PARIS BREST PARIS 2015 – MY PACKING LIST (PART 2 – STUFF)

Standard

Part 1 was here

In many ways, part 2 is more important. Clothing is clothing – we all know we need some, but, depending on how hot we run, makes for very personal choices.

Part 2 is all the other stuff, some of which may not be obvious to first timers, or indeed those who’ve done it a few times. There is, however, still quite a lot of personal choice to take into consideration on what ‘stuff’ to take. People’s attitude to spares differs dramatically (though no-one should ever undertake a long ride without the stuff to sort out their tyres going flat (be it tubes or stuff for tubeless etc.)). But some people carry spare gear cables, brake blocks etc. None of that is wrong, and may well be very valid on a long ride in wilder locations, but PBP is well-equipped with mechanics at every control and I would hope that each control would have a good stock of things like cables. Clearly, if you ride a weird and wonderful machine, you should consider spares specific to that machine that may be hard to acquire (odd tyre sizes, extra long brake/gear cables for tandems etc.

Clearly a good approach to maintenance can also pay dividends and not starting PBP with worn cables/tyres/chains etc. is a sensible approach.

People’s approach to electronics is also very different. Apparently, there are people who ride PBP with neither a smart phone nor GPS – well, if it isn’t on Strava, it didn’t happen or something like that! The trouble with those of us who do like our gadgets is they need charging. Whilst some controls on LEL etc. had charging stations where you could leave your Garmin to charge whilst you slept, do not expect anything like that on PBP! The numbers are just too big. So, you need to be 100% self-sufficient in that aspect, with cache batteries, replaceable batteries, dynamo recharging, whatever – you just need to be able to look after yourself completely. Those with electronic gearing need to be doubly certain they are charged up and/or have a spare battery with them (LEL saw a number of people with non-functioning gearing due to flat batteries).

All joking aside about GPS, you really do not need it for PBP – the navigation is very simple (look at the route sheet, it has less instructions than most 200s in the UK!), there will be marshals at key junctions and everything is way-marked with big arrows etc.

Anyway, on with the stuff! Again, just hover and click over the item and you’ll be able to read my words of wisdom!

 

click map
Spanner Tyre levers Multitool Inner tubes Patches and boot Cable ties Rubber gloves Wet wipes Small towel Toothbrush and toothpaste Shower gel Bum cream Pills First aid kit Sun lotion Spork Nuun Charging leads Cache battery Batteries Wallet Headphone USB charger Headtorch Silk sleeping bag Space blanket Ear plugs Lock Documents Pump Bidons Lights Garmin

Spanner

Being on fixed, I need a spanner to undo my rear wheel. I’ve looked a specific 15mm spanners and, honestly, nothing beats an old-fashioned box spanner in terms of weight! I know that box spanners don’t give a huge amount of torque, but I have never had a wheel slip when tightened with a box spanner. And it comes with the bonus of lots of other spanner sizes on it (though the only other one I need is the one for mudguard bolts).

Tyre levers

Topeak Shuttle levers are great. There are some tyre levers out there (Park Tools I am looking at you) that suck, badly and if you have a tight tyre/rim combination are too thick to get under the bead and pop it out. These are nice and thin and have never let me down. The important thing is to be 100% certain that your given combination of lever/tyre/rim works for you.

Multitool

I’ve put two in the photo as I am torn! The usual one I carry is a Topeak Mini 18 that has just about everything on it. Trouble is I also have a Lezyne V5 tool that has just about everything I need. Touring, yes, the Mini 18 has some stuff that might save a tour, but PBP, well hopefully I can get away with the smaller one. I’ve not snapped a chain since the late 90s (mountain biking and hitting a rock), so a chain tool (particularly on fixed) seems like overkill. Anything serious can be solved by waving Euro notes at a control, so I will probably go with the smaller one as it does save 150 grammes, which is a chunk. I have just noticed that Lezyne do a carbon V5 tool that is a whole 6 grammes lighter than mine – I reckon I might keep the £60-odd they want for it in my wallet though!

Inner tubes

Not too much to say. You’d be insane not to carry them (or the stuff to sort out issues with tubeless).

These days, more and more tubes have removable valve cores and some pumps (Lezyne in particular) are very good at unscrewing the valve core. So, do make sure you tighten the cores up good and proper before you put the tubes in your bag!

Patch kit and boot

I’ve carried a spare tyre on rides before (in fact, I did on the last PBP). Given that I’ve never torn a tyre in my life, I really don’t want to take that extra weight with me. Bigger riders who are really tough on tyres may have a different approach, but I will take the risks. I will replace my tyres pre-PBP as a bit of pre-emptive maintenance and I will carry a tyre boot with me. These Park Tool ones seem pretty good with an adhesive back to keep them secure etc. Of course, in a pinch, you can use almost anything for a boot – cash, crisp packets, brevet cards?!?, but for the sake of a few grammes, I will pop this into my bag!

I will also have a few patches – again, being light, I tend not to suffer too much with flats, though I had two on the way down to Paris last time (one less than 10km from home in the pouring rain and the other due to clambering down a motorway embankment having made a navigational error with Paul Stewart as we attempted to ride down the motorway). These patches weigh nothing and will do the job for a decent enough fix if I am starting to have issues.

Cable ties

A handful of these should be in everyone’s bag – especially the bigger ones. Can be used for holding many things together!

Rubber gloves

Useful things to have in the bag – there’s nothing worse than having to fix a flat (or worse, an issue with gearing/chains), especially in the rain, and ending up with hands covered in oil and muck than then gets everywhere, all over the bike, your clothes etc. The state some people turn up at controls is quite funny sometimes with oil smeared over their faces! So, a pair or two of latex gloves can keep you clean and tidy for the ride. They can also be pressed into service if it is very cold and wet as an extra layer for warmth.

Wet wipes

These should be in every long-distance cyclist’s bag. They serve many purposes and can be a real boost at times. Hygiene can be difficult on long rides, and a good wipe around one’s bits can do wonders for bum issues! Equally, if you’re hot and grubby from road grime, it is very nice just to clean your face and feel a bit more human (I don’t suggest using the same wet wipe for bum then face, but the other way around could work!).

There are showers at most (probably all?) controls on PBP. You will pay a small fee (3-4 Euro) to use them. Don’t expect anything much more than a shower (i.e. no soap and probably no towel (see below!)). However, if you are pushed for time, you may have to forego a shower (though I would personally recommend making the time if you can – it is like a magic reset button and can give you so much energy again to be clean, especially when combined with some clean clothing!).

Some toilet paper (not pictured)

Wet wipes can be used for the job, but a few sheets of TP rolled up in a plastic bag can be a real life-saver at times. For those moments where controls are out of the stuff to the emergency need in the middle of the night nowhere near a loo. I forgot to have some on a recent ride and was having some stomach issues, and all I can say is thank goodness I was carrying a spare routesheet. I’ll leave that image with you.

Travel towel

As above, the towel policy on PBP seemed pretty random. Some controls had towels, many did not. I saw people drip-drying and some using paper towels to try and get dry. Of course, you could use the clothing you have taken off to dry yourself, but wiping yourself dry with a jersey that you’ve worn for 2 days seems to defeat the purpose of having a shower slightly!

This little towel is tiny (probably 18 inches by 18 inches), but is about enough to get myself pretty dry. It has a little bag with a clip that can hang on the saddlebag and dry off as I ride.

I’d really recommend it!

Tooth paste and toothbrush

Your teeth and mouth take a battering on long rides. Sweet foods galore etc.

Another little boost is brushing your teeth. Feeling less disgusting is really quite a lift!

I can’t imagine not carrying one really, but people don’t.

Shower gel

Don’t assume there’s going to be a range of grooming products at controls. There won’t be any most likely.

A shower without soap is not really a shower! Getting the grime off is only really easy with soap, so a little travel bottle of shower gel is good. There are the tiny sheets of soap as well – not tried them though.

Comb (not pictured)

Depending on your follicle abilities, you may, or may not need a comb.

I have hair, so prefer to carry a comb!

Bum cream

Some people don’t use any, some people use too much. I’ve been using much more this year due to riding fixed. It works for me! Keep things clean and reapply cream at regular intervals.

Tablets

I am sure people do take iPads on PBP, but I prefer some medicines. I am not a pill-popper in normal circumstances, but if push came to shove, I’d happily guzzle vitamin I for a couple of days to get the job done.

I will carry a small number of the following:

Ibuprofen

Pro Plus (though very, very rarely use them – prefer to snooze things out. Plus abstinence from caffeine for 3-4 weeks in advance of PBP will help me greatly anyway)

Anti-diarrhea tablets – serious diarrhea or food-poisoning is probably ride-ending. Luckily I have a pretty sturdy constitution, so can cope with most things (interestingly, I have had food poisoning twice in my life – both times cycle touring in France). But something to slow things down may be very useful. Stomachs and digestive systems take a battering during long rides.

Sumatriptan – migraine tablets. I am an occasional and mild sufferer (3-4 a year and not too intense these days), however a recent serious flair up of numerous very strong migraines within a very short period has led to a prescription for these. Touch wood, I won’t need them, but I need to carry them just in case.

Dressings and plasters

If anyone, including myself, had a serious wound; don’t ask me for help. I go pretty feint at the sight of blood! However, a small selection of plasters, antiseptic wipes and small dressings are good for minor mishaps or even things like rubbing shoes etc.

Sun Cream

Let’s hope I get to use it more often than not.

Spork

Not so much for PBP, but on long rides in the UK, this can open up culinary avenues that the less well-equipped have no access to (unless they are prepared to, as I have seen, eat rice pudding with tyre levers).

Being able to eat a yoghurt, tin of rice pudding etc. is a bonus when scouring the shelves of the 24 hour garages!

Electrolytic tablets

NUUN tablets are great for me. They have pretty much eliminated some issues I had early on with getting dehydrated and severe stomach cramps. Once you’re on the path to dehydration, you’re pretty stuffed until you get things sorted. You will stop being able to eat, and once you have stopped being able to eat properly, well, game over (or at least the unfunometer will being hitting new levels of sadness).

Charging leads

When everything has different connectors, that means a selection of leads. A pain in the arse for sure. By buying shorter leads, I actually managed to save nearly 50 grammes of useless weight!

Backup battery

My Garmin will do about 10-12 hours on a good day (call it 200km at PBP pace). So this will charge it up 4-5 times and really doesn’t weigh much.

For a 600 that means I don’t have to worry about much. But, for PBP, I will have to charge this up some time. I have a Luxos U front light with USB charging, so can charge the battery pack up during the day. When I reach my hotels, then I have other options as well (see below).

Batteries

Backup lights below need backup batteries.

Neck wallet thing

I like carrying cards, cash etc. in this neck wallet. There will probably be one for your brevet card given away when you register as well. It’s one of these

Some people say it contributes to neck issues – sure if you carry coins etc. in there, but for a few bits of paper? No issues.

Headphone

I use these one-eared headphones that channel both sides of the audio into one. It works for me and has helped me on many solo night rides. Some people don’t like music when they ride, and that’s fine. Much like the helmet thing, don’t bother lecturing me about it all please.

Music can really lift you in the middle of the night – some thumping music can keep you motivated and awake and can provide the soundtrack to some amazing memories.

Euro USB charger

I’ll probably carry it with me on the ride. I’ll certainly have one with me on the trip, but don’t think I will leave it in Paris whilst I ride. Offers another option for charging when at hotels etc.

Head Torch

This is a maybe. I usually carry one, but I have a spare battery front light that can be pushed into service for nighttime repairs etc.

I’d probably always carry one in the UK, but for a way-marked course in France, probably not as I am never going to have to use it to read a backup routesheet if my GPS has failed etc.

Silk sleeping bag

Another maybe to be honest. I have a hotel at Loudeac. But it does offer a little bit of luxury and an impression of cleanliness when you hop into a bed in a dorm that had someone else in it 5 minutes before!

Space blanket

An emergency blanket could be really important in a serious incident for keeping a casualty warm etc.

Even finding yourself in a bad situation and needing to stop at night in particular, you could be very grateful of it’s properties.

Ear plugs

DON’T CONSIDER GOING TO FRANCE WITHOUT THEM!

Unless you are able to sleep with several hundred people snoring and farting, let alone the fecker who’s decided to wear his tap-dancing shoes in the dorm, you need ear plugs.

You will be tired when you choose to stop for a sleep (or you should be – if you aren’t, then push on to the next control), but it is still easy to not get a good sleep. Most people are only going to grab a handful of hours each night – make the very most of them.

Lock

If I were driving to France and just riding PBP, then I probably wouldn’t take one. I don’t think that bike theft is a real issue on PBP itself (though I am sure it has/does happen), but for the getting there and back in particular, I will carry a cafe lock as I do on UK rides.

Documentation

Passport, EHIC card and relevant hotel booking information etc. (printing on A4, double sided and 2 pages per side).

Pump

On the bike, mounted on the bottle cages.

It does unscrew cores as above, but it works well other than that.

Bidons

Don’t forget to put them on your bike before you leave the house!

Also, a massive time suck is forgetting to take them off your bike when you walk into a control. The controls are massive – having to walk back to your bike, get them, walk to the tap, walk back to the bike etc. could easily be 5-10 minutes. Do that half a dozen times and you’ve frittered away an hour that could be spent sleeping!

Lights

I use a dynamo front light – the Luxos U.

However, I now carry a spare little Cateye light just in case. It wouldn’t be good enough to ride with at full tilt in the night, but it would prevent me from being penalised/stopped if my main light failed. As above it also could be a torch for nighttime repairs.

Rear lights – need to experiment a bit before WCW as I will be removing my rack that is normally on the bike (as it is also my commuter). There will probably be one or two Fibre Flares and a Cateye.

Garmin

Not needed to navigate the ride – but possibly for the ride there and back and certainly to record it all for Strava heroics.

So, that’s about it! Or I should say probably. I reserve the right to change my mind and add and take things away!

Again, everyone’s approach is different and some people would be shocked by how much stuff there is on the list, and some will be shocked how little!

I will do a final part on the packing list about how I carry it all (the bags I use etc.) and how I fit it all into the bags (rolling and elastic bands!)PBP packing list

Paris Brest Paris 2015 – my packing list (part 1 – clothing)

PbP Clothing small
Standard

As we turn our attention to the final part of qualification, many riders (including myself) will ride their 600 qualifiers as they would ride PBP.

There are many thoughts on what kit to bring to PBP and you’ll see everything from people with 2 panniers full to people carrying next to nothing (who are supported).

I carried a lot of stuff last time – way too much.  It was my first ever 1000km+ event and I was far too cautious.  I had multiple jerseys, three (from memory) pairs of shorts, longs, all sorts.  The bike had a Carradice Camper Longflap on it (shown below with the rain jacket not on top as I was wearing it for the trip to France).

Fully loaded!

Fully loaded!

Whilst far from experienced in these things, I have now done four 1000km+ events and have, hopefully, got a little wiser on what is needed.  Possibly, also, my standards have slipped!  I wouldn’t have dreamt of riding for 5 days in the same jersey back in 2011, but I did just that for the HGWI1300 last year.  When everyone else is in the same sort of situation it really doesn’t matter.  You all smell a bit feral and it adds to the adventure.

British riders like myself tend to be better prepared for PBP as the conditions are not terribly different to our own and we know that we could be dealing with anything from 30 degree heat to 4 days of solid rain. Riders from non-northern European climates often seem to suffer on rides like PBP and LEL should conditions turn bad. Memories from PBP last time include plenty of riders from Asia wrapped up in space blankets etc. at controls looking absolutely freezing.

Anyway, below is my clothing packing list. There are a couple of items under debate currently (see the end on shoes in particular) and there will be a couple of other bits in my saddle bag for the trip down (some off-bike clothes for some site seeing post-PBP and hanging around in – these will be left at my hotel for the ride, so I haven’t included them). And on the way back they’ll be a PBP jersey that I hope to be able to wear with pride.

My list may look over the top to some, and crazy light to others. We are all different for sure. Our tolerance to temperature is very different, and I feel the cold quite badly.

So here it is (hover over and click any item in the photo below for more information)

click map
Cap Helmet Rain Jacket Headband Reflective Stuff Arm Coolers Buff Jersey Long sleeve base layer Base layer Windproof gilet Gloves Arm warmers Shorts Shorts Socks Knee warmers

Helmet

Kask Mojito – light, cool and comfy.  I wear one, some people don’t, that’s about all I have to say on the matter.

Cap

Rapha cycling cap – suitable for everything: keeping rain out of your eyes, sun off your face or neck, looking cool off the bike.

Rain jacket

This tiny little jacket is the Sportful Hot Pack. I have some doubt whether to use it or not. I have a much bulkier jacket that has served me well on some very, very wet rides. The Hot Pack doesn’t really cut it for being really waterproof. However, part of the jacket’s job is to keep me warm even if it isn’t raining (I often wear a rain jacket at night). Even when wet, as long as you have layers to stay warm, you should be okay – but I would rather be dry. My proper rain jacket is properly heavy though. I will think on this one.

Headband

For the ultimate 80s look, this is great. If things get really hot, a headband is even better than a cap for keeping cool and keeping sweat out of my eyes. Must weigh about 10g, so is a dead cert in my packing.

Reflective stuff

It is a legal requirement to wear a reflective jacket in France at night (and in poor visibility etc.). This time around, there is a reflective jacket included in the entry price for PBP, however, I need to get to Paris first and that will involve some riding in the early morning darkness in France. So I will need one for that. Besides, who knows what the quality of the included one will be like? Could be a horrible flappy cheap one like I use on construction sites. I’d rather leave that behind and go with this one (from PBP 2011) as I know it fits well etc.

I am a great believer in ankle/shoe reflectives for all my night riding. It really stands out as a cyclist to have two reflectives bobbing up and down. So, I use these ankle straps for night riding.

Arm Coolers

It was my wife who first got me interested in arm coolers. They’re essentially lycra tubes and work just like arm warmers (in fact, they are superb in the very height of summer as arm warmers at night (but see below)).

Where they really excel though, is if it is really hot indeed. I’ve worn these on some very hot rides, including touring in Thailand, and they really do help to keep your whole body cooler. They can even be soaked in water for extra cooling! You see a lot of riders on stuff like RAAM wearing these and the equivalent leg coolers as well – and they really do work. Highly recommended.

Buff

A buff should be in every saddlebag. There’s so much you can do with them. This is the thin style (there are thicker merino ones etc., which are great in winter).

If it’s chilly, they’ll keep your neck warm.

If it’s really hot, they can be soaked in water and worn around your neck (good for wiping your face with cool water on climbs etc. as well).

That’s before we begin to think about putting one on your head, where it can be configured in various styles to provide sun protection or just to cover up your messy hair after a few days on the road.

Buffs are also perfect eye masks as well – this is great when you are at a dorm and want to cut out all light and ensure you get the best sleep possible.

Jersey

This will be worn all the time, but is included in the photo for completeness! Short sleeved jersey with full-zip. I much prefer full-zip jerseys as they are easier to deal with a toilet stops (and you need to get your bib short straps down etc.) and can be opened all the way if it’s hot.

As I said at the top, I took a number of jerseys last time – but I’ve become more comfortable with just the one jersey. It can be rinsed at a sleep stop and left to dry a couple of hours.

Long sleeve base layer

As I said above, I tend to feel the cold, possibly more than most. What I am trying not to do this time is carry long-sleeve jerseys or jackets as they are very bulky and heavy. Everything I am trying to carry is very modular, so I should be able to layer up as needed to deal with pretty much anything I hope. Combined with the arm warmers and wearing two base layers, jersey and gilet etc., I hope to be as warm as needed.

Base layer vest

I love these Castelli string vest style base layers as they seem to work in a wide variation of temperatures. They hold enough air to keep me warm, but can also let sweat evaporate well if it’s really hot. I used to use merino base layers exclusively, but am totally converted to these. This will be worn all the way.

Windproof gilet

This is actually a new purchase, yet to be tested on Audax events; but replaces an older gilet – this one is just ridiculously light and compact, so can easily be carried all the time. Great for summer time riding when the evenings cool off etc. and you need to keep your core warm. Also great for descents etc.

Gloves

I use a very light pair of mitts most of the time (from POC) as I don’t particularly like wearing gloves, but do get some numbness without them sometimes.

I will also carry a pair of long-fingered gloves for night time or wet conditions. There’s nothing worse than cold hands (or feet, but they are less dangerous than cold hands in my opinion), so a pair of warmer gloves is a worthwhile addition.

Arm warmers

Wait! What? You have arm coolers and arm warmers? Well, yes I do!

These are a Rapha thicker roubaix fabric pair that are warm and toasty if things get chilly. Combined with a long-sleeve base layer, they should be as warm, if not warmer than a long-sleeve jersey with much less of a weight and space penalty.

Bib shorts

Two pairs.

One on, one spare.

Plenty of people ride PBP in one pair of shorts. Plenty of people ride PBP in 4 pairs of shorts.

I had 3 pairs last time – that’s too much space taken up and overkill. So, I will go for two pairs on this ride. I have a hotel booked near Loudeac, so can wash pair 1 and leave them drying to change back into them on my return.

Socks

Two pairs (though see footwear notes below!).

I won’t be carrying any form of overshoe or the like, so if my feet get very wet, there’s something quite uplifting about putting on clean and dry socks (I accept that if your shoes are wet, the new socks will be wet pretty quickly, but it still feels better than wearing the socks you’ve had on for 50plus hours or whatever!).

Knee warmers

Finally, knee warmers. Rather than carrying longs, I find knee warmers far more useful these days. They offer just about as much protection and warmth as longs, whilst taking up much less space. These ones are quite long, so go half-way up my thigh to about half-way down my calf.

Shoes

I haven’t photographed my shoes as I haven’t decided what to wear yet. I use Bont Vaypor shoes for most of my riding and will use them for my 600 next week. However, after that, I will try a 300 in SPD sandals. I have toured in them, and they are comfy; but it’s quite a big leap to trying them on a longer ride. Plenty of people swear by them for long rides, though you do need to abandon all notions of being a suave fashion icon when wearing them as, particularly the Shimano ones, do look a little, hmmmm, special.

If I do stick with my Bonts, I would carry a pair of sandals (I have a pair of really horrible things that were super cheap at Sports Direct, weigh really next to nothing). Something that isn’t cycling shoes is a relief if you’re stopped for a couple of hours at a sleeping control etc. Also for wandering around before and after the event etc.

So that’s about it for clothing. I will follow this post up in the coming days with one on ‘stuff’ to include the stuff like tools, spares, medicines, hygiene etc. This is as much for my own benefit (as I have to really think about it for the post!) as the reader’s!

I will also weigh everything once I have it together. I will ride my 600 with the full load (including the off-bike clothing) and see how that feels. The ride I am doing doesn’t have bag drops (and why should it? Too many people are becoming over-reliant on them for a ride of 2 days!), so it’s perfect to test out the rig.

2015 is well underway – PBP calling!

Standard

I thought I better do as I have done for the past couple of years and put down my thoughts on the season ahead, even though it is well underway already.

2015 is a PBP year, and it’s like a whirlpool of activity that drags you in ever faster.

I really never considered not riding PBP, it is just what we all do – it’s the grand-daddy of all long-distance rides.  We spend the 2 years ahead of it talking about our plans for it, and the 2 years after it recalling our adventures on it.

I can not imagine not being part of the conversations, so here I am again!

There had possibly a plan to look at riding PBP on the tandem with my wife.  This has not worked out – I know she is capable of it, but I think the thought of qualifying in winter/spring is a very difficult proposition.  Her heart wasn’t in it enough.

So, I will be solo sadly.

I have made a fairly big change to how I am riding as well – I have been riding my fixed a lot since I got a new one in October.  It has made everything very challenging again, and in many ways, feels like my first PBP in that every jump up in distance has been the first time at that distance.  I have now ridden my 200 and 300km qualifiers and it’s been quite a bit tougher on the fixed.  This weekend, my first attempt at 400km on the fixed (route-checking my club’s 400).  It should be fun.

Overall, preparation is not going ever so well – very busy with an amazing project that is very interesting and exciting, but takes all my energies at the moment.

My mileage is very low compared to previous years, but the end is in sight and I will start to ramp stuff up from now.

I’ve some other plans for the year as well – not going to say much for them at the moment as I need to see if I can swing enough time away from the business for them.

Whatever happens, I will be in Paris – hopefully on fixed!

I have hotels in place at the start/finish and in Loudeac, so I am going for a more leisurely ride this time.  I did wonder about really going for a time – but I don’t think this is the year for it.  Next time maybe.

BBC Adventure Show – Sore In The Saddle

Standard

As described in previous entries, the Highlands, Glens and Western Isles 1300km this summer was filmed by a TV production company for BBC2 Scotland.

This was aired on Tuesday and is available on the iPlayer link below (until the end of the year ish):

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04v5hhh

They have made a great program that features the most beautiful scenery in the best possible conditions.  They have treated our slightly odd pursuit with sensitivity and have not tried to make it what it isn’t.

Fabulous job and I even manage to make a bit of sense on screen, most of the time!

Ten things I loved on the Highlands, Glens and Western Isles 1300km Audax

Photo 25-07-2014 09 35 46
Standard

In an attempt not to write “ride bike, eat, ride bike, eat, ride bike, eat, sleep”, I have selected my ten highlights of the ride (and there were a lot of highlights!).  No particular order.

There is a bit of a summary at the end that is more ride bike, eat!

Red Squirrel

I’ve never seen one in the wild before – other than a squashed one on a road once.  It was early evening and I had just dropped onto the road alongside Loch Ness.  I was hoping to spot Nessie, but instead I saw a red squirrel.  Except it took me a while to realise I had seen one.  Sleep deprivation can do funny things to your mind and make some thought processes rather cumbersome.

As I rode along, there was a gateway with walls either side and on the end of one of the walls was this amazingly realistic statue of a red squirrel.  “wow, that’s a really good statue” I thought to myself.

Then it moved slightly.  “wow, that statue moves” was my next thought.

It took me a while to work out that it wasn’t a statue, but a real red squirrel!  I put the brakes on almost alongside the squirrel – who looked at me and bounced off along the wall.

It was a fleeting glimpse, it took me a while to work it out, but there it was, a live red squirrel!  Lovely.

Spicey and Ricey

Most people’s first night stop was Oban, after about 210km.  This was one of the weirder long rides timing-wise.  We’d started at a time that gave us no real chance of making the last ferry from Oban to Craignure at 18:00 (whilst it is perfectly possible for a strong rider to do a 7 hour hilly 210km, there was another ferry to negotiate as well en-route).  So, almost everyone would reach Oban between 9 and 11pm ish and stop for the night waiting for the first ferry at 7:45.

Most first days on long events are long – you are typically aiming to get deep into the ride before sleeping.  PBP, for most riders, starts from around 4pm to 9pm and will involve riding through the first night, into the day and as far into the second night as you can manage – most people will ride 4-500km before stopping to sleep.

All you are ever doing on long rides is building up your time buffer to give you time to sleep.  You are trying to get 4-6 hours ahead of schedule each and every day.

And here we were with an enforced 10 hour stop!

Anyway, my club-mate Martin and I rode the last section of the day together (always a bit of a stretch for me, as Martin is very rapid indeed!).  We’d arrived into Oban and found our hostel – well after a failed attempt when we went into the Backpackers Plus Hostel (carrying our bikes up two flights of stairs) only to be told our booking was for the Backpackers Hostel over the road.

I had a real craving for something spicey, so I was pretty pleased to spot an Indian takeaway 2 minutes back down the road.  So we went and ordered curry, this also enabled Martin to have a cheeky beer whilst we waited (the Scottish off-license laws are designed to make it hard for long-distance cyclists to get a beer or two after a long day!).

It felt great, sat around the table in the hostel with Martin and a couple of Dutch riders, still feeling pretty good and fresh having enjoyed a superb day of cycling.  The curry was pretty good and hit the spot perfectly.

Day one sort of felt like a prologue, and we knew that this was going to be the last time we’d be able to relax and not think about time.

I ate all sorts of food on the ride, but just sitting there eating curry is the meal I remember the most!

Rannoch Moor

On the Thursday night, I had slept at Glencoe at just over 1100km completed.  It meant I had a reasonably relaxed final day with around 190km to do, and I had around 15 hours to complete it.  I calculated a decent sleep into the equations and didn’t get on the road until 8am.

I had an issue with food – I was out of food really, so hoped there was something en-route.  I had one cereal bar, which I ate at the hostel, which helped a little.  I hadn’t really eaten since around 8pm the night before at a pub.  The day started with the massive climb up onto Rannoch Moor.  Whilst the climb was very pretty, the road is also the only real route for everything, so it was pretty busy with cars and trucks which was a bit of a wake up after hundreds of km of deserted roads.

As the road ramped up, the head winds also increased.

I was in a bit of bother.  I dug into my front bag to pull out an emergency energy gel.  Not something I use very often on Audax rides – but I needed energy fast.

The climb was superb with dramatic views.  Seeing pockets of snow up on the mountains was great considering we’d spent 4 days in temperatures of 29-30 degrees.  I felt like jumping off my bike and running up the mountains just to experience lying in that snow!

The top of the moor really was special and it was nice to stop and take some photos.

A couple of riders had slept on the moor the previous night – that must have been really magical.

Photo 25-07-2014 09 35 46

The roller coaster of Kintyre

In 1300km of riding, we saw a massive variety of scenery and experienced some magnificent climbing of every kind.  One of the finest sections was early on in the ride – it also put the fear into us all as it was rather tough.

We’d got off the ferry in Claonaig and were heading along the eastern coast of the Mull of Kintyre – it was exceptionally beautiful and rather challenging terrain with constant choppy climbing that is typical along coastlines.  We were treated to fabulous views back onto Arran as we rode along some beautiful little single track.

I think it was also the beginning of the realisation we were in for a hot few days – the temperatures were beginning to rise.

A fabulous bit of road and really got us set up for the rest of the ride.

We arrived into Campbelltown and I think we all felt the same – “I hope the next 1200km isn’t all the same as that, or I’m not going to make it!”.  Choppy, steep climbing can really take it’s toll on you – often it is hard to regain speed on the descents as they are twisty and challenging and don’t allow you to carry pace up the next hill.

I would love to go back and do more riding in the area – at a more gentle pace!

Osprey

On the fourth day, I rode pretty much solo all day – the field was well spread out.  The section after the hostel was just magical.  It was hot and remote and just spectacular.

I’d seen many birds of prey over the ride so far – mainly eagles.

As I rode along, way up on my right was a ridge with something big flying along.  I couldn’t quite work out what it was.

A few minutes later, I heard a whooshing sound, as the most enormous bird of prey flew very low over my head – shocked me a little.

It was grey with a white head and just enormous.  I am not great at identifying birds, but I did immediately think it was an osprey – subsequent googling seems to suggest I was right.

The bird was awesome to see up close and personal and was yet another thing I hadn’t ever seen in the wild before.

Descent into Mordor

On the second day, I rode much of the latter section with Matt and a group of three Leicester riders.

A fabulous section (see below), and our first ride deeper into the night (with there being little need for front lights before around 10:30 pm).  It was also our first real encounter with the midges!

We’d climbed up near Loch Maree and we were being treated to some beautiful skies through the gloaming time.  As it got dark, we could see the remains of a blood red sunset in the distance at the bottom of the valley.

It did feel very primeval with some mysterious volcano or something hiding behind the hills.  Matt said it felt Tolkien-esque and I think that nailed it really.

It was one of those things that no photo would do it justice, but I will remember it forevermore.  A truly magnificent bit of road and time.

Lochinvar

Without doubt, this was the best section of scenery we were treated to.

We turned away from the main road (well, most people did – some did the main road in and out) and rode along side some beautiful lochs with views of some great mountains.

Photo 23-07-2014 12 43 34 Photo 23-07-2014 12 43 45

The scenery just got better and better and then we took a turn back onto ourselves to start really climbing – that was amazing as suddenly we were looking back onto the roads we’d come along and the back side of the mountains we’d been looking at.

And then we were treated to a really challenging section of cycling.  Very narrow, steep, twisting single track road for miles and miles.

Very, very beautiful and very tough.

Some of the best riding on earth I reckon.

Trick cycling

This is really about the banter and comradeship.  I made many new friends, and strengthened old friendships.

I love riding solo, but equally, it is great when you’re riding along at a relaxed pace in a group, chatting and joking.

As I said, the end of day two was spent in the company of Matt and 3 Leicester riders.

We were just all enjoying the scenery and chatting about this, that and the other – stupid stuff at times, serious stuff at others.

Having been on Skye, where Danny MacAskill is from, I had suggested to the Leicester riders that Matt had taught him everything he knew (totally untrue of course, but it provided some amusement for a while).

Just riding along, suggesting that Matt really couldn’t show them his tricks as he was hindered by his panniers etc., but had he not been.

We talked about all sorts of other stupid things through the 5 days – but that little episode sticks with me as a real highlight.

Riding a long way is hard, and other people can make it easier and help tick off the miles more easily.  Sometimes you only get to chat with other riders at controls, but often riding alongside them for only a few minutes can be some of the best times possible on bikes.

Audax is a friendly scene, and we do all look after each other however we can.  Even just a few quick moments chatting as you pass, or are passed by, someone can raise your spirits greatly.

Popping gorse

On the final day, we rode through some more scrubland type environments.

As I rode along, I kept on hearing cracks and soon worked out it was the gorse and it’s seed pods.

At times, it was coming from all angles as we were surrounded by gorse.

It was one of those magical bits of timing – a day or two either side and I might not have experience the cacophony of noise as the seeds were being fired everywhere (up to 30 foot according to a quick bit of research).

Sounds can stay with your memories really quite well – I will remember the sound of popping for a long time.

Trantlebeg oasis

We had to sort out our own accommodation for the whole ride, this was the one place that Mark, the organiser, had booked – primarily because there was nothing else for a long way.  This was in the most remote part of the entire ride and was more than welcome.

It was going to be a late night into the hostel – I was pleased to have reached the pub at Durness in good time to get some proper food (though it took a long time as it was rammed).

The night section had proved difficult – I was getting tired and slow.  I had to stop for a short nap at one point.  I think the heat added to my general fatigue.

I saw my arrival time at Trantlebeg drift back and back.

I was actually pleased to find the hostel was around 6km closer than marked on the routesheet.

Arriving into this beautiful little hostel http://www.achumore.co.uk/ was fantastic.  Great to see Mark and enjoy a bit of food and a decent sleep at this little oasis in the middle of nowhere.

The midges were pretty bad there though – I felt for the film crew (the event was filmed for a BBC Scotland documentary) filming us leaving.

I managed to get some good sleep at the hostel, could have done with more though!  I really felt for those still coming in when I was heading out – they had had long nights on the road.

So that’s 10 memories – I have dozens more.  It was a super ride.  A few more thoughts and photos below:

As I wrote in my previous post, this was always going to be a tough ride – it was hilly, the terrain was remote and food/drink would be an issue.  I thought I was as well-prepared as I could be – but nothing prepared me for 5 days in very high temperatures.  We were treated to some of the best weather northern Scotland will have experienced in a while – very high 20s every day with some humidity as well.  There were some fabulous tan lines on display by the end, and a few red patches – I managed to burn the back of a calf which caused some discomfort.

Photo 24-07-2014 17 28 25

Food and drink were an issue at a couple of points, but I just about got away with it.  My timings just about allowed me to make some evening meals before things closed and having researched where I needed to stock up on supplies, I was just about okay.

The ride was just fabulous, a route that allowed us to see huge variation in terrain.  The roads were, on the whole, very quiet – there were some busy main roads that were a bit of a shock to the system after the remote roads.

I just about managed to get enough sleep – as I wasn’t racing around, I had always planned to stop for as much as possible at my accommodation.  My pace was slowed by the heat, so I did eat into that sleep somewhat.

It was a very tough ride with the heat – certainly took it’s toll on my body.  My feet hurt a lot – I think they swelled up and put a lot of pressure on my shoes.  Top of right food certainly hurt.  Knees took a beating as well.  Through dehydration and general calorie deficit, I dropped around 3 Kg over the ride (and those that know me will know 3 Kg is actually around 5% of my typical body weight!).

The route would make a fabulous 10-14 day tour, but I never felt that we were being disrespectful to the area by going through it in 4.5 days.  Sure, I would have liked to have stopped more, enjoyed local attractions etc. – but we got to see so much amazing scenery in such a short space of time.

I am not sure if Mark will run the event again, certainly not for a few years.  There were a lot of DNS (from around 75 entries, only 35 of us started) which is always disappointing.

It is available as a permanent event – and can be ridden at the same pace as we did, or as a Populaire at 100km a day.   Both would be a rewarding experience.

It was definitely the hardest 1000+ I have yet ridden – hills, heat and lack of facilities made it very challenging indeed.

Glad to have finished it – it is an experience that I will remember fondly for a long time to come.

A few Strava links before the photos:

http://www.strava.com/activities/171275768

http://www.strava.com/activities/171275833

http://www.strava.com/activities/171276503

http://www.strava.com/activities/171282079

http://www.strava.com/activities/171285920

http://www.strava.com/activities/171279096

Photo 21-07-2014 09 13 27 Photo 21-07-2014 09 44 39 Photo 21-07-2014 10 38 04 Photo 21-07-2014 10 53 43 Photo 21-07-2014 11 03 19 Photo 21-07-2014 11 03 56 Photo 21-07-2014 11 06 32 Photo 21-07-2014 12 16 15 Photo 21-07-2014 12 50 59 Photo 21-07-2014 13 07 20 Photo 21-07-2014 15 40 45 Photo 22-07-2014 09 50 42 Photo 22-07-2014 10 03 16 Photo 22-07-2014 10 47 26 Photo 23-07-2014 06 50 33 Photo 23-07-2014 12 55 55 Photo 23-07-2014 16 30 36 Photo 24-07-2014 09 02 47 Photo 24-07-2014 10 30 05 Photo 24-07-2014 19 35 03 Photo 24-07-2014 23 56 16  Photo 25-07-2014 08 12 19 Photo 25-07-2014 08 55 47 (1) Photo 25-07-2014 11 16 15 (1)

The Highlands, Glens and Western Isles 1300km Audax

Standard

It’s getting close!

This one has been in the diary for so long (since September last year) and I am looking forward to it a lot now.

This ride is different. This ride will test me much more than other long rides. Most 1000km+ rides pride themselves on providing TLC to the riders with great controls, food, beds, the works. This ride has almost none of that. We will meet the organiser next to the tourist information office on the Isle of Arran, get our cards and then off we go. Apart from a tiny hostel at 800km that he has booked completely for us, he will have nothing else for us. We’re on our own for four and a half days (108 hours). We’ve got a routesheet with a list of the control towns and a suggested route to follow, and that’s about it. We’re left to sort out our own accommodation en route, with the added difficulties of five ferries to negotiate.

Riders are tackling it in all sorts of ways and all have slightly different schedules. Some will be camping or bivvying their way around, most will use a mix of B&Bs, hostels and bunkhouses.

Most long rides like LEL, PBP etc., I have not really had a plan; just ride until I am tired and sleep at the next available control. That works well and gives you flexibility if you are feeling good or bad. On my Pyrenean Super Randonnee last year, I had hotels booked and that does add some extra pressure (having to be at a certain place, by a certain time). So, this will add some interest into this ride.

Those ferries could cause some headaches. There’s a couple that if you miss, then it’s certainly game over for finishing in time. So, there’s a couple of stages that will be critical to not mess about, get our heads down and ride (and hope that nothing goes wrong).

The ferries and accomodation give me some constraints to work with and the days look something like this (we start at 11:15 in the morning to match up with ferries):

Day 1 – Broderick to Oban – 210km
Day 2 – Oban to Gairloch – 280km (but we can’t get started until 08:30 when the first ferry arrives in Craignure)
Day 3 – Gairloch to Trantlebeg – 322km
Day 4 – Trantlebeg to Glencoe – 306km
Day 5 – Glencoe to Ardrossan – 184km

Certainly a different ride for me when, on previous big rides, I’ve just ridden until I drop each day, which usually puts me ahead of most of the field, but with less sleep! This ride will be more relaxed in some ways and I am certainly not aiming to finish quickly, but to enjoy the riding through what looks to be some spectacular landscapes.

Interesting on what to pack and how to carry it as well. On most big rides, bag drops mean you’ve clean clothing waiting for you in a couple of locations. Not on this ride. We have to carry everything we need (and this will include a light sleeping bag for the bunkhouses etc.), so minimising weight will become very important. We also need to make some space for food – there will be a couple of lengthy sections (particularly into the evenings) where there will not be much available. So, I am really having to pay attention to what I carry, and let some standards drop a little – I am happy to wear jerseys for several days (and if it’s warm, give it a wash and let it dry on me), but do like to have clean shorts each day. So, I will have two pairs of shorts for the duration, and wash one pair and dry overnight (hopefully!).

As added interest (and complication), the ride is being filmed for Scottish TV show “The Adventure Show”. They have featured Audax before, making a great program on the Snow Roads 300km event a couple of years ago. They will be filming our progress throughout the event. I expect some rough looking and incoherent riders (including myself).

I think it is safe to assume that phone signals will be patchy at best – so there may not be that many tweets on this ride, but I will do my best!

24 hour time trial (ESCA 24 National Championships)

Standard

This was my big goal for the year.  And I knew it was going to be much harder than anything I had done previously, I wasn’t sure I fully comprehended how much harder.

My build up to the 24 has been okay, I’d maybe not got enough miles in (do you ever?), but I was riding generally faster than I’ve done before.

The final few days before the 24, disaster – sore throat, cold.  Damn.  By the Friday, it wasn’t too bad.  My theory was to go to the start and see what happens.  24s are not a regular event, this year is unusual in that there are two (the ESCA and Mersey Roads).  I am away for the Mersey Roads, so if I didn’t ride at least a bit of this, I wouldn’t ride until next year.  Even if I only put in a few hours, I would learn something of what riding a 24 is and be able to apply those lessons in the future.

So, Saturday morning, I found myself in a position I have very rarely been in – I had a number on my back.

It was a hot day – really hot.  This wasn’t ideal.  I don’t like hot conditions.  Ah well – night would come soon enough.

Things went well until nightfall – I reached the night HQ to put lights and extra clothing on at about 9:30 – I had around 170 miles on the clock in that first 9 hours.  My main target of 375 miles looked good, I might even stretch to my upper target of 400 miles.

Highlight of the daytime was a fly past by the Red Arrows.  I know it was the National Championships, but it seemed a little extravagant of the organisers to arrange such a thing.

Night-time went well – it was great riding past parked up cars and vans with little clusters of activity and having a voice calling out encouragement as you went passed.

After a couple of laps of the night circuit, I had to stop for a bit more clothing – it was colder than I expected on a couple of bits of the circuit.

I went through 12 hours at 210 miles – all feeling good.

As the night progressed, I was noticing some soreness in my right leg – around the knee or calf.  Unusual.

18 hours – 293 miles – I’d slowed dramatically.  375 was still well within my grasp – but 400 was gone.

Leg was getting worse – I was struggling to walk off the bike (good excuse to not get off the bike really!) and pedalling out of the saddle was no longer an option.

Interesting part of day 2 – watching a truck pass me and hit a pigeon that had been in the middle of the road – the pigeon survived the initial impact in that it still was flying up to the tree.  Riding through a cloud of feathers wasn’t particularly nice though.

Leg was really bad now.  The last two hours.  The closest I had ever come to jacking anything in.  Though I didn’t really know what the rules are – I always thought even if you only rode a few hours, you would still get a result.  But you see people with DNF on the results.  So, I didn’t.

I could also just about see than 375 was still possible, even though I was moving very slowly indeed.

I’ve endured serious pain – lung surgery being the most pain I have ever suffered.  At least I was off my head on morphine.

The last hour was so difficult.  I know I could have slowed right down and pootled my way around and still got 365 miles or whatever.  But, no.  I am a stubborn idiot.  I wanted 375 miles.

I don’t know if the official results will have that distance.  My Garmin trace is around 378 miles.  I’ll be upset if my official distance is less than 372.823 miles (600km) – but I know I have ridden 600km in 24 hours now.

Stepping off the bike after 24 hours is weird.  You’re suddenly transported out of this highly focussed zone where nothing matters other than pedalling and eating/drinking.  Working out how to navigate back to HQ and other such demanding tasks had to be dealt with.  Talking to someone behind the counter at the garage where I stopped for an ice cream was hard.

It was an amazing weekend.  I enjoyed it a lot, however it was so, so much harder than I expected.  Partly because of the injury of course.  But just the focus required is phenomenal – you can not slip into coasting mode, you have to stay on pace all the time and really do not get off your bike for any longer than strictly required.

I’ve learnt a lot.  I may have another crack at the 24.  I now know I am good for 400 miles if I do a few things better – and avoid injury.  For now, my cold has worsened to the point of having no voice, and my leg had swollen up like a (hard) balloon.

But the sense of achievement is enormous!

Blurry dusk photo from my friend Mark:

Image

 

Edited to add some Strava goodness – http://www.strava.com/activities/157060257

Note that I truncated it to under 24 hours – because I am vain and wanted the ride to qualify for the Strava Grand Fondo competition!  The cropping on Strava is a bit hit and miss with really long rides – so I cropped out 10 minutes at the end by accident – as I was moving at not more than walking pace by then – it doesn’t make much difference!

Edited 9/7/14 – my official distance was 374.88 miles, so I am pleased to have reached over 600km and above my VTTA standard.