As previously mentioned, I have had mildly stressful year or so. Dead mother, broken ankle, moving house, emergency gallbladder surgery, homeschooling whilst working from home full time during the pandemic – the usual.
The last few weeks have been particularly trying though. Getting a new bathroom fitted. Blocked pipes in the village leading to overflowing sewage in our garden.
A street-wide maggot infestation. Our dog being diagnosed with cancer and having to have a sizeable chunk cut out of him.
Poor Benny. Fortunately, the test results were as good as we could have hoped for with cancer – spindle cell, which doesn’t tend to metastasise, and doesn’t need chemo, just surgery. The downside was that, to get clear margins, the area removed was huuuuge. He had a drain sticking out of him for about five days, and carried on bleeding for a few days more. We had to keep him calm and as inactive as possible, so Mr Toast and I ended up taking it in turns sleeping on a camping mattress in the living room with Benny. That way Benny wouldn’t be tempted to tackle the stairs (or the bed), and we’d also save our carpets (downstairs is laminate, huzzah!).
Benny eventually stopped bleeding from the drain, so naturally, he popped a stitch on the same day. Instead of leaking from his drain site on his belly, he was leaking from his side. It’s rather disconcerting having a dog with a hole in his side (and also to have a living room covered in bloody towels and puppy pads…). Fortunately he’s now well on his way to recovery – all healed up, and no longer on mind-altering drugs – but it was an upsetting and tiring time (have you ever tried to sleep with a bleeding dog smashing into your face with his cone of shame?).
On top of all this, I had Rutland Cycling refusing my refund request. I believed that I was entitled to one under the Consumer Rights Act (as I’d already had the bike repaired at an authorised Giant dealer). They believed that they had the right to attempt a second repair themselves, as they didn’t do the first one. We argued. I called Giant, they said that I was probably entitled to a refund. I called the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, they said that I was probably entitled to a refund. The good people of the Singletrack forum said that I was entitled to a refund.
Unfortunately, I had so much going on with the bleeding cancerous dog, bathroom refurbishment shenanigans and assorted maggoty sewage horror that I reluctantly accepted that I was probably going to end up with the bike back. It probably wouldn’t be that bad – hopefully any issues would be 100% fixed with the new parts this time, and there was a lot I loved about that bike. So I waited.
As our half-term trip to Dalby fast approached, it became apparent that my Intrigue wasn’t going to be joining me. Rutland had had my bike four over four weeks, with no word for the last two, despite repeatedly promising to keep me updated. I once again asked for a refund, this time under the section of the Consumer Rights Act that dictates that any repair has to be done ‘in a reasonable time’, and ‘without inconvenience to the consumer’. I didn’t think that being without a bike for four weeks was reasonable, and as I went on yet another mountain biking trip without a full susser, I was feeling fairly fucking inconvenienced.
Unsurprisingly, Rutland disagreed. They said that “standard warranties to take between 4 to 6 weeks” and “4 weeks for a warranty claim to be processed isn’t unusual or considered as an unreasonable timeframe”. Which would be fine if it was an older bike claiming on a warranty, rather than a 4 month old bike covered by the Consumer Rights Act (which is completely separate from warranties).
I continued to document my woes on the Singletrack forum. And, as is oft the way with STW, I got really good advice. Some people suggested credit card chargebacks – which didn’t apply in my situation, as I’d bought it on my debit card. But one chap responded that you can also do it on debit card purchases… so I gave it a go. For good measure, I also posted a ranting Battle Karen thread on Twitter.
Long story short, Barclays forced a refund to my account, which Rutland finally seemed to have accepted and apologised to me on Twitter, and STW continues to be full of heroes.
Much like when you google medical symptoms, googling issues around ebikes can be a fairly depressing read. I’d always been a bit baffled by the bad reputation ebikes had for reliability – after all, dear Voltron, my faithful Lapierre Overvolt HT, has served me without complaint for nearly 2000 miles over four years (most of which have been done in the last year). Never had the motor or battery serviced, it just goes. That might be jinxing it, but to be fair, old Volty’s done good.
So when my new Liv started having issues, I started googling. I found that quite a few people with Giant Reigns, Trances and Liv Intrigues had experienced problems very similar to mine. Disconcertingly, several reported that the issues were actually quite hard to resolve, requiring replacement or refunds. But as my bike went in I though, “I’m sure it’ll be fine!”.
It was not fine.
As my Intrigue was returned to my care, I planned a visit to the Forest of Dean. I wanted to see if I could tackle the Verderers any better after my skills course. I wanted to try the newly re-opened Countdown and Launchpad on my mighty beast.
Obviously it’d be silly just to take the Intrigue out without checking first, so I took it for a sub 6-mile loop one lunchtime around the local roads. It was unseasonably pleasant for September, and the bike didn’t experience any issues. Huzzah! I booked a night at the Ross-on-Wye Premier Inn, and started looking forward to my little weekend jaunt.
The day came, and my bike was popped on to charge. When it came time to load up the car, I put my bags in, and rolled the Intrigue out. I switched it on to check the battery, to see if I needed to take the charger in case it hadn’t had time to fully charge, the lights came on… and immediately went off again.
You have got to be shitting me.
I confess, I actually had a bit of a cry. My plans of merrily shredding were in ruins. RUINS. Perhaps I should just let Mr Toast go in my place, rather than wasting the hotel room. I could spend the next few days sulking.
Instead, I remembered that I’m in the incredibly fortunate position of having two ebikes and hell, I still have the Professor – but I confess that I’m not entirely sure how my knees would cope now on a non-ebike, and my last memory of riding the Professor at FoD involved me vomiting halfway up the climb…
Voltron had tackled the Forest of Dean before, and could do so again. Sure, I’d probably Countdown and Launchpad a miss, but I could still have a good time. To the west!
Soon, Voltron and I were relaxing in a Premier Inn, which was much like every other Premier Inn (which is why we like them – clean, comfortable, and bike-friendly).
The next day I chatted with the local Giant dealer about my dead Intrigue. To be honest, I feel pretty sorry for them – I don’t think that a huge number of their bikes have these issues, but enough to be a pain in the arse, and without an easy solution as I don’t think the error codes always give a true impression of what’s going wrong. I’m going for a refund – as I told them, I can’t trust the bike, and as a woman who rides alone (not to mention with shit knees), it’s a bit of a dealbreaker – so now it’s got to be couriered back to Rutland. Gutting.
ANYWAY, back to the Forest of Dean. Breakfast was scoffed, the room was emptied and the bike loaded, and off I went.
It was a beautiful, warm sunny day (in September!), and Cannop was packed. Usually when I visit FoD it’s mid-week, so this was the first time I had to go into the overflow carpark. After the trek to the parking machines that actually accept card (because despite the optimistic Ring-o signs, no-one has signal, and who carries coins in a pandemic?), it was time to set off.
And… it was great. I pretty much felt like a riding goddess. I took every uphill switchback easily. I took nearly every downhill easily (there’s one left-hander I still can’t clean fully early on). The final descent made me wonder how the hell I’d ever had problems with them on my visit back in the early summer. I blasted down the Dragon’s Back to the sound of the Beastie Boy’s Sabotage. It was ace.
Feeling smug and confident, I decided to tackle Countdown and Launchpad after all. Now, you’d probably be expecting from my previous writings to be going, “Aha! So this is where she’s going to come a cropper!”
But no, I made it to the bottom without stopping, falling, or comedy injuries. Which is just as well, because those trails are FAST. I imagine that I had a similar demeanour to the shitting terrified deer in Castle Crashers. There were signs saying, “Check your speed”. Yeah, not a problem there.
I carried on riding the Verderers, and did have an off on the aforementioned left turn. What can I say? I am not an ambi-turner. I think I took it a bit too quick and didn’t make the turn enough – I probably could have salvaged it if I’d just turned hard and held off the brakes. Instead, I held onto the brakes hard, and fell off… slowly. Splat. Still, every other bit nailed, so still good.
After that, I did my customary green loop, with a diversion off to Mallard’s Pike cafe for rainbow cake (unless my Slimming World consultant is reading this, in which case I had a salad).
As I still had a decent chunk of battery left, I decided to do a third lap of the Verderers. I was feeling fairly mashed by this point, but still had a great ride. My left thigh was screaming, my arms were aching, but I still tried to push myself (and this time, I didn’t fall off).
I rolled back to the car thoroughly pleased with myself and Voltron and, when I returned home, was even more smug when I saw my Strava times. I’d achieved 18 personal bests, and knocked 7 minutes off my previous best time.
It’s been a bit of a mixed bag over the last couple of weeks, to say the least.
Firmly in the ‘Huzzah’ pile was our visit to the Malverns Classic at Castle Eastnor. Last time we visited in 2018 it was a bit stressful – I am not a natural camper, and Mini Toast was just under two years old. I threw my back out lifting him, he ended up breaking the tines off the fork he was eating with. Not good times.
This time was very different. Mini Toast is now a robust five year old. He still can’t pedal, despite our best efforts, but he proved on the Strider course that he could certainly balance, zipping around the track and lifting his legs on the mild downhills. He absolutely loved it, so we’re wondering how we can use that enthusiasm to get him to try pedalling more – unfortunately he’s inherited his parents’ overly cautious nature and fear of failure.
Camping was also more tolerable, with our new inflatable tent from Decathalon. Roomy, and a lot easier to get up and down than the old beast.
Festival portaloos are still a horror though. Even when they’re relatively clean, there’s the awful smell that permeates everything, and not being able to properly wash your hands afterwards is a bit ick. I AM A DELICATE FLOWER.
Mr Toast was getting all moon eyed over the retro bikes, and I foresee some sort of weird 90s monstrosity making an appearance in our garage soon. We also spotted Hans Rey a few times, including successfully making the lake crossing. Although I didn’t actually see that, due to being too short – Mini Toast did, as he was perched on dad’s shoulders, and Mr Toast did, because he’s 6ft 6.
I’m genuinely impressed how much stuff there was for kids and families, including free fairground rides, dodgems, the Strider track, kids’ races, etc. I’m hoping next time we go Mini Toast might be a bit more into biking, and able to hang out with the Little Rippers lot! It was very entertaining to see tiny children bopping around to late 80s/early 90s dance.
I’d hoped to demo some bikes over the weekend, so we didn’t take our bikes – but alas, there was nothing to demo. But it didn’t matter – I’d be able to get out over the Chase on the Monday, with my Intrigue. Which brings me onto the ‘Boooooo!’.
On one climb towards the end of our stay at Glentress, my bike switched itself off, and wouldn’t come back on – the lights would come on for a moment, before going off again. I was a bit wary, but after ten minutes or so it was able to come back on. I resolved to keep an eye on it in case it happened again, but it was solid.
Which brings us onto Monday’s ride, and I bet you can guess where this is going. I’d done a couple of laps of the blue, and was about to embark on Follow the Dog – just under 5 miles, at that point. I was rolling down the end of first section towards the exit when off went my bike.
I was annoyed, and resolved that it needed to go in for warranty – I’d already planned to get it in because of the dropper post having a bit of play in it. I’d just wait for it to come back on, and finish my ride, and hoped that it wouldn’t cut out again.
Only it didn’t come back on. Every few minutes I pressed the button, the lights would come on, then immediately off again. Oh dear.
I pedalled my way back to the car park, testing my bike again before popping it on the rack. Still nothing. Drove the hour or so home, took it off the rack – still nothing.
By the time it went into the local Giant dealer some days later, it managed to come back on. I’d started looking at various forums, and it looks like Giant ebikes have had issues with waterproofing for a couple of years, which haven’t been resolved. The diagnostic codes suggested my bike indeed had issues with water getting in, so now I have to pay £45 for additional waterproofing… as it’s not covered under warranty.
I’m a little bit salty about it – why should I have to pay anything for an issue with a brand new bike? It’s soured my attitude to the brand slightly – my Lapierre Overvolt has ridden in rain and through water crossings with no issues, and is up to nearly 2000 miles (compared to the Intrigue’s 270-odd). I was considering Giant for an e-gravel bike, but I might give them a swerve if they can’t cope with the British weather.
That said, I genuinely love my Intrigue – it rides great when it works, and I hate the idea that I’ll have to get a refund if the further waterproofing fails. But it does seem to be a bit an issue to sell a bike in the UK that can’t cope with water. It’s a mountain bike, not the Wicked Witch of the West. Hopefully the waterproofing will put an end to any more random cut outs!
Long term readers will know that Mr Toast and myself usually venture north of the border once a year. It’s a tradition that began with our honeymoon in 2008, and continued almost yearly for our anniversary.
We had a couple of years out when Mini-Toast was born, but we carried on once he was a toddler. Obviously last year was a plague-ridden washout, but this year, we were determined to get back up there.
Unfortunately, our anniversary holidays are a no-goer for the next 13 years, as our anniversary falls during term time. So, summer holidays it is!
Now, the term “summer holiday” often comes with certain expectations. Blue skies, warm sunshine, happy frolicks in the woods. To be fair, we’ve often had changeable weather in Scotland, but this year it pretty much pissed it down every single day.
As we arrived late Saturday evening, my first ride was on Sunday. The cunning plan was that I’d ride to Glentress in the morning, then I’d meet my loving husband and child for lunch at the Peel Cafe, and it’d be all lovely and charming.
I rode along the old railway trail alongside the river, and arrived at Glentress during steady drizzle. I made my way up the blue, which is pretty much unchanged, chuffed at clearing all the corners easily. My plan was to do the climb to Buzzard’s Nest carpark, the blue descent to the cafe, then the full blue and greens after lunch.
What actually happened was that I reached Buzzard’s Nest, and it promptly started absolutely hammering it down. Literal streams flowed down the track, and I could barely see. It was impressive, because the initial descent out of the carpark has pretty heavy tree cover, yet somehow provided no shelter.
As I began my descent, I was decidedly shakey. My vision was clouded from excessive rain and foggy glasses with rain-coated lenses, and I was on a fast downhill that I’d not ridden in over two years. Marvellous.
I freely admit that I walked on some of the berms, because I couldn’t see shit, and felt it would be somewhat poor form if I managed to mash myself on my first ride – especially with my family waiting for lunch.
I made it to the bottom, feeling slightly grumpy and downhearted. I associate Glentress with flowing speed, not soggy terror. Fortunately the trail builders and Glentress’ terrain ensure a solid ride, even in the worst conditions, so I didn’t need to worry as much as I did.
Still, I was relieved as I pulled up at the cafe, looking much like a gender swapped Swamp Thing. Mini-Toast looked equal parts repulsed and amused, and I sat awkwardly at a table with my family, feeling decidedly sorry for the poor sod that has to clean the seats after filthy bikers have finished their snack stops.
After lunch the weather had calmed down considerably, and the male Toasts went on a gentle walk. I decided to do the blue up to Buzzard’s Nest again, as well as a few laps of the skills course and the greens. I felt a lot more comfortable this time around, because it turns out that actually being able to see is quite confidence inspiring.
Wanting to see more of the area by bike, my next ride was a gravel ride. After a recommendation on STW, I purchased the Glentress to Bowbeat route from www.bikevalleytrails.co.uk. Yes, I could have plotted a route myself, but it’s nice to have one that’s been confirmed to be rideable – especially when it comes with a written description to confirm the route if the map gets ambiguous for any reason.
The route had more climbing than I expected, mainly due to me misreading “1200m” as “1200ft”. WHOOPS. It was definitely worth it though – there were some incredible views, and in some parts I felt a bit unsettled at how small and insignificant I was compared to the environment I found myself in, and how isolated and alone I was. I found myself suddenly a lot more sympathetic to Lovecraft protagonists…
I gradually made my way closer to the Bowbeat wind farm, creeping ever closer to the turbines. Literally creeping – I’d set off with sub 80% battery, and was paranoid I’d kill the battery too early with all of the climbing.
As I finally rode beneath the turbines, my sense of unease returned. By this point it was less Lovecraftian and more Final Destination, riding underneath giant whirring death blades with warning signs about stuff that can fall off them. In all seriousness though, wind turbines are cool af.
So here I was, at the top… no, wait, there was another climb. The last proper climb of the route, as it turned out, and not particularly long, but steep as hell. Paranoid about my battery, I walked up it, as there was no way I was getting up it on a bike without anything less than max assist – and I wasn’t sure if I had enough juice to complete the route as it was.
The plus side of all that climbing (other than the stunning views) was the long descent into Innerleithen. Again, thete were fantastic views as I worked my way down through the forest, accompanied by sproinging deer. Eventually, I reached the bottom.
It was now simply a matter of riding alongside the river to our cottage, which lay between Innerleithen and Cardrona. Despite the encroaching darkness and my ever-depleting battery, I still kept on stopping for photos, because priorities, yeah?
I arrived back, quite pleased with my adventure. Next time though, 100% battery from the start!
My last day of riding was focused on the trail centre. I did the full blue, but to be honest, I don’t find the post Buzzard’s Nest climb that fun, nor the first couple of descents. Subsequent efforts saw me riding up past the free ride park and joining Blue Velvet instead.
The weather was actually pretty nice, and it felt awesome to be on the trails. I was feeling pretty confident, so I was going to go on some of the novice freeride runs… but I decided against it after seeing an ambulance stationed at Buzzard’s Nest. Best not to tempt fate.
I definitely felt that I’ve improved – I shaved 13 seconds off my previous best ebike run down Good Game, and 21 seconds off my previous non-ebike best. I also started jumping – only on the lower green trail (on which I have a Strava QOM!), because of knowing my limits, but it felt great getting both wheels off the ground (deliberately!).
I have to admit, it’s harder going on these sort of holidays with a family now – two of my three rides were in the evening whilst Mini-Toast was being put to bed. There’s no more carefree riding for hours in the day, or popping Benny into doggy daycare whilst Mr Toast and I ride together. But I wouldn’t change it for the world, and hopefully Mini-Toast will grow to share our love of riding…
Last week I finally did a long overdue skills course. As anyone who has read this blog knows, I’m more than aware of my riding shortcomings, with some fairly major gaps in my core skills such as “the ability to go around corners” and “breathing whilst attempting anything remotely technical”.
My previous skills course some ten years back didn’t really help much. There was a section on jumping. I never managed to jump. There was a section on manuals. I never managed to lift the wheel. There was cornering on tricky corners. I had to be caught as I nearly went over the handlebars on Devil’s Staircase. There was drops. I kept bottling it on Werewolf Drop.
This time I went with SkillsLoop. I’d long accepted that jumping and manuals are off the table, but could Adam at least get me cornering better?
The course first started with an assessment of my basic skills, at which point I didn’t cover myself in glory. Adam quickly identified one issue with my bike set up – my brake levers were angled too far down, which tended to pull my body position too far forward and made braking more jerky. This small change alone made a massive difference to my bike handling.
Then there was body positioning, which had a few tweaks required. Firstly, I tended to keep my body a bit too straight, and my arms almost locked out. Secondly, my left hand has a tendency to drift inwards on the handlebar.
And then there was breathing. As an adult human who has made it to 41 years of age, you’d think that I wouldn’t need to be reminded to breathe, but…
Let’s take a closer look at that, shall we?
Now, to be honest, I did know that I had a tendency to stop breathing when concentrating. Generally, I realise when I make a noise like a balloon having its air let out, and finally start breathing again. Adam pointed out that I literally puff out my cheeks. What I didn’t realise it that I was also completely changing the rest of my posture – my hands slide in on my grips, my elbows drop down, and my knees start hugging the frame.
I am basically a hedgehog.
We did a few basic drills to improve my body positioning, and then it was decided that I was going to learn how to lift the front wheel.
I have never intentionally lifted the front wheel. I’ve tried, but it’s always stayed firmly stuck to the ground. I’ve always just accepted it as one of those things I can’t do.
Well, it turned out that I can do it, I’d just never been told how to do it properly. Adam broke it down into steps, and…
IT’S A MIRACLE, MOTHERFUCKERS!
Words cannot express how happy this made me. How happy it still makes me. I can even apply the technique and lift the front wheel on my hardtail. I’ve been riding around the local roads lifting the front wheel, giggling like a small child.
High from my lifting the front wheel, it was onto cornering. This was where I had to conquer my hedgehog tendencies, and I actually made a fair improvement.
Soon it was time to put that into practice on the trail. One of the things that Adam had told me was not to go too far back off the bike – back when I started mountain biking, I was always told to put my weight back as much as possible when pointing downhill. However, with changes in bike geometry, this meant that my arms were pretty much locked out, and the front of my bike was very twitch and floaty. With my new found advice, I immediately felt a lot more stable and in control.
Then came my nemesis – the Werewolf Drop… bypass. Yes, it’s fairly tragic that I can’t handle the chicken run to a feature. I think I’ve ridden it once or twice, in the first year or so of it being built, but over the last eight years (at least), I’ve always just hopped off the bike and walked down.
So, did I make it? After a couple of less than textbook attempts and a lot of heavy breathing, I managed the first chicane. Huzzah! Another first. You can behold my awesome skills in the video below (just ignore the face…)
The subsequent turns were a bit tougher, but I managed to get around them, albeit with a bit of dabbing. I made the last turn fine, and all of the uphill switchbacks (which I don’t usually), so all in all, I’m in a much better position than I started in, and hope to apply all that I’ve learned at Glentress in just over a week! I finished the day by going off and riding parts of Follow the Dog and all of the new blue, and found that even on the Bombhole, which I’ve been finding a bit more sketchy recently, I was a lot more solid.
I have developed an unfortunate habit of singing, “I’m a funky chicken” whilst riding though, in order to remind myself to lift my elbows up…
For this weekend’s adventures, I travelled across the border to Wales. It’s the first time I’ve ridden in Wales for over five years. To be exact, the last time I rode Llandegla, it was June 14th 2015 – my 35th birthday. I don’t think I even rode the red, instead sticking to the blue.
Today, in an effort to be MORE AWESOME. I decided that I was going to do the red. Everyone uses Llandegla as an example of an ‘easy’ red, I’d done it in the past and it had been quite friendly. What could go wrong?
To start with, the weather was uncooperative. When I booked this escapade, it was supposed to be cloudy, but dry. As the weekend drew closer, the forecast became increasingly grim. First, the prediction of rain, and the percentage chance increasingly ticking up. Then, joy of joys, the suggestion of thunderstorms and lightning in the afternoon. DEEP JOY.
I ventured out this morning, determined not to be deterred (and also determined not to waste the hotel and petrol cost of the weekend). It was, quite frankly, pissing it down.
I worked my way up Llandegla’s climb, getting increasingly saturated. Fortunately, the ebike made easy work of it, and I found myself at the top feeling rather cheerier than I would have done if I’d had to grind up a 2 mile hill in the pissing rain on a normal bike. Naturally, the first time up I stopped to take a photo by the Black Grouse sculptures. IT IS TRADITION.
I was in two minds over whether to start with the red or the blue. I eventually decided on the red, hoping that it would be a little quieter first thing in the morning than a later attempt.
The red was, for the most part, even easier than I was expecting. I had to dismount one of the early descents (that runs parallel to the black-graded jumps), but that was because there were literally branches hanging over the trail at face height. It felt a little melancholy – the trail is good fun, but it’s… well, there’s no nice way of putting it. It’s ugly as sin. Llandegla is a working forest, and a good chunk of the red runs through heavily deforested areas. So whilst the trail itself is entertaining, you don’t get the wow factor or sense of speed that you get when zipping through the trees. I think it’s also battering the trails a little too – it was a lot rougher and rockier than I remember it being, and I’m not sure whether it’s my memory playing tricks, or whether the trails are suffering more from erosion being exposed without the trees for protection.
All went well until I was relatively close to the end, where there were a few things that forced me to dismount. The first was on the Golden Trail – I rode the boardwalk cautiously, but hopped off right at the end as there’s a drop off. It was actually relatively small, and I think I could have rolled it with a bit of speed, but I erred on the side of caution (I did watch another rider clip his bottom bracket plopping off the end).
It unnerved me a little, and then there were two downhill turns that had me walking. They were similar to some of the turns on the Verderer’s, but with much steeper exits. It was raining, I was feeling a little on edge, so it was a hard NOPE.
The last bit was on Julia’s Trail – there were some nasty climbs with accursed uphill switchbacks, and a steep climb with lots of loose rocks. Even on the ebike, I didn’t fancy it, so I pushed up. This is now a walking blog.
I was still pretty chuffed with my efforts as I finished the trail, but also slightly miffed. My plan was to do the blue next, but… I’d accidentally paused my Garmin on the red, and forgot to unpause it for a couple of sections. Obviously if it’s not on Strava it doesn’t count, so… onto the red again!
I was even more comfortable this time around, but split onto the blue to avoid those tricky sections that had thrown me on my first lap. Interestingly, the blue section I rode can only be ridden if you bail from the red at that point – it’s not part of the blue loop proper. I’m also pretty sure that it’s made up of an old original red section, and used to be part of the blue when I rode it six years ago, but I wouldn’t swear to it. In any case, the Llandegla trailbuilders have been busy, and have done a great job.
There was lunch…
… and then the blue in full!
I really enjoyed the blue, and was kind of gutted I only got to ride it once. It seemed to have a bit more of a fun factor, and was more rewarding for the climbs, but it’s possible that I was feeling particularly well disposed as it had finally stopped pissing it down, and I’d just eaten cake. I did plot a second lap of the blue, but I realised that my battery was a little low, so I played around on the skills course and did a few laps of the green.
I once again emerged at the trailhead, and tried to wash my bike. I’m staying in a Premier Inn, so I needed to get it as clean as possible. I also looked like an absolute mess…
…and everything was covered.
Fortunately, I’d had the hindsight to pack some clean clothes for the drive back, so I didn’t have to do a muddy walk of shame through the Premier Inn foyer – plus, the driver’s seat in my car also avoided a slimy fate. Less fortunately, my dirty biking clothes are fermenting in my car. I think the drive back tomorrow is going to stink. My nice new Camelbak (and the bike *cough*) has had a rinse off in the shower – which reminds me, I need to check for gritty residue.
All in all, a most excellent day.
(Btw, if anyone is wondering why the title of this entry is quoting the Jesus Built My Hotrod lyrics – it’s because, for some reason, Llandegla is nicknamed ‘Ding Dong’ amongst my friends… and it’s a banging tune).
Despite my multiple medical woes over the last year or so, I’ve actually been riding more miles than ever before. A good part of this is down to moving to a pleasant little village with a ridiculous name in the Warwickshire countryside. It doesn’t have much in the way of fun off-road riding, but it has a few nice enough bridleways, and a lot of quiet country roads.
It’s enabled and encouraged me to get out a lot more, because riding is more fun when you’re passing green fields and pretty villages, than it is riding through slightly miserable towns with busy roads. Plus it’s a lot nicer passing hares, rabbits and squirrels than it is shouty blokes. Generally, you don’t have to worry about being attacked by wildlife in the UK.
That, combined with the Overvolt, has made a huge improvement in my life, both mentally and physically. I’ve found myself getting out in all weathers, exploring, and just generally feeling better. My knees are still awful, but a lot stronger than they were, and my ankle only occasionally reminds me that I was still on crutches nursing a broken ankle this time last year. And when I’m out on my bike, I can briefly de-stress, and forget the multitude of near soap opera-esque bollocks that I’ve been through over the last year or so.
So now, a photographic tribute to my Overvolt. I’m still very fond of it, and it’s my go-to ‘local’ bike, although the Liv gets all the foresty fun.
Although the Overvolt is great for getting in the miles, it’s possibly just a little too big for me. It’s absolutely fine on roads, or easy bridleways, but on the trail it feels a little cumbersome – the standover is slightly too high, and the reach is possibly a bit long.
Now, I’ve always been fairly terrible at tight corners, but I definitely feel like I’ve got worse since getting back on the bike after having my son. When I was on my Stumpy, I’d struggle to have the leg strength to power up around uphill turns. On the Overvolt, I struggled in both directions – I had the oomph to get uphill, I just couldn’t get positioned correctly. Downhill, I just suffered from the paranoia that I wouldn’t make the turn, and go off the edge, or hit a stump, or…
After getting my Liv and realising that it wasn’t a magic bullet for my cornering woes, I realised… it wasn’t. Falling off twice in one ride at Cannock was one clue, but it became particularly apparent in the Forest of Dean, where I was fairly shocking both up and down on the Verderer’s. Part of me got paranoid that maybe my new and really fucking expensive ebike wasn’t right for me. Was the stem too short? The bars too wide? Is the frame TOO small?
But I looked at it logically. Have I always struggled with uphill switchbacks? Yes, yes I have. Have I always been a bit nervy on bigger or tight downhill berms? Also yes. Have I ever managed to ride the Werewolf bypass? Once, about ten years ago. Despite that, can I ride the Bombhole? Yes I can, despite it being a tight turn on a downhill. Well, OK, I came off on it the other week, but that was literally the only time in FOURTEEN YEARS (which I’m putting down to a combination of getting used to a new bike, and overdoing it on the brakes, which were bedding in at the time).
So, I need practice! I’ve been cracking on with the practice – I did a good ride this weekend gone, and felt absurdly pleased that I did a lot of corners that I’d been flunking, and taking other corners a lot smoother. I guess that one of the advantages of starting with such a low bar is that even tiny improvements even great.
It really is a basic thing, but I was consciously forcing myself to look at the exit to the turns – I’m pretty sure a lot of my woes are fixating on my front wheel, checking if it’s going to make the turn, and then not actually making the turn as a result. I’m off to Llandegla this weekend, and I’m aiming to do the red, hoping that I don’t end up splatting myself. I’ve also got a skills course planned, hopefully before our Glentress holiday, so maybe this will be the year where I manage to become marginally more competent at cornering!
And now to close, pictures of the Intrigue so that it doesn’t get jealous.
If there’s one thing my medical mishaps and general state of physical shonkiness has taught me, it’s that e-bikes are fucking great.
I got Voltron (as my LaPierre Overvolt 700HT is known on Strava) shortly after my son had his first birthday. I was struggling with my knees, as not only had I got the usual issues that had been plaguing me since my teens, but pregnancy had also done a proper number on them.
Did you know that the body produces a hormone called relaxin during pregnancy? It’s supposed to prepare the body for pregnancy by softening the ligaments and cartilage in the pelvis. But, if you’re particularly lucky, it goes overboard on all of your joints, leaving you in pain and more susceptible to injury. SO BLESSED.
I hoped that an ebike would help me get back some fitness. I never planned for Voltron to become my primary bike – the idea was that I’d use it for longer bridleway rides, and my Stumpy would still be my go to for more technical stuff.
It took a couple of years, but eventually, I had to accept… I am an ebike wanker. I could ride further and faster, but also harder, if my heart rate monitor is to be believed. I started taking Voltron on the trails, which was fun, but not quite as confidence inspiring as I would have liked. It’s a little too big for me, which is fine when I’m bimbling around, but suboptimal on the more techy stuff.
So, I bought a new ebike – a Liv Intrigue E+1.
So far, it’s been amazing – the motor has all the power you could ever want, and the battery lasts for aaaages. I’ve comfortably done 30+ miles of trail centre riding, and still had nearly half the battery left. The geometry is taking some getting used to though, and I’m not sure if I could do with a longer stem and narrower bars, or if I just need to get used to riding a more modern, aggressive style bike.
I’ve had a couple of comedy offs, including a spectacular splat on the Bombhole at Cannock Chase. It’s infuriating, as I’ve chicken out of it on subsequent rides, despite never having an issue for 14 years. That, coupled with my longstanding cornering issues, has led me to book a skills course. Maybe, just maybe, I can be an ambiturner.
So, this last year has been fairly rubbish for a variety of reasons. My mom’s death, the small matter of a global pandemic and, for me personally, the stark reminder that my body is a shonky wreck.
(Incidentally, autocorrect just tried to change ‘shonky’ to ‘chunky’, which is also accurate).
My knees have always been a hot mess since my teens – soft cartilage that gets chewed up easily, missing a couple of ligaments, and so on. But last year, shortly before my 40th birthday, I decided to add a broken ankle to my repertoire.
It was self-inflicted, and completely stupid. I was riding up what is usually a fairly tame bridleway – for context, I’ve towed Mini-Toast up it in a trailer. But this time I was riding solo, it was a beautiful evening, and I decided in my infinite wisdom that I’d try to beat my previous Strava time up the hill.
My line choice was poor – instead of riding within the rut of the track, I rode the raised bit in the middle. It’ll be faster, I told myself. And so it was… right until the point the edge of the line fell away and I went over.
There was pain. There was shock. There was the growing realisation that I’d properly hurt my ankle. I didn’t want to call Mr Toast, as he was getting Mini-Toast to bed. I didn’t want to call an ambulance, because that would be an overreaction, and I was probably fine, and we’re in the middle of a pandemic. So, after rolling around in agony for about 20 minutes, I gingerly got back on the bike and rode the most painful 3.5 miles of my life.
After getting home and crawling in, Mr Toast came downstairs and was slightly disconcerted by my general demeanour. We got my shoe off, rolled up my legging… and it was not pretty. Nothing poking out of the skin, but my ankle was exceedingly wonky. We called 111. They called an ambulance.
The paramedics were amazing. They assessed that I’d certainly done something to my ankle, as one pressed my foot and said, “There should be a bone there, but it’s not”. So off to hospital I went, with delicious, delicious morphine.
Long story short – unstable Weber B fracture, 3 months in a cast, 6 weeks in a moon boot. Not the best way to spend a summer. Especially not in a heatwave. In lockdown.
As the ankle recovered, naturally, something else had to go wrong. I developed an ear infection that lasted three months, and took multiple courses of increasingly aggressive antibiotics to clear. Apparently, I have ‘dainty ear canals’, which means they’re more at risk of infection. Hurray! The ear infection eventually cleared, but the antibiotics kicked off another issue, which I won’t go into as… ugh.
Then, towards the end of 2020, I lost full use of my shoulders. For weeks my shoulders could cause agonising, breathtaking pain if knocked the wrong way. Even when the pain subsided, I couldn’t lift my arms up past a certain point. I couldn’t brush my hair properly, or put it in a normal ponytail (I had to rock a side pony, 80s style). I could only wear baggy tops, or ones that button/zipped up. Fortunately, that only took five months or so to clear up, and I nearly have full mobility back.
So, I’ve been plodding on, with intermittent bouts of IBS which I put down to stress. Only, it might not have been stress, as two weeks ago I ended up in A&E again, and am now missing a gallbladder. Fortunately, this has been relatively minor compared to everything else, and recovery has been quick. Also, free weight loss! Yay! I’m currently assessing what other organs I can get shot of to cheat the scales.
I’m hoping that I can be free of hospitals for a while, and that things might start looking up. I’ve had my Covid jab, I’ve got a new bike arriving today, and we’re moving into summer. We’ve got holidays booked for Forest of Dean, Glentress and Dalby, so fingers crossed I can have a better year this year!
First up, a content warning – this post is going to be fairly miserable, and not contain anything about biking. Instead, I’m going to talk about my mom, and the last few months of her life. With the whole global pandemic thing going on, I don’t think I’ve really even started to process my grief. Maybe writing it out will help. So, you’ve been forewarned.
Back in May 2019, I took my mom on holiday with my son and dog, whilst Mr Toast was at Google I/O in San Francisco. We went for a slightly less exotic setting, staying at a forest lodge in Sherwood Forest. My son took his balance bike but I remained bikeless – thanks to arthritis, my mom was in no physical shape to look after a toddler and frequently over-exuberant dog.
I have many memories of the trip. My mom was frequently infuriating, funny and kind in equal measure. She adored her grandson, and enjoyed getting out into the forest on her rented off-road scooter – even though she was, quite frankly, a menace on it. She literally ran into Ethan’s balance bike at one point… whilst he was riding it (fortunately no injuries occurred!)
However, I noticed that she couldn’t eat as much as she used to. This wouldn’t have been a huge concern, appetites can change as you age, but she admitted that it wasn’t that she didn’t want to eat more – she felt like she couldn’t. She suffered from terrible indigestion and reflux. I told her to go to the doctor when she got back, and she promised that she would.
Despite her usual antipathy towards the medical profession, she did go – I think it had been worrying her for a while, she just needed someone to tell her that she should. An endoscopy was quickly arranged in the following weeks. Leading up to that, we wondered what it could be. I thought perhaps a hiatal hernia, trying to avoid the idea that it would be the original big-C. Sadly, the endoscopy showed what was ‘almost certainly a tumour’, in the words of the doctor.
More tests followed, at a variety of hospitals (Burton! Derby! Nottingham!). My mom said that, even if it was early stage cancer, she didn’t want treatment. She didn’t want her remaining time, however long it was, to marked by hospital visits, surgery and drips.
I sat with her as the oncologist gave her the results. The cancer was advanced and aggressive oesophageal cancer, and there were other tumours around her body. The best but unlikely case scenario, they were all independent primary cancers, but they were most likely metastases – the oesophageal cancer had gone on a tour around her body. I started sobbing uncontrollably. My mom comforted me. She was fine with it – being the eternal pessimist, it was what she was expecting. I was not fine.
She firmly told the oncologist that she didn’t want any chemotherapy or surgery. She didn’t want to ‘drag it out’ and, to be fair, she’d been whimsically pining for ‘happy hunting ground’ since my dad died. She’d seen both her kids happily married and have children, and her arthritis was robbing her of more and more of her independence. I still wasn’t fine with it, but I didn’t try to talk her out of it. Apart from anything else, she was a stubborn old mare, and I knew it wouldn’t have worked.
She carried on in comparatively good health for months. Her bad days of reflux got worse, but, on the whole, she was relatively stable for the rest of the year. We booked a family Christmas meal, not knowing if she’d make it, but she did. She made it to my nephews’ birthday parties, at the end of December, and the start of January.
Then suddenly, she went downhill. She had an extremely nasty fall, and agreed to go to St Giles, the local hospice, for convalescence. They saw the bruising and sent her to A&E at Burton, suspecting that she’d broken something. Fortunately it was ‘just’ bruising, and she stayed at St Giles for a couple of weeks, where she proceeded to be a pain in the arse there. How?
Well, throughout my life, mom had a drinking and smoking habit that would make Keith Richards blush. Remarkably, despite it being a bone of contention through my teens and 20s, she actually managed to cut right back on the drinking in her last few years. However, the smoking remained. I remember the oncologist raising a brow as she explained how she was now only ‘a light smoker’, smoking around 20 a day. Really, it should have been no surprise that she’d come down with oesophageal cancer, more that she hadn’t come down with it earlier.
Anyway, as mom recovered in St Giles, she hit a snag. Quite rightly, you’re not allowed to smoke indoors, and that includes hospices. However, you are allowed in the smoking shelter in the carpark… if you can get there. If you can’t, you have to wait for a relative, as the staff won’t do it (again, quite rightly).
This meant that my mom’s usual greeting as we visited her in the hospice was, “Can you just take me outside?” And lo, we’d roll her outside in a borrowed wheelchair, and she’d proceed to chain smoke 2-3 cigarettes in the space of 15 minutes.
After a couple of weeks, after it was evident that she was not going to die imminently, she was sent home. She was quite irritated by this – not the being sent home, but the being told that she wasn’t going to die any time soon. After a week or so after being at home, she took another downhill turn.
In addition to having a horrendous cough, she started to go delirious. She called the carers murderers. She didn’t know that she had cancer. She didn’t know that dad was dead. She didn’t know that nan was dead. I broke her heart by explaining that nan had died nearly 30 years ago. I wondered if honesty was the best policy. We thought that perhaps the cancer had finally spread to her brain.
My brother and I braced ourselves. We started sleeping on a mattress on the floor, taking care of her as she called out throughout the night. We were exhausted. She said that she wanted to die at home, but she also said that she never wanted to be a burden, and my brother and I were being pushed to our limits. So, back into St Giles she went, to spend her last days.
Except… she didn’t die. She just kept on going, and the doctors decided that, as she was being so stubborn, perhaps they should treat that chest infection.
Antibiotics can work miracles. In a couple of days, my mom was fully lucid again. We explained how poorly she’d been, and she was quite shocked by how she’d ‘lost her marbles’. There was a price though – she’d regained her marbles, but lost the use of her hands. The doctors thought that it was most likely the arthritis rather than the cancer. There wasn’t much to be done.
She received visitors again. She was even well enough that Ethan could see his nanny for one last time. She was well enough to ask him for a Wotsit. He dutifully hand fed her the rest of the pack without prompting.
One of the best things that happened was that her brother, who she hadn’t spoken to in over 25 years, came down from the Lake District to visit her. Although she’d professed that she didn’t want anything to do with him, when she was delirious, she called his name. I think that their estrangement had weighed heavier on her than she liked to admit, and him visiting had laid a ghost that had been troubling her to rest.
Then… then Covid-19 happened. As March rolled on, it was obvious that things were getting worse. The hospice removed all the tea-making facilities, increased the amount of hand sanitiser (which they already had a lot of!), started operating closed-door source control on some of the rooms… then they stopped visitors. Every day I phoned to ask how she was, and the answer was the same. She was stable, unless something acute happened she was fine for the time being. They started talking about moving her to the long-term residents unit, as she evidently wasn’t going to pop her clogs any time soon. My brother went to Cheltenham for a few days, calling me for updates. A few days before Mother’s Day, the hospice said that visitors were allowed again, with restrictions. My brother went to visit. I got her a card. I’d see her on Sunday. My brother started to feel a bit iffy, and had a temperature. He let the hospice know, and they told mom that he was isolating, so couldn’t visit – but I’d be along on Sunday.
It was about 3.30am on Saturday 21st March when my phone started ringing. I recognised the number. My heart started racing. Let’s face it, it was fairly unlikely the hospice were calling to tell me that everything was fine. They told me that ‘something had changed’ and she had started to decline rapidly.
I got dressed, and got in the car for the hour or so drive to the hospice. My brother rang me, distressed. He couldn’t go, he was isolating. I told him I’d keep him updated.
I got to the hospice, and went in to see mom. She was still alive, wheezing and gasping for breath. She said my name a few times, and I sat with her, holding her hand. I told her that it was all right, that it would be all over soon, and that she would be with dad and Robert. I told that I loved her. She replied, “I know”. Those were her last words.
Yes, my mom accidentally quoted Star Wars on her death bed. Way to go, mom!
Her breathing slowed, and she seemed to calm down. Eventually she settled into what looked like a restful sleep, but with her eyes slightly open. I called a nurse. I’ll never forgive the look of pity on the nurse’s face as I asked if she had passed, and she said, “Yes, love, I’m so sorry”. She closed my mom’s eyes, gave me a quick hug then said, “I’m not supposed to do that at the moment”.
Mom died on the day that Boris closed the pubs. Because of course she fucking did.
The rest is a bit of a blur. I remember being in the hospice’s remembrance room, and talking to another nurse as she went over what happened next. She was apologetic, telling me that normally they’d be offering tea and hugs at this point, because of covid everything had to be a bit more clinical. I made a comment about mom being a bit of a pain about us wheeling her out for a cigarette on her first visit. The nurse giggled and admitted they’d found fag butts by the windows that time. My mother, the rebel.
Eventually, I stood outside of my brother’s house, and we shared our grief through a window. He was pretty much a wreck. He had covid, so he felt like shit. Because of that, he hadn’t been there when mom died, so he felt like shit. He didn’t know if mom’s sudden decline was because of covid – we’ll never know, she wasn’t tested – so he felt like shit. It didn’t matter though – after nearly 15 years of saying that she was ready for the knackers’ yard, mom was finally free of pain. We still both felt like shit.
Her funeral arrangements were almost comical. Lockdown was now in full effect, and my mom – or rather, her body – did a tour of the local Co-Op funeral directors. She was supposed to go to Burntwood… but they got furloughed. So she went to Brownhills… then they got furloughed. Then she ended up in Lichfield, and after two weeks of isolating, my brother and I met again over her coffin. To the director’s credit, she looked a lot healthier than when she was alive. We laughed and cried, and prepared for the not-so-big day. Only six guests allowed, we ended up with five. Mr Toast couldn’t go, as he was looking after Ethan – due to lockdown, no-one else could.
I arrived at the crematorium and was surprised that the gates were closed, with a security guard. I confirmed which funeral I was attending, and off I went. The funeral was weird – no hugs from the few that were there – but I took solace in the fact it’d be the last time I had to listen to Barbara Streisand.
As we left, there seemed to be some sort of police yard on the graveyard, with blue flashing lights and officers in stab vests. It turned out that the reason why there was security on the gate was because an earlier funeral had breached the capacity rules by quite a lot, and they didn’t want it to happen again. The police had come and dispersed the crowd, but had returned as some mourners had sneaked back in. I giggled. Mom would have loved the drama.
Here we are, 10 months later. We’ve not got probate yet (because of covid), and so we’ve not sold our childhood home yet, or even managed to get it decorated (because of covid). And most of all, I still can’t believe that she’s gone. I think because EVERYTHING is so weird, it’s hard to grieve properly. I don’t get to see her on weekends, but I wouldn’t be able to anyway, because of lockdown. I can’t phone her every day after picking Ethan up from nursery, because he’s started school, but isn’t at school, because he’s at home, because of lockdown. Sometimes I feel bad because I don’t feel anything, then sometimes I’ll howl with grief because I remember something, like the existence of armchairs.
There’s also a sense of relief that she isn’t here to have her last years marred by lockdown. My mom basically loved three things, her family, smoking, and going out for dinners (sometimes it was questionable whether it was actually in that order). I think the idea of no more cafe lunches or pub dinners would have horrified her – as I’ve said to many a person, her dying on the day the pubs shut was possibly the most on-brand thing she ever did. But it still hurts. The first time I went into a Morrisons cafe (back when ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ was the order of the day, before, ‘Oh shit what have we done? Abort! Abort!’) I burst into tears, as I remembered all the times we’d eaten there when I’d taken her to do her shopping.
Anyway, that’s that done. Thanks for coming to my therapy session. RIP mom, you’re dad’s problem again now.