Category Archives: Cycling

Totes Emosh

Today I received some fantastic news…

I recently presented the medical form for my Charity Bike Ride to my Doctor for his consideration.  I had two main concerns:  (1) that he wouldn’t think that embarking on a 300 mile cycle was a sensible thing to do less than a year after having a Heart Attack and (2) that his insurance company might have an issue with the wording of the statement I was asking him to sign.

A “No” would have left me lacking direction somewhat!

On one level I would have understood if either of these issues had arisen.  I was potentially asking a lot given my recent medical history.  I would even have understood if he had asked me to come back in a few months so he could see how my health and fitness have progressed.

On another level, I would have been totally gutted if he had said “No”.  It would have thrown the ride into some jeopardy.  Given it’s been my main focus for the past few months (at least as far as motivation for exercise is concerned), it would have felt deflated.  I think I’m progressing well, and I want to stay motivated.  Having something to work towards really helps.

***

Today I received the form back, signed and stamped by my Doctor.  As far as he is concerned, I am “good to go”.  I just need to continue to gradually build up my training and listen to my cardiologist.

For the record, I have never used these words before!

It was just some ink on a bit of paper, but I felt quite emotional as I left the Surgery.  I’m not sure exactly why.  It may have been the removal of doubt about whether he’d sign the form.  It may have been the fact that the ball is now in my court as far as the ride is concerned – no excuses.  It may also have been the small vote of confidence that he recognises the progress I’ve made and trusts that it will continue.

Whatever the reason, it reinforced the fact that the ride is important to me.  180 days to go!

Born Survivor (Part II)

The hotel we’re in organises a number of bike rides of varying difficulties during the week.  Having bravely ventured out on my own yesterday, I decided to join todays “challenging” ride.  I had done it before… it was billed as being approximately 15 km, to “Epta Piges”.

Amusingly, there is another ride that I also did last week to the “Seven Springs”.  I’ve only just realised that they both mean the same thing!  Doh!

Our destination, although we had no intention of seeing any springs on this ride!

The ride took us up into the mountains, a route that I’ve now covered many times, before heading off up a very steep off-road climb.

This week’s participants appeared to all be fit males and were apparently keen cyclist – I’m not sure how much of a barometer it is, but I was the only person not to be wearing cycling gloves!

I had done the climb before an knew it was tough, so I mentally prepared myself to be satisfied with being “tail-end Charlie” as everyone else headed into the hills.  There was no way I could keep up and maintain a reasonable Heart Rate.

More cost effective than getting fit?

All was good.  We re-grouped twice as we completed the main ascent.  I had started to ride alongside another Paul, a Doctor from “Up North” (England), who had recently started doing triathlons.  He believed that when people turn 40 they either get a Sports Car, have an affair or get fit.  Originally he figured that getting fit was the cheapest option… hence the triathlons.  (He has subsequently started to re-assess as the cost of kit continues to escalate.  If you’re approaching this milestone and money is the only consideration, you might want to think seriously about a Sports Car!)

Having hit the top of the climb the terrain flattened off however the number of paths and potential routes increased dramatically.  I had done the ride once before, but I was following someone’s wheel.  This time there was no wheel to follow…

In fact, in almost no time, there weren’t any wheels, frames or any other parts of bicycles or cyclists in sight!  We were alone.

It was incumbent on me to remember the route.

We got lost.

To start with, I would describe us as “just off track”, as we followed a couple of tracks to dead ends before circling back on ourselves.

After some time we’d got ourselves lost good and proper!

We had decided to follow a maintenance access track for some electrical pylons… it seemed to be heading down, and generally in the right direction.  We followed it downwards, gaining speed and optimism as we descended.  Unfortunately it came to an abrupt end as the electrical cables spanned a ravine, connecting to a pylon on an adjacent hill some way away.

We weren’t quite as comfortable going off-road as this chap!

There was no obvious route down the steep, rugged hillside.  We could see the destination, but there was no obvious way of reaching it.

We were despondent.  We had been out for over 2 hours. The midday sun was beating down on us.  We were more off track than ever.  Water was running low.  It was almost lunchtime, and Paul had a Sailing lesson at two-thirty!!!

We did not have high hopes of being rescued by our cycling guide.  He’s not the most attentive at the best of times, and he loves a descent, so he probably wouldn’t have missed us until he’d been at the bottom of the hill, and waited for some time.  I’m sure he would have assumed (1) that I had been on the ride before and therefore was familiar with the route (2) that we’d intentionally decided to take a different route and (3) that our ride would include a trip to a bar for a drink.  As a result, I didn’t expect the alarm to be raised until darkness fell, perhaps a little sooner if our other halves noticed we were missing!

***

Bear Grylls the last time he got lost in the Rhodes wilderness

From time to time, I watch some random TV.  Just before I came away, I watched a programme featuring a number of different groups that had got lost in unfamiliar terrain:

  • While travelling on business, one guy had decided to go for a walk from his hotel in Thailand.  Targeting the top of an adjacent hill, he ended up being lost in the jungle for several days before being found (following a telephone call home, to the UK, from his mobile which fortunately worked from high ground to raise the alarm).
  • Another couple of intrepid explorers got themselves lost in a Rain Forrest in South America.  The plan had been to spend five days in the jungle before rendezvousing at a prescribed pick-up spot.  They over-shot and ended up living off their wits for many days before one of them got seriously ill and the other had to head off alone in a desperate attempt to find help.  (He succeeded).

Our prospective dinner… catch me if you can!

I also have the tips and tricks gained from many episodes of “Born Survivor” to fall back on if necessary.  We had already spotted wild sage and thyme that might go well with one of the not so wild goats that we had seen further up the hillside.  We weren’t quite there yet, but it was reassuring to have this in-depth survival knowledge to rely on if things became that desperate.

Most of the “almost disaster” TV shows I’ve seen feature a couple of bad decisions.  Faced with the final Electricity Pylon, Paul made a good one.  We decided to turn around and head back the way we’d come.  It felt like the track back up would be long and tiring (and I was already getting weary), but it was a sensible call.  We’d avoid more dead-ends, reduce the chances of hurting ourselves, and, with a bit of luck, we might get back to being “just off track” again.

We dug deep.

Having made it back up the track, we made our next good decision… we asked someone for directions.  To be fair to us, the “someone” (a goat herd who appeared to have made the ascent in a Fiat Punto) wasn’t there when we’d passed the same spot earlier (at least not obviously anyway), so it wasn’t like we’d ignored the earlier opportunity… but if he had have been we probably would have done!

All lonely European goat herds are not made the same!

It turned out that we had missed the start of our descent by about 30 metres.  It was hidden from view by an unassuming olive tree in the middle of a clearing.  We had cycled straight past and onto the maintenance track.  I vaguely remembered the clearing, but not the olive tree!

Our relief was palpable.

We descended and headed home, tired and grateful (and having covered over 25 km).

To be fair to the guide, he passed us in a car as we approached the resort.  Apparently they had waited for us for some time, shouting and whistling (Plan A).  He had headed back up to the top of the hill to try and find us (Plan B).  I’m not sure what his Plan C was, but I’m glad it wasn’t put into action… it could have been highly embarrassing all round.  At least this way no-one will hear about it!

Born Survivor (Part I)

The Rhodes countryside is full of contradictions; it’s a mixture of farms and dry scrubland, rough hills and beautiful bays, luxury resorts and poor farmer’s shacks.  I’ve been doing a bit of “exploring” over the past couple of days… some of it intentional… some not so much!

Yesterday was the first day of a new week at the resort so a new bunch of guests were finding their bearings.  The organised rides weren’t particularly exciting, so I decided to head off in a different direction, to see if I could make it to Faliraki.

I had no huge desire to actually make it there… but it is the next town up the coast, and could offer an interesting challenge.  A couple of headlands stood in my way, and the main route is via a dual carriageway, all of which needed to be avoided.  My directions were severely limited, so I was very much on my own.

Place of Interest #1: Olympic-Sized Swimming Pool
I hope they checked the Changing Rooms were empty before boarding it up!

Tarmac was quickly replaced by gravel.  At times, the terrain was extremely rough, real off-road (although to be fair, these were the times when it turned out I had gone wrong!).

I’m not the best at looking around when I’m cycling, preferring instead to keep my eyes on the road in front of me, however the search for a route forced me to raise my head from time to time.

I happened across a few places of “interest”… post-apocalyptic scenes of developments, abandoned long ago by civilisation and now frequented only by pigeons and graffiti artists.  I also found a gun turret from a tank, apparently discarded on a hillside, an improvised children’s attraction perhaps?

Places of Interest #2: Gun Turret
Fun for all the family!

I found myself in a few places in which I was extra careful not to have an accident, the sorts of places that it felt like I wouldn’t be found for days.  Places I’d be competing with feral cats and stray dogs for food… there appeared to be plenty of competition!

Anthony Quinn Bay

Places of Interest #3: Anthony Quinn Bay
Looks better on the way down than the way up!

I didn’t make it to Faliraki.  Instead I stopped at Anthony Quinn Bay, a beautiful spot that seems out of place with its surroundings.

I made it back safely, and much more efficiently once I knew the route.  As it turned out, I was a day early with my concerns of getting lost and fending for myself…

An ice cold beer

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Officially my most craved after meal. I eat lots of fish, but not like this!

Since I’ve been “being good”, people have asked me on a regular basis whether I enjoy my new regime.  The best way I can describe it is that it is like moving overseas to live in a new country… it is new and exciting but there are aspects of my old life that I miss.  This can take various forms but often revolves around food and drink; the passing smell of some fine, forbidden food, the craving for something salty, an indulgent dessert, a hit of caffeine, the crispy surface and fluffy centre of a well-cooked chip, or an ice cold beer on a hot sunny day.

untitled (47)The physical environment obviously has a major influence on my cravings, as do associations with the “old life”.  Ice cold beer has tended to be a major feature of most of my foreign holidays; a pool-side treat to help pass the day, a pre-dinner tipple to start the evening off, or a refreshing late night pick-me-up.  In fact, ice cold beer seems to feature quite highly in many of my holiday memories!  Not this one!

I have now gone 122 days without alcohol passing my lips (not that I’m counting!).  I suspect I had enough in the preceding 122 days for my average still to be on the high side of the healthy limit.  My abstinence has definitely helped me to lose weight and get fit.  While I appreciate there is medical evidence that supports the fact that drinking some alcohol is better for you than drinking none, I still don’t feel like I’m quite ready for moderation… yet.  I’m still an “all or nothing” kind of guy, even in my new life.

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The destination for today’s ride… a chapel famed for its fertility assistance. Enter at your peril!

I’ve been cycling regularly since we’ve been in Rhodes.  There is a small group that gathers every morning for an organised Mountain Bike ride.  The typical ride tends to head into the mountains to visit places of “interest”.  We ride on a combination of road (tarmac) and off-road (dirt / rocks), and the terrain is generally flat with the occasional steep incline (tough on the way up, treacherous on the way down).  It’s a bit different to the road biking back home!

Depending on the difficulty and duration of the route, the main group may splinter, creating a break-away group as we look for some more continuous cycling.  Given it’s my main source of exercise each day, I’m keen to make the most of it so a longer, steady ride is just the ticket for me.  There have been a couple of really good sessions that have been physically challenging (mostly within the limits my Heart Monitor allows!) and enjoyable.

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Nothing fancy… just ice cold!

Refreshment is a key feature of these break-aways.  Identifying a target destination with an appropriate watering hole is an essential part of each ride.  For most of the party an ice cold beer is the beverage of choice.  For me, I’ve been adventurous enough to have a Fanta Limon.  I have to admit, the beers do look incredibly tempting.

I know there’s nothing really stopping me from having one (other than the distinct possibility that I wouldn’t be able to cycle any further!), but I really am trying to be good.  Yes, I may be being too hard on myself, but I’m determined to stick to the regime.

I will however set myself a goal… when I cross the line having completed my London – Amsterdam – Brussels cycle next May I will have a beer.  I will make sure it is ice cold, served in a glass straight from the freezer, and I will enjoy it.  A lot!

A bit of a tit

Before I start, I want to re-assure everyone that I’m fine, feeling good, and not hurt in any way by any of the events described herein.  I have recovered from my mid-week tiredness, and I’m looking forward to a restful weekend.  I know people worry about me, and I appreciate it.  I will look after myself, and take things steady, but I’m not going to stop doing things, and “stuff” will happen.  That’s life!

Anyway, on with the story…

Since I’ve been cycling, people have spoken of injuries picked up in bike accidents.  Cuts and grazes here, fractured ribs there, a variety of debilitating and confidence draining injuries picked up in bike accidents.  Yes, it’s a little bit scary, but it comes with the territory.

I was fully protected, but in little danger!

Today I had a spill myself.  Actually, calling it a spill is over-egging it slightly.  There was no high speed collision, no mechanical failure, no twisted pile of limbs and wheels.  No, it was one of the world’s most slow, sedate cycling accidents ever.  In fact, it’d probably be more accurate to call it a casual topple.

I had a bad start to the day.  Embarrassingly, my topple occurred before I’d even left the car park to start my ride.  It was the classic, “brain not realising your feet are connected to the pedals” accident.  It was the sort of incident that would keep my father-in-law giggling for months.  An absent-minded over-balance followed by slow topple and desperate but unsuccessful attempts to arrest my fall.

Apparently it happens to everyone.  Today it was my turn.  I felt a bit of a tit to say the least!

To be fair, Colin (my cycling companion) did very well not to fall off his bike in sympathy (prompted by hysterics).  I probably would have done had I been in his position!  Fortunately there weren’t too many other witnesses.

After our ride this morning. Colin still trying desperately not to laugh at the memory of my topple!

Talking of idiots, we were buzzed by a couple of boy racers on the ride this morning.  I don’t understand how someone could derive pleasure from out-pacing a cyclist, but they seemed to.

Two particularly souped up cars caught our attention.  Both were noisy.  Very noisy.   One of them also seemed to have a James Bond-style smokescreen kit fitted.  Nice touch!  They must be very proud!

Nice, but does it have “Automatic Smokescreen” kit?

Fair weather golfer

I’ve always been a bit of a fair weather golfer.  I’ve never enjoyed playing golf in inclement weather.  I really don’t enjoy the hassle of waterproof clothing, umbrellas, wet grips, damp feet or the general misery of seeing a round fall apart (which is generally the way with my golf) wishing I was somewhere else.  Somewhere warm and dry.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy playing golf.  Up until recently, it’s been my primary escape outside work.  A few hours in the fresh air, enjoying the best of what Mother Nature has to offer.  It’s just that I prefer it in shirt sleeves rather than oilskins.

Not my favourite way of spending an afternoon!

Given there is a Scottish winter between me and the Euro City Cycle, I need to “Man Up!” on a number of fronts.  One of the important ones is braving the elements to get the miles in.

I could be a wuss, and do all my winter training on the Turbo Trainer in the garage, but there’s nothing like actually being out on the bike dealing with the gradients, the road conditions and the elements.  As my sessions get longer it may also get a little tedious despite the distraction of the Sufferfest videos.

So, I’ve made a pact with myself to get out despite the weather (assuming it’s safe to do so, of course!).

This morning was my first test… the weather was dreich* to say the least.  I’m proud to say that I got up and out anyway and did a solid solo 13 mile ride.

A dreich Scottish day!

I headed to the Railway Line for the ride again.  One of the benefits of a miserable morning was that it was quiet.  It seems that only dog owners were willing to brave the elements – even the few runners that were out seemed to have dogs in tow.

I say only dog owners, but I don’t strictly have evidence to back this up as I did spot a couple of other sportsmen doing their thing… standing in the middle of the River Dee, fly fishing.  Good Luck to them!

Dreich, but a beautiful morning for catching fish!

So, a new rule for me:

Don’t let the weather get in the way of doing the things you want to do!
(Except playing golf, perhaps!)

***

Dreich:  A combination of dull, overcast, drizzly, cold, misty and miserable weather. At least 4 of these adjectives must apply before the weather is truly dreich.

Scotland’s favourite word apparently, perhaps because it’s in such common use.  http://www.scotland.gov.uk/News/Releases/2013/01/favourite-word23012012)

Out and about

It was another cracking morning in the North East of Scotland this morning.  I marked it with my latest venture out on the bike.  It’s the second weekend I’ve been out early, not quite the crack of dawn, but certainly a good start to the day.  It’s definitely a routine to get into!

Beautiful Morning

A cracking morning to be out on the bike!

As a result of my recent “Sore Leg” post, I have received some guidance that the reason my legs have been hurting is because the cleats on my shoes were slightly at the wrong angle.  Having made some subtle adjustments to my shoes, it felt much more comfortable.  Hopefully problem solved… it’s good to share your woes!

This morning’s ride was the longest continuous effort I’ve put in since my Heart Attack.  We went at a steady rate and kept going.  We covered about 16.5 miles in just over an hour (including spending some time trying to correct a mechanical “knocking” sound that turned out to be the lid of my water bottle rattling against the frame!!).  It didn’t feel fast, but it felt quite tough.

Morning Ride

The first of many loops around Westhill – slightly more undulating than the Turbo Trainer!

I do have to remind myself that I’m recovering from a Heart Attack, and back this up with frequent checks of the Heart Monitor.  I am however also making up for about 20 years of physical neglect, so my of my body is at the limit, not just my heart!

It really is great to be out and about though.  It gives me confidence that I’m making good progress.  I’m just about to enter my last week of Cardiac Rehabilitation, so it’s a good time to start to (slowly) push the boundaries!

Getting outside

I finally managed to get outside on the bike on Sunday.  I took the Mountain Bike out for a spin on an old railway line in Aberdeen.  Nice, safe route without too many (any) hills, that didn’t require any real bike handling skills.

It was another beautiful morning, the final death throes of summer.  A great day to get out and get some air into your lungs.  Unfortunately it was a bit too nice (or more accurately, I took too long getting ready and was a bit late), as there were lots of people on the railway line.  A lovely scenic place to park your car, take a walk, grab an ice-cream or a play on the swings and slides, before heading back.  As a result, it was busy.

Hazard… between or around?

I was keen not to end up in a ditch, or to collide with anyone’s favourite child or youngest Chihuahua.  I therefore had to stay very alert, particularly given how difficult it is to see whether a dog / child is on a lead from a distance… plenty of scope for unfortunate incidents!

I was not alone.  There were plenty of other people on bikes (cyclists, I guess you’d call them) making use of the track, as well as runners, zimmer frame operators, wheelchair passengers, etc.  Pretty much any moveable obstruction you can imagine.  There was potential for carnage… ironically, every kind of accident other than the proverbial “train crash”.

Who is controlling who? A cyclist’s nightmare!

The casual strollers didn’t seem particularly happy with the cyclists… at least, some of them didn’t seem very happy with me:  “Bloody cyclists!”, I could hear them muttering not so quietly as I whizzed past… but I was off!  Gone.  Somewhere else to be…  until I passed them again on my return that is, when we greeted each other with pleasant smiles and a fleeting nod!

What fun!

Someone’s going to get hurt!

The ride itself was fine.  I did just under 20km and rode for just over 50 minutes.  A casual Sunday morning cycle.  I was tempted just to keep going, enjoying the freedom, but I know I need to take it easy.  “Don’t do more than you could on your worst day” (Cardiac Rehab Motto).  A bit depressing really as I’ve always thought the best days were the most important.  Still, I don’t want to set myself back, so moderation rules.  Yeah!

A Treacherous Journey

So, Christmas finally arrived for me this morning!

The day started with the ceremonial collection of my new bikes.  This wasn’t without anxiety!  The collection itself was incident free and relatively swift.  However the trip home relied on the stability and strength of a new Cycle Rack (for the car), ably fitted by myself, and was therefore fraught with danger!

As it turned out, the trip was fine.  No structural failures.  No shed loads.  Not even any audible rattles.  Success!  I felt particularly sporty, and a smidgen of pride, as I paraded my new bikes through town on my way home.

Cycle Rack & Bikes

A very proud moment… home safely!

There then followed several hours of slightly inept mechanical “fiddling” as I made the final adjustments.

Bikes aren’t how I remember them.  They don’t have the knobs and levers I’m familiar with any more.  I had to refer to the internet a couple of times to work out how to work the gears (multi-purpose break levers, if you’re interested!).  One of the bikes has disc breaks – heaven only knows how they work!  I’m very relieved I took out some “free labour” cover for them for the 1st Year… I can see me using this extensively!

What I’ve also discovered is that it appears the more you pay for a bike, the less you get.  In some ways, the “less” is good (e.g. less weight), but in other ways, the “less” is bad (e.g. the more expensive bike required me to buy pedals separately).

Fortunately I didn’t spend too much, so it was just the pedals that needed to be added.  I can only dream of owning a bike that requires you to buy wheels, a seat and handlebars!

Bicycles have definitely advanced a bit!

I still haven’t managed to get outside on a bike yet, but it’s on the cards for tomorrow (weather permitting).  Ominously, it felt like autumn arrived in Aberdeen today.  I may have timed the bike purchase perfectly!

Still, with my bikes, the Turbo Trainer, and a Sufferfest video selection, I’m sure the winter will fly by!

A Lifetime First

1989… a classic!

1989 was a year that changed the world… the end of the Berlin Wall, Tiananmen Square, The Dalai Lama won the Nobel Peace Prize, the Hillsborough disaster, “The Simpsons” started, the Madchester music scene… I finished school, went on my first lads holiday and started at University, while my family emigrated to Wales… temporarily, as it turns out.

I think 1989 also marks the year in which I last owned a bicycle.  I can remember borrowing other people’s bikes at University, but I have no recollection of transporting my own back and forth each term.  I definitely haven’t owned one since, so I conclude that 1989 was the year!

I was always a little bit jealous… until now!

As children. all my bikes were second hand, sourced from the ads in local paper, the Maidenhead Advertiser… eagerly awaited each Friday evening.

On one occasion, I remember my brother getting a new bike… a Raleigh Grifter XL.  Why the situation warranted a brand new bike, I can’t remember, but I do remember it being a big deal!

I have never owned a brand new bike… until now!

The cycling has been going well.  I still haven’t moved out of the garage, but my sessions are getting longer, and I’m getting stronger.  I realised yesterday, that I’m now working as hard during my rest periods as I did at the peak of my early bike sessions.

Up to now, I’ve been using a borrowed bike which is slightly too small for me.  To exacerbate the problem, and having tried “everything” (including WD-40, heat treatment, and a large hammer), I’ve been unable to raise the seat.  As a result, I’m restricted when I ride.  Given I’m getting ready to venture outside on a bike, we decided it was time to invest in a bike I can call my own.

I decided to go for something a little more conventional than this!

I say a bike, but it turns out buying a bike isn’t quite as simple as that!  It turns out that there are too many choices;  Where will you ride it? How long will you ride it for? How often?  Do you want a Road Bike, a Mountain Bike or a Hybrid?  What brand?  How big?  Too confusing!

In the end, I made my decision…

I decided to buy two bikes.  One for the road.  One for the dirt.

 

All I need to do now is wait until Saturday for them to be built!

It’ll be like Christmas!

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