Sunday 25 July 2010

• 42 Miles and... *BONK*!!

Newmarket Loop, originally uploaded by Lisa Fagg.

This was a ride that started out like a dream - and ended like a nightmare...

"Following through on last week's promise to make our way to Newmarket, we set out in warm sunshine on the familiar route through Bottisham as far as Burwell. The wonderful cycling conditions and familiarity of the route led us to ride this opening section at a brisk pace. Continuing after a comfort break, we made our way through the town and out to the east on Heath Road to Exning. From there we rode into Newmarket where we stopped to eat our picnic. The following section of the ride can only be described as 'epic'. Between Newmarket and Six Mile Bottom we were confronted by a constant sequence of rolling hills and, the last half, a strong westerly headwind. Once we'd made our way through all this, we returned home on familiar roads through the Wilburhams and Fulbourn." --Steve

I was excited about this ride - we'd be cycling on familiar roads to begin with then moving into unfamiliar territory once we left Burwell. All went well on this stretch of the route; it was a lovely day for cycling and there were quite a few cyclists out making the most of the day. At one point we found ourselves sandwiched between two 'elderly' (that word becomes more and more ominous with each passing year!) cyclists and felt we were part of a cyclist version of the 'Gray Panthers'!

It was exciting, too, because we would be foregoing our usual stops (Bottinsham & Reach) to make Burwell our first real stop of the ride. I can't recall riding 15 miles without a break. After a brief stop to powder our noses and check the map, the next stop was Exning.

The route between Exning and Newmarket was completely residential. We noted, with some concern, the large number of houses up for sale; in places it seemed that 1-in-3 houses had a 'For Sale' sign in the front garden. We passed through in silence, both of us wondering what was happening in the town and surrounding area to cause people to move away.

Our first impressions of Newmarket were not much better. The town looked depressed (not at all helped by the weather, which by this time, had turned grey and overcast.) The town itself appeared, for the most part, to be deserted. Because of this the shared cycle/pedestrian way seemed wider, perhaps, than it actually was. We rode past the desolate and neglected looking rail station and stopped by the roadside to eat on the southern outskirts of the town.

I'm still too shell-shocked to adequately describe what befell us on the road towards home. Hills. That's all I can say. They seemed to come from nowhere each one looking daunting-but-not-TOO-bad!  I fell into the drops of my handlebars, hoping these would offer me the leverage and relatively 'streamlined' form I'd need to get over and through these hills. *Sigh*

I started out well enough, keeping up with Steve - to the surprise of both of us. I struggled at times but was always able to find the energy when necessary. I felt pretty good. So up-and-down we went, riding into the wind, mile after mile. At each map check, Steve asked me how I was doing and I replied, in all honesty, "Pretty Good".

And then, it happened: I started the final climb before Six Mile Bottom and suddenly ran out of everything. I slowed to a crawl and grovelled up the hill, completely out of energy. It all happened so quickly that when I stopped I was in the middle of the road (albeit almost traffic-free) towards the end of a gentle rise. I remember looking up the road and thinking, angrily, "Whatever next?" I grit my teeth and jumped on the pedals anticipating the burst of acceleration, present during the the earlier parts of the ride, to carry me over the rise.  But this had deserted me.  I remember whimpering 'Oh nooo' and coming to a complete stop. I drooped over the handlebars and waited for Steve, my knight.  I'd 'bonked'! I can't remember the last time I did that (and it certainly hasn't happened in recent years!) Yikes!

Steve carefully assessed me and then waited while I did my best to regain my composure. I'd hit 'the wall' - and Steve knew what I was in for on the final run-in to home!  And so he nursed me home, slowly, coaxing me along. My head was spinning and I was confused but he knew this and gently guided me and my bike all the way home.

Once home, I allowed myself the luxury of dropping onto the sofa like a leaden lump. I didn't move for several minutes. Steve covered me with a blanket as I was feeling very cold. In time, I found my way to the shower and afterwards ran a hot bath and soaked in that for a while. While I was bathing, Steve prepared dinner - pasta with sundried tomato pesto. (Thanks, Hon!)

Now, bathed, fed, rested (and blogged!) - I'm turning in..... zzzzz


Monday 19 July 2010

• The BRCA2 Cycle Path Ride 18 July 2010

"Inspired by tales of previous rides, we were joined this time by Lisa's lab mate Ihsene. So, along with Rupak and Kinnary, we were five as we set out from central Cambridge, heading towards Shelford. Our route led down Trumpington Road to Addenbrooke's and from there via the "DNA Cyclepath" to Great Shelford. After a lunch break there, we rode on to Whittlesford and returned to Shelford via Newton. We retraced out steps back to Cambridge and the group broke up at Newnham. " - Steve

This was a long-anticipated ride. Since the beginning of Summer (and good weather!), I've been answering the query, 'What did you get up to this weekend?' with the same answer: "We had a great day out on our bikes cycling around the villages surrounding Cambridge." Finally, it was all too much for my lab mates and we arranged to do the "DNA Cyclepath" from Addenbrooke's to Shelford (with the option to go on further if we felt up to it!). We planned to have a small picnic in Shelford and then decide whether to go on or not. The path commemorates the National Cycle Network reaching 10,000 miles and was completed in September 2005. The path is about a mile long and is patterned with 10,257 stripes representing the human gene BRCA2, which codes for a DNA repair protein.

Originally we were to be 6 with Steve & me, Rupak & Kinnary and two 'newbies' - Ihsene and Yvonne, the senior-most and junior-most members of the lab, respectively. Unfortunately, this was not to be as Yvonne had problems with the bike she was planning to ride and opted out at the last moment. (We missed you, Yvonne!) So depleted, we set out.

The cycle path turned out to be a hit with everyone and we spent a good time there photographing each other copping various 'attitudes' on the 'Double Helix' sculpture at the beginning of the path. Eventually, though, thoughts turned to lunch and we cycled on to Shelford. There we spread out on the green (a slightly more busy green than that at Bottisham!) and had our lunch. We decided to go on a bit and cycled to Whittlesford, returning to Shelford via Newton.

r i k l

Everyone seemed to enjoy the ride as much as we did. Ihsene was rapturous - declaring, at one point, that she had "found her sport". I think she was finding the beautiful countryside and villages and the pace (cycling as opposed to driving or walking) exhilarating. Whatever it was, I think we might have a real 'convert' in Ihsene!

After dropping folks off, Steve and I wended our way home, stopping off on Mill Road for meat for dinner and beer (for me). Once home we showered and prepared dinner on the BBQ. (Ihsene: I made lamb mince skewers, Algerian style!) We had minced lamb koftas with couscous and lettuce, tomato and onion salad with yoghurt and tahini dressing. Yum...

After dinner, which we ate by candlelight on the grass in the garden, we lay back to on our blanket and gazed at the stars (I saw a "shooting star") for a while. The evening was so pleasant and we were so content that we decided to bring our pillows and duvet outside and sleep under the stars! Wonderful!

And so ended a really fun, long weekend. More to come... soon!

Sleeping out-1

Saturday 17 July 2010

• Newmarket - the 'hard' way - 33 miles

Waterbeach-Reach-Bottisham, originally uploaded by Lisa Fagg.
(I can claim no credit for this post - other than the fact that I can vouch for every word that Steve has written!)

"So. This cycle route. It's a joke, right? Or maybe this 'Happy' that submitted it never rode it but just drew it up by looking at a map? If it's a joke, the joke's on me - because I fell for it!

"I've often looked at the Explorer map for the area and wished there was a way to continue north from Waterbeach, without riding on the A10, and join up with rides to the east of the river. From my reading of the map it looked impossible. So up pops this route on that maintains there is a cyclable way from the north end of Long Drove to the A1123 bridge over the river west of Wicken. Great! I thought, certainly there is a path shown on the map but I'd discounted it. Perhaps I'd been too conservative in my evaluation of the possibilities.

"Always on the lookout for something new to ride in the area we decided to couple this route from Cambridge to Newmarket with a return journey via the Wilbrahams to make a nice 40-mile-plus loop. We even included a stop off in Newmarket to take a look at the National Horseracing Museum. Plans made, maps prepared and a picnic lunch put together we took an early night to ensure we could make a day of it.

"The next day we loaded up the bikes and set off. No alarm bells rang at the route's suggestion of riding along the river Cam all the way to the bridge at Waterbeach. Knowing full well that it's unreasonable to attempt to keep to the river beyond Fen Ditton, I merely took us up the parallel road through the delightful village of Hornsea and on into Waterbeach. There we negotiated what seemed from the map to be an entirely gratuitous off-road section of the route and set off with high hopes down the long straight road of Long Drove.

"As Long Drove petered out we were advised to turn right down a track to the river. This was a bit tricky. In between the deep ruts, the fine, dry black fenland soil was like riding through sand. I managed to ride it with some difficulty but Lisa had to walk several sections for fear of falling. At the river we turned north and the track became an overgrown path. From here on things descended into farce.

"Shod in stout walking shoes or boots and clad in long corduroy trousers the ensuing 2.5 miles would be an entirely reasonable hike. In cycling shoes and shorts and pushing a loaded bike, the narrow, undulating path, almost completely overgrown with thistles and nettles, was all but impassable, took almost an hour to cover and left us almost hysterical at the insane absurdity of the situation.

"If 'Happy'
has cycled this section he or she must either be a young, fit, very keen mountain biker with a fully suspended machine and terrific bike handling skills or some kind of demented hard-nut old-school 'rough stuff' rider with a strong Yorkshire accent and a three-speed Sturmey-Archer. Not fitting into either of those categories you won't find Lisa or me attempting this path on wheeled transport again in a million years!

"Once we emerged at the A1123, scratched, stung, and all but worn out from the combined effort of keeping our feet and forcing our mounts through the undergrowth, we were at least back on known roads. We'd ridden through Wicken and down through Upland to Reach some years before and so knew that this section at least would be a pleasure to ride. At Reach we stopped and ate but having lost an hour and a great deal of energy following this insane route we turned south for home rather than continue east to Newmarket.

"Now rather better informed, if not wiser, we shall try a revised route to Newmarket next weekend. We'll be keeping resolutely to the east of the river and, in future, I shall certainly be rather slower to doubt my own assessment of what a map is telling me about viable routes to cycle!"

--Steve Fagg

(Amen, to that last bit, Steve! ;) )