest we paused to take on some jelly baby based vittles and admire the landscape.
I really love this part of the world, so empty yet so recently full of huge industry.

Time and a cold wind wait for no man though and we pressed on downwards. Pete had been feeling the fresh wind and I grabbed some waste cardboard from outside a shop for him to stuff down his top in Blaenavon town. The old ways work well.
The other great thing about heading back this route is that it's all downhill. Well mostly, the little bits that aren't don't really merit a mention.
The damp roads kicked up spray as we sped through the valley, past Cwmavon with the old architecture of the mill, through Abersychan with life beginning to bustle around as the morning approached lunchtime. Then finishing off at home for a coffee and chat.
Good rides.

F4 2/4 #festive500

After a tasty full Christmas lunch the clock was ticking and I had yet to ride back home. I'd like to think the lycra was no snugger despite the food, but I'd be mistaken. The weather was certainly smiling on me a little more though, with an absence of rain cheering the skies.
Cheering me up was the knowledge that the first 16 miles were going to pretty much be downhill, which is never a bad thing. After a short climb past the racecourse and through St Arvans I was on a roll back alongside the Wye.
Tintern Abbey is always photogenic and Christmas Day was no exception.
I once had a dream about getting married there and it flooding but it was all ok as the organ was inflatable.
I digress.
The water levels of the Wye had dropped a few feet though the water was still a murky silted brown as it washed along. I washed along beside it and it felt like the miles were flying by compared to the previous days final slog. Over the bridge again at Bigsweir and a nod up the hill to my friends at Cinderhill Farm up in St Briavels, no stopping in for tea and cake today sadly. I doubt there was room to fit it in alongside the turkey and pudding.
The roads had been very quiet and I had almost seen as many cyclists out as cars as I came towards Monmouth. The High Street was deserted save for a few people ambling out, no doubt walking off the lunch.

The skies were darkening now as the evening started to creep in and the decorative lights were providing illumination as I rolled down the street.
Out of Monmouth and back towards Raglan and there is a lovely old rail bridge, incongruous in the countryside, that sits there as an empty reminder of times past.
Where the bridge would have crossed the Wye it has been demolished so there is just the stone monument in the fields as a visual reference.
The run back from Raglan always seems to be a nice stretch. It's a mix of ups and downs with nothing too taxing, yet plenty to absorb. If the wind is in the right direction as you head past Llansoy it takes all the sounds away so it feels as though you are riding in complete silence, with only visual cues to your motion. Sadly today was not one of those days and instead it was just another piece of road.
Fully enveloped by evening I rode into Usk. I was beginning to wonder what would be for tea. Leftovers perhaps?
The decorative lighting was still up and shining brightly in the Twyn Square.
With a surprising spring in my legs Usk was passed through and over the bridge the eponymous river had also dropped in level. The biggest surprise though came as I arrived into my home village. There were several dark houses, one of which had the alarm loudly going off. I diverted to the Police house to let them know, but there was no answer behind the darkened door. Climbing the hill towards my road little differences made themselves known. The streetlights weren't on, highlighted by the apparent brightness of car headlights. Houses were slumped in darkness with the occasional bluey white glow of a screen or tree lights. On the final ride into my road there were no lights at all.
Aha, the penny finally dropped; a power cut.
Shame really as I needed a shower!
After half an hour of sorting out and lighting oil lamps and candles there was a clunk and the power came back on.
For five minutes.
Then back off.
Then back on and stayed on. Brilliant, I could shower and rest.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Floods, family, falls and failing; my #festive500 1/4

500 kilometers in 7 days, the challenge laid down by Rapha in their Festive 500 2013.
After jotting down some route plans in my head and then transferring to paper to check their accuracy it all seemed feasible. Thanks to a slipped disc that had been getting slowly worse throughout the year my riding had been tailing off and a cold and damp 100km the Sunday before had left me under no illusions that this would be hard, but I could do it.
The weather seemed to have other plans as the rains came, and came and the came some more. By the time I was looking to set off on Christmas Eve there were reports of roads closed and more flooding to come despite the now blue skies. I wasn't even sure if I'd be able to make my destination for that day of Chepstow.
Sure enough the first river I crossed, the Usk, was in full flood.

But the road was clear and so was the sky.
On towards Raglan and with the wind picking up a little I noticed that the clear blue sky was being tainted by some dark clouds. This definitely wasn't on the plan.

I wondered if I my course would pass them by or if they would catch me. As I came towards Monmouth it was quite clear that yes, they were going to catch me. Discretion before valour and all that as I sought out a cafe to stop in to see the rain out.
It seemed as though the whole population of Monmouth High Street had the same plan as within moments of joining a queue for a brew there were more people queuing than already seated.
Sure enough though I got my coffee and Welsh cake.

The rain came and went and I was back out on the roads.
The A466 is a lovely road; it meanders as the River Wye does along the valley, snaking from one side to the other as it jumps between England and Wales. It also runs on a slight incline, and today I was going up it for the next 16 miles. The Wye too had been affected by the rains and although not flooding as heavily as it had in the past it was definitely pushing up.
I slowed at one point as I rode alongside to see the rough speed of the river. Somewhere around 15mph was my guess estimate and certainly fast enough that I wouldn't wish to paddle in it.
On over the bridge at Bigsweir and into the long, long climb to my destination of Chepstow. I was quietly congratulating myself at having avoided most of the rain and keeping dry on what was turning out to be a cold fresh day as I came through Tintern. With the light beginning to fade and a chill creeping into the wind I was glad I wasn't damp. I could see the road ahead had a good flow of water across it and noticed the sound of a car coming up from behind.
Oh they would wait, surely.
No, as I went through the flood, so did they overtake me and I was soaked from tip to toe.
Best pick up the tempo then to generate some warmth. Out of the saddle on the last few long uphills that aren't actually very steep but just seem to drag on and on as the road winds around the cliff edges and woodlands. Thankfully it was soon downhill to St Arvans which meant not far at all from the destination. Whipping past the Racecourse as the sun was starting to drop below the hills casting long shadows as it went, I was as near as damn it done for the first day.