Autumn Adventures 53X11 Mckay

Since my last post,  I’ve made slow but steady progress with the injury to my left patellar. I’ve pretty much built back the strength in my left leg, up till the point where it is as strong as my right. This has involved plenty of time at my local PureGym lifting weights & overgearing (churning a big-gear) efforts on the bike, combined with smashing lots of tasty grub. I won’t be racing until 2019 so calorie counting is the last thing on my mind, and it’s important that I rebuild my muscles as quickly as possible.

Furthermore, both eating enough and weightbearing exercise is really important for cyclists to ensure they don’t develop osteoporosis (reduced bone density). So my off-season efforts have additional bonuses.  I really enjoy the gym so that works for me but climbing, jogging, or hiking with a backpack can be great ways for cyclists to preserve bone strength. They’re also all good ways to keep fit off the bike and to spend time with non-cyclists.

Fortunately, the Indian summer in the UK has made up for the sunny rides I missed whilst brooding on a ward in York Hospital. I’ve been getting back to my usual diet of mile-munching and reacquainting myself with some old routes around Essex, Hertfordshire & the Chilterns now that I’m back living in North London. I’ve also managed to sneak away on a few escapades with the bike…

Adventure Time

The first of these was a three-day tour with my good friend Rob, who I’d made whilst living in York. We’d be riding from London – York. With our parents living in each of the cities, we knew that at the very least we’d start and finish with a home-cooked meal. For me it was also a fitting farewell to York – a city I’d studied in for the past three years, riding with a friend I’d made over that time.

After Rob came down on Monday evening, we set off bright and early on Tuesday. From London, I guided us through the Chilterns on familiar roads. But after lunch in Bicester, we were trusting in the faith of our pre-plotted route. Disappointingly, the best part of the ride seemed to be through the Chilterns, with the second half being fairly flat and mundane. But with only a few miles to go, we upped the pace and soon reached Stratford-Upon-Avon. We rode into town for a bit of sightseeing and stopped-off to pick up two oven pizzas which were soon demolished at alarming speed in the youth hostel garden.

Day two we headed north again. There didn’t seem to be a lot north of Stratford, but we managed to find the café I’d meticulously researched.  With so much countryside, I was anxious that we found somewhere with an espresso machine before the day was out. Once we’d caffeinated-up, we were at the edge of the Peak District before we knew it. The last 10 miles were pretty draggy with heavy legs and with some climbing to do for a change but eventually we crossed the day’s imaginary finish-line at Youlgreave. We were frustrated to find we’d arrived before the hostel had opened. We didn’t know it yet but this was a blessing in disguise. To kill some time, we explored the village and stumbled upon the brilliant Peak Feast; a homely café tucked away off the main street. The sort of place you can fill your boots with homemade goodies for pennies. After laying in the sun outside in a fatigued cake-coma, we checked-in and cooked a second, savoury dinner in the hostel kitchen. The sun was still strong in the sky so strolled down to the local pub for a few drinks.



The last day through the peaks proved to be the best riding, and our route took in lovely climbs at Froggat & over the Strines. The steeper of these provided good strength training for my atrophied left leg, especially riding my heavy winter-bike laden with panniers. We made it through the hilly stuff and eventually onto the Vale of York- much flatter terrain which was highly convenient after 300 miles in our legs since Tuesday morning. After passing ground zero, where I’d crashed a dozen weeks previously, we arrived in the city and were welcomed by the Gray family like two long-lost sons. It’d been a “mega” trip and I was also pleased with how my knee had held up, given that it hadn’t been too long since I’d been back riding.


Peaking again

After a week or so back at work in London, the next trip was a little less wild. This was mostly due to the fact I would be going with my sister (who preferred not to lug her wardrobe around with her) so we would be staying in an Airbnb as a base and riding out each day. She’d only been on a road bike for a matter of months, but after county-level running as a teenager and a rigorous rowing training regime at university she was already well up to speed, and proved to be a great riding partner. She’s shaping up to be a handy racer herself, especially on the track, so hopefully she’ll provide a good training companion for future trips.

We stayed in Matlock, a useful spot to explore the south peaks. We had some beautiful rides, ticking off some famous climbs I’d yet to conquer, and giving my sister a taste for the magic of Yorkshire roads. On the last morning we squeezed in a quick 40km spin before breakfast. Somehow I managed to take us up the lung-busting Riber hill on the way home; we were certainly ready for some food after that!

when’s breakfast?!

Back on the road 

Funnily enough, the companion for my next adventure is from Matlock. Except that I’m sure he doesn’t find Riber nearly so painful, as he only weighs about 50 kilos! Oli Smee is a rider I’d met guesting for Team OnForm at the Tour of Sussex a few years back. We’d got on pretty well as team mates, and kept in touch. Now he wanted to kick start his winter training with some touring.

All smiles before the deep, dark North

We’d decided to ride from York to Edinburgh, which gave me the perfect excuse to abuse the endless hospitality of the Gray household. They put us both up for the night and we set out into a mammoth headwind to Langdon Beck hostel on the edge of the Pennines. Jamie Gray had recommended a refuel at the Dales Bike Centre in Reeth, and having experienced some of his culinary masterpieces first-hand, I knew a café recommendation was not to be missed. The wind was pretty relentless throughout the day, and instead of flying down the descent towards Reeth, we crept at a comical pace down the steep descent much to my stomach’s displeasure. After a well overdue brew & munch we headed back out into the gale for another few hours crawling.

We had a much-needed lie-down in Langon Beck before day two: over the Pennines and through Northumbria. This was easily the best riding I’d ever done in the UK. On par with Yorkshire but untouched; no traffic to spoil the picturesque roads. Luckily enough Oli had got in contact with James Jobber, a local hitter, to give us a tow around some of the lanes. We arrived in Wooler feeling a bit less nailed than the day before, and after watching the sunset cosied up around the fire in the hostel.

The final day was the shortest, and after crossing the Scottish Border we called an early coffee stop to push us up the one climb on our route. It proved a good call because before we knew it we arrived at the top, and were greeted by the stunning Whiteadder Resevoir. We had to stop and get off the bikes for some photos. It blew us away. After that, all we needed was a cheeky Irn-Bru to get us to Edinburgh and up Arthur’s Mount. 

Soft Southerners beware

When in Rome…

That evening we met up with my sister who is currently doing a PhD at Edinburgh university, and as we relived our tale over a hearty Scottish meal, we realised how brilliant the tour had been. Despite the headwind, the constant, strong headwind. 

I’d love to do more trips like these but often I prioritise racing and more structured training. But after this racing season turned into a write-off, I knew that it’d be a great time to do some of these trips, given that fitness level isn’t really a limiter in this kind of riding. However, I was pleasantly surprised with the data from my powermeter when I took a moment to look back on the rides; maybe it had been good training after all!


Down but not out

Last, but not least, was a trip down to the Steyning, a lovely village tucked away behind the South Downs in Sussex. I’d tactically invited myself to the Aiton household, some close family friends, to get out of London and explore new roads. I’d done a little bit of riding there before, when I’d visited previously, and had been in the area plenty of times with my family since my Grandad lived in Steyning until he died. However, I’d been on Google Maps far too much and had been eyeing up some exploits in the Downs. Both the Aitons & the Downs were very welcoming, and I enjoyed the best part of a week yomping all over Sussex. Either riding leafy lanes, or chasing Oscar the Jack Russell on some “recovery” walks. Some of the roads were fairly busy but given how close it is to London, I couldn’t recommend it more as a spot for a long weekend of cycling or suchlike.

Outside of riding my bike I also Graduated from University in June, and I can be doubly pleased. I’m proud of the achievement, but also it opens a new chapter in my life. An exciting chapter which is already taking shape… But that’s for next time. Stay tuned.