Banksy On A Bike

You know that feeling you get when the stewardess comes on the intercom and announces “would all passengers return to their seats and fasten their safety belts. We are ten minutes to landing…” : it’s a sense of “of course we’ll get down okay, and it’ll be great to get off this plane…

Well I wouldn’t exactly call it a panic attack, but this morning, as soon as I woke, with wee Dennis headbutting my chin, my first thought was “we’re flying out to Australia in three weeks!!!!

Nervous? You bet.

Excited? You bet.

Ready for this? You bet.

Ride2Cure has been five long years in the making, five years in which LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma has been the apprenticeship for the adventure of a lifetime. This isn’t about a bloke riding a bike two thousand kilometres across the Australia outback, this is about raising awareness of neuroblastoma and funding for new, ground breaking research. Ride2Cure is 100% not about fluffy stuff. Ride2 Cure is about the kids of today not becoming the parents of the next generation of kids diagnosed with the disease. And that can only come about through research. Neuroblastoma Australia help to fund research into the disease at the Children’s Cancer Institute of Australia.

I know in my heart that I’m fast approaching something that has been meant to happen (it’s just that I didn’t know) since the moment I first clapped eyes on the Vanessa Riddle Appeal and the WeeOscar4Life campaign. Ride2Cure is my calling: I had a pension bloke at my house (at my invitation) at the back end of last year and something he said will live with me until I lose my marbles: “the years between 65 and 75 are when you need to do stuff”. The unwritten rule in that is that past 75, you’re in the departure lounge when it comes to doing real stuff, like riding a bike for 2000km.

My time is now and it’s limited.

Regular followers of the LCFN blog will recall that I set the end of the LCFN ride at 44,444 miles in order to allow it morph into the 2,222km of the Ride2Cure: and it’s on schedule. Bang: on: schedule. LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma will end 609 miles from now. Will I miss it? Of course I will, but only in a non-masochistic kind of a way. Five Scottish winters have taken their toll, especially the 2017/18 vintage, and I’ve no desire to smash my aging body through a sixth at 200 miles a week: this will be my 30th 200 mile week in a row. No, I didn’t expect to do that at the start of the year but then how many parents of two year olds back on Hogmanay expected to be living a life from hell six months later? Since I started that double hundred run, over fifty families in the UK and a further twenty in Australia have been ravaged by neuroblastoma. Ride2Cure aims to try and bin that statistic forever, even if we don’t manage it in a single year.

So with LCFN drawing to a close, and my training for R2C ditto, I’ve had some hard decisions to make. I cannot, and will not, walk away from neuroblastoma awareness raising. Until Vanessa got ill, I’d never heard of the disease, and until the second wave of fundraising for wee Oscar, it didn’t twig in my brain how significant a bastard of a disease this is. I know now: I’ve cried at three funerals in the past twelve months.

So when I was out on the road a couple of weeks ago, I started thinking about the LCFN legacy: what can I leave for future generations of cyclists? What message can I put out there for other people to relate to after I can’t physically do this anymore?

And while I was out yesterday, demolishing all the pensioner segments around Dunlop on Strava, it hit me like a ton of bricks: I’ll change my name…

For Gawd knows how long, it feels like forever, I’ve been Von Schiehallion on social media. I’m Von Schiehallion on Twitter and I’m Von Schiehallion on Strava. The legend goes back to the Caley Thistle Highland March when, around 2008, I wanted to bag Schiehallion the mountain en route from Kenmore to Dalnacaroch Lodge. It was only adding an hour to my day and as it was there, just over the fence behind the lodges at the top of the Schiehallion road, I just wanted/needed to do it. Again, it was a calling. So I jumped the fence and bagged it. A couple of years later, while we were parked up with beer in the bunkhouse at Laggan Bridge ahead of the penultimate stage in a snowstorm over the Corrieyairick Pass, the marchers began tossing daft posh names around: I wanted to be Baron Somebody, and thinking back to my childhood and kids’ comics I thought that if I’m gonna be a self appointed Baron, then it needs to have Von after it: Baron Von Schiehallion was born. Then when I got on Twitter and Strava, I dropped the Baron bit and kept Von Schiehallion. There endeth today’s history lesson.

So then I thought, “if I’m gonna change my name on social media, then it needs to be meaningful: it needs to have an impact…”

So what have I been doing these last three weeks, while I’ve been winding down the endurance work in order to home in on the magic 44444 miles? I’ve been upping the quality, or to be more precise in practical terms, smashing Strava segments within ten miles of Stewarton. But I’m choosy: I’m not remotely interested in the fast downhill stuff. I want the uphill stuff: I want the painful  stuff. The legacy of LCFN morphing into R2C will be that this mad pensioner fae Ayrshire went around the place slapping the name Ride2Cure Neuroblastoma on the top of Strava leaderboards. Yesterday I had a good rummage: I’ve got 125 of the pensioner records.  This is what it says on every one of those leaderboards:

  1. Ride2Cure Neuroblastoma…

The guys who I’ve knocked off the top will be grandads: guys who’ve been cycling for half their lives, guys who are probably the crème de la crème of club cycling in West Central Scotland. And now this bloke has turned up, who they don’t know used to be a 31 minute 10K runner, with thighs like tree trunks, and he’s rewriting the record books.

All in the name of neuroblastoma awareness, so that by the time I’m done, there won’t be a cyclist round these parts who hasn’t heard of the disease.

And in Australia too…

Because I’m planning on destroying a whole bunch of Strava segments down under. There’s a 6 mile, 1750ft climb at the start of day 2 of the Ride2Cure that has a pensioner record of 53 minutes. That’s going. Ride2Cure Neuroblastoma is going to own that mountain.

And so it goes on. When I come back from Oz, I’m planning on spreading my wings, mile by mile, zone by zone, county by county, mopping up Strava segments and plonking Ride2Cure Neuroblastoma at the top of every uphill pensioner leaderboard.

Do you remember that classic scene in Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid where they’re getting followed by the tracker guy and the cavalry, and Robert Redford looks back down into the valley, sees the dust and utters the immortal phrase “Who are those guys?

Well I’m a man on a mission: a new mission.

I can’t realistically attack King Of The Mountain records, because at age 65, they are the domain of the young team. But I do have actually four to my name, and hard earned they were. No, what I’m after, in the years that lie ahead before I can’t do this anymore, is to slap Ride2Cure Neuroblastoma on top of a thousand pensioner leaderboards. Strava will never have seen anything like it. Yes, my assault will be targeted: yes, I will be going places with the sole purpose of doing stuff under cover, but it’s in order to get the locals posing that same question that Butch Cassidy asked, but in the singular…

Who is that guy?

Banksy is Banksy and I guess only Banksy knows who Banksy is.

But the world of cycling on Strava is about to find out that Banksy has an accomplice: he sneaks into your neighbourhood, he climbs your hills, takes the pain and smashes your segments, then he sneaks away again…

Banksy on a bike.

A Night At The Opera

This morning I got word from Australia that Sydney Opera House is going to go gold on September 1st

Ride2Cure will be there.

The dates of this journey were picked in order that it could be so. The first week out from Brisbane is full of all the big stuff: the long stages and the biggest climbs. And I’m even prepared to say that if we can get a day ahead of ourselves on the road by the time we catch our first rest day, we might just take the opportunity to stay in Sydney for a second day. If you’d told me five years ago, when I started out on this journey, that I would be stood in front of Sydney Opera House holding aloft a bike with gold handlebars and wearing gold shoes, then I would have suggested men in white coats. But it’s going to happen.

Two weeks ago today, I was at Vanessa’s funeral.

Last Sunday, I was at the launch of the Eileidh Rose Puddles Project in memory of Princess Puddles.

This week last year, I spent the whole week riding five miles a day because my head was all over the place. I remember wondering whether it was worth carrying on with LCFN because the support funding had dried up and all I had left in my locker was raising awareness: but even that was something that I’d been doing for four long years so I seriously contemplating chucking it.

Then we went on holiday and I had time to reflect…. a week is a long time in LCFN: so’s a year.

I remember the drive I had when I got back on the bike. At first it was nothing other than a desire to up the tempo: the first week back was just a 200 mile sighter, something to get me pointed in the right direction again. But crucially, it started a run of 42 days, none of them under 30 miles, and ultimately, it was those 42 days that lit the fuse under the Ride 2 Cure. It was the first time in the entire journey that I’d ever gone 40×30, as daft as it may sound. But in the days when I was bagging mega miles to and from Glasgow, riding 20+ and 1000ft of climbing every twelve hours, I was taking the weekends off for recovery. I haven’t taken weekends off for over two years: the relentless nature of this journey has become an honest reflection on the fight against the disease: days off don’t exist, at least not days when you’re not thinking about it.

And ultimately, my mind is now transitioning from LCFN to R2C, from the unaccustomed reality of blazing hot Scotland to the anticipated reality of not quite so blazing hot Australia (only because it’s winter over there). I frequently let my mind wander and think about the long days that lie ahead. If the PR does a job, then Australia will be like a lone breakaway in the Tour De France, except for the fact that there won’t be a peleton chasing the wee man down. As we pass through each town, it’ll be for Paul to brief the locals on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.

Finding a cure: that’s why we’re doing it. No fluffy wishes; no little treats; this is serious stuff at the sharp end. Our aim is to raise over $100,000 to fund research into new treatments for neuroblastoma. And if we have unfinished business at the end of it, as in ‘what went well, even better if’, then maybe we’ll do it all again in 2019. Because it matters.

But back to this year, and indeed back to this week. I’d forgotten how tired I get when I drive long distance. I get by the drive okay, but it’s the following days that I feel it. Jane was working in Dundee last Friday and I was go to Inverness for the weekend then over to Aberdeen on Sunday for the Puddles Project: so we did a car swap at Perth: and as I’d offered to pick up some helpers in Forres on the way, so my route home was also via Forres rather than straight down the A90. 200 miles on Friday night, 50 miles on the bike on Saturday (more of which in a moment), then almost 400 miles of driving on Sunday. The thing I’ve learned about long distance driving, that works for me, is to take strong coffee, and plenty of it, in the hours before the off: so that was me on Sunday at the Fun Day. There wasn’t even the slightest hint of tiredness on the way back down the road: the problem was I was still wide awake at 1am. Cue two very, very tired days on Monday and Tuesday: falling asleep in the middle of the afternoon is always a giveaway, as is yawning my head off before 9pm.

So back to Saturday and that 50 mile adventure. I mentioned in last week’s blog that I quite fancied paying back the hill out of Fort Augustus for what it did to me twenty years ago. But there’s something curious about cycling: you can sense, within five minutes of leaving the house whether you’re on it today. Or not. Last Saturday I was most certainly not on it. But I didn’t take my bike all that way to mess about doing silly stuff so I looked out all the local climbs on Strava and tried to get my head round something where I wouldn’t disgrace myself. By disgrace, I mean going full on for the King Of The Pensioners then falling short. I chose the 2.2 mile climb out of Dores, at the eastern end of Loch Ness. It’s a climb that just never lets up.

Now at age 65, I know I can’t compete with the big boys, even though I have three or four KOTM’s to my name. My target is to bag King Of The Pensioners, to be number one amongst guys who’ve probably been riding competitively for half my life. As a soloist who takes on the wind every time I go out the door, Strava KOTP’s are my gold medals. And so it proved on Saturday: The over 65 record for that hill up from Dores was 16m14s. I shaved 50 seconds off it, and buried myself in the process. I did ride out to Whitebridge, as previously promised, and even managed to grab another five KOTP’s en route, but my legs were done in. Thursday’s escapade on Arran was still there, lactate on tap.

So on Monday and Tuesday I just went back on the turbo. It’s uncanny but I can tell by the average speed of the gold bike (on the turbo) what sort of nick my legs are in. Monday and Tuesday were both down on what I consider to be acceptable, whereas Wednesday I was totally on it. So yesterday I took the R2C bike out on the road, in full Aussie trim, to do some real damage to the KOTP segments around Stewarton. If I’m going to leave my mark on the routes around my home town, then the time is now: when I get back from Australia, tired, fulfilled and with the winter coming on, there will be no motivation to do any damage on the leaderboard.

So I plotted a two day route: you simply can’t take all the climbs at speed in one day, it has to be thought out strategically: and if I’m honest, I stopped en route and looked at one long segment that’s actually includes two little ones, and I knew that with the wind against, I could only manage one of the three. I went for the last one, the shortest, an absolute brute of a climb, the record for which was held by the guy who had all three in his locker: not anymore. I cleaned him out with something to spare. That tells me that I can go back another day and take the lot in a wonna, and I will.

But I knew that the job was only half done because there are plenty of other climbs round here that I had to save for another day: today. There’s a hill that’s sits out to the west of Stewarton that we just call the Chapeltoun hill: it’s long, if you take it over its entire length back into town, and it has three Strava segments on it. I decided to leave that one till last today, because I looked at it on paper and thought it was still in scope, even with knackered legs from two other attempted Kings in the previous three miles: I cleaned out all three, but perhaps the most telling statistic is that on the final short uphill burst into Stewarton, the gap between first and second is now the same as the gap between second and eighth.

But that wasn’t my favourite gig of the day: that’s a tie between the first one, the 1.5 mile climb out of Stewarton up the Old Glasgow Road to Kingsford, and the longer 1.7 mile leg quite late on between Benslie and Torranyard. 52 seconds now separates first and second on Old Glasgow Road, and 53 seconds is the gap on the Torranyard run. These are huge chunks of time.

But I’m not finished yet: there’s a climb up to Dunlop that I’ve yet to address with my purposeful hat on, and there are a couple of lesser climbs that I also like the look of. I want the lot. By the time I board the plane to Australia, I want the confidence of knowing that five years of thrashing my body, day after day after day, is going to pay dividends…

I think it is: and what’s more, I think that the proudest moment of my sporting life will be the night at the Opera.

King Of The Pensioners

I’m sat in Inverness late on a Friday night, with the Ride 2 Cure bike in the back of the motor, checking out Strava segments on the brute of a climb up from Fort Augustus, thirty miles south west of here. I’m on a two night stopover before I head over to Aberdeen on Sunday for the launch of the Eileidh Rose Puddles Project, and I’m seriously contemplating attacking the King Of The Pensioners records on that hill tomorrow morning…

I remember the hill so vividly the first time we met. It was about 22 years ago, before Jane and I were married, and I’d chucked my Flying Scot road bike in the back of the car. Jane was living in Inverness at the time and I was in East Kilbride: “why have you brought your bike?” was the opening gambit. “I thought I might cycle round Loch Ness” replied I. “I thought you’d come to see me”. “I have: I’m planning on going out at 5am”.

So I did: 67 miles. I remember it like it was yesterday. I shot down the busy side (the A82) with virtually zero traffic and got to Fort Augustus about half seven in the morning. I’d studied the OS map so I knew there was a bit of a climb, but I was shocked when I got on it. I was fit back then, like fit enough to cycle from my house in Stewarton to my work in Cathcart, 17 miles away, up and over the Fenwick Muir, in 42 minutes. But that hill out of Fort Augustus did for me that day, and therein lies it’s attraction. Maybe my gearing was wrong, as in set too high for the climb, but the only way I managed to get up that blessed hill was to zig zag backwards and forwards across the road: and that painful memory of almost being defeated has remained with me ever since. You see adversity either makes you, or it breaks you.

The background to this crazy notion lies in the fact that since I got my pension, I’ve been hoovering up King Of The Pensioners records on Strava, but rather than go for the simple flat stuff where you just go eyeballs out as fast as you can, I head for the hills: I want the challenges that really, really, really hurt. I want to recreate the pain of fell running on two wheels for old time’s sake.

And it’s working…

I’ve got a new feature request in with the Strava people for a matrix report on your dashboard: a list of all the segments that you’re featured on down the left hand side, and all of the age group categories across the top: then in the intersecting cells, I want to see my position and time relative to a the other guys. I don’t want to have to trawl through every segment on the planet to discover that I currently own 40 King Of The Pensioners (KOTP), I want it there, in summary form, so I can decide quickly who’s getting knocked off the top of the leaderboard next.

Someone once said to me that if you want to consider yersel’ a mountain climber on a bike, then you have to do the Bealach Na Ba pass between Kishorn and Applecross: it’s a five mile climb to 2,300ft from sea level, then it drops back to sea level on the other side. Jane and I were on holiday in Skye in 1996, the year I’d trained for Aberdeen to Glasgow (in ten hours), so I asked for a wee detour on the way home. Having climbed the hill from the Kishorn side, I dutifully scoffed a sandwich, had a drink, then did it in reverse fifteen minutes later. A notch on the cycling bedpost.

So back to tomorrow…

This week was already set up to be a crazy challenge because (a) I started it on 27×200 (b) Don’t be a Wum (c) this has been the hottest June week on record in Scotland.

So I front loaded the week, knowing that tomorrow would give me at least 55, with Sunday off as a recovery day. But then Big Lardy messaged me on Monday and asked if I could get Thursday off: he and Kev had swung their work schedules so they could go cycling and I suggested Arran. Kev (the Lawman) hadn’t been back since he ran first leg south for Cumbernauld AAC in the Arran relay over thirty years ago. Lardy didn’t know what awaited him.

The first executive decision of any hardy traveller planning to cycle round Arran is this: “left or right off the boat?”

It sounds so simple: believe me, it isn’t.

If you go left, you get the chance to kill your legs for 25 miles because only about a mile of it is flat. The other 24 are excruciatingly up or down. That gets you to Blackwaterfoot and a relatively simple ride up to Lochranza where the beast awaits. 40 miles in, you get the biggest, longest climb on the island and it’s a bastard. To be frank, I didn’t fancy it: I did it that way (clockwise) two years ago and I cooked on that hill under a blazing sun.

Yesterday was hotter by a distance.

So the three of us turned right off the boat and meandered our way at a steady 15mph until we hit the first climb at Sannox: 3.5 miles of pain: the reverse of the Lochranza hill off a less steep gradient. KOTP was around 17 minutes so I set my stall out by stopping for a pish at the foot of the climb, then legging it after the other two: and I’ll be honest with you, I thought I’d bagged it by around fifteen seconds, spreading the effort right down the hill. But when I uploaded the gig to Strava when we got on the boat, my effort was only good enough for second place. Somewhere along the line, I must have miscalculated big time. Not a happy bunny.

All of the other segments I was after were on what Kev n I call first, second and third legs south: that’s because back in the day of the Arran relay, the race started at Blackwaterfoot and three runners went north to Brodick, whilst the other three went south: roughly ten miles each. You always put your fast guys on the first and second legs north, whilst your hill runners fought over the other four. First leg south is a bastard; second leg south ever so slightly less so; third leg south has the climbs out of both Whiting Bay and Lamlash right at the start then the rest of it is a breeze.

Yesterday, in temperatures of 30C, I was for taking on first leg south at 30 miles, second leg south at 40 miles, then third leg south at 50 miles.

And I was fuelled by porridge (before leaving the house) and malt loaf, supplemented by copious amounts of water. Interestingly, I was heavy on fuel going up that first hill where I missed the KOTP but I was lightweight on water by the time I hit the hills on the south side.

I had four targets on the day. I’d already missed the first by the time I arrived at Sliddery for the race up to the church. It’s a zig zag start from a wee burn before the road opens out into a straight climb. Under a baking sun, I knew instinctively that I was up on the clock when I came round the corner and the rest was pure bloody minded strength endurance…

Bagged one!

Next on the hit list was the half mile climb out of Whiting Bay. I’ve done this many times and it’s a big wide road, but it twists left and right so you never get to see the top until it’s almost upon you: cue the Hammerhead Karoo: believe in the technology of how much further there is to go and grade your effort: then just feckin’ go for it.

Make that two!

Which just left the Lamlash hill. This one’s a complete bastard and it had been nagging away at me all day: “what’s the point of taking the other KOTP’s if you miss out on Lamlash?” I was thinking all the way round the island. But to counterbalance that, I was also thinking “ah, but every guy that has ever beasted this hill has come round the island and got fifty miles in his legs before he turns that corner…

I absolutely had to trounce the notion that I was knackered and should therefore just meander up the hill, a broken man.

And that was my motivation…

I stopped for a couple of minutes in Lamlash, swigged the rest of my water and scoffed what was left of the maltloaf (for maltloaf read fuel) before setting off again. This was at 2pm, there was feck all wind and the temperature was in the region of 30C. I’d already got 50 miles in my legs and I’d just blasted the Whiting Bay hill five minutes before: ideal preparation? I don’t think so.

But as I rounded the corner, I found a gear that worked, and it was nowhere near the Granny so I just kept pushing it…

1.2 miles: piece of piss: er, no, it’s a slow burner and even after you pass the entrance to the golf course halfway up the climb, it keeps on meandering left and right so you cannae see the summit: out of the saddle: too sore: back in the saddle, nae momemtum: back out the saddle: push and let the legs scream while the heart’s pounding. And finally the summit, before the long descent to the boat, and a Wifi signal for the Strava upload.

The metric that tells me if I’m ready for Australia (or not) is that final climb out of Lamlash. Strength endurance and speed endurance rolled into one ferocious effort…

Mine by 51 seconds: 7m03 plays 7m54s.

Four records that I went for: three achieved, but then by pure accident of being on the right pace at the right time, a further five KOTP on other segments that I didn’t even go for.

#LegsOnFire

Ride2Cure: I’m ready for you…

After tomorrow.

King And Queen

There are days that you dread, and there are days that you dread…

Today was a day I’ve been dreading all week. But let me roll the clock back a week because this one’s been a slow burner.

Those of you who follow this journey week in and week out will know that I work in healthcare research. I write software that screens for disease and I write software that audits disease. That’s my life when I’m not on the bike. I have two laptops: one is my business one and that’s where I do all of my development work. The other one is provided to me by my client in Liverpool in order that I can work remotely and securely in support of their business.  A week ago yesterday, after a Windows update, that laptop fell sick. For the techies amongst you, the Microsoft .Net Framework walked off the pitch with the ball and said it wasnae playing anymore. That was a big deal (for me) because that’s precisely the kind of issue that IT support cannae fix over the VPN link. I had to go to Liverpool and get the machine hard wired onto the network. Cue Monday…

A 4:30am breakfast, a 5:30am train from Stewarton and a 6:30am train from Glasgow. In the surgery in Liverpool for the back of ten. I got there, hooked up the sick laptop and phoned IT support. While I was doing that, another Windows update kicked in. “Hold on a minute” says I, to the dude on the other end, “you won’t be able to remote in just now because it’s doing another Windows update…”

That update finished and the machine rebooted. Support dude takes over, logs in and you’ve guessed it, Windows update 2 had fixed the corruption of Windows update 1. And I’m sat there, with egg all over my face, thinking “WTF, did that just happen?” I knew how tired I was gonna be, because the Liverpool gigs always leave me that way: it’s like jet lag without the jet. But at least I was up and running: and I was on the right side of the border where everyone would be jumping about like maddies when Harry Kane nodded that last minute winner against VAR.

So roll the clock forward 24 hours…

I was indeed seriously knackered when I fell off the rattler in Stewarton at 6pm: and I had a bike ride to do. And it was raining. The forecast was for heavy overnight rain so this slate grey sky wasn’t for clearing off anytime soon. But these days, even though it makes me a bit of a wimp I guess, I have a plan B: the gold bike’s sitting on the turbo in the shed. On days like Tuesday, or should I say on nights like Tuesday, there’s always the salvation of the man cave in the shed: cans on, whack on the #Ride2Cure mix and thrash that tired body for two hours. It was just short of nine of clock when I finished the session. The fact that I was a good 2mph down on normal told it’s own story, not that I needed any hard evidence: I was living it.

Wednesday was a repeat performance. It’s always like that, and to top if off I was feeling the pressure and the stress of having to pile in another 200 mile to keep the run going. This will be week 27, which if you’ve been with me for a while you will know is the week of the Wum. There is no chance, not even 0.1% of a chance, that I can fail to log a 200 mile week either this week or next. I cannae fail on the 27th, and even worse, I cannae fail on 27. It’s a Highland March superstition of failure: you never, ever stop on 27. Ever.

So with both Tuesday and Wednesday way below par, I had a job on my hands: for today was looming and I had plans: something that despite all the tiredness, despite all the nothingness that I felt, there was something that I had to do.

Today was Vanessa’s funeral.

I do stuff from left field and I make no apology for it. If I do stuff that people least expect, then just put it down to that’s the way I am.

LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma happened because of kids like Vanessa.

Despite all of the pain, I think she would have appreciated that. In the service today, there was a rolling collage of images of Vanessa going back down the years: and one of those images, that seemed to stay up there for an eternity, was Vanessa’s signature on the LCFN flag. I wasn’t expecting it, and it floored me: the tears were rolling down my face. It was as beautiful as she was herself. Just V’s signature on the pristine banner, as it once was. And now it sits there proudly amongst hundreds of others. But V’s is still the most beautifully crafted.

But before I move on the emotional rollercoaster of the day proper, can I take you back to 5:30am this morning. Still, still, still drained after the start of the week, and the fact that I couldn’t quite help myself yesterday and took the Aussie bike out on the road and bagged six King Of The Pensioners and a King Of the Mountains, my heart was set on the hill out of Loans by Troon that looks down on Vanessa’s house. I wanted two things: I wanted the King Of The Pensioners crown in Vanessa’s memory on the so-called Dundonald Hill Front Side segment on Strava (it’s a beast of a one mile climb) and I wanted to post a separate segment in Vanessa’s memory. So my five thirty route took me by way of Kilwinning then Irvine to get the legs warmed up (on a cold crisp morning) before I hung a loop through Troon that delivered me past Marr College, Vanessa’s school. There are a set of traffic lights at the bridge by the entrance road. That was where I clogged it. But the mile from there to the start of the climb is fertile ground for “how hard dare I push this, knowing full well what’s coming after the mini roundabout”: a four hundred foot, category four climb…

Do your best work on the flat and the climb will spit you out. Take it too easy on the flat and you’ll leave yourself far too much to do when the fun starts. The celebration of Vanessa’s young life in Troon Concert Hall laid bare her wicked sense of humour: I think she would thoroughly approve of the LifeCycle Man laying a challenge in her name that not only celebrates her life, but does so by virtue of pain. Chris and Connie are both able cyclists, far more competent and speedy than I will ever be. But it’s there: 2.00 miles, from Marr College to the top of the Dundonald Hill, and it’s called Vanessa. All I ask is that you take it upon yourselves to become King and Queen of the Mountains in your daughter’s name.

But there was other stuff about today that just got to me. Vanessa arrived at the crematorium with a police escort front and back, complete with flashing lights. It was done as a mark of respect by Police Scotland to an inspirational young person.

Then five of Vanessa’s best friends from Marr College spoke at her celebration. How I could have hugged every one of them: how can you possibly get through the story about how you’d been with your bestest best friend through toddlers, primary, secondary then into sixth year without breaking down? It came close but every one of them was a star. They used to be six, and I say this to you girls: “you are still six, because having known Vanessa through your formative years, she will be with you, in spirit, forever. You will be the best that you could ever be in life, because you were her friend.”

But there’s one final irony I want to add about today. I thought I knew no one but the immediate family. So when I arrived at the Gailes for the reception, I sat on an empty table, on my own. It was one of those big round jobs that seats about twelve people. Then people started sitting down and I enquired of the guy on my right what connection he had to the family: more egg on my face, for it was Stephen Richards, Chief Executive of Solving Kids Cancer. And sat next to Stephen was Vicky Inglis. Vicky and I go back a long, long way in cyberspace but we’d never actually met, until today. And sat with them were the parents of another child who is currently on the journey that starts with a diagnosis that maybe, in another world, could have been picked up earlier. It was just one of the many things we talked about.

And on my other side, much to my surprise, was a chap that I’d clocked at the celebration of Vanessa’s life at Troon Concert Hall. I was only 99.9% sure it was him, but as his wife was sat next to me on the table and we got talking, I can confirm that Kyle Lafferty is nothing like the bad guy that everyone hates at the football. Kyle was there with his Vanessa, best friends with V’s cousin, and a friend of the family.

But before I finish this week, and going completely off at a tangent, I have a vinyl album somewhere in my collection featuring Otis Redding and Carla Thomas: “King and Queen”.  So to Chris and Connie, I dearly want to see you guys as King and Queen of Vanessa’s segment up that hill.

Remembrance Day

A year ago today there was a General Election in the UK. 99.9% of folk will not only have forgotten but will still be wondering how we, the people managed to return such an incompetent bunch of incompetents for another term. I blame the voters. Anyway, I digress…

The election’s imprinted on my brain because I crept out of the door at 5am, just like the old days, in order to head off down the road to be with our mam in her final hours. But as fate would have it, I got a call from the hospital, 250 miles away, at half six (am) while I was still five miles from home, to report that her breathing was shallow and that I should not delay. I legged it home, voted (not Tory) then set off down the road: Ross was following on in his motor for maximum flexibility depending on who needed to be where and when. As it turned out, that was a wise move because I was down there for the whole of the following week: Ross had school to go to.

Whilst some of the events of that day and the following days have faded with time, others have not. My most vivid recollection is of not being able to focus on anything for more than a few minutes at a time: and I had a SNOMED-CT exam to sit, which I failed first time around, and only just scraped through on the resit. My mind was all over the place.

And so it has been, this week, albeit to a lesser extent. The neuroblastoma community lost Vanessa Riddle last Friday, 1st June. Vanessa’s passing came eleven months to the day since Eileidh lost her fight against the disease. The first of every month will forever be tinged with sadness. I was working in Liverpool last Friday when the news came through. Although I’d been pre-warned, I was still in bits. A couple of ladies who were in the office where I was working asked me if I was alright: I had to say “no, not really” and I then went on to explain why: you don’t do this gig without getting emotionally attached to the kids who made it worthwhile. I’ve thought a lot about Vanessa this week. I’ve thought about the fact that it’s our Joe’s school prom next Friday and that Vanessa was cruelly denied the opportunity to finish her education at Marr College in a way that would have befitted her. It’s simple wee things like that that get to me.

V’s funeral is two weeks today and the word has gone out amongst my cycling friends that there will be a dawn tribute ride on that day: a 40 mile round trip from LCFN HQ, route known but under wraps, returning in good time to get cleaned up and pay our proper respects later in the day.

While I may have been struggling on the concentration front, the legs have been burning the miles on the R2C training gig. I’ve been trying to work out whether waiting until the temperature’s up in the 20’s is a good thing: I’ve been kidding myself that it’s good from an acclimatisation point of view, given that Oz might be warm, but these past couple of weeks have been really hard on the old sweat glands. For ten weeks I’ve been protecting a long standing and troublesome knee injury by transferring all of my miles onto the gold bike mounted on a turbo trainer in the back garden. “That’s easy” I hear you say. You’re welcome to come and give it a go. The default position is to sweat buckets, maybe as much as two or three pints of fluid over a two and a half hour stint. But if it’s windy and you’re sweating buckets, then even on a hot day, you can feel quite cold with a soaking wet top on. There’s no easy solution, other than committing yourself to being there at the end. And that brings me nicely to another problem: when you’re on a turbo, where’s ‘the end’?

Let me explain…

I started working out on the turbo on 2nd April, when there was a not insignificant risk that I might not make the Ride2Cure. I’d just come off the biggest climbing month since LCFN started and my bad knee was up like a balloon. And sore. The one thing I needed to do was take out the hills and the turbo enables that. It’s still my bike that I’m riding, rather than some machine in a gym, and as it’s got the 75psi solid tyres on it, it actually makes for a tough workout over the piece: but without the hills, you can crank up the speed so averages of 19-20mph are commonplace. That also means that the sessions are over much quicker so you get more bang for your buck, so to speak, and I can get back to work sooner. That’s the theory anyway: quality not quantity, in terms of hours.

Those first two or three weeks on the turbo were torture. Back in the days when Ross was little and I used to do all of my training on the turbo while he played with his toys (that was twenty five years ago, by the way), I thought nothing of doing 40 and 50 milers. Back at the start of April, I was struggling to make 30, and that’s what nearly cost me the thousand mile month. Ironically, it was the very push for the finish line in order to preserve that run of thousand mile months that broke the dam in terms of mental energy. Those first three weeks averaged 30.7 miles a day, way down on where I’d been for months on end (I did have a sore knee, right enough, but that’s a poor excuse). The average over the last seven weeks, kickstarted by that manic last week in April (319 miles) has been 44.4. Those two stats are light years away from each other.

But I’ve also got half an eye on the clock…

Today brought up the 25th two hundred mile week in a row, thereby consigning the blue riband record of LCFN to the bin. There are eight more full weeks of training before Jane and I board the plane to Brisbane so the max that 25 could become is 33. But there’s another obstacle to consider: I’ve pledged to turn up at the start line in Brisbane on 44,444 miles (in order to align with R2C’s 2222km gig). There are 58 days before we board the plane. I’ve got a wedding to go to in darkest, deepest Sussex, I’ve got the Eileidh Rose Family Fun Day in Aberdeen and probably another excursion down to Liverpool (one, hopefully not two). So I can probably write off five days. 44444 minus 42704 divided by 53 is 32.8. I’ve got to start thinking like I’m an aeroplane at 42,000ft and start planning my descent. The next two days are gimmes: I’ll just take the default.  The fun will start on Monday because whilst 7×32 is still well over 200, anything extravagant that brings that average down under 30 starts to compromise the 200 mile weeks. So the bottom line is: phase 2, the turbo phase, is probably coming to an end. I now need to take the Aussie bike – Jane’s bike – out on the open road and readjust for the limited time that’s left.

In terms of project planning, the Ride2Cure shirts are on order and should arrive on or about the 5th July. What we don’t sell in the UK (and Norway) will be shipped to Australia for sale over there. This is your big chance people: it’s cheaper, postagewise, to reserve one before we ship them, than it will be to buy one later (when they might be all gone anyway).

The R2C website is getting there – slowly – but it will be at least into next week now before we have something to offer. There are some folk I want to approach as potential ambassadors for the ride but I’ve been holding off making my play until the website is ready, and now time is getting a wee bit short: patience young man, patience…

So now, LCFN has come full circle, fast approaching the small hours of 9th June. Our mam passed away at 3:18am and while I won’t be staying up that late with work and miles waiting in the wings tomorrow, I will be having a wee snifter tonight and toasting her resilience in the face of adversity. I know where I get it from.

For tomorrow is Remembrance Day.

V

Vanessa was the original Queen of LCFN, and for that I will forever be indebted to my good friend Brogan Rogan. But she was more than that: for a decade, V was the beautiful face that proved that there was life outside of neuroblastoma. She was the proof that a strong family and a strong fighting spirit could give this obnoxious disease more than a run for its money. Vanessa’s was the cool face of being in the front line. And we all loved her for it.

The first time I met her was at Celtic Park: Saturday November 1st, 2014. I am seriously starting to hate the first day of every new month. Inspired by people who had first supported Vanessa, then Oscar and finally Mackenzie, I plucked up the courage to ask V if she would share my 10,000 mile stone. Actually I didn’t ask Vanessa, I asked Chris, her dad. The irony of the timing was that it came in the week that Celtic were due to host my team, Inverness Caledonian Thistle so I approached Celtic to see if they could accommodate an outsider on matchday. Those events helped to shape this journey forever.

I was late, which didn’t get things off to the best of starts. As luck would have it, we were playing host to my niece, her fella and his boys that weekend, and all being mad football supporters, we elected to take the boys to the game. But more than that, it was also a Celtic Foundation foodbank collection day so armed with carrier bags full of stuff, we set off for the train into Glasgow and the subsequent route march out to the ground. We underestimated it with four kids and a load of food: Chris phoned me a couple of times to see if we’d got lost en route to the stadium. No, we were just slow. Cue hugs all round on arrival.

Once inside, we were introduced to Tony Hamilton, head of the Celtic Foundation, who explained the protocol. Vanessa and I were going to share our moment on the hallowed turf at half time, together with the LCFN banner. Let me tell you that this was a big, big deal for me. Not only was I getting to step out with royalty, I was doing it right in the backyard of the very people who had inspired me and supported me from the word go. See the connection with the whole Celtic charity thing: I get it, and that day spent with Vanessa just reinforced it. To this day, there are folk who believe that my allegiance was turned but it’s simply not true. I just got turned by the humanity of people who understand what my bike ride has always been about. After the game, we all went to the pub, Vanessa and her family, me and my family, and reflected not just on the events of that afternoon, but on the journey that lay ahead. But before we leave the game itself, I have to tell a wee story about the half time walk. V and I were walking out from the halfway line, forwards with the LCFN flag, while Chris was walking backwards, ahead of us, taking photos: what he didn’t see, was the sprinklers coming on and he got absolutely soaked. How V laughed…

While we were waiting pitchside just before the interval, Vanessa and I were chatting about school, about exams, and about her ambition to be a nurse: to be able to give back to people just like herself: and even before she said it, I had a sixth sense of what was about to come out: a kind of bond between helpers if you like.

I didn’t have to wait long for the next time and for that I thank my good friend Mouldy. It’s kind of difficult to put into words how totally networked the NB supporters actually are: even though you might not physically see each other for months at a time, picking up the phone or diving onto messenger is absolutely the done thing. You are never more than five seconds away from someone who totally gets the way you feel the way you do. That was Mouldy n me in December 2014. We’d both planned to do Cycling Santas at the start of December: Mouldy had his name down for the whole gig from London, despite having only jetted back in from the States three days earlier. Me, I was still protecting my old body and with only a heavy touring bike for company, I’d thrown my hat into the ring for Edinburgh Sick Kids to Glasgow Yorkhill followed by the Belfast tour hosted by Stephen and Leona Knox. Mouldy phoned me at work late on the Tuesday afternoon just after the NCCA cancelled the Belfast leg through lack of support, and he wanted to know if I’d do it with him, just the two of us. Bear in mind that we’d never actually met at this point: the aura of the other was all we had to go on. But that gig made us. When you experience thunder and lightning at Cairnryan ferry port at half six on a bitter December morning, you know you’re onto something special.

But I digress. So let’s roll the clock back twenty four hours to the jaunt across from Edinburgh.

I remember a lot of things from that day, but more than anything I remember the warmth and care of Chris Riddle. The weather was wretched, into the teeth of a winter gale carrying a payload of sleet, and as luck would have it, I ended in the train (a term borrowed from Chris’s Irvine based Fullarton Wheelers). Connie, Vanessa’s mum, was aboard a separate train fifteen minutes up the road: cue some mega tipping of the bike helmet in her direction for leaving us blokes in her wake. But I guess that’s the spirit of the family: they just had it, they always had it.

Once we pulled away from the lunchtime rest stop in Armadale, the combination of the cold and the pace did for me, and I fell of the back of the train. I was strong enough to make Glasgow under my own steam, but believe me riding solo into a winter headwind in the late afternoon is no joy. Chris Riddle waved his team farewell and detached himself off the back of the group to look after me. He dropped the pace, took the wind and got me home to Yorkhill. And unbeknown to me at the time, Mouldy was doing precisely the same job with his mate ten minutes back down the road.

Inside the warmth of the Schiehallion ward, that had once been her home for eighteen months, there was Vanessa. Cue more hugs; more smiles; more banter; more tea and biscuits. Then we all piled off to the pub, the Curlers Rest on Byres Road: more blether. But that gig at the pub was way more symbolic than just a wee catch up: it was the day I first met Eileidh. And it was the one and only time that Vanessa and Eileidh were in the same place at the same time. Queen and Princess as one.

Then our paths deviated, albeit that Chris and I kept in touch through social media and messaging. Vanessa was three months removed from our Joe so they shared many anniversaries and experiences together in their respective school years. I remember Chris relaying tales of trips to Germany for treatment between Standard Grade exams and that left me with the lasting impression that you can keep the disease at bay, but stable normality is a luxury never afforded to families of children with the disease.

And there’s another reason why I stepped back: Vanessa and her family deserved the privacy of their own lives without the intrusion of an outsider, for at the end of the day, that’s what I am. I did the same for Gail, albeit that Gail knew she could pick up the phone at any moment, as often she did, and I would do whatever I could do. You’re there, but you’re not there, if you get what I mean. And that’s how it stayed until I went to the Solving Kids Cancer parents’ conference last November, with Gail, and met up with Chris, Connie and Vanessa once again. Beauty had taken a real hold of her, so much so that she had now refocussed her attention into that becoming her life. She could barely have picked a more fitting career because it truly reflected the person that she had become.

No child deserves to lose a battle with neuroblastoma, but Vanessa’s passing is particularly cruel. From living in an isolation bubble in the Schiehallion ward in her primary school years, to almost ten years in total fighting the disease. Vanessa was for me the original warrior: Puddles may have pinched her crown as the mischievous Princess but Vanessa was forever the Queen of cool: she was the big sis’ who showed neuroblastoma who was boss, and for so long.

But neuroblastoma is a bastard of a disease and now it’s taken her away. In just a few weeks from now, I will fly out to Australia to do the Ride 2 Cure tour. The sole aim of that journey is to do what it says on the tin and help fund laboratory research into a lasting cure and to understand why. Vanessa would have been proud of that, just as I, and thousands of others worldwide, were, are, and always will be proud of her.

V.

Sadly not for victory but always, always for Vanessa.

Stuff To Do

It feels like I’ve got my project manager’s hat on. All of a sudden, those contingent months that lay ahead, meaning I could park the important stuff ahead of the Ride 2 Cure, they’ve gone, and in the blink of an eye, I’m heading for the sharp end: things to do, stuff to sort out, important decisions to be made, and not a lot of time left to do it all in…

90 days and counting.

First up: the kit. Neil and I, who knocked up the design, have signed off on the final version of the shirt, and even at the 11th hour, we were interfacing back and forth to Australia to get confirmation on technical stuff like the specific shades of pink and yellow. We’ve messed about with the yellow slightly to tie in with Childhood Cancer Awareness month, so our version of yellow has more than a wee hint of gold in it. Think hot yellow to go with the hot pink trim and you won’t be far off.

Before I leave the jersey story, I had an enquiry this week from an LCFN follower in Norway, asking whether the jerseys will be for sale. The ones that Paul and I will be wearing are paid for by moi (it is, after all, a fundraiser for laboratory research into new treatments so Paul, my roadie, and I are pretty much funding everything between us). Anyway I bounced the question over to Neuroblastoma Australia and they jumped at the opportunity of selling special, limited edition Ride 2 Cure shirts as a fundraiser. So yes, you will be able to buy a shirt (or five), safe in the knowledge that your hard earned cash is going to help save lives in years to come. And in any case, the R2C jersey is the must have cycling top of 2018 (said a man who’s living the dream).

Next up: the website. This has been a real team effort, although I would be the first to congratulate the web designers in Sydney for a fantastically clean layout that’s choc full of goodies. Just as with the jerseys, ideas and content have been flying back and forth over the airwaves and we’re probably only a couple of weeks away from the official launch just now. The Ride 2 Cure has been a bit like a slow goods train chugging along on the inside track while it’s well established brother, the Run 2 Cure fast express has been rumbling down the fast lane. But the Run 2 Cure gig happens next weekend so once that’s cleared the section (trainspotter speak for no longer an issue), then the Ride 2 Cure site will get the green light and some final TLC before the launch.

If you like gadgets, then you’re gonna love the R2C website because it’s full of toys.

The broad layout of the site will give you a feel like you’re scrolling down a never ending billboard of engaging content. First up, right in your face, are the donation buttons: it is, after all, why we’re doing this and investing so much time and effort. When you look at it on your phone, the big slider bar just hits you right in the face: our goal is to raise $111,000 (derived from the total distance of 2222km) but because my default factory setting is optimist, I’m hoping we can smash that: we have after all got the combined forces of both the UK and Australia driving this Megabike forward.

Scroll down and then you’ve got the route, end to end, that we knocked up in Mapometer. That allows you to zoom right in just like on Google Maps. But the best bit of the route finder lives on the dropdown menu. In there, you’ll find a zoomable bitesize version of each stage, along with a wee elevation icon that expands on screen to give the lowdown of the terrain, end to end, of each stage: but that’s not the best bit… if you slide your finger along the elevation profile, then a wee dot appears on the route so you can see exactly where the hills are, both up and down. Like I said, you’ll be all gadgeted out by the time we’re done.

The wee zoomable maps and the elevation toys came courtesy of the Hammerhead Karoo that we’re putting our trust in to do the navigation on the road. I’m the first to admit that the Karoo has been a bit of a gamble. It’s a brand new piece of kit that only started shipping a couple of months ago, and I managed to get my grubby mitts on one of the very first ones in the UK. But as with a lot of new products, it has gremlins, and some of them have threatened to scupper our investment. The issues have all been to do with offline maps. I don’t want to have to rely on an internet connection when I’m in the outback, so the feature that attracted me most to the Karoo was having the ability to plot a route (it’s dead simple by the way, and only takes a few seconds), then download it to the device so that all you need out on the road is GPS. Then your task becomes one of ensuring that your red arrow (that’s you) stays on the red line (which is the route). The Karoo screen, which is totally zoomable in and out, shows your actual route as a blue line, so if you do manage to get lost, all you have to do is zoom out, find the red line then head off in a direction such that your blue line reconnects with it: and all the time the red arrow shows you where you’re heading right now. It’s super simple and super slick…

But the offline facility wasn’t working, as in the download would get to say, 56% then freeze and restart. Not good, especially when you’ve got 20 stages to download. Anyway, I went on the Hammerhead website forum and had a wee rant, in the guise of asking a question regarding when this rather basic bit of functionality would be available: well guess what… they released a software update at the beginning of this week, and the problem’s been fixed. So now I actually have all twenty stages of the Ride 2 Cure downloaded onto the device and I no longer need an internet connection or a 3G SIM card to get me from Brisbane to Adelaide. Of course if I inadvertently reach Melbourne, then you’ll know we’ve hit a problem en route to Houston.

But the most frustrating aspect of the build up, and I would go so far as to say infuriating, has been the issues that we’ve been having with the Tannus tyres. I don’t have a problem with the fat Tannus tyres that sit on the gold bike. They’re puncture proof, which was the whole point of going solid, but at an equivalent of 75psi, they are costing me between 1 to 1.5mph on the road. Over the course of R2C end to end, that’s the equivalent of an extra day’s riding, or putting it another way, a load more effort on knackered legs, every single day. So Neil (my mechanic) and I went down the Tannus 105psi route on the Aussie bike (not the gold one). These are the equivalent of slick road tyres with minimal rolling resistance. But could we get them on the rims that the Tannus technical literature claimed were 100% in spec? Hell no! We even went down the road of buying the machine that the Tannus pro’s use to fit their tyres. But these beasts are not for going on. So we’re at a crossroads over the whole solid tyre thing and ultimately I think we’ll just have to bite the bullet and go back to bombproof tubed tyres: shame because the 105psi’s are bright yellow and would have looked the real deal on black wheels. C’est la vie.

However while all of this project management malarkey has been occupying my mind, the miles just keep rolling along: that’s now 23 double tons in a row and tomorrow will rack up the fifth thousand mile month in a row: #ForeverFive, Puddles that one was for you. I’ve been out on the road a couple of times this week with a nice lady who’s signed up to do Land’s End to John O’Groats while I’m doing Brisbane to Adelaide. And like me she was about forty years without being on a bike before being rebitten by the bug, so showing off some of my obscure resurfaced single track country roads has been good fun for both of us. But the mainstay of my training has been on the turbo, in the sunshine, in the back garden. After the really shit winter that we had, I really don’t mind a bit of ‘baking in the sun’ acclimatisation, especially when I can take regular breaks whilst crashing an insane workload. It kills two birds with one stone: the miles get done in an hour less time every day (an extra hour that I then get paid for) and I can monitor knee pain versus effort in a controlled manner. As I said last week, LCFN is no longer about LCFN, it’s about delivering a pensioner to the start line outside the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital on 24th August.

The clock is ticking down and there’s so much stuff still to do…