A trip to Costa Rica

This Christmas we decided to push the boat out and take advantage of the extended break for a big trip! Costa Rica was our destination. We had a fabulous trip to this wonderful country, below a few highlights and a few hints if you are planning a trip yourself.

Rafting – La Fortuna

La Fortuna is brimming with companies which will take you rafting however we struggled to find someone who would allow our Holly (13) to do anything approaching grade 4 rapids. In the end (booked from the UK) we used Wave Expeditions. It took us well over an hour to reach our river but it was worth it with over 15km of continuous rapids with very little respite. All three of us ended up in the water (all very exciting) and one of the other boats in our group ended up capsized…. twice !!

Although clichéd we did find out first experience of rafting excellent fun and at times a proper challenge. As with most orgainsed ours we finished with a ‘traditional’ meal, however this one was the best of them all by a long way. We also experienced here some ‘proper’ rain with it coming down in stair-rods.

Hot springs and river – La Fortuna

Just up the road between La Fortuna and Arenal is a random bridge over a small river near the Tabacon Resort. The great thing is if you find somewhere to park and follow your nose is you end up in a series of gravel and rock pools with lovely hot volcanic water to lounge in! and all for free!

Original Canopy Zip Lines – Monteverde

Another clichéd activity, although originating in Costa Rica! We opted for the ‘original canopy tour’ apparently the first one ever, conceived originally for ecologists to explore the canopy. Again this activity was brilliant, commencing with a huge tarzan swing out over a valley and then a series of some 15 zip lines we spent a fantastic morning zooming through the forest, culminating in an 800m long zip line which started in a tunnel of trees before launching out into space across a large valley!! Also included if you want is a rapel to the forest floor and a climb back up, first up through the heart of the tree and then out on to a very exposed ladder!

We had seen several zip line companies on our way out too ‘original’ and found our trip to be much less busy, commercial and had a great feel to it.

Montezuma

Cath fell in love with Montezuma! This ex-hippie community on the south tip of the Nicoya peninsula is very remote and unspoilt with the rainforest tumbling down to the beach. The only downside is the dust kicked up by the various 4x4s and quadbikes on the gravel roads but away from these are amazing beaches and of course the warm ocean, great for swimming and surfing. A highlight for Beer lovers is a nearby microbrewery La Selva– served UK style on tap in the La Cascada ‘B’ Bar just across the bridge from the hotel Amor de Mar.

 

Night Tours

In Monteverde and Quepos / Manuel Antonio we went on organised guided night tours around the cloud and rain forest. With a guide we slowly mooched around trails which by day could be walked very quickly but with 10 pairs of eyes and the guides knowledge we spotted all sorts of creatutes: Snakes, Frogs, Sleeping birds (balls of fluff) spiders and larger mammals. Without the guide we just would not have seen what we saw!

La Paz Waterfalls

On the way from Poas to La Fortuna La Paz waterfall gardens are great. We arrived early and had the gardens to ourselves. Getting past the standard zoo like enclosures which contain various rescue animals which although interesting the highlights are the waterfalls themselves which are spectacular and the humming birds. We were given small plastic ‘flowers’ to hold which contained a nectar like solution and the wild birds queued up to feed from our hands – amazing. At the end of the waterfalls walk there is a café which serves the largest portions of yummy cake we have ever encountered!

Travel, Beds and Munchies

The food and drink at this establishment is fine but the real attraction is the bird table out back next to the terrace. As long as the local cat is not prowling there is an abundance and variety of wild birds attracted of all colours, shapes and sizes.

The food at this roadside Soda is excellent but they also have a fantastic terrace view looking out over lake Arenal with a bird table which again attracts lots of colourful wild birds.

Montezuma has its share of low end backpacker accommodation. We however were in the beautiful Hotel Amor de Mar. Great location fantastic breakfasts and comfortable rooms.

This place is very cool – an old american transport plane converted to a bar…..

  • Sloth’s and Monkeys

‘Have you seen a sloth yet’ was the standard conversation between travellers with kids. We were lucky enough to see a sloth on the first morning but then did not see one until down in Manuel Antonio when we saw a few. We spent days in the middle of the trip eyes peeled for the elusive sloth and were getting worried we might not get to see one.

Monkeys seemed to be everywhere and if you couldn’t see them you could certainly hear them!

  • Getting up early.

With darkness coming at 17.30 and a dose of jetlag we found going to bed early and  getting up early (by 7 most days) was rewarding with attractions and beaches being quieter and packing more into the available daylight.

  • Cars and Roads.

We took a chance and hired a ‘normal’ car not a 4×4 and travelled independently. We found the driving to be challenging but fine. There are a lot of gravel roads which vary in condition and at times have huuuge pot holes and are sometimes very steep. The roads into and around Monteverde and the Nicoya Peninsula are particularly challenging. We found however that out Toyota Yaris sedan (ie with a boot) was perfectly OK and although some more ground clearance would have been useful did not stop us. The roads in general do require care and concentration and in the towns requires very defensive driving with eyes in the back of your head to avoid small collisions of which we saw quite a few. (we didn’t take out the extra insurance).

Pearl Izumi Champion Team

A couple of months ago I applied to be a member of the Pearl Izumi Champion Team. Amazingly they selected me along with lots of other people from a diverse range of backgrounds, abilities and 2 wheeled disciplines.

Next step will be a day in Milton Keynes in the New Year where we will get some limited edition kit, be briefed on what we will be up to, what we need to be doing as brand and cycling ambassadors and probably a ride out.

Initial introductions on our team’s private facebook group show we make up a jolly bunch keen to share experiences and I am looking forward to meeting everyone in 2017!

http://www.pearlizumi.co.uk/championteam

 

 

World MTBO Masters Championships 2016

britishteamWow, what a weekend…. Talk about burning the candle at both ends and in the middle, I came back completely shattered and longing for a long sleep but a great time with lots of old friends.

The event was completely centered within the city of Kaunas, the races taking advantage of the dense path networks inherent to rolling forests so close to large populations. The long race was well…… Long, very long, very very long and I was completely out of my fitness comfort zone. The mass start race was organised as a one person relay, riders coming back through the start zone a number of times, riding the various sections of the course in different orders.

I had a good start but as I came through the start after the second map I realised I was not racing any more, it was just a case of a challenge to finish the course. I eventually rolled in after well over 3 hours, completely broken…

Unfortunately there were a few problems with the Sportident Air in the results and with my experience of the system and my role at the event as  IOF Juror I spent a fair bit of time after the race helping out.

The Saturday brought the middle race in a spectacular venue across a huge bridge a short ride from the city center near the university district. I was much happier with the distance and had a good race but again I spent a fair bit of the afternoon in my role as a IOF juror before heading out to dinner that evening a a late night with lots of friends from all over Europe.

sprintmapSunday morning brought a hangover and very tired eyes as we headed out of the city to a beach alongside a river where the Sprint race was to be held. Luckily I had a reasonably late start so well the clock beeped my start time I was fine. The sprint race was one of my best ever races, on a fantastic map and other than a spidersweb of purple lines well planned. Riding off track was allowed so I used some foot O skills a little cutting through when I made a mistake but essentially had a great ride. Coming into the finish was great fun along a springy singletrack next to the river. As I crossed the line I heard my name called in second place…. there were a few riders left to finish so I didn’t hold out much hope but as I watched the screens over the next half hour it became clear I really had had an excellent ride and I was in third.

Unfortunately I found out to my embarrassment at the prize giving Id actually been knocked into 4th after a rider was reinstated however I was really chuffed with 4th.

We had another good night out in Kaunas on Sunday before I got up at stupid a’clock to head for home and straight to work. Overall a fantastic event and well done to the rest of the British team, particularly Charlie who yet again came hoe with a clutch of medals!

World Masters MTBO 2016 – Lithuania

This month 5 years ago I ended my burst of late 30s fitness jumping off a garage roof in Russia at the World Cup MTBO final in the sprint. I kept going that week but the long race from which I retired with sore race was my last proper international race.(see here!)  This weekend completes my return to recreational racing with the World Masters Champs, running alongside the World Cup final in Kaunas, Lithuania. The last 6 weeks hasn’t been the ideal prep, I trashed my ankle at the World foot O champs spectator races and then got a dose of manflu which to be honest is still lurking under the surface.

Anyway I picked Lithuania as its flat (hills were never my strong point) and there is a large team of British Masters going out so the ‘Holiday’ side should be run.

Friday is a mass start long race – I am just going to chill out at the back of the race and see how it goes, enjoy the orienteering and riding as it will be all too easy to have the red mist come up and blow up after 90 minutes and start making mistakes or worse still hurt my back.

I am really looking forward to the middle and sprint races on Saturday and Sunday but not the silly o’clock return flight home on Monday morning.

The event website is http://www.mtbo.lt/ for more details

Entry lists are on Eventor https://eventor.orienteering.org/Events/Show/544

 

 

 

Brompton World Championships 2016 – Race Report

Preparing for the Brompton World Championships held in London on the iconic Mall is a strange one. It’s the event that doesn’t take itself seriously but somehow is becoming a hyper competitive must do event for all sorts of Bromponeers. The competitiveness comes in many forms – yes the race itself with gridded positions based on seeding, attracting huge names such as Michael Hutchinson and David Millar but also in some other areas. The best dressed award brings custom tailored suits and other bizzare outfits, pimped Bromptons include enormous chainrings and carbon wheels and then there is the folding race.

13886946_10157176672595414_1078936940548893946_nHolly and I arrived early enabling us both to get a lap of the freeride London in – a 12 km closed roads spin around London’s normally jammed roads, taking in some famous landmarks.
Next were the various stalls to look at and sample and the Women’s Classique Criterion to watch. Oh and I had a go at the fastest fold challenge and ended up with the slowest fold after getting the pedal stuck on the frame pump – oops, very embarrassing.

mall1So finally the race. We lined up in 4 waves opposite our bikes (folded) at 20 second intervals all the way down the Mall based on our seedings. On the horn and flag we sprinted across the road Le Mans style for the great unfold.
I made sure I got my saddle correct (I have a scratch on the seatpost to mark the height) and then had a good unfold, although a little fumble on the frame spinner. I then tonked it down the Mall and tried to get the first lap in as fast as I could staying out of traffic on the outside getting past loads of slower riders with higher seedings. I realised straight away that I needed a bigger gear, running out of cadence but I soon settled into a good speed and concentrated on taking the corners as fast as I could and by the end the gear was spot on for my legs.

13901477_10157178839270414_568803845128602789_n13902572_10157178839335414_2934071362643636973_nI was really struggling to find anyone to draft, just slowly overhauling people one at a time as I went though lap 2 and into 3. I had a major near off on the corner into Horse guards on lap 3, taking speed through on the outside up against the barriers there suddenly were some stragglers who forced someone wide. I am not sure quite what happened but I ended up unclipped and bounced off the barrier with a few ‘oooos’ from the crowd on the corner and a couple of ‘well held’ from the guys behind me as a clipped back in and got out the saddle to regain some speed.
I then realised why I couldn’t find anyone to draft – I had about 10 people behind me while I did the work. Soon 3 or 4 of us started to work together and I started to race properly, getting a rest on birdcage walk and working hard up the Mall.

13882519_10157178839005414_2174729731508398881_nEventually as I neared the finish line on lap 6 the lead group with David Millar, Hutch and the defending champions streamed past taking the bell. I dug in and kept up the pace using various people for shelter before a final sprint for the line, an awesome feeling on the Mall with the crowds cheering.
I managed to get a parade lap in which was fun, crowds had stayed on the major corners and it felt very special to be cheered outside Buckingham Palace and coming onto the Mall again for the final time.
Final results are now out – 88th – well chuffed with that laptimes were consistent at about 3.45

Full results here http://www.brompton.com/Events/Posts/2016/BWC-London-Final-2016

#BWC2016

Brompton World Championships 2016

Just a day to go now until the Brompton World Championships. The bike is serviced, decided to leave on the mud guards and rack but I’ve taken off the mud flap and front bag holder.

What to wear has been a bit of a conundrum, not spending too much money on bespoke kit I have raided the wardrobe and ended up just buying a new pair of shorts. I just need to decide now if I want to cut the lining out of the jacket and hack off the shirt sleeves a bit!

There is a full days activities running up to the race, including the Ride London Classique – Holly and I will be there all afternoon taking part!

More details here https://www.prudentialridelondon.co.uk/

 

 

Jukola 2016

13495299_10155486185738084_7559962509016411421_nJukola is a Finn phenomenon in orienteering – held since the late 1940s it has become one of the largest orienteering events in the world, this year attracting around 18,000 competitors. It’s an all-night relay, starting at 11pm with 7 runners per team tackling varying lengths of courses from 8.5 to 16.5km.

It’s been on my bucket list for a while but putting together a team and being fit enough to run it, affording the cost and having the time to go have always been barriers…. This year Cath and I decided to just do it, whatever, and ended up piggybacking some pals in a Bristol Orienteering Klub team (I was a BOK member years ago so I do have some claims!).

Cath took the trip at a slightly more leisurely pace but as I had limited holiday I did it in a whirlwind, landing on late on Friday night flying from Manchester. BOK’s resident Finn, Tommi Grover, kindly hosted everyone at his family house just outside Helsinki on Friday night and on Saturday we drove out towards the Russian border where Jukola 2016 was to be held.

The weather all weekend was constant rain with the odd shower of not raining, leaving the ground waterlogged, and from the off I decided my wellies (Nokia ones, of course) were a very good thing to have brought with me.

We arrived just in time to see the Venla (Women only relay race of 4 runners) kick off and then after dropping our kit in our home for the next 24 hours (an army tent) we spent an afternoon slowly getting soaked, eating too much sausage and cheering on the BOK team and any other Brits we could see coming through the changeover.

There are huge outdoor shops that appear for the weekend on site in large tents, together with food outlets and sponsors – all a bit like Glastonbury (Still the Pilton Festival if you grew up near Glastonbury in the 70s & 80s as I did). Unfortunately, over the course of the day it got even more like Glastonbury as the site turned to a sea of mud.

At 10.55pm I found myself lined up with 1740 others (men and women) in rows of approx. 30 as maps were handed out. At 11.00pm a Finnish Soldier with a rifle let rip a burst of automatic fire and we were off as the Benny Hill theme tune pumped out through the PA!

13442321_10157007281110414_2122510120875312818_nThe start is bonkers, trying to glance at an A2 sized map, find the start triangle on the map, fold the map down to try and see the long leg to #1, work out where you are going, perhaps take a compass bearing and oh…. leg it through a sea of mud….. with 1700 others doing the same thing at various speeds!

After about 700 metres of run out we were faced with a wall of young trees and rock and we all dived in, ducking, jumping, weaving; hundreds of orienteers forming long trains through the forest, threading their way through, splitting and rejoining, everyone attempting to stay in touch with progress over the map, hopefully in the right direction.

And so this continued, the trains thinning slightly, groups of 150 of so converging on controls (or not) over the next 11 km.

For me it was just rough compass, hang on to a train going in the right direction and pick off the big features. I made a couple of mistakes, one where I should have taken a ‘British’ style easy route-choice rather than the ‘Finnish’ straight is always great approach and avoided a horrendous marsh and ditch network, and one where I went with the train not trusting my instincts that I was right and they were wrong (difficult to go against 20 or so others).

My legs started to give in as I came through the long spectator loop and it was all I could do to hang on through the last section but I finished in a respectable 920nd position and handed over.

Our team was a rag tag bag of all sorts of fitness and abilities and I had to leave for home before we ultimately finished but finish we did and nowhere near last with many older Finns taking literally hours to finish their legs. The atmosphere was fantastic, the normal relay camaraderie taken to a whole new level.

13494947_10155486397828084_5365810148240002983_nThe adventure didn’t stop, however, when we got to the car – the parking field was strewn with cars in random angles up to their axels in mud, 4 way flashers on waiting to be pulled out by a team of tractors. We had a flight to catch and managed to jump the queue for a tow. I’ll remember being pulled out sideways through the mud by a huge tractor in our brand new hire car for years to come.

We just made the flight and I eventually rocked up back in Stafford with a bag of stinking wet and muddy kit at 10pm on Sunday night with a smile on my face. A great event – Ill be back…

A video of the event can be found here

Holidays on Heb

We have been meaning to go to the Outer Hebrides for years, the sheer distance and logistics of ferries kept putting it off but this year we planned early and headed north.

We took the ferry from Uig to Lochmaddy after an over-night pit stop in Perth on the Friday, all told a journey of some 550 miles.

13412935_10155446863933084_3811463039576072842_nOur accommodation was a fantastic traditional cottage on South Uist near Daliburgh, Lochboisdale run by an enthusiastic Angus and his wife and we could not have asked for anything more from it. There was a bottle of red wine, some local cheese, oatcakes and pate and lots of staples all waiting for us. They were attentive all week and I am sure if we had asked for some strange kitchen implement such as a Norwegian Egg Slicer they would have somehow produced one with a flourish. He even offered to wash my car on the last night!

We spent a great week on the islands of South Uist, North Usit, Benbecula, Eriskay and Barra. The weather was frankly well beyond expectations and sunny all week. Below a few highlights:

Ben Mhor

13343112_10155446865538084_7481571936716905606_nLeaving the car on the roadside we headed up lightweight, in trail shoes, intending to run the loop of Ben Mhor and Hecler. The going was easy over short grass with the odd bog and open rock, from time to time we were able to follow a minor path or sheep track. As we ascended the wind speed increased and although we were on top in just over an hour the sheer force of the wind had us unfortunately backtracking and cutting short our loop.

The views off the top were splendid, out to Barra and Eriskay to the South, over the water to Skye in the East and all the way to Harris and Lewis in the north.

After a brief munch in the lee of the ridge we ran off enjoying the springy grassy slopes back to the car.

Note: This walk should not be undertaken without sound navigational knowledge as there are no tracks….

Swimming in Loch Eynort

13393990_10155446876413084_8851274029686831032_nThe difference between the East and West coasts of South Uist is very marked, the sand dunes or the West giving way to rocky inlets and sea lochs to the East.

Loch Eynort in the east is a sea loch that winds its way in to the island, almost bisecting it. In a couple of different places near the road head on the south side of the loch we donned wetsuits and mooched about swimming in the shallows, the mountains surrounding us and seals playing in the distance or hauled out on little islets.

After some time the seals became interested and came over to see us. Although always keeping their ‘safe’ distance of approx 10 – 25 meters or so they kept bobbing up giving us eyeball for over an hour, a brilliant encounter.

Cycling the West coast beaches and dunes

13417411_10155446865618084_7275598147069183354_nMany cyclists pootle up through the Uists on laden touring bikes on the main road but we headed out to the extensive dunes and long stretches of white sand on the West side of the island. Using mountain bikes we cruised the grassy slopes of the dunes, catching some cracking views along the way before dropping the bikes down onto the beach itself. You have to be careful with the piles of seaweed which slowly rot away on the tide line in places which, when disturbed, emit a fairly unpleasant odour and are very slippery, but once over these we zoomed along on the firm sand with Holly and Cath riding through the shallows whilst I tackled the small rocky outcrops on my full sus bike (also not wanting to get seawater in my bearings!)

 

Cycling round Barra.

13346746_10155446864938084_1636429088625449414_nWe took the ferry over to Barra on bikes, and after watching some planes land and take off at Barra Airport (the Beach at low tide) met up with some friends and pootled around the road circuit of Barra, stopping off at a couple of the again bright white sandy beaches with the kids. Before heading back to the ferry we stopped in Castlebay at ‘the deck’ for tea and cake.

 

Some other great days out included:

  • Sea Kayaking from Barra’s Castlebay
  • Evening walk up Ben Scrien on Eriskay
  • Benbecula Half Marathon (Cath not me)
  • Walk up Ben Langais (North Uist) followed by dinner at the Langais Hotel
  • Meeting Danny McAskill on the way home