The Old Songs :: Four

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I didn’t get as much sleep as I would have liked Saturday, or indeed Sunday. I woke up full of nerves. Instead of riding to the site (which would have added extra miles to the total) the car was driven back to the Festival, and bikes unpacked. The enormity of what I’d taken on registered as I pinned a number to my chest: 3971. Remember, this isn’t a race. There is no prize except the satisfaction of riding. You’re going to do 25 miles and enjoy the journey.

Hashtag Cycle #eroicabritannia2017 @eroicabritannia

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The first achievement? Not falling off at the start, which was over a nasty set of concrete slabs laid into the starting field. Then came the early ride down a narrow trail, surrounded by other riders… and the previous day’s concern about stability melted away, even allowing me to overtake others. I however failed at the first serious hill and had to walk the bike up, but managed the next one. Most of the problems in that regard are to do with not understanding how my gears work. When I do this next year (and I will) I’ll have an instruction plate strapped to my handlebars to remind me what lever does which thing. I’ll just be the same as a Post it note on my PC screen when I’m learning a new Warcraft boss fight.

I really didn’t take time to look at the scenery much until about 15 miles in, when Mr Alt stopped to help a guy with a puncture. Then I was reminded, for the second time that weekend, just how amazingly beautiful the Peak District is. It is also full of hills that are a pain to get up but, at least for me, more frightening to hurtle down. There are the remains of blisters on both hands as I clung onto brakes for grim death, despite husband’s repeated suggestions I do anything but. I think that might take a bit of getting used to, or the reassurance of a helmet next year. The race does not make helmets compulsory but strongly advises them regardless: many people found inventive ways of disguising theirs in order not to break immersion.

The first comfort stop was at 17 miles, in a beautiful village called Monyash. I’d expected to have to buy our own food, and was surprised when I discovered a lunch provided and free beer for anyone who wanted it. However, the highlight for me was the Brass Band, who played an amazingly eclectic selection of modern music and classics.

After a Cheese and Pickle roll, sausage roll, banana and the most amazing Bakewell Flapjack we were off again. This was the scariest part of the course, where at one point Mr Alt lost his GoPro because terrain was so rocky, and I was forced off my bike to walk… which means I found it and was able to hand the thing back. After that it was plain sailing, with another stop to help inflate a second flat tyre. With the finish in sight I remembered weeks of PT training, and found some energy in my legs to do a sprint finish with the husband, much to the delight of the watching crowd. That, for me, was the most amazing part of it all: after miles I’d not prepared or trained for, legs could still do the extra work.

25 Miles Complete @eroicabritannia #eroicabritannia2017

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I am ridiculously proud of my achievement, but realise it pales into insignificance when placed next to my husband’s: he downgraded from the 100 miles to ride with me. He took time to coach me up hills and to explain how I could ride better. There was no thought to stopping when other people were in mechanical distress, and his extra inner tubes and gas cylinders for quickly refilling tyres were given without thought. Most importantly of all, we crossed the finishing line together.

I still haven’t processed all of this weekend. There’s still so much to grasp in terms of how to improve, what I’d do to make the experience feel more comfortable… and how bike riding needs to become a part of the exercise routine. My legs are covered with scratches and bruises, but heart is stronger than I’ve felt for a very long time. Achievement is a great thing, but matters not one jot if one does not use it as a step upwards to something better. That is the plan: onwards and forever upwards.

The only limiting factor now is my ability to ride a bike.

The Old Songs :: Three

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Awake at 7am, there were doubts about the validity of the long-range weather forecast. I shouldn’t have worried: by 9am, the cloud had burnt off and it was magnificent. The plan for the day, as Eroica is a ‘vintage’ festival, was to wear something appropriate. Despite  current body weight issues (up and down like a fiddler’s arm) and time constraints (wasn’t going 10 days ago) I was able to cobble something suitable together. Looking at the number of likes the ensemble garnered on Twitter, it appears to have gone down well.

The ride to the site, as mentioned yesterday, was along what used to be railway lines: gorged out of hills and left unfinished, runs past farmland… and the views. Oh dear Deity the views, people: you don’t need to go abroad to be stunned at how beautiful this planet is. Only three and a bit hours drive from London, it was beyond spectacular. There were a few stops, mostly because riding in full petticoats needs some thought. Next year, think it might be something a bit less fussy (and if the weather is the same, far less bulky.) However, the bike was very sturdy and became enjoyable to ride after I got comfortable.

The night before, over dinner, there’d been discussion about taking part in the Sunday event. It wasn’t a race, Mr Alt, kept reminding me: just about doing a course and experiencing the feelings that went with that. So, once Registration was arrived at, the plunge was taken. I registered for the 25 mile ride the following day.

After that it was time to wander about: the site was far better laid out and presented than had been the year before at Bakewell Showground: organisers had learnt their lessons, and this time around not only was there a lot more space for bikes to be parked and people to relax, but the entire site was put to far better use. The only genuine criticism I could level was that because of the space, it looked like there were less things to do and see. However, you were spoilt for choice in terms of artisan food stalls, alcohol and places to simply relax and chill: at 11am I was in a bar, with a drink in my hand, and frankly couldn’t have been happier.

There were celebrities too, at least in biking terms: respect is due to Chris Boardman who stopped and had selfies taken with half the Festival, was never anything other than happy to oblige, and seemed like a thoroughly decent chap. There were also some absolutely amazing (and possibly insane) people who wore tweed all day, without looking in the least bit perturbed by the weather. It was the heat that drove us back to the Hotel early, and the ride back was the first time I had an issue: almost falling off a bike for the first time since San Francisco caused a minor panic attack. However, both mind and body are getting better at coping with these things. Add a brilliant husband’s support, who assuaged fear before driving us both to Buxton for the best Chinese meal I can remember for the best part of a decade, and everything was just fine.

Waiting for my Man

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I’ll admit driving back there were some race day nerves: I’ve done a ‘charity’ bike ride with the kids a few years ago for the local Hospice, but it was hardly taxing in terms of hills or distance. The ‘Tourist’ Route may have sounded pedestrian, but in the Peak District I knew that hills were hardly gentle. Would my months of training allow it to be easier? Would I fall off the bike? More importantly, would the sun fry lovely pale skin to a crisp? Probably the best two buys made before the weekend were factor 50 sun cream and a sun hat, both of which were liberally utilised across the weekend. The only bit of skin that failed to be adequately covered was the non dominant wrist where my Fitbit sits, and that’s hardly painful even now.

I did many things for the first time this weekend, including drink. I’d never tried Jagermeister before: this Hunter’s Tea was one of those experiences you’re not certain of at the first sip, but could end up consuming all day if not cautious enough to grasp consequence. Plus it allowed us to sit under canvas during the hottest  part of the day. As we did, an official photographer appeared and took some pictures of my husband, so I’ll be looking out for official literature next year to see if he makes it and becomes ‘famous.’ The Saturday was a perfect aperitif for the main action on Sunday: Mr Alt had planned to do the 100 mile circuit but downgraded to 25 miles to accompany me, and so it was a relatively early night all around to prepare.

I’ll tell you all about that tomorrow :D

The Old Songs :: Two

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Okay, I’m back at a PC: I took a tablet with me across the weekend, but there was simply not enough time to write. Honestly, the last three days have been more packed than has been the case for MONTHS… and I want to make sure I get it all recorded before memories fade. Therefore, let us start with Friday night, and I’ll detail Saturday and Sunday starting next week.

Dinner: Prawns, courgette fries BOOM

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This time, we left early as last year’s driving around in the dark in a strange place was, to put it mildly, quite stressful. Once the Hotel was found and we’d checked in, the next task was to find somewhere to eat. Having missed dinner, we were directed by hotel Staff to The Old Dog at Ashbourne, and dinner was simplicity and brilliance all rolled into a small, perfectly formed package. Mr Alt took a burger and I went healthy, until I ordered a pint of Rhubarb Cider and everything went downhill very fast. It was, more or less, like drinking highly alcoholic cordial, and there could have been many, MANY glasses bought. Fortunately, common sense prevailed, because the plan for Saturday morning was to cycle to the event.

Thanks to the wonderful way the railways were fairly savagely shut down back in the 1960’s [see Beeching’s Cuts] there are a lot of cycle paths around the Derbyshire Peak District, one of which is conveniently located at the back where we were staying, effectively providing a direct route to Eroica’s doorstep. Nine and a bit miles is more distance than I’ve taken on in any form since the operation, so I’ll admit being nervous, and that’s probably why not too much got drunk on Friday night. My bike was bought especially for the occasion: a Nigel Dean World Tour (circa 1982) which is now, I suspect, going to get a complete overhaul, and we were up bright and early on Saturday morning to do the run to the event.

You can have those stories tomorrow, after I’ve had a much needed night’s sleep in my own bed…

The Old Songs :: One

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There will now be an unscheduled diversification of content, ahead of me having a weekend away with Mr Alt in the beautiful Peak District. I’m a sucker for Derbyshire: blame Jane Austen for that obsession, but for the next three days all that matters are vintage bikes, dressing up and enjoying what looks like could be a glorious weekend in the heart of quintessential English countryside. It’s Eroica Britannia time, and after the muddy mess of last year, I’ve got the Factor 50 sun cream standing by.

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We’ll be travelling up at lunchtime today, so ‘normal’ service on my other two blogs will be suspended starting shortly, with posts returning Monday morning. My husband, no word of a lie, has been planning this since the start of the year. The three bikes we’re taking (two for him, one for me) are ready: his two have been painstakingly restored, mine (because I’m not racing) is a little less cared for but no less loved. I have costumes for both days, been breaking in my shoes for the past three days. Our hotel is literally next to the High Peak Trail, which runs past the Festival’s front entrance. The only problem I have is that we won’t be driving to and from site, but it’s a bike ride, in a skirt.

Not gonna lie, I’m nervous.

This is the kind of event that Twitter, Instagram and blogging was created to cover: an opportunity to stick you people in my pocket and, for two days, be a part of my life at the Festival. A smart woman would have had flyers printed to advertise the Internet of Words across the weekend but that’s next year’s task, for now I’ll be taking both the mobile and my stand alone camera to pick up as many pictures as is possible. I’ve also gone a bit high tech: as there will be sun, I have a mobile solar charging panel (picked up from last years’ Black Friday Amazon sale) which looks like it could be worth its weight in gold.

I’ll be doing my best to blog extensively about all three days, to share with you some of the vintage stuff I’ve managed to pick up (been saving pennies for a spend) and hopefully give a flavour of an event that was enjoyed immensely last year. It is very, VERY British, however: warning you now, it is a long way away from anything that counts as normal in my existence. However, with the events of the last month still very fresh in the memory, there is a reminder to enjoy life as much as possible and as often as is presented. After all, you never know when your last day will come, and a life lived well is what should always be your default. So, this weekend I’m going to forget about all the bad stuff and go kick back. It’ll still be here when I return, but days away like this are the way I come back stronger and ready to deal with life’s demands.

Packing the bag. #eroicabritannia2017 awaits ✅

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Now, the next thing to work out is how little I can get away with for two days without gimping my ability to function…