Monday, 6 January 2014

Week 36 Isle of Man, here I come

This week I mostly completed the Manx end 2 end

I managed to get a couple of training rides in before it which consisted of mountain biking home via swinley forest, blue and red run on Tuesday (52.4km) then back in to work using the train the following day (28km) then a group ride round tunnel hill (23.6km) Wednesday evening. This left Thursday, Friday and Saturday as "rest" days before the main event on Sunday.

Saturday 8th September

After much email exchange with my mother as to the logistics, the adventure started at 5:00 am Saturday morning when I was picked up by mum and step-dad, John

The Journey
Quick load up and we were on the motorway heading towards Birmingham airport, this was a fairly uneventful trip with the exception of an unplanned convenience stop but with time in hand this turned out to be little inconvenience.

Birmingham airport felt surprisingly big and all went through well, we faffed a little and then ended up almost being last on the plane responding to the last call. Flight was on a wicked turbo prop which takes off like catapult launches a stone, great fun, better than a roller coaster at alton towers by a long shot.

It was a great to be back in the isle of man, for no reason I can put my finger on it feels like a spiritual home for me, the familiarity and the feeling of peace that comes with me stepping foot onto manx soil makes me feel like i was revisiting places I played as kid in the village I grew up in, it feels like home with all the best memories.

Hire car acquired, sat nav forgotten, there was some discussion as to how we would find our way, I get lost in my own village but I know the way like a local, my mum thought she might too but her recollection was 25 years older than mine so reluctantly she conceded that she was no longer the master of manx knowledge.

With such an early start there was a need for breakfast.

Port Erin Steam Railway Station café was to be the provider of the former and a lovely breakfast it was too.
Our hotel was to be the Balmoral in Port Erin, pretty naff looking from the outside, making no attempt to sell itself but lovely on the inside, clean and tidy, stuck in a time warp, run by an incredibly helpful lady showing the typical hospitality of the manx tourist industry, being used to accommodating greasy bikers for a hundred years obviously conditions the locals somewhat.

On receipt of my compact and bijou single room with en-suite I unpacked my bike in my room, it was clean and I was careful so no grubbiness left behind and the uber helpful lady of the establishment was fine with it.

The Bike
I had quite a few bits and pieces to sort out on my bike before it was ready to use, fill up the scott oiler, pump up the tyres, assemble the wheel skewers,  set the seat height, check gps. It was at this time I realised my first problem of the weekend……..back wheel wasn’t fitting in the frame properly, normally it slips in perfectly with millimetre precision, being a one handed operation with the bike the right way up, not so this time, after a lot of wrestling and turning the bike upside down I discovered that my stalwart orange now had a seriously bent back end, no pun intended.

Left hand chainstay was bent in and the wheel was a tight fit. Arrrrrgggghhhhhh

Due to Orange bikes being designed for UK conditions meant I had shed loads of tyre clearance even though I use big ass tyres, this clearance compensated significantly allowing the rear wheel to still clear the frame with a approx. 5 mm gap on one side compared to 15mm+ on the other.

Next problem was the brakes had expanded, possibly due to the aeroplane pressure which due to built up grime on the caliper pistons meant they then didn’t want to return back to their original position, this was the case front and back.

To recap, I had a bent frame giving restricted tyre clearance and the brakes we partially on….Great!

The wheel was manageable and after some faffing with the brakes I got them to a rideable state but they would still drag, a little fluid leakage out of one of the levers caused a bit of a panic at one point but overall I have ridden significant distances before on shoddy equipment, I reckoned I could muddle through, I certainly wasn’t going to give up for such trivialities!

The Rest of the Day
Arrangements had been made to meet in the bar so we could set the agenda for the remainder of the day. It was getting on for lunchtime but with everyone still full'ish from our lardy breakfast we set off for Douglas for a bit of sightseeing and to complete the only necessary task of the daytime which was for me to sign on.
Sightseeing, due to the typical rainy manx weather was executed from the car, driving through Port Erin to check out the Restaurant for the evenings grub (more about that later), noting the iconic Bushys Ale van which has been around since I was a kid at least, then on to Douglas.
In Douglas we had a look for Marina Drive which we didn't find but did find the Camera Obscurer which was a restored Victorian contraption which allowed the patron to observe the whole of Douglas through a fixed periscope type of arrangement through 360 degrees, whilst impressive a 100 years ago, I wasn't that impressed but was pleased that it had been preserved all the same and was manned by 2 very enthusiastic curators.

Next stop was to get the signing on out of the way, this for me included free pasta, such was the organisation of the sightseeing that the signing on, obtaining the required number plate, t shirt and transponder then lead you pretty much straight on to the free food, with a plate of pasta in my hand I thought I better inhale this as quickly as possible as my Mum and John were waiting patiently in the car outside. I grabbed a chair on the end of someonelses table who were more than happy to chat about their previous experiences from last year, this was neither helpful or unhelpful as they all had different stories and times to tell but I was reassured to some extent that I would be able to complete the distance and likely in a reasonable time.

Having signed on and myself having stuffed myself it was agreed to go back to the hotel for some nap time prior to going out for a meal in the evening. I myself still had lots of faffing to do before the start the following day which was fine.
The evening meal was a bit of an occasion on account of John's daughter becoming a relatively recent addition to the Manx population so it was a great chance for John to catch up. The venue was to be The Titan in Port Erin. their speciality being a kind of hanging kebab arrangement which was delivered to the table on a trademarked contraption which allowed it to dangle over your plate. It was jolly nice, a little spicey but not as spicey after it had been pointed out to me by John's daughter, Sue that I had been dipping my chicken in Piri Piri sauce...doh!
The meal was lovely and we talked Manx memories and experiences mostly, from all different perspectives, the evening drew to a close a reasonable time for us all to catch some Zed's before an early rise in the morning.

Sunday 8th Race Day

The ever accommodating Mary at the Balmoral was kind enough to do us a cooked breakfast at 6:30am so we could get off to The point of Ayre or more specifically the car park at Bride just a couple of miles short of The Point.
It was at the car park that I met Ives who as it would turn out would be become a great buddy to ride with. We can't have been out the car more than 30 seconds before conversations had been struck up and we were laughing and joking like a couple of idiots both of us wondering what had we got ourselves into. We departed the car park, Ives leaving his wife behind and me leaving Mum and John who all seem to be chatting as we pedalled off.
We road to the start talking about whatever, navigating through the pockets of people who were in various states of awe and disarray. Ives had had the good sense to do a reccy' of the route previously so he knew some of what was in store for us. once in the holding area we chatted more and took in the breath-taking view, which was accompanied by a pretty bracing wind, I recall seeing a couple of ladies crouched down taking shelter in a dip looking none too impressed with the conditions.

"Comfort" breaks and pre-ride food out the way we made our way to the waiting crowd of riders, not before a heart murmur on my part as I came out of the toilets to an empty patch of grass where I had laid my bike, Ives had been kind enough to pick it up and wheel it out the way of anyone else, we had a good laugh about it and the scene was set for the day ahead as we agreed to do the ride together. This being only my second big ride without Tim I am was happy to have a companion who was ready to not take themselves or the ride too seriously.

10:00 o' clock came and we gradually filtered through the start line which for us at the back meant we went through at 10:10. It was great seeing so many people out lining the streets, it seemed a little bit silly being cheered on a 100 yards in but as it was I really struggled for the first 5~10 miles so I needed all the help I could get, not until the first offroad climb did I find my legs and lungs. Fortunately for me Ives was happy to plod along at a "sensible" pace, we were in agreement that we had to think of the long game and not overdoing whilst I was doing all I could to keep up with Ives, at the same time as watching loads of people coming past us.

Whilst speed has never been a speciality of mine it would seem that I might be able to claim climbing hills as one and this was a ride of up hills way more than down hills.
Picture the steepest climb you have ever managed to ride up, that has been a struggle of both effort in pedalling and concentration and balance, these kind of hills are usually short, right? well in this case imagine doing that for anything up to a mile with what you thought was the summit leading you into a gradual climb that continues on for several more miles, well that would give you an overall flavour of the day.

Oh yes but you're thinking long up hills mean great downhills, well this would in a small part be correct.The conditions over the day were OK, changeable, fair amount of rain at one point but it moved through drizzle, cloud, sunshine and back again. This changeable weather combined with the downpours of the previous day meant that the potentially great downhills were either slow or treacherous. One such fast decent resulted in a big ol' blowout, this was due to a lot of the terrain being made up of rock, slate and flint, given I run pretty strong tyres and high pressures I wasn't expecting that. This is what spoilt the downhills. Whilst struggling to fix my back tyre covered in mud I was aware of a rider being told he was at the end of his ride if he couldn't sort his tyre, now I know I can be a bit over the top with preparation but this "local" had nothing, no puncture repair kit, innertube, levers, tools....nothing! reluctantly myself and Ives furnished him with everything he needed whilst another unknown local did all the work for him, he must lead a charmed life. This meant that I was out of tubes, no more punctures allowed....poo!

We pressed on having got quite a bit behind with our slow start, my blow out and the numpty who entered a 75km mountain bike ride with nothing in his pockets except fluff. There were some spectacular views to be had though keeping our spirits up, which would but unobtainable in a car which often gave us something to smile about.

The first checkpoint was quite a long way into the ride and it looked like we would be cutting it fine for making it before the cutoff.
We did make it though with seconds to spare, the following checkpoints however seemed achievable as we had reason to be delayed reaching the first one.
More hills awaited which for 99% of people we saw were for walking rather than riding.
Some potentially great single track through some woodland had been spoilt by the weather which made it a trudge.
More hill climbing followed by more hill climbing with some more hill climbing thrown in for good measure.
We were eventually rewarded with a long technical decent through heathland with small drop offs but with tricky rocks to negotiate, all good fun and achievable by both of us.

Where the opportunities arose we would chat about whatever came to mind having a good laugh and sharing lifetime experiences, so despite the poor weather, terrain and topography we continued to enjoy our time riding across the island, resigning ourselves to the fact that we wouldn't be going home with any prize money.

One of the things we did enjoy were the free energy bars at the checkpoints, normally i shy away from them and generally they taste artificial and a bit naff, however the Zipvit bars provided were scrumptious and felt like a treat rather than a means to end. overall i don't think myself or Ives dipped low on sustenance, perhaps we didn't drink enough though as i did develop a mild head ache and Ives was visited by the cramp fairy a couple of times. This did mean that i had carried around a couple of kilos of fluid and and food but i don't think it would have put me back in with a chance of the prize money.

The last checkpoint prior to the finish was reached late despite our predictions of being better on pace so long as we didn't have any mishaps. This was OK though, after some mental arithmetic based on times of the front runners and the quote distance it looked like we would hit the finish before the cutoff time.

The last sections were quite nice as we descended towards Port Erin and onto the roads again. On the roads the last section was really hilly but at least doable, i felt pretty good and on the first of 3 or 4 hills to the finish i noticed Ives had disappeared, i looked back to see him chatted with someone and he started waving me on, conscious of my flight home i thought i may as well, then i could pack a few things up and see him accross the line. The penultimate hill was really steep, i got to it at the same time as another rider and it became visible to us at the same time as we rounded a bend in the road, this chap then absolutely lost his temper, it was all i could do not to laugh, he was so angry that after a day of riding up impossible hills the organisers finished with a few more hills. I ascended somewhat more gracefully and reached the finish at 17:25, 5 minutes to spare. Mum was waiting but had expected the worse as i was so late in and didn't recognise me initially, waving and smiling covered head to foot in mud, but i finished feeling strong and with both a sense of achievement and disappointment. No time to relax....milkshake down my neck, strip bike down and bag it up ready for Ives to appear, cheered him in and was pleased to see his beaming smile.

We exchanged contact details and had a hug before we went our separate ways. We had overcome our trials and tribulations and completed a pretty big ride, we certainly got our moneys worth and agreed that we wouldn't bother with it again on account of the naff'ish route. So glad to have had such a great bloke to do the ride with.

My lasting minutes of the event were changing into my clothes in the middle of a field so we could rush to the plane, no time in hand it was a bit of a panic, washed my face with a drinks bottle, legs still muddy under my jeans, bib shorts and base layer still, i was pretty minging.
Got to the airport and stuffed myself on treats from the cafe including the biggest Belgium teacake i have ever seen...yum yum.

after the flight it was a bus to the car then home.....arriving about 22:45, thought better of cycling in to work the next day and after a bit of chat chat it was to bed for me.

Overall it was great to be back on the island, it felt a lot different being there without a motorbike and was too short a visit, i was glad to have done the ride but have no interest in doing it again, too many other adventures to be had.

Total distance achieved: 180km

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