Glasgow to the Falkirk Wheel

This weekend I was up in Glasgow. It was freakishly warm – too hot for sitting about, but just right for cycling. But I didn’t have my bike, and due to a failure in lateral thinking, I wasn’t sure how I could get any glorious sunshine miles in. Then it hit me: why not hire a bike? I called a bike shop and they had no bikes. But being friendly (ie non London) types, they recommended another bike shop that was more likely to have bikes. The bike shop turned out to be about 500 metres from where I was staying and they let me keep my bags full of haggises and hiking boots in their store room while I went out to faire un petit randonee a velo. They also gave me a big map of Glasgow and directions to the canal, as I mentioned that I’d like to go to Falkirk. Big up Alpine Bikes – super friendly people, well maintained bikes and excellent tips on where to go for a ride.

I was riding a mountain bike, which initially felt really weird. I think it’s the suspension that freaks me out, it feels a little like a clowns bike. I wondered if I’d made the right choice turning down the offer of a helmet. But I set out towards the Forth & Clyde canal, and was almost immediately suspended above the city. The canal runs above the streets and is amazing oasis of calm in Glasgow. I followed the signs towards Bowling until I reached the junction where the Forth & Clyde heads west towards Falkirk and Edinburgh. Glasgow slipped away and brightly coloured fields of green and oil-seed-yellow replaced the houses. There were lots of people out on the tow path – elderly couples on holiday, dog walkers, pasty-skinned teenagers with fishing rods and bottles of irn bru, as well as joggers and other cyclists.

The tow path is not a place to ride quickly, and I enjoyed watching the scenery go past at a leisurely pace. I started to feel hungry but ignored it. I started to feel thirsty but ignored that too – slightly foolish as I had plenty of water in my bag.

After 2 hours of sun-soaked canal riding, I arrived at the Falkirk Wheel, my destination! I’ve been wanting to go to the Falkirk Wheel since it opened, as I find it fascinating. I stood and gawped at it for a while. Then rode up closer to it and gawped some more. Finally I sat down with my sandwiches and carried on gawping, watching it turn and the boats make the improbable journey from the canal by my feet to the aqueduct in the sky.

Eventually I’d had my fill of the Falkirk Wheel – and had far more than my fill of oatmeal & raison cookies (such a glutton) – and I headed to Falkirk to get the train back to Glasgow. This was the least pleasant bit of my trip, mainly because Falkirk appears to be a massive shit hole, and also because I hate riding mountain bikes on roads. And so back to Glasgow, return to the shop, collection of haggises and hiking boots, and the end of my Scottish adventure.

St George’s Cross, Glasgow – Falkirk Wheel: 23 miles

Sunburn: 1 foot, 1 ankle

Oatmeal & raison cookies: 3 consumed

Glass on tow path: really not all that much at all!

A grand day out and a well recommended ride.

The double Herne: Herne Hill to Herne Bay

After talking about it for some time, yesterday I went for a ride with my brothers, plus Bernie. We’d pondered where to go – suggestions included Brighton, Cambridge, Canterbury and laps of Richmond Park (down with laps!). Eventually we decided on the seaside, and I am a fan of symmetry and things that have a nice ring to them so I thought “why not Herne Hill to Herne Bay?”. Of course, it helps that Herne Hill is near my house…

The original plan was to leave at 8am. I pushed this back to 9.30. We eventually met after 10, and sat about eating pastries and drinking coffee for a while. Then we went to the velodrome for a bit. So we didn’t really leave Herne Hill until 11. But we had borrowed a Garmin, which meant that the likelihood of us actually reaching Herne Bay was significantly better than using the 5 sheets of A4 paper I’d printed out. This was the route.

The first part of the route was the dull getting-out-of-London bit. This involved the south circular and the joys of Bexleyheath and Dartford. Before Dartford I managed to choke on a piece of blossom, pretty unpleasant. So far so good.

We stopped at a beautiful field of yellow oil seed rape, and while we admired the view, C announced that he was going to take a piss. We managed to get lost both as a group and as individuals. And there were several stops, including one for marshmallows and apple tango (I would not recommend this), one because J was “just too hungry to carry on” and one because J noticed halfway down a big hill that his handlebars had come loose.

Rochester was the halfway point and we celebrated by getting extremely lost. Some absolute chunt of a driver blared his horn at us going over a bridge. We filled our boots with “historic” Rochester, we headed back onto smaller roads. When I’d looked at the route, the second half seemed pretty flat, but I completely underestimated Basser Hill, a fairly disgusting incline. Great views from the top almost, but not quite, made up for it.

After that, we trundled on towards Faversham (and more food stops), taking a detour into a very conviently located Sainsbury’s to use their loos. I thought I could smell the sea, and sure enough as we headed to Whitstable I spotted some beach huts. The wind along the coast was entirely unwanted but the first sign saying Herne Bay was a welcome sight.

We finished on the sea front, pint in hand. Some West Ham fans walked past and shouted at C that he looked like an Arsenal fan thanks to his incredibly matchy red-and-white clothes/bike (this was a top-5 moment).

Tally for the day:
Miles: approx 70 (strava recording stopped at Faversham as I forgot to charge my phone before leaving)
Food consumed: 3 bags Jelly Babies, lots of cereal bars, dried fruit, marshmallows
Bees in ears: 2
Weird creaking noise that I worked out was my knee: 1
Jokes made about J’s “period correct” Merkx: countless
Number of pubs seen called “The Ship Inn”: 5

Photos here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hatapota/sets/72157629817622364/

“Step in time!” – Oxford Town & Gown 10k race

It’s not really part of bike training, but this weekend I did my first ever run – and by run, I mean race, not just “going for a run”.

It was the Oxford Town & Gown, raising money for the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign. I signed up with a group of friends, planning to cycle from London to Oxford and then run the race. I sadly had to pull out of the ride element, as I’m not recovered enough from my accident to be able to do these sorts of things just yet, but the magnificent 6 set off from London at 4am and rode to Oxford, via Watlington, where they were met by our country cousins. Both parties were dressed as chimney sweeps.

 
I set off from home at 5am, leaving plenty of time “in case of traffic”. Yesterday was a Sunday, and there was – of course – no traffic, so I was in Oxford by about 7.30. Plenty of time… for a 10am start. After drinking mint tea at the bus station (nicer than it sounds), I went to meet one of the Oxford contingent who had set up a “Bike and Brush Emporium” for all the tired chimney sweeps to leave their bikes and brushes while they ran.

Up until this point I’d been wearing jeans and sneakers. But the time had come to get changed into costume – Mary Poppins! The only thing missing was a parasol, which I regretted a little as it turned out to be a very sunny day.

5 of us went to the start line: me, Bernie, Alan, Tom and John. We cracked some jokes about our predicted 30 minute finish times. I started feeling a bit nervous, like I needed the loo (or was it just all the mint tea?). Too late to pull out, too late to do any training. Christine Hamilton (lord knows why!) did a little speech, and then the gun went off. We slowly shuffled forward. Then started to jog. Then crossed the line!

Almost immediately we passed the non-running sweeps (around 10 of them) and they gave us a massive cheer. The race was on. From the crowds we heard “come on chimney sweeps!” and “look, it’s Mary Poppins!” and we obliged with “chim-chim-cheroo” and “step in time”. Tom and John started moving ahead and I matched my pace to Al’s. We chatted about our jobs, our lives and how we were hoping to avoid blisters. Almost as soon as I said the B word, I felt a blister form on the sole of my foot. Urgh.

1km passed. Only a tenth of the way?! 2km. 3km. We looped past the chimney sweeps again as well as a man on a penny farthing. My shoelaces untied and a kind man pointed it out and stopped me from falling and breaking my neck. Just before 4km there was the first station. We walked briskly and downed 2 cups of water, then started running again. 5km was a welcome sight, and another loop past the chimney sweeps. Halfway between 5km and 6km my hip and knee started to feel really sore and I started to doubt myself. It was a very long way to 6km, where we walked for a couple of hundred metres.

Back running again, we entered the park, where the last 3-and-a-bit km were. Another water point. Running in the shade. A breeze from a lake! 7km passed and felt a lot better. But it quickly got hard again, and Al and I were taking any excuse to walk for a few metres. 8km and I was feeling grim. I started talking about how much I loved everyone. A man in a chicken costume ran past and we spent the final 2km trying to pass each other. We looped past the finish line, and spotted more sweeps, who gave us a cheer. The 9km sign was a welcome sight! Al, Bernie and I made the executive decision to walk for 100 metres. And then we ran. Bernie made some terrible, terrible puns about the chicken. We kept on running.

We saw a sign saying 400 metres to go. Bernie and I passed the chicken. I tried to run while turning round every few metres to cheer on Al. Al and the chicken were neck and neck. 200 metres to go. I picked up the pace. 100 metres to go. Bernie held out his hand and we sprinted to the end and across the line! My legs felt like jelly and it was simultaneously the best and worst feeling ever!


Lots of hugging, photographs, an interview with the race organisers, more hugging, more photos, collecting our goody bags, and I finally remembered to turn my strava off. We met up with the other chimney sweeps – sidetracked on the way by a little girl who asked if I was a real-life princess – and back to the Bag and Bike Emporium. Snacks were brought out, along with a bottle of port I’d brought along for post-race celebrations.

After downing most of the port, we headed to the Turf Tavern, where sunshine and beer awaited us. The pub wasn’t open yet so we polished off the port (passed to the left, of course) and ate more snacks, before the bar opened and we got on the beers. Eventually I got out of my Mary Poppins costume and into more normal clothes, and the hat got passed around for everyone to try on (and for yet more photos). I felt drunk and tired but very very happy.

By mid-afternoon, we all had trains to catch so we headed off. Such a brilliant day – excellent company, lovely weather, a great cause. Bernie was the man behind the organising of the day and he really was amazing.

I got my official race time later that day. I did it in 01:10:42 – not too bad for a first race, first 10k distance and in costume. My longest run until that point was the night before, just under 6km. I actually feel inspired to do another 10k – though I think next time I’ll wear more practical clothes!!

Two months post-break…

Two months after breaking my elbow, and I’m very definitely cycling again.

My first time on a bike post-accident was in Morocco. “Team Velo” hired four of the worst bikes known to man, and rode about the city. Part of the rim disintegrated while I was riding and got lodged in my brakes. It wasn’t a big deal, neither the brakes nor the gears worked anyway.

I bought a new bike. She is called Ivy, thanks to her christmassy paint job. She did have a sticker but I had to take it off as it was very offensive.

The six weeks I wasn’t riding saw some lovely weather. Sunshine, bright skies, and I was stuck on a bus. The six weeks since starting to ride again have included the wettest April on record. I am perpetually soaked. It’s three pairs of socks a day kind of weather.

I’ve done very few long rides. I went out to Kent, got as far as Gravesend, thought to myself “what a shithole”, and came back.

I’ve done a few very drunken rides. Two that I actually don’t recall, except that I found myself riding around in circles in Peckham bus station (Peckham bus station is not on my way home). Another that was fine at the time, but left me with a hangover so bad that I toppled off the bike the next day. I’m going to do more sober cycling.

Having a broken elbow has actually helped my riding, as I’m more conscious of my arm positioning, on my road bike at least. Then again, when I had my bike fitting, the man pointed to the life-size poster of Eddy Merkx he had on the wall and said “you just need to look like that”. I’m not quite there yet.

There’s six weeks to go before Nightrider and I’ve done very little to prepare. Any sponsorship monies very gratefully received! www.justgiving.com/lamb-on-a-bike

Descent

My year thus far feels very neatly divided into pre-accident and post-accident. Pre-accident, I spent a month not drinking, and felt happier than I think I’ve felt in a long time. Post-accident, I’ve cried my eyes out a thousand times, I’ve faced some fears, and just when I feel like I’ve got all the threads of my life safely in my hand, I realise I’ve dropped one and it all falls apart around me.

Pre-accident, I rode my bike with the wind in my hair. Post-accident, I’m so horribly anxious about cycling. I worry about everything on my bike – the handlebars, of course, but also every other component part. I convinced myself my wheel was coming loose and had to pull over at the side of Old Kent Road to check. It wasn’t. Every noise, every bump, I’m sure it’s something failing. And that I’ll fall.

I find myself thinking about death a lot. I imagine what it would be like to be hit by the lorries I see every day. I imagine what it would be like to fall going around Elephant & Castle roundabout. I imagine slipping on a drain cover and going underneath a bus.

I don’t have recurring nightmares any more. Four weeks of seeing the ground rise up to meet me every time I shut my eyes is too much to deal with. I can’t describe the dream without crying, which resulted in locking myself in the loos at work to sob on more than one occasion.

I need to remember that no matter how bad things now, at least I don’t have the nightmares.

It’s not that I’m worried about the pain. The pain was bad, but it was manageable. I can deal with the tangible. A broken elbow, damaged tendons, whiplash, cuts and bruises. These are fine. It’s the loss of control, the fear of the unknown.

I worry when I’m riding and I worry when I’m not riding about the fact that I worry when I’m riding.

I can’t escape my head.