Sugar Sugar

Only once before have I found myself banging out a blog at 6 o’clock in the morning and that was on the occasion that I did a bonus track for my wee niece Paula on my way back from a Grandmarian adventure in England. Now I find myself doing the reverse trip, waiting for the first Landan train to depart from platform 1 at Glasgow Central en route to Crewe and ultimately Congelton where she stays in an old folks’ home. I’d normally be passing the Red House about now at the start of the descent down into Newton Mearns. Early mornings are always defined by where I would normally be on the bike…

Last week, or maybe it was the week before, I reflected on what it would take to be back. It’s a hard one to call. On one hand, just being back on the bike at all is a step in the right direction. A series of one way trips was on the cards for last week before my back wheel exploded and took the bike off the road completely. But with the way that this week has panned out, with holidays (to be used up) scheduled for Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, I figured that it was an ideal opportunity to ride Monday and Wednesday, both ways, to kickstart the comeback. What a shock to the system that turned out to be…

If you know me well, you’ll know that in the main I play by Grandma’s rules, and in particular the golden rule that if you want something, if you truly, truly want something, then you must save up for it first. It’s the same with birthday presents.

I picked up my new bike last Friday but my birthday wasn’t till Tuesday. So it sat in the house, brand spanking new and shiny as feck for the last time. There was always the temptation to use it for the Monday run into work because ultimately that’s what it’s for. A full ten pounds lighter than my Dawes tourer that’s done the last eight thousand miles, the Trek Domane is destined to be the workhorse for the near thirteen thousand odd miles that remain. But back to Grandma’s rule. On Monday I was still 61 and that simple fact disqualified me from jumping aboard the Trek Express. Had to wait till Wednesday for that…

So Monday was a Dawes day and to be honest the trip in was a bit of a doddle, albeit slow and ponderous. Yes it was a bit uncomfortable scarwise but (a) I didn’t expect it to be any different and (b) pain is only a four letter word to a Highland Marcher: except if you’re Wum.

Normally, I take a brick like loaf into work on a Monday, and that does me rocket fuelwise for the week. But as I was only in two days, there was no point in lugging the brick both ways so I elected to go for a few slices of a cheap late night Morrisons seeded number instead. Mistake. When I opened it up at lunchtime on Monday, it was mouldy. It wasn’t quite panic stations mind as my desk resembles a corner shop, but it did leave fuelling up on oatcakes, Marmite and tins of mackerel instead of the usual breaded fare.

I was lucky on the trip home because the wind was favourable off my left shoulder. A cold easterly, but the temperature was irrelevant: the assisting breeze was not. For those of you who know the terrain, it’s a nine mile climb from work, with the odd flat stretch, before the course tops out over the Fenwick Muir followed by a rapid descent down the Cutstraw road into Stewarton.

The first sign of trouble came halfway up the Ayr Road just past the lights at Mearns Cross. Light headedish. Just a tad but enough to make me focus on the cereal bar that I knew was stashed away in the bag. It’s there for emergency rations and as far as possible, it stays there. It did. I decided that instead of stopping for fuel, I would go the experimental route and see how far back I’d gone in terms of fuel efficiency. It was pretty drastic. I got home okay but was ready to hoover up the fridge on arrival. I found beer. Alcohol is the body’s number one fuel source on the preference list so I knew that a couple of cold ones would see me through to my tea.

So after only one day, I was left with the feeling that just being on the bike in both directions was in no way being back in the game. Maybe that was doing a second day I thought…

Wednesday was Trek day numero uno. A speed machine, it got me into the suburbs of Glasgow ten minutes ahead of the usual schedule and being that kind of a bloke, I elected for extra miles instead of extra time at my desk. The riding position is different from the tourer, more conventional in the angle of acuteness so it is marginally more uncomfortable just now, but that’s to be offset against an easier workload. Or at least that’s how it was on the way in: once again, a doddle. Properly fuelled this time, I had high hopes of a decent trip back up the road, and I even played the marmalade sandwich card an hour before the off: everything the way it used to be…

But it didn’t work out that way, not as I’d hoped anyway. The trip home was a mirror image of Monday, save for replacing the fridge by birthday cake when I hit the house. Wasted, totally wasted. Just as on Monday night, I was asleep in the chair at 8 o’clock and when Jane arrived back from her walk with Angela and Carol to wake me up, it was she who suggested that I hit the hay rather than fight it downstairs. I was in  the land of nod by nine, most unheard of, even in the heady, most arduous days of this epic adventure, but oh so needful, especially with a 4:30 start looming this morning for the jolly down to Englandshire.

This week’s experience has left me baffled and just a little bit concerned. It was never like this when I started out eighteen months ago. I know I’ve been sat on my arse for the best part of nine weeks but to be totally wiped out by a 40 mile round trip when I was banging in 220 mile weeks only three months ago is a shock to both my system and my confidence. But this was never going to be a (birthday) cake walk, even though 2014 delivered fantastic miles and essentially broke the back of the project. I still have to remind myself that I’m not yet at halfway and all of the hard work that I’ve done thus far will count for nothing if I can’t pick up the pieces and get back in the groove in the next few weeks.

I remember when John Major was Prime Minister. Remember him? The bloke who shagged Edwina Currie over a salmonella sandwich? Anyway it was Major Embarrassment who coined the phrase Back To Basics which is precisely what I will be doing next week and in the weeks after that. It’s going to be a long haul, I know that. The immediate challenge, right now, is to get through Monday then decide whether to go again on Tuesday or Wednesday. If Monday is reflective of this week’s performances, then Tuesday might be spent zedding at my desk for much of the day. Only kidding Mr Bossman. Either that or on the strong black stuff. But a counter argument says “to hell with pussyfooting about, let’s just meet this head on and get through it. That’s the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday version: plan B if you like. What is known, hanging like a noose around my neck, is that I need 99 miles, or three days of there and back commuting, to get to halfway. I make no apologies to my Inverness mates but next week’s blog will be rather aptly called Halfway To Paradise and as I’ve been sitting on that headline for months, I’m sure as hell not going to waste it now. It’s the prize that’s going to get me through next week.

It was about this time last year that I started to reflect in earnest on the switch from nine day fortnights to four and a half day weeks, and in particular to the Friday bikefest. It’s crucial now to go back to that period in the LifeCycle story because the Friday challenge was all about how best to deal with back to back journeys only five hours apart. In reality what initially spooked me as 40 mile round trips eventually became 50 and 60 with no adverse effects. And always on the back of 190 or 200 in the previous four days. So the evidence is there, it can be done, and it will be done, but somehow I’ve got to re-engage with the fuel systems that delivered those performances and believe that one day I will be as good as I was last summer. But right now, I’m a million miles away from being that bloke.

Now that I’m back in the office full time, the feedathon will be exactly the same as it was before, the same fuel in the same proportions and at the same times of the day. The only difference between the auld days and last week was that I didn’t have my brick loaf to fall back on. Right now I’m hoping that that was the real difference, and that come Monday two thick slices of doorstep fuel, one at lunchtime and one at half three, will deliver the kind of performance that I’ve grown accustomed to.

My bread is special. The ingredients are special. But as the end of the day it all boils down to how those ingredients bread down into the stuff that fuels the bike…

Sugar Sugar.

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