Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The First Ride of Winter

With Jon on his holidays and Billy-Bob still nursing the new nipper it was left to Al and John to keep the flame burning on a night when both riders would probably have rather been huddled round a fire. Clear nights and northerly winds had seen the temperatures plummet in the last few days - the temperature would dip below 3 degrees centigrade before the night was out. Winter riding had arrived!

So, armed with thermal base layers, under helmet head wear, winter gloves, thick socks and long trousers, the pair set off on TCA favorite - Hambledon Route #1. Thankfully Al was in better form than the previous week and just about hung onto John's back wheel as he briskly made the ascent of Cams Hill.

While it was a cold night the still, dry conditions made the perfect riding environment and Al relished the first descent even more than usual. By the time he had followed the track and reached the road he had quick a lead on John. When he had caught up John complained that he was not feeling quite as confident as usual on the descent and wasn't firing on all cylinders. This became apparent - the tables were turned from the week before - as John lagged behind as Al raced ahead, glad to be back on form.

We were soon at the bar in the White Lion and ordered two pints of Bowman's Swift One. Parting with tradition (and perhaps common sense on such a cold evening) John suggested that we drink our beer outside rather than beside the raging fire in the bar. Anyone who has been cycling to the pub on a very cold night might be familiar with the discomfort one can experience for the first few minutes back in the saddle as physiology struggles to adapt to the new environment (which is possibly exacerbated by a pint of beer). John's theory was that this might be eased if we did not acclimatise to room temperature before recommencing the ride.

The practice can confidently be consigned to the bike shed floor however - both riders still felt the nausea and shivering as they remounted and headed down the disused railway. Make the most of the fire if you see one!

It was not just the bikes that were
out in the cold tonight

Al once again shot off into the distance as John struggled to find his form. While the railway line was not the quagmire it sometimes can be the fallen leaves and mud certainly signaled the start of tougher riding conditions. Al wondered how many more successful first attempts he would make as he struggled to the top of the Railway Embankment Challenge. John made a token attempt before deciding to push on for the Forest of Bere.

Up and over as usual with no drama despite the heavily sanded section and the air were soon in the Traveler's Rest. Thinking on from their recent experience John and Al quickly took off their waterproofs and sat back in the warmth of the bar over another pint of Swift One.

Back out into the col and the usual nauseating feeling as they started for home. They eventually warmed up on the gradual ascent along the country lane back to Hambledon. There they were greeted by Beef in Old Thumper stew with mash and homemade bread and pints of Hobgoblin, the winter chills soon evaporated.

Route Map (click to enlarge):

(Posted by: Al)

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Return to Afan

When Mrs John announced back in May that she was going to be away in Ireland for a business trip in Mid October, John decided that a return trip to Afan park would be in order.

Over the following months, and numerous emails, conversations and changes of plan, the initial TCA and associate MTB crowd, were as Churchill would have said “whittled from the so many to the so few”. It was left down to Jon, John and a TCA prospect Steve to head up to the land with a unpronounceable language .

For those of you not familiar with Steve, he is a Navy Explosives Ordinance (EOD) diver, an accomplished tri athlete, and had to pass a physical test equal to that of the UK special forces to get his job. However his life time ambition is to join the team of finely tuned, skilled and superbly fit TCA athletes. Many had tried, but were left as physical and mental wrecks on failure.
This weekend would be his initiation, under the watchful eyes of the TCA veteran Jon and newcomer John.

It was decided that the three of us would head out around 2pm on Friday, and Steve would be taking us up in his car. As is customary Jon turned up disorganised and late.

We had arranged to stay at a bunkhouse near to the Afan park, the L&A Outdoor Centre in Goytre. The Outdoor Centre is a venue, set in a beautiful wooded valley, offering log cabin and bunk house accommodation, they offer both catered and self-catering stays and accommodate groups from 5 - 250. John had been in contact with Nigel at the centre and we were allocated an 8 berth bunkhouse for our sole use. Although the accommodation was basic, it was clean, warm; beds were comfortable and had its own toilet and shower.

Having deciding to demonstrate his Royal Navy navigation skills Steve took us the pretty way up to the centre, and four hours later we arrived. This also gave Jon the overworked, underpaid and undervalued town planner a chance to catch up on his beauty sleep on route. We were met by a very affable and helpful Nigel, who showed us to our accommodation. Ordinarily he would have offered us food but as the centre was full with German students and a bunch of Karate kids that weekend, he suggested a couple of local restaurants, and the local football club bar on the site for liquid refreshments.

With bikes and gear unloaded we headed into Port Talbot to the recommended curry house.
I should add that at arrival at the lodge we also met with another bunch of MTB riders, who we subsequently discovered were from Southampton, and rode with a group called the New Forest Mountain Bike Club. John was horrified to see that one of them had the same bike as him; it was akin to two women wearing the same dress at a wedding. Over the coming weekend the two groups would meet numerous times.

The curry was good but the lack of Kingfisher beer was a disappointment to the experienced Indian continent travellers John and Jon.

Back to the centre and over a couple of pints in the football club bar we decided to head up to the site at Glyncorrwg the following day, notably because the excellent “Touchdown Café”

With a later than intended start the following morning, (despite the Karate Kids waking the whole site up with their chants as they kicked and punched the hell out of imaginary people in their morning practise) and over a coffee and large plate of Welsh Rabbitt (a savory sauce made from a mixture of cheese and various other ingredients, i.e., mustard and served hot over toasted bread) we decided to tackle the Penhydd trial (Distance 17km, Climb 550m).

This is a very varied trail which combines forest road climbs with tight, technical, switchback trails through mixed woodland. The open, flowing single-track also crosses young plantations opening up fantastic views. Big climbs followed by technical descents mean that this trail can be difficult and is exposed to bad weather on high ground. To get to this route we needed to use the family friendly low level cycleway route to the Afan forest park site.

In keeping with TCA tradition, this simple task was too prove eventful, with Jon having an instantaneous puncture, causing him later to also to have to invest in a new tyre. (note it was not John who is the usual puncture victim)

We finally got on to the trial, and in keeping again with TCA history further mechanical problems developed for both John and Steve, notably for John on his not yet tried Commencal, with his head bearing, knocking like a grandmothers knees on a cold day, and Steve also having gear selection and head bearing problems on his Claude Butler.

At this stage and jumping to the end of the route, the local cycle shop at Afan Forest and Glyncorrwg, Skyline Cycles offered John excellent support and fixed the issue with removal of a shim and addition of a head tube spacer. At this point Jon also invested in a new tyre, and John and Steve new Buffs.

The Penhydd trial offered us all some challenging situations, John for the struggle to keep up with Jon and Steve on the uphill sections, and Jon and Steve the very fast and slippery single track descents. Steve also was able to impart some good advice on pedalling techniques to John, which he would attempt to put in use for the rest of the trial and weekend. With the delays caused by the mechanical issues and late start we decided to head back to the Glyncorrwg site for some food and to then decide on what else to tackle that day.Anyway, having sat in the warm Touchdown café, having eaten a large excellent meal and seeing the rain outside, collectively at 4.30pm we decided to call it a day.

Back at the bunkhouse we all showered and headed to the football club bar for a few pints of Guinness. It should be noted that at no stage during the ensuing discussions were babies mentioned, but rather the traditional topics of football, fit female TV presenters, bikes, cars and boys toys, which have been missing on more recent TCA outings. We then moved on to the L&A centre bar for further liquid refreshment in the form of Hobgoblin bottled beer, and a few games of pool, whilst listening to a sing along lead by Nigel on his guitar and one of the German teachers on a fiddle.

The next morning with alarm set (with Steve and John agreeing to ignore the grumpy Jon who does not do early mornings) we packed up and headed back to the Afan Forest park, to tackle the Wall Trial. Again the Karate Kids were doing chants in their early morning practise, lucky for them we kept Jon away as the ensuing carnage would have been terrible!

Although not as palatial and extensive as the Glyncorrwg site the newly refurbished and upgraded Afan Forest park site now offers a good café, showers, bike shop and bike washing facilities, and to the café we headed. Sustenance in the form of a full English with coffee set us up for the day.

The Wall (Distance 23km, Climb 450m), offers some of the best single-track descents in the UK, this trail essentially traverses the North side of the Afan Valley on single-track, varying from fast, open and flowing to tight, technical and rooty. Great views of the valley and coastline open out at different points, and in places the steep-sided slopes can feel exposed.

The route lived up to its description, with steep and very long ascents, on which as usual John lagged behind (but not a far as the previous day due in part to no mechanical issues and new pedalling technique) and very technical and fast single track downhill sections where John and his Commencal excelled. It should be noted at this stage that Jon with his new forks was far more confident on the downhill sections and was even heard to comment on “what good value his investment in them was”!

With no mechanical problems or accidents the trio returned to the park centre in good time.
The showers were excellent and a hearty meal was had in the café before heading home.

A quick trip down the M4 saw us home in 3 hours.

(Posted by: John)

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Wrong John is Right!

After rushing home, Jon found both John and Al waiting in front of his house raring to go with expressions of where have you been and sternly looking at their watches. A quick cup of tea with cake was hastily consumed and bikes made ready quickly especially Jons. A discussion ensued to result in a slightly amended route heading in the direction of East Ashling but first road bilking through northern Chichester,  Summersdale and  then onto East Lavant. John being in critrical mood decided that he did not fancy the rutted road track around the Goodward Motor Racing Circuit. 
Feeling our way through traffic past the St Richards Hospital and then the University, we gladly got onto off road tracks around East Lavant and then onto Chalkpit Lane the slow sludge of a track upto the Trundle. By this time, the fitness of the Jo(h)ns gained from their Afan trip, the weekend before, was beginiing to show with poor Al propping up the rear and feeling a bit lost out, missing the Billy Bob. At the top we cycled fast with Jon in the lead across a bumpy field edge and then down a steep grassy downhill with Al now in the ascendency. At the bottom, we cycled across the Lavant Valley floor with some team work with front riders opening and closing gates ensuring no stoppage for us. Down Bidderton Lane, we briefly went wrong but soon got back on track, down the previously named rat alley. It should be renamed Partridge (Red-Legged no Greys I am afraid) alley on account of these birds sheltering in the the deep ruts of the track. Several were almost run over which would no doubt have been added to dinner pot. 
Up along the bottom of Kingley Vale, the Jo(h)ns were way ahead of Al save for a brief period when John had a girly off caused by a rut and Al was begining to complain about feeling a bit socially excluded. The Jo(h)ns agreed to slow down but with a pub now beckoning, more urgent matters soon needed to be addressed. At the kingley Vale carpark entrance at West Stoke, there were two options turn left or right. Unfortunately Jon had forgotten his map to work out which way. These life and death situations are where you really need a map. John rather hastilly decided that it was left which left Al and Jon no choice but to say right because John is always wrong. However it soon became apparent that right was wrong after asking a couple of bikers coming the other way. So we got to the pub, the Horse and Groom, enjoying a couple of splendid pints but had to keep reminding John that he was right in deciding left but wrong in expressing a view forcing Al and Jon to say left and therefore wrong overall. 
After a quick road cyle back, Jons hospitality was extended to a hot chilli and noddles watching a repeat of the Real Hustle.  

(Posted by: Jon)

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Monday, October 06, 2008

New member

Congratualtions to the Billy-Bobs
from all at TCA HQ on the arrival of
Islay Elise Billy-Bob

Mr and Mrs Billy-Bob and Eli-Bob arrive home
with their new arrival.

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Thursday, October 02, 2008

New Gaff

After week of unseasonably warm weather we gathered at Al & Tee's new house on a dry, clear, still evening. It was a full house too as first John, then Billy-Bob then Jon arrived and tucked into a selection of cakes as Al bathed Jimmy.

There was a little faffing as usual, Al's aging light system being the main culprit; but we were soon on the road. It should perhaps be pointed out at this point that Al & Tee had not moved far - just across the road, within the same post code in fact. So, although the kitting-up routine was a little unfamiliar they were soon slogging up Cams Hill on the trusty Hambledon #1 route.

Pausing briefly for an altercation, with some 4x4 driving yokel who insisted we were breaking the bylaws, as we turned off the road for the first time (they had a point; technically the farm track we use to short-cut a particularly boggy part of the bridle path is a footpath), we were soon on the King's Way and into the woods.

Jon and Billy-Bob emerge
from the woods

The conditions were perfect and the trail was bone dry, unusual at any time of year and the boys enjoyed being back in the saddle again with a full compliment of riders. The bubble was burst though at the foot of the first descent as John, in an all to unfamiliar stance, bent over his upturned bike - yet another puncture.

The King of the Punctures
gets to work

With so much practice John had his bike up-and-running in record time and we were on our way once more. A short section of road before Paul declared a 'runway challenge' (the once mandatory sprint across the fields towards Soberton). Al got a good start and held on as Jon, John and finally the beaten challenger crossed the imaginary line drawn from the hedge at the bottom of the field.

Picking up the rad once more we made for the White Lion to recover from our exertions.

A toast to absent friends
The White Horse, Soberton

With perfect trail conditions the disused railway line was lightening fast and the boys soon arrived at the infamous railway bridge. Al scaled the embankment first, Jon had one unsuccessful attempt and Billy-Bob and Jon thrashed around in the undergrowth for a while before submitting.

Billy-Bob and Al lagged behind during the ascent of the Forest of Bere - a fallen tree at the beginning of their chosen route held them back. All assembled in the car park at the summit before tackling the descent towards the Traveler's.

The frequent spills on this section have taught us to be wary of tail condition halfway down the descent, and tonight we discovered that a batch of fresh dry sand had been used to patch up the path. All did well to hang on as their bikes snaked through the powdery surface.

It was darts night at the Traveller which confined the TCA to the luxury of the lounge bar where all except Billy-Bob enjoyed a pint of fff's Alton's Pride, recently named Champion Beer of Britain for 2008.

We were soon on the way home again for a meal which Al had invested considerable effort in, to make sure the first formal dinner at his new home was a success. Cawl with home-baked poppy seed rolls followed by crumble (made with Hambledon apples) and cream. Echoing days of yore Billy-Bob and John stayed over therefore some after-hours drinking may have taken place.

Route Map (click to enlarge):
(Posted by: Al)

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