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Friday, 31 August 2012

The surfing issue

Other sports are available

Can I recommend Wales for surfing? Well, obviously I can, but to be more specific, Abereiddy in Pembrokeshire. Even for those of us who live near Bristol, Pembroke is long way and on an August Bank Holiday Friday at 5pm, approaching a traffic jam at Newport, it seemed an awfully long way! 

The SATNAV is good in many respects, but as it updates its ETA, a note of depression can affect the driver. That said, "Helga" (as my SATNAV is called) is pretty good at estimating when you will get to your destination and eventually 8pm came up and stayed on screen, as the traffic cleared. This allowed a quick dump of kit and a rush to the pub for sustenance and "a plan" for the morning.

Saturday started bright but windy, so we trundled off to Abereiddy beach to read the papers and stare at the sea. Surfing requires quite a lot of staring at the sea. The tide was wrong (high) and had killed off the waves, so even though the car park was filling (more of that later) we popped off to St David's for a bit of tourism.

St Davids is the smallest City in the UK and has a lovely cathedral, any number of coffee shops and pubs and an excellent visitor centre where we had a snack and waited for the rain to stop. A wander round town revealed that surf fashion is still mainly "Californian/Hippy" style, the cathedral was looking a little worse for wear inside, and the side of a hill is still a hard walk, even if you are supposed to be fit enough for surfing. 

We made a detour on the way back, via Whitesands beach. All I can say is if you don't like your fellow man, this is not the place to go. Lovely beach, crowded as hell.

Back at Abereiddy, the tide was out and surf's up. It's my first surf this year and the waves are powerful and slightly confused with several swells making getting out difficult, and dumps regular. I'd give that session 5 out of 10 for surfing and 9 out of 10 for creating an appetite. The family had turned up by now, so it was off to the pub and a well earned cider.

Not a happy bunny after a Saturday bashing!
Sunday dawned sunny. The wind had dropped, Nice!. A pre breakfast surf had been scoped out the previous evening, so post fry up, we were squeezing ourselves into our wetsuits (damp) hoping our guts would fit! The swell had dropped off, so patience was needed. A pleasant couple of hours was spent in the water until a nice cuppa beckoned. 

Posing and back lit - nice!
We all waited around to see if the swell would pick up later and we were rewarded with a great early evening session. Only the 5 of us in the sea, and lovely sets of nice clean waves were coming in.  This gave me the best session in a long time. Two hours in the water left me needing the BBQ laid on by my Bro in law.

Almost look pro here - mainly an accident!

Surf art - nice one Leona (camera holder)

Monday dawned wet - well wet is probably not sufficient, but shall we say that it rained like it did when I was last in Bali - and I didn't actually see any tarmac for 60 miles. 

So what's so good about surfing?

Well, I think it's rather like mountain biking. You are reliant upon the natural elements and your skill (or lack of) Surfing is harder, but like MTBing is free once you get to the ocean. It's addictive too. Once you've got up and stood there, "walking" on water, you just want to get a longer and faster ride. As they say, a bad day surfing is better than a good day at the office, and even what looks like a hopeless surf can be transformed by just one good wave. I've met really nice people surfing, the guys at the North Devon surf School  have been very encouraging and I would recommend learning to surf there. Westward Ho! (their base) is a super mellow beach with loads of room. It's better than Croyde to learn, more room and better ice cream. Give it a go, the worst that can happen is that you can end up having a guilt free slap up dinner and few refreshments whilst improving your fitness!

Foot note - competitive parking

I know it was August Bank Holiday Sunday, but blimey, us Brits are not at our best when it comes to car parking. There is a tendency to try and claim as much space a possible and sod anyone else. We got there on Sunday at 10, and parked out of the way and about 10 yards behind a camper van, parked across the beach, in a space that three cars would call roomy. We got an evil look from a seated "beige clad" senior as if we were encroaching. Little did they know what the rest of the day would be like as they were virtually surrounded by cars, squeezing into the smallest gap. One van was later asked to move across a little and "couldn't possibly" as "he had set his chairs up....."

Later, there were always three cars circling the car park, waiting to pounce, should a space come free. Still, the nice thing was, that by the time we surfed Sunday night, most people had left, missing the nicest part of the day (well except for the "sharp shower")

Friday, 24 August 2012

Dangerous Roads??

Is it really that dangerous to cycle on the roads?

It's a question that strikes me every time I get out on the bike. I don't think I am taking unnecessary risks going out for a ride, yet the Times noted that 72 cyclists have died on the roads this year, so far. My view is that cycling is not inherently dangerous, yet with such stark stats, it's perhaps time to have a think what impact each of us can make to our own safety and for the safety of all cyclists.

I am not one to be particularly critical of the odd "traffic violation" by cyclists, they are mainly a defence mechanism, such as starting out early from the lights or hopping on the pavement to avoid a dangerous junction. But it seems to me that the main danger of such infractions is not the action itself, but the impact on opinion and the opinion of other road users.

Like most cyclists, I am a car driver (and motorcyclist - if you want risk!) and because of understanding how vulnerable cyclists can feel, I take care not to endanger people on bikes (or horses for that matter). But there are motorists who are seriously annoyed with and by cyclists. Now that is their problem. They will need to keep a close eye on their blood pressure and often, ones I've met, have serious anger management issues. But it can become our problem too. In a clash of me and 1500kg of car, I am not coming out on top.

So I now try and ride with an eye to other road users. I make eye contact, wave and smile and often wave cars through, if like yesterday, I was first to some temporary lights at road works. It was quite a revelation. I had some fun banter with the first car and friendly waves from others. I got through the road works with little delay. And I genuinely believe that spreading a little happiness (as the song goes) can promote cycling and cyclists as fellow road users and not "a nuisance".

BTW - if anyone goes on about "why do cyclist not have licences etc like car drivers" could I suggest politely pointing out that motorists are in charge of tonnes of metal, capable of high speed and responsible for nearly 3000 deaths a year, tens of thousands of injuries and millions of pounds of damage and pollution. Whereas cyclists are not and a licencing system would be a big literal price to pay just because some motorists get miffed with cyclists!

Recipe of the week - banana flapjack

Not tried this one, but it looks really nice, and what's not to like in a banana chip flapjack!

Got to be better than anything shop bought!

Keep safe

Monday, 20 August 2012

Chipping Sodbury Sportive

Chipping Sodbury Sportive - 60 mile route

Well a 6am alarm is not my idea of fun any morning, let alone on a Sunday morning. But it was at my request. The Chipping Sodbury inaugural Sportive had sign in from 7am and start slots from 8. So we needed to eat before we left home. Two Oatibix and a banana later we were on our way to the start line. 

We were amongst the first to arrive and having signed on, I took a moment to have some water and reflect on what was going to be quite a hard day. The sun was poking through occasionally and when it did, it revealed the potential for heat to add to the already humid and airless conditions. 

Deciding that the key aim was to avoid the broom wagon, and knowing that training had been "minimal" we pushed forwards and got in the second group out. We were amazed by the bike porn on display. My bike for the day was a Cannondale Bad Boy (no really), a 26" "hybrid" and my wife's was a similar part bin special I constructed for her around a Merlin Cycles HT Mountain bike frame. Whilst not sounding glamorous, it is light and effective (and cheap!) and when I lifted the back of my bike round to face the start line, I was a little jealous!

So we set off out of Chipping Sodbury, allowing the expensive carbon bikes to head off into the slightly murky morning as we quickly approached the first challenges which would get us up to Hawkesbury and Hillesley, "up" being the appropriate word. as our 60.5 mile route claimed 1203 metres (3945 ft) of climbing and most of this was in the first few miles as we got up onto the edge of the Cotswolds.

I got off and walked once, then twice as my early morning leg muscles protested, but was pleased that this was not repeated during the day. The organisers had good sign posting and the roads chosen were mainly quiet, except for the odd farmer, boy racer and at one stage a lost milk tanker!

Having swung across the A46 towards Tetbury (signposted but never seen) the first 25 miles ended in Nailsworth, a town noted for being at the bottom of 4 large hills. The organisers had laid on excellent feed stations and we loaded up on banana, flap jack or in the case of my wife, a cheese and pickle roll. We filled the bottles and cycled off towards the next challenge. 

The climb out of Nailsworth led up towards the M5.........eventually. It's a climb with several false summits and by the time we made it to the top, we were hot and wondering where the broom wagon was! The next few miles passed ok, and we had the highlight of a long downhill where I managed 40mph and stormed past a few of the younger, lighter riders!

The legs were not so happy at this point and with ten miles to the 48mile feed station, I started not so much "hit the wall" as start to "bounce along the fence". Luckily, my wife who had suffered a little, early doors, started to assert her much better endurance fitness and I slotted in behind to benefit from the draft.

Talking of draft - does energy drink give you wind? It's hard to know if it was the drink or just the gut being asked to perform overtime! 

Eventually we got into Rockhampton and the feed station, again excellently stocked by the Rotarians, and banana and flapjack were fired down the throat along with some water and an energy gel!

Off again, the legs gradually improved and after the long but steady climb out of Thornbury, the route gently rolled us back to Chipping Sodbury. A short but unwelcome climb into the High Street was the last proper effort before rolling back into the finish and a well earned pasty!


Well, I think we will do it again. Hopefully one or two of the roads might be missed out as the recent rain had brought stones and mud (and minor streams) onto the tarmac. Training might have been good, but injuries and time did not allow, so all in all an excellent result

Our vital stats were 60.5 miles, 3945 feet climbed, ave speed 11.5 mph and top speed 40mph
Riding time 5:15 (elapsed time will be a bit longer - waiting on the results)

Bananas consumed (both) 8, liquid drunk, at least a gallon, (between us)

Estimated kcals used, me 4,200;  Leona 3,000 (yes really!)

Friday, 17 August 2012

Olympic Verdict

So what did you think of 2012?

I'll admit it, I've been blown away by the Games. I liked both the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. I felt they represented GB well, made us look original and quirky and also "bigged up" the NHS. What other countries would have made of it I really don't know. But I guess that was half the point.

I also liked the way that it did not compete directly with Beijing. It did compete, it was just on another level. It was saying that, hey, all that fuss and fireworks was easy, directing a two hour play is hard. I even liked the sing a long at the end with Macca, not because of the quality, but because it worked in getting a huge singalong.

At the closing ceremony, I thought the "Frankie goes to Hollywood" style shirts saying "IMAGINE" was great, the John Lennon mask was dead clever. Not sure how it might have gone done in some Southern American States, where they watching on a Sunday, but I guess that's just one of those things........

My highlight of the games

This is actually rather difficult. As any sports fan with a bit of time on their hands, I watched everything, but for pure guts and for showing the streets around where I used to live, Bradley's Gold was the number one for me. Many of the other much-repeated highlights were about racing. Now normally, I would be all for racing but having done a little time trialing a long time ago, I have a flavour of what winning this event meant in terms of effort and confidence.

I was fortunate enough to see the great TT'er Tony Doyle (double World Pursuit Champ) do a sub 20 min 10 miler on a cold November morning on a less than fabulous out and back course. That is like seeing Bradley turn up on the A46 for a Sunday Club 10 with only parents and dogs for company. That day, I knew that cycling, least racing in that form, was not for me. I was too much of a "rugby player" build and liked ball sports. But the time and effort just to turn up and do what he did was an eye opener. He warmed up for ages and the level of concentration  devoted to a Sunday 10 was on another planet.

So why Bradley? Well, to do what he had to do, less than a week after the effort and disappointment of the Road Race showed his physical and mental class. But over and above that, the ability, without helpers and totally exposed as you are in a TT, to perform to that level was quite remarkable. And this is why I put it above Mo's achievement, say. But only just, Bradley had to ride as fast as he could on the day, no tactics to "hide" behind, no fast last lap.

Mo's victory did provide one of the most heart warming Olympic moments for me. I was sitting in a Bracknell bar when the 5,000m was on, the race held the attention of everyone and there was shouting and cheering as Mo came in to win. It seems that Mo might be a catalyst to perhaps a little more harmony in GB?

I liked the spice Girls too, they were so wrong, it was right! And any ceremony where Fat Boy Slim emerges from an octopus, must be getting something right!

The Cycle Show on ITV 4. Monday 8pm

It's rare that TV gets cycling. The recent series (still going) of The Cycle Show on ITV 4 might have got near. Its based on an interview and film excerpt format and has a 400m sprint challenge for guests. 

On the first show, Graham Obree and Gary Fisher turned up and it was interesting to hear them "unscripted" for a change. Graham is the cyclist who used washing machine parts (well in the popular press)  on his track bike and traded records with Chris Boardman many years ago. Graham tends towards seeking a low tech solution. His energy source of choice is jam sarnies! Gary was one of the pioneers of mountain biking and all MTB'ers owe him a debt for where our sport has got to.

Anyway, give it a go, let me know!

Recipe of the week - Chicken and Broad Bean Pasta

No cake this week. This Recipe is from BBC Good Food and is easy and tasty. I used full fat creme fraiche as that was all I had to hand and I used milk to thin it and not pasta cooking water. I cooked the beans by themselves to avoid over cooking. Add some garlic puree and use lots of cheese and it's a winner. I used a grill pan for the chicken for more flavour. Tagliatelle is in the recipe, but it is difficult to mix in the sauce. I will try penne or spirals next time. 

A glass of slightly chilled Pinot Noir would be nice.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Explore your local riding and bake some brownies

Hey, I'm riding

It is good to be getting out on the bike again. Partly because it feels great, being outside and partly because if I didn't, I would have no right to be writing posts on cycling.

It's just in time as I had forgotten that me and my wife are entered into a "hilly sportive" on Sunday week, and when it says "hilly" in the Cotswolds, you know you're going to earn that cider by the end.  So we've been getting out on the bikes and that means working out new routes suitable for our current state of "fitness". I have said to friends a number of times, "I can fake 60 miles, it's not so far....." Now I'm going to find out!

Mapping rides

I find using an on-line mapping resource an excellent idea, as it lets you gauge the distance and "degree of difficulty"  before setting out. And in addition, it means that the "route less travelled" can be incorporated into your ride. A car can be good for researching routes, but I find that I generally use the main routes in the "polluting box" and when cycling for fun and fitness, the side road is king! So I use "Bike Route Toaster" It has a silly name, but is intuitive to use and you can store your routes online and download them should you be lucky enough to have a suitable GPS gadget. I have one, but generally only use it when I am in danger of getting lost.

Getting lost

Getting lost. My wife would think that I would be risking that on most rides. Indeed she often reminds me of the second time we went to Chamonix (it was about my 30th visit) when I could not find the Omelette Restaurant (recommended BTW) and she said, "it's in the next road, I though we were going the scenic route......" as I blundered around.

Anyway, contrary to her belief, I can often navigate quite well. I often use the sun to remind me which way I need to travel to get home. I do take my mobile with me when cycling, just in case. In our area its easy to get lost. Not quite sure if she could navigate me home from me phoning, and describing the scenery, but I suppose its always worth a go!

Explore my local routes

One of the nice things about the cycle route website is that you might find a local route shared by another cyclist and so discover roads and trails you would never have considered.

This very Thursday, I travelled around Yate and was only on road for 2 of the 12 miles (obviously, a short ride) I went down cycle routes, RUPPs and hard surfaced bridleways, seeing some lovely houses, some great views, the Virgin Train to the Midlands and more excitingly, a wooded area, crossed by trails.

Door step MTBing is a luxury, I've had for many years. It's interesting that now I am in the middle of the countryside and in horse country, access to the that countryside is so restricted. However, careful study of the maps and by cycling around the roads, it is starting to come together. Hopefully at some point in the near future, I will be able to report a mountain bike route - mainly legal with any luck!

Recipe of the week - quick brownies

Like there is never an excuse for ugly shoes (I am told) there is never an excuse to buy brownies, when you can make them in no time and earn err, brownie points from your friends. I have long looked for a "base" brownie recipe to which I can add ingredients as I like.

This Brownie Recipe is it. A few pointers. Please use the best cocoa powder you can get. I like Green and Blacks, but anything "not budget" will work a treat. Do use golden caster sugar, it add flavour. It will take all of the time to cook and a bit. Get it out of the oven and let cool in the tin on a wire rack. Get it out when there is a little "wobble" left in the middle or else it may get a little dry.

Added ingredients. I add chopped walnuts and or chopped glacĂ© cherries and/or chocolate bits (chopped up from nice chocolate - not supermarket special!) For luxury, cherries and dark chocolate take a bit of beating

A final word. If, like me, you need to lose a few kilos, but love baking, make sure you give this away to work colleagues, friends, neighbours and bask in your selflessness......grrrr!

GlacĂ© cherries - factoid

(BTW - did you know glace cherries don't last for ever? My brownies were nut only this week, as when I tried a sample cherry, it tasted stale. Buy fresh and buy ones which are not that nasty fake red colour. Waitrose do them!)

Saturday, 4 August 2012

I've been to the Olympics

The Sailing Post

I'm no sailor, I've no fear of the water, but my occasional forays onto the water have mainly been for fishing. My main claim to fame is sinking a wind surfer. But beggars cannot be choosers when is comes to Olympic tickets and when the shock of the ticket system working wore off, I found myself the proud owner of a ticket for the sailing at Weymouth.

It was a 12 noon start to the action and I timed leaving on the motorcycle to avoid the "isolated heavy showers" promised for Friday. I failed on this account and got thoroughly drenched but by the time I started to see Olympic flags, directions and shuttle buses, the sun had come out and Weymouth was looking like a little part of the Med rather than a corner of Dorset, known for its fossils (Jurassic and human)

Slightly concerned about where to leave the bike, I pulled up to a "road closed" barrier only to be waved through and directed to motorcycle parking by the harbour, only 5 mins from the venue. I followed the crowds and lined up to queue. Everything was well organised and I was through in 10 ins, got my tickets with only slightly less checks than I would get visiting the Pentagon, was cheerfully searched and off I went.

The Nothe venue was really well set up. Hats off to the organisers, not only was the choice of food excellent and varied, it was at a reasonable price. The coffee was good and the loos clean enough to eat your lunch off, not that I tried that. I wandered over with my lunch and took my place on the grass by the big screen, really not knowing what to expect.

The Nothe course is one of many used on the day, and it runs right in front of you. The 49er class was the most exciting as they were fast and colourful. A cheery crowd were enjoying themselves, I'm sure more Pimms was consumed than at Wimbledon as jugs of the stuff was slurped all over the hill we were sitting on. A kind fellow spectator helped me out with what was going on and I finally felt part of the Olympics.

The big screen was good for following the other races and, the local announcers did a fab job and Seb Coe turned up to general acclaim and did a good interview.

I left before the end, to get ahead of the traffic, which mainly worked, though I did find that the Jurassic Coast is also home to some "Jurassic Drivers" who though that 42 mph was just fine. Luckily, the motorcycle meant I could "make progress" and I was soon heading back into Bath and off home.

All in all, a brilliantly run event, who would have thought that sailing was a spectator sport? The image I'll take away, walking back to my bike, was that of Weymouth, of people sitting outside, enjoying an early evening drink and making England look a lovely place to be.