Sunday, 21 April 2013

Palefish Cross the Mersey!

It has been a while since I have been on a long ride. The plan today was to follow the route of a ride the club did last year, when we visited The Greedy Pig in Kelsall, with a couple of amendments.
Today was also a special ride, as we were joined by the member of the club who lives the furthest away, Rob, who drove down from Scotland to join us for the ride (and catch up with family in Liverpool!)
The weather once again threatened to be awful! After a sun filled Saturday, once again enjoyed by some of the club who couldn't make today's ride, We faced wind and rain! However, I decided to be optimistic and rode my summer bike, and didn't take a rain cape, I just wore my Club jacket (not rainproof, but very warm)
It was a little chilly as I waited in the car park of the Twelfth Man, to be joined by other insomniacs who were up and out at 7am on a Sunday morning!
Seven of us headed over to Birkenhead to meet 5 more at the mouth of the Tunnel.
I can still vividly remember the day I raced Alex Dowsett through the Tunnel, and as we rolled into the mouth of hell, I couldn't help putting my foot down a little bit! The Tunnel has been resurfaced, which I think would help me make up a few seconds on my last time trial time through there!
We exited the tunnel onto Strand St, and once again, I wish I had my video camera on the handlebars. Cycling in front of the Three graces is a great experience (If you are sad like me!) and the buildings tower over you and the Liver Birds look down at you. I will remember to take a photo along there one day!
We rode on, into the wind, to the Hotel Rob was staying at, just outside Liverpool Airport. The only puncture of the day was just round the corner, on an open bit of road next to the Airport, with the wind blowing at us relentlessly! The Garmin worked well, and only user error took us on a little detour at a roundabout in Widnes!

Another impressive structure along the ride today was the Runcorn Bridge! when you ride along the path at the side of the road, you realise just how high you are, which doesn't suit my dislike of heights  and also how high the arch of the bridge is.

Heading up to the Runcorn Bridge.

 Once over the bridge it was just a matter of climbing up and over to Frodsham, and then once again, up and over to Delamere! The Railway Cafe was a welcome sight, Half way into the ride, and wanting to be good, I only had a coffee and a toasted Tea Cake!!

Palefish CC at the Railway Cafe Delamere.

 Chris and Tuni left us and headed back, as a christening was waiting for them, and the rest of us rode on towards Kelsall, and then on to Chester. As we were not stopping at the Greedy Pig today, I changed the route a little, aiming to get onto the Greenway cycle path through the middle of Chester.

Steve Enjoying the ride
This is where the problem of trusting in a computer mapping system and routing device arise. In hindsight, I will in future check that all roads we are going to ride are suitable for road bikes. There was a section of the ride, just over a mile long, that for half of it was an unmade, dirt track, with a section of cobbles, including three bridges! I have not ridden cobbles before, not like these, and it certainly was interesting.

Not everyone wanted buckled wheels!

The same path in Winter (Thanks for the Photo Iain)
I will be taking both wheels into The Bike Shop in Moreton tomorrow after work to get them trued!

The roads seemed very smooth after this, and we motored on towards Chester, and joined the cycle path just as the rain started. I was very happy with the performance of my Jacket. Even though it isn't waterproof it did a good job of keeping me dry and warm.

The path through Chester wasn't too busy so it wasn't long until we were in Sealand and making a decision whether to go to Eureka or straight home. Home won (as most of us needed to get back reasonably early) and we took the new path through the Deeside industrial estate, and through the marshes to Neston.

The Boardwalk through the Marshes

When we reached Heswall the group split, and people headed home, I rode back to Greasby with Paul, and we were happy that we still had some energy left to enjoy the road from Irby to Gresby!

I arrived home, in time to relieve Mrs Palefish of childcare duties so she could go to the match, which was good, and then was asked by the boys if I had fallen off my bike as I was covered in mud! The bike wasn't much better, so I gave it a quick wash down and lube, ready for the next club ride.

A different kind of Spray Tan?
Finally I have to mention Phil! If he was ever to get off his full suspension mountain bike, which he rode with us today, and was at the front of the group for most of the ride, and got onto a Road bike, I don't think we would ever see him! I did the Liverpool Chester Liverpool ride last year on my Mountain bike, 52 miles, and it hurt! Today Phil has ridden 82 miles and was Wheelieing up hills right up to the end!!!!!

Sunday, 14 April 2013

If "The wind is your friend" I had a lot of friends today!

It is typical! Yesterday morning was gorgeous. Sun, calm and clear. Some of the Club went out to Delamere and had a great ride averaging 17mph. As the afternoon drew on the cloud began to gather, and the rain then started to fall, luckily just after I had got in from a spin with the Mini Palefish club members. I wasn't too worried about the rain  forecast for Sunday, but the wind looked a bit dodgy.
When my alarm went off at 6.30 it was still raining, and the wind didn't seem too bad. I got ready and left just before 8, and thankfully the rain had stopped. I met Dave, Derek and Iain at The 12th man and we rode up to The Glegg Arms in Heswall to meet Paul N, Phil and Steve.
The wind still wasn't too much of a problem, a little gusty but nothing too bad. We rode down to the new cycle path that goes through the Marshes and the MOD firing range! As we approached the path, and came out into the open, the wind hit. The Flags were not flapping on the flagpoles marking the range, they looked like they were made from wood.
The going got tougher the further into the marshes we rode, with a little rain thrown in just for good measure. The direction the wind was coming from didn't bode well for the main climb of the day up to Hawarden.
The new path is great, linking up with the Dee path at Hawarden Bridge train station, and it means we do not have to play with the traffic on the Chester High Road.
We were now in Wales and heading for the climb!
I wasn't wrong with my prediction about how helpful the wind would not be! The Climb isn't that bad normally, the average time (thanks Strava) it takes is about 5 minutes, today, with a strong headwind it took me nearly 8 minutes. At one point, just as the climb kicks up at the end, I think I was probably only just about moving forward. It sounds like I am exaggerating, but it was tough.
The climb then continues up to the North Wales Express way with the wind against us all the way. The last little stretch to the Left turn to head back towards Chester was probably the hardest. The wind was trying to blow me backwards off the bike!
There was a big sigh of relief from the group as we turned and the Wind was with us, for a bit. We rode through some trees, sheltered from the ravages of the weather, but the worst (funniest now) bit of the ride was just to come!
As we exited the cover of the Trees descending quite fast, as Phil shot off past me he was hit by a gust of wind that blew him from the middle of the road, right across the lane and onto the grass verge. Luckily Phil has great bike handling skills, honed on a MTB and Cyclo Cross bike.
We decided to ease off a little, which was wise as the wind didn't let up and for most of the ride into Chester we were riding leaning into the wind.
There was a hope that when we started up the Dee path the wind would be behind us. No such luck. The wind was now coming across us from the left. This meant that the first section of the Dee Path was like climbing up a hill! As we turned the corner and headed for Garden City, the wind was a little more favourable.

Paul and Iain making the most of  a breather

The Wind was finally in our favour on the way up to Eureka Cafe and it helped with the ride up the "Never-ending Lane" 

After a well earned brew and a slice of cake, only for fuel obviously, Phil, Derek and Steve headed home, and Me, Dave Paul and Iain headed off towards Capenhurst to do a loop through the lanes back to the 12th man. After all the effort in the wind, my legs were tired, but we didn't ease up, and kept to the planned route, so that the ride would be 60 miles. It is the furthest I have ridden this year, and I really enjoyed it, even with our added friend!

These are the stats from the Hawarden Weather Station. 
25mph gusting at 9am, 36mph gusting 57 at 10am and 25mph gusting 52 at 11am. 

I didn't post last weeks club ride as I had a lot to write about Scotland. 
12 of us did a cafe and back, via the new Marsh path, and it was that warm, we actualy sat outside at Eureka! (don't believe the faces of the shivering Palefishers, it was warm!)

One thing is certain, it is nearly Shorts weather!!

Monday, 8 April 2013

A great week in Scotland

After a slow start to the year, and not feeling great, I am happy that a level of fitness has returned and my cycling Mojo is back.

After the excitement of my day at Adidas, the week was rounded off when the family agreed that I could take my bike on our Easter holiday to Scotland.
When we went to Strachur in October last year, I was disappointed that I didn't take the bike, especially as I had ridden some of the roads the month before during the Asthma UK Loch to Loch ride. I had looked at some routes and hoped to get out a couple of times during the week.

All did not go to plan though! I packed the bike and all my kit into the car on Friday night, ready for an early start on Saturday. Unfortunately the car didn't want to play, and when Mrs P and I tried to swap the cars on the drive Mine started, stalled and than just sat there not wanting to play! I pushed it back, kicked it and swore a couple of times, and went to bed! In the morning, I was hopeful that it had all been a bad dream, and the battery fairies had been and charged it up for me, and all would be well. As you can imagine, I was surprised to find that the battery was still flat and the car wasn't going anywhere. We called Mrs P's Dad, who came on holiday with us, along with Mrs P's Mum and Nan, and asked them to bring some jump leads, hoping that would do the trick! No surprise then that they didn't. It was looking less like I was taking my bike, as it wouldn't fit in the other car! Anyway, after a quick planning session, Mrs P headed off to to find a new battery, while I kicked the car again and removed the offending item, and waited for her return. Luckily things were now going well, and Mrs P rounded the corner with a big smile on her face and a battery in the boot. We were on the road, 5 minutes later that we had originally planned. Well done family Palefish.

The first opportunity came earlier than expected. Easter Sunday morning, before everyone was up and active, I headed out for a quick leg stretch. I had an hour to play with so I decided to ride out for 30 mins, then ride back, aiming to get to a ruined Castle on the banks of Loch Fyne. I had forgotten how undulating the roads are in Scotland. My quick spin turned out to be a bit more of a leg stretch than planned! No huge climbs, but 258m in 15 miles was enough for someone used to a nearly pan flat Wirral, but the views are worth every pedal stroke.

The bike kind of spoils the view, but get used to it!!

There was only one problem with the cottage we had rented. It happened to be at the top of a lane that was about 1:10 for 100m. Not the best way to finish every ride!

The last test of every ride
I decided that I would then space my rides through the week, which would mean that we could plan in all the family stuff too!!

The next ride took me into Hells Glen, and onto the Rest and be thank full pass. This ride tested my climbing ability, with some testing 16% sections. The ride to the start of the loop was tough enough, finishing with a 2 mile climb at 3.5%. Again the view was great from here, and I saw some locals standing round a Tinkers wedding Circle.

The first part of the climb into the Glen was a 1 mile 6% ave slog, not unlike some of the Welsh climbs I hate! Have I mentioned before that I hate hills?

But What goes up, must go down, and the descent into the bottom of the glen, for nearly 3 miles, was fantastic. The Tarmac was smooth and the corners were sweeping.

In Hells Glen

As I was riding down, I also knew that although, as I had said earlier, what goes up must come down, in Scotland what goes down then goes up again, especially when you are riding into a Glen! After a quick gel and a nibble on an energy bar, more for my mind than my body, I started the climb back out of Hell to the rest And Be Thankful car park. The road meandered slowly up, steadily at first, at about 5% then for the last mile there were some tight hairpin bends and road signs warning of 16% inclines.

Half way out of Hell

Looking back into Hell ( the last hairpin in the distance)

At the top with another stunning background
I didn't break any records riding through Hell, but that didn't matter to me, as I had done it, at my pace and enjoyed the scenery. Whilst I was having a coffee in the Car Park, I realised that this week was the first time I had ridden solo for over a year! It is great riding in the club and with friends, but I also enjoyed just looking out for myself, not having to make sure everyone was together and shout and point out obstacles in the road! 
The ride back the the cottage included the descent from Rest and be thankful, where I saw a helicopter lifting cement to some works further along the pass. These sort of things you tend to miss from a car!

My third ride of the week turned out to be the toughest. I wasn't aware that the route I had chosen was as tough as it was until I bought the second book by Simon Warren "Another 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs"
while we were visiting Oban. If I had known this climb existed and I was about to ride it I would not have bought the book!!!  After reading about the Bealach Maim climb, scoring 8/10 in the book I decided to ride the loop in reverse, climbing the "Cinderella" side rather than the "Ugly Sister" side.
I rode the same route as Easter Sunday to the Castle then on to Otter Ferry. A beautiful spot at the end of a great 13 mile stretch of single lane loch side road. 

From the Beauty of the Loch side, it was straight into the Climb. Although this was the easy side of the Hill, it was still quite challenging for me. It is 3.5 miles long, and regularly hits 16%. There are lots of fake flats and false hope summits! There was an especially dodgy section by the side of some pine trees, where the snow and Ice hadn't melted, mix this with about 8% incline and it was a little scary for a bit!

I think this climb was tougher than the one out of Hell, as it was straighter, and there were less "easy" sections to catch a breath and give the legs a rest for a second. But as always, I was treated to a great view from the top.

I was looking forward to the descent, hoping for a similar road to the one into Hell. I couldn't have been more wrong! the surface was covered in either grass or gravel, and there were some nasty pot holes and broken surfaces right where you don't want them. There were other natural obstacles too!

I had to ride under this fallen tree! 
 I rode the brakes for most of the descent, and even with them on full I was still hitting 20mph in some sections. As I approached the "steepest corner in Scotland" I decided enough was enough and got off the bike. I didn't feel in control, and wasn't sure the brakes would hold out much longer. Sometimes you have to be able to know when to stop, so that you can ride another day!

According to "Another 100 Greatest Cycling climbs", this is Scotland's steepest corner. At least 30% on the apex, I certainly agree, and I was coming down it!!
You can follow the road climbing up through the centre of the picture, twisting round the trees and then up by the Pines.
The ride back to Strachur should have been simple by comparison with what I had just done, but I didn't account for one more climb, another 3.5mile drag at just over 4% ave. This did lead to a great descent back to the cottage though.

To finish off the holiday, I decided to ride round the loch to Inveraray, and have a coffee at Brambles Cafe.
When I did the Loch to Loch ride last September, Brambles provided lunch on the first day and it was great, especially the Caramel Shortbread (for those who did the loch to loch, it is still as good!) The sun was shining brighter and I wished I had taken my shorts with me as the temperature  rose to double figures! The weather had been great all week, we were really lucky, but even with the sun shining there was still a cold chill in the air.
The Road to Inveraray is busy, mostly coaches and logging trucks, but the road is wide and there are plenty of passing points. To emphasise how hilly Scotland's roads are, even their hump back bridges are excessive!

At least 5 meters high, straight up straight down! 
Sitting in the Sun outside Brambles in Inveraray

 I didn't stop for long, and was soon back on the road retracing my route to Strachur. It is difficult to comprehend on maps, but Lochs are exceptionally large! My cafe and back was 40 miles, and each point was less than half way down each side!

Nearly home, with Inveraray in the background
It was great taking the bike, and exploring the routes in a small section of the Argyll area. I can highly recommend it, even if you don't like hills, as there is always a great reward on offer for your efforts.

Ride stats for the week:

Count:4 Activities
Distance:121.25 mi
Time:8:51:33 h:m:s
Elevation Gain:2,336 m
Avg Speed:13.7 mph
Avg HR:158 bpm
Avg Bike Cadence:--
Calories:5,559 C