I went out on a training ride today. It was my longest ride for a very long time, which isn’t saying all that much – i only break the 20 mile barrier in races. I managed to eke out 45 miles with some uppity climbs and far too much ice. I assumed it wouldn’t be all that icy. i was mistaken.
I had to walk a couple of times on account of hazardous icy descents, especially near Butcombe. The average temperature for the entire ride was a balmy 3 degrees. I managed 4,200 feet of climbing, taking in the scenic cols of Dundry, Blagdon, Shipham, Wrington and Belmont, with a 16mph average. Things were looking great on the way out, but the headwind on the way home had me grovelling.
On the plus side there was a huge twitch going on at Chew Valley Lake. Men in khaki fatigues and expensive binoculars lined the walls of the dam. Today’s unusual visitor was an Osprey, circling the lake in a flash of black and white with outstretched talons. The raptor was returning from Africa to Scotland or Scandinavia.
I’ve just about had enough of winter’s icy grip. Steve Douchebag is heading to Ireland in 4 days time for a saddlebag tour – taking the necessary kit for a sub-zero Nordic biathlon probably defeats the purpose of a saddlebag tour. Mike and chums are somewhere out into the wilds of Hereford as a warm-up for their visit to Belgium and return bike ride. I’m sure like most normal cyclists they anticipated maybe being able to use the armwarmers or a nice gilet, as opposed to the full thermal battlegear they are doubtless currently using.
Even the weatherman on the terrorbox the other day referred to the current unseasonal blast as ‘unprecedented’.
Base club is very much back on and we have a couple of new members, including the mighty Glyndwr and Tom ‘Zone 2’ Illet. It’s been a purely Bristol South affair; I can’t remember last year if we had any interlopers but the last couple of weeks have been unsullied by the colours of lesser clubs. The roads this morning were populated with lots of cyclists, no doubt swept along by the unceasing enthusiasm for cycling in the UK as it continues its remorseless grip on the mainstream, and also emboldened by resolutions. You can spot those not used to cycling at this time of year by the woefully inadequate kit. I would say the absence of mudguards, but there are hard-bitten racing snakes in the South who refuse to embrace the mudguard. As any fule kno, they ride at the back.
Tom was aiming to stay in zone 2 for the entirety of the distance. This plan was scuppered by our initial ascent of Blagdon from the lake to the top. Kieran hit his max heart rate. I wasn’t far off. I had a better day than earlier on in the week where I wheezed my way up Rhodyate and my legs lost any sense of being independent and fully-functioning limbs. For all sorts of reasons i forwent the extended base jaunt down onto the levels with the chaps and turned right to head back up the Gorge. I had intended to scuttle up Draycott, but it’s a climb that can destroy an entire ride in about 9 minutes: discretion won the day.
Riding up Cheddar Gorge turned out to be brilliant. Several of the other base clubbers had been up over Christmas and found a closed road, devoid of traffic but full of gravel and water. Steve mentioned how it had been the best bit of his ride back from Somerset to Bristol. I crept through the barrier and rode up in silent isolation. I felt the need to stop and observe, to breathe in the experience of being somewhere incredibly beautiful but with the rare luxury of silence and solipsism.
At their steepest, the sides of the gorge stand ominously on either side, two towering periglacial walls. I gazed up at the crows and jackdaws circling above the parapet of the cliffs and was struck by the majesty of the surroundings. With startling speed and ferocity a Peregrine Falcon swooped down in front of the cliff edge and attempted to take a bird out of the air. It was the sound that made me look up – of the swoop echoing against the limestone battlements, the air rushing past the tucked body of the bird hurtling downwards at anything up to 200mph.
The Falcon then climbed up out and circled around the top of the Gorge for a few minutes, scaring and harassing the other birds. I’ve been taking my nice camera out on rides lately, but this morning opted to leave it at home. I managed to get some phone shots.
After a few more moments of awed twitching, I pressed on up the Gorge and made my way back to Bristol. Nothing before or after compared with the peregrine falcon.
I have been building up slowly in anticipation of the New Year and the epic miles to come. Today I managed 34 miles and was just nudging 14mph for the totality of the ride. It was a blustery and damp morning and a visit to the Mendips was in order. The sun emerged at one point, startling the landscape and animals queuing up for paired tickets into the big wooden boat moored at Dundry.
There was a staggering amount of water cascading down from the hills, forming torrents across the roads and pouring out of hedgerows and eddying in newly formed plunge pools in the tarmac. The road surface of many of the narrower lanes had been scoured by the abrasive action of endless rainfall, taking away the topping and leaving instead silty gravel traps at the bottom of hills. The damage seems far worse than any winter I can remember, with the edges of the roads being eaten away at an alarming rate and pot-holes forming everywhere. Several roads were closed.
The random and infinitely strange world of the early Sunday morning bike ride made its presence felt on a narrow road near Butcombe. I was descending gingerly, trying to find a line between the run-off and the gravel and not doing a very good job, when I came across 5 ponies happily chewing the hedges. My training as an agricultural farmhand at Truro cattle market back in the late 1980s suddenly came good (truefact). I helped a lady (who seemed to be on first name terms with the herd) to get them back in the field. I used my Mercian as an impromptu gate across the road (might have been better using a Baines) whilst she somehow snuck past them further down to drive them back up. The exercise took about half an hour. We were going well until some utter schmuck drove up the hill and scattered the wild beasts all about, rather than stopping and offering to help or even blocking off the road to stop them from heading straight into the Augean gloom of Blagdon and eating the locals. Maybe the dumbass in the massive silver car presumed I was some kind of livery expert, what with my horseherd’s uniform of lycra, red jacket and Mercian bicycle.
One thing i noticed is that Horses descend steep, damp, tarmacked hills about as gracefully as I do, which was strangely comforting. Their hooves skittered and skidded across the surface and they looked really jittery.
After the unscheduled pet rescue I opted to head straight up Blagdon hill. I regretted this immediately but pressed on, breaking into the 27t sprocket I save for very special occasions. After about 15 minutes of pain and suffering I made it to the main road where I stopped for a banana. A couple of gents came up Burrington and stopped to chat for a while. They asked me if I knew the climb, said it was a tough one. All humility went out the window and I told them I knew it quite well having won the open hill climb on there riding a 65″ gear a few months back. I would be hard pushed to get up it in under 10 minutes at the moment, such is my wheezy, corpulent and christmassy form. One of the other chaps rode for the Clevedon and we talked about Argos bicycles. I mentioned that the Argos was a popular choice amongst the South, to which he replied, ‘I do believe Ernie Janes’ young lad rides a nice low pro’. I’m sure Allen will be flattered.
My chance encounters weren’t quite finished for the day; descending Harptree Hill I came across the Severn Club Run. They are attracting big numbers at this time of year; there were two of them. One of them was the National Hill Climb Champion, Neil Blessitt. The other one was John. I imagine there might have been some waiting at the top of hills.
Maybe, just maybe I might break the 40 mile barrier before the holiday period ends.