Monday, 30 May 2011

The Wolds, the Wind, and Some Asparagus

This weekend we had our second attempt at a circular route through the Yorkshire Wolds, via the town of Pocklington. We found this route in our Big Skies Bike Rides booklet, which shows off a number of amazing cycle routes through the Yorkshire Wolds. We'd attempted the Pocklington ride last autumn when I was recovering from a nasty cold, and sadly my lungs just couldn't cope with some of the long hills typical of the area, so we gave up and came home (after desperately searching for a train station that just didn't exist!).

We took the now-familiar Route 66 to Pocklington, which is a cycling dream with long, flat roads, very few cars and fantastic scenery. From Pocklington we headed upwards - quite literally - into the Yorkshire Wolds, a hilly ridge of sparse farmland seperating the Yorkshire Dales from the East Coast. The difference between the Wolds and the Howardian hills lies in the drama of the landscape. The Wolds don't boast such torturous ascents as Bulmer Bank - the gradients are much more kindly in both directions - but instead the climbs are long and unexpected, and by the time adrenaline is required to power through the tougest gradients, the legs have just about run out of steam! The scenery is also very different; the Wolds are very rural, but without the picturesque, chocolate-box pleasantries of the Dales and other parts of Yorkshire. Huge bullocks graze on grassy verges, and roads twist and climb through the valleys, with hills upon hills spreading out into the distance.

We got to Pocklington and managed most of the way around the circular route fine, and I was getting a little complacent as we approached the final quarter of the 17-mile tour around the Wolds. But then the threatening skies started to break, and we found the winds, which had been in our favour for the first 30 miles, were suddenly against us, bellowing in our ears and making it impossible to concentrate on anything but pedalling over and over, as furiously as we could.

The winds were relentless, and it was completely exhausting. We stopped off back in Pocklington for a Soreen re-fuel, and it would be fair to say that spirits were rather low: getting back was going to be tough. We had already committed to stopping off for some of England's best asparagus at Sand Hutton, so we headed back on a different route, adding a few extra miles to our belt to boot. We bought the asparagus from a cart in the farmyard, leaving our change in a little box on the stall; these 'honesty boxes' are very common in the area, and in every village there are eggs on sale by the side of the road, left for passers-by to help themselves to for only £1.80/dozen.

The last few miles were by far the toughest, and seemed to drag by unbearably slowly. The wind was blasting in our faces, making every mile double the effort, and by the time we got back to York it felt as if we'd done 80 miles rather than 60. It all came to a head when I managed to fall off my bike in a carpark while on the way to pick up some food for tea! My bike fell to the floor and I followed suit, managing to save myself in a rather undignified lunge over the bike!

As we arrived home it struck me that the skies were blue and the wind had calmed. Typical. Still, we took the opportunity to give the bikes a good clean before putting them away for the night, as this is never a fun job for the following day!

And, for the record, we roasted the asparagus in olive oil, and it was amazing. Definitely worth the de-tour!

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Spin to Win!

So, we braved it! Last week we hit the gym for the first of our spinning classes, taking the less fun and more difficult option when it comes to getting good on the bike. No hills in York's surrounding area means that we have to get a huge gym-instructor intent on reducing us to mush to create them, and he definitely did that!

We've both tried spinning before so we knew what was in store, but neither of us appear to have tried it in a listed building with no air conditioning to speak of. The open window wasn't too much help, unfortunately, and there was soon a puddle of sweat around each of our bikes, dripping off the handlebars in a rather satisfying fashion.

So, of course, it was hard, we were tired and wobbly, there were times when we wanted to give up or cry or fall off the bike. I suffered from intermittent cramp in my foot, and during the handlebar press-ups I was quite sure that I would slip right over the front of the bike thanks to the general soggyness of everything I touched.

All things considered, I actually really enjoyed it, in a dazed, should-have-had-a-banana-first sort of way. How often do I have a triangular man shouting at me unsympathetically because I can't go any faster than my actual fastest? Never! It's also worth mentioning that he did mumble the word 'good' to me when checking my pace and brake-tension at one point: I had to hold back from cheering (he turned up the dial on everyone else's bikes, mwa haha)!

From the brilliant film Run, Fat Boy, Run
So yes, it was deathly, but in a good, sweaty, give-it-your-all sort of way. And I felt amazing afterwards!

Monday, 16 May 2011

The Big Bike Ride 2011 - Wetherby(ish) to Scarborough

This was our first chance to get a taste of an organised cycling event - with support vehicles, signposts (!), a designated chocolate bar stop, and 160-odd other cyclists to boot! The Big Bike Ride is in aid of Andrea's Gift foundation, a charity that funds research into brain tumours throughout the Yorkshire region. The Big Bike Ride is an annual cycle from Wetherby and up to the wind-swept East Yorkshire coastal town of Scarborough, where fish and chips await.
We set off  at 7am with blue skies overhead, but a suspect weather forecast lurking near the front of our minds, carrying plenty of carbohydrates and water on our backs and bike frames. Though the route started at Wetherby it had been agreed that we would meet the route on the road towards Wetherby, clocking up the mileage we needed for success via Route 65 to Tollerton.

The first 18 miles were enjoyable and easy, with the exception of a herd of confused cows intent on breakfasting on the cyclepath. After a Marmite sandwich on Tollerton Green, I spotted a few lycra-clad cyclists waving as they shot past us; a quick look at the large numbers pinned to our chests reminded me that we were in a race and better get going! The route opens up into the fantastic Howardian Hills, hugely accessible from York and dominated by the imposing Castle Howard, but not before passing up the terrifying Bulmer Bank: a very steep incline indeed. For the first time we both made it to the top without having to push, or (in my case) very nearly toppling off in front of a car, and there was much whooping and cheering as the hill levelled out into the village of Bulmer.

 There was a support van at the top offering out chocolate, cereal bars and water to the hungry cyclists, and we stopped off to catch up with some of the other riders. There was a very social feel and some serious bike-envy on my part. (Also, some marvelling at the array of technical bike wear on display - sealskin calf-warmers anyone? How about thermo-stretch overshoes?) From here on, it was long roads and some long hills, with a bit of unpleasant cycling in heavy traffic on the A169. We stopped off for lunch just outside the lovely market town of Malton, which was a good call as the rest of the route was a steady and excruciating uphill to Scarborough.

The final test came on the A170 when cyclists were literally dropping off like flies into the roadside verge ("You alright mate?" "Yep, got cramp"). To top it all off, a heavy shower of hail appeared from nowhere, bouncing off our helmets and backs, biting into our skin. I don't remember too much about the final few miles to North Bay, but Catherine assures me there was a wonderful view of the sea when we finally reached the top of the hill. I was dizzy and my legs were refusing to turn the pedals anymore at this point - the closest I've come (though I can't be certain I was there) to the infamous Wall that people fitter than me discuss. I was woken from this utter torture by a horrendous sheet of rain from the North Sea, which accompanied us all the way to the finish line. It added a sense of drama to the occasion and, bumping over the cobbles to Marine Drive, we were elated and ecstatic to be at the end, surrounded by smiling faces.

We were soaked to the bone and Catherine quickly went blue, but after some much needed Soreen and photographs we were ready to face the train ride home. On the train, I enjoyed some well-earned chips and scraps (just say yes) while we discussed the race in intricate detail all the way back to York.

This is a brilliant race and has only made us more eager to get out on the bikes and prepare for that 100-mile challenge in August. It's not going to be easy - I know that I had absolutely no more miles left in me after the 64th - but it's definitely going to be a lot of fun.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

The Lone Cyclist

Daniel is away over the weekend on a stag do, but this wasn't enough to deter me from getting out on my bike this weekend; we have our first biking event on Saturday 14th - a 64-mile sponsored bike ride from Wetherby to Scarborough - and as I've only been out on my bike once over the past few weeks, it seemed silly to give cycling a miss this weekend.

As it turns out, I had a very important job to do. Next week's ride requires us to be in Wetherby by 6:30am on the Saturday morning, but as Wetherby has no train station and we have no car, this is not going to be feasible (ok so we could cycle there...). Instead, we've agreed to meet the other riders somewhere along the way: somewhere that is as far from York as it is from Wetherby! Cue lots of map-studying! It seemed like a good opportunity for me to use this weekend to do a bit of route-planning, followed by a cycle out to see if my calculations were correct.

I identified a destination: Tollerton, 18 miles into the Wetherby-Scarborough ride, and a decent distance North West of York. It's also a nice, cycleable route over Sustrans route 65, and follows the path of the Ouse before passing through Beninborough Hall.

So, I woke up early, packed a few healthy essential supplies and off I went!

A few weeks ago I did a lone day ride to Pickering, so this wasn't the first time I'd been out on my own. I really enjoyed it the first time - it was a real adventure, to say the least, but it is a bit odd being out there with no one to share it with. It does mean that you can go completely at your own pace, but this also means that there's no one there to help you along when energies are dwindling!

Early on Saturday mornings York is quite a strange place. Once I got onto the bike paths I met only dog walkers and runners (and combinations of the two!) for miles and miles. The Ouse was busy with early-morning rowers, too, and the water glistened impressively in the morning sun. The forecast had said it'd be quite hot but cloudy, with rain later, but I set out under pale skies and I was optimistic that I'd get a few dry hours at least.

It was pleasant riding up to Beninborough Hall, a site we have already visited on two wheels once before. I got a bit carried away and did stray from the Sustrans signs for a while, but this gave me an opportunity to coo over lots of gorgeous cows and their calves (I love cows!!), as well as viewing the Hall itself, before giving in and turning back to the actual route.

Once past Beninborough there's a rather lengthy off-road section, which was incredibly dusty due to the lack of rain recently. This made it quite hard to ride over, and I was slipping around everywhere for a while! I just about managed to stay on my bike, but cleaning off the dust won't be too much fun!

I made it to Tollerton quite easily, and lo and behold! it is almost exactly 18 miles from York - perfect! I stopped on a convenient bench to munch some Marmite on toast, and decided where I wanted to head next. I must say, I was very tempted to stick to Route 65 all the way to Bylands Abby, but with the obviously impending rainfall and no will to get stuck out there on my own, I decided to take a route from West to East over the Vale of York, meeting up with Route 66 on the way back into York. These roads are already quite familiar, so it seemed like a rather sensible option - not always my first choice, I must admit!

I headed North to Easingwold and then left Route 65 to head towards Sheriff Hutton. I was skirting the top of the Vale of York here, just below the Howardian Hills, and though it was relatively flat, the winds were stronger here and the roads provided more of a challenge. It was slow-going, and I was struggling quite a bit - I was quite glad I chosen the 'light option' after all!

It wasn't long before fat drops of rain started to fall, first quite sporadically with gusts of wind, and then more regularly. After about 30 miles of riding, just past Sheriff Hutton, it started to really come down, and very quickly I was pretty soaked! I started to feel quite disorientated and was worried about getting too cold and too hungry, so I stopped on a bench in Thornton-le-Clay to put on a waterproof and have some food. I must have looked quite a site sitting next to the road, soaking wet and nibbling on a soggy peanut butter sandwich. Luckily there wasn't a soul in sight (not even a single car) to see me!

Note the dry patch left by me!
I hurried my sandwich and then set off again towards Sand Hutton. There was one major road crossing to do on the route, but that would put me back on the most familiar roads for some plain-sailing home. Despite the rain it was really muggy, and I was aware that I hadn't eaten enough at all. When the weather isn't good, stopping off for food is just not very appealing (especially when there's a danger of getting too cold to get going again), and this is something that I'm really going to have to improve. Still, I'd packed a whole litre of sugary squash (approporiately called 'high juice'), which helped to provide an extra push when I needed it.

Once over the A64, the ride from Sand Hutton to Stamford Bridge was an absolute joy. The roads are long, flat and quiet, surrounded by thick woodland which provides a canopy from the rain and a barrier from the wind. By the time I arrived in Stamford Bridge the sun was out again - it was getting a bit too hot for my long-sleeved cycling top! A bit dazed and eager to get home, I very nearly crashed straight off the bike at a junction in the town centre; this was one of the worst parts of the whole route, as the quiet country road suddenly meets a busy main road. Still, I managed to save myself from landing on the floor, though my pride was slighly battered!

Finally I was on Route 66 back to York, a lovely route passing through the village of Dunnington. The sun was shining, I was almost home, and I'd managed to get a whole day's cycling in without going completely out of my comfort zone. I'm amazed at how much cycling there is to do around York - without covering any scary hills or huge busy roads, you can have a whole day of safe, enjoyable riding, with plenty to see and plenty of suitable picnic spots (when the rain stops!).

I got home and made myself a mug of tomato soup, then managed a few stretches before crashing entirely. I covered 60 miles, which I was really pleased with, but there were no huge hills or even undulating roads - 60 miles on flat roads proved a real challenge. Whether I'm prepared for next week or not I do not know, I guess it all boils down to the day itself in the end. The weather might be bad, I might be tired, my knee might start hurting 30 miles in, but I think the real difference will come from some company and plenty of food. Sugar and some moral support goes a very long way on a long-distance ride, and both of these things were lacking on this trip!

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Let Training Commence!

With the start of May came the official start of our planned training regime. Keswick Half Marathon was done by 2pm on May 1st, and so all that running becomes all that cycling as we do our best to prepare for the race in August.

We've planned out our training, incorporating long-distance rides and some days concentrating on hills (not looking forward to those so much!). We also plan to do one short bike ride during the week, and one spinning class a week (let's see what happens there!).

For some reason I can't swivel this...sorry!

The folks organizing the ride suggest that we should be cycling six days a week in preparation for such a challenge, but that just ain't happening here! We've already got so much going on that we can't really put that much pressure on ourselves. Dedication to those Saturday rides is an absolute must, and with the extra weekday training (plus running, swimming and badminton on the side) we're hoping that we'll be super fit by August 14th. Let's see!

So, as you can see from our very professional training plan, next week we'll take part in a 64-mile charity bike ride from Wetherby to Scarborough. This is a lot so soon, and will only be Daniel's third outing on his new bike! We do like a challenge :-)