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.

Just Keep Swimming

It’s not the first time I’ve started a blog at half nine on a Friday night while the rest of society’s getting pished (who said I’m not?) but this is now two weeks in a row. This has been one of those weeks when my mental focus has needed to be at its absolute sharpest because winter has turned up the turbo boost.

I wrote last week, in Two Wheels On My WagonBut if Tuesday was a concern, then this coming weekend was more so. Sunday promises to be a snowfest, perhaps the first half of Monday too: but Monday’s next week’s problem. I have bigger fish to fry”.

Y’see I saw it coming. I knew that Sunday and Monday were marked down as snow days, that’s why I piled in the miles early doors last week: indeed the double hundred was done and dusted by the time I cracked open the first beer and started scribing this time last Friday night. I was being more than a little bit flippant when I parked Monday as this week’s problem, because I knew that I’d still have to deal with it, come what may.

What came, was 4 inches of snow around breakfast time. Now having already lost one day to snow this year, I wasn’t really up for losing another. That previous loss was four weeks ago when we had new snow lying on top of ice, a combination that in my book, at my age, is off limits.

Monday was different: the snow fell quickly then stopped. And because the air temperature was hovering around 2C, there was always the chance that a slow thaw might set in around lunchtime. But that was never going to help me out on my roads, the quiet, potholed country lanes, because they wouldn’t have been gritted and therefore would have presented the greatest danger. No, if Monday was going to happen at all, then it had to be a main road job.

The immediate challenge was to head out west, towards Irvine and the coast, and hope that the snow was confined to the area around LCFN HQ: I was not to be disappointed. By the time I got to Cunninghamhead, five miles down the road, I was on black tarmac. And there was nae snow in Irvine either: they must think the Stewarton folk have gone soft with all their constant moaning about not being able to get out of the town because of the state of the roads.

Well this guy got out and made hay while the sun shone. Having made the great escape, I made the most of it and headed down to Prestwick Airport. The round trip was 40 miles and I’ll tell you now, at least 20 of those felt like bonus miles. There was no way on Sunday night that I was contemplating forty the next day. It set me up for what was to follow.

Tuesday was Groundhog Day, albeit that we only copped an inch or so, having been promised much more. Tuesday was a total no-brainer since I was still living on the adrenaline from Monday: another 40 miles. Maybe you have to be living inside my body to fully appreciate this, but here were two snow days, when I was maybe not even meant to get out the door, and I was sitting on 80 miles.

That’s momentum, and it gives you immense inner strength, like “c’mon then weatherman, show me what you’ve got”…

What he had was 48 hours of a ferocious, biting southwesterly wind, topped off with a max temperature of one to two degrees. There were times these last two days when it was difficult to just keep heading out into the wind at all, let alone at eleven or twelve miles an hour. And that wind: it would just cut you in two. Three hours out in that was hard to take. But this is LCFN and I get by, by hook or by crook: no matter how hard it became, I just told myself that every mile cycled out into the teeth of the icy cold blast would be worth double on the way home.

Wednesday was a 35, which despite being par for the course, actually felt like a bogey given what had occurred on each of the previous two days. So setting out yesterday slightly irritated by Wednesday’s par score, I wanted to set the record straight and get my focus back on track: another 40 ensued: 155 for the week, albeit down on last week’s four day 160. “No worries, all I’m really after”, I told myself, was another double hundred to keep the run going. 45 in three days was always going to be a tap in.

Cue today…

It was a degree or two warmer, and it was less windy. Straight off that was a bonus on the strategy front. I really don’t mind these out and back courses, and particularly so when the weather’s benign because the out leg, into the wind, is so much easier, and that in turn translates into less energy getting burned up and an easier run home. So today ended up being Prestwick Airport by a roundabout route but the extra miles on the way out merely served to deliver 46 precious miles, and for the second week in a row, 200 miles by Friday night: 26 of them in the last 31 weeks. Compare that with just ten in the preceding (corresponding) period.

But that’s not all: the first 47 days of 2017 (this being the 16th February) yielded just 696 miles. The first 47 days of 2018 have delivered 1,648. By the time we get to fifty days, the difference will be over a thousand miles. When I talk about momentum, that’s what I have in mind. I know now that I have the winter of 17/18 beaten. Next week’s forecast is for no rain and higher single digit temperatures. The only potential downside to next week will be an easterly wind, which presents difficulty with big miles because an easterly offers little or no shelter. But as I said last week, that’s next week’s problem: I plan on taking care of this week first. Forty five days (out of a possible forty six) over thirty miles since the turn of the year is breaking new ground for this time of the year. I know I smashed some big ones last autumn, but comparing September with January/February is chalk and cheese.

There are twelve days left of February and I need to average 34 to chalk up a twenty eight day thousand. That’s insane. A thousand miles in 28 consecutive days is difficult at the best of times but to deliver it in a freezing cold, wet February is indicative of something strong going on inside.

The first four days on this week were desperate: but the fifth was a virtual celebration of having survived and overcome the first four…

But I can’t leave this week alone without mentioning my old friend the flag: the original LCFN flag, the one that got on the grass at Celtic Park. That flag has been to America twice, it’s been to Australia, Spain, Poland and Ireland. And for the last twelve months, it’s been in Italy. But now it’s home. I dug it out in the week and laid it on the living room floor: I just felt so proud of the names that are on that flag: Stephen and Leona, who inspired the journey through Oscar; Scott Kennedy, who formed Solving Kids Cancer after his own son was taken by neuroblastoma. There are cancer survivors on there, like Vanessa Riddle and Luke Wiltshire, and Anya Bentham is on there through the words of her father Graham.

But more than that, the flag carries the words of sixteen year old Alexandra Johnston, who Mouldy and I had the privilege to meet at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children in December 2014. It was today, while I was researching some stuff for tonight’s blog, that I discovered that Alexandra lost her brave fight four weeks ago, and even as I was contemplating this story tonight, there was a special mass being held for her in County Derry in Northern Ireland. Another soul lost to cancer after a courageous four year struggle.

Alex’s words were simple, and mirrored her own journey: I will remember them in the days ahead…

Just keep swimming”.

Two Wheels On My Wagon

When I was a kid, there used to be a request show on the wireless on a Saturday morning: Children’s Favourites, hosted by Uncle Mac. One of the most requested songs, which meant it got played most weeks, was Three Wheels On My Wagon by the New Christy Minstrels. A sort of large ensemble folk band, the NCM spawned the careers of several notable acts, including Kenny Rogers, Kim Carnes and the gravelly voiced Barry McGuire, who later went on to record the timeless Eve Of Destruction. Believe it or not, Three Wheels On My Wagon is a Burt Bacharach song! Really!! Every day’s a school day.

I mention it because while I was out today, I couldn’t get that song out of my head and the more I played with the lyrics, the more I came to realise that it’s a classic LCFN anthem:

https://youtu.be/5vLhcg_FU9g

The thing is right, it mirrors my life on the road in winter to a T…

For Cherokees, read squally showers: and for arrows, read hailstones.

Pioneers, they never say die

A mile up the road there’s hidden cave where we can watch those Cherokees go galloping by”. That was soooo me today. Heading out west, directly into the wind, it was taking me straight into the path of a fierce dark cloud that must have been about three miles wide. There was no escape. With the temperature no greater than 2C, it was guaranteed that the payload in that monster was gonna hurt, and as I hurtled on towards its epicentre, I found myself trying to work out where I could find shelter. Bridges are good: I had three in mind, but the nearest one, the one that would have been most useful, would have taken me on a route I really didn’t want to do because of the wind direction: and the other two were three miles away and out of reach.

Subconsciously, maybe that’s how the song kicked off…

Two wheels on my wagon

and I’m still rolling along

them Cherokees are after me

flaming spears

burn my ears

but I’m singing a happy song

 

And then to the chorus…

Higgity, Haggerty, Hoggety, High
Pioneers, they never say die
Higgity, Haggerty, Hoggety, High
Pioneers, they never say die
Higgity, Haggerty, Hoggety, High

But in the winter, I do feel like a pioneer: and particularly so in this one. It’s like the Gold bike has re-energised me (Eileidh Bear did sit on it before I did): but more than that, I feel, perhaps for the first time, that I can trust the Rohloff with my life. After the hiccup right at the start, when the gear changer had to go back to Germany, I now feel, two and a half thousand miles in, that I’ve found my soulmate on the road. I love the Rohloff more than any bike I’ve ever owned, and that includes the Flying Scot that took me from Manchester to Glasgow in a day in 1994.

Winter is the absolute making of LCFN, and this one has been right up there. I was talking to my brother in the week and he cheered me right up when he told me that the rest of February is going to be exactly like it’s been these last couple of weeks: deep joy. I’ve checked Windguru and sure enough, there’s no end in sight to this bitterly cold weather, and the payload that comes with it.

I’ve mentioned more than once recently that momentum is absolutely key in keeping LCFN focussed in the winter. It’s all well and good telling yourself that every day is a day nearer to the crocuses coming out, but the reality is vastly different: this week has been a classic case in point.

I’ve adopted the Fenwick Muir Windguru forecast as my bible. Windguru is a phone app that I discovered around the time I started and it’s been my best friend for the past four and  a half years. Windguru told me that it was going to snow on Tuesday morning, so that threw both Tuesday and Wednesday into doubt in terms of big stuff, the stuff I needed to maintain the momentum I crave. So on Monday I hit a big one: 30’s okay, 35+ is decent and anything 40+ is above and beyond the call of duty. Monday was a 40.

On Tuesday the local roads were a complete mess. How I didn’t come off heading down the Chapeltoun hill I’ll never know: mark it down to balance and good fortune I guess. But I knew (it’s something I’ve learned over the past twelve months) that the further west you go, out towards the coast, then the snow gets less and less and less. Irvine had none! Black roads: I would have dumped the bike in the back of the big motor and parked up at the Magnum so I could bag the coast roads, except that the big motor’s really sick right now and probably only gonna make one last journey: to the scrappy. Ten years we’ve run that motor, and it was two years old when we got it. It supported the Tartan March from Aberdeen to Glasgow in 2009, it supported Eileidh’s Highland Bike from Forres to Glasgow in 2016: it’s been a workhorse. But on Tuesday, it was sick: ironically, the last trip it actually made was to take Goldie to the Magnum to avoid icy roads two weeks before, but then the engine warning light came on on the way home. Game, set and match for the old jigger I’m afraid.

But if Tuesday was a concern, then this coming weekend was more so. Sunday promises to be a snowfest, perhaps the first half of Monday too: but Monday’s next week’s problem. I have bigger fish to fry. That momentum I spoke of earlier is totally aligned, the best I can make it, to the daily slog of families of kids fighting cancer. Of course the disease doesn’t come into it, and I would never try to denigrate the families by suggesting otherwise, but believe me, maintaining real momentum on LCFN in a Scottish winter is pretty much hell on earth, and that, right there, is the connection.

I decided at Christmas that the only thing that would satisfy me was a run of two hundred milers, and emotionally that wasn’t difficult to justify back then because I was still focussed on hunting down a hundred of them. But with that milestone knocked on the head a fortnight ago, you could be forgiven for thinking that I should be putting my feet up until the grass needs cutting. But you’d be wrong on three counts:

One: before this week, the run of 200’s was at seven and that’s starting to look solid. Two hundred mile weeks are never, ever easy, not even in the summer: winter ones are worth their weight in gold: Chase ‘em with all your might.

Two: I have Australia to think about, and the training for BrizzAlaide has to be measured and intense. While I’m comfortably dealing with three hours in our winter, I’m constantly thinking that in six months’ time, that needs to translate into six hours a day down under.

Three: tomorrow is February 10th, the day when 36 two hundred milers came to an end when this happened in 2016: (from the blog Black Ice Ops):

Four miles out of Stewarton, just before what’s referred to in our house as the long straight, there’s a farm on the left, opposite where the Corsehouse Burn takes a sharp 180 turn about 20 yards away in the field. Unbeknown to me (in the dark), the burn had overflowed in the night and the water had run down off the field and across the road. I approached it round a left hand bend where the road starts to go slightly downhill at a point where you start to pick up speed for the long straight, ahead of the final climb to the White Loch. I came round the bend where the burn had frozen across the road. No amount of road salt was going to sort that out.

I hit the brakes and purposefully headed for the other side of the road where the camber was higher: that way, I figured I could use the road to straighten up the camber and stay onboard. There was no way I was stopping in time, not from 15mph with five yards notice.

I thought I’d got away with it. I crossed over all the ice that I knew was underneath me and gingerly headed back across the road to my side. Then I kid you not, I hit the deck in 0.3 sec flat.

For the first time I can remember in ages, I hit my head on the tarmac. The instant headache was the first thing I remember, followed immediately by “ooh, ya fecker, that thumb really hurts”. And the chain had come off. And the handlebars were twisted inwards on both sides. When I came off on the ice in Glasgow last week, only one side of the handlebars took a hit: this time it was both. It was a big impact. A dog emerged from the farm, followed quickly by its owner, to find out what the commotion was all about. The dog got a bollocking, not from me I might add, as I was too busy trying to pull myself together, before it was ushered back inside.

I reckoned I had two choices. Six miles back home and the ignominy of a failed journey, or carry on then spend the rest of the day worrying about how I was going to get the bike home.

And see the best bit: I’m on First Aid duty at work this week. Was I going to A&E on my watch? Was I hell: I self assessed, with the help of a colleague who used to be on the rota. We decided that I probably hadn’t broken either my thumb or my hand, but that an ice pack and ibuprofen would be get me through the day.

But by the time I got the bike home, A&E was a no brainer:

The staff at Crosshouse couldn’t have been more helpful or more friendly. Not only was I in and out in just over an hour, which included Triage, assessment, story of why I was on my bike at 5am, X-ray and diagnosis, I even managed to get an assessment on last week’s rib injury that’s been giving me jip ever since. It turns out that that’s an inter costal muscle tear that might take up to six weeks to heal. You know what? I hope to be through 24,000 miles in six weeks: pain is only a four letter word to a Highland Marcher.

But a hand that’s 20% bigger than the other one, and a thumb that can’t even turn the key in the door, is worth more than just a wee bit of pain. Uppermost in my mind is the fact that I can’t, absolutely can’t come off the bike again while I’m like this. I can’t even grip the handlebars without pain, and for four hours a day, that’s a tough shift. For once, just this once, I’m taking a timeout. LCFN is not a game…

That accident cost me eleven days, and I still feel the pain of that injury to this day. That thumb just doesn’t have the power it once had. But the show must go on, and in the words of Burt Bacharach and the gritty, gutsy voice of Barry McGuire…

Two wheels on my wagon

and I’m still rolling along

them Cherokees are after me

flaming spears

burn my ears

but I’m singing a happy song

Happiness

It’s not unusual to arrive at Thursday night and have no idea what the theme of Friday’s LCFN blog is going to be: the journey has been a heady brew of 90% perspiration/10% inspiration since day one so I’ve kind of got used to making it all up on the hoof at the proverbial eleventh hour.

This week has followed that pattern right from the off: it didn’t matter in my head that I’d managed to smash 1,050 miles in January, against all the odds and in the face of some atrocious weather. I’ve become a little blasé to such milestones if I’m honest, not because I don’t think they’re right out there – because they are – but because I know I have it in me to go out there and do it all again, better and bigger, if I want to. I’ve kind of adjusted to the ongoing demand and my body now expects to have to deliver more, week on week, month on month, year on year, all around a full time job.

But first of all, I want to reflect on last week’s effort: 99 Pink Balloons. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the most memorable bike rides have been the hardest ones: setting off to cycle into work at 3am in winter to pick up a laptop just so I could work from home to avoid 70mph winds later in the day; changing my route to try and find gritted roads at -9C at 5:30am to maximise my chances of staying onboard; and perhaps the daddy of them all, standing on the pedals in the granny gears just to keep the bike moving forwards at 2mph in lashing rain in the teeth of a gale in the pitch black on the Fenwick Muir.

99 Pink Balloons was one of those stories that’s desperately difficult to write: pitch it wrong and you can destroy some vulnerable souls at the very worst time in their lives. But get it right and you can give them strength. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and judging by some of the comments on social media these last few days, I think the effort was worth it and I’m pleased that it brought more than a just a tear of sadness to the eye. In compassion lies hope.

But the real key to this week’s story appeared unexpectedly on my Twitter feed late last night: Jackie Barreau is an amazing person to have on this journey. Our paths crossed while our family was holed up in a hotel room in New York in July 2015 watching the women’s World Cup football final between England and Japan: Jackie, ironically, was in Adelaide. We got involved, quite randomly, in a Twitter exchange on the US style of commentary being employed on the networked coverage (“the ball has just crossed the end line”), and that led, in turn, to each of us doing some research on the other, outside of the Twitter convo. I discovered that Jackie lost her son to neuroblastoma in 1998 and she discovered that I was riding a bike on a special journey. The rest, as they say, is history.

Jackie feeds me stuff all the time, and last night she copied me in on a story about Michael Crossland. Michael Crossland is as important to Australia as Jimmy Harrington, it’s just that Jimmy hasn’t endured the personal challenges that life has thrown at Michael, and Michael’s probably got twenty years on Jimmy. But apart from that, they were probably case from the same philanthropist mould.

Yesterday, Michael carried the Queen’s Baton on the Commonwealth Games relay to the Gold Coast as it passed near his home. It marks him out as a special person, although in reality I would suggest that he might beg to differ.

When you’re done with the words this week, please come back to this point and click on this link: these eight minutes might just change your perception on life:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5QUI9bD5Pg

Michael is a neuroblastoma survivor, but more than that, he’s possibly the most sought after inspirational speaker in Australia today. When Michael speaks, people listen, and they too get inspired. The first time I watched that video (yes, I’ve watched it more than once), something clicked. For the first time, I understood a little better why I do this, why I attempt to ride my bike for three hours a day, 365 days a year. Michael Crossland put into words something that has been going round in my head for a very long time: it’s about why you do stuff: why you get up in the morning with the sole ambition of making someone’s world a better place. Without me realising it, Michael explained why I went to Layla’s funeral and penned 99 Pink Balloons on the back of it: I didn’t see that train of thought coming but it hit me smack between the eyes when it did..

But just when you think Michael’s story couldn’t get any more heart rending or any more gut wrenchingly dramatic, he became a father (just a few weeks ago) and this happened:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fb03td-5pbQ

I think every challenge that I’ve ever faced, either as an adult or a kid just paled into insignificance. Michael Crossland has been there and seen it all. I can hold up septicaemia twenty nine years ago as perhaps the pivotal moment in my adult life, because you’re not supposed to come back from that. I got proper full blown flu six weeks after, while I was still in recovery, and that floored me for a second time. Back in ’89, I had three Cumbernauld Marathon Walks under my belt, and no one had ever won four, so I made it my ambition that year to come back from the proverbial dead after a three year absence and give it one more go. Six months after spewing up bile on a trolley in a corridor at Monklands Hospital because they didn’t have a bed in the isolation ward, I got that coveted fourth crown. But it was never about anything other than proving to myself that I could come back and do it one more time, before it was too late, before that chance was taken away from me.

My sporting life is full of regrets: I regret not breaking two hours thirty for the marathon. Off the back of several 71/72 minute half marathons, it should have been a tap in, but I was a bloke with a passion for life rather than a passion for a performance so planning was ultimately my downfall: not so this journey: I now allow each lapse, each hurdle, each fall by the wayside, to morph into a new focus to go where I’ve never gone before…

I’m about to come up against the two year anniversary of when I crashed on black ice at half five in the morning and wrecked my thumb. Wednesday February 10th. Apart from not being able to hold a pen in my writing hand, I rode home that night unable to change gear or brake properly. That accident ended a run of 36 two hundred mile weeks, a stat that will stand head and shoulders above all else once I’m done with this bike ride. But I wanted a full calendar year and I was denied. The disappointment was colossal.

History shows that I lost my job five weeks later and that I would have fallen short in any case, but that is really missing the point. I was eleven days off the bike after that crash, and even when I got back on I was struggling to change gear or use the front brake. When Michael Crossland stands in front of an audience, he talks not about the knockdowns, but the pick me ups. It’s the way you deal with adversity that ultimately defines you. Those first three weeks back on the bike, in pain and with a compromised grip, were 271, 224 and 240.

The second longest run of double hundreds started back in September last year in Go Gold month: that one ran to eleven before work took me down south and away from the trail. The run that I’m just now will stretch to seven this weekend and already I’m starting to get a sniff, just a sniff, of a three month roll. Believe me, any old fool can knock off a few long runs in the summer, but repeating that in the depths of a Scottish winter is a whole different ball game. Right now I choose daylight when back in the day I saw none for five months in a row. But that is my only concession. Going out at a time of my choosing in winter brings with it a whole new challenge because whereas before, I had to do it, now I have time to ponder, and banishing negative thoughts is many times more difficult than spending three hours on the bike in near freezing conditions.

Michael Crossland nailed it when he said “it’s amazing what you can achieve when you shape your life purely around happiness” because now I understand much better why the space that I’ve been in ever since I fell, quite unexpectedly, off the corporate bandwagon, has been the most productive of my entire life.

The moral is simple: refocus your life and invest in your happiness….

99 Pink Balloons

Every few months, a blog comes along that’s almost impossible to write. This is one of them.

Yesterday I went to a funeral. I went, knowing upfront that I knew no one: I was an outsider. I didn’t know the person who had died, I didn’t know the family, I didn’t know any of the friends of the family, but I had an overpowering sense of needing to be there.

This was a funeral that sent shivers down my spine. That same extreme sadness that I felt seven months ago was rekindled, and some, by just being there.

A stranger, who cried.

This wasn’t about supporting Solving Kids Cancer, nor it was about supporting Neuroblastoma Australia. This was simply about being there for a family and a community who had just lost a precious princess to neuroblastoma.

Layla was diagnosed about a year ago, when I was already trying to prepare myself from the fallout should Eileidh pass away. I’m not very good in the aftermath: I will work my socks off in support of a warrior, and I will work even my boots off in support of an army of anonymous warriors. But when you’ve lost someone so precious as when Gail lost Eileidh, I couldn’t let go: I couldn’t walk away and ride another runaway neuroblastoma train. All I could do last summer was look inwardly and focus on the things that got me to that point.

Eileidh’s passing inspired both August and September. I thought she was done with the inspirational stuff when she dragged me back onto the bike to deliver 1046 miles in August. Without checking back in the records, I think that might have been the second highest number of miles since I started. I was away with my work on the 1st September and bagged zilch before Puddles turned up the turbo boost for the rest of the month: 1353 with only a single day below 40 miles. That was the power of Eileidh.

Cue Layla…

Three years old and gorgeous. I only have boys, three of them, all grown up, and so I guess I’ve escaped having to be softer and more understanding: tough love and TCP has always been my way. But there was a photo I saw on Layla’s Facebook page just a few weeks ago and it made me think, in the blink of an eye, that if I’d ever had a daughter, I’d have wanted her to be as gorgeous as that wee girl. Heaven has truly taken an angel.

Cue January, cue the weather and cue this week…

I knew some weeks ago that Layla was terminally ill. And I also knew what Eileidh’s passing had done to LCFN once I got my head back in gear. I wanted to be ready, and if you like in a position to allow Layla’s battle against neuroblastoma to mirror what had happened six months before. That’s what fuelled the risk taking and the mile bagging of early January. I was on such a good roll before last Friday came along, and Stewarton was cut off from the rest of civilisation by a mad snowfall in the space of a couple of hours. I circumvented that on Saturday by dumping the Gold bike in the back of the motor and heading out to the coast so I could catch black roads and nae ice. It worked a treat: until the engine fault light appeared on the dashboard on the way back, which meant I couldn’t repeat the trick the next day. I woke on Sunday morning to a threatening sky, and as some of my friends already knew, more snow was already on the way. The bike stayed in the shed and I lost a snow day. As it turned out, it was a wise decision, because for three hours, the snow came down. But if you’re me, that’s no consolation: I don’t accept taking a timeout when the going gets tough.

With one car off the road and Jane working in Edinburgh, that left me with a bit of a dilemma: I was going to Layla’s funeral come hell or high water. If Jane needed the car, then I planned to take the Gold bike to the funeral: in many ways it fitted my persona because it’s gold for a good reason. It’s just that people don’t normally go to funerals on two wheels (Gail, tell Louise that this guy doesn’t do normal). I’m not ‘people’ so those rules don’t apply: I much prefer to do what feels right rather than what’s pure etiquette. But in the end up, Jane didn’t need the car, she was on the train. So I just needed to sort my head…

That meant a 6am start yesterday: no big deal because I did almost three years of 5am starts back in the old days: early starts focus the mind: they make you appreciate that you’re different, doing something that no normal person on the planet is equipped to do, either physically or mentally. Being out in the dark on a bike on unlit country roads is an exhilarating experience (so long as there’s no black ice about), take my word for it.

I got back off a 31 miler at 9:05am. Layla’s funeral was in Renfrew, almost twenty miles away, at eleven. And our other car, the working one, was at the train station ten minutes walk away. Still to get cleaned up: still to get fed and watered. And when I got in the car: it was still to be fed too… nae fuel!!!

It was ten past ten when I finally left Stewarton: but you don’t cycle the back roads of Ayrshire and Renfrewshire without knowing some of the wee short cuts, all the wee roads where the traffic doesnae go.

I was parked up by ten to.

But as I said at the beginning, I knew no one. Louise had asked for bright colours, so I wore the brightest bike top I have: and I purposefully didn’t wear it on the road that morning: high viz wi’ logos, you can see it coming a mile off. I was there after all as the LifeCycle Man to pay homage to a wee soul who gave her all to life before neuroblastoma cut it tragically short.

As the horse drawn carriage pulled up in front of the Normandy Hotel, a guy ages wi’ masel’ broke down to my right. I just hugged him, and hugged him for what seemed like an eternity: couldn’t let him go. Don’t know whether he was family, friend or just like me. It doesn’t matter, he was there.

I heard later on social media that the streets leading from the Normandy to the cemetery on the other side of Paisley were lined wi’ folk, all there to pay their respects to their wee lassie. This wasn’t just a family funeral: this was a community coming together for one of their own, just as it had been in the north east seven months previously.

I’m sat here writing this, and the order of service is right there in front of me. I still can’t get how someone so perfect, as it was with Eileidh, can be taken from us by this awful disease. Life is not fair.

I felt many emotions yesterday: I did the numbers on the seats and I reckoned there must have been 400 there: and twice as many on the streets. A thousand people awakened to the deadly reality that is neuroblastoma. I know many people with young kids: family and friends. And those friends will have friends. Since I started out on LCFN, something like five hundred kids have been diagnosed in the UK: another two hundred in Australia. And one prominent child in America: Devon Still, who played NFL for the Bengals, the Texans and the Jets, has a daughter Leah who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in 2014. Devon put his career on hold: Leah survived and in December of 2017, Devon announced his retirement from the NFL in order to pursue a new career as a childhood cancer awareness advocate in the United States. Sometimes, just sometimes, you come to realise that life is worth more than a career, and once you step over that threshold, there is no going back.

From hugging and crying with a complete stranger, to standing at the graveside as a three year old princess was laid to rest on a cold winter’s day, I will tell you this: I am not letting go. The funds may have stopped flowing into LCFN a long time ago but I kept going while the money drifted away: I have learned since that awareness of this dreadful disease is both king and queen: it takes no prisoners: and I will never give up while precious kids like Eileidh and Layla are laid to rest.

One final thing about yesterday: and it shows just how important Layla’s life was: they stopped the planes at Glasgow Airport just so the family could release balloons into the winter sky:

99 pink balloons.

#IceIceBaby

I’m either focussed, or obsessed, or mix of the two: but at the end of the day I absolutely hate to let anyone down. Ever. I’ve been wracking my brains all week and with my hand on a golden heart, I can’t remember a week anything like this one.

I looked back in the archive and a year ago I was sat on a train in Preston station for two and a half hours going absolutely nowhere: the line was blocked an hour up the road. I’d been in Liverpool with my work and coupled with an icefest at the beginning of the week, it turned out to be seven days that registered just 42 miles on the Rickshaw Scale.

January ’17 registered just 485 in total: and February was worse at just 389.

Let me go off at a tangent for a minute: see the big freeze of 1963? It didn’t kick in until this very week and I remember my old man, who was something of a Villain, telling me that they’d been top six at Christmas before the wheels came off after the freeze. They played just TWO league games between Hogmanay and the 9th March and won just three of the next nineteen games after football resumed. If they hadn’t beaten Leicester and Liverpool in May, they’d have gone down. Shame…

I don’t know how January 2018 is shaping up in your neck of the woods (although my Aussie friends are telling me it’s currently 41C in Adelaide) but see at LCFN HQ, we’ve not managed 3C yet. Every day has been a repeat of the day before: baltic mercury, three layers of everything (including gloves and socks) and still it’s cold. See the people who design all this fancy bikeware that’s supposed to withstand the elements: they should come and spend three hours on LCFN in the middle of winter: it’s not a physical challenge, it’s never a physical challenge..

It’s a mental challenge: it’s like how many days in a row can you resist being smashed in the face by hail, sleet and show for three hours. Today I copped a hailstone right on my eyeball: it slipped by my glasses and whacked me a right sore one. For two hundred yards, I was struggling to see a thing as I hammered down this slush filled, single track country road.

It’s the nature of the beast.

Monday seems so long ago, I’ve almost forgotten how it was: I went to Ardrossan via a detour round the back of Kilwinning, I remember that bit: I just don’t remember when and where I got soaked. But I do remember having looked at the forecast for the week and thinking “shit, I need to get this week done early doors”. Do you know that phrase “you only had one job”? Well it fits this week to a tee…

Y’see I have this craving to smash 2017 to smithereens: I so wanted to bag 10,000 miles last year, I set my heart on it for Puddles, and it was taken from me by the weather. So I came into this year with a sense of never again: put the work in early, and keep the foot on the gas for as long as possible. That’s how momentum is gained…

And this shit weather just adds to the mix: I know that these freezing temperatures cannae go on forever, even if they did only kick in that week when I was just ten years old. I’m working on the assumption that every day that I can kick sand in the face of winter is a day nearer to when I can throws away the winter jacket (that’s full of holes from the times that I kept falling off on black ice in days gone by): the holes are held together by duct tape on the inside.

I missed 10K miles last year by just 469. Nineteen days into 2018, LCFN is just 102 miles behind the combined total for both January and February last year. Take the hit from the weather; take the pain; take the cold, even if it does take another three hours to get the feeling fully back into your feet after you climb off the bike. Draw strength from the fact that as you go to bed, knowing that tomorrow is gonna be Groundhog Day again, you know, you just know, that three hours survived today tells you that you can go through it all again tomorrow. It’s like your whole life’s on repeat. The shoes are on the radiator, drying out; the overshoes are on another radiator, drying out; all the gloves (three pairs) are on yet another radiator, drying out. And all of today’s kit’s in the tumble dryer ready for tomorrow…

The mentality is straightforward enough: never, ever allow yourself to be defeated by the weather: plan against it, plan around it, plan the route so you get blown home by it. Just never let the weather defeat you at this time of year. These are my days: these days are the closest that I will ever come to feeling the pain of wanting this to be over, knowing deep down that it probably never will be.

I went up to the shop tonight to buy blog beer. We had around three inches of snow late afternoon then the motors turned it to hard packed slush. By six o’clock, you couldn’t get into or out of the town: all roads were blocked by stricken vehicles. And tonight the mercury’s to plummet. So there will be no bike ride from LCFN HQ tomorrow: rutted ice is a recipe for disaster and broken bones…

Instead, the mountain bike will be getting loaded into the back of the big motor and taken off to the coast. I’m actually wondering if the Largs ferry to Millport will be running. I need somewhere flat, that’s been gritted, that will allow me to bag another thirty. Three laps of Cumbrae’ll deliver that. Of course getting to Largs will be no mean feat in itself. Maybe I should just dump the motor at what used to be the Magnum in Irvine and leg it down to Prestwick Airport and back. Chuck in a wee detour round the golf course at Troon and it’ll be job done.

There’s another reason that all of these 30 milers matter: 98 two hundred mile weeks. I’m sitting here tonight, surrounded by snow and black ice, twenty five miles short of a 99th. In the history of LCFN, there has never been a double hundred to rival this one. Smashed in the face by hail, sleet and snow four days in a row: favourite routes off limits (through attempted experience) because they’re just too downright dangerous. Potholes everywhere (and there’s nothing quite as dangerous as a pothole filled with water or snow). Black road today, pothole tomorrow is pretty much the way it goes: you get helluva used to looking for chucky stones scattered all over the road… danger!

And the backdrop to all of this intense difficulty is that next Thursday, it’s wee Layla’s funeral. I’m gonna go. I followed her journey, even though I was still struggling to come to terms with Puddles’ angel wings, but Layla’s mum has followed the bike ride so it’s absolutely the right thing to do. I might take the Gold bike and make sure it’s locked securely: it is after all the bond that ties all of these sad events together. Louise, Layla’s mum, has asked for lots of colour: a celebration of her wee daughter’s short life. I have plenty of colour: out on the road, my life depends on it: be seen or be wiped out is very much the way it is.

Which brings me finally to the summer, and to Australia: I need to get custom kit sorted: LCFN in Australian gold livery bearing the logo of Neuroblastoma Australia. There are no sponsors of LCFN: never have been and probably never will be. I fund everything: even this blog is close on a hundred quid a year. Too many players in too small a market, and in any case I’ve never been a marketing guy. I’m a doer, a techie, a worker ant amongst the millions of other branded ants.

Sometimes I kid myself on that this will get easier, but it never does. And this week has been extra, extra difficult: four consecutive days of hail, sleet and snow…

#IceIceBaby

In The Bleak Midwinter

There was some dross on the telly the other night where people who’d been married for donkeys years were renewing their vows in cringweworthy fashion, reading off cue cards on live TV. Truly, truly awful television.

Well in contrast, I’ve just spent forty eight hours renewing my vows to the bike ride, and on occasions like this, the best place to start is the beginning. Are you sitting comfortably?

I was invited to Lindsay Gunn’s surprise 30th bash on Friday night, in the town, in the Merchant City, and it gave me the chance to catch up once again with my good friend Snuffs, who I haven’t seen for far too long, and the immortal Iain McGovern and his good lady Jack, who these days is his his fiancé. They all have history: Snuffs created the LCFN collage of images, borrowed from the Facebook group, as a surprise present late in 2015. I will forever treasure that work.

Then I got the full chapter and verse of Iain and Jack’s Hogmanay night out overlooking the river and the fireworks, and the ring in Iain’s pocket episode. I particularly loved the “what if she says no” deal back at the ring shop. I don’t think it was ever in doubt mind. See Iain McGovern: if ever you have the need, or indeed the opportunity to recharge your batteries for a good cause, there is no better reboot process than time spent in Iain McGovern’s company. I first met Iain when I ambushed his solo charity walk from Celtic Park to Anfield for The Celtic Foundation in May 2014. Then, through Mouldy, Iain fixed up the support driver for our Cycling Santas day in Belfast in December ’14 before taking time off his own work to drive the support vehicle (our motor) for Eileidh’s bike ride to Celtic Park the following May. Time spent in Iain’s company is good for the soul.

So that was Friday night taken care of, albeit that the rustiness of the old body made yesterday’s LCFN outing a little more challenging than it might otherwise have been. I should have gone out earlier than I did but some software technical issues with my work (yes, I know it was Saturday, but the job comes first) meant that I didn’t get out of the door till nearly two o’clock, and by then the rain was on. 1C and miserable as sin. But as the Nike advert says “Just Do It”.

So last night Jane and I were back out again, this time in the company of some of the Team Oscar guys and it was just a total reboot of my desire to drive this thing to the max.

Then this morning happened.

I woke to the desperately sad news that wee Layla, a three year old tot from Renfrew near Glasgow, gained her angel wings late last night. I had followed her story from afar, but having been so attached to Eileidh’s Journey for so long, I felt unable to attach to another cause so soon. But it doesn’t ease the pain for anyone: another precious child lost to neuroblastoma, another family devastated by the disease. And as it was with Eileidh, it was the speed of Layla’s passing that struck me the most: Gail commented overnight that the situation was almost identical to Eileidh’s decline at the end. So sad. So, so sad. So today, despite having got to bed at 3am, and despite the wind blowing an absolute hoolie at 4C, I decided that the bike ride needed a right good kick up the arse, and there’s no better place to deliver that than the Fenwick Muir.

I’d to go and pick the motor up after last night. It was parked about seven miles away in Andy Fisher’s drive, but I thought it would be opportune to head from Stewarton to Andy’s gaff by going via Newton Mearns, the Eaglesham Moor and the back of Dunlop. That detour, most of it seemingly into an intolerable biting headwind, added nearly thirty miles onto what should otherwise have been a stroll in the park. Then throw 2,800ft of climbing into the mix. That was one nasty, nasty outing: but the job is done, the miles delivered and the spirit is intact. The first two weeks of January have delivered five hundred miles (and I would ride five hundred more), way way more than any comparative period in the previous four years. Actually five hundred’s a fib: it’s only 496.9 but my legs are claiming the other 3.1 so that’s near enough for me.

You might remember that last week I introduced some new metrics for 2018 to help me keep a focus:

Percentage of days elapsed v percentage of miles towards 10,000 v percentage of climbing towards 500,000ft. The climbing’s in there for one reason: to stop me chasing flat miles at speed. Two weeks in, and the numbers are good:

D: 3.83 v M: 4.97 v C: 5.12

That climbing stat is especially pleasing: 25,000ft in a fortnight when the mercury has barely risen above 2C. Climbing may be hard but descending is absolutely freezing in those conditions. It’s almost three hours since I got off the bike today, and still I’m chilled to the bone, fingers and toes just plain cold, despite the heating being on.

In other news, the Aussie flights are booked, which basically means we now have dates for the bike ride across Australia. The Gold bike will leave the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital in Brisbane on 24th August. The interim target is to be in Sydney, six hundred miles down the road, eight days later: do the maths, it’s 75 a day. That’s the warmup act. The second half will kick off from Sydney on 2nd September, dangling a challenging one thousand further miles to be knocked off before the show arrives in Adelaide on or around the 13th. The asking rate for the second half is up nearer 90 a day which even I know will be a bit of a task: it’s actually one of the reasons I’m keeping my foot hard on the gas just now: endurance, both physical and mental, built up in a Scottish winter, will be worth its weight in gold come the Aussie equivalent in seven months time.

Staying on the Aussie theme, Jimmy Harrington is planning on heading over to Europe in the autumn, and I sincerely hope that Jimbo will be able to find a couple of days to spend north of the border at LCFN HQ. Gonna take him on the Glasgow Central Station tour if it comes off: we’ve never actually done it but people I’ve spoken to say it’s the best tourist attraction in the city.

But finally, this week, back to what this has been about for the last four and a half years. David Begg, he of the ‘greatest football commentator of all time’ tag, asked me about eighteen months ago whether I was going for a second circumnavigation of the earth, having originally set my stall out to try and achieve one. Well yesterday, I was finally able to appraise the great man that I had crossed the rubicon: LCFN is now nearer to 50,000 miles than it is to the original target of 25K.

On top of that, this week has confirmed 98 double hundred weeks and all sorts of things are now on my mind, a thousand miles in January for a start (last January only delivered 458). The weather this coming week is looking horrendous, with snow forecast for Tuesday followed by plummeting temperatures which inevitably means rutted ice everywhere. It would be lovely to carry on bagging the mega miles but needs must where safety is concerned. The most miles in January sits at 960, which happened back in 2016 towards the end of that epic 36 week run of double hundreds before I crashed on black ice and wrecked my thumb. Whatever I can pillage from the next seven days will at least set up the opportunity to attack that total in the following week. Show me a challenge and I’ll show you LCFN.

The weather’s been rubbish, the weather continues to be rubbish and no doubt the weather will be rubbish for weeks to come.

In the bleak midwinter… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0aL9rKJPr4