Thursday, June 28, 2007

Hambledon Sting Operation

With half the country under water after terrible weather most of the week the TCA managed to find an elusive gap in the clouds for once. Al was last to arrive and found the others waiting in John’s new camper van. The usual round of 'cuppas' precipitated an issue that John had obviously been bottling up; complaining at the standard of Jon’s tea in previous weeks (for the record let it be known that John likes his tea strong with a splash of [skimmed] milk). With debates, M&S teacakes and cups of tea over at last the trio kitted up and left at around 19:00 for the usual Hambledon circuit.

John fettling his bike in the lea of the new van

We climbed Cams Hill out of the village, picking up speed as we hit the road at the top. With Al taking the lead we peeled off after a mile or so to join the bridal path near Broom Farm and were confronted by a wall of green rather than the usually well-defined track. Al and John pressed forward as Jon brought up the rear, yelping as he trashed through the nettles and brambles.

The track became clearer as we reached the woods and followed the track up the hill towards the first descent to Long Lane. The overcast conditions were perfect for cycling but the rain had made parts of the track quite treacherous. Nevertheless we reached the White Lion without incident and settled down for our usual pints of Palmers 200, John preferring the White Lion’s own bitter.

Relaxing after our usual pint in the White Lion, Soberton

After our beer we hit the disused railway track as Jon set off like a rocket and Al held onto his slipstream. John missed this trick and, with Jon having obviously taken some sort of illegal go-faster medication, was left in his wake somewhat. However, Al (who had by now been shaken off) and John had the last laugh as Jon shot past the infamous railway embankment exit despite Al shouting after him. Al and John had only to wait on the bridge above for a few minutes before Jon had made his way back and we were soon pressing on to the Forest of Bere.

Up and over as usual and, following a brief encounter with a rather startled horse rider half-way down the sandy hill, we had joined the road towards the Traveller's Rest and our second beer of the evening. The long summer nights make it almost obligatory that we patronise the outdoor bar at the Travellers although the serving hatch tonight was closed due to the inclement weather. John pulled the short straw, walking round to fetch the drinks.

Service with a smile from John

Jon and Al laughed at John’s expense when they realised he had been backed into a corner by the local ‘character’. Al recalled an evening when he and Billy-Bob had to endure endless tales of big-game hunting in Rhodesia from the same gentleman some years ago. Having extracted himself form the conversation quite deftly John delivered the beers and a quiet summer drink was enjoyed.

Even tired bikes need a rest

With no need for lights, and chatting amiably while riding three abreast at a leisurely pace, the ride back to Hambledon was reminiscent of bygone days of the TCA when this route was the norm most weeks for Billy-Bob and Al. A wistful moment for Al but his mind was soon focused on the thought of chilli con carne warming on the stove at home. We picked up speed on the way home and whistled past a lesser cyclist at a demoralising pace.

Dinner-time entertainment has a proud tradition within the TCA. Tonight Al had a treat for the others – a DVD of The Incredible Petrified World – donated by TCA(NZ) some months before. This lasted all of 10 minutes before it was deemed ‘unwatchable’ by John and Jon. Reviews of this movie tend to concur: "...features nothing petrified save the movie itself, ...which is incredible only in the sense that it defies belief that even the most gullible of investors could have been convinced to bankroll its production". So, this being the last day of SKY subscription at Hamela Cottage, Jon trawled the seedy underbelly of the satellite channels for something suitable. All were therefore ‘entertained’ by The Class of Nuke ‘Em High over dinner, Tee and Al even staying up to watch the end after the others had departed. Reviews of this film only offer marginally better encouragement: "Sadly, this is another one of those movies where the title is more amusing than anything else on offer." I am pleased to report that the TCA’s legendary questionable taste in after-dinner movie is safe and sound! As we went to our beds we could still feel the stinging sensation of the nettles, evocative of previous TCA summer rides .

Route Map (click to enlarge):

(Posted by: Al)

Labels: , , , , ,

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Cumbria Beckons for Solstice Special

TCA Celebrated the Summer Solstice by a special ride in Cumbria in which Worzel joined Maalie on his local patch. The ride commenced at about 18.00 with a loop round Maalie’s Test Circuit in which the resident had clearly worked out the sub-tracks through the sand dunes whilst the visitor become bogged down in the softer parts taking a number of 'offs'.

The TCA enjoying traditional British summer activities

With legs thus warmed up, the route took us past Askam cricket ground, across the level crossing and up the steep hill through Ireleth towards Kirkby Fell. Whilst Worzel was able to drop down into the lowest of his 55 gears and easily kept going, Maalie was obliged to resort to push-bike syndrome, though he protested frequently that he was doing much better than he did here on his first ride a couple of weeks ago (despite the day's earlier activities providing a perfectly legitimate excuse, should one be needed, for poor performance).

Maalie's eponymous walk of shame

Once up on the moor itself (though largely agricultural in nature just here) we passed close to the wind farm . We had a brief recovery stop at a small reservoir to watch an angler and then pressed on to Marton, enjoying the benefits accrued by gaining some altitude (but the downhill bits never last as long as the uphill bits do, whinged Maalie).

“Why do we want to farm the wind?”
a local was once heard to say,
“I think we’ve got enough wind oop here already”

Leaving Marton towards the Dalton-Irelth road we arrived at the anticipated watering hole of the Good Pub Guide listed Black Dog, noted widely for its range of real ale and wholesome (if not exactly haute cuisine) pub grub. Since our last visit the pub had changed hands and now appeared quite thriving, with a greater range of fayre chalked-up on the black board. So it was steak (Maalie) and trio of sausages (Worzel) for dinner with a couple of pints each of AllGates Young Pretender from Lancashire.

Toast to absent friends, The Black Dog

Homeward bound down the very steep hill passed Ireleth church, Maalie broke his personal land speed record at 27.2 mph, whilst Worzel disappeared out of sight. Back in Askam the ride was concluded by a spin out to the end of Askam pier, actually a promontory constructed out of slag from iron ore workings into the Duddon estuary. Back into Maalie Court, it remained only for a celebratory dram of Midleton Irish whiskey a gift from Davy, presented during Maalie’s recent retirement party in Spain.

(Posted by: Maalie)

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Postcard from Australia: A little pain never hurt anyone

A 'winter' ride Down Under by 'Friend of the TCA' Simon here:

A Little Bit of What you Fancy Doesn't do you any Good at all...

"... do not let any day go by.
If you think "you should".. then YOU SHOULD!"

Hear, hear say the TCA!


Saturday, June 16, 2007

Return to Whakarewarewa

Due to recent events it had been a while since Billy-Bob had mounted his bike and taken off to feel the wind in his hair and the sound of mud peppering his bike. It was thus without hesitation that the Bobster sought to instil into the latest and youngest member ‘the TCA way’ when an opportunity presented itself. Billy-Bob had arranged to meet up with Big Rob, a veteran of previous outings, down at the mighty Whakarewarewa forest - in the thermal wonderland of Rotorua. Rob had, quite literally, yet to venture into this neck of the woods: Billy-Bob had offered to accompany him on this Saturday morning jaunt with the one proviso; that he rented himself a half decent bike instead of using his trusty gun-metal steed, which had no suspension and dubious caliper brakes. In fact Rob’s bike was reminiscent of his own embryonic TCA steed of many years past, renowned for its sickly colour and oversize armchair saddle.

Whak er …dum de dum trail map

The TCA ‘kitting up’ ethos is known to members as a time consuming ritual often in the harshest of atmospheric conditions, but is nevertheless essential to ensure safety and preparedness for the journey ahead. It was thus a whole new experience for Billy-Bob to manage not only his own kit but also that of young Elodie, who was to accompany Stef and learn the ropes as support crew. Elodie was to bring along her own pump, harness, energy food, tyres and full weather attire for the venture, not to mention a rather fetching skull cap and thermal base layer, blanket etc etc….

Rob kitting up pre-ride

After a wonderfully quiet journey south to the town of sulphurous gases, Billy-Bob met up with Rob who had managed to secure a 2 hour rental from Planet Bikes, a local outfit run by various young grease monkeys, who take up position in a converted horse truck at the entrance to the forest. It was to Billy-Bob's surprise that Rob had rented the very same bike as his - a Diamond Back Topanga. This bike was identical to Billy-Bob's with the exception of some bespoke oversize front suspension Manitou forks with massive travel. The SPD’s had been removed and replaced with some Shrek like pedals as Rob had only his white squash trainers.

No time was wasted in kitting up in the car park as there was a rather cold wind lapping the margins of the forest despite it being a bright and characteristically clear blue sky. Thank goodness Billy-Bob had packed his trusty Helly Hanson thermal base layer. He could not wait to find the cover of the giant redwood canopy to escape the penetrating wind but, more importantly, to hide from the unwanted looks they were getting at Robs ghastly lycra and fluorescent yellow ensemble! After a final kit check and, with Elodie giving them a ‘Maggie Simpson’ sign of approval, they arranged to meet back at Stef’s ‘latte’ bar in just under 2 hours.

The Whak-a-whotsit forest is renowned among bikers in the North Island for being a good mountain biking spot, mainly because of the variety and grading of its off road trail network. This ranges from Grade 1. Described as fairly flat, wide and smooth track or gravel road – suitable for first time riders; to Grade 6 described as ‘Trail skills essential to clear many huge obstacles. High risk level, only a handful or riders will enjoy these rides, apart from bike ‘n’ hike enthusiasts!’ It was with these grades in mind that Billy-Bob planned 4 tracks for their morning session. These had been done at night nearly a year ago in the infamous ‘Rotorua Moonride’ and so Billy-Bob was confident in taking Rob on a day outing.

First up was the Repco track (Grade II) which was a largely flat trail with a few ruts, twists and turns, conquered previously by Mrs B.B. The ground conditions were pretty hard and Rob was delighted with his front suspension on the bumpy sections. After almost twenty minutes at a rather fast pace they were both warmed up and Billy-Bob was glad he had opted for just the thermal and wick away T shirt option or ‘Tee’ as they say in NZ. Meanwhile Rob, who had laughed at Billy-Bob’s rather thin clothing selection back at the car park, was now sweating profusely in his thermal, fleece and sweaty yellow anorak... at least that was his excuse.

Next up was the aptly named Diamond Back track (Grade II), which was similar in style and length but had the ‘big dipper’ section which Billy-Bob had omitted to tell Rob about. The big dipper section can best be described to seasoned TCA(UK) participants as a reverse Railway Embankment Challenge but twice the length. Fortunately this can only be tackled in the downhill direction due to the arrangement of the trail network. Once again Rob soon appreciated the necessity of suspension and also mastered, albeit precariously, the art of distributing his weight back over the saddle on a steep descent.

Realising that the trails were being mastered without any major hiccup Billy-Bob decided to up the anti to the Haro trial (Grade III), the trail that allegedly originally spawned mountain biking in Rotorua. This trail starts with a few short hills that are described as easy but in reality are pretty dam steep. This route saw the first dismount of the day on a particularly rutted uphill section and a ‘ near off’ by Billy-Bob on one acute bend, obviously out of form and going a tad too fast in a vein attempt to shake off the heavy breathing of Rob behind.

Billybob taking a rest stop in the sun

The last trail of the day was worth waiting for; it went by the name of Avenir (Grade III), described as having good grades with hills and ruts – nice. One of the good things about ‘W’ forest is that bikers can go for an age without running into another cyclist, even though at the entry to the park one might be forgiven for thinking that there was a woodland rave amongst the trees. It was therefore to their surprise that the duo came across a disheveled, misfit bunch of four spotty youths on full suspension bikes that were apparently lost on the last trail. Billy-Bob, as ever knowledgeable amongst the woods and wilderness, perused his trail map, rotated it deftly in front of the group and with a few confident words of orienteering wisdom sent them off... in the wrong direction.

The final trail presented no real challenge (Grade 4 next time?) to the intrepid duo and managed to take them (to their surprise) quite close to the car park, and by chance straight into the path of Stef and Elodie returning from their woodland walk. After Mrs B.B pointed in the real direction of the car park Rob reluctantly returned his beloved bike back to the grease monkey. Following a bit of bugaboo/bike trauma packing the car they all headed off into town to the renowned Fat Dog, Billy-Bob's favourite café and pastry-product establishment for a well earned feed.

(Posted by: Billy-Bob)

Labels: ,

Thursday, June 14, 2007

God Save the Queen

As a child I always used to feel frustrated when the producers of Scooby Doo tried to save some money by cobbling together a tenuous story-line to accompany a montage of clips from previous episodes. I feel similarly cheated now when they re-hash material from The Simpsons in the same fashion. However, I feel that this evening’s nostalgic ride might offer a similar opportunity, particularly since I again neglected to pack the camera.

With Jon away on his annual trip to
24 Heures du Mans John and I met up at the Queen Elizabeth Country Park for a change: There are a couple of designated mountain biking routes around the park itself but John proposed a circular route taking in part of the park routes and the South Downs way towards Harting. The route included a beer stop in Buriton which, with it’s several decent watering holes, was enough incentive for me to second the proposal.

Having followed John out of the visitor’s centre car park to the south and picking up a trail which skirted the park I soon realised we were on Chalton Lane, which I’d only previously cycled on the tandem (below). We passed tantalizingly close to the pub at Chalton as we tackled the short sharp ascent through the village. It had been raining all day and, although the evening had cleared nicely, it was warm and muggy. John had reverted to long trousers and a waterproof top but I felt I had made the right choice with shorts and t-shirt as we caught our breath at the top, sweating profusely.

On the way to the West Dean Chilli Festival

There followed a fast descent which crossed over the railway line and then picked up Huckswood Lane, a track which was familiar from the Chichester Challenge. Passing through Barnett Copse the track then turns into Cowdown Lane and then joins another familiar-looking road: We had entered 'Matthews territory' – picking up part of our regular Nyewood-West Marden route around West Harting Down, albeit in reverse, as we joined the bridle path at Huckshot farm.

Jon and Scott on West Harting Down

At forty acre lane we rode a section of the South Downs way which has already been very well-ridden (and trodden) by the TCA in various guises (below). For instance, I remembered walking this part of the route loaded down with an unfeasible amount of equipment for a one-night hike to Heyshot with Billy-Bob in the pre-blog days.

Al & Tee on their South Downs Walk

Al & Jon take a break in the same place
on the Chichester Challenge

Having arrived at the road between Sunwood Farm and North Lodge John introduced me to the Milky Way, a track I was unfamiliar with which leads steeply down to Buriton from the South Downs Way. We stopped at the Five Bells, one of my personal favourites, for a pint reminiscent of the time Jon and I waited for Sloppy Porridge Maker a few weeks ago (below).

I tried a pint of River Cottage Stinger, a seasonal (nettle-based!) beer brewed by Hall & Woodhouse (Badger). John opted for the more ‘common & garden’ Badger Best. The blurb read “a grassy herbal aroma with subtle gooseberry and lemon citrus notes that build up towards the end of the glass. It is finished with a slightly spicy after taste that lingers beautifully” I would simply say that the Stinger was the best beer I have sampled in a good long while. We toasted absent friends, many of whom I know would have relished a Stinger themselves.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall from River Cottage says,
"I'll stick to cooking, the TCA's too tough for me"

It might have been my imagination but I’m sure we took a little longer to drink our beers than usual; we both knew that we had the infamous climb back up to the QE park ahead of us (these climbs are always worse straight after a beer when it feels as if you’re only firing on three cylinders)!

Eventually arriving at the top end of the Country Park we picked up the ‘purple’ (novice) route which wended it’s way gently through the trees and eventually back to the car park where we began. One more step towards full TCA membership for John as he had successfully passed the test to devise a suitable new route for the ride. We returned to Hambledon for a celebratory curry as we watched ‘Britain’s got Talent’ - can reality TV descend any lower, we asked?

Route Map (click to enlarge):

Elevation Profile:

Speed Profile:

(Posted by: Al)

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Top Tables

John drove from Manchester while Al made the comparatively short trip from London to meet at Jon’s for this week's ride. It was a pleasant evening; the westerly breeze providing relief from warm, humid conditions. We plumped for our regular Goodwood ride since John was yet to do this established route – the last time we tackled it the ride was somewhat curtailed by technical difficulties. We thought we were in for a similar experience this week when, with only 441ft showing on the odometer, John’s gears ceased up before we reached the end of Jon’s road.

John’s gears seemed to fix themselves as we worked our way towards the trundle. Al had started his training regime this week in preparation for the Chichester Challenge and, with the recent Staunton Park mileage also heavy on his legs, struggled to keep up with the others on the familiar ascent - by the time the car park was reached Al was a full 90 seconds behind. After a breather we decided to push for the trig point at the summit rather than skirting through the field, stopped for our customary photo and admired the magnificent views of the downs on one side, Chichester on the other and beyond all the way to the sea and the Isle of Wight.

Jon, Al & John on top of the Trundle

After the steep descent off the trundle we picked up the road that skirts the race course. Goodwood looked magnificent with immaculately manicured lawns, flags flying and tables and chairs set up for the regular Friday evening racing. We joined the bridle path which follows the perimeter of the race course before descending to Charlton and the Fox Goes Free. John and Al had a pint of the intriguing and delicious Hidden Pint from the Hidden Brewery in Dinton near Salisbury. John enjoyed a pint of the local Ballards Bitter as we all marvelled at the monolithic garden furniture which had been installed (Below).

After polishing off our beer we remounted and climbed the road back up towards the trundle. Gluttons for punishment we took a slightly longer (and definitely steeper) route back up via the summit rather than using the short cut following the contours around the peak. We cycled around the ancient walled fort and regrouped at the car park at the top of
Claypit Lane. Al was keen to make up for his lack of pace on the ascent and managed to reach the bottom 90 seconds ahead of Jon who had reached the top first - revenge is sweet! At this point we decided to split up; with time marching on John was keen to get home but Al and Jon fancied a customary second pint in the Royal Oak.

The Jo(h)ns study the map at the Fox

Using the well-worn Goodwood perimeter track Jon and Al followed John’s tread-marks back to base after their beer. With no sign of John at home there was even more delicious spaghetti bolognese for the remaining two, washed down with bottles of Abbott Ale while watching ‘Hustle’ on the box. Al chose to stay over and, now that Jon has got rid of his lodger and with no Billy-Bob on the scene, finally got a proper bed!

Elevation Profile:

Speed Profile:

Route Map (click to enlarge):

(Posted by: Al)

Labels: , , , , ,

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Postcard from Cumbria: Maalie's New Wheels

A write-up of a route taking in the tarns of the Furness Peninsula by
'Friend of the TCA' Maalie here:

Coffee & Cherry Flan:
Billy-Bob eat your heart out!

Labels: , ,

Specialized Challenge Series, Staunton Country Park

After the longest layoff in TCA history Al, Jon and John met up at Staunton Country Park to take part in the local ride in the Specialized Challenge Series. It was a beautiful morning as we checked in for the ride, picking up our instructions, number plate and wrist band. Registration took place between 08:00 and 10:00 and riders were free to start the 45km route at their leisure between 09:00 and 12:00. The advertised route was a single lap but (possibly due to the recent heavy rain) two laps of a shorter route made up the course. We were a little surprised that there were only about 200 riders pre-registered for the event; we set off on our own without another rider in sight at 09:16.

We had decided before-hand to take this, the first major ride of summer, at a steady, sociable pace and try our best to stay together. With the sun beating down and the temperature already into the mid-20s centigrade this proved a wise option as we settled into the saddle and caught up with each other’s activities over the last four weeks.

The route itself was a satisfyingly diverse range of terrain: fire track, woodland paths, graveled road and open meadow. There were also a couple of more technically demanded sections – some tight weaving through trees and over felled logs and some pretty muddy bits too. The only unpleasant sections were short stretches over freshly-mown fields which were very, very bumpy and pretty hard going on the posterior.

The course gently undulated as it looped around the park. However, towards the end of the lap there was a seriously steep hill. On our first lap we stopped after the climb to get our breath back, take on energy drinks and bars (Jon indulging in some seriously dodgy-looking Japanese lychee jelly snacks left over from his trip to Hong Kong in October). At our leisurely pace we crossed the line for the first lap at 1h 20m and completed the full 45km in 2h 43m. We hosed our bikes down and marveled at the speed with which personalized certificate were produced. Less impressive was the goody bag issued to finishers – one might expect more than a can of Red Bull and a water bottle for the rather steep entry fee of £15. Unfortunately we neglected to take a camera and have no images of the event. However, we do have some rather nasty plastic medals to remind us of a very pleasant day out!

(Posted by: Al)

Labels: , , , ,