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 …