The pursuit of perfection in any aspect of life is something that drives people to extreme measures. And yet at times, it seems to just creep up on you, envelop you, and ultimately, leave you rather lost for words after the event. Take this weekend for example. The idea was straightforward enough, drive up to The Roaches, camp, climb, camp, climb, drive home. I already knew that the travelling would be rather trying, and given that last time Sol & I went to The Roaches we ended up spending the day in Wythenshawe A&E with Sol’s shattered ankle, and I really wasn’t expecting great things. However, we were meeting up with Awesome Tim and his mate Seb for the climbing, the Family Foz for camping and eating, and Craig for a bit of male bonding in Lycra, so there was also a lot to look forward to…

Things got off to a good start with the commentary of the England vs. Algeria match on the radio in the car. I don’t think I’ve laughed so much at the radio since Thatcher was thrown out. Still, we got to The Roaches, met Tim & Seb, and drove on down to the farm. It was good to see Bob & Jackie again, although I have a sneaky feeling that they weren’t actually expecting us until the day after…. Nevertheless, we got the tent up in the bottom field, got a fire going, and sat around chatting about things, catching up with Tim’s exploits, and getting to know Seb. Finally we drifted off to sleep, but not until we’d drunk beer, and Tim had eaten tomato ketchup sandwiches. I have no idea how he is still alive. I want to point at him and say to my children “look… anything that man eats is rubbish and bad for you. Just do exactly the opposite and you’ll be OK.” I actually stopped looking when the tin of custard came out, as I’m sure that got the ketchup treatment too.

Saturday came, and it was sunny, clear, with a slight chill on the breeze. Perfect. We had some breakfast, and wandered up to the crag. First climb was pretty forgetful to be honest, but it served it’s purpose to slow Tim and Seb down a bit, and get them used to placing gear, as neither of them had climbed trad before. This small fact didn’t stop them both leading HS 4b for their first trad climb though. Something which I found massively impressive, but little did I know what was to come… We pottered off to a quieter area of the crag, and Sol looked up an HVS 5a climb, while Tim looked at the VS 4a next to it. Both of them came down, telling tales of a complete lack of protection and sketchy climbing, so we aimed up the HS 4b next to it, which being a crack rather than a slab, had better protection. Sol lead, I followed, and everything was going smoothly. The moves were nice, the protection was good where it was needed, and all was well with the world. Seb then led the climb in about three seconds flat, and Tim soloed it to retrieve the gear. So his second trad climb was a solo. Impressed by this, I suggested that we wander along to the Wings of Unreason slab as I’d long fancied a look at this classic climb. We got there and found another team on it, so we sat around for an hour or so, chatting, eating lunch, and generally chilling out. While we were sitting around, Seb casually soloed up Prelude To Space, a 10 metre 4c slab, with plenty of scope for breaking your ankles from any of the top few moves. Of course, he did no such thing, and skipped up it. Tim, not wanting to be outdone, followed suit. I looked up it, and decided that I like my ankles the way they are, and stayed firmly on the ground. Nobody wanted to lead the sketchy and technical slab of Wings of Unreason on sight, so we set up a top rope. Seb and Tim despatched it first go, with no sweat, the dyno at the top looking suspiciously easy for them. Then again, they’re both 6’2 with springs for legs. Sol then got at it, and again, hit the dyno first time. Again, he’s 6’2 with an armspan like an albatross. I then had a go, and just couldn’t hit the top move. I tried four or five times, each time coming up about 3cm short, and clattering back down the slab. On the last go I tried a comedy Wile E. Coyote run up the slab, paddled like hell, ripped the toe off my shoe, and fell off in a massive fit of giggles.

Seb then announced that he wanted to lead it. E4 6a. And of course, he did, with no drama at all. I think I was more nervous than he was, as I was belaying, and needed to pay out a lot of slack for the top dyno, and get ready to catch an almighty fall. Tim, not to be outdone, limbered up, and after one false start, also got the tick.

We packed up, and went back to the campsite. What had just happened was one of the most impressive things I’ve seen for ages. Two complete novices to trad climbing, who’d never set foot on gritstone before had led E4 6a. The confidence of youth is a wonderful thing, and it was a true privilege to be holding the ropes for them. We ate dead animal, drank beer, and in another display of youthful exuberence, wandered back up to the crag for some headtorch bouldering action. This was a whole load of fun, but cut short by the midges, which were out in force.

Sunday was a bit of a non-starter as far as the climbing went for Sol & I. I had woken up with a bad migraine, and just had to try and sleep it off with the aid of a handful of Nurofen. Sol was content to snooze in the field, and watch the clouds go by, while the sun soothed his aching bones. Of course, Seb and Tim had no aching bones, and no such problems, and the last we saw of them, they were wandering back up to the crag to get some more climbing in. Eventually, after about six cups of strong tea and a lot of sleeping, I was in a fit state to do something, so we packed up, and headed off, after saying our thanks to the wonderful Bob & Jackie for their fantastic hospitality again.

All in all, a brilliant weekend, with a few moments of pure perfection that I’ll remember for a long long time. And the nicest thing was that I didn’t go looking for them – they just found me.


A Racing Uncertainty

Well, here we are, only about three weeks since my last post on cycling, and things have rather moved on… As mentioned before, I did finally go out and buy a shiny new bicycle. And really, it’s lovely. I went slightly over my initial budget, but that’s OK – I’ll just have a couple of skint months (errrm, starting tomorrow. Last nights epic curry doesn’t count). The main effect of having a decent bike to ride is that my lunchtime rides have gone from ~18kms to somewhere between 20 and 25, depending on how lost I get. And when I’ve had the time, I’ve been putting in some longer rides, culminating in a 75km ride on Sunday, which was hugely enjoyable.

Aside from all this bimbling around in my on time enjoying the scenery and fresh air, I also entered a local time trial. This is the first competitive thing I’ve done since I finished motorcycle racing back in 2005 – and if you can be bothered reading through that lot, you’ll notice that I’m not really a particularly competitive person. You’ll also notice that I wasn’t a particularly good motorcycle racer either, but that never stopped me enjoying it. So I was a bit unsure of what to expect from racing a bicycle – both in terms of results and enjoyment. One thing that was certain though was that I was not taking this as seriously as, um, everyone else there. I felt wonderfully out of place, lining up for the start in my baggy shorts, ill-fitting freebie T-shirt, Converse Chuck Taylors and with my drinks bottle and puncture repair kit still attached to the bike. Everyone around me was wearing tight lycra, pointy helmets, clippy shoes and had eye-wateringly expensive looking carbon fibre and titanium bikes. This isn’t meant as an excuse, as it was also bloody obvious that they were all a lot fitter and stronger than me too. However, I completed the 5 mile (why the bloody hell do we do these things in miles, not kilometres? I may as well be riding a penny farthing) course in a little over 15 minutes, at an average of just over 30km/h. The faster riders seemed to be about three minutes quicker than this, which I find rather difficult to comprehend. I’ve no idea where in the field I finished, as like I said before, I’m not that competitive and couldn’t be bothered to hang around and find out when I could just as easily ride home for a nice cup of tea.

Did I enjoy it? Yes. Will I do another one? Maybe. I’m enjoying the long rides by myself far more than the 15 minutes of hell-for-leather chasing the second hand around a stopwatch to get back to where I started, but I’ll probably do a few more this year. I just don’t really get that inspired by the chasing numbers aspect of cycling (or anything else for that matter). For me, the enjoyment at the moment comes more from the peace and tranquility of pottering around The Fens by myself, in my own time, with no planned course and no schedule. See? Told you I wasn’t competitive.

I do have one more organised event planned, which I think will be more my cup of tea than a time trial. I’m taking part in the Suffolk Villages Charity Ride in a few weeks, riding 75kms to raise money for the British Heart Foundation. If you fancy sponsoring me, let me know. Again, we seem to be stuck in the 19th century, as the organising charity doesn’t have any method of online donating. I’m surprised that they don’t measure the distance in bushels, pikes, chains, fathoms or whatever.