Sunday, 5 January 2014

Good Bye 2013...A Year In Pictures

 I know none of you give two hoots about my pre-bike 2013, so this is where my year-and a whole new way of life- started...and this is the (original) bike that kicked it all off, my On One Inbred (it didn't stay like this for long)!
I hardly remember riding without my RockShox, on flats - but I do remember the wheels and I definitely remember that saddle...ouch!

The Rinky Dink Pink Panther- 
as she is today, all swanked up. I just want to upgrade the SRAM groupset to a Shimano SLX 2×10 and I'll leave her alone for a while. 
In the meantime, however, if someone had said to me in January 2013 that by January 2014 my house would be full of 'bike crap' as I used to call, and that I would love it all, I would have laughed. It all started with a gentleman's agreement, if I went riding with Dave then he would come running with me. I guess I underestimated the lure of a good bike, I truly believed that I would be shit on the bike, fall off and Dave would never ask me to ride again. How wrong can one person be?
Put it this way, I'm long, long overdue that run - I got on that bike and never got blimmin off again!

The summer was one long series of camping-riding trips.
With Dave's sscc Pompino on the 1st of many camping/riding jollies, to Youlgreave in the Derbyshire peaks. 

I even had a go at bikepacking at the Roaches, in the Staffs Moorland. A memorable attempt that was rudely cut short at 2am by a couple of Brummie wideboys, who were seriously off-route and on some wanted list that led to the arrival of the local bobbies - and no, neither they nor us were much in the mood for a bloody party! Believe it or not, we were turfed out of our own camp and sent packing at 3am!! 

Whaddya wasn't long before Dave wanted in on the mtb action and got to work building his On One Lurcher, a 29er that I call the beast -if you saw it next to my ickle 14" frame 26er you'd see why.
Get me-posing for my trophy shot! These pictures were taken during a day riding up and back down the Carneddau mountain range in Snowdonia. It was a long day, but the rewards were plentiful. The trophy shot in particular was taken after we had clambered almost 300m up an unrideable  pass, through ankle-deep bog and around a 500m high drop-away edge, with my bike on my shoulder.
The only regret I've ever had is for all those missed years in which I could've been riding.

And my mtb year ends on a real high....with our first 3 rounds of the Dark & White mtb orienteering winter season- loads of muddy fun. We are currently halfway through the season, I think we'll be looking at our inaugural year with a philosophical mind, I don't think we'll be winning any prizes but we'll have picked up a trick or two for next year - we hope.

....a nice, shiny new bike - Lady Penelope, my On One Pro Carbon road bike (yes, number 6 to the GearlyBird/Cycleofaddiction On One/Planet X quiver - and watch out, 'cause we have number 7, a single speed for yours truly, in the pipeline...that's all I'm saying on that one for now).

Oh yeah...and this, my beloved got me my beloved Rapha gilet for crimbo!
Hope you all had a great Xmas and managed to get out there on Xmas day for a seasonal spin and enjoyed the quiet roads as much as Dave and I did....

And, finally - happy riding to you all for 2014

Friday, 13 December 2013

Buck Up For Buxton - Trailquest Round 3.

The third round of Dark and White's Trailquest, mtb orienteering season was held at Buxton, last Sunday morning. The email that came when the event was open for entry warned us to expect a challenge of the rockiest terrain and 'a test of navigational, mtb riding and endurance skills' - of the first order...and they weren't kidding!
            Dave's mtb'd, camped and bivvied all over this place, he knows what to expect, is he bovvered?                                           Nah...he's as cool as the proverbial cucumber!

Well, after the uber screw-up of the last round, which we all but missed completely, having arrived at an embarrassing time of 11:15(ish) when the last time for set-off is 10:30am. (Not entirely our fault, it being Remembrance Sunday all roads leading in and out of Bakewell town had been closed down by approximately 10am for the veteran service and march, our problem was that we weren't expecting and weren't prepared for this, had we been running a little bit earlier no doubt we could have still arrived in time- lesson 1 learnt-don't leave at the last min!). We threw ourselves upon the mercy of the organizers, poor guys trying to pack up for an hour in the warmth with a mug of hot choccy (until we rocked up, of course), and we were allowed to go out and see what we could do with the remaining 1 1/2hrs before the close of the event! It doesn't take a genius to work out that there was not much fun to be had on this day...unless you enjoy bickering and battling an ever growing feeling that you're wasting your time even bothering! But we did bother and I'm glad that we did because it drove us to promise that whatever happens in the future, we are still new at this, we are still learning and (this is the most important one) we are in it to have fun!
                             , head-in-hands-oops- I didn't actually get his name, but this fella was good enough to let me take a quick piccie of him just before he clambered about in his car to get changed and head home (all part of the fun, trying to get outa soggy tights and into clean nicks when parked up outside some very nice, respectable looking home with as much grace, speed and discretion that the front seat of a Renault Clio permits, in other words it's a bit like a baboon in the zoo trying to scratch his bum without anyone noticing - probably not easy)!

So, this Saturday night we were in bed by 10.30pm with clothes laid out, food/snacks/bag/car all ready - if it could be prepared the night before then it had been- I'd even filled the coffee pot, all we had to do was to get out of bed, drink our coffee and eat our breakfasts with ease and unrushed delight, brill! The difference that just a little bit of organised prep made was amazing, it set us up for the day, I'm sure. We left feeling unhampered, with our minds in the right place, ie; on the event, and feeling cool and calm enough to take whatever was thrown as us, oh yeah - bring it on!
          This is one that our buddy in the photo above was kind enough to take of the two of us. We had failed miserably to get any photos for ourselves so without the help of our mate above this page would be pretty damn plain. On that note; I hereby promise to do my utmost to find out our anonymous photographical benefactor's name and I will give him credit at some point in the this space. (The biking fraternity seems to be chokkablock with lovely people and it's just nice to give credit where due).

Well, waddaya know, Buxton brought it all, every rock, boulder and ankle deep cow turd that the ride could chuck at us it most definitely chucked (and chuckled whilst doing so). Check out the link if you have the time, it certainly backs me up. We were lucky in that Dave knows this place inside and out, in fact one of his oldest and most popular blog (cycleofaddiction) shots is from this route, of his own once beloved On One Inbred (sadly, it was stolen but isstill very much missed) taken on a bikepacking trip all the way back in 2010 (btw check the link esp. if you like Liz Hatch - and who doesn't really? - loadsa hot pics for the fellas)!

Anyway, never mind all of Dave's greatness, I just wanted to show how beautiful the Buxton scenery is, even when treacherous.
In fact, this time around I'm actually feeling a tad proud of my own little contribution. Unfortunately, I am far from being at a navigational stage, but I'm learning (I've forgotten more of what I'd originally learnt years ago than what I'm remembering as I learn a 2nd time time round, but it is slowly drip-feeding into my memory bank - better than nothing I suppose, and indeed hope). No...what I'm proud of is how far I've come physically in such a short time. I'm stronger and a little bit faster -I don't feel like the proverbial ball and chain, dragging like a dead weight behind Dave and only ever holding him back! I'd even decided to not come again and let Dave compete individually, to give him a fair chance. There's nothing worse than being well aware that the only impact that you've made on your partner's riding experiences is negative, right down to the fact that he has lost fitness and strength, due to constantly slowing and waiting for yours truly. It's a horrible feeling.

In the meantime I've monopolized the new trainer and tried dead hard to improve my stamina and strength and I've really pushed myself out on the bikes, road or mtb. I've noticed the improvement myself, but Dave says he can see the change in my body language and mental attitude - and Dave can be quite the task-master, he doesn't tell me any old crap just make me feel good. I think that as far I was concerned, me personally, I plateaued after I'd struggled with confidence following a few stumbles in summer. I knew myself, and I knew that if I could just get out for a few rides without falling that  my confidence would be restored, even if it meant giving the most technical parts a miss for a couple of rides. I knew that it would be enough to kid myself that I'd got my mojo back....and I honestly have gone from strength to strength since. We are all different, with our own particular foibles and I understand that the skills and techniques are the same for us all, but if you've got that mental block that is affecting your riding quality, then do whatever works for you. Fitness and strength are at the core of most sports, but if your head's not in it, then all the fitness and strength in the world isn't gonna give you the PMA (positive mental attitude) needed to be your driving force; the spark to your fuel!

With all the will in the world, until Sunday, I really didn't know what it meant to give it my all. I thought I had done on previous rides and former rounds. But, with a little bit of strength and an improved level of fitness, I was able to dig deeper than I had ever dug before and the best of it is...I just wanna keep digging and see what other surprises I've got inside me...and girls! Wow, the girls! There were loads, sisters doing it for themselves, by themselves or in all-female teams. I was so impressed, up there toe-to-toe almost against the guys - and some of them were positively flying! 

This terrain was not the worst I come across, but it was the trickiest that I managed to tackle without getting off the bike - result! Steep, steep ascents and very rocky descents...but that little bit of confidence (and a helping hand from Dave as we raced back to checkpoint, so as not to forfeit too many points - literally, with his hand pushing the back end of my saddle as we rode the final 28minute cat4 ascent - none stop) gave me the drive from within, I was really able to push myself in a way I didn't even know I was capable of! 

Unfortunately, despite all the pomp and prep we still missed out on 20points due to a silly rookie mistake, we didn't take note of our start time, only thinking about it about 10min into the event. So, in the end we came in 10minutes late and lost 20points for our misdemeanor, another incline to the learning curve that is moutain bike orienteering.... 

Check the link to Chris Mead Photography, he covered the day, this is a link to one of Dave and I, but there are hundreds more, muddy, ruddy and damn bloody goody!

Thursday, 5 December 2013

On One/Planet X? It's 6 of On One, Half a Dozen with the Other (Planet X)

I've not done a post for a while, I've been a busy little biking bee. What with the MTB orienteering, work and kids it's hard enough to fit time in for rides, let alone writing about it.

However, there is one itty-bitty thing that just has to be worth making the time for - a lovely new addition to my growing little family...

I know I've only been riding 6 months, but you know what it's like, the n+1 syndrome hits as soon as the bike bug bites and aside from slowly building a single-speed, I've been yearning after a nice road bike to keep the Rinky-Dinky Pink Panther (my mtb) company. Plus, I reckon she deserves the odd day off for a well-earned rest over the unforgiving winter months (a real meanie of a season to certain mtb components, as I am rapidly discovering).

Ever since Planet X added the Pro Carbon Ultegra to their stable, specially for us girlies, I have been mentally salivating over the thought of it (sorry ladies, it's now a SRAM Rival set up, we pounced when the Ultegra groupset was advertised on it, and had to pay up front then wait 7weeks for ours, so as not to miss out on the Ultegra)...
                                                                   Lady Penelope

Well, after a lot of hard work and hard saving, viola! Meet, bike number 2, my Lady Penelope. Yes, she's another one from the Planet X/On One family and if you have come across myself and the other half (cycleofaddiction) before then you won't be at all shocked by this. This one makes 6, with a single speed currently being built for yours truly which will make 7!

You just can't argue with a carbon complete build with full Ultegra all coming in at a penny short of a grand. They added my pink bar tape on request (no extra charge...and yeah, I had to get some pink on there) and Dave swapped out the standard Stratos stem and seatpost on the men's Pro Carbon for Dave (well it would have been mean if I got a nice new road bike and Dave didn't), for a rather nice looking Deda stem and seatpost that he'd spotted in store, all for no extra charge. Oh yeah, I almost forgot, it came with full carbon finishing kit and a Prologo Women's Nago Evo Dea saddle, rrp £119 (here's a link to Wiggle where you can get it for £76.79 at the mo)...lovely saddle, but it didn't suit my shape unfortunately and I've got myself another Selle Italia SLR Lady Flow, but in black and pink this time...why mess with something if it's what works for you? So I'll be selling my Prologo off towards the Crimbo fund!

The USP for Planet X/On One is their unmatched value for money, they really do make things possible for those of us with realistic budgets to consider (more's the pity).

I just have to give a mention to the Speedplay Light Action Chromoly pedals, I couldn't believe my luck when I saw that they came in pink. The Light Action, as opposed to Dave's Speedplay Zeros, are designed with the recreational rider, like myself, in mind. Ultimately, this just boils down to plenty of float and an easier engagement/disengagement, which suits me fine with the few little nervous foibles I have as a still-learning rider. The main difference between the Zero and the Light Action is all in the spring mechanism, housed in the cleat (whereas most clipless systems contain the spring within the pedal, Speedplay's is in the cleat). Both have a good level of float, however, the cleats to Dave's Zeros can be adjusted and set with the riders own desired level of float - from full, right down to zero, hence the name, Zeros! But, the best thing about all the Speedplays is the double-sided entry (not to mention the cute little lollypop look, fab in pink!)

Anyway, I've been out on her a few times (I've only just got her registered onto my Strava though so my road rides still read as mtb rides on there) and it's different from mtbing that's for sure, but I still love it. I was as nervous as hell at first, over-thinking the twitchiness of the 380mm bar, as opposed to the new, wider 700mm bar that I'd just swapped onto the mtb. However, no probs - it's all good! Perhaps the narrow bar that I'd had on my mtb for so long gave me a bit of practice with handling (I'm not the most graceful of riders, basically operating a philisophy of plough on and through - tough if anything gets in the way), but now I find certain skills from each bike help me a little on the other.

We've even invested in a turbo trainer (I might review that one next time, 'cause I know there are tons of them out there and it was a real difficult choice to make, especially if you buy online, like we do a lot of the time) and on those vile days when you really do not want to be out there, I've been fixing her up to the trainer and giving it some welly in front of the telly!

Finally, we made one last little investment, in a Shimano tubeless wheelset each, after spotting one on a road bike in the Planet X shop, we knew that after going tubeless on the mtbs and knowing the benefits, we just had to go for it...and we got two wheelsets and tyres etc for around £400 for the lot, not bad - plus we've already relegated one of the original wheels to a designated trainer wheel.

So, I'm off out on my nice new road bike, feeling mega-fit after the turbo-trainer...might whizz past you later!

Happy riding.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Orienteer This! A Baptism of Fire Into MTB Orienteering

Last Sunday really was a day to remember...everything I'd been missing all my life...MTB orienteering! God, I love it!

When Dave (the bf) came across the British Mountain Bike orienteering website I was a little ridiculously excited, I'd been pestering about geocaching for a while but busy lives often means there just isn't time to go  mtbing and geocaching...time being at a premium, mtbing has to take precedence. So you see, this just has the bloody lot as far as I'm concerned, competitive orienteering and mtbiking - lemme at 'em!
First of all we had to join BMBO - British Mountain Bike Orienteering, for the bargain sum of £6/an (and if you grumble at that then you're tighter than,! Once you've got you're membership sorted you can register for events.
Being on the doorstep to the Peaks our obvious go-to choice was Dark and White. Dark and White Challenge Events organize a weekly summer league (which, alas, we missed) and a winter league running from October to March (which we were just in time for the start of...yay), held all over the Peak district. Their winter season consists of 6 events across the 6months, each 3hrs long. The aim is to navigate your way around as many checkpoints on the map provided as possible, there is an appendix on the reverse-side of the map which describes the physical positioning of each checkpoint so you know where to be looking, eg; finger point at wooden style. Your progress is recorded by electronic dibber attached to your wrist. Different check points are worth different points, ergo the point of the exercise is to allot as many points in the given time as possible.
My lovely assistant, Dave, demonstrates the 'dibber'

  If you are not back at the finish point within 3hrs you begin to lose points; roughly, so many per minute but once you go past 30 minutes over you lose the lot! Dave and I defo fluked it this time...coming in with 2 minutes to spare!
Wrap up well and expect to get dirty....very dirty!

Sunday's event was at Hayfield...what could be better than romping about all over t' hills 'n dales of t' Peaks? Bloody nowt! We even ran into Nick Craig, fresh on his return from the tropical climate of the Langkawi Mountain Bike Challenge, no pause for thought for this guy...he went straight from that into this, and boy did he shift! Chapeau to the blurry fella speeding past with a cheery hello -  what a guy!
Everyone involved seemed to have a great day, I would certainly recommend it to anyone that loves to xc mtbike. The cherry on the cake for me, however, came a couple of days later when the results came in and we received an email informing us that we actually placed 2nd in our group...I had to laugh, though - there were only 2 teams in our group! Ah well; we'll get 'em next time!

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

On One...It's a rinky dink Pink Panther One Off!

MTB Upgraditis

This Upgraditis is a stubborn disease, I knew how contagious it can be having already fallen prey to it myself, but I wasn't quite prepared for how frequently it recurs - and it appears to return with added vigour each time. However, on the upside, my latest bout has resulted in some quality upgrades, if I do say so myself!
The boyfriend triggered the latest attack, bless him...for an early birthday prezzy he decided to treat me to the beautiful (pretty and strong) pink Chris King, Sotto Voce headset and ...
a rather tasty looking quick-release skewer, by A2Z (in pink - of course!) and...
this nifty Salsa flip-lock seat-post clamp (possibly the best quick-release & certainly the sexiest seat-post clamp on the market, with a nice and smooth cam-lock action).

The more observant among you will no doubt have noticed that this was no mild flare-up of upgraditis. In the top picture you will see that the old black gear cables have been replaced with Clarkes pink gear cable kit, with cable oilers to help keep the full-length outers running smoothly.
The real biggy for me, however, has to be the pretty-in-pink and just damn-well awesome, Hope Pro II hubs on Stan's Crest tubeless rims.
 To say that I've been lucky to get these upgrades is an understatement. Yeah, Dave, I am not worthy (how many girls get treated to Chris King?)...but the Hope hubs on Stan's Crest rims...well, that's another story. Dave and I found a site; On Yer Bike Cycles that offered Hope hubs in pink, on Stan's Crest tubeless rims, and for a very reasonable sum too. Well, I couldn't order them quick enough! Not only was I finally changing out clunky wheels for some light, tubeless ones, but they were gonna be real beauties in pink! Fast-forward one week and I'd heard no news at all about my lovely wheels so we called On Yer Bikes Cycles...and get this...turns out Hope don't do this particular wheel build...fight back tears...wait a mo...but...after a day of wrangling with the guys at Hope, these heroes of mine only flippin managed to persuade them to build the wheels! One very grateful email and a week later and my bike was donning the blingest of bling wheels that I could have ever dreamed of and I was feeling very special with my one-off wheel-build. I know that a lot of people are already riding tubeless, but this was my first time and the difference has been like changing from square wheels to round!
I love my bike...but I could not have it half as sweet as this without the guys at On Yer Bike Cycles...oh, and Dave - the thoughtful, bike-bonkers bf ...cheers guys, love ya!!

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Osprey Review - Boys V Girls Hydration Packs

If you're anything like my boyfriend and I, and you like to go off the beaten track (or trail) for a few hours then no doubt you'll be needing a hydration pack. There are loads on the market at the mo, but Osprey are leading the way with the addition of a women-specific range. I've used the men's Osprey Viper 9 all summer, but now have the women's version of the same backpack; the Osprey Valkyrie 9.

So is it really worth buying the women's specific or is it just another marketing gimmick?

Left:  Osprey Viper 9 (mens)    £58.50 (reservoir included) with discount card at Go Outdoors
Right:  Osprey Valkyrie 9   £40.00 at Cotswold Outdoor (3L reservoir separate for £28)

Osprey Viper 9/ Valkyrie 9 features:
9 litres
Lidlock Helmet Attachment - this little bonus feature securely snags hold of your helmet, pull it through the helmet vent sideways and release, it will snap back into an upright position and no way will your helmet fly free from this little baby!
Top Stash Pocket - waterproof lined and perfect for phone, glasses, keys etc.
Shove-It/ Front Panel Pocket - adjustable clip straps fasten this open-top pocket on either side, perfect for a waterproof jacket/gilet etc. The adjustable side-straps mean you can pull the pocket tight around your stuff to hold it in safely, whilst the quick-release clips on the straps mean you can get in and out of the pocket quickly and easily.
The Viper 9 comes with the 3L reservoir inserted, I added an identical one to the Valkyrie 9 as well, the Osprey reservoir has the handy feature of a Magnetic Bite Valve, which I love, not only does it mean that the bite valve is always to hand whilst riding, but it keeps it helps prevent those awful (I've done it myself, so I know how awful they are) 'dropped in the mud/sheep-poo at butty-time, and then stuck it in my mouth for a drink after' woopsies! Eeuw!! And of course it's lockable.

Boys V. Girls
There isn't much difference between the women's and the men's version, but the subtle changes that have been made do make a difference. Especially to the smallest of the female species, like me!
Side by side you can see that the women's version is shorter and slightly wider in shape, when wearing this translates to a far comfier fit. I found that I needed to lengthen the shoulder and hip straps of the Viper 9 so that it sat lower than it probably ought, low-slung around my hips rather than my lower-back. Before making this adjustment the top of the rucksack hit the nape of my neck and when in riding position, the back of my head - not ideal! Furthermore, the narrower width of the Viper 9 meant that the shoulder straps rubbed either side of my neck, even after all the strap adjustments I could never get the top of the bag to hang quite low enough to avoid this.
To conclude...if you're a short-arse (like me) then the extra tenner for the women's specific version is worth the splurge. It sits at a nice comfy position on my back and it does not touch the back of my neck, head or rub at the sides of my neck.
However, if you are nice and tall, man or woman...then I don't really think you're gonna feel the benefit of the difference and you may as well save yourself a tenner. 

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Packed Out at the Big Shakeout!

Last weekend was the BIG weekend - the Alpkit Big Shakeout, to be precise. The sun was shining and judging by 500 smiling faces, a great time was had by all. As I said in my previous post Dave and I volunteered our services as 'Shaker Makers', Dave generally odd-jobbed it through the weekend as part of the 'Hit Squad', while I tended bar on Friday night and worked on the gate on Saturday morning. 

I've gotta say how nice it was to spend a whole weekend with a load of people, all into the same kinda stuff. There were bikes and cyclists of all shapes and sorts all over the place, plus tonnes of climbers, hikers, scramblers etc, etc. There were some really awesome people there - Joe Beaumont was camped across from us, along with the recumbent from his 'In The Frame' impressive guy - and whilst I was on the gate on Saturday morning, I met one of Dave's endurance mtb heroes, Aiden Harding ... super-human and basically, just a super-nice guy! It was a shame that Dave was off-site doing a navigation course for the day. Nevermind, the place was chocka with plenty more people to satisfy anyone's need for a cool fix...

 Lookout, lookout it's Alastair Humphreys at the Big Shakeout!

On Sunday I went on a MTB Core-Skills for Girls course. This should have been with Campbell Coaching, but, unfortunately Ally Campbell broke her arm so the guys from One Planet Adventure stepped in at the last minute. They were friendly, but they were men, which was a bit of a shame 'cause I'd looked forward to some teaching from a female perspective, I've had lots of male coaching from Dave. Dave's a great teacher, and god knows he's had to dig deep for patience at times, but sometimes the male and female psychology are just different. I had hoped to benefit from a bit of empathetic coaching, it was a small issue but it certainly wasn't a deal breaker, so I got stuck in to the course with PJ and Dan.

One Planet Adventure are based  at the Coed Llandegla Forest trail, Wales. If you're a trail centre mtber then these would be great guys for you. They had 4hrs to teach a small bunch of women how to pull a manual, work a pump track and do drop-offs. Our group consisted of 5 women, with a huge disparity of skill and experience. There was one woman that had years of trail centre experience and it showed. She got quite a lot out of the course; the guys filmed her and helped her until she was hitting the manual dead right every time. At the other end of the spectrum there was a woman who was literally getting on a mtb for the 1st time (it was nice not being the greenest of the bunch for a change). Unfortunately, her hire bike was a utter bust; oil leaking all over the sussys, which just did not work  and a quick release seat-post collar that would not release. I have to give her credit though, she really struggled with everything, but kept plugging away anyway. Until...disaster struck right at the end, when she tackled the rock garden, that in all honesty she was not ready for - hell, I wasn't ready for it! Unfortunately, she trundled off a drop and onto the rocks, with no momentum and no assistance from the bike's crappy suspension, inevitably she hit a rock badly and went straight over the handlebars - very nasty! Luckily she was okay but I don't think she'll be back on a mtb any time soon.

I was somewhere in the middle skills-wise and, along with the other 2 of a similar standard, we kinda fell to the wayside a bit while the best and the worst got the guys attention. I could see Dave watching us from over by the tent, trying to coach me in sign language and biting his tongue while PJ flipped my stem back from it's negative position to help with the manuals - great if you only do pump tracks and downhill trails, but for the hills that Dave and I climb, I'd be struggling to keep my front wheel down (which is what happened before we flipped it negatively).

Other than that, though, I now know how to achieve a manual - it's just a matter of practice - same with the pump track. So while this particular course may not have been right for me, I reckon it was for most of the others.

There were loads of other things going on all over the weekend...but despite watching a film about some pretty awesome climbers ascending El Capitan, Yosemite in a day and all the other cool stuff and people all around, I reckon the most impressive guys by far were two particular little dudes off bike-packing with their dad and the Bear Bones bike-packing guys on Friday. My little boy is 6 and I guess these two boys must have been only 6 and 7 years old, but I would never in a million years have pictured my little boy bike-packing with me and Dave. I was awestruck, chapeau little dudes! My heroes!

Friday, 13 September 2013

Alpkit's Big Shakeout 2013 - Shaker (ya money) Maker!

                                                    The Alpkit Big Shakeout Festival 2013

In case you haven't already heard there's a fantastic festival coming up, created just for guys like you and I... that's mountain bikers, bikepackers and generally lovers of all things outdoors. I'm sure you're all familiar with Alpkit, especially you bikepackers. Voted Online Retailer of the Year 2013 by readers of The Great Outdoors, Alpkit are responsible for making some of the most expensive outdoor pursuits accessible to everyone with their high-quality gear available for affordable prices. Whenever my boyfriend and I go camping you can be sure that most of our kit is from Alpkit, and my recent debut into bikepacking couldn't have happened without Dave's fast growing cache of Alpkit accouterments; dry bags, the mega light and versatile MytiPot and MytiMug and I'm sure Dave will vouch for how well I sleep on their mats, both the Airo 120 and the Numo, (there's a really fat one available for lighter sleepers that Dave wants; the Dozer, ideal if you're travelling by car and weight/size doesn't matter so much). No, Alpkit haven't paid me to say any of this, they're just a really great brand...if you don't believe me check out their new range of bikepacking kit; framebags, dual ended airlock drybags, fuel pods etc. You have to be on your toes, though, because the world is apparently full of Alpkit eager-beavers and they snap stock up as fast as it's released. We missed the boat on a few items recently, but hopefully we'll be able to get our hands on some bits and pieces at the Shakeout.

Why all the Alpkit Shakeout blurb I hear you ask? Well, I'm dead chuffed to say that Dave and I have gotten places as Shaker Makers. Yup... we will be on hand all weekend to all Shakeout revellers, so if you get yourself along there I hope you keep your eyes peeled for Dave or myself and we will be more than happy to help - it would be especially nice to put a face to some of my G+ buds. For this we get a weekend pass and a pass to the half-day course of our choice, I've put myself down for MTB Core Skills for Girls, MTB Intro to Jumps & Drops or the MTB Ride Sunday Soother...I'd be perfectly happy on any. To be honest, I can't wait - a whole weekend spent among like-minded folk doing the stuff I love, from right in the thick of fave spot!

Other courses and events;

MTB Core Skills Session
Navigation Skills
Navigation Skills - Girls Only
Bouldering with Gareth Parry
Intro to Outdoor Climbing
Building Blocks of Lead Climbing
Climbing Escapology
Resin to Rock-Ropes
Resin to Rock-Bouldering
Wild and Wet Underground
Venture Canoes Derwent River Safari
Pyranha Kayaks Intro to White Water Rafting
Venture Kayaks Intro to River Touring
School of Adventure Photography
Spokes and Shutters
Plus loads more.... Mr Microadventure himself; Alastair Humphreys will be there to give a talk, there will be food, music with the whole general festival vibe going down all weekend. And if you don't fancy camping they have some great teepees available (I wouldn't mind a chance at staying in one - live in luxury for a weekend!)
Hope to see some of you there. In the meantime, happy riding!
My little boy, Harry, tries out a fat bike for size at the Alpkit stand at the Thornbridge Bike Fest, all the gear on the bike is Alpkits own.
(Clockwise L-R:Koala Seat Pack, Stringray Framebag, Sml Fuel Pod, Dual Airlock XTra held in place with Y-Front Harness)

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Zen and the Art of Mountain Biking #1

Okay, so there is this real rooty tree at Hanchurch, where I go mtbing with my boyfriend, it was always one of those obstacles that bumped my heart up into my mouth, but just lately it really seems to be making a nuisance of itself to me. So what is a girl to do when a little ole tree gets bigger, greener and meaner than the hulk on steroids?
Hanchurch Woods is a really popular spot for mtbikers from all around the region, even coming from further afield for some great, technical single track trails. It's been a long-term, firm fave of my boyfriend so it was only natural that he would want to us bike it together. We're lucky in that it's only a 20min/10km road-ride and we're there. In the 3months I've been mtbiking we've been there a couple of dozen times and every time I love it. I can easily see the attraction that draws local mtbike clubs over on a weekly basis, among the many more riders we pass by each and every time. There's a challenge for everyone in the varied forest terrain.
A quick snap of Dave at one of his fave spots

The single-track trail is a mtbikers delight left by the trail fairies in the middle of the night, it's packed with steep climbs, windy descents and plenty of technical obstacles to keep you on your toes. Admittedly, I baled on many a climb in the beginning, but as soon as I knew I my lungs were not going to implode halfway up I started to attack each ascent with gusto - including The Damn Rooty Tree (The DRT for ease of reference in future). I'm sure you all know the kind (and probably fly past without a thought), it sticks it's roots out most inconsiderately - creating a 2ft high doorstep to get over, followed immediately by a u-turn to avoid another large root, if you navigate correctly and maintain the torque you continue up a steep, sandy climb ('The rooty climb' on Strava), it's a great challenge to get the adrenaline pumping. I've ridden this particular patch god knows how many times, which made it all the more frustrating when my problems all kicked in about 3weeks ago.
I had my 1st fall a couple of weeks before my issues with The DRT began. I'd been riding clipless for a couple of weeks and had been waiting for my 1st fall while clipped in, to be honest after it happened I felt relieved and a little bit invincible! I'd built it up as something short of horrendous, life-threatening, so when it finally happened - I hit a ditch and bounced across the road on my behind and straight up onto my feet, then back on my bike. 'Is that it?' I thought. After that I suppose I got a bit cocky and more than a bit careless (my boyfriend will agree - I even got a bit cocky with him). Slowly but surely, the accidents began to happen, silly little slips and I almost came a cropper once or twice, but when I hit The DRT and fell something happened...I remembered the bloody thing didn't I?  The more I tried to forget, the more I seemed to remember and make a bee-line for it. 'Stop thinking about it!' Dave would say, as my blood and tensions rose; 'Duh! You don't say?' Poor Dave got the unfair ear-bashing and The DRT got the wheel-bashing, again and again. I just couldn't get it out of my head, until it became an issue larger than life and everything else was just filling time inbetween hitting The DRT.  I could do this part, I had done this part, what the hell was wrong with me?
To say I'd hit a psychological brick-wall (The DRT - my nemesis!) was an understatement. My confidence took a nose-dive (and I'm not the kind of person that oozes loads of the stuff to begin with) and I began to suffer anxiety on approach to The DRT, tensing up to the point where I could barely see straight. Granted, I've only been mtbiking a short time, I realise I can expect to come up against these challenges frequently, but when I say this root bummed me out, I mean, it really bummed me out! Then last week a funny thing happened; instead of stomach-churning anxiety, I started to feel angry, I was not gonna let a poxy root get the better of me - I know I can push my bike whenever I want, but I don't want! Just a tiny touch of the red-mist put things back into perspective and all the issues that had been swimming, murkily around my head cleared, and I could think straight again - I was able to focus on the things that I needed to be focusing on, and not just the giant mental image of The DRT, waiting to be hit! It was awesome, I rode it perfectly, almost in slow motion, in perfect control of my bike. I felt on top of the world, we had a great night in Hanchurch that night, I tackled a couple of steep, rooty descents that to be honest with you scared the pants offa me, while I was still riding on the adrenaline buzz...and then I came back down to earth and lost my bottle again! But, before that I had rode down two really technical descents that I wouldn't have attempted otherwise, and now I know I that I can do them, for future rides and I had one of the best rides yet...but better still, I had faced my nemesis and won!
Hanchurch Woods

It's true...ignorance really is bliss. When I 1st started mtbiking I simply followed my boyfriend (an experienced rider of 20 yrs-ish) along blindly, tackling everything that he tackled. No, I'm not expreienced. Yes, I've only been mtbiking a few months. But, I know that in some cases too much knowledge can be a dangerous thing, sometimes you need a little blind faith and a drop of courage to go on. I know I certainly spent too much time in thought over The DRT, until I had demonized it out of all proportion and I was left feeling demoralized under a cloud of defeat. It was only when the red-mist of frustration and anger descended that my mind finally cleared itself of the monster, reducing it back down to size; to a root!

I suppose the point I want to make in this post is for any fellow novices that happen to be reading, I want to say don't give up. This has been a big learning curve for me and I've learnt that if you want the skill for the art of mountain biking then you need the zen; you have to be philosophical when you fall on your ass (my boyfriend will love to see me saying that - it has to be one his most-used phrases to me during this period), you are going to fall, but if you love mtbiking you will get back on your bike and if you come up against your own Damn Rooty Tree, you'll beat it...eventually. Happy riding.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Criminally Bad Bikepacking

Last night was my debut into the wild world of bikepacking, it was an experience I'll never forget, but whether or not it qualifies me as a fully-fledged bikepacker now...well, I let you be the judge!

For the benefit of any other newbies out there, like myself, I have to reassure you that it wasn't a straight plunge into bikepacking, because, especially as a woman, I must be honest, I had certain reservations. So, over the last couple of months my boyfriend, Dave, and I have taken every child-free opportunity to broaden my mtbing horizons with a few bike-camping excursions, pitching on campsites rather than wild-camping. Things didn't always go to plan...

From Bike-Camping to Bikepacking in 4 (not so) Easy Steps

Attempt 1; (Don't) find a campsite by a major roadway
First, we found a great little campsite in Newhaven, in the Peak District, with every amenity you could dream of and friendly, welcoming faces all round, all for £20. No complaints there...until we realised that lurking directly behind the picturesque greenery was the A515, the main Ashbourne to Buxton road, literally a stones throw away and incredibly noisey. Ironically, Dave was the seasoned camper, I hadn't camped since my late teens, but I slept like the proverbial countryside log whilst Dave didn't get one wink, despite stuffing his ears with loo-roll the traffic kept him up all night long!
Nevermind... it was all forgotten the next day. The sun was shining (always worth a mention round here) and the scenery was beautiful. All it took to drag Dave back among the living was a couple of campstove bacon butties and a pot of fresh coffee. We had a great day cycling all over the bridleways of the Peaks, I shan't lie and say it was easy, because there were moments when I could see myself sponateously combusting out of sheer exertion, but I'm still here, so I must have survived (I remember Dave showing me our progress on the map at one point and the drama queen in me escaping to whine about the 20mile we still had to was more like 3.5!). However, as a first bike-camping trip it scored a strong 4/5; shame about the roadside tent pitch (maybe Dave would mark it more harshly) and whet my appetite for more.

Attempt 2; (Avoid) camping on lowland  Mooorland in June/July

Next, we decided that with a little bit of extra research we could find the perfect pitch and so off we went for trip #2; Hayfield, in the Dark Peak region of the Peak District. The Dark Peak contains some of the most demanding trails in the Peak District, which means lots of rocky hills, ie; tricky descents and lung-bursting climbs. However, we were in the midst of a long, long overdue hotspell and with only 2 days free I decided to just rise to the challenge and enjoy myself. We found a campsite secluded from any roads and right by a fantastic singletrack...great! Not quite..when thinking about the warm weather and choosing a remote campsite, we hadn't thought about midges. They were everywhere, in our eyes, ears, noses and for such tiny guys, they itch like hell!

...and that was just my legs! For this privilege, spotty souvenirs inc, we were to pay over £50 per night, what we had also failed to spot in our research was that the campsite we'd chosen was a Caravan and Camping Club site, ie; a bloomin rip off! Fortunately, it rained during the night and cleared the midge infestation for morning, we were lucky that the tent withstood the midnight winds (including the shameless chorus of a different wind coming from the next tent along!), because the previous night we'd pitched it with sheer blind fury (literally, we had tops covering our faces from the midges). I have since read again and again that the Avon SkinSoSoft moisturiser/body oil range is an excellent insect repellent, also insect nets are available from most outdoor suppliers for just a couple of £. Alas, Dave still didn't get much sleep; this time he had head, back and any ole' ache you can think be fair, he's a 6' guy - in a tiny, hot and sweaty 2man tent, itching from head to toe midge-bites, he's never gonna be comfy!
The great thing about camping, however, is when ride day comes, you unzip and you're immediately in mtb country and you know the second you pedal away the grumbles from the night before blow away in a cloud of wheel dust. The trails were amazing, we followed a route that Dave found and I'm proud to say I tackled everything that he did - only a lot slower! There were a couple of unrideable segments where we had to push through waist-length grasses up the side of a cluster of rolling hills, which seemed to just keep rolling and rolling. But, of course, they didn't and the journey down the other side was awesome - I actually caught air(?) for the 1st time.

                              I think my helmet's gonna fall off if it slips back any further!

3rd Time Lucky?; Trails are (not) normally easier than the guidebook says.

The next time an opportunity arose we were able to camp for an extra night so Dave and I decided we to go a tad further afield and set off for the green, green valleys of Wales. Dave found a great looking trail in the Mountain Biking in Wales guidebook, and it had a campsite on it, the Gwern Gof Isaf. Idyllically nestled amongst the mountains of the Carneddau, part of the Snowdonia National Park, in a pretty little place called Capel Curig, this campsite was quite different from the other two. Guidebooks would described it as 'rustic' and 'charming', and it was. Ladies, if you need sparkling white power-showers, hairdryers and plugs for your straighteners, then don't come here! It had toilets and access to hot water and drinking water and sheep roamed freely all over...leaving little 'welcome gifts' behind them... there was a heavenly absence of caravans and monstrous RVs, and all other unnecessary attachments to 'civilized glamping'. For me, this is how camping should be, after all, isn't the whole point to 'get back to nature'? The Gwern Gof Isaf provides as unspoilt a patch of the countryside as you will ever find. Even Dave managed to get a good sleep here, the nearest road was far enough away to look like a shoelace in the distance, and there were NO MIDGES, sheep, but no midges, go figure?! At 5am a friendly sheep rolled by our tent, stopping to serenade us for 10 minutes (replace sheep for drunken idiot and I could have been back home in my bed), and the campsite assistant 'knocks' on the tents at 8am to check who's paid. Still, nothing could tarnish my memory of this site, both Dave and I loved it..and all for a cracking £5 ea/night

We still had some creature comforts - (L).watching a bit of telly in the tent the night before the big ride. (R).The Afon Llugwy, taken during a stop off in Betsw-Coed for chips!
The ride was the biggest challenge I have faced to date. So far all had gone well on the camping side of things, something just had to go awry. Within the 30minutes of setting off we had taken a wrong turn...across swampland! By the time it was agreed that we were on the wrong track (I use the term loosely) we had been out for an hour and the campsite was still within view - a U-turn and a 2nd trudge through swampland and we were back on track. The guidebook did warn that this route was black graded and the tracks were often undistinguishable but we weren't prepared for just how rough a trail it actually was. To make things worse I'd recently had a couple of silly falls so when I found myself cycling along a drop-away track, 500m up the side of a rocky mountain, unsurprisingly my confidence dropped away too! After a while, however, and this is for all other shakey novices that feel the same...I stuck with it and soon overcome my jitters, and had an bloody fantastic day! Finally, I think we had the camping nailed, even if the ride was maybe a challenge too far for me...I still loved every second and would do it again in a heartbeat.

The trophy shot - I hoisted my bike up on my shoulder and carried it almost 300m up a unrideable pass. At times I felt like we were re-enacting an old Girl Guide song; 'Can't go over it, got to go under. Can't go through it, got to go round....'

The point is each trip carried it's own set of problems, but each time another opportunity presented itself we leapt at it. I'm not a tom-boy, I still wear skirts...and I'll let you into a secret - I am terrified of slugs! But, I threw myself into each experience wholeheartedly and I've had an interesting, hilarious, nerve-wracking and thrilling time. Think you're not ready...just jump on in, you might find you're better than you thought!

And on that uplifting note here's my introduction to bikepacking (or baptism of fire),

How (not to) Bikepack For Beginners

The plan was to bike from Newcastle under Lyme up to Luds Church, camp for a night  and continue on to Buxton and camp for the 2nd night before heading back on the 3rd day having completed a round trip of approx 75km over the 3 days. However,having never bikepacked before I had no idea of the preparation involved and just how long it took to pack the bikes. Needless to say time drew on and we had amend the plan accordingly, for once it turned out for the best!

We were well prepared - as you can see we had double checked that all was sound with the new tent but I was totally unprepared for how long it would take to pack the bikes and we began to run very late. We had to revise our plans-instead of riding all the way we drove to the Roaches and rode the rest of the way up to where we were to camp, with just enough daylight to see us through, planning to make up for the loss of ride-time the following day.
Lud's Church (aka Lud's Cave) near where we pitched the tent and the root of so much trouble!

I have to admit, I found the thought of surviving with only the things we had on our bikes and ourselves for a couple of days really exciting. It may have been old hat to Dave, but I felt every inch the intrepid explorer.'ll understand this feat of determination - yes, I even managed the much-dreaded wild-wee! We pitched the tent without a hitch and settled in, as quickly as we possibly could - there were midges all over us, again, but I was not gonna let a tiny little spec of a pest ruin my adventure. The new tent, the uber-light Terra  Nova, was a smidge tighter than the old 1 and we were cramped, sweaty and smothered in midges but it didn't take too long for the extra effort of biking up with the added weight to take a hold and we were both soon drifting off. And then we heard voices...literally in the middle of nowhere, gangster chat! When we realised we couldn't both be dreaming the same thing we didn't know whether we should laugh or hide my jewellery - but one thing was for sure, with a few grands worth of bikes sitting by the tent, we had to do something. Dave stepped up and got out of the tent for a scout arou, but the voices had reduced to a series of stupid noises coming from the trees, no doubt intended to scare us. I think I must have been a bit shocked and dazed by it all because I was finding it all rather tedious. Seeing as nobody was having the guts to show themselves Dave got back in the tent but as soon as he did so the tent was jumped upon by our screaming, urban intruders. Well, Dave just flew back out, shouting a few choice threats and told them to either man up and show up, or he was calling the police. Clearly they weren't going to man up so we called the police and explained the situation. Funnily enough, after the call ended a sheepish, young Brummie guy stepped from the shadows and offered his hand to Dave. But Dave didnt know if he had a knife, or possibly worse- after this happening, anything was possible! His friend stepped out equally sheepish, both full of apologies and desperate to shake hands with Dave and make good a ridiculous situation. Apparently, they had seen a program on BBC2 about Lud's Cave a day or two earlier and an urge too great to ignore brought them all this way in the middle of the night. Eventually Dave took his hand in an attempt to keep the situation calm, but warned them that the police were on their way. Our 'new friends' were far too worse for wear to care and after asking which way to Lud's Cave, and ignoring  our warnings about the dangers of clambering about the steep gorge in darkness, off they went leaving only a whiff of vodka behind them. After this we felt that we didn't need to bother the police anymore, and called back to say so, but they wanted to check out the situation for themselves. Before you could say 'Hawaii 5-0', we received a phonecall to inform us that 2 officers were already on their way to us, could we please look out for them. It wasn't an easy place to reach, so Dave took the torch and set off to find them...he didn't have to go far, and it wasn't long before the city-boy wanderers stumbled back onto the camp, straight into the arms of the law! Sadly, with a quiet word in our ears that our gatecrashers were a bit too well known to the Birmingham police for them to feel happy about leaving us here, we were politely asked to pack up. And so the trip ended before it had even begun with us packing up under the light of a police torch and pushing the bikes all the way back to the car with our friendly police escort. I wonder, if we had cycled all the way, as originally planned, would they have loaded our filthy bikes onto their lovely jeep and drove us all the way?
Here ends my induction into the wonderful (weird) world of bikepacking (or just packing)...I didn't even get a bike ride out of this one!

I know our track record of camping and bikepacking isn't the greatest...but is it really criminal?