Latest Update (as at 30/1/11):

Location: London. Back.

Total Distance Cycled: 10,325km
Days Biking: 140
Longest Day: 174km (2/12/10)

Sunday 14 March 2010

Rip'n it up....

Ah really was an amazing week last week (see Phil's blog). The romantic 'Route of the Seven Lakes'. We looked up by day at the dramatic sheer cliffs that towered above us, and by night at a ludicrous number of stars, we looked through moss dripping trees, past sudden explosions of bright orange flowers, to rivers of the blueiest blue rushing by in glacial coldness, we looked out from out tent at white sand campsites and across the waters of these extraordinary lakes, and we looked into the eyes of birds of prey, of geese and swifts and the occasional loping canine. And we looked down. Down at the road surface. We looked down, A LOT!!

Because last week we experienced....Ripio. Gravel Roads. Roads not made of tarmac but of gravel. We travelled by bike over 50k of them.

Now, I am sure that if you are a 'road person', i.e. a person whose job it is to make, talk about and work on roads, you probably have a whole vocabularly for Ripio and it's various incarnations. You probably use words like 'grade' or 'standard', you know about 'gradients' and 'camber' and you can probably discuss ideal stone type and it's respective tensile strengths. Well...I can't. But I did invent my own catagories for Ripio and the experience of travelling over it. goes.

PLEASING - (to be imagined to the theme tune of The Archers) - This kind of Ripio is surprisingly pleasant. Riding it has a jolly rustic feel, the occasional wobble and jiggle but generally the whole experience is fairly wholesome and allows you to feel blythly gung ho and just a wee bit adventurous. The ground has a freshly baked biscuit firmness and is scattered sporadically with stones the size of marbles. You smile, you take in the scenery a bit. Life is good.

SPORTING - (theme tune Ski Sunday) - In this instance the Ripio is a bit more challenging requiring the bike rider to lean forward a tad, bend their elbows and occasionally raise their rear from their seat. Stone size doesn't increase too much from marbles, but there are more of them and the road surface has dips and curves to allow for a feeling of ducking and diving. You must concentrate more. Hold on a bit harder. Generally you imagine that people watching think you look extremely cool, horribly fit and very brave. You create a bit of a dust cloud. This is particularly on downhill sections.

DAMP AND PLEASING, DAMP AND SPORTING - (theme tunes as above although Kick Start may be substituted) - Similar experiences to before but the road can randomly be wet which gives greater purchase and allows for more speed. No dust clouds though.

MINGING - (theme tune Panorama or anything portentous sounding and very serious) - This is a rapid decrease in quality. This Ripio has stones that vary from golf ball to tennis ball in size. This is almost always accompanied by a huge increase in pot holes and a large number of large trucks suddenly needing to go by obscuring everything in a haze of lung churning dust. On up hill sections you hear the stones ping away dramatically from underneath you, on the downhill you are hurled left and right as the stones jump out at you and shove you off course. You grip too hard. You frown. You look down. You rattle so that all your teeth feel like they are coming out. Forget the need for PowerPlate ladies, this is the best cellulite cure I could ever imagine. My thigh fat was self selecting to leave in fear. This stuff is scary. Not so cool now.

BIBLICAL - (any loud banging, high octane section of Mozart's Requiem) - For this to be fully appreciated it must be a baking 30 degrees (it was) and there must be no wind (who knew I'd ever wish for that again). Stone size is now officially 'Rock' size. These are at minimum tennis ball big but are graduating towards lawn bowl or petanque size with some that are comically huge. It is very full on to navigate. One is working very hard and going extremely slowly both downhill and upgill. This Ripio earnt the title Biblical because the heat and the dust made me think that at any moment Monty Pythonesque, white sheet clad, Life of Brianers were going to emerge from the road side and shout 'Stone her, stone her...' and start lobbing the rocks at me. This stuff is not fun. Unless of course you are a hard core mountain bike freak with absolutely nothing strapped to your bike. I was so shook up (and not in any way in an Elvis Presley type manner) that one of my back panniers made a bid for freedom and fell off, lying miserably in the road behind me, reproaching me with it's dusty surface and its scuffed knees. Baaaaad.

SATANIC - (opening moments of Carmina Burana mixed horribly with The Flight of the Bumble Bee) - This is very special. This is Biblical Ripio with an added purgatorial element. Because the stones and the heat and the dust and the uphills and the even more evil downhills are not enough. Oh no. Let us add in, just for fun, THE HORSEFLY. Now, should you have missed thus far the unwanted attentions of a horsefly (or four) this is how it works. They circle round and round you, getting faster and faster in their circuits, making you feel very dizzy and confused and then they choose one of any number of resting places. They just love buzzing in your ear, but sitting on your face, flying backwards and forwards in front of your glasses, or bringing their mates to join them in a party that attempts to take place under you helmet are all other possibilities. I have to confess to totally loosing it at one point and grabbing a drying teatowel from the back of my bike and thrashing about like a demented John Cleese shouting at them, in a pathetic attempt to take one of them down. It didn't work of course. After my unwitnessed moment of extraordinary undiginity I climbed back on board and tried to adopt a Jehovah's Witness like feeling towards this particular from of insect life. On JW pamphlets I have received through the door over the years I have been encouraged to appreciate that all animal life in the Utopia that will one day come will sit down and eat together. There are photos of bears eating jelly with small children and tigers having hotdogs with badgers, so I tried to imagine chatting with the horseflies, comparing notes on the best way to prepare coq au vin and generally having a lovely time together. It didn't stop them but it gave me something else to think about.

So there you go. Ripio. It can also be accompanied by the 'helpful' comments of passing motorists (although in fairness just as many gawp in amazement that anyone is stupid enough to be on a bike on this stuff), or builders. Lovely builders who since 2008 have been employed to tarmac the road who say all the things to girls that builders can say. Hey ho.

Now you know why Phil got down and kissed the road when the Ripio ended. Tarmac has never raised any excitement in me before but boy, I have never seen anything that looked so beautiful.

And there is more tarmac tomorrow...I can't wait.



  1. That is one of the most entertaining things I have ever read, you should write comedy Liz! ....oh, you do? x

  2. very entertaining, especially when read from the comfort of my kitchen - a million miles from any ripio - from pleasing to horsefly! Keep the words flowing...............