It Never Rains But It Pours

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. That was a hugely challenging five days…

I was sat here only a week ago, congratulating myself on a job well done in smashing November out the park, knowing full well that anything can happen in this game: and if anything can happen, it most surely will.

It did.

Things started to go wrong on Monday when I realised that the bike was juddering under heavy braking, especially going downhill. Thought not a lot of it and didn’t look for the cause until I got home. It took all of five seconds to suss out the problem: the rim of the back wheel was split, close to the line of the tyre. The split measured about three inches. Now the last time something like this happened, it was on the touring bike back in the spring, and it blew the back wheel apart when the thing went bang as I went round a corner.

Lightning was not about to strike twice: I parked the road bike, texted my mate Neil up at Fast Rider Cycles, told him to expect an emergency admission at A&E and set about configuring the tourer with all the necessary gear for a 5am start on Tuesday morning. The problem with the tourer, for all that it’s comfortable, is that it weighs a ton. I wasn’t ready for that. Tuesday was a real shock to the system and it cost me a good few miles, simply because I couldn’t make any speed. The morning was utterly grim, with heavy rain falling on a stiff south easterly breeze at 2C. By the time we got off the Muir and down into Newton Mearns, I couldn’t feel my fingers. But worse was to come, much worse…

The home run on Tuesday night was one of the worst in memory. I do not tell a lie when I say that the average speed was lower than the temperature, and this is December we’re talking about. I’ve clearly been spoiled by the fast machine these last eight months and I just couldn’t get going on the beast. Uphill, into a ferocious wind and carrying around 12lb more than normal: torture, two and a half hours of it. But yer know what…. I did it. This game isn’t about being a fancy Dan and breaking speed records on calm days. It’s about getting yer head down, finding a gear that you can still turn into the teeth of a winter gale and getting the job done. And the LCFN track record thus far is one of getting the job done: for now…

Wednesday was a nice day with hee haw to report in either direction. I love days like that.

Thursday was set up to be a repeat of Wednesday weatherwise, with a cold front moving north through the borders and due to hang a right before it got to the Central Belt. It didn’t. So when I left work, it was already raining and the temperature was a depressing 2C. You’ve no idea how depressing 2C is on a dark wet Thursday December night with traffic spraying extra water all over the place: you develop eyes on stalks. But the wind was slightly behind, which was good, so I clogged it up the Mearns and was rattling along at near 25mph over the Fenwick Muir when the back of the bike started to feel uncomfortable. The fact that it did so over a distance of only 200m was all I needed to know. I didn’t hear it go but I’d blown the back tyre.

I reckoned I had four options:

  1. Whack some air in and limp the bike home.
  2. Stop and fix it (I always carry two spare tubes)
  3. Phone a friend
  4. Walk the last five miles

I discounted (1) on the grounds that 200m from max pressure to no pressure did not bode well.

I discounted (2) on the grounds that 2C in Glasgow was now -1C up on the Muir and I couldn’t feel my fingers: not an ideal situation in which to start messing about with cold wet tyres.

So I went for (3) and (4). I phoned home to advise Jane of my demise but she wasn’t home. Joe was about to leave for football training (which I was due to be at!) so I asked him to leave a note. I’d walked about a mile and had got off the A77 onto the unlit back road to Stewarton when a pickup truck came up behind me, crawling at the pace I was walking at. It drew alongside before the driver shouted “want a lift down to Stewarton?”. I didn’t need asking twice…

That cost me seven miles, and believe me, I hate giving up something I have worked for. But at the end of the day, I got home safe, fixed the puncture and was rested (ish) ready to rock n roll again this morning at 5am.

Today was always going to be fun. I’d seen today coming on Sunday night and it scared the shit out of me even then. But I didn’t tell Jane. There are days when I really get a buzz about having to be careful, both in route planning and getting the job done. Today was one such day. The run in was easy and I bagged a nice 25. That was relevant because for the first time in weeks, I ended Thursday still looking to bag a 200 mile week. Life on the road bike has been so routinely successful these last three months that I’d forgotten what it was like to back end the week into needing a Friday.

See Tuesday? Today was worse. Today was much, much worse. I love Fridays because of the 11:45am finish but the problem was the coming storm. When I left the factory, it was scheduled to be blowing at 40mph against, gusting to 50. By 3pm, those numbers were to have stiffened to 45 and 55. This is serious stuff and maybe, just maybe, it’s better to be aboard an oil tanker of a bike than an F1 bike. At least that’s how it feels when you get hit be a gust of vengeance.

I only need to tell one wee story about that trip to remind me for all time. I was on the flat section of the A77 bike lane between the Eaglesham Moor Road End and Galston Road End. The oil tanker is configured with a triple chain ring on the front and a 9 speed cassette on the back. So there I was, in the wee ring on the front (the granny gears as Mouldy calls ‘em), standing on the pedals and giving it all I had…. in order to make 5mph. Brutal doesn’t even come close. I reckon it was blowing at between 40 and 50 against but like Tuesday night, this was not about the miles, this was not about the speed (which didn’t even reach 9mph by the way, by the time I got home): no, this was about hanging on in there, for dear life, holding the bike in a straight line and just turning those pedals. It could have been worse: it wasn’t raining.

Oscar Knox would have been proud of me this week. A year ago, when the oil tanker was my bike of choice, 234 miles was a good return: these days I beat myself up over it. But I tell you what: two mechanical failures, two truly hellish days into the wind when I struggled to make 9mph over 20 miles… I am really, really relieved and proud to have delivered those miles. For any parents of neuroblastoma kids who are reading this, please, please tell your wee ones that the LifeCycle Man has finally got the weather that makes his journey as difficult in his terms as your life is in yours. Don’t take that the wrong way: I’m here for this to be difficult. Winter is a hellish time to be on a bike on the Fenwick Muir: I said it two years ago when I was a novice; I said it again last year when I knew what to expect. And I say it again this year when I absolutely refuse to be beaten by the elements. If you’re on the LCFN Facebook group and I’m experiencing a hard time, please forgive me because sometimes I just need to express my exhausted feelings.

Now… a word about Mouldy. This weekend, last year, was Cycling Santas. This Sunday, last year, was the day I met Mouldy. I was also the day I first met Princess Puddles, except I didn’t christen her with that name until May. Next Monday, last year, was the day I met Stephen Knox and quickly got to realise what a lad that bloke is. And I hugged Leona outside the Sick Children’s Hospital in Belfast. Long, long after LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma is finished, those five seconds (or was it ten) will define what this journey has been about.

Today, I have exactly a hundred days to go, based on the average number of miles a day that I’ve managed so far, which is close to 43. I’ve longed for this day for as long as I can remember: I long for it to be a hundred miles to the finish but it isn’t. I have to wait for that. I look at the numbers and I realise that the whole 25,000 mile journey is likely to take me 580 days. If he was still alive, I would have invited David Niven along for the last ride (see what I did there?)

LCFN continues to entertain and challenge in roughly equal measures. Am I sick of it? I can’t answer that question because there are still 4,300 miles to go. But after a week as challenging as this, especially after I thought I was going so well, all I can say is that sometimes…

It never rains but it pours.

But I ain’t done. Not by a long way….