Back on the bike !

Sunday 22 January 2017 – London.

A rather belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, and welcome to my first post of 2017.

It has been a very long time since I have been on my mountain bike, November 2015 was the last time I rode in the UK. I had a quick and awful pedal on my last trip to New Zealand and have only ridden the commuter bike once or twice since 2015. I have been meaning to get out more, honest.

I am going to stick to my usual excuse, no point in making up another one now. I have been really busy since I returned from my trip. I was unexpectedly straight back in to work and have been working ever since. As my contract finished before I left for India I was not expecting to be working so soon on my return, but I have been back at the same place on a sort of week-by-week basis.

I have also started to look for a full time permanent job, back to working five days a week. It is time to replenish a much hammered savings account. Much as I have loved working four day weeks, I have not saved any penny in over a year and have churned through the money I saved when I was working a full five days. I have been taking job applications semi-seriously this time, I have fired off quick responses to a couple of agencies but most applications have taken considerable time to complete. Fingers crossed one of those applications will prove that all the work has been worth it.

The other reason I have not ridden is I have been lazy, very lazy…

Last weekend as I was walking home from the laundrette I saw a mud covered mountain biker waiting at the lights near the end of my street. He looked like he had had a lot fun and I was quite jealous. I decided that I would do something about it. Mid-week and out of the blue I had a message from someone I have ridden with before asking me if I wanted to take a slow pedal around the forest. Perfect timing!

Fortunately all my bike needed was some air in the tires and a bit of chain lube, a quick spin around the block yesterday morning to make it all worked and I was ready to ride.

What I wasn’t really ready for was riding in -1 degrees. It was cold when I got outside! It was however a glorious sunny day, there was no wind and once we got going I sort of warmed up a bit.

There was a lot of frost on the ground and on the roofs of the parked cars as I pedalled up to the meeting point on Beacontree Ave. I was first to arrive and with a couple of minutes to wait took the first photo of the day. Frosty grasses in a road side tub.

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With little exercise in the last 12 months I knew it was going to be a slow and hard ride, I was lucky that my riding buddy today, Tom, was not in for a fast ride either. I told him that I would be wanting to take some photos on the way. This was not just an excuse for multiple breaks. It was stunning out there this morning! Our first stop was only a few minutes in, this could be a long ride.

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The ground was incredibly hard, I have never ridden on frozen mud before, mud that crunches under tyres or does not yield when ridden on, the puddles were mostly iced over and very few were broken under our wheels. Our next stop was at Highams Park Lake, which appeared to be completely frozen. I know shooting into the sun is a photography no-no, but meh, I have been breaking photography rules for years. Flareage!

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I loved these leaves trapped under the thin ice on the lake.

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It was a bit of a slog up Pole Hill, my legs were starting to feel it and we had only been going for 30 or 40 minutes. While we rested I went for a quick explore, looking for some frost laden leaves.

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There is a great view over towards the Shard and down to Canary Wharf on a fine day, but there was a little mist around so we just had to make do with the view down over Chingford.

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The ride down Pole Hill through the trees next to the golf course is one of a very small number of tracks that actually go down hill in the forest. So naturally it is one of my favourite trails in the park. There is also a great piece of single track on the other side of the road, with solid ground under-wheel, rather than the usual mud it was even better than usual. Though we did come across a really nice fern grove. So I had to stop…

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I loved the way the frost made the surface of the leaves so white and fragile.

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I didn’t take any more photos. Too tired and I needed to concentrate on the riding. We rode up to the tea hut at High Beach, which is a regular stopping point for a cup of coffee and a slice of cake. 2 pounds 10 for both. Wonderful, no wonder it is so popular with riders and walkers.

The ride back towards home starts off well with some really nice and mostly downhill single track, but as we leave the forest proper and meander through some smaller, but still forested parks it turns into a bit of a slog. At least today it was not muddy!

All up we were out for about three hours. It was damn good to be out and about on the bike again!

One week later. I went for another ride again today. There was no ice, but lots of mud and it was so much harder.

A new year shakedown Epping Forest mountain bike ride.

Sunday 04 January 2015 – Epping Forest.

First ride and first post of the new year, I am hoping to be able to keep up with both.

My Christmas and New Year were both enjoyable, El and I stayed around home for the most part, though we both worked a couple of days between Christmas and New Year. It was a welcome break from work, it did get a bit stressful towards the end and after so long off work, four months seemed a long time between holidays. I cannot say I am looking forward to going back tomorrow, but at least I am relaxed again – reasonably so anyway.

I missed my family over Christmas, in the end I did not even get too see them on Skype which was a real shame, and apparently they had a good time without me! I did enjoy my time with El and her boys though, lots of food, some wine and not too bad TV made for a good couple of days and it was lovely being able to share it with them again.

I have made a couple of small life decisions in the past couple of weeks, firstly I am growing facial hair again, I won’t go full hipster beard, just a small winter warmer and an opportunity to not have to shave for a few weeks, my most hated chore. Secondly and more radically I have deleted my FaceBook account. I have been there, almost since the beginning, but have finally gotten sick of it and the fact that it intrudes so much into my life, mostly because I let it I will say. Anyway I will see how it goes with a FaceBook free life. It can only be better.

It was a pretty lazy holiday period, though we did walk, I have not run since before Christmas and have not been on the bike since late November when I did my first bike event in years. An event I was really poorly prepared for and subsequently did not enjoy as much as I should have. Not that that kept me off the bike though – laziness and an ever extending stomach kept me off the bike.

Last week, local mountain bike enthusiast, Tony from Walthamstow Cycles, sent an email round about a group ride in Epping Forest this Sunday and it was the impetus I needed to get off my sorry ass, get the cold gear out, lube the chain, pump up the tyres and get ready to go out for a ride – even if it was supposed to be in a -1 freezing fog.

Fortunately, on the day it was comparatively nice; with grey skies, a light mist and a positively warm zero degrees when I left home to meet the crew at 8:30. There was supposed to be eight riders heading out today and surprisingly everyone was there and even more surprisingly everyone was there on time, in fact we actually left the meeting point early. This is not something I am used to at all. I like this group already!

We rode off from Beacontree Ave into Walthamstow Forest, a small section of forest that links up, via a few more small sections into the broader Epping Forest. You know it is cold when the frost covered grass is crunching under your wheels and the puddles in the mud are iced over. Luckily once we got under the trees the layers of mud were not so iced over, just slushy and boggy and clingy. Did I say luckily ?

I had tossed a camera in my bag on the off chance I would get a chance to get some photos off a foggy and damp Epping Forest, but as expected the opportunities were few and far between, this was a bike ride, not a photographic mission!

We rode through to Epping Forest by a long and winding route, trying to avoid the worst of the mud and wet areas from a very full River Ching. There was some quite tasty single track sessions that I am unlikely to ever find again. Once in Epping Forest itself, it was ‘good’ to ride up Pole Hill and away from the wet land. It is the highest point in the forest, though at a massive 91 metres it is hardly going to be much use for hill training. But we did take a break at the top and I got to take a couple of pictures. Sadly there was no view….

IMG_1103IMG_1101The best bit about riding up a hill is getting to ride back down again, I rode this trail on my first ride in the forest but was never able to find it again, it was a lot more fun when there was some grip, but even slippy and slidey it was still a load of fun and one of my favourite trails of the day – not that there was a bad trail ridden….

IMG_1102We had another break for some running repairs as we headed across the middle of the lower half of the forest, and I again took the opportunity to take some photos. The forecast had said that there would be an increase in fog over the morning and they were not wrong for a change.

IMG_1106Our next stop was Strawberry Ponds, a lovely area of the forest that I would like to visit again and take some photos at. A location I have now lined up for a session if it snows, though finding it would be a challenge. It is a beautiful spot and the middle of the pond was very much covered in ice.

IMG_1109IMG_1110After almost three hours of riding we took a much earned rest at the tea shed at High Beach, coffee and the famous bread pudding was very well received. The riding had been quite hard, we were hardly setting a rocket pace, but the mud was constant and we were either sliding around, splashing through puddles or grinding through thick sucking mud – the worst kind. I was not feeling too bad, mid-pack in fitness so able to keep up easily enough and with steady riding I had not gotten too hot or too cold – with the exception of my toes which were freezing. New socks are on the shopping lost.

IMG_1111We took a few short cuts on the way back towards home, scooting quickly down some of the more established paths. Losing half the group as we went. It was a bit of a slog back across the flat areas with a some real bog grinds and a crossing of the River Ching (in reality a small stream) when we came across an impassably flooded section of track.

Tony offered us the use of his pressure washer to rinse the bikes down, along with a quick chain lube before I rode home after almost 28 kms of mostly single track riding. My new bike – a Genesis Latitude, was perfect for this riding, the bigger wheels were great in the mud and the bike is so well balanced, I am really glad I bought it.

IMG_1113It was a great morning out, a hell of a lot of fun with a good group of riders. I earned the sausage, eggs, chips and beans I had at the local cafe for lunch ! Thanks Walthamstow Cycles !!