An update!

Right, WordPress updated, spam comments about handbags and the Middle East dealt with, and back to the blog!

So, what have I been up to?  Well, some of my racing schedule has been determined this year – I’m giving Mountain Mayhem a miss, sending Mr Toast out to be some sort of giant mountain biking guinea pig at the new venue.  He’s racing with the Chase Trails team of four (Ian, henceforth known as Crazy Ian, is soloing again). Three fifths of the intrepid Chase Trails chaps can be seen here, stalking Pat Adams’ house late at night, which isn’t weird at all.

img_2225Photo taken by famed event photographer Rob Crayton, who hangs outside Pat Adams’ house late at night with a camera.

I’ll be providing moral support… or pointing and laughing.  Time will tell!  At least there will be less chance of rain if I’m not riding…

I will be riding Sleepless in the Saddle though, and I have to confess to contemplating the Wiggle 6 Hour Enduro, which is also at Catton.  After all, six hours is only slightly longer than it took me to do one lap at Mayhem last year! \o/  I’d be soloing it, as Mr Toast is rather bogged down with work at the moment.

I’ve done a bit of riding this year, mostly getting used to..


TEN TON TESS! Also known as Tess of the Hurr Durrbervilles – a Scott Scale Contessa 910 29er. I’ve not taken her on a full ride of Follow the Dog yet, preferring to put the miles in on the tamer fireroads just to get used to her ridiculously large wheels and her quite frankly preposterous wide bars.  I’ve done a bit of FtD on her, and some off-piste-probably-shouldn’t-talk-about-them trails on a group ride.

I’ve also become an aunt twice in the space of two months, so I’m plotting to buy two balance bikes in about 18 months for my nephews.  I’m totally going to live my gnar radcore biking dreams vicariously through them – it’ll be awesome.

Aaaand I’ve also been keeping up with my resolution to get back into drawing more, with my project “A Benny a Week”.  The aim is to produce one piece of art a week featuring my dog, which will hopefully improve my artistic skills.

I should be fairly good at drawing Tibetan Terriers by the end of 2013 at the very least.

So, here’s to more biking, more drawing and more nephews.  Huzzah!

Sleepless in the Saddle

Sorry about the delay, but finally you will know the answer to the question you’ve all not been asking: Did we  win Sleepless in the Saddle.

The unsurprising answer is ‘No’.  We came in the bottom ten, I think.  But not last! \o/

Thankfully Sleepless was infinitely more enjoyable than Mountain Mayhem (which wouldn’t have been that hard, admittedly).   I was out third for the Chase Trails Pixies – after Mountain Mayhem’s epic five hour plus lap, the team decided to give me a fighting chance of coming back in daylight.  The weather was decent, our first riders out seemed to be enjoying themselves, and everything looked so promising…


I’d been somewhat hesitant over Sleepless – after Mayhem, I was worried it was going to be another horrible, muddy slogfest.  I consoled myself in the knowledge that, as Sleepless laps were shorter and flatter, they couldn’t possibly be as horrendous.  Fortunately, I set out in glorious sunshine, and my first lap was genuinely enjoyable.   I’m fitter than I was last year, and I found the woodland sections really good fun.  I even overtook a couple of people.  HA!  And, for the first time, I was captured in my full racing glory, which revealed that a) I’m as pink as a flamingo, and b) the older I get, the more I look like my nan.  I think the Dame Edna glasses help that…


Camelbak, MP3 player, and a full susser – I think I scored highly on the Weekend Warrior scale!

However, as was expected, the rain came during my lap.  Just before the off-camber section, the drizzle started, then turned into a full scale torrential downpour.  The off-camber section had been described to me by my teammates that had already gone out as being ‘very loose and dusty’.  By the time I got to it, it was a mudslide.  I was in the process of trying not to slide off the track when who should come a-riding, but THE HUSBAND!  He checked that I was OK, and cheekily declared that he knew he was getting close to me when the rain started.  Feeling somewhat superstitious about my ability to destroy the weather, he sped off into the distance, sans wife.   The course fortunately stood up to the sudden downpour a bit better after that point, and I finished my first lap with a big grin on my face.  Huzzah!  I clocked in at 1 hour 24, which I’m fairly certain I could have done faster if it hadn’t have been for the meddling weather.

My second lap was due at around 10pm.  Despite the fact the one hour downpour had turned the track to sludge, I didn’t feel too apprehensive.  After all, I’d spent hours sliding around Mountain Mayhem in the dark, so I was used to this kind of nonsense, but this time I would have lights!

However, Mr Toast was a bit more concerned, and was trying to persuade me not to go out, pointing out that I’d already proved my stubbornness and stupidity at MM. I was fully reared up and ready to go though… but as I waited, I saw bike after bike being pushed or carried over the finish line.  Petra, a better rider than me, wasn’t back, obviously ‘enjoying’ the course. So yeah, maybe another muddy night lap wasn’t such a great idea.  Back to snuggling in the tent then.

The next morning I got up early (miracles do happen) and set out on my second lap just after Bruce came in.  Again, it started of relatively well – I flew down the first descent at speed, not through any sense of skill or fearlessness, but because I knew that with the mud I’d probably lose control of the Professor if I braked.  I managed to stop at the bottom, just ahead of the fence that hosted a bunch of slightly startled-looking spectators.  The short climb that followed was a mud pit, but the first couple of sections were fine.  Then it all went to hell, and became a muddy, unrideable mess for a fair few sections.  I stopped frequently to scoop out the mud that was collecting in my frame. It was a bit of a slog, but still more bearable than Mountain Mayhem, and the last section was fine – I was even able to get up some speed on it, flinging the mud off my tyres.  It added an hour to my previous lap time, but I wasn’t too fussed.

So, this year’s 24 hour racing has been somewhat of a disaster.  Sleepless was good fun, but it was gutting how one hour of (admittedly very heavy) rain trashed a good chunk of the course, even leading to one section being closed.  I would have like to have done a night lap like last year, but not in this year’s conditions.  Not sure what we’ll be doing next year – I might give Mayhem a miss and sign up for Sleepless nearer the time, and give that a miss if it’s been raining for two months beforehand!  People can be a bit smug and dismissive, but I ride to have fun, and walking through mud pushing a 50lb bike isn’t fun for me.  🙁

Still, got a medal and a couple of race numbers out of it! \o/


That there Monkey

I’ve been a bit slack on the blogging front lately, although that’s also down to the fact I’ve been a bit slack on the biking front too.  I’ve been biking into work on a daily basis, often even when it’s pissing it down, but I’ve found it hard to get out at the weekends.  Partly down to feeling a bit off, and partly down to family commitments.  This time of year is always a bit miserable for me as it’s the time of year when my dad died, and the weather – not helping.

I really want to get across the country – I want to hit Coed-Y-Brenin, Llandegla, Nant-yr-Arian, the Peak District, the Forest of Dean… but it’s a bit hard to muster the enthusiasm for a six hour round trip when it’s cold and wet.   We were hoping for some long weekends, but Mr Toast is finding it hard to even get the odd Friday off with his current workload.  We’ve not even managed our usual Easter trip  Ooop North to Dalby. 🙁

My knee has been playing up a bit again, so I’m off to see the doctor about whether a knee brace would be beneficial.  I quite like the look of the pricey but awesome Asterisk Knee Braces – supposedly good for people with ligament issues, looks very adjustable and doubles up as armour.  I’m just a bit reluctant to make the investment without knowing whether it’s definitely suitable for my knee injury, and what if they’re too heavy or uncomfortable for me?

I can tell that Mountain Mayhem is coming ever closer, as on Saturday night I had my first MM Anxiety Dream of the year.  I dreamt that I was riding, soaking wet under torrential rain, struggling in the mud and hating every second of it.  So, not so much a dream, more of a reminiscence.  I’m hoping my mother’s theory of weather proves true – “We’ve got to have a good summer!  We’re owed some good weather!”

On the plus side, what little off-road riding I’ve done lately has been moderately successful. For a start…

The Monkey!

Yes, it’s been well over a year since I’d ridden the Monkey, but I finally plucked up the courage to give it a go last month.  Despite my unfamiliarity with The Monkey (I’d only ridden it something like five times previously), it went better than expected.  My fitness was better than it has been in the past, and I wasn’t lying on the floor screaming with painful leg cramps, so that was a definite improvement.  My knees were objecting quite violently to the steeper climbs, and I had to stop to let the pain lessen a few times, and also probably took far more ibuprofen than is recommended.

I gave a few of the trail features a miss – I decided not to test my 50% success score on the pre-Klondike rocks, and also gave Woodbank a miss.  I was going to do it – I went to have a look, thought, “Oh, it looks easier than the start of section two”, and let a group pass.  The last fella in the group then prompty completely ballsed up, clipping his right handlebar grip on the tree and twisting his front wheel, sending him crashing in spectacular fashion.

Yeah, I’ll give that one a miss for today.

I also pretty much walked most of the Monkey-section of the Monkey.  This is probably going to sound a bit harsh, but it’s probably my least-liked bit of trail I’ve ever ridden in any trail centre.  It leaves me miserable and demoralised, with its stupid narrow trees and rock gardens, and I struggle to think of any part of it I actually like.  OK, I did have a brief moment of confidence boosting when I looked at the second rock garden, the only one I’ve ever ridden, and marvelled that I’d ridden that.  Admittedly it was before there was a huge gouge ripped down the right hand side, but still.

Being a bit of a pessimist though, that thought was soon crushed by the knowledge that there was no way I’d ride that again. The day that I rode that I’d been having a particularly good day, taking lots of risks that paid off… until I came off on the fireroad, stripped off a good bit of skin, broke my helmet and ended up on a heavy course of antibiotics.  I still bear the scars.   Pfft.  Be an overly cautious coward and live to ride another day, that’s what I say!

Went out on Saturday for the first time in weeks and rode the Dog.  Despite the good conditions, I ended up going a bit slower than usual, clocking in at one hour ten minutes – although I think a good five minutes of that was trying to wrestle my thermal jacket into my Camelbak.

Hoping to get out with increased frequency before Mountain Mayhem.  I need to improve my fitness, try and get my knees more used to climbing, and, my personal favourite, also have to get Benny used to camping… or its going to be a very, very tiring weekend.

03/03/12: Good Dog/Bad Dog

I set out on Saturday with the intention of doing two laps of Follow the Dog.  With Mountain Mayhem and Sleepless both firm realities now, I need to get more miles in, need to get back up to speed and get my fitness to something slightly above embarrassing.

Despite the forecast predicting only light showers and sunny skies throughout the day, I arrived just as a downpour was starting.  I quickly got my bike off the rack and set of in pursuit of mountain biking excellence.

It didn’t start well.  First section seemed unduly slippy and annoying, and I had to come to an abrupt, precarious halt on the exit to two as a small child from a walking group that had stopped to let me exit decided to do a runner.  I shuffled the bike down, slightly shaken – it would have been a remarkably low speed collision if it had happened, but I don’t like to think who would win out of an 11 and a half stone woman on a lump of aluminum and a three year old.  On the plus side, his mother apologised and thanked me for not ploughing into her wayward progeny.  And that’s why you don’t come screaming out of sections at warp speed.

The lap continued to be a royal pain in the arse.  Everything just felt very skittish, and I began to wonder if I’d somehow lost all ability over two weeks, or maybe the Orange 5 had ruined me with its comedy wide bars.  The litany of ineptitude was unrelenting and horrible.  I realised at the start of the fireroad climb up to 8 that I had my rear shock completely locked out, so I was hoping that perhaps that could explain the horror.  I completely failed to exit section 8 twice, as every time I approached it my front wheel hit the same pebble and poinged off to the side.  I nearly came a cropper on the most inconspicious of corners.  On section 11, I managed to clear the two smaller steps, albeit with some rear wheel spinning on the second, but by the time I got to the bigger steps, I just couldn’t arsed.  I was riding rubbish, and I had a persistant stabbing pain in my left knee. I eventually bowled up at Swinnertons feeling fairly surly.

Jez was there, so I had a good whinge at him, and soon he was joined by other members of the Chase Trails posse.  Andrew asked about my tyre pressure, and gave them a squeeze.  There was then much laughter, and theorising that Al (who had recently switched my wheels for his spare Hope/DT Swiss combo) was trying to kill me.  Something like minus 20 psi later and my tyres were noticably squidgier.

I’d been pondering the second lap.  Obviously I’d set out with the intention of doing two laps, but I’d had a terrible ride and my knee was a bit stabby. But the weather had finally turned nice, and… well, it would have been rude not to try. I decided to do at least the first section, to see if matters improved with less pressure.  I’d probably only do the first section or so, as I’d promised my mom I’d pop in and I had a roast dinner to cook in the evening.

Lap two felt better – I’m assuming it was thanks to the lowered pressure rather than the trails drying off, but I was skidding about the place a lot less, so felt able to go faster and lean into turns without fear of the Professor deciding to go his own way.  The exit to two was still a bit shakey as I clipped my pedal as I went down, but other than that – splendid.  Less poinging off pebbles, exiting section 8…OK, it took me two attempts as I clipped my pedal again, but I had to keep telling myself that I couldn’t get a mental neurosis over something I’ve ridden countless times just because the weather’s a bit grim.  After successfully clearing the exit and chastising myself for being a bit stupid, I took a few moments to take a photo of the Professor with his new red grips.


Section 11 was a bit of a revelation – all steps taken with no skidding, spinning, or slipping.  IN YOUR FACE, UPHILL STEPS! By the time I got to Tackaroo, however, I started to feel a bit off.  My knee hadn’t played up as much on the second lap, but I was starting to develop a bit of an ache in my left arm for no real reason, and my thighs were protesting.  Still, aching from “Oh, exercise!” is better than pain from “You’re fundamentally broken on a genetic level”.  I was also feeling a bit woozy, possibly because it was about 3pm and I’d only had a bowl of cereal, a cup of tea and two bottles of water that day, which for a cake fiend such as myself is a bit of a break from routine.  Although not really on biking days – I always end up eating less on biking days than on workdays.

According to Dave and Andrew, who caught me up at the end of Hugh’s Bridge, I’d done my second lap in roughly an hour (they’d given me about a 20 minute headstart).  So, that was better than a poke in the eye with a horrible stick.  Incidentally, it was Dave’s birthday at the weekend.  You should totally help him out trailbuilding on Sunday to celebrate.  I’m pondering if we can get Benny to carry materials and tools like a small pack donkey, but I have my doubts.

After my second lap I rushed around my mother’s to say hello, and to steal her bacon.  She didn’t have any bacon.  She did have chicken soup though, so that wasn’t too bad.

12/02/12: So I actually went for a ride

I managed to get my first ride over the Chase this year two weeks ago.  After leaving Mr Toast at home with The Boy, the day started fairly eventfully, when I accidentally doused myself in petrol on the way to the Chase.  I had to decide – go back home and forget my bike ride, or go biking whilst covered in a flammable substance.  I decided on the later – unless I clipped my pedal on a rock and sparked, I was probably on the safe side.

Incidentally, if you want to get the smell of petrol out of your clothes, saturate the garment in question in coke.  As in Coca Cola, not the snortable stuff.

Surprisingly, the usual panic over whether I’d lost all of my skills over Christmas and New Year didn’t surface, and I rode everything that I normally ride without any real sense of fear.  Even though it was *gasp* muddy.  It was just after the thaw, and although most of Follow the Dog has survived the winter fairly well, thanks to the sterling work of the trailbuilders (draining the berms on Tackeroo, for example), there are a few parts that a trifle muddy – the deforested section before section 11 being a prime example.  I didn’t get overtaken much and did some overtaking of my own so I felt that this year’s riding was off to a good start.

I really enjoyed being out on the bike again, and felt suitably warm and toasty in my new thermal leggings and overtrousers.  Admittedly, I probably would have enjoyed them more if they weren’t covered in petrol, but never mind.

The queue for the bike wash was understandably huge, which meant I had an audience for my comedy moment of blasting the Professor across the cleaning area and onto his side, still stuck in the stand.  Poor Professor. 🙁

Last week was no biking for me at the weekend – it was Mr Toast’s turn, and Benny needed a haircut.  Before:




You know, at some point I’m actually going to start putting pictures of bikes on this blog.  You should see the Professor now, he’s got posh red grips.

In other news, it looks like I’m definitely signed up for Mountain Mayhem and Sleepless in the Saddle this year.   Hoping to put in a better performance this year, with more laps in a faster time, and less crying.  And certainly less overtakings by unicylists.

And on a depressing note, please keep an eye out for these stolen bikes.  They were nabbed in Croydon, but obviously with eBay and the like it’s possible that it could end up anywhere.

Sleepless in the Saddle: Hit the lights

This year saw my first ever mountain bike race. It also saw my second – as previously mentioned, in a fit of madness, I’d volunteered my services for Sleepless in the Saddle.Sleepless is a little different from Mountain Mayhem. For a start, the maximum team size is five, rather than ten. It also a bit smaller, and quite a bit less hilly. I loved it.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Mayhem, and fully intend to do it again next year, but I found the course was there to be endured rather than enjoyed. Sleepless’ course was swift, swoopy, and bloody good fun! It started well with me actually sleeping on the Friday. My teammates commented on the marked difference between my cheery disposition on the Saturday morning, compared to my surly and possibly nearly murderous demeanour on the first day of Mountain Mayhem.

I was up fourth for our team, the noble Chase Trails Pixies. We had wings and everything.

It was about 5-ish when I started my first lap, I think, and although it had been sunny all day it was starting to cloud over. With some warnings about loose corners fresh in my mind, I set off into the unknown. Generally I got on very well with the course – the climbs were relatively short, the descents not too gnarly, and the singletrack tight and fluid. There were a few rooty corners that caused me a bit off grief, and I nearly had a comedy moment on a sharp turn after a descent, but otherwise I could ride it quite merrily.The only other issues I had on the first lap were a couple of Elite Riders barging past me,the one forcing his way in front just as I approached the triple down, causing me to brake right on the edge. I stood at the edge, rolled back a little, then rolled down. It was a slope, really nowhere near as harsh as the ones at Mayhem. Yay!

The other issue was the weather – I was a good way around and on one of the later climbs up a field when the heavens opened. I muttered darkly, wondering what I’d done to upset the god of 24 hour racing. The last woody section was a bit slimy and began to remind me of Mountain Mayhem.  I approached the end soaking and a little bit narked, failing to get around the uppy downy hairpin bit – given it was a bit slidey I was worried about bombing down the slopes to catapault myself up the next.  Truth be told, I’ve been slightly worried about these sorts of things ever since my spectacular off last year under similar circumstances, so I tend to take them more cautiously, and not quite make it up the other side as a result.  Small children mocked my inability to reach the top.  “Mommy, mommy, why did she stop?”

As I rolled over the line to complete my first lap, I began to feel slightly anxious about my impending night lap.  This unease wasn’t helped by both Liam (my Pixie successor) and Mr Toast (racing his second lap for the Chase Trail Trolls) posting mammoth times – the mud had turned severely claggy, and was blocking forks, mechs, chainstays, and was generally a pain in the arse.

After setting up my lights, I grabbed a couple of hours sleep, and woke at midnight to Mr Toast having a mild rant about me misplacing lights. Suddenly the cold, harsh reality that I was about to do my first ever night ride, on an unfamiliar course, and probably a massive mud bath. I took it with my usual stoicism, and promptly started weeping quietly in our tent.

I was cheered slightly by the reassurances that it had dried up a lot, and was actually riding quite nicely. I also have to give massive thanks to the Clan Pearson, who had the foresight to bring spare gloves – mine still hadn’t dried from my first lap!Abby came in, and off I went. I wiggled the lights around, trying to get the optimum coverage. I had my one and only off of the race on one of the earlier woody sections, as I swooped into it and promptly fell sideways after hitting a root. As I rode, I realised that night riding didn’t mean imminent death. It wasn’t only doable. It was actually… Fun!

Riders seemed to be a bit more aggressive and surly at night, and I spent even more time than usual pulled over letting people past – I was being a bit more cautious on that front. However, when I was riding it felt as if I was going faster, and I felt a bit more confident as I knew what to expect from the first lap. I did have to strip a few layers, which was a decidedly surreal experience: It’s one in the morning, I’m riding my bike in a race, I’m on the top of a hill, I’ve got a light strapped to my head, I’m taking off a couple of tops, and other riders are passing comment on my wings.I passed the baton to Liam, grinning and telling him how awesome the course was riding – my dreaded night lap had actually been far more entertaining than my first lap, down to being drier and knowing what the course actually involved. And then it was off to bed, trying not shine the torch in the face of the snoozing Mr Toast.

I awoke later in the morning to blue skies and sun, ready for porridge and my third lap. Given that we were all getting a bit knackered by this point, we were instructed to take our time getting around, so the earlier riders wouldn’t be forced into doing additional laps. So although I went as speedily as I could through the singletrack sections, I did my team proud by doing the climbs very… very… slowly. And stopping on hills, admiring the view. It was a tough job, but somehow I managed it. I still came in faster than I expected – I honestly thought I’d taken at least two hours – it was my longest lap though.

I finished my lap and then had the best.  Shower.  Ever.  I’d take this opportunity to post a picture of me riding triumphantly, but, as with Mountain Mayhem, I managed to avoid every single race photographer.  So, here’s the Professor:

All in all a huge amount of fun though – a great atmosphere with most people being patient, encouraging and friendly (and the wings got a lot of comments), and obviously awesome teammates.  Good to see some of the other teams there too, including the Grimey Limeys and the Swinnertons.  Also, lots of awesome dogs – the sausage dogs being a particular favourite.  I’m hoping that next year I’ll be a bit fitter and better at climbs, and generally faster.  Best start training!