Wednesday, June 29, 2011

RAB roundup

Well, it's now ten days after the end of the ride, and "real life" is back in force. I've managed to spend several days in Cornwall more or less comatose, but thankful to have finished on Sunday in the overcast-but-mostly-dry rather then Monday's fog-and-pouring-down-rain or this past weekend's 30+-degrees-oh-my-god-I-think-I'm-going-to-melt. I've managed retrieve my bike and clean it up, including changing the rear tube that had a slow leak on the last day (discovered a mere three miles from the finish, I opted to pump it up and leave it rather then change it out). I've slept a lot, gone back to work, and had to answer "How was it?" numerous times - my generic answer has shifted from "Wet. Very wet" to "Good. Very good" which I take as a sign of progress. I've even ridden again. That is to say, I commuted to work on my single speed today, and I noticed a few things.

1) Nine miles is not long enough for me to warm up anymore. Perhaps more ridiculous heat will help with this problem.
2) People who commute by bike in London are insane. Or stupid. Or some combination of both plus a sense of invincibility (oblivion?) which I find disturbing.
3) I kept looking for C's blue raincoat, and A's red jersey, and was very sad when I didn't see either of them out there. I miss my cycling gang.
4) Not riding 100+ miles every day is not enough to fix my ankle. At least not in ten days. Given that my next athletic endeavor is coming up in less then three months, this means: get thee to a physio ASAP girl.

The last day was, as I expected from last year, fairly anticlimactic. We crossed the line together, with big smiles on our faces. I was somewhat surprised that, after going 8 days with nary a competitive quiver in sight, I spent much of the last 15 miles thinking "I do not want that guy to finish ahead of me!" I was not the only one, but we managed to refrain from macho self-flagellation and finish together. The girls and Himself were waiting at the finish with the Wee Ridiculous Dog, and their greetings were most gratifying, if a bit slobbery in one instance. And after swearing up and down that I was never going to set foot in Okehampton again, I found myself back there on our drive back to London, watching the girls romp around the ruins of a castle. Never say never, I guess.

I'm not able at the moment to come up with a pithy phrase to sum up the entirety of the ten days that were RAB (beyond "Wet. Very wet" that is). I am very glad to have been able to do it at all, grateful that my commitments and family support and general physical health were such that I was able to do the training and travel the length of this amazing place. I'm disappointed that I didn't get to descend Cheddar Gorge in the sun. I'm thrilled to have actually made it to John O'Groats. I feel tremendous admiration for those who completed the ride with various and sundry massive challenges (one arm, on a handcycle, on an Elliptigo aiming for a world record). I don't think I need to do it again, but I do know that I don't need to be afraid to climb hills anymore. Or ride in the rain. Or spend hours and hours on my bike. Or to hurt.

86:28:53 final time.

Thanks to everyone who read along, cheered me on, and donated money to ParalympicsGB. My fundraising page will stay active until 19 September 2011, so if you come across this after the fact and feel inspired to donate, please do so.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Day 9: Okehampton to Land's End

There were a few tears as I rode out of Okehampton this morning. Partly because it was the last day, partly because I was really tired from the day before, and partly because I didn't want to go up anymore hills.

It was a rough start - we went off and were almost immediately climbing. As foretold, the climbs weren't long, but they were very, very steep.

From the start, we wound our way south to Launceston and then towards Bodmin Moor. I discovered that the climbing went better when I focused on the road just ahead of my front wheel as opposed to looking up the road and worrying about how steep it was. After about 20 miles, I started feeling pretty good, although my thigh muscles were beginning to consider absconding to the Caribbean before they were completely ripped to shreds. Thankfully the last few miles into the first pit stop were mostly downhill, and we made the first 38 miles in about three hours.

From there we headed up, down, up, down, and one long last up into Truro. We were riding along tiny little back roads, some with grass growing down the middle. I started to get worried with every downhill, because I knew that meant another sharp, steep hill to climb. On any other day, it would have been totally demoralizing, but these were the last miles on the last day - every hill climbed was one hill closer to the finish.

We had one fairly flat section at 98 miles, running along the shore in Penzance. At 100 miles, we hit the steepest climb of the entire ride, and I discovered that my ankle actually could handle standing to climb, once my quads were screaming loudly enough that is. All five of us made it to the top, where we paused to catch our breath and curse Mr. Cook roundly. From there, it was continued up, down, up until we finally hit the main road and the straight shot to the finish line.

And just like that, it was done.

Day 9: 111/965/~953

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Day 8: Bath to Okehampton

Today's post is going to very brief, because I was out on the road for almost 12 hours today. Here are some of the details.

Lots of rain, a bit of sun, and 20+ mph winds from the west.

I bet Cheddar Gorge is really spectacular when its not chucking down rain.

The Quantock Hills are easier to get up from the north side the from the south, but are also about three times as long.

When you are pedaling down a hill and still only going about 10 miles an hour, the wind is too strong.

The women here doing a relay with a big sign painted on the side of their van that says "only idiots cycle in Devon" are 100% correct.

But we've made it to Okehampton, I've manages to stuff down some dinner, and tomorrow is the last day. Hard to believe that we've come so far in what feels simultaneously like forever and no time at all.

Tomorrow's report is likely to be quite delayed, just FYI. I expect the finish and reunion with the family to go on for a while, so don't look for the final report too soon. Thanks to everyone who's been reading along and commenting. I couldn't have done it without you all.

Day 8: 113/854/~953

Friday, June 17, 2011

Day 7: Ludlow to Bath

Today's stage report will be series of unconnected fragments, because all available energy has to go to my legs, leaving no extra for my brain.

Bullet point #1: when Mr. Cook spends a lot of time talking about nice downhills, he's hiding something. And that something is ridiculous hills that pop up put of nowhere at 15% or more. He did vaguely mumbled something about grippy sections on the line this morning. I will take this under advisement for future briefings.

2: my ankle took quite a while to warm up, but then was pretty good, with the assistance of ibuprofen and some good blue gel stuff that made it all tingly at the pit stops. Treatment regimen will continue.

3: I was prepared for rain today, and I was not disappointed. That is all I will say about the weather.

4: we rode through some gorgeous countryside today, and climbed some pretty serious hills. We also managed to duck into Wales for a brief stretch, just to cover all the Great Britain bases.

5: apparently, Bath is built on seven hills, including the one which holds the race course.  This led me to make snide comments to myself along the lines of "who do they think they are, Rome?". It took until lunchtime for me to remember the Roman origins of the city. Again, energy going to legs, not brain.

6: today was my first time wondering if I could make it up something. And the answer to that, so far, is yes. I'm so glad I changed the cassette on my bike however. The biggest concern I have now is that my ankle makes it really painful to climb out of the saddle. I'm hoping the 28 tooth cog on the back means I won't have to.

7: as we get farther south, there are more and more day trippers (people doing just the day's stage). You can tell who they are every morning because they are very clean, and very energetic. R and I entertain ourselves with snark about them, but I find myself quite seriously scornful. Particularly when they talk about how they're "doing the Ride Across Britain!" Excuse me, you're doing one day of RAB. Have a good ride!

8: I have been thinking today about why I'm doing this ride, particularly in the context of trying to explain to the girls why I spent so much time doing something so hard that hurt so much. I'm still working on the answer, but it is, in part, because doing something this hard by choice means that I know I'll be able to do the hard things that come along that I don't have any control over. And that is a very important thing to know.

9: I never thought I would ever say this, but I am really, really tired of eating All. The. Time. It was fun for a while, but now it is just a chore. Bah. Also: trying to take pictures of yourself while on the bike is really quite difficult, as evidenced below.

Right, enough disjointedness. Day 7 done, on to day 8 and the lovely (ha ha ha) hills of Somerset.

Day 7: 91/741/~953

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Day 6: Manchester to Ludlow

Today's profile was the reverse of yesterday's - 80+ miles of more-or-less flat country lanes and then a big climb. About 20 miles in, the heavens opened and released a biblical downpour for about 30 minutes. I ended up completely soaked to the skin, as well as freezing cold, so it was a long haul to pit stop 1, where the sun was out. This pattern was repeated for the rest of the day - soaking rain, then sun and wind to dry us off, then more rain.  I took off a bit hard from the first stop, since I was pretty cold. The route went along tiny country lanes lined by hedgerows. When the sun was out, it was absolutely lovely.

Andy warned us last night to save our legs for the first two thirds of the stage, because the steepest climb we've had yet was coming at mile 85. The climb, again, was long and relatively steady except for a few short steeper bits. My legs felt pretty good though, and I was pleased to be the first of my group up to the top. From there it was rolling terrain for ten miles and then a nice long downhill. So no Long Mynd, but a pretty tough day nonetheless.

My knee is doing much better, but my ankle is worse. The word from the medics is that the solution is to stop riding, surprisingly enough! Mostly its just a bit of tendonitis, so I'm on a strict ibuprofen refining. Hooray for anti-inflammatories!

I've attached a few pictures for today, including one of my interesting hand tan. Even with all the rain we've had, I'm getting some funny lines!

Today is my tenth wedding anniversary. On our first anniversary, Himself and I did a 40k time trial together. So there is a precedent for silly athletic events on this important day. I wouldn't be here if not for his support, so thank you sweetheart. I'm so glad you forced me to sign up for this!

Day 6: 106/650/~953

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Day 5: Carlisle to Manchester

I knew that things would get hard at some point on this adventure, and I arrived at that point today. We left Carlisle in a light drizzle, and headed into the Lake District. Today's profile went up right from the beginning, peaking over Shap Fell. The climb was long, but not really steep - kind of like Gates Pass in Tucson - but we were climbing into the clouds, so there weren't any good views.

Over the top onto an 8 mile descent down into the Lake District. We dropped down below the clouds into Beatrix Potter's England - stone walls, sheep, green fields, wildflowers and birds singing. The rain lifted, the sun broke through and we rolled along. We're getting into the stereotypical English country lanes - they are gorgeous to ride, but they tend to go up and down pretty sharply. If you don't keep some momentum going, it gets rough. The last 20 miles were in a very urban area, which took a bit more concentration. A tough way to finish.

So the toughest part today was mental rather then physical. I've been breaking each day down into pieces of approximately thirty odd miles - to the first pit stop, the middle bit, and the last section after the second pit stop. The problem today was that the first stop was at 28 miles. The day's big climb was finished by 40 miles. So I got to the bottom of Shap Fell, and thought "Right, that's it". Actually, there were 75 more miles to go. Oof! The last 30 were really rough - it started raining again, we were going through rush hour traffic and one knee and the other Achilles were acting up. Oof again. I am so grateful that I had people to ride with - it would be so much harder alone!

Now I've been fed, massaged and physio-d for my various issues. Apparently I have very special hamstrings - it took the physio with 30+ years experience ten minutes to figure out what was going on, and I will soon be sporting thumb sized bruises in the back of my leg where she detached the head of my hamstring from the bone (about as much fun as it sounds, believe me). Hopefully that will sort things out for tomorrow's trip to Ludlow.

Thanks to everyone reading and leaving comments - I do get them, even if I'm not responding. So please do leave a message if you get inspired! As for me, I'm off to bed.

Day 5: 115/544/~953 - over the hump!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Day 4: Glasgow to Carlisle

I lay in my sleeping bag this morning, feeling stiff and sore, and not terribly interested in getting back on the bike, no matter what the sing being played to wake us up insisted. Life in camp has fallen into a routine: I plan out my tasks so as to limit the number of times I need to go back to my tent. This morning's plan: get dressed, brush teeth, eat breakfast, get Garmin off charger. Then get bottles filled, put them on bike and finish packing. Put bag in truck, pump up tires and start. Two things went wrong with this plan: the Garmin, while plugged in, had come off of the cradle and wasn't fully charged. Bah! Plug it back in to leave for last, in hopes it will last the day. Problem 2: the zipper of the large duffel bag I'm using completely gave up the ghost. The crew found me a big plastic bag to put the duffel in, and I headed off.

They say bad things come in threes. We headed off through suburban Glasgow and early rush hour traffic. 16 miles in and I was pulled off on the side of the road changing a flat.  The bad thing wasn't the flat itself, it was the fact that the valve stem snapped off when I was pumping it up. Thankfully I had another tube and finally, we got back on the road.

Today's stage should have been sponsored by whoever makes those big, cushy, gel-filled seats with massive springs. The route wasn't terribly challenging, but the road surface was unbelievably bad. It felt a bit like what I imagine sitting on a jack hammer might feel like. I think everyone is going to be a bit bruised tomorrow. We rolled along, taking it pretty easy - yesterday's epic left us all with some pretty sore legs, so we just noodled along next to the M74, trying to spin out some lactate. Sadly the only landscape shot I've got today includes some suggestive forest trimming - you can see why we had to stop. Pity the one man riding with four women!

104 miles later (thankfully the road surface improved!), we had passed through Gretna Green and the big welcome to England sign, and arrived at the Carlisle racecourse. L said at one point, "I feel a bit odd saying this, but this is kind of like a 104 mile recovery ride".  That alone makes me concerned about tomorrow's route, which includes passing through the Lake District, and over the highest A road in Britain. Hmmm...hope my legs can hold out!

Today's progress: 104/429/~953

Monday, June 13, 2011

Day 3: Fort William to Glasgow

I was on my bike today for almost nine hours. 8:58, to be exact. And that's not total elapsed time, that's nine hours in the saddle, pedaling. It was kind of a long day...

It started at 5:30 with the combined alarm clock of "Manic Monday" and raindrops on the tent fly. We knew the rain was coming, and at the start, it wasn't too bad - more of a drizzle then a downpour. We headed off down the A82 along Loch Linnhe (I think that's the right name). It was a tense stretch: 600 cyclists plus rain (getting heavier all the time) dived by a narrow road multiplied by Monday morning traffic was a bad combination. There was one crash just behind us (touched wheels I think), but the camp rumor mill is deleting one broken leg, one collarbone, and someone taken down by a car. Suffice to say things were a bit nervous until we got through town and things thinned out a bit.

From Fort Suppliant we climbed up the spectacular Glencoe, slowly but surely getting wetter and wetter as the clouds dumped rain. And then the headwind started. It's a gloriously beautiful spot, even in the rain and the fog, but the temps were dropping - one of the truck drivers reported 3 degrees as he came down over Rannoch Moor, and we felt each one as we came flying down the long descent from the top. Thankfully, the first pit stop at 50 miles was at a cafe with hot drinks. Hooray for hot chocolate!

From there it was 24 miles to pit stop 2. The rain stopped and the skies started to clear, but the wind kept blowing right in our faces. The road continued up and down, passing through some beautiful forests and along isolated lakes. I kept expecting Mel Gibson to pop out from behind a tree, in a ragged kilt and blue woad. Such was not to be, unfortunately. The road narrowed to a country lane, barely one car wide, with fields full of sheep on either side. And the road surface got progressively worse - cracks, holes, eroded edges and stuff that felt like riding over our playroom floor when the girls haven't picked up in a while. It made for some tricky handling, tough when we were all tired.

Today was the first day I got into trouble - coming along from the second pit stop I started feeling kind of blown: not enough calories on board. Two chocolate chip shortbread cookies and a gel later, things started looking up again. I know how quickly food can turn things around, and that the first thing I should do when things start going badly is eat, but I still forget sometimes.

At last night's briefing, we discovered that today's route had been changed because of construction. We lost what Andy called "the second hardest climb" of the ride, which was slated for mile 103 of 113, but we gained "4 to 5 miles" total distance. Given the wind, and the fact that it ended up being almost 8 extra miles, I'm not sure I wouldn't have rather had the climb! Still, despite the rain and the cold and the extended dance version of today's trip to Glasgow, I still felt really good today.

Not so many pictures today, given the rain, but I'm hoping for more tomorrow, when we finally leave Scotland and start into the Lake District.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Day 2: Kyle of Sutherland to Fort William

We awoke this morning to "The Ride of the Valkyries" and a valley full of fog and cold. The mountains we saw yesterday across the river were gone in the mist, and there was a bit of grumbling about grey skies on the way to breakfast. However, we were assured at the start that blue skies were waiting down the road, on the day's first climb.

Every evening, we are given a briefing about the next day's course by Andy Cook, the course director. On the first night, he described some of the hills on day 1 as "grippy". The first climb today, at 6 miles from the start, was described as "double grippy". I'm still working on my calibration curve for Andy's grippy scale, but 2x grippy seems to be a 2 mile climb that maxes out at a 10% grade. Grippy, indeed. But doable, as that length allows for settling in to a ryhthm and spinning your way  up.

The first pit stop came at mile 35, after a lovely rolling ride through the hills. I've been lucky enough to find people to ride with from the beginning, which makes it so much more enjoyable. I met A at a RAB-sponsored training ride in April, and we've ridden together several times since. She met L on the bus on the way up from the airport and, wonder of wonders, we're all of similar speed. It's working very well.

From stop #1, we headed towards Drumnadrochit and Loch Ness. My compatriots declined my suggestion to stop off at the Glen Ord Distillery shortly before Sara Storey, current Paralympic World Champion, sped past resplendent in her rainbow jersey. She was out of sight in minutes.

The next climb was a longer one. Deceptively long - every time we came to a crest I was convinced we were at the top. Sadly, this went on for about 5 miles before a screaming descent down to Loch Ness. The route then ran alongside the Loch, a road I remembered as being relatively flat. I was very wrong, and the constant up/down was really hard. The situation wasn't helped by L and I latching on to a slightly faster gentleman who pulled us for quite a ways. By the time we reached pit stop 2 at mile 71, I was very ready to sit down and have some food.

The last 28 miles consisted of 22 miles of rollers, and 6 miles of mostly downhill. Base camp tonight is in a field with an extraordinary view of Ben Nevis, for once not hidden in the clouds. There's even snow on top. We've had a good dinner, added two more riders to our little pack for tomorrow (the speedy guy from the loch, R, and his wife C), and are waiting anxiously for Andy's grippy rating for tomorrow's stage. I'm afraid rain is definitely in the forecast, just to make sure we don't get any silly ideas about Scottish weather, but we will have to wait to hear about route details. And you'll get to hear about them tomorrow!


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Day 1: John O'Groats to Kyle of Sutherland

Today dawned mostly clear and windless, particularly in comparison to last year's 60 mph gale force headwind and horizontal rain.  We left JOG just after 7:00 and headed west along the coast. The first 32 miles to our first pit stop flew by - everyone was excited to be underway, and we speeded down the tiny back roads chatting away.

After the first stop, the roads got a bit "lumpier", a charming British euphemism for hilly. But the climbs were pretty steady - worst was about a 9% grade according to my cycling buddy's fancy Garmin. They reminded me of Arizona climbs: long, but steady enough to find a rythym and just spin. After about 50 miles, we turned south at one of the most beautiful beaches ever, and headed inland. The next 25 miles were alongside a river, on a gorgeous one lane road that rolled along gently,  always going up. The river first rushed by on the left, but soon widened into a lake. At the head of the lake was pit stop #2.

From the second stop, it was 28 miles to base camp. Sadly, the weather gods decided to go to Aruba, and the clouds and wind started to roll in. A few drops started to come down as we finished the day's climbing and started a rolling downhill to the end of the day. After just under 8 hours total time, we arrived at Kyle of Sutherland.

Ten minutes later, the skies opened up, and the Scottish weather that was expected arrived in full force. Things since have been a bit damp. But I've had a shower, a brief nap, lots of dinner, and a massage. The evening briefing is next, and then its off to bed. And hopes for reasonable weather tomorrow!


Friday, June 10, 2011

Day 0: London to John O'Groats

Snafu #1: left house with large bag, and stopped at the bank to get some cash, only to discover I'd left my cash card at home. And I didn't have any keys to go back and find it. Thankfully, my MIL was nearby with both an ATM card and a phone. She was still giggling when she brought me some money, due to the fact that last October they came to visit without their cards and made withdrawals from the Bank of Porpoise for the duration of their trip.

(Apologies if these posts are a bit disjointed, but they may get done in bits and pieces)

Inverness is colder then London, partly sunny and spitting rain at the same time. I had a window seat on the plane, and as we came in to land, I got a glimpse of the landscape we'll be riding through: green, green hills, broad expanses of countryside without apparent habitation, and beyond it all, the Moray Firth leading to the North Sea.

Snafu #2: getting stuck in the very back of the bus for the 3 hour trip to JOG. It was ok for the first hour, but after that the roads got increasingly small and twisty, with predictable consequences for global nausea levels. This part of Scotland is characterized by green fields quartered by amazing stone walls, more sheep then are really necessary, windfarms and oil rigs and rampantly flowering gorse bushes. It bodes well for tomorrow's route!

Base camp is an amazing production. Lines of tents, a massive bike corral, and a main tent for feeding this massive bunch. There are showers, wireless, what seems like a million crew folk running around helping out. Beyond it all, are the open fields and the blue sea, a lovely breeze blowing to keep the midges away. And finally, I'm getting excited. This is going to be amazing.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

More details then you wanted to know

I'm not sure if these are in the correct order or not, but the important thing to take away is the amount of up and down that these profiles indicate. We're I'm going to (try to) ignore the slope of some of these lines - to do otherwise invites madness and whimpering in a corner under a dusty wool blanket. Let's just say I'm glad I dropped £75 on a cassette with a pie plate on it (a 12-28, if that means anything to anyone other then my husband and the rest of the cycling geeks reading this).

The light of the train bearing down on me in the tunnel is getting a lot bigger and brighter. My plane takes off for Inverness at 11:30 Friday morning, then it's 3 hours by bus up to JOG. Everyone ready?