Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The undead... what I be dressed as this time tomorrow night, the first night, party night, fancy dress night, at Hard Rock Hell V.  Me and Mrs Monmarduman will be dressed as a zombie bridegroom and bride respectively, and no little trouble we've taken over our outfits I can tell you, even down to drying flowers so that our posy/buttonhole both look dead too.

(Note to potential burglars: the mother-in-law and guard cat [not sure which is the more ferocious] are here all weekend, so don't even think of breaking in - you'll be soap opera-ed and purred to within an inch of your life).

I'm also blogging now as a) there won't be a ride or other athletic activity to blog about this week, and b) I suspect I might be spending Sunday in the recovery position. Actually, there was supposed to be a ride this weekend, as my riding buddy Conrad lives but a couple of Cav sprints away from the very glamorous venue of HRH V (Pontins, Prestatyn), and we were going to have a trundle round Welsh lanes on Saturday afternoon. However, he yesterday acquired two reasons to not ride this weekend: a) a bruising encounter with an idiot pedestrian in London has left him a bit winded, and b) in any case, his doctor has advised him to have a few days out of the saddle to allow some infection in his - ahem - gentlemen's area to clear up a bit. I fear he's got the same issue as a certain Belgian fellow:

So, no riding at all it is. There may be a short run along the seafront between Prestatyn and Rhyl on Friday afternoon (there's only so much rock 'n' roll I can take before sundown), but that's my lot. So this is both mid-week, and short and sweet(ish). We'll finish with some profound rock philosophy:

God gave rock and roll to you, gave rock and roll to you 
Put it in the soul of everyone


Sunday, 27 November 2011

My God, what have I done?

I've been swithering, as our Caledonian friends say, over the last couple of weeks, about whether or not to commit to the "Pro-strength" Coast-to-Coast ride in the Pyrenees at the end of August next year.  But yesterday, I committed to it.

This is quite significant, because it's a heavy duty ride, which means being fit, light and trained, which means finding plenty of time and discipline. I've done that plenty of times before, but I don't think I've ever been as uncertain as I am currently about what the future 12 months might hold professionally. Here is not the place to go into that detail, but I feel like I've taken a pretty big leap of faith. In the end, it was a conversation with Mendip Rouleur yesterday that convinced me. By the way, he does the most marvellous blog dahling, you should check it out:

I'll no doubt write more about the 2012 Pyrenean ride over the coming months. As I say, it's a tough old challenge, but when you're getting mid- to late-40s, these challenges begin to feel like once in a lifetime opportunities.

In the absence of a meaningful ride this week, the rest of today's post is a pot pourri of items:

- I did go for a short ride this morning, but what I thought was a benign breeze was actually a gruesome gale, and cold too, so I didn't linger out there, and was soon back with a copy of the Telegraph to warm my toes. It's the best thing to do with it. You know what I mean. Though it reminds me of the very old joke that 8 out of 10 bishops use fountain pens to sign their names. "Really, what do the other 2 do with them?"

- I did a bike-related job I was moderately pleased with myself about yesterday. I ordered a new tyre earlier in the week to replace the one that inconsiderately blew up on the Etape Cymru, and being both new and of the folding variety I anticipated a challenge to fit it onto the bike wheel, and possibly even a trip to Dave & Dave at the LBS. But no - armed with patience and persistence, I got the thing on in about 15 minutes without too much struggling, which meant that BH got a runout this morning. Which reminds me, I need to go and clean the thing

- Mrs Monmarduman has started the annual Kinsey Kristmas Trees business this weekend, which means that for the next 20-odd days there'll be pine needles everywhere as we flog them to friends, family and other unsuspecting innocents (joke - they are genuinely good trees at reasonable prices). The only relevance of this to my cycling is that they're kept in the garage when they're not on sale, resulting in turbo trainer sessions feeling like they're being undertaken in a Norwegian forest. (Next joke - I wanted to go on holiday to Norway last year, but I couldn't a-fyord it).

- and finally, and a bit crossly, I read this morning that my employer is planning on buying out a target Finance Director of his employment contract elsewhere to join our company. For a ridiculous amount of money. And this only a little over a year we did the same for a CEO, who's now off on long term sick (as it would be termed if he were part of the employed hoi polloi), because he couldn't cope with self-made demands. Why? When will we learn that an organisation's ills are not cured by the hire of the latest Great Panjandrum, but by the hundreds, nay thousands, of other folk who want to do the right thing if only they could, and who resent the imposition of mercenary hired hands? Particularly when it contributes to growing income inequality in society, a pernicious and corrosive influence. Grrr indeed.

So, we've had laughter and politics today. Or maybe that's tumbleweed and prejudice. Either way, time to depart.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Sesquipadalian inadequacies

There must be a word for people like me. Wait, not that one, you've called me that one before. No, were I better read, or blessed with a vocabulary of Stephen Fry-like voluminosity, or both, I would clearly know a multi-syllabled word that captured one of my many failings.

You see, I went out for a bike ride this morning. A perfect ordinary bike ride as it happened - a nice loop round the Cheshire Plain on back roads that I've learned and now love, 52 miles of bimbling, the highlight being a still and autumnal Tatton Park - but one that left me mournful and nostalgic for the good old days when I started cycling. I got out soon after 8, and for the first hour and a half, it was lovely; little traffic and precious few cyclists. But then, omg, wtf, etc, there were cyclists everywhere. I hadn't got caught up in an event, there weren't masses of them together on a club run, there were just dozens and dozens of them around every corner, waiting at every junction, coming in the opposite direction.

So what's the problem? This - cycling is my secret, and only a few other people are allowed to do it. Where's the fun if every other bugger under the sun is doing it too? The irony is that when I started cycling back at the end of 2002/start of start 2003 it was still a relatively minority activity, and I evangelised about its merits. You misunderstood people - just because I was evangelising about it I didn't want you to actually go and do it as well.

I completely realise of course that this is wholly unreasonable and not an attractive characteristic. It first manifested itself at school, where I'd read the music press and listen to night-time Radio 1 in the hope of picking up on slightly out-of-the-mainstream songs that I really liked. I'd then bore my mates senseless with the merits of said song, unless and until it (as a few did) made the charts. At that point it wasn't my little secret any more, and I'd feign disinterest in its fortunes.

To be fair, I'm not indifferent to the fortunes of cycling, it's just that the cliché about it being the new golf felt as though they were being borne out during my ride this morning - there were mates having chats, husbands and wives together (other partnership arrangements are available), people with flat-barred bikes, people with shorts on (on a clearly inappropriate day for it, leading me to conclude they'd spent upwards of a grand on the bike but not £30 on legwarmers/tights), and naturally some Pinarellos - all wholly unacceptable activity. I say again, I know this is my problem not theirs, but where's their connection to the grassroots? Where have they served their cycling apprenticeship? Heaven forfend, they might even see me and think I'm one of them!

I didn't start riding because it was a minority, slightly underground activity (clearly not literally, though I bet the massive salt mines near here that provide a high proportion of the stuff spread on our roads every winter are a great riding environment)), but it was like getting a plate of chips with a salad - a welcome sidedish. I've never played a round of golf because I hate the accompanying culture (at least in England; in Scotland it seems to have avoided all associations with class and social climbing), and I just don't want cycling to gather around it a similar culture. That's the serious point of this, and the only one I can come up with that even partly justifies my feelings.

Now back to the only thesaurus to find that elusive adjective.....

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Eureka! 210 Audax

I decided pretty late to give this audax (Latin for 'bold' btw) a go, and I was mightily rewarded; it was a really good day. Some of the fears in my last post were realised, and some of the survival strategies not followed as closely as they should have been, but I made it round - 136 miles in 7 hrs 57 mins of cycling, and 800 metres of climbing.

Route first - basically a big anti-clockwise circuit of Cheshire, taking in Manchester airport, along the north of the county to the Wirral, the unattractive west side of Chester, into Wales down to Bangor on Dee, then back via the castles of Beeston and Peckforton, to the middle of Cheshire, Jodrell Bank and so on, and back to Cheadle. The true genius of this ride, however, is that where others choose the hills and build the route around getting from one to the other, this ride (and indeed many audaxes) puts quiet country lanes at the top of the 'must do' list, meaning we did a circuit of Cheshire on a busy sunny Sunday, and saw almost no traffic. As I say, genius. Hours of planning goes into these routes.

Best laugh of the day was when we were all still riding as a group (60 of us; no more entries were allowed as that strains the soup rations at the end!), and the traditional cyclists' cry of "car back" went up, to signify a motorist wanting to get past. It turned out not to be a car but a Boeing 737 taking off from Manchester airport, naturally leading to one wag at the back revising the cry to "plane back". I know, hysterical in the re-telling isn't it?

Anyway, as I always seem to I got in a fast group early on and had to do the "shall I stay with these and wheel suck at a pace slightly faster than I'm comfortable with, or drop back and plough my own furrow?" calculation. Reader, I chose to stay with the fast group you won't be surprised to learn. We stopped at 112 km, which we covered at average of just under 20 mph. I was shattered, even after chocolate and coke - I guess 5 weeks off the bike takes its toll.

So I was faced with no choice but to bimble my way round the second half of the ride, which turned out to be a very good move. I had a lovely chat with Peter from Rochdale who'd ridden to, and was riding back from the event. That was going to be 175 miles in the day for him, and a club from near Sheffield were going to up that total further by also riding to and from HQ at Cheadle. Proper, proper bike riders, and yes, there was a fair smattering of female riders amongst the 60.

The last hour or so was in the dark, and whilst my lights lit up the road ahead beautifully, I discovered the need for a headtorch to be able to read route instructions on future winter / night time events.

Finally, we knew in advance that when we got back to HQ the usual village hall wouldn't be available because of a booking cock-up. Instead, one of the organisers had a lorry-based horsebox out of which he was serving tea, coffee, soup and rolls, so at 530 on a dark winter Sunday afternoon there was the slightly odd experience of sitting on plastic garden chairs eating chunky vegetable soup served from a horsebox in an urban car park talking about cycling and its place in the modern capitalist society. You don't get that on a dirty sportive.

And really finally, the 'controllers', as those who organise audaxes are known, were going to be in that car park until 10 pm if necessary waiting for the stragglers to come on. That's true dedication, and for that big thanks are owed.

Looking forward to next month's Winter Solstice 200 now.....

Friday, 11 November 2011

Mission: Improbable

I don't normally talk about domestic rides too much before I do them, but I'm making a slight exception here. I haven't ridden my bike, any bike, since 9th October with its (for me) abortive Etape Cymru. However, on Sunday I'm going to attempt to ride a 210km Audax (the "Eureka! 210" - named after the legendary cyclists cafe on the Wirral that we visit, a favoured haunt of Chris Boardman [the ride's actually 213.5km, which is just over 133 miles in old money]).

This is not wise.  No riding for 5 weeks, then that much? Hmm. However, I'm devising ways of getting round. These include:

a) Bimbling - see last post. I'm not going to ride fast just because I can; if I do the chances are I'll be extremely slow indeed as the ride progresses;
b) Analgesics (selection of) - let's face it, bits are going to moan with that length of time on the bike, so some drug-related therapy will be needed;
c) Conversion of my Ribble tourer to a lean, mean Audax machine.  Actually it's not particularly lean or mean with its maptrap, dual front LED lights and battery pack, two rear lights and a big saddle bag.  But whatever, at least I needn't worry when the sun goes down;
d) Adoption of the "well if I wasn't doing this, what else would I be doing" strategy that's got me through plenty of other long days in the saddle. It's best not to answer the question in reality, because it would feature things like "sitting reading the paper in a nice warm room with your feet up", which will seem more appealing at 4 pm on Sunday when I've got plenty of pedal-turning left;
e) Putting the ride in context - and that context is this is the first ride in a four year programme to enable me to ride Paris-Brest-Paris in 2015. I've just received this quarter's copy of "Arrivee", the magazine published by Audax UK, and it features five separate accounts of this year's edition. Suffice to say I'm inspired.

So, all that remains for me to do now is trim my beard and dig out the best socks to accompany my sandals. Joke, Audaxers aren't like that at all any more. Well, most of them anyway.

There'll be a full report on however much of the route I manage to get round at some point next week, as I'm off to London on Monday for a busy few days. Basically, it's a massive circuit of Cheshire that includes quite a chunk of Wales, starting and finishing near Cheadle Hulme. Wish me luck my friends; there may not be hills, it may not be icy, but I sense I'm going to need it.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Is this the way forward?

To bimble: "to amble without real aim, yet in a friendly and harmless manner. It's not required to achieve nothing, though it is a frequent side effect. Bimbling can be made a little more business like with a slight hunch of the shoulders."

It's a definite option. What's the point of flogging yourself half to death in training and events, merely so you can experience a transient and pointless sense of superiority achievement? Could 2012 be the Year of the Bimble? It has its attractions - less devotion to duty, less anxiety and number watching, more taking the world in as it passes by. Hmmm.

Not a lot else to say this week. Still not been back on two wheels since the Etape Cymru, but I have been on two feet a fair bit, running round Hyde Park during my stays in London, and running round the Cheshire hills in this weekend's glorious weather. The winter/touring bike is in the LBS at the moment though getting its freewheel sorted, so I may have to experiment, and have a bimble on it next weekend.  
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