A friend with knees is a friend indeed

Team Pedal, complete and in Dover

Team Pedal, complete and in Dover

We’re in France! We weren’t lucky enough to have internet last night so here’s the progress from the past couple of days. Jen and Megan have finally made way for me to write an update, so grab yourself some hot chocolate and settle in for the long haul.

Yesterday was day 5, and the second big day in a row since Jen’s knee went. Things didn’t start particularly well when I realised the route I’d painstakingly planned in on the laptop hadn’t been transferred to the GPS, so I had to organise a new route hunched over the 3″ GPS display. After leaving Blacklands campsite (http://www.blacklandsfarm.co.uk/) (who generously donated to the team and had great facilities) we made a good pace, and our slightly-before-mid-point of Tunbridge Wells drew closer and closer. The route through Sussex and Kent has been picturesque, and it’s a shame we couldn’t spend longer touring around the back roads and checking out the many sights we had to shoot past, but we are on a mission so there’s no time to lose.

We met the support team in Tunbridge Wells and stocked up on suncream and water, as well as giving Jen’s knee a much-needed ice session. While sat at a set of traffic lights someone from a couple of cars back had dashed up to our car, thrust in £20 and said “Good luck!”. There have been so many incidents like this that it’s been a really great experience travelling through the UK and we’ve all been blown away by the support we’ve seen.

Jen pushing on near Folkstone

Jen pushing on near Folkstone

Unfortunately our day took a turn for the worse, and with around 40 miles to go Jen’s knee went on the pain scale from 2 (out of 10) to 8. We were about 3/4 of the way up our second major hill climb, which apparantly gets used for the Tour de France, so limped off the side of the road and took refuge outside the Green Cross Inn (URL). We owe them a pint or two because as soon as we arrived they offered a bag of ice and a teatowel, and didn’t mind at all that we were obviously cheapskate cyclists with our own food. Dad and Chris arrived a couple of minutes later with more Voltarol gel and some giant ibuprofen. When the pain had subsided a little we pushed on, but made (literally) painfully slow progress until 3 miles out of Folkstone when Jen’s knee gave up for the day and brought us to a grinding halt. Anyone struggling to choose who to sponsor should definitely pick Jen (http://www.justgiving.com/Jen-Gallagher1) who’s not just having to do a huge distance each day but is also going through a fair amount of hardship at the same time.

Expert medical aid at the Green Cross Inn

Expert medical aid at the Green Cross Inn

Day 6 has been much easier, and we had time to meet up with Barry, a family friend and who works for Dover Community Radio (http://www.dovercommunityradio.co.uk/). We got a couple of great team photos and a quick radio interview, as well as a long overdue catch up.

We did cheat a little here, and had to jump in the car to get through customs and onto the ferry. We had intended to cycle those 500m, but thought an extra £90 was a little extortionate for such a short distance. We’ll make it up by making a wrong turn somewhere!

Cycling to our current campsite near St Omer was an absolute pleasure. With less than 200m of height gain it was a welcome relief to Jen and we made the campsite in good time, ready for an afternoon off. I did find that leading the group around Calais I was constantly second guessing myself. Am I on the right side of the road? Is this guy going to give way to me? Am I going the wrong way down a one-way street? Once we hit the countryside I was much more relaxed and settled in to a gentle pace. So far French drivers have given us a good wide berth even on busy roads. Maybe it’s a good thing we’ve got English text all over our cycling lycra – everyone just assumes we have no idea what we’re doing and steers clear!

Cycle on the right...

Cycle on the right…

So we’re now 408 miles into the trip, with roughly 680 to go. We have climbed around 1500m most days, totalling 6742m, and have cycled for approximately 55 hours (including stops). With the exception of our start in North Wales it’s been brilliant sun and clear skies, and we’ve cycled through the hottest day of 2013 so far. Fortunately noone’s burned, and we’re building up some excellent (read: ridiculous) tans. So far we’ve had 3 punctures (so far Jen is winning the “best deflation sound” award) and I’m turning them around in under 5 minutes. It was definitely worth the practice.

Pretty much every update we write needs to have a huge thanks to the support team. Chris and Dad have worked tirelessly to make and break camp, keep us fed and watered, shadow us taking pictures and being on hand for emergency calls when injuries need tending to. When they volunteered I’m sure they were under the impression that they’d have hours to kill and could go off on little adventures. Little did they realise they’d be working harder than us!

Tonight we sit here optimistic. There are hurdles ahead and we’re at the behest of Jen’s knee, but the hills for the next couple of days are likely to be fewer and gentler. We have two big days (80-100 miles each) before our next half day.

Nice flat roads in Northern France

Nice flat roads in Northern France

Thanks, a last minute appeal, and GoPro testing

On Thursday we set off for our 1000 mile cycle to Switzerland. We’ve made good progress with sponsorship but we still need a bit more to reach our targets so spread the word and gently coerce everyone into helping out!

We’ve been helped along the way by too many people to list, and we haven’t even set off yet, so if you’ve provided technical assistance, gadgetry, donations, moral support or even just friendly banter: cheers! Your reward is getting to see me looking silly for a couple of minutes… enjoy:

Portable Interblogopipes

Our forthcoming cycling adventure to Switzerland from North Wales is almost upon us. It has fallen to me, as the geekiest of the group, to sort out anything technology-related for the trip, and this week’s task is to get an Internet connection sorted so we can blog progress updates at the end of the day.

Some campsites will have WiFi, which eases the problem. Some will only have mobile internet and some will have neither. Aside from the usual hardening of the laptop connected to the wireless network there’s not a great deal to be done for the first or last options.

There are a few sites, for example http://prepaidwithdata.wikia.com/wiki/Prepaid_SIM_with_data which lists the various options available for mobile data in your target country. The best offer at present appears to be £50 (plus a £10 set-up fee) for 3Gb of data, which is valid for 30 days. This is still quite an investment, and I’m not convinced that we will need that much data given the use of WiFi when it’s available. This offer also isn’t valid for smartphones, so you need a mobile internet dongle at extra cost.

With that in mind we’ve decided to use EE’s roaming data add-on which provides 200Mb for £30. I can then use my iPhone as an access point so we can use the Macbook Pro to author blog posts.

This should be more than enough bandwidth if we’re thoughtful about how we use it. With that in mind I’m preparing the following to make life easier while we’re there:

  1. Offline maps. We’ve downloaded the map tiles for the route from OpenFietsMap (http://www.openfietsmap.nl/) which provides bike-specific OpenStreetMap maps for download. These are loaded into Garmin Basecamp, which is a bit cumbersome but means we can do map routing and elevation profiles without using data.
  2. Image resizer. I normally use Pixelmator to resize images, but Mac OSX has a handy workflow utility which means you can automatically resize/resample photos. When you’re on WiFi uploading a 4Mb image isn’t a problem, but for our daily progress reports a 200Kb image is more appropriate. Once we’re back to WiFi we can put some higher-resolution images up.
  3. Video re-encoder. We’ll probably upload videos only when we’ve got a WiFi connection, but just in case there’s something we really want to share I’ve figured out how to use Camtasia to resize and reencode the video so it looks good but is small enough not to use the entire bandwith allowance.

One of the biggest problems when you’re concerned about going over a data allowance is that when you connect a laptop to the Internet it goes off and checks for updates, lets Apple know that iTunes is there, and so on. I have a handy tool installed on my Macbook Pro called Little Snitch, which acts as a firewall and keeps an eye on all your outgoing Internet connections. Normally we think of firewalls as protecting what comes in to the computer, but to make sure every last bit of data is saved I’ve created a special profile which doesn’t allow any outgoing connections except for mDNSResponder (otherwise DNS doesn’t work) and Chrome. When that profile’s active nothing except Chrome is connected to the network, so I’m not going to automatically start doing a backup of my entire machine in the middle of a campsite in France. Winner.

Little Snitch Chrome rules

Only allowing network traffic from Chrome in your firewall keeps your usage down.

In other news my components turned up today so the bike is back together, just in time for a good bout of rain. Fortunately I have rollers! While I was reassembling the bike I gave the forks a good test, pushing and pulling them against the frame. Although everything was flush and tight, and there was no play to be felt, I could make out the sound of grease moving ever so slightly. I’m not feeling confident! If the new stem and headset, and full strip-down doesn’t fix it I’m giving up and taking it to a local bike shop.

Car collision fun

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So, a disappointing end to the May Team Pedal training weekend. I was in charge of route planning and navigation, and was really excited about the route I’d planned down towards Stocksbridge and then all around Huddersfield, overall racking up 78 miles in good time.

We set off, sans Jen as she was under the weather, in high spirits and I was optimistic that I could finally navigate a whole route successfully.

The first 7 miles were pretty easy as we followed the cycle route towards Dewsbury, and then we quickly got on our way following a few A roads, hitting a couple of hills, getting to a certain point then turning back to take the correct exit. It was an interesting morning and the route was proving to be quite enjoyable.

Me and Ryan were just heading down an A road that connected the two villages we were cycling through, and came to a roundabout. I’m pretty confident with roundabouts, I enter them at speed , I’m comfortable with my signalling and this time was no different. Ryan was about 20ft ahead of me, already at the exit, and I was just rounding the roundabout signalling to exit and a car pulled out onto the roundabout without seeing me. From what I can remember I tried to veer back to hug the centre of the roundabout to get out of the cars way, but not fast enough, the car hit me and knocked me off my bike. Luckily, I was no worse off than a throbbing right side and a sore head, no broken bones or blood (aside from a slight cut to the ankle), but my bike , however, is in the wars.

My rear wheel was pinned under the car causing it to bend, damaging the rear derailleur and the structure of the wheel. Yesterday was spent attempting to truer the wheel, but alas it has to be replaced, along with a new derailleur.

A few more minor damages include my wind jacket and clippy shoes, they were ripped and damaged on the road, and over all my helmet… which has some pretty hefty cracks and dents in the structure. Jen made a very good point on the IMPORTANCE OF HELMETS when she pointed at the crack that now runs all up the right hand side and said: “see, imagine if that was your skull”. The thwack that my head made when it hit the ground (and this was only a very minor accident) was enough to freak me out and give me some rotten headaches for the next day, so thinking about the consequences of not having a helmet on for a fall like that is pretty scary. I’ll definitely be investing in another Giro Monza helmet again, thats for sure.

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The shortest summer on record

On Saturday I completed my first substantial solo ride of the year: ~90 miles from Bangor to Llanrwst, Denbigh, St Asaph and home. For the first 65 miles I was pondering this blog post and thinking about how I could word a careful apology. After all, we’re going on about training, hardship and challenge. The problem was that nothing really felt like “training”, not for the first two thirds at least.

Genevieve, my trusty steed!

Genevieve, my trusty steed! Cable-tying my jacket above the bottle cage worked pretty well.

Sure, I was pushing myself and trying to maintain a reasonable pace. And true, I wasn’t hanging around taking pictures or jumping in icy rivers to cool down, but when you’re cruising along quiet B-roads in the countryside with a perfect blue sky and no wind it doesn’t get much better. It certainly doesn’t feel like training and feels a lot more like a great thing to do on a perfect day.

This was my first time riding east of Llanrwst with the exception of the coastal route to Chester, and every hill I crested led to an even more amazing view. The rolling hills strike a marked contrast to the Ogwen valley’s aggressiveness, and I had to make a conscious effort to keep looking at the road and not the countryside.

Above Llanrwst towards Llanddoged

Above Llanrwst towards Llanddoged. It became much hillier after this point.

Spring (at least when we get the sunny portions) has got to be my favourite time to ride. There’s so much going on around you as you pass through different areas, and at the moment there’s plenty of young lambs running around, fields being bashed, rolled, ploughed and prepared, building work, and so on to keep you thinking.

I planned the route the night before, and came up with a few options, mostly staying within the confines of Snowdonia. This route piqued my interest though because it was predominantly in areas I didn’t know, and calm, sunny days are the best to go exploring. Google Street View is now in my list of indispensable tools for cycling and probably helped me save half an hour over the course of the day by looking at each major turn I needed to make in advance. I didn’t try to commit each one to memory like I did the town names I was passing through, but each time I’d be riding along and think “this looks familiar” before seeing the turn and taking it. No faff, far less map-checking and generally improved enjoyment that comes with the confidence that you’re on the right track.

Needing to check the map

Needing to check the map. This junction beat me and I had to resort to the map.

The one big mistake I did make, and am still paying for, was forgetting sun cream. As I pootled down towards Aber I remembered and thought “aah, I’m not going back now, I faffed too much before I set off”. Bad Idea. My arms and legs are still bright red two days on, with razor sharp lines where my jersey, shorts, gloves and socks end. It did make me think about how ridiculous we’re going to look when we arrive in Locarno. Fingerless gloves are going to leave an interesting semi-permanent tan.

So the questions is: what happened after 66 miles which made it feel like training? The answer is two-fold: Conwy council and a lack of food. The latter wasn’t too serious, but I took half a sandwich too few so spent the last hour feeling like it was harder work than it should have been. Lesson learned. The former was much less pleasant.

Whenever I’ve cycled the national cycle route from Bangor to Chester I’ve always headed up through Old Colwyn towards Llysfaen, skipping out the Colywn Bay seafront. This was generally not on purpose. On the way home I thought I’d follow the front, but was quickly disappointed as the cyclepath deteriorated from high-quality smooth tarmac to a broken, rough, uneven path which weaved around lampposts making it clear the cycle lane was an unimportant afterthought. In fairness some sections had good intentions, with one including a cycle lane separated from the road and the pedestrian area with low concrete bollards, but the thin layer of red tarmac that was applied to make the cycle lane obvious has rapidly fallen into disrepair, and was so juddery I came out the other side with bruised palms and a sore back.

Perfect cycle path at Llanddulas

Perfect cycle path at Llanddulas. If only Colwyn Bay was like this!

Overall a great day out, and once I’d eaten and recovered definitely felt like another day would be feasible. Of course the “Welsh summer” had something to say about it and Sunday morning was a windy rainfest of epic proportions. Fingers’ crossed for another few days like that before we set off!

Can you beat the power of optimism?

So we’ve been planning our first official training session, and there’s a number of options. So far the best option seems to be going from Bangor to Chester.Directions

 

Now, the first thing that’s been pointed out is that this is somewhat further than we originally agreed. When I say “somewhat”, I mean 30 miles further, but there’s method behind the madness!

With a generally westerly wind and a pretty much flat profile it makes an ideal low-resistance run. Add to that the North Wales train line zipping handily back to Bangor, and you’ve got a low commitment option just in case things go bad.
Elevation profileOver the past few years the North Wales coastal route has seen some pretty great improvements. When I first rode it there was a pretty horrific single-file section near Conwy right next to the A55. Thanks to some fairly significant investment the route now has a well maintained windy path through the sand dunes and a series of bridges to keep you off the expressway.

The main question now is: how far can we go, and does having the railway so accessible make giving up easier? Being the first big ride we’re doing together it’s easy to start with optimism, but after a couple of hours the novelty wears off a little and you start thinking “there’s still quite a way to go yet”. For the bigger rides, it’s always nice to get the remaining miles down to 15-20, and suddenly its back to the original self confidence as I get back into the comfort zone. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the ride (it is the reason I ride after all!), but I guess without that challenge it wouldn’t feel like such an accomplishment afterwards!