Tag Archives: Euro City Cycle

Back to normal

After the excitement of last week, the past few days have been all about settling back into everyday life.  Any concerns about coming back to earth with a bump have alleviated.  Instead, the whole event has left me somehow feeling a bit more “normal”.  It’s really good to be home!

The Euro City Cycle (ECC) had become a very big deal for me.  Understandable I guess given I’ve been working towards it throughout the winter.  I signed up for it early in my rehabilitation, it was a real “stretch goal”.

At that time, no one really knew what I would be physically capable of, now or ever, so it was a bit of a risk.  Not being able to complete it (or more likely, start it) would have been a real blow, and could potentially have caused a major re-think of life post Heart Attack.

Windmill Selfie

My favourite selfie from the ECC

From my perspective, the level of risk has reduced with every mile I’ve cycled over the past 10 months.  I’ve been confident over the past couple of months, but it was great to back up that confidence with a strong ride, and a quick recovery.  I was fine throughout the event and have had no ill effects subsequently.

Having arrived in Brussels I had a couple of days rest.  Time for my legs to recover, to warm up and dry off after the final days of the ECC.  A sniffle flirted with me for a couple of days, but I managed to fight it off.

Someone else’s selfie caught me taking mine!

Getting back on the bike was interesting.  It’s amazing how much more comfortable I am on it having been inseparable for four days.  Just spending time together has made a big difference, it feels natural again, like it did when I was a kid.  The key thing now is not to get complacent, particularly as I’m back on the roads rather than having the luxury of dedicated cycle routes.

The cycling routes on the continent were something else!

The biggest relief, perhaps, is that I’ve got the London to Brighton bike ride to look forward to in mid-June.  This will give me a continued focus, a reason to keep going out on the bike and keep myself in shape.

The ECC was a journey within a journey.  Fortunately it was a successful one.  It marks the end of an important phase of my life, and the beginning of a new one.  No time to stand still!

ECC Day 5: The day after the night before

The day after the night before…  I awoke in the 6th bed in 6 days, a delightful pull down number squeezed into the corner of a double room.  It had been a relatively late night and promised to be a very slow start to the day.

We had the morning to ourselves.  The only deadline was to get ourselves to the Train Station by mid-afternoon.  It was relaxed.  For once there was no-one to giving us orders.  There was no-one to follow.  We were alone.

After four days riding across Northern Europe blindly following a man with an iPad we had been given control back.  The Guides had travelled ahead with the bikes.  We were left to look after ourselves.  Without any counselling we had been abandoned, left to re-integrate into society.  Alone.

Sightseeing in Brussels

Sightseeing in Brussels

I felt a strange sense of freedom… a day without Lycra.  I was able to walk normally, without cleats, able to put my feet flat on the floor.  I was without bike, able to sit inside and watch the rain rather than being out in it.  I had nowhere in particular to go.

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Generally I felt more “normal” than I have in a long time:

The previous night’s beer didn’t seem to do me any immediate damage, I hadn’t fallen over or experienced any side-effects, and I woke up feeling fine.

The first beer since my Heart Attack

The first beer since my Heart Attack

Possibly more importantly the Euro City Cycle is behind me.  It has been a real focus for me for the past 10 months;  the end of a key recovery phase?  I can now look forward with a little more comfort, a touch more relaxed.  It feels good!

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After a relaxing two-hour journey we arrived at London St Pancras.  The Guides were waiting for us:  We were instructed to follow them to an unknown destination.

We blindly followed them; winding our way across the station concourse in a chain which gradually fragmented as people lost contact.

We emerged into a light drizzle… normal business had been resumed!

ECC Day 4: Falling down and bouncing back

Richard, Geoffrey and John are locked in the dungeon and Henry is coming down to execute them:
Prince Richard: He’s here. He’ll get no satisfaction out of me. He isn’t going to see me beg.
Prince Geoffrey: My you chivalric fool… as if the way one fell down mattered.
Prince Richard: When the fall is all there is, it matters.

The Lion in Winter, 1968

To be a cyclist means giving up an element of control.  Whether it’s relying on other traffic, experiencing hazards along the way, trusting the person in front, or simply sitting stationary with a cleated shoe attached to a pedal, there is an element of risk involved.  Improved bike handling skills and general awareness can reduce the risk, but it’ll never be eliminated.

As with life in general, bad things happen.  The most important thing is how you deal with them, and how you bounce back.

Over the four days of the Euro City Cycle there have been a number of incidents.  Fortunately none of them were too serious.  No serious damaged was caused other than a little bit of hurt pride.

With many of the incidents, the comedy factor was high:  Irrespective of fault, Guides going down is always hysterical, like a Referee falling in front of a large crowd, you just have to laugh (quietly, of course!).  Momentary lapses of sanity are also worth a giggle, a man hanging from a lamp-post unable to extricate himself from his pedals for example, or user-induced brake failure resulting in a tumble down an embankment.

Bridge 4

Negotiating a bridge under construction… like you do!

Despite these occasional incidents, over the course of the trip people’s confidence visibly grew.  With a little encouragement and practice, everyone became more comfortable, cycled a bit faster, a bit closer together, we slowly developed to become part of a team.  I’m not saying we got there, but we got better.

For a few seconds on the final afternoon we almost managed to draft, cycling in formation into a head wind, the lead rotated to share the effort as we pushed to maintain a steady pace.  For a few seconds, we almost managed it.  It felt good!

Despite having to battle the elements once again, we all made it from Breda to Brussels.  If I had been in Scotland I would have described the weather as dreich (“Low End” also works).  The persistent rain and low temperatures made the going tough.  Dampness got everywhere causing electrical equipment to fail left right and centre.  However, we fought through and made it.

Broken bike through broken camera

Broken bike through broken camera

It’s been a pleasure to share this experience with the 20 other participants.  I’m sure everyone felt some emotion as they approached the finish line; a sense of accomplishment or satisfaction.  It wasn’t the hardest cycling ever, but there were definitely moments when everyone will have had to dig deep, calling on hidden reserves of energy and endurance to see the journey through.

For me, the overwhelming feeling as we crested the final hill and rolled towards the Atomium in Brussels was relief.  My journey didn’t start in Brentwood, it started in a hospital bed last June.  I’ve cycled just under 300 miles in the past four days, but over 3,000 miles preceded them as I worked to get myself fit and strong again.  There was a “Finish” sign next to the Atomium, but my journey is far from over.

Along the way, we’ve managed to raise just under £3,000 for the British Heart Foundation.  Thanks to everyone who has donated and for all your support over the past few days!

(Incidentally, it’s still not too late if you’ve been meaning to contribute: Click here)

ECC Finish

Relief, pride and satisfaction… what’s next?

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

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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!

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