Puddlemania

There’s really only one show in town tonight (and for the next week): Puddlemania.

As recently as the beginning of April, Princess Puddles’ appeal was sitting at £14K, a far cry from the £100K that Gail required to get Eileidh to the States for potentially life saving DFMO treatment to prevent her neuroblastoma from coming back. But here we are, ten weeks on and the people of Scotland have done Gail and Eileidh proud: the fund now stands at £110K and only one obstacle stands between the Princess and the big plane. But it’s a big one: Eileidh needs to be cancer free before she can go and she’s currently undergoing day after day of rigorous tests to find out if that’s finally the case. Princess, we are all with you…

An event I would urge you all to get along to is at the Ironworks in Inverness next Friday night: Song For Eileidh is a rock concert to raise funds for the Eileidh Appeal and it’s all the work of Bronwen Roberts, Kathleen Roberts and Gail Paterson. There are a host of Highland Indie bands on the line-up and it promises to be a fabulous night. Don’t miss out!

They say that hindsight is a wonderful thing. It was way back before Christmas that Neil at Fast Rider Cycles said to me, on one of the many occasions that he had my months old touring bike in for repair “you need to get yersel’ a lightweight road bike”. I remember thinking at the time “yes, but I only got this bike in March so I can hardly justify another new bike”. How wrong I was. The stats tell the story.

Between the start of April 2014 and the end of this same week, I clocked up 2308 miles at an average of 41 for each day that I cycled: that was on my Dawes tourer. Between the start of April 2015 and today, and remember that I’d only been back on the bike for ten days when April came around, the corresponding total sits at 2642 at a daily average of 48.

Seven miles a day further, for each of 55 days, during a period when I started off a stone overweight and puffing like an old steam engine. I had no idea three months ago that the Trek Domane road bike, which weighs in at only 21lb, would make such a difference. I’m not getting up any earlier. I’m not getting home any later. It’s just that I’m able to translate that 21lb into miles in a way that I never thought possible at my age (which is somewhat surprising as I rode a Flying Scot for twenty thousand miles in the 90’s).

So how did it happen?

Well it’s worth recalling that I started out on #LFN on a folding mountain bike. That did me for the first thousand miles (at 30 a day) until the winter of 13/14 when I jumped onto my mountain bike as it suited the winter conditions better. But the MTB was old and clunky and after I’d had various new bits added (new back wheel and new disc brakes for starters), I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t going to carry me for 25,000 miles. It carried me for 3,000 miles at 35 a day. So that justified the touring bike in the spring of 2014: “comfort” thought I, I need comfort for the long run. Oh, it delivered comfort alright, but at a cost of 32lb and going up hills, you really notice it. #LFN delivers a minimum of 2,000ft of climbing every day so that 32lb of equipment weighs heavily on your legs when you’re climbing or fighting a gale. By comparison, 21lb is featherlight.

So how does the difference translate into miles? Simple: it’s speed for no extra effort.

The first four miles in the morning carries the burden of a 500ft climb (separated out into six wee climbs), albeit that in the main the wind is either across or off the right shoulder. Then for the next twelve miles, across the Fenwick Muir, the Trek is like a feather on the breeze. Yeah, I have to work some days, but in the main it’s a massive clog that you just get caught up in. Floak is the high point, by which time the ascent has climbed beyond 700ft (see what I did there?) before a long steady descent down through Newton Mearns delivers me into Giffnock at around 6:30am. In the old days, Giffnock was 6:40 to 45 so armed with these extra minutes, I turn them into miles. I’ve got into the habit of chucking a loop of Pollok Park into my route into work, even though it’s not actually on the direct route. I love the park because there’s zero traffic, the occasional jogger, a dawn chorus, squirrels scavenging about and even fallen trees (last October’s wee incident). Throw in a fast, flat loop of Shawlands on empty streets and 26 or 27 miles has become commonplace. A year ago it was 21 or 22.

The return run is unfortunately payback time. Whereas the heavy bike provides stability into the prevailing wind, the Domane gets chucked about like a wee leaf. It’s both challenging and existential. Just get the bike home is always the motto. But overall , the 41’s and 42’s of a year ago have suddenly translated into 46’s, 47’s and 48’s today. 200 a week back then has become 240 now. It’s a hell of a difference and it’s eating up the road at a rate of knots. But it has come at a cost: the new bike is only three months old and already it’s back in the bike hospital, having worn out chain number one. Three thousand miles is seemingly all you get these days. Whatever the fact, it’s better to err on the side of safety and change it now rather than risk a mechanical failure up on the Muir.

There was a time last summer when I saw the opportunity to complete #LFN in three years instead of four, only for my hernia operation to rob me of nine weeks and put the end date well into Q1 of the fourth year: not any more. Progress has accelerated to such an extent that completion by this time next year looks almost certain so long as the snow and ice do me a favour this coming winter. It starting to look like June 2016 could be spent back on the bus…

I’ve been thinking quite a bit this week about how this journey will actually end, because it seems a bit limp to just ride into work one day and declare “well, that’s me done 25,000 so that’s it”. I want the finale to have a wee bit more pzazz than that…

So you won’t be surprised to learn that I’m thinking of bowing out with a bit of a bang, a 24 hour non-stop ride. One that fits the bill for all the right reasons is Belfast to Forres (apart from the bit where you have to get the ferry from Larne to Troon). It’ll be branded as #OscarToEileidh. By why 250 miles for Gord’s sake? Because it’s difficult, that’s why. I don’t know whether I can do it but I sure as hell intend to give it my best shot. Just like Princess Puddles these last twelve months.

Door to door it’s close to 250 miles, which would be a personal record, eclipsing the 237 that I clocked when I cycled from Manchester to Glasgow for Action Research in 1994. The route is also special because whilst it has Oscar at one end and Eileidh at the other end, Vanessa, Alfie and McKenzie lie in between. It feels like an A-Z route of kids who’ve battled neuroblastoma around the time that I’ve been on the road and it it’s my chance to have one final blast that says “kids, I did this for you”. Doing it south to north maximises the chance of picking up a favourable prevailing south westerly tailwind, and that in turn will make the difference between a 10mph average and a 12mph average which translates into a difference of four hours on the road.

When? Probably end of May next year, but that very much depends on what kind of winter we have and how inhospitable the Fenwick Muir decides to make itself.

And the more I think about it, the more I realise that it would be a fitting finale because when I set out, I knew nothing of the difficulties that lay ahead, just as Gail knew nothing back in August 2013, when I started out, of how her life would be turned upside down by the journey that lay ahead.

Live for today, plan for tomorrow and celebrate Puddlemania.

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