Sunday, March 27, 2011

Say "Nay!" to a Lap of Lough Neagh

The idea was simple – dander round Lough Neagh.   

We’d been doing no running, so rather than set off at a gallop and run out of gas after ten miles, we reckoned that if we took our time and just strolled it, we’d be grand and were in for a long but nice day out if the weather held.  How wrong we were!

Crossing the viaduct in Randalstown, burning with enthusiasm for the day ahead
We left Antrim at 6:15am on Saturday morning heading anti-clockwise towards Randalstown.  The weather was cool and clear; perfect, and so it stayed for the day.  By the time we had reached Randalstown, the blisters had appeared in earnest.  A quick phone-call and shoe-change in Toome eased things for a few miles, then the blisters got worse, they all burst, and the real misery began. 

The only things of any interest on the entire trip were:
  • A squashed hedgehog just south of Ballyronan
  • A quick hello to Jim Clements, the farmer who had kindly welded a pedal on for us to allow us to continue our last trip round the lough
  • A frightening canoe-ride across the Bann at Bannfoot in the most unstable boat we’ve ever been in – how we stayed out of the water, I’ll never know
Aside from that, it was all mind-crushingly dull.  Our thanks to Seth and Dale for sorting the canoe, saving us from having to walk into Portadown for a bridge.

We made it as far as Friar Tucks chip shop in Lurgan (the guts of 50 miles), and even before we sat down we knew the dream was over.  We were both in considerable anguish, but my own flagging pace ultimately ended our day.  Our thanks to Rory Culbert for his support at Friar Tucks.

We had originally planned to finish back in Antrim at about 2am, but quick calculations, based on the speed we were going at approaching Lurgan due to our pulverised joints, suggested that we would still be walking closer to 2pm!  So it was sausage suppers and Coke for two, and we called the cavalry to get us home.

This was unquestionably the most boring and relentlessly painful thing we have ever attempted, just pure monotony and nothing to think about except tarmac, blisters and grinding bone.  An awful day out.  Never again...

Tango tastes Tayto twixt the Toombridge tulips

We already knew from experience that this was a boring enough cycle, so why the devil didn't we realise it would be a simply mind-numbing walk?!

Hello?  Hello?  Davy's so tired, he doesn't yet realise it's actually his mobile ringing.

All aboard the Skylark! Crossing the Bann, close to the end of our trip.  It felt more like crossing the River Styx

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Hip Replacement Surgery

Happy days, July 2006 - delight at the arrival of our On One 456 frames
One of the bikes built up, brand spanking new and ready for the Transalp Challenge.
 March 2011 - five years later, it's time for some TLC on the bottom bracket.  Thanks to Bugsy for the surgery. 
The old girl will be back in business in no time.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Zoo to Zoo, Via Everywhere

Starting from the Zoo at 08:30 am on Friday 11 March, our plan was to basically explore as much of the off-road stuff around Belfast that we could before tea-time.

The route we took is here - bits of it I am sketchy on precise route, through all the singletracky stuff, as we were back and forth and all over the place.

A great day’s fun, well over 50km, but no speed records were broken.  It was like the tortoise and the hare, except the hare was run over and killed on the road by a truck and replaced by another tortoise. 
The tortoise and the tortoise, Cave Hill, just before we finished.

We parked on the entrance drive at the Belfast Zoo, fixed the puncture we'd got with the bike on the roof(!) hopped across the main road, turned left then immediately right opposite Pizza Hut and nipped down through Valley Park down to the Valley Leisure Centre. 
Entrance to Valley Park, just down from the NI Hospice building
A quick skite round the old BMX track down in the corner below Valley Leisure Centre, we headed to the main road again and across it down Glas-na-Braden Glen.  
Super winding singletrack on Glas-Na-Braden Glen took us along the river all the way down to the Shore Road.  To get this singletrack rather than the tarmac path, you need to turn right just after you enter the glen and go down a set of steps made out of breezeblocks.
Across the Shore Road, under the railway bridge, and out onto the cycle path alongside the M2 motorway, all the way into town, through Clarendon Dock and the city centre.  
The Big Fish; in front of one of Belfast's most recognisable landmarks
We followed the Lagan cycle route down to Ormeau Park, and headed in for a quick blast round the XMTB singletrack, which was great fun but pretty darn slippery!  A great spot for more proper trails to be considered.
We had a great chat with a very nice old fellow on a Dawes Super Galaxy, who stopped to give his assistance when we were fixing a puncture. He then proceeded to tell us of the folly of standard bicycles, the wisdom of the recumbent, and of his many biking adventures in 'Deutschland'.
The view from Belvoir.  Yep, we're going back over all that later.
We headed on down the Lagan (on the other side of the river than shown on map), and rattled round Belvoir and the Real Cycles built trails.
The Real Cycles log-ride - slippery, but still doable!
Stopping off in the Lock-keepers Inn, we enjoyed some great breakfast and plenty of banter with occasional adventure racing foes Craig and Joe, who joined us for refreshments.  Full of bacon, eggs, toast, coffee, muffins and a sneaky Star Bar, all of which took us about an hour, we stopped in with the folks from CAAN at Barnett's Demesne to say hello and congratulate them on their great work on MTB trail development, and were given a guided tour of the fantastic facilities at the Befast Activity Centre.  From there, it was out to the bumps, jumps and berms at Mary Peters track, then we headed out to Sir Thomas & Lady Dixon Park for another snuffle around the trails.
Tayto across the world - the Taj Mahal, Sydney Opera House, The Eiffel Tower, and of course Tesco in Dunmurry
From Dunmurry, we lit for Colin Glen along the road; Colin Glen is brilliant!  It’s a winding tarmac path climb which turns to rough stone then singletrack, but along sections of it right beside the river there is singletrack snaking parallel to the main path.  When you get under the road bridge then up to a long set of wooden steps, go up the steps.  The other way looks tempting, but it peters out and you will end up clambering around in the muck and branches and having to ford the river a couple of times and scrabble through a quarry (which is the way we went, clearly!)
Popping out the top of Colin Glen, we then went up the road to Divis & Black Mountain, just climbing on the tarmac, stopping off briefly with the lads building the extension to the Black Mountain boardwalk, who were doing all the joinery out of the rain, in the National Trust shed at the Divis car park.
Hard at work, helping to extend the boardwalk on Black Mountain
The fruits of our labour - not bad for an afternoon's work.
The snow was just starting to fall properly, so we didn’t hang about on Divis & Black and we took the rough stone path back over towards Cave Hill, passing through Wolf Hill Quarry and going over the top of Squire’s Hill on the way.
Onto Cave Hill via the Upper Hightown Road car park, the legs were starting to hurt on the final steep climb, and we were mighty glad to reach the summit, as the weather was now descending into farce.

It was on the summit that we met Elise, a very nice young lady from Boston, MA, who was out enjoying the Irish weather (it was sleeting hard at this point!) and looking for hike recommendations.  We had a good chat and a laugh and then bade her farewell in the sleet and snow.  Rather than hooking round to the right and down Cave Hill, we stayed left, down the wooden steps, and took the trails round towards the zoo again, which were fantastic fun and very slippery.  We had to hop over one fence, then had a nice grassy path to a stile, which dropped us right back to the car again on the zoo driveway – perfect!

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

CCAR Castle Ward, 15 March

Photos courtesy of Uberdog, Ireland's only outdoor and extreme sports magazine

Our first adventure race in 18 months, we had not been wasting our time and had been carbo-loading relentlessly in the interim.  Miraculously, all the hard work paid off, and we were delighted to just nick second place in a hard-fought CCAR race at Castle Ward on 5 March.  Well off the pace of race winners Passing Wind, we were just ahead of the overall race series winners Dogleap, who just had a bad day at the office.

Lord and Lady Tango & Cash take a jaunty carriage ride around their extensive Castle Ward grounds
We couldn’t believe the turn-out of over 50 teams for the race, the final race of the CCAR 2010/11 series, as CCAR had been struggling for numbers last time we’d raced.  Great to see the sport really taking off, and Ivan Park and CCAR still at the heart of it.

Early confusion

Following Ivan’s race briefing at HQ, we rolled down on the bikes to the estate house for the start.  We were sent off sequentially, starting our timers as we crossed the line, and once we got the nod we set off hard downhill on foot to pick up our first map.  There was a bit of mayhem as all the teams seemed to have been given the other map from the one they’d expected, but knowing Ivan, that was deliberate and all part of the fun.  Confusion reigned for a time!

After morning prayers, the staff gathered themselves for some marching drills, before serving tea in the drawing room.
We rattled round the two 3-point orienteering loops in sharp enough fashion, but it took us a while before we realised that the thicket shapes marked on the map actually bore no resemblance to those we experienced – but hey, they grew, I guess!


We lifted map C and legged it out of the field round the estate path alongside another team (one of ‘em was a Scotsman, bless him), and we reckoned the only folks in front of us were Passing Wind and Dogleap, who had been joined at the hip for the whole orienteering bit and were absolutely flying.

We were neck and neck with this other team as far as the checkpoint on the gate, where we decided to take a direct route back to HQ while the other chaps took the path.  This worked a treat for us, as we had completed and left the wooden skis task without seeing the other guys, who as it turned out, had made a wrong turn on the path.


Back down to the estate house for the window count, we hopped onto the bikes and followed the arrows to the kayak transition point.  Third team on the water, about ten minutes behind the leaders, we took our chance to give both Passing Wind and Dogleap a damn good soaking as they passed us on their return trip. 

Further soakings were administered to Surf’n’Turf and Get No Sleep, whom we met on our own return trip.  After much tee-heeing, it was only later that we did our sums and realised that we were worst off, as they only had one soaking each, but we got soaked 4 times – we’ll know for again.

Out of the boats and onto the bikes, we looped up to the cairn and some other stuff I’ve forgotten, and back to kayak transition, guiding a couple of lost lads down to the boats for their paddle section, and retrieving their dropped water bottle.

Wii foot

The wee foot loop to the orienteering-posts and the castle ruin was handy enough until we got the grid reference, then we realised we had to batter back up that bloody hill again to the CP at the back of HQ. 

We met Passing Wind and Dogleap, together as usual, coming down as we were halfway up the hill; they were about fifteen minutes ahead of us.  Dropping back down the road to the bikes again, loads of teams were now streaming up the hill, about ten minutes behind us; there was plenty of racing still to do, so we knew we had to keep motoring and be careful with the navigation.  Without delay, we hopped on the bikes and headed out to do the bonus bike loop after the water-filler-with-holes-ball-thing-task.

Brucie bonus loop

We picked up bonus 1 no problem, then we made a major balls-up on the way to the bonus 2, completely missing a road because of where we’d folded the map.  Davy is still adamant that it was the map’s fault!

This mistake meant we had to pass bonus 3 to get to bonus 2 (meeting Dogleap and then Passing Wind going the correct way; they must have wondered what the devil we were at!), then back to bonus 3 again.   It added just over 2km that we could ill afford at this point, as we knew there were other teams close and we were starting to flag from our efforts. 

We picked up bonus 2 just ahead of Get No Sleep and hot on their heels His’n’Hers, both of whom we met on the road with them heading for bonus 2, and us now heading back again from bonus 2 to bonus 3.  We reckoned we now had only about 2 minutes on Get No Sleep, which was unfortunate, as we were both absolutely HANGIN’ at this stage.  Cramp starting to set in, Davy had taken to snorting Dioralyte powders (even trying one sachet as a suppository!) and I was in the foetal position softly singing “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me” – we thought we’d be caught by the chasing pack for sure. 

Dogleap barking

Eventually realising that everyone else behind us was absolutely busted as well, we managed to keep slugging on through the woods.  Arriving up to Greg at the jigsaw, Dogleap were just leaving it, so we reckoned they’d either cocked up somewhere, or they are RUBBISH at jigsaws!  It turned out that Dogleap had lost a fair bit of time by taking a different route up to the jigsaw across a field, and the poor lads had been chased back by an angry farmer.

The drop back down the hill on the bikes was hairy enough in places, and we had to resist the temptation to ride the new GREAT-looking MTB trails, to instead sproughal down through briars and bracken to the estate path.  We could see Dogleap about 200 yards ahead just disappearing round the corner, and we ground our way rightly up the mucky path up the back way to HQ.


We crossed the finish line surprised to see only one set of bikes; the skittish steeds of Passing Wind.  Dogleap's altercation with the farmer, and a wee bit of confusion on the perimeter of HQ, ended up scuppering their hopes for second, and they nipped across the line just after us to take third, with Get No Sleep finishing strongly to take fourth, just ahead of His’n’Hers.

Great fun afterwards, with grub and refreshments laid on in capital style by Joan, and no doubt more craic besides, well into the evening. 

Massive thanks to Ivan and the rest of his team CCAR, who put on another incredible race; amazing stuff, made all the more remarkable given the small team of marshals.

Well done to Passing Wind on the day, Dogleap on their overall series win, and all the category winners across the field.  An honest workout, no mistake, and no better way to enjoy the best of the outdoors; in good-natured competition, against yourself and others, up to your elbows in muck!
The cortege prepares to leave