Bilbao Mishaps, Photoshoots, & Big Rides = Bigger Fun!

Bigger Rides = Bigger Fun, as Snow Turns to Spring!

Springtime partytime!

As March hurries to a close (ridiculous right?), its been a busy few weeks, so I’d better report it all while I can!
A mash up of my biggest rides yet, photo sessions & article writing, new bike, a birthday weekend in Bilbao plus daily interval sessions, intermingled with gym work sums it up. 

Within a week, being forced to ride in 20-30mph winds on snowy roads, has changed to 10+ degree springtime sun. Magic!

7-8th March – NEW BIKE DAY

I drove the 280 miles, via 2 close friends, to collect my special customised bike for the race. Meet my MPA, by Vaaru Cycles:

Customised MPA by Vaaru Cycles


Up the forks, all 10 states I'll be racing through - how cool is that?!
On the name front, I’m currently undecided between ‘Whistler’ (the wind causes panpipe-like singing through her bars when it’s strong, but due to going through the USA, not Canada, maybe a more fitting name would be Maggie-May, the MPA? :D Hmm… I will work on this!

9-11th March – Birthday in Bilbao with my bezzie: fiesta, mugging, and a failed cycle event...

My birthday was a little rushed, obviously! An evening family meal straight from my 6 hour drive from the south, despite having not packed & needing to return a load of parcels of bike kit, plus get euros, plus fit in 2 turbo sessions… & leave for the airport by 0945 the next morning. I did it though! Well, 1 of the 2 turbo sessions – such a slacker!

Sonia, my incredible best friend and ‘alma gemela’ (Spanish for soul mate) had arranged this weekend, & planned a night of surprises. 

The apartment was decorated, complete with birthday signs in the Basque language, & most importantly, with VEGAN CAKE!


The night was a vegan pinxtos (mini form of tapas) orienteering crawl… she had placed envelopes containing clues, quotes & photos of us at each bar that had vegan pintxos. She is the best person!

Unfortunately she suffers this strange thing called a ‘hangover’, so whilst I arose after my 2 hours of sleep ready to face the city, basking in its sunny 20 degrees, poor Sonnie was quite sick in bed…until 4pm! 
After I embraced a solo 3 course dinner, she came to a park to meet me.

Resting my phone in my lap, a hand came from nowhere & the phone was gone. Turning in absolute shock we saw the back of a guy sprinting up a grassy verge between some trees. It’s FIGHT OR FLIGHT TIME: something quite uncontrollable… (actually the 2nd time I’ve been in this situation). 
Instantly I sprinted after him; what else can I do?! Hmm get other people to try notice & help! So I shrieked continuously (not in Spanish, annoyingly I didn’t think to translate in that moment!). My sleep-deprived & knackered body was struggling: knees were giving way on the hilly grass, yet when we hit the main street the flat smooth concrete aided me, as did my endurance. Little did this guy know that I can run 5km in 18:50, muwahaha!
Not so tranquil a park now...

As I closed in on him he put a hand in his pocket, oh no, a knife maybe? What do I intend on doing if I get to him, grab him? Have my arm cut by him – is this really worth it? But he suddenly turned back again & threw the phone at me, then continued to sprint away. A group of Bascos, local people, asked me what had happened, “Que te paso!?!” I roughly explained, but mainly said one word… “Gano. Gano!”. I win.

I win.

I lay on the floor for a while to breathe & get over the stress; Sonia got to me, screaming with hard-core excitement as I held up my phone. How strange, that you can reverse such an awful situation 10 minutes later, it’s like it never happened! Anyway a reminder to all: pickpocketers do not care, they will grab at anything. Literally your valuables should either not be with you, or you should be locking them to your body!!

'Bilbao Bilbao'

BB, is one of the biggest ‘sportives’ in Spain. A sportive is a non-competitive cycling event, a bit like an audax, but often no more than 100 miles long. BB was to be around 74 miles, including ascents of some beautiful lush vegetation-covered mountains: a taster of the beautiful Basque country of northern Spain. I must come back & explore this area more.

Ready to go! With a malfunctioning bike..

Our bike-saviour Paz & friends

Sonia had done amazingly well to find carbon rental bikes in Madrid & get them across half the country (she doesn’t have her own transport): thank you to Paz & her van for helping us! The night before, it became apparent that the gears weren’t functioning, & the seat was immovable & too low. This would render cycling on hilly terrain extremely difficult & likely to give me a knee injury. Not something I should be exposing myself to at the moment!

The event was an insane collection of 9000 cyclists crowding every millimetre of OPEN, yes open, roads. Cars hurtling towards us on the other road side, a stuck ambulance every 10 minutes, cyclists swooping & rubbing past you from every angle without any warning or shout. Oh, & some cracking sexism & micky-taking from groups of lycra clad guys whenever we overtook them, “Go girls, go go go!” in baby voices. Lovely.

Quit the sportive...but met Alberto our rescuer! 
Being sensible & feeling a knee ache on this silly bike, we had to withdraw after 30 miles. Being aware we could be stranded in the rural vicinity for a while with no transport or back up, we came upon a family who were supporting their son: the incredibly kind Alberto & Ana immediately offered to drive us back to Bilbao in their van. We all shared some lovely stories, & were reminded how to regret nothing or be negative in life, as a failed opportunity in one aspect can lead to openings in others: being touched by the warmth and kindness of strangers, & connecting with new people!

We then also met a local Basco cyclist whose pedal had fallen off (poor guy!), he joined us for coffees. A big test of my Spanish fluency but a useful one as we shared more stories & laughter into the afternoon. More vegan treats later I was to separate from my best friend, who is currently on her own journey: she’s leading a group ride across 350km of Northern Spain in aid of a mental health charity: ‘Think Hike Bike’ is her organisation, facebook page:

Photographers have to deal with a lot of crop

The Alpine climb of the Wirral!
13th & 17th march saw me put on my kindly sponsored Assos kit, to pose (in a totally natural non-posey way) with my beautiful bike for photos! I’m writing the feature article for the next edition of Audax UK’s magazine ‘Arrivee’, & ‘we need lots of pictures!!!’ was the basic message from the editor. 

Sonia’s extremely kind-hearted & supportive dad & brother donated their time & expertise, in landscape & portrait photography (yes, we were all learning ha ha) to get some pro cyclist pics. Aim is cover photo material!
Please visit here to see more of Ian's amazing work: 

Rach & Ali were cool enough to come on 17th to a sub-zero & gale-force wind Llanberis Pass to get in on some photos too. After we stopped being blown into beeping angry drivers, got warm enough to remember we had fingers, & the snow subsided, I think they had an ok time. Ha ha
Some of the shots:

Fellow crazies: Rach & Ali!

Yup, that's snowfall, & yup, we were absolutely **** freezing.

At West Kirby marine lake, where I clearly had just cycled out of the water

Hopefully I can get extra copies of Arrivee, an Audax ‘member only’ mag, so contact me if anyone wishes to see the article and photos!

Big rides just got bigger. BOOM!

For Gods' sake Britain. Can't you see I need to train!?!
With my romantic adventurous desires to travel insane distances & see new places, I wanted regular 200+ mile rides, or to do a fast 4-5 day ride across the country before I leave (Lands End to John O’Groats). My dreams have been somewhat altered now, in response to Coach James Roberts’: “No more than 12 hours of cycle time per ride! Why did you employ me? To get faster & have time to recover/sleep each day.” Point taken. 
With resupplying on food & water, faffing & loo breaks, a 12 hour ride can easily take 15+ hours of time. So, I must do as I’m told, & think race smart.

That week then saw me bash out two 175 mile rides, of around bang on 12 hours. Woohoo!

Massively motivated to ride... I swear

15th March, lucky with conditions despite a hefty southerly wind, I travelled down through Cheshire to Clun in the Shropshire hills & back. Joined by the long distance legend Joe Jord for 40 miles.

An old acquaintance of mine, pretty Clun

18th March damn Siberia CAME BACK, totally uninvited, for one day only. I don’t think it understands British etiquette, you can’t just do that. Anyway, an event I’d planned to do, & obviously all local club rides were immediately cancelled due to snow & ice. I, however, am one stubborn fool. I need, & have planned to ride big today, so I am going to ride big today. Fortunately my fellow crazy, stubborn & possibly na├»ve cycling buddy Jack agreed to join. Yay!

Snow sheep are a familiar sighting for me now

Raw mother nature, grrr!

I cheatingly got blowed along an aggressive & snowy north welsh coast 70 miles to be presented with coffee & homemade vegan cake in Jack’s car at Bangor. He’s pretty great, right? 
Mother nature was so angered that day, she decided to start chucking starfish out into the streets! Poor things.
Erm... I think you're a little lost, mate

He then joined for a 100 mile effort to Harlech & back, our constant chatting eventually interrupted by my failed fight against a headwind, causing me to drop a bit back. To make my weak self feel better, I blamed my poorer battle on the fact that Jack’s thighs are the size of my torso. That must be it, right?

Even bigger? Really? Sounds good!

Distance king Joe offered a day for doing a 250 mile/400 km ride together the next week. Pretty nice to have the option of a ride buddy, so, hell yes! Cleared with the coach, phew.This would be the furthest I’d ever gone straight, & would mean riding for a full day & night, without sleep. It’s only a one-off though, so, crack on & power through!

Booooom. Toughest 'day plus night shift' of my life, ha ha

The route was south through Cheshire, & heading west through hilly mid-Wales, hitting the coast at Aberystwyth, then returning via a similar route. Conditions were ok except for an immense south/south west wind (obviously): we were pushed against & fatigued a bit, for at least 100 miles or so. I was just shocked I was cycling without snow for once to be honest!

Mr Randonneur, Joe

Joe was great company. We mainly spent the time ranting about life, which we thankfully have aligned attitudes about. Also sharing an appreciation for everything, including what adventures like these give us, “You will never be the same again, Alaina” he always wisely tells me.

A bit more snow

Food was a bit of an issue, which I really need to sort out. Turns out I no longer tolerate my magical banana-peanut butter wraps: the sweetness gives me cramps & nausea. Sad times! Convenient cycle-snacks mainly include bars & dried fruit, but over time the sweetness becomes extremely unpalatable. I now pack a few hummus & beetroot sandwiches for savoury carbohydrate & calorie replenishment. However, over a 12-24 hour cycle you clearly need more food & sustenance. We had regular large meals on this one, but that only lead to a very full stomach & heartburn due to bending over on the bike. Urgh!

Vegan shepherds pie in mid-Wales... erm incredible!!

A 24 hour McDonalds at 4am in Newtown saved us, not only for food (their veggie burgers are now vegan, minus the mayo :D), but after being rained on for 4 hours we were getting extremely cold. I even had a few minutes of a mental struggle/ started to slow down… a rescue red bull saved me, phew!


We returned 24 hours later, but with 17h 43min of moving time – that meant my average speed was 14mph. Not bad really! I didn’t go to bed after that, so felt like I’d done the worst day + night shift of my life. ‘Post-long ride grog’ multiplied massively!

2 days later – do I try a fast 100 miler? Best decision ever.

The Cheshire Cat sportive takes riders in a loop around some of the most lovely Cheshire & Staffordshire countryside: aiming to traumatise early on with a few steep hills…
I had the most incredible day. Probably my favourite day of the year so far! Everything just seemed to be aligned.


Some fellow Phoenix riders, enjoying cycling, sun & ice cream!
I had recently done the massive day & night ride, so one would expect me to be ‘ruined’ for a little while. But for the Cheshire Cat, I would be joining a few strong cyclists from Phoenix Cycle Club. From previous experience, your general cycling weakness or fatigue is immediately highlighted as you chase other riders, especially on an incline… it’s like your legs turn to lead & you ride in slow motion: watching them all disappear ahead, helplessly. So demoralising! 

Anyway this was what I expected to happen, so just told the others, & myself, “I’ll try stick with you for 5 minutes then I’ll end up just doing it at my own pace, & will meet you later”.
Well, well, well… that DIDN’T happen!

The Route

The true state of events: spirits were high as an extensive expanse of deep blue skies framed a springtime sun. There was also minimal wind (madness!). A small group of us launched down the smooth Cheshire lanes, with large numbers of other cyclists. After a lady’s pee moment was quite grossly interrupted by some guys who did not care to protect our dignity (seriously!), we hit what’s called ‘The Killer Mile’. This is Mow Cop, a famous local hill, whose incline is decorated in the centre by a 200m wall of tarmac – the sight of which from below is quite hilarious, especially when surrounded by dozens of shaking fear struck cyclists, many already walking at this point – it maintains a 25% gradient here before calming down a bit. Thankfully not as bad as its reputation, but pretty fun! 

After this, a combination of being thrown steeply up & down repetitively through forest, & a few massive descents with sunlit views across the southern Peak District & their crags, I was feeling pretty hyped up! I think this was obvious by my shouting, “WHAT A DAY TO BE ALIVE!” A sentiment which fellow rider Ali re-iterated. How wonderful!

Some artistic crampy-leg beats from our resident DJ Ali

All in all I kept up fine, & on flat stretches we quite easily held a fast pace (although there was a lot of hiding behind power-man Karl: that boy pushed into the headwind for at least an hour with 20 of us following closely, hiding from the wind behind him. Ha ha, strong lad!).

So, great weather, surprising myself with my freshness/ability to ride & keep up, great company, AND being able to ENJOY the breaks without rushing… as I didn’t have like another 15 hours to go or something! Fantastic day.

This coming week things will be disrupted with a pre-planned social trip to London, although I will definitely at least ride down there.

Also to mention, Adapt Outdoors Liverpool are kindly hosting a dinner & fundraising night at Shiraz restaurant, Liverpool on 11th April! Myself & our current Ski Mountaineer Champion Ursula will be doing presentations about relevant adventures & challenges, there will be a 2 course dinner, & I will be doing a few songs. Tickets are £18 pp & can be purchased here:

Photo: Ian Barrar 
Thanks for your interest everyone, please help me in supporting our local asylum seekers & refugees, with food, clothing & the chance for friendship & integration.

Alaina x