Goal! (aka “I Hate You Phill”)

At the beginning of 2014 I set out a number of goals: the first one normally that I fail is the “cycle 100 miles per month” in conjunction with Phill Connell’s #12×100. Whilst the month started well, the final week I am struck with a man flu. This combined with a wet and windy week in the UK meant that cycling was not high on the list. Hoping that one or both would improve I am sure that I will fit in the last 13 miles in before the end of January to hit the 100 mile goal. Friday comes. Kids in bed and despite the wind howling outside the weather forecast is for the rain to ease. Surely I can get those miles in.

I open the back door and stick my head out. The trees are bending with the strength of the wind. Dark, still the tail end of the rush hour, rain still falling. This is not a good time to ride. My head debates between wine and cycling. Wine or cycling. Hmm. Mrs Nut agrees it’s silly. “Do it tomorrow”. She doesn’t appreciate: that’s not how Phill’s 12×100 works. Miles cycled after midnight are February miles. I have to do this now. I start heading towards the wine rack then change my mind again. It can’t be that bad can it?

Fifteen minutes later and I’m protected from the wind and rain by four layers of clothing, buff, cycling cap, helmet, winter gloves, overshoes and heading off through the estate. It’s not that bad. I head off to the west side of town before heading down the hill to Totternhoe. And that’s where the trouble started. As I leave the end of Dunstable’s bricks and mortar and between open farm fields the wind from the left hit’s me. I’m blown 3 feet to the right before leaning back into the wind and taking control. I have off some speed and bring things under control and continue leaning into the wind, and playing a balancing game as gusts of wind come and go.

It eases as I change direction into the wind, and the relative safety of Eaton Bray. Out of the other side the wind is behind and helping me along. The roads are unlit, and the rain-soaked tarmac hides both puddles and potholes as my light tries to light up the path ahead. A BMW with those new fangled headlights comes my way and despite not being on full beam the lights are still bright enough to hit the water droplets on my glasses and send patterns of light dancing across my vision making the road ahead even less easy to follow.

I head through Stanbridge and on to Tilsworth. I know that there’s a stretch of road that was flooded last year, and was surprised to see that it was not as bad as expected. Two bends later and away for the village lights and the puddle I enter gets deeper and deeper until the overshoes have become bathing shoes. Can’t stop now: if I do my wet feet will become wetter and I keep cycling hoping that it’s not going to get any deeper.

Beyond Tilsworth and back on the A5. 10 miles done – heading back to Dunstable and home should clear the 13 miles needed. Back in town and despite a loop around the shared space it looks like I am going to be a mile short. So a short detour back into town and through the estates ensures that enough miles are logged. 100 miles in a wet and windy January. Job done. Goal achieved. Thanks Phill. I hate you (but not in that way).

Should you want to join Phill’s 12×100 just use the sign-up form on http://www.phillconnell.com/blog/monthly-cycling-challenge/ and Phill will send you an invite and put your name on the sheet.

Red Lions and Dead Lions

Saturday morning. It’s cool. It’s been a while since I’ve done serious miles. And with more layers than a Michelin man it is time to strike some Red Lion pubs off of the list of places to go to.

Intentionally I have selected three easy and logistically logical lions: Bidwell Hill (Houghton Regis); Toddinton; and, Upper Sundon. But mixed in with this are a few hills that should challenge the legs (and probably the heart and lungs too).

Old Red Lion – Bidwell Hill

RL Bidwell Hill

The nearest Lion to home, and psychologically there before opening time (sorry – pubs open at 11am still in my mind) although there are people around. Tempting as it is to have a symbolic beer, only a few miles under my belt, cold, and beer would not bode well for the rest of the ride.

Continuing along the Bedford Road and up the steep hill to Great Wood (it’s not that great) leads me straight into Toddington. Famed for it’s M1 Motorway Services and the Toddington Gallon – eight pubs surrounding the village green. One pint it each.

Dead Lion – The Raj Garden

DL Toddington

Despite using Google Streetview to see whether the Red Lions that I visit exist, I know that from time to time my pedalled journey may be fruitless at the end (or lion less). So early in the year and I find my first Dead Lion. Toddington’s Red Lion is now the Raj Garden. It is common for pubs these days to convert to restaurants, and with the popularity for all that is spicy many public houses are having stale smoked rooms replaced with the smells of garlic, cumin, and garam masala.

Lion number three is also an unknown. I fear it may be dead but ignore the suggested route through Charlton to Sundon and instead carry on through Toddington, over the M1, and head into Upper Sundon through Harlington and up the steep hill to Upper Sundon on Harlington Road. In Strava this is “Sundon Hill”: 18% gradient at one point. I have done it before, but that was when I cycled frequently. Today it will beat me and I shamefully walk the last half. Strava tells me I am 305th out of 341 riders. Languishing down there with the walkers.

The Red Lion – Upper Sundon

RL Upper Sundon

“Pub and Kitchen” it says. But gone 11am and it seems lifeless. No lights. No sign of life. Is this a Red or Dead? I will class it as Red, but it was my intention to have at least one beer today in a Red Lion – but sitting on my own in an empty pub wearing Lycra is not something that I will do today. I carry on through the village and despite my clear drop in fitness opt for a longer than necessary route home via Luton and Leagrave.

Job done.

Despite Beer, Wine and Chocolate

Weight 1312Normally I weigh once a week. On a Monday. No real reason why Monday or why once a week. As long as it’s the same time every time. Well this Monday

conspired against me. Dark and rainy it’s hard to drag myself out of bed. But today is the first day back to work for many, and my car is due for its MOT in the next town. So the scales have to wait…

Tuesday. No excuses today. Despite wine, beer and chocolate, and a festive weight gain that is as traditional in its appearance as the guy in the big red suit, it would appear that cycling, reasonable eating, and some Google+ provided 30-day abs plan is paying dividends: 2lbs (0.9 kg) has gone. Now perhaps if this end-of-the-world weather system wouldn’t mind subsiding I could get a few more of those cycling miles in.

Red Lion Number One

DSC_0667Good news on two fronts: 1) I now have a map of what I think to be the current Red Lion public houses in Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, and Buckinghamshire. If you think that I have it wrong let me know through the comments. By my count there are twenty nine, of which two are “dead lions” and therefore not in scope. You can see these and my progress on a Google Map of Red Lions that I have knocked together; 2) It’s Sunday. I am alone. And it’s dry enough for a ride to the local Red Lion in Studham! One lion down: twenty-six to go!

Changing to Strava

I am not normally the one to follow the pack, but you can’t help but notice that a number of people are using Strava to record their miles and achievements. Well the start of the new year seems an appropriate time to make the change so, after a short Google+ straw pole I have changed over from Endomondo. Well, not changed over but kind of added a third place to capture stats (well, I can’t forget Garmin, can I?). I should really try a monogamous sports app relationship.

On a separate note, an invite to dinner with family gave me the excuse, as dark and as cold as it was to cycle. Heck, I even opted to go the hilly way up Dunstable Downs (which seems harder than I remember it).

New Year Cometh

And as with all New Years (well, since 2008 at least) it comes with the threat that Lanzarote666 (aka “Big Brother”) comes up with some literally ‘arse-ache’ idea that I should take on as a challenge.

Now I don’t mind admitting I like these challenges, but with the last few years being somewhat unsuccessful my mind was set on 2014 being a “send in the cleaner” year – where previous challenges were progressed. You know. Back to completing Bedfordshire towns alphabetically. Golden postboxes. And something to do with cycling different distances in different directions (well scrub that one – it was a silly idea).

So New Year’s Day this year coincides with a visit from the aforementioned bro. And he has another idea. And sadly. I like it. His version of the “challenge” has not appeared in it’s usual way via comments, so here goes:

The Red Lion Challenge 2014

To cycle to all the currently trading Red Lion pubs (including variants of, such as ‘The Old Red Lion’ in Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, and Buckinghamshire). This challenge is a classic. It feeds two of my favourite things: cycling and Red Lions. Ok. Beer.

The first part of the challenge is to find out where they are. There are rumoured to be 724 of these Lions in the UK and I am not the only one that has taken an interest in pubs with this name. Cathy Price was trying to visit all of them – but that was back in 2012. Who knows how far she has got. The trend for UK pubs is closure so this may be inaccurate. I am yet to find a definitive list of them. Fortunately I am restricting the scope of the challenge and living in Bedfordshire, close to the borders of Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire this should make a reasonable selection of Red Lions to visit.

So thanks Bro for the unwanted challenge. My bum and liver may not thank you by the end of the year.

This aside, there are other personal goals for the year: 161 lbs (73 kg, or 11 st 7 lbs) is still something I want to achieve, 100 miles minimum each month (aka #12×100), and 2014 miles in the year.

Wish me luck.