Friday, 30 September 2011

Perspective...

Father Ted: Now concentrate this time, Dougal. These
[he points to some plastic cows on the table]
Father Ted: are very small; those
[pointing at some cows out of the window]
Father Ted: are far away... 



(with acknowledgement to the writers)...


See, that's perspective. I've been thinking of it in a different way this week, and particularly yesterday. I spent the day helping to resolve an issue for someone else, and t'eldest daughter also spent her day doing something very similar, and the contrast between the inputs and outputs is too great to let go by uncommented on. 


To elaborate, without going into any of the gory detail, I'm currently the investigating manager in a case of alleged harassment at my employer. Whilst the alleged victim of that harassment has undoubtedly been affected by what's happened (regardless of what did actually happen and the reasons for it), the HR consultant handling the case and I have now between us spent at least 8 full working days, with probably the same again to come, working on this case. We're doing things properly, morally and technically, as indeed we should be. But at the end of the case the costs to the employer of the absence, the investigation, and the outcome will be substantial. I can't put a figure on it, but if I were to it would comfortably have five digits. 


T'eldest, meanwhile, this week started work as an advisor at Citizens' Advice (you don't do the Bureau bit these days). After one and a half days of training she was thrust into dealing with her first live cases, totally unaccompanied save for a panic button under the desk. She's allocated 20 minutes to deal with each client. Her first three cases were, respectively, someone whose soon-to-be-ex-wife is denying him access to their child, someone who's being denied their final month's pay by a rogue employer they resigned from, and a drug addict who'd had his benefits withdrawn and so hadn't eaten for 4 days. I've over-simplified those cases, but you get the idea.


I have no doubt that she dealt with them coolly and calmly, and by all accounts they went away happy. But these were people with serious life problems turning to the very last line of support (and possibly the only form of support) available, and getting 20 minutes of time. The contrast with the time and effort expended in my case on an essentially professional-based problem just seems extraordinary. And so, when I was bemoaning the fact I'd endured 6 hours of difficult interview yesterday, and no few tears (not mine I hasten to add), it was a reality check to listen to what Daughter 1 had been dealing with. (I'm very proud of this by the way).


Back to the banal - riding a bicycle. (That said, I do think if more people rode bicycles just for the hell of it there'd be fewer problems in the world - I've solved countless previously-intractable issues in the saddle). Only one outdoor ride this week, on Tuesday night, but I packed many, many hills into the 100 minutes I was out before darkness descended. Weird this week, by the way, having mega-temperatures into the evening but it still being dark by 7 pm; like being somewhere equatorial. I've felt a bit rubbish since actually - think I'm going to ease off the high intensity training for a bit after the end of next week, there's been too much for my poor old man's body this year.


It's the Cat & Fiddle Challenge on Sunday, not a long ride, nor indeed a particularly interesting one, but I'm going to do it anyway, and the first reports will be here.







Friday, 23 September 2011

Should I get a set of white wall tyres?

Too late, I already did, to use a modern idiom. Not sure they chime with the rest of the bike, and they almost certainly and depressingly break Rule 8 (http://www.velominati.com/blog/the-rules/ - I love this, as much a anything because I disagree with a fair few), but they are made by Vredestein, they were hideously expensive, and they will enable me to ride like cycling deity.

They have a minimum, yes read that again, minimum recommended pressure of 115 psi, so I've taken the back one up to 130 and the front one to 120. Haven't got the cojones to get anywhere near the maximum recommended number of 175. So tonight I've taken advantage of a fairly pleasant late summer evening, and tried them out on the hills of Macclesfield Forest. Unsurprisingly, imperfections in the road are transmitted through your body like you've just had 50,000 volts put through you, but the climbs were discernibly easier and the descents definitely scarier. Though having fairly worn brake blocks enriches that sensation. There may have been one or two whoops of delight tonight as I reached what felt like terminal velocity (Cern particle accelerator creating the fastest speed matter can travel on Earth? - Pah! - Middle aged bloke with no sense on a carbon bike on a forest road I say). No one was there to see it, it wasn't recorded for posterity, but at my advanced years it was still rock 'n' to me.

In case you think I've become a tyre geek, fear not, the subject ends there. I can definitely feel some flex in my wheels though, which might set me off talking about them. It's not new, but it does scream "wasted effort" at me. Time for bike wheel fantasising action methinks, and no little thigh rubbing to boot very possibly.

What else? Yes, this post is earlier than usual in my blogging week. I do hope to get some riding in this weekend, as well as tonight's ride, but I'm also helping my mother-in-law move house, which may curtail opportunities, will certainly be tiring, and may mean that whatever free time on Sunday is spent catching up with the men's World Championship Road Race in Denmark rather than with a pc. C'mon the Brits.

That'll do for now. I'll end with an apology; viz. for stealing a blogging device much beloved of a fellow blogger. To him, it won't happen again, just couldn't resist tonight. And no, I didn't cruise the miracle mile, I freewheeled it like a nutter.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Whither Monmarduman?

I don't want to get too self-contemplatory, but I need to decide over the next few weeks what happens to this blog. With all the events in its title complete, my options are stopping it altogether, renaming it, or keeping the title and just carrying on in much the same way as at present. That last option doesn't feel very viable however. Views from my small but beautiful readership base would be welcome. Particularly the Latvian section.

I can at least keep going with vaguely meaningful things for a few weeks yet. On 2 October I have the Cat & Fiddle Challenge, a 55 mile ride charity ride (for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust) starting and ending at the infamous (in the world of cycling) Brian Rourke cycle shop in Stoke. Sean Kelly's participating in that. And then a week later there's Wales' first closed road sportive, the appropriately-named Etape Cymru. Mendip Rouleur and (I think) the Cycling Mayor are coming up for that, which will be great.

Going back to the first paragraph, I can't see me doing any formal running events next year, or at least not to the extent they warrant an equal billing with cycling. I enjoyed them this year, but that itch has most definitely been scratched for the time being. My mind is already drifting to events in 2012 - what haven't I done before? What looks exciting / challenging? What would add to my palmares? What would I enjoy? What would motivate me to get better? I'm not going to be able to answer though questions definitively until a few other questions about work have been answered, but it's escapist fun to contemplate them in the meantime.

Anyway, as to this week's riding. Working backwards, a couple of highly disciplined, very intensive sessions on the trainer in the garage this weekend (yesterday because it was peeing down, today because my BH was finally getting its new bottom bracket fitted), hugely effective but fairly boring, a shorter leg-spinning session on Friday night, and I actually managed a road ride on Wednesday - two hours round one of my standard Cheshire lanes circuits. I can't think of a single notable thing about the ride other than nearly being unshipped from the saddle by a particularly vicious bump on the A50 near Knutsford.

Right, I'm off to look at my chopper. Or rather, Mrs K's Chopper. Mrs K's mother is moving house in 10 days' time, and we've been at hers sorting things out. As a result, there's an original but pretty decayed version of the Raleigh 1970s classic now in our garage. I hear they ebay for good money these days, so an assessment of just how much restoration work is needed is next on today's exciting agenda...

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Day 4 - Chambly to Paris, Paris to Lamballe, Lamballe to Ploeuc sur Lie

I'm beginning to bore myself now, so God knows I must be boring you. There will, therefore, be very little in this post about routes and the like, and more on reflections.

This was a day of three parts for me - bike, train, bike. Bike Part 1 was riding from Chambly into the centre of Paris. It turned out to be nearly 50 km. To summarise, first part much easier than expected, second part much tougher. Much tougher. I worked out at one point I was trying to do four things simultaneously: navigate, keep an eye on the road surfaces (which weren't up to the usual French standard, perhaps unsurprisingly), ride deliberately defensively to minimise the chances of getting knocked off by the bonkers Parisian drivers, and keep a group of mixed abilities together. My little brain was frazzled by the time we reached Arc de Triomphe. And then, having spent all morning successfully stopping any incidents occurring, what do my three fellow riders decide to do? Ride a lap of the Arc de Triomphe / Place de Charles de Gaulle (whichever is the more accurate), that's all. It's hard enough to drive round it - and I've done that several times - but cycle with panniers? Bonkers. This was one particular test of macho-dom that I didn't feel compelled to join in, much like, for example, how many pints of beer you can drink in 20 minutes. It proves nothing other than you're an idiot.

So I calmly walked round to the top of the Champs Elysee, for obligatory further photo-opportunities. We did have one casualty of the Arc madness - Dylan's sunglasses, which came off his head half way round and were soon in a squillion pieces, crushed by a hundred tyres. Personally, I still think they had a lucky escape (the riders not the sunglasses that is).

My train left Paris a couple of hours before the others left on Eurostar, so we rode down the Champs Elysee, crossing the Place de la Concorde, and down to Gare de Montparnasse. It's often-said, but chapeau to the pros for what they do on the final day of the Tour de France - the Champs is steep and its cobbles rough; I really wouldn't fancy racing round that for an hour or so.

I managed a quick celebratory glass of champagne with the boys at a delightful little restaurant at Montparnasse, and then it was onto the TGV for a couple of hours to Rennes, and from there a few stops to Lamballe, the nearest station to our house in Brittany. The TGV journey was remarkable only for the facts that I had an entire compartment to myself and my bike, which felt incredibly restful and rejuvenating after the previous days of activity, and that the train conductor was a track cyclist who rode for France in the 1996 Olympics. He also knew the small town near our house, so we had a lovely little mixed-language chat. He was a genuinely Nice Bloke.

From Lamballe came Bike Part 2 for the day, the 40 km ride from Lamballe to Ploeuc. I'd envisaged this being a lovely little warm-down ride through bucolic Breton surroundings, liberated from the responsibility of being part of a group. It turned out to be not quite like that - it was certainly bucolic, but another headwind, and failure to refill my water bottle at any point in the afternoon meant it was damned hard work, 90 minutes of damned hard work in fact. My compensations were rich however - Mrs K knows my post-match routine very well by now, and had laid out for me, bless her, in order, a chilled For Goodness Shakes, a cold beer, smoked salmon blinis, a hot bath, sausage and lentil stew, and a nice Merlot. My contentment knew no bounds.

So 12 days on from finishing the ride, reflections. Well, overall it was great. Seeing new places, riding both intimately in a group but also doing extended stretches alone, the craic associated with reflecting on the day's events, the re-discovery of the immature humour that can be derived from near-constant belching and farting (it's not a sad man-thing dear reader, just the effect that a carb-rich diet and extended periods of exercise have on the gut), and the slightly pious knowledge that what you're doing has helped raise a few quid, which in turn might make a few lives better, all combine to make it an event that really imprints itself on your stock of stored and shared experiences.

What else - well, if I were to do something similar again I might go to even more trouble with the ground rules than I did this time. Groups almost inevitably proceed at different speeds, and a greater understanding how that would be managed out on the road would probably prevent frustrations arising throughout the group. Either that or make sure everyone's evenly matched, but that can be tricky to achieve. Also, when choosing places to stop for the night, don't disregard how you're going to feed yourselves. What I mean by that is check out where the hotel, B&B, whatever, is in relation to the nearest town, restaurant etc. Having nowhere to eat nearby can be a real balls-ache. Another lesson learned is really confirmation of something that worked well this time - route planning. Whether you use maps, GPSs or route sheets out on the road, they're only as good as the effort that has gone into planning the route in the first place, and ours worked well I thought - plenty of back roads, particularly in France, but not so many that navigation became a faff.

The over-riding feeling I'm left with, even two weeks on, is that of an appetite whetted. I've decided that I love touring, just like I love blasting up and down mountains, and I'd love to take to the bike for a full fortnight or more, but possibly averaging fewer miles each day, giving more time to stop off at places and really enjoy them. I'd like to think I won't have to wait till I'm retired to do that, but who knows? In the meantime, normal service will resume on here, but I also need to think about where this blog is going to go now that the Monster, the Marathon, the Duathlon and La Manche have all been completed.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Day 3 - Abbeville to Chambly

Time to fess up. This was the morning I got frustrated with a lack of progress, and it really was my problem and not that of the team. I was ready to start riding at 8.30, kitted up and raring to go. By the time two of the party had returned from a mission to find fuel for the day (fearing a dearth of restocking opportunities in rural France on a Sunday - not wholly unreasonable), it was 8.55. Then Andy had a puncture and we paused to let him re-join the group. Then he had another puncture, and there was no way I was going to let him go further without a spare tube, so I waited again. By 11.20 I had been available for cycling activity for nearly 3 hours, and done precisely 65 minutes of pedal-turning.

The day felt materially different to Day 2 in many other ways too. We were riding through the south of the Somme area, obviously most renowned for its bloody battles of the First World War. That knowledge obviously brings some sobriety to the riding, but the nature of the landscape reinforced that feeling - it was sparce, open, much harder countryside than the previous day. It was also cloudy, though still quite warm, again helping to create an entirely different feel.

We searched in vain for somewhere to have lunch, and ended up spending the early afternoon battling a headwind on a 7 km slight uphill drag in some very exposed countryside. Clouds were gathering ominously too, and as they began to disgorge their contents I arrived with judicious timing in a village called Le Crocq. Now it just so happened that was the day of Le Crocq's annual fete, which meant - this being France - there was a local 'character' on the main street with a microphone giving a running commentary on the event's animations, which included a strong man competition, lots of brocante, and vast quantities of food and drink. By the time Dylan and Neil arrived I'd decided that some of the local cider would make an ideal stiffener for the rest of the day's ride, and they were happy to join me. A few cartons of chips went down well too, eaten whilst we sheltered from the downpour.

After half an hour there was still no sign of Andy, so I sent the other two on their way. It turned out that Andy had been on the same nightmarish piece of road as we had, and had decided when the heavens opened that this was what constituted cycling hell. In his own words, it was at that moment that God said, "Nah, this is cycling hell son", followed by the unmistakeable sound of a tyre deflating. Yes, it was his third p***ture of the day, and he had to change it on a remote French road in the pouring rain. Man up I say, it could have been at night.

The rest of the cycling day was fairly forgettable, apart from the moment when I suddenly realised only 10 km from our destination that our chosen route was about to take us on to a motorway - the 110 km/h speed limit signs gave it away. A hurriedly replanned route was chosen and communicated to Andy. It was eventually 7.15 by the time we'd located the hotel, worked out how to open the front gate, checked into smoking rooms as those were the only ones they'd let us keep our bikes in, and begun to dry out our wet clothes. Spirits weren't high, particularly when it became clear that if we wanted our food tonight we had no choice but to get back on our bikes.

Initial investigations of Chambly, a dormitory town of Paris, didn't do much to raise spirits either - it was perfectly pleasant, but something of a restaurant desert. Our only option was ordering pizzas from a predominantly takeaway place, so we were reduced to pushing together a couple of metal tables and waiting. We made up for it however with sheer weight of pizza - we got through two mega pizzas, which we measured at just under a metre in diameter (each), plus one large one at a disappointing 40 cm. A couple of beers at a nearby bar preceded a hideously dangerous ride back to the hotel - we misjudged the route, and ended up doing a km on the same stretch of motorway avoided earlier.  Oops.

So, a mixed day, but we were now only 40 km from the centre of Paris...

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Day 2 - Coquelles to Abbeville

As close to the perfect day touring as you're ever going to get this one.

Having breakfasted like kings on our 3.90€ Formule Une special (muesli, orange juice, coffee, apple puree, unlimited French bread, marmalade and Nutella - what more do you need?) we hit the route south. A gorgeous late summer warmth greeted us. The first few km's were Quite Interesting (at least to someone with a passing interest in trains, which I'm duty-bound to have, originating from Crewe), taking us over and around the Eurotunnel freight terminal, but it was soon on to the open roads of the Pas de Calais. If I say so myself, the hours spent route planning paid dividends today - for the most part we were on lovely, smooth, quiet back roads. At one point only about 10 km south of Coquelles the road was closed for a stretch for resurfacing, but in the absence of any actual road improvement activity we rode down it anyway, giving us chance to pedal along side-by-side in a cycling version of the Reservoir Dogs famous sequence. There was one period just after that when I was bowling along on my own through the lovely agricultural landscape, alone but for my thoughts, enjoying the motion of the bike and the heat of the sun, when I really did wonder whether it was possible to be more contented. Sorry to come over a bit bathetic, but it was that good. 

A late morning coffee at Desvres was notable only for the fact that it was served to us by a scraggy 60 year old man wearing Kevin Keegan-style 1970s football shorts and a stained white vest that looked as though it had been on his back since the 1970s. Nice. The coffee was disappointing too by continental standards. We continued.

Now, the back roads made for great cycling, but they also bypassed anywhere that could sell us anything by way of lunch, or indeed water. By now the temperature had risen steadily, and it peaked at 33c mid-afternoon. I rode from Coquelles to Hesdin (about 80 km) on 750 ml of water - just not enough under the circumstances. When I arrived in Hesdin, avoiding the manic wedding party hurtling round town in convoy, horns a-blaring, as is customary in France, I downed 850 ml of Yop yoghurt drink, a can of coke and 500 ml in water in 15 mins. I then felt quite ill as it coagulated, separated and was digested. The other 3 weren't as lucky as me, in that they were so warm they were reduced in one case to knocking on doors for water, the other two making use of a standpipe on a campsite. To be fair, we did ride through an area known as "The Seven Valleys" (translated of course), and those valleys were traversed individually. They weren't astonishingly difficult, but with the heat and full panniers they were sapping.

I got the benefit of an hour and a quarter in Hesdin as we re-grouped, refreshed and redoubled our resolve. The time in the shade was welcome. The sector from Hesdin to Abbeville was on a slightly busier road, and it was head down and just get on it with riding for the final couple of hours, but the effort was worth it. Approaching Abbeville from the north you're afforded the most wonderful and dramatic view of its cathedral's twin steeples. Our F1 hotel for that night was on the far side of town, so we also had a cooling descent as we rode through the town.

Our evening meal was probably the most satisfactory of the trip. We were too far from the centre to walk in (and not all the party could face hopping back on their bikes), so we missed out on the characterful backstreet bistro we'd envisaged, but we did get the choice of plenty of chain restaurants. I was dying to try the Buffalo Grill, but in due deference to the vegetarian in the party we ended up somewhere more able to accommodate his needs. It was good too, my highlight being my pudding - tarte tatin flambeed with calvados. Whilst we were stuffing ourselves at the back of the restaurant we began to wonder what the flashing lights were outside. Great crashes of thunder alerted us to the possibility that it might be a touch damp. And so it proved. We lingered hopefully with coffee, dragged our feet asking for the bill, went to the loo several times, all waiting for the rain to abate, but it never did, leading to Abbeville being treated to the sight of four Brits running dementedly across a retail park back to their hotel, one of whom (me) stripped to the waist for a bit in the vain hope that I could keep my t-shirt dry that way. Epic fail. A good night though. And a good day. It alone made the effort and planning worthwhile.




Wednesday, 14 September 2011

La Manche - Part 1

I had toyed with the idea of writing a single post covering the whole of the London to Paris trip, but on reflection I think there's simply too much to cover over the 4 days, so I'll divide it up and do it a little at a time.  It'll also - I'm afraid - be in diary format, but with only a couple of sportives left this year there won't be too many more examples of that.

So, the trip started for me at 1.15 pm on Thursday 1st September, when I locked the front door, and set off on my fully-laden bike (rear panniers anyway) to Macclesfield railway station. Apart from the absence of Mendip Rouleur, it was hugely reminiscent of the start of the journey to Cornwall to start Land's End to John O'Groats two-and-a-bit years ago, the same kind of sunny, breezy day, and huge sense of anticipation.  The journey to London passed in a flash as it tends to on the Pendolinos, and then it was the ride from Euston to the Novotel at Waterloo. Oh my goodness. Even taking things extremely steadily it was the scariest few miles I've covered for a long time, and I include descending mountains in the Pyrenees in wet weather in that. Other cyclists, mopeds, white van men and women, and bus/cycle lanes that stop abruptly leading to left turns that simply invite motorists to cut across your path - they all contributed to a really tough little journey. Talk about needing to have eyes in the back of your head. I was mighty relieved to get to the hotel.

The 4 of us doing the ride rendezvous-ed over the course of the evening, and shared the inevitable Italian meal (carbs and beer).  The roll call besides myself was Neil (riding for Save The Children, recently of Lloyds but now of Dell), Andy (also Save The Children, Lloyds) and Dylan (riding for Help For Heroes, works for Computacenter). We'd previously agreed to a 7.30 am photocall at Lloyds' head office on the morning of Friday 2nd, so that meant an alarm call at 5.45 am. That's not right on your holiday. We eschewed the £15.65 continental breakfast option at the Novotel in favour of a backstreet caff (almond croissant and cappuccino in my case, £2.40, bargain). We ate outside, a delightful Polish waitress taking the first of many team pics.  It was a lovely morning, and choosing that option rather than the hotel for breakfast added a je ne sais quoi. Which was just as well as we were en route to France, needing some savoir-faire to negotiate the London traffic, and requiring more than a soupcon of courage. That's right, Franglais took hold early on in the group.

The photocall at Gresham Street marked the start of a few inglorious episodes for your writer. First, I managed to fall off my bike directly under the Lloyds sign that is always shown when there's a news item on the organisation.  Not sure how I did it, but there was no real damage done, other than to my dignity. Second, and no more than 10 minutes later, crossing the busy Bank junction I passed an amber light (it really was, not red) without realising how far it was across to the other side, and consequently garnered a whole load of abuse from a motorcycle courier and a lorry driver for delaying them by, well, it must have been nearly as much as 2 seconds. Third, having carefully plotted a route down Borough High Street, we found it was then closed, meaning we had to walk with our bikes down crowded pavements for half a mile. It was now nearly 2 hours since we'd gathered at the hotel reception, and we were still in central London.

The rest of the route out of London was fairly straightforward however.  Busy, but straightforward. Bermondsey, New Cross, Blackheath, Welling, Dartford, south to the A20 was the chosen path, and a hell of a lot easier than navigating into Paris. But that's a blog for a different day. There's not too much to recount about the actual ride itself. Neither Maidstone nor Ashford were entirely without incident as far as staying on the right road was concerned, but I prefer to put that down to the fact that signs for the A20 disappeared temporarily in each, rather than any failings on my part. Greggs (the bakers) did good business in Ashford as far as luncheon arrangements were concerned for some of the party (though I preferred M&S, putting in another sterling performance by having to call Dylan from the till to get him to bring my wallet).

Stopping briefly just before Hythe for a photo-op (and why wouldn't you when the place is called Pedlinge; ok it's probably pronounced with 'j' sound at the end rather than a 'g', but a judicious hand over the 'e' on the sign took care of that problem), we ran along the coast to Folkestone. Till then it had been a sunny and pleasant day, but the haar and fret were rolling in mightily, and visibility became practically zero for a while (slightly bizarre on a summer's afternoon, but I guess it's a regular occurrence around the coasts). The single most testing, ie steepest, climb of the entire ride was encountered between Folkestone and Dover, and a proper legwarmer it was too, necessitating a bit of shank's pony for my fellow travellers.

Now, the entrance to the port, queuing up on our bikes alongside the cars, lorries and motorbikes, and then riding up the ramps actually on to the ferry itself had been the single part of the journey I'd been looking forward to the most.  I've seen plenty of other cyclists at other ports do it, and frankly, been very jealous. A car is very practical, functional and sensible, but it doesn't imply free-spiritedness, or some sense of being an adventurer, a pioneer even, someone not bound by convention. To me, if no-one else, it just looks so damn cool. In the event, I was pretty disappointed. Dover itself is a pretty grotty place these days, the port reflects that, check-in was in a grim shed where the truckers present their paperwork, and the ride onto the boat didn't have an audience. I was pretty tired after the early start and navigating down some busy roads to get there, and that might explain things a little, but really, it wasn't the experience I was hoping for.

Onboard it wasn't a lot better. I've probably been spoiled by Brittany Ferries on the crossings to France, which run excellent, clean, comfortable ferries that feel like the seafaring equivalent of travelling business class. P&O to Calais is more like Easyjet. They're not as bad as Ryanair though, and to be fair, the vast quantities of fish and chips we consumed in the restaurant were perfectly palatable. The food of the gods didn't really revive me however,  and I was more tired on that ferry than at any other point on the entire trip.

I was a bit worried about the final bit of navigation for the day, the - as it turned out - 10 km to the hotel in Coquelles. It was dark, we were tired, we weren't quite sure which part of the vast ferry terminal we were exiting, so orienting ourselves wasn't easy, but to my very pleasant surprise we made it to the hotel without a single wrong turn. Better than that, the air was warm, the roads were smooth, we rode well as a group, and the bit of Calais we saw looked surprisingly salubrious - though maybe Dover has lowered my expectations. The mood felt almost ecstatic by the time we arrived at our luxurious garrison for the night - the Formule 1 hotel at Coquelles. I shall ruminate further on the joys of the Formule 1 in a later post. Anyway, that was Day 1 done - the longest, hardest, and most particulate-inhaling of the four, but then, you didn't expect anything else when it was a day spent on British roads did you?

Thursday, 1 September 2011

When routine bites hard, and ambitions are low...

These were my thoughts on Sunday when I got out of bed.  I could hardly be bothered to go to breakfast, let alone go bike riding.  MR wasn't on top form either.  But we were there, in the Pyrenees, the sun was shining, and we were going home the day after. It had to be done. So of course we went, just as I shall hop on the bike this Sunday morning too in Abbeville when, in all likelihood according to the forecast, it'll be raining and miserable. You do it because there's no alternative your conscience can live with. And it's nearly always worth it. Last Sunday the weather was glorious, the climbing serene and the descents exciting. This Sunday - with a bit of luck - even if we get a bit wet, the showers after will be that little bit more rewarding, the bonds forged on the road that little bit stronger. Deliberately seeking difficulty and discomfort is, in my opinion, a little perverse, but deciding to do something worthy or interesting or challenging, and then keeping going when it gets a bit tough - the payback nearly always outweighs the inconvenience.  It's sometimes tricky to remember that when you're frozen to the bone and something's hurting, but that doesn't make it any less true.

We stayed with a company called Pyractif, whose base (complete with workshop and cycling memorabilia on  every wall), location, catering, advice and general set-up were all superb. To anyone planning a cycling break in the Pyrenees, look no further.  Slightly bizarrely, we established that a) the owner (Chris) was once the trainer on a course attended by my sister in 1992 when both he and she worked for Lloyds Bank, and b) the young whippersnapper (a fellow guest) sitting opposite us at dinner the first night was, despite his initial diffidence, an MSP (Member of the Scottish Parliament), a Conservative one no less (1 of only 15), and in the face of his denials, a putative leader of the Scottish Tories. He's 35, and is training to run a sub-3:30 marathon as well as doing mad cycling. I suspect he has more ambition in his little finger than many of us have in the rest of our personage. Going back to Pyractif, special mention for Pete, who not only gave us sound route advice, but also encouraged, cajoled and praised our efforts, and bore three nights of cycling chat round the table with good humour.

Thanks to Mendip Rouleur too, who did the vast bulk of the organisation of the trip, which all went like clockwork. We sometimes bicker away with each other, but I reckon that's the sign of true friendship. Riding with him is a pleasure too - we don't always go at the same speed, but his pace and riding are predictable. I like that.

Focus turns now to the London to Paris charity bike ride, which starts for me in just over 4 hours time when I shall board a train to London with a fully laden touring bike.  The ride-proper starts at 7 am tomorrow, when we shall leave the Novotel at Waterloo for a photocall in Gresham Street, prior to making our way down to Dover. We're spending Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights in the less-than-glamorous surroundings of Formule Une hotels (they make Travelodges look like the Ritz), in Coquelles, Abbeville and Chambly respectively, before riding the last 30 miles into Paris on Monday morning.  From there my fellow 3 riders come back to the UK, whilst I hop on a TGV to Rennes, then on Lamballe, and the 20 mile ride home (French home, never tire of writing that!) from there. So, there'll be a break of a couple of weeks now, with a full account of La Manche ride - the final one of the 4 events in the title of this blog - to come after that. The weather forecast - as hinted at above - doesn't look brilliant, but hey ho, what can we do but get on with it. We've collectively raised £2500 or so for Save The Children and Help For Heroes, and when we are wet and uncomfortable we'll be reminding ourselves that our discomfort is as nothing compared to the beneficiaries of those worthy charities. A bientot, mes amis!
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