Category Archives: Cycling.
I’ve ridden on pavements, two abreast in the road, with no safety helmet and my Brazilian flip-flops on instead of sensible cycling “shoes”.
I fitted my sensible saddlebag before I went, took out all the bicycle tools and put in other more essential items like my phone and some money in case I wanted a gin and tonic whilst on the road (I didn’t). If I knew where my Clarins red lip gloss was I’d have put that in too.
Oh and I didn’t take a spare inner tube or a puncture kit.
It’s called living dangerously.
Even I have limits when it comes to talking about myself although I know that might seem hard to believe! Nonetheless, I am holding back on my two other horse-related stunts for now (one featuring my very own grey diplodocus Blue) to allow some interjection from my sister: The Devon Home Cook.
In the latter part of the decade that I was flinging myself from equines she was spending summers on Sark driving them. Sark is one of the smallest Channel Islands that can only be reached by ferry and notable for (then) its feudal system and ban on all motorised vehicles barring tractors.
In her previous incarnation as the Sark Carriage Driver she hung out in the village square (probably smoking?) waiting to take tourists round the island, for which you have to pass a test. The test was not only to show that you could stop, start and steer a horse, but that you had the correctly entertaining grockle spiel in three different langauages as you took them round the island. I think the highpoint of her career was having Ian Beale from “Eastenders” in her carriage 😉
She has reminded me on yesterday’s comments that she had a carriage bolting incident once, so I am hoping she is going to come on here and fill in the truly terrifying gaps. Sark actually consists of the imaginatively named Big Sark and its unequal and opposite, Little Sark. The Sark Carriage Driver had to travel across the isthmus, called La Coupee, that joins the two to get back to the ranch. I am hoping (for my mother’s sake) that the escapade wasn’t across this dramatic but highly dangerous tourist attraction.
La Coupee: The razor-edged isthmus joining the main island to Little Sark, is the most spectacular sight in the Channel Islands. Before 1900 when protective railings were erected, children from Little Sark, had to crawl on their hands and knees to avoid being blown over the edge.
I am also wondering if that choice detail was included in the tourist chat?
Definitely the former for the first two miles yesterday. It was hot and I was tired. The dog didn’t say how he was but reading his body language I suspect it was not his best day out ever.
Those people whizzing by in a cooling breeze on beautifully slender bikes were getting some serious green eye from this sweaty red-faced shuffler. I wear a red top sometimes – don’t think that really helps with the overall beetroot effect…
Anyway, somewhere in the unknown territory of 3 miles something happened. A sinewy cyclist whipped by in his head-to-clipped-in-toe “Trek” oufit and I thought
“What a wanker!”
I had re-connected (albeit in my own way) with the simplicity of running. No need for fancy (and expensive) equipment, no need for puncture kits, inner tubes and tools. No need to worry about the wind or the traffic or the holes in the road. The life of a runner is good to go at the drop of a cycle helmet, and for that I am thankful.
P.S. I only tripped over the dog the once, we managed to stay on our feet and completed the full 4 miles.
I’ve hopped off my bike to train for the Southend 10K Classic two weeks tomorrow. I’ve left the training a bit late and I haven’t run that far for over 6 years so I am not overflowing with enthusiasm. Added to that I had a niggle in a calf for a week, some kind of virus and this morning I had a terrible pain in my shoulder blade, so the scant training is even scanter!
I love my bike, apart from when it’s really windy or hilly, and now I am comparing the running experience unfavourably with the joy of cycling, as I thud along the sea front. I ran with the OH yesterday and he found my fartlek laughable. He adopted a poker face when I out-kicked him at the finish, declaring that I was clearly a lazy cow who had been idling on the run and saving my effort to show off at the end! In my defence, I can’t yet judge my pace so am probably running quite conservatively, plus I was “testing” the calf after the week off.
Anyway, with 1500 runners on the sea-front in a fortnight it will be a 10K shuffle for me, and I can’t say I’m too sorry. Roll on the triathlon in 2010!
Actually, it wasn’t all foul, although the cross headwind on the way out was. I was cycling on Foulness Island this morning, the fourth largest island off England (yes) and the largest of the Essex Islands (yes there are others!). It’s bleak place for sure, very flat and completely windswept with few trees or hedges. Not that this bothers QinetiQ, the contractors who manage the munitions testing facility for the MOD, who still own most of the land. You can’t get on the island normally, this was only my second visit, the first was for a ploughing match a few years ago. Access is tightly controlled by QinetiQ and there about 200 residents of whom some must farm and others, well there’s no polite way of putting this, must slowly be dying of boredom.
So mysterious is Foulness that if you try to work out your mileage from your house to the village of Churchend on the island, you won’t be able to. You won’t be able to view a snap on Google Earth either… Suspicions have been aired that the powers that be want, eventually, to have the whole place to themselves to make merry with munitions on Maplin Sands amongst the avocets and Brent Geese. I don’t know about that but I can tell you there will be no pictures of today’s ride due to tight security.
Shame really, as I roasted all the sunday cyclists on my beast 😉
Time trials here we come…
Actually, I don’t want to write the end. Not sure why really. Maybe it is because it is probably the very beginning of the many, many miles I hope to cycle in my life with great groups of people and on my own too. Maybe it’s because although we rode all that way and raised over £100,ooo for the Big Issue, homelessness doesn’t end and the days are growing shorter. I don’t know.
Of course this wouldn’t be a makemeadiva blog post without a bit of self-obsessed and misplaced vanity too! Despite my having visited the site of the “official” photographer more than once and having been told his name a couple of times, I can’t find it this morning on the old Google to buy a respectable snap to accompany the finish. Leave it with me, I’ll get there in due course.
In the meantime I thought you might be interested in the links to Sean Gaskell’s story, a Big Issue vendor on the ride. He stuck it out in speedy (but technically challenged Group 5 that I started with) on his Tesco bike which, if you read the first link below, was a vast improvement on his training model. Sean’s chain gave up the good fight on the morning of Day 3, snapping at the summit of a sheer granite cliff face covered in gravel that he had likely cycled up and I had merely tottered up like a lady. My pride cast aside on Day 1 (although I only walked up one a day!) Sean’s remains very much intact.
All was fixed with our star guide’s extra chain links eventually, but it meant Groups 5 & 6 had a twenty minute sojourn in the woods and the competitiveness was put aside in exchange for some sun-dappled camaraderie in extremis. Sean was also a star for lending me his whisky before dinner on the last night – medicinal and very welcome, thanks Sean 🙂
The unofficial snap where after the “official” photo at the official finish line they cruelly made us ride a few more miles to the hotel. Hence my discombobulated expression – ok!
Day 3 is in the post. That is how it felt to me whilst pedalling away in my altered state. In fact, at times, I concentrated very hard on staying in the moment, not thinking beyond the next bend in the road and if things were hurting I thought about something else entirely. I can’t think what though. As my sister has pointed out I was obviously altered and we did not land in Le Havre at all, but Caen. To me, a complete route Nazi if you will forgive the rather brutal term, to not know where I was, or show much interest in where I was going (beyond the next bend etc.) was completely alien but scarily easy to do. On reflection it is an insight into the world of people (my other half being one) who have no sense of direction and do not engage with maps, distances, or even geography. It made me feel slightly detached, I wonder if it is like that for those in the permanent state of being ever so slightly lost? I’ll have to ask him.
I digress, I wanted to introduce some of Group 6 because they were a good bunch and worth the keystrokes. I shall use false names to protect modesty.
Emily (that’s her real name I forgot to protect her privacy yesterday – sorry) is my sister. She is ten years younger than me and nothing like the rag doll I assumed she would be (with her name – think Bagpuss) when she was born. She is made of steel mainly. I don’t want to go into a load of personal details but she has had some major ops in her twenties (one on her back) and did some Spartan training back in the early spring to lose weight and really improve her fitness. I was glad she came and it wouldn’t have been the same for me without her! x
Me (that’s really Makemeadiva). I am 40 shortly and I didn’t want to approach the milestone feeling washed out and frumpy. I have wanted to a “charity thing” for years but lacked the confidence when I was younger. Now I’ve got two kids, disappearing for three weeks to walk the Great Wall wouldn’t go down too well, so this was a nice short challenge that no-one could object to, too strongly. I wanted to be fitter too. I think I am fitter, but my weight remains static. Our family shape seems to be apple, with quarter-back shoulders, not exactly Lance Armstrong but not to worry.
Greg (he’s not called that but I kept calling him Greg for the duration – sorry). Our mightily impressive group leader. I love an Antipodean positive attitude and Greg kept us all on the money for the trip. He told it like it was and also supported us (especially up hills) when we were losing the will to live. A great combination of the stick and carrot were wielded and dangled with the all important GSOH thrown in. He had ridden the Pyrenees Challenge in 08, covering 930km in 8 days with over 16,000m of climbs! Google it. A pretty impressive figure to follow for three days. The company that organised our ride were Tall Stories – http://www.tallstories.co.uk/ – I can recommend them.
Commando Bob (aka Rambo). Bob was in his 50s. I couldn’t remember his real name at all and by day 3 it would have been rude to ask! Actually I do know it now as I asked someone else. Notable in our group for looking like a skater boy in his 50s and wearing a MASH helmet. Completely risk-averse, the Commander preferred going up hills to freewheeling down them. So he didn’t freewheel and the screeching of brakes was to be heard across Europe; we became accustomed to waiting for him in a huddle at the bottom. A comprehensive knowledge of supermarket own-brand pricing competitiveness did not stand in the way of his running a successful (and very complicated financial business/HQ the Gherkin).
Mick. A vision on a purple bike. He was unfailingly cheerful at all times, on all days and an excellent bon viveur en route. He was awarded the yellow jersey for the fattest fundraising balance on the last night. You could rely on Mick for a good chat in the saddle.
Dawn. An exceptional woman. Marathon runner par excellence. She’s run them here, she’s run them there. She’s run them dressed up as something else (tip – no pressure and a chance to stop and chat!). She has also taken part in the gruelling Comrades ultra-marathon in South Africa and lived to tell the tale. Apparently losing a toe-nail or two is par for the course… Dawn was always up for a chat (except when she got hungry), had the prettiest Italian turquoise bike and was Queen of the hills.
T. The angel with the hydration sachet and multiple facial piercings. She had a point to prove on this trip and the emotional baggage may have made heavier weather of it than she bargained for. The bike she had was probably tipping the scales too and there wasn’t an awful lot of her to get the monster up the inclines. Nonetheless she was often to be seen tearing off in front, equally well she might be found suffering with her knee at the back.
Prom Queen. This delightful girl was only 18!!! She had done a lot of her fundraising by asking guests at her 18th birthday party to donate to the charity rather than give her a present. She had (by her own admission) a crappy, old bike but for some reason (youth and enthusiasm and a strong faith in Jesus I guess) she was able to cut it day in, day out with nary a moan. I was well impressed. The likelihood of my two heiresses ever turning out like this is about 500/1 but a little bit of her altruism would probably see most of us alright.
The Couple. Early twenties, not entirely separate entities, except enforced on the last day. Nice but quite tight with each other and the other youngsters.
The Model. Also part of a couple (and probably not a model). I think she was a student maybe – I can’t remember so dazzled was I by her blondeness and long (half-marathon running) legs. Her OH was in Group 5, they seemed in love, so that was nice. I was bit worried by her telling me he was “passionate” about his job – in marketing… She reliably informed me that this was harder than half-marathon running. That’s good because that might be on my list.
Bit part players. The good thing about this enterprise was that you could change groups; move up if you were with the go-slows and move down if you were struggling. Some people seemed to be going through the groups like a dose of salts, so those that spent only half a day or so with Group 6 didn’t always register. These are the ones I remember. Two ladies in their 50s, one who had the same bike as me – that’s not really worth mentioning but it was notable to me. They were a drama teacher and a dance teacher. They had those lithe, sinewy bodies that cyclists have. One of them had cycled from Lands End to the Scottish place with her son for charity (camping). They moved up to Group 5 – impressive. A lady (also 50s) who had done a lot of cycling in Sweden, laying down the ks with her brother. She said it was pretty flat though. Lastly, but so not leastly, was E, a Big Issue Support Worker who was accompanying one of his clients. I cycled behind him in the morning of Day 3 and I could tell he was having back problems from the shifting and stretching in the saddle. He was then to suffer a further indignity and went back to Group 8 (7 having overtaken 6). He and his Big Issue vendor had bought their bikes from Tescos and got on with it. Good for them!
Those were the significant others on the trip and of course they made it what it was. There was one other person, who shall remain nameless, but I call her the Bad Fairy who was not in our group but was in the walking up hills group. She was known to us and we spent time with her at the hotels. Her unravelling may be listed under the casualities later…
It had turned out to be my mind over my matter (mainly thighs) thus far and so the theme continued on day 2. We assembled in the Premier or Travel Lodge car park at either 5 or 5.30 a.m. – a rag tag and motley crew waiting for roll call and to walk to the ferry. My mind had gotten me out of bed, my body would quite happily have still been snoring at this point. However, the recovery powers of the body were proving to be quite amazing. Although I was exhausted and not being asked to cycle yet, only shuffle seaward, I could sense my legs were in much better shape than 10 hours before – I think I may have thanked Jesus and all that is holy.
You may have noticed that aside from myself and 73 others my sister, Emily, was also in attendance at the start. She had also enaged upon the madcap scheme and we were now sharing each others pain and various double beds en route. She is not much of a morning person, neither am I, not much was said in the a.m. of day 2, apart from a bit of green-eyed verbal monster at the people innocently queueing for the ferry to start their holidays.
I had started reading “What I Talk About when I Talk About Running” by Haruki Murakami the day before. I knew nothing about the author and I had been looking for a book about cycling, but the cover appealed to me (as did the book’s slim profile). These are 10 things you need to know about him apparently, that I didn’t know at the time.
The bit I had read the night before had been profound. “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”. I was later to read that muscles are like dogs – inclined to indolence, you need to show them who’s boss, they might protest a bit before fairly quickly falling into line. All this was manna from heaven for me. Instead of retreating into my own private hell where my legs were dictating my mindset and I was struggling to redress the balance, I just took on this succinct thought. Of course there would be pain along the way but what I chose to make of that was up to me. Anything that mentions dogs helps too… It is true that muscles will just accept the demands placed on them if increased incrementally and with loving sterness. It was a metaphor I could work with.
http://www.exorcising-ghosts.co.uk/index.html – for more on Haruki Murakami and his books
We had an awfully rough crossing from Portsmouth on the gliding thing (was it a catamaran? I wasn’t paying attention). In my new-found zen state I shut my eyes and imagined I was a baby enjoying some violent, but loving, parental rocking. Despite the sounds (and smells) of vomiting all around I was not a bit seasick which is a first for me. It was actually quite enjoyable in a way. Once reunited with the bikes at Le Havre I put my saddle up an inch or so and it was a relief to get going. Every day before setting off I was gripped with anxiety in my stomach, fearful of what the day held. It was always better once we began. Maybe I should apply that to the rest of life!
Day 2 turned out to be mainly pleasant. We had some rain mid-afternoon and I hopped off and walked up the crest of a wet and slippery hill. We were seeing more of Groups 5 and 7, both lead by the eager rookie guides. Getting lost and technical issues seemed to be the reasons we “slow but steady” crew were bumping into the speedier merchants. So far we had had no punctures at all. A couple of chains had dropped off, mine included and usually on hills due to amateur spasms of gear-changing but more or less, so far so good. Apart from the regular interloper called cramp, some riders were complaining of saddle sores but I was pretty spot-on thankfully. With the rain though, came a wet derriere, swiftly followed by some ample chafing – a cyclist’s worst nightmare. By afternoon tea stop (huddled under a gazebo in the rain) the chafing was threatening to turn into something more substantial. That makes me think of James Cracknell et al in the Antarctic, frost nip can turn into frost bite and then things start dropping off! You get the picture.
Emily, having entertained a bit of this chafing upstart in training, had come well equipped with “Udder Cream” – moo. I having not had it before (like the cramp) had brought some Vaseline, but had foolishly left it packed in luggage and it wasn’t on the bike. Somehow I deduced that Emily had done the same with the Udder Cream and decided drastic action was needed if I was to avert a saddle sore disaster. I whipped out my Body Shop Vitamin E lip salve and applied it to a far larger surface area than its lipstick size is designed for. Obviously I didn’t do this in the tea tent, that would have been rude. Instead I had to hurry through the delicate process in the loo with a queue outside.
I felt immediate relief and was quite pleased with my make do and mend approach. I reported back to Emily and suggested she didn’t borrow the lip salve any time soon. It was only then she said the Udder Cream was on her bike all along! Too late, we had to set off. This cycling was paced, we were kept to the clock. No meandering about the lanes looking at stuff. No long leisurely lunch stops under the trees. It was all 5 minutes here and 1o minutes there and kick-on on the bikes to make the time. All this is inevitable if you have to cover a certain mileage in a day. What it means though is that although you were there, you never really feel like you were.
It’s less relaxing than driving although you are travelling more slowly (ok, perhaps not always). The concentration required to do about 12-15 miles an hour safely is considerable. You have to pay attention, not be too distracted by the sights around you. Be constantly alert to traffic, “car back” is a shout we heard hundreds of times over the three days. That said you can do things on a bike you can’t do when you are running. You can adjust your position, change your gear, have a drink, eat something, chat to your neighbour, free wheel and scandalously even enjoy the odd moment.
The moments I enjoyed looked very much like this.
Angels come in many guises, in this instance mine was a girl called T with a pierced face and armpits that would have seen her banned from Thorpe Park. She came bearing a rehydration sachet, something I thought maybe the medic I consulted would have had, but all he proffered was some Tiger Balm which I applied hopefully anyway. The rehydration sachet helped the cramp and nausea and, feeling shaky, I was able to set off with the group again after the-no-lunch-for-me stop. As far as I am concerned Haslemere is a pointless place. You have to go down hills to get into it and up very steep ones to climb out of it, unless you head straight down the high street back towards Guilford and kind of from whence you came.
We were warned by our group leader (aka crack Kiwi cyclist Graeme) that it was stiff climb straight out of town. He was not wrong. As Graeme said, he tells it like it is! By the time I had survived that in some shape or form I was feeling a bit better,but now worriting about the worst hill of the day still to come. I hadn’t realised, but Day 1 was the killer day. Not the furthest in miles, but the most climbing and the latest start in the morning which put us under pressure from the get go. Consequently the afternoon passed in a bit of a hungered light-headed daze. We passed through Rogate and Milland, places I have been before and then we went near Petersfield. The worst hill came around Petersfield, just before afternoon tea, the sweetener to get us up the bastard. It was at this point I discovered how little pride I had. Graeme had said to cycle to the bend to the right (about halfway up) and then get off and walk if we needed to. I didn’t even check if I needed to – I just hopped right off the minute I could and walked. The problem with walking is that your muscles are so tight from cycling that walking is uncomfortable and inefficient and brings little relief in the leg department. We didn’t walk all the way up, just a very steep section and then I think it was back on the bike, climbing still to tea.
I was still out of it and fortunately did not realise quite what a way we had left to go to Portsmouth. Maybe it wasn’t THAT far but the group’s pace really slowed down and although there was one nice spell (on the flat) through some scenic countryside the overriding memory of the afternoon was a long hot, drag into the stink pit that is the mouth of the port. We arrived about 6.30 p.m. relieved to have survived and never so glad to see some cheap transit hotel by the ferry terminal.
The only comfort to be taken was that the pushers of bikes up hills did not arrive until 8.30 that night. We were slow, I was knackered, my legs were ruined and I was worried about the next day but at least I had not spent as long on the road as Group 8 had!
This video by another group member is what I had to look forward to – but I didn’t know that yet. I went to bed worrying if I would even be able to cycle the next day and vowing to put my saddle up about an inch as I was sure that had contributed to the cramp making its inconvenient debut in my thighs
It felt during the spring as if I had devoted my life to some strange cult I knew nothing about. One where punctures were feared and carbon fibre revered. As an uninitiated member I was merely pedalling about in the vain hope of someday getting “it” – the “why” of why anyone would bother risking saddle sores and injury to whizz about the highways and byways of the countryside on two wheels. I barely enjoyed the training – pressures of a family and job and the need to cover enough miles without getting punctures with which I seemed to be plagued. I ruined my back for a while on a bike with a frame too big (which I have mentioned in the blog some months ago) and crashed to the ground outside my front door smashing up my knee on my brief experimentation with being “clipped in”. Actually I was “strapped in” and that, some may say, is not a bad place for me . I stressed about the fundraising and worried about the hills. In the end, I just got in my car (bike in boot) to spend the night in Twickenham before we set off with not so much as a “can do” attitude as a “let me just get this over with and get my life back!” approach. My rotten family didn’t even wave goodbye, so underwhelmed were they by my proposed endeavour! In Twickenham I lay awake in a borrowed bed listening to the rain in the early hours of Thursday morning before our 7.30 a.m. start utterly filled with dread. Cycling in the rain is do able, setting off in it is fearfully depressing.
Fortunately the rain had stopped by the start time (which was about 9.30 a.m.) after we had been corralled in a hall for the purposes of briefing for over an hour. What you don’t want before setting off on an epic bike ride is a bit of a conference type effort beforehand (with clapping) trussed up in your padded shorts. There were breakfasty bits to be had, but although the heart was willing, the stomach was weak. I saved a cereal bar for later – these are of course totally disgusting, but I soon learnt if eating whatever unpalatable thing is on offer makes the difference between your legs working or going on strike, then down the hatch it goes. Down my hatch went (in no particular order and over three days, not in one go):- bananas, chocolate biscuits, fig rolls, crisps, salted nuts, energy gels, cereal bars and boiled sweets which also helped regulate the gasping for breath up hills. Yeah, so maybe if you want to lose weight don’t think of doing it on a “randonee”.
Part of being trapped in the conference hall was so we (75) could be divided into ability based groups. This system was fairly unscientific based partly on the type of bike you rolled up with and what you had revealed to be your ability. Group 1 was the elite, down to Group 8 who turned out to be the “ones who walked up hills”. I was in 5 which seemed ok but actually it wasn’t. It was filled with young guns. I am more of an 18th century musket myself and although I could keep with their pace (just), the group leader was quite anxious it seemed to keep our position (it turned out to be his first gig) and by elevenses on the first day I asked to drop to Group 6 to save my sanity and preserve my body for medical science and more immediate future use.
I am not going to make any bones about this, the first day was all about me, me, me. So often in life I have issues with my mind messing with my body and by lunchtime on this first day of three the body was up in arms and messing with my mind. The first scenario I have had practice with but the second is completely new to me and I thought I might meltdown. It happened like this. If I say Surrey to you,what do you think of? I think Virginia Waters, rhodedendrons, stockbrokers and sandy soil. Now I just think hills. Nasty, vicious, unforgiving hills – all before lunch. Given that I hadn’t had a great deal of breakfast and that the youth of Group 5 had bustled me up for a couple of hours I wasn’t surprised I was suffering as we approached the lunch stop. I was shocked however that it seemed to take the form of really painful cramp in my legs (thighs to be precise and I believe the largest muscle in our bodies – cruelly two thighs – two biggest muscles to cramp). I have barely had cramp ever, certainly not in my thighs and it was kicking in with vengeance when we stopped and not before I had managed to start a full-on panic about what the hell was wrong with my legs. I queued for lunch but actually couldn’t eat as I was now on the verge of hurling. Shaky – tick, upset stomach – check, pain in legs – you bet. I didn’t cry but I sure as hell felt like it. I was in a bad place and it was called Haslemere, Surrey.