Night Riding Snail

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I’d heard that people went off road riding in the dark and while the idea intrigued me I was also bewildered by it.  How did they do that, after all I can barely work out what I’m doing in the daytime when I’m aware of my surroundings and can see stuff.  However as we slid into autumn I began to think whether I could do it, as if I could, it would add a lot to my riding and enable me to keep riding through the winter in the evenings and ideally most importantly having fun.

Over the last few weeks I have taken the plunge and it has in many ways changed how I think about riding while at the same time it’s been some of the most enjoyable riding I’ve done.  I still feel nervous when we are getting ready in a car park or lay-by surrounding by the all enveloping blackness as I still suffer from a lack of confidence in many respects, however night riding is perhaps perversely doing more for my confidence than anything else.  Lighting is obviously key enabling you to confidently strike out into the dark and once you get them set up right you create your own personal projected halo of light into which you ride.

The first thing I noticed as I tentatively pedalled into the abyss was that yes it is possible, the lights designed for MTB night riding really do their job, and you soon start to get used to the change in your visual panorama and I think it’s a change that has the potential to improve me as a rider.  In the sessions I’ve done with Ed one of the real things that Ed works on is Chin Up – i.e. you need to be looking where you wish to go not at the ground under your wheel.  You are completely forced to look up at where you want to go, to shine the light on your helmet in that direction and then let the bike flow into the pool of light.  As I’ve got used to it and adjusted I have found it a hugely liberating experience.

One of the best things about mountain biking for me is the immersion into the landscape and how you experience it throughout the changing seasons, the smells, colours and textures providing an ever shifting backdrop to your movement.  Night riding takes this to another level again.  On the one hand you are surrounded by utter inky blackness but this darkness magnifies your senses and your movement through the trees in a small tunnel of light takes on a magical quality, leaves crunch, breath clouds out around you, chilled facial skin breaks through dewy cobwebs, free wheels clacking and echoing around the still woods like a pack of new animals moving in.  It’s utterly exhilarating and intoxicating.  Riding along the flat stretches between runs finds me totally unwinding from whatever I’ve gone through during the day and there is a feeling that you and your mates are the last people left on earth even though you are only a couple of miles from the pub.  If you’re lucky one of those mates will have packed a hip flask to warm the belly before the last run back down to civilisation.

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Morvelo City Cross 3 – Leeds – The Snail races again

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Trumpets, cowbells, cheers, beers, thrills, spills, music, laughter, beards, baldies, fat bikes, thin bikes, mountain bikes, cross bikes, single speeds, bananaman and a werewolf were all present as the third iteration of the Morvelo City Cross concept hit the mean streets of Leeds.  Never mind the Tour de France, Holbeck Urban Village surely hosted the most fun bike racing that Leeds will see this year, all thanks to Emma Osenton and her mighty crew of helpers and sponsors.

As regular readers of this blog and my projectsnail idea will know I’m no racer and have no ambitions to be but I made my debut at City Cross 2 and seeing as City Cross 3 was basically a roll down the hill from my house I thought it would have been rude not to have another go.  This is racing Jim but not as we know it and while there were some very keen bees riding, plenty were there for the fun and I found it a very inclusive, supportive and encouraging event.  Yes I’m way out of my comfort zone doing these events but there are times in your life when you need to do that and in doing so you will be richly rewarded, City Cross delivers on this for me big style.

As I rode down to the event I reflected on my hydration preparation the night before and as I peered through the fog of a hangover realised I might have been a tad too enthusiastic and the thought of a hard physical effort ahead made me feel, well a bit nauseous to be honest.  I was really intrigued however on how the course was going to be laid out as it was in a part of Leeds I know well owing to the cracking nearby pubs and I wondered how Emma was going to shoehorn a race circuit into the streets, alleys, ginnels, cobbles and courtyards that surround them.

Before I knew it I was going to find out as I lined up for the novice race start.  It had been mentioned by my garagebikes colleagues that I had looked terrified before City Cross 2, that was because I was so this time while very nervous I didn’t feel quite as scared – I’d ridden the warm up lap and was confident of getting round.  Whistle goes and we’re off swooping into the main arena, missing the traffic bollard (phew) to the sound of The Smiths (nice one Brant) and as I got into the swing of things I decided to put my race strategy into action.  This was to ride as hard as I could, smile when not grimacing, physically stop every lap for a beer break (yes beer is kindly supplied to riders who want it – and why wouldn’t you?) and to get to the end without being lapped by a fellow garage bikes rider.  There were a good chunk of us in the race all fiercely contesting the #raceyourmates race within a race category which gave a prize to the fastest lap from among your club / mates at any time during any race of the day.

Slow I may be and undoubtedly looked but I was burying myself and legs were screaming after a couple of laps but on the plus side I’d not vomited on the course.  I was wearing my Snail from South Wales shirt in the first race and Brant kindly gave me a shout out on the mic as I rode back into the main section, this happened throughout the day with kind encouragement from him such as ‘come on Ian the bloke in front only has one gear you can catch him’ and other helpful hints while all the time keeping the tunes spinning.

I totally loved the course, it was so weird to ride in this way around areas I know so well and to swoop into courtyards of the Midnight Bell and the Crosskeys with spectators lapping up beers and racing felt amazing.  My weapon of choice for the event was a Kinesis Pro6 kindly lent to me by Sarah (the not so silent partner of garagebikes) and even in my prosaic hands the bike felt fantastically agile and was a joy to ride the event on.  I may not have looked it but I felt like a proper rider out there, leaning into the corners, swooping and flowing, flying off the steps, flicking round the tight bends all the time inches away from the concrete edges.  It felt incredible, I was completely buzzing and it was unlike anything I’ve experienced before.  As I approached the final bend my race objective was in sight, behind me though breathed Chewie, he took the berm whilst I attempted to hold the inside line but Chewie went by me over the top on the line and went on to take the garagebikes race your mates fastest lap time.

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After a short while recovering with a few beers I entered the last chance saloon race for all those knocked out of the earlier motos.  a mighty herd of us set out, this time with me resplendent in full orange garagebikes kit.  This race there were no beer stops so I just had to keep riding as hard as I could until I finished shattered, gasping for air but utterly exhilarated before then taking up the cowbells to cheer on the riders in the finals.  Special mention must go to all who supported the event, I personally recieved lots of shout outs (thanks to Timothy Pulleyn for doing this every lap) and of course my garagebikes mates who supported from the barriers and from within the race itself.  Of course the biggest thanks must go to Emma and all who made it happen.

I’ve tried to describe the race but Timothy Pulleyn (thebrokenline) filmed a lap from the handlebars so strap in and take a ride:

 

Here’s a fab video highlight of the event (however note the amateur nature of the riders failing to stop and enjoy their beer – shocking behaviour).

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proof that I did put some effort in

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I watch all the riders vanish into the distance

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On the charge (ramp)

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The garage bikes crew – top day out and a very handsome devil in model pose

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Remember I mentioned there were fatbikes and Werewolves

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Thanks to the following photographers for the photos on this post:

Joolze Dymond – flickr of garagebikes day out  and official photos from the event to purchase here

Stuart Petch – flickr of day here and website here

Jack Chevell – flickr of day here and website here 

 

The Year of the Snail

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Back at the start of the 2013 I was thinking about my riding and in particular how I wanted to get more out of it so that I could have more fun.  Much as I enjoyed riding, a brutal self analysis revealed that I lacked confidence, skill and to a large extent fitness so set out on my Project Snail journey trying to do something about that by getting some skills training from Ed Oxley and then just trying to ride my bike as much as I could, whether that was to and from work, grabbing an hour to do a loop somewhere or heading out further afield.  I don’t use a bike computer so I don’t know how far I’ve ridden or how often and I’m not really bothered about that but I reckon I’ve ridden around 250 days or so during 2013.

When I look back I’ve had some great times and experiences over the year riding with different people, entering a couple of events (Clif Cross and Morvelo City Cross), trying to slowly pick up the basics through some skills training, helping to put on some bike/art events, live tweeting for Morley Literature festival at the Ned Boulting / Rod Ellingworth talk, riding different bikes and buying a new road bike for starters.

The three sessions I had with Ed were amazing as he set about trying to turn me from someone who just sat on the bike, grabbed the brakes and hoped for the best to someone who had a semblance of an idea on what I was supposed to be doing (even if I couldn’t manage to do it).  There’s a long way to go before I become even vaguely competent but I’m going in the right direction and look forward to some more sessions with Ed in 2014.  You can read about my experiences with Ed here, here and here. The big issue for me though is still confidence, it’s been amazing to ride with so many fantastic people this year but as I watch them swoop, pop, hop, float and flow I realise that they view the terrain around them as a three dimensional playground that has been laid out for them to take full advantage of.  I however seem to see every rock, root and obstacle and mentally cower as my hands yet again look to grab loads of brake.  It’s frustrating in many ways but I’m not being negative, just realistic, it’s something I’ve got to work at and hopefully my skills and confidence levels will eventually start to rise.

The big thing this year for me as well as dipping a toe into some coaching was riding out with different people, discovering my local area thanks to the Garage Bikes crew in a way that has opened up a whole new world for me.  The shop and other rides have been huge highlights for me.  Other riders have also invited the Snail along for a ride which has really helped me broaden my range of riding.  Everyone that I have met and ridden with this year has, without fail, has been nothing other than pure gold, helping and encouraging me, passing on tips and knowledge and just being great people.  There are too many to name individually but if you read this many many thanks it’s been hugely appreciated.  I look forward to riding with you again in 2014 if you’ll have me along and maybe meeting some new people along the way.

I’ve looked to sum up my year of riding in all it’s various guises via the gallery below but my overall fav picture is the one at the top that was taken of me by Ed on a session I had with him.  I look at that and think blimey I actually look like I have a clue, chin is up, I’m looking ahead, elbows out, weight back a bit but in control, heels not too bad, look fairly relaxed and I’m rolling down a rocky trail.  I need to keep that picture in my head !   The other interesting thing is that I’m riding one of Ed’s bikes, the On One Codeine that he’s been testing out, a proper 29er trail bike.  I’m looking to buy my first ‘proper’ bike in the first quarter of 2014 but the choice is simply staggering – what wheel size, how much suspension, what about bar width etc etc.  No idea what I’ll end up with (and if you have any suggestions please let me know) but looking at that photo I look OK on a 29er I reckon.

So projectsnail is one year old but I’m not stopping, I’ll keep plodding slowly on looking to have as much fun as I can.  I’ll never be the best rider but I can and do have loads of fun which for me is what it’s all about.  After my last session with Ed he sent the following tweet which made me smile.  Roll on 2014, see you on the trail / road 🙂

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Racing Snail – Morvelo City Cross @ Piece Hall

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It’s not often you get a chance to take part in something genuinely historic but that’s what happened when I made my racing début at the Morvelo City Cross event at Piece Hall in Halifax on Saturday.  I’d been along to watch the first event of this kind which was in a slightly less salubrious venue – an old rubbish dump.  Somehow however, Morvelo and Emma Osenton had managed to stage a coup in getting permission for the second event to be staged in the Grade 1 Listed Georgian architectural wonder, Piece Hall which is shortly due to be closed for renovation work thus allowing a window for it to be overrun for one day only by a load of cyclists.   The 18th century building surrounds a huge sloping cobbled and grassed courtyard, the slope meaning that the building is two storeys at the top end but three storeys at the bottom.  The slope, cobbles and grass meant that those with a warped / clever mind could turn this space into an urban cyclocross event aka City Cross. which as I approached it on Saturday in the rain I realised with a growing feeling of terror I was about to race; my first ever race on a bike of any kind.  I did enter – and complete – the Cliff Cross event earlier in the year but this was more of an event than a race and it was a very different beast to what awaited me at Piece Hall.

As I wheeled my borrowed bike (thanks Hannah) into the venue to register there was a real assault on the senses, a veritable blizzard of tape marking out the course; cowbells and cheering; riders whizzing, grimacing and sliding around; the smell of beer, great street food and wet mud all to the accompaniment of an indie rock soundtrack that filled the courtyard being spun by resident DJ and bike designer Brant Richards.  It was some scene.

Quite how I’d manage to find myself getting a race number pinned onto by back I wasn’t really sure.  For those who’ve visited this blog before I’ve been on a bit of journey this year, my project snail journey, where I’ve been trying to tackle/face my lack of confidence and skills through some training with Ed Oxley, riding with different people and seeing what happens.  I’d got it in my mind that maybe having a go at a race would be an interesting and challenging experience and this City Cross event seemed like too good an opportunity to miss.  I wasn’t thinking that though as I watched the skilled riders in the event before me compete, I was very very apprehensive.  I was glad that I knew a few other people riding and there were plenty of the GarageBikes crew in attendance.  Shop owner and all round good guy Al Shaw who was racing with me provided wise words of encouragement along the lines of “you’re just riding round in circles with a number on your back, go at your own pace and enjoy yourself”.  One question going round in my head looking at the course was how the heck do you know where you are supposed to go, I’d not had a chance to ride round it or really look at it in any detail so I knew in a few minutes I’d just have to hit it and hope.  I was reassured by those who know that you just follow the tape !  So I wheeled my bike onto the start line which was down a cobbled side street outside of the venue.

As I glanced around me the word novice (I was racing in the second novice heat) did not spring to mind as I knew a few of the riders and novice is not what they are, they may not do much cyclocross but there were some kick ass MTBers alongside me.  My kids had kindly stencilled The Snail From Wales on my back which had seemed like a good idea the night before but I now realised I was identifiable and opening myself up to public ridicule and humiliation.  My mind was a whir of questions, am I in the right gear, am I going to crash straight away and if not how many times, would I be able to get round the course, will I be able to calm down, how am I going to ride over wet, muddy off camber cobbles, how much beer should I drink while riding etc etc.  Beep the whistle blew and we were off……

I got away cleanly, clipped in pedalled and surged (well moved vaguely steadily forward) up the slope, cameras flashing before sweeping right through the gates and into the arena which felt like going into the lions den.  I hadn’t really considered people watching before but there I was riding into an area with spectators watching, I could here cheering and cowbells clanking and music blaring as we turned left and headed uphill on cobbles before hitting the sandpit, which proved much harder to ride through than I’d have thought.  Once through it was onto the vortex, a large spiral that you made your way into the middle of through ever decreasing circles before a tight turn and then working your way back out.  Each circle you were traversing the slope up and down, primarily off camber.  I didn’t actually mind the uphill bits but the downhill bits put the fear of god into me I just thought there is no way I’m going to get off these cobbles without crashing but somehow I got out of the vortex.  Uphill again briefly before a sharp right hand turn, downhill under a scaffolding bridge then onto the mud, a couple of 180 degree turns and I’m still upright and then I’m faced with 6 or 7 steps.  I unclip, grab bike and haul myself up to find myself on the stage behind the DJ with a smoke machine billowing in my face.  I was totally unclear about what to do so I pushed the bike across the stage then saw the way off, a steep ramp (made a note in my head that next lap get back on the bike as soon as I get on the stage to make riding down the ramp easier) which I looked at and gulped.  I have a fear of pointing downhill steepily but I thought I’ve just got to go for it, stay of the brakes and see what happens.  Down the slope, still on the bike and a sharp muddy turn, off a kerb onto the cobbles again for a short sharp sprint toward the bridge which I was determined to get over up up up and over gasping for breath now down the other side, no mishaps phew and back onto the cobbles, turn right downhill to be assaulted by a crafty marksman with a water pistol, overshooting a bit turn right again and then BEER.  The novice race has a beer stop where, should you wish to accept, the lovely people of Dark Star Brewery Company hand you a cheeky beverage.  Feeling cocky at this stage I grab one and try to drink it while riding, decided after spilling a bit that that approach was a waste of good beer and that I would stop next lap (which I then did each lap generally shouting beer please as I came round the corner to which the reply was “Your wish is our command”).  Back onto the mud for a few more tight turns before off onto the cobbles for a short sharp climb up toward the sandpit.  One lap completed! 4 and half minutes of mind bending pain and exhilaration.

I knew I was well at the back by this point but really didn’t care, I had started to relax as much as I could and I just gave it my best shot.  What was great was the encouragement from the crowd, where I had been fearing ridicule all I got was support.  People who knew me shouted my name at different points of the course, others who didn’t shouted out “go on Snail”, “keep riding fella”, “good effort” “keep going” etc and I was genuinely touched by this so a huge thank you to all who watched and supported, this, the music and the beer fuelled me round.  I had no idea how long or how many laps or to be honest what on earth was going on I just kept pedalling, tried to stay upright and finish.  Eventually a marshal waved his hands as I crossed the line indicating the race was over, I simply slumped onto the bars feeling quite emotional, buried my head and gulped and gulped oxygen into my lungs.  I’d been a long long way out of my comfort zone but felt hugely proud of what I’d done and once I’d come down to earth realised I had hugely enjoyed myself.  After shovelling food from No Fishy Business down my neck I went to check the results and to my utter astonishment found I’d not finished last but came 17th out of 20.

I was then informed that as I’d not qualified for the final I could race again in an hours time with all the other people who’d not made it in a last ditch knockout.  In for a penny in for a pound.  This race was a bit different as those of us from the novices who decided to have a go found ourselves in with those from the seniors and vets who had not made it.  Lining up on that start line as darkness fell and the rain poured and looking round I just though blimey not sure I belong here.  Credit though to all the riders, they all seemed great people.  Off we went again for another dose of pain and beer.  This time I did crash but picked myself up, kept going, finished and I did pick up the lantern rouge.

I felt hugely privileged to have taken part in this event.  Slow I may be but I was bloody proud of myself and I don’t often say that.

Picture Credits

Most of the photos of me are taken on my phone by @oldstuntmonkey as I shoved my phone into his hand before the off saying see if you can get some shots.  Others have kindly been donated by Chris Crabtree (@meadowedge), Craig Walmsley (@P9ADV), Tim Royle (@whitenosugartv), Eleanor Clark (@eleanorsioux), Jon Moore (@_Jon_Moore_), Survey Partners (@surveypartners), Morvelo (@Morvelo) and of course Emma Osenton (waterrat77) without who none of this madness would have happened.

Racing Snail

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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

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The Snail enters an event

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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.

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Into the Valley (aka The Pudsey Loop)

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The picture above shows the large urban city of Leeds and I suspect is not what most people imagine when they think of Leeds.  I’m not from Leeds but it is where I’ve lived for the last 13 years and my perceptions of the city and the people who live here constantly change and Monday shifted them again.  My general view of the city is that it’s not as good as the people who live here think it is but it’s much better than the people who don’t live here think it is if you know what I mean.  It took me a few years to settle but, while it will never be Wales, it is home for me now so I’ve tried to embrace it as best as I can.  Commuting as I mostly do by bike means that when I get to ride for pleasure I tend to turn my attention elsewhere, which I’m quickly learning this year is perhaps a mistake.  As my year of ProjectSnail develops I’m trying to vary what I ride and who I ride with and this has looked to see me ride locally which is something I’ve never really done and it’s been a revelation.  All of the riders I’ve met from Garage Bikes have been fantastic not worrying too much about my pace or lack of skills but have been nothing more than friendly and encouraging.  When I was last out a couple of them mentioned Benji Haworth’s book of rides around West Yorkshire as a good place to look for rides closer to home so having promptly ordered a copy I had a look for the one that was closest and that was a loop from Pudsey.

Happily my good mate PB was around, it’s been difficult for us to co-ordinate timings to get out this year so it was great to see him.  He also lives in Pudsey so I thought I can ride over do the loop and ride back.  I need to get a few miles in the legs which has been tricky with the weather of late as the Snail has entered an event (Clifcross !) more on which via another post but needless so say I’m pretty terrified.  However while still cold I headed off to meet PB.  We met outside the Bankside pub, so called because it’s on the top of a very large bank looking out over Tong Valley which bisects where I live  from PB, a place of lovely greenery and crisscrossed with Bridlepaths ready for riding.  Strangely this is a place that I don’t know that well even though it’s on my doorstep.  PB had a look at Benji’s route and professed it to be excellent and we would’nt need the book as he knew the route and off we went plunging down off the bank.

I’ve become so adept now at saying to myself chin up chin up after my coaching session with Ed that I’m beginning to think of Bruce Forsyth whenever I ride.  I don’t know if I’m improving or not but I think there are feint signs of it and certainly on the first run I felt I was doing OK and PB, who can ride anything, said I was looking good.  The route was great fun, challenging for me both technically in many places and due to the frozen and snowy ground, but also fitness wise there were some seriously steep sections out of the valley which we criss crossed back and for on different paths.  There is only one problem with the route and that is that whenever you pop out of a bridleway there is a pub beckoning.  We were good and just stopped for the one.

We came across an incredible frozen tree on the ride caused by an irrigation leak in a farmers field spraying water in a fine mist over the trees that then froze.  We had a quick sprint across the field to take a photo but top photographer Carl Milner went along and has done a cracking job of capturing it.  On the final stretch of flowing singletrack I really managed to get up some rhythm and controlled speed, not speed for most MTBers but rocket like for the snail and then round the bend came four horses at full gallop !  Rest assured I gave the new brakes a thorough testing.  I enjoy sharing the trails and paths with other users and think that I’m good at it but my word that gave me a shock.

All in all it was a great ride so cheers to Benji for the route, looks like the book is going to be a little source of treasure.  I’ll definitely be returning to the valley and will be singing this song that I could not get out of my head the whole way round.