Two Wheels On My Wagon

When I was a kid, there used to be a request show on the wireless on a Saturday morning: Children’s Favourites, hosted by Uncle Mac. One of the most requested songs, which meant it got played most weeks, was Three Wheels On My Wagon by the New Christy Minstrels. A sort of large ensemble folk band, the NCM spawned the careers of several notable acts, including Kenny Rogers, Kim Carnes and the gravelly voiced Barry McGuire, who later went on to record the timeless Eve Of Destruction. Believe it or not, Three Wheels On My Wagon is a Burt Bacharach song! Really!! Every day’s a school day.

I mention it because while I was out today, I couldn’t get that song out of my head and the more I played with the lyrics, the more I came to realise that it’s a classic LCFN anthem:

https://youtu.be/5vLhcg_FU9g

The thing is right, it mirrors my life on the road in winter to a T…

For Cherokees, read squally showers: and for arrows, read hailstones.

Pioneers, they never say die

A mile up the road there’s hidden cave where we can watch those Cherokees go galloping by”. That was soooo me today. Heading out west, directly into the wind, it was taking me straight into the path of a fierce dark cloud that must have been about three miles wide. There was no escape. With the temperature no greater than 2C, it was guaranteed that the payload in that monster was gonna hurt, and as I hurtled on towards its epicentre, I found myself trying to work out where I could find shelter. Bridges are good: I had three in mind, but the nearest one, the one that would have been most useful, would have taken me on a route I really didn’t want to do because of the wind direction: and the other two were three miles away and out of reach.

Subconsciously, maybe that’s how the song kicked off…

Two wheels on my wagon

and I’m still rolling along

them Cherokees are after me

flaming spears

burn my ears

but I’m singing a happy song

And then to the chorus…

Higgity, Haggerty, Hoggety, High
Pioneers, they never say die
Higgity, Haggerty, Hoggety, High
Pioneers, they never say die
Higgity, Haggerty, Hoggety, High

But in the winter, I do feel like a pioneer: and particularly so in this one. It’s like the Gold bike has re-energised me (Eileidh Bear did sit on it before I did): but more than that, I feel, perhaps for the first time, that I can trust the Rohloff with my life. After the hiccup right at the start, when the gear changer had to go back to Germany, I now feel, two and a half thousand miles in, that I’ve found my soulmate on the road. I love the Rohloff more than any bike I’ve ever owned, and that includes the Flying Scot that took me from Manchester to Glasgow in a day in 1994.

Winter is the absolute making of LCFN, and this one has been right up there. I was talking to my brother in the week and he cheered me right up when he told me that the rest of February is going to be exactly like it’s been these last couple of weeks: deep joy. I’ve checked Windguru and sure enough, there’s no end in sight to this bitterly cold weather, and the payload that comes with it.

I’ve mentioned more than once recently that momentum is absolutely key in keeping LCFN focussed in the winter. It’s all well and good telling yourself that every day is a day nearer to the crocuses coming out, but the reality is vastly different: this week has been a classic case in point.

I’ve adopted the Fenwick Muir Windguru forecast as my bible. Windguru is a phone app that I discovered around the time I started and it’s been my best friend for the past four and  a half years. Windguru told me that it was going to snow on Tuesday morning, so that threw both Tuesday and Wednesday into doubt in terms of big stuff, the stuff I needed to maintain the momentum I crave. So on Monday I hit a big one: 30’s okay, 35+ is decent and anything 40+ is above and beyond the call of duty. Monday was a 40.

On Tuesday the local roads were a complete mess. How I didn’t come off heading down the Chapeltoun hill I’ll never know: mark it down to balance and good fortune I guess. But I knew (it’s something I’ve learned over the past twelve months) that the further west you go, out towards the coast, then the snow gets less and less and less. Irvine had none! Black roads: I would have dumped the bike in the back of the big motor and parked up at the Magnum so I could bag the coast roads, except that the big motor’s really sick right now and probably only gonna make one last journey: to the scrappy. Ten years we’ve run that motor, and it was two years old when we got it. It supported the Tartan March from Aberdeen to Glasgow in 2009, it supported Eileidh’s Highland Bike from Forres to Glasgow in 2016: it’s been a workhorse. But on Tuesday, it was sick: ironically, the last trip it actually made was to take Goldie to the Magnum to avoid icy roads two weeks before, but then the engine warning light came on on the way home. Game, set and match for the old jigger I’m afraid.

But if Tuesday was a concern, then this coming weekend was more so. Sunday promises to be a snowfest, perhaps the first half of Monday too: but Monday’s next week’s problem. I have bigger fish to fry. That momentum I spoke of earlier is totally aligned, the best I can make it, to the daily slog of families of kids fighting cancer. Of course the disease doesn’t come into it, and I would never try to denigrate the families by suggesting otherwise, but believe me, maintaining real momentum on LCFN in a Scottish winter is pretty much hell on earth, and that, right there, is the connection.

I decided at Christmas that the only thing that would satisfy me was a run of two hundred milers, and emotionally that wasn’t difficult to justify back then because I was still focussed on hunting down a hundred of them. But with that milestone knocked on the head a fortnight ago, you could be forgiven for thinking that I should be putting my feet up until the grass needs cutting. But you’d be wrong on three counts:

One: before this week, the run of 200’s was at seven and that’s starting to look solid. Two hundred mile weeks are never, ever easy, not even in the summer: winter ones are worth their weight in gold: Chase ‘em with all your might.

Two: I have Australia to think about, and the training for BrizzAlaide has to be measured and intense. While I’m comfortably dealing with three hours in our winter, I’m constantly thinking that in six months’ time, that needs to translate into six hours a day down under.

Three: tomorrow is February 10th, the day when 36 two hundred milers came to an end when this happened in 2016: (from the blog Black Ice Ops):

Four miles out of Stewarton, just before what’s referred to in our house as the long straight, there’s a farm on the left, opposite where the Corsehouse Burn takes a sharp 180 turn about 20 yards away in the field. Unbeknown to me (in the dark), the burn had overflowed in the night and the water had run down off the field and across the road. I approached it round a left hand bend where the road starts to go slightly downhill at a point where you start to pick up speed for the long straight, ahead of the final climb to the White Loch. I came round the bend where the burn had frozen across the road. No amount of road salt was going to sort that out.

I hit the brakes and purposefully headed for the other side of the road where the camber was higher: that way, I figured I could use the road to straighten up the camber and stay onboard. There was no way I was stopping in time, not from 15mph with five yards notice.

I thought I’d got away with it. I crossed over all the ice that I knew was underneath me and gingerly headed back across the road to my side. Then I kid you not, I hit the deck in 0.3 sec flat.

For the first time I can remember in ages, I hit my head on the tarmac. The instant headache was the first thing I remember, followed immediately by “ooh, ya fecker, that thumb really hurts”. And the chain had come off. And the handlebars were twisted inwards on both sides. When I came off on the ice in Glasgow last week, only one side of the handlebars took a hit: this time it was both. It was a big impact. A dog emerged from the farm, followed quickly by its owner, to find out what the commotion was all about. The dog got a bollocking, not from me I might add, as I was too busy trying to pull myself together, before it was ushered back inside.

I reckoned I had two choices. Six miles back home and the ignominy of a failed journey, or carry on then spend the rest of the day worrying about how I was going to get the bike home.

And see the best bit: I’m on First Aid duty at work this week. Was I going to A&E on my watch? Was I hell: I self assessed, with the help of a colleague who used to be on the rota. We decided that I probably hadn’t broken either my thumb or my hand, but that an ice pack and ibuprofen would be get me through the day.

But by the time I got the bike home, A&E was a no brainer:

The staff at Crosshouse couldn’t have been more helpful or more friendly. Not only was I in and out in just over an hour, which included Triage, assessment, story of why I was on my bike at 5am, X-ray and diagnosis, I even managed to get an assessment on last week’s rib injury that’s been giving me jip ever since. It turns out that that’s an inter costal muscle tear that might take up to six weeks to heal. You know what? I hope to be through 24,000 miles in six weeks: pain is only a four letter word to a Highland Marcher.

But a hand that’s 20% bigger than the other one, and a thumb that can’t even turn the key in the door, is worth more than just a wee bit of pain. Uppermost in my mind is the fact that I can’t, absolutely can’t come off the bike again while I’m like this. I can’t even grip the handlebars without pain, and for four hours a day, that’s a tough shift. For once, just this once, I’m taking a timeout. LCFN is not a game…

That accident cost me eleven days, and I still feel the pain of that injury to this day. That thumb just doesn’t have the power it once had. But the show must go on, and in the words of Burt Bacharach and the gritty, gutsy voice of Barry McGuire…

Two wheels on my wagon

and I’m still rolling along

them Cherokees are after me

flaming spears

burn my ears

but I’m singing a happy song