Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Swiss Trip Day 4 (Monday): S-Chanf to Scuol

Bit of a hiatus in posting as away for the weekend...the last day of the trip was the longest at around 46k but actually the easiest with no monster climbs. Scuol is 465 metres below S-Chanf but there was still 900m of climbing between them though the longest climb was only 20 minutes (did I just write that!).

As we had to get back to Zurich to get flights that evening we needed to be back in Scuol and have the bikes packed up by 2pm at the very latest ready for the 2.5 - 3 hour drive. With this in mind it was an early start, we were riding just before 8.

It was a glorious sunny day, a little nip in the air at that time due to the height but the forecast was for about 27 degrees, a complete contrast to two days ago!

The plan was to take in some singletrack before picking up the track to Zernez that Jez and I rode in on the day before. The initial climb up to the singletrack was a bit cheeky. Although the long climbs had been long they were generally not really steep and this one was. Hard work straight after breakfast and I was a little nauseous at the top though there was no way I was walking it.

The singletrack was contoury with a drop to the left and very rooty, mostly dry roots but still a little slippy, particularly on the large ones or the "steps". I had a couple of rear wheel step outs right at the start. Of course the wheel stepped out towards the drop which I really didn't want to go down, lots of trees and broken/fallen branches all the way down.

I wasn't riding well and was worrying that I was still very tired but I was actually still suffering a bit from the initial climb. When my stomach settled and I stopped having to think about that my head snapped back into what I was supposed to be doing and I was riding roots, drops and tight switchbacks that even less than a minute before were making my bottom lip wibble. Mountain biking is such a head game!

A bit of portage to get back onto the main track at the end of the singletrack due to forestry operations causing destruction, we could hear the machinery crashing around near us somewhere. I was glad I got back into the riding as it was the only really bit of technical riding all day, most of the rest of it was undulating fireroad.

The track back to Zernez was so fast in the direction we were heading, no wonder everyone else was caning it the day before. There were a few slight undulations but in general it was down all the way.

After Zernez we dropped a little bit more height to Lavin at 1387m, the riding wasn't technical but it did mean it was easy to look at the views:

After riding through Lavin came the longest single climb of the day, we had to gain about 300m back which wasn't too bad really though that wasn't all the climbing done with. We had a bit of a descent before the final drag up to Ptan at 1700m, after that it was downhill all the way.

Not a bad spot to have some food:

My bike enjoying the sunshine before the last down of the trip:

All that was left was to drop the 500m to Scuol on quite possibly the scariest descent of the trip and it was all fireroad. Steep and very loose fireroad, scarily sketchy. Particularly rounding a corner and finding a workmens' van blocking the track. Quite a few times the bike was squirming everywhere, excellent fun in a terrifying sort of way. It seemed to take no time at all to get down and ride back to the hotel.

We arrived just after 12 so there was plenty of time to chill, eat, pack the bikes up etc. The only slight fly in the ointment was that our bags hadn't arrived yet (and our passports were in it!). We didn't really consider that one.

Bikes etc were soon packed up and plates of chips consumed. A bit of an anxious wait until the bags landed at 2:05pm, whew! All stuff squashed into the cars and then off back to the airport. We didn't take the road pass this time, instead we took the tunnel through the mountain instead. This involved being transported on a train, you don't actually drive. Our hire car went absolutely bananas going through the tunnel, kept flashing and beeping and telling us to stop the vehicle!

A fairly easy drive back to the airport then lots of faffing getting checked in and sorting bikes (and being robbed blind again), didn't have time to realise it was all over. We arrived home just after midnight knowing I had work the next day and just hoping my legs wouldn't be too dead for the Velodrome trip planned for after work (they weren't too bad though tired really quickly).

Swiss Trip Day 3 (Sunday): Livigno to S-Chanf

Day three and the sun was blazing! Glorious blue sky but at 1800 m it was actually still quite deceptively cold. A good breakfast where I tried to stuff my face to liven myself up a bit but I did feel totally drained, not entirely due to riding and not eating enough either.

Dressed and out to get the bikes, warm in direct sun but still really parky out of it. We rolled down into Livigno itself to find out what the trail conditions would be like. Day three involved riding over the highest pass of the trip and was going to involve a lot of pushing with or without snow. I honestly was really worried about it and knew I was going to really struggle and hold them up, my brain was woolly and my limbs felt like bits of chewed string.

A bit of discussion after the trail report ended up with Jez and I opting to have a touristy day lower down, we would end up doing double the mileage of the others but without the sapping climb, altitude and snow. I was relieved and looking forward to actually seeing some of the area properly without being too tired to appreciate it, particularly now that the weather was so good and you could actually see how spectacular it was. We also had a time pressure on our ride on day 4, the longest mileage wise as we had to get back to Scuol, pack up and get back to the airport for our flights, I needed not to be tired for that.

The rest of the boys set off on their big climb and Jez and I headed for Lake Livigno. Our plan was to ride alongside the lake to the border where there was a tunnel. No bikes were allowed in the tunnel but we would be able to get a bus through then ride from there to S-Chanf.

It was a bit of a gradual downhill to the border, first on a cycle path then on a road through some "tunnels", built to protect the road from rock fall and avalanche. I had taken my knee warmers off when standing around in town but I regretted this as the wind had a real bite to it still, brrr.

We saw lots and I mean lots of roadies, very fit roadies, roadies that wouldn't look out of place on pro teams and they all seemed to have standard doubles on. Super strong. We saw a bunch of six riders whipping past in Lampre kit.

We got to the border and found the "bus", it was in fact a mini bus with a bike trailer attached to the back of it:

It was due to leave about 5 minutes after we arrived so timing was fantastic, it only cost 5 Euros which is basically the cost of going through the tunnel. It was a single track tunnel so we had to wait until all the traffic had come through from the other way before heading through and emerging back into Switzerland (no passport checks at all). When we got to the other side we unloaded our bikes and a group of roadies filled it up with their bikes heading the other way.

That was all the bus did, shuttle cyclists and pedestrians through the tunnel. We then started gradually climbing up on tarmac, we hadn't really realised it was a climb until we saw cyclists absolutely flying the other way. It was a bit of a relief to see that as we thought we were being doubly pathetic not being able to pedal flat tarmac.

We climbed up for a while on the road as it snaked nicely up the valley, it had a few steeper ramps but nothing too dramatic. The strange thing was when we got to the top of the road, the pass was at 1810 m, just 10m above where we started from yet we had been climbing for quite a while. I don't know how we lost so much height, there was some loss alongside the lake but not that much, maybe the tunnel was downhill?

It was lovely new tarmac at the top and a fantastic view, then we headed down towards Zernez. After the last couple of days we were determined to keep food intake up so decided to head into the town itself and find a bite to eat once we got there....first was a road descent to contend with.

I put my arm warmers back on (which was a good choice) and zipped my gilet right up then followed Jez off down the hill, picking up speed nicely. Zernez is at just under 1500 metres so we had 300 metres to drop, all on this road.

It was typically alpine in nature, long sweeping bends. I remembered watching Fabian Cancellara's descent where he hit 90kph and wondered how fast I could get the Titus - Jens Voigt hadn't had his crash yet, if he had I might have been less gung ho!

Needless to say a fat tyred full-suss MTB was no match for a skinny tyred road bike but I was very, very thankful I was on the Titus and not a road bike. The tarmac was obviously not up to TdF standards of smoothness and I rounded one sweeping blind bend to find some whopping great pot holes all over the road which the Titus just ate but still.

I then rounded another sweeping blind bend to find no tarmac at all! About 50 metres of the tarmac surface had been lifted and was just gravel, I hit it at a fair speed and even on fat tyres and suspension the bike squirmed quite a bit through the gravel. That would not have been pleasant on a road bike, particularly with the five centimetre drop in level first - shudder! There were some proper road works further down but the random gravel section was a bit interesting and it wasn't the first, the drive over the pass to Scuol had something similar so if you ever do some fast alpine road bike descending really keep your wits about you!

I had been trying to lay off the brakes as much as possible but in the end I only maxed out at 68kph, boo. Jez got a little faster as he is heavier than me, pesky momentum!

We rolled into Zernez and found a cafe whilst I tried to remember some basic German. We had some food and Jez had a "kleinus" beer. I just can't have alcohol and ride so I stuck to coffee. Having dropped down so far it was now pretty warm, it was really nice sitting in the sun in the cafe watching a very two wheeled world go by. Cyclists and motorcyclists everywhere.

After our lunch we then continued back on the 444 towards S-Chanf. As we were riding out of Zernez a group of 8 - 10 side by side roadies came flying through. They were all dressed the same (though I couldn't make it out clearly) and they were really noticeable due to the speed they were shifting at, even though they seemed to be sitting up and chatting. Then an Astana car came flying though after them, that's why they look fast!

S-Chaf is at 1665m so we had some climbing to do to get to it. We were both starting to feel a lot more perky and the climbing wasn't too bad. There were a few downhill sections to break it up but in general we were heading up, lots of cyclists going the other way very fast though. Before long we arrived at a bench looking across the valley to S-Chanf, which was below us, lovely:

A fast roll down into the town and we headed to the town to find the hotel. Our bags were there waiting for us so we checked in and had a shower and got changed and headed downstairs to wait for the boys to roll in for some well earned beers. I was feeling pretty good now, shame I wasn't like that in the morning.

I think they rolled in about 3:30, having taken 5.5 hours to get there and it sounded a great day so I have unfinished business with that pass! The boys did 20k, Jez and I did 40k but about half the climbing and in half the time. I felt quite drunk after two beers (oops) and it was scorchio. I had a bit of a lie down before stuffing myself silly with a great dinner, just hoped it would be enough to kick start me for the ride back to Scuol.

Swiss Trip Day 2 (Saturday): Sta. Maria to Livigno

Well the snow didn't hold off, we woke up to a snowline that was considerably lower than the day before and we were going to be heading up into it. It was raining (heavily at first) rather than snowing down in the village so we had a leisurely breakfast to delay the inevitable. Unlike the day before the cloud didn't lift and it was also really cold. The ride was to be similar in length to the day before but would have two long climbs rather than just one. The first climb would probably take about two hours again.

I had thermal tights, base layer, thermal layer, buff, waterproof jacket and trousers and windproof gloves and I still felt a little chilly setting off. I had a very stuffed camelbak too as I had other layers in there too, can't remember the last time I rode with such a stuffed pack. After usual pre-ride faffing we set off into the rain which had lightened up a lot.

Up a tarmac climb that appeared to be an easy gradient but felt really tough at the top where we joined back up with the 444 trail. I was worried I was shamefully knackered but when I looked behind me and saw how much height we had gained in such a short time I let myself off. The track had been sneakily increasing in gradient all the way up. Waterproof trousers came off, too warm even in the cold drizzle due to wearing of fleecy tights. I put a pair of baggies on to protect my bum a bit as Jez had taken the guards off our bikes (July, dry and dusty right!), I also tried out the drop tail on my jacket, to be fair it did work surprisingly well but I missed my mudguard!

It was fireroad climb all the way up and being wet was slower progress than the road climb of yesterday so it was another set a nice effort level and plug away. We had a regroup for some food but I don't think we really regrouped after that, certainly not after we got to the snow line. I was riding comfortably again but Jez was really suffering, even more so than he had yesterday. Long steady climbs are even less of his thing than mine but even so he was finding it surprisingly tough and was walking a lot.

As he often has to wait for me I waited for him, nothing worse than being at the back particularly on such a cold miserable day. I'd ride a bit and wait then ride a bit not getting too far ahead and not stopping long enough to get really cold. There was a cow shed at the very top of the pass that the others kept riding up to, the rain soon changed to snow as well though I was warm enough in my layers the only thing I was worried about were my hands as the gloves were not massively warm ok on the climb but the descent would be a different story.

It looks like we're almost there at this point but there was quite a bit to go (and I can tell just by looking at this picture my saddle is far too high so why didn't I really notice when riding? It would cause me problems later):

Upwards even more, still quite a bit to go

Eventually we got to the cow shed at the top of the Doss-Radend 2234 m, I think we'd started at around 1500, it had "only" taken me 1:45 of ride time:

Jez get some Tour de France stylee encouragement to the top:

The cow shed was absolutely spotless, it smelt very strongly of cow but it was scrubbed clean. We had a food break and layered up for the descent, my waterproof trousers came out again as did my windproof skull cap. Ready to freeze:

The descent was baltic, my fingers and face froze solid. Though it was fast and fun and didn't need much braking action which is just as well as my fingers wouldn't pull the levers. At the bottom I had hot aches in my fingers which really hurt. We had dropped back down almost below the snow line again but were about to divert off the 444 to follow some singletrack.

The singletrack started off promisingly then got a bit difficult for a while due to lots of fallen trees that required lifting the bikes over, quite entertaining on steep ground in bike shoes. Then it settled into fantastic singletrack again, I was used to the steepness by then so was grinning all the way down, a nice open flattish section before dropping down fast again:

We then had a fantastic rolling piece of track which followed a river for a while, being a countouring track it often ended up with a large drop down to the river to the side, some drops more precipitous than others. It really reminded me of some of the trail centres but it was a little bit more unpredictable, rounding a corner to have lots of rubble strewn etc but it really was fantastic. Everyone was grinning after that:

We rolled downhill for a bit on some wide track and passed the Swiss/Italian border, which consisted of a marker stone only then down to a picnic area for a bit of food. I still wasn't eating enough even though I had resolved to do so but had a bar etc and a bit of a sit down. Also took off my waterproof trousers as the second climb of the day was about due. We'd dropped down about 400 metres which had to be gained again.

Jez decided to set off on the second climb a bit earlier than the others, I thought I would join him so we set off. I was aware that something was missing but I couldn't put my finger on it, just as we got to the start of the climb it dawned on me, my helmet! D'oh so I rode back to get it, the rest were just packing up so I got it on quickly and headed back to the climb to get a bit of a head start, I knew they wouldn't be long catching me.

I was finding the second climb a bit harder than the first, it was steeper in places but my lower left back was starting to ache, I realise now that I had put my saddle up far too high after the descents but it didn't dawn on me at the time at all. I had a few stretch breaks, standing up pedalling a lot but I still rode it all, albeit a little more slowly than the last one and it was really bugging me, my legs were surprisingly good still. There were a few moments on the climb where I wished I hadn't looked up but it was just a case of getting on with it. I caught up with Jez eventually quite a way up so again waited for him and took the opportunity for some stretching.

We were back up towards the snow again. We regrouped with the rest who were hiding behind a big rock and had a few undulations to contend with before the actual top of the pass. Short undulations are just absolute killers after long steady climbs for some reason, I wasn't the only one to find that, think my legs either wanted to be climbing or descending not swapping between both.

We had to negotiate a bit of a snow bank of old avalanched snow:

Then we were at the top of the last pass of the day Alpisella at 2299 m, downhill pretty much all the way to Livigno at 1800m. Another fast and cold wide descent then my memory is hazy a bit as I was a) cold and b) hungry and couldn't be bothered eating!

I do remember we did a very fast descent that took us a lot of the way down. It wasn't quite double track wide and it wasn't massively technical but the surface was very loose, the track was pretty straight and steep so it was very, very fast and very, very sketchy at times. I had a few both wheel slides and wobbles, hee hee. I was grinning like a loon all the way down apart from the few moments of sheer terror when I thought it was all going to go wrong. We passed a few walkers on this descent as we were getting nearer civilisation, I remember one elderly couple grinning their heads off at us as they watched us go past.

There was a short section of rather terrifying black graded singletrack that even if I hadn't been tired and hungry I wouldn't have been able to ride much of. It was stupidly steep with lots of tight switch backs and some steps on it. It was scary walking down it, the only way I may have been able to ride some of it was to roll to the switchback, lift bike round, repeat. Very scary but some of the boys managed to ride pretty much all of it.

A bit of a push across a river bed then another piece of track that started out ok but then got unrideable due to the fact it wasn't wide enough. It had a bit of a rocky outcrop to the left, a two metre or so drop to the river on the right and it was only about 20cm wide so there was barely enough space to walk on it. It also was also rocky, slippy and a short climb. I had to carry my bike in my right hand suspended over the river and grope with my left along the rock which had no handholds on it all the while trying to stop my handlebars from swinging round. Lovely, I was disappointed to find no one rode it! (Not).

It was then a nice easy track to roll down towards Lake Livigno, really nice and easy until a short section with loads of tree and rock debris on it. I managed to take evasive action in time to avoid hitting a large boulder just lying casually in the trail. From there it was an easy spin into Livigno, I remember along here some where thinking my saddle was too high but thought I would leave it until morning as we were nearly at the hotel.

It was an interesting ride through the centre of Livigno, lots of people dodging. Rob and Danny set off to check out the accommodation and i should have had something to eat but didn't. Eventually we made it to the accommodation which were some small apartments and a very hot shower and a bit of a late dinner (again)!

Distance was a mere 25.6 miles and my ride time was 4:28 and I think I was climbing for 3 hours of that. Ouch. The forecast for day 3 was for sun!

Officially the ride was about 1240 metres of climbing but my Garmin has the much more impressive figure of 2857, wow!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Swiss Trip Day 1 (Friday): Scuol to Sta. Maria

Which was just under 23 miles with at least 1200 metres of climbing (though my Garmin reckons 3275, err no). We woke up in the morning to heavy rain and lead skies, not what was forecasted:

We wouldn't be setting off until after 11am anyway as the last member of the group was driving down today. Up for a leisurely breakfast watching the bouncing rain then start assembling bikes. The hotel had an outside covered bar area which we comandeered for a couple of hours. I was wearing a full set of waterproofs at this point. All members of the group, now 6 of us, were soon present. Just as it was almost time to go, blue sky was spotted up the valley and it was heading our way.

The sun was soon out and there were lots of last minute decisions on layers, waterproofs were off. Our main bags were due to be shipped to our next hotel but they hadn't gone yet so it was a bit of frantic stuffing things back in before setting off into glorious sunshine:

It was a brief but fast down before the climb commenced properly. The first section was a brutal stretch of steep fire road, thankfully short. It got the heart and lungs working, they appeared to be working properly, that didn't last! It was then a long tarmac climb, which would change to fire road eventually. Started climbing, climbing, climbing, steady pace. Not sure how long it went on for but it seemed for ever up, no point looking up, it all looked the same:

I rounded a bend to a gap in the trees and a cracking view down the valley, I almost kept going as I was in a nice rhythm, which is important on these climbs but then I remembered it's not something I see everyday. It was gorgeous:

Due to the earlier rain it was actually quite steamy on the road, stuck in the trees the wet road had a sauna effect. We were passed at some point on the fairly narrow mountain road by a large bus, a sheduled service no less. As it powered up the hill we all noticed it had bike racks on the back, of course the Switzerland residents knew that! They also knew it was headed for the cafe at 1800m that we were, neglected to mention that. It was the first demonstration of how much bike friendly infrastructure there was here.

Our route was predominantly sign posted too, we were following the 444 signposts which marks the route of the Swiss National Park MTB marathon, yes some very fit people do the whole thing in one day! The route skirts around the national park as MTBing is not really allowed within it, we deviated a little from the route on the descents by taking singletrack.

National Park MTB Marathon Route

We kept climbing on and soon we were off tarmac and onto more fire road style. We were heading for the little town of S-Charl at 1810 metres. Once onto the fire road I was starting to notice a bit of a lack in oxygen. I was ok if I kept a nice steady pace but if I pushed hard and let my HR get above 165, say to climb a rise, I found it hard to recover and bring it back down. This got more pronounced as we kept climbing, so steady pace it was. I was climbing ok which I was a bit surprised about as long steady climbs are not my thing but it reminded me of my long training runs for the marathon, it was that kind of effort.

There wasn't much regrouping after we got onto the fire road sections, the lure of the cafe was too strong. So I had to remember to keep looking back and trying to take some photos on the move (not always successful!)

We caught up with a British couple doing pretty much the same route as us, although they weren't doing the bag shipping thing. The lad had a trailer with panniers and the girl had a very large rucksack. The trailer really consisted of a single wheel, with panniers on either side of it, nothing like a Bob trailer. We would see them a few times:

It almost looks like we haven't far to climb but no, not even at S-Charl yet. A bit more climbing then finally arrive at S-Charl for bit of a break. As I hung my bike up in the stand I checked my wheels as I was being plagued by a brake squeak. I thought it was the front and as I checked the wheel it spun fine but did give a little squeak, I checked the rear and it didn't spin much more than a revolution before stopping. Ah, I did think it was sluggish.

A break for a large glass of full-fat coke but no food (bit of a mistake that one), in fact only Danny, the guy who had joined us that morning had any proper food. Then onwards and upwards, still 400 metres of up to go. I didn't bother about my brake as I didn't think it was that bad however, there were some short downhill sections on the climb and I noticed I was rolling to a stop on them rather than picking up speed, which was a little unfair.

At the next regroup Jez changed my brake pads out and I had a free spinning wheel, it was so free because my rear brake decided to stop working altogether, the lever coming right back to the bars. I wasn't worried about this at all (as I had no idea what the descending was like at this stage or I certainly would have been) and carried on riding. On any downhill sections I dragged the rear and eventually it started coming back to life, I was more pleased it was easier to climb. Well, the altitude was affecting me more but would have been worse with the rear brake on.

We approached what I thought was the top, but no, we diverted off the main fire road onto some single track. It was undulating with an upward bias but it wasn't just a case of spinning away, it needed some oomph sometimes. On a couple of occasions my head felt as if I had stood up too fast and I had to be carefull of the effort. This section reminded me a bit of the Dales and of course I forgot to take a single picture of it as I needed to concentrate, proper riding. Luckily other people did:

Finally we reached the Pass da Costainas at 2251 metres, hurrah! Not quite all downhill from here but almost.

Next it was saddles down for the descent, the two Swiss residents just did it the Brits all asking if it was worth it. Long descent! Started off steep and fast fire road, I had a girly moment when I spotted one of the guys ahead getting thrown around on the track ahead and rounded the bend convincing myself it was going to be awful. I stopped dead at the top of a section because there were...wait for it....some rocks! D'oh, perfectly rideable if I'd kept going but due to steepness a bit tricky to get back on here. What I needed was some food.

Anyway on downwards, apologising to Ed who I caused to stop too then caught up with the others. It starts to get a little indistinct in my memory here. I think we headed for the first piece of proper single track (or single trail as its called here) and it was graded red.

One other piece of bike friendliness, specifically MTB friendliness, is that there is an official published map of the area that:

1) Is the perfect size for folding and sticking in a pocket
2) Is made of toughened, water resistant paper
3) Has all the worthwhile singletrack marked on it
4) The singletrack is all graded: blue, red, black so you know what your letting yourself in for.

How fantastic is that!

I think there was a bit of climbing in there before we hit the singletrack and I had a bit of a wobbly start on it until I got my head around the steepness. The singletrack seemed to be of two types, either steep and following the fall line of the hill or contouring along the side. The contouring sounds nice but the hills are generally steep so there is often a drop of varying degrees of scariness to one side. The penalty for failure could be high.

Soon I was pretty into it and being very, very thankful for my working rear brake. It was more rooty and woodsy rather than rocky but speed was picked up very quickly and I didn't take my camera out once, too busy having fun/being scared. There were a few unfair undulations, mainly on road as we worked our way down the hill. Rely on the camera to flatten things out:

It really was great descending, worth the climb, honestly. We had a section of "black" trail to ride which I have to say I was a bit worried about, thinking we would be riding down a sheer cliff but it was quite an easy rooty section which had been misgraded, really a blue. Well I say easy, not when your riding like a plank. There were perfectly rideable lines if you were paying attention, which I was struggling with I realised I need to get some calories in asap so had a caffeinated gel and hoped it would kick in soon.

I got a bit better and then the sugar and caffeine kicked in just in time for the best bit of track yet. Fast, contouring, tracking the river, some big drops to the side, roots, overhanging rocks (being a shorty was a definite advantage). Really enjoyed it. As we were close to the valley floor we came across various people who were all really encouraging rather than grumpy, everyone got out of our way rather than hold us up.

I rounded one bend to find Rob picking himself out of the river having looked behind to check where people were, on, I have to say, a bit of trail that could really do with full concentration not backwards glances. He rode off the side and was highsided by the bike into the river which was luckily only about 5 feet or so below, best crash of the trip. He seemed unhurt if a little wet.

From there it was into the village of Sta. Maria to the Hotel Stelvio. It is a "bike hotel" so it had a large bike garage to lock up lots of bikes, workstand, pressure washer, drying room (cheesy feet!), bike wash etc. More infrastructure. Unfortunately the bags hadn't arrived yet so we had to wait, have a little beer and watch the weather roll back in. The sugar in the alcohol killed my appetite which wasn't ideal as I needed to eat but didn't until much later. We hoped the snow wouldn't materialise:

I think I climbed for most of the riding, about 2.5 hours out of less than 3.5.

Swiss Trip - Day 0 (Thursday): Manchester to Scuol

I had a complete meltdown because of my home pc, Adobe Flash 10 took it upon itself to try to install but made a hash of it and all sorts of things stopped working, fixed it now but taken a bit longer to get writing this and sort some photos. Thanks for the crap software Adobe!

Anyway, Thursday morning we were picked up by a local taxi firm to be taken to the airport. There was a temporary deviation from the plan as Ed had forgotten to bring his bike helmet so we had to nip back to get it!

Unlike last time I took my bike to the airport I was spared the indignity of trying to drag it across the concourse. I am not tall enough to actually lift the bike bag off the ground once the strap is on my shoulder, it was a complete pest last time, Jez strode off down the airport then had to come back for me. All bikes were laid on luggage trolleys, I was in charge of pushing my bike and Jez's, hee hee.

Luckily the luggage trolleys were quite easily steerable so it didn't end up a complete demolition derby as I feared, though it is entertaining the amount of people who don't appreciate the width of two bike bags laid down. They look at you pushing but not actually what you are pushing and try to walk too close. I managed to get to the check in without sweeping anyone up, though it nearly happened a few times. Check in was reasonably painless if a little expensive (understatement, robbing sods) to take the bikes on Swiss, luggage dumped then it was off to get rid of the bikes. I managed to ping off some Tensa barrier straps on my way across from check in, much to the amusement of the other two but that was the only destruction I caused, result!

Flight was on time, we had a bit of time to wait in Zurich airport for Ben's flight from Heathrow and Rob to get there. As Ed had hired the car and it was cheaper to have one named driver Jez and I had a couple of beers while we waited as the Heathrow flight was a little delayed. To kill time Jez decided to try to start reassembling his bike in the airport, we left him to it as we thought it was a daft idea and he soon gave up, beer is not conducive to bike building. Finally everyone arrived and we headed off to get our hire car. Ben was going with Rob, which was just as well. The three of us only just got our bikes and stuff into the Zafira mummywagon. I was in the remaining rear seat and spent a lot of the drive to Scuol with things trying to fall on my head.

It took a few hours to get down to Scuol, which is in the eastern corner of Switzerland, over the Fluela pass from Davos/Klosters. The drive over the pass was little interesting in the dark, typical alpine road, switch backs galore and it climbs up over 2000 metres. The drive down the other side was even more interesting, the boys in the other car were stopped by the border police half way down the mountain. Apparently its a known smugglers route!

It was after 11pm when we arrived at the hotel, a bit of faff trying to get parked then up to some rather posh rooms (with the biggest hand basin I think I've seen), it was huge. :

Downstairs into the bar for a couple of beers and a discussion about tomorrow's route. Forecast was for sun but there was pretty much guaranteed to be snow on Saturday. We would basically be climbing from Scuol which is about 1000 metres to the pass at 2250 metres (I think, about that anyway) then back down to the next village we were staying in. It would be pretty much a single long climb, taking at least two hours! Not something you have to deal with in the UK.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Back from Switzerland!

Had an ace time. Two hour long steady climbs with fantastic steep and technical singletrack descending. Gorgeous scenery (when it wasn't snowing), losing lung capacity climbing up to 2300 metres, shivering in the snow one day and being sunburnt the next. Spotting pro cyclists whizzing around Livigno (Astana) and huge amount of cyclists of all kinds in general. Trying to ride like Fabian Cancellara and hit 90kph down a long alpine road (failed: couldn't get above 68kph). Shame it was only four days, was just acclimatising....

Lots of washing and photos to sort through but not til later in the week, got a two hour (yes two hours, not the one I thought) session at the Velodrome tonight, I am going to die.

Back to work today, booo.....................but my request for a 4 day week has been granted!!!!!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Why is it the work always gets silly the day before you go off on holiday! No urgency for the last couple of days now everything needs to be done yesterday! I was hoping to get out for a run at lunchtime, 7 miles will put me over 500 for the year. I can't stay late so it was soon 6 then 5 then 4 then abandoned!

Bikes were packed last night, forgotten how much of a palaver that was!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

(Almost) flat on my face

Well, it had to happen, my first real fall when offroad running, blood and everything, d'oh. I set off on Monday after work for an offroad run. A 10 minute rain delay while I hoped it would ease off a bit, no such luck so I ran down into the woods in Tockholes playing about a bit but not getting utterly soaked.

The rain stopped so I headed up towards the tower. There was a full blown ignorance wandering aound near the tower which was a pain to get passed, they just look at you blankly. Its easier, if a little more hostile to go past on a bike, they know your not "one of "them". Anyway, last few metres to the tower and I feel my left knee scrape off something, then I'm in a semi-plank position, hands outstretched to stop my upper body bouncing off the floor.

I don't remember tripping, there was no stumble, I was just all of a sudden on the ground and my knee hurt. D'oh. I got up, for once no one around at the tower to save my blushes but also no one to ask what the hell I did. I got to the tower, knee was scraped rather than cut and some blood but no bid drips but I knew it was probably best to get back to the car before it started stiffening up.

Back through the ignorance again, a few justified puzzled looks at my bloody and rather dusty presence before escaping down to the car. I loaded the route into bikehike and it gave 7.1 miles with 2000ft of up. The 7.1 miles I believe, the 2000ft I don't (though it is much less than the bobbins figure the Garmin gives)!

Knee scabbed over nicely now and knee cap a little tight, made my weights session a little interesting.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


I managed a sub one hour commute home on Friday, the first time ever. I had a bit of a tailwind but wasn't aiming to push it on the way home but I arrived at the traffic lights at the end of Strand Road, 3 miles from home at a really good time. I didn't think I'd be able to get in under the hour as I had to get through the tramway as its usually busy, epspecially on a nice Friday evening. It wasn't so I pegged it, amazing how much time is lost rolling to a stop at traffic lights though.

It made up for the morning commute as it was a bit of an assault course of avoiding cars turning left across me and people opening car doors all over the place. One of those mornings when it seems you have a target painted on you.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Four Day Week?

Hmm, my company along with many others are trying to implement cost cutting measures in the "current economic climate". They have just offered the "opportunity" to take unpaid leave or a temporary reduction in working hours.

I'm seriously tempted to reduce my hours to 4 days...can I cope with a 20% pay cut for the three months allowed......hmmm


Had a rest day after Sunday's ride, legs were "cycling" tired whish is a nice change from the completely battered after running tired I have been used to of late. I got back into the gym for more weights yesterday. I did my warm up on the Treadmill this time, just couldn't face staring at the lilac wall on the rower. Did a couple of faster intervals to start waking the legs up from the marathon trudging, felt good after it so probably time to get the speedwork going again.

I floated off round the gym for a bit, forgotten how weird it feels getting off a treadmill. Left leg feeling more in control on the split squats which I was pleased about. For some reason the gym was overrun with teenage boys hogging all the benches so I decided to use one of the bars for chest presses rather than dumbells. It was an olympic bar which I have a dim memory of being a "reasonable" weight though exactly what it was escaped me.

I loaded it up with titchy 5kg plates for a warm up then nearly died when I tried to press it. Got about three reps out before wrestling it back onto the hooks......took the 5kg weights off and replaced with 2.5kg and creaked out a couple of sets before slinking away. I found out later olympic bars weigh 20kg on their own, oops I thought it was about 5kg or something.

The ouch is not referring to me. I headed out for a run after work with Jez, into the woods near Abbey Village, the looming black clouds had us deciding against the top of the moor. We were both running reasonably well, as it was 3.5 - 4 miles planned I was determined to push the pace on and not settle into the plod I normally do on offroad runs and it was working well.

1.5 miles in I heard a painful expletive behind me and looked back to see Jez in a lot of pain having just turned his ankle. I was worried he had actually broken it such was the pain on his face but after a few minutes he managed to put some weight on it and we started walking back to the car.

We only had 1.5 miles to walk but we chilled down very quickly, then the rain decided to lash right down so we got very wet and even colder. A sobering reminder that extra layers and mobile phones should be carried on long solo hill runs as situations can change so quickly! I ran the last half mile back to the car to get it started and move it as close to the end of the track as possible then drove us home. The ankle was very swollen but immediately iced and ibuprofened, poor love!

I get health insurance through work so he should hopefully be seeing the physio again in the next couple of days. Only been a couple of months since he was last there for the same ankle.

Monday, July 6, 2009

First Decent Length MTB ride... what seems like aeons. 27 miles of riding out of Clowbridge Res near Rawtenstall. I was a bit worried about it as haven't ridden that distance offroad for ages but it was fine. The plan was to do a ride with the same amount of climbing that the days in Switzerland will have - at least 3000 feet which was managed ok. Pretty much dry and deserted trails with some technical interest to demostrate how crap I have become!

I learned that now I just cannot get away with having a saddle a bit too low when climbing, I have always run a high saddle but it seems to be creeping up even more. Probably something do do with running, I thought my bottom bracket was seizing as my legs didn't seem to be able to spin.

I also learned that the climb up from Waterfoot on the MTL is an even steeper and looser beeyatch than I remembered it (definitely better in the other direction). No matter what way I ride the Rooley Moor Road I get a headwind. My On One 456 frame does a great job of muting cobble buzz. My bum has not sat on a hardtail for that distance for quite some time! The edges of my hands were hurting by the end, something else that needs building up (forgotten about that too!).

My new Gore shorts were fab. I took some jam butties (or jammy pieces as I like to call them) and gels out as fuelling as had no energy drink left, the more solid food didn't make me feel sick on the climbs and did a sterling job of keeping me going in the sunshine....until it chucked it down near the end of the ride and I no longer wanted to stop to eat. Was starting to get really hungry when I got back to the car. Will still use energy drink on long rides methinks but will be taking more jammy pieces out in future.

I was also informed that day three of our Swiss Tour is only 14 miles long...with 3000ft of climbing - will hurt a bit that one. I also comprehended the fact that being a tour means that there does not necessarily have to be a descent to go with the up (gulp) though it should balance itself out in the end.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

A Friday Evening Hill Run

After Tuesday's run with Jez I was keen to get back out for some more offroad running. I had originally thought about aiming for 10 miles or so as I had a couple of hours to play with after getting stuck at work on Monday. However I decided to shorten it as I got out of work later than planned on Friday afternoon and I hadn't been intending on riding Thursday.

I wanted to head up onto Great Hill but decided to do it from Tockholes rather than Abbey Village and explore a couple of tracks I had been meaning to for a while. One track headed out through the woods to the Belmont Road and another headed up towards the moor above the sawmill from the Abbeyville Dobermans place.

Through the woods started off ok if a little wet and slippy but soon got quite indistinct and very wet. My shoes and shorts were soaking as there was a lot of long wet grass. The path split and I continued tracking the stream then had a vague memory that the track I wanted didn't (hadn't brought the map). I finally managed to bash my way out to the road, quite a bit further up from where I was supposed to end up. I tried running along the verge for a while but it kept disappearing down a ditch hidden by the grass so for the sake of my ankles I walked as the road was busy until I got to where I was supposed to be.

Up through a smelly farmyard to be confronted by a couple of gates tied together with a weathered knot of Gordian complexity, no chance of undoing it. There was a footpath marker so I was in the rights place...then I heard a noise behind me and an overfriendly collie pup was jumping around. A man came out to call the pup back and told me to climb through the fence inside the barn to the side of the gate. I continued on running for a bit until the field became unrunnable due to big tussocks and cow trodden mud.

The rest of the "track" was pretty vague, a case of spotting styles to head for but very difficult to run due to long uneven grass and littered rocks. I eventually got back onto known stuff and was able to run again. Not worth doing that particular part of the route again.

I wasn't running particularly well, my knees felt heavy due to weights and cycling no doubt. Though I just simply have to lift my feet higher when running offroad and need to build that back up again. It was lovely at the shelter on Great Hill and the descent was pretty dry, even the one step forward two steps back section near the road was mostly runnable.

I picked up the trail that runs parallel to the road at the Slipper Lowe car park, we've taken bikes along at least part of it so I thought it should be pretty runnable. To start with it was, if very, very wet but then it started to get really interesting and boggy. On two occasions I tried to avoid a particularly wet section by heading up on some cambered banking only to slip and fall onto hands and knees in the bog I was trying to avoid, lovely. I'm sure I haven't cycled along this part.

My Wave Harriers were no match for that mud! I have a pair of Inov-8 Mudclaw 330's that I got earlier this year which have seen no action due to mara training, this could be the perfect test track. I eventually realised that I was almost back at Ryal Fold car park, I definitely hadn't cycled this far along. A load of nettles to squeeze past before hitting the main track and over to the car.

6.5 miles at 11mm pace which I think is very generous given the amount of walking, slipping and stumbling at certain points. Have a feeling the Garming stopped recording in some of the woody areas due to my slow progress. Busy day Saturday so will probably not have much chance to do much but I need to stretch my hip flexors, they feel very tight.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Gym Session and an impromptu ride

I got back into the gym on Thursday to do some more weights, I need to keep up the momentum with this as it will be too easy not to do it. I had a 10 minute warmup on the rower as that was as long as I could take staring at the lilac wall and had a good session on the weights. My left knee was feeling a lot more under control in the split squats this week too.

I had planned to do a gym session only but it was so hot on Thursday that the house was stifling when I got home, it was too hot to stay in. I headed out on my road bike and created my own breeze for a while. I ended up doing a nice ride out through Bretherton, Croston, Bispham, and Ecclestone before heading home. Lots of new roads I've not ridden (or driven for that matter) but basically flat, too hot to suffer hills.

Next time I will try to avoid riding through Croston as it was busy with motor traffic and horse drawn carriages. Not sure what was going on, a few poshed up people in carriages that slowed things right down. I did 27 miles in the end and legs felt ok.

Lee Quarry Again

On Wednesday we headed up to Lee Quarry again for a bit of a play. It was very warm and still and the initial climb up from the car park was torture, especially since I had put the flat pedals on the On One, it was like pedalling with only one leg such is the drop in power.

A quick blast round the red route, the first descent had me forgetting I wasn't clipped in and my feet rearranged themselves on the pedals as I bounced over something. This was a) a little scary and b) inconvenient as I couldn't pedal up the next little rise as my feet were so skew wiff. I concentrated on straightening my legs and dropping my heels and moved through the steep berms ok.

I hardly noticed the drop when riding the "cliffside" track this time which was nice and I had general cruising and descending sussed on the flats by then but approaching rises was still a bit hit and miss as I kept trying to pull up on the pedals so I stayed at the back in case I came to an abrupt unplanned stop.

I rode the see-saw in the skills area, I should be chuffed but it was so bloody easy I don't know why I was so worried or why I rode off the side of it the first time I tried it (actually I do know, I'm a a wuss!).

A grand total of 5 whole miles of riding before we got fed up providing dinner for the midgies and we headed back down too hot to bother doing any more, the bottom section of the trail to the car park is lovely and swoopy.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Evening Run..Dry Dusty Trails

Headed out last night after work with Jez to do a bit of a run. Due to it being a very humid I didn't fancy heading into the woods, thought it would be stifling and airless. I suggested we do a slightly shorter version of the route I did a couple of weeks ago. It would be hillier than the woods run but would get us up onto the moor where its usually a lot fresher.

It rained a bit on the way over and the temperature dropped to 20C as we were setting off from the visitor centre at Ryal Fold. Straight uphill, my legs felt dead but I've not done much of anything this month so not too worried. Garmin died half a mile in! I realised I haven't left it plugged in long enough to charge it lately, oops.

After first climb we skirted round the hill a bit, Jez was enjoying running on a springy smooth grassy surface for a bit, a short sharp climb, a bit of running then another short climb and we were more or less up there. We headed more or less straight over the top of the moor then headed for the tower. He did very well on climbs and smoother tracks but was a little ginger on some of the rougher descents. Not surprising as he is worried about his ankles and wearing road shoes, I always find road shoes a bit teetery off road even if grip isn't an issue like last night.

A bit of a breather at the Tower, shame it was so hazy then it was off downhill back to the car. I picked a fairly runnable descent though as I have done a lot more offroad running and its one of my regulars I found it a lot easier than he did, however my descending wasn't much to write home about either. No surprise given lack of offroad runs.

Just under 4 miles with 190 metres up/down so he did really well for a second run. I think he enjoyed this run much more than the last one, its a lot easier to be happy with time on feet on that type of terrain/view to look at rather than worrying about running everything or needing a bit of recovery. Just need to sort out some trail shoes for him and some hill fitness for me, my legs were just livening up on the last descent back to the car.