Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Spring is in the air

Opportunities to get out on my new bike have been somewhat limited by shift work and swabbing on the Declaration tour (not that I am complaining) so despite finishing my night shift at 10am this morning... the cycle home from work convinced me that today was a good day to go out. It wasnt cold or raining.. probably a first since september 2013 and given that I had a free day (probably should have been sleeping some of it) it seemed too good to miss.

As with anything... a bit of preparation is needed. Spare tube.. check.. pump .. check... water bottle... check.  And off I went.

I had no clear plan... just a vague direction. Originally thought I would aim for windsor and then down and back across in a huge loop but soon the temptation to just take any road that looked good took over.

Spring is most definately in the air and when cycling there are clues that pop up along the way to make this point.
1st is an increase in the amount of flies you find yourself spitting out. An inevitability for any cyclist.. it becomes in springtime a substantial protein addition to the diet.

2nd is the realisation that once again you have to brush up your rabbit/pheasant dodging skills as they inevitably lie in wait at the side of the road waiting for you to approach before launching themselves within a whisker (no pun intended) of your front wheel in the rabbit version of divine wind (not a flatulance reference... )

3rd is the realisation about half way through the ride that really the base layer/long fingered gloves/waterproof layer really weren't necessary and that you are slowly being reduced to a puddle.

All good though and my bike was performing brilliantly. Some hills I seemed to float up (despite my low level of fitness at present) and the downhills were pure speed along with handling that made me feel sure of the bike.  Occasionally I had a problem clipping in due to the fact that my new pedals are one sided rather than multi sided as my previous ones were. Most of the route was pretty flat though and I used it as an opportunity to put the power down and cruise at a good speed.

The one problem with going down roads you like the look of is that several times I found myself back at the point I had left... having done a wierd kind of loop. Whilst this didnt bother me as I was aiming for decent mileage it did mean that I didnt get very far out of Reading.. and certainly never saw Windsor.. in fact I ended up in Camberly and heading towards Frimley. 

Being Spring.. I now can go out on my bike in my lycra cycling shorts. In colder weather I wear them under another pair of shorts but now had to bite the bullet.  Lycra... never a good look unless you are stick thin with very well defined musculature. Unfortunately this is not an accurate description of me and it does take a bit of nerve to just wear the cycling shorts. I dont think I look as bad as the picture currently circling facebook of a woman wearing leggins (who really shouldnt be) on a bike but I certainly am very self conscious about it. 
On the plus side... less seams =less chafing (a subject discussed at length previously), however in future I must remember the chamois cream for any rides over about 30 miles as it began to get pretty uncomfortable by mile 40.

It occurred to me that cycling in USA allowed for far more freedom for contemplation because once you turned onto a road.. you knew you would be following it for the next 70 miles. Here with all the twists and turns and junctions.. the concentration needs to be upped a bit. This didnt stop me turning completely the wrong way on the way home.. god knows how I got across America!

I have lately been put to shame by the efforts in training by my friend Mickey... who will be doing lands end to john o groats this june. So at least now I have some miles on my training plan. I do have a few months (try at least 18) in which to work myself up to a fitness level that will be the equal of New Zealand and prevent me dying from exhaustion over there but as I learned last time.. the months/days/hours go bloody quickly and it will be here before I know it.

The initial mapping is done. Next up is the detailed daily maps which will let me work out how many miles I will aim for each day. The bonus this time is that I at least have a routine for the days and how to cope with the day by day exhaustion.

So 45 miles today in just under three hours... which included a stop for food post ride (the carbs were calling me). Which brings me back to Lycra... nothing makes you face up to any and all body image fears than walking into a tesco in your cycling kit! And on that note..

Sunday, 16 March 2014

The road waited paitiently...

Any one who has been unlucky enough to have seen me in the past 2 weeks will have had to put up with a lot of moaning... I have had a cold ... yes a bad one... no not the female version of man flu... today was the first day in almost 2 weeks I have felt well enough to contemplate making my shiny new bike dirty.

My shiny new bike has been sitting folorn in my porch... especially with the dramatic improvement in the weather and frankly I havent had the motivation to get out there.  Route 66 left me with a bit of a bike hangover... one which fortunately is starting to lift with new dreams and plans. I have discovered recently about myself that unless I have a plan on the go... something to aim for... I can be prone to swing into laziness and tv and sofa calls louder than the wind wistling past me.
All that is sorted now because I have officially announced ... basically shared on facebook... my intentions to cycle north to south new zealand for LHS.
And so cold finally abating... I prepared my kit and swung my legs over clipping into my slightly new pedal system and began to pedal (slightly tentatively) towards the main road.
As I think I have said before..  every bike has a different feel to it and can take some getting used to. But right away I liked the way this one handled... I was expecting a slightly skittish ride but at every turn it felt like I could trust it.. solid but lighter. The drawback... I could feel every bump in the road... round here there are a few.. and the vibration were easily felt through my gloves.

The goal of todays ride was to go where the wind took me... turn down roads if I liked the look of them.. stop if I saw a nice view... but ultimately get some miles in to my slightly atrophied leg muscles. Therefore I found myself negotiating quiet country lanes... familiar in their location but with an unfamiliar feel from the back of this bike.
More wary of potholes and gaining a puncture as havent got a spare inner tube to fit this bike yet.. so a puncture would seriously put a dent in this wonderful day.

At points I went down on the drops and could feel the superior power transfer and subsequent acceleration. The new pedals are slightly different than I have had previously.. being a halfway house between road and mtb cleat fittings. Made for road touring they provide greater stability for the foot by reducing side to side movement.

I found myself. . Ten miles in to the ride at silchester... a favourite spot of mine.  There is a little known roman ampitheatre nestled in the countryside. A quiet spot where it is easy to imagine it how it was centuries before. I didnt linger long however as was impatient to get more miles under my belt... even if they were easy ones... no wind and sunshine. Continuing on I slipped into my own headspace... a state of being that I had become so familiar with during october and have missed somewhat since I got back from the USA.  Barely noticing the miles as they clocked up.. the countryside was green and the sounds and smells that are linked with being out in the fresh air once again flooded my senses.

At one point I found myself on a duel carriageway but this minor interruption to the peace and tranquility was only temporary and was the exception rather than the rule today.

My general lack of fitness started to show around mile 28 where the legs complained a little at a reasonably steep rise... but I had to remind myself that I was climbing these hills in a bigger gear than usual.. due to the lightweight frame beneath me.  Despite this by mile 30 I was once again feeling good. My legs had come back to me and with that familiar feel of sudden energy surge (for no particular reason - other than having broken through the barrier) the pedals turned faster and smoothly and I was once again whizzing along the road.
Any bike ride wouldnt be complete without the usual emergency pheasant dodging manoeuvre. . And there was one hold my breath moment when a car squeezed me into a huge pothole and I emerged slightly jarred and concerned for my tyres... but the bike held together without incident and I continued with the reassuring feel of solid tyres.

About 3 miles from home... the legs died a little bit... but considering exercise of the biking kind has been notably absent from my life lately.. its no wonder the muscles were complaining. That said I was pleased with the 40 mile total and the bike.
I have however been put to shame this weekend by my good friend mickey who braved wind and rain to complete another 60 mile training ride in preparation for his lands end to john o groats ride in suupport of LHS. chapeau mickey! Details of his page can be found on my Route 66 facebook page and would appreciate you checking out his page and supporting him in his adventures!

It was a good day... one of many more to come. The smile and the bounce are back!

Monday, 10 March 2014

Its like a medical procedure...

2016... february... seems a way a way... until you begin to plan another big adventure. Suddenly the amount of time condenses and you realise that actually time to train and plan is already slipping through your fingers faster than water down a welsh mountain stream. The plans are being formed In my mind but nothing concrete has been achieved... until today.

Today I bought a bike...

Yes I know .. I have one.. but this is different and more of that later...

You live and learn right. Well I learnt a lot about myself and cycling in a month out on the road and a couple of problems surfaced which I am hoping to avoid next time.  My right 4th finger got to a point where it wouldnt straighten, possibly because of a slightly incorrect position on the bike..  maybe too much pressure on my palms... trapping a nerve or something like that. The solution in my mind was to get a proper bike fitting done.

So off I went  to a local bike shop (AW Cycles for anyone interested)  on the off chance they would have a slot to sort me out in.

My objective for the next challenge is North to South New Zealand... nominally as a solo ride... but with the possibility of having a friend drive an RV, which I would only meet up with at the end of the day to use as a mobile hotel in the truest sense of the word.  This means I could carry less kit but would still need to carry enough should I need to be self sufficient for a few days. This would make family and friends happier but still satisfy my need to feel 'alone' and be self reliant. Email me if you think its cheating and I will seriously consider tweaking the idea lol.

So with that in mind... I needed a light bike (New Zealand is NOT flat) with plenty of gears but strong enough to carry at least one pannier  full of kit and therefore have attatchments for a rack.

But first the fitting. I got to try on some really nice cycling shoes (bank manager notified of the price) in order to help achieve the fitting. Then handed a pair of cycling shorts to change into.(trying to think if I shaved my legs yesterday or the day before lol).. the indignities began. Height measured... foot size recorded and all going well. Then with the words.. stand astride this bar... it got a lot more uncomfortable.  Specifically for the (ahem) inside leg measurement... the idea is that the bar is Inched upwards until you are just about standing with your heels on the floor... any men having this done would undoubtedly be speaking a whole octave higher for a few hours after this procedure... I have been more comfortable after surgery frankly. Very glad no one was standing with a camera in hand at this point but it was only a short period of embarrassment and as I have shared worse (chafing issues) I dont see any reason to keep this quiet.

Then looking like an idiot with arms outstretched for shoulder and arm measurements... tap it all into a computer program... to be told that I have a wierdly short body but my long arms and legs make up for it... thanks for that!

Anyway... all this essentially means that both Trek and Giant bikes (which surprisingly the shop stocks) suit me perfectly in their frame design. Which gives me a choice to make. Im drawn to the Trek but the one I like is only in White (gets muddy quickly) and more importantly is slightly more expensive.

Giant have a defy series which go from 5 (the cheapest) to 1.. going up in £100 increments. The 2 is nice but probably more than I was going to spend... the 4 components arent as good... what about the 3... only in white again. BUT... Giant make a womens version and joy of joys.. its black and red. Perfect...

Whilst paying I ended up chatting about route 66 .. book etc and some interest in some sort of sponsorship a possibility... although I wont hold my breath yet.

So thats a bike fitting... unless you have a reason.. dont do it. Mildly embarrassing... majorly uncomfortable... but if it means my hands return from New Zealand in better shape than from America it will have been well worth it.

Picking the bike up Wednesday so will let you know how it goes (like the wind I hope)
Still smiling!

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Let the mountains challenge me,....

So after solo scrambling yesterday, today was the official course day,    first glance out of the window this morning told me some improvement in the weather had occured.... no rain for starters. So I left for the meeting cafe early, mainly so I would have some time with a phone signal to catch up with everyone. Eventually 8 am arrived and I found myself drinking a coffee with the guide for the day and two other gentlemen who were also participating. We had reasonably similar aims for the course but it seemed they had a vast amount more experience with winter mountaineering than I do, this being my first foray into this world of ice and snow. 
We then drove back to literally the point I had started and kit was produced from rucksacks. This being my first time, I was on a try before you buy policy and was borrowing most pieces of kit. So out came the mountaineering boots, looking more like space boots... infkexible, hard shelled and waterproof, they must have added at least 1kg, or at least thats what it felt like. Walking in them, just on the concrete was tricky at first, and I briefly wished for my leaky walking shoes.

Then out came crampons, walking axe, rope, karabiners and an assortment of slings and other equipment. Once that had been squared away we set off the path towards the top, initially following a similar path to the one I had trodden yesterday.

My lack of fitness showed, well at least to me, as I was soon huffing and puffing, worse than that, I was overheating rapidly. My new coat, much better at keeping warmth in than im used to and soon the zip as open as we made our way up. At one point we came to  reasonably steep gully, filled with boulders and the scrambling started. In mountain boots, once again, it seemed trickier than it normally would but soon became more confident in balancing on the rigid toe caps and using them to thrust up for the next foothold.., better still, was enjoying every second of this. Its what I would do for fun out and about by myself in the mountains and the weather was holding to create a pleasant day.
Once we had topped out of the gully  we were faced with a boulder field. Once again I struggled with the new boots, but soon found a balance and found that I didnt feel the rocks bashing into the sides of my feet, as I do normally with walking shoes, which made this part more enjoyable than usual. Then finally we hit the snow line,  and this is where the boots crossed from ok to fantastic. Fully waterproof and occasionally sinking ankle deep, it didnt matter and the grip on them outclassed anything I had ever worn on my feet before.

Then we arrived at the bottom of the walls of the peaks and here the guide pointed out where small avalanches had been, the cornices on the ridges above, which are inherently unstable and other things to be aware of when selecting where to climb... invaluable information.

On went the crampons and out came the axes, harnesses and helmets on, and the real fun of the day began. First came a lesson in putting on and ways of walking in crampons.  Another thing to get used to. This type of snow too soft for proper crampon use and we regularly sank up to knee or even waist level as the soft snow gave way under our weight.

Kicking steps in the snow was fun, but hard work, but despite being told it was easier to follow in others footsteps, I kept veering slightly off line to practice the technique.   As we progressed up the gully, the angle increased until we were informed that we were on a slope of 30 to 40 degrees, which by the way, is where most avalanches happen.... interesting.

Eventually we reached a point where the ropes came out and here at least I knew how to attatch myself to it and belay others. That however is only the beginning. Here we covered anchors to rock, using slings and karabiners and attaching anchoring points as you go up, to lessen the fall distance.  So then we continued up the gully,  taking turns to lead and belay.  The hardest parts were where you would climb on some exposed rock with your crampons, balancing on the 2 front points in places, axe dug into turf, not snow. As I  hadnt done this before, I was a little slower,  but gained confidence in the crampons and was moving a bit easier by the end of each pitch. 

It was at one of the points where lead climber switched that I remembered to look at the view. Up till now I had been concentrating too hard, but as I looked  down and around me, the scenery  blew me away quietly.  The sun was lighting up the valley and the surrounding snow tops looked suddenly accesible with this new found way of moving.
Suddenly the danger areas jumped out at me, places to avoid, cornices that might at any second, fracture and fall to the floor below. This new found knowledge felt like a whole new world had opened up to me, a new playground to get temporarily lost in, new challenges and dreams to set my sights upon.

But back to the business in hand... The ground got steeper as we climbed and soon we were on all fours, axe in hand, three points to the snow at all times. The safety net provided by the rope removed an element of fear, and enabled the mind to concentrate on hand and foot placement. Several pitches later and one rock/snow bit that I found a bit more tricky, and we were standing grinning at the top.  The lessons hadnt finished. Snow anchors were demonstrated and abseil technique from a snow anchor demonstrated and just like that the day had gone and it was time to be heading down.

The adage of  'the top is only halfway' was highlighted as as I know from many of the books I have read,most accidents and deaths happen on the way down.  Personally I prefer going uphill as down hurts the feet more. Fun on snow slopes with long strides though at times backwards was a faster method, despite getting the occasional face full of snow from the climber above. It certainly was quick and in no time at all, the crampons were off, climbing gear was stowed and we set a reasonable pace back to civilisation.  The wind picked up on the way down and once again provided a reminder how quickly conditions can change.  By now, my foot, the previously damaged one on route 66, was starting to hurt but managed to keep up and not jar it too much.

And then we shook hands, swopped emails to exchange photos and went our separate ways. Personally I felt that I had gained an awful lot out of today. New equipment, not quite mastered, but at least now familiar... a greater sense of the different dangers winter in the mountains can bring, and how to avoid them or at least reduce the risk, and finally the satisfaction that completing a new challenge brings, albeit leaving me with more dreams and ideas.  Today the mountains called me and I shouted back!

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

New adventures...

This past week has been a pretty good one. Firstly my book about the Route 66 bike ride has been published and is available on amazon in kindle format and from the printers in paperback. I spent a good hour staring at the amazon screen, generally in amazement that something I wrote is on amazon. It does have one slight drawback... it signals the end of a fantastic adventure that took me across America, which means that I now need something else to plan. New Zealand in feb 2016 is looking more and more a certainty but that does leave a bit of a gap.

Which brings me to my ten year plan and this weekend which signals the beginning. I have a ten year plan to climb Mount Everest.... now I have had this plan for a while and have even gone so far as to hint at it, but that is a bit different than getting the wheels in motion.  I may never reach Everest, due to the huge costs involved but might as well see where my plan takes me and I am following my own advice of dream, plan and (most importantly) do.

So with that in mind the first part of the plan swung into action this weekend. I had booked a winter climbing course to try and learn some of the fundamental skills required. Fortunately it had snowed in wales... unfortunately its not the right type of snow, so the day I am going to do is more of a winter mountaineering course, with hopefully some useful information about staying safe, survival skills, belaying etc. So I  drove up monday morning towards north wales and as soon as I saw the mountains in the distance, I felt a huge wave of calmness sweep over me, not that I have been particularly stressed out lately, but every time I arrive here It fortifies the soul.

Im staying at a yha, essentially on the edge of the snowdonia national park. But this is not the snowdonia I am very familiar with, in  fact this range of mountains that the yha is nestled in is separate to the snowdon range and I havent really set foot in them before. The first sight of them is pretty impressive, the tops have a dusting of snow, which makes them look more majestic.  Having arrived at the yha a bit early to check in, I gather some kit, throw it in a rucksack and set off down the road in pursuit of fresh air and freedom after such a long drive. The road doesnt really hold any interest for me and as I often do, I scrambled off the road, up the mountain,not on any particular path, when I realised, in my haste to get out there, I was wearing completely the wrong shoes, which were now soaked through. Since I already had wet feet, I carried on, up over rocks and through boggy ground till I reached the waterfall.

I love waterfalls, I love getting as close as possible and letting the noise of the water hitting the rocks fill my ears with the roar. Normally, with better footwear, I would be clambering up as far as I could go, but with trainers, its incredibly slippery. I was also heeding the time, as didn't really want to be sliding down in the dark, and there would be plenty of time to get wet, muddy and tired tomorrow. So back I went, settled in a room, meant for 4, but seemingly only occupied by myself and then went to get food.

The next morning, I woke up early and got everything ready to get out the door once it was light as wanted to make the most of the reasonable weather. My plan was to ascend the mountains behind the yha and then arc round the back of them before dropping back down to the road. I found a path and set off at a good pace. It wasnt raining,but the wind was reasonably strong, even in the valley and I was mindful that when dealing with mountains, the weather can change at the drop of a hat.  So I was well kitted up. A base layer and t shirt, with a fully waterproof, insulated jacket and waterproof, insulated trousers. In my rucksack I carried another thermal layer, some thermal waterproof gloves, a survival bag, first aid kit and headtorch, gaiters, energy tabs, water bottle a fruit energy bar and my SPOT tracker. I had most eventualities covered. My problem at the beginning was that I was far too hot when climbing up. But better than being cold in my book.
It was probably because it was early, but didnt see anyone on the way up, and I reached the lake in good time. Here I got blasted by the wind,  and as I went round the lake, I was glad of the layers. Then I reached the point where the path wound upwards. I say path but from this point on it was a series of boulders and the scramble upwards began.  It was pretty steep and even my hiking boots were not gripping hugely well but it was ok until I came to a stream, where the path had been washed away. Too wide to jump at this point I scrambled/slid down the mountainside looking for a point to cross. Eventually I found a bit where I could sit on my arese, stretch my leg out to a slightly wobbly rock, which had water flowing fast over it, and gain enough purchase to stand up on one leg, reached out with the other and found a hold on the far side of the bank. Tricky....
Safely over the other side, the 'path' continued up through a gash in the rock walls and although several times I was clambering up and over huge boulders, I made the top of the path, to find snow and what looked like a river bed leading to the ridge. Here the wind was funneled directly towards me and it was no longer gentle.  Blowing at 40 to 50 mph I was at one point leant 45 degrees into it to stop being bowled over, and this was whilst I still had the ridge offering a bit of protection. I crested the rise to find myself on the flat, with a view to die for. Straight ahead the path continued, eventually to lead to Llanberis, but I turned right, instead of the planned left. This was because the peaks above to the left were now completely shrouded in mist and cloud and I could see the peak to the right, which meant I would have more chance of topping out. I rounded the corner, past the lake at the top and was once again hit by a wind so strong, that I found myself dropping to my knees to stop being blown off the edge of the ridge. Several times I just stopped myself from being bowled over and once I was blown across the ground, whilst sitting down... and this wasnt at the top. The peak was calling me and I tried to fight against the wind, but with every meter I climbed the strength of the wind increased. Added to that it had started to hail/snow. The clouds were being blown in from the llanberis side and I decided that soon I would be able to see very little and the weather would get even worse, so relunctantly, I  turned around and headed back to the path to descend.

I had noticed that the peaks even further to that side, seemed to be less cloud covered and made a plan to drop back down to the lake and try getti g to the peak from the other side. Coming down, I met a nice lady walking up and warned her about the conditions. She said 40 to 50mph had been forecast but she thought it was worse, but so saying continued on up.  It did make me feel better that I wasnt the only one running around the top in this kind of weather and maybe I was just being pathetic by electing to turn around.

However I continued down,  past the snowline and slowly and carefully made my way through the gash in the wall, treading carefully as the rocks were now wet as well as steep. I had only descended a short way when the wind dropped off a bit and I once again felt a bit more secure.

Got to the lake again, and here the deterioration in the weather was palpable,  with gusts once again making me unsteady on my feet. Undeterred however, and wanting to get to the top of something, I headed up the path that would lead me to the peak from the other side. This was a better, more clearly defined path and although slightly steeper in places I manahed to get to the ridge with little difficulty... and then... battered once again by the wind. Here the snow was being blown off the peak and hurtling at a 90 degree angle, straight at me. I had to kneel down and turn my back to the wind to stay upright. Every time the gusts stopped, I stood up and climbed further, but it literally became impossible to stand and I got blown over so hard that my arm hit a rock, which hurt!  So once again,despite not being that far from the peak, I turned back. Basically crouching as much as possible to keep a low profile and making sure I was secure in my footholds before trusting them. It was a bit of a battle but I made it to the path descending and almost as doon as I did, I was protected from some of the severity of the wind,which enabled me to practically run down, carefully of course!

As I descended, I kept an eye on the other path, hoping that the lady I met hadnt hung around long at the top, and was on her way down. But finding it difficult to see with rain now lashing in my eyes, I carried on down.
There were other peopke at the lake when I got there but none were continuing upwards. The weather was getting worse by the second and I was glad I came down when I did. That said, it was only half twelve when I got back to the yha and hadnt felt as though I had made the most of the day yet. The wind was better in the valley and the rain had died down,so I elected to walk along the road next to the resevoir with a view to finding the path that would take me round it. I found the entrance and a small road that took me over a bridge to what was supposed to be the beginning of the path. Up I went, searching for at least a defined track, but ended up wading through extremely boggy ground and rivulets. Added to that the clouds had closed in, visibility was worsening and the rain was lashing down, to the point where I was wiping my eyes every few seconds just to be able to see.  My feet were now soaked and I had given up rock hopping, instead just wading ankle deep through the bog... yeah, I know... mad. Well it had even come to the point where I thought I was mad, do descended back over the bridge for a fast clip along the road to the yha.

Despite the snow, hail, rain and wind... I had enjoyed today. Just  being out in the mountains and once again relying on no one but myself, with consequences, possibly severe ones, if I misjudged anything... makes me feel alive, more than anything, and once again, the mind becomes free and the thoughts flow uninterrupted. Perfect!  I also was reminded that although I have been across deserts and shown spectacular canyons, actually, this place makes me just as happy, charming me in its own way, and all close to my backdoor,  relatively speaking anyway.

So first day outdoors done and am looking forward to the course day tomorrow...maybe I will learn how to keep moving against a wind that strong!

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Rubber Glove....

Ok i know I'm a nurse but this isn't anything to do with my job.... I have just completed the first video (the fitness test) from and I thought I'd share my suffering with you !

Sufferfest, for those that don't know is a website where you can download videos featuring cyclists on Grand Tours, with instructions to match your effort to.

For example... warmup of 20 mins at effort level 2-7.5 at rate of 90, then test of 20 mins at effort level 7.5 and above.

It is down to you whether you try as hard as you can and try to match the effort levels accordingly... so it is possible to go through the video with not huge amounts of effort but I guess anyone who is mad enough to download the videos isn't the kinda person to take it easy...

The Kit.. my new indoor exercise bike.. looks like a racing bike and feels much the same.  the saddle is slightly different and after an hour of hard effort i think i need to move it forward a bit but other than that the bike works well.

I chose (somewhat unwisely) to wear long cycling tights and a baselayer top and although my flat is not warm...well more of that later.

So tab set up to play video, water bottle filled, i am ready to go.

It starts with a few easy minutes of effort level 2 at around 90 cadence (fairly fast but easy leg spinning)... fine, chilled out getting comfortable on the saddle, settling into the elbow pads.  the video shows various scenes of cyclists touring the countryside along with instructions on measuring heart rate every minute to find out what my Functional threshold Power is (or the heart rate equivalent in my case) - basically to find the heart rate (or power effort) that i can sustain without going into lactic overload.

Still with me - anyway once that finished the 'warm up' began....

Starting off easy effort levels it ramped up over the next 20mins (accompanied by some pretty awful  'music') .  I was fine for the first 10 mins, although i could feel sweat starting to accumulate already (I'm blaming the baselayer and not my recent lack of unfitness).. then 10 mins , or what felt like forever, of effort level 7...

My heart rate climbed, though not so much as to make me stop or slow down...yet.
By the end of the 'warm up', it had done just that - i was sweltering....

During the 5 min break i was treated to a video of a girl cooking an omlett, whilst on her bike rollers.  not that it was a complete rest... just for fun the video threw in minute intervals of easy spinning at a high speed (cadence) of 110.

Well I'd survived this far.. but the real test was about to begin.

Accompanied by du du duh music, it began... at effort level 7.5 BTW... reasonably difficult and guaranteed to make my heart rate shoot up.  Every minute a note of my heart rate was made... 5 mins in and the effort level increased... for the next 10 mins at effort 8, I followed Tommy Voekler (a french cyclist) in one of his infamous breakaways.. with the pack chasing. My HR went up and it began to hurt... By the end of 10 mins I was bright red, puffing from the exertion... my head was pounding and I missed half the video as my head was bent down staring at my knees with studied concentration

I could feel the lactic acid rising, that familiar taste in the back of my throat, my head screaming at me to stop... and then ... UP goes the effort level to 8.5.

Starting to feel dizzy from the effort I kept the legs turning, at one point following Tommy out of the saddle in the effort to keep it going.  I could see the minutes counting down and like I was in a real race... the adrenaline surged to keep me going.... 2 minutes left, everything was telling me to slow down, stop... i didn't have to put myself through this..WHY GOD WHY!!
30 seconds, 29 28, still I kept my legs turning round, perhaps even pushing that little bit harder with the knowledge the pain was almost over and then i looked up - Tommy sailed over the finish line, ahead of the chasing pack... I'd made it.. well i hadn't collapsed at least.

Maximum heart rate was 180 and as I took a few deep breaths, whilst keeping the legs going round.. I grinned to myself...that was fun!!  It certainly was a bit different to my usual bike outing...

I completed the warm down 2 mins at an easy effort level then climbed off the bike and downed a bottle of water.  that's it, i'm hooked.

My bike computer said I'd used 520 KCal and gone 34 Km.  My Functional Threshold Power (basically an average of my HR every minute is 166.  the idea being that I will be able to increase this over time.

So one question remains - Which video shall I download next?

Sunday, 12 January 2014

And so it begins again...

My last posting generally moaned about feeling restless and not exercising... therefore I thought I would describe my morning and the start of what I hope will be my path back to fitness again.

Cycling at the moment is not holding much appeal. Having seen the sights of arizona and new Mexico from the saddle, the appeal of reading surrounds has been somewhat diminished so foolishly I decided to give... running a go.  Its been on my mind for a while. .. the ability to run along quiet mountain trails would be something that I would love to have. But everyone has to start somewhere amd for me it began this morning at Dinton pastures .. a large nature area with lakes and rivers and more importantly. . No roads.

So feeling somewhat self conscious with my camel back and running shoes .. I set up map my run and set off.  Before I go any further on my run descrption.. I must say that I have never been a runner, I dont think I'm built for it and at this present moment in time I am probably the unfittest I have been for a while.

So I set off at a slow jog... slipping and sliding through the mud and dodging the dog walkers... for about 300 feet. I slowed to a walk... coughing, spluttering, lungs gasping for air. This was not going well. I recovered quickly and set off again, hoping that this was just my body going into mild shock after so many weeks of inactivity.  Another 300 ft and there I was again. .. pulled to a walk by lack of air. I swear dinton has less oxygen in the air than the rest of Reading.  And so went the rest of the run. I was careful not to ground to a wheezing mess in front of anyone
... my embarrassment was already sky high.  One lap was quite enough for one day... like I said this wasnt the best idea I have ever had.  It makes returning to the bike positively appealing to be fair.

I do intend to persevere with this because I have some nice challenges that this would open up to me but its going to require a lot of suffering.

Roll on 21st jan when my indoor bike arrives and roll on some decent weather where getting on the bike will once more hold some joy. Meanwhile if you see me running ... try not to laugh :)

Monday, 6 January 2014

New year... new dreams

I have to admit to an utter lack of motivation at the start of this year. Perhaps because of exhaustion hangover or a lack of something to plan and throw myself into.  Add to that the crappy weather and a bad cold over christmas and it led to the longest period of inactivity ... or at least lack of exercise... that I have had in a long time.

Not that I'm short of plans for 2014. Firstly I still have my dissertation to write.. yes I have started and no I haven't made huge amounts of headway. I will be swabbing on the Declaration Mike Peters tour and have the usual plans to walk up mountains with LHS.  Also I will have a book of my Route 66 ride published... hopefully by end of January.  So I wont be idle but yet I am already restless.

Since I got back... I have eaten too much... exercised too little and generally given myself over to lethargy... which is now beginning to bother me. And so the plans have started....

I decided that to do another big ride this year would maybe be a stretch too far to fit in.... but 2015 is another matter... but more of that in a minute.

As part of my '10 year path to Everest' I have booked a trip to the wilds of Snowdonia to begin learning about crampons.. ice axes... avalanche awareness and winter mountaineering in general.  Box 1 ticked... something new to learn and some time out in the middle of nowhere surrounded by nothingness...

In order to reinvigorate a healthy lifestyle.. I have invested in an excercise bike and some training videos from videos which guarantee entry into the pain cave and no guarantee of exit!  So expect some updates on how that is going in my quest to regain a higher level of fitness. Which leads me to...

.... 2015 plans!

Details are sketchy as I am in the research mode but it looks like I'm setting myself up for a gruelling challenge filled with mountain passes, spectacular scenery, and a battle with my familiar foe... headwind.  What crazy stunt are you going to do next I hear you say...(amidst headshaking and eye rolling .. and that is just me!)

Well my eyes and my head are turning in the direction of New Zealand... a 2450km ride, obviously to raise money for LHS. It's less mileage than Route 66 but by all accounts will be a much tougher ride.
The main thought of people who have cycled in NZ seems to be a fear of traffic and the main roads. However if I can survive Highway 100 out of St Louis... I can't believe that it could be worse!

I'm not 100% certain that this is what I'm going to aim for but for the moment it gives me something to plan, something to set my sights on, something to aim my training towards. And it turns out that this is what I needed to get my arse off the sofa and into gear.
So 2014 has begun... with a hint of optimism and a little crazy.... long may that continue :)

Monday, 18 November 2013

Search for the real life....

So thought I would blog about returning to 'normality' - whatever that is.  I have now been home 2 weeks and am back to work and there have been several things that have struck me about this....

'Real life' for me is pretty much just as good as life on the road.  I came back to my family and friends and a job I love and it's almost as I've never been away... well it would be if it wasn't for every time I see a new person at work, I get a hug - normally it's a slap for something I've done! (Dropping chairs spring to mind!)

I was pretty concerned about my finger (you may recall I can't straighten it) and whether I would be able to do my job... so i went into work a day early in order to check it out.  the most fiddly thing i do on a regular basis is cannulate babies - that is put needles into veins and stick them in place.  i figured if I could do this, I could perform the other aspects of my job.  Result - can still do this - even if I do need several people hovering round me to help LOL.

My foot - on x-ray - does not appear to be broken... all very well and good.. but what is wrong with it then??

So that's injuries covered.

The first day back at work - I woke up ridiculously early, messed about on facebook, only to remember 10 minutes before I was due to leave, that the airline had destroyed my front brakes on the way home.  So I rushed to my shed to drag out my now obsolete and largely forgotten trusty Dawes (1990's model), which didn't have a saddle on and had a flat tyres.  In the hope that the flat tyres were not actual punctures I inflated them and held my breath for 10 minutes (no... not literally) to see if they would stay inflated.  1 job down , 1 to go.  fitting the saddle was a doddle and within the required amount of time I was ready to head to work.

Getting back on my bike gave me a leap of pure joy inside - I had missed feeling of tyres on tarmac and although this bike felt wierd and unstable (the tyres are slightly thinner) and I had forgotten that the gears were on the frame of the bike (told you it was old) so that took some getting used to, it was still pure joy that swept me along, through the darkness to my second home!  Going down the hill was interesting, purely because my brakes had not been used for a while and I think the resulting shrieking eminating from them would have woken everyone within a 10 mile radius...

That said, I got to work in one piece - it would have been frankly embarrassing to die in the 2 mile journey to work, having lived through the 2400 mile journey.

Work was as work always is - full of friendship and fun - in between the hard work of course.

And so the weekend continued - only with one slight problem.

I can't sleep.

Now I know what people say about jet lag and time zones and somewhat naively didn't think I would have that problem... how wrong could I be.

One night, I was wide awake STILL at 4 am.  I personally blame it on the three days of inactivity I had when i got back from the latest round of gigs (or concerts if you are over a certain age lol).  That said - it turned out to be useful as i have made a start on another project - details of which i hope to share with everyone soon.

One of the main comments I get since coming back (after the comment about how thin I am) is what are you going to do next??

As always I have plans and schemes up my sleeve but you may be relieved to know - nothing has taken hold YET.  I have vague ideas and as always dreams of big things but nothing in the planning stage yet.  I must first start my dissertation and channel as much energy into that (boring I know) before bigger things intervene..... but who knows what life has in store, or what may spark the initial glow of an adventure.

What I do know is, should opportunity present itself - I will grab it with both hands and ask questions later.  Meanwhile the search for my real life is not necessary - it's right back where I started from!

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Homecoming to Love Hope and Strength

When I left off from the last blog.. I was at LAX waiting to get on the plane to come home.  Its difficult to describe the feelings I had at that point.  It all seemed a bit surreal really, and I felt wierd not being on the road. 
I was sad to say goodbye to my friends here but it was time to be at home.  I love having adventures but at the end of the day, home, Reading and my workplace is where I really belong.
I landed at Heathrow to a lovely (low key as ordered) arrival and lunch with my parents, my brother and emma.  Finally got rid of some of the presents that I had been hauling around for weeks lol, and caught up.
It was funny, id start to tell a story from the road, to find them quoting my blog back to me... well at least it saved me having to talk too much.
And then I went home, put my feet up in front of the tv, and took it easy... right? ?.... errr nope... I went to a gig!
One of the many things that helped keep the pedals turning on crap days, was the thought that if I missed my flight home, id miss the Big Country gig.  Whilst I was away, Big Country had been on tour and Love Hope Strength Foundation had been swabbing people for the bone marrow donor list... and I had been missing it... big time!  All the efforts of the volunteers had resulted in many people signed up on this tour,  and the word of LHS spread to many more, and it was high time I got my arse in gear and did some work.  So off to Southend we went. What a night! Loads of people signed up, met lots of new people, caught up with old friends and called up onstage by Mike Peters, the founder of the charity and all time legend. Luckily my wierd suntan lines on my face hid my embarrassment but thank you mike, I really appreciated it. The gig was brilliant, despite the fact that none of the band members felt well.. they all struggled through to give the audience a great night, certainly one I will never forget.  My brother is now trained to swab and it was good to see Fitz, an outstandingly dedicated volunteer and to catch up with Mr Warden and the rest of the crew. It's great to be home...
Even the walk back to the car deserves a mention, purely for the Route 66 sign on top of one of the buildings... wierd huh?
The drive home was pretty quiet, (fortunately Emma was driving as jet lag was starting to hit) as we were all knackered. We dropped Paul off and I was persuaded to go to A and E for my foot, which probably wasnt made better by jumping up and down at the gig but I cant help myself.  To cut a long story short, after 2 and a half hours of waiting I was very restless and impatient and gave up, instead climbing the 6 flights of stairs (parker take note) to work for coffee, toast and a bit of a catch up at 4am!
I eventually got home and faced the task of unloading kit, unlocked my door.... and stopped dead in my tracks. My house was not only decorated with balloons and banners but had been cleaned from top to bottom, complete with new bedspread (apparently there were big discussions as to whether the teenage mutant ninja turtle one or the pink princess one was more 'suitable') and a Route 66 sign hanging on my wall. I was literally speechless... so thank you very very much to Emma and Jill for such a kind thought!
The homecoming was made complete out at dinner last night... I am so very lucky to have people like you guys to come home to... thankyou xx
And so began the week... one which will be taking me to Ipswich, Nottingham, Doncaster and Grimsby,  swabbing people with other fantastic volunteers for the bone marrow donor list.  So if you have enjoyed my journey and are interested in GETTING ON THE LIST with LOVE HOPE STRENGTH FOUNDATION and DELETE BLOOOD CANCER, please go to, where you can get a home swabbing kit, and for details of the charity and other events coming up.  We always need volunteers to help with the swabbing, so if you would like to help other people save lives, drop me a message or go to The LHS website.

So to summarize the journey in a few words....tough, beautiful, emotional, raw and peaceful.  Over 2400 miles (roughly) in 24 days of cycling - 2 hours later than scheduled arrival to friends with a gig to celebrate. Total so far raised now over £6000 -

Thank you once again to everyone for the support and to Mike Peters for Music and Inspiration
This is not the end... I will continue to dream of adventure and put those dreams into reality as life is short and can only be lived once... please keep an eye out on my blog and facebook page for ideas and plans of future adventures and LHS.. 

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Gig day - I'm made of life...

Today was the day... the celebration of the End of the ride at Rock and Roll Pizza in Moorpark.

It didnt get off to a great start... I went to have breakfast (must get back out of that habit) and discovered that there had been a shooting at the airport which is just down the road from where I am staying. Typical, I arrive safely after cycling across the country and there is a shooting nearby lol.  Obviously in no danger but all the roads were blocked by police, fire trucks and ambulances on a day when I had a gig to get too! Beki and randy were picking me up early afternoon and we werent sure whether they would be able to get near my hotel or whether I would have to walk out.

5 news choppers were hovering overhead and every few minutes a police car or firetruck would come racing down the road, sirens blaring. . It was like seeing a live action movie. I stayed outside, I guess kind of fascinated by the ongoings. Eventually I wandered back and switched the tv channel to CNN. Reports of gunmen, injuries and panic were ongoing. The situation was fluid though and It shows that there is no need to stress abput something until it actually happens and the roads opened just in time and beki and randy walked through the door of the lobby with plenty of time to make our way north for the gig in moorpark.

We checked into a hotel nearer the gig and the lack of effort in getting there meant I had ample time to appreciate the scenery. California is a lovely state, with mountains and permanent blue sky and sunshine... it is a shame that I havent had more time here.

On arrival at the Rock and Roll Pizza photos by the sign were a must and then we wandered in. The venue is filled with rock and roll including a drum skin that mike peters had signed - surely the best bit in the place I think.  The next hours were filled with meeting new people, greeting friends and a whirlwind of thoughts.  I will try and describe a few key moments in the evening.

Beki and Randy took to the stage and I hadnt heard a full set before... the original songs grasped me immediately, with lyrics that were at once intruiging and memorable... I have only spent bits of time with them before but both of them along with floyd and chrissie, kelly dc and mary provided a solid foundation for the feeling that here I was amongst friends. It made the homesickness lessen, as we caught up from the last time we met and this is what I love about The Alarm and LHS, the fact it has enabled me to meet people like this and feel as though I have known them forever. Thank you to all!

Amongst the crowds of people were lee marshall and his family, on holiday from the uk, who had come along to support, it was great meeting them and comparing notes on wierd things in the usa. Also don and kimberly, who I had met in victorville, took time out to come and support and amazingly rendered me speechless with a generous donation to the ride, so great to have you guys there.

Alan Robinson also stunned me with a gift of a coin made for everest rocks which he took part in. It meant a huge amount to me and it is safe in my pocket.. 

Joe Silva's set was full of my favourite songs of his and as usual he played from the heart. Joe was one of the first people to jump in and support this ride from the beginning and it was so great to see him play again. His album blue, is well worth downloading and has many songs you will find yourself singing along to..Check it out! Thanks also to joe, for saying something that made me stop and think about where I had started from and how this had all come together... it made the gig special.

my favourite part of the gig was the moment where me, joe and beki gave a rousing rendition of love, hope and strength, to an audience that joined in, when they didnt know the song... it was a special moment for me and the word is being spread!

Chevy metal, to be honest were not necessarily my cup of tea but I went down the front at the end, got some photos for people back home, who are big fans, and enjoyed the moment. It was also see great to see joe invited up to drum, whilst taylor sat at the side of the stage! Thats rock and roll for you!

More importantly perhaps, the Love Hope Strength team had been working tirelessly under the tent and signed up 23 people to the bone marrow donor list... a great result and one that put the icing on the cake for me.

When the end arrived, it had seemed such a short time as as I said goodbye to various friends, it all seemed a bit surreal.  Many I will see again soon though (Floyd,  about the gathering...) and for a short while Rock and Roll Pizza had become a part of home for me.

So fast forward (so I dont bore you)... oh but before I do, I must tell you that although I managed to get from Chicago to LA injury free, I tripped over in the parking lot and got bloody road rash down my right leg... lol

So fast forward to this morning.. I enjoyed a pile of pancakes with strawberries and bananas for breakfast and then beki and randy dropped me off at terminal 7 to find a box for my bike... passed around from place to place, where I met the most unhelpful people of this whole trip... the conversation went something like this..

Me :can I buy a box for my bike

Them: we dont have any

Me: well can I check it in without one

Them: no, we dont accept bikes without boxes

Me: well can you suggest what I should do

Them:most people bring a box

Me: well I just cycled from chicago so it would have been difficult

Them: you need a box

So mentally preparing myself to abandon my bike in the airport and quite possibly set off another major security alert I phoned a friend.. specifically beki.

To cut a long story shorter, beki was a legend, found a bike shop, specifically Performance Bicycle in Torrence, where they sorted out a box and some packaging, which beki then dropped off to me, and became a bike roadie, whilst I took off the saddle, handlebars and pedals and successfully shoved the bike in its box... result.. so once again, thank you to beki, for ensuring that the bike that got me safely here could come back with me!
Whilst I was waiting for Beki, I had a moment where I thought bloody hell, I did it. And mixed in there was a sadness to leave the road behind, if only for a while, and leave all my friends here behind, even if also only for a while..

But im lucky in my life that I have family and friends to return to, a job I love and a big country gig or 2, where I will be helping to swab people for the bone marrow donor list, and no doubt jumping up and down to The Journey!

Thank you to everyone who has supported me, together the rough total is around £5800 raised and im so grateful to all who have shared this with me.

What we do in life always echoes inside ( - Mike Peters )- so dream aloud, Fight back and Stay Alive!

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Day 24 - Here I stand.....

I thought I would start todays blog last night as im not sure what state im going to be in, should I get to the pier in 1 piece. So to make sure I say everything I wanted to say and risk boring you all, the first half of this blog is reflection of the journey the night before.

Part 1

First and foremost this ride has been for the people whose names are on my prayer flags. They are family, friends and people I have never met but all have been tied to me and shared every step of this adventure with me. They are (in no particular order) :

Dave Spragg
Mitch Dooley
Stevie Collins
Vera Collins
Peter Collins
Peter Sirett
Marija Milinkovic
Eric Ray
Gordon Wilson
Anne Wilson
Tom Lloyd Twitchen
Hazel Rolf
George Rolf
Richard Tankard
Irene Burns
Sue Jones
Melanie Sykes
Harris Shryock
Darren Clark
Viv Pugh
Norman Winn
Mickey Collins
Scott Weten Kemp
Kelly Lick
Frances Catt
Ken Owens
Reuben Graham
Mike Peters
Monica Thompson
Irene Wyeth
Damien Blake
Denise Falcus
Irene Mulloy
Henry Mulloy
Mandy Setterfield
Judith Brown
Sara Williams
Urszula Smith
Jean Kavangh
Una Quinn
Jill Yates
Celia Wilson
Melvin Wilson
Paul Wilson
Jean Ford
Sandie Ford

I described this journey in the beginning as solo and unsupported, and in so much as I have been physically alone, it was by no means unsupported. I cannot name everyone who has commented on my blogs or donated as I would wish to, but special thanks go to (again in no particular order):

My family - Thank you for your support of all things crazy
My work mothers - for putting up with me and messages of encouragement
Mickey for his phone calls when I have been low and general motivation, you are an official legend
Mike and Jules Peters and family for the inspiration, encouragement, and music!
Dave Spragg - for friendship
Emma Dunne, especially for phone call when homesick
Beki and Randy - for friendship and support
Joe Silva- for being awesome and the support
Kelly dooley creek - for organising help and support
Louize and Mark Evans - for shorts and showing me the Grand Canyon
Monica Thompson - for letting me crash unexpectedly
Faith - for taking interest In a stranger and the journey
Buscot ward - for cake eating, climbing the stairs, support and helping to provide a great place to work
David Vieira - for kindly donating the gig venue
Helen Simons and family - for welcoming me and helping getting me organised at the scary beginning part
Rob Rushing - for sharing, support and swabbing fun!
James Chippendale - for your enthusiasm and support.
Sophie Franklin - for being the best kind of best friend.

Everyone who has sent messages of encouragement, support, inspiration and donated... could not have done it without ya x

So thats the Oscar Speech out of the way.....

Together we have raised over £3800 and hopefully more from the gig..
I have cycled over 2300 miles, burnt 96000 calories (at best guess), renewed my faith in humanity and made new friends.

My favourite part of the ride (excluding the finish) has been sitting at the edge of the painted desert, breathing the air and listening to the wind.
My worst day is a toss up between headwind day in New Mexico and headwind day in Arizona.
I have learnt that I can keep going long past the point where I thought I was done for.
I have had 2 real scrapes with injury or worse but have siezed many many opportunities to really live.
My fingers do not work properly and my foot is screwed up.
I have lived every minute, breathed every breath and taken in every heartbeat along the way

Love Hope Strength Foundation together with delete blood cancer swabs people for the bone marrow donor list to help save lives... if you have enjoyed this blog, please consider Getting on the list - it takes 5 mins and you could help save a life... please go to to get a home kit!  If you have not donated to the ride and feel able to contribute, please go to and help get the total to over £4000!

LHS was founded by Mike Peters of The Alarm and James Chippendale. Both are legends and Mike never ceases to amaze me with his boundless energy and enthusiasm. He is my inspiration and his music has kept my pedals turning round day after day. Huge thanks to them and Jules Peters for allowing me to be a small part of the whirlwind!

Finally,  please note that anyone could have done this... YOU could have done this... you can do anything you want to, you just have to make the choice...

Part 2

It was kinda wierd packing up this morning, knowing that this would, if all went to plan, be the last day of this journey.  I had everything ready to go for the moment it got light as wanted to get through the pass before traffic got really bad.,
As I set off, the usual heavy legged feeling was there, but I tried to tell myself that they had felt like that every day at the start. I was still worried about my back tyre, convinced I had a slow puncture but it felt ok, but I was cursing myself for not changing the inner tube as a precaution.

I followed the frontage road, looking for the freeway entrance that would then take me through the hills and when I found it, hopped on. The first problem of the day struck... the shoulder was closed for two miles and by closed I mean walled off not just coned off, so I was actually in a lane... not a good plan at all... if I was to survive today, I had to find another way. I pulled in at the works entrance snd chatted to the foreman, who directed me to a side road that had just been retarmacked, saying that it led back to the mojave freeway, which cut through the hills surrounding LA and is the only way through. Result ... smooth, fast, all good. Didnt last long though and before long I was back on the freeway.

Mojave freeway has steep descents of 6% where lorries are advised to stop and check their brakes, and there are frequent signs for escape lanes for the lorries... none of this boded well.  To top it all off, the shoulder had bumps every 20 meters. So there I was, standing up on my pedals to be seen better, being shaken to the bone, brakes on to keep my speed reasonable and hoping that I would live to see LA.  Fortunately all the drivers seemed to be taking the warnings seriously and for the most part, drove sensibly.  It was still a hell of an adrenaline rush though.

12 hair raising miles later,I was directed off to the old route 66 road... and it was a true pleasure to cycle... dropping down through the hills in a reasonable road, quiet with just a goods train for company. I really enjoyed it. The road then wound under the freeway to a lovely rural community. Then it was onwards, waiting at the tracks for the train to pass the crossing, and up to the old route 66.

I was burning by this time, the sun was beating down, and I was starting to get stopped by traffic lights which was slowing me down. As my legs had warmed up, the pace had improved and I was struck by the wide roads, with proper bike lanes (UK take note, they didnt stop after 50 meters) and spanish looking villas with immaculate sculpted gardens. The workmen were out with the leaf blowers and hedge trimmers and it was very pleasant to cycle through. 

Up to this point I had been concentrating on not getting mown down, so I hadnt really thought about where I was and how close I was, this was the first time (of several) that it hit me smack in the face.... oh nope, that was the bees or wasps on this part of the road who werent concentrating on where they were going as I got torpedoed by several of them, so much so that I made a concerted effort to keep my mouth shut as I cycled along... I could see the headlines... "charity cyclist dies after being stung at the back of the throat by a wasp with a misguided sense of direction"!  Fortunately the wasp/bee storm was over pretty quickly and I started dropping down through the various towns in the suburbs of LA. 

I liked these places, particularly Duarte, fortuna, Claremont and Arcadia, each with their own personality and feel to them. I thought that if this was LA, I could see why people liked it here. 

The road ran on and crossed over the freeway. A motorbike drew up alongside and asked about my ride, so I explained. He commented on how thin my tyres were,  then wished me a safe journey.  20 or maybe  30 seconds later, there was a clang of something metal, a pop and a rear puncture. I actually laughed at the timing of this and without too much concern sat down at the edge of the road and replaced the inner tube... 45 minutes this time (you may recall it was an hour last time) and as I had been making good progress, I thought I would still be fine for time.

I phoned Beki, just to update on progress and then went on my way, still feeling pretty good. It wasnt to last... as I dropped even further down towards LA City center, I got cut up by a bus and then my front tyre went flat!
REALLY??? It felt a bit like everything was trying to stop me getting to the pier today. So once again, I sat down and repaired the damage. The main problem being that this was my last inner tube and one more puncture had the capacity to ruin everything. I kept the old inner tube in case I needed to patch it up, and although this one took 30 mins to mend, I was now looking at a very long afternoon with 62 miles minimum to go.

As I reached the centre, I was struck once again by where I was and choked back the tears, telling myself I wasnt there yet!  Then a right turn onto Sunset Boulevard and a long drag up to find the turning for Santa Monica boulevard and my path to the pier and the end of the ride.

It was starting to get late and I was getting concerned about what time I would get to the pier,. With punctures and traffic lights I was now looking at a 6pm arrival. I began to get frustrated with the lights as I was stopping very frequently and couldnt hold a good speed because of it. I was aware beki and randy were waiting for me, and didnt want to cycle in the dark much!
I asked some 'cops' on bikes how far and they gave me news of at least 2 hours, which nade my heart sink. 19:30 arrival in darkness beckoned.
I continued on, turned into Santa Monica blvd and got my lights on as starting to get dark. Then the wierdest thing happened... I stumbled upon a zombie, then a vampire, a ghost... the road had been closed for a halloween festival so I spent a few happy minutes dodging pedestrians instead of cars and laughed at the random event on this ride which made the day. It was by now pretty dark and I was fairly nervous, especially as the cops had warned me about the large amount of drunk drivers out on the road.  I cycle in the dark at home obviously but it is completely different doing that in a strange city. I stopped at some lights when a cyclist pulled up alongside, asked if I was ok (musta looked petrified lol) and where I was headed. He then offered to cycle with me to the pier. Which made the last 6 miles much nicer... 2 bikes are better than 1, especially when 1 knows the city and therfore I finished up at the entrance to the pier, alive, unhurt and safe. So grateful to him for doing that...

So I was at the pier entrance.. phoned beki... "we are waiting at the sign on the pier" came the reply... only another 200 meters to go... up the slope and down the other side... to a chorus of cheers and clapping! Beki and Randy had rounded up a load of random english people to see me to the end! What a lovely thought!

No tears... even I was surprised given my recent affliction of crying at every emotional moment. But I was shaking quite a bit...

Big hugs from beki and randy... how absolutely fantastic to be able to share this moment with some friends.
Then it was photo time, although I had ruined all photo plans by arriving in the dark, which made it tricky. With the help of a flashlight provided by a cop, I have a record of me at the end of the road, with the flags!  (I will take photos of the individual flags and names at the gig tomorrow night.)
A phone call from friends on a night shift completed the day!

Food, at an English pub (to help with my homesickness) then to the travel lodge and facebook catch up.
I plan to blog about tomorrow, so the journey is not quite done.

I wondered about how to finish off todays blog, there seemed only one fitting way:

With Love, Hope and Strength.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Day 23 - Give me Love Hope and Strength

I was pretty knackered this morning... 2 tough days in a row had left me physically exhausted... not having the chance to catch up with friends had left me mentally low. I knew I had a long day and having had breakfast I checked my tyre again... it had needed blowing up quite a bit yesterday and I thought I might have a slow puncture. Once again this morning, I inflated it, wondering whether to just change the inner tube but as it seemed to be holding, I set off. It was fairly cold but with my wind jacket on, and the usual uphill climb I got very warm pretty quickly.
The next place along was Newberry Springs, 25 miles down the road and I took the interstate after being advised that the Route66 highway was pretty bumpy until newberry springs when the road condition improved. For once I did not have road envy, as the interstate shoulder was smooth. I wasnt sure whether I was going slowly because of my back tyre, the slight headwind or the uphill gradient. Probably a bit of all three, but it seemed to take forever to reach the town.
On the way, I noticed that the desert was becoming sandier, with less rock and brush and tried to distract myself by letting my mind wonder. This is what I like about cycling, it leaves the mind free and thoughts roll through like the wheels rolling on the tarmac. Also it distracts from any discomfort you may be feeling. I thought about my family, friends, how fortunate I am, how I might feel if I get to the pier tomorrow... a million different shards all splintering in my head.

Eventually Newberry Springs came into sight and I stopped to eat, hoping that wifi would be available... nope, no catch up.
After this the next 30 miles to Barstow were tough but at least I was on the old route 66, actually cycling through the desert, seaching (in vain) for snakes and spiders.  It was a nice road, with only the occasional car passing. At one point I was directed to the other side of the interstate, but having consulted my off line maps, decided to continue on this road, only to find myself at a checkpoint for a marine corps logistics base... I could pass, but they would have to search my bags... dont think so... so turned round and jumped back on the interstate! I saw a few lizards running away from my wheels here as well, which made the detour worthwhile.

I got to Barstow quicker than I thought I would and although it was fairly busy (since Ive got used to quiet country towns) , it was quite a nice place and suddenly it hit me that I was in california and tomorrow (hopefully) would be the end! More tears (got to stop that) as I realised how far id come, and how close I was....

I found a starbucks and oh joy of joys could finally catch up with home... all the messages of support buoyed my mood no end and by the time I set off again, the remaining 40 miles of the day, seemed a mere hop and my legs felt light again.... this is how important the support has been to me, how it has kept my legs turning round and got me to the edge of LA. Without it I would have ground to a halt long ago!

Those final miles were on the Route 66 road and I had been prewarned that it had been freshly tarmacked (thanks faith), so I knew to be careful. Thankfully it had bedded down a bit, and there wasnt too much loose gravel around.
I stopped at the bottle forest, a colection of bottles, mounted like branches on poles, topped with all kinds of recycled items. The owner came out and told me that he had built it over 14 years... it really was a work of art and well worth stopping for. The last 15 miles were reasonable, winding up, before dropping down into Victorville.  I made my way to the motel I had been recommended (up a hill of course) and the manager kindly upgraded me to a suite, after discussing the merits of Sidcup where he had once lived! So I sit writing this in luxury lol.

I then had the pleasure of the company of two lovely people, don and kimberly, who took me out to dinner. It was lovely to meet them and I hope to see you at the gig on friday! Thankyou!

So another day done, one which saw the power that Love Hope and Strength from friends can have to a knackered, leg weary, slightly homesick cyclist.... Roll on tomorrow...

Day 22 - Try to stop me, I will carry on...

Thanks to Dave for the inspiration for todays blog title and the song which kept me pedalling today.

This is my second version of this blog as I had no wifi last night and then technical issues with blogspot so this version is with 24 hours of hindsight.

You may remember that I had a torrid time on day 21, which led me to crawl in to oatman after dark, thankfully welcomed by monica and her family for which I am very grateful. I hadnt seen any of oatman in the dark so before I set off we had pictures in front of the painted wall.
It was lovely to meet a fellow alarm fan but once again I turned my eyes westwards. Because of the shortfall in mileage, today I had to cycle 114 miles as there is NOTHING between needles and ludlow except desert.
Thankfully the winds had died down and as monica had told me, the road to needles was good downhill most of the way. It was pretty cold and my legs didnt feel as though they belonged to me after yesterdays battering,  but as it was easy for the first 23 miles, I didnt notice the screaming yet!
I was disappointed not to see any of the donkeys that roam wild but i did see a roadrunner as it sprinted across my path, and before anyone asks, no unfortunately he was not followed by coyote!

So I stopped in Needles for a second breakfast,  knowing that this was it, until I got to Ludlow. At the subway there, I met 2 lovely women, who showed an interest in my ride and wished me well for the journey. I also stocked up on sugar for the remainder of the day. Then the hard work began. I finally saw the Colorado river, and here,  calm and serene, it showed nothing of the immense power that carved out the Grand Canyon. I realised that I had entered california,   there was no fanfare,  no grand entrance and accordingly no emotional reaction to entering my 8th and last state, very low key.

The next 40 miles were tough, uphill most of the way and pain all over. My mood was low and even if a den of rattlesnakes had stood up and applauded my effort, I wouldnt have noticed,  i was so wrapped in my world of hurt.  I was going very slowly and didnt really notice the scenery, though I did occasionally glance at the mountains that surrounded me. And so it went on, and on and on.  I despaired of making it to Ludlow and mentally prepared myself for spending the night in the desert. Then my ipod died...... things could not have been worse
Then with about 40 miles to go, I remembered the song lyrics that Dave had reminded me of.., Try to stop me, I will carry on, try to oppose me, I will prevail. A wave of determination came over me and the legs started working better... the next 20 miles were better, as I wavered between despair and determination. Im not telling you this to gain anything, rather I want to show that even when you think you cant do any more, or continue any further, you can... whatever it may apply to in life and anyone can do it.

So the final 20 miles,  determination won, and I put my head down and tried to time trial my way to the end. The mountains were beautiful in the evening light and as the sun started to dip behind them, the desert shone with a purple hue, with the outline of the mountains behind. I continued to push my legs beyond what I though I could as painfully the amount of miles left until Ludlow crept downwards. Aided by (finally) some downhill and a slight tailwind, it was just getting to the point where I couldnt see the road, when the turnoff arrived.
Now hoping that the motel was open, I crawled over to it, it appeared shut! Fortunately some kind soul directed me to the gas station, where the keys were held. I was informed that there was no wifi, but they kinda had me over a barrel, so I had no choice but to accept.
I missed updating fb and catching up with everyone from home, but 114 miles done, caught up to schedule again and I had prevailed - just.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Day 21 .... From the highest of highs to the lowest of lows....

Sticking my feet out of the door from breakfast was enough to tell me the weather had changed.... specifically the wind was up. A second longer look outside gave me the sinking feeling... it was strong and was most definately not a tailwind. At least it wasnt cold.. but having learnt my lesson the other day, on went the gloves and windjacket anyway and with that I put my head to the wind.

I had plans for the day... to cover 100 ish miles to the state boarder and not least meet up for lunch with monica, a likeminded alarm fan who had been in touch via facebook once she heard my journey was going to take me through her hometown....

Arizona had other ideas. Once again a state had decided not to let me go easily... either that or this was so I had truly earned santa monica pier. So Arizona let the headwinds rip. The first 30 miles to Kingman were without doubt the worst I have ever experienced on a bike. Worse than new mexico. Initially I managed 8 miles per hour but as the hours went past 6 was the best it got. The scenery... nope cant tell you much about that as my eyes were fixed to the tarmac and my teeth were gritted. When I did look up it was into a haze of dust thst the wind had kicked up. The first 10 miles were either into a headwind or a sidewind, so vicious that several times I was almost blown off my bike.
These conditions had the advantage of making me forget the small problems from yesterday. 
It is herevthat I will introduce you to the concept of catch up miles becsuse for about 5 miles I was lucky enough that the road turned, turning the sidewind into a tailwind for a brief, hopeful moment. Catch up miles are where you have bedn going slowly for some reason, be it bad road surface, headwind, or gradient. Then for a period of time,  conditions improve. This is where you must go down to the drops, put your head down and put as much effort in as possible to go as far and as fast as possible before the conditions change for the worse again. So for those few delightful miles, I was racketing along at 20 mph... didnt kadt and because I knew the route, I knew I would be facing this headwind for the rest of the day.
The last 10 miles of this stretch, into kingman, I could barely reach walking pace (you know its not great when the tumbleweed is hurtling straight at you) and was getting mouthfuls of dust that had been kicked up. I must have looked so wretched that a kind lady in her truck, offered me her condolances (she had done some cycling) and offered me a lift into town. I explained why I couldnt, at which point she apologised that she didnt have any food or drink to give me... This encounter boyed my spirits for the next 5 mins, by which time I was back to shouting obsceneties at the wind. The sign for macdonalds was a welcome sight, even though it must of taken me 15 mins to cover a few hundred yards, so strong was the wind at this point.  I sunk into a dennys, absolutely exhausted. Every fibre of my being had just about reached breaking point and then stretched beyond it. More than that, I couldnt see how on earth I was going to get to oatman, where monica lived, before dark, never mind the border.
I phoned monica, trying to convert a plan a to plan b in my head. Now monica and I had never met, but without hesitation, she offered me a bed for the night if I could get to oatman, as there is no motel there. I was so grateful for the offer, as it meant I didnt have to stop in kingman or put any other plan in my head, into action. If I stopped at oatman, I would be a little short on mikes but not as disastrously as it could be and with a better day tomorrow, I might make up time.
I knew it was the right decision when a kind gentleman told me that the winds would be better tomorrow.

So having eaten, and some determination restored, I set off again, knowing that the next 30 would probably be as bad... I wadnt disappointed. I knew thanks to monica, that I had about 20 miles of flat before a steep climb over the pass. Which would have been fine, if the wind hadnt continued to gust, (apoarently up to 55mph).  The road wasnt great condition either, which didnt help, and I continued to struggle onwards, hitting the lowest I had felt this entire trip.  I keot the pedals turning, occasionally stopping to try and admire the view. As got closer to the mountains, the desert floor got more rockier and less sandy than previous, and I kept my eye out for interesting creatures, even hopping off my bike and going back to photograph a (dead) snake!
Losing the will, I made it to the foot of the pass. The climbing was ok, and once in amongst the mountains, I was somewhat shrltered from the wind... but it was all taking too much time and sunset was fast approaching.
The road wound up the side of the mountain rocks, no barrier in many places so was being extra careful. About half way up I stopped at a gift shop (lol) and met geaorge the manager,  who was kjnd enough to give me a coke and offer me a chair,  but not before calling me crazy!
I only sst for 5 mins, aware time was ticking on and pushed on. The road was stunning with mountains towering to either side, but as I finally reached the top, the sun was dropping behind the horizon.  Downhill catch up time right... eerrr nope. The gradient was steep, I had my brakes on full and was picking my way round the u turn bends. By this time it was getting hard to see, so eventually as night fell, I got off my bike.

I knew oatman wasnt that far and it was becoming dangerous to continue on the descent. So I walked the final 2 miles,  until I saw lights in the road, and monica calling out my name. Man was I grateful!
Monica turned out to be a bubbly kindhearted person, who made me feel so welcome in her home, and along with her children and her husband, deserves a medal for just accepting a stranger into their midst for the night. Not only that but I got to see all their pets, includjng loads of small frogs.... very cool.
As I write this I am knackered and desperate to sleep, knowing it will be another long day tomorrow.. the forcast is supposed to be better tho and I remain hopeful. So another day done, catch up hopefully tomorrow, then just 2 more days of this crazy adventure!

So I hit the lowest of the low, but maybe for good reason, cos I got to spend time with monica and get to know her, instead of the quick coffee planned... fingers crossed for tomorrow... nite all