Monthly Archives: May 2014

Jersey of the day: Euro City Cycle

For the final day of the Euro City Cycle, it felt appropriate to sport the team colours of the tour.

Euro City Cycle

According to the organisers, Global Adventure Challenges, the Euro City Cycle is…

“An exciting charity cycle combined with breath-taking city sights make this a European charity challenge extravaganza! This superb charity bike ride caters for every level of cyclist.  It takes in the rolling countryside of Essex, the plains of Holland and the sleepy lanes of Belgium.  One of the best cycling challenge experiences in Europe!”

So far we’re about 200 miles into the adventure.  Our itinerary has included:

Day 1 – London to Harwich – ferry to Hook of Holland
Day 2 – Hook of Holland to Amsterdam
Day 3 – Amsterdam to Breda
Day 4 – Breda to Brussels (Today’s challenge)

So far it’s been a blast… and it’s not over yet!

ECC Day 3: Why are we here?

Why are we here?  This isn’t intended to be a grand philosophical question, but some days you have to ask yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing.  Some days everything seems to be against you.  Today was one of those days.

The Day 3 route promised to be long; the longest of the Euro City Cycle.  It was further than many of the participants (including myself) had done before.  As well as being long, the route was complicated, circuitous and fiddly.  It required navigation through the backstreets of towns and travel across several bodies of water by various means.

As it happened, the weather also conspired to make the day even more challenging.  It had been suggested that it would be wet throughout; wet and windy… joy!  So it was with some trepidation that we set out to make our way from Hoofddorp to Breda.

Rain

Time to cover up… here comes the rain (again)!

Each participant has their own unique reasons for participating in the challenge.  As we battled against the elements, driving rain and near gale force winds, it would not have been unreasonable for some of us to question why we’re here.  It wouldn’t have been a surprise is some of the group decided that catching a lift in the support van was a sensible move.

Every time we crossed open ground the elements seemed to re-double their efforts to make the day difficult, to make us miserable.  We slowly made our way along the route, back-tracking on many occasions as our guide grappled with the finer points of navigation.  Ferry crossings required patience, breaking any rhythm we may have built.  Even the railway crossings seemed to conspire against us, waiting for us to approach before flashing warning signs and bringing us to a halt.

In particular, the Moerdijk Bridge tested our resolve:  The bridge spanned about 700m of open water.  It was positioned perfectly to expose us to the worst the day could muster including gusts of wind of over 55 km/hr.  The wind carried rain that was being propelled with almost enough force to draw blood.  Each crossing was long and dangerous as we leant into the wind at a precarious angle, trying to adjust for every gust and lull.  It was really windy, painful and more than a little bit scary!

Bridge

Relief at reaching the other side!

Despite the challenges, everybody made it.  Everyone made it across the bridge, and everyone made it safely to Breda.  I didn’t hear anyone suggesting that they had had enough, they couldn’t do it or that they were going to pack it in.

There was relief at reaching Breda.  There was a real sense of accomplishment (despite the route being slightly shorter than advertised).  Individually and collectively we overcame the challenges the day could throw at us.  Together we had made it!

Rainbow 1

Somewhere, over the rainbow… almost there!

It turned out that everyone’s answer to the question “Why are we here?” was enough to get them through.  For me it is because I can be, because of all the hours I’ve spent on the Turbo Trainer over the winter to get myself in shape, because there is life after a Heart Attack, because I’m lucky, I’m alive.  Not doing it isn’t an option.

Tomorrow promises to be another challenging day.  I am confident that it will be another successful and rewarding one.  Bring it on!

Jersey of the day: The Sandpiper Trust

Today I am proud to be representing the Sandpiper Trust, a charity dedicated to saving lives by improving immediate care in across Scotland.

Sandpiper Trust 1
The aim of the Sandpiper Trust is to help save lives in Scotland by improving immediate care especially in the remote and rural areas, through the provision of appropriate standardised and uniform medical equipment, known as Sandpiper Bags, for use by specially trained GPs, community nurses, paramedics and A&E Consultants, all of whom operate on a voluntary basis.

The administering of rapid and appropriate medical intervention to a patient during the critical “Golden Hour” not only contributes to an increase in positive patient outcomes but also raises community confidence and resilience especially in remote parts of Scotland.

Such has been the success of this initiative that it has been endorsed by the Scottish Ambulance Service and incorporated in their 999 Emergency Response network, thereby helping reduce response times. In simple words – more lives are now being saved.

Over the past 12 years they have raised over £1.5 million pounds to improve pre-emergency medical care in rural areas of Scotland, and not just the Highlands and Islands where there is an obvious need for enhanced kit, but Stonehaven, Inverurie, Banchory.

Every £1,000 that is donated buys a Sandpiper bag that contains equipment to save a life.

For more information visit:  http://www.sandpipertrust.org

***

The Sandpiper Trust will be supporting Ride the North with the provision of medical support throughout the weekend.  As the person most likely to need their support, we are very grateful for their continuing assistance!

ECC Day 2: The 7 Ps

Today saw the short hop from the Hook of Holland to Hoofddorp, just outside Amsterdam.

After a relatively hard day in the saddle yesterday and a night on the ferry in a four-berth cabin, the day offered a gentle, largely wind assisted roll through the Netherlands followed by an afternoon of R&R.

Today was the first day of “many” (as in one is one, more than one is many) days in the saddle, and as such posed a bigger challenge than it’s distance would suggest to some of the less experienced and more physically “damaged” cyclists in the group.

We were fortunate to have the wind at our backs for much of the day as we took our detour towards Amsterdam on our way to Brussels.  We made the most of this as we recognised the same helpful wind is likely to become our worst enemy tomorrow as we take on the 85 mile leg south to Breda.

Oh, I do love to be beside the seaside…

The greatest challenge today’s cycling posed was navigation.  The Netherlands has a fantastic cycle network including both commuter and longer distance signage place at regular intervals along the route.  Unfortunately, these rely on (1)  doing the preparation required to plan the route in advance (2) spotting the route markers and (3) a little bit of luck in ambiguous or poorly sign-posted sections.

It’s easy to become reliant on something and abdicating responsibility for understanding how it works, or being willing / able to do it ourselves.  Having done no preparation for our journey (as far as navigation is concerned at least) It would have been easy for us to have complacently followed the basic guide that had been prepared for us and got completely lost fairly quickly.  I could easily have foreseen a situation in which splinters of the group ended up strewn across a vast area of Northern Europe, tired, frustrated and in need of rescue.

Instead, we all stayed together in close groups and followed our Human Guides as they followed complex sections of the route using the guide, the route markers, a map, gps systems and a little guile.  Fortunately this was enough to bring us all in safely.

Cycling in the Netherlands is a very different experience

Cycling in the Netherlands is a very different experience

There are several points that I learned about navigation from today’s experience:

  1. Know specifically where you are heading to; general destinations such as “the bar by the canal” are not sufficient.  If you know exactly where you’re heading to, at least you can re-plan your route if necessary.
  2. Know where you’re starting from;  it sounds obvious, but getting lost is often compounded by multiple failed attempts to get un-lost
  3. Review your route in advance so you have a general idea of which direction to head in
  4. Pay extra attention to critical junctions / turns that could really make the difference between success and complete disaster
  5. Don’t blindly rely on someone else for directions, take some personal responsibility for navigation
  6. If you are unsure, go slow until you can validate your route.

This afternoon we (three of us) proved these points by setting out on an abortive attempt to cycle into Amsterdam itself.  Keen to make the most of a free afternoon in the Netherlands (with bikes) and a relatively easy morning’s ride, we decided to head into the city to experience more of the real Netherlands…

With little preparation we headed out into a grey afternoon (which quickly became a very wet, very windy, grey afternoon) for a spin.  Just over an hour later we returned; wet tired and slightly embarrassed (but far from disheartened).  We had proved the importance of most of the points above by heading out into the teeth of the wind, in the completely wrong direction.  We can point at a number of coincidences and elements of misfortune that resulted in our mistake, but fundamentally we screwed up.

Having warmed up and dried off, I’m going to get my head down and study the course for tomorrow… as well as being the longest, it’s apparently the most difficult to navigate too.  With more ropey weather forecast we could be in for a long day!

***

The 7 Ps:  Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance

Jersey of the day: Ride the North

I am delighted to be taking part in Scotland’s premier cycling event in August this year:

FerryRide the North is a two day, 170 mile cycle challenge through the beautiful scenery of the Grampian Highlands in the North of Scotland.  The route will follow the scenic back-roads through the Grampian Highlands between the cities of Inverness and Aberdeen.

The 2014 ride will take place on Friday 29 and Saturday 30 August. Ride the North 2014 work closely with their charity partners and, as always, looks to celebrate the best of what the North-East of Scotland has to offer including hospitality, community and camaraderie (banter is guaranteed!).

It’s not a race nor a sportive, it a challenge ride which celebrates the love of cycling and the scenery in this part of Scotland. The ride welcomes everyone – whether you are fundraising for the charity partners, your own charity or simply taking part for the fun of it.

It’s is a supported ride, with mechanical support, support vehicles, route signposting, lunches provided, mobile coffee stops, refreshments, luggage transfer, transfers from finish point to local accommodation and all the encouragement you will need!

Ride the North 2014 is Sold Out, but look out for the 2015 event on http://www.ride-the-north.co.uk

ECC Day 1: Finding the right group

So, Day 1 of the Euro City Cycle experience is coming to an end (or Day 2 has started depending on whether you’ve re-set your clock to Central European Time) and we’re all settling in to life on the open sea for the next few hours.  As we rest (hopefully sleep!) the ferry will take us from Harwich to the Hook of Holland, where our adventure will continue.

Team photo prior to departure

Day 1 saw us ride from Brentwood to Harwich, 65 – 70 miles (depending on how many times and how badly you got lost) into our journey.  We have had a day cycling along meandering lanes through, picturesque villages, on our way to the coast.

It wasn’t the longest day ever in terms of physical miles travelled, but it’s seen a big step forward many of the participants; Introductions have been made, general nerves have been laid to rest, cycling groups have been formed (based primarily on pace)… we’re under way.

For some people there are still many questions to be answered:  Will the ferry make me ill?  Which cycling group suits me best?  How do I work these brakes?  I haven’t spotted the berk yet, does that mean it’s me?  Have I made a huge mistake?  These will be answered as our journey unfolds.

The weather held out during the day with only a few spots of rain.  As a result, there were some pink faces this evening (including my own) where the sun and the breeze had worked their combined magic.  Much more rain is forecast… it could dampen our spirits as we hit the continent.

For me, any concerns about general fitness are gone.  I was comfortable today, the training has been worth it!  There is still a question about the cumulative effort over the four days, but I’m trying to pace myself (both on and off the bike) to give myself every chance of a successful outcome.  If this means I need to be selfish and just look after myself from time to time then that’s how it has to be.

Tomorrow we head to Amsterdam and a whole new set of challenges… wish us luck!

The view from just up the road from the Holiday Inn, Brentwood. Definitive proof that Brentwood counts as “London”.

What (not) to wear

My cycling wardrobe has been heavily influenced by the climate of the North East of Scotland.

To date any outfits have started with a base layer, a long-sleeved, tight fitting “second skin” that provides a last line of defence against anything the elements can throw at me.  I have then added layers for warmth and protection.  Usually many layers.  I’m used to cycling in chilly conditions!

I'm used to the cold, but it's all relative!

I’m used to the cold, but it’s all relative!

This has created a dilemma for me as I set out on the Euro City Cycle:

Before heading out today I need to make a two day wardrobe decision; what to wear over the next 48 hours.  An overnight ferry journey will restrict me to a small overnight bag that I need to pack now (well almost).

To complicate matters, the weather forecast is decidedly mixed.  However, it’s almost guaranteed to be warmer than I’m used to.

Rule #21 states “Cold weather gear is for cold weather.”

I clearly therefore need to dress (and pack) relatively lightly however I recognise I need to be comfortable (and take care of myself!).

The upside is that I may realise my dream to cycle in short sleeves.

A dilemma…

which I’ve spent way too long thinking about (and boring others with) so I’m going to take a punt…  please pray for good weather!