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Why Mountain Biking 29/1/09

Why mountain biking? Well remember when you were twelve and you had a Raleigh Arena to which you bolted a set of cow horns and used to hoon around the woods with your mates? Well fast forward 30 years and you get the chance to do it all again and instead of your mum telling you off for coming back covered in mud you get your wife who shouts at you and makes you get changed in the garage.

Seriously though mountain biking is a great activity even in the relatively flat terrain that we know and love in East Kent, it gives you fitness, gets you out and about with a bunch of like minded people and presents you with the opportunity to spend silly amounts of money on expensive kit.

So back to the title "why mountain biking?" this is a question we are often asked by friends, neighbours and work colleagues who just don't get it and look at us with that look reserved for small children and old people.

The question why mountain biking is normally followed by a selection of these little gems...

There are no mountains in Kent...

No there aren't but there are some bloody big hills that you can hurt youself on going up and down.

How far do you ride?...

When you say we just did about 40 miles the lardcake that asked the question eyes will widen and a look of disbelief will spread across their face.

How much did that bike cost?...

When you say £1,000, £2,000 or gasp £3,000 they will nearly always say "you could buy a car for that".

How many gears has that got?

Don't know why they ask that one, just say loads.

Cyclists don't pay road tax so should not be on the road.

Yes but we have cars too, we just cycle for fun.

So cycling gives you the opportunity to not only have interesting conversations with non-cyclists, but also to get fit, get out in the fresh air and see countryside that most other people will never see from their DFS sofa and the big plus - it is just like being twelve again.

Night rides and wolves 29/1/09

In the woods at night you get to see a wide range of wildlife: badgers, foxes, owls, lots of rabbits and if you are at the back the drooling fanged monster off the cover of the Iron Maiden album that is right behind you - just don't look round.

You kind of take it for granted that in our part of the world that there is nothing big out there that might eat you, yes we have all heard about the big cat sightings but even a big cat is not really going to eat you, it will be full of discarded KFC and Mcdonalds and too fat to catch you.

There is a great big black dog that lives in a cottage in the wood, but apart from barking and the occasioanal nip he is fairly harmless so all in all we feel pretty safe and secure in our little leafy wood.

Being the sad bunch that we are we have named a number of trails and one of our favourites is called Agent Orange, it is nice trail through pine woods, with some ditches and gulleys to ride over plus a fallen tree and some exposed roots to bunny hop over. It is on the way home to Herne Bay so we often do this last - just for fun. Now Agent Orange runs alongside a local wildlife park that have a pack of wolves as a visitor attraction, they are normally quiet and docile and nothing to worry about.

Winding the night ride up we decided to do our favourite trail and passed alongside the fence adjoining the wildlife park which set the wolf pack off with an unholy howling and baying that was straight out of the Hammer House of Horror sound affect archive. You have never seen six blokes ride so fast in a desperate effort to not be the guy at the back. There were elbows and knees being used to good effect it really was every man for themselves, the ensuing panic meant the herd of bike riders stampeded off the trail and deep into the woods getting lost in the process whilst being pursued by the hounds from hell.

Fancy mountain bike £1,500, hi-tech lights £250, shell and base layers £100 getting chased by a pack of wolves... priceless

Preparation for the Hell of the Ashdown ride Sunday

100k, six of the toughest hills in Kent, temp -1, wind chill - 7, that will be the Hell of the Ashdown then...

Five of the BogHogs have foolishly entered the "sportive" that is dubbed the Hell of the Ashdown, 100k distance, 2000m of climbing, six hills, in early Feb it is not called the Hell ride for nothing.

Unusually for us this is a road ride, organised by Catford CC, with over 1,000 entrants, it will be interesting how we do as to date we have only pitted ourselves against mountain bikers in official races.

Now none of us can really claim to have done any serious training, despite our best intentions, winter viruses have laid most of us low over the festive period so I think the only target we have is to finish before it gets dark.

Sorting out the kit tonight, I have gore tex boots, overshoes, sealskin socks and gloves, base layers, mid layers, windproof tops, I will try them on to see if I can still move.

Will report back after race day, once the frostbite as cleared from my fingers, wish us luck.

Hell of the Ashdown update 4/2/09

Safely back from the Hell of the Ashdown event, with time to reflect on just how tough it was...

The weather forecast was -1 temperature with a windchill of -7, ice in patches but definately no snow until 6pm, note the word used was "definately".

As soon as we decamped from the fun bus there were flakes of snow in the air, which just encouraged us to get changed all the quicker into extreme cold weather gear and get down to race control.

30 minutes later we were signed in, fixed race numbers and timing transponders and ready for the off on the revised route that avoided the dangerous ice patches that were dotted around the planned route. A quick pass over the timing mat and we were off albeit 45minutes late.

1 mile in the first of what was to be many punctures struck, the unscheduled pit stop saw us passed by most of the back of the field, but we were still in high spirits.

Rolling again down the steep descent and then onto the firts of the seven hills, click, click, click went the gears until they would go no lower and then it was disbelief, there must be a lower gear... There wasn't and I have to confess I dismounted and made the walk of shame until the gradient levelled out a bit, it was that or fall off I was moving that slow.

With hindsight that first hill was probably the steepest of all in parts, a foul scheme of psychological dominance by the organisers no doubt.

With the first hill down we rolled through the countryside to the next challenge, hill two, which was long and draggy and split the group into two pairs, Tony and Gordon pushing to the front with Baz and myself bringing up the rear and riding at a comfortable pace.

From here it gets a bit of a blur of pain, cold and punctures, with my front tyre totally shot and puncturing no less than five times, needless to say we were losing a lot of time and drifting well to the back of the field with the broom wagon for company.

Half distance was at the highest part of the Ashdown forest, snow, killer wind and some very friendly marshalls helped us fix yet another puncture and lent us a track pump to get us on our way.

Now remember in the first paragraph that I said there was definately no snow forecast? Well they were wrong, a blizzard came across the countryside driven by 23mph winds and within minutes the roads were white, cars were spinning and things took on a whole new perspective - we were at the back of the field, puncturing every 20 minutes and stranded in a blizzard - not good.

We pushed on and managed to get to 43 miles before bailing out into the broom wagon with yet another puncture and egos as flat as my front tyre.

We got back to race control to find Gordon and Tony filling themselves up with high calorie hot dogs in the canteen, who also found it tough and finished with a respectable time of 5hrs and 45 minutes.

Looking on the race results and times it seems that out of the 1,000 entrants only 500 posted a finishing time so perhaps we should not feel to bad, there is always next year...