Electric Dreams

Yes, another good ol’ stretch between posts. In my defence, this time I have a slightly better excuse: like the US elections, my site was compromised by the Russians! It took a bit of work, but it’s now back to normal and safe again. Huzzah!

So, what have I been getting up to? Well, I’m still riding, although crushing mommy guilt (as well as a genuine desire to spend time with my son) prevents me from getting out as much as I used to. Ethan’s got a trailer now, so I’m looking forward to getting him out on more rides.

I’ve got a Lapierre Overvolt ebike (known as Voltron) that I use for getting in the miles, but Devastator the Stumpjumper still reigns supreme on the technical stuff – mainly because my ebike is slightly too big for me, and weighted oddly due to its small frame size.

I can still push it a lot on the ebike though – with the strain on my knees much lessened, I can pedal harder and faster. Today I pushed myself so hard over 30 miles that I felt dizzy and nauseous when I stopped. Once the ride was over, I treated myself to a ham sandwich, a slice of malt loaf and a shower.

Unfortunately, the nausea made a sudden and dramatic reappearance whilst I was in the shower, culminating in surprise projectile vomiting. If you’ve ever wondered what malt loaf looks like approximately 20 minutes after consumption, the answer is “exactly like dog shit”. My shower was followed by an intense bath cleaning session, and then another shower. Because picking chewed up ham out of the plug hole is kind of disgusting.

If you’re feeling iffy reading this, just be glad that you didn’t experience it first hand.

So yeah, still possible to push yourself on an ebike to the point of being sick. Yay, I guess?

Today’s adventures aside, we’ve got a couple of weeks before our anniversary trip to Scotland. We haven’t been for the last two years, as in 2016 I was two weeks off giving birth, and last year Ethan was a bit to little for such a long car journey. My fitness still isn’t quite up to how it’s been on previous visits, but I’m hoping that I’m up to the task – Voltron is staying at home, so the initial climb should be interesting…

 

October. Bleugh.

Well, it’s been an odd few months. Confession time: I haven’t actually been on my bike since October, a thoroughly miserable little factoid there.  When I was first made redundant, I did vaguely have this dream that on days in between looking for work, I could get some extra miles in over the Chase.  Unfortunately, as time went on, I realised that the £20+ in fuel it cost to get to and fro the Chase was financially a bit irresponsible – especially as the statutory redundancy claim was taking longer than expected to sort out.   

It was, all-in-all, a pretty grim cycle of misery for a few months – I felt guilty about doing anything ‘fun’, as ‘fun’ wasn’t looking for a job or improving my skills.  Jobs were scarce, and each week that passed made me feel more useless. The redundancy claim was a fairly fraught process, with an investigation dragging it out, and leading to the delightful conclusion that my role had been TUPEd to another unrelated company.  I was informed that I’d technically resigned by refusing a job at the company in Oxford, so wasn’t entitled to anything other than my owed wages, which I’d have to claim from a company I’d never worked for. There was misery, there was despair, a fair bit of anger… put it like this, if I was strong in the Force, I would have been full on Sith and shooting lightning out of my fingertips, with Yoda looking a bit disappointed.  There was also a fair bit of weight gain – winter eating combined with no exercise plays cruel, cruel tricks on my waistline.  The weather went terrible, and EVERYTHING WAS RUBBISH.

Fortunately, things started to turn around.  The company that I was supposedly TUPEd to got their lawyers involved, and I ended up getting my statutory redundancy, loss of notice and unpaid wages/holiday after all.  Money may not buy happiness, but it pays the bills and buys motorbikes, so that was a plus.  I then managed to not only get my career back on track, but to give it a massive boost – I’m now working on two awesome projects for a company that helped shaped my childhood, and am professionally the happiest I’ve ever been.

And I’ve also taken up a new hobby – archery.  Longtime readers (if there are any) will know that I often talk of my love of Lord of the Rings, and my childhood desire to be an elf – ride a horse, live in a tree, have awesome hair, shoot a bow.  Well, I tried riding a horse, didn’t like it, but mountain biking is close.  Living in a tree is impractical, but we have a semi-detached and a mortgage. Hair… well, I try. 

But archery… I’ve been wanting to do it for years, and I finally managed to complete a beginners’ course which demonstrated that I wasn’t going to have anybody’s eye out, and joined the local archery club.  I was surprised at the bewildering array of stuff that you can get for recurve bows (my weapon of choice) – sights, long rods, clickers, etc. I’ve now got the basics, and have hopefully passed the ‘excruciatingly bad’ starting period, where my arrows were landing in strange and unpredictable places.  Unless you predicted ‘on the floor’ – then they weren’t that predictable.  Sometimes I would hit the target… just not the one I was aiming at.  Turns out you should keep your head still when shooting, instead of bobbing it around like an angry pigeon or like the possessed lass in The Exorcist.  WHO KNEW? But it’s great fun, will hopefully do something about my feeble upper body strength (18lb draw weight…), and will stand me in good stead for any forthcoming zombie apocalypse.

So now, I’ve just got to get back on the bike.  I’ve suffered from a lack of enthusiasm because of the weather, but now it’s starting to be less awful, I’m actually a little bit scared.  Scared to see how much fitness I’ve lost over six months, scared because people will be laughing at the fat girl on the expensive bike, scared because what if I’ve forgotten how to mountain bike and hurt myself on the Steg, or on the exit to section 8. What if people laugh?

But screw that – I can’t solve any of those problems unless I get back riding.  So this weekend I’m going to the Specialized Demo Day, so if anything terrible happens I can blame it on an unfamiliar bike (I’m also quite interested in the Rumour, as it looks like it might be a new-full susser that fits me). So if you see a tubby lass wobbling around – go easy on her, yeah?

Adventures in unemployment

I can’t say that redundancy agrees with me.  I don’t mind the application or interview processes, it’s the wait that follows that kills me.  I was thinking that I’d make my applications then spend my downtime wisely.  Housework! Gardening! Bike riding!  More Lua and Unity work!  I’ve done quite a bit of the latter, but everything else has taken a backseat to checking my email, Facebook and LinkedIn every five minutes.  I’m sat in front of my PC all day, so in that respect being redundant is much like being at work, only I don’t have any Proper Coders(TM) to mock my shoddy indentation.

Waiting for emails, I’m a bit like a kid at Christmas – only I don’t know if that brightly coloured box contains an exciting new job and a new phase in my career, or a big ol’ bag of unemployment.  I’ve come to deeply resent Chain Reaction, Evans Cycles and Wiggle, as I’ll see that I have a new email, excitedly open it… and find it’s from one of the aforementioned retailers.  Shiny new bikes! Winter gear now coming in?  As much as I’d love to blow my statutory redundancy (yet to arrive) on biking year, this is probably one of those situations where I have to be an adult and not spunk loads of cash on biking stuff. So not only can I not take advantage of the FABULOUS WINTER OFFERS, but they’re also not offering me a job.  Pfffft.

Still, it’s given me time to work on other things, like faffing in Unity and Corona, and I’ve also been putting some stuff together for schools, to encourage kids to consider game and app development as a viable career (and encourage them to continue in the appropriate subjects).  I’ve also been over the Chase once, on a Monday.  Fastest time ever! \o/  Hopefully I can get back over there this week too.

 

Well, that escalated quickly…

Blimey, I’ve gone a bit slack on the blogging front – I last posted on my birthday.

Well, if it’s any consolation, I’ve done a lot of riding this year – more than ever before!  Aaah, the benefits of a good summer – it was fantastic when it finally made an appearance!  I’ve been going out on rides in the evening on the local bridleways and quiet country roads, and also joining in with the Thursday night XC rides run by RLSCC.  This has made the weekends a lot more productive too – I can now do two laps of the Dog fairly comfortably, and have even done two laps of the Dog and the blue.  Admittedly I end up walking a bit like a cowboy after a hefty ride over the Chase, but it’s nothing that a bag of frozen peas and 400mg of ibuprofen can’t cure.

Sadly my racing has been limited this year – I didn’t fancy Mountain Mayhem, Sleepless was cancelled, Bonty 24/12 was the same weekend as my sister-in-law’s wedding (which was ace) and Torq in Your Sleep was the day before Mr Toast started his new job at Sega.  But things calmed down. Benny finally passed his bronze Good Citizenship test! All was well.  We started to ponder From Dusk Til Dawn.

Then I was made redundant.

To describe Thursday morning as ‘very surreal’ doesn’t really do it justice.  We were working away as usual. I went to the toilet, and, as I sat in the cubicle, I heard the door open and a male voice say, “Is anybody in here?”

I initially thought it was going to be a maintenance guy, but when I answered and had the response, “It’s Tom, you need to come to the second floor for a company meeting” – that was when I knew that something was seriously amiss. If the male company lawyer is coming into the ladies’ toilets and saying that everybody needs to go to an unscheduled company meeting, it’s not going to be for happy fun times. If you think differently, you’re either a deranged optimist or a pervert. Possibly both.

We shuffled to the second floor, a sea of concerned faces and nervous laughter.  I cracked a joke about The Hunger Games – truth be told, I was expected mass redundancies.  Blitz had tried so hard to buck the trend of hire and fire that’s prevalent in the industry that it was surely about time to slim down?  May the odds be ever in your favour.

What I wasn’t expecting was the entire company to have ceased trading, with the loss of over 170 jobs.

It was at the same time both kind of expected and a complete and an utter surprise.  Blitz had sailed close to the line over the past few years, trying to adapt from console development to a broader range of projects.  With the demise of THQ, the bottom falling out of anything other than AAA console development and the emergence of mobile and tablet gaming, it was a struggle.  But I think people always expected them to last – ten years is a long, long time in the games industry, and for an independent developer, over twenty years is almost unheard of.

It’s strange, because although Blitz never made a AAA hit, or anything that your stereotypical hardcore gamer would embrace, it’s a genuine loss to the industry.  Indie Celebrity(TM), former colleague and all-round good egg Mike Bithell wrote a lovely eulogy on Eurogamer.  So many of my former colleagues are at studios around the world – in Amsterdam, working on Killzone.  In Canada, working on Mass Effect.  Closer to home, in Twycross, working on super-secret Rare things.  I can’t help but imagine that when the news hit the gaming industry grapevine, that it was like Alderaan being blown up by the Death Star – millions of voices suddenly crying out. 

Because although Blitz wasn’t without its flaws (what company isn’t?), it contributed so much.  Blitz was willing to take on placement students, and graduates, or even with people without degrees, as long as they had the talent.  They allowed me to go out an champion accessibility in games development. They championed improved links between the industry and academia, helping students come out of university with relevant skills. And the Olivers are incredibly, incredibly nice, talking with relentless enthusiasm.  Hopefully something good will spring from the ashes.

So, what now? Well, fortunately Al started at Sega a few weeks ago, so at least one of us is in a job.  He at one point called me ‘a lady of leisure’. I threatened to punch him.  But I’ve got a few interviews coming up this week – all great companies, but I’m aware that I also have a lot of great competition now.

Interesting times!

I should be posting about my previous rides…

…over the Monkey.  Four so far this year, three of which went well, one which went… less well.  Took the Boneshaker a bit quick (not a euphemism) and came off in quite spectacular fashion, although fortunately I was remarkably unscathed apart from a few scuffs.

But no, let’s not talk about that.  Let’s consider this instead.

Well, that escalated quickly…

Excellent. The sun is shining, it’s pleasantly warm and the trails are dry.  It’s almost like spring!

After the recent weather and a bout of the standard office lurgy, was eager to get out.  Benny was dropped off at Old Farm Dog Boarding, where he enjoys long walks and running about in a huge garden with lots of other friendly dogs ranging from pugs and shih tzus to rottweilers and labradors (it’s quite a sight to behold…).  So, with Benny safely taken care of, we were able to go forth and bike and the same time!  Huzzah!

Not together though! Mr Toast wanted to hit Follow the Dog* straight away, whereas I decided to take it easy on the blue.  As it turned out, we did almost the opposite – I decided to do a bit of Follow the Dog, and Mr Toast decided to try and catch me up on the blue… which he couldn’t, because I wasn’t there.

Instead, I headed out from Birches Valley onto the blue.  As I passed the Stegosaur, I thought, “Well… I’ll go to up the fireroad hill and do 9, 10, 11 and 12”.  So I veered off in that direction instead.  It started out quite well – I pootled up the the fireroad hill steadily, and always in middle ring, with less trouble than in the past.  It looks like the commuting over winter has definitely boosted my fitness, even if it hasn’t kept the weight off!

I did the first part of section 8, then followed the diversion to section 9. So far so good.  I was riding well, even managed to overtake a few blokes…

THEN HORROR!

The first boardwalk on section 9 is an innocent little thing.  It has a clear run onto it – no awkward roots or large pebbles – you just ride in a straight line onto it.  I’ve done it loads of times.  I’ve done it a few times on the rare occasions I’ve been biking this year, on my 29er.  So what went wrong?

Well, it seems that I slowed too much on the approach, and was in too high a gear.  The front wheel veered off to the left, but I managed to catch it and get my foot down on the ground.  Unfortunately… I’m very small.  The height difference between my left foot on the ground and the rest of my body being on a bike on a board walk a few inches higher was too great, and after stopping, with grim inevitability… I fell over.  I’m not entirely convinced that falling off the bike once you’ve stopped is classed as an ‘off’, but… well, it’s a bit of a moot point really.  I ended up on my arse, legs in the air, entangled in my bike.  And those guys I passed?

Yeah, right behind me.

At the time, it felt that my pride had taken the main blow.  My leg had a couple of nasty scratches and a few specs of blood, but I just got back up and dusted myself off, and continued.  I pondered just getting back on the blue, but decided that was stupid, because I’ve been riding FtD without incident for years, and there’s no point getting a complex now.  So I carried on with 10, 11 and 12.  Without incident.  So there!

Crossed over the road (without incident) and took to the blue, but veered off for some cheekiness down the German cemetery which was a lot more rideable than last time I attempted it.  I guess not being covered in snow and ice does wonders for a trail.

I looped back and rejoined the blue. By this point my leg was starting to smart a bit, and the nasty scratches were starting to look a bit nastier.

20130420_180052Now, I’ll never be a Pretty Polly model, but the swollen red welts weren’t a good look.

Still, I’d had an awesome day and it was fantastic being back out on the trails.  Can’t make an omlette without breaking a few eggs, etc-

OH SWEET MOTHER OF ZEUS!

20130422_220612Sunday was interesting.  I got out of bed, and almost immediately fell over due to not being able to put any weight on my leg.  Eventually I managed to stretch it into a usable state, but it wasn’t a pleasant experience.  I got the bus in on Monday…

But today I’ve biked backwards and forwards from work, including extra sessions at lunch to check on Benny.  Other than a slight bit of stiffness, it seems fine, and the bruises are yellowing nicely!  I AM WOLVERINE! \o/ Except he’s the best at what he does.  I’m not the best at mountain biking. 🙁

Despite my comedy injury, I’m really looking forward to more biking this year.  We’ve got Dalby and Glentress planned for next week, so hopefully I’ll be able to enjoy those trails without anymore comedy offs…

* I nearly worded this statement “Mr Toast wanted to hit The Dog”, but given the previous paragraph I worried that people might take it out of context!

 

And that’s how I ruined Mountain Mayhem!

Ah, Mountain Mayhem.  You may recall that last year, I had a slightly tough time of it, struggling with the inclement weather, the climbs, and my lap clocking in at over two hours.

Well, if last year was inclement, then this year was, if you’ll pardon my French, fucking unholy.

But let’s start at the start. We bowled up at Castle Eastnor on Friday with Jag, Xye and young Benny Lava in tow, ready to rock.   It was raining, and the campsite was a bit moist, but no fear!  We decided to go to the catering tent to sign in before putting the tents up.

Well, the arena area was muddy, to put it mildly.  As we signed in at the catering tent, one of the admin staff went arse over tit in the mud.  Yes, not even the interior of the tents were immune to the horror.  Certainly added an element of peril to eating – can you get to a seat without slipping and dropping your curry? LET’S FIND OUT!

Fortunately the answer was yes.

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Any illusion that this was going to be a jolly weekend camping in the sun with the dog had completely gone out of the window.  Poor Benny looked frail and up to his armpits in mud, and seemed decidedly unimpressed with the proceedings.  We decided that the weekend would be fairly nightmarish for all involved if Benny stayed with us, so off I went back home, where t’boy could spend the weekend in comfort, starting with a warm bath.  You would have made the same decision.  I mean, just look at him. LOOK AT HIM.

 

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When I returned, Camp Chase Trails had been firmly established.  Yay!

 

 

First night was nippy, but the tent was actually quite comfortable and roomy, and infinitely improved by not having a miserable soggy Tibetan Terrier glaring at us folornly.  We tried to mentally prepare for the forthcoming race.

 

Aside from the evidence of our own eyes, the first indication of the horrors to come in the race briefing.  Team members only had to do one lap, not two. For elites, it was cut down from four to three. Teams wouldn’t be disqualified for members having to abandon their lap due to mechanicals.  Repeated references to endurance.  Erk.

Young master Jaggy was first up on our team.  Rather entertainingly, he had somehow interpreted “Yeah, last year’s run was a mile and a half, it’s going to be shorter this year” as “The run is only 500 metres”.  Oh, how we laughed!  Well, we laughed, Jag seemed slightly less amused.

Toast’s plans assumed that we’d be taking about two hours per lap, so we dutifully waited for Jag to come in.  We waited, and we waited, and we were getting slightly concerned.  Had he fallen off?  Had he broken his bike?  Fortunately, he was fine, but he came in forty minutes later than expected.  Can you imagine that? FORTY MINUTES!

It became clear looking at the laptimes that we would have to re-evalute our estimates.  I set out just before 6pm.  I’d be back about 9pm, I thought.  Maybe 9.30pm.

Well, the first half of the lap went relatively smoothly.   Well, apart from when I fell off almost immediately in the first wooded section. I rode most of it, although had to spend a lot of time pulled over to the side to let people pass on the singletrack.  Last year’s resolution of being a bit more forthright and assertive dissolved under the weight of shouty men that were far better riding in the mud than myself.  Still, the last woody singletrack section before it rejoined the fireroad was actually nearly enjoyable.  I made my way back down into the arena, feeling fairly pleased.

Then the true horror began.  The ground became more boggy.  Given that I struggle with long steep climbs at the best of times, at that last year I’d found it horrendous after a couple of hours of rain, the rest of track was a nightmare.  I think I actually pushed my bike for 90% of the second half, and, as the light began to fade, I realised that there was no way I’d make it back in time.  I tried to phone Mr Toast, but there was no signal, so I plodded on.  Hilariously, the same condition that makes it hard for me to ride a bike uphill also makes it rather awkward to walk downhill.

I asked a marshall if I’d be disqualified for being pulled off the track, and he said he didn’t know.  As I didn’t want to risk disqualification for the team, and I’d already done seven miles and it seemed stupid to give up, I decided to continue on.  The off-camber section was possibly the worst, struggling to make my way whilst also keeping out of the way of everyone else – who were also pushing or carrying their bikes, just considerably faster than me.

I genuinely, geniunely hated that second half.  There was cursing and there were tears, and a solemn vow to myself that not only should I never, ever, EVER entertain the notion of doing Mountain Mayhem again, but I should probably give Sleepless a miss too.  However, as I made my way back into the arena, my spirits lifted.  The end was in sight!

Mr Toast and Xye cheered me in, and I passed the finish line at five hours and fourteen minutes.  Mr Toast was relieved –  as I’d been engaging in my act of ultimate stubborness, the rest of my team had been running around, desperately trying to figure out what had happened to me.  The notion that I was still out on the track was, I’m informed, ‘inconceivable’, such was my husband’s faith in my ability to finish at anything resembling a sensible time.  Being told by a rider that a woman in a blue top had been seen being carried off by a quad earlier didn’t ease their worries either.  I supposed two hours twenty-or so up to five hours fourteen is quite a leap, but, well.  It was muddy.

After escorting me back to the tent, they tried to find Jag, who was on a bold quest to find out if I’d died.  Eventually we all came back together.  Because everyone had been waiting for hours for me in the open, in the pouring raid, running backwards and forwards between the medic tent, the control tower and the Chase Trails camp, no-one really felt like going out that night.  The next day, both Mr Toast and Xye felt ill (poor Xye had been recovering from being ill a week previously, Mountain Mayhem isn’t a particularly effective remedy…) , and the course looked considerably worse for wear, so they didn’t go out.  Because I ruined everything.

Still, Jez called me a legend, and I still got a medal, apparently.  I may give Mountain Mayhem a miss next year in favour of being Mr Toast’s pit bitch, as he’s considering going solo.  We’ll see!

And now, for your viewing pleasure, here are things that amused me in between the tears and the tantrums:

BEING OVERTAKEN BY TEAM SUMO (AGAIN)!

 

 

 

BEING OVERTAKEN BY UNICYCLISTS (AGAIN)!

 

 Admittedly, it was a teammate (I’m assuming) of the chap above.  He passed me on the way up to the Obelisk, and gave me a liquorice allsort and words of encouragement.  Good lad.

BEING OVERTAKEN BY TEAM ISLABIKE…TWICE!

 

 This was a new one.  Ridiculously speedy on a tiny Islabike, although they did have the advantage in the unrideable sections in that they could pick up their ride and swing it about their head if they so desired.

 

This poor sod totalled his bike fairly early on, with the rear mech being pulled into his wheel.  OK, this one was more amusing when we first saw him in the sheep field, with the sheep scattering away and bleating.  It was a fairly random sight.  Slightly less amusing when we realised it was because he was completely out of the race less than two hours into it.

Also nice was the small child who high fived me and gave me a Pringle, the random dude singing “Country Road”, the guy who helped me onto more solid ground on the off-camber section, the chap who offered me his lights (before realising we had no way of attaching it).  Here’s to you, Mountain Mayhemers.

 

 

13/05/12: Well hello, Captain Speedy

Sorry about the title, but I thought it’d give me an ideal opportunity to publically state how much I hate BT’s new advertising campaign.  I thought the last one was odious enough, but the current one makes me want to throw things at the TV.  Large, heavy things.  It’s like their marketing department is actively trying to annoy me.

Dangerously back on topic, last weekend I rode Follow the Dog twice.  I was toying with the idea of the Monkey, but decided that I just wanted to relax and have fun.  It was sunny, surprisingly dry, and I was going at a good pace (for me), so I decided to see if I could get a good lap time in.  First lap clocked in at around 55 minutes, although I could have shaved another couple off if there hadn’t been congestion at Werewolf Drop.  I overtook seven people, and was only overtaken by one.  This is either a sign of great progress, or a sign that the trails were surprisingly quiet.

I actually found the fireroad hill a bit more of a slog than usual, quickly going into granny ring.  I think I’ve said it before, but I think I find it much harder when it’s dry.  In a way it might have been a blessing, as my knees weren’t quite as knackered as when I try and push it in middle ring.  Still makes me nervous for Mountain Mayhem, as it’s considerably more climby and hilly.

Amusingly, I lowered my forks to 100mm for the climb, then promptly forgot to raise them back to 12omm for the rest of the trail.  Cornering seemed very nice, not sure if that was down to the fork travel or down to just having a good day.

Ended up back at Swinnertons and chatted to some of the Chase Trails chaps for a bit before setting out for my second lap.  By the time I got to section 9 I started to feel knackered, and the lap as a whole felt a lot slower – slower on the section itself, more pulling over to let people by, and longer drink breaks at the end of the sections.  Despite that, I still came in at just under one hour five minutes, so I was quite pleased, and also a bit surprised.

I managed to ride the switchbacks before Werewolf both times, so that’s a definite improvement.

Rather alarmingly, a bike was nicked from Birches Valley the same day – this is always a worry of mine, as when I ride alone I have to leave my bike unattended if I want to go to the loo.  You know Freud banged on about Penis Envy?  That’s why – no practical way of relieving yourself in a neat and tidy manner, even She Wees have horror stories.

ANYHOO, I always lock up my bike to a nearby fence, but I still worry that some scrote could cut the lock and nab the bike fairly swiftly.  Fortunately, thanks to a combination of suspicious locals and hardy northern folk, one scrote was thwarted in his efforts.  Despite evidently spending hours (Mr Toast had seen him the previous day and thought he looked a bit dodgy) scoping out bikes, he decided to nick one belonging to a group of 20 odd riders.  So if you see this chap:

…remember to congratulate him on his awesome decision making skills.  Whilst holding onto your bike, obviously.

So that’s one less thief, but it’s unclear as to whether his Astra-driving mate was caught – if he’s part of a gang, then people should still be vigilant.  Well, you should be vigilant anyway – bikes are more than just a possession to most of our kind.  They’re our pride and joy, providing us with thrills and fitness whilst allowing us to explore the great outdoors… or just go around trail centres repeatedly.  It’s all good.  Don’t let a scrote take that away, or at the very least, don’t make it easy for them.  Lock it up!

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.

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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.