Brompton

brompton2I started a new job at the start of September – I now work for BIM Academy – a Building Information Modelling and Project Technologies consultancy based in Newcastle (upon Tyne).

In my new role, although I am travelling a fair bit, I am based from home and the train links from Stafford and Derby on the West and East Coast main lines are great to get to nearly everywhere I need to go. One of the drivers for a career crossroads was my old bonkers commute which was only sensible by road. Well I am glad to report that although I have, in my first 6 weeks been to Switzerland and Hong Kong, Manchester, Newcastle, London and …. Uttoxeter… my annual car mileage looks to have reduced by at least 16,000 a year!

With so much train travel it seems a little mad to be driving the 4 miles to the station and then catching taxi’s, tubes or leaving extra early for long walks at my destination so I looked into folding bikes.

After looking at Dahon’s and other makes I kept coming back to the British Brompton – practical yet very cool. I kept an eye on ebay and luckily I got one for a snip and on delivery realised I had bought one that had obviously hardly been used. Its a 2 speed apple green with brooks saddle and grips and the flat bar. Not for the shy!

I could talk about the fact that its light and folds down small, has 4 ickle wheels to push it about at stations but that’s boring! whats it like to ride?

brompton1Well small wheels are definitely twitchy and getting back onto a 26 inch wheel afterwards , you can really feel the heaviness of the handling. With only two highish gears it needs some grunt up the hills and steep slopes are a real challenge but the higher of the two means you can really fly on the flats and downs. Ill put a GPS on at some point and get some stats but it feels really fast. At those speeds its not for the faint hearted but great fun.

The rim brakes are excellent, and as long as the rear bushes are done tight the frame quite stiff and responsive.

I am keeping a log on the number of car miles I am saving and how much I am saving in car parking fees for the year but I have to balance it a little with safety and comfort and the practicalities of turning up at a client site soaked to the skin as the winter quickly approaches.

 

 

 

African adventures 3 – The Drakensberg Mountains

9We arrived in Didima camp in darkness after a few hours drive from the coast after briefly visiting Durban, the last 20 mins quite scarily avoiding locals and cattle wandering up each side of the road through the villages of circular thatched huts. Lines of flame lit up the night as the farmers burnt off the previous summers grassland to encourage fresh spring growth.
Didima camp sits nestled on a spur and consists of individual “bungalows” with fantastic views out to the mountains and a central small conference centre and restaurant all beautiful bits of architecture, sitting so well in the landscape.
The following day we climbed a steep switchback trail to Tryme Hill. This 1800m top on a large rounded ridge sits 500 metres above the spectacular gorges on both sides that wind themselves up to the higher 3000m Drakensberg tops such as Cathedral Peak which were a bit beyond Holly and my current back problems being a 9 hour round trip.
Vultures circled above us as we stopped for an early lunch on top and the views were spectacular.
The following day we hired a guide for a gentle walk to Doreen Falls. You have to have a guide to visit the bushman cave paintings the Drakensberg are also so famous for. We climbed above the falls to the cave and he gave a great insight into the significance of the ancient rock art. We then retraced our steps for a very cold swim below the stunning waterfall before returning to Didima camp for a relaxing afternoon reading in the sunshine with fantastic mountain views in all directions.

http://www.didima.info/

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African adventures 2 – Whale Watching.

6Holly and I set our alarms for bonkers o’clock and were at the “whale office” in St Lucia at 5.50 for our tractor ride which would take us the few kilometers to the beach as the sun came up over the Indian Ocean.
St Lucia does not have a harbour, it sits at the mouth of a very shallow estuary which is part of a huge wetland national park and game reserve where hippopotamus and crocodiles roam in great numbers.
We donned some waterproofs and lifejackets before climbing into the back of a smallish boat with about 10 others past the huge twin 300hp engines. After a briefing when the captain basically said hang on and then hang on some more a tractor pushed us off the beach into the surf. Almost immediately he gunned both engines to max revs and we launched forward over the breaking waves, crashing down after each one, water pouring over us. It was all we could do to stay in our seats. After a few minutes he throttled back and chatted for a bit before we took off again in search of the humpback whales that were on their migration route just off the coast.
7The trip out was punishing and very very wet in the rough seas. To be honest it was becoming beyond fun, head down, eyes closed with waves breaking over the open boat just hanging on, soaking wet.
Suddenly he throttled back and got us to move to different parts of the boat where we could get a better view and still hang on. It was all holly and I could do to make our way to the bow as the boat pitched and tossed. We spent the next 20 mins stalking a whale and its offspring but all we saw was its hump as it came up for air and soon the captain said he could see some whales splashing someway further out to sea. He left us in the bow as we turned pulling away before again gunning the powerful engines. Soon we were crashing through the waves, taking big impacts through our bent knees and of course getting waves crashing over us, a real adrenaline ride.
8It was worth it though, we soon were following 2 or 3 humpback whales fairly closely, who seemed to be showing off, breaching (jumping out of the water) and sticking their tails in the air.
It was impossible to get a camera out. Even if it was waterproof, just hanging onto the boat took two hands most of the time and all too soon it was time to head for home.
The trip back in wasn’t so rough but of course there was no harbour to return to. The solution…. Ride the waves in, giving it full power again and then beach the boat up on the the sand. A very exciting way to end a fantastic experience.

http://www.advantagetours.co.za/

 

African adventures 1 – Foot Safari

3They say only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun. We had already been up since 5.45am having been for a dawn landrover safari which was amazing. We saw buffalo, giraffes, impala, rhinos, baboons, hippos and wildebeests. The safari was based at Mhkaya in Swaziland, a game reserve with several huge fenced areas, keeping the more toothy animals away from the accommodation area where we had our own cottage with no walls and bathroom views out into the bush! We thought the foot safari would be a bimble locally around the camp, perhaps catching a glimpse of a few birds and one or two impala but we were back in the land rover. Confused we bounced along and through the gate into the toothy part of the reserve. Holly was transferred into another land rover as she wasn’t allowed on the walk and we carried on deeper into the reserve.

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Eventually we stopped and after a briefing in off we went on foot, wondering what toothy creature might be hiding behind the next bush. Our guide was a great tracker and kept up a fast pace as the sun beat down on us, though his gait looked slow and relaxed. Soon the hand signals indicated that we stop and as we crept around a bush were treated to the slightly scary but fantastic sight of 3 white rhino walking towards us only 25 metres away.
He made sure we did not get between them and where they wanted to go and tracked them for about 10 minutes. After a while we pulled back and pushed off further into the bush where he explained the various flora and their historic uses.
2Towards the end of our 2 hour trek we came across a watering hole and together with the original 3 there were another two white rhino enjoying a drink.
The 24 hours we spent at Mhkaya were amazing, a brilliant laid back and budget safari, our only disappointment not seeing any of the African elephants, though how something that big can hide I will never know.

http://www.biggameparks.org/mkhaya/

 

African adventures 4 – Drakensberg canopy tour

1238172_10152174295663084_174664059_nDuring our last week in South Africa Holly had had the disappointment of one of her holiday activities being closed so we were looking for something a bit different that we could all do but would be “hers”
We found a leaflet at Didima Camp for a canopy tour that looked a little like go-ape so we booked for our last day in the Drakensberg, on the way back to Johannesburg.
There was the normal briefing before we were bundled onto a lorry and rattled up a rough track for a few km to the head of a gorge.
1230037_10152174295603084_197644371_nA canopy tour consists of a series of interconnected zipwires and platforms and were originally installed in South America to give a base and means  for botanists to explore the canopy so high above the forest floor. Someone realised they were also great fun and so now they have become tourist adrenaline rush adventures.

1240168_10152174295493084_1129222237_nMy head for heights is not as good as it used to be. It certainly wasn’t prepared for a a zip wire the length of a football stadium and 70 metres above a gorge. The zips zigged and zagged there way down the gorge, sometimes to platforms half way up a cliff, sometimes to the top of huge trees.

Included too was lots of commentary from our guides about the flora we were flying through but all too soon after over 20 slides it was time to finish.

The canopy tour was something that without Holly we never would have considered…  But is was amazing
http://www.drakensbergcanopytour.co.za/

 

Isobel Trail, Stafford

Last Saturday I was looking for something a bit different to take Holly out for a ride on. I wanted to do a long ride without too much climb and not bumpy for my back. I did think about going up into the Peak District to do one of the long paths which are based on old quarry railway lines but I wanted to find something closer to home. A quick google around and a check of the Sustrans website found me the Isobel trail. This follows the old railway line out of Stafford towards Gnosall and beyond. To start with we had about 600 metres of road from home to get down to the canal side but from there it is cycle paths of varying surface quality all the way from Milford into Stafford!

Some of the signing isn’t great if you don’t know where you are going  but Id definitely do it again, though the canal path could be a little muddy in winter in places.

We had a quick ice cream stop in the park before heading out onto the Isobel trail itself which starts a little secretly behind Stafford station. It is very straight and very flat but you do get good rural views from the path, particularly when it comes up onto embankments.

With a tiring Holly we decided to call it a day in Gnosall and turned off into the village to find some food. We found a fantastic little café called Gastronomy and had really good lunch before heading for home. I had a little trouble getting Holly going again but after moving the Garmin from my handlebar to hers and getting her to concentrate on keeping the speed over 12 kph we soon found ourselves back in Stafford after retracing our wheels for another break before the final stretch back to Milford and an up hill finish

The Isobel trail is not up there with those in the Peak District but for a local one for kids with little or no climbing its great (with an excellent café!)

Total ride time was about 4 hours – 39 km  – nice one Holly!

http://www.cycle-route.com/routes/Old_Railway_Line_Stafford_-_Gnosall-Cycle-Route-3479.html

http://thegastronomyshop.blogspot.co.uk/

 

Injury Update – July 2013

The more astute of my readers will have noticed a little activity in my Attackpoint training diary after so long with nothing showing. After several months of conversations and form filling with my GP and local trust I eventually got funding approval to go and see Dr Leon Creaney, a consultant in sports medicine at Birmingham QE hospital.

http://westernsportsmedicine.webplus.net/sportsmedicine.html

I had a fantastic hour or so with him and his Registrar, where after a full history and some poking and prodding, he sent me off for some X-Rays to use with the existing MRi for a full review of my back problems.

Cutting to the chase if I was a ‘normal’ inactive person there wouldn’t be much of a problem. As I have been told before, the risks involved in doing anything invasive outweigh and discomfort that I might get from time to time if I was an office based worker and couch potato. The trouble is I am not, as most of the people you know me would probably agree, – ‘Normal’

So where am I? – I have two damaged discs (not one) L4/5 and L3/4. L4/5 is much worse and is the one that caused me the major problems last summer. The only permanent solution and route back to any form of long term high level MTB or running competition is either a disc fusion or perhaps some modern alternative surgical techniques that sound a bit sci-fi involving lasers!.

As disc fusion is obviously a big step so I asked about perhaps trying another 6 months of more intensive conservative treatment, particularly as I am about to enter #BIMTransferseason and move jobs and see what sporting functionality I can get back.

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Dr Creaney has got me back on my full sus mountain bike (on the road) but advised I radically change the stem position to get more of a sit up and beg riding position and not pt too much power down (concentrate on using the gears and spinning). He has also got me to start going to Pilates and look at restarting of the core stability program I was doing last year. These things will not make my discs better, just give my back the strength it needs to help protect and prevent further damage and pain episodes.
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I’ve now done 4 Pilates sessions which are great and a few road rides. I get a little discomfort in my hip but the lower back pain has disappeared again which is good. I have tightened up on my diet too and the weight is very gently starting to come off again.

This Sunday I have a one to one Pilates assessment with a local instructor, who is going to put together a structured program for me to do at home between classes at the local leisure centre that to be honest vary in their quality week to week.

At the moment thoughts of MTBOs and ‘proper Mountain Biking are still way, way off but I at least I am now enjoying being able to go out in the evening sunshine on my bike and enjoy a ride or two with Holly.

 

Arran

For those that don’t know Arran is imagethe closest Scottish West Coast island to England, being south of even Glasgow. Over the years we have been to most of the inner Hebredian islands, Mull, Jura, Isla, Sky and even Colonsay but this time were looking for a holiday without quite the normal epic drive North.

The ferry from Ardrossan over to Arran is less that an hour and the moment you disembark life seems to go a bit slow mo, nobody rushing, the stress seeming to flow out of you.

Arran has everything, big mountains, forests, sandy beaches, cliffs, wildlife, whiskey, and great food, and is now our new favorite Scottish Island.

Riding a bike on the roads on Arran is generally a great experience with quiet roads and good surfaces. There is a fair bit of climb if you intend to circum-navigate though, however currently it isn’t possible due to some major roadworks half way round. There are Tea shops and cafés at far too regular intervals though and we unfortunately gained a 2 cakes a day + lunch habit, just driving round that we now need counselling to wean our selves off of!

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We only had a day and a half on the bike as we had other things to do. We rode on some great sweeping singletracks up from Lamlash over the saddle and down into Brodick before exploring the trails above Brodick castle in the forests. There are trails everywhere but unfortunately they are not waymarked and the OS map is non too up to date but you can pick your way around and I am sure those with GPS’s wouldn’t have any trouble at all. Fantastic views of the coastal bays, mountains, moorland and pretty villages jump out at you constantly changing, taking your breath away and of course being a mountainous island after the long climbs come very long grin inducing descents.

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There is even a Mountain Bike Orienteering map available from the offices of Arran Adventure, but a word of caution on the map as it is now fairly out of date.

The other rides we did were along the coastal paths, one from Lamlash out to the point and one from Sannox out towards Lochranza. On both rides unfortunately because of my back we had to turn back when the track became rough but the views and wildlife along the coast are amazing.

I look forward to a re-visit to Arran when my back is fixed to enjoy the many miles of mountain bike trails with their spectacular vistas.