Monday, 28 December 2009

No cure for sprouts.

My body feels polluted. It's like one of those thrillers when the hero is pumped full of drugs: you know, trifle, brandy butter, pudding, lard ganache, sprouts - yuk - Christmas cake, enough chocolate to sink the Titanic and then put every whale within 500 miles into a diabetic coma, and then combs the back alleys and dives of some godforsaken American hell hole in search of an antidote. And yes, I know it's self inflicted, but it kind of goes with the season. And there is no known antidote for sprout poisoning.

But there you go.

One thing made me ridiculously happy this Christmas; Swedish-made  Icebug running shoes with tungsten carbide studs in the soles. On Christmas Eve, London's pavements were plastered with the sort of hard, white ice that would be ace rotated 90 degrees into the vertical plain in combination with axes and crampons. I got as far as the end of the street in my normal running shoes before realising that any more Bambi on ice moments were likely to end in painful injury.

On with the Icebugs and into a whole new world of head-fucked running on ice. There's something bizarre about being able to cruise effortlessly across the sort of slipperiness that would normally have your feet heading in three directions at once and your body splitting painfully at crotch level. It takes a while to get used to and then, when you do, you start aiming for ice patches just because you can.

But perhaps the best bit are the priceless 'how on earth is he doing that' looks on the faces of tarmac-bound pedestrians and the inevitable 'if he can do that then, so can.... argghhhh...' moments that follow.

The things do have their limits, steep downhill gradients on smooth, hard water ice call for a definite cramponesque stamping motion if you're not going to slip a little on each foot plant and flat-footed foot strikes seem to work best, but mostly you just run as normal.

Absolutely brilliant. And nothing to do with sprouts at all. Even sprouts in stealth mode disguised with a gratin topping and some sort of high-cholestrol cream sauce - don't ask...

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Kicking back...

Kicking back at the end of family Christmas by proxy with my oldest friend, Keith, and his family in sunny North London. I'm missing the Peak, but it's no bad thing to remind yourself of how the southern half lives and I'm looking forward to seeing hills on all sides tomorrow. Just love the final stretch up from Chinley with Chinley Churn on one side of the road and Mount Famine on the other - feels like home.

A funny sort of day. I've single-speeded the Roadrat and fitted drops to it as well and it stowed away on the journey down. Imagine that. So this morning, there it was scratching at the front door like a febrile moggy. Or was that me?

At any rate, the ice has mostly melted, so I took off through the suburban wastelands, up to Barnet and beyond. Christmas reclaims London's roads for bikes, temporarily at least, and there's something lovely about humming past the seeping warmth of other people's Christmases. Brief glimpses through windows of people turned in on their families with just the odd runner breaking up the post-apocalyptic quiet. Cars hibernating quietly.

Running 32 semi-slicks and, compared to the 25s on Mog, you don't half feel the extra weight and drag on the ups. I think 42:16 with those tyres will kill my legs in the Peak. I'm just not that strong. But today it was just nice to skim along the lanes, take in the views and appreciate quiet roads.

I came back via the street I grew up in. Oddly familiar and oddly foreign at the same time. And somehow much, much smaller than I remember. How did it shrink so much? Familiar houses but with different people in and the one I grew up in looking slightly scruffy and unkempt, but with a shiny Merc sitting in the drive. Just odd, not sad, not nostalgic.

And then the cold water shock of total immersion in someone else's family Christmas. After four hours of solitary, reflective cycling.

Keith's parents are almost like surrogate family to me, I've known them my entire life. Grew up on the same street as him. Was born eight days before. Best man at his wedding. We're very different, but there's a comfort and ease and trust in familiarity that makes this an easy place to be right now.

Feels right.

Now lounging on the sofa of a sleeping house and channel-hopping sporadically in a forlorn quest to find something, anything, mindlessly watchable. It's easy to look down and spot the rubbish in the gutter, but look up and there are happy sheep in green fields.

Er, I think I need to go to bed.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Ghostly white.

I like snow, it kind of adds epicness to everything. Cover Catstycam with a blanket of the white stuff and it suddenly looks like the Matterhorn, which is nice. And cheaper than flying out to Zermatt. So snow saves you money as well.

Had a proper white weekend up under Rivington Pike with friends. Biking Saturday on deceptively grippy snow. Food, wine, conversation on Saturday night, then a relaxed stroll in the snow on Sunday. All quite lovely.

Miniature epic drive to get home to a white-blanketed Glossop and, well, it would have been rude not to go running. Rubber-studded soles gripping nicely on crisp pavements, running past warm, glowing houses and best of all, a ghostly white, snow-lit detour up the bottom section of Doctor's Gate, glistening in the moonlight.

Then today, stuck some Bonty Mud Xs on the Voodoo Wanga singlespeed and went for a gentle roll along by the Longdendale reservoirs, except that the snow meant it wasn't very gentle at all. But it was beautiful.

Making the most of it before it turns into brownish slush and I migrate south for Christmas.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Almost Christmas Crackered by a denizen of venison...

Back from the Lakes and sportive number four of the year, the Cumbrian Christmas Cracker, a gently rolling 65 miles of festive Lakeland scenery starting from Grasmere, out to Cartmel on the coast via Coniston and its rather substantial duck pond then back through Grisedale Forest. It was cold. Very cold. Cold to the point where the route was neutered to avoid sheet ice, but actually the mix of gently rolling roads and relaxed friends was lovely and just right for appreciating some stunning views, especially across the Lake near Brantwood.

 Pre-Cracker frostiness, brrrr... - pic by Harsh

A few things I've learned this year: how to look sideways and still ride in a vaguely straight line; that I don't have to try and beat people up every climb; that there are always lots of people much, much faster than I am, including this time, a fella in full GB kit on a pukka time trial bike; that following people's wheels in a sportive is a bit like juggling a live hand grenade; and one more from yesterday.

After tea and cake at Cartmel, the three of us rolled gently back towards the Christmas pudding pausing only to lose a pair of ruthlessly-competitive roadies from our wheels - easily done, we simply slowed down and let them ride off - and really just enjoying the ride and the views.

Skimming along towards Clappersgate, someone shouted something at me as I went past him, that I didn't quite catch because at the same moment, I spotted a deer running flat out parallel to the road on the other side of the dry stone wall to my right. First thoughts were what a beautiful animal it was and gawping at the speed and flow of its movement. Then reality kicked in and I realised that something had spooked it and walls aren't much of a barrier to a frantic deer.

Gently on the brakes as the deer turned hard left, bounded over the wall, crossed the road without slowing one iota, took the top off the left-hand wall leaving a portable TV-sized rock on the ground and slammed itself through the gap between the top wire and the gridded part of a wire livestock fence before disappearing across a field.

Ten metres in front of me, maybe less.

All so fast and so slow at the same time that it seemed unreal and unfrightening in the instant. It was only afterwards, pedalling back towards Grasmere that the pointless thoughts about what might have happened kicked in. And the concern for the deer which must have hurt itself hammering into that wall.

Lesson? Deer don't conform to the Green Cross Code. Lesson two: Christmas pudding with custard beats chocolate milk shakes in the comfort recovery stakes every time.

A really mellow, lovely day in a beautiful place with good people. Thanks guys. And thank you Mog.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Nice Ride.

Great ride yesterday above Ladybower with a bunch of guys off the STW forum, really nice mix of people and attitudes and terrain and some stuff still a lot more rideable than you'd think, though the bottom of the Whinstone Lee Tor descent above the pub is a real mess at the moment. Massively impressed by Will who managed the whole loop, including the so-called Beast on a singlespeed cross bike. Can't imagine ever having the combination of finesse and fitness to manage that.

Then, on impulse took off again from the car park at Ladybower for an extra loop - packing lights always a good idea in the Peak, they're like a riding passport after the curfew. Headed up the cattle grid, down the concrete switchbacks in fading grey twilight, then struggled up Potato Alley - smoother than is has been for a while - and was wrapped in darkness on the Roman Road.

Funny how night changes everything. That odd, warm thing of existing in a small pool of bright white light, the way your brain morphs odd shapes into things it might recognise - posts into people, rocks into crouching dogs - and how a slithery but manageable trail in daylight, feels so much more tenuous when all you can feel is the grip of your tyres, or the lack of it.

Drove home in a different bubble of light, tired but happy.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Motivation 2: Rivers of mud...

Riding trails that were streams. On memory. Up to the cranks. Up to the knees. In water. Watching erosion in action as the torrent carved living channels through the grit and piled soil against water-bars.

Every puddle a memory test and a leap of faith. Hub deep? Face deep? Weight back with gritted teeth. The endless pause before. the. bottom. of. the puddle and solidity and relief.

Ridiculous comedy laughing, bubbling up like water and washing away a residue of reluctance. And all the better for knowing how many people would be wrapped up warm and dry inside.

A perfect Sunday.