Friday, 5 July 2013

3 Peaks By Bike - Day 3: Scafell and on to Prestwick

A decent morning at Wasdale Head
A very early start to today but Wasdale was still fairly busy with fell runners (apparently some were up and down Scafell Pike around the 2 hour mark! Impressive) and marshalls for what appeared to be leg 2 for numerous Fire Service 3-peakers.

Thankfully the low pressure weather system and shifted eastwards and patchy high clouds allowed rare glimpses of the Scafell summits. The route up from Wasdale Head is fairly short but relentlessly steep. My legs felt a bit stiff for the first half of the climb and so I just settled in to a steady plod as far as Hollow Stones by which time I'd warmed up nicely and the legs began to feel good.
View up the Mickledore scar

Patchy sun
The summit was deserted save a couple of marshall's recording the Fire Service 3-peakers and a  Scandinavian lad trying to fit in as many Wainwrights as possible over a few days. Bruce's knee had started hurting (sounded like tendonitis to me) near the top and he was wincing in pain on the descent. Not fun. He wisely decided to knock the subsequent cycling on the head in order to protect his knee for Ben Nevis.
An unusually quiet summit cairn on Scafell Pike

A splash of colour on a drab grey summit ;-)

Traversing the boulder field to the top
My cycle to Prestwick was long and a bit of a blur really. Much of it was on main roads with surfaces as rough and pock marked as an acne-ridden teenagers face so my focus rarely got a chance to move towards enjoying the views. The A76 was particularly miserable!

Energy levels were dwindling around Thornhill and for the first time on the trip I resorted to a can of Relentless energy drink with about 35-40 miles to go. Boy, did it do the trick. My legs were GO, GO, GO after that!

My tired legs rolled in to Prestwick around 9.45pm at the wonderful Appletree Guesthouse. A friendlier B&B you would be hard pressed to find. They knew I'd be on the road by 6am the next day and so happily made a packed lunch for me to take along and told me to help myself to any breakfast before I set off. They also advised on routes towards the Erskine Bridge. I forgot about this the next day (I blame this on tiredness) and wished I had paid a bit more attention! We'll definitely stay there again should we visit the area.

3 Peaks By Bike - Day 2: The bastard wind day

The plan for day 2 was to set off early, cycle the 100+ miles to the Lake District and do Scafell Pike in the late afternoon/early evening. The weather put something of a damper on that. Forecast for Scafell Pike for later afternoon was heavy rain, 50mph winds with 65mph+ gusts. Not fun at the best of times but when tired after 100 miles of hard cycling it could be a tad dangerous.

With some regret I made the decision to postpone Scafell until early on day 3 with a view to revising if the weather abated and we made good time on cycling.

Rain and strong cross winds didn't help for the first 30 miles and it was slow going. Approaching Lancaster I phoned Cath to check see was OK and had managed to pack the tent away in the vile weather only to discover that her car wouldn't start (she'd managed the tent fine). Nightmare! All I could do was plod on and hope that the AA could fix it and see her on her way again. It was a worry.

Shortly after Lancaster - which, by the way, was a total bastard to navigate through - Bruce became a ghastly shade of grey and had to resort to the train. I decided to put the hammer down and try and make up time to see if I could make Wasdale for an evening ascent of Scafell Pike. The rain had stopped but the wind was now horrendous. A 25-30mph constant headwind that had me grovelling. I knew that I would struggle to get there by mid/late afternoon.  The roads also began to rise in the southern Lake District and some ascents were long and relatively steep.

Plenty of these!

I became inventive with my cursing of the wind which at times was slowing me to a crawl. On one descent of about 6% gradient I attempted to freewheel only to find that the wind simply brought me to a stop. Demoralising! The last 20 miles took me 2.5 hours! One hour longer than I'd expect it to have taken me!

I arrived at the B&B a broken man after 104 miles of hard slog. The weather had improved to the point where an ascent of Scafell Pike was easily possible (Jo and Rich had decided to go up earlier in the afternoon) but it was late and I was knackered. Food and sleep was the only thing on my agenda for that evening. Leave the climb til early morning ...

Thursday, 4 July 2013

3 Peaks By Bike - Day 1

Bruce, Jo, Rich and me ready for the off ...
The forecast was spot on. Rain. And wind. And plenty of it. Bugger.

I've been up Snowdon in worse conditions but this wasn't a nice way to start the challenge. Personally I found it quite exhilarating but Jo admitted to hating it. The rain was heavy and persistant and the wind was particularly strong near the summit. I'd estimate around 50+mph. Enough to make you really concentrate hard on your footing anyway! Suffice to say that views from the point at which the Miners track kicked up to join the Pyg track were non-existent.  The following pics from Bruce will give you an idea of that. When we got there the summit was deserted. Unusual!
Snowdon penny post
Lovely views!
Not a busy day at the summit of Snowdon
Getting wet on the way down
The weather eased on the way down and the last (flatter) part of the miners track was a gentle stroll back to Pen-y-pass in nothing more than a stiff breeze.

After a quick change and stuffing some food down we were on the bikes at shortly after mid-day. Slightly later than I'd hoped but hey-ho. I forgot my bike pump but only realised at the bottom of the Llanberris pass and couldn't be arsed to ride back up for it. I simply hoped that the p*nct*re fairy was on a day off.
Just 100 miles to go today
The ride itself was a doddle. Mostly tailwind and plenty of downhill/flat with no serious uphill gradients. I'd worried that the A5 would be busy but no, it was relatively quiet and a surface as smooth as glass. Lovely.

It got a bit interesting after crossing the river Dee at Queensferry and trying to work out how to avoid the busy A41 dual carriageway towards Birkenhead (you couldn't for much of it) and how best to cross the Mersey. Original plan was to enjoy the ferry but that would have entailed a 1-1.5 hr wait so we got the train from Hamilton Square.

Nice skyline but no ferry
It was quicker and MUCH cheaper anyway. Was a bit worried about navigating through Liverpool but Bruce did a top job of getting us through the with his Garmin gizmo. I know Liverpool has some impressive parts but we managed to miss those and pedalled through some depressingly, Godawful shit areas. All cities have them I suppose.

After the drudgery of Liverpool the roads became a bit more interesting (and hilly) as we progressed towards the campsite near Chorley.  And then, shortly before arrival, the rain came again. Very heavily! I was mightily impressed (and very grateful) that Cath, who is not a seasoned camper, had managed to singlehandedly erect our tent in such foul conditions. I suspect it involved some swearing.

Chilli and rice cooked on the stove, a beer and a tot (or 3) of whisky and it was soon gone 11pm and time to try and get some Z's. I didn't feel particularly tired, even though it had been a long day, but was soon asleep. It didn't last long. Rain and an increasingly strong NW wind woke me regularly as I worried about progress on the following day ...

Monday, 17 June 2013

Bike choice

I've been debating (in my head) which bike to use for the 3-peaks challenge, the cycling part of which comprises 500 miles in 4 days. When I did LEJOG in 2010 I used my Specialized Tricross and had no problems although I had some suspicions that the slightly too long cranks (who thought 2.5mm could make a difference???) contributed to knee pain. It's a comfortable bike with a fairly short reach that minimises neck and upper back pain over long distances. It also has the widest range of gears in my bike stable and so I was planning to use it for this tour.

However, on yesterday's long ride it became clear that the bottom bracket was on it's last legs. No serious play in the bearings but noisy and clunking like buggery. As a last resort to eliminate other factors I removed cranks and pedals, cleaned and greased everything and put it all back together today. Result: no change. The BB did feel rough when turning on its own and so I wasn't surprised. It might have lasted the trip but the noise would have driven me absolutely nuts even if it hadn't given up the ghost. No chance of getting a BB replaced before leaving for Wales tomorrow so it was clear that it wouldn't be coming with me!

So, step up to the plate, my Vernon Barker Audax :-)

I've actually been doing most of my recent riding on this bike anyway and I really do love it. It's probably the best quality bike that I own.  It has a compact double and so the gearing isn't quite as low as the Tricross but I don't anticipate any problems there. The only minor issue with it is that the riding position is a tiny bit stretched out and I can get some pain between my shoulder blades on really long rides as a result. No time to mess about changing the stem though. I'll be fine. It's (relatively) light and fast and will serve me well on the ride. I'm looking forward to it carrying me along.

A hilly 100

With the 3-peaks cycle challenge just one week away this was going to be the last serious training ride.  I only decided on a route taking in Holme Moss, Snake Pass and Fox House at about 8.45am while being slightly hungover and didn't get going til about 9.45am.

After an easy ride in to Sheffield the road started rising and falling through Worral, Bradfield and Midhopestones. Decided to stop for a tea break at Langsett (doesn't every cyclist in this part of the world?) and then on wards to Holmfirth and the classic climb of Holme Moss.  I didn't find it too strenuous thanks to the triple chainset and a lowest gear of 30x30. I was able to just spin up without any too much difficulty although my lower back was getting sore by the top.

A fast descent down to the Woodhead Pass and through to Glossop before another classic climb up Snake Pass. Again, not too bad apart from the lower back pain and motorcyclists passing far too close. More speed down to Ladybower, Bamford and Hathersage before the easier climb over Fox House. My legs were getting tired by this point and I needed much lower gears than usual on the short climbs between Sheffield and Worksop.

A good ride and now an easy week ahead before the start next Saturday.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Broken tent poles and England's highest point

A few days walking in the Lakes. Always sounds spiffing doesn't it? And indeed it is. Even when it rains (as it often does of course) and when you have to engineer some half-baked, Heath Robinson type repair as a result of a broken tent pole, in previously mentioned precipitation, for a crappy tent where the inner pitches first and ... oh well you get the picture.

And that is the point. In spite of suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (oh OK I know it's MY fault for continuing to use a crappy, albeit light, tent and, yes, I know it rains a LOT there) the Lake District is ALWAYS spectacularly rewarding for the walker and cyclist.

It's many, many years since I've climbed Scafell Pike and so I wanted to revisit it before next months 3-peaks cycling challenge along with @bruciestokes who is doing the challenge with me. Last time I did the full day route from Eskdale and so the route from Wasdale was unfamiliar and so it seemed a good excuse idea to check it out.  The original plan was to load up the bike, take it on the train and cycle to the campsite at Wasdale Head but I'd overlooked the fact that it would be half term and the trains would be packed! I was right and glad that I chose to go with rucksack only and camp on the western edges of the fells within walking distance of a train station.  I'll not dwell on the fact that I took a wrong turn and a 1 mile walk to the camp site turned in to a 4 mile walk!  I'll also skip over the whole tent pole episode that unfurled upon arrival other than to say that it involved a lot of swearing and then much appreciation to the camp site owners at Shepherds View who had some similar poles that I could fashion in to a useable repair.

The location of the campsite also gave us the opportunity to explore Muncaster Fell. This has to be one of Lakelands best 'little hills' although we didn't have much of a view given the persistent rain from low scudding clouds.

Our route up Scafell Pike the next day started in pleasant sunshine from The NT car park at Wasdale but the view of the peaks themselves was non-existent and so we knew it would be cold and cloudy at the tops.  We took the route up via Mickledore which involves a steep ascent up red scree about 2/3 of the way up the mountain. It's very hard work but affords you good views of Lords Rake and Scafell to the right. Well it would have done if we weren't in the clouds by that point. After following the cairn signed path to the summit and regretting not packing gloves we enjoyed the view (!) for a short while, forgot to drink the whisky from the hip flask, and imagined that, rather like the French, we were looking down on England.  We descended down the main path to avoid the tricky scree on the Mickledore scar. Using walking poles seemed to definitely help my knees on both ascent and descent and I was absolutely fine the day after too. I don't like using them but this serves to show that needs must when the Devil takes a small crap on your musculoskeletal system!

I'm sure my rucksack felt heavier on the way back to Sheffield but then everything in there was soaked anyway so I'm not surprised. Definitely a sign of a typical trip to the Lake District.

View over Eskdale from Muncaster Fell

View along Wast water to cloud covered Scafells

Most recognisable cairn in England?

What boots are for after a days walking!

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Injury woes

Bit of a setback with a knee injury over the last 7-10 days has meant zero training rides/walks :-( Not brilliant timing when you consider it is now little more than 1 month until the 3 peaks challenge commences.

I've struggled with patellar bursitis for quite a while. It has been a transient problem and hardly bothers me save for trying to kneel down.  This time, for some unknown reason, it flared up badly, became very red and painful, with pain spreading down my tibia and infection leading to enlarged lymph nodes in my groin which were equally uncomfortable. 'Like having a 3rd bollock' was Cath's rather erudite observation!  Blood tests and some high strength antibiotics (on last day of course today) ensued and at last it is now on the mend with the swelling and discomfort on the wain.  I'm not sure the antibiotics actually helped to do anything other than give me a pounding headache. Normally you expect infection to clear up fairly quickly during a course of them but this time it is only on the last day of them that I'm seeing an improvement. Odd.

Anyway, I'm glad that this appears to be no more than a temporary setback. I was slightly worried that it might lead to postponement of the challenge but I'm not contemplating that now.  Will rest it for this week and get back on the bike/in to the hills again next week for some gentle recovery stuff to get back in to the groove.