Strava Route Builder

I’ve generally always created my own routes using the website Bike and Hike. Unfortunately Google have recently changed their pricing structure for websites that use their maps, making the course creator function on the Bike and Hike website almost unusable.

Therefore I needed an alternative, especially when you have five days of cycle touring with over 90% of it on roads that I’ve never cycled before. Up stepped Strava Route Builder. In theory this should be brilliant. Local cyclists know the best roads and the ones to avoid, so any route using this data should be good.

Day 1 of our little touring holiday and I became a big fan of the route builder. The route from Kenilworth to Cheltenham was great, especially the first 30 miles. The next 20 miles were a little busier, although this was mainly due to diversions. The route builder has a flat option, which I hadn’t clicked, so we ended cycling up Cleve Hill, although the flat option would have added another 10 miles.

Back when I joined Strava it wasn’t uncommon for a segment to have less than 100 people on the leaderboard. Now it’s rare for a segment to have fewer than 1,000, and Box Hill in Surrey has over 100,000 different athletes. This is a lot of data and I’m pleased that Strava is using it and helping regular cyclists (and runners) find good routes in new areas.

Day 2 of our little cycling holiday and Strava route builder goes from 5/5 to 0/5. Fifteen bloody miles on the busy A46, a horrible road that no one would ever want to cycle on. This section of route almost ended our holiday.

We did see a few cyclists using the A46, which has obviously skewed the algorithms into thinking that it is an acceptable route. The moral, don’t take it as red that a route will be good, check it properly.

Day 3 and it was the best route yet, all on quiet roads except for the last couple of miles into Salisbury, but there isn’t always a lot you can do when entering a city. The other days were also very good routes, so I would definitely use Strava Route Builder again, although I will check that it hasn’t thrown me onto a main road for too long.

The route for our little cycling tour can be seen below, and day one can be read here.

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Edit: I wrote most of this back in September but didn’t manage to blog about it, but since then the website Bike and Hike has started to use a different mapping site. This is good because sometimes my routes go all over the place, mainly when I’m tile hunting (read about it here).

My advice is if you know where you’re going, create your own route with Bike and Hike, but if you’re going somewhere new, use Strava route builder.

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Veloviewer Maximum Cluster Update

Back in July I blogged about the Bearded Tile Hounds (It’s a Strava group) and how I had managed to link up my Veloviewer maximum cluster all the way to Hull (read about it here). I’ve been slowly adding to my cluster, although it’s hard work as I don’t always have access to the car. September was a bad month for my cluster as I didn’t add a single tile, but I’ve been trying to make amends in October. I’ve done a couple of runs before work near Horwich which has added a few tiles and last Friday I took the train to Wigan for a 70 mile ride across to Formby and back. The route was a bit all over the place as I tried to obtain as many squares as possible, and included quite a few sections of farmtracks and bridleways, although it was fairly flat.

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This was my cluster before the ride.

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And this was my cluster after.

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Annoyingly I missed a couple of easy tiles with poor route planning. However, I did get all of the more difficult ones, and I have also collected all of the tiles around Skelmersdale, which is a truly awful place to cycle around. When it was built it was designed to be a cycling utopia, much like Milton Kenyes, but the cycle paths go off in random directions, suddenly end and are in a really poor state of repair. The roads also feel too dangerous to cycle on. On the whole, not a great place to cycle.

Fridays ride did add 33 tiles and 54 tiles to my cluster, moving me from 38th to 35th on the Veloviewer leaderboard. A long way to go to catch either my old friend The Prof, or to make the top twenty, but I’ll keep on plugging away at those pesky tiles.

Book Review 2018 – Part XV

Early last year I reviewed the fourth book in the Millenium series, and the first one not to be written by Stieg Larsson. (Read the review here). As I recall I was quite complimentary about it. I’ve now managed to get around to reading the fifth book in the series.

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I had blogged about the stack of books next to my bed a couple of weeks ago (here) and how I was planning on making a start on the hardback books, as some of them were now available in paperback. This was one of those books that I had had for a while, and the only good thing about having to use Northern Rail for my commute is that because of the delays I get plenty of time to read. This book I whisked through in less than a week.

Once again we follow the lives of Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist. Lisbeth is in a maximum security prison and no surprise there are other prisoners out to get her, while Mikael is trying to get her release. Lisbeth’s twin sister isn’t featured in this book, although one of the main threads through the book does involve a pair of twins.

I am gripped by this series and David Lagercrantz has written two good books, although this one didn’t feel as deep. Maybe a little too mainstream. A holiday book bought at the airport. That might be a little harsh as the original three books sold over 82 million copies.On reflection this is probably the weakest of the whole series.

Hanging over the series though is Stieg larsson’s partner, who lost a court case over his estate with his brother and father stated that Stieg would have hated anyone else to take over his writing. Many authors have had books written by other people, including Ian Fleming (James Bond), Douglas Adams (The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) and Agatha Christie (Hercule Poirot).

If and when there is a sixth book in the series, I will definitely wait until it has been released in paperback, or try to find a cheap copy in a charity shop.

Thirsty Meeples

On our recent cycling holiday (read about it herehereherehere and here) I mentioned that we spent a few hours in Thirsty Meeples, a board game café in Oxford. What a great concept, play board games and drink craft beer. It costs £5 per person for a three hour session, although this rises to £7 if you don’t buy any food or drink. This might seem expensive, but there are plenty of staff and soo many games to play.

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I’m getting a little ahead of myself. What exactly is a meeple? A meeple is the name for a counter used in a game, for example the dog or iron in Monopoly are both meeples. Simple.

The café in Oxford had over 1,000 games on shelves around the café, sorted by genre; strategy, light strategy, two player, classic, etc. The staff were also great. Cheerful and there to suggest games or help out if you’re struggling with the rules of a game that you’re playing.

On the Friday Helen picked out Odin’s Ravens; a two player game where the aim is to fly your raven from one end of a row of cards to the other and back, while your opponent tries to do the same, but in the opposite direction. Obviously there are other cards that you can play to make it harder for your opponent or easier for yourself. A simple idea and a game that doesn’t take too long. We liked it so much that we bought a copy for ourselves, so be warned, if you come round Helen will probably challenge you.

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We then asked one of the Game Gurus for a recommendation, who handed us a merchant trading game called Splendor. I was quite enjoying it but I could see that Helen wasn’t really getting into it, and as we were near to the end of our three hour reservation, we called it quits for the night.

The next night we were back. I picked out a strong dark Icelandic craft beer while Helen picked out a game. She came back with Carcassonne, a walled castle game. I had forgotten my glasses so I was struggling to read the rules, but we persevered. After 30 minutes, maybe 45, we had placed a whole load of pieces on the board, but we still weren’t too sure what we were doing, so Helen decided to call the game off and find another.

We picked Akrotiri, a two-player boat and island game. Again we struggled for a bit. Helen was ready to quit on this game as well but I suggested that we shouldn’t give up too soon. Instead we grabbed one of the Game Gurus again for a bit of help. He hadn’t played the game for a few years, but he soon refreshed his memory and got us on the right path. I’m glad that we persevered because it turned out to be a really great game with hidden depths and a combination of skill and luck. When we finished playing we added up our scores to find that Helen had absolutely destroyed me. This is another game that we will probably buy in the future. Oh, and Helen celebrated her win with a White Russian.

The photo below of Helen laughing is because she had tried to take a photo, but had put her phone down when one of the staff looked over. I told her that it wasn’t a secret nuclear base and that she was probably allowed to take photos.

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Lancaster would be an ideal city for a board game café, although you might need to start a bit smaller with maybe 200 games and gradually build up. Both nights that we were there the place was full and with a wide range of ages. There were plenty of student types, but also children and oldies. If you’re ever in Oxford I can thoroughly recommend spending a few hours at Thirsty Meeples.

Hurly Burly

What’s the Hurly Burly, I hear you cry? It was a 10k open water swim in North Wales organised by The Outdoor Swimming Society, who also put on the more famous River Dart 10k.

I’ve been swimming more this year than ever before, but I was still nervous as we headed towards the event, especially after Isoman (read about it here). The swim at Isoman was supposed to be 7 miles, but it based on other peoples Garmins, it was most likely about 12k. It was the hardest swim that I’d ever done, the longest swim I’d ever done and by far the longest non-wetsuit swim I’d ever done. I will stick to wearing wetsuits from now on (read about it here).

The Hurly Burly is set in the village of Barmouth, and goes up the estuary with the tide, advertised as maybe the fastest 10k swim you’ll ever do. I was hoping that it was as I didn’t fancy 3 or more hours in cold water.

Me and my beautiful wife decided to make a weekend of it, staying in a pod at the excellent Hendre Mynach campsite less than a mile north of Barmouth. After the Satnav had a moment of madness we made it in plenty of time. We walked along the beach with our unruly pointer, Nelly, into Barmouth so that I could register. Nelly loved the beach.

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Registration was a bit chaotic, as expected with almost 800 people taking part, but once it had been done we had a walk around the town.

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End of September, and the weather was fantastic. We walked back along the beach the campsite and had an early night. Even though it had been sunny all day, overnight the temperature dropped to 3 degrees, so we were happy in our snug little pod.

Coffee and breakfast, followed by another gentle walk into Barmouth. The swim wasn’t the only event, there was a run-swim, with an 11k run from the finish back to the start before doing the swim, and just a run from the start to the finish. I had decided against the run-swim as I wasn’t sure how much time there would be between the two events. In the end there was almost an hour from finishing the run and starting the swim, so I would have been OK. We cheered on the first runners returning to Barmouth before I changed into my wetsuit and dropped off my bag to be transported to the finish. The organisation couldn’t be faulted with so many helpful volunteers. I was also cheered by how many people seemed to know so many others, it all felt like one big family.

Photo by Jess Rose

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With so many people the start was split into four waves, slowest first, speedy people last. The start was also very relaxed. Over the timing mat and a gentle walk into the water, the complete opposite of a triathlon start. Maybe the fast wave ran into the water with gusto, but the wave I was in definitely didn’t.

Photo by Jess Rose

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The initial shock of the cold water took my breath away, even with my beard, but it felt good to be off. Within minutes we were under the bridge. Quite a few people rolled onto their backs to wave at the hundreds of supporters on the bridge as we were swept with the tide.

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My wife and dog were on the bridge as they were walking to the finish, although I didn’t spot them. Nelly had a bit of a fright when a train went past, but she has been known to be scared of her own shadow.

The timing of the swim is difficult. If the swimmers are set off too early then there won’t be enough water in the estuary, too late and the tide will turn making the last section very tough. After half an hour I spotted a few people standing up, and then my hands started to drag on the sand. I walked with everyone else for a few moments, taking the opportunity to look at my Garmin. 3000m in 30 minutes! I put it down to GPS error as there was no way I could have swum that quick. I continued to swim, guided by paddleboarders and jetskiers.

Photo by Sian Lane

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There was a feed station at the half way point, which I completely missed, thinking it was a boat. I was a little concerned when I looked at my watch on the next sand bank and it said 7000m. If I hadn’t seen the feed station by 7k it was going to be a very long swim. There was one final sand bank at 9000m, where the tide was so strong that I couldn’t stand up.

We rounded a corner and I could smell the bonfires at the finish. This was very welcome as my hands were numb with the cold. Minutes later and I was climbing out of the water, handed a blanket and a welcome hot chocolate. I quickly changed and soon managed to get some feeling back into my hands. There is no way I could ever swim that in skins, so I doff my hat to those hardy folks who did.

Photo by Jess Rose

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Once changed I hunted for my wife. There were stalls with cake and Helen had the money. It had taken her longer to walk the route, but when reunited yummy cakes and coffee were purchased. The organisers had put on buses to transfer everyone back to Barmouth, although Nelly isn’t too keen on buses, which she let everyone know by letting out a truly noxious pump. Thanks old girl.

Back in Barmouth and I inhaled fish and chips before heading back to the campsite for a few beers and another early night.

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My finishing time on my Garmin was 1 hour 36 minutes with a distance of 9661m. My official time was 1 hour 39 and 133rd. Without doubt the fastest swim I will ever do and probably the equivalent of a 5k swim in a pool. I loved the whole event and will definitely be back in 2019. Helen has also stated that she intends to have a go as well. A medal or some bling at the finish would have been nice, although a blanket is far more practical.

I can’t recommend this event enough. If you’ve ever fancied a longer swim, this is the one for you. If you can manage an Ironman swim then you can easily complete the Hurly Burly. See you all next year.

 

Book Review 2018 – Part XIV

Rushing through the books at the moment and it was definitely a good idea to start with the books at the bottom of my stack of books (here).

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I had listened to an interview with Andy Weir on Radio 2 with Simon Mayo, and thought that the book sounded good, but I forgot all about it. A few months later, me and my beautiful wife were looking for a film on Netflix and The Martian was listed as a new release. We watched it and loved it, with it’s mix of science and humour. The following week in Waterstones I remembered about the interview on the radio and bought Artemis. I then promptly left it languishing at the bottom of my stack of books.

I should have started this book the moment I bought it, as it had me hooked from page 1. With a couple of delayed train journeys I polished it off in less than a week. It’s set on the moon in the future, where there is a small city of 2,000 people permanently living there, including the star of the book, Jazz. She is clever, intelligent and a smuggler. Andy Weir has been unapologetic about the amount of geeky science in his books, and this sci-fi thriller definitely had to be set on the moon for the science bits to work. I particularly liked the passage where he describes why coffee tastes rubbish on the moon.

The book is a light-hearted sci-fi romp and I loved it. I will be purchasing The Martian, even though I’ve watched the film, and I’m sure that at some point in the future this will also be made into a film.

Instagram Knows Everything

Like most people I have an Instagram account (Beards and Triathlons if your wondering). When I set it up I clicked to allow Instagram access to my phone without even thinking about it, as almost everyone does.

Yesterday on my Instagram feed there was a sponsored image, as there is everyday. The difference was that this advert was for submitting an article to a scientific journal. I have a PhD so I have submitted articles in the past. The scary thing about this advert was that the day before I received an email from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, one of the top ranked scientific journals in the world. My old PhD supervisor has taken a chapter from my thesis, re-written it, added to it, and submitted it for publication with me as one of the authors, hence why I received an email.

The Instagram advert made me realise that Instagram has access to my emails. There is no other explanation, which is pretty scary. Is it possible to download the Instagram app onto my phone without giving it access to everything else on your phone? Nothing is confidential, big brother is definitely watching.