Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Rocky Mountain 1200

Wow. It’s been a while!I could claim that we’ve been so busy cycling that we just haven’t had time to write anything. In truth, we’ve been doing some riding, skiing in winter and lots of beer drinking and chilling out. Last week we rode the Rocky Mountain 1200km brevet and have actually managed to put some words and pictures together for once. It seems to have turned into an epic one too!
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Bow lake on the Icefields Parkway.
Rides are unique experiences - my experiences on the back of the tandem will be different from everyone else's. Joth was riding the same bike at the same time, and while our experiences are similar, they are different. A faster rider trying to get around in 3 days and the slower rider surviving on very little sleep will have ridden the same roads, but their experiences may be vastly different to mine. I guess that’s one of the things that keeps us riding - seeing the glossimer spider thread floating in the breeze catching the early morning light, getting a honk and a wave from a train driver, seeing a Grizzly bear by the side of the road and spotting the cornice hanging off a glacier high on a mountain above you. New roads are great, but no two rides are ever the same.The RM1200 has been on the to-do list for a while - we first heard about it when in the UK when we read a ride report from Pat Hurt about his experiences in 2008?. In March we skied the Wapta traverse from Pepto lake on the Icefields Parkway to the great divide lodge on the Trans-Canadian Highway at Kicking Horse Pass. This route took us past the lodge and up the Icefields Parkway past Bow Summit and Peyto lake - something we were really looking forward to seeing in summer. It didn’t disappoint! We rode all of this event in daylight hours, lucky enough that we didn’t have to ride at night and could take in the mountain vistas. One of the riders we were chatting to at the finish had ridden as much as he could in the night when the temperatures were cooler. While he missed out on some of the views, he had seen the Milky Way clear in the star filled night sky with no light pollution to dampen it.
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Things on a Thing descending in the afternoon sunlight
There is no such thing as an easy 1200km ride, and with the mountainous terrain this route took us through it was always going to be tough. We got very lucky with the weather, the rain jackets were never needed and while a headwind slowed us down on day 2 it could have been much worse (when it was last run in 2012 they had strong headwinds and heavy rain for 24 of the first 26 hours). Much of this ride is on highways with heavy traffic which can be stressful, the road surface was generally pretty fast rolling. In another 4 years the Icefields Parkway may have been resurfaced and the snow heaves which bruised Joth’s forearms may be gone. The route may be changed again and the lovely out and back to Wells Grey Regional park removed, but I’m sure the spirit of the ride will be the same. More than 60 volunteers helped out with the ride - that’s more volunteers than riders. It takes an incredible amount of effort to put on an event like this, and as riders we were looked after incredibly well. I particularly enjoyed the shoulder rubs from Deidree at a couple of the controls. All but one control was manned and there was a great range of home cooked food. The menus were published in advance and it seemed like those with allergies and food restrictions were well catered for. Digestive issues are common on events like this, and when tired it is sometimes difficult to find something you *want* to eat. That wasn’t an issue for me on this ride. Having so many manned controls with facilities also give flexibility with regard to how far to ride each day. The drop bags are in specific locations, but knowing that you could press on to the next control and sleep there gave us the option of doing a fast ride. We did consider it, but we have remarkably few miles in the legs this year and just getting around and enjoying the ride won over that consideration - we are getting soft in our old age!
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A welcome water stop before the final climb to Rogers Pass

Ride Summary

Day 1 Kamloops to Golden 390km


Route description: Brief section of the Trans-Canadian Hwy #1 before heading off on country roads to the first control at Spallumcheen. More country roads on the way back to Hwy #1 then on to the next control at Revelstoke. More Hwy #1 and more climbing to Rodgers Pass and a very welcome control at the top. Lots of fast downhill on Hwy #1 to the sleep control at Golden. Some potholes and debris on the shoulder on the highway, but generally a good surface and fast rolling. Much of the traffic is big (trucks and large motorhomes and caravans), but drivers were generally very good at pulling out to give lots of space when passing.
Weather: Hot
Interesting animals: a disappointing 0
This train driver gave us a honk and opened his window to wave at us.

Day 2 Golden to Jasper 317km

Route description: Climb along the valley to Field before the road steepens at Big Hill to Wapta Lake, once over Kicking Horse Pass the road descends to the control in Lake Louise. A turn around and head out taking a right turn onto the Icefields Parkway. Commercial traffic isn’t allowed on this road, but the number of tourist vehicles almost makes up for them. Road surface was good with the exception of the snow heaves which occur at intervals of about 4 metres in some cases. They were very annoying! A steep descent to Saskatchewan River Crossing for a top up of the water bottles and ice cream before tackling the headwind and climb to SunWapta pass followed by shortly by the very welcome control at Beauty Creek. It’s then pretty much all downhill to Jasper and sleep.Weather: Hot and windy. Interesting animals: 2 (1 Mountain Goat, 1 Grizzly Bear)
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It may not be a very good photo, but I promise you that is a grizzy bear. Even with the presence of a ranger with a shotgun I really wasn't feeling like hanging around looking like a tasty snack, even if they are pretty well fed at this time of year.

Day 3 Jasper to Clearwater 326km


Route description: A gradual climb along Hwy #16 over Yellowhead pass and in the shadow of Yellowhead mountain before turning South on Hwy #5 and more down hill. We are now firmly in the land of glacial rivers famous for fishing. Welcome stops at the controls of Valemont and Blue River as the road continues gradually downwards to the sleep control of Clearwater. All highway but generally a good shoulder and considerate traffic.Weather: Pleasantly warm. The temperature would drop noticeably when crossing mountain streams, a thunder shower ahead of us at Blue Water dropped the temperature a few degrees for the small climb after the control.Interesting animals: 2 (1 Elk, 1 Black Bear)
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Yellowhead mountain
Day 4 Clearwater to Kamloops 274km
Route description: A 50km detour off Hwy #5 out and back along a quiet country road up to the control in Wells Grey Regional Park. Steep climb out of Clearwater then rolling terrain out the control. Reverse on the return where we managed to avoid the temptation of a second breakfast in Clearwater before heading down Hwy #5 to Kamloops. Stops in Little Fort and at a fruit stand (for ice cream and cherries), broke up the journey. The run into Kamloops is pretty flat and we were fortunate to mostly ride with a tailwind.Weather: Pleasantly warm but hotting up (we finished at 1pm)Interesting animals: 1 (Coyote - they are pretty common in California but this mountain based one was much prettier than our local ones)


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Canada's a big country. You got to run out of interesting names at some point!






More photos can be found here





Friday, September 4, 2015

The Controls of PBP

In reliving moments from PBP, Emma and I keep getting mixed up and having to remind ourselves of which control is which. So here's our personal memory-jogs for how to differentiate the controls plus some tips on smooth passage through them.
(Some photos would be great to add here, but alas the memory card in my camera was pooched so we lost what photos we had)

Dreux

  • Only go here on the way back
  • Big sports hall, great food selection.

Mortagne-au-Perche

  • Only a control on the way back.
  • Large bar area as you enter (remember first control from '11). 
  • In '15 Just picked up water on the way out, stopped to snooze on the way back in the cafe are to the right of the bar.

Villaines-la-Juhel

  • Major party town on the way back. Bike parking down either side of closed street in wooden wheel grabbers
  • Kids help carry trays down the maze and slope to the eating area
  • Best to park by the control Exit, walk up to control entrance, remember to fill bottle before controlling.

Fougères

  • Control spread around school on a hill: enter at bottom, first you see restaurant, then pass dorms, control up top.
  • Showers in the control building just off the snack bar area. (Gang showers)

Tinteniac

  • Restaurant is upstairs, not best food choices.
  • Snack bar up top of bike park area
  • Slept here on way back in '11 - good beds in small dorm rooms. Had to be mentally massaged to life by Jo in the very poorly stocked restaurant.

Loudeac

  • Enter via a big inflatable arch and little lump to climb to bike parking
  • Big bike park area with dedicated velo-spécial down the end by BBQ, toilets and restaurant entrance
  • Control up the top next to rapid service snack bar (missed this on way out '15) and restaurant, with infirmary in next building where Joth got gel put on knee.
  • Met the chief controller both ways (in '15) chatted about his 7 PBPs, he asked how we were doing, gave him SFR lapel pin.

Saint-Nicholas-du-Pelem

  • Water stop, small snack bar
  • We both slept on benches in the cafe on the way out in '15
  • Lots of surprise hills around here

Carhaix-Plouguer

  • Big sports hall dorms - slept on way out in '11
  • Cardboard on the floors everywhere
  • Only a couple toilets with full-time attendant, told to use men or women's.
  • Maze through 2 cafes to find the infirmary - found barely used snack bar on the way.
  • In '11 this place was a refugee camp of soaked 84h riders

 Brest






Wednesday, August 26, 2015

PBP 2015

PBP2015 was a 'must do' for us. A chance to catch up with randonneuring/audax friends from around the world. At around 6000 people it's the biggest and best, although it's the international riders and amazing local support which really makes it so special. We went into it thinking we'd try for a fast time to make some use of the speed we'd developed for RAAM. As ever in life, everything did not go to plan, although we managed to have fun.



Mentally it was probably the toughest 1200 we've done. The combination of jetlag and worry due to the delay in our bike arriving in France meant that we didn't have the best preparation time. Big thanks to HK and Feline for the offer of solo bikes as contingency against the tandem not arriving in time. Thanks to everyone else who offered support and spares to ensure we would have enough lights and baggage to outfit the bikes too. If the ride had been anything less than PBP, we'd have cancelled a few weeks ago due to other hassles. It was great that everything came together in the end and we started in good spirits.

We learnt a hard lesson in the first few hours however, as we tried to work with another tandem who were significantly faster than us. We both went above our LT multiple times trying to stay with them on the climbs. We dropped off the back after around 100km and started riding at our own pace. We got mixed up with a few groups and managed to work with one or two of the solos which was nice. We didn't get to ride with another tandem for the remaining 1100km which was a shame. By the middle of the first full day, our speed had dropped significantly though and I was struggling to stay awake. Joths knee was hurting badly by Loudéac, to the point where we turned around 4km after the control and went back to it to seek medical attention. They quickly reassured him that riding on wasn't going to cause more damage and the anti inflammatory painkiller gel helped enormously. We were still really slow on the climbs though. A cup of tea and a sleep on a bench in the secret control perked us up a bit and we had fun all the rest of the way to Brest. While at the control in Carhaix we booked a hotel on route into Brest and stopped for a pizza in Sizun and gently rode down to 7 1/2 hours sleep in a real bed. Luxury! Having been distinctly unimpressed with the Brest control at the 2011 edition we opted to stamp and go before stopping at a boulangerie for breakfast a few km later. This was a fantastic choice, saving time and scoring tasty pastries in reward.

The climb up to La Roc seemed to take forever, but we were expecting it and once we joined the outbound route we enjoyed waving at riders coming the other way. The full night's sleep really paid off as this was the only day we didn't need to stop for an afternoon "jetlag" snooze. 
Roberta attracting attention at Tinteniac

The hills around Loudéac hadn't got any smaller and Joths knee started making worrying noises while climbing, a tube of voltoren was keeping away the pain however, so we just concentrated on maintaining a smooth pedaling stroke and tried to ignore the noise. The rolling hills on the run into Tinténiac were as fun as we remembered from 2011, even if we didn't have another tandem to share it with this time. An older French rider was the only one from our train who managed to stick with us to the control, and he thanked us profusely for a fun ride. Unlike our hotel in Brest, our sleep stop in Fougères was not successful. The combination of noise, light changes from the door opening and closing along with the remains of the jet lag meant little sleep. So we got up early, had the traditional breakfast of croissant and hot chocolate and pootled on. By Montagne au Perche we were struggling again, so after a quick bite Joth lay down for a nap. We had wanted to finish in daylight, but with the breaks it was looking increasingly unlikely we'd make that. Fortunately, at around 35km from Montagne the route becomes increasingly tandem friendly. We didn't go all out into the control at Dreux as we had in 2011, but still towed a significant number of solo riders into the control. Again, it was lovely to have riders come and thank us for the tow. The food at Dreux was great. The pastries at the controls were generally good, my pain aux raisin in Dreux was superb, and still warm. Yum. That only left the stage I struggled with so badly in 2011. This time I avoided caffeine, gels and adrenaline rushes and we opted for a gentle ride with a couple of Irish audaxers who kept us amused as the final kilometers counted down to the finish. We were disappointed not to do a fast ride, but the conversations and experiences we had instead did a lot to make up for it. We plan to be back in 2019!
Joth channeling Mr Larrington in Montagne au Perche



Sunday, August 2, 2015

Back to normal (well almost)

So RAAM is done and dusted. We’ll hopefully write more about it at some point, but it was such a huge, amazing, all encompassing experience that it’s difficult to make sense of it all. We are now rested, recovered and looking forward to our ‘reward’ - yup, we’re riding PBP.
It feels a little weird to put a rack and heavy leather saddles back on Roberta, but for a 1200km event we need the luggage space and comfort is king. This will be our fifth Grand Randonee, and Roberta’s third, unlike her other two there will be no hotels rooms and no drop bags. Everything we need on the road, we’ll take with us. The bigger adaption is mentally and physically preparing for the ride. It’s surprising us how quickly we’ve adapted to stopping and eating every few miles. The first stage of PBP is 138km, which may have come as a big shock to the system. We had a great time last weekend with back to back 200km rides which has provided some confidence that we can still ride long distances and was a good shakedown for Roberta. We are finding that we need food much more regularly than we have previously - the short intensive efforts have (not surprisingly) done anything to improve our fat burning capability.

There are still a couple of changes we need to do to the bike, principally changing the rear brake - we are taking off the disk brake and just using a rim brake for PBP. We’ll also change the tyres before we go and take raceblades to fit on the front if there is likely to be rain on the event. Hopefully all the rain will have fallen before we get there.

We’ve really enjoyed riding the last few weeks without training plans and pressure. It’s great that we are both still keen just to ride a bike - there was always a little worry that we wouldn’t want to see one again for a while. We’ve not ridden a trainer/sufferfest session yet! It’s time to ride without pressure, guilt and to just enjoy it.


Monday, June 8, 2015

Tracking TandemThings Racing Across America

It’s less than 2 weeks to go until we embark on Race Across America! After 18 months of training and preparation it’s hard to put into words what it’s like to finally be so close to the starting line. I don’t feel too nervous - I’m sure that will come! - but we’re certainly excited to get going.


As you may know, we’re aiming to set a new mixed tandem category record, and complete the 3000 mile race in under 6 days 10 hours. To that end every hour of the day will be spent racing, eating or sleeping, so we won’t have much opportunity to post updates during the race. So we’re sharing some links now with places you can follow our progress, should you wish.


This shows our most up-to-date location based on GPS tracker in the follow-vehicle. (As I write this, it’s actually showing a replay of RAAM 2013 just as a demo!).
You’ll need to know our team number: T409 - Love Sweat & Gears - Tandems
They also have apps: (iPhone) (Android)


This carries updates of our progress through the 55 Time-stations (aprx 1 every 55 miles), based on official race records. They also have a link to a map of that data.


Make sure to “Like” and follow the team page, there won’t be much opportunity to post to our own page during the ride. The team page will have updates on all three LS&G teams (2 women, 4 women, 4 Tandems) so


4 Twitter
These are mostly just links to postings on Facebook, but there maybe the occasional bonus update there too!

5 Ride Farther
http://ridefarther.com/ / https://www.youtube.com/user/Raammedia
This is the official Media outlet of Race Across America, and will host twice-daily video reports (also on their youtube channel) as well as maps, written reports, photo galleries and so on. Also they're promising a live video stream from of the teams press conference and from the starting line, 12 noon PST (that's 8pm BST).


Finally, a big massive thank you to everyone that has sponsored us in this undertaking. We’re on track to make a great donation to help the lives of Cystic Fibrosis sufferers everywhere. We’ve not really done a charity ride before so seems appropriate our first one is epic even by our standards! Every donation received, large or small, does motivate us a bit more to reach our goal.

The sponsorship link is on lovesweatandgears.net/tandems-2015 (hit “Donate Here”)

Monday, January 12, 2015

XTR Di2 parts on a road tandem

When we were spec'ing our Paketa back in May last year, we had at the back of our mind the possibility that one day there'd be a Di2 electronic shifting version of the Shimano MTB groupset, XTR, so we could mix in MTB parts like a rear derailleur at a later date to increase the gear range. When our knees are old and we need even more help on the steep climbs. Soon after Shimano did indeed announce XTR Di2, and Leonard Zinn helpfully confirmed that it would interoperate with Dura-Ace so tandems could reduce in mixing road levers with mountain derailleurs at will.
Roll on to January this year and my pre-ordered XTR rear derailleur finally arrived. Yay!


Unfortunately, just at the same time the same Mr Zinn published a follow up reporting not all was well in Di2 land:

I got some answers from Shimano about this, and I now know that you cannot mix any road FD (front derailleur) with an XTR Di2 (11-speed) rear derailleur (RD-M9050); it won’t work with any Di2 shifter, road or MTB.

I just had chance to experiment and this does indeed seem to be the case. Plug in the XTR rear derailleur on its own with the Dura-ace levers and it works a charm. But plug in the road front derailleur and the entire system seizes to a halt. No shifting on either end, no battery indicator, nothing. So as Leonard says the options are to convert the drive-train fully to XTR (both the RD and FD) or run it 1x11 speed without a FD. Neither of those options are good for us, as we want the much wider range you only get with the road FD (strange but true: the road double FD has a wider range than the MTB triple). Or else I guess, we could buy a second battery and run the front and rear derailleurs as completely independent systems. Yuck!

OR of course, plead with Shimano to issue a firmware update to allow this configuration! There's no electronic reason for the incompatibility, merely a policy decision of them wanting to enforce that the entire the drive train (derailleurs chains and cogs) are all from the same family. Unfortunately, electronic shifting and complex firmware configurations has increased the means through which they can enforce what are basically business decisions.

In the meantime, if you're in the market for a never used XTR rear derailleur let me know...

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Cystic Fibrosis Foundation

Our RAAM training is progressing well, and we have just returned from an excellent training camp in Tucson with the other riders and most of the crew. It was an intensive weekend involving riding and organising in almost equal measures. It was a great learning experience, and we know whatever happens next June, there will be a lot of laughs with our amazing crew. Most of whom we were meeting for the first time, and we seemed to gel really well - we’re looking forward to more opportunities to get to know them before the Big Opportunity next June!


The team also had the privilege of being invited to lunch with the McAllisters, a local couple who have two granddaughters with cystic fibrosis, who we got to meet. It was a very touching reminder of the larger goal and why we’re putting ourselves through this, and we are grateful for the local chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation for organising it. There has been a few big steps forward in the treatment of CF in the last few years, and there is at least a glimmer of hope for some sufferers. While a complete cure is still some way away, the treatments now available and (hopefully) those in development offer a better standard of living for longer. The development cost is huge, but it is one of those problems where the money is having a real effect and the new treatments are making a huge difference to suffers. The sheer number of genetic variants of the disease also increases costs - there is no silver bullet here.
So, thank-you to everyone who has donated money so far. It’s making a difference!

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Love Sweat & Gears Tandem Team 2015. - racing so kids can breathe.



Sunday, September 21, 2014

Happy 10 years of Tandem Things!

This weekend my brother Mike and his wife Thea are out in London celebrating 10 years of marriage - and along with wishing them well,  this got us thinking about how it marks 10 years since we received our first tandem, Dobbin, and made out first tandem tour. And a very memorable few weeks it was -- let me retell the tail.


Dobbin on his 10 year anniversary - riding Stevens Canyon today

Dobbin was delivered to us around the 1st September, 2004. That first Dobbin was British Racing Green in colour. Unfortunately, he had a nasty dent in his top tube from a fork-lift accident in shipping. [And unfortunately the ravages of time against digital filing discipline mean I no longer appear to have any photos of him -- there maybe some analog photos in our loft back in London!].
Anyway, he was still perfectly ridable, so after a short and slightly wobbly test-ride out from the flat we lived in at the time, we decided to participate in a group ride from Richmond to Windsor that coming weekend (on Sunday September 5th, I believe). At this time, nether of us had ever been on a bike club ride of any sort; never worn lycra padded shorts; never even heard of drafting. It felt a bit like an induction by fire! The ride was a charity event, but we knew it was on because some participants in the "Cycling Plus" online forum were arranging to meet up "in real life" at it. We'd been following this forum closely while planning our first tandem purchase, mostly as "lurkers". We didn't even mention we'd be there for this ride: we figured we'd check them out from a distance and if they looked suspect, we could then slip away without notice! How different events could have been: as it turned out, IRL they looked safe enough (looks can be deceiving!!) so we went up and introduced ourselves, and met a number of friends that we keep in contact with to this day; mostly via the yacf.co.uk forum that is the great-grandchild of the C+ forummers. Charlotte, Vicky, Graham, and Spesh were amongst those on that ride. Not only did we meet some good friends that day, but some of our greatest inspirations too: when Charlotte visited us in California this summer I mentioned to her how she was the reason we ever got into longer (>200km) distance randonneuring. We followed her complete her first SR series (200, 300, 400 and 600km rides) a few years later, and I think that's the moment I thought to myself, if someone perfectly normal and pleasant like Charlotte could take on and achieve such feats, maybe I'd be able to one day too!
So, the ride went really well. We learnt so much. We had our first experience of a group of pretty serious looking cyclists hanging on our back wheel. We saw our first Brooks Swallow saddle (and how horrid I thought it looked!). We discovered the plastic saddles that had (incorrectly) shipped with our Thorn Adventure where not for us, and redoubled our resolve to get the B17s we had ordered. We surprised ourselves by not only doing the "long" route option out to Windsor, but also riding right the way back home with our new friends - possibly making it a 70 mile day, our longest to that date.

Having succeeded in such an enjoyable and noteworthy ride, you might have thought we were done for tandeming for our first month. But no! Just a short 5 days of work later, Friday evening on the 10th Sept found us loading up our tandem with 4 panniers stuffed full of camping gear, clothes, and everything we'd need for our first week-long tour. Neither of us had cycle-toured before. Neither had ridden a fully loaded bicycle before, let along a tandem, so setting off through the Friday evening SW London commuter traffic was again rather a trial by fire! We made it to Richmond park and were able to ease off a bit and take stock. Tempting to camp there our first night? No.. we pushed on and got all the way to the East Horsley campground - some 20 miles from our London flat. The following day we topped it with an 80 mile fully-loaded ride to Portsmouth and over the ferry to Ryde on the Isle of Wight. We found our campsite and checked in just before 8pm - I remember the girl at the checkin desk (in the adjoining pub) saying "sorry, the kitchen has just closed" and the landlady overhearing, taking one look at us both, and declaring No it Had Not just closed, grabbing the phone and telling the chef to bring up whatever two hot meals he had most readily to hand. Our first experience of the wonderful kindness you can receive when traveling by tandem!
So over the next week we toured the Isle, back over to the New Forest, Salisbury, Wylye Valley, and finally arrived at the Best Western just outside Bath on Friday 17th, looking rather road-weary but happy, and ready for my brother's wedding the next day!

In the ten years since then, Dobbin has toured with us on many occasions and in several continents. The winter we returned him for frame repair which is also when he changed from BRG to the custom dark metallic blue he sports today.

Dobbin living in our First Floor Flat, July 2005

Dobbin in Ireland, May 2007

Dobbin adventuring in Patagonia, January 2011

Dobbin touring in California, 2012

Dobbin filling in as Rando-Tandem last year