Saturday, 8 September 2018

Someone like me

What do you do when you've completed the hardest thing you've ever done? After cycling for 10 days out of 11, it's now been 3 whole days since I sat on a bike, which feels like a relief and a confusion all at the same time. Obviously far too early to plan and set new goals, but Cent Cols was by far the hardest and most amazing cycling trip I've ever been on.

It was indescribably hard. Fatigue like you can not imagine, waking up hungry at 3AM, and all kinds of aches and pains I'd never had before. I'm an average cyclist, and my talent is limited. But I was inspired and cheered by the comments and support of my fellow travellers, as well as the support from friends back home via social media. Together, they kept me going. Thank you.

It's pivotal too.

For almost every day I wondered how I was going to get up in the morning and ride my bike again, never mind over distances of 100 to 200 km, and 3-5000 metres of climbing. At the foot of the Port de Pailheres, in a raging thunderstorm, I despaired of finishing before dark. But I did. Bombing down 20km of mountain in the gloaming, lights flashing, and corners taken, hoping no animals were lurking around them.

If I can do all this, what else can I do?

In 2009 I came back from LEJOG, my first trip on a road bike really, and understood how I'd settled for a life of mediocrity. It begat changes that have meant a very different path to the one I was on.

Beyond the people, the stunning scenery and the cycling challenge, there is something else.
Image may contain: mountain, cloud, sky, nature and outdoor




Cycling up the Aubisque on Tuesday morning was a very deep spiritual experience for me. The visceral and emotional on the inside was reflected by the snaking upwards of the road and the soaring peaks of the mountains on the outside. Maybe it's epoxia, maybe I was just a little bit tired, but I don't think so.

Something has changed.

My friend Monmarduman (link to the right) has written an excellent piece on our trip. As I remind him, I am the fat one that makes him feel better about himself, and he was the most excellent companion anyone could hope for. A real Frodo to my Sam.



But in the middle of the night,  feeling those pangs of hunger matched by the anxiety of another impending day, when I turned to music, was it a coincidence that my most-played album was Songs of Experience? This was the song that kept me going.

I don't know what's next, cycling or otherwise. But there will be something. Until then, there's this.



Thursday, 23 August 2018

A dream that never fades

Mrs Mendip Rouleur has heard it all before. "This is the hardest thing I've ever done". It's a bit like the cycling version of The Boy who cried wolf.

But this time, I can categorically say it's true and not some type of Velominati-inspired excuses-in-early, throwaway phrase. I have prepared. I am not in the best shape ever, but I'm not in the worst either. I've been heavier  but I've been lighter.  But I know what is coming.

We had a nice family day today. To a place you'd not expect. In a bizarre way it was fun. And we talked about my apprehension. Because I know what is coming.

Friends, colleagues and casual acquaintances are probably bored rigid because when they ask, I tell them what is coming.

But also coming will be camaraderie. Fresh air. Mountains. Yes, lots of them. Noel, Bono, Edge, the other two, Natalie, Patty, MSP, Swill, Maria, Kirsty and all the rest of them.

I recently saw a picture of Cav and Bernie, back together again. I'll let you decide which is which. Maybe Charles and Sheridan is a better reflection.

Despite his protests about lack of training, he will be better than me. At cycling anyway. Neither of us, any of us, are getting any younger. Because we both know what is coming.



So will I complete this challenge? Is it even a challenge that matters? Will what is coming finish us?

I don't care. I just want to look at that deep blue sky, smell the mountain air, and come down those roads as fucking fast as I can. I know what's coming.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Everything you ever dreamed of

 A moral dilemma. Of the cycling variety. In 10 days time I'll be riding the Dartmoor Classic for the 8th time. Way back in 2010 when I first rode it took me 7 hours and 44 minutes, I was relatively new to sportives and road riding, so was fairly pleased. It's now the only sportive I ride, I prefer Audax to be honest, but the DC is a fabulous ride, run by great people, in countryside I consider to be my homeland.
 
Over the years my times got a bit better, and allowing for blips due to terrible weather & bad form, till in 2014 I did my best ever time of 7-09. I got a silver medal - wow! I know sportive medals mean jack, but still I was pleased, and I figured that as I was about to move into the 50+ age group in 2015, with more generous time allowances, the 6-48 required for a gold could be on in 2015.
 
Alas, bad weather again, and the after effects of a few long Audaxes, saw me slip to an old man's bronze. After a break in 2016, last year I came back with a 7-10. Although pleased I kind of gave up on the idea of ever attaining gold. To do so would require building the whole season around training specifically for it, and all that seriousness of peaking at the right time. I couldn't be bothered.
 
So this year when I entered I looked forward to simply a good day out on Dartmoor.
 
Today The DC organisers announced they have revised all the medal times. Upwards. Apparently they want the times to reflect a 33% split for each category, based on the times people have actually ridden over the last 6 years. Essentially serious riders no longer ride it and more people like me probably do.
 
The time now for a 50+ Gold medal is 7 hours and 14 minutes.
 
Now I know this devalues the award. I know sportive medals are meaningless. I know riding a bike for me works best when I am enjoying the carefree nature of the ride.
 
 
But what am I to do? Goals and targets are one thing, but does it matter?

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Seven things I want when I die

When I die I want the following at my funeral:

1. My West Ham shirt collection to be given away, one shirt to anyone who turns up, and worn throughout
2. My wife (if she survives me) or failing her then the most English person you can find, to read out, WB Yeats poem "Easter 1916"
3. Play this scene from my favourite film
4. A three-legged race knock-out competition.
5. As many people as possible to turn up on bikes
6. A complete play-through of Achtung Baby to play in the background of the wake
7. This clip to be played



Friday, 20 April 2018

George Clooney's blood vein with a baby swordfish

Sometimes you have to have something that's just for you. Wise words, and obviously not my own.

Most thoughts that I have, indeed most thoughts we all have, come from somewhere else, someone else. That doesn't make them any less true, convincing or relevant. Whatever your name is, there will be someone else called that. Google it, you'll see. I've not got that common a name, but there are about 10 of me in the world that I know about. Even if you had a thousand namesakes you are still you.

It's like that with thoughts. You just need to own them and be happy with them. Otherwise you'll turn into an anxious wreck. That's your truth. But don't try and tell me mine.

It's easy to get dragged into other people's versions of what you should or shouldn't be doing. There are a few eternal thought circles which I let turn in my head. Here's one. Should your football team play a system that suits the players you have, or should you pick players that fit into the system you want to play?

Here's another. Should you try and please people or not give a fuck? Which is right and which will make you happy? Please don't write in.

Then there's the endless "too fast for this lot, but too slow for that lot" conundrum. How to do groups when you don't really do groups. That's what makes being a football fan so good. You can stand in a stadium with 60,000 like-minded people, all rooting for the same team. But hate most of them.

So I've been thinking about the west coast. Not the one that everyone knows. And cycling of course, and how I want to approach it. The truth is, I've got sucked into other people's version of what is fun. And it isn't anymore. It's hard to explain without offending people.

I am planning on riding up a few hills in the late Summer. It's going to be hard, and I need to lose a bit of timber in the interim. So I'm doing my best to cut out the crappy food, do my HIIT sessions at the gym, and ride the heavy bikes now to build a bit of leg strength.

I'll also need to maintain my endurance, and ride up even more hills. But I also want it to be fun, social, coffee, chatting, etc. and that, for me means I can't do fast. Well, not the balls-out, testosterone-fuelled, macho stuff the group I ride with is morphing into. Sorry peeps, life too short for that for me.



You go your way, and I'll go mine. All that. I don't need to compete with you, jeez, I've stopped even competing with me. This is not about not being able to cut the mustard on a panel game. Or an elitist prank. Each to their own I say. But sometimes, you just have to find something that's just for you.

So should I do more riding on my own?


Probably not. Just ride some bumpy Audax, some hilly commutes and some social rides with like-minded people. It would be good to have you along if you fancy that kind of thing. Sometimes it will be the people, sometimes the system.

Like I say, sometimes you need something that's just for you.




Monday, 2 April 2018

Love has got to fight for its existence

Sometimes life is hard. But most of the time, for most of us, we all drift along on some kind of autopilot, and miss all the good things that are busy smacking us in the face. It's a theme I return to again, and again on these pages. Today is no exception, because as Richard Bach once said, and Bono copied, you tend to preach the things you most need to learn.

Easter is supposed to be about new life, new flowers and sunshine. Somehow that message hasn't quite made it into most of the weather department, because conditions here in the UK are still dreadful. Cold, wet, dark and potentially gloomy.


But this Easter has been one of the best I have ever had. On Friday, my wife and I enjoyed the delightful company of my sister, who is also a Sister in the NHS. An inspirational woman to so many people, whether she knows it or not.

On Saturday, I enjoyed a day out in London with my brother, a man so kind he was prepared to smile and be cheerful as my team spanked his team, and he sat and watched from amongst my tribe.





Then yesterday, the rain stopped for a few hours, Steve came out to play, and Alan gave generously of his company, coffee and cake to accompany me around an intriguing route in Somerset. We both enjoyed it so much more for the dry conditions, and had a little chuckle at the Rule fivers that had been out on previous days. No doubt they were watching the skies enviously from their family engagements, wishing they could have our weather.



We climbed Westbury quarry, descended Old Bristol Hill, took back ways to Bruton and enjoyed everything across the levels, including the coffee in Glastonbury. The pictures don't do it justice.




Meanwhile, far, far away, junior is enjoying himself, learning to be independent, and today, Mrs Mendip Rouleur and I are off for an exclusive day out of our own. It may be raining again, but I don't care as I'll be in a car and indoors, spending time with the one I love.

Maybe we all need to stop moaning.

Life my friends, is too short to waste. Am I boring you? Well you better get used to it, because I'm not going to stop.

Friday, 9 February 2018

Did Chris Froome cheat?

Asthma. A subject I'm reasonably familiar with as I have had the condition to varying degrees since I was a child. I can honestly say it's probably the only thing I would change about myself if I could.

Then there is Chris Froome, a subject I know little about, but in common with most armchair enthusiasts, it's not going to stop me having an opinion. I have admired his achievements but I'm not particularly a fan. He's too good, not enough frailty in a cycling sense, and lacks that approachability in his public persona for my taste.

I once saw him come past me at a frankly blistering pace atop the Port de Pailheres, on his way to winning the yellow jersey at Ax Trois Domaines, on a very hot day in  2013. He was so fast that I only caught his name from the typing on his jersey.




Of course, the asthma and Froome are now inextricably linked. I know that Salbutamol is often used as a masking agent for other performance-enhancing drugs, but I also know that if you have asthma it's nearly impossible to get an advantage over people who don't have it by taking more and more of the stuff.

Let me explain what Asthma is like. It's an autoimmune condition, meaning the body's own defences, designed to attack foreign invaders, actually attack the body itself, leading to a constriction of the airways in your lungs, a reduced lung capacity, and difficulty breathing. The allergic response can be triggered by foreign bodies, like dust, cat hair, or (in my case) a virus, like a cold or flu virus. Which is why I get a free flu jab on the NHS every year.

The allergic response is not consistent and can vary in intensity and duration. When I was a kid if I got a cold, I was bed-bound for a fortnight, as I could barely get enough oxygen into my lungs to walk to the end of the room. Every breath was a struggle. On a few occasions I have had to use the services of a nebuliser, a device where a mask is placed over your mouth and nose, and you inhale a gaseous form of salbutamol and steroids for a 10 minute period.

On quite a few occasions I have had to take oral steroids to cope with an attack, and on times too numerous to count I have had to resort to my blue reliever of Ventolin (the proprietary name for salbutamol). I also have an inhaler that pumps a little bit of steroid (50mg per puff) into my lungs. I'm supposed to take it every day, and when I do it does make a bit of difference. But I often forget, and I don't like taking drugs really, they remind me of my weakness.

Generally the fitter I am, the less severe the asthma. But if I put extreme stress on my body, it can trigger exercise-induced asthma. But no matter how fit I am, or how much sleep I have had, or how much weight I've lost, or how good my diet is, my lung capacity will never be as good as an equivalent specimen as me without asthma. Never. No matter what drugs I take.

So has Chris Froome been cheating? Of course it depends on how you define that. If he has been using salbutamol to mask other drug-taking then of course he has. Normally it would be easy, has he broken the rules? But because asthma is so complex, the rules around it are very ambiguous, shades of nuance on top of shades of grey, with multiple options. Which is why it is taking so long.

My gut feel is that he probably took too many puffs because he was gasping for breath. But that is a hypothesis with no evidence. Whatever the reality, we will probably never know and he will probably always protest innocence. But before you condemn him too harshly , try stuffing a few cotton wall balls in your mouth, wrap a towel over your mouth and nose and then cycle up a vey big hill in 30C heat. That's what asthma is like.