Bonking

Last Sunday I thought it would be a great idea to go out for my first ride since the Easter break. Many things indicated that this was a bad idea. It was my first ride back – I should have been thinking 15/20 miles. Instead I had planned 38. I had played in an all day hockey tournament the day before. I was already hurting. As soon as I got outside it started to hail. I didn’t have any suitable snacks. Talk about not taking a hint!

 

I convinced myself on the first bit of the ride out from Heaton to Callerton that everything was going fine. I had also for some reason which I will never fully comprehend, thought it would be a brilliant idea to test my body by not taking on ANY sugars or food during the ride – just having two bottles of water with me, I had presumed, would be sufficient for my elite athletic status. Many of the choices I made last sunday were absolutely bonkers. Taking no food was the first one. Choosing to carry on riding to Dissington Hall when I was feeling rough was the second one. Forgetting my gloves and not taking any money with me were also pretty high on my list of ‘idiot choices’. Dissington sits just under half way round my route and by the time I got there I was absolutely soaked through and had the beginnings of a sugar low. I finished the first bottle of water in the hope that somehow my body would magically source some energy from it. Alas, I was already confused.

 

After Dissington things started to get wobbly. In cycling terms, I was bonking. This is a phrase used rather tentatively by new riders since we all know what it otherwise refers to. But once you have bonked on a bike you feel like you’ve earned the right to use it with confidence. It is basically where your body runs out of sugars to convert to energy and you having nothing left in the tank. Your legs, instead of burning, turn to a sort of uncooked-jelly like state. You head is pounding and your stomach is roaring. Anything for sugar. ANYTHING! This is the state I was beginning to enter after leaving Dissington Hall. Little did I know how bad it was going to get. 

 

The roads from Dissington get gradually worse until there is no smooth tarmac to ride on at all – just punishing potholes which shake your body. By the time I hit this stretch of the road I was in full bonk. I couldn’t concentrate on any one train of thought except for the fact that I needed to get home as soon as possible. But I still had 18 miles left on the road before I was even close to home. Every pothole slammed through my legs and arms and ricocheted around my skull. I felt horribly sick with each one. Having not brought any money with me meant that I really had no choice but to keep pushing at the pedals. I thought by the time I got back onto Stamfordham road that I had enough in me to get home. I was feeling horrible but I thought I could do it. After two miles I thought again.

 

I had the most peculiar sensation that I had no idea where I was. This is the route I have cycled almost every week since January. I know it like the back of my hand. But I was unfortunately bonking so badly that I was really confused and couldn’t for the life of me work out where I was. This really unsettled me. A couple of times I stopped just to look around, thinking that I would be able to find out my exact GPS position by staring at the bridleway sign. It didn’t work. So I would get back on the bike and cycle on with ever-weakening legs. By this point in the day I was extremely grateful for my DHB long bibbed cycling trousers. They at least kept some warmth in while I was having the worst ride of my life!

 

Things went from bad to worse when I realised that I had to pee all of a sudden. This really wasn’t easy considering how out of it I was. I found a small hedge on a massive main road and crept through the gate of the field in order to shelter behind it and go to the toilet. Putting all of my lycra layers back on again took me ages and I lost a lot of heat doing it but at least I could cycle again.

 

By the time I got to Gosforth I really was in dire straits. I couldn’t put any pressure down on the pedals at all, I was just turning them in a feeble attempt to move forward. By the time I got to Jesmond I had to get off and walk because I was so worried I was going to faint and fall horribly. Walking through the door of my house I was so overwhelmed with relief I almost cried. Anna my housemate asked if I was ok and I couldn’t talk. She soon had the kettle on and toast cooking away and I was fed back to being well enough to talk through the whole ordeal. In her words, thank God nothing worse happened. 

 

In my words, never again. Never. I will never head out without taking some sort of food supplies. Never without money incase I get into a sticky situation. Never carry on pushing when I don’t have either of the above. I think I’ve learnt my lesson. 

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The Joys of Cycling

Everyone should be a cyclist! That might seem like a rash statement but I really believe that anyone with two legs and a beating heart can enjoy it to some capacity, whether thats cycling around the park, or to and from work, or on leisurely weekend rides in the countryside. Every single person who I know who has started cycling at uni would now not give up their bike for anything! Its convenient to get around town quickly on, it saves so much money on petrol or metro tickets, and it is so much flipping fun!

I thought it might be helpful to give some top tips to get more people on a bike, saving money and time, as well as enjoying themselves. So here we go, 5 Top Tips to get you raving about biking around.

1) Buy a bike that suits you or fish out that old one in the garage that you haven’t used for years. In one sense a bike is a bike, if the pedals turn, the brakes work and the tyres are full then you are onto a winner! (I’ve been riding mine around for the last two months with only one gear because I can’t afford to get the cable fixed and I’m still loving it). If you have got the spare cash then spend some time thinking about what bike would suit you best – are you going to be going off road every now and again or will you only use it for commuting? Get some advice from your local bike shop who will be able to advise you on which bike will suit your needs

2) Get cycling! Take the plunge and get out on the roads. My housemate only bought a bike this September and at first was just getting used to riding it and doing short trips. Now she loves it and goes everywhere on her bike. She even went for a purposeful bike ride the other week because it was sunny and she was raving about it! Go for it!

3) Find some friends who already cycle and organise fun trips with them. One of the joys of cycling is that its actually a really sociable thing to do. If you’ve got the afternoon off or some time at the weekend then grab some food and head out to the hills for some cycling and a picnic. It can be a very sophisticated affair and there is no need for lycra to appear at all!

4) On the other hand if you are going to be cycling regularly, for example 10 or more miles into work/uni and back, then padded lycra shorts will honestly change your life! They are seriously worth it (the cheapest ones on the market are only about £15) and your butt will thank you every time you wear them! Don’t be afraid of lycra!

5) Wear a helmet. Only idiots risk brain damage by not wearing one! Don’t be a fool, put it on!

There are so many other joys to cycling that I could carry on forever, but those would be my best tips for someone who hasn’t thought about cycling before. My top tip is just to go for it and take the plunge, you really won’t regret it.

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The Inverted Bike Shop

I absolutely LOVE this idea! Its like my dream bike shop/job! #hiremenow

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A Wet and Windy Weekend

The weekend ride was a brilliant mixture of adventure, rain, pain, chocolate sandwiches, banter and enjoyment. We woke at around 6am to get everything ready, pack the bags and have breakfast ready for a 7am departure. Because of a last minute puncture we actually ended up leaving at around 7.45 but morale was high and the sun was semi-shining as we left Gilesgate in Durham. Because I was the lady of the group I only had to carry a camelback with my raincoat in it, some inner tubes and a puncture repair kit and I did feel slightly bad as the boys crammed in bananas, drinks and sandwiches to their bags. Ah well!

The first 22 miles or so until we got to Stanhope were pretty average riding. We were on main roads with lots of rush hour traffic and it was hard to stay together as a group. But once we were passed Stanhope we took a right turn which took us away from the main roads and up into the scenic views towards Rookhope. This is really where the ride got interesting because the pennines sprawl out on either side of you and its a really undulating road. Its kind of like a mixture between Dartmoor and the Yorkshire moors. Last year when we did this ride you could see for miles and miles, it was clear blue skies and bright sunshine, but this year it was blustering winds, drizzle and mist everywhere! So there was much less distraction on the uphill slogs.

What this picture doesn’t show you is that I had to hang onto a snow pole in order to be able to stand still enough to take the picture! It was really really windy. Sometimes there would be a transient break in the clouds and we would all shout ‘blue skies up ahead’ but more often than not the sunshine eluded us and we had to battle on in the clouds.

Dad was particularly struggling because of the gears on his posh Claud Butler. Most of us had downgraded to a compact chain ring at the front so that we would be able to master the long hills (except my brother Sam who did it all on a mountain bike!) but Dad had a racing set on at the front. I think his big ring had was a mahoosive 64 teether! (If you want to find out more about gears and gear ratios then there is a really useful blog post here) We worked out that his lowest possible gear was the equivalent to my highest! Needless to say he was absolutely knackered by the time we got to Rookhope. I was sailing along and really grateful for my bargain upgrade to an 11-34 cassette a couple of weeks ago at Start Cycles in Newcastle. The upgrade was a complete game changer – hills that I really struggled on last year were a different story this time round. Gear upgrades are the way forward!

Another piece of kit that I was really grateful for was my dhb bibbed cycling leggings. I bought them off wiggle last winter in order to be able to ride in the cold and they are absolutely fantastic. They are one of the only set of bibbed leggings designed with women in mind and they are really affordable at only around £40. They have a warm lining and multi-panel padding which really helps on a long ride in wet conditions. Even though the rain persistently drizzled in the afternoon and the wind was really strong on some of the descents I didn’t get really freezing. I would suggest if you are a new rider then the first must-buy is padded shorts, and the second is windproof top layers. Makes cycling so much more fun when you are wearing the right attire!

As promised, we stopped at the 50ish mile mark at the Hartside cafe about an hour after we had gone through Alston (I was bursting for a pee in Alston and ALL the pubs were shut so I had to dash into the world’s smallest tea shop in all of my kit and politely ask to use their facilities. Bull in a china shop comes to mind!). What a welcome break that was! We were all soaking wet and the mist meant that we only had a rough idea of where the cafe was thanks to our cycle computers. The last time we stopped Rob stated all of our frustrations by saying that we just couldnt work out how far we had to go – the cafe could be 200yards away or 2 more miles. Luckily as soon as we started cycling again we saw a sig that said ‘Hartside cafe 250 yards’ and breathed a deep sigh of relief! The mist was really dense on the top of the summit.

After a quick bowl of chips, some soup and hot chocolate (and a brief attempt at steaming off our lycra on the open log fire) we set off again down the hill and into Cumbria proper! After that you’ve really won the battle – just a few more roads to Penrith and then on through into Greystoke and Johnby and we were at the farm! Just in time to see Muffin the farm labrador giving birth to her first set of puppies!

A memorable weekend all in all, it went by way too fast and I can’t wait for a bigger challenge. Maybe coast to coast? Any suggestions, feel free to leave a comment.

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Shopping!

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Dad having a chill out after doing the major calorie shop for the ride tomorrow!

Just a Little Warm Up

Tomorrow is the big warm up ride for Fred Whitton in the summer!!

We (my brother Sam, dad, and two other friends called Rob and Alex) will be heading out from Durham to reach Greystoke, Cumbria by the late afternoon/evening. The route will cover around 68 miles (give or take a few shortcuts and wrong turns) and will reach up to 2,000ft of climbing on a couple of occasions. I’m uber excited! Training has been building up to this weekend for the last few weeks and so it will be a great milestone that will bring us closer to being prepared for Fred on July 14th. However, this week hasn’t exactly been ideal. I have had an essay due in for today which has somewhat chained me to my desk despite some glorious weather. And to top it off I’ve developed a stonking cold, one that makes your chest all full and your knees all weak. You know its a bad one when you get tired washing your hair in the shower. Not exactly ideal conditions to be doing a long pennines ride in! So tomorrow will be a great lesson in just plodding on through the pain, making sure I eat enough to sustain my body for the whole day and having ‘courage’ when I will want to give up.

We did this ride last year and the two hard points that I remember most vividly (there were others, I have just forgotten them) were the last climb which is a looong 6 mile climb at mile 43 when your body begins to feel a creeping and inescapable tiredness and then the final 10 mile stretch when my butt felt like it was sitting on a cheese grater and my stomach started cramping up from eating so much food and being hunched over all day. SO, to try and prevent those two things happening again this year I’ve bought some Chamois Butt’r (get it) cream which should ease the saddle pain, and some omeprezole tablets which help with indigestion. The added malady of the cold will bring its own hiccups I’m sure so I’ve also bought some cold and flu + caffeine tabs for extra protection.

Having reminded myself of the tricky points of last year I am mostly massively excited for tomorrow. There are some absolutely stunning views to be seen, fun to be had with family and friends, and some great roads to ride. There is one moment in particular that I just can’t wait for! Its when we finish that last long climb and reach Hartside  Cafe which overlooks the Lake District with all the peaks on the horizon. I can’t wait! By then all the effort will have been worthwhile and a cup of hot tea and choccie cake will see us through!

Keep up to date with the ride by following me on twitter @pbabirye or on facebook.

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A Spanish Man in Trouble

Yesterday morning I went out for what I hoped would be a gorgeous ride. The weather has been absolutely fab in the last few days – nice cool breeze and bright sunshine. Enough sunshine, in fact, to get my new bibbed cycling shorts out, even though the temperatures haven’t really been over 10 degrees. I set off after a lie-in which I then realised had been a big mistake. It was one of those lie-ins that leaves you with a slightly clanging headache because it was a little bit too long. To make matters worse I had just pumped up my tyres to within an inch of their lives. As a result, I felt every tiny little bump reverberate through my skull for most of the ride. Made me feel a little bit sick but I managed to ignore it once I got out into the countryside and started enjoying the views. 

 

I was getting into a rhythm and knew I had time pressures to get back to Newcastle for 1 because I was meant to be meeting a friend. But as I was nearing Dissington Hall (my favourite lunch spot) I found a man clad in the usual amounts of lycra for a serious cyclist, plus a massive backpack with roll mat attached, taking pictures of horses over a wall. It made me chuckle quite a bit as I went past; its not every day you see an equine cyclist. Anyway, I pulled up into Dissington just round the corner and was munching away on my banana when the horse guy pulled in behind me and asked very politely if I knew the way back to the coast to coast route. He was lost. We chatted for a bit while I tried to load the cycling networks app on my iphone but the internet was too slow. I knew he was on a cycling route but it definitely wasn’t the well known coast to coast one. Conscious of the time limit I was under I vaguely pointed him in the direction of Hexham and told him to look for the coast to coast route when he got there. He then set off, and after a few seconds I realised I had been about as helpful as a wonky signpost so I sprinted off to catch up with him. 

 

We had a lovely chat as I cycled with him to point him in the right direction. His name was Marc, he was a travelling cycle-writer for a Spanish magazine and had done loads of interesting rides in the Lakes, Scotland and one whole year cycling round Australia! It was nice to have some company because I’m starting to get bored of going for lots of long rides by myself. The weather helps but nothing beats having a bit of company on the road. 

 

In the end I was very late getting back to Newcastle but it was well worth it!