The Black Bike

I guess that without me actually realising it, LCFN follows the 80/20 rule: 80% mental energy against only 20% physical. You might find that a rather strange thing to say, but once your body’s able to withstand two, three and four hours out on the road, day after day after day, in all weathers, the physical side of the job kind of takes care of itself. The mental side is where the money is…

That 80/20 split has become increasingly apparent as I gear up to Bri2Alaide, the 1600 mile ride across Australia that’s happening later this year. I’ll explain the significance of the 2 in Bri2Alaide later: it’s not a typo. The demands of that ride are significant: I’m going to be getting around twelve hours of daylight each day, and I’m going to be riding a bike for a minimum of seven of them. With rest stops and PR awareness gigs along the way, you can pretty much write off all of the daylight hours as bike time in some shape or form.

Working out for that long demands intimate knowledge of how hard you can push yourself. I have thought of maybe going out and banging in a ton, or maybe a ton twenty, to see how the body reacts in the days after: but I’m not ready to do that yet. For a start it’s way too cold to subject myself to that kind of torture: my thumbs and fingers are already showing signs of the skin cracking because of the temperatures I’ve been riding in of late. Prolonged exposure to cold takes its toll.

I’m now heading back into the zone that I was in when I started LCFN: 35 to 40 a day. The difference from back then however, and it’s hugely significant, is that these days, I take no days off. Back then, when I was just turned sixty, I was taking every weekend off to recover. I’ve had one day off in the last 68 days on an average of 37 miles a day. The requirement on Bri2Alaide is to more than double that workload over the three week adventure. And the prevailing wind blows the wrong way (from Adelaide to Sydney) meaning that there’s a 40% chance of spending the last two weeks cycling into the wind: a thousand miles.

Now do you see why I’m taking this so seriously? I don’t care that it’s been 2C for as long as I can remember, certainly for just about all of this year (and next week’s to be even colder by all accounts), I just need to keep piling the workload onto the legs in order to see how they recover.

Last week was a 275, and the week before that was a 267. Back in the day, I used to crave 250 and even gave it a name: a Holy Grail: there is after all a nice ring to 250 miles in seven days, and it’s feckin hard to do. I’ve done three in the last four weeks, excluding this one. This will make it four in five, and the biggest of the lot.

But yesterday I thought I’d snapped, and that where the 80/20 rule comes into play.

We’ve had the builders in all week, putting in a new downstairs bathroom, and the front door has been open constantly as blokes go back and forth to their vans, and outside into the yard to cut stuff for fitting. The room where I work is just off to the side by the front door and it’s been freezing in there. I’m pretty well known for being scrooge like with the heating, and I’ll happily stick on two pairs of socks and a hat before reaching for the thermostat, but even I was struggling this week, so much so that I was cold before I even ventured out the door yesterday. My feet never warmed up, my hands ever so slightly less afflicted (three pairs of gloves y’see!) and my normal hard driving spirit nowhere to be seen.

That’s when the brain has to kick in and overrule the body. Ten miles in, yer freezing cold and the legs are asking politely “can we cut it short today please”. There was a short answer: “no”. Twenty miles in and now the legs are ever so less politely requesting that we call it a day at thirty, knowing full well that thirty has been the lower limit all year, in which case I might just cave in… “no”. By the time I got to Barassie, there was only one way back and it was 15 miles minimum. So I stopped to scoff a couple of Tunnocks Caramel Wafers by the horses next to the Paper Mill and took a few minutes to re-gather myself. Even with a tailwind for most of the journey home, I never got going: the spirit was already broken.

I felt pretty wretched if the truth be told: here I was, struggling to maintain something close to 12mph, albeit on legs that had already done close to 130 miles (since Monday) before I set off. But I don’t do excuses. I only accept explanations, and rational ones at that. I’m from a generation that was brought up on Alf Tupper and the Tough Of The Track, so with Jane being away up in Inverness this week, I thought “I know what I’ll do: I’ll wander up to Sainsbury’s, get some stuff for tea, and some beers for the football”. Guinness is good stuff for refuelling: I’ve been there before. And I’m extremely partial to liver so I knocked up a superb spiced liver stir fry. Then I waited to see what today would bring…

I can tell you straight off that between 7am, when I got up to start work, and half eleven when I set sail on Goldie, I was really, really apprehensive. Another variant of the 80/20 rule says that for 80 good days, you’ll get 20 bad ones: you just don’t want two in a row. Or summarising that, if you’re gonna get two duffers in a ten day spell, just pray that they don’t run consecutively. That, in a nutshell, was my concern this morning. I had no way of knowing whether yesterday’s debacle was fuel induced, or whether I was just having a bad day at the office. But seeing as how I had my sights set on a third consecutive 200 miles by Friday gig, and a whole raft of milestones to keep on track, starting with 39,000 miles tomorrow, there was no way this LifeCycle Man was for taking his foot off the gas.

Cue today…

The same cutting wind that’s been a feature of the last few weeks was still there, and at best the temperature was only 4C (but by the time I was done it was back down to two). I’d set my stall out for another 40, a replay of yesterday, in distance, if not in route. I have a golden rule: after a bad day, don’t, under any circumstances, allow yourself to be tempted to do the same route the next day (under the guise of “let’s see if it was a one off”). That’s a recipe for a disaster of Groundhog Day proportions. Nope, it had to be a new, custom route, and it had to be hit hard: hard, as in head out uphill, with the wind, and at pace: anything to get momentum into the ride. Any old fool can ride downhill into the wind, and even make progress if there’s a hedgerow to act as a wee windbreak. That was pretty much how the day panned out. The last time I went further was last Friday. The last time I went higher was last Sunday. The last time I went faster was sixteen days ago, and it didn’t have even half of the climbing that I endured today.

So that was a result, and a big one: longest, highest and fastest of the week: that combo rarely comes together on the same day. Was it the Guinness, was it the liver or was it the mind just being bloody minded with the body? I don’t know: but something clicked. Now I wait to see what the fall out will be tomorrow.

Tomorrow will bring up 39,000 miles.

Monday will bring up 2,000 miles this year (in only 57 days).

Tuesday will bring up 1,000 miles in February (in 27 bitterly cold days).

August and September will deliver Bri2Alaide. I promised to tell the story of the ‘2’: it’s the most common age of diagnosis of neuroblastoma. We’re going to brand the ride around the number 2. If we can get the distance down to 2200km, them we’ll try even harder to refine it to 2222km. The 2 in Bri2Alaide is symbolic of the start of the journey.

We booked the motor home this week that will be our sanctuary for three weeks. If you want to know how we’re gonna be slumming it, then Google “Britz Voyager Motorhome”: says it’ll do four people so it should definitely accommodate Gabby, the LifeCycle Man and a bike. The bike’s sleeping indoors by the way.

80% of the time, I’m totally on it and riding a Gold bike, but once in a while, twenty days in every hundred if I’m honest, I ride a Black Bike. Yesterday was one of those days.

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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