Still counting the days

7 weeks to #joberg2c

It just doesn’t stop, does it? I’m talking about the passing of time, naturally. It really shouldn’t be something that I have to worry about, especially not at my age, but when you’ve got a deadline, you can’t help but fret a little. Still, I’ve got seven whole weeks – that’s 42 days – to get my act together. But then I stop and think about it, and I realise that I don’t really have seven weeks, because I fly to South Africa on April 20th, so that makes it just over six weeks. Oh sh…

On the River Stour today. Now you see him …

… now you don’t.

It’s not the training that worries me, although that’s probably what I should worry about most. I’ve finally got over my nasty cold and this week my mileage increased by 120km, which might seem okay, but isn’t really when you’ve started from close to nothing. I’m trying to be sensible, increasing the miles slowly but steadily. And with the weather like it is right now, I’ve got to grab the moments that I can. And they’re not always great moments. Take Monday, for instance. I went out for an 80-minute spin. When I left home at 10.30 in the morning it was 14 deg C and sunny. For this time of year that’s positively balmy for England, if not a little barmy. But when I got back home just before midday the temperature had plummeted to 3 deg C and there was sleeting rain and an icy wind. Okay, the forecast had said there would be rain later, but this rain turned up (or came down) sooner rather than later. How am I supposed to account for that?

But enough about me. How about you? How are you doing? Are you getting out and about, do you have enough to eat, are you getting enough sleep? And more importantly, have you donated yet to the wonderful cause that I’m riding for? I spent half the afternoon fashioning a couple of fancy little buttons at the top of this website just so that you can do so. There, that’s it, the one at the top that says DONATE or Velokhaya. Go on, press it. I dare you.

Burglars and Brexit bollox

8 weeks to #joberg2c

Hell, if that was the English Spring, it was on a Wednesday this year. In fact, it was so warm in parts of the country that it might have been the British Summer. But I hope not, because then there’d be little to look forward to for a whole year. Apart from a little jaunt across South Africa, of course.

I didn’t really get a chance to enjoy that flash-in-the-pan weather, because I was working. Well, I’ve got to pay for this expedition somehow, and there are worse things to do than work in a bike shop. It is, for me, sort of a reverse busman’s holiday – and I get a good discount on all the necessary paraphernalia, with the use of a proper workshop thrown in.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been putting together my new bike, which I showed you in my previous post. I finally took it home last Saturday, and would you believe it, some scumbags broke into the shop on Sunday night and took the five most expensive bikes there. Some not-so-nice guys smashed through the door and took two brand new bikes, my Saracen enduro and Andy’s Saracen, plus a five-grand Trek downhiller that was in the workshop. My Saracen and Andy’s were found dumped near by, and the two new bikes have been spotted for sale in Devon, which the police are following up.

Needless to say it wasn’t a great week in the shop, but I’m just relieved that I didn’t have to start building my bike from scratch. Poor old Will was frantic, because he didn’t know that I’d taken the bike home on Saturday, and he phoned early on Monday to tell me that the shop had been burgled, not knowing if my bike was among those missing.

The better news of the week is that my kit has been ordered and paid for (you can see the wonderful design at the top of this post). It should be here in six weeks’ time, if all goes according to plan. Of course, there is one blot on the horizon that could scupper things, a little political hurricane called Brexit. The kit, you see, is being manufactured in the Czech Republic, and if Brexit goes the way some people want it, I might have to spend a week filling customs forms before I can don my lycra.

Still, another thing ticked off the ever-growing list.

Charity begins at our ‘new home’

9 weeks to #joberg2c

We’re into single figures, and I wish that I could tell you about the triple-figure training rides that I’ve been doing. But sorry, I can’t. I thought I was almost back on the road a week ago, but on Sunday the lurgy struck back with a vengeance. My personal physician (the wife, that is) said that I’d been too impatient to get going again, so it’s been a bit downhill this week, in a physiological and psychological sense. The good news is that my bike is ready, and come what may, I will be riding it on Sunday.

Instead of droning on about preparations, let me tell you instead about the charity that I’ve decided to support (and I hope you will too). I am riding for Velokhaya Life Cycling Academy (yep, follow the link), a cycling charity (naturally) based in Khayelitsha, just outside Cape Town. My South African compatriots will know all about Khayelitsha, but for my foreign friends, here is a brief history: Khayelitsha (which means “our new home” in Xhosa) is one of the shameful results of apartheid, a place where people of colour were dumped en masse after being moved from their homes in Cape Town and its surrounds. It has grown to be one of the largest black townships in South Africa, a place with few services, few jobs, and where crime is rife. Velokhaya was set up to give youngsters in this environment a chance in life, an opportunity to break out of the cycle of deprivation.

The charity’s website explains this best: “Approximately one third of South Africa’s population is under the age of 15 (and more than 50% of the population under 25) and a large percentage of these young people live in areas affected by high levels of poverty and unemployment, which makes them particularly vulnerable to social ills such as crime and substance abuse. The Velokhaya Life Cycling Academy was founded with the intention of using the sport of cycling to involve children living in these under-resourced communities in a positive after-school activity and to give them the life skills they need to deal with the challenges they face.

“As a Khayelitsha-based organisation, we are only too aware of the extent of the challenges faced by our township youth and we know that the skills our children need to deal with these challenges won’t necessarily be those they learn at school. We chose the sport of cycling as the medium because it was a sport which township children wanted to participate in – and one which, until the formation of the Academy, had excluded a large percentage of South Africa’s population.”

I first came across Velokhaya through Conquista magazine, and its editor, Trevor Gornall. Immediately I thought that it was the type of cause that I would like to support, so I will be telling you more about Velokhaya and banging on at you to be generous. For those of us who are privileged to live in peace and security, it is the least we can do to give youngsters a chance to enjoy some of the advantages that we take for granted.

And lastly, some pice of the new baby, which arrived home today:

All uphill – well that’s how it feels

10 weeks to #joberg2c

Oh my gosh, were does the time go? Only ten weeks to get ready – I don’t think I’m going to make it. Where do I begin?

Well, firstly, we had sunshine today, which is a good thing, so I had the most wonderful ride in months. We had sunshine yesterday too, but I was stuck in the bike shop all day. But I made up for that today, not a long ride, only 40km, but with more than 500m of climbing, which made it even more worthwhile. I’m still getting over my cold – this green monster is still clinging to my chest like something from Alien – but at least I’m riding again, outside, and without frozen toes.

What else? Oh yes, I’ve decided to ride for a charity, in case anyone wants to sponsor me a few bob for my efforts. I’ve decided to ride for Velokhaya, a cycling charity in Khayalitsha near Cape Town. I’ll tell you more about them later, but this brings me to my other important point: I am having special kit made to highlight Velokhaya, and also Conquista (who I’ll be writing for) and Hammoon Cycles, Will’s bike shop. Got to give credit where credit’s due. And so I visited the good people at Kalas sportswear, who are giving me a good deal on the kit (more credit there). I hope that I can show you the design next week, and if you’d like a set, I’ll also tell you where to send the cheque.

Of course, all these things take time – the manufacture time for the kit is four to six weeks from confirmation of the design, so I really need to keep things moving in order to get everything together before I fly to South Africa.

That is also something I keep reminding myself when I’m out training – these things take time. I need to remember that I’m not going to get fit in a day, or even a week. All I can do is get myself to the start line in the best shape possible. After that it’s just survival, one day at a time.

And then there’s the bike. I hoped it would be all ready to ride by now, but little things have cropped up – mainly, the lockout on the suspension doesn’t work, so I have to send it back to Sram for them to fix or exchange it. The other issue is that the rear brake fitting doesn’t accommodate a 180mm rotor, so I have to send the rotor back to Hope Technology in Yorkshire (good old British technology) and exchange it for a 160mm rotor. These are just all the little things sent to try me.

I thought, somehow, that preparation for this event would be easier than for my previous two Cape Epics. After all, I prepared for those while working full time, commuting to London daily (which helped with training), coping with kids at home and a busy life. But now that I’m “retired”, it seems that I have less time for training, for preparing, for writing, but too much time lying in bed awake at night just thinking.

Or maybe it’s just that I’m getting too old for these things. Well, it’s too late to worry about that now.

I’ve got snowballs for this weather

12 weeks to joBerg2c

Okay, so I’ve missed a week of blogging. I admit it, I’m not perfect, but then who is? (apart from the wife, of course. She’s perfect. Always.) But where do the weeks go? These past two weeks seem to have flown by before I even had time to look at a bike. I lost a few  days to travel – had to take the daughter back to college in Yorkshire, and also went to the Core bike show with Will – and then the weather plummeted to sub-zero temperatures. Somehow that shouldn’t affect my training, but it does. As I’ve said before, I wasn’t born for anything below 15C. Just take a look through my study window right now, and you’ll see what I’m up against.

It’s not just the Arctic conditions that make the country lanes so treacherous. You’ve got to understand that the Dorset and Wiltshire area where I ride are active farming regions  criss-crossed by tractors and farm animals that leave trails of mud – and worse – splattered along the roads. It also seems to be hedge-cutting season, when monstrous mechanical flails spread puncturous detritus across the road – blackthorn and hawthorn and any other thorn you care to think of. The pneumatic tyre is no match for such savageness.

And so my riding has been done chiefly on the turbo-trainer. I hate the turbo-trainer – it feels such a false way of riding a bike, but it’s a necessary evil. I find the maximum I can do is an hour, before my bum goes totally numb and my limbs lose connection with my brain. One hour, that’s equivalent to one episode of Fargo, which is my current distraction. I’m just about the begin season 3, which I’ll sweat my way through in no time at all.

Zaskar, the bike, not the Indian mountain range.

On a brighter note, the new GT Zaskar has arrived at Hammoon Cycles. It has been stripped to the bare essentials and we’re now waiting for a delivery from Hope for all the new stuff to make it even prettier. And faster, I hope. But right now that hope doesn’t seem to be borne out by the training, because the mileage seems to be going backwards. Oh well, let’s just hope that Winter’s been and Spring isn’t far behind.

Time for a sense of humour transfusion

14 weeks to joBerg2c

How the weeks seem to fly by. Too much to be done, too little progress. And it’s not all about the adventure; there are mundane things like completing my tax return (and the wife’s) before the end of the month. I’m due a nice rebate, but she has an equivalent bill. so it means juggling finances until everything is settled.

Then there’s the new bike, which has been paid for, but I’ll have to wait to order the bling bits from Hope – which now includes a set of wheels because Will’s Mavic Crossmaxes won’t fit the frame. The cost of the new bike and some parts will be covered by the sale of my old Saracen Ariel, but that is still waiting for a willing buyer (any offers?), so I must fork out the readies in the meantime, and put money back in savings later.

Ride-wise, this week started off well – a windy, hilly 55km on Sunday and a flatter, faster 45km on Tuesday. And then today happened. For no reason I felt totally drained, despite a couple of rest days, and my heart rate was jumping all over the place. I blame old age, and the cold weather, and on both counts there’s no respite in sight.

I started checking through the list of what I need for the ride. The organisers have a list of what we should take along – spares, tools, clothing, medicines, toiletries. Pack light, they say, because everything has to fit into one large bag. They then suggest that we pack five to nine sets of cycle clothing. I don’t know if I’ve even got that many. But most essential is their final advice:

 

 

It’s all about the bike

15 weeks to joBerg2c

Things are progressing, slowly. I have a new pair of cycling shoes. Very pretty, they are, and now all that I need – well not all, but the most urgent thing to get on with – is a new bike to match those shoes.

I’ve had to consult my guru about the bike. I say my guru, because he’s the guy that knows all things about bikes. His name is Will, he owns Hammoon Cycles in Shaftesbury (have to give the shop a shout-out) and runs Okeford Hill bike park (used to be known as Bike Park UK in a previous universe). Anyhow, Will and I sat down and did some serious studying of the joBerg2c course. That is, we watched hours of YouTube videos. My inclination was to go with the herd and ride full-suspension, but Will convinced me otherwise. Now Will won’t mind me calling him a bit of a nutter (just don’t let him know I call him that) but he’s the kind of guy who rides a hardtail on Megavalanche, one that he’s built the frame himself. That’s the kind of thing he does – none of this namby-pamby cross-country or road riding. And in all the hours of joBerg2c that we watched, there was hardly any right-on downhill to convince us that a full-susser was necessary. There’s lots of fire roads, a good deal of climbing, some lovely single-track, all that a nice, lightweight hardtail would be ideal for.

Now, if someone was to offer me a carbon Specialized Epic S-Works, I might reconsider. After all, I rode my first Cape Epic in 2005 on an Epic S-Works, and I paid out a load of dosh for that. It was good for the ride at the time, but in 2009 I was given a Boardman hardtail for the Epic, and there was only one downhill where I seriously thought I would be better off on a full-suspension. My old Epic has since been sold, not without sadness, but technology has moved on, and so I must move with the times.

So we have settled for a GT Zaskar Carbon. As soon as it arrives, we will strip it down and replace the 160mm Shimano brakes with 180mm Hope, the SLX 1×11 drivetrain with XT 2×11, and the standard wheels with a set of Mavic Crossmax SL. Plus a few bits of Hope bling, just to match the shoes.

So that’s it. Progress. Oh, and on the riding side, my mileage went up considerably this week, although if you knew the base that I’m starting from, that hasn’t been difficult. It is still cold, so I’m having to count my toes after every ride.

Just a perfect day – well, almost

16 weeks till joBerg2c

A crisp, clear winter’s morning that looks perfect for a ride. And it is perfect – until I get outside. Yes, I knew it would be cold once I stepped out the back door, but this is beyond ridiculous.

Yes, I’ve prepared as best I can. I’m layered up like the proverbial Michelin man: my feet are shod in thermal socks and sealskinz and now I hardly fit into my largest cycling shoes. My fingers are swaddled in the warmest winter gloves that I can find, so my fingers can’t bend to brake or change gear.

I wasn’t made for this weather. I was born in South Africa, raised on the dry, dusty Highveld, where frost never survives the morning’s first ray of sunshine, and even on the coldest day we rode in shorts. I never owned cycling longs – or a proper coat – until I moved to England. That was 30 years ago – and last year, at long last, we had a proper summer. But now I am paying for it. If you haven’t understood what irks me, let me put it as plainly as I can: I HATE THE COLD. But I suppose I should be thankful for small mercies, because it could be cold AND wet.

So despite my misgivings, I set off out the front gate and up the hill. I’m ten minutes into my ride and on a long, slow climb. For a few moments I can feel the sun warm on my face, but my thumbs and forefingers have gone numb. I’m seriously considering turning back and getting on the turbo trainer, but the sky is so blue, the air so pristine, that this day is just too lovely to be indoors. I try to convince myself that this is a perfect day, but still my African brain finds it hard to believe it can be so cold while the sun is shining so brightly. The universe just wasn’t made that way. Perhaps I can blame it on Brexit. Or Bremain. Or whatever.

I reach the top of the climb and decide that no, I’m not going home. By now steam is rising from my brow, but as I exhale my breath seems to form icicles in the air. I’m afraid that if I hit a patch of shade, the sweat will freeze.

Along the next flat section there is a lot of slapping of thighs to warm my hands, but it helps not one jot. By now I am, in some perverse way, enjoying this ride, so I press on. Very slowly my hands begin to revive, but now my feet are beginning to get colder. I wonder if that’s from a lack of circulation because of my too-tight sock situation.

And suddenly I wonder: What if I get a puncture? There’s no way I’d be able to change a tyre and tube with my gloves on, and with gloves off my hands would freeze. The backstop (everyone should have one, just ask Teresa) would be to phone the wife, but she’s away for a few days.

Maybe that’s all just me worrying too much, because in the end I get home without incident. And without toes, I think. I’ll have to count them in the shower.

Would I be doing this if I wasn’t try to get into shape for the joBerg2C? I like to think that I would, but I have my doubts. Well, now it’s back to the ever-growing list of what I have to do. Like it said on the top of the packet – only 16 weeks to go.

Back on my bike, eventually

Don’t look at me like that. Yes, I know you’ve just checked the date and realised it’s more than six months since my last blog. What’s more, in that blog I swore that I was about to get off my pretty derriere and have an adventure.

I suppose you think that in the meantime I’ve just been sitting around, waiting for that adventure to happen. Well, adventures don’t just come knocking at your door – at least, not unless you’re a hobbit. But things are happening, and adventure is coming, and I haven’t just been sitting around waiting. What I did do was a bit of humming and haah-ing and then finally I got round to acquiring an entry to the JoBerg2c. So there!!! Moreover, (isn’t that a stupid word?) I won’t just be riding the event, I’ll be writing it too, for Conquista magazine.

So there you have it. Adventure awaits. I’ve got my race entry, I’ve booked plane tickets and … and … well, I’ve been thinking about a lot of other stuff. Like what bike to ride. And how I’m going to get fit enough. And what clothes to wear.

You might think it’s nothing, but for me it’s a big deal. And it frightens the bib-shorts off me because it will be ten years since my last big ride – the 2009 Cape Epic. Since then I’ve grown ten years older and ten times greyer, and picked up all the unexpected aches and pains (no one tells you about getting old). Have I actually grown up in the past ten years? Am I more sensible? I doubt it. That’s why I’m doing this.

So be prepared for more babbling about my prevarications. And in the meantime, enjoy this video of what I’m about to do.

A cream tea and a kick in the pants

creamteaWhat does it take you to get off your lazy rear end and do something challenging? I ask this because I’ve been dithering over a decision, and last weekend something happened that made me realise that I’ve just got to jump in and grab the bike by the handlebars.

A month or so ago my wife gave me permission (at least, that’s how I interpreted her words “if you must …”) to ride JoBerg2C, a nine-day 900km mountain bike event in South Africa. It is nine years since I rode the Cape Epic, and I thought it’s time for another big challenge. JoBerg2C is almost a year away, and I seldom plan my life that far in advance. But entries open (and close) in a couple of weeks, so a decision must be made. There is a lot to consider – what bike to ride, the cost (entry is over £1,500, plus air fares and beer money), training through the winter, and so on. These are all good points to whinge about, but aren’t they really just a way of delaying commitment?

So where, you ask, do cream teas come into this? Well, last Sunday there was an open gardens day in our village, finishing with cream teas in the vicarage garden. It was a glorious sunny day, and the punters turned out in their droves. I wasn’t one of them. You see, I live in the vicarage (my wife is the vicar) so I was pressganged into joining the jolly band of helpers who served tea and collected cups and washed up, when really I would rather have been out on my bike.

The visitors were a motley collection of West Countryfolk – tweedy men with roseate cheeks and posh accents, their women in waistcoats and jodhpurs, ramrod military types in blazer and ties, or couples in short shorts and pale thin legs that end in stout hiking boots. In truth, I was a little disappointed – there wasn’t a Worzel Gummidge or can of cider in sight.

But two visitors stood out. They both wore lycra, and they weren’t on the garden circuit.

The first was a big middle-aged, middle-class gent training for Land’s End to John O’Groats.  This was his first long training ride, he told me, but his machine had given out on him. He broke a spoke near Wilton, which is about 30 miles east of here, and his wheel was now badly buckled. He had phoned his wife to collect him and he thought he might as well enjoy a cup of tea while he waited. Where was he heading for? Oh, north of Shepton Mallet, which is another 30 miles away. It turns out that he was doing a 100-mile ride just for training. Usually I do training just for a 100-mile ride.

As we were packing up at I noticed the second rider as he sailed past the front garden, towing a trailer. I wondered to my companions whether he had any idea of the steep hill that was immediately ahead of him. A minute later he was back, and swung into the driveway. In a curious accent he asked: “What is a Vicarage Cream Tea?” I explained to him what had been going on, and he asked if he could get something to eat, because he had run out of food.

I took him into the kitchen and fed him chocolate cake and juice, and packed up some banana bread and fruit for him to take with him. It turned out that he is French/American and he had just completed his first-year studies at Bristol University. Now he was riding home to a town 30 miles south of Paris. He had left Bristol that morning, and had to get to Poole to catch a ferry the next morning. By my estimate, he had ridden 55 miles, and still had more than 30 miles to go.

Before he left he showed me his home-made trailer – a five-foot aluminium ladder balanced on two wheels, with all his worldly belongings carefully strapped on. It was, he admitted, harder work than he had expected. He had decided only at the last minute to cycle home because he felt he needed a bit of an adventure.

Well, that left me feeling shamed and indecisive. So I have decided: I will be strong, I will jump in, boots and all, and ride the JoBerg2C next year.

At least, I think I will …