The Road To Lisbon

The whole shebang started with Oscar Knox. Oscar was (sadly) the catalyst for both LCFN and The Road To Lisbon.

It was wee Oscar who fired up Mouldy back in 2012 and he was a key player in the mass cycle by Celtic fans from Parkhead to Belfast in 2012.

It was Mouldy who spearheaded a ride from Sligo to Celtic Park, also in 2012, to commemorate the charitable status of Brother Walfrid who created Celtic Football Club for the benefit of the underprivileged in the east end of Glasgow.

And it was also Mouldy who phoned me up back in late 2014 and asked me if I’d cycle to Belfast with him at the end of Cycling Santas as a mark of respect for the wee man.

Then it was my turn to ask Mouldy if he’d come with me on the Eileidh cycle from Forres to Celtic Park the following May.

Cycling got to Mouldy in a big way: and it was always for a charitable cause. Even when he was cycling 135 miles stuck in a big gear on the road from Inverness, the legend never complained. Mouldy just gets on with it.

After that Eileidh gig, which spawned the Princess Puddles tag, the big man told me of his plan to ride from Celtic Park to Lisbon in celebration of the 50th anniversary of his beloved bhoys becoming the first British club to lift the European Cup. The mainstream media can fawn all they like about the likes of Man United and Liverpool: Celtic did it first. That can never be taken away from them. There’s a saying in our house: second is nowhere.

And so it was that Mouldy asked me whether I’d go on his trip of a lifetime. Back then, it was just a pipe dream, but knowing Mouldy as I do, knowing how he approaches every project with Prince 2 precision, I knew back then it would a major success. I was intrigued, and more than just a little bit interested. I could see the attraction: a major challenge with mega miles and even megarer hills (see what I did there?) and the chance to expose LCFN to a new audience. But there was a snag: actually there were two. First and foremost, this was a trip for Celtic supporters, and there’s no denying that I would have felt slightly awkward being an Inverness fan playing away with someone else’s team. Even a year ago, it still didn’t feel right. Admire, yes. Be in the huddle…? And then I lost my job. The clincher, if ever I needed one (please don’t make this feel like an excuse – ed) was that once I started working for myself, paid holidays became a thing of the past. If I don’t work I don’t get paid. Simple. So I did the sums: the cost of the trip, plus the loss of earnings, would have cost me more that I’ve spent on five LCFN bikes and all the servicing to keep this trip on the road. And that was it: I had to say no.

This is all relevant because Mouldy and his team of 26 riders left Celtic Park yesterday bound for Lisbon: 1300 miles in fourteen days and I’m in awe of every one of them. I love what they’re doing. I look on Strava and I check just about every segment to see how fast they went, then I ask myself whether I could have kept up. While I was clawing my way round another 30 miles and 2300ft of climbing today, I pondered their simultaneous challenge 200 miles down the road: 94 miles and 8800ft of climbing. And that on the back of 82 miles yesterday and 5000ft.

I repeat what I said above: I’m in awe of them.

I love the look of the difficulty. I love the passion with which they are approaching this mightiest of challenges. I love the reason they’re doing it: combining the challenge with three charities:

  • The Celtic Foundation
  • Children in Crossfire
  • Solving Kids Cancer

And there, in a nutshell, you have it. Not only has Mouldy chosen to honour the charitable work of the founder of his football team, not only has he chosen to support the rights and needs of young people caught in the crossfire of global poverty, he has chosen to honour his wee hero, and support the children who have unfortunately followed in Oscar’s footsteps.

Mouldy, excuse my French, but you are a fucking legend. Chapeau mate. Chapeau.

What those guys are taking on is just exhausting to look at, even on paper [wish I was there…].

And that, interestingly enough, brings me to last weekend….

Last Friday’s Empty The Tank, Refuel, Repeat story was a tale of personal exhaustion. I’d fallen asleep in the chair when I got off the bike, even before I penned it, and I knew I was on the edge. But this is LCFN and the edge has perennially been pushed further and further way by mocking the boundaries of endurance.

You might recall that I wrote last week’s blog with 11,533ft of climbing on the clock, and I was peering enviously at the LCFN summit of 17,564ft with some trepidation (of course now I look at Mouldy’s team and think I’m a lightweight). I wanted that record: I wanted it badly. But by Friday night, the legs were having none of it. Cue a few beers and an LCFN special brew Spag Bol.

There was only one gig in town on Saturday morning: 3000ft of climbing. Sorry, make that two: I craved another 30 miler to keep the run going. But I needed that 3K climb to give myself the smallest sniff of the 17K record, knowing full well that whatever I managed on Saturday, I was going to have to go out and do it all over again, and more, on Sunday. That’s kind of what this is all about: find the edge, find the falling over point, then get up again and go again.

But on Saturday morning I suspected two things: that the Spag Bol had refilled the tank to its max 1800 calories, but I was going to need at least 500 more to get this one home. 30 miles and 3K of climbing demands 2.5K calories. There’s the edge again, right there.

So what I did was head out straight after a big brekkie: I reckoned on that being the difference. And it worked…

There was little wind (for once) so I actually had a free choice of routes. Bonus! Just go for all the local hills lad: But keep an eye on all the metrics, including the internal fuel gauge (hence keeping it local). Ten miles: a thousand feet. 20 miles: two thousand feet. Still okay, in fact remarkably okay. Time to push the boat out: a ten mile push up the big Dunlop hill and round the back of the village before heading home. Now that record was really on: 30 miles and 3025ft left only another 3226ft of climbing to find on the Sunday.

This had now become mind versus body, nothing short. For two hours before I went out, I was playing with routes in my mind. The wind was light but easterly and there was some benefit to be had by heading up towards Glasgow. But that route didn’t have enough climbs for the distance involved, so Glasgow was out of the equation. I headed out that way anyway, just to bag 600ft in the first four miles. Then it was a case of threading the local hills in and out of the wind, bagging a hundred here and hundred there, never allowing myself to stay flat for more than half a mile. I labelled it The Hill Whisperer just out of badness. The brutal short climb over from Uplawmoor to Neilston followed by the three mile drag out of Neilston back towards Dunlop took the climbometer over 2000ft but I still needed more and I knew I was running out of gas. From where I was on the road, there was only one route that was going to deliver it, and it had three of the hardest climbs round here round it’s neck. Just gotta do it, son. If you really want it, you just gotta do it.

Time to go down the gears, turn a slower cadence and just get the head down. And deliver.

Half an hour of pain later, with cramp setting in, the job was done. 18000ft feet of climbing for the week, hard on the back of 15000ft the previous week, and back to back 200 mile weeks to boot, was nothing less than Eileidh and Oscar deserved. And for Vanessa and Mackenzie too for their long fights in childhood.

But there’s more…

Tuesday was both the third anniversary of Eileidh’s diagnosis and the first anniversary of the worldwide release of Puddles, the song about her fight. In recognition of both events, I reshared the Facebook video on LCFN on Tuesday morning. At that time, it had been viewed by almost 27,000 people across the world. I know it’s not a stat of One Direction proportions, but what happened next was truly remarkable. As I’m typing this, I just checked the numbers again. Puddles is now only 50 unique hits shy of 32,000 (stop press: as I’ve proof reading before publication, 50 has become 43). These are not 5000 people revisiting the video. These are 5000 new people reaching for the tissues for the first time. That…. is neuroblastoma awareness in action.

But nothing that I can do on my own comes close to what Mouldy and his team are achieving on the road to Lisbon. Today they crashed through £34000 in donations, and at a stroke that means over £11K for Solving Kids Cancer to help support the next wee Oscar and the next Princess Puddles.

Mouldy mate, you are amazing.

The road leads to Lisbon. And you did it first.