Having ridden east and north, I decided that it was time to head south and try and find the path to Hightown the next settlement down the coast from Formby towards Liverpool. I knew it existed, I’d spotted the cyclepath sign whilst out driving with the kids. I could remember exactly where it was, but it looked clear enough on google maps. I was wrong. It wasn’t the right path and a white road became a double track which became a single track and the next thing I’m at the perimeter of the Altcar Ranges with the Army shooting at things.
I skirted the red flagged area, but the bath turned literally to sand which is not ride-able over any distance on a road bke with 23mm slicks so it was hike-a-bike until I eventually found the path I was looking for. Once into Hightown another white road descended into track as I headed for Little Crosby but from there it was all on the black top. I ended up in some of the less glamorous parts of Merseyside which I decided (based on the number of boarded up houses and funny looks from the locals), was not the place to be on a road bike, in disco slippers wearing lycra. A swift exit followed, back to the tranquility and relative wealth of rural Lancashire for the rest of the ride.
Decided to head south and pick up the disused railway line that turns out to be the Trans Pennine Trail that you can join from the road between Sefton and Maghull. It would be fair to say that the surfaced section didn’t last long before it became smooth trail and then Singletrack.
Came back onto tarmac and headed across to Ormskirk, picking up the quiet A59 and heading up towards Preston. Ended up passing Martin Mere having explored a few route options that descended into private gravel roads.
Chuffing windy ride all in all – really suffered on the final push across the moss to Birksdale. Saw loads of chain gangs out during the ride.
Cashed in some banked hours at work and did a recce ride south, out towards Spennymoor and then into a loop back into Durham from the south west. Spennymoor looked okay, colleague at work said: “No, you don’t want to live there. I worked there for 20 years and couldn’t wait to escape.” Few other areas looked reasonable.
That evening, driving home I decided to explore some other areas. Weardale had some appeal, yet the 20 mile drive strikes me as a mission during the daily commute. Fab once you get there and some epic driving roads in that part of County Durham. Whether we live thee or not I can see some weekend and evening driving happening. Check out the views:
Out of Stanhope towards Teesdale
Between Middleton-in-Teesdale and Brough
From the first ascent I knew I had lost it all. Any hope of having retained any bike-related fitness evaporated from my pores and in the steam from my gasping lungs. This is what it’s like to be starting again from scratch, legs burning, feet feeling like lead, awkward on the bike. Walking, even up and down cardiac hill on a regular basis, doesn’t prepare your body for the task of fighting a road bike (even a featherweight one) against gravity.
It seemed to make perfect sense, choose the road bike. Everything else into storage. The rationale being that skinny wheels were best for covering distance and exploring a new landscape and the villages and towns within it. Over the last six weeks I’ve often thought that the ‘cross bike would have been the better choice, particularly due to the seemingly vast network of disused railway lines, but I keep reminding myself that just means more mess. And so as I once again drop off the big ring to crawl up another incline, I confirm my decision. There was no other option.
The offers are coming in. Once you get settled lets go mountain biking at Hamsterley. Kielder. Into the Dales. I’m missing sliding around corners and bouncing down trails, but today is about grinding out the miles and noting mentally which former pit villages are to be avoided. By and hour and half in my legs give up. The rest is still willing, but ten miles from home and increasingly cold and wet, my legs have hoisted the white flag and are begging for me to stop.
Meanwhile my feet have picked up on the fact that the thick merino socks I was sure I’d packed are absent and that actually race socks and shoes don’t offer suitable protection from the elements. Later they burn and tingle as they get circulation moving back through them under a hot shower. The return to Durham requires use of Google Maps to avoid ending up on dual carriageways and occasionally my legs forget that they’re destroyed and I stomp on the pedals and progress nicely (this is usually downhill) and as I eventually find my way back to my digs there is a strange and somewhat forgotten sense of achievement. Maybe I am still a rider after all.
After a bit of faffing picked up a trailer from EBC. It wasn’t the first place I tried, I’d been hoping to get a second hand Giant or Trek trailer but failed and none of the other shops in the area I tried had any in and to be frank it was cracking value for money, already having been reduced and then being able to get a further discount on a brand new one. Transport for two for less than the prices of a pair of XTR clipless pedals.
Talking to Tom confirmed my fears that negotiating various trail obstacles was going to be the biggest issue and so it turned out. We managed to negotiate all but one of the barriers along the local disused railway line cyclepath on the way to see the horses at the paddock last Sunday. At that point we just turned around and came home – pretty much the whole route is offroad on paths or though the park, there’s probably about 50m of road all in.
Since then I’ve been taking the boys to nursery and picking them up every day in it – again on dedicated cycle paths, through the park or on designated cycleroutes in our suburban area. There’s just one kissing gate type barrier to get past which I’ve now discovered that If I back the bike in and pull the bike up on the rear wheel and pivot it 90 degrees to the right just lets me get though. I am definitely product testing the universal joint, although hopefully not the back up safety loop.
You notice it on the ups of course, but on the flat and downs there is hardly any difference. Saying that I’ve not tried anything too extreme so far, so I’ll reserve the right to change that point of view the first time the trailer tries to over take the bike on the downhills. Nice bit of kit so far. I hadn’t appreciated the need for the bars outside the wheels at first, but effectively they’ve already served the purposes of skidrails trying to fit through various gaps, saving the wheels from getting hammered and now carry a few battle scars.
Same ride as last week today. Nice to do it in daylight and not to get rained on. Felt loads better once I warmed up and ended up 20 minutes quicker around the same loop and felt much more focused. Only got off and pushed the Singlespeed twice which was a massive step forward even if just psychologically.
One bit was unridable with my 2:1 gear. The secong bit was just lack of legs. Really impressed with the Strava iPhone app, especially now I have the dame ride twice and can start to see where I was slower and faster. Even put the Heart Rate monitor on today, but tried not to look too much, but having had a look at the log now home I was ‘in the zone’ for 2 hours out of a 2 hour 45 minute ride.
Back on the bike today for a ride, decided to head out and do a familiar route but in reverse, getting a good technical descent but a long road climb. The plan was ambitious, my last big ride was the 18th December last year. As with these things, the ride started off okay, but within 30 minutes I was questioning the sense of an evening into night ride. In Manchester. In winter.
The first incline had me worried. I used to power up this sat in the saddle today it was hard work out of the saddle. Things did not improve. Of course there was a headwind, my brakes were probably binding a bit, tyre pressure wasn’t optimal and the ground was too sticky under tread. I was able to find plenty of excuses, but no real explanation for how my riding form had evaporated in the last year. Clearly power walking to work for 15 minutes each way every day is not a substitute for exercise that necessitates breaking a sweat.
In no short order the ride was eventful in that:
- One drug deal going down out the boot of a Clio (Tesco bag of Cannabis being exchanged for a big wad of notes)
- Two new components being tested SLX cranks and XTR pedals.
- Three times I thought about turning around and going home early.
- Four sections of santisied trails – thanks for ruining some great trails morons.
- Five hundred metres of climbing and I felt every one.
Any way I used the Strava app for the iPhone for the first time. What a great bit of kit, no more Map my Ride messing about for me! Like garlic bread, this is the future. It even allows you to compare times against other riders on the same sections of trail. Ace.
So the aim is to now try and maintain a regular riding mentality and get back out on the trails more often. With my power gone, stamina and a mediocre level of trail skills seem to be the only assets I have left and I’m not too happy with that prospect. At least I am not totally destroyed tonight after a 3 hour ride and 46km.
This morning you could tell it was warmer outside because inside it was uncomfortably warm. Time then to crack out my favourite riding jacket and the standard issue gloves. Riding in the kit was perfect and the commute had that fresh air that you get on crisp autumnal days.
Of course tonight come home time, my choice of clothing was wholly inappropriate for the cold wet sleet of winter. The kind of weather that pierces you with a cold chill as icy water finds it’s way down the neck of your jacket, even with it zipped and baffled against the elements. This is the kind of riding that makes you remember why you ride all year around and why getting home to a nice warm household is such a great way to end a ride.