Day 4 (single minded)

Posted on 13th August 2010 in Epic Rides, LLC ride Aug 2010

There are no photos because of technical confusion so simple and yet so difficult that I can’t kind of be bothered. I am, finally, exhausted, but we’ll come to that.

I can’t remember much of yesterday. I should have written this yesterday really, but I really couldn’t. Bits and pieces.

I started in Gargrave, one the prettiest villages I’ve come across all week. I knew I needed to get to Skipton, at the very least, because a very lovely lady who I’d never met before had offered caked and encouragement. Meet me at the park, she said, so I worried I’d miss it, worried I’d not recognise her, worried that the small offering of flapjack I was bringing wouldn’t be enough.

No need to worry. A sign proclaiming Go Go Loulouk made me laugh my ass off (I didn’t take a pic, mostly because I was suffering so much by this point, I’d actually forgotten I had a camera).  The natter fixed some of the agony of the previous 5 miles – not all, but a large part of it. The relief in speaking to someone other than my other half, face to face, who knew exactly why I was doing what I was doing and who understood the whole ‘being resolutely a girl but loving mountain biking’ thing was just bliss. I left her as she swung off towards home relieved, happier, more focused and more certain that there will be good rides with really lovely people in the future. I also fretted about forgetting to take pics and not asking about her adventure.

In my defence, I was badgered. I went to bed Wednesday night in a lot of pain, but waking up Thursday morning was worse. Hot bath couldn’t fix, painkillers weren’t touching worse. I got on my bike because of K. I kept going past Skipton because of……something. I don’t know quite what it was, but something went a bit wrong – or right depending on your perspective. Everything went black. I stopped being chirpy at people (rules – we’ll talk about them later), I stopped slowing down past moored narrowboats, I stopped everything except focusing on the next 5 miles ticking over on my Strada. I didn’t have anything else left to spare. So I must have, somewhere in the back of my mind and entirely unconsciously, decided to go on lockdown.

That all sounds a bit dramatic. It wasn’t. It was quiet. Everything went quiet. I vaguely remember Bingley and being in awe of the locks. I remember Saltaire, the strangest village in the country. I remember a man standing outside a beautiful converted warehouse clocking me and smiling – I was covered in mud. I remember many bikers of all kinds and persusasions and managing to summon a big grin from somewhere for every one of them because it was important. I remember musing on a conversation with K about learning rules and smiling a lot because we are all learning. I remember sitting frantically rubbing my wrists, trying not to wince while the walkers strolled by, trying not to show any emotion, trying to keep it all locked in and locked down. I remember eating the cake K gave me 7 miles from the end and my body tingling and everything coming back into focus again, because I’d disappeared off by that point and not realised it, not realised it at all. I remember my lines becoming ragged on the narrow singletrack sections and talking to myself, berating myself, constantly nagging myself to focus and think of nothing but the next mile, the next mile, the next mile.

Yesterday was one of the hardest days of my life, physically. I never expected it to be so hard mentally. There were few Twitter updates because I didn’t want to admit how hard it was, didn’t want to fall apart in public, didn’t want to cause a drama. So have one sentence – yesterday I went to the edge of where I can function and remain functioning. Pain is okay, to a point. I can tolerate things, to a point. But eyes which are struggling to focus, head pains, broken quads and lats, bruised feet, badgered wrists…..they stack. They stacked and I don’t know how I did it, I really don’t, except I did. I did.

Now for some lists to break this wall of text.

The unofficial rules

  • No stopping at pubs or ice cream vans
  • Slow down for moored narrowboats (apparently boaters dislike cyclists, I’ve tried to do everything I can this week to change that)
  • Slow down for walkers, call ‘behind’ or ‘on the right’ or ding, depending on dogs
  • Chat to everyone who starts a conversation no matter how knackered I am
  • Tell people what I’m doing if asked, but never if not
  • Never hoon down hills if someone is in the way
  • No stopping & sitting down outside the +1 or -1 of 5 mile blocks
  • No whining
  • No moaning

Mostly, bar yesterday I stuck to every single one.

Things I’d tell anyone else doing this

  • Never underestimate the need for support
  • Carry tools, spare tubes, tyre levers etc but also first aid kit etc
  • Eat a little but often – no ‘lunch’ just constant nibbling
  • Sort your energy drink of preference out & stick with it
  • Get a pack which is comfy – really comfy
  • Don’t wear underwear under your cycling shorts
  • Wear glasses – midges in eyes not pleasant
  • Don’t expect it to all be tarmac. It’s not. It’s really not. Bounce bounce bounce. Good luck standing up on your pedals to absorb the bounce after 20 hours in the saddle.
  • Work out how regularly you’re going to stop and stick to it
  • If you can, arrange a friendly face here and there
  • Painkillers aren’t cheating.

Kit. I ride a Marin Eldridge 2010 stock. Nothing changed. I used an Osprey Raptor 14 backpack and hydration system and you’re not prising it out of my fingers for love nor money. Flapjacks fuelled me, made with love by my other half. Minx Girl dot Com contributed clothing. Towpath Treks meant my other half knew where I was when I gave him bridge numbers. Sock Guy socks are expensive, but my god do they actually work. Vaseline is your friend and that’s all I’m saying on that subject. Aphex Twin and The Prodigy kept me sane and my iPhone helped too.

And finally. I need to thank some awesome people. Firstly, a small battalion of supporters, cheerleaders and stars on Twitter who, because of it being in real time, picked me up and dusted me off metaphorically more times than I can count. Secondly, to Miss Minx at Minx Girl dot Com for help on so many levels, from understanding exactly why, to providing the most comfy cycling shorts ever, to nutrition advice when I was struggling badly and didn’t realise many other people do too. But more than that. Things I can’t quite quantify but are a theme of the girly mountain biking world, where support and understanding are given freely, where belief is staked when the person it’s being staked on doesn’t believe they’re worthy of it…..which is also where @katcrompton and another young lady come in who has a locked account and therefore I shant name but who made me a bit teary when they offered cake and tea weeks ago and in Kat’s case where the actual cake I suspect prevented an inevitable slide into the canal. People laugh at support networks. Some of us need them. That is all.

Finally, without being too soppy, thanks to my other half for endless patience, ferrying me to and from various points along the canal, sorting kit washing when I was too frazzled to do it, checking my bike over each night, and generally being utterly lovely.

What do I know now? I know I can carry on past the edges. I am much happier with my own company. I am much more confident of my ability to deal with pain and keep going. I am slightly smaller but not much but don’t care very much at all. I am already planning the next mini adventure. And if my neurologist makes another comment about me needing surgery in order to be able to lose weight, I know I’m walking out of the door and not going back.

I don’t need to take that shit from any one, not any more.  I earnt that.

comments: 14 »

Day 3 (never feed me gels again)

Posted on 11th August 2010 in Epic Rides, LLC ride Aug 2010

This is going to have to be brief and photo padded because I didn’t stop until 6pm this evening and I’m shattered.

This morning was a bit awful. Gels really don’t agree with me. A hot bath did nothing to dissipate the soreness, I was dizzy and clumsy and I had one of those pains in my head. The ones which usually lead to migraine.

Got on the bike anyway, feeling sick as a dog, after downing some Kaolin in sheer desperation. Got on at Whitebirk in Blackburn which is where I disintegrated into a snivelling puddle yesterday. Hated every second of the first 4 miles. Got to Church. Halfway point. Also ‘home’ in that it’s where I come off at the end of my 9 mile commute.

Church canal bridge

Home sweet home

I sat on the steps next to the bridge. I had a good think. About futures and pasts, about an army of people cheering me on, about advice from a team mum whose team I don’t belong to but who cares enough to help anyway, of points already proved and the great unknown, of things which hurt, but also things which didn’t.

I carried on. I am under no illusions – that was the turning point. The choice to leave the familiar behind and head off into the future, one I am creating for myself. It felt monumental, for some reason, a really big deal. I think that perhaps in the future, I will remember that little sit and think more than all the other fabulous things I’ve seen and heard this week. And perhaps that’s the way it should be, ultimately. The making of someone is sometimes in the briefest of moments, in the strangest of surroundings.

So. Off towards Clayton-le-Moors and beyond. Past the man in a wheelchair fishing. On to the other side of the East Lancs merge of village and town to see this:

View from other side of Clayton-le-Moors

Trough of Bowland in the distance?

The other side of Clayton-le-Moors

On to Pendle Hill

The other side of Clayton-le-Moors

And beyond Pendle Hill

It was pretty for a bit, despite the ever looming presence of the M65. On to Burnley. Oh dear god, Burnley. The first sign is the motorway bridge, but I think it’s indicative of what’s to come.

M65 bridge underbelly

The underbelly of the M65 near Burnley

It didn’t get much better. Not the view, this time. Nope, I came across this:

Burnley Tunnel 'portal'

Burnley Tunnel 'portal'

The sign to the left says it’s a portal. The cake is indeed a lie as are the signposts which guide you around this feat of engineering, as no towpath delves into its bowels. So I ended up delving into Burnleys bowels and it’s not an experience I ever want to repeat. From asking directions of people who’ve likely never seen a map to finally being saved by a scathing Lloyds Bank employee walking his dog who pointed out I’d ridden straight past the entrance to the canal at the other end  (that would be because some comedian had moved the sign 180 degrees then) the whole experience was frustrating and unpleasant. 25 minutes lost. Not good.

I think this pic sums up Burnley perfectly.

Burnley Hotel

A Burnley 'hotel'

Good luck getting any sleep in there.

To be fair, the place did redeem itself slightly when I cycled past this place.

Burnley Wharf

An old converted warehouse at Burnley

It wasn’t the building, though it had been renovated beautifully. It was the comedy moment when I rode right past the floor to ceiling window of someone at their PC. Surreal.

Onwards. Things get a bit hazy around here. I nearly got attacked by a Boxer off its lead who thought jumping up and knocking a biker off was great fun. The owner felt it appropriate to get cross with the biker who’d slowed to a stop to let her get the dog under control before she rode off. Yeah. Welcome to Colne.

The other side of Burnley, Operation Canal Empty is going well.

Empty Canal past Burnley

The waters gone South & it aint coming back

I lost something (my mind possibly) around here. I just couldn’t keep track of where I was. I was somewhere, obviously, but time just accelerated and I lost an hour. Timey Wimey fun was a bit of a theme actually, I rode past an ice cream selling pub without being distracted before Foulridge Tunnel, rounded a corner and was met with this:

Tardis near Foulridge

Dr Who gets lost sometimes

To add some context:

Tardis in context

Not hallucinating, honest guv

I’m very grateful for photographic evidence at this point because I swear my other half looked at me slightly oddly when I explained about this. I searched in vain for Matt Smith, before moving along :O)

Got to the end of Foulridge Tunnel. It’s about a mile I think, beautifully perfectly gorgeously signposted. I even rode on a road, a B road and everything. I dislike road riding, not because I don’t enjoy it but because I am absolutely utterly convinced I’m going to die, every second I’m moving.

I didn’t die.

Instead I rode past the new Bistro at the other end of the tunnel, looking longingly into its depths where I knew a mud spattered biker would not be welcome and had a breather. It started to rain. It finished raining 120 seconds later, and that was the only rain I saw all day. Bonkers, I tell you, I was roundly informed by the not mother in law that it’s been lashing it down here. I’m obviously winning at the dodge the cloud dumps game.

Rope Rollers on the Leeds Liverpool Canal

Rope rollers towards Greenberfield

A few miles before Greenberfield are these, on the right as you round a bend. They’re rope rollers, used by the old horses pulling the barges along the canal on ropes. They’re corner turn assistance devices, basically, the ropes ran across the rollers and allowed the barges to be steered around the corners without anyone having to jump in the canal and learn to swim. That they’re still there, as originally installed, some 150 years later is a bit astounding. The vandals of Burnley obiously feel its a bit too far to travel.

Next stop, Greenberfield. Voted Best care for locks for years, today they were devoid of people, boats, ducks and….well….everything, actually.

Greenberfield Locks looking not so grand

Greenberfield being 'fixed' by the British Waterways

Yep, you guessed it, more British Waterways work. If nothing else, this ride has brought it home exactly how massive an operation shutting down a large swathe of canal actually is. Much respect to them, because yes, Greenberfield looks like a bomb has hit it. But it’s retrievable, will be retrieved, and no lasting harm will be done. You can’t say fairer than that for such a massive undertaking.

This was going to be my indulgent photo stop. Instead, via the diversion in the pic, I had to indulge a little lower down while ‘catching my breath’ which we all know is a euphamism for ‘dying quietly’.

Greenberfield lower locks

Perspective skewed

Yep, not only can you count miles obsessively, but also bridges and locks.

Greenberfield field of cows

I see fields of green.....

Still looking grim up here, isn’t it.

On I trekked, feeling surprisingly chirpy and positive. I got my miles mixed up, I thought it was only a few to Gargrave. Ha. No. Not in a headwind like that and not over rocky dippy bouncy surfaces like that with a gate handily inserted every 100 metres or so either. Drained. More drained. No idea where I was, headphones in, a last ditch attempt at retaining some sanity. Tripped over this:

Odd Bridge past Greenberfield

I wonder if this used to be a watermill

It’s the first bridge of that type I’ve come across and I think it might be watermill related but I can’t see why you’d put a watermill on a canal so I’m a little bit confused – enlightment would be welcome.

Speaking of which, the next bit was odd. I went across an aquaduct. I think it was quite a big aquaduct. I went around a corner and suddenly Wernside and what felt like all the Yorkshire Dales opened up before me. There’s no picture though. The chap on his beautiful road bike who was obviously having a ‘moment’ wouldn’t have appreciated it and it just would have been wrong. But I giggled for about 5 minutes afterwards at the beauty of that view. But anyway, it was high up, really high up, so high up that the wind was creating waves on the canal.

I’ve never seen waves on a canal before. I don’t want to see it again. My god those were hard hard hard miles. Being overtaken by someone on a shopper with a childseat on the back with a child in the seat is not an experience I ever want to repeat either. Humiliation. Utter humiliation.

It doesn’t end that way though.

Signpost to hope

A signpost of hope and confirmation

For some unknown reason, that signpost posts the mileage to Liverpool and Blackburn in one direction and Skipton and Leeds in the other.

I looked at the numbers.

I grinned my stupid little face off.

There may have been something in my eye.

Those numbers are big numbers. They’re unavoidably big. And yes, it’s taken 3 days of pedalling constantly for 4-6 hours at a time for it to hit me.

I will cry my silly girly eyes out tomorrow, I suspect. I don’t make any apologies for it. I’m fighting battles this week as medication which is on a time release runs out which always causes migraines and other issues, as I try very hard not to think about the new job and whether I’m actually cut out for it, as I realise that not even pedalling 127 miles in 4 days is going to lose me any weight, as I look at the numbers of blood pressure and resting heartbeat and realise none of this should be possible at all, not without going via A & E and possibly this was a stupid thing to do in the first place.  I fight my battles, just like everyone does and each day is a battle won. Even more so this week. But choosing your battleground?

Gives you power back. But I’ll still cry like a little girl.

comments: 9 »

Day 2 (disintegration)

Posted on 10th August 2010 in Epic Rides, LLC ride Aug 2010

So back we went to Parbold this morning for day 2. I have to admit, I didn’t feel anywhere near as terrible as I thought I would once I’d woken up – it was the waking up bit which was hard! I get a lie in tomorrow though, which I’m really looking forward to, don’t have to be out of bed until 9:30am!

So, being slightly perkier than I was last night, the first pic is of Parbold itself and it’s rather fab windmill, fronted by a somewhat appropriately named canal boat.

Windmill in Parbold with canal boat in front named the Liverpool Lou

A small part of beautiful Parbold

As you can see, today displayed tendencies dangerously close to being a summer. A British one though, there was still grey clouds aplenty, but none of them did so much as spit at me. Which is why this post is a little overfull of pictures. It will probably become evident at which point in the ride I lost the will to live, but we’ll get to that later.

I am fascinated with locks. So after about 2 miles, I stopped to snap this set.

1st set of locks from Parbold

First set of locks from Parbold

Yep, that’s a blue sky. A real one. Not Photoshopped, promise. The slope on the left should have warned me of what to expect in Wigan. It didn’t. This is because I am not the brightest button in the box. I was also slightly distracted by the view from the other side. Grim up here, isn’t it?

Valley View from 1st set of locks

Valley view from the 1st set of locks out of Parbold

Still, I am slowly appreciating that if more people knew how beautiful it was up here, I’d have met far more than the 10 or so bods enjoying the views on foot. All of whom were polite, and stepped out my way as I pootled very slowly up behind them and called ‘behind’ as I’ve been taught.

Onwards, ever onwards and oh, look, another set of locks. These weren’t far on from the last lot. Contrasts picture 1 with picture 2, taken from exactly the same spot. It’s all in the perception, beauty.

2nd lock set from Parbold

Second set of locks out of Parbold

2nd set of locks out of Parbold (the ugly view)

I'm not lying - exactly the same spot

Todays ride was full of contrasts like this. It’s why I love living here. Contrasts of mill chimneys against beautiful hills, quarries scarring one side of a hill when the other is full of trees and birdsong…..things are never quite as they seem here. I have to admit I was cracking along at this point and full of the joys of spring. I played leapfrog with a very fast runner for a bit and finally passed for the last time, calling ‘see you in Wigan’ as I rode past. I have no doubts that’s where she was heading – she was flying along.

I must confess, I tripped over Wigan. I honestly wasn’t watching the odometer thingy and to be honest, it made the ride a lot more pleasant, concentrating on views and interesting things instead of miles like yesterday. I’ve learnt a lot from yesterday actually, and suspect I will learn much more before the week is out.

Wigan Pier is the thing that I suppose Wigan is most famous for. The remains of Wigan Pier are below.

The last remaining bit of Wigan Pier - the rails into the canal

The rails of Wigan Pier

Coal trucks, as I’m sure you’re chomping at the bit to know. Women loaded them up, ran them down and tipped them into waiting barges, the coal then to be transported up and down to Leeds and Liverpool. There’s an annotations (?) bit at the bottom if you want to know more. Next to this was a sign explaining what the random bits of rusty iron were.

An explanation of Wigan Pier and what the rails were

The explanation of the bits of rusty metal

Yes, that’s pure Lancashire dialect. Looks funny, doesn’t it? Still in use, in places. Though not Darwen cos they speak a different language :O) Nope this is pure Lancs, and the reason it’s here is the phrase ‘the cut’. My other half is Lancs born and bred, as am I. The difference is, I’ve been via Essex, Lancs, Somerset, Devon, London, Essex and back to Lancs in the time he’s lived in the same town i.e. all his life. His uncle was a farmer, also here all his life. I have never heard anyone else refer to the canal as the cut. Apart from him. So reading this on the sign was one of those ‘oh I see‘ moments in a big way. I’m also an etymology geek. Theme here. ;O)

Anyway.

Whizzed through Wigan. Hit the locks. All 21 of them. You know that flat thing canals are supposed to do. Oh no they don’t. 200 feet later I’d broken a little bit of a sweat and was in sore need of a rest. Not just because of the climb either, some blooming idiot’s gone and put kissing gates next to every other lock to stop people hooning down the hill. S0 9 time I had to flip the bike onto its back wheel and manoevre it through a gate with a big backpack on.  It wasn’t my finest hour – I was swearing by the end. This was also where I met the comedy entertainment of the day. About half way up I came across 3 blokes walking abreast the canal path, taking it all up, 2 of them pushing freeride bikes. Cool, I think. So I call ‘on the right’ and what do they do? All herd to the right of the path. So I go ‘okay, on the left then’ and get a lecture in bell usage. I refrained from a lecture in monopolising pathways and carried on laughing a little. Laughing because they were the first and only people today to have an issue with my verbal warnings, which have been serving me well on inumerous commutes and during the other 90 miles I’ve ridden this month. Only people to complain? A couple of bloody bikers on foot. I despair.

Anyway.

At the top, I needed a breather. Handily, it was most photogenic and interesting. Firstly, we have the arty photo.

Wigan bottom lock 'arm' to open the lock

Wigan Bottom Lock is at the top, damnit!

Yeah yeah, I know. I’ve wanted to do one of those shots for ages. Then there was the pretty lockkeepers cottage (I assume).

Wigan Bottom Lock lockkeepers cottage

Wigan Bottom Lock lock keepers cottage

It honestly is called the Bottom Lock, by the way. Despite it being at the top of 21 locks vertically. I just don’t understand.

Finally, we have the machinery geekery.

Wigan Bottom Lock - artificial damns being built behind the locks

Wigan Bottom Lock - men at work

What you can just about see in the distance of the shot is an artificial dam which they’d just finished working on today. I’m guessing this shot is going to be one of the last for some time of that lock gate with water coming through it. There’s a good reason for this – United Utilities are so worried about reservoir levels up here that the 7 reservoir feed to the canal between Wigan and Gargrave is being shut off. I assume these dams are British Waterways response as a way to control the cut offs in stages. They’re not working very well though, because last week the canal by Asda in Blackburn was low enough for the shopping trolleys to start emerging and yet today they’d been submerged again, as had the far bank which last week was revealed in all it’s rocky muddy finery. Something very odd going on.

I trekked onwards. Through Adlington where I stopped for lunch. I hate lunch. It signals the end of the fun stuff and the beginning of the slog. The only reason I eat is because I know I’ll pass out otherwise, given the choice I really wouldn’t bother. It happens every bloody day. I’m whizzing along, it gets to 1:30pm, I think ‘I really should eat about now’, I sit down, eat and the epic fail  begins. Annoying. Suggestions welcome.

Past Adlington I tripped over this small disaster.

Sunken boat near Botany Bay

Sunken boat between Adlington and Botany Bay

I love that picture. I don’t know why. I know it’s rubbish and someone should have bothered to remove it, but I’m glad they didn’t. Somewhat incongruously there was a beautifully cared for and pristinely grassed golf course right on the other side of the canal. Weird.

And that’s where it started to get hard. First I stopped, put my feet on the ground and they wobbled. Not a good sign, linked to the tightness – sometimes if over warmed/relaxed, they go the other way. Figured on the bike was safer than off and carried on. Then the wrists started. Sat down for a bit and drank lots and spotted my new favourite house:

My new favourite house

My new favourite house

I should perhaps add that there isn’t a cat in hell chance of me ever owning such a building but oh my days. I’d never leave.

Headed off down the canal. Except, no, I didn’t, what I actually did was head off down the dead end which was the Wheelton Branch. One lovely helpful fisherman later and I was pointed in the right direction, which was a sharp right turn, right about where this house is. Then it got muddy. Sticky, claggy muddy. There was much people dodging. There were comments about whether ‘they should be riding here at all’ while I was right next to the person doing the commenting. If he’d had the grace to say it to me, I’d have explained I was doing no more than 3mph to try and minimise erosion and explained I was riding end to end but since he decided to be ignorant, I figured I was too knackered by this point for moral high ground and carried on anyway, continueing to pedal at about the slowest I’ve ever pedalled and continueing to ding before every bridge and walking under some of them for the first time in the journey.

Feniscowles. Ate both the gel bars. Do you eat gel bars or drink them? I have no idea and by this point I couldn’t have cared less. Bonked. Seriously bonked. Cramps and spasms in muscles in arms and legs, cramps in tummy, wrists shot to hell. Absolute hell. It’s better now, but it wasn’t the problem I was expecting so I had nothing to make it better. Tomorrow there will be compression bandages and painkillers I think. Tomorrow also brings some entertainment in the form of road riding, something I monumentally suck at – I have to dodge a teeny tunnel in Burnley and a rather larger one at Foulridge. On looking at the map, however, it does become evident that bar the bit from Padiham to Foulridge I know the route well and so again, this will help when I am quietly dying inside.

I rode 37 miles today. I rode 27 yesterday. That’s 64 miles in two days. Before Monday, the most I’d ever ridden since I was about 18 years old was 15 miles two weeks ago.  I’d ridden 15 miles once.

I hereby promise, seriously and wholeheartedly that I will never moan about my stupid 9 mile commute home ever ever again.

I’m also not sending that godamn iPhone 4 which is on order back. I can’t have it unless I complete, or leastways, my other half is on orders to not give it to me if I don’t get to Leeds. But it’s not about the tech. It’s not about Leeds. It’s not even about finishing. It’s just….I didn’t think I could. I just might.

comments: 8 »

Day 1 (are we nearly there yet?)

Posted on 9th August 2010 in Epic Rides, LLC ride Aug 2010

Right. Lets get the important thing out of the way first, hmm? Nail polish colour. We settled on Pink. Below should be evidence of the reason for the pink.

Pic of hands with pink nails matching pink cycling gloves

Pink nails mum, pink nails!

Next? Well I don’t know how to not make this dry so if this is dry I apologise, I’m a little badgered. I think I’ll tell it in pictures, because I can’t string much of a sentence together right now and though I didn’t take as many pics as planned due to rain and ick, they still provide a spine for the post.

First, there was a bridge 1.

Picture of bridge 1 on the Leeds Liverpool Canal

Bridge 1

At the beginning, I had some company in the form of my boyfriend, who stole a mornings leave and dropped me off, then rode with me for the first 5 miles. It was an absolute blessing. Spinning along, wind behind us, chatting, fettling, tweaking the bikes set up and just generally remembering why I wanted to do this was bliss. Chatter full of ‘oh look at that’ & ‘did you see the yellow submarine?’ filled the first 5 miles.

Then he left.

Then it started raining. The thing I noticed the most is that in 10 miles I was no longer in cityscape and was spat, somewhat abruptly out into countryside with the most amount of spinning bridges I’ve ever seen. I swung from estates to pretty little villages in the blink of an eye and it left me a little confused. Once I’d caught up, I relaxed a bit. Things clicked. But it rained and rained and rained. After 20 miles, two things became apparent. All I’d seen were scenes like below:

Canal boats & cruisers moored at the back of a line of houses along the Leeds Liverpool Canal

Moored Boats

Not a single moving boat, only moored ones. Parked at the back of peoples houses and literally gathering moss. The other thing was that I needed to eat. And it was still raining. Eventually I found a willow tree for shelter and a reasonably dry bench next to a bridge, and forced a sandwich down. It was a lovely sandwich, don’t get me wrong, I just wasn’t hungry, and was only eating because I knew I should do. I’d initially planned to stop for an hour and had even taken a book to try and force me to do so. It just didn’t happen.

Half an hour later I set off again. Awful. Cold despite snuggling in a fleece while stopped. The terrain changed somewhere around here, from hard ground to ridiculous. It’s not hilly, of course it’s not, but it’s……imagine a 10 mile stretch of 10cm trail of compacted mud, it’s been raining, puddles everywhere, bank not wide enough to wander off the line, and bumps. So many bumps. Normally I have the energy to time my pedal pushes with the dips and rises. I ran out after lunch. If it had been hard surface all the way, I think perhaps I might have got a bit further today but it just wasn’t that way at all.

Then I arrived…..well, somewhere. And I got a healthy dose of WTFU. Actually I do know where in canal terms, it was the Rufford Branch junction. I learnt a number of things here.

1. Canals have signposts. For boats.

Picture of a boat signpost on the far bank of the Leeds Liverpool Canal

Boats need signposts too!

2. Bridges are not always going to go across the canal from left bank to right bank.

The bridge across the Rufford branch which veers off North from the Leeds Liverpool Canal

The bridge going the wrong way

3. There are no locks between Liverpool and the Rufford turn off, and even then, they’re not on the Leeds Liverpool Canal.

The lock set at the beginning of the Rufford Branch turn off on the Leeds Liverpool Canal

Locks, finally, but going the wrong way

4. A 92 year old woman can kick my ass.

Row of cute houses by the side of the Rufford Branch off the Leeds Liverpool Canal

Cute houses are cute!

There’s something missing from this picture. It’s the pair of woman standing at the door of the house just out of the picture on the left – they’re missing because I felt intrusive and didn’t want to be. But there they were. I pootled around taking some more of the pictures above and finally packed my camera away and  made ready to walk up the bridge (don’t ask). By this point, a very small old lady, who had previously been chatting to her friend on the doorstep was making her way up the bridge above in picture 2. It’s steep. Steep enough to make my legs bitch at me. She was trying to get up it with 1 walking stick and 1 umbrella, which was not behaving quite the way the walking stick she usually also had in that hand usually does. So I walked her over the bridge, down the other side and down some steps where she assured me she could manage. The usual and by now regular conversation ensued about riding to Leeds and was I sure?

It also transpired she was 92, didn’t get out much, hadn’t seen her friend across the bridge for 3 weeks and that she got stiff and struggled to move when she sat still for too long. I winced a little and then I muttered something about someone sticking a handrail on the bridge and surely someone somewhere could find a handrail which fitted in with the beautiful bridge and tottered off back to my bike.

See that bridge? Doesn’t look like a mountain, does it? It is. To her.

After that, things got easier. But not so easy that when I rode, finally, to the British Waterways sign with Parbold on it, I didn’t care what the Cateye Strada told me, I was stopping. The numbers got mixed up somewhere, because I’ve only ridden 27 miles today, not 33, but I don’t care. Tomorrow is easy day, because tomorrow ends in Church and I know the last 10 miles like the back of my hand. Hopefully that means that the 37 miles I have to ride tomorrow in order to make it to halfway, should actually only mean 27 miles of unknown. And I’m discovering the numbers mean a lot because I don’t seem to be able to stop fixating on them. I’m not going to lie though, tomorrow scares me. I hurt like hell after 27 miles, I don’t know how I’m going to cope with 37 miles. I got brain fog today. I make mistakes when that happens. Next to a canal is not the place to make any kind of mistake on the width of banks I’ve been riding today. So lets just hope knowing the last 10 makes up for that.

I also hurt but not in the place I thought I would. Back of thighs. Worries me. Really worries me. And that’s quite enough on that subject.

Also, the messages to @mtbgirly are saving my ass. Just so you know. I owe every one of you a pint/a big slab of cake. I’m going to learn to bake cakes just to say thank you. It makes a difference to someone going slightly bonkers.

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A certainty of something

Posted on 9th August 2010 in Epic Rides, LLC ride Aug 2010

I am notoriously bad at identifying the emotions I’m feeling. I’m not sure what the one is I am feeling now. There’s certainty and curiosity in there, some slight fear, but mostly a really healthy dose of ‘what will I see, how will it feel, who will I meet coming the other way, how many commuters by 5 o clock and will I be going up stream or down stream this time, will I skid off under a bridge and get a dunking, how good exactly will I still be in 6-7 hours time, what’s going to give up first’

I suspect I will still be able to cycle long after my ability to walk in a straight line has gone for a burton. At the edges, when I push hard, that’s always the first thing to go. But it’s never been a problem on the back of a bike, a theme which runs through everything right now. So choosing to spend a long time riding my bike seems quite the sane thing to do to me. It looks different from the other side of the fence, is what I’m trying to say, some things are easier, but only because the flip is harder.

Anyway, this was supposed to be a positive post. The sky is blue. All over blue, not just little patches. That hasn’t happened for at least 3 weeks, possibly more now. It’s such a rarity that I never gave a thought to packing sun tan lotion, an essential now. It means that if it showers, which the forecast says it will, I will be dry 30 minutes afterwards and no one could ask for any more than that.

I’ve also done something…..don’t know the word. But A is going to come and ride with me the first 5 miles and that seems to me to be important somehow. It’s important. But suddenly I don’t have words and this post doesn’t read right and perhaps that means it’s time to stop thinking, stop writing, and get pedalling.

Yes. I think that pretty much sums this morning up.

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Just a ride like any other

Today has been a thread.

Wake up->hurt->remember what day it is->panic->eat too much for breakfast->realise that eating too much today will do more harm than good->forget to eat again for 6 hours->eat noodles which taste of nothing->try not to panic->clean bike->dry bike->grease bike->forget why I’m doing what I’m doing to the bike->remember->tummy flips->plan->fret->try not to think about it->play on the XBox->forget->paint nails->wince at the brightness of the pink->think about tea->feel sick->get the beginnings of a migraine->realise I’ve not drunk enough->drink->drink some more->ward off the migraine->feel victorious->laugh->relax->panic->relax->panic->relax->realise it’s just a ride like any other->finally let go->know sleep will come->eat tea->play board games->a night like any other.

Things to do: Pack fleece, make sarnies, grab helmet, 2 pairs of gloves, pads, glasses, phone, nab flapjacks, pack water, pack tablets, pack bottle, get dressed, plasters, painkillers, go.

I know I’ve forgotten something. It’s too late to care, at this point.

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Last minute planning

Posted on 8th August 2010 in Epic Rides, LLC ride Aug 2010

In the suspicion that other people will follow the trail I’m meandering along virtually today, I figured dumping a stream of consciousness link fest to info on the web about the LLC might be helpful. It’s cold hard facts your honour, there’s no time to make this funny or whimsical.

First things first – finding the start. Easy, you’d think. No. Towpath Treks cites the start as Pall Mall Basin in it’s Mile Matrix as the beginning point of the ride. I can’t find Pall Mall Basin so I’m plumping for Stanley Docks as the jump on point thanks to the utterly fantastic mapping page over at Waterscape which also handily layers all features of the canal including moorings and eateries. I must confess to a fleeting awe of the mapping but my inner map geek has been supressed – more important things to do today.

Next thing is to try and find a map of bridge numbers so that when I need picking up at the end of day 1 I can tell my OH a bridge number and he can know where I am. Except I suspect you’re thinking no one would ever map something like that. Wrong. Towpath Treks once again come to the rescue with their map of Western end bridges . I’m not entirely sure why there is no Eastern one, I suspect the author to live somewhere over near Liverpool but I’m not sure.

So, having established OH has bookmarked the bridge number map and noted which bridges I want to aim for depending on 30 mile days or 40 mile days, next consideration is a slightly more basic one. Loos. It seems that’s not been anyone elses consideration as there doesn’t appear to be a map anywhere with such things marked on it. Oh well. Pubs/cafes/Waterways offices/Service points it is then. Helpfully, the Boaters guide to the LLC has a map of taps etc.

Next, stoppages and diversions. Waterscape again come to the rescue with a list of stoppages & closures , however it should be noted that it doesn’t appear to be kept up to date more than once every six months as April 2010 is long gone.

Via some meanderings around the Waterscape website, I came across this rather tantalising document which lists all canal sections open to cyclists in the UK. I am trying to ignore the fact that you can get from London to Birmingham via the Grand Union.

Entirely unnecessary on a mountain bike, but those who are considering doing a similar ride on a rigid bike might like to view a guide to the towpath surfaces which helpfully tells you the bits where overgrown shrubbery might veer one rather closer to the waters edge than anticipated.

Weather forecasts are looking showery for the whole week. I’ve got one waterproof jacket which is designed for walking and not biking – it’s got no vents for a start and generates enough heat alone without pedalling contributing to it. I’m tempted to leave it at home and just accept I’m going to get wet and muddy. I am going to pack a fleece to dive into when I stop for lunch though.

And finally, the frivlous stuff. The 5 rise locks at Bingley appear to be a bit famous. I must admit I’m incredibly curious about them, if only because I’ve just come across a boats eye view of the first lock, and frankly it looks like the gates of Mordor, all black and gnarled and imposing. So for those who are slightly geeky, the Leeds Liverpool Canal Society have published online their guide to this rather jaw dropping piece of 200 year old engineering.

Even more geeky than that (you have no idea the depths of geek I can descend to), a gentleman called Mike Clarke has posted prospectus from the 1700′s for the canal along with assorted other historical documents relating to it, all free to download.

There, I think that’s a pretty decent round up of all the helpful websites I’ve foun for planning things. Hopefully, one day, someone else will find it useful.

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Nail polish & saddle bags

Starting to feel a little bit some bit like now. A days hard walking around Manchester has yielded only 2 things but they are 2 very very fabulous things. Via Go Outdoors and a saddle bag which comes with a little rain cover with a bit cut out for it to still attach it to the bike (it’s the little things which blow you away, don’t you find?) we arrived in Manchester.

Manchester is a necessary evil these days. We go rarely during the day, instead dodging the overdone blonde make up drowned wannabes and going to rock gigs in the evening. But sometimes it has to be braved and today was pack hunting day.

Thanks to two lovely lads on Twitter who recommended Osprey packs, I knew vaguely what I was looking for and after much hunting finally found the Osprey Raptor 14 litre pack. I thought I’d need the smaller back size (yes, someone finally acknowledged that different people need different backpack lengths to be comfortable and believe me when I tell you there’s nothing worse than hitting your head on the top of a pack when riding, or the bottom digging into your too large ass) but it appears Osprey make their smaller back size come with smaller waist straps and that really didn’t work, though it did actually do up much to my glee.

The staff in Ellis Brigham on Deansgate were also awesome and incredibly patient. That ice wall looks incredibly tempting too, but that’s for smaller days.

My pack is silly. It has so many little bells and whistles from helmet attachment points to a non scratch pocket for my iphone with a headphone port, to a solid wall to the back of the hydro pack reservoir so it doesn’t slosh around and kick me in the kidneys when I go over bumps and jumps. Love it. I mean seriously absolutely love it. Love it so much I put down a North Face pack with purple strapping in preference. I know. Wrong.

Nail polish hunt went less well. The staff in Harvey Nichols are, as ever, a waste of space when asking them anything not directly related to the piece of metal and plastic they’re standing in front of. So I am going to have to turn to my existing miniscule stock of OPI and go with PINK as my nail colour choice. At least it will go with the PINK gloves from Shebeest I acquired recently.

Interspersed with a Twitter stream full of ride planning, product reviewing, Sleepless in the Saddle updates and pictures aplenty of rides all over the place, I am feeling…..an emotion I can’t quite quantify. Welcome, relaxed, involved, supported, cheered for, cared for. All those things.

They say, also, that behind every successful man is the strength of a woman. Well, in this relationship, it’s the quieter one of the two who is the strength. I started this morning in bits and pieces and have ended it achieved and organised and suddenly unbowed by the fear of organising for something which is quite a big deal for little old me. But he deserves a post all of his own.

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Miles & miles away

Right.  Monday morning start. Mid Morining start, Liverpool Pall Mall Basin. I still don’t know where that is, we’ll come to that.

The lovely bloke over at Towpath Treks has made a mile matrix for the entire Leeds Liverpool Canal. This makes me happy on two levels. The first, I’m a geek, of course it makes me happy. The second, and somewhat more importantly, is that it’s my map. So I reckon if I do 40 miles a day, that puts me around Wigan at the end of day 1, Greenberfield at the end of day 2 and Leeds at the end of day 3.

If I do 30 miles a day, I’m looking at Parbold end of day 1, Church end of day 2, Gargrave end of day 3 and Leeds end of day 4.

I think I’ll be able to tell the people who have asked where I will be and when by the end of day 1, to be honest. If I can make it to Wigan, all well and good, I should know within 2 hours of stopping if I can deal with another day the same. So I’ll Twitter those who expressed interest on Monday evening with likely whereabouts and timings.

I really want to do 40 mile days. I reckon 40 miles in 6-8 hours should be a walk in the park, it’s just fuelling. I can’t eat while I’m riding. So lunch is going to have to be substantial and will need to involve sitting down determinedly for an hour, preferably under a bridge if it’s raining. Note to self, pack something to sit on :O)

Next job is to find the off points at all these places and work out routes to train stations because I suspect 40 miles into a ride, that even for little miss never gets lost, navigation is going to be something of a challenge. Okay, more an impossibility.

Right, I feel better now that’s all worked out.

Technical difficulties

Posted on 3rd August 2010 in LLC ride Aug 2010

I’m very very sorry, but until I have more time to play with Word Press, LLC stuff is going to have to stay in this blog. I can get it to filter out to the page to your right, where it will collect all posts tagged as LLC stuff into one neat and tidy page, but removing it from this one has defeated my tiny little incompetent brain.

Sorry guys. It’s about to get boring as all hell.

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