Thursday, 29 January 2009

Like a good scout

I'm heading up to Glenmore Lodge tomorrow thanks to Alpkit.

While I always try to be prepared, packing for this trip took me off guard. All the new Snow + Rock kit I've been deliberating over was in a box, ready to go. I thought I was sorted.

Mid-layers aren't dry.

Socks aren't washed.

Pugsley doesn't fit in to my bike bag.

Clothing doesn't fit in to my biggest duffel bag.

Almost everything is sorted now (I hope) but I'm about to head to bed . Tomorrow (err, later...) I'll be sporting Neos and boots as well as a totally overkill Alpkit prototype ("Devkit") jacket. If you see me sweating in Bristol airport feel free to buy me a cold drink!

Sunday, 25 January 2009

It's all about the bike...

The Pug is finally back in one piece. It’s not quite done yet but I’ve built new wheels, replaced the tired parts and fitted racks. The rear rack will be coming off once I get my Super Twinkie through from Epic Designs. The Bontrager post I got was too short, so I had to fit a Thomson from another bike. It’s silver. Oh, the humanity.
Cranks will be changing to Surly Mr Whirlys and I have an XT bottom bracket and a King headset packed with low temperature grease. Gore cables will be fitted, but I want to keep them as clean as possible. I’m undecided about whether I should fit Powergrips or not.
The first test ride took me all the way up the hill to the Off-licence. Nothing fell off, which was reassuring. The Alpkit frame bag did a grand job of carrying the beer home. The second test ride was, deliberately, more of a push than a ride. Mel and I went out for a couple of hours in the local woods. She walked and I pushed the Pug up and down the steepest hills we could find. I get the feeling I’ll be pushing for a long way so I’d better get used to it!
This Thursday I’m off up to Glenmore Lodge with Jim from Alpkit and Angus to do a bit of filming for the Trad film competition. More importantly it’s a great chance to get some practice in on proper snow and to test out the majority of my kit. I’m looking forward to it.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Strathpuffer pictures

These two pictures are a good illustration of how much the weather changed at Strathpuffer. Suffice to say they dont even show the two extremes.

Thanks to Dave Stewart.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Trench hand

Pictures of just after the finish by Brian MacLeod. Thanks!

Back in to work today then more sorting for Alaska. Collected some Aerospace grade grease that should be good down to -55degrees! I also got the prototype Alpkit frame bag through. Picture tomorrow, with a bit of luck.

I also spoke to Chipps. Turns out Stamstad has written a bit about bonking for the next Singletrack mag. He gave me a sneek peak. It's very good!

Monday, 19 January 2009

Strathpuffer 2009

This weekend saw my third attempt at the Strathpuffer 24 race. It's a really brutal race, 17 hours of darkness and almost guaranteed bad weather. In the past it's never gone to plan. The first year I rode a fixed with too big a gear, and then last year other commitments pretty much kept me off the bike for the three months in the run up to it. This year the plan was to go steady and use it as an excuse for a big ride in bad conditions.

Mel and I flew up and hired a Mazda Bongo from Highland Campervans. While this was supposed to be a cheap decision Mel was so taken with the van that, well, it might end up being very expensive in the long term. Last year the camp site got so waterlogged everyone had to get towed on to the site, as well as off! This year the camping was on hard standing just off the fire road climb that starts the course. After re-assembling the new 69er we hooked up with the Savalas boys for some beer and dinner.

Saturday morning arrived in suspiciously nice weather, everyone who had checked the weather forecast didn't expect it to last. The race kicked off with the traditional Le-mans start. I jogged to my bike and was really careful not to over exert myself this early on. Phil the Horse shot past on his fixed 69er shortly followed by Anja who was also racing solo single speed, normally I would ride at the same pace as them so, again, I had to make a conscious effort not to chase them. The first climb is several miles long so gave me plenty of opportunity to set in to a rhythm. I was wearing a lot of clothing, as I was expecting the weather to turn bad at some stage ad didn't want to waste time changing. I unzipped all the vents on my Endura Stealth jacket and that did the trick.

Half way through the second lap I stopped to pick up a rubber duck from a pond. Number 8, lucky for some. It netted me a spot prize of some lights.

I always say that a solo race is broken into two halves: the first and last half, and the middle half. The first and last quarters are all about conservation. The middle half is where the race is won. Sticking to that principle I made sure I rode well within my limits for the first six hours. I felt comfortable and just kept on trucking, no mistakes. At about 4 it started getting dark. I had plenty of juice for my Exposure Lights so I switched them on straight away rather than risk a mistake in the shadows.

Strathpeffer has a special sort of mud. It cuts through brake blocks more than anywhere else I have ever been. I've heard of people go through eight sets of pads in a day. To counteract this I had fitted the XT brakes from my old 69er, they are pretty tatty but, for some reason, for a given pad manufacturer, the blocks seem to last longer. Perhaps the pistons retract further? This year the course wasn't so muddy as there had obviously been a lot of work done on the trail. However after about 9 hours the first set were down to the metal, and on the front they had gone through the spring and one of the pistons popped out at a funny angle. I rode half a lap like that. The long fast descent was somewhat sketchy. I swapped the pads, put on a midlayer, filled my Wingnut and grabbed some more Mule bars and trail mix. Fifteen minutes wasted.

Rain turned to snow. The snow got heavier. Then the wind picked up. Good news I thought - people will be stopping. I put in a little more effort.

I had asked Mel not to let me know where I was in the rankings until after 12 hours (10pm). She told me I was leading. There had been an announcement that there were special prizes for Single speed soloists, so I assumed I was leading the sub category. I asked where I was overall... I found out later, there had been quite a race between myself and Twinky Dave from On-One, but I never saw him on the course and didn't know anything about it at the time!

The hours ticked by and I kept on on pushing the 34:18. Still no mistakes. I had a bottle of flat Coke at midnight, changed to dry gloves and grabbed my Shuffle. The tunes made a nice change from just the noise of the wind.

About 4am I had to change brake blocks again. My hands were so numb that this seemingly simple task took 20 minutes and my swearing woke Mel up.

6 am saw more Coke. 8 am someone finally told me I was still winning. After that I stepped up the effort again only to be slowed down when I smacked my light and loosened the cleat. The mud covering my saddle bag, and my numb hands made it a nightmare to get at my multi tool. I got in at at quarter to ten to find out I couldn't be caught, but opted to head out for one last lap- this is still training after all!

I got some nice prizes but the highlight is a cool tankard for winning the SS solo.

All in it was a brutal race, but that only makes it more rewarding having finally beaten it!

Photo stolen from birchwood t's Flickr. More photos to follow if I find any good ones!


PS. I just heard that I also set the record for the most laps ever! (although the course was longer last year!)

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Cake, cake, cake!

I’m in the happy position as one of the few people to be pleased with the weight I put on over Christmas. I’m normally in the region of 11stone (160lb), pretty light for someone who is 6”1’. I’d like to put on a bit of fat before heading out to Alaska. Consequently I’ve been helping myself to another slice of cake. Or a second breakfast. I’m up to 12stone (168lb), so still not heavy but moving in the right direction!

Pic by Trina. Again.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Surprise bike!

I popped in to Mud Dock to wish the guys a happy new year. Handsome Rob says, "We've got a bike for you here." I answered with a blank look. "perhaps its for me then" he replied.

Turned out my 2009 Trek 69er Singlespeed had turned up, but no-one at Trek had let me know!

Anyway, the first impression is good- it's the same frame as the old one so should be rad!

This weekend I'll build it up with a load of old parts so Strathpuffer doesn't kill all the new stuff!

Happy new year!

The holiday period was a nice break from work. I kicked it of with a Christmas eve dinner with my parents so I could free up Christmas day… I had a bit of a sleep in on Christmas day followed by a big breakfast. About 1pm I headed out on my cheapo touring bike- designation Glasgow. The trip was fairly uneventful but the sun was shining and the traffic volume was really low so the ride was quite pleasant. Unfortunately though, there was a reasonable headwind and I struggled to find water so the first day I didn’t make as much progress as I had intended. At about 140 miles, somewhere near Warrington, I snuck of the road and rolled out my new Alpkit Hunka and Pipedream 800 in a nice sheltered hole. I later described the location to Dr Jon, “Just off a main road, sheltered behind some trees. It was a narrow trench, about a foot deep and perhaps 7” long… so, err, like a shallow grave”. I’m sure it was nothing so ominous really! I got a good 4 hours sleep. It was more than I had previously intended, but I hadn’t drunk anything for several hours so it seemed sensible to only get moving when shops would be starting to open. The roads through Warrington and Preston were fairly cut up, but I made good time. Breakfast was a very fatty Subway and a Pepsi. One amusing incident was watching a fun run going in the opposite direction. The runner off the front was in an Elvis Catsuit. Good lad. By the time I reached Kendal it was starting to get dark and cold. The Climb over Shap Fell (?) was pretty tough so I tried to get something to eat in Penrith. All the pubs had stopped serving so I settled for a very poor steak and chips in a Indian restaurant. Serves me right I suppose. I tried to get my own back by abusing their bottomless coffee. About 7o'clock I hit the road again and headed further north. I got a bit lost around Carlisle before I realised I was navigation with a nine year old map and the roads had changed. Oops. By the time I cleared the Scottish border it was really icy and the roads were really pretty treacherous. I opted to stop at about 01:30 when my water bottles froze solid. I had a surprisingly comfortable nights sleep considering I was on the edge of my bags temperature rating, and was sharing it with two bottles of ice. 3 hours later, I was up and in to every piece of clothing I had with me. A coke, an energy gel and a Mule bar made up breakfast as I hurriedly stowed my kit. The remaining 50/60 miles were a lot hillier than I had envisaged and the road was still pretty icy so I made slow progress. However the miles slowly passed and I was treated to a great sunrise and plentiful wildlife. I met Dr Jon in the outskirts of Glasgow just as Mel’s flight landed in a different suburb.
I certainly could have done the route a lot quicker but the journey was more an excuse to test some kit, practice getting in and out of my bivy, eating lots, sleep deprivation etc. All-in it was pretty good way to spend 400 miles, even if it did confuse many of my friends and make for a rather surreal Christmas!

I spent the New Year’s Eve in Ardnamurchin with friends. It was a good chance to get some relaxing in.
I read Ghost Trails- it got me excited, very enjoyable.
I stripped my MSR Whisperlite so it should be as good as new.
I tested my new Alpkit Devkit prototype jacket on the beach.
I started to break in my new Scarpa boots.
I got some running in.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Media Dahhrling

I was on TV over the holiday period- racing in Cyprus on Adrenaline Rush. It will be on ESPN soon and is available here for a limited period.

In association with the guys at Alpkit I'm also going to star in a film!

Exciting stuff!