Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Postcard from Denmark: Probably the Best Cycle Route in the World.

Separated from his Brothers in Arms this week due to work committments Al hatched a cunning plan. Well versed in Danish cycle-hire lingo he negotiated a special rate of 100DKK for the loan of the one of the Scandic Hotel's fleet of cycles.

Probably the best Bike in town...

Cycling in a strange city is one thing, on the 'wrong' side of the road another - the back-pedal coaster brake adding to the confusion - but the really disconcerting thing about cycling in Denmark is the hand signalling used by riders to make clear their intention; clearly not sanctioned by any international committe. Great Britain having recently beat Denmark to an Olympic gold medal in 4km team pursuit Al's invoked this superiority to ignore the unwritten code.

A Danish Fountain

The TCA out-of-towner caught his breath at one of the many satues in town, about half way to his target destination. His bike was performing superbly - John would even be chuffed with the 'Fat Boy' tyres installed for superior ride with reasonable rolling resistance - on Copenhagen's combination of smooth roads punctuated with ancient cobbles!

Can't a girl get a bit of piece and quiet?

Al was hoping for some tranquility at the end of a ride but the National Symbol of Denmark, the Little Mermaid was engulfed by tourists at the peak of holiday season. Pausing for a few obligatory snaps Al quickly made for the only piece of 'off road' action the city could offer.

The little mermaid, perfectly framed
by Copenhagen's industrial backdrop

The grounds of the old army barracks near the mermaid offer a place to get away from it all and nice views of herons and signets were had from the ramparts as Al struggled to control his bike on the gravel tracks.

After what felt like hours, Al finally
mastered the self-timer on his phone

It was soon time to head back to the hotel though using the cycle paths of the city, only occasionally losing orientation. The bike was dumped and, in true TCA fashion, a b-line made for the boozer. Central Copenhagen offered the typical dross of Irish pubs, English pubs, Scottish Pubs (!) and other such nasty stuff. However, down a quiet backstreet off the main square, through an alley and down some steps is nestled a haven from the madness in the form of Brewpub København, where a tasty meal and an excellent couple of pints of (strong) brewed-on-site beer can be proccured. Al plumped for Steak pie with a couple of pints of Ellhorn ("Ellhorn is the Norwegian for elderflower, which we have added to complement the hops in this lightly refreshing, aromatic summer brew") while he read a copy of the sports section of the Guardian to see how many more Olympic gold medals Team GB had won than the Aussies...

Clearly the boys from Carlsberg haven't
been to Brewpub København...

(Posted by: Al)

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Recovery Ride

Billy-Bob was still suffering fromt he ill-effects of the Chichester Challenge but was still keen to test his worn limbs. Al had no excused but fancied a more gentle outing after the rigours of another busy week at work.

The pair left hambledon to the north and bimbled towards their usual watering hole the White Lion. On the trip we discussed the ongoing Olympics and particularly the achievements of Nicole Cooke who won the women's road race earlier in the week. O considerably higher work-rate than this evening's for sure.

Nicole Cooke: Hard as Nails

We chatted with the familiar locals before retiring to the seats overlooking the village green. We then had a choice to make of which would be our second pub - after some deliberation we decided on the Horse & Jockey which provided the least strenuous approach. Having arrived at the 'Tack Room' bar the riders sank into a pair of armchairs to enjoy another leisurely pint. We watched the re-runs of the latest events in Beijing on the TV in the pub.

Billy-Bob: Soft as Putty

Back to Hambledon then for the only olympian feat of the evening - eating a mountain of home made cottage pie made by Tee.

(Posted by: Al)

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

West Harting Recce

Billy-Bob's injuries were keeping him off his bike this week, and John was waylaid by work commitments. Jon and Al stuck to the original arrangement and met at the main car park of QE Park with no particular plan in mind. After a quick (Al had forgotten to bring cakes and tea-making facilities) squint at the map they decided to tackle a modified version of the route demonstration by Wrong John last summer: We thought we would spice the ride up with a ride through West Harting Down, a wooded section employed by the course planners to provide further punishment on the recent Chichester Challenge.

The pair progressed at a leisurely pace out of the Park towards Charlton, stopping briefly to allow John to adjust his saddle before turning cross country at the top of the climb out of the village. There was slight confusion when we joined the road before we found the overgrown and obscured footbridge over the railway line at Woodcroft Farm. We then picked up the obvious bridle path towards West Harting Down. Jon's recent mileage was showing itself as he raced to the top of the Down leaving Al to eat his dust. There was only a minor mix-up that was soon rectified by confirming our location on the map using the GPS before getting on our way again.

Al and Jon take a break after
their climb to the top of the downs

Joining the familiar South Downs Way we headed for Buriton, taking a track known as the Milky Way down the hillside towards the village. The Milky Way is certainly not named after the sweet chocolaty treat from our childhoods - it was boggy, muddy, slippery and muggy. It was a relief to get back on the road, and past the tithe barn which surely would have had Billy-Bob wetting himself if he were with us. A quick pint of Badger's Fursty Ferret in the Five Bells (supplemented with chocolate energy bars left over from Jon's weekend in Afan) and we were back out for the village, bound for the western entrance to the QE Park. Again Jon made short work of the deadly climb while Al lagged behind.

John waits for Al at QE's rear entrance

We continued climbing through the Park, joining the Red Route once inside, which took us even higher. We skimmed round the northern fringes of the park before turning downhill. The route we took back to base was different to the one previously used and had much sharper turns than before. The dank conditions and rain earlier in the day made the trail treacherous. We arrived back at our cars in one piece though without major incident.

Route Map (click to enlarge):

Elevation Profile:

(Posted by: Al)

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Monday, August 04, 2008

Bedtime Bimble

Jimmy was restless; it was that problematic grumpy hour before bed-time. His only outing of the day had been to Debenhams in Southsea on a clothes-shopping trip with Mum, with a quick stop for some groceries at Waitrose. Illness, injury, weather and teething has so far put pay to any trial of his new Co-Pilot 'Limo' bike seat but he needed some fresh air - tonight was the night!

Threatening clouds hung in the air as Al fitted the new seat to the somewhat sacreligious rack he had recently fitted to his trusty Giant Cold Rock specifically for this purpose. Mum prepared the passenger for his first cycling trip with jeans, a warm coat and shoes. His Met Elfo helmet was fastened as best it could be, still a fraction too small even on the smallest setting, under his chin before he was strapped into the seat.

Jimmy seems a little unsure of
this new mode of transportation

Soon the boys were off on their first foray - at least there was no screaming yet. Dad's riding style was a little more concilliatory than usual as he spotted cars that were likely to pull out with no warning. The pair headed north out of the village, towards the hallowed cricket ground where a spot-check was made. Everything seemed fine and the pair made off again rapidly to escape the attention of a wasp who seemed to have aken a liking to Jimmy's helmet.

On then following the road bound for Soberton and Droxford, cutting back towards the village by a quiet country lane, throught the church yard and picking up the main road throught he village, past the pub and home: And all with only the slightest bit on whinging on the final ascent into Hambledon.

The boys arrive home safely
after their short exploration

With that, in true TCA fashion, it was straight into the bath then supper (7oz of Aptimil 3) and off to bed. The bike seat was deemed a success.

Route Map (click to enlarge):

(Posted by: Al)

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Saturday, August 02, 2008

Afan and the 'Man Plan'

After a good nights sleep at the Mattthews homestead in Devizes, we set off in convoy until it was realised that the Matthews car was not taxed. After a brief stop, it was decided that Jon and Charlie would continue and we would meet again at Chipping Norton once the tax was sorted. Jon was not impressed with this delay as he had got back early specially which is not a happy experience for him. Despite this we got to Afan just after 10 and embarked on the Whites trail.

The roll call

Julie and Ade soon showed up the rest of the group with their fitness levels having benefitted from a previous trip earlier in the year. For others, it was an experience with Jon crashing down a hillside looking for Ian behind him and Charlie crashing out but with more spectacular results, involving damage to both man and machine. However the ride was completed and we finished off in the Drop-Off cafe with copious amounts of food being consumed by Jon especially involving a huge lasagne and jacket potato - Billy-Bob would have been proud.

Scene on whites trail

The intrepid group set out from Glyncorrwg Ponds leaving behind the very soft and comfortable leather sofas and creature comforts of the ‘Drop-Off’ cafe! After a short wait where Charlie had his bike fettled (Rear mech hanger straightened, new rear mech jockey wheel, chain shortened and general shop TLC) we set of at a good pace along the stone/tarmac track that used to be the riverside railway, the start of ‘The Wall’ being some 6kms from Glyncorrwg site. We darted and dashed along the track playing like school kids with good weather on our backs and the excitement of the ‘Graveyard’ and other great technical downhill sections that lay ahead. A.D had the only bike with narrow enough handle bars to ride through the motor bike stoppers that stalled our progress momentarily.

The Wall starts with a long fire road track ascent interspersed with shorter cross-forest single track, which gives the rider a pleasant break from the constant push of the seemingly never ending ‘Up’! With spirits still high after a very successful ‘Whites Level’ completion earlier in the day, the group stayed together and nailed the climb. King of the Hills for the weekend had to go to Julie (shared with Big Jon) who seemed to lap up the hills with gusto! The start of the single track descent gave the group a nice taste of things to come and the accomplished group made light work of the early sections. The Graveyard gave a much larger test to the happy group (still enjoying the Welsh sunshine). Having had their ‘offs’ earlier in the day, the group stayed remarkably upright, finding their respective groves at the right time for the tricky Graveyard section which made the rider pick a careful route though the huge rocks with ample drops and sharp edges. The only stop for us was at the Old Ruin to enjoy a quick energy bar or guarana chewing gum (for the brave). The route was almost empty and we only saw 4 other riders the whole way around (maybe that was due to our speed!)

A breather from the Wall

The downhill continued to thrill and by now small jumps were being hit with speed and switchbacks were becoming relative pieces of cake. A highly recommended route even with the 6km outride and c.10km in ride above the river edge. Well earned beer and refreshments awaited after we built camp and cleaned ourselves up.

The group returned to the campsite, tired and hungry after 10k of seemingly never ending family route. The tents were erected rapidly under an increasingly grey sky and a growing wind and the promise of a hot shower and food to come. Gill and Ian’s tent had its first outing while pro camper Charlie-man scrounged tent pegs off the others having forgotten his own! The sweat, blood and mud was washed away in 2 minutes flat in accordance with the showers timer system and the girls returned to find Ad, Ian, Charlie and Jon hatching a ‘man-plan’ to secure our five bikes (plus one acquired from a pleasant chap in the next tent) to a very small tree. Cars were then moved to surround the bikes so that even the most accomplished bike thief could not break past our security (car) fencing.

The “man plan” puzzle

Man plan complete, the remaining boys went off to shower while Jules, Gill and Jon cracked open a beer, opened the crisps and began chilling in the camp chairs, unfazed by the start of the rain. Aware that time was getting on and that the time for last food orders was fast approaching the group headed back to the drop-off cafe. Jon was most disappointed to find that the lasagne had run out having craved a second helping of this monstrous sized dish since lunch. Charlie (?) and Ad filled up on the largest doorstop beans on toast you’ve ever laid eyes on and Gill, Ian and Jules settled for a pizza (each!) Dinner was eaten among recollections of the new energy section of Whytes, The Wall and talk of the days ‘offs’, a conversation Ian could avoid being the only one to escape a fall. Inspiration was gained from the mountain bike videos played in the cafe and we all picked up a few tips on how to glide over the rocks at speed for the following day. Tiredness soon began to get the better of us and the plans for a few beers were soon changed as the group started to fade at the table. Goodnights were said by all everyone made it back to the tents before the heavens opened and the rain came down, which was to last well into the night...

After a good nights sleep in the tent, we woke up nursing tired limbs which struggled to get moving after the two rides the day before. Julie was up first followed shortly by everyone else with Jon up last. Everyone had prepared different breakfasts for themselves ready for our ride of the day, Penhydd Trail. Gill and Ian munched some Pain au Chocolats, Charlie some porridge, later finished off by Ade, Julie and Ade some cereal whilst Jon munched a large iced flapjack.

The plan was simple, eat breakfast, wash, pack up, pay up and leave to go down the valley to Pontrhyden to start the trail. Part of this of course involved unravelling the man puzzle of interlocked bikes surrounded by cars to prevent bike thieves which had so impressed the womenfolk of the group. Remarkably all went plan including the unravelling of the bikes, chains and cars with the men congratulating themselves on job well done.

Sunday’s roll call

At Pontryhyden, it soon transpired that Penhydd trail had alot of ascent, 550m in fact. The trail involves alot of steep ups interspersed by technical downs and ups over rocks and tree roots along sides of hillsides. In fact lots of TTFs John, if you are reading this! The first requirement was though getting to the top. A tester of fitness which Julie took with gusto as she had the day before going up the Wall. However it was not to be her day as Jon overtook his pretender having something to prove after really losing the mantle of the King of uphills the day before. Gill and Ian took it steady as there was not really a race.

At the top, a poor welshman had to endure our chit chat and upon instruction from Julie refuse to divulge the tri-nation rugby score. However, to his relief, I am sure, we left after a brief debate over who should go first, with Jon being a bit cocky saying it was not his turn. So we set off with Ade in front along a narrow section before encountering some narrow zig zag sections such as Hidden Valley, Side Winder where we attempted to put all our skills learnt from the previous nights tv entertainment into practice, some achieved this more successfully than others. One thing was for sure, we all had no hesitation in tackling drop offs even if they seemed to drop all the way down into the valley. Certainly the number of craches were less than the day before apart from the odd tight switchbacks on the way down. Julie and Ade tried a particularly hard TTF along the side of boulder strewn river valley known as the Rocky Rebellion and we all found the Welsh version of the “Hambledon embankment” challenge on the other side of a ford which some, Ian, achieved better than others, Jon and Charlie.

Gill and Ian finishing the
ascent of the Penhydd Trail

All in all it was another achievement. Apparently the year before, the ride had been achieved in just over an hour and half which we did not achieve this year despite part of the trail being closed. However over 1500m of ascent and probably just under 50 km of riding was not bad in one and half days. We all said our goodbyes with some of us, the sensible ones, opting for showers before we got in our cars, and others , the foolhardy ones, deciding to put up with bodily odours and bad mosquito bites, for the M4 and our respective homes.

(Posted by: Ad, Ju, Jon & Gill)

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