Monday, 25 October 2010

Monday Commute

'Please be careful'.. Kate throws the plea over her shoulder, climbing into the car she adds '..and enjoy the ride!'..

Smiling, I go back into the house, my mind is still undecided, I know that I have about 2 hours before I have to be at work and that a bike is going to be getting me there.  Up until this point, my mind was settled on the road bike.. but looking outside at the beautiful autumn sun and rich colours displayed by slowly changing trees another idea had taken hold.. 2 hours, that's more than enough time to get in some decent local singletrack before heading to work.

Mind made I change, a feel of the chill whilst de-icing the car has persuaded me to dig out my longs.. the first time in a long while they've seen the light of day.

Bottle made, keys in pocket and door locked, I press the start on my Garmin and swing a leg over the bike, standing up on the pedals I speed along the road, forcing blood through cold muscles.  A very quick road descent sends ice-cream headache signals screaming into my brain, my hands are numb and my face hurts.. shoulda packed the buff like I'd planned.  Skipping into the forest I opt left for a short sharp climb, it's not a gentle warmup but offers a chance of a sneaky trail to get my singletrack fix early.

Another climb, this time I've warmed up and my breathing is easy and measured, I'm feeling good and the buzz of getting in this early morning stolen ride has fixed a wide smile on my face.

Leaves crunch under tyres and sunlight breaks through the thinning leaves.  Reaching the top of my favourite trail I take the opportunity for a quick sip from my bottle, thirst quenched I set off.  This is the beauty of night ride season, I'm flying, line choice is sharp and the bike is hitting the trails dead where I want it to.  Swooping down a sharp turn a noise up ahead diverts my attention, a deer, startled by my intrusion into his private world starts, disappearing into the undergrowth.

Reaching the fire road I weigh up my choices, time is just a little too short to do the furthest trail and I should start heading in the rough direction of work, no matter, I know the forest and already my mental GPS 'Recalculating' icon has flashed, identifying a handful of little trails I can cover before responsibility takes precedence.

Another trail, more fun, more flow, more smiles.  The ground has frozen hard from the low over night temperatures and its worked to make trails faster.

I stop at a high point overlooking the forest for a quick picture and then drop down a final track that will lead to the road and work.  Tucking low over the bars I'm mashing the pedals.. 10 miles to cover and about 35 minutes to do it in.. hhmm.

Reaching work, I prop the bike outside the office and walk in to the warmth.. I hadn't realised how cold I was, I cradle a mug of tea my work mate had thoughtfully made..  I'm buzzing, full of post ride exercise highs but looking around I see I'm alone, to everyone else it's the dreaded Monday morning.. to me, it's already been a good to be alive day.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Winter Nights

I'm climbing well, the familiar warmth of exertion is spreading through my legs, standing up on the pedals I dig in for the final kick to the crest.  A deep breath in and I feel icy autumn air stream into my lungs, I exhale and a cloud forms in front of my eyes, breath turned white by the powerful beam of my helmet light, reaching the summit I unclick one foot from it's pedal and coast to a rest beside my riding mates..

Last night was the first proper ride of the winter season, by proper I mean the half six meet at the carpark of the local riding centre was done mainly under the rapidly approaching darkness.  Until a year or so ago I hated night riding, my experience of it was limited, cheap lights often failed me when needed and the one 24hour event of the season I did meant the learning curve was often steep and blooded.

..a few moments to wait for everyone to regroup, we move off before the cold works through our layers and hard won body heat, the sound of shoes snapping into pedals fills my ears.  The trail turns downhill from this point, it's a section of singletrack we've ridden countless times during the summer, one that's quick, technical and smile inducing.  A pause to let the rider in front put some distance between us and I'm moving into the trail line, up on the pedals, fingers covering the brakes.  All of my concentration is focused on the pool of light ahead.  Senses spoiled during the light months struggle to adjust, the trail moves under my wheels but my brain isn't yet in tune, those night ride reactions have lain dormant, but they're coming back, this isn't about being quick and perfect in one go, it's about getting your eye in and becoming comfortable with the reduced visual input.  My front wheel catches an unseen obstacle and I hastily adjust, balance shifting instinctively to correct, realign to the trail and regain my speed with a few sharp pedal strokes.  My focus is complete and I feel totally alive, Eckhart Tolle speaks of the state of 'No Mind' - the point of which there is no internal chatter or white noise.  This is my No Mind state, I'm hardwired into the bike and trail, the bills, job stress, family issues and To Do lists are gone.. there is just Being..

During those first few 24 hour races I dreaded the night, I knew I had to do a lap or two, but feared the time I was on the trail, my lights would undoubtedly fail, one year in particular was especially memorable.  The uneven ground worked to undo the lights mounted on my handlebars so that over the course of 200mtrs or so they would drop until they pointed at my forks.  Completing 10 miles of this was misery, better equipped riders flew past, confident in their ability and equipment whilst I hugged the side of the trail, moving slowly and in a bad mood.  Each experience was enough to put me off venturing out into the night until the following year would again force me to embrace the night trails.  Eventually I parted with the necessary money and bought decent lights, adding another powerful second set a year later.  Suddenly a new world was opened up, the night was no longer to be feared but embraced.  Trails long familiar took on a different persona, skills honed during summer months were left useless, my riding changed and I felt myself progressing for the first time in a long while.

..The ground is passing more quickly, my brain has changed up a gear and the trail is being processed that bit quicker, the rider in front is being reeled in.  All too soon the end of the trail is approaching, those few signs which are a forest bikers equivilent of trackside braking markers.  I ease back and drop onto a fire road and into the bright pool of light created by the numerous light sets of my fellow riders.  Talk is easy and laughter frequent as experiences are shared..

We ride every wednesday, a handful of riders who are prepared to venture out no matter what the weather to get our fix, it's the trails, the comaraderie, the banter, shared jokes, laughs, crashes.  For those few hours I'm not a dad, nor a husband, I'm a bloke on a bike, the one you beat last week, but who might just beat you this time and no longer does the night stop me.

All hail the darkness

Monday, 18 October 2010

Another week of (nearly) nil

This is becoming rather annoying.. at least my extreme tiredness has an identifiable cause this week.  It's a 12 month bundle of teething joy.  Couple teething with the sheer amount of bugs that seem to be going around Callum's nursery and, consequently our family at present amd it's no wonder that in the fight between duvet and trainers it's a one sided battle.

Made more annoying by the occassional tweet of my mate Birdie who is currenly enjoying New Zealand in his build up toward the World Singlespeed Champs.  It would seem lots of trails, miles and smiles are the bedrock of his trip so far.

I'm very aware that running is my weak point, I run and struggle, very rarely do I get a run in that feels effortless, maybe, as Greg Lemond once said though "It never gets easier, you just get faster".

In an effort to get some form of training in and stop the degradation of my hard won fitness, I got out Saturday for a trail run.  Armed with head torch I set out for a short loop, it was over before I knew it and my legs ached far more than I thought they would do, I admit I've not run much but the terrain changes, loose ground and uneven trails made for a cracking all body workout,  It was hard work, indeed, as I dropped down the final hill to home, another quote came to mind.. that of William James, "Most poeple never run far enough on their first wind to realise they have a second..."  I've paraphrased that to suit, but it sits pretty well.

I can safely confirm my second wind was no where near challenged, but it was a hugely enjoyable experience nonetheless.  We live in an area that is surrounded by woodland, the roads are rubbish and it's quite amazing that I've never decided to run off road before, I spend a lot of time riding singletrack and so running it would, to a normal person, be a pretty obvious choice, not to me it seems.  This will, however be my running terrain of choice though in the build-up toward next year.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Terra Firma..

What a weekend.. it's going to take something pretty amazing to beat it any time soon, of that I'm pretty certain!.
Saturday was family day, Callum is 1 in on the 13th October and so we had a party for him.. nothing major, just the grandparents and Kates brother with his wife and their little one.
It was a great evening and the star of the show was on fine form.. as he normally he is when there is an audience to entertain. The first lot of present opening saw him get a ride on Thomas train and a 'my first tool-box'.. he's quite obviously following Kates family in his practical nature and is constantly inspecting anything that moves, turns and opens.
Sunday was the day I had been dreading and anticipating in equal measures. Kate bought me a tandem sky-dive for my birthday, it's something I've wanted to do for years but have never done. She did one for her 21st and it was clear how much she enjoyed it.
We turned up at the airfield at the right time for our briefing and the weather, although forecast to be fantastic, wasn't. It was then that I found out that a UK sky-divers biggest attribute isn't bravery, but patience.
The initial brieing drummed into us the importance of body position, keeping your head back, your feet up behind you in the classic free fall position and the utter utter necessity of having your feet straight out in front of you on landing, unless you wanted to pitch forward, have an instructor land on you and then plough a rather impressive furrow on the landing zone with your nose.
Once that was done it was down to practicing the sky divers attribute big time, all the while harrassing the impressive tea bar on site.
Satellite images showed the cloud that was hanging over us would be clear by 1pm and, true to form by quarter past blue sky was fighting off the greyness and the sun was warming us.
I was on the first plane of the day and my instructor came over to do the final briefing, Rick was the veteran of the club, having over 4000 jumps to his name, 2000 of them as a tandem instructor. As is usually the way with people who are top of their game he exuded an air of utter self confidence, obviously feeling it unnecessary to try and prove how good he was through bravado or bragging. His quietly spoken instructions offered undertones of 'Don't worry' and we were soon walking to the plane.
Sitting in the plane as we climbed to 12,000 I was intoxicated by the views, the roar of the engine and the smell of the fuel. We were soon at the point of no return and, as the door opened the wind rushed in, filling my ears and emptying my lungs.
As a tandem jumper you sit in the instructors lap, as you come to leave the plane, they sit on the edge, leaving the student to dangle in space.. looking down I realised that all that was between me and the ground was 12,000 feet of air.. amazing.
Two rocks and we're out.. head back onto Ricks shoulder, hands braced across my chest holding onto the straps intended to keep hands out of the way of the bloke who's job is to get us stable in the air. I let out an involuntary adrenalin filled yell as we tumble away from the plane, for a second we topple and then Rick works his magic, I get a tap on the shoulder and put my hands out in front as instructed.
A second later Jay's face appears in front of me.. the guy is incredible, he's filming the jump and manages to get clearer images whilst dropping at 120mph then I do stood on the ground.. Thumbs up, I want to show I'm doing good and enjoying every precious moment.
35 seconds later and we're at 5000 feet Rick deploys the chute and bam, we go from 120mph to 0. I watch Jay drop away from us before deploying his own chute.
The final drop to earth takes about 4 minutes and Rick throws in some steep turns, apart from those seconds of g-force the parachute is still and serene.. coming into land Rick gives the instruction to bring my legs and feet up and then brings us in for landing.
Emotions flood through me, what a buzz.. I thank a rather embarrassed Rick with a huge hug and then I'm off to thank the best wife in the world for the best birthday present ever.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Free Falling..

For some reason* I'm really tired this week, I just can't get myself out of bed before 6.30am and that means I don't get time for exercise.

I'm making up by getting a session in after work on friday afternoon, but it's pretty far short of what I would really want to be doing in a week - two sessions.
Never mind, there is always next week and there is one hell of a weekend before then to get myself stuck into..
Saturday is Callums 1st birthday party.. something that has come round so quickly it's kinda scary.. before that we're taking the little man swimming - something he quite clearly adores..

Sunday I'm doing a tandem skydive.. it was a birthday present from Kate, but, being rubbish, I took an age to organise it..

I've always wanted to do one and now, thanks to my fantastic wife, I've got the chance :)
Don't expect stories of me being brave.. I imagine I will be sobbing uncontrollably on the way up and screaming like a girl the whole way down.. still, it'll fill another blog post right? ;)

* it's a 12 month old reason, a 12 month old reason who is teething like mad and as such doesn't seem able to sleep much

Thursday, 7 October 2010

First Post..

So, in a fit of decisiveness I've swapped blogging sites.. I've been trying to run a blog on Posterous but haven't got on with it, so now I'm on blogger :o)

I'll be getting this site up to how I want over the next few days, but for now, I guess I can start off by describing my ride last night..

It was off road, in the dark and, typically, in the middle of a bloody great rainstorm. It only totalled out at about 15 miles, but over-inflated tyres saw me skidding off roots with rather tiring (no pun intended) regularity.

I'm convinced things come in threes, so, after my third crash saw me somehow catch myself before I thudded into the mud I kind of thought I'd seen the end of the bad stuff.

And then I fell off again, only this time it was a proper crash, a big, out of control, tank-slapper which ended with an over the bar flight, narrowly missing an evil looking tree stump and a hefty tree that didn't need to be evil as it was so immoveable. Luckily, I managed to break my fall.. unfortunately, my fall was broken by slamming my man pieces into the handlebar stem.

It's fair to say the next 5 minutes passed in what can best be described as a haze.. repeated attempts to stand up were thwarted by (and excuse the language, I'm not adept enough in the english language to put this nicely) my b**ocks screaming "nofuckingwaymonkeyboyyoucausedthisyoucanstayhereabitlonger"

I did eventually get up, and, very carefully, get back on the saddle. I was very careful for the rest of the ride, dwelling on my rule of threes and the fact I was owed two.. considering the severity had increased through the evening I wasn't too willing to find out what number 6 looked like.
Still, my riding mates were all very concerned for my well-being, once they stopped laughing of course, but I wouldn't have expected anything less from them