After my first foray into some mountain bike training as part of my Project Snail project I’ve decided that as well as riding as much as I can with different people and in different places I was so taken by the initial training that I realised this will be very much an ongoing thing for me – ride then check progress with some more training. As a result I decided that this year I’ll look to do one training session a quarter, 2 group sessions and 2 one to ones. Luckily it’s been my birthday recently so my family chipped in to help fund the first one to one. It’s interesting in that each bit of cash I spend on training is money that I can’t put towards buying my first ‘proper’ mountain bike (more on that later) but I figure there’s not much point in having a kick ass bike if you don’t have much clue on how to ride it.
Having done my first bit of training with Ed and feeling very comfortable with it I was really looking forward to having a day’s one to one session, although this was of course tinged with some trepidation as Ed likes to take you out of your comfort zone but he does it in the nicest possible way. The day was going to be spent working on basic skills and confidence in the real world riding environment of Hebden Bridge which I’ve learnt from my participation in Clifcross is steep ! However right from the first climb I realised that one thing has definitely changed since the start of the year – I’m slowly getting fitter. This feeling continued throughout the day and Ed consistently said both from a fitness and technical point of view “I wouldn’t have brought you up/down here when I first saw you ride”
After the initial climbing we rattled into a gorgeous bendy downward section (Ali’s Z’ds ?) which started with some single track and flowed into and over some lumps and bumps. I felt I rode it OK and realised as I was riding it that my position felt better on the bike but that also I would not have ridden it or attempted it a few months ago. Ed followed me down and at the bottom simply said that was great you now look like you are riding the bike as opposed to the bike taking you for a ride and rightly recognising that I would have struggled with the trail when I first met him. Having completed the first section OK it was off to find something to try and improve my skills on – The Blue Pig ! Before we could get there it was up a searingly steep tarmac climb past the house once shared by Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, next to which Ed pointed out one of the trails he uses on his Alpine prep course, Gulp. I’d love to think that one day over the next couple of years I might be able to ride it but long long way to go before then.
Once at the top of the climb we rolled down through Heptonstall (doesn’t Calderdale love a cobblestone) to the start of the Blue Pig, the top of which has been criminally ‘improved’ with some loose stones that will surely wash down into Hebden in the next flood waters. The top part of the trail has a number of steps with lips or roots in front of them and we spent a good period looking at line and how you might ride these. Ed had me concentrating on the concept of weight distribution and trying to unweight the front of the bike, and trying to get me off the brakes, so that I could roll naturally over the obstacle. Each time I attempted a section Ed would film it and then ask me what I thought – I was generally critical of myself but Ed showed me the clip and said “Your perception of what you are doing and what’s actually happening are two different things” and it was clear from the video and photos that Ed was taking that things were not too bad. This was when things started to change for me, as I realised that yes I’m not very good and am working at the basics but that I’m also having a huge amount of fun, am improving and maybe am not quite as bad as I think I am.
The good thing of doing one to one work and building up a relationship with a coach/ trainer is that they get to know you, what you want, how to stretch you and to discuss in detail parts of your riding. I’m slow and heavy on the braking, Ed was clear that he’s never going to have to get me to slow down but it’s also not about speed but about the concept of momentum on a tricky section and momentum and letting the bike roll is something different than speed. We looked a lot at how I can adapt my braking and worked on braking before something, rolling through a section and then braking after it as well as what happens if you use your front brake in a rough section (it’s not good !).
Without getting too Zen about things Ed was working with me to try and look through a section and just try to feel the ground and moving your body and weight accordingly. Imagine spreading butter with a large knife over the ground your body needs to flow along that line but keeping your head still and looking foward and using the legs and arms more to adjust the torso or to compress and acting as additional suspension. I struggle with this but definitely began to get it a bit more as we worked on it.
We then headed further down the trail to look at some loose rocks and roots walking the trail and discussind lines. Fascinatingly Ed would ask me what line I would take and then his would be totally different and it was great to chat why that was. At this point some speed merchant came flying down the trail, Ed commented that he’s not riding the trail he’s riding around it. This was part of the perception change, trying to accept the trail as it was and ride over it or through it not around it. This was a big confidence shift for me. We repeatedly looked at a little section as shown in the video below. Remember that I’m trying to grasp the baiscs here but this felt like a big step for me and again I’d have never have attempted this previously I’d have walked down most of the blue pig but as Ed reminded me at the bottom you have ridden the whole trail – respect.
After a great pie back in Hebden we then headed up to Peckett Well, this again reminded me that my fitness is getting better as it’s a fairly long climb and I was chatting with Ed most of the way up, instead of puffing and wheezing. At the top Ed said right you’re riding my bike this afternoon and promptly swapped the pedals over. I’d been thinking of switching to flats but Ed said to stick with what I’m doing and stay clipped in for the time being. Now I’ve never ridden a full suspension bike, nor a 29er, nor one with all the bells and whistles that this prototype On One Codeine had on it.
Wow, what a machine – now appreciate that I have no experience nor anything to compare it with but I felt like I was in the bike as opposed to being on a bike, the suspension felt amazing – solid as opposed to pinging me about all over the show. I’ve never really understood all the hoohar about wheel sizes, dropper posts, wide bars etc but the wide bars and short stem just felt right and helped me feel more as though I was in the right position; the dropper post was a total revelation not something I’d have ever thought about but a brilliant and simple innovation. Ed was running a single chain ring as well which also just seemed right, I might go for a double but with the right combination out back then this again seems the way to go. 29er wheels after the initial shock of the sheer size of the beasts again just seemed right. The voodoo of tubeless tyres, sold on that as well as I managed to somehow ping the rubber off the rim (I’d like to say through speed but obviously that was not the case I think I just hit something) but bit of air and watching the whole thing self seal was magic indeed. God damm I want one of these bikes which made me think, bike companies use brilliant riders (like Ed) to test and showcase their products which makes total sense. However there are lots of people who aren’t brilliant surely they also need accounts from basic riders as well after all if the Codeine is great for me and Ed then that’s some bike. So if On One fancy supplying me I’m happy to ride and write about it
I rode the bike all afternoon down Peckett Well 1 and 2 and as Ed said the bike will not make you a better rider but it can help your confidence and will help you to ride some sections with momentum and control. The second trail was steep, rocky and rooty and I was now way out of my comfort zone but Ed again quietly eased me through the doors of perception changing my whole notion not just of what could be ridden but what I could ride. We practised a section repeatedly before riding the whole trail and heading back to Hebden for a well earned pint.
The picture at the top of the page is of me on the afternoon trails on the Codeine and for me, if you did not know that I’m a basic rider, I look good there. Position looks right on the bike, chin up, eyes looking ahead not down at the rocks I’m riding over it all just looks right and it felt fantastic. Don’t get me wrong I’m still the snail but I’m having fun and learning stuff. Aldous Huxley famously took some drugs and wrote about his experiences and how they opened the Doors of Perception (Jim Morrison’s band took their name from the book) but on this one to one sessions I didn’t need the drugs but Ed opened the door and changed the perceptions of myself and what might be possible in the future. Cheers Ed.
The Hepworth Gallery has been such a fantastic addition to the cultural scene in Yorkshire and in the comparatively short time it has been open I’ve seen some fantastic exhibitions there. I went along recently to the spring installations by Alice Channing, Linder and Jessica Jackson Hutchins.
I wasn’t sure what to make of the Jessica Hutchins gallery, large painted canvasses hanging over metal ladders that made me think of a team of painter and decorators who were really frustrated abstract artists and left these canvases draped over their equipment while they’d gone out for a lunchbreak. There were also weird shaped ceramics and everyday objects like a sofa that had been turned into sort of half painting – half sculpture like pieces. The colours were beautiful and the pieces had a sort of abandoned, disconnecting feel to them but I was unclear what any of it actually meant.
Linder had a variety of work on display, we all really liked a gallery of mashed up vogue covers that merged models from the 1970′s with household objects in an odd but playful way and provided a nice link through to the everyday items that had been used in the Hutchins gallery. There were also light boxes mixing dancers with annimals showing I think different aspects of form and shape. This led through to a piece that I really liked which was a collaboration between Linder and the Northern Ballet called Ultimate Form that visually mixed dance, music and colour in an interpretation of Hepworth’s Sculptures. You could see a looped feed of the dance piece being practised and I found it really hypnotic and I’m sure the premier of it today would have been fascinating to see.
The highlight for me though of the exhibition was the gallery containing Alice Channer’s new work which seemed to play with the whole idea of form and material. Plastics, metals, resin, silk and other materials were hooked, stretched, shaped and formed in strange curves and angles apparently influenced by invertebrate deep sea lifeforms that are dependent on their body shape by the impact of the sea environment around them. Weirdly though dotted throughout the work were ‘severed’ fingers that appeared either on top of some of the pieces or randomly on the walls. I’ve got no idea what was happening here other than perhaps to contrast the structured human form to the looser aquatic influenced curves of Alice’s work. I found it utterly beguiling.
At first I didn’t think there was any connection between the three gallerys but perhaps the idea of form, movement and everyday objects were interconnecting threads drawing the seemingly disparate pieces into one coherent whole. Clever stuff.
A few weeks ago I visited the fantastic city of Girona and the marvelous film museum there. In part of the museum there was a gallery of film posters, now I love film posters in the same way I love album covers – a single image that attempts to distill the nature of what you are going to see or hear. I’ve always enjoyed looking at them but never really considered the creative process that goes on in order to produce a film poster and to get it right. When I walked into the exhibition I didn’t recognise any of the posters and at first I thought that it was simply because they were perhaps for the Spanish market but then I noticed that they had the correct version in miniatures so that you could compare and that the posters were infact examples that didn’t make it through the creative process.
This got me thinking a bit of how hard it must be to try and and come up with images many of which have gone down as classic pieces of art in their own right but of course each idea before it comes to fruition must go through countless revisions before we the public see the final version. I managed to sneak a few snaps of the posters that didn’t make it, some I quite like but you can understand why they didn’t make it but others you have to wonder what on earth was going on in the mind of the artist. Going through this exhibition I think has definitely given me a new found respect for this creative process and I can only imagine the amount of hair pulling that must go on – perhaps that’s why so many designers seem to have shiny pates !
Have a look and see if any of these posters should have replaced the originals.
I must be honest I’m not quite sure how I managed to find myself in a car park attaching a race number to my trusty steed, but Saturday saw me take part in my first ever cycling event. I say event as I don’t think the inaugural running of Clifcross was technically classed as a race but more an adventure event, but there was a start and finish line, timing chips and winners which sounds like a race to me. As I’ve mentioned previously this year I’m embarking on ProjectSnail whereby I look to have more fun on my bike, have new experiences, get fitter and try to increase my skills and confidence. In my head I’ve sort of got the idea that I might try and enter some cyclocross events next winter but after some cajoling from Emma Osenton and a patient recce of the route I took the plunge somewhat earlier than I’d have ever anticipated. Quite why I decided to have a crack at this I’m not totally sure because I knew that I was going to be totally and utterly outside my comfort zone but I guess that’s partly the point. As the quote below from Oliver Burkeman in one of his columns outlines it’s important to have new experiences, get outside and encounter new people and places – it’s these things that make us happy and I think brought me to the start line.
happiness has a mixture of causes; that it involves trial and error, and broadly chimes with common sense; that there isn’t a single secret or quick fix, waiting to be uncovered, and that looking for one might make you miserable. The advice is straightforward. Remember to be grateful. Spend your money on experiences, not objects. Volunteer. Nurture your relationships. Spend time in nature. Make sure you encounter new people and places. And never assume that you know what will make you happy. Some of this sounds like familiar folk wisdom, and some of it like a string of corny clichés. But it’s worth considering, surely, that this might be because it is true.
My kids have also been fantastically encouraging, turning my own advice to them back on me. I’m not in the least one of those pushy parents, instead my advice to them is simply to keep your eyes open for opportunties that you might enjoy that come along and if there is something that you think you might want to do it doesn’t matter how good or bad you are at it have a go and if you enjoy it then that’s all that matters. This of course is exactly what they said to me when I mentioned I might enter an event but was a bit unsure about it all.
My unsureness increased when looking round all the athletes getting ready before the start and I do mean athletes I’m not sure there was an ounce of fat on the lot of them, unlike your good self built for comfort not speed. If felt really weird going through the signing on ritual and picking up my number, time chip and goody bag like I was some weird imposter and that any moment someone would say OK Ian jokes over, but no I was soon to find myself lining up and ready to roll. I knew that I’d finish last (that’s not defeatism just the reality of my abilities) and I was totally fine with that as for me this was a big test to see if I could get round and I knew that everyone would vanish away from me within the first few pedal strokes and I’d be spending several hours on my own. Knowing this is going to happen and having it actually happen are too different things. It’s hard not to feel utterly demoralised as everyone around you simply vanishes and you prepare yourself for a mental and physical battle with yourself for a few hours. I found the mental thing really interesting the way that sometimes my mind would wander and I’d lose concentration, other times on the tough climbs it was saying to me just get off and push Ian what are you doing but it would answer no I’m going to try my best and push as hard as I can. I did have to get off a couple of times but mostly I just pushed and pushed as hard as I could to get to the top.
With no one else around I tried to pick small steps or landmarks along the way to help me round and I found the directional arrows perfect for this as I focussed my attention on when are where the next arrow would appear and having a little smile each time I passed one (I did have a slight panic that I might be so slow the organisers might go round taking the arrows down before I got to them but fortunately that didn’t happen). Despite the difficulties I experienced I did spend a lot of time smiling as well (not least when a couple of children out with their dad clapped as I went past) not quite believing the surreal experience that I was finding myself in. The weather was also absolutely fantastic and I have to say I was so thankful that the hard winds of earlier in the week had died away otherwise the experience would have been fairly horrific I think. Strangley I did have a few niggles and pains as I went round that I could have done without, some lower back pain and very sore pins and needles in my feet. I could not undestand what was causing this and tried shifting things around as much as I could but not to any great avail.
I felt hugely sorry for one of the fancied riders who I came across having all sorts of techincal problems, he was running 4th but got a puncture on his tubular, had problems with his sealant, broke a valve borrowed a spare inner off another competitor which then punctured. I chugged past him a couple of times, offering to help but there was nothing I could do. First time I saw him he was just getting off and going again and the second time he had another competitor helping him. He had to abandon in the end I believe which must have been hugely frustrating for him.
Finally after 4 and a half hours I rode over the finish line, the lantern rouge comfortably mine by a huge margin but the round of applause I got will live long in the memory. I really couldn’t have put any more effort in and was immensley proud of myself but it I also have a huge new found respect for the people who do this sort of thing on a regular basis. Atticus Finch says in To Kill a Mockingbird don’t judge a person till you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. Well I’ll never be a racing athlete but I did a couple of yards in their shoes and am in awe of their ability. Finally thanks should go to all the people who put on the event, massive amount of work with a great pie at the finish line, cheers to you all.
The photos of me in action were taken by SportSunday and you can see the full gallery of the event here
Last week saw British Sea Power return to Leeds and while it was fantastic to head off to Brighton (where they are based) last year to see them it felt good to see them touring again and returning to their Northern roots. It’s interesting to think of place with some bands and how that links to their sound and British Sea Power are, for me, very much a band of place. Firstly, they are and sound, quintessentially British in a way that say Band of Horses are not – both great bands but their sound is very much dictated by where they are from and in the Sea Power’s case this is a sound from the North, of country lanes, hills and hedgerows, mining communities and seaside fishing villages, yet lyrically they combine this music that is influenced by the past and often place it right in the present when looking at the treatment of economic migrants for example. A complex trick to pull off but one that they do beautifully.
There is an element of complexity and thought throughout much of what British Sea Power do, be it playing at the highest pub in England, writing sound tracks to ancient film of Scottish Fishermen, eulogising bird watching or nods to cycling (check out the video to machineries of joy and guitarist Noble’s rainbow stripes) for example. This is all well and good and could easily be dismissed as gimickery or perhaps wilfull uncommercialism but the consistently developing albums over the last 10 years and rip-roaring live performances suggests to me that it is not gimickery but creatvity that drives the band.
I have never seen British Sea Power play a bad gig and this one promised to be another belter with rumours of an acoustic set first followed by a full on cranked up set after the support band. This of course meant that we all turned up unusually early to see what might go on before the support band and happily they did not disappoint by doing not an acoustic set but a warm up of some of their more mellow numbers. The second part of the gig was not at first the full whig out that I was anticipating but more of a continuation of the warm up with the band producing lush, fully laden harmonies but concentrating on their slower numbers, albeit delivered with considerable power and passion. Slowly but surely they weaved their way through old and new songs alike gradually building up the pace and atmosphere as if reading a good book before climaxing with All in It which brought on the bears ! Noble donned his flying glasses and I thought he was going to launch himself into the crowd for a bit of surfing as I’ve seen him do before but seemed instead to be quite happy grapplying with the bears.
It was good to see the Met pretty packed out for a band that happily plough their own furrow and I for one can’t wait to see how they continue to evolve, a trick that not many bands can pull off. Never mind Machineries of Joy I think Machinations of Joy might be more appropriate for this compelling, complex band.
Huge thanks to fellow BSP fan Carl Milner for the fantastic photos. Check out Carls excellent blog here
Angles are not something that you necessarily think of but as this weekend has shown they are all around us, pivotal to how we live our lives today and how, as the image above demonstrates we have used them to navigate the world. The last weekend photo fun that we did the kids chose Circle as the theme and it proved very popular and I think that the idea for Angle as the next one came from this, something that is all around us but that we often take no notice of.
As always we have had lots of great interpretations of the theme and we have all enjoyed looking through them today but I think the thing that has struck me is how fundamental angles are to our lives, no structure can exist without them. The word angle comes from the Latin ‘angulus’ meaning a corner and that is apt in a way but I’m glad that this weekend has had people hunting out those corners of our world and bringing them into the spotlight.
These weekends would not work without those of you who take part and I can’t thank you all enough and from the comments I get back it would seem that many of you are happy being sent out on hunting missions for obscure photo themes. Before we started doing this I didn’t realise that photo themes were a big thing but I now know that there are lots of them around so the fact that people chip in to interpret the themes my kids set is greatly appreciated.
Do have a look through the gallery of photos and let us know which ones you like. If you click anywhere in the gallery it will open up and you can scroll through them in the size they were sent in. Thanks once again.
A few weeks ago I met Emma Osenton (@waterrat77) who calmly suggested in the bar that I entered an event she was organising - Clifcross. Gulping back my gaffaws and the preposterousness of this suggestion I mentioned that I didn’t have a cross bike, no problems says Emma enter on your hardtail. I then mention that I’m bascially rubbish and after finding out that it is a 30mile primarily off road affair in the South Pennines didn’t think I’d be physically able to get round, no worries says Emma I’ll take you out for a bit of recce on the route. Well I couldn’t refuse that kind offer so last weekend I pitched up rather nervously to have a look at the route, what I didn’t expect was that I thought we might have a look at a few bits and see how I got on riding them, Emma however clearly had other ideas as we set out to ride the whole route – gulp. Baptism of fire or what.
I did warn Emma that I’m not called the Snail from South Wales for nothing but Emma was fantastically patient riding slowly along with me and/or waiting at the top of the hills for me. I did feel somewhat guilty as by the time I got to the top I feared Emma would be getting cold but there was not much I could do about it as I was putting in all the effort I had. A word on the hills, the route is hilly and very steeply hilly in lots of places but I did pretty much get up all that I was able to ride up although I was so slow at times that I could see snails overtaking me. Emma on the other hand did not appear to notice that there were any hills as she simply appeared to glide up any and all inclines and I have to say it was humbling to ride with someone so good. As well as the hills there was another challenge on the route and that was snow drifts which meant that on many occasions we had to clamber over and through some deep snow.
As we were going round I was determined not to ask how far we got as I feared that if Emma had said ‘Oh we’ve not got halfway yet’ I might have collapsed in a defeated heap, I just tried to keep turning the pedals and moving forward. I fear that Emma will think of me as the world’s worst conversationalist because as she happily chatted away I could never really reply either because I was slipping away from her wheel and could not hear her or was puffing along beside her gulping in the oxygen and only able to respond in monosyllabic grunts but Emma’s cheerful and positive demeanor kept me going on the way round.
As I was riding I could not help but think of mountains, not the hills we were climbing or rattling down but those in our minds, or mine in particular each time I maybe rode off a small step or drop I had little waves of elation knowing that I was beginning to conquer some of the smaller mountains in my own personal Himalayas. After I reached the top of the final climb Emma mentioned that as this was a long ride for me and I’d put in a lot of effort I might not feel too good in a couple of days, my brain said ‘couple of days, I don’t feel good now!’ but with an intake of breath and one of Emma’s energy gels I rattled my way back down to the start.
I cannot tell you how incredible it felt to have got round the route, what for some people would be a good couple of hours riding was for me a monumental effort, but an effort that was rewarded by a phenonenal ride in incredible surroundings with a great person. The route really is epic in many ways and has something for every rider whether on a cross bike or MTB. For those like me just getting round will be a huge acheivement, for others who are fitter and better riders then there are challenges aplenty on the way round. Whatever end of the spectrum you are thanks must go to Emma for coming up with such an amazing route. I also owe her a personal debt of thanks for encouraging and cajouling the Snail round, I hope I can do it again when I’ll be riding on my own but either way I’ll be at the start line next weekend to try my best.