Thursday, 8 December 2011

Snow stops work.

Hi all,
Well a lot has happened since the last blog, so about time for an update. First up - cx racing. Well, after my rude intro into this most niche of bike sports at Plean, I decided to travel over to Ballater for the closest cx race to me this year. The course was right up my street, being very similar to tracks around Rothiemurchus, with nasty little rock problems, no mud and no run-ups!
I warmed up properly (turbo - how pro) and pushed up to near the front of the grid. So far, so good. The start was the usual vets madness, all elbows and expletives - and a nasty crash (he ended up in hospital with an ugly leg / chainring gash, but otherwise aok) knowing the score I went all out and settled into the first single track section in the top 10. So far, so good. The next few laps were fun! With proper racing, some tit for tat overtaking and me feeling as if I could actually race rather than just hanging in for the bell. But -  here it comes, with 10 mins to go, I stomped down hard to overtake the racer who I'd been chasing for a couple of laps (think he was about seventh) and SNAP, bang went my chain. Oh how I swore. I was so grumpy all I did was walk back to the van (no spare bike) throw everything in, change and drive away - think I was even gone before my race finished.
On the positive side, I was enjoying myself and the form felt good. On the downside, it was probably the best course for me to get a good result on and as it turned out it was my last race of the season.
I kinda 'get' the whole cx thing now, but realistically with the driving involved I can't see me making ever completing an entire series. Next year I would ideally like to concentrate on the 3 Peaks cx race and if I can fit in some 'normal' cx races after that then that'd be a bonus (will need a new bike first though!)
So down to the nitty gritty.
Work has been ace, consultancy stuff out of the way and into a local mtb trail build that I really didn't think would happen, due to the presence of Red Squirrels! However, because of the little darlings breeding season, we couldn't start until late October. Luckily November was the mildest and driest on record and we cracked on with some long hours seeing us 90% done by last week.
Then it snowed.
Cue flashbacks of last winter (and the one before that) and diggers sitting under a blanket of snow for weeks on end and partly finished projects dragging on until the Spring....
But, as I type, a thaw has set in and if the forecasted rise in low level temperatures holds true for next week, we might just finish off the last few remaining features before Christmas. I certainly hope so, because I never seen so many kids waiting for a jump set to be ready - we regularly see upwards of two dozen kids just hanging about at the top of the partly completed start ramp, just gagging to get in about it!
On the fledgling photography sideline, all is going well, with a few more paid shoots being successfully completed in the last month and my new domain name, e-mail address and website all coming together slowly but surely.
Just need more time for everything....
Christmas next and maybe the start of the skiing season.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Cyclo cross virgin broken

Right, first things first, work: the last few months big feasibility study done and the chainsaw lads move into Grantown woods tomorrow to clear the way for my next build - the new jumps and skills area; weather, it's turned much colder and there's snow on the hills (please stay there 'til the Grantown job is done) family; kids off and all hands to the pumps....
Now to the important stuff - cyclo-cross racing!
So I did my first race last weekend at Plean near Stirling, there was a huge turnout with around 270 riders turning up to do battle in the mud. Mud, now, when I used to mtb race I loved muddy courses and got some of my best results in foul conditions, so I foolishly thought I would be ok...
I was not ok, from the off I went full out to try and get up through the field, knowing we would all 'bottle neck' on the first stretch of muddy single track and basically that was me then 'on the rivet' 'til the bell. No chance to 'enjoy' it, no easing off, no flying past people on the tricky bits (turns out most of these riders can all handle mud perfectly well, thank you very much) and basically I just wanted it to end. In fact when I heard over the PA that there was 7 minutes and a lap remaining I almost felt like doing that 24 hour 'lurking' thing that people do to avoid going out for another lap!
My carefully practised dismounts and mounts went to ratsh*t, I over braked, over steered, crunched gear shifts and generally rode 'rigid' due to mental and physical exhaustion. Oh and my rear wheel jammed resulting in some off bike ranting and wheel kicking (old Middleburn ti skewers now retired from brutal cross use)
'Old' hands all said, you'll love it when it's over, bloody right I loved it being over, but not because of some post racing endorphin high or adrenaline buzz, no, just glad the suffering had stopped.
Then a long drive home in post race shock, no radio on, no iPod plugged in, just me thinking about what had happened.
Nineteenth! I've got podium placings at mtb races for nowhere near this level of pain!
Positives? I only started training 6 weeks ago, I didn't get injured and the bike was not expensively broken. Negatives, I'm not sure whether I want to do another!
But, I'll have to give it another go just to make sure...

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Cyclo-cross Training.

Cyclo-cross, probably the most painful thing you can do on a bike - IMHO as the young folk say. Solo 24hr mtb racers may have a valid reason to debate this, but for sheer leg and lung burning oxygen starved anerobic pain then I can't recommend cyclo-cross training heartily enough.
I did the 3 Peaks race last year and to train for that I did lots of good old honest hours in the saddle, lots of hill climbing - on and off the bike, and some roadie speed work, all kinda focused on what I had researched about the route. I raced, I achieved the time I wanted, and most importantly, I loved it, but unfortunately I can't do it this year, I will do it again, but this is just a bad year.
So me and cyclo-cross have some unfinished business. I haven't done a 'normal' cyclo-cross race yet. The races are all quite a long way from my home in the Highlands and I'm not that fit this year, but that's just an excuse, I need to do at least one proper race just to find out what it's all about - I've raced road and mtb so this aspect of my racing cv is an empty entry at the moment.
So a few weeks ago I started running again, a bit of distance, a bit of hill work and some speed drills, then a few jaunts out and about on the 'cross bike just to get used to it again. All good, even did some hard little hill intervals on the bike in a grassy field - not that easy to find in these parts! Again all ok. Hahahaha, how little did I know that THIS WAS JUST NOT HARD ENOUGH.
This week whilst working on Mull I hooked up with two local 'cross racers, Davie Graham and Steve Macinnes for their regular evening training sesh', "it's only 45 minutes" said Davie, grand I thought, be over in a jiffy and be a nice way to hook up with the locals.
Oh dearie me.
45 minutes.
I have not been training at this intensity.
I was lapped.
I was in my own little pain filled world.
"Aye, well, enjoy that ?" I couldn't answer because I couldn't breath very well. Although I did practically demonstrate how totally knackered I now was by wrecking Davies wheel when I took his bike for a wee test lap later...... sorry.
This was a big wake up call. Back home I've now found my own 4 minute circuit of pain, with the crucial  steep nasty run-up hill, flat out pedally bit and hard seated climb, but more importantly I now know to what intensity I need to train at - 100% for 45 minutes.
45 minutes eh?
How hard can it be.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Just a quick blog up date and test of bloggers new interface, which seems nicer to use and allows for more than one image per blog - which is handy.
I've been in Mull a lot recently looking at various ways a woodland trust can use it's  newly acquired woods. Of course I want to build trails everywhere, but as a consultant I have to look at all the factors and make my suggestions accordingly. I think it's my honesty to tell it like it is, that keeps me in work.
Closer to home, there are some interesting developments, usual story though - mums the word until the client wants to go public.
I'm trying to get bike and run fit again; I made the hard decision to not go for the 3 Peaks cyclo-cross race this year, I knew quality cycling time would be hard to find, so rather than just turn up, I decided to miss it this year and hopefully get things sorted for another go next year. Problem is I really miss training for something, so rather stupidly I think I'll have a go at the Corryarrick. Well it is closer and my wife has kinda given me the green light to go for - it was your idea June.........
So, back on with the trainers and start giving the legs the bad news that they're going running again, sorry calves. So if I'm running again it seems a shame not to have a go at some of the Scottish cyclo-cross races - well the ones that are not too far off the end of the A9. To this end I've been running up hills and going out on the bike for short intense one hour sessions  - great things 'cx' races, short and sweet so able to cram training into a short time slot - ideal for me.
But either I'm now carrying a few too many pounds or I was just plain stupid to use a carbon fibre saddle, but inevitably one running 'mount' too many ended in catastrophic material failure i.e. my saddle snapped, luckily no bits went anywhere near my bits, but made for a standing ride home. You'd think I'd know better.
Right oh, new blogger interface tested, I'm off to bed, more typing and running from the usual family Masson early start...

Saturday, 27 August 2011

What? My last blog was the end of May! Bloody hell, that's work, family and the school holidays for you...
Anyhoo, lots been happening, the usual on going feasibility type stuff, where I shouldn't really say anything, because that's the clients decision to talk about a potential trail - not mine. Designing stuff that might never end in an actual trail build can be hard, yes it pays the bills, but it isn't building trail and I miss that. However, there's always maintenance of Laggan's trails and with the dire weather conditions this summer that has meant a lot of digging drainage features, unblocking culverts, clearing windblown trees and all the other TLC a trail network needs to keep it safe and fun when it's getting a hard time from Mother Nature (and the summer hordes!) There is also another big build on the horizon, so I still need to keep the tools clean, sharp and oiled ready for more use before winter closes in again (I wonder what we'll get this year?)
So Cycletherapy soldiers on; surveying, designing, building, attending and chairing meetings, number crunching, two finger report typing and all the consultancy stuff that I keep getting hired for.
But, I feel another urge, that of photography. I have always taken photographs from the ancient days of film and the black arts for the dark room, to the amazement of the digital age and the instant hit of the LCD screen.
At the moment I class myself as an apprentice - not a first year 'get us a left handed broom would ya' but more of a 'go and hang a new door at number 53 and see how you get on' joinery analogy sort of a way. I love taking pictures and even better I love taking pictures of riders on trails - that's handy then...
There are numerous very experienced and most excellent professional bike photographers out there and to make it worse there are even some who are scottish, good riders, mates and very well connected with all those that really matter. However, I think there are enough outdoor sporty things going off in my area that need a photographer who can get himself safely right into the chosen arena and know enough of what is going on to capture the drama/feel/emotion/etc of the moment. Ok, I know everyone has a digital camera nowadays and the simple law of statistics means that some of those photos might be quite good, but if you have something that really must be captured then I guess you'd want someone who is 'professional' enough to get results no matter what. '
Professional - that's the important bit, there is no such thing as 'semi-professional' you either do it as a hobby or you do it for money - and if you do it for money you have got to get the job done to the satisfaction of the client.
Now, I 'm not there yet, I'd be nieive to think that so soon in a new venture I'd be getting hired regularly, but I have done a few 'paid for' shoots so I'm started down this road and so far I'm enjoying the journey.
And as for riding a bike - well obviously I still do that! It's the one constant in a life full of other 'stuff' nowadays.

Monday, 30 May 2011

What's this two posts in a month! A good month for work, a bad month for being a cyclist. Two new consultancy jobs popped up out of nowhere - which was nice, but as usual can't talk about them at this stage (it's a planning thing) however the weather took a turn for the worse and it's been cold, wet and windy. Now, I know they say "there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing", but day after day of November style cold, northerly winds and rain bordering on sleet does start to wear thin.
I have been very lucky to keep up the practising of my fledgling photographic skills, managing to persuade some very talented local female riders - Jo Cardwell and Roberta Walker to 'model' for me (steady now - cycling pics only) and most recently Jules Fincham of Cycle Wild Scotland - a locally based mountain bike tutor. The first sesh' with the girls started well, but soon deteriorated as the rain moved in earlier than expected, causing misfires of my wireless flash kit, but still a good learning day. The shoot with Jules was blessed with sunshine and as we have some stunning trail right on our doorstep(s) it meant the whole day could be spent on the bikes, with no travelling required at all. Bonus.
June's just around the corner and pretty soon I'll need to make the decision whether to do some races this year - more precisely whether to 'man up' to the training required to do another 3 Three Peaks cyclo-cross race, which also means a new cx bike.....

Monday, 16 May 2011

A lot has happened since last months blog; two trail builds finished - the Laggan 'Orange' re-build and the Alness Academy Skills Area. Laggan needed doing, it was an old original piece of trail built in the days of 'IMBA' old school standards, so it was ripped up, re-aligned, 'waterproofed' and re-surfaced. A good job, started in the snow showers and finished in weather that was too dry! Seriously, it was less then ideal to finish off a trail in bone dry weather (dry aggregate doesn't compact very well) and with the good weather as soon as the fences were down the Easter hordes were all over it, but apart from a little TLC with a rake and a roller it'll be ok.
Alness had been left unfinished when the winter snows kicked in back in late November so we were all very keen to get back in and finish off the job. Not a lot needed done just the final shaping of the jumps, but this is a critical stage and can't be done in the winter snow and frost, it needs careful hand working, raking, test jumping, 'tweaking' and then final compacting. Luckily the Spring run of good weather held and we rounded off a fantastic little project, in the sunshine, watching the local 'jump' crowd styling it up on their new jump line.
Thereafter it was straight into finishing off some fairly 'weighty' written reports and general consultancy 'stuff' with those that wear suits. So after all this I needed a break and something completely different, so after some quality family time, I set off to the Seb Rogers' photo course in the Quantocks.
I have always loved taking photos, but most of them are just snapshots of family life and the chance to spend three days riding and taking pictures of mountain bikers under the guidance of one of the best photographers in the business was something I had been looking forward to for some time.
And what a cracking course it was; the other students were all very capable photographers, good riders and great company, the riding was excellent (and this coming from someone who has the Cairngorms on his doorstep!) Seb was an excellent teacher and the accommodation (and cakes) was spot on for hungry mountain bikers.
Just one or two key pointers from Seb early on were worth the cost of the course alone for me. Panning technique, manual focussing, low shutter speeds and taking good pictures of a scene that have a bike in them rather than my approach of just a snapshot of a biker were all major lessons for me as was seeing the different ways other photographers 'see' a scene.
It also helps when you have at your disposal Mr 'pro pointy elbows' himself - Mike Davies who rode and re-rode sections of trail always with gusto and perfect facial expressions! 'Chapeau' as they say (in roadie circles)
My pictures definitely improved as the weekend progressed and at the end of it I came away with a few pics that I was generally quite pleased with.
All I need now is loads more practise on patient riders that can put up with being asked "could you do that just one more time"

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

It's springtime in Scotland in the rain again

Well, winters over, time to start building trail, cue the rain.
We're in at Wolftrax (Laggan) re-jigging some old blue trail into an orange (orange? Dunno, it's an F.C. thing) basically a bit more jumpy and bermy. Personally, I prefer narrower, rockier, tight n twisty trail, but gotta keep the youth happy - and actually I quite like scaring myself silly testing the jumps.
Anyhoo, typing this from the comfort of the dumper, whilst the rain pours down and the digger driver 'roughs out' another jump and then it's rake, compact and test ride, modify, ride again, modify, ride again, change wet kit, repeat 'til happy!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone


Friday, 18 March 2011

The Scottish skiing at the mo' is superb! Much as I love biking in all its forms, when there's snow as good as this on the local hill, it's drop everything and get up there asap. "Back in the day" when we were all young, free and single - well some were young, some were free and some weren't single, there used to be a gathering of Telemarkers every Wednesday afternoon. All sorts of work excuses were used and even those already up the hill teaching used to finish "very promptly", throw off the tight and rigid Alpine kit and slip into something a little more comfortable!
I was one of those. I'd always free-heel toured and had a very "ropey" tele turn - thanks to the military's approach to descending off-piste mountains by using a series of traverses linked by crashes...
But, I had always envied the grace and style of the true telemark skiers, so I used to join in on the telemark Wednesdays and aided by some of the best telemarkers in the biz (Dave K, June, Greg, Mike, Nick, Dom) the great winter of 1999 - 2000 and a lot of spare time (it was the foot and mouth winter and the bike trade was very quiet) I slowly crashed my way to a rudimentary tele turn.
As the Wednesdays passed, and sometimes all the days in between, I kept at it, determined to master this trickiest of skiing styles, also I kinda fancied my personal coach and I had to get good enough just to be able to ski and tour with her! June had been tele-ing for years, skiing and teaching all over the world and had learnt on the old-school kit (leather boots and skinny skis) so she knew a thing or two and was patient enough to let me flail around behind her, throwing the odd wee gem of tele wisdom my way!
Eventually, through stubbornness and modern technology (plastic boots, carvy tele skis) I sort of got it together enough to completely ditch my Alpine kit (I'd never been that good an Alpine skier anyway) and really start to enjoy the off-piste powder - where the tele turn is the most fun (snowboarders may have an argument here)
So, fast forward to 2011, none of us are young, free and single anymore, but the snow is back to "back in the day levels" the sun is shining, there's a tele possé gathered on a Wednesday afternoon at the top of some gorgeous off-piste "pow", Junes shredding on teles again and at last I can keep up and enjoy bouncing through the fluffy stuff. See ya next Wednesday!
Oh and cheers Bob for taking the pics!

Friday, 4 March 2011

Staring at a screen

Two things here; 1) a test of blogging from my iPhone and 2) this picture is what I spend a lot of time doing at the moment.
I don't know why, but at the moment work is lots of planning, designing, recommending, pricing and generally talking about trail builds. Fair-y-nuff, I enjoy acting as a "salesman" for manmade trail!
But, I'll need to push on and clear the "to-do" pile as it's back to building in a few weeks - just you watch, bet it blinking snows!
Test over.

Location:Craig Na Gower Ave,Aviemore,United Kingdom

Monday, 28 February 2011

Mud and Snow - must be a Scottish winter.

Just when you thought it was safe to start surveying again - it goes and snows! This time last year there was no chance of any trail work, so I should be grateful I can at least see some mud. February's been ok workwise, with some really interesting clients, new areas and "challenging" sites. The van's been racking up the miles cruising up and down the A9 (our main link to the "world") and what with the short winter days, to get maximum time on site, starts have been very early. The flip side is that with darkness arriving at 4 - 4.30, even allowing for a 2 hour drive home, I'm usually back in time for the feeding time / bath time chaos that is life with our two young boys.
Actually, surveying / planning work is really good for our family life: as my wife and I share childcare and work time, if I do a couple of days surveying, I can spend the rest of my available working week writing up the various reports from the home office, which means I'm around for school runs, kid stuff and general house "husbandry".
Mixed up in all this work / family / winter mix are skiing and cycling; skiing if the snows good and it's not too busy, cycling all other times. I love skiing, actually telemarking to be precise, but after last years powder heaven that was the Cairngorms, this years snow has gone back to being just "ok" - which in the last several lean years would have been amazing, but now means if it's a sunny, still day in the valley, I'll go riding instead. But if it snows up on the hill, everything goes into meltdown in our household, as both my wife and I try to re-arrange "life" to be first up the hill to get fresh tracks, I don't know of any other sport that has a frenzy like this, maybe surfers hearing of big waves, I don't know, but skiers get it baaaad.
The 30in30 January thing was fun (?) but I have now settled down to two longer rides a week, with maybe a wee one hour mtb blast thrown in somewhere. Not a lot for all you winter big mile folks, but all that I can manage just now. Mind you that's much better than last year, when I didn't manage a ride - worth logging - 'til April!
Actually, I've been enjoying some dry (frozen) trail mtb'ing recently, and without sounding like some magazine review, I still reckon the 29er is the bike of choice for our rocky trails, I love the fact that my Tallboy with it's 100mm of travel can help me keep up with the youths on their 160mm "trail bikes" - when did a trail bike need 160mm of travel? Or maybe it's just they feel sorry for me and are feathering their brakes.
Til next month, happy riding.

Monday, 17 January 2011

The Strathpuffer

The Strathpuffer 24 hour mountainbike race has gained a reputation as one of the hardest races on the calendar and every year hundreds of racers pilgrimage north to test themselves against some of the finest Highland singletrack just near the little village of Contin, north of Inverness. Me, well I've never done it, never even fancied it; winters are for skiing and doing other wintery outdoor pursuits as well as squeezing in some winter miles on the road bike in preparation for the more "normal" racing events in the summer.
However, I do know lots of locals that enter and therefore decided to nip up the road, catch up with a few folks, and try my hand at capturing some racing pictures.
The weather running up to the event had been a long hard "proper" spell of winter; deep snow, sub zero temperatures and eventually a thaw and hard freeze - perfect! These puffers are known for their love of severe conditions and a nice thick coating of ice would keep all the masochists happy, especially those that had invested in ice tyres.
The forecast was for rain all day, which wasn't that inspiring for pics, but I packed waterproofs, warm clothes, plastic bags for everything, sarnies, a flask and even an umbrella. I knew the area well from competing in past "normal" races but had also done a reccé the day before to figure out parking off site (I was going to leave shortly after nightfall). Camera wise, it was my DSLR - a D300, a Nikon 50mm prime, a Tokina 11-16 wideangle, a flash, plus stand, a tripod, plus loads of spare batteries and what I thought was loads of memory (more on that later). Now that's not a lot of kit, but loaded in with the other stuff for a long, cold, wet day made for a fairly hefty pack weight. Van packed I was off at 8 am and parked up by 9.
It was great to meet racers I hadn't seen for ages, but I didn't take enough "people getting ready shots", probably because I still feel a bit self conscious hefting a big DSLR to my eye, maybe a friendly wee point and shoot or a longer lens to not be in their faces would be better? Before long the race was on, but I was already legging it up the hill to get into position, I had about 4k to go, all uphill, in full waterproofs and carrying the big rucksack. I eventually arrived at a likely looking spot, steam pouring off me and nicely damp inside my Goretex (might have well just worn a poly bag for all the breathability I was experiencing!) I set up on a nice icy, snowy patch, just in time to miss the leaders coming through - doh! By this time it was tipping down, so it was poly bags for the flash and camera, and a jury rigged shelter (umbrella wedged in tree) for me. I caught some images, then stripped everything down and again legged it back down the hill, accompanied by "Sharki" a friendly mtb'er, who was "pit-bitching" for the "minxgirls" Rebecca and Jo.
Second site, picked because it was one of the few places where riders appeared to be going a wee bit faster and I might get a few more dynamic shots. Problem here was the camera wouldn't fire the flash (using Nikons CLS system) where I really wanted it, hmmm. So a quick rethink, re-position and try again. Some of the quicker guys (and girls) looked "dynamic" but most were erring on the side of caution and just easing themselves round my supposedly fast corner. But, I was having fun trying different camera settings, manual focussing, panning, some shots worked some didn't - I wish the ones that worked had co-insided with the racers going fast and wearing bright coloured clothing!
Still not happy with capturing the feel of the event, I packed up and wandered off down the hill, discussing all things mountainbiking with Sharki. In the drizzle and fast fading light I decided to set up near a rock I hoped would yield some nice action shots. Bloody flash wouldn't fire where I wanted it to, funny it had the day before on the reccé, probably because the now melted snow had been acting as a reflector, bum, rejig and try again. Next problem was on the reccé there had been no vehicles or people hanging around, but now it was a busy wee corner and I couldn't get the shots I wanted, jeezo the pro's make it look so easy. Eventually I got a camera/flash/rock/backdrop that was "ok" and managed to snap some people I knew! At last... As it was virtually dark I tried some night long exposure rear curtain remote flash shots (errr, saw it on youtube - seemed like a good thing to try) but blow me if I wasn't almost out of memory - 10gb, I thought that'd be tons! So only a few shots left to try and capture the "feel" of the night-time change over.
Anyway, I was out of time now, not nearly enough time to get all the shots I wanted, but I said I'd be home at 7, so a quick jog to the van and scoot off down the A9.
Eager to see the images I worked into the wee small hours importing and quickly sorting through the keepers, the maybe's and the "oh bugger that didn't work": 300 files, 60 odd ok, of which there's probably 5 or 6 I really like. Unfortunately I didn't get the shots I really wanted; the atmosphere, the grit and grime, the emotion, or any really dynamic action shots. Ok, so it was rainy, grey and yeuchy, but I need to take loads more photos, not worry too much about the technical aspect, rather just try and see things more like a photographer. But, poly bags rock.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Happy New Year

So another year rolls around and like the last one it's snowy again. Work for a trail builder in these new "climate changed" winters is interesting! Basically it's chase around clients that had said "no rush - just when you can fit it in" and hope they're still interested. Luckily there are a few leads out there, and if the weather where they are just lets me in to survey the ground, then feasibilty studies can progress regardless of the Highlands snow cover.
I've said it before, but I'm a winter person, I like hard, snowy winters, preferably with a good dollop of snow on the mountains. Skiing, climbing, winter hill walking are all good things and someone who just relies on cycling for their everyday escape would be in trouble living up here. However.... I really enjoyed getting race fit last year, but I didn't start that until the skiing was out of my system i.e. mid March. So with the challenge of some "tweeters" I'm going to try and do 30 rides in 30 days, each ride must be at least 1 hour and with present weather conditions some of that's going to have to be done on the turbo (but not if I can help it)
After that, well it'd be rude not to carry on with training and if time allows enter a few more races this year. Being self employed and having a busy family life means races would need to be very carefully picked and ideally I'd rather not drive for 4 hours for a one and a half hour race (this doesn't apply to the 3 Peaks cyclo-cross race which I will hopefully do again) so I'll be looking at what's closer to home, whether its road or mtb.
Time to join a club, get a race license, and start highlighting the calendar.