Thursday 25 May 2017

Destination Doughnuts (LGD - 353 Days)
Thursday 25 May 2017, 110 Miles

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Following last Sunday’s century ride with Boudicca’s tribe to north west Norfolk and Tuesday’s century to Mordor (the Fens) I decided that today I would put in another century, this time by riding east to Orford. Three centuries in five days – I’ll take that! Actually, I had hoped to ride a century yesterday as well. Events conspired against me though and I had to spend the morning at my desk so I was only able to sneak out in the afternoon for a fifty round by Lavenham.

Now you may be wondering why I was clipped in to my desk and not to my pedals? Well, I’m currently working on a hush-hush project which should come to fruition in a couple of months. So yesterday I was working with the project’s secret squirrel department on some PR and marketing stuff (think photoshoot and, possibly, filming). Ha, has that got your attention? Good. My agent/publicist has told me that in the run up to the launch of the top-secret project I need to tantalize and titillate my readers – you – to build up an air of anticipation and expectation. Now many of you will know that I am quite a plain speaking and straightforward person, not much given to tantalizing and titillating. Well, I hope I’ve done enough to pique your interest so let’s move swiftly back to today’s outing.

Another sunny day beckoned; is this the start of the much-mooted heatwave? I decided to ride with the Infinito today and there were no complaints in that direction. The XR1 is still resting from Sunday’s outing and the Impulso is grounded until I can fit some new tyres (on order). I followed the standard route today from home via Debenham and Woodbridge with a little diversion to the quay at Bawdsey.

As I was at Bawdsey at 11:00am I paused to observe the one minute silence for those killed and injured following the recent horrific events in Manchester. I find events like this deeply disturbing and I can hardly imagine what those who have been directly affected must be feeling and thinking. As a writer, words can be such inadequate tools for expressing emotions at times this. Silence and quiet reflection are often the best way to show support and solidarity. Setting off from Bawdsey to rejoin the route was not easy. At least I was fortunate to be able to carry on and enjoy myself. For many in Manchester, just getting going again is going to be a formidable challenge.

By now the sun was really doing its stuff and it was getting quite hot. As I headed up from Alderton through Hollesley and Butley towards Orford, I had the benefit of a very slight breeze – not enough to add to the riding workload yet just enough to be cooling. Cresting the rise approaching Orford I could feel the Infinito straining and trying to raise the pace. It’s been a while since we were last here and I’m guessing it was picking up on some of the familiar landmarks.

Orford, when we arrived, was humming. With the coming bank holiday weekend I guess a lot of folk are making a week of it and staying locally. The quayside was about as busy as I have ever seen it. We did a couple of quick laps of the quay to take in the sights and then it was back into the village for the main event of the day – our lunch stop at the Pump Street Bakery. I had a very tasty mini-baguette filled with local ham and leaves; the Infinito plumped for its usual raspberry doughnut. The baguette, accompanied by a nice cold Elderflower drink hit the spot. As we left Orford the Inifinito was positively purring so I’m suspect that the doughnut wasn’t bad either!

We headed back on the final forty miles home via Saxmundham, Framlingham, Stradbroke and Eye. It was pretty hot so we stopped briefly in Stradbroke for a cold drink (me) and an ice cream (Infinito) as well as a water bottle top up (both of us). This was a really lovely day in the saddle and I hope that there will be many more to follow over the coming weeks.

All being well on the 25th of May next year I should be riding from Albuquerque to Santa Fe on my Trans USA Tour. Lot of people have been asking me about this so I’m going to create a new page on this website to blether and brag about it. And, for the avoidance of doubt, this is NOT the secret project that I started off trying to tantalize and titillate you with. Patience readers, patience.

Tuesday 23 May 2017

Lots of Feet and a Few Miles (LGD - 355 Days)
Tuesday 23 May 2017, 103 Miles

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After Sunday’s rather splendid Boudicca ride through north west Norfolk and a gentle 60 mile bimble round south Norfolk yesterday my legs were ready for another century outing today. The prospects were excellent at 6:00am when I opened the curtains – blue skies, not a cloud in sight and a very gentle breeze. Just the conditions for a ride to the Fens to savour the vastness of the land with some magnificent long-distance views across the flatlands. I decided to follow the route I used for the final ride of last year’s Century Series (C#60, 3 December 2016) and this time go the other way around.

In a nutshell, the route headed westwards between Newmarket and Mildenhall before arriving on the edge of the Fens. From there it was a northwest leg to Queen Adelaide, then around Ely to Little Downham before turning northwards for Denver. Then the route temporarily left the Fens and headed briefly into the slightly more enclosed south west Norfolk countryside before emerging back on to the Fens with one last hurrah along the four mile Southery straight. The final leg took me through Brandon and the forests and heaths of the Brecks. So a good mix of scenery to enjoy with the flat expanses of the Fens providing the lion’s share of the landscape.

One of two goals for today was to ride along the New Bedford River, also known as the Hundred Foot Drain. The Hundred Foot is the distance between the tops of the embankments on either side of the river. This is all part of a complex drainage and flood prevention system originally commenced in the seventeenth century to provide relief from the natural (Old) Bedford River. The Hundred Foot runs in an almost straight line for nearly 20 miles from Mepal between Chatteris and Ely to the sluice at Denver. Although not very deep (c2 feet) it is also tidal.

Just after the small hamlet of Pymoor the road dog legged and passed under a railway line. Looking at the map on my Garmin I could see that it ran arrow straight ahead for me for nearly six miles. The other thing I noticed when looking at my Garmin was that I was riding at an altitude of 15 feet below sea level! I guess this reflects the vagaries of the technology as the Ordnance Survey map places most of the road at sea level, with a maximum elevation 3 feet! Casting aside any notions of altitude sickness I stopped briefly at a rather splendid pumping station which was originally constructed in 1756 when it was wind-powered. A steam driven system succeeded it in 1830 and in turn was replaced with a diesel-powered engine in 1926. Since 1986 it has been driven by mains electricity. With a combination of soft ground and cycling shoes with cleats I was unable to get a picture of the delightful pump house – maybe another time?

Whilst most of the surrounding land is intensively agricultural, benefitting from the improved drainage, there is a rather splendid wetland nature reserve at Welney. As I passed by today the visitor centre and car park were quite busy with lots of twitchers sporting expensive telescopes, looking out across the washlands.

Heading north east I arrived at Ten Mile Bank. Some post ride giggling on the Interweb has failed to uncover the significance of the ‘Ten Miles’ so I am going to have to set aside some time to do investigate further as my curiosity has definitely been piqued! From Ten Mile Bank I meandered along the side of the River Ouse, the Great Ouse and Little Ouse merge a few miles upstream to form a single river. Denver Sluice was delightful in the sunshine – the combination of water, meadows and boats was really quite picturesque.

Arriving at Denver marked the end of my fenland experience, though there was short reprise between West Dereham and Feltwell with the chance to ride along the three and a half-mile long Southery straight. A bit like a final hurrah for a big day in the big country. And what a great day it was.

Sunday 21 May 2017

Old Acquaintances at the Boudicca Sportive (LGD - 357 Days)
Sunday 21 May 2017, 102 Miles

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Today was one of the favourites in my cycling calendar. I always look forward to the middle of May because normally by that time winter is a distant memory, spring has fully blossomed and summer is fast approaching. This (usually) heralds lots of sunshine with cooling breezes, not winds and loads of opportunities to do what I most enjoy – spend long days in the saddle. For me the middle of May is a sort of seasonal threshold and the Boudicca is the signpost for this.

I first rode the event in 2013 and I have ridden it every year since. Over the years the event has gently evolved with minor tweaks to the route, the locations of the feed stations and the range of ‘goodies’ on offer. This year’s addition was a finishers medal. The one thing that hasn’t really changed is the atmosphere or the chemistry of the day. It’s a bit like a birthday or a public holiday – an opportunity to celebrate and enjoy time with kindred spirits who share a common purpose. What brings us together is the chance to ride our bikes in some great countryside, largely devoid other traffic. The social aspect of the day is perhaps its defining quality. That doesn’t mean that there are no opportunities for testing and pushing. But unlike some other sportives, achieving a fast time isn’t the only goal, and for some it isn’t even a goal. Just having fun is paramount.

The route card for the 100-mile circuit provides a few clues as to what to expect. It tells riders that they will cross two unbridged fords (one’s at Bradenham; I’m not sure where the other one is), see the sea once, pass three World War II airfields, fifteen churches and fifteen pubs, ride one section on a concrete road (I always think Paris-Roubaix here) and one Roman Road. Apart from the sights, the other lovely feature of the event is the strong sense of community involvement, particularly at the feed stations.

With the recent changeable weather I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Fortunately, the weather gods had been reminded of their proper place by the Queen of the Iceni and the prospect of a warm sunny day greeted us at the start line at World Horse Welfare’s sanctuary at Snetterton. The pre-ride formalities were efficiently dispensed with and while waiting to sign on I heard lots of riders of greeting each other having not met for the intervening twelve months. Old acquaintances being renewed and refreshed.

I lined up at the start line with my Daren (Nairo) Morgan who was riding his first Boudicca and his first century of 2017. After a safety briefing from Sara we were underway and heading for the first feed station at West Acre, thirty miles away. As in the early stages of many sportives small groups formed, then split and reformed as riders coalesced into groups of similar abilities. We tried to hang on to one group as we headed towards Rockland but they were just a tad too swift for me. Nairo, who’s is a fast starter, would have been able to stay with them but graciously hung back to ride with me. As it turned out this was a wise move on his part!

We crossed over the A47 just beyond Swaffham and then entered what I always feel is true north-west Norfolk countryside with its long, straight undulating roads and great expansive views all around us. In seemingly no time we arrived at West Acre and the feed station at the theatre there. Folk from the Sandringham and West Norfolk CC were on hand to refresh us. Nairo’s eyes lit up at the fig rolls on offer. I’m more of a malt loaf person and I certainly didn’t leave disappointed.

From West Acre we headed upwards to Great Massingham. This section was probably the ‘hilliest’ of the day. As this is Norfolk, the ‘hills’ are more in the nature of long drags and not gradients measured in percentages. Nevertheless, they are good for stretching the legs. Crossing the King’s Lynn-Fakenham road we entered what, to me, feels like very remote countryside. We passed, and were passed, by several small groups of riders and in true Boudicca fashion everyone said hello to each other. We were able to tick off the sighting of the sea and then the Norfolk cobbles (concrete road) before turning for South Creake and the second feed station.

Someone must have ‘phoned ahead to warn them that Nairo was approaching because those fig rolls were out and ready to be grasped. I revived myself with a tasty lump of banana malt loaf. The feed station was run by local people led by Len Fletcher who was using the opportunity to raise funds for local good causes. The car park was full of riders chatting away, mostly happily. It was a delight to eavesdrop on the chatter of old acquaintances as they caught up with each other. Resisting the temptation to linger in the sunshine we headed off southwards through the rolling countryside with a slightly gusty headwind which added to the riding challenge. With largely sheltered lanes we were rarely fully exposed to the wind. But it was just enough to reflect in our falling average speed.

After Weasenham we rode along what was probably the roughest section of the day. concrete road included. I’m guessing that the route options hereabouts are limited. That said, as soon as we turned south east towards Litcham we were onto one of my favourite stretches of road in these parts – smooth and sheltered with some magnificent Scots Pines on our left. In no time at all we were back over the A47 and after crossing the (dry) ford we arrived at Bradenham and the third feed station.

Temporarily eschewing the fig rolls Nairo opted to eat a bacon roll freshly made by folk from Bradenham Cricket Club who were providing the support. (I did spot Nairo snaffling a cheeky couple of fig rolls for his dessert!) I opted for a banana and some brain comfort food – a mini bag of Haribou, which I thought was an inspired option.

Once we were refueled we headed of for the final leg back to the finish. As this was Nairo’s first century ride of the year, the road, and maybe even that bacon roll, began to take its toll and I led most of the way to Snetterton. In the interests of balanced reporting Nairo would be quick to tell you that he had led for most of the way so far! We crossed the line, received our finishers medals and a protein drink and chatted to a few other riders as we relaxed in the sun.

Once again Sara, Tim and their army of helpers had delivered an outstanding day. I had a brief chat to Sara and I was impressed that despite the undoubtedly hard work involved in planning and delivering an excellent day she seemed to be really enjoying herself watching folk roll in. Boudicca had delivered everything that her army have come to expect. So, huge thanks to everyone involved, organisers and riders, who together made this a great day out in the saddle. My only regret that I won’t be able to ride next year’s Boudicca. All being well, I expect to be in Flagstaff, Arizona on my Trans USA tour. I will certainly spend a few minutes thinking about old acquaintances on the road in Norfolk.