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

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…

April 11, 2012

Strictly Old School

Filed under: bikes,lunacy - mine,Racing,stream of consciousness — dgpowell @ 7:39 pm

JD1_0864

Back in the 90’s, racing mountain bikes was everything I could want. Teenage dreams of a weekend away from the parents in the middle of nowhere with mates, great, great mates with whom adventures were guaranteed. Luck was often pushed as we treated the events like the escape from mudane urban life they really should be. Campfires, country pub investigation and mild anarchy, when overly serious looking middle-of-the-pack-and-know-it were trying to get futile beauty sleep, mixed with beer that always tasted sweet as we’d destroy any chance of getting decent race results in favour of flying high in the ‘living life’ contest instead.

Of course, come the cold, bright light of morning we’d still pull on whatever clothes we’d brought to ride bikes in (if we’d brought any particular clothes to ride in) and delve into the murky world of ‘hoping you’d do well’, closely followed by ‘try really hard’ (and ‘fail spectacularly’ – I remember vividly ragging it past Tony, a mate who’d set off in a different age group race to me, had a problem and slowed so he could ride with the rest of us, shouting “I’m on a flyer, can’t stop” only to add a full stop to that sentence by slamming straight into a rather stout oak tree. The piss taking didn’t stop, even for breath, for the rest of the weekend, then month, then several years after). But the trying only lasted as long until someone with a clipboard stood on the start/finish line and did the magic “get back to f-king about” dance.

Along the last 20 odd years, the mountain bike industry grew up in a similar kind of way to me. Those popularity fuelled races gave way to a much more serious looking industry. Crazy face pulling and ‘awesome-as’ paintjobs in adverts gave way to chisel-jawed pro-poses on bikes with graphics designed to ‘give the impression of speed, even when stood still’ (OK, that was the boast from a car advert, but you get the idea), just as larking about endlessly for me gave way to going to work and ‘trying to get the most out of every ride’. But, as we all know, being a grown up sucks.

Thankfully, despite all this mundanity, the New-Concept-Blandness and the mass industrialisation of a way of escaping from the mass industrialisation of everything else, mountain bike racing still exists.
It’s gone through some rough times, with numbers dwindling to a few hardcore racers who really were just there to swivel round and round between some course tape and go home without so much as raising an eyebrow to anyone else, but it’s firmly back on track as everything it was to me as a teenager, for a whole new audience.
I’m chuffed to bits every time I get to a race site a day or two before the race itself, only to find hundreds of likeminded people already doing just what I used to do with my mates. Chilling, laughing, piss taking, creating the good times to remember in future. You know it’s going to be good as soon as you see it. Then you immerse yourself in it.

The racing is still as furious as ever, ‘try really hard’ is still the order of the day, but that magic finish line dance by the officials is still just as powerful. Whether you’ve had a flyer, or even just hit a stout looking oak tree, the weekend’s only half done by the time the official riding finishes…

September 26, 2011

Of Restoration through Destruction

Filed under: lunacy - mine,Racing,Uncategorized — dgpowell @ 10:06 pm

Well I’ve been here before, haven’t I. Perched very much on the edge. Hoping I’m balanced as I flow sharply backwards. I’m in the middle of the race and I’m a million miles away. I’m staring at my hand clenched around the wire fence, as footstep after footstep thumps past me and I’m utterly alone in the fells staring at the gravel track winding it’s way from one hillside to the next.

The rain beats down on me as I hang from the fence, blinding me as my glasses fog up, soaking the ground past it’s ability to support my weight, letting it collapse underneath the soles of my shoes, leaving me flapping uselessly around until another racer gives me a helpful shove up the arse. Out on the lonely fellside, the recently refurbished track means I can shift back up in the big ring, glace about me and let the last warmth from the setting sun soothe the hard earned aches and pains in my back.

The first marshalls out on the course fade back into the mist and murk as I start to grimace my way back down Ingleborough. Arms embarrasingly locked as rigid as the chunky seatstays I’m bounced wildly down the hill. Less flow than the water beating me on it’s descent I feel like a shambles. The road can’t come soon enough. I’m not carving round the kinks and corners in the grassy singletrack, I’m pinballing in the slowest way you could imagine. I’m hating it. I need some sort of reprive, something to help remove the damp-through misery I’m starting to feel.

I get it. I drop down underneath the perma-cloud and, as it has done every year, the views across Lancashire burst open around me. The forks judder and protest at my heavy handed, somewhat unnecessary braking and I continue to lurch from one boggy puddle to another, but I sense that I am making some progress, even if I am being massacred as far as position in the race is concerned.
Somewhere far away from any roads, any envious eyes on my back and any timing equipment the fells continue to roll alongside me as I sneak my way between them, chased only by the fading blue of the sky.

As per usual I make up places I’ve grovelled away on the drop down to Cold Cotes, on the road over to the foot of Whernside. I sense I’m further back in the order of the race than I have been in the past and know that another eternity of stumbling steps awaits me. Bike again on shoulder, shoes once again struggling to cope with what they’re being smacked against with little by way of grace I clip clop my way slowly up the steps back into the cloud and up into the signature Whernside Ridge Wind. As before my head is bowed and my fellow combatants become no more than pairs of confused looking cycling shoes, usually stealing past me as I slip and trip towards the second checkpoint.
Hidden amongst what are beginning to feel like My fellsides, my head is again bowed, focussed again on my shoes as I build up the power pushed through the cranks. Continually. For what feels like forever until I barely touching the ground at all. Skimming over it. Scuffing the dust so lightly I begin to glance upwards to check I’m not taking off. Rabbits and hares dart out of the grass to the side of the trail and dart back in shock as I dart past them almost quicker than they can react.

I find I can ride more of the descent than many around me. But my freshly battered shoulder and elbow (don’t go for “one last ride” kids) are singing in discomfort and I find myself grinding and gritching to a halt in the mud a few times as a mixture of pain and a desire to be far away from the middle of a tough morning in a tough race over even tough hills takes over. Long distance stares are called into play to remount the bike and rejoin the fight.

3PeaksCX_CX_140
(Pic by Ed Rollason Photography)

Cresting the top of Salter Fell, long distance stares feel almost compulsary. Unspoilt wilderness welcomes me. Rolling hills, gently swooping rivers, nothing else. No pressure. No worries about how I’m doing. A few more climbs on the trail I’ve chosen. To be ridden at any speed I like. Just mine.

Once again I make up places on the road section back towards Horton-in-Ribblesdale. Briefly bouyed by a car full to bursting with people cheering me on, offering me anything I need cruising past and providing me with enough cheer to power the next few Big Pedal Strokes past another group of riders. A couple jump on my back wheel and we work together until they break and I drop them. I hit the wet, hardpacked stones on the climb up Pen-y-Ghent and slither my way past rider after rider knowing how I’m dwarfed by the upcoming climb without having to look up at it. Aches and pains matched only by a desire to get to the end I offer what little fight I have to the now gravel trail. Riding becomes walking. Becomes trudging. Becomes barely moving at all.

A sense that I’m willing to let the hills, the race, win begins to grow in sore muscles.

I wait for the people I’ve passed on the road to dance past me again.
A quick look upwards and I spot Dave Haygarth walking back down the trail. It’s no suprise that he’s a mountain ahead of me by this point, but it is a shock to see him not hurtling down the path on nhis bike. His arm is wedged in his jersey and without asking I can already tell what’s wrong. Collarbone. But it’s not going to stop him finishing, in a time that the vast majority of the race would be jealous of even with all their bones in order. He even cracks a, sort of, smile as he jokes that he’s “Done a Dave”.
I offer comiserations and get back to my truding. Walking. Trotting. I’m not broken. I may have forgotten how to do anything other than grimace over the past few hours and wished the race away, but I’m still a part of it and one last push over one more hill might lessen the negative effects I’ve created for myself. I find myself starting to want to race again.
My Trail, now heading definitely back down towards Slaidburn, where I’ve half abandoned the car at the side of the road, tries to catch me out with some tricky rocks sections, testing me, letting me find me desire to stay flat out over the contantly shifting surface while tucked down in the drops, finger poised around unrequired brake levers. Dusk light failing to hide the grin spreading across my face as I realise I’m racing flat out towards my mojo.

Jase passes me as I head towards the summit and promises to get the beers in. Damn right, I think to myself. Beer is required here. Warren is filming the JMC boys as we step past him on our way to the last hilltop check point and I make it quite clear to him that beer is on the cards, before dibbing for the last time on the course, turning round and lurching and jerking my way back down to the finish line. In the afternoon sun worryingly refreshing ale is swigged outside the pub through post race smiles, just as, back at the car, jelly sweets are shovelled down through a wide smile. I’ve not won anything except a solitary ride over a few hills and the chance to get back the desire to push myself, but I’ve not lost anything other than a desire to quit. Good. A poor race ‘result’ but a good result from the race. Somehow.

June 15, 2011

OS Mountain Mayhem 2011 WeatherWatch

Filed under: lunacy - mine,Racing,rubbish weather — dgpowell @ 8:53 am

No.
I’m not doing one.
Bugger off.

Looks like it’s going to piss it down, for at least half the race. That’s all I’m saying. 🙁

June 13, 2011

The Gisburn Dirty Dozen (12 hour) race

Filed under: bikes,lunacy - mine,Racing — dgpowell @ 1:48 pm

The bet was “3 laps more over the 12 hours”. It was a fairly hastily conceived contest and probably not all that well thought out by either party, but it was agreed, done, hands had been shaken (well, OK, not actually shaken, but it had definitely been agreed).
3 laps more than Budge and Andy, over the course of the 12 hour race, or Jase and I would be facing Certain Death by Chili.
Oh boy.

Most people would have been eyeing up their overall position in the race itself – looking for a podium, finding out who their closest rivals were as the race unfolded and battling against them. For Jase and I it was all about those precious 3 laps.
OK again I exaggerate. We were well and truly stuck in a battle with the un-aptly named “Bringing up the Rear” duo, who were blistering their way round the course while we got to grips with just how rutted up and, in places, worn out the course had become since last year (and in my case smashed myself into it, owch).

As the sun finished rising, baked the damp trails dry and shone down on lap after frantic lap by everyone racing, every second was becoming precious. A slip on a still-damp tree root, a missed gear change, drifting ever so slightly wide on the exit of a fast corner, it felt costly.
Halfway through and we were in 2nd place by just a handful of seconds, closing in on 1st, looking through the tightly packed trees for a flicker that might be ‘them’. 1 of the 3 needed laps up on Budge and Andy and closing in towards getting the 2nd. Fully immersed in the ordeal. Lungs hanging out on the climbs and everything hanging out on the descents. Flat out racing and loving it.

DD2_076

As the afternoon ground on and teeth became more clenched on the climbs we continued to push, taking a slender lead. Getting the 2nd lap up on our Team JMC rivals. Fighting all the way. A slow puncture on one of my laps may only have extended the lap time by a minute or so, but it felt like an eternity. It spurred me on, more pushing hard against race battered legs in the following laps. Jase’s teeth came out. Angry eyes locked on the trail ahead as we drove to stretch the advantage over 2nd and take the 3rd lap.

As the sun began to tumble back earthwards and rainclouds peered over the surrounding hills we got the victory. 1st place in a great race – the winning margin just 10 minutes over the whole 12 hours. We didn’t, however, get the 3rd lap, missing it by around 15 minutes.

15 minutes that may as well have been another eternity, as I sat down in the pub, faced with a plate of TerrorChilli. I wasn’t sure if it was steam coming off the food or the plate dissolving, I just knew it was going to hurt, but a bet’s a bet and tastebuds can heal (well, I hoped so anyway).

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I ate. And after a few minutes, regained the abililty to talk, suggesting that I’d been given a slightly less thermonuclear dose.

It was, for Team JMC, a hugely successful race – Jason and I got the win in the pairs, our chilli combatants Budge and Andy took 3rd (after also being tightly wrapped in close racing all day) and Phil…well Phil romped away with the solo win. Impressively.

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You can check the results here to see how close everything was.

Hopefully lots more fast, close racing to come this summer. That was ace 🙂

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