Twinkly Dave – Mud splattered bicycle and pizza enthusiast Growing old disgracefully

June 27, 2013

Just £3 yer suffering, £3, get yer suffering, only £3

Filed under: bikes,lunacy - mine,Racing,stream of consciousness — dgpowell @ 10:45 am

I’m practically horizontal. If I closed my eyes – and managed to stop shivering – I could probably just nod off right here. I doubt the older gentleman buried somewhere under my left arm would be too impressed if I started snoring and dribbling on him though.
He’s pretty much bent double, and in what seems like a bit of discomfort, reaching out as far as his arms will allow to grasp the bike underneath me as I hang, both feet clipped in immediately behind a small white line pained on the side of a road, in the middle of nowhere.

I think I’ve done this wrong. I think I’m meant to be right over by the kerb so he can hold me perfectly upright, offering me the opportunity to sprint off into the distance as soon as another bloke sat on a small wall finishes counting down from “1 minute”. I’m about 2 foot out in the road, leant over towards the poor guy doing his best to support me wobble-free for up on the pavement. If we were a pair of cards we’d stand upright, in a geometrically stable position, which is great but, in “30 seconds” he’s going to let go and, with me ratcheted into the bike and stationary I’m really starting to think that I’ll do what that one lone card would do without it’s support and just gently topple over. Into the gutter.

If the course for tonight’s event – a hill climb race, based near Horwich, heading from outside a pub (clever) to the top of the local Col d’Winter Hill – started on a sharp left hand bend I’d be set up for the perfect start, I consider, as a glance downward shows me I’m perched on the sidewall of my tyres. It doesn’t though and I begin to wonder if I should unclip, apologise for making it hard for everyone and just set off with one foot on the ground.

“15 seconds”

Damn it! No time! I’ll just have to hope I don’t make a complete tit of myself in front of all the other riders…who are probably already wondering why I’ve decided to start from the wrong side of the road, leaving the ‘hold you up’ guy in need of traction afterwards.
I wish I’d warmed up instead of standing around chatting until I started shivering. That wasn’t very ‘pro’, was it

10
9
8
7

Which way does the course go again?

6
5
4

Wait hang on, I think I’m in too big a…

3
2
1

…gear

Go

Naaaaarrgrggrrgg. aaarrrrnggng, huuuhhuhhhu, pedal aarga go get going move it aaaaarg

Like a 1 litre overloaded nissan micra setting off up a hill in top gear I cough and splutter into a super gradual acceleration away from the line.

Are my brakes stuck on? Have i inadvertently dragged ‘hold you up’ guy along for the ride? Will I have to do the whole thing with him hanging on my back? Christ why am I not going anywhere and what is that weird feeling in my chest?

Oh, that’s my lungs gong into complete shock. Fair enough. Oh look my thighs appear to have joined them. Well, this is going well isn’t it, my body’s revolting against me and I must have ridden all of about 500 metres from the line. Hmm. How long is the course again? 3 miles? Ahh. Right.

Oww actually, this really hurts.

A glance down (well, more accurately an attempt to focus on where I was already staring – I’d not looked up since wobbling away from the start line) at the computer tells me I’ve hit the heady speed of 18mph. which seems odd, as the feedback from every part of my body suggests I should have just heard a sonic boom as I went past the speed of sound. The pain -> speed ratio here is all to cock. On the plus side, I have ridden half a mile and seem to be settling into a bit of a rhythm on the flatter section of the course. If extreme discomfort can be classed as a rhythm.

I should probably stop thinking and just get on with it. Turn my head off for a while. Why can you never turn your head off when you want to?

Is my right shoe a bit loose?

Ooh wait, I think i’m really getting into this now, yes, here we go I’m accelerati…oh wait no, it was just a dip in the road, back to massive thigh pain

(I do feel like my thighs are massive at this point. In fact it seems like a miracle that they’ve not burst, Hulk stylee, out of my shorts)

A waving flag of a marshal bravely stood in the middle of the road tells me I’m at the sharp left hand turn halfway along the route. Momentary joy as I briefly regain the lean angle I had on the start line is wiped away as I remember that the left turn means I’m on the steeper part of the course.

It’s a hill I hate when I ride it normally. It just doesn’t seem to suit me, not steep enough to really fight your way up, but still too steep and with too many changes in gradient to pick a gear and ‘work it’ to the top. I’m never quick up it at the best of times and tonight, with a couple of miles of intense effort already weighing me down tag-teaming with a gusting headwind, there’s a strong possibility I may come to a complete halt and start rolling backwards.

IMG_7094
Pic by martin holden photography

As the road kicks up in front of me I give up any plans about pacing, optimum riding position, efficiency or even thinking full words, in favour of just getting up the bloody hill.

There are spectators (a few of them) alongside the road giving encouragement as I flail about on the pedals, grinding the chain against the front mech as the bike protests at my awful riding style. I stop looking towards them when I realise my eyes must suggest I’m pleading for an end to the suffering and aim what little attention I can hold at the road just in front of my wheel.

That patch road becomes, to my surprise, full of someone else’s back wheel. The guy who set off 1 minute before me (who didn’t seem to be leant over as far as I was) was riding quite a retro bike, leaving me with startline aspirations of catching him before we reached the summit. For the first few miles I’d not really seen him, even though the road was fairly straight, so I’d put any thought about it to the back of my mind, coming to the conclusion that he might well have been riding it to slow himself down a bit as, without the handicap, he’d be illegally fast, or something.

Do I put on some sort of extra spurt of power as I pass? What’s the done thing here? Say hello?

An attempt to form words fails spectacularly as the gasping for breath turns them in to vague, slightly unnatural sounding, gargling noises. I realise that, not only have I probably just creeped the guy out, but he’ll be in as much discomfort as me and perhaps not too appreciative of someone attempting conversation at this point.
I attempt the ‘spurt of power’ option, which doesn’t yield much in the way of results, but does seem to hurt quite a lot. As I do so, a cyclist stood at the side of the road watching the event cheers me on, recognising and rewarding the effort, even with it’s fairly pitiful effect.

IMG_7091
PIc by martin holden photography

The rest of the route becomes a repeat of this, each time the gradient changes I attempt to push a little harder, usually to a ripple of applause from those stood at the roadside, until I see the finish line flag wafting in front of me.
Well, at first I don’t realise just how BIG a finish line flag it is, thinking I must be a few feet from the line until a second glance shows me it’s still a ‘mini sprint’ away and isn’t being held aloft my a midget.

Great. What I’d really like at this point is to have to bloody sprint. That’s right at the top of my list of thing I could do with right now that is. Bloody marvelous.

Leaden legs are called on for one last time as I thrash about towards the finish and roll, wheezing, over it. By complete chance, the finish line is situated just a couple of feet away from one of the comfiest looking patches of uneven, overgrown, litter strewn, rock covered grass I’ve ever seen. I make it my mission to discover just how delightful this geological miracle actually is and flop down into it.

It doesn’t disappoint.

Edit: I finished 7th out of 49. Not bad. Not as good as it could have been, but not awful.
Thanks to all the guys at Horwich Cycling Club who organised and helped out with the event. Good effort all round 🙂

October 2, 2012

Just like you imagined – My Personal Best 3 Peaks

Like a cloth rag caught on barbed wire I flail in the wind. Draped across the flanks of Simon Fell, buffeted and beaten, face not far from the collapsing ground, one outstretched arm grasping weakly at the rapidly disintergrating wire fence as the other is tested to it’s limits holding the bike across my shoulder.
The sound of utterly saturated ground immediately in front of me wrenching away tells me that the person once place ahead, held prone by the gusts, has moved another step. Perched on my toes against the near vertical slope I know it’s my turn. I have to move another step so that the invisible masses below, all lost in a claustrophobic fog so thick your own limbs seem to fade into nothingness around you, can one by one take this spot.
I can’t even breathe.
The aggressive roar of the gale force wind is fighting for supermacy in my head against the high pitched squeal that pulses every time I try to take a breath. Burning lungs and throat scream in disapproval as I try to gulp down the rapidly moving air. I can see, in the murk, the empty footprint of the racer in front of me and, for a moment, it looks like the most comfortable place on earth. I could press my face into it, close my eyes and happliy drift away.
Reality snaps me out of my stupour as my hand slips from the wire crutch to my left. I come close to slipping backwards into the racers behind me as I desperately grab outwards and lurch my feet forwards and upwards. Somehow my feet find purchase in the collapsing fellside and I find myself one step further on my journey. One step out of a million, if not more. In my muddle headed state I become grateful that my surroundings are shrouded in cloud. Ignorance right now is nowhere near bliss, but it’s as close to comfort as I can get, so I take it, let it envelop me like the blanket I sense I should be under, take solice in it.

The sensible thing to do at this point would, of course, be to turn back. To accept that I am too ill to be out here, hung out in a storm on a desolate hillside trying to compete in one of the hardest races there is. There would be no shame in acknowledging that, even on a fine, crisp autumn day I would be too weak to push myself against the mountains of yorkshire with a bike hanging off my shoulder but my previous few years at the 3 Peaks have always seemed to lack something. something that, to me at least, meant I’d never really completed the race. Sure, I’d finished in repectable times before now – legs and lungs working in harmony with the bike and fells to glide me round the rolling Yorkshire Dales in well under 4 hours – but I’d always felt that I’d sneaked a decent performance when the true character of these bleak hills was absent. As I found myself, still astride the bike, pinned against a drystone wall by howling wind, my face a contorted mess as I grimaced and tried to drive onwards, I knew this time round was what I’d hoped for.

My performance would be, by a long way, down on what I could do, but there was no way I was going to miss this fight.

murk

The cold, empty landscape on the top of Ingleborough becames a resolution as I begin to creep across it. Flat, but still tough to traverse due to the sharp, loose rocks that make up the surface, I accept the constant slipping and tripping as weary feet are dragged towards the first checkpoint. My limbs may feel limp, my heart may be racing even when not pushing hard, but I’m here for the duration. Bring it on.

I descend to Cold Cotes slowly, seemingly incapable of planning and following a route down the boggy hillside I survive by following others as they pass, until they vanish in the mist. Loosing place after place. Expecting to be last but almost joyous each time another rider rolls alongside and stops me from having to try and concentrate. It’s only as I reach the (surprisingly large) crowds at the roadside that I realise I’ve managed the descent with no crashes or overly sketchy moments. Slow and steady, but successful.

As smooth tarmac and a welcome tailwind ease the miles between Ingleborough and the beginning of Whernside past, I build up the courage to gulp down a couple of energy gels. Each one feels like a mass of razor blades as it scrapes across my raw throat, but the effect is welcome and impressive. I find myself cruising past riders on the flowing rises and dips and, after narrowly avoiding one poor bloke who is swept off his bike while riding over a cattle grid by the wind, hit the first of the stone steps that reach back into the low cloud and the hidden felltop checkpoint.

I drop my head the instant I begin to climb, bike once again perched on shoulder. I’m not racing anyone around me I am simply. going. forwards. The wind still gusts like it had been on Ingleborough. The higher I get the more darkenss descends in the cloud that once again immerses me. I begin to lose track of whereabouts I am, of everything until, with my eyes still locked on the ground in front of me, innocent and happy eyes look back.
It takes a few moments for me to realise that those eyes belong to a – possibly a poor choice of descriptor – sheepish looking collie dog. It makes the briefest of glances then scampers upwards, flowing over the steps and through the legs of competitors ahead of me before stopping, glancing back and skipping it’s way back down. Then back up again. Then back down. I find myself grinning at it’s playful exuberance in the backdrop of awful weather and obviously suffering racers all around. Its simple happiness gives me a boost as it is called back to it’s owners and I push on to the flatter, rideable track across the summit ridge wishing I could scamper as easily and gleefully as it had.

The flatter trail from the top of the stone stairway to the second checkpoint at the top of Whernside has, in the past, been a place to calm cramping legs with a low geared spin. Nothing too technical, just stare at the views, try not to lose any places and prepare yourself for the descent. Not this time. There are no views and at no point would you have a chance to stare at them, if they were there – the wind whips across the hunched backs of riders infront and behind me, as well as my own, lashing us across the path towards a sheer drop of unfathomable height. Feet are flung at the ground as zig zag routes bring each of us close to disaster over and over again. This is as close to terrifying as I’d like to get…this is exactly what I was hoping for.
Another highly caffeinated energy gel keeps what little focus I can muster going as I strive to keep the cranks turning. I pass a few riders as they are blown across rocks that halt the progress of their bikes. Underneath me, the Dirty Disco manages to hold it’s speed even when line choices are randomly rearranged by the gale. I start to imagine I look like I know what I’m doing as I reach the heroic marshals at the top and scream my race number at them. They congratulate me as I bellow thanks at them through swollen and mucus filled airways. I am looking forward to the descent and a hope of some respite from the wind down at Ribblehead, they are here in the heart of the storm for the whole day.

As the marshals fade back into the gloom and the track begins to sweep back down towards the valley below I find myself slightly fearful of what I’m about to ride. I find the Whernside descent difficult in decent conditions. Today the paving slabs are wet and greasy, the moors to either side are covered in wheel sucking deep bogs and the wind, oh the wind, seems to have becone a constantly berating companion on my route across the mountains. Jostling and pushing, always screaming, tearing at clothes and pulling air from me as I try to gulp down breaths, at times I find myself almost wailing back at it, pleading with it as I am once again thrown around against my will. The energy from the gels might be keeping me upright and my clothing might be keeping me warm enough to stave off shivering but the efforts in climbing over the two hills so far are taking their toll on a body which really isn’t fit enough to carry on. I don’t know how i’m going to keep hold of the bike and stay upright.
Deep down I know that if there was a shelter nearby to crawl into, I would. But, of course, there isn’t. You’re not made to carry a survival bag with you in the race for the sake of it.
Ice cold, ice sharp lashing rain beats across my face, shattering the thoughts of shelters and hiding away. I realise that I’m riding. I realise that I’m carving a route down the trail fast enough to be passing people. Limbs made weak by illness can’t lock rigid in fear and as a ridiculous byproduct, I’m soaking up the bumps better than I ever have before. The disc brakes mean slowing down isn’t a problem when I need to and my last minnute decision to raise the bars means my position in ‘the drops’ is perfect for hopping the bike over the waterbars, rocks and down any drops that appear out of the mist. As the rain gets heavier and water begins to pour down from the peak of my cap a grin speads across my face. Somehow this is fucking brilliant.

The road back towards Horton from Ribblehead contains a headwind that seems to have been made angrier by being penned in between the drystone walls on either side. I barely notice. I concentrate of rummaging round in sodden jacket pockets for more energy gels, manage to find a couple of the highly caffienated ones and down them in quick succession. I’m unaware of any other racers on the road around me, I doubt anyone on the road is aware of anything beyond the tarmac directly in front of the wheels. There is nothing to do here but hide from the wind as best you can and wait for a marshal to appear, pointing the way up the final climb of Pen-y-Ghent.

By the time the marshal in question appears and directs me up the bridleway towards the final checkpoint I am, quite franky, buzzing my tits off on caffeine. There is still a grin plastered across my snot and rain coated face as I start to skim past people who seem to be having trouble getting their bikes over the rubble and cobbles making up the climb. Hovering a couple of feet above any such issues, like a demented hummingbird, I make up place after place, loving every moment and not caring at all about the point where I’ll come back to earth with a bump. Flying by bike.
I pass Alan, who tells me his deep section rims were “a bit of a handful” on the ride over Ingleborough, giggle like a loon in response and carry on dancing past people.
Dancing,
on a Dirty Disco.
Ha.
Brilliant.
Love it.
Onwards and upwards I continue on my merry way, declining the offer of a cup of water from the volunteers halfway up the hill with such vigour that they burst into laughter.
I see Jase making his descent back down from the checkpoint and exchange greetings with him. He’s on a stormer or a ride.
In a storm.
Ha.
Briliant.
How do I come up with these things?
This is ace.

I wonder if I can win the race from here?

The caffeine and the good mood seem to wear off instantly as I realise that I’ve stopped passing people. In fact, in the short distance between me and where the cloud becomes completely opaque I can’t see anyone at all. I can’t see any footprints or tyre tracks on the ground in front of me and I’m suddenly utterly alone on a dead fellside. I begin to backtrack, eyes on stalks looking out for any sort of movement in the fog. After what is only a few moments, but what feels like hours, ghosts begin to appear in front of me, silhouettes trudging upwards, a line of hunchbacks creeping towards the final checkpoint of the day. I nestle myself among them until we reach more heroic marshals, braving the conditions so we can play at being hardy explorers, scream and shout out my race number against the still howling wind and turn back to face what I’ve just walked up.

‘Dibbed’ for the final time until the finish line I point the bike back down the track. The descent feels easy, for the first time in years I’ve ridden the bike enough in the run up to the race to really let it flow back down the hill and combined with still having brakes, while people I pass seem to struggle to slow down, it’s genuinely enjoyable for the first time. I make a mess of a top-tube deep puddle on the lower slopes and have to wade out after nearly toppling over and drowning, but it doesn’t seem to matter. There’s no ‘ooomph’ in my legs for the final road section but frankly crossing the finish line at all feels like a victory against the best the weather and the mountains could throw at me.

As I clamber back into the car and crank the heating up to full blast for the journey home I come to the conclusion that today’s ‘race’ was my best ever 3 Peaks, irrespective of my finishing time, or placing in the results. As epic as i’d ever hoped for and, to be honest, as epic as I’d ever like it to be…

September 18, 2012

The On One Dirty Disco

Filed under: bikes,on-one,stream of consciousness — dgpowell @ 9:26 am

Right, lets not beat about the bush. Let’s kick it off with the only real question; should you buy one?
Well…
Yes, if you want
a) to build up a lightweight bike
b) something raceable
c) a cyclocross bike that doesn’t ride like a cyclocross bike
d) a bit of a headturner
e) to have disc brakes
OK
There you are.
You shouldn’t buy one of you’re convinced that disc brakes aren’t worth it, you’re addicted to Belgian style brands with unpronouncable names, or want something that will transmit EVERY SINGLE TINY VIBRATION directly to your arse (some people like that in a race frame).

Mine turned up just over a month ago, all wrapped up, unbuilt in a big, obvious box that was quite hard to get i the back of the car to take home from work, where I had it delivered.

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I’ve put lots of bikes together before now so assembling it wasn’t too onerous a task. It’s mixture of “you’ve not really got a choice” Avid BB7 brakes and “lets be sensible” SRAM rival groupset (with an FSA gossamer 36/46t chainset) all slotted into position without much faff.
It’s got one of those widgets so the bottom swing front mech works with the cable routing (which runs along the top tube…like it should on a bike that’s going to be ridden in the mud). I don’t really like them, they just turn into a nice mud shelf and the tight turn the cable has to do means more maintenance and cleaning is needed to keep everything shifting smoothly, but it’s needed for the SRAM mech, so tough!
The rest of the finishing kit (all Planet X stuff) unsurprisngly fits nicely and results in a very ‘together’ looking package:

on a bridge

It was all stuck together in a couple of hours (once I’d located some spare brake cable outer, as the amount supplied with the STIs wasn’t enough to run all the way from the rear caliper, along the cable route up the downtube and to the shifter/brake lever, luckily the need to add a barrel adjuster somewhere before the first cable guide on the frame means adding the extra bit isn’t too much of a hassle) and once I’d bolted some rotors onto a space pair of 29er wheels it was ready to roll.

First impressions were, you won’t be shocked to learn, good. Coming off several (happy) years riding an Uncle John I expected the dirty disco to feel very similar.
It didn’t.
In a good way.
The ‘large’ sized frame, with 100mm stem seemed to fit my bog standard 5ft 11ins bodily proportions nicely, without having to jam the saddle as far forward/back as it would go, or using thousands of headset spacers to get the bars somewhere reachable.
Over the rough packhorse trails, rocks and gritstone that the trails ’round these parts’ are made from the carbon muted the buzz and vibrations coming up from the wheels nicely. Less flex and twist from the rear end, partly due to the shorter chainstays partly due to everything being ‘bigger, chunkier’ etc meant staying on line was easier while the nice stiff bottom bracket (which looks huge when you’re building the bike) meant stamping on the pedals never felt vague. The Gossamer cranks work well to compliment this, OK there are stiffer cranks out there but for the price they’re great…certainly good enough to put a cross through any “couldn’t get the power down” excuses you might have been planning!

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A rather nervous first ride or two as I got used to riding off road on a cyclocross bike again (in fact, riding off road at all, after giving up slopping round muddy trails in favour of more road based stuff for months) didn’t throw up too many surprises. Yes, it was easier to keep on line than the Uncle John, yes it felt a bit stiffer and more responsive under hard pedalling but it hadn’t fired me off into the undergrowth at any point with some new handling quirk. It wasn’t until I started getting pinch puncture after pinch puncture that I realised I’d started riding it like a 29er, after just a few hours on it.
The handling was faster, as you’d expect and, if I buggered up a route over rocks/roots I’d know about it (or just puncture, again!) but the cost in innertubes and repair kits seemed small fry in comparison to pushing the limits of what I could get away with each time the trail pointed down.

What you might be surprised to know is that I don’t attribute much of that to one of the big selling points of the bike – the brakes. I sort of knew from the outset that the cable discs wouldn’t offer up anything like the power or control on tap from the XT ones on the Lurcher but for the first few rides I wasn’t even sure they were matching the Tektro Oryx cantis I’d been using on the Uncle John.
Last time I raced the 3 Peaks I had no issue braking (with the Oryxs) using only one finger and had no lack of stopping power hurtling (artistic license, OK?!) down Pen-y-Ghent. Skipping down from Darwen Tower on the Dirty Disco I was hauling on the levers for all I was worth with two fingers, feeling all the pressure I was applying disappear as the outer cable just compressed and contorted. I wasn’t impressed. I was even less impressed when I discovered the stock pads had worn down to the backing plates within a week.

The whole “discs need less faffing to get set up right” plus point avengalists seem to spout repeatedly went out of the window as I hunted down some better pads and spent lots of time researching the best way to get the calipers/cables set up before finally finding a set up that offered enough power to be a worthwhile ‘upgrade’ over a canti braked bike. There’s no less faff in setting the calipers up, you still have to manually adjust the brakes as the pads wear down and they will still get covered in mud and make horrible scraping sounds as soon as you ride in the wet, just like your rim brakes do. They can, however, offer more power, once you’ve finally found the set up sweet spot.
They won’t wear your rims out either, which is nice.
Oh and if you get carried away flying round your local trails and knock your wheel out of true, provided it still fits through the frame/fork your’ brakes will be fine. Hooray!

After a few short rides that didn’t leave me feeling beaten up I decided to start using the bike for longer, more adventurous riding. All day rides that took in everything from twisting, winding country roads, over broken, semi forgotten byways and greenlanes, across endless feeling moors right through to bridleways that, if popular mountainbiking magazines are to be believed, really require a full suss. This, for me, is where it excelled.
Built up as it is in the pics, it weighed somewhere around the 20lb mark, not losing out by too much to many road bikes and with the tyres pumped right up, rolled quick enough to keep up with quite a few (somewhat confused) Sunday roadies. It didn’t feel like a slog on the tarmac.
Once back off road, that almost mtb like confidence that appeared on the first rides meant that I was back pushing myself to go faster on the tricky bits rather than just creeping and picking my way over anything technical. I flew round a few big rides, each time adding more distance and off road to the route to see just how far I could ride and for how long before getting to that point where the bike simply wasn’t a nice place to be anymore.
The longest I managed was 10 and a half hours, after which point I gave up trying, as that point simply wasn’t coming!
The Dirty Disco is made for epics.

Of course, cyclocross bikes aren’t often bought for their ability to do day long, monster length rides. Most people see cyclocross as something to do for an hour each week in a race. Flat out as fast as you can, actively seeking a new max heart rate in a local park while chasing down anyone in front of you in a race. All my dawn till dusk rides on it may have been fun, but I knew a ‘cross bike is never fully tested until you’ve raced it, so last Sunday I found myself stood on the start line of the first round of the NWCCA league, wondering how much of an effect the lack of intervals and sprint raining was about to have on my performance, while simultaneously panicking about whether my freshly glued on tubular tyres would stay put on the lovely carbon Planet X rims.

The wheels, I should point out, were sent at the same time as the rest of the bike, but having no spare tubs meant I’d not ridden them until the day before the race, and even that had just been round the block a couple of times…

The gun went off and, from my position at the back of the field I set about testing the limits of the bike, working my way past racer after racer as my confidence in my glueing ability grew. The handling of the bike came into it’s own on the seemingly endless sweeping, then tighter corners. Lots of overtaking round the inside of riders sliding wide on the greasy surface ensued!
Rather than fire you off every time you slithered on the off camber, piss wet through grass, the bike seemed to hold it’s line really nicely – it worked with you, in fact at points I was imagining it looking up at me and saying “OK, you’re no Sven Nys, but lets work with what we’ve got, eh?” which was both reassuring and utterly galling all at the same time!

avenham1

The light weight meant that getting up to speed was dealt with quickly and shouldering the bike wasn’t too uncomfortable. No canti brakes meant there was less for the churned up mud and grass to gather round and, despite only have the one bike, I never got near clogging the frame up.
My lowly 30th (out of 125) place was entirely my fault. I rolled over the finish line in no doubt that the bike wans’t anywhere near it’s limits with me in charge…a fact underlined by Dave Haygarth using his ‘DD’ to get right up in the top ten, in amongst the ‘fast boys’.

I rode away feeling like I wanted to get some proper, more targeted training for future races done, to get more out of the bike. I’d have to fit them in between day long (and possible multi day) epics, but the bike seemed to deserve it…so that’s what the bike will get. Lots of focus on, well, all sorts of riding. 🙂

Oh, nearly forgot, here’s a list of what’s died over the first 700 miles:
– FSA bottom bracket (luckily, the Gossamer cranks are compatible with Shimano/lots of aftermarket BBs, so you aren’t tied to FSAs somewhat overpriced replacements)
– Vittoria XG clincher tyres (these are naff, but then you’ll want to have different tyres for different conditions anyway I imagine)
– Gear cables (not convinced about having the outers routed under the bar tape – lots of extra tight corners mean more friction, especially if you’re riding in the wet and mud a lot, once grit gets in there)
– Brake pads (I’m still caught in a quandry – do I go for softer, more ‘grippy’ pads that do add to the braking power but wear out FAST, or suffer less braking power with harder pads knowing that they’ll still be working at the end of a ride!)
– Hub bearings and freehub (I’ve not talked about the wheels here as they’re just some of my own. But the Deore hubs have taken a real pounding and, now I’ve replaced the bearings and freehub, are back as good as new)

And my planned upgrades/replacements:
– Better brake cable housing (less power lost in compression = a good thing)
– Use the PLanet X tubular disc wheels more, as they appear to be ace!
– That’s it. Everythign else really is spot on 🙂

May 24, 2012

The persistance of loss

Filed under: Racing,stream of consciousness — dgpowell @ 4:07 pm

I am in a warm place. I feel safe here. I could stay forever. Cossetted, protected, so very far away from the harshness of everything. Let me curl up, slip away, be eveloped entirely. The fading glow from a beautiful implosion washing through each sinew, quieting any suffering and gently pulling any thought from my mind. Oh to stay here, to slip into a hollow centred, weightless sleep forever. The will to care utterly lost. I am not at peace, because peace admits the existance of violence, aggression, anger. I am beyond ethereal. Anything I was, is not here.
Nothingness.

..

Noises in the darkness. No, not darkness, darkness admits to the existance of light. Deep filtered, distorted sounds flow through what remains of my conciousness. A harshness in what could otherwise be the most calming lullaby of white noise. Several tones of noise, each bouncing off the other. Revolving around. One then the next. Not stopping.

Blurring bright whiteness bursts into my cocoon as a dizzying thought begins it’s slow journey from the comforting silence in my head. I should open my eyes.
Distinct shapes begin to appear, firstly flowing from one to another, then seperating into their own identities. The noises continue, but do not appear to be attached to the shapes I can make out. I must move if I am to find the source.

Screeches of coloured movement as the infinite weight of my head begins to roll slowly backwards. Tracers seem to take an eternity to fade as I attempt to seperate the shapes again. Another pause as they tidy themselves up in front of me. The sounds, less distorted now, almost recognisable, fit. I come to terms with the fact that I have discovered their source. Now, to identify what these sounds are.

…ot going t…
…hospit…
..as been pushi…
I feel the muscles in my face tighten in concentration

…it’s normal for him to…
I recognise that voice!
…end up like this.

A flourish of memory bursts forward! I am bent double on a wooden chair, somewhere in Italy. Surrounded by people discussing me. Most of whom are dressed in oddly bright clothing that irritates my freshly reopened eyes, but some of whom are wearing clothes I recognise even through the blurred filters my sight still has. I am the focus of the bouncing conversation. I am…going to hospital?!

No.
Don’t want that.
It becomes apparent to the conversers that I have moved, looked up and am interested in the noises they are making.
..Tell them, Dave. That this is normal..
Yes.
My voyeristic distance form the conversation ends and I throw everything I have into becoming an active part of the discussion.
..Yeah, sorry, I do do this occasionally..
..I’ll be fine in a bit..

Satisfied with my, as far as I am concerned, foundationally solid arguement. I settle back, hovering somwehere between the two worlds I seem to be inhabiting. Somewhere between the light and it’s utter absense I cast a vague interest in what happens next.
Annoyingly, my interjection doesn’t seem to be enough and the voices carry on as before! Damn it.

..Do you want some ice cream?..
Christ no. I want to get back to floating effortlessly in a pool of non existance. Why the fuck would I want ice cream?!
I amuse myself with this thought, enough for it to show in my face, which is taken as approval by the conversers, and ice cream is apparently brought.
Oh well.
To hopefully quell the still spinning conversation I allow fizzing limbs to roll about, digging at the food and shovelling it into my unsavouring mouth.

It doesn’t take long for the sugar to work it’s way through my system and, almost before time itself reforms as a property needed for the conversation to flow I am “back in the room”. Sat, bent double on a wooden chair, coated in a mixture of sweat, blood, mud and dust, with a bucket semi full of coke coloured sick between my legs and several pots of other people’s piss standing to attention on a table directly in front of me.
Welcome back to reality Dave!

To get here, I stood on the start line of the WEMBO world solo 24hr championships, with a nagging, queasy, cramped feeling in my stomach. Not just nerves. Something far more vital failing almost catastrophically even while simply standing still. Something I had no choice but to ignore, wish away and continue as if it wasn’t there.
Within seconds of starting the run I felt it pulling me down, away from the race just as strongly as the racers stuck behind me were pushing on my back as I found I could not accelerate. Time to turn my back on the tidal wave and pretend it would all just go away.

A few mini-mechanicals on the first few laps offer what should be non-entitity pit stops to flourish and grow. Acting as if I am in a rush to fix them when I would be happy for the solution to never arrive I dither after each completion of the course, firstly on purpose but increasingly, as the race begins it’s lengthy journey, because I just can’t focus at all.

By the four hour mark I am far away from where I should be in the race standings, completely at a loss as to where the course goes after every single corner and totally unable to continue on each arrival at the pit lane gazebo Angela and Michael are making look so inviting. I thrash myself off tree after tree in the singletrack. Grinding myself to a halt over and over again then grinding myself back up in a vain search for race pace.

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Never before have I been contemplating, at this point in a race, how I’m just going to survive, let alone take any real part. I eat and I drink, during my increasing retreats into the pits, more than usual, to no avail. No power comes as a result of it. No cure. No focus appears and nothing falls into place. If I was at a “home” race I would already have removed the shackles and retired. I can’t do that here. I’ve trained so hard for this. Travelled so far and asked so much of so many people, unwavering in my belief that I would just “work”.
I am at a loss as to what to do. Neither a racer nor a retiree I continue with my fall apart laps and increasingly withdrawn feeling pit stops. Hollow self promises of “just riding the course to have fun” instantly shatter and vanish each time I creep my way round the route. A desperate, continually lost figure waiting for something to make the decision he can’t come to himself.

Opportunity arises and the decision is made for me. I exit a section of singletrack on the second half of the course, light headed and focussing far too much on the shimmering, flickering movement of the tread on the front tyre rather than what I am travelling towards. Still with no sense of where the course is taking me next I begin to roll downwards as the sides of the race course tighten around me. More singletrack then. And rocks. More rocks than I was expecting. Loose. One side of the course is gone. Odd. Cliff edge trail. Looser still rocks. Don’t remember this bit. Shit, I’m not steering I’m just gently attached to the bike. Shit. Rocks giving way. Too far right…
The edge of the track gives way under the sprawled weight of the front wheel and the spinning feeling in my head infinitely increases, engulfing me before sharply stopping as I realise I’ve crashed off a near vertical slope and begin to strike the crumbling ground. Bouncing and slithering on the loose shale slope I stop myself by grabbing onto bushes sticking out of the steeply angled earth. The bike rushes closely past me and comes to a half some way below my feet, jammed into the dust to create some steadiness.
I glance upwards and see the trail some 20ft up, downwards past the bike towards the sea below and press my forehead into the dirt next to my outstretched arm. Fuck. Me. That was a big one.
With a few deep breaths I glance down to see what damage I’ve done to myself. My knee seems the wrong shape and the side of my right shin has instantly developed an egg like swelling around a nasty looking gash, but the level of pain suggests that I’m still capable of movement. I scrabble around down to the bike and haul myself upwards back to the race course, where I sit for a few minutes waitng for the shaking to calm before remounting the amazingly unscathed Lurcher and soft pedalling my way back down the course to the comfort and safety of the pits.

I sit, head down in the gazebo, watching feet dance around in front of me for what feels like hours as darkness descends and envelops the race. I can’t eat properly now. I don’t even want to. the fact that my stomach has given up completely suits me just fine. I’m losing interst in everything going on around me, so it comes as a shock even to me to realise I’ve stood up. It takes a while to realise I’ve become as sick of haunting the pits as I have of fading away from the head of the race. I notice that I’ve clipped back into the pedals shortly after I set off for another lap as birds start chirping in trees bizarrely early given how inky back the sky still is. I’m completely lost as to how and why I’m riding, but I am, so I focus down on that.

Blackness begins to break, fade and dilute as the first tendrils of light begin to reopen the sky. I complete my lap without crashing. I complete it and see no comfort in dismounting at the pits. Strangely numb I carry on for a second lap, again without crashing I reappear by our gazebo. Light headed again and almost euphoric I quickly swallow an energy gel and a mouthful of water. I feel like my eyes are reaching out on stalks as the light of the second day reveals a twisting, turning race course that I can flow through. I can see how I can let the bike slide when it needs to. I can snap round the tightest of corners, set up perfectly for the next.

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I feel an angry snarl spread across my face as I see a rider on a full suspension bike in front of me, struggling down a steep rocky chute. I glide up to him and past him as if hovering a few inches above any struggles the ground can create. My heart is racing as I nonchalantly dismiss a dusty climb hidden within the tight trees with what feels like nothing more than a flick of the pedals. I recognise what’s coming next. No, more than that, I can already see myself clearing it before I get there.

Heat begins to return as the sun rises, but I am running hotter. Burning. Angry at everything that has happened and so alive that I feel like I can turn back time to start again. I begin to scorch the ground around me, anything I focus on is entirely at my will. No rider has a chance against how I’m feeling, anyone who tries to race me barely exists. I tear round the race course. Tear at it. Becoming aware that this feeling can’t last and equally aware that I won’t temper the flames. Burn harder. Faster. Where was this ability when I needed it? Fuck it. Kill it. Outwardly calm to avoid any questions but inwardly seething and relishing it.

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I being to love racing again. Voices in the pits shout out at me that I’m in 16th. Burn. 13th. Tear at the course. 12th. I realise that I am only heading in one direction. I will implode. Still can’t eat. Barely a few mouthfuls of drink each lap. Everything within me becoming acidic.

..8 seconds down on 10th! Go!..

It begins to rain. Oh such cold sweetness. The course takes on a new persona and beaneath me the bike begins to act in a way I understand intrisically. Bring on the slither! My heart keps pounding and I gather and unleash the tyres across the fresh mud. Faster. Faster. With a flow that negates the rocks and drops around the course utterly.

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Soaked through I race on. Burning myself out in the storm that engulfs the race. As heavy raindrops explode on impact with the now sodden ground I begin to fail. No real energy or drink for hours means my fireburst through the field up into the top ten can’t last forever. I dont care. I don’t slow down. I become ashen faced as my very core runs dry and is consumed. Fucked. Crawling with clenched teeth 9th! There isn’t a muscle or fibre in my body that isn’t ripping itself apart. 8th!

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As I start what will be my last lap I become hollow. Charred and used up inside with nothing left to give. Imploding as I once again begin to creep around the course, with eyes pleading to know What. Might. Have. Been.
I miss my ETA at the finish line as racing becomes riding, becomes walking, becomes walking, becomes tripping and stumbling. My fall apart is as quick as my resurgence was aggressive. Fears begin to grow that the racers I have unlapped, caught and dropped might sneak past. They don’t. I spend the last flicker of energy and power I have crossing the line still in 8th, am lead into a room for drug testing and sit down…

Through all of this, both Phil and Jase rode on ahead of me. Beating many other world’s best to end up 2nd and 7th. Nothing makes up for a bad performance at a race like seeing your teammates go out and achieve something utterly brilliant. I am beyond being chuffed for them both. Truly fucking awesome effort, strength and ability. 🙂

May 8, 2012

Moments like these

Filed under: bikes,Racing,stream of consciousness — dgpowell @ 7:49 pm

Tight, constrictive singletrack coils it’s way through stunted trees. At bursting point with riders hemmed in nose to tail, each in search of the single point of escape. I am trapped deep within it. Thick, clinging mud pulls at tyres suffocating any speed and drowning any power. Sun beats down through the feeble canopy of leaves above, gently cooking everyone thrashing around in the mire, sweat pours down my nose, dripping into the ground and instantly being churned into new clag for those behind me to flounder in.

The best that technology can offer, hours of preparation and studious contemplation on the perfect set up is lost under a matting of torn grass and plasticine like dirt and in that writhing conga line of racers in the trees race-ready gear shifts have been reduced to gentle, wince accompanied flailings at the bars, awaiting either the growling of reticent gear change or the twisted squealing of a mech giving way and shearing. This isn’t fun.

Back at the park ferme I resist the temptation to fling the bike at the damned ground only because of the number of people staring at me. Accutely aware of the precious race-seconds fading away, I drop to my knees and feign an interest in pulling the grass/mud layer away from the drivechain. After a while I feel I can see enough of it to make adding more lube to the chain worthwhile. More wax added I glance around, searching as much for a reason to stay in the pits as anything else. A swig of some Coke. An energy gel. A fresh bottle added to the bike. Can’t put it off any more. Back up and out onto the course…

I don’t really know how I’m doing in the race. Various people call things out at me each time I pass, but I’m not really listening. My eyes are locked on the bar mounted computer counting down the remaining time as much as they are on the track. The longest 6 hours in history is grinding itself away agonisingly.

Despite the heat from the sun, the mud never leaves. It changes it’s texture repeatedly, from clinging, wet slime that fills any gap to thick, clinging stodge, to a clay like gel, with imprints of tyre tracks and pain etched across it and by my last lap I’ve grown to hate it. Despise it. Cross the line at the end of the race and walk away from it as fast as possible.

Somehow, despite stopping twice in the pits and giving long, protracted and serious thought to just ending the event then and there and coming to a halt out on course to report to friends, in great depth, race inspired nihilism I finish 3rd overall. 2nd in my category (the wrong category, but it doesn’t seem to matter). Smile and wave from the podium done I get the hell out of Dodge.

photo 2

Scarily, I already know when I’ll be back in those trees…

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