War Of Attrition

For weeks, I’ve been working towards today: for no other reason that I just wanted to hit 30K miles before the end of April. Stuff like that helps to give the bike ride impetus and when I first realised that it was on, about seven weeks ago, I had a simple choice: up your game and go for it, or live life in the slow lane and accept that Wum’s the limit.

I don’t do life in the slow lane, and I certainly don’t do Wum…

The first sign of a push was really no more than a dig in the ribs for my attitude. It’s all well and good liking the looking of something: delivering it is something else altogether. At the time, I’m not sure I was ready for this.

Cue hundreds of wee personal battles, thousands of miles in shit weather, and the spirit of Eileidh Paterson.

I won’t do giving up while Eileidh’s giving life her very best shot. It’s a deal I struck secretly with myself. I made that dream of 30,000 miles on this day my pact with the Princess: I know you’re upping your game: well I’m going to up mine too. That was the deal I signed up to under my breath while I was out on the road one particularly foul day.

The thing that’s awkward about upping your game is that you don’t realise that you’ve been overtaken by complacency. See the thing about easy stuff: it’s easy. It says so on the tin. Hard stuff has no label: you have to go out and find out for yourself just how hard it is. Before that 200 week in the middle of March, there hadn’t been one for six months. When I talk about complacency, that’s it right there. Coasting I was, and I needed a right good boot up the arse.

The week after, the bike was off the road getting all sorts of new bits fitted: I wear out bikes faster than X Factor winners go out of fashion. Looking back, I bottled it: I should have taken the tourer out. I know it’s heavy, I know it’s slow, but it’s still a bike, and it works. My arse has done more LCFN miles on that bike than any other. Opportunity lost, but I accept I was still in the early stages of getting myself back on track.

The next week was a 183, which in itself was a consolidation: take away that 200 and this was the Prince of the last six months: opportunity very much still knocking: “keep her lit” lad, as Stephen Knox would say.

I did: a 227 the very next week was a bit like 15 off an over in a T20 run chase. All of a sudden the possible now seemed almost probable.

Cue Ross’s stag weekend in Amsterdam and a moment of weakness on my return on the Monday. I’d smashed in a dawn thirty before we got on the plane on the Friday morning, and I’d fully intended bagging some flat Dutch miles as a bonus. But the itinerary and some to be expected revelry got in the way. I came home tired and gave the Monday teatime outing a body swerve. Weakness? Maybe. Or maybe I just have another life, a normal life.

Still there was time to make it up: just not so much of it…

Whereas I’d lived on a diet of 20.8 miles a day for the previous six months, now the asking rate was 30.4.

Now do you see where this run of 30 mile days came from?

I knew: I just didn’t want to go public lest I didn’t make it. Off the back of a weekend bender, I took a couple of sighters just to get my legs going again then said to myself “well son, this is it. Are you man or mouse”?

Ahead of today, I’d rattled off 17 consecutive 30 milers and left myself needing only 27 to gatecrash the party. Well there were two reasons why I was never going to settle for 27: first of all, it’s the sign of the Wum, in much the same way as 666 is the sign of the beast, and secondly, why on earth would you stop at Wum when three more miles give you a crack at 19 in a row tomorrow.

It was a no brainer.

But the problems started when I forgot to charge my Garmin after yesterday’s milefest. I was in such a rush to park myself in front on the telly for the Sevco-Celtic fisticuffs that I didn’t notice until bedtime that the Garmin was sitting on only 46% charge. That was never going to be enough for an early morning escapade before the Russian Grand Prix at 1pm. So I went for an overnight charge in the array of sockets next to the bed and woke in the night to unplug it at 100%: sorted, or so I thought…

For whatever reason, I didn’t switch the damned thing off and the auto shutdown didn’t kick in. So when I got changed to head out the door at half ten, it was sitting on 7% charge. “Arrggghhhh”!!!

Two hours later, when I finally headed out, I was let’s say feeling under pressure. Watching the F1 was already a gonner and now I just wanted to get the miles out the way. 50 yards down the road, the front tyre punctured.

Don’t go there, just don’t go there…

The upside was that while I was changing the tube, I got to see Bottas nip past both the Ferraris into the first corner, then run away from the field. By the time I headed out for 30K ride Mk2, it was already clear that barring accidents, I wasn’t going to be missing much.

Now at this point, let me go back to yesterday. Halfway through what was another mega hilly ride, I started losing traction with the chain on the bike. Believe me, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, worse that losing confidence in the chain getting you up this hill, this 1 in 4, when you’re applying max pressure to do it at speed. When it slips, your achilles tendons really tell you about it. Mine did.

So the bike was back in the pits yesterday for some TLC. It was scheduled to get new spokes in the front wheel anyway after four brand new heavy duty ones snapped on the back wheel ten days ago. Changing the front ones was a precautionary measure as they were the same type as the ones that failed.

A quick check on the chain suggested that it was past its use by date (ie stretched) so it got changed at the same time.

Finally out again just before two today, I was now seriously in the mood to make up for lost time, because Spurs-Arsenal was coming up at four.

But this new chain wasn’t working!

Every couple of seconds, it was jumping. I got off, spun the pedals by hand, changed a few gears, front and back, and it was fine. Got back on, rode a few yards and it was jumping again.

27 miles on this (let alone 30)? No chance.

Back to the pits, dump the number one bike and pick up the spare. This is the tourer: I know it so well. We were companions for twelve months. But it’s heavy, very heavy, and it’s slow.

But it’s a bike…

That bike has never let me down, except for the time it picked up a cable tie in the dark on the A77 and wrecked the rear derailleur. I even blew the back wheel to smithereens on that bike when the rim exploded, but apart from those two wee excursions, it’s been good.

And it was again today. We chugged and we chugged, up the hills out of Stewarton, into the wind. I bet by the time we turned for home, me and the old chugger, the average speed must have been an ultra pedestrian 10mph. But it doesn’t matter: we got the job done.

I gave up on an elusive 8th successive 2000ft climbing day because on that beast, climbing is heavy duty. But I did get my 18th 30 miler in a row, and with it, the 30,000th LCFN mile of the journey.

We don’t do giving up. Shit happens but sometimes you just have to step up to the plate and get on with it. That old bike and I did just that today: a team.

That’s what this has been about for the past 819 days on the road. I’ve looked at the stats and I’ve ridden on 61% of the days since I started. The number’s as low as that because I didn’t ride weekends when I was commuting to Glasgow; they were recovery days.

30,000 miles at an average of 36 miles a day

1.48 million feet of climbing

2,400 hours in the saddle

1.44 million calories of fuel burnt on the road

That’s 5,760 pints of cask conditioned real ale.

And nine grand in support of Solving Kids Cancer and Princess Puddles.

Today was LCFN in a nutshell: a total war of attrition. Does it remind you of anything?

Author: Von Schiehallion

I'm an old endurance athlete who's pulled a few tricks in his time. I ran my first marathon at 19 round a grass athletics track, ran/hobbled 100 miles in a day at 30, cycled from Manchester to Glasgow in a day at 40, kickstarted the Highland March at 50 and now, at 60, I'm doing LifeCycle. Life's too short to sit still for long. I like doing stuff that just seems impossible...

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