Team Epic Fail (Jeremy, Frank and myself) headed down to Glentress for an early evening blast around the red route, in preparation for 10 Under The Ben in late May.  I took about 1h15m to get there, via the congested bypass.   The BBC weather forecast had been proclaiming doom and gloom for days.  But Frank was wise and told us to ignore them.  And it was just as well we believed him, because we got a great evening of riding.

This was the first time I’ve been back to Glentress since they added the singletrack ascent up to the top car park.  I didn’t mind the old road too much, but the singletrack is certainly more interesting, with lots of switchbacks and a few extras to jump and hop over.  I set off at what felt like my ‘default’ hill climbing pace – enough to be breathing heavily but still a pace I could sustain for a long time.  But it turns out, that’s a pretty unsocially fast pace uphill.  I was pleasantly surprised – it seems that all my road training has given an unexpected boost to my off-road climbing skillz, yay!

Unfortunately, my descending skills leave a lot to be desired.  Dropping down Pennel’s Vennel, I was too tense – not helped by clip-ins and muddy conditions.  And Spooky Wood didn’t flow very well until I made the discovery that sitting down whilst riding the berms made the bike feel waay more stable.  Normally, I stay up off the saddle on berms – but I always feel like the bike and me are hinged in the middle, which is a degree-of-freedom I could do without.   However, with my new patented sit-down-on-berms technique, suddenly everything comes together and the bike and me become one solid unit.

We opted for the blue return route, due to fading light.  Even though, the dense forest sections were getting seriously dark, leading to many ‘use the force, luke’ comments.   We dropped down off the road onto the soberingly fast motorway section (there really is a motorway sign there).  The last bit of the blue, back to the freeride area, was my favourite bit of the day.  It’s a mix of flat and uphill, snapping left and right, and Jeremy blasted away making for an irresitable target to chase after.  He was faster, but it was a lot of fun to chase a challenging target.  Lots of grins.  We rounded up with three or four trips down the freeride area and, for the first time, I started to get the hang of getting air .. it’s not about being a passenger on a bike which is going airborne .. it’s about going airborne yourself and bring the bike along with you.  Stand up, and imagine that you’re going to fly, and you will.  Mindgames!

A good ride! 🙂

The wind, the wind

I cycled the 65 miles from Edinburgh down to Auchinleck today, hoping to do it in maybe 5 hours because there was a bit of a headwind forecast.  It started out well – the climb up through Currie and Balerno felt okay.  But whenever I got out of the city I encountered the wind that would be my nemesis all day long.  The forecast said it would be 8mph, gusting up to 12mph.  This didn’t sound too bad – I’d done a shorter training ride in 20mph wind before.  But, having followed the A70 out into the countryside, there was no shelter and no respite.  The wind was constant all day long, making ascents much harder and sapping all the fun out of descents.  Even on the steep downhills, I could feel the wind pressing back on me, stopping me from picking up any speed.  And once onto the flat, my momentum was blown away immediately.  I spent almost all day in the bottom three gears.  After the first two hours, I was finding it hard going – and it took me a while to realise that, averaging a mere 9mph, I would be in the saddle for 7 hours.  I occasionally checked ‘distance remaining’ on the GPS, but each time the number was worryingly high and it didn’t seem to go down very quickly.  The only time the GPS gave good news was when I got down to single digits.  But even that good news was somewhat dampened by the realisation that I still had an hour of cycling remaining.

Jeez, that was tough.  I stuck at it, because it’s a training ride and I know there’ll be bad days during LEJOG – therefore, I need to get used to toughing it out.  At the end of the day, I made it.  And, had I not tricked myself into believing I’d do it in 5 hours, I think the psychological effect of the wind would’ve been lessened.  As it was, I felt the wind was fighting against me, slowing me down .. stopping me going at the speed I should’ve been going at.  But there’s no speed other than the one that you do on the day.  In some ways, I’m beginning to view cycling as an activity where you pass through air rather than passing along the ground.  I can do hills.  I can do distance.  But I need to accept that, on a windy day, the weather is going to choose my pace.

I did a ‘trial packing’ earlier in the week.  This (first!) attempt ended up with pannier + all my gear weighing basically 10kg.  I think my bike weighs something like 14kg.  And I weigh around 74kg.  Put like that, it doesn’t sound that much.  But, still, I’m not going hacksaw any bits off the bike and I’m pretty sure that removing any of my own limbs would be counter-productive.  So, prompted by today’s suffering, I’m going to rethink what I’m taking.  I don’t think there’s much wiggle room.  But any weight saved will make a difference.

The other lesson from today is that I definitely could benefit from lower gearing.  I got up all the hills fine, but the combination of full panniers and wind meant that grinding along in first gear was flavour of the day.  It could easily be windy on a hilly day during LEJOG, and I’d gladly sacrifice some top end speed (ha! the thought!) for some more options low down.  So I’m going to get a 22 tooth sprocket for the rear and see what difference that makes.

Food munched today: cereal + toast + tea for breakfast,  1.5 litres of water, two bananas, one jam sandwich, one snickers bar, two caramel wafers, one Wispa, one wee box of sultanas and raisins (today’s tastiest snack!) and three barley sugar sweets.

Todays lessons:

1.  Carry cash – petrol stations are good for chocolate stops, but today’s garage had a “minimum 7.50 purchase on card” sign.  I only had £1 in cash, and ended up doing maths puzzles to try and maximize the amount of calories I could get for my pound.

2. Carry spare food in case that tasty cafe you stopped at last time in Glespin is shut, boo.  Following my recent blog post, I resolved to stop for lunch like a good boy, but I was thwarted because apparently it’s easter and that means cafes are shut.

3. You can get sunburned even on a day where the wind is so cold you need to wear winter leggings and windproof jacket all day long.  I am a dumbass who thought to bring suncream in his panniers but not put it on his face.  Hindsight is 20/20.  What’s worse, I was cycling southwest all day long, so it’s not even symmetric.

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