Monday, June 26, 2017

She's got her own girls' weekend (DCPD-201600672)

In England, I got so used to touring solo that I almost forgot how much fun it is to travel with a group. I was quickly reminded when I was asked to join a girls' weekend in Bath, where we stayed in a rowhouse with a view of the Mendip Hills in the distance (top). The town's name and claim to fame come from the Roman Baths right downtown (bottom left). They attract a lot of tourists, but the streets were crowded not for submersion in history but for immersion in the annual Christmas Market, which features plenty of craft stalls and cozy chalets (bottom right).
 
It's a good place to get into the holiday spirit beyond the consumer aspect of buying gifts. Around every corner is a band (top left) or a choir (top right) sharing Christmas carols. I'm not much of a church person myself, but I still enjoyed singing along with the crowd during a short community service at Bath Abbey (bottom).
Quite a few months later, a friend and I took a road trip to York, another Roman city, this one known for its protection instead of its plumbing. People come from far and wide to see its city walls, so to find reasonably-priced dog-friendly accommodation, we had to look outside of town, to the Fauconberg Arms (top). Sadly, we never got to mingle in the pub as we quickly checked in to our doll-house room (bottom left), so we could go explore the city, much to Sage's chagrin (bottom right).
Thanks to a great recommendation, we parked in a perfect lot just beyond the walls. We walked through York Museum Gardens on our way to downtown. On the grounds is St. Mary's Abbey, whose ruins are impressive even in comparison to the city's complete cathedral (left). Down the hill next to the River Ouse sits an outbuilding that the abbey used as a guesthouse or warehouse; now, The Hospitium can be hired out for private events, including weddings (right).
Our first official stop was lunch at Lamb and Lion Inn, whose beer garden is overlooked by the City Walls. We waved to the passers-by as we enjoyed some pints from York Brewery (top left). We never actually got around to walking the walls. We also didn't hike to the top of Clifford's Tower, the sole remnants of the city's castle (top right). And we didn't even climb the towers of the York Minster to enjoy the view (bottom).
Instead, we continued to wander around the city, oftentimes stopping for refreshment. On the roof deck of The Habit, we got downright touristy by taking a selfie with the cathedral in the background (top left). Then we mingled with a lot of tourists and taxidermy at The House of Trembling Madness (top right). Both were right around the corner from The Shambles, an area of narrow streets with enchanting buildings at wonky angles. Behind them is a daily market that had lots of treats on offer (bottom), but we opted for Mr. P's Curious Tavern for dinner.
The next morning, during a walk with Sage, I got to see the wonders of Coxwold, which bills itself as one of the prettiest villages in Yorkshire. The town's church, St. Michael's, is recognized for its octagonal tower and its regular services for cyclists by cyclists (left). If I were riding in the Yorkshire Moors around the town (right), I might end up pleading for god's help on some of the inclines.
I enjoyed the scenery so much that I took Sage on a fairly long walk. Turns out, I didn't need to because he had plenty of room to roam at Fountains Abbey (top left). The Benedictine monastery founded in the 12th century is remarkably well-preserved, mostly due to its location in a wind-protected valley (top right). In the 16th century, the abbey and surrounding land was bought by a private citizen, who turned it into an estate with a hall, mill, and deer park that are now part of the National Trust (bottom).

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Exercised three times per week including long bike rides (09-3405 - Saunders v. Astrue)

When I found out that TJ and I wouldn't be on home leave together, I decided to sign up for the Great Ohio Bicycle Adventure, an event I had wanted to participate in since I was kid. Problem is, I wasn't a kid anymore, and if I was going to ride the required average 50 miles per day, I was going to need to get in shape. My fitness level was pretty high after training for a half-marathon, but still, I needed some butt conditioning, if you catch my drift. My training regimen provided a good excuse for me to schedule a weekend trip to the Cotswolds, where I could find a variety of long "hills and headwinds" rides. 

So I booked a room at a B&B in Shipton under Wychwood, which seemed to be a good base for loop rides located conveniently close to a train station. I left work early to catch my train, but didn't find out until one stop away from my destination that my bike couldn't get off at the close train station, so I ended up going one more stop and doing a short training ride -- with my backpack -- to get to the Wychwood Inn (top left). I wonder if my hosts, who generously allowed me to store my bike inside, questioned whether my sweaty, disheveled self matched the flowery, orderly room they gave me (top right). Although the rooms were modern, the inn was old, revealing wood beams prevalent in the region (bottom left). The restaurant below was a gastropub, so I began my weekend trip with a locavore meal, another feature the area is known for (bottom right).
 
The Cotswolds are very bike-friendly, with various organizations promoting cycle routes. For my first day, I decided to combine parts of route 3 and route 6 from the Cotswolds Conservation Board. The overall loop consisted of about 40 miles, so I felt entitled to order the full English at breakfast before I set off (left). The first town on my route, Charlbury, was just waking up and experiencing some showers when I passed through, so I pushed on through the countryside (right).
Burford, on the other hand, was bustling with activity, which was not a surprise, considering it is one of the main gateways to the Cotswolds, right off a major highway. I found a cozy pub, The Angel, on a side street (top left), where I refueled with a pasta lunch (top right). As I headed out of town, I followed the River Windrush, which gives its name to the Windrush Way, a popular and well-marked walking trail (bottom left). Although I traced my route on a map, it was quite comforting to have so many road signs reassuring me that I was heading in the right direction to get home (bottom right).
After freshening up, I decided to spend the evening in a nearby town within walking distance, Milton under Wychwood (top left). I enjoyed a pint and a few pages of Cider with Rosie, a memoir of a Cotswolds childhood, in the beer garden of The Hare (top right). When the sun went down and a chill came in, I moved inside to sample the pub's farm-to-table fare. I opted for fish stuffed with seasonal vegetables (middle left), followed by a treacle tart, also known as the best dessert ever (middle right). Belly full, I called it an early night, so I could rest up for another ride the next day (bottom). 
The plan for my second ride, a combination of route 7 and route 4, was a bit shorter, considering I would need to catch a train back to London in late afternoon. That morning, I broke my fast with some salmon and scrambled eggs on toast (left). Then I set out to Bourton on the Water, another popular Cotswolds base due to the fact that its downtown business district clusters right along the river (right). 
After passing through many lovely fields (top), my next stop, Moreton in Marsh, was a bit of a disappointment. The market town is inhabited more by locals than tourists. I didn't even get to peruse the market because it is held on Tuesdays. So that meant the highlight was The Bell Inn, which claims to have been J.R.R. Tolkien's inspiration for an inn in The Lord of the Rings (bottom left). I was making good time, so I didn't stop for lunch, but I did stop for a drink at the Horse & Groom in Upper Oddington, which had an aesthetically pleasing but entirely unnecessary fire burning in its hearth (bottom right).
I made it back to my B&B in plenty of time to pick up my stuff then head over to Kingham, the not-so-close town with the nearest train station, for lunch. I wasn't dressed very spiffily, but they didn't seem to mind at the Michelin Star-winning Wild Rabbit (top), perhaps because I found a discreet seat in the bar area, where I late-lunched on some pig-cheek croquettes (bottom left). It was really difficult to not "accidentally" miss my train; thankfully, on the way back home, I had a lingering reminder of my uplifting weekend (bottom right).

Friday, June 16, 2017

Continued their climb toward their peak performance (141Cong.Rec.S4683)

I only have myself to blame, as I am the one who forwarded a link about the Montane Spine Challenger to TJ. So I couldn't really be upset when he decided to sign up for the 3-day, 108-mile "adventure." In fact, I barely complained the whole time I accompanied him as crew along the course, which started in Edale, near the start of the Pennine Way (top left). Of course, I possibly was shivering so much in the pre-dawn temperatures that I couldn't even talk as they set off in snowy terrain to navigate the Peak District and beyond (top right). At least the starting line was in chartered territory, as TJ and I had hiked there the winter before (bottom). 
The dog got to sleep in at our B&B while I got TJ on his way (left). When I returned to The Shady Oak Country Inn to pack up and move on to the first checkpoint, I found Sage looking out the window at the hills above Whaley Bridge (right); meanwhile, TJ was crossing over the summit of Kinder Scout. Only the man, not his best friend, knew how many snow-dusted peaks were in our near future.
The next time we saw TJ was at lower, slushier elevations near Torside Reservoir (top left). But soon enough he was back in the high, windy plains surrounding Black Hill (top right). I had to force myself to wait outside for him to arrive at Wessenden Head Reservoir (bottom left). Once the sun and mercury dropped, I stayed in the car, except for one small call of nature, until TJ arrived at the checkpoint (bottom right).
I checked into my next night's accommodations before one last meetup with TJ. Overnight, he slept for a few hours at a no-crew checkpoint at Hebden Hey Scout Centre, while I caught 40 winks at The White Lion. Once again, I let Sage sleep in while I met TJ at the first morning stop. It was a good idea as I found some friends (top left), which might've distracted him from our crew duties at Ponden Reservoir (top right). That afternoon, the dog made plenty of friends, including with a friendly Basset Hound, as we hiked around before TJ descended to Hare & Hounds in Lothersdale (bottom).
I was going to surprise TJ as he passed by The Cross Keys in East Marton, but I didn't make it in time because I had to turn around and double back after a GPS suggested a route on some icy back roads. Even with the delay, I managed to get to our next meeting spot on time. We all napped in Airton (top left), where TJ took a moment to decide whether to continue through the Yorkshire Dales to the finish line. I think he was still having second thoughts when I met him again in Malham, but after some shut-eye at another no-crew stop at Malham Tarn, he was looking much less scraggly as he sauntered in to Pen-y-Ghent Cafe in Horton-in-Ribblesdale (top right). The cafe is named after Pen-y-Ghent, part of the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge and the last big ascent TJ made before heading to the finish line in Hawes (bottom).
While waiting for TJ to finish the race, I wandered around Hawes. So I would know where to wait for him, I traced the Pennine Way and did a circle back to the town center (left), passing by Wensleydale Creamery. The city is known for its heritage of cheese making. It's also known for being bisected by the River Ure (right), the source of many scenic waterfalls throughout the area.
TJ took a wrong turn on the descent into Hawes, delaying his finish until just after dark (top left). I met him where the trail spilled onto the main street then together we walked the final stretch to Market Hall, where TJ finally was able to get off his feet (top right). Somehow, he managed to stand back up so staff could take photos of him receiving his medal (bottom left) and basking in his success with his essential crew (bottom right).
It was a slow walk down the block to The Fountain Hotel, where TJ enjoyed a victory dinner before a good night's rest. TJ will tell you that he came in second-to-last, placing 62nd with an official time of 58:15:03, just beating the 60-hour cutoff. What he won't tell you is that of the just over 100 people who started the Challenger, 30 dropped out. And what you probably already know is that he hopes to one day complete the longer version of "Britain's most brutal race," the 7-day, 268-mile full Spine.