Rot and rain.

So I’ve just spent three and a bit weeks surveying the NCN in Cornwall. The weather at times has been pretty wild and wet but it’s still great to be employed riding a bike. I have a lot of experience of riding in the rain so it doesn’t really bother me. However it’s taken a while for me to feel like I’ve got my kit choices totally right. With this is in mind I thought I would share my personal head to toe solution for wet weather. Bear in mind that this is what I use for long days in the rain i.e. work or cycle touring. If I was just nipping out for a quick spin and could get dry afterwards I would probably just get wet and stay warm. For long days though especially if you are climbing into a tent or bivy at the end you really do need to stay at least mostly dry. I warn you now wearing my solution you won’t look like a fast racing cyclist more like a mountaineering farmer on a bike.

I’m actually going to start at the bottom and work my way up. The thing that I find most annoying when cycling in the rain are wet feet. This was also the area where it took me longest to find a decent solution. In my experience solutions like overshoes and waterproof socks don’t actually keep your feet dry for longer than one or two hours. So item one is a good set of waterproof shoes. Now these can be anything that is waterproof with a fairly stiff sole if you use flat pedals, although a higher ankle helps keep water out as part of the overall ‘system’. I ride SPD pedals so have a pair of the Shimano MT91 SPD boots, which do the trick. You could use any cycling shoe that is waterproof but you will need one with laces.

You need laces because item number two is a set of waterproof gaiters. Remember when I was in south western France and I found the rain ran off the bottom of my waterproof trousers into my boots? Well gaiters were the answer. As an aside my boots weren’t soaking through as I thought, it was the water going in the top. So you need to seal off that hole in the top and I’ve found this means no more wet feet. Overshoes will not do this, they don’t close tight enough and tend to open a bit at the top when you pedal. Equally waterproof socks let the water in by it running down your leg and then don’t let it out again. Your feet stay warm due to the wetsuit like effect but it isn’t pleasant. I’ve actually ditched waterproof socks, they wear out too quickly for me because I ride so much. Instead I just go with a pair of warm hiking socks that will dry fairly quickly should they get wet.

It’s worth making sure the gaiters aren’t going to get caught in the chain or be torn by your chainrings i.e. they shouldn’t be too baggy just above the boot/ankle. It’s also worth seeing how the gaiter closes at the top and if this is painful and/or annoying against your calf. You want to be able to comfortably peddle in them all day long. Anyone paying attention will point out right about now that I’ve simply moved the big hole for water ingress further up my leg. You are of course correct so the next item to wear is a pair of waterproof trousers. Now I have some fancy pants Montane Atomic trousers which are really nice, very waterproof and fairly breathable. However looking at them after a few rides through muddy lanes and across sandy moorland cycle tracks I’ve decided not to ride in them. The reason being I’m just going to wear through the arse in super quick time. Fine for walking but not for wriggling around on a gritty saddle in.

Instead I’ve now got some cheap hand-me-down waterproof trousers courtesy of Judith. They’re too short and I’ve split the crotch already but they still keep the water out, they’re essentially a sacrificial item. I’ll replace them with another cheap set when they’re more hole than trouser. The shortness in the leg is good, I roll them up a couple of turns until they sit just below the top of my gaiters. This lets a bit of air circulate up the leg for ventilation but keeps the water from going onto my legs and down into the gaiters. If the water isn’t falling from the sky but it’s wet and muddy under wheel then I will roll them above the knee as a pair of cheap waterproof shorts.

So gaiters and trousers can be cheap as long as they are waterproof. Don’t worry about how breathable they are just cut the trousers off or roll them up for a bit of mid-calf ventilation. When it comes to your top half though do invest some cash in a decent waterproof jacket. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a cycling specific jacket either. If your position on the bike is stretched out, bum up and ‘racy’ then yes a dropped tail and slightly longer arms will be of benefit to you. However for most of us we’re a bit more upright on the bike and if it fits well any outdoors jacket will do. I would suggest something fairly lightweight in terms of fabric though, a heavyweight waterproof is always going to be warm when cycling. Make sure you can tighten the bottom of it around the waist as well otherwise when riding into the wind it will billow out and flap annoyingly. Being able to use the zips with gloves and zip it up fairly easily with one hand are also positives.

You need to also consider the question of whether you want or need a hood. I personally like a hood you can fold away. Being able to fold it away whilst still wearing the jacket preferably. I don’t wear a helmet on the road, therefore a normal hood that I can pull on when it’s really coming down to keep my head dry and the wind out is good. I currently have a Montane Minimus jacket, the hood is pretty much perfect for keeping rain out without reducing visibility too much. Off road I do wear a helmet so being able to fold away the hood is important, in this instance I let my head get wet and leave the job of keeping my head warm to a cap and helmet. Some people prefer to wear a hood under or if it’s big enough over a helmet, it’s personal choice.

I hasten to add at this point I am not sponsored or have any affiliation with Montane. I bought a batch of items from them when I worked in the bike shop as they did a very good staff discount price. It is good quality kit though. If I was buying another jacket again I would consider Paramo. The company have a good ethical stance as well as a reputation for good aftersales service repairing damaged items to extend their life. They will also recycle your old Paramo jacket when it reaches the end of it’s life.

I’ve touched on your head with the mention of hoods above but before we get there I generally also always wear a ‘buff’ in winter. It’s not waterproof, it gets wet and if you’ve got it pulled over your mouth feels a bit weird breathing, Importantly though it helps to stop rain getting into the top of your jacket if the hood is down. Finally on top of my head I simply wear a normal cycling cap, again it gets wet but they also dry pretty rapidly and keep your head warm. If it’s particularly cold I’ll break out the winter cycling cap to keep my ears warm. I did cycle in a beanie in winter earlier this year but you can’t really wear one under a helmet.

Finally gloves. Ah gloves, a subject I’ve covered before. I’ve still yet to find a set of gloves that will cope with extended heavy rain. So it’s a case of keeping your hands warm, possibly having more than one pair of gloves and being aware of their limitations. Again don’t feel restricted to cycling specific clothing, the Montane Ice Grip gloves I bought in the spending spree mentioned above are the best winter cycling glove I’ve had so far. They do still ‘wet out’ eventually and sadly are often a bit warm for early autumn or late spring riding.  At the end of the day when you stop riding and you’ve got to pitch camp you’ll generally have to do it without gloves on so get used to wet hands. When you are done dry them on something before stuffing them somewhere warm on your person to get heat back into your digits.
wpid-2015-11-20-09.32.09-1.jpg.jpegSo there you go a ‘toe to head’ list of what is keeping me dry at the moment. It isn’t infallible but I’ve stayed a lot drier than previously, especially my feet in long downpours over the past few weeks. A word of warning though, one issue I have had is that it’s actually been unseasonably warm. This has meant that on days with lots of hills I have sweated a fair bit. Even breathable waterproofs are not perfect. When you stop riding and get out of the rain make sure you take off those sweaty items like your base layer if at all possible, otherwise you risk getting cold/feeling clammy. If you can’t do this carry something warm and insulating you can put on over the top to try to stay warm. It isn’t a perfect solution but it stopped me shivering all the way home on over 5 hours of station platforms and train journeys yesterday.

Gravel to dirt.

I’ve been riding my bike a lot but mostly for ‘work’, however switching the county I’m working in meant that I took most of this week off. Suddenly I had the opportunity to ride just for the fun of it. So with this in mind I fitted my mountain bike tyres and headed for the hills.

On Tuesday I went for a short spin in the local woods which left me buzzing in a way I hadn’t experienced post ride for a while. It was just fun. Yesterday I decided to challenge myself more and ride Charlie the Bikemonger’s Dorset Gravel Dash 100 route. I missed the organised event which took place in May this year but it seemed a logical local and more importantly big loop on which to test my mettle.
wpid-2015-10-22-09.06.46-1.jpg.jpegMy longest previous ride on mountain bike tyres without sleeping was 70 miles of the Trans Pennine Trail and offshoots from Leeds to Selby via Rochdale. To be honest that route was fairly flat. The Dorset Gravel Dash route is definitely not, on my return Strava informed me that I had covered 6,338ft of elevation. I felt it, it was tough, there were I have to admit a few occasions when I had to push.

In theory the route starts and end in Swanage where Charlie’s shop is. However I joined the route at Bloxworth as it’s 5 miles or so from ‘home’. This wasn’t a bad idea per se however it did mean that I started on the relatively flat section which led back to the event finish. It also meant the hill forts of Hambledon and Hod Hill were at 75/80 miles into the ride. Even with fresh legs Hambledon is steep enough to warrant pushing anyway so a bit of ‘hike a bike’ was inevitable.
wpid-2015-10-22-09.12.33-1.jpg.jpegOne thing I hadn’t considered were the Army. As I headed west from Corfe Castle the noise of gun fire and artillery was hard to miss. This meant I had to divert around the ranges and cut out that portion of the route. Instead I went via Creech and across to Wool before rejoining the route at Moreton. I did throw in crossing Grange Heath to try to keep some off road riding in there. This resulted in losing the path I was following which resulted in some ‘bog trotting’ to get back on the bridleway I should have been following.
wpid-2015-10-22-12.45.37-1.jpg.jpegI genuinely think it’s a great route. There is a fair bit of road required to join up the sections however this lets you recover slightly before the next off road section. The surface is varied which is a definite feature of mountain biking in Dorset. There’s combinations of sand, mud, sticky peat, slippy clay, wheel sucking grass and gravel/loose stones. That’s before you throw in the cow, sheep and rabbit shit! Charlie I think suggested a cyclocross bike was perfect for the event, however I think I would have found that uncomfortable over that distance whilst riding some of those tracks/terrain.
wpid-2015-10-22-11.40.19-1.jpg.jpegAll in all the route took me about 12 hours from leaving the house to being sat back at the village pub. A lot of the route was fairly familiar and I know that helped me mentally to keep going at times. I knew between 50 and 70 miles would be the tough bit. It was through a part of Dorset I’ve never ridden and that was the hardest section for me not because of the terrain but mentally just to keep slogging. The fact it was along wheel sucking grassy field headlands didn’t help.

With the detour I took and also leaving the route early a few miles from where I joined I clocked up 95 miles. I’m happy with that, I don’t need to ride around the block ‘just because’ these days. I felt pretty tired/sore when I stopped but there were definitely a few more miles left in the tank if I had needed to keep going. This bodes well for doing something longer in the future. Today I’m feeling it but not as much as I thought I would, which also suggests that multi-day off road rides are definitely achievable. Bring on the future!

Today’s ‘title track’ is here.

Beer guilt schulze

Time has passed and I feel guilty for not writing. I ask myself why and my brain spits out an answer around losing readers. I chastise myself for this answer, do I write for me or do I write as an ego based exercise? I seek the former but know the latter creeps in. That ego element is what pushes the guilt.

Fuck guilt.

I want to write because I am feeling creative, because I want to think and express those thoughts. Not because I feel I ‘need’ to do it to satisfy some unknown audience or some internal ego-trip. Or equally because I have to sell that writing to earn a crust.

I’ve also been busy. Having not worked for a year I got a job. However I’m working freelance, for a non-profit organisation and I am doing my job whilst riding a bike. I think my conscious is clean, I’ve not really had to just suck it up and earn money. I’m essentially getting paid to cycle places. The phrase ‘dream job’ has come up in conversations. This morning I looked out the window at the grey clouds heavy with future rain, and as the first droplets splashed the window I turned around and got back into bed. I felt guilty for not going to work today even though I have the autonomy to set my own working hours. Even though I worked seven days in a row from Monday to Sunday last week.

Fuck guilt.

Even a year not working can’t erase the preceding 20 years of routine. The routine that instills in you – through school and then work – some form of programmed action. That you should rise and do your ‘job’ even though there may be other tasks which are either more pressing or more desirable. I remember this guilt well, those mornings when I’ve been depressed and had to phone in sick. The feelings of lethargy and wretchedness compounded by feelings of guilt. No more. The joy of working freelance on a time bound project is that there should be no guilt. Some retention of my autonomy whilst able to earn money for future adventures when the project draws to a close.

Seriously. Fuck guilt.

After reading in bed for a while I showered and joined my parents for breakfast. I’m still living at home. The positives for being here still outweigh the negatives. I feel guilty though for my privilege, for not having paid for accomodation or even really bought any food for over 2 months. I wrote in the past that I would never starve because of this privilege, my safety net. I don’t like it being there as I feel it invalidates the ‘experiment’ that is my life. I can always run home to mummy and daddy if the struggle gets too hard.

Fuck guilt.

However I remember I am not alone. I think of friends I know who are forced into living with parents. Mainly as a means to save money for houses. Something which doesn’t appeal to me, I’m saving money for life. I also remember that there are lots of people in the UK who are similarly privileged but don’t think about it, or get hung up on it, or feel guilty. Why then should I? If I’m aware of it and happy to hold it up as a limiting factor in replicating the results of my experiment I shouldn’t have to worry about it, should I? In fact Federico Campagna would probably approve, I’m squandering with all the resources I can muster.

No. Seriously. Fuck guilt.


This week I went riding on the Quantock hills for a couple of days. It was great, I would definitely recommend it as a mountain biking destination (although I was on the ‘cross bike).

Walking is still honest.

I went on a trip this weekend and it didn’t involve bicycles! However despite this being a nominally a bike blog I’m going to write this one up as it’s a great part of the world to visit. Between Friday and Sunday myself and my friend Judith walked approximately 40 miles along the south west coast path (with a few detours) between Studland and Weymouth in Dorset. I don’t know the exact distance because it was  a technology free weekend. Mobile phones were turned off on the bus to Sandbanks in Poole and then only turned back on in Weymouth. No GPS was carried. No charging of devices required. To be honest this was great although it exposed how much we usually want to know what time it is as neither of us had watches. Time didn’t matter but it didn’t stop us wondering about what time it was, the twisting and turning of the route also made accurate estimations using the sun fairly difficult at times.

Friday afternoon Judith picked me up from my Parent’s house and we drove to the station in Poole. South West trains do a ‘deal’ in the car park there so it costs £9 from noon Friday to end of service on Sunday night. From there as the weather wasn’t brilliant it was a bus to Sandbanks to get the chain ferry to Studland. Then we were off, walking the initial miles down the beach. The weather wasn’t great with some light rain but it wasn’t a deluge and we didn’t really get wet. The weather cleared as we progressed onwards and after leaving the beach at Studland village we had a quick pint in the Bankes Arms. The next part of the route takes you up and over Ballard down with a good view of Old Harry rocks and then across Swanage bay. It’s a fairly sedate incline both up and down which I guess breaks you in gently for things to come.

With cloud cover it was difficult to judge how many hours of daylight we had left but with head torches in our packs it wasn’t too much of an issue. Food however was definitely required so we descended into Swanage and had a decent pub meal at the White Swan. There was quite a bit of hustle and bustle in Swanage which was a contrast to the quietness on top of Ballard down. With darkness starting to fall it was time to push on and find somewhere to camp for the night. We headed out to Peveril point past a stage in the park which was part of the RNLI celebrations that were happening in the town. After climbing south from the headland and briefly rejoining the road the path snaked back down and through the woods overlooking Durlston bay. We were walking by headtorch now but I spotted a clearing to our right which comprised a number of stone benches surrounding another stone cross formation. Perfect!

The sky was fairly clear by this point with no more rain forecast. No tarp was therefore required and we settled down for the night in our bivy bags with a view of the clearing night sky and stars above.  One stone bench acted to shelter us from any remaining breeze and the temperature didn’t drop that much over night. Despite being fairly close to the road and ‘civilisation’ it was a quiet spot and the only real sounds were the odd hoot and puff of the Swanage steam train drifting on the wind. I assume they were running a late service to Corfe castle in order to provide a ‘park and ride’ for the RNLI celebrations.

DSC02192Day two started with clear skies and sunshine. Despite starting relatively early at about 8am (I think – remember no watches) the temperature was warm. We quickly passed Durlston castle, the globe at Durlston head and then rounded Anvil point to head west. Once we had rounded the point the wind took the edge off the suns warming effect but it was still a pleasant temperature. You maintain height for this part of the coast path and we made good time with only one break between Durlston and dancing ledge. The first ‘up and down’ came at Seacombe and here we decided to turn inland in the bottom of the valley and head up the hill to Worth Matravers in search of a cafe. This was mainly for my benefit as I am a habitual morning coffee drinker. The cafe in Worth felt like you were visiting your grandparents with very polite service and china that bore a picture of the Queen. I did notice that the waiter who was super polite to every customer seemed more jovial and relaxed with us in our scruffy walking attire. We also reckoned on occasion he may have had to retreat to the kitchen for a rant/swear as an anti-dote to continual pleasantries.

From Worth Matravers we decided to head west back to the coast path and so cut out St Aldhelm’s head. Leaving the village we did our good deed for the day by helping a lady remove a gate post/temporary bollard from the ground. I’d say this was abnormal but in my experience of life in Dorset villages being asked to help carry out random tasks is actually fairly common. Welcome to the countryside! For much of the time outside of villages we only had the odd other walker or runner for company and the ‘silence’ was fantastic. I put silence in inverted commas as depending on where you were the sounds of nature surrounded you. The singing of birds, the chirp of crickets and the noise of the waves on the shore. At one point we saw a deer on the hillside to our right that sat there unmoving and cautiously just watched us as we passed.

At Houns-Tout we made a navigational error and walked inland realising rather too late that we were on the path to the village of Kingston. I’ve ridden through Kingston on the bike though and knew that on the outskirts we could turn left and continue west to rejoin the coast path. To be honest I’m glad we took this detour as it enables you to walk along a ridge that runs between the coast and the Purbeck hills to the north. This means you get double the view! The hills and Corfe castle sitting in the gap between them away to the right and then the coast and the Isle of Portland in the distance to your left. The path then drops you into the village of Kimmeridge where we stopped for a late lunch. From there you rejoin the coast path at Kimmeridge bay which is known for being a great place to find fossils. However with a lot of ground to cover we pressed onwards.

Just after Kimmeridge bay you enter the Ministry of Defence ranges. This area is used by the MOD for target practice and is only open to the public during restricted times. Naturally with this being such a popular tourist area one of these times is essentially ‘the summer’. However as you enter the ranges there is a big sign that says No Camping! Added to the fact there may be unexploded shells lying around off the marked range walks it was clear we had to walk to the other side of the ranges before we could stop for the night. The coast path also starts to get a bit more lumpy from this point onwards and the hills are longer and steeper than we had experienced so far. With our legs starting to tire breaks became more frequent and progress slowed.

Reaching Arish Mell we looked up at the slope that takes you up above Mupe bay and across Bindon hill to Lulworth cove and pretty much agreed there was no chance we were climbing it. The map I’d borrowed for this trip showed there were other ‘range walks’ that went in the general direction of Lulworth cove further back from the coast edge so we turned north between the yellow markers to try and find them. The only problem however was that the map was 20 years out of date! Our only alternative marked range walk took us north from the coast and left the ranges at Lulworth Castle on the edge of East Lulworth. On a positive note we were now outside the ranges, however turning to continue west we were bounded by the ranges to the south and the Lulworth estate to the north so there was no option to stop and set up camp just yet.

We walked for a few miles along the road with the sun setting ahead of us (sadly not in view though) which brought us to a T-junction a mile and a half north of Lulworth Cove. Consulting the map I decided that the best course of action was to head straight at this junction up a farm track which would take us onto the hill above West Lulworth village. Naturally you would expect this to be deserted at this time of night as twilight descended however pretty soon we heard voices ahead. It appeared some people were also camping out on the hill but in a van. Making lots of noise and with the headlights on they didn’t notice us as we slipped past turning left and descending down the footpath towards the village beneath the crest of the hill. Before the incline became too steep, tired and with muscles starting to ache we rolled out our bivy bags pretty much on the footpath at the edge of a field of wheat.

Naturally being camped on the side of a hill (eat you heart out Alastair Humphreys) the view was better than the first night and with a clearer sky there were also more stars to complement the lights of Portland and Weymouth to the west. Admiring the view we tucked into a delicious packet of cold curried chickpeas. I’m not joking they were really tasty. We had forgotten utensils though so ‘credit cards’ were used as spoons to shovel it into our mouths. Clearer skies meant more of a drop in temperature than the previous night but we were both warm enough although I am glad I added the warmth of my down jacket to the 2 season sleeping bag I’d packed for the trip.

DSC02197When I sleep in a bivy bag I often find that I wake up every so often and register the sky above me before changing position and then going back to sleep. This meant morning broke slowly as the clear view of the milky way dissipated with the slow creep of dawn. I was tired and slept late only really rousing when suddenly a dog appeared by my head. I always find it amusing when walkers apologise for disturbing you asleep in a bivy when you’ve essentially just set up camp on a footpath or bridleway and in theory are in their way. Morning pleasantries exchanged with the dog walker we packed up and set off down the hill to Lulworth for breakfast.

With our muscles feeling the exertion of the previous two days it was a lazy start for our final section of walking. We sat by the cove for a short while chatting and watching the world go by before a cooked breakfast to fuel us for the morning. A bail out plan of walking the four miles to the station at Wool was briefly discussed but rejected in favour of pressing on to Weymouth. To be honest I think I might have taken the bail out if I had known what was coming up in the next few miles.

The section of coast path between Lulworth and Ringstead was probably the most challenging of this hike. There are a number of steep climbs and descents although you are rewarded with great views and landscapes including the Durdle door rock formation. With weary legs we rested often and I was definitely starting to wonder if we had bitten off more than we could chew. However eventually we descended into Ringstead and stopped for some food at the cafe there. To be honest it wasn’t great food. I may have myself to blame as I ordered chips with beans and cheese but the chips were undercooked and the cheese was two cheese slices! With hopefully some more fuel and energy we set off again for the preantepenultimate push to Weymouth.

The coast path especially in the tourist hotspots was much busier on the Sunday and so felt less peaceful overall. As we neared Weymouth this was amplified as the path passed through a beer garden in Osmington Mills and a campsite at Redcliffe point. Eventually our perseverance paid off and the path brought us out at Bowleaze cove. From here to Weymouth involves a flat mile or so along the seafront to the centre. I had been dreading this all weekend as I knew from memory that it was fairly dull and would seem like a slog at the end. So with the feeling in our legs and feet now starting to shift from ache to pain we didn’t walk it and got the bus. This was definitely the right idea as it meant we made it to Weymouth station for the 17:48 train back to Poole (sadly with no celebratory pint) and then back to my Parent’s house in time for Sunday dinner.

Before embarking on the trip I did have doubts about whether I was up to walking forty plus miles over three days but figured that my fitness from cycle touring would carry me through.  However I don’t think either of us had factored in carrying packs with bivy gear and the extra impact weight on your back makes on your legs. So although we made it to the end – sort of – the final stages were tough, definitely type 2 fun. I would definitely recommend this stretch of the coast path though for anyone fancying a walk. The scenery is truly breathtaking with fantastic open views, incredible rock formations and yet also a lot of variety. We walked in woods, across open hills and crossed beaches. The wildlife was abundant and although it is far from deserted on certain sections it is quiet enough that at times you do feel like you are miles away from the nearest human being. Sleeping under the stars in a bivy bag certainly added an extra dimension and removed having to find anywhere big or flat enough to pitch a tent. Mainly though this trip has reminded me of the natural beauty that is right there on the doorstep in the UK. An ‘adventure’ doesn’t need to go to exotic lands, the UK countryside provides scenery and wildlife to rival anywhere I’ve been in world.