Ten differences that two weeks make

Apparently, Face-Twits are more likely to click on a blog with  numbered lists for some unknown reason, so in honour of them, here is a list of differences between when I cycled the Montferland route (twice) two weeks and one day ago, and today.

1. Temperature
A couple of weeks ago, I made a mistake.  Because it had been quite nice the day before, I foolishly put on summer gloves. It was so cold! Not just the actual temperature, but the wind and rain meant that my hands were so cold that towards the end, I actually had difficulty changing gear as my thumbs wouldn't respond. In contrast, today it was 30 degrees, according to the thermometer in the car, which even if it was exaggerating, means that it was ridiculously hot for April.

2. Wind
There had been a storm the night before, even bringing down a large tree that some foresters were busy clearing as I went past. That also meant that there was quite a lot of wind whilst I cycled. According to the interesting website, all that wind was equivalent to 9 km extra cycling.  I doubt if that website knows how much of the route was sheltered inside the woods, but nevertheless, it was quite a fight at times.  By contrast, today the air was hardly moving.

3. Water
Not content with bringing the wrong gloves, I also made a much more serious mistake two weeks ago.  I did not take enough water.  That meant that it ran out about 3/4 the way along, and in turn that meant that shortly after that the hills all felt twice as steep and I was unbelievably exhausted at the end.  Today I made sure my rucksack's bladder was full to the brim and that I had an extra bottle as well. That made a huge difference, not only did I finish half an hour earlier (though the lack of wind may have helped there), but I still had some energy over at the end.

4. Spring.

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It is amazing what a difference just two weeks can make at this time of the year. Leaves everywhere. Birds in full song everywhere (and either lots of Green Woodpeckers or one that curiously followed me along the whole way). Butterflies everwhere (lots of Clouded Yellow).

5. Dust
It is amazing what a difference just two weeks can make. All the muddy goo has magically turned into dust. Some parts have had gravel added (apparently they not only remove fallen trees for the annual fee for using the trails). The dust does make it quite tricky in parts though, seeing how as dust is not the least slippery substance around. There are also several downhill stretches which have deep ruts running across them, meaning that the bike bounces up and down quite alarmingly, even to the extent of shaking my GPS loose at one stage, and then at the bottom of the downhill stretch, a big pile of dust.

6. Tyres
One other factor in addition to everything above which might help explain why I did it in half an hour faster this time was that I had changed my back tyre from a winter Nobby Nick to a summer Racing Ralph. It really does seem to make a difference.

7 - 10. Still thinking of those points. Here is a pretty photo instead (Stitchwort).


The Peak District

This was a trip I had been looking forward to for a long time. I had to go over to Manchester for a meeting and the next day could just as easily fly back in the evening as the morning, giving me a bit over a half a day to go mountain biking in the Peak District. I had last been cycling there when I was a student in nearby Sheffield, way before mountain bikes were ever heard of, so had only been off-road there on foot. At the beginning of March it would not be so warm, but at least spring should be on the way.

My plans were almost scuppered when I discovered that my day there coincided with the day-off for the local bike hire shop. But fortunately James, of Bike Garage in Bamford was incredibly helpful and arranged for a bike to be delivered to my B&B even though he was closed. And indeed when I arrived on Wednesday evening my landlady (of Thornhill View B&B ; definitely recommended), told me that the bike was there, safely locked up in the garage. The next day I opened the blinds to discover that I could not see though the window. I stuck my head out of the door to discover that everything was white and that it was still snowing.

Thornhill view cottage

What to do?  Plan A was to cycle Kinder Scout via Jacob's Ladder and Plan B was to do a loop to the West of Ladybower. On the basis that Kinder Scout is popular, so there would be people around if anything went wrong, I headed off in that direction. The snow on the road was damp but not slippery and the main hindrance was that as passing vehicles moved around me, they splatted the damp snow and salt mix from the middle of the road into my face, which was not so pleasant. But as I made my way further uphill, along the side of Mam Tor there were soon more hikers and dog walkers than cars and in between the snow showers there were quite spectacular views.

Hope Valley

At the end of the road I turned off onto the track leading West towards Rushup Edge. The snow was deeper there, and there were no more footprints or paw prints to indicate the way. It was also getting more exposed with the wind gusting to speeds in which it was difficult to stand up in and then the cloud came down reducing visibility as well. It was clear that Kinder Scout would have to wait for another day. What now? Plan B was just as exposed, so that was no good. I remembered from my student days that there was an easy track around Ladybower Reservoir, so decided to head that way. Shooting down the road in that direction I realised that the bike I'd hired was not as slow as I thought, but in fact it had been quite a steady climb up to Mam Tor, and so going the other way I was back to my starting point and on towards the reservoir in no time. Fortunately the valley was sheltered from the strong winds (although apparently also from a mobile phone connection, which was less convenient) and there had also been enough snow on the road to make that track a little bit of a challenge in places. And the monochrome views were spectacular.


Bike Garage had rented me a great Trek Remedy full-suspension mountain bike, which certainly helped with the snow, although I was a bit disappointed not to get to try it out on the rougher ground it was designed for. My own bike is only a couple of years old, but this one had some features that have become common since then, showing the technology is still developing quite fast, despite the advanced state of mountain bikes these days. Firstly, it had a dropper post.  Of course, that is completely unnecessary in the relative flat countryside round Wageningen, but after even a couple of hours I could see just how useful it was in the hills. The only thing was that the lever to control it was exactly where one of the gear shifters is on my own bike, so I repeatedly 'changed gear' only to find the saddle sinking down instead. There was also a bit of rotational play in the seat post, which I read is normal, but nevertheless not really what you want. The lever for the dropper post could be where my gear lever is because the bike had the modern configuration of just one cog at the front and a large range at the back.  I can see that it is convenient not to have to shift on the front cogs because indeed there is always the chance of it jamming under load, i.e. just when you need it most when going up a steep hill.  But would the limited range be enough? As I sped down the road between Mam Tor and Ladybower I noticed that the top range indeed seemed a bit limited. However, that was just how it felt and when I got home and saw the gps data, I saw that in fact I was going faster than I can normally pedal, so in fact that reflected the speed of the bike more than a problem with the range. I was less convinced at the lower range, however. The slopes were not that steep, although the snow required a lower gear than normal, but even so I was surprised that occasionally I found myself in the lowest gear. I would need to try it out in more normal conditions, but I must confess I was a bit sceptical.

Trek Remedy

Despite resorting to Plan C, I got back to the B&B at more or less the time planned.  Time enough to get a shower, cup of tea and get to the station. Unfortunately having got there, it became apparent after a bit that Northern railways had cancelled the train (although there was no announcement). The station was unstaffed, but there was a button to press for help and they promised to send a taxi instead. That would have been great service, but unfortunately they sent the taxi to Stockport, 50 km away. By the time that was sorted and I finally got to the airport many hours later, it was ten minutes after the gate closed, so there was no option to stay another night nearby. Plan D.

The Benefits of Biking for Cancer Patients

This is a guest blog by Virgil Anderson, a cancer patient who campaigns to encourage other cancer patients to take up cycling.

Cancer can be a very isolating ailment. Patients who don't feel well might retreat to their bedrooms for days on end. Exercise and socializing are the last things on their minds. However, some activity is critical during treatment and recovery. Patients who recognize this fact can prioritize movement as part of their daily routine. Consider the act of cycling as a conduit toward a healthy body. Many cancer patients thrive with this activity in their lives.

Stress Relief

It's no secret that excessive stress is harmful to the human body. Constant worrying can push a patient's immune system to the brink where their ailment becomes worse. According to the MD Anderson Cancer Center, cycling (and so also mountain biking) can reduce stress by encouraging endorphin releases. As the mountain biking effort continues, mesothelioma and lung-cancer sufferers will feel a rush of good feelings. Endorphins offer a feeling of peace to the person. They will fade away, which makes regular cycling a necessity for anyone looking to relieve stress.

Opening Up Airways

The biggest complaint among mesothelioma and lung-cancer patients is difficulty breathing. Cycling offers a reprieve from this situation. As the cyclists gain speed, the heart beats faster than its resting rate. Increased heart rates lead to faster blood flows through the arteries and veins. The blood transfers oxygen to the tissues at a faster pace as a result. The lungs have improved function as the mountain biking continues. This exercise conditions the heart and lungs to work better than before.

Impacts Remain Minimal

Many cancer patients are concerned about aggravating their health condition with a biking adventure. They believe it'll be too rough on their bodies. Patients shouldn't head out to an extreme off-road adventure in the Alps or Ardennes. In fact, patients can just stick to urban cycle paths or easy woodland paths and then they will be entirely comfortable. The impacts to the joints and muscles are completely minimized when cancer patients take an easy ride out in the afternoon. They will still receive a quality workout with no hint of injury at the tissue level. Of course, if you're not sure about your own situation, you should check with your own doctor.

Weight-Control Perks

Some patients deal with cancer treatment and remission for many years afterwards. Gaining weight is a real concern for any lung-cancer patient. The extra kilos create strain against the lungs, which makes it harder to breathe.

Hopping on a bike for regular rides fights off weight gain. Patients can eat normal meals with some indulgences while still maintaining a lean figure. Any extra weight creates other issues with the body, including high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels. Controlling it with a pastime is the best way to feel healthy throughout recovery.

Muscle-Building Opportunity

According to Bicycling Magazine, the muscles surrounding the lungs get a workout with a regular cycling regimen. It's not necessary for bikers to ride intensely either. A moderate pace of 30 or 45 minutes several times a week improves the average cancer patient's muscles at a comfortable pace. Breathing deeply is possible after conditioning the heart, lungs and blood vessels. Other muscles gain strength too, which further improves a person's prognosis.

Increasing Bone Density

Cancer patients also have an issue with bone density as they deal with their ailment. The body is robbed of nutrients during chemotherapy and radiation. Patients need strong bones in general, however. By riding a bike, the moving muscles create strain on the bones. The skeleton reacts with increased cell production across every surface. As a result, patients see a stronger body with the help of their biking efforts.

Getting to Know Your Neighbors

There's no doubt that the social aspect impacts a patient's success in treatment and recovery. Cycling can be a social activity and there are cycling and mountain biking clubs in every city in the Netherlands. Take a casual ride to the woods or around the neighbourhood. Discuss interesting topics during the workout. If patients weren't fans of bike riding before, the social aspect might change their minds. Feeling accepted and sharing a laugh can be medicine too. Patients who don't have a strong support system will have a much different experience as they go through recovery.

A person's health depends on a number of factors, from the food they eat to activity levels every day. It doesn't matter if patients cycle outdoors or at the gym, these movements give rise to a healthier body than before. Recovery and remission are possible with cycling as a main component of anyone's lifestyle.

RETO winter tour

Yesterday, the RETO club in Arnhem organised their winter tour. As we drove towards Arnhem, the woods were clad in a damp coating of dense fog and I feared the worst, but fortunately, before long, the mist cleared away and although the temperatures were only just above freezing, there was enough uphill to keep us warm. The biggest challenge came from the cold, but not from the air but the ground temperature. Some bits were just above freezing and some just below. So that meant that there would be a patch of slightly soft mud and then all of a sudden the ruts and ridges became glass hard and unyielding. So it was necessary to keep your wits about you and do some careful steering at those points. The other problem that I had was that I was with a couple of members of our club who were younger and faster than myself and in the first half, I made the mistake of trying to keep up with them. Not only did that slow them down but it meant I was cycling at 95% of my maximum heart rate for a lot of the time. That's obviously not a good idea if you want to keep going for getting on three hours.  However, after the break, we sensibly agreed to go at our own pace and the others kindly waited for me from time to time and that was a lot more comfortable. It was a great route, most of the time along paths I didn't know, but occassionally doing a stretch I recognised. Some really nice singletrack across heathland, which must be magnificent when the heather is flowering and lots of nice woodland. Very well organised as well, clear signposting and someone even standing in the cold to warn us to slow down at an icy patch at the bottom of a hill which was potentially hazardous. A great tour!


RETO tour profile

RETO tour route


Last Thursday we had the biggest storm for years. 66 lorries were blown over on the road and the entire national rail network was shut down  I think for the first time ever. At the weekend, the official trails on the Heuvelrug were shut, which was fair enough as a lot of people go quite fast there and you could imagine dangerous situations developing with trees down all over the place, but what about the woods on the other side of Wageningen where you don't have to stick to designated paths? A small group of us ventured out on Saturday morning to see how it was.

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Fallen tree

It was indeed quite dramatic with large numbers of very big trees all over the place.  There were a lot of Scots Pines, I suppose because their needles caught the wind, and a lot of very tall trees, probably as they caught the wind sticking out above the canopy. It was notable that many were not uprooted, but snapped off part way up. Fortunately, there is quite a network of paths, so it was no problem to wend our way round some, and crawl under or over others. There were also thousands of smaller branches over the paths, and many of them smooth, wet and slippery, so we had a lot of practice hopping over them whilst avoiding touching them at an angle with our front wheels, which would then be a recipe for a crash. In places, it was a bit like being in snow; slow progress and high energy expenditure. All in all, it was quite spectacular, especially where the trees found something other than trees to fall on.

Storm damage

New Year's Resolution

According to my newspaper last weekend, it is about now that most people stop keeping the resolutions they made for the New Year. I don't have that problem because I haven't started doing anything about my New Year's resolution yet! At New Year, I signed up for the Vulkan Bike Eifel Marathon, so my challenge for the year is going be to train for that. And it will be a challenge as well; it is 2 000 height meters in 85 km. The 85 km will not be such an issue, but the height is getting on twice as much as I have ever done in a day before. The profile is quite scary as well:

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Profile VulkaanBike Eifel Marathon

 However, scary as it might be, various people who know more about these things than I do, have told me that it ought to be possible. So, on the random assumption that six months training will be enough, I've drawn up a scheme where every couple of weeks I go a bit further, starting from the 40 km that I normally do with the club on a Saturday and building up to 80-90 km. That's fine for the kilometres, but seeing there isn't a great deal of height meters around here anyway, I'm just going to have to hope that selecting the hillier bits around here will be sufficient, even if I'm not often going to go above the thousand meters. 

The marathon is organised by VulkanBike (named because it is in the volcanic region of the Eifel) and has the advantage of taking place in spectacular scenery, like the view below:

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Last year about 1600 cyclists took part (over various distances) despite foul weather. Hopefully, the conditions will be a bit better in 2018. Another thing that will be new for me (aside from all those height meters) is that apparently it is supposed to be some sort of a race.  I am heartened by the fact that if I look at the times for last year's even quite a number of people (especially in my age class - almost the oldest!) crawled over the line just before the limit for what counts, so apparently, that's also possible.
Anyway, six weeks to go before I start implementing my New Year's resolution and begin training. Finding some height meters for the kick-off will not be a problem as coincidentally (really!) I have a work trip to Manchester at that time so I am taking a day off mountain biking in the Peak District. I can't wait!