Wild, wild life

I nearly got hit by a deer yesterday morning. It vaulted the wall on Belmont Hill in a serene arc with legs tucked up, getting about 4 feet of air, then skittered across the tarmac, inches away from my front wheel. A car behind had been waiting patiently before overtaking. I’m glad. I wouldn’t have wanted to go to work wearing bits of deer. It was very exciting and transient.

I shared the experience with my BSCC bike chums but they refused to believe it happened on account of it being solely a narrative account of lived experience, with no verifiable features; no strava log, go pro footage or still photography. In short, it didn’t actually happen because it wasn’t a digitised experience. Virtual life is real life, real life is unverifiable nonsense.

deer

Here’s a previous encounter with a deer that did the rounds some time ago:

Dundry, Parsonage Lane, Blagdon, Draycott, Shipham, Wrington, Belmont

I’ve been trying to rebuild my base endurance after it took a walloping due to illness and other factors. this involves the same sort of training as normal, but with some extended weekend jaunts out into the mendips, taking in at least a few hills. Today i tackled a ride i usually favour during a ‘build’ period. it’s not one for the faint-hearted or faint-legged, for a couple of reasons. The total elevation tops out at 5000 feet, hitting that all important 1000 feet per 10 miles marker. There are 6 particularly unpleasant climbs, interspersed with some opportunities for recovery. It’s really hard work and maintaining any kind of average speed above 15mph is very difficult, requiring considerable exertion on the ups and and on the flat.

The route starts with an ascent over the steep side of Dundry, and it’s very steep. It takes around 4 minutes, oscillating between 10 and 20% with not much inbetween. The hairpins are also very steep. It’s a wall. Parsonage Lane is much gentler, at around 6% for about 0.8 of a mile. After that, Blagdon looms large. It’s the nastiest way to get up the north side of the Mendips, rising up from Blagdon Lake to the highest point of the hills in 1 3/4 miles. The elevation pitches up to around 15% at various points and is never particularly shallow. It’s a climb I really like but it’s never particularly easy, just tipping over the edge of steepness to make it hard to find and maintain a rhythm. It’s used in the Colin Carfield road race where the action generally explodes.

After a brief recovery and descent of West Close – a hill climb course used this year by Team Tor and for the National HC in 2000 – it was time for the hardest, nastiest, most revolting climb in all the Mendips: Draycott Steep. It’s a climb most people avoid on account of its unremitting savagery. it’s hard to explain precisely why, but it could be because of its unassuming nature. Essentially, it heads up out of Draycott to the very top of Cheddar Gorge in one straight, steepening line. There is no opportunity to gather breath or recover. The climb is a mile and a half long; once it pitches up to 15% it doesn’t slip back down for about a mile. Instead it gently pitches up to about 22%; the increased incline isn’t immediately evident, you can’t see it looking up the hill, but it’s evident when you start pedalling in squares and the front wheel becomes light and unstable. I find the climb exerts a curious allure, it’s a challenge and every now and then i head down and have a pop. I’ve never had a good climb on Draycott, my only memories are struggling up and wishing i had something else other than the 39:25. It’s simply too steep for too long to get any kind of rhythm.

The hostelry at the top of Draycott

Once i’d reached the top of the Mendips my legs were a bit ragged. A rapid descent of the gorge and blast through Cheddar allowed some respite. I’ve never seen quite so many cyclists coming up the Gorge, small groups and individuals enjoying the glorious weather; i probably passed around 25 riders. I’ve always preferred descending the gorge to climbing up; it’s not much of a climb, to be honest, and the scenery is more impressive when you plummet down through, remembering only to ‘think goat’: watch out for the bearded ruminants who line the cliffs.

two cyclists dwarfed by the towering cliffs of the gorge

Shipham is a main road rhythm climb, rising out of Cheddar and back up the side of the Mendips. It’s not particularly nice because it heads past a quarry, but it’s relatively straightforward. After that I hopped up over Wrington, a short and very steep climb with amazing views across to the Mendip escarpment, then rattled back into the city, pausing only to direct some leisure cyclists (aren’t we all?) onto the railway path and point some day trippers towards Clevedon. A quick ascent of Belmont and super fast descent of Clarken Combe finished off the ride. Average temperature, even at 8am, was 78 degrees. Very very hot. In an unprecedented development I drank two full bottles of jungle juice. I feel like my legs might be returning.

cycling through the crepuscular murk

i like the word ‘crepuscular’. i’d even go so far as to say that it’s one of my favourites. yesterday’s training ride was entirely crepuscular. i ventured out into a calm and quiet evening, eager to get a good hour and a half in with some big climbs before the scheduled club meeting. the pace was good – i felt liberated and emboldened by the absence of the bullying winds, and i slowly began the climb up and out of Bristol.

Dundry was shrouded in a dense fog, the orange lights bled a murky glow onto the hillside and the fog flowed in waves across my bike light (hope vision one, in case you’re asking, a staple of the past three winters and the perfect country lane light). i enjoyed the surreal and otherworldly glow, felt safe and secure and was riding well. still nights or mornings with fog are beautiful. sometimes in spring i can ride through the fog and see the sunrise and experience the ethereal beauty of the morning, and when i get to work all i have is the vague memory of something different; my colleagues arrive and they are unaware of the spectral beauty that i have experienced on my way to work; all traces have been expunged by the sun’s diurnal progress. i feel privileged.

i inched my way down dundry carefully, visibility was a bit restricted, but not too much. by the time i’d arrived at redhill the fog had closed in. i turned up into the woods and swifty found i couldn’t see much further than around 10 feet; car lights approached as a nebulous glow, and my headlight seemed to dissipate and bounce off the droplets in the air. it was spectacular, and daunting. i know the road well, and yet at one point the branches and trees closed in and I lost all familiar references; for a fleeting few moments my mind meandered and i felt as though i might be entering a different dimension in time and space – i thought it was the road to backwell, but it could well have been a shortcut to some fantastical land. it was quite an experience. at its thickest, the fog was sufficient for cars i met to come to a complete stop and wait for me to pass, such was its encompassing power. i dropped back down to the valley and was pleased to be able to once again recognise landmarks.

on my way back in to Bristol i came up and over the suspension bridge. i am unfailingly moved by the scale and wonder of this feature. it’s fantastic. i try to factor it into as many rides as i can, and regularly ride over it in the early mornings. it’s one of the many remarkable features of the city.

fog up on dundry, where it flows among green aits and meadows
   fog down on belmont, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of traffic
a nether sky of fog, with fog all around
the bridge