A blog about cycling...especially the long distance stuff

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Eat Meat (And Vege) For Charity - raised £660!

Last weekend Carla and I ran a fund-raising BBQ at our place. Our plan was, to cash in our "Nectar" points and then top up what ever else we needed with cash, and host a "Gourmet BBQ" in our backyard...with our guests donating whatever they felt was appropriate after they'd been well fed (and admittedly, well lubricated).

We were SO lucky with the weather. We also spent a lot of effort getting a good menu together and put together about 20 dishes of all sorts. The Duck and Plum sauce was a definite winner, along with Carla's amazing rocky road. The latter of which I need to find a way to stop melting as a few slices of that would come in handy for a sugar hit when riding!

What really made it cool however was our friends company - and wonderful generosity at the end of the night. We raised £330 each, for both the Dom Pardy Trust, and also for Rethink! Thank you so much guys...we were so pleased we also donated the cost of putting it on.

My last day at work tomorrow. The new bike has been great! Yesterday I got up at 6am and did a 60km circuit around Richmond Common before work. She handles really well on the whole, although a few jumpy gears and I need to switch to SPD pedals again and fit my rack on. All of that too happen tomorrow all going well, and a trial ride in "final" set up before I head down to Lands end on Tuesday...no backing out now!

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Mind the gap

On Saturday my wife and I put on a "gourmet bbq" and were just delighted with the support from all our friends...your guys are amazing! We are tallying up the donations buts its given both the Dom Pardy Trust and Rethink donations a really big boost that was much needed...I'll post the numbers shortly with a few photos.


In the meantime...I had a bit of a shock last week. I'd  taken Bianca (Yes - the bike) in for a final health check before I head off next week...and got a call from the mechanic saying he'd found a crack in the frame. Worst fears were confirmed. It doesn't look like much to the naked eye, but getting in there with the flash revealed Bianca was a sick girl who would not safely get me the required 1000 miles:

So, I've started the slow process of trying to get a replacement under warranty. Whilst the bike is a Bianchi Camaleonte hybrid bike, and frames are covered for 5 years, I have no chance of getting this sorted before next Tuesday. "Bianca" has done over 12,000 km so I've been more than happy with that bike - I'll try to get the frame replaced and then decide what to do with her from there. I'm also really glad I found out about this now while I can do something about it...not in the back country, miles from any bike shop!

So, I went bike shopping on Sunday. After some frenzied research and getting thoroughly hacked off with Evans Cycles website showing bikes they wont have in stock for months (argh I hate on-line retailers that advertise stuff they don't have!!) I narrowed it down to a couple of options then went round 7 or 8 bike shops on Sunday looking at options.

In the end, took a bit of a risk going for a road bike frame - a risk because in training I wasn't riding in that position...but the bike is beautifully suited to touring and will do a better job than my nippy commuter hybrid. 

I got a Specialized Tricross Sport:

Cyclecross bikes are tough enough to take a few knocks whilst still potentially having a bit of zip to them, and I'll switch the fatter 32mm tyres that came with it, to narrower road tyres. Tonight I've been fitting all my bits and pieces and will now cram in as much training as possible in the next 7 days...yup, just a week to go!

Thank you so much to all my friends and colleagues for your generosity...its almost time for me to pay it back now and do this thing


Monday, 21 May 2012

T-minus 2 weeks....

2 Weeks to go! So: My start date is set...on Wednesday June 6, I'll peddle out from Lands End. I'm looking forward to getting started now. Fitness ways am about right, I took the last weekend off training and my Achilles pain has gone so that was probably the right thing to do even though it felt weird not to be cycling. I'll sum up training another day, as I'm now looking at all the small details for the trip, with the one big detail being "The Route".

There are so many different ways of doing this, I'm certainly not taking the shortest and fastest route, and I'm going to be flexible every day keeping in mind the weather. "Normally" the prevailing wind in the UK is from the south west. So am committed now to giving myself the best possible chance of favorable wind....and heading northwards. Or course, the weather is not co-operating:

But hey, its changing constantly and I'm trying actually not to look at xcweather.co.uk too much, as its out of my hands now anyway! So here is the rough plan:

From Lands End, I head down the hill to Penzance. After the initial downhill a tough day's peddling will follow, up and down Cornwall's grueling, steep, hills. I've ridden this section before and in terms of hills, day 1 is probably the toughest on the whole trip:


I'll stay somewhere near or in Dartmoor the first day, a beautiful place. Day 2, towards Exeter and then veering north stopping somewhere before Bristol.  The next day, I'll need to find a safe way over the Severn Bridge before then following the River Wye up minor roads towards Hereford:

From there, its all nice and directly north: Shrewsbury, Warrington, Preston - then skirting the edge of the Lake District:

And then doing my best to steer well clear of Glasgow and its traffic mayhem...

But I cant wait for the Scotland section...Inverary, Fort William, Dingwalls and then the true Highlands, taking an inland route through whats should be spectacular scenery...eventually hitting the north coast and pointing myself East for the final section to John O' Groats.

In Scotland my wife will be joining me, she's sensibly taking a car and having her around will definitely lift my spirits should I start fading by then (ahem - start fading? who am I kidding?!) I still plan on doing the ride totally "unsupported" however, meaning I'll need to be disciplined about carrying all my own stuff still at that point.

So thats the plan. That comes out at roughly 970 miles. What could possibly go wrong?

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Medication vs illness

I was inspired to write about this after reading this excellent article on the bbc which discusses some of the short and long term problems with taking anti psychotic medication. As if someone suffering from psychosis didn't have enough problems as it was fitting in with society, add side effects such as weight gain, trembling, dribbling, diabetes, blood clots and the risk of cardiovascular disease into the mix...and life is not going to be easy. These side effects can worsen the longer an individual is medicated, and medication may be for life.

And this is on top of the effects of the illness itself!

Of course, not taking the medication is not a great option either. In fact its probably not an option at all! But for someone suffering form these side effects, it must be very tempting to stop taking it when the medication is "working" in that you are not sick, but instead are suffering more from the side effects of the medication itself.

The risk is then a relapse with the illness itself...

A couple of articles  I have read about mortality rates in mentally ill people make shocking reading: Life expectancy is 15-22% less than that of a "healthy" person. It seemed 2 big factors causing this were: suicide...and lifestyle. The latter being bad diet, lack of exercise, and problems with addiction.

Whilst I absolutely believe that medication is an essential part of mental health treatment, I just don't think it should form the only treatment as is so often the case. So helping to treat a mentally ill person also needs to focus on keeping them healthy.

Finally, I hope anyone facing this challenge experiences such a positive an outcome as this guy in Sydney, who, as part of an Australian program for early intervention, used surfing and more holistic approach to treatment to shed 20kg of weight gained from anti psychotic medication. 
And I see in the latest rethink newsletter a focus on early intervention as well, especially with school aged people in Britain.

3 Weeks to go...

I've got 3 weeks left before my own LEJOG challenge starts, and a BIG thank you to everyone who has donated towards rethink and the Dom Pardy Trust. Over the next 3 weeks I'll be finalizing my route and riding my last few training rides...

Monday, 7 May 2012

Calais to Paris: Day 2

I woke up late after a massive sleep but with a return of my sore ankle...it was really stiff and a bit swollen so I spent a good while stretching and trying to loosen it up. The day started with a steep hill climb, all the major towns in the area seemed to be at the bottom of valleys, including Poix De Picardie. But it wasn't raining! So once I got up the hill the riding conditions were better than day one by a long shot. Still overcast, but fantastic on the flat hill tops, with well signposted roads:

And the further on I got the less pain there was in my ankle. Originally I'd planned to follow a long wide arc south west of Paris, but decided instead to cut slightly less south and risk a few busy roads in exchange for a slightly shorter route. Besides it was also much more fun just plotting my own route, I just used Gmaps on my phone, using an "Euro internet booster" through my provider to keep the cost down, and this worked well...didn't loose reception once.

The weather cleared a little too, and I just adored the section between Poilly and the outskirts of Paris...

The feeling of complete freedom that cycle touring gives you, when you are totally self sufficient and your only limitation is your own strength, is a wonderful feeling. You feel the world opening up before you...

The only problem I had was finding somewhere to get water and something to eat... it was a Sunday and the few small towns I passed through were well and truly closed for the day. So my advice to anyone following this route is to stock up well!

I finally found something (yes, a bakery) on the outkirts of the city at Osny, and then got pretty lost even with   gmaps but eventually sorted it out. The main problem entering Paris from the west is the amount of river crossings, the lack of bridges mean some of the roads are extremely busy. But is is possible - and I cut out about 20 km going this way.

Anyway Port D'Orleans was the point I chose to cross the dread "Peripherique" and it was no trouble at all, probably helped being a Sunday. I'd caught the odd glimpse of the top of Le Tour Eiffel on the way before finally coasting down Rue Des Longchamp and seeing the whole big pile of scrap metal tower in her full splendor:

Being election day, it was a busy place. A vocal group of Syrians were trying to raise awareness for their plight, but the show was stolen by a large group of Chinese performing Tai Chi and putting forward a message of peace and free speech. While they were doing this the local police were busy trying to round up all the immigrants trying to make a living selling cheap miniature plastic Tour Eiffel's and noisy wind up toys...what a crazy place...

I did like the French election posters though...very stylish. They looked like they were drawn by Herge and then painted by someone equally famous

This was almost the end of the line for me on the ride, I somehow picked up a puncture at the tour Eiffel but 1 stop to pump up the tyre got me across town to my family's place...my ankle was really very sore when I got  there but what a rewarding ride that was.

The whole trip all up was about 326 km, here was day 2 (at least up until Le Peripherique):

France, you're stunning countryside and friendly people were an absolute joy to cycle through...I hope to return again!

Calais to Paris - Day 1

I'd started this trip fairly tired after a manic week at work so it was with some difficulty I got up at 5.30am to get underway from Dover. The plan was to get the first ferry, and head to Paris in 2 days on the bike starting in Calais. As we sailed out from port, the white cliffs off 'Old Blighty' were fighting to stand out against the mirth of Channel weather...another wet and windy day looked to be on the cards...nothing new there...

Nevertheless I was excited about the prospect of the days ride ahead and spent the entire crossing going over my maps to plot a route. I'd decided to do this ride really only a few days earlier and had no time to research in detail. What I had done was look briefly at this route on Bikely which looked interesting.

Calais was wet and blustery when I pulled out of the boat and cycled out of port, I was soaked within a few minutes so set about looking for the route out of town, wanting to get peddling to warm up. After a few initial wrong turns I got my bearings and began the gentle climb into the countryside. The first thing I noticed was how courteous drivers were. When overtaking, they sat well back until it was safe to pass then performed a proper overtaking maneuver, giving a full cars width space between us - brilliant! I wish drivers in the UK would do the same! The roads were also superb and as I was sticking to "D" roads - traffic was very light.

And despite the awful weather..

 I just loved cycling through the Parc Naturel rĂ©gional des Caps et Marais d'Opale, it really is superb riding and very pretty if you like open spaces..anyone that tells you otherwise needs their head seen too! (On this point I've seen a few comments about featureless landscape in other trip reports - o.k its not the Alps, but what do you expect?!)

As I progressed towards Montruil, I started seeing Gendarmes on the side of the road...then a gradually increasing amount of people lining the street in every small village. At first, I thought this must be something to do with the national elections but then some of them started cheering when I cycled past. Bewildered, but amused I got into the spirit of things and started cheering back..my limited knowledge of French indicating that I appeared to be in first place in some kind of race!!

When I hit Montreuil and the steep climb into the beautiful walled town, there were bigger crowds and crash barriers lining the streets, complete with TV crews and a funfair....and erm...yes, it did appear to be quite a major cycling event:

In fact, this turned out to be the route of day 2 of 4 Jours de Dunkerque ! Which explains a lot...the locals must have been very amused by some chump tourist trucking by them on a pannier laden touring bike!

Anyway this seemed like a good place to stop for lunch, and I found a typically excellent bakery which sold these fine treats:

No one ever said this route was flat and I felt quite tired already at this stage, having stopped after 75km, a little below target. Here's how the first section looked:

After stuffing my face it was time to move on. The weather had improved a little but somehow I ended up back on parts of the race route again, and would get convoys of cars honking past in places. So I then deviated off from the original plan and took a slightly more westerly route to get out the way. The roads remained brilliant:

And it was just a matter of plodding on and eating up the miles. There was one final hill section to go that I really struggled on, before a the descent downhill into the village of Poix de Picardie, the target for day 1. And what a relief it was too! 176km all told, and the section after lunch looked like this:

Day 2 promised to be slightly shorter, but with the challenge of entering Paris...