Monday, 3 July 2017

LEJOG – How to pack for 21st Century Cycle Touring ‘If it doesn’t fit in the bag you don’t need it’

This is a short piece on what to take or more importantly what not to take, a full write up will follow later:
First decide what type of tourer you are:
tent or hard core bivvy bag camper
plastic supported B&B, pub and hotel dweller
Apart from the amount of stuff you need to take this will also impact how much you smell.

Pete, Duncan and I, all agreed we were the later i.e. we were going to travel light. Rack and Panniers (often a couple of kilos before you add your stuff) may have been the way to go in the 20th Century but modern materials mean an oversized seat pack weighing only a few hundred grams can accommodate all your needs, and is far more aero.
After some research, we selected a fully waterproof model from Apidura with a 14l capacity and duly ordered one each.

What to take:
Leg warmers and Arm warmers – yes I know it’s summer, but believe me up north they don’t
Rain jacket
Evening wear:
o Charity T-Shirt all 3 of us.
o Shorts and 2 pairs of underwear - me, Pete took his infamous pyjama bottoms and went commando, and Duncan took long trousers
o Something warm – Wool sweater – Pete and I, Jacket Duncan
o Flip flops – Pete and I, Crocs sometimes worn with socks Duncan
Second pair of bib shorts – not completely essential as it’s usually possible to wash and dry kit overnight, but not wanting to spend the day sitting in what feels like  a used nappy we all took a spare.
Second pair of socks – wool work well as not only are the warm when wet, they tend to smell less
Second top – Pete had a second jersey, I had a second base layer and Duncan a second Polo top for the evening
Gilet – I took one, but never used it – it’s off the list for next time
Chamois Cream
Tooth brush and paste – Pete manged to get through 5 tooth brushes on the trip, but that’s another story!
Razor – Duncan and I, Pete went fuzzy.
Deodorant – Pete and Duncan – I have no sense of smell so skipped this.
Phone charger
USB battery and Garmin lead – Duncan and I
Communal Items:
o Small lock and wire to secure the bikes – a deterrent rather than protection – Me
o Sudocrem – 1 dip each per application – Pete
o Di2 charger – Pete and Duncan wanted to be able to Top up their batteries
o Charm – On a particularly grim day Duncan managed to procure free coffee and chocolate cake for us all and still put a smile on the face of the lady who owned the café.
o We each tool a tube and a CO2 cannister, multitool and tyre leavers – savings to be made by sharing their next time.
o Additionally I took – tyre boot, puncture repair kit and KMC missing link

My bag and contents weighted in at 3.1kg

Duncan bending the rules – ‘If it doesn’t fit in the bag you don’t need it’

And of course the final thing you need a couple of friends Or as Pete Buss refers to them – my retired gay parents

Please donate generously to the Challenging Behaviour Foundation:

Sunday, 4 June 2017

2017 Trip To Belgium

Part Deux - en Francais et Belgique

'Smashy' and  'Nicey' do Flanders'

Day One:

Normans Bay to Dunkirk


I opened my gate to find Tom poised with a Kodak Instamatic pointed straight at my face'


'Gosh, I haven't seen one of those for a while!', I said.

'Well, I haven't got one of those 'snazzy' phones that the rest of you chaps have, that takes photos and all that stuff, so I bought this along - don't want to miss a thing!'

'What about making calls', I said.

'Oh,that's no problem, I keep  a few 10Ps in my pocket for emergencies.'

'Can't wait to see the finished picture', I said ,encouragingly
Malc has an unusual way of carrying his footwear

'Yes, I shall get my self down to Boots the minute I return', he replied.

With that we set off for Hastings to meet up with the others.

I was feeling good and enjoying the novelty of riding with panniers for the first time. (My Moda bike doesn't really like panniers; it has top bolts - but brakes prevent you using them - and no bottom eyelets.  Eric, of 'Zigi Cycles', did a brilliant job of circumventing the problem with different fixings. He is well worth considering for bike servicing/repairs; usually does small things while you wait, and his pricing is very fair.  He is located by the traffic lights where the Chain Gang ends.  I'm not related to him BTW.)
Pete shows off his new pannier set up 

Assembled at The Bridge Cafe were most of the faces from the French trip - with the exception of the Captain and Mal C - who were replaced by Derek and Duncan (more about these two later).  Additionally, we had 'newbies' Helena and Shirley.

I took a long, hard look at the shipping containers attached to either side of Shirley's rear wheel and thought:

 'There's bound to be a kitchen sink in there somewhere!'

The ride to Dover and the crossing went without incident - apart from the delay caused by Shirley being forced to queue with the lorries in the freight lane - and we were soon in Dunkirk.

Dunkirk 17:00 'ish

Steve had done a lot of planning and had worked out a beautiful ride alongside the dunes, and with the aid of a strong tailwind, we were motoring along it; a lovely seascape and to our left and a sprawling industrial cityscape to our right.

Another bar, another beer!
After a few miles we reached the end of the road and came across a bridge that was shut.  After a thorough investigation we could find no alternative way across.

What glorious weather
'Oh, le pont es brise!'

A helpful local explained, as best he could, that someone had broken the bridge a year ago and it hadn't been repaired.

'We'll just have to go back the way we came', said Steve

'Oh, double ****ocks', I thought

The return was into the headwind and with a swirling sandstorm blasting our faces.  Just to add to our woes we were now navigating without a route and had Ivan insisting that he needed to get to a particular shop to buy some illegal explosives for his garden.)

Ivan asks for help from a local:

'I need berms!'

'Pardon, monsieur?'

 'I need berms, I 'av moles and I need berms'

Whether it was his desperation, or his charm, I don't know, but he came back beaming'

'They've invited me back for some champagne!'

Despite pressure from the rest of the group he couldn't be dissuaded and set off in the opposite direction armed with a paper map.

' I reckon that's the last we'll see off him!' said Steve, looking worried.

We set off and at one point found ourselves on an unmade road - the original Talking Heads' 'Road to Nowhere'. Even with a bucket full of Garmins we were unable to locate the Hotel; and then Steve had a brain wave:
We're on a road to nowhere!

'Why don't we use Google Maps?', he said

Even with my phone in my back pocket I could clearly hear 'Doris' calling out instructions - brilliant!.  I led the group to the hotel and grabbed all the available kudos.

To call Dunkirk a 'sh*t hole' would be heaping praise on it, but the hotel was very good and suited all our needs.

Day 2:

Dunkirk to Ghent

Happiness is an Ivan with mole bombs!
These flat canal paths are highly rated by Shirley !
For some reason the first part of the route was missing on our Garmins but we found it without too much bother and stopped for our first coffee break.  At this point Steve realised, with horror, that he had left his mobile at the hotel. After much confusion we managed to ring the hotel but nobody would answer so we had to send them an email asking if they can look after it until we return; later we got a reply saying they had it, Steve was very relieved.

Within Belgium the route is all on traffic-free cycle lanes which are superb and very flat.  We were all very impressed with how incredibly neat everything is in Belgium - maybe a bit too neat - Stepford wives was one suggestion.  Most of the gardens are open plan and it is as if there is a competition for who has the neatest, and all the houses are unique and, almost without exception, of brick construction.

Duncan exiting the bat cave!
Much of the route is on the canals leading into Ghent.  These are massively wide with speed boats going up and down and some even towing water skiers.  The sun was beating down and the moral in the group was mega high.

En route we pass some massive bunkers guarding the canals and stop at one which has been turned into home for bats.

The route was generated automatically by a Belgium web site and it never faltered.  There were many twists and turns, and one section went through a large forest which was magnificent - Ivan seized the opportunity for some off-roading.

We stopped at a small safe which did superb spaghetti and met a cyclist who said he was taking his wife to the Garden of England: Kent. - hope he isn't too disappointed!

On arrival at our hotel in Ghent we were pleasantly surprised to find a food festival, with food from all parts of the world.

Helena rediscovers her touring legs!
Everybody did there own thing; Mal C and I opted for a 'Weed Burger', but were upset to find that even an hour later we weren't 'stoned'.  Helena decided she wanted a 3 course meal and 'topped off' with a waffle the size of an upturned traffic cone!

 Ghent 21:00 'ish

'Tonight you're mine completely...' - Steve

'You give your love so sweetly....' - me

''Can I believe the magic of your sighs - doo be dooby doo....' Steve and me.

'Shut the **** up!' - Mal C

'I think we should find a karaoke bar', said Steve.

'What's the point - you can't ****ing sing!, said Mal C

Steve was very p*ssed, but very happy, Mal C and I were a bit p*ssed, but all of us realised that 'enough is enough' - there was some cycling to do tomorrow and shuffled off to bed at a sensible time.

Ghent 23:30 'ish

There was a knock on mine and Mal's door:

' Have you seen Ivan?' said a concerned Tom

'No', said Mal C

'I better go and find him then!'

Day 3:

Ghent 07:30 'ish

' Apparently, they didn't get into 3:00!, said Mal C, at breakfast

Shortly afterwards, Ivan appeared; looking surprisingly O.K, but no sign of Tom.

'I better ring him then!'
Derek discovers the joy of cycle touring

Mal C was quite surprised when Tom answered his room phone, and even more surprised when he appeared 5 minutes later, looking ,it has to be said,like sh*t.

'Ivan crashed into our room at 03:10 and fell on the floor - totally wasted!', said Steve.

The day was even hotter than yesterday and we followed some superb cycle paths towards Ypres.

'The Belgiums pronounce it Leper , you know?', said an ill-informed Steve.

He had been using this pronunciation since the start, until he realised that the 'L' on the direction sign was an 'I' Still to be fair, none of us knew any better.

I tried to get more info. from Tom about the previous night.

'I found him in a jazz bar - but it definitely wasn't a Gay Bar!', he said

'So what was Ivan doing then?' I asked

'Oh, he was dancing with a man and really enjoying himself - I think he even took part in a dancing competition'

Later I had confirmation from Ivan that this was true.

'This bloke and I were dancing and he said to me I'm not gay, you know', said Ivan

'So what did you say', I asked

'I said, 'I'm not gay either, mate!''

After some time we found a decent looking restaurant in the town square of Roeslare; ignoring the generally accepted advice of 'avoid touristy looking places in town squares' we checked out the prices and decided it would be 'chips all round'.  This didn't give us much of a saving as the bottled water was 9 Euros - and we'd ordered 3 bottles.

' That's 27 quid just on water!' said Derek

As the day progressed Tom seemed to be rallying round, but Ivan was in decline and also Mal C was starting to suffer.

Canadian cemetery outside Ypres
Approaching Ypres we start to come across war cemeteries, including a Canadian one. Duncan's grandfather died around here so he, very possibly, lies there somewhere?. The approach to Ypres was through the heart of the western front and I think we all felt a strong sense of the past; the guns may have been silent for a hundred years, but this area will forever be haunted by it's horrific past.

We arrived at the get magnificent centre of Ypres.  We were short on time as we had to continue on to Ballieu to check into our luxurious accomodaton at the F1, but  we took a brief look at the town hall and Menin gate.

I had seen enough to want to come back again and this is currently being considered by Steve as a trip for next year.

Outside restaurants were too pricey for us but we found a burger bar down a side street with tables out the back. The burgers wre huge and very tasty but Ivan couldn't eat his and leaves it sitting on the table getting cold.



Mal C had started some serious pyrotechnics.

Just then a couple of German tourists arrived.

'I zinc we sit at zis table?, the man said


'I zinc maybe zere are better ones around!' the woman replied as she led her partner swiftly back out again.

'Mal C was leaning over his creation with one hand supporting him on a wall.

'Sorry about that chaps', he said

Beneath him sat the perfect 'pavement pizza' - crusty topped with a thin but slightly soggy base.

'I don't do sick' said Helena.

Who then courageously got up and sloshed away Mal's offerings into the drain using bowls of water supplied by the restaurant.

We continue our journey to Baillieu .

What a novelty: we saw a hill in the distance which turned out to be the legendary Kemmelberg. Tom couldn't resist the challenge and rode to the top - complete with panniers -  What a legend!

We arrive at Ballieu and check in to our cheapest hotel - the dreaded F1!!.  I have just been reading a Tim Moore book called 'You are awful, but  do like you' where he outlines his experience of F1s in the U.K:

'The shower was ankle deep in van driver pubes....' - classic!

I went out with Duncan and Derek to find a local bar as the 3 of us all agreed we had to escape for a while. What sustained me through this testing time was the knowledge that it was payback time for Tom - who had had 2 nights of luxurious single room occupation - was now sharing with Steve and Ivan!

Ivan had still not recovered and was reporting that he was thrown up bile containing bits of his stomach lining! - charming!

Steve had concocted a cunning plane to recover his lost phone.  This required that he, me and Duncan set off on an advanced party to go via the Hotel and then meet up with the others at the port, and with the aid of 'Doris', this plan did work quite well.

It happens without warning, and it can happen to any of us, but it it wonderful to behold.  The last time I witnessed it was in the cafe at Pevensey when it struck the 'Fun Chums'.  It starts with mimicking each others gestures, progresses to finishing each others sentences and is sealed through eating and drinking the same things: that special bonding they call 'man love'!.  This time it was Derek and Duncan and was probably as a consequence of bunking up together for 3 nights.

I lent across their table on the lounge of the ferry.

'Sorry to interrupt, but I've decided to christen you 'Smashy and Nicey'. now who is who?'

'I'll be Nicey then', said Derek who seemed to be half accepting of this.

'No, actually, I think Duncan should be 'Nicey', I said

'Oh, O.K then' he said.

Duncan seemed quite pleased to be 'Nicey'.

Smashey and Nicey

Leaving the Ferry highlighted, yet again,my geolexsia as I led a group of the others towards the wrong end of the boat to collect our bikes. We were forced to make a u-turn and squeeze our way through a mass of juggernauts.  I was getting seriously worried as I knew we would be invisible to the drivers who could set off at any time.

Once disembarked we waited patiently for Shirley to appear from the freight section before regrouping for the final leg back to the car park.  This in itself is no mean feat as it involves a very steep climb and we were all impressed with the speed in which Shirley appeared at th
e top having kept her promise to dismount and push!

Safely back in Blightly, we all agreed it had been a great trip; It was a great mix of people and we had a lot of fun and I look forward very much to the next time.

Well Done Steve!!

Peter Buss (with a lot of help from Steve)

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Mallorca 312

There are very few medals/jerseys that are given out for just doing an event that are valued for more than the second it takes to place it around your neck and then quickly remove it. The medal & jersey awarded for Mallorca 312 is the exception. This is a Gran Fondo, 312km in length with 5,050 m of climbing (in old money 193 miles and 16,568 ft). A bit like three and a bit hard JV Sunday rides back to back with no stop for a fry up. To make it more interesting there is a time cut off of 14 hours after which you are classified a DNF. Riders in green spotted jerseys ride at the back like the Ringwraiths form Lord of the Rings to consume weary riders. There are three distances 125, 225 and 312m. So of course, when you see a rider wearing the distinctive top, the compulsory question is, which distance did you do’? If the answer is 312 beware this person has issues. Over 6,000 riders set off with only 1,700 doing the full distance. I am proud to say this number included riders from HSLCC, Nigel Tamplin, Simon Grogan, Patrick Piper, Duncan Feathers, Sue Landy, James Bennett and your truly.

Nigel was on his third attempt and the understated pride he took in wearing the jersey from his previous attempts should have been warning enough for us lesser mortals to beware. In spite of this, a band of fools gathered. The 312 dominated the winters rides with regular 100 mile + rides scheduled, inevitably this involved no stops, brief stops & Nigel killing us.
Nigel and his partner Lucy organised a Villa for us all on the outskirts of Playa d’Muro. The band of fools collected there with the full complement achieved on the Thursday before the event. The Friday involved putting bikes together and riding enough to wake the legs up with minimal intensity. Early to bed, although little sleep. Waking between 4am – 5am, breakfast and the few miles ride in the freezing dark to the start. The masses of riders were stretched out down the road and we managed to squeeze into a spot and shivered with the masses. The time dragged up until the point that Nigel realised he had left his helmet in the villa. Just as the huge wave of riders Lucy appeared in the nick of time and Nigel suitably attired we set off.

The rest of the tale is a number of individual journeys & I can only truly account my own. I must admit that prior to the 10 days before the event I was stoical and not at all anxious, however the onset of a sore throat changed that and I then pursued any witchcraft to ward off the inevitable debilitating cold, to the point of being just ok enough on the day of the event. I set off with Patrick and Duncan, a sensible start trying to get any drafting advantage from the large groups. Duncan needed the first of many pees (it’s his age you know), this was mid climb so Patrick and I agreed he would catch us up. Patrick sped on and then it was every man for himself. The climbs through the Tramuntana mountains I felt good and was enjoying riding at my own pace. Gentleman James & his butler George passed and bid me good morning and floated up the 15% climb effortlessly, all I can do was an incoherent ‘I am knackered you Lordship’. Later I bumped into a rider we had ridden with the previous year in Italy and we rode together happily regaling tales of Duncan snoring. There were various feed stops and we pulled over just past 100 km to chaos and mothers pride and Nutella sandwiches and tins of coke and unlabelled drink stuff. I obviously did not tale enough fluids on and after about 120 km started to cramp which continued for the rest of the ride. My Italian friend was doing the 225km route and was like a little devil in my ear, tempting me to finish. Just before the junction where the routes divided I let out a cry ‘get behind me Satan’ and sprinted beyond the fork in the road. There I looked behind at the group of riders that I was with to see them all turning off leaving me on my own. I plodded on trying to manage the cramps being passed by everybody and his mate when I stopped at a feedstop, just about to depart I saw the smiley face of Duncan who then stayed with me for the remainder to the ride his own time to keep my spirits up – what a guy.

We pressed on and the last feed stop was in the town of Arta where a big-time carnival was in place. Duncan & I pulled in and had to dismount to get through the checkpoint where we were met by free beer. We later learned that Sue pulled in here thinking that she had finished. So after a couple of pints she started to question when she would get her medal, only to be told by the locals ‘when you have finished the event love’. She apparently bullied some other riders who had given up and wanted to be left there to die to carry on. She eventually caught the green spotted jerseyed ringwraiths up and politely asked if she could overtake them before her triumphant return to Playa d’Muro.

All retuned and to a man a woman vowing never again. Although as the say in Mallorca ‘Nunca digas nunca’.

Special thanks from all of us go to Lucy who organised Nigel and us with calm, kindness and bemusement. Final results below plus here  is a link to a podcast  from Miles Davidson of BigfootCC
Miles Davidson's Podcast Write Up

Peter Baker

Final results

Friday, 17 February 2017

PART DEUX - En Francais 'Dipping a toe into the Canal Du Midi - and nearly putting my back out! '

PART DEUX - En Francais

'Dipping a toe into the Canal Du Midi - and nearly putting my back out! '

(Does include some cycling related content (eventually), but I won't be offended if you just wish to skip to Day Nine)

Clairac : Day Two  - Friday 3rd Feb - 19:38

' So why didn't you just use the jack from the hire car then? ',  said an exasperated Vicki.

' Dunno really, probably because I'm a bit of a t@ss@r?  '

John Deere tribulations!
I had been explaining - indeed bragging - about the Egyptianesque system of levers, involving a plank and rocks,  that I had used to lift the front of the John Deere so that I could remove the front wheel.  I had been mowing in the wet and the tractor had slid slidewards dislodging the tyre from its rim. The problem with the lever system was letting go of the plank - which I resolved,  eventually - by replacing my body weight with another large rock. At the time I thought this was quite cunning and resourceful (not now, obviously).
Having removed the wheel I borrowed another one from the trailer, which even though they are different sizes, allowed  me to limp back to the safety of the garage. I broke my track pump in an attempt to reinflate the tyre, (having got it back on the rim) , and so had no choice but to take the wheel down to see 'Happy' - this is the unkind nickname I have given to the guy who works in Gamm Vert.
These stores are ubiquitous in this region , but they are very Chameleon-like ; in large, well-to-do areas they are quite posh garden centres, but they have a smaller version know as Gamm Vert 'Village' - or, as I like to call them Gamm Vert 'Sheep Shagger', and our one fits into the latter category.  It is only a few hundred metres away and I am a regular visitor. They sell mostly things that would be essential items for farming folk: castration clippers and arm grease. Anyway,   Happy was obliging and pumped my tyre up for me without any pretence of small-talk - not easy for me at the best of times,  in any case . He looks like the kind of person who should have a permanent drip on the end of his nose and it always amazes me that he doesn't.

I rushed home with my wheel, eager to get it installed and return  to the task in hand.  I made quick work of mowing the rest of the garden and was just steering my beloved toy back into the  garage when fate dealt me another cruel blow : on the final approach to the garage  the rear tyre punctured!

'Oh, @@@@ mine, I don't believe this!',  I protested.

In my opinion there is nothing more pleasing to the eye than the fat, fully pumped,  bulbous rear tyre of  a John Deere - It just oozes sexiness. Of course the flip side of this is that nothing looked more  pathetic than the  flaccid lump of rubber now spread over my garage floor. I quickly 'stepped up to plate' and went back out into the garden to retrieve my 'tackle'.  However,  It is one thing jacking up the front, but a different matter trying to jack up the rear!.  I did 'give it a go' ; just long enough to bu@@er up my back!.

I quasimodoed my way into the house and resolved to leave it 'till the morning, having decided that I would seek advice from a superior being.

Tonniens: Day Three  - 10:31

It will come as no surprise,  to those who don't already know,  that the French word for tyre is pneu. - This caused me some apprehension as I walked into the pneu repair shop with my John Deere wheel and flaccid pneu under the crook of my  arm.  I offered it up to the French man behind the counter who immediately grasped my requirement.

Whilst it was being repaired I seized the moment:

'Comment s'appelle -  'per new' or, omitting the 'p'  I exhaled air from my nostrils,  or, juste 'ffffffnew?'

' It eez pneu!',  he replied.

Somehow he managed to seamlessly  combine the sound  of the 'p' and the 'n'  into a different sound altogether. This just compounded the concerns I have had since being in France that I'll never really be able to speak French, correctly , even if I reached the age of 200.

In turn I had managed to give him a problem: he wasn't able to charge me for the work because a John Deere tyre doesn't fit into his automated system. He had asked me for registration number,  vin number etc, but once I explained that the wheel wasn't from a car but from a garden tractor he   looked crestfallen :

'Ah, it eez from  a  schon deere tracteur? '

' Oui '

At this point his colleague returned with the repaired tyre and he good naturedly shooed me away with his hand.  I dropped a 10  Euro note on the counter and left, a happy man.

 Clairac: Day One   - 14:24

Things didn't go smoothly, to say the least, upon my arrival at the house.

I turned the key and entered,.  I had expected  to feel a comforting warmth ; bearing in mind that we had left the heating on , but was,  instead,  met by an icy 'blast'.  It didn't take long, however, to ascertain the problem: the oil tank was empty!.

Having returned from my investigations in the garage  I was aware of a stench coming from the kitchen.

'Oh, sacre bleu! '

The fridge was warm and the contents of the freezer defrosted. I gauged from the hairiness of the contents that this had occurred some time ago, also there was a putrid seepage underneath the fridge.

I seized the freezer draw,  swept the contents into the bin and placed under the tap :

'Oh, double b@ll@cks! - no water!! '

This situation was now getting out of control and I needed guidance from a superior being.  I grabbed the phone :

' Oh, no! '

The broadband and phone were dead.

I now had a ' perfect storm' of sh@t.

I grabbed the mobile and phoned home.

'Try to stay calm, sweetie. Go and see Jean-Michelle, see if he can help'

Vicki did her best to reassure me, but I was beyond placation.

'Zere werz a man, from zer watter kermponee, 'e werz outside your 'ouse, assking me kwestions about zee 'ome owner.' Zay 'av it lergged to zee previerss owner - Phileepe Marbel.

When we took over the property we registered it with Veolia (who, bizarrely, take our rubbish away in England), but they insisted on taking a reading from us. Bearing in mind that we had no idea where the meter was, other than the information we were given from the Estate Agent that it was at the top of the garden, this was impossible.  I had undertaken a couple of expeditions last year, but couldn't penetrate the undergrowth at the top of the garden, and so had given up.  To be honest, I never did have much faith in Vicki's theory that we were getting free water via the farmer next door's supply. Our chickens had well and truly come home to roost.

'I zinc zat I can 'elp you, I zinc I no vere is zee watter meter'

I jumped into his van and we sped along the road up to the back of the garden.

' eet iz 'ere, I zinc.

I watched in trepidation as he trampled the undergrowth with his boot and searched with his torch.

' C'est bon! - I 'av found eet'

He lifted the lid and turned the lever; immediately the reassuring sound of water pressure could be heared.


We raced back to the house and turned on the kitchen tap.

Diddly squat,  jack sh@t, rien, not  a s@dding drop.

'I zinc zat, peraps, it weel tak time fer zee watter to kerm  zroo.

I wanted to believe him and tried to keep faith, but in my heart of hearts I knew I was in for  an extended dry period.

After about 10 minutes, J-M admitted defeat.

'O. K,  I weel telephone  zem zen.

After about an hour of hanging on in silence,  eventually,  he got a response from the emergency number who informed him that I should phone in the morning on a different number and stress the hardship of the situation,  and hopefully someone should call around to reconnect me - but he added a chilling postscript 'It may not be for a few days'.

I thanked J-M for all his efforts, informed Vicki of the situation and went to bed with a heavy heart.

The morning brought no respite as I lay in bed feeling like a  squatter in my own home and contemplating life in 'floater' city .

Suddenly, there was a knock at the door.

'That'll be the oil', I thought, 'at least I'll be warm'

'I'll show you where the oil tank is ',  I said to the friendly delivery driver.

It was then that I spotted,  over his shoulder, the Veolia signage on his van!

'I am 'ere to turn on zee  watter'

'Oh, merci,  merci! '

My immediate reaction was to kiss him, but I managed to control my urge.

' Monsieur, you merst go to zee office wiv your bonk accunt details '


Clairac and local environment  : Days - Two - Ten

Having got the water back on everything else quickly fell into place ( it will even be a pleasure to reimburse Veolia with the 600 Euros we owe them, well  not quite.).  The fridge problem was resolved when I plugged it into a different socket and Orange delivered a new router

 As the house warmed up and the fridge cooled down my spirits soared.  The weather was improving and I even took coffee on the terrace on a few occasions.

Before leaving England I had developed problems with the muscles on the inside of my knees; which those in the know inform me is the IT band?  It hurts when I try to do anything other than flat, slow cycling and when coupled with my recent John Deere related lower back problems I hadn't really been in the mood for it.

I had taken a book on yoga with me and had been practicing daily. It felt quite good to focus on something other than cycling for a change and I felt the change might do me some good.  I have also been using weights,  and the foam roller recommended by Darren T's physio (Darren has been having similar problems and I am seeing Gavin when I get back home); although, I fail to see how anything that hurts so much can be doing me any good!

Day Nine - Time for some cycling.

Apart from a quick trip to Tonniens and back (14 miles) I hadn't been on my bike at all, but today the guilt was 'kicking in'.

I am planning to undertake a mini adventure in September with my friend John Davis. We are planning to travel the length of the Canal du Midi and back - 300 miles (although to stay sane it might be preferable to come back via a different route.)

Canal du Midi
Although generally known as the Canal du Midi it is in two parts: the first part is The Canal de Garrrone and the second part which connects Toulouse to the Mediterranean is the Canal du Midi proper. Collectively they are known as The Canal de Deux Mers.

It was started in 1667 and completed in 1686 - possibly the biggest feat of engineering in the 17th century. It was originally named Canal Royal en Languedoc and renamed by French Revolutionaries in 1789.
(thanks Wiki)

Today I thought I might undertake a recce,  although bearing in mind it's only a few miles away,  I'm surprised I haven't been there before (we did look at a house in Mas D'ajenais, when we were house hunting, which overlooked the canal with the Garonne beyond. Spectacular views and a magnificent 9 bedroom medieval house, but having fallen  in love with it originally, we suddenly thought : 'nah,  it's too big' )

I left home in the sunshine with spirits high, but after about a mile I thought: ' I can't hack this' -  everything hurt.  Being the trooper I am though,  I thought: ' I'll give it another 10 mins, see how it goes.

This was a good decision, because slowly I started to ' fire on all cylinders ' and was  even enjoying myself.

I passed through Aguillon and  St Ledger and at Damazan there is a sign for it.  I was feeling quite smug that I had found it - simple enough for most people  but quite an achievement for me.

What struck me was the simplistic, ordered  beauty of it : water  - path - trees.  This scene hasn't changed for 250 years ; the only change  being the lack of horses on the bank (and maybe the trees have been added along the bank for aesthetic purposes - athough they do look like quite ancient Plane trees)

When I uploaded a photo on Strava I got some favourable feedback, including a comment from Neil that it reminded him of the opening sequence from 'The World at War'.  I do know what he means, but can't say why because although I remember the program I don't remember the opening sequence. South of the Lot was Vichy territory (north of it was a Resistance stronghold) and I'm sure there was no shortage of jackboots marching along it (probably not being very P. C, still.. .)

I only went from Damazan to Mas D'ajenais, but it was a very enjoyable 'taster' and a quite Zen-like experience  .  I only encountered one young couple with a child and a dog, other than that I was totally alone. I'm sure in season it would be a lot busier, but equally, there would be a lot to see off the track as more things would be open.  Another thing that struck me was the quality of the path itself. A bit harsh and bumpy  where tree roots are trying to surface, but in splendid condition - one just knows that a similar path in 'blighty' would be pot-holed (I would be delighted to be contradicted if anyone has experience of cycling along our tow-paths .) It was, also, interesting to note that parts of the canal are almost dry with water being held within locks upstream - maybe there isn't enough water to fill the whole system?

I left the path at Mas D'ajenais and joined the Voie Vert back to just outside Tonniens.

I only did 35 miles, but was pleased that it seemed to improvee my back and my knees felt fine (although I didn't really put them under pressure.)

I am finishing this whilst strolling along the beach at Normans Bay with Poppy, and apart from my body falling apart, life is pretty damn good. See you soon on BBR?

Cheers Peter (Baron) Buss

Saturday, 14 January 2017

8/1 Beckley Ball - Improvers Ride

With the two social rides in December there was no time on the calendar for the monthly ‘Improvers’ ride, so with good weather on the first Sunday of January it was time to make amends.

These rides cover a similar distance and ascent to the main JV Sunday club ride but they are always at a lower pace and a later start for an extra hour of (lovely) duvet time
We had a solid turnout of eight riders including James, Peter Br, Ricky and Martin on their first Improvers ride.Now that we are in the depths of winter and the roads are getting covered in road debris I thought it best to plan a simple route out over the marsh where we could enjoy nice safe and quiet B roads.

Although the pace is supposed to be ‘social’, riders can go off at their own pace as long as they regroup to allow the slower ones to catch up. So I wasn’t too surprised to get dropped on the way out to Rye. Ricky was also a bit off the pace, having not ridden much in the last couple of months.

Unplanned but useful cafe stop in Tenterden
Once regrouped, we stayed together as we headed out towards Tenterden. The weather was almost perfect with a mild temperature and light winds (this is rare for the marsh). For a couple of miles I tried to put in a bit more effort  and actually led the field for a few miles until we began the moderate rise leading into the town. I am even more overweight than normal so even this moderate hill made me feel like I had the brakes on.

Catching up with the others I was surprised to see they had stopped at a café. As per normal custom I had planned a café nearer the end of the route but was more than happy to stop now rather than later (little did I know that this was a cunning plan formulated by Malc D). The café was  nice and had a big advantage in that it was below the level of the road so the bikes were safely off the pavement. It also gave me a chance to collect some subs off members. Just as we were finishing, the door opened and the familiar figure of Mark came in. Mark had missed the start but being a Garmin aficionado , had tracked us down and spotted my green bike outside the café.

From here the route got more interesting as we headed out through Wittersham and Beckley. I always perform better in the second half of a ride, so the hills didn’t seem so bad for me now. Unfortunately the opposite was true for Ricky, the lack of recent training rides was taking its toll and he repeatedly fell back but I was pleased with the way everyone kept regrouping to let Ricky catch-up. I felt guilty that we were making him suffer so much, but on the other hand knew that this ride would get help get Ricky up to his normal standard (sure enough on the Wednesday chain Ricky was actually faster than me)
Malc implements his cunning plan

On reaching Battle some riders peeled off to their respective homes. This left just myself, Ivan, Charlie and Malc D. This is where Malc revealed his cunning plan. Instead of following the planned route through Crowhurst, head back along the main road stopping off at the Black Horse (Telham) for a few beers. This is why Malc had got us to take an early tea stop at Tenterten. It didn’t take much persuasion to agree with this suggestion and it was only three drinks later that we finally escaped the clutches of the pub. As Andy A pointed out on Strava this meant that out of our six hour journey, three of them were actually stationary , lol.
Thanks to those who came out. I will try to organise another one next month.

Steve C

Friday, 30 December 2016

27/12 Post Xmas Social Ride- High & Over

Our post Xmas ride over ‘high & over’  has now settled into a yearly tradition. This year we had a very good turnout of riders  with a very wide range of ages from Dan in his twenties up to Derek in his sixties.

It was Shirley who had asked me to organise the same ride as last year, so I was surprised when there was no sign of her or her brother Matt at the start! We waited a couple of extra minutes but at 9:13 we were off without them (abandoned riders one and two)

The weather was beautiful with clear blue skies, however even without the wind it was a lot colder than I expected (you know it really is cold when you see me riding with gloves over my fingerless mitts).
A great day to take a few snaps !
Easy steady riding took us along Turkey road and towards Watling. The further inland we rode the colder it became. It was shame we hadn’t had this cold weather on Christmas day as all the surrounding fields were covered in a white frost that looked very picturesque in all the gorgeous sunshine

Alarm bells started to ring on arriving at Horse-walk. This can be a bit treacherous even at the best of times let alone when there is a risk of ice. I concurred with Simon that it would be wise to find an alternative route and shouted out to the others to halt. However, the leading riders had already disappeared around the bend so to avoid splitting up the group I decided we would have to carry on but take it extra slow. Simon didn’t want to take the risk and so abandoned the ride (abandoned rider three).

Horse-walk was white with frost and covered in the usual road debris so I wasn’t surprised I felt my rear tyre deflating. Patrick urged the other riders to carry on and meet us at the Costa café at the Pevensey roundabout while we fixed my puncture. This one was caused by a tiny metal shard that most of the riders who don’t have myopia would never have been able to see. It was so small it was impossible to dig out of the rubber, all I could do was to blunt the end with a tube valve and hope for the best.

By the time we had caught up with the others at the café they were well entrenched and were happily ordering more coffee and snacks. Derek in particular had been suffering with the cold and needed some more time to warm up. I therefore thought it best to make this our official coffee stop rather than the one at Alfriston. Gary was frustrated at the lack of progress and despite me telling him this would be our only stop, he decided to quit the ride (abandoned rider number four). While stopped I had chance to read a message from Shirley. She had been late (again!) and decided to meet us at the De La war but had read the gpx the wrong way around, we would be passing there on the way back!

Suitably refreshed we got back on route and before long reached Alfriston where we had a quick pee stop to relieve ourselves of some of that earlier coffee. Another text message from Shirley revealed that they had left Alfriston about ten minutes earlier so I advised her to stick to the route so that we should catch-up with her before Beachy Head.

All smiles on High & Over!
Hi and Over is an awesome climb, longer than Battery Hill, although not quite as steep. Being a bit out of shape at the moment I was not surprised to come last but hopefully the others did not have to wait to long for me? On reaching the top we found out that Johnny had  abandoned with a puncture at Alfriston. This was a shame as we would have happily stayed with him to fix it if we had known but Johnny had said he didn’t want to hold up the group any further (abandoned rider number five) and had phoned home for a pick up.

Like me Malc is glad Xmas is over!
Just two massive climbs lay between us and refreshments at Beachy Head. First up was the climb up past Cuckmere Haven . The road here was resurfaced a couple of years ago and so this was an absolute pleasure to ride. After a quick regrouping, we hit the slopes of the Beachy Head climb. In the sunshine this climb was even more enjoyable than normal. One of the things I like most about it is that with all the switchbacks you can see all the riders strung out ahead. Derek and I had our own competition to see who would be last, I won! Reaching the pub I was pleased to see the familiar sight of Shirley’s bike propped up outside. Half our party now headed for home but the rest of us headed inside for some well-deserved refreshments.

Having arranged to meet up with the others at The Rocksalt at Bexhill , I was content to stay with Shirley and Matt for the remainder of the route. This was fortuitous as Matt’s front tub started to deflate. We pumped it up but as soon as the pump was taken off, the valve core came out as well. In the end we had to leave the extension hose on the valve, leaving it to flap around. This got Matt to Bexhill but by then the problem had got worse and sadly Shirley and Matt would have to abandon the chance of more drinks at Rocksalt and walk home instead.

Many thanks to all who came out and made it such a fun day. I expect we will do the same ride next year although I will replot the route to avoid Horse-walk for 2107.
Safe riding in 2017!

Steve C

Friday, 2 December 2016

30/12 /2016 Wednesday Chain Gang – Ice Cold in Sussex

Last night we had perfect conditions in every way other than the temperature – dry and little wind, but freezing, literally. This did not stop 17 riders turning up for the ‘chainy’, the fools! There followed a pre-eminently sensible discussion on the conditions, it being cold enough to freeze the eyelashes off a pig. Sluice Lane was adjudged clear of standing water and ice. We discussed the likelihood of moisture condensing on the road surface, especially the tar strips, and then freezing. We agreed that the moisture content of the air was low and that the risk was negligible. Risk assessment complete.

There were two newbies, only one of whom I managed to speak with before the start.

‘What’s your name?’ I asked.
‘I’m Rovers’ he replied. Blimey, that sounded posh, a bit like ‘Travers’ or ‘Elvers’, so I assumed he was with Lord B.
‘Listen everyone, this is Rovers!’ I announced to the freezing throng.
‘Er, no, I’m Elliot, but I ride with Rovers…’ he clarified.

How we laughed! Well, ok, how I laughed. It did make me giggle. Stewart, let me know if I need to explain the joke to you.

I said we should set off as one group, as the usual Ultras were thin on the ground and those present were reluctant, the plan being that the naturally faster riders would be off the front before long. In practice, this was me and the two newbies, both of whom were quick. I looked around for more, but one of them told me ‘it’s just us three’. Could we keep this up? Well, not with me in tow – they very politely eased off a few times to let me catch back on, but we were caught by a largish group by the Herbrand Walk level-crossing. It was good whilst it lasted.

I guess I’ll get to the point upfront; this was not a tidy chain gang. I’m not going to write a long list of do’s and don’ts here, or a long list of rules (we’re not that sort of club), just sprinkle a few reminders along the way as there has been plenty of discussion since.

First, it is better (for which you can read safer) to single-up between the Herbrand Walk level-crossing and the Star Inn. This is because the road is narrow and twisty, with two narrow bridges on it, on which cars can appear with little space or time in which to avoid them. The one nearer the Star Inn is a tight left-right, with poor vision, but the first and less obvious bridge is also hazardous. Single-up or file-up means ‘ride in single file’. Now, I am not interested in policing this, so as with all these things it is UP TO YOU to take responsibility for your actions. So, you might think it’s safe to go two-abreast at some point, or to overtake someone. Fine – that’s your decision and you can take the consequences for it. The club has been clear in what it recommends.

Anyway, from the back of the group it was clear that folk were finding it hard to find a reasonable common pace. Spooky Hill loomed large. I have learnt that it’s probably best for me to be at the back of the group for this part of the ride, as I can become a hazard to others who are stronger on the hills than me. Perhaps the spread of abilities is what led to people riding three and four abreast at the top of the slope.

Second then, is a reminder that going three or four abreast increases the risk of a crash. It’s not so much about cars at the top of Spooky – you can see car lights coming – but more about the actions of others. The road is narrow and has a crappy, pot-holed margin. Rider one, on the inside, veers to the right to avoid a yawning chasm, forcing rider two into rider three, and then into four… It couldn’t happen, you shout! Well, read on. My other concern about this sort of riding is that it leads to a feeling of ‘anything goes’ when, in fact, anything does not go (sorry).

On we rolled. I managed to catch the group on the slope (I’m much better downhill than up!) and there was a rolling turn or two. About two-thirds of the way from Spooky to the roundabout, I found myself at the front. There is a new pothole, although it’s more like a sinkhole – not very wide but deep. No time to gesture, just to shout ‘hole!’. The rider behind went over it, but survived. The rider after that survived also, but something happened in the group and a rider went down. Yep, these things happen, but two things made this a more likely occurrence – the uneven group pace and the erratic movement of riders. Thankfully, the result was some grazes and bruises, but we were travelling at a good speed and I think the rider was lucky not to hurt himself more seriously. Or, heaven forfend, his bike (shudders).

So, third, give each other space and avoid overlapping your front wheel with the rear wheel of the rider in front. If they need to flick out suddenly, you’ll be out of harm’s way. Ride consistently and smoothly; look back before you move out; let people know what you intend to do. Be consistent and communicate. To do both well you need to concentrate – this is not a wild, free-for-all, but a disciplined ride.

We made it to the roundabout and shared a number of tasteless jokes about the fallen rider and Neil Shier’s winter stockings, the gallows humour of diehard chain-gangers. I guess it is a pretty hard-core activity – I know my non-cycling friends and family think we are nuts, riding fast in the dark and cold weather. It’s a buzz, isn’t it, and that’s partly why we do it, breaking away from the constraints of work and home. But as Dan ‘Confucius’ Selmes wisely says ‘he who rides on Wednesday must work on Thursday’, and we don’t want to arrive at the office / factory / massage parlour covered in cuts and bruises, do we?

So, we do it because it’s exciting, fun and a hard midweek workout. It can be all those things and safe; nearly all of the chains have happy endings. The chains I enjoy the least are those where I have to give people ‘reminders’, or where it gets hairy. Last night was mostly just messy, rather than scary, but we had a faller and that’s one faller too many.

So, fourth, if you do get shouted at for some reason, please do not take it personally. The person shouting to you and others is doing so because:

a   They have to shout to make themselves heard.
b   They have as much adrenaline in their system as you, so words can be sharper than intended.
c   They perceive a risk in the way you are riding.
d   They want you and everyone else to have a great time – hard, fast and safe riding.

There are those in the club who would put things more forcibly, but they also acknowledge that we all make mistakes. So, allow a margin for error and exercise some give and take.

And finally, rider etiquette. As I said last week, those that can, should i.e. if you are in a well-matched group, you should take your turns at the front. That is the deal. You cannot save yourself for a sprint finish as we are NOT racing – it is a fast group training ride to prepare you for more competitive events. There is some friendly competition, but you have to earn the right by taking your turns!

Those hanging at the back should do so because they are struggling to keep up, or need a rest before their next turn. This is fine, but you need to tell the rider in front! Say ‘GO’ to them, or ‘I’m hanging on’. People ride in a group that is too tough for them in order to improve – this also is fine, although you will probably get dropped.

Malc D led us back across the marshes to Herbrand at a steadier pace, looking for our fallen comrade who we surmised had returned to Bexhill as recommended (he was not alone, and we spoke to him once we arrived). The return leg was a bit better than the outward leg, but again enthusiasm got the better of some and we ended up with three and four abreast. It’s not on chaps – we weren’t doing it a few weeks ago, so why are we doing it now?

How should you ride on the chain gang? There is a short animation on the club blog that shows you how it should work – ‘rolling turns’ that give everyone in the group a hard ride and then a rest. It’s a kind of interval training, the advantage being that you get pushed harder than you would do on your own and the group can also achieve higher speeds. This sharpens your riding skills. You can find other videos on YouTube.

Ride safely, Neil