Thursday, October 29, 2009

Jon's New Lights

With John H on his travels in Toulouse and Billy-Bob working, it was left to Jon P and a firing-on-three-cylinders Al to keep the dream alive. After customary discussion of the woes of work, over cake and tea the boys got out for 6.30pm, cycling earnestly through the back streets of Chichester to start along the canal route. It was one of those curious evenings where the choice of apparel was not necessarily obvious - it was very mild for the time of year but there was still a nip in the air. Both riders deemed is 'shorts weather' but took the precaution of a thermal base layer and a waterproof top. Winter gloves were left at home.

Jon was particularly keen to get off the beaten track to try out his new light system, a Lumicycle Halide system "...the absolute pinnacle of lighting technology" as the blurb says! Dodging the usual walkers and vagrants, Jon quickly had to resort to bimble pace to allow Al to catch up with his failing respiratory system. Of note the boys encountered a young Hedgehog on the canal path which Al just manged to avoid. Lucky for the Hedgehog, Al stopped to warn Jon who had lagged behind at this point. After a brief picture stop and a kicking of Hedgehog out of harms way, we headed south towards Chichester Marina.

Once over the harbour gates Jonperformed a full calibration of his new kit - lighting up Salterns Copse and exposing most of the wood and surrounding area. Al agreed that the system really was better than anythign he had seen before. The lights look stylish, yet understated and, after a characteristic flicker and few seconds warming up as the beam gained intensity, the power is astonishing.. and just one lamp.. and a four hour burn time!

The view from behind the
Lumicycle Halide

Once at Dell Quay and the Crown & Anchor Al enjoyed a pint of Youngs Special and Jon a pint of St. Austell's Tribute, whereupon plans to solve the nations problems were evoked. Amongst many ideas floated was recruiting prison inmates to run the Royal Mail and waste collection. We briefly considered the "John H light-weight shortcut" route straight back home at this point because we had thought we had taken over two hours so far; according to Jons watch it was about 9 pm. However, we were not put off and decided to cycle up towards East Lavant along the old railway track. Soon Jon had to admit a school-boy error in his time keeping: He had not corrected his cycling watch after the hour change on Sunday so in fact we had loads of time!

Is it a bird? Is it a plane?
No - it's Jon with his new lights!

Two thirds of the way along the track Al always anxious to do something different and decided to try out a footpath branching off this cycle track up an embankment and found a short cut down towards the Earl Of March at East Lavant. The embankment has some potential for a embankment challenge in the future. At the pub, drinking two pints of Harveys, trhe boys indulged in some people watching as the posh folk of Sussex in their fancy attire rolled up for dinner.

After cycling back via the Lavant Ford route, we got back to a traditional slowcooker special: Chicken Casserole was served up and for pudding a Belgian Truffle Chocolate Torte with each serving worth 40% of your daily recommended intake in saturated fat. Jon had chosen the dessert especially for Billy Bob knowing his taste for healthy food but he shouldn't be dissappointed as the remainder will be frozen for future consumption.

(Posted by: Jon)

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

New Forest Duathlon

As regular readers of this web site will know, earlier this year in a moment of madness John H and Jon P signed up to compete in the New Forest Duathlon. A weekend's training in July filled our heads full of what we should do and how we should do it, and with us both knowing our weaknesses (Jon running like a squiffy giraffe and John cycling like a bandy legged cowboy) the boys set about trying to prepare for the event. All too quickly the 25th October had arrived, and the intrepid pair arrived at Sandy Balls just outside Fordingbridge at a ridiculous time on a Sunday morning.

With numbers and time measuring chips collected and fitted, bikes racked in the transition area, all was ready for the event. Well almost; Jon was running around like a deer caught in the high beam of an approaching true. In true Jon form, he had left it up the very last minute to borrow a proper road bike from Ade, had little practice on it, and had not checked that the cleats on his shoes would suit the pedals). Meanwhile John had about 5 visits to the loo. In contrast John’s brother in law Mathew, who was also entered, approached the event in a calm and collected manner, although it must also be said that he had run the course and cycled it many times so was well prepared.

All the 'athletes' were assembled for a briefing on the race format and rules after which we were lead down to the start of the race, this in itself was interesting as the gradient (downhill) would have suited climbing gear. Then, with a shout of "GO!" we were all off, straight back up the steep hill for the start of the 6km run stage.

So not wishing to bore the reader further with a step-by-step appraisal of the event both of us were running almost side by side into the 1st transition stage, although for the assembled world’s press (Mrs John) John had to make sure he was just in front. 30 secs or so later John was out on the bike and heading out into the New Forest roads, 3 or 4 minutes later Jon got his act together and also got out on the bike. Jon soon caught up and took the lead. John managed to keep him in sight but as drafting was not allowed had to hang back (well that was his excuse).

The route undulated over 21km, although not technical the very strong head and cross winds affected all the competitors significantly. 40 or so minutes later, separated by about 30 secs the two of us made it back into the 2nd transition stage, where again John stormed through transition and Jon piffled around like a school girl in a make-up shop. John made it out onto the road just ahead, for the 2nd 5km run stage; the same hilly route was used.

During our training weekend the importance of what is known as 'brick training' was extolled, i.e. conditioning you to the move from a cycle stage to a running stage . Needless to say the name brick is highly appropriate as both of us later agreed that our legs felt like bricks as we tried to get them running again. 26 or so minutes later John ran throught the finish followed a minute later by Jon; Mathew had finished about 9 minutes earlier.

All in all we were both glad we had done it, but also that it was over. The organisation both before and during the event was excellent, certainly miles ahead of the Helly Hanson challenge that John signed the TCA up to a couple of years earlier. The event was also friendly; although tough it seemed to me that all the competitors (including the 2 or 3 elite world champions that turned up!) were all very approachable even whilst competing. As always circumstances seem to conspire to cock your best laid plans up, but both of us knew what we were in for, and the lessons learned during training and the event will help us in future physical challenges.

(Posted by: John)

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Thursday, October 08, 2009

Postcard from Strontian: Ardtornish Castle

With the agreement of the blogmaster here is a guest blog from the sloppy porridge maker on holiday with his wife, Karen, and Labrador, Meg. As regular readers will know in April 2008 the boys spent a very enjoyable weekend in the West Highlands courtesy of Peter and Elspeth Webb. This was the opportunity to revisit the Ardnamurchan peninsular and having successfully accomplished the scaling of Ben Nevis, complete with the first snow fall from about 4,000 ft, to put in a days cycling and gently exercise those leg muscles.

This wasn’t to be along the lines of a hard core TCA event or a mad dash in fading light. The plan was to put two bikes in the Petersfield tractor and drive to the Ardtornish estate at the head of Loch Aline. This was accomplished and the intrepid party of three set off along the eastern shore of the loch for Ardtornish Point and the ruined 14th century castle. The estate road stretched out in front promising a pleasant and untaxing pedal framed by the autumn colours of the loch side trees ensued with the opportunity of some bird watching along the way (herons, wading birds and buzzards). It was a fine autumnal day.

As was usual, be it a walk or cycle ride, Meg was on point duty, no matter how fast you pedalled she always kept in front, and there was no sign of fatigue after her adventures elsewhere that week.

Meg at the trig point on Ben Nevis

The three of us settled into an even pace along the estate road out to the ruined castle but on a couple of occasions the dog lead was brought into use to ensure that Meg didn’t embark on some impromptu sheep chasing and rounding up. As we came level with the settlement of Loch Aline so the Mull ferry arrived to disembark its cars and passengers and embark a new set. A short and gentle climb and 200m further on and the Sound of Mull was reached complete with a view of the eastern shore of the Isle of Mull with the looming presence of Ben More in the distance. The first glimpse of Ardtornish Castle could now be had – this had been one of the principal seats of the high chiefs of Clan Donald from the early 14th to late 15th century but was abandoned in the 17th century.

Ardtornish Castle and
Isle of Mull in the background

The estate roads are ideal for the leisure mountain biker primarily because there are no mountains – shame did some of you say? The ruin has no road access and the bikes were left at the nearby farm buildings and approached on foot for a picnic lunch in the shelter of the north wall so that coastal shipping in the Sound can be admired. Para Handy and the Vital Spark were absent but this would have been one of the routes the Vital Spark would have plied.

After a clamber over the castle it was time to collect the bikes and with Meg again in front we three retraced our steps back to the loch and then onwards towards the graceful presence of Ardtornish House and the nearby Kinlochaline castle.

Ardtornish House

Later your correspondent made inroads into local Scottish beverages in the time honoured TCA fashion. To absent friends – roll on Clun Mill next March

To absent friends – apologies but I drank the lot!

(Posted by: Ian)

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