Trip build up

Blog of the build up to the ride 

Monday 10th March 2008.

I'm not very good at keeping diaries, and this is the first time I've written any sort of 'blog', so don't go expecting a novel or anything, ok?


Now, I've been uneployed for just over a fortnight and in that time I've also set up a Facebook group, a justgiving page (which has raised over £800 so far. Thank you all!) and this website is starting to take shape. Thanks go to Rob Saunders (a very nice man) who rustled this up in a lunchtime.

Thanks also go to David at Bikegoo, who has very kindly made me an affiliate and will donate 5% to my charity from every purchase made when clicking through from this site. Dave, you are a legend!

 I think I may also have secured myself a deal on luggage, but I don't want to say too much at the moment. It'll either be supplied by a very nice man from the Singletrack World forum, or through a deal with a local bike shop. I'll update you all when things are finalised. Luggage is very important, after all.

I've written my kit list, and I now know just how much gear I have to lug from one end of the country to the other. Eek! I'll be photographing it (mainly for some progress photos for this site), weighing it and then figuring out how to pack it all in to a couple of panniers and a dry bag. 


What else have I done?

Well, I've written a press release or two which I've just realised need re-writing COMPLETELY, thanks  to me getting the year wrong! Note to self: it's 2008.

I've got a 'hitlist' of companies and organistaions I'd like to sponsor me, donate kit, or in some way show their support. If you work for one of those companies, I'll be in touch very soon!

Likewise, I've got a list of newspapers, radio and TV stations that I'll be talking to - just as soon as I re-write that press release- and MPs whose constituencies I'm riding through. I'm not really a political guy, but I believe in cycling and I know some MPs do too. If you're one of those MPs, I'll be writing to your office as well.



Last week I rode the first two specific training rides. The first, at just 25 miles, was a local loop through the Charnwood Hills (yes, there are hills in Leicestershire) and I have to admit it hurt more than it should have done. I don't know why, as 25 miles isn't very far, and it's the sort of distance I normally do without batting an eyelid. Perhaps it's because it was so cold and very windy? Yes, that'll be it! In any case, I ate, slept and groaned like a baby after that.

The second ride was fairly flat and, even at 44 miles, was much easier. I'm going to pretend that it hurt less because I have suddenly got so much fitter, and not because there weren't any proper hills on the route.

On my return leg I rode through Repton and it's valley, and pondered on how 500 years of land management and planning has left us with a landscape that is unexpectedly beautiful yet just a stone's throw from the industrial sprawl of Burton and Swadlincote. I was also reminded - seeing a goat in a Land Rover - that Jeremy Clarkson, the well-known anti-cycling campaigner, is an Old Reptonian, and mused as to whether he had ever admired the setting of his old school by bicycle. I doubt it. 

Anyway, at just 69 training miles in a week, I'm well behind schedule for 'getting the miles in'. I need to be looking at 50 - 60 mile rides twice a week really, so that will be my target for this week... Once I get my press releases finished and sent off, that is!

Tuesday 11th March

Many of this weeks much needed training miles were completed today.

Although the weather forecast was for all the horrors of winter, it was actually a fairly mixed day. I spent three hours pedalling into a freezing headwind, occasionally stopping to feed on small houmous sandwiches (I'd eaten all the malt loaf and forgotten to buy more: a schoolboy error for certain.) during which time I was blessed with the only two real hills on my ride, a flash rainstorm which felt like being pelted in the face with handfuls of freezing pins, and an ironically named 'courtesy call' from Orange, just to see if I was ok. Yes, thank you, I am.

 I was too: although I'd pedalled into the wind and rain all morning, I felt good. I was warm and dry, thanks to my brilliant eVent jacket (seriously better than gore-tex) and cheap-but-cheerful 3/4 winter bib. Toasty!

However, at the turning point of my ride, Maxstoke in Warwickshire, some 34 miles from home, the skies lightened and the wind freshened, and my homeward journey was entirely assisted by the elements (and the remaining sandwich and a banana). The psychological boost of now having brilliant sunshine and the wind at my back got me home in not much over two hours, much to my surprise. 

I reckoned that I'd earned it, but it was no accident: I planned my route in accordance with the inside info I'd gleaned from the Met Office website, banking entirely on going as far as I could be bothered to before turning for home with the freshening wind at my back... It's not cheating, it's called foresight!

I wonder if I can get another training ride in this week? The weather forecast is beginning to look like something from November, and I've just remembered that I've got lots of admin jobs to do right here at my desk with a nice cup of tea...

Donations update

Oh, and the donations total now stands at over £1000, thanks to the generosity of a few more very kind people. Just for the record, then: No, Doug, I won't be doing the ride on a Raliegh Chopper, even for an extra £2 (although it did cross my mind very briefly), and thank you Simon for that vision of just how much pain I'll be in at the end... The hell I will!

Wednesday 26th March

Cairo, HONC and bottled water.

Well, I've been back from Egypt since saturday evening, and although I went to the gym twice while I was there and once last night, I really feel that my training schedule has suffered in the last ten days or so.

For one thing, it was so hot in Egypt (between 29 and 36 degrees) that it was almost impossible to remain sensibly hydrated, so I am now feeling rather run down and creaky as a result. Also, whatever water you do tdrink there has to be bottled, so as to avoid the possibility of a nasty stomach upset. Sadly, I didn't manage to avoid said upset stomach, and am still not quite over it's effects.

What all of this means is that, not only am I unlkely to get any serious milage done this week, I'm also unable to put in any training mile for HONC. I had reasoned that, as a warm-up for the long ride, it would be an interesting test of skill and stamina and give me an idea of how my fitness was progressing,

Hell Of the North Cotswolds is a 50k cross country/cyclo cross race designed to test riders and their machines to the limit. If you haven't been, the Cotswold limestone soil, when wet, becomes the most impossibly sticky and treacherous mud, the gradients in and out of the valleys are a challenge to motorists let alone bicycles and, to cap it all, there's no support vehicle, so if you get stock or lost you're on your own.

I had planned to ride a series of mixed cross country/road loops in training for this event, but so far those loops have remained unridden. They were to be effectively the same loops that I rode for my timed rides for SingleTrackWorld's 'Fit Club' rides, but with extra sections stuck on to make it hurt more: a rip through Cademan Wood in the rain, up Beacon Hill's unfinished improvements to the all-access bike path (once was a challenge, now smoothed and levelled... until it completely disappears into a quagmire) and over Lubcloud farm , all cow-hooved and rutted. Not steep, but back-breakingly slow and uncomfortable.

Perhaps, instead of talking, I should go out and ride the loop NOW?

Wednesday 2nd April

Two days at Cannock and a lot of Bikegoo

The weekend saw my training schedule acknowledge for the first time the impending carnage that is HONC. 

I stopped by at Swinnerton's Cycles at Cannock Chase on Saturday to pick up some sensible winter tyres (the worn-out Michelin XCRs were getting bloody scary in the wet!) and had a chat with Mark and Veronica, who wished me luck with the event. They know the area around Winchcombe quite well, and know how slippery it can be in the wet, and how steep it can be in any weather. The looks of pity on their faces persuaded me that a pair of Panaracer Trailraker tryres were really a very good idea, just in case the course hadn't dried to a crisp within the next two weeks...

Suffice to say, after swapping them for my worn out Michelins, I once again became the mountainbiking god I always knew I was, and was confident and comfortable flying round even the sketchiest of corners in Saturday's blustery rain and showers. It wasn't the training run I'd been forcing myself to tackle, but it was better than the gym and much better than sitting on my arse under a parasol in the desert.

On my way round the southern half of the chase I bumped into a bunch of lads from Milton Keynes. I'd been attempting a circuit of hill climbs and, even with mud tyres, this wasn't exactly going to plan, my back wheel spinning out more often than was amusing, leaving me to push up half the climbs. 

"Do you know where this goes?" asked one of them, obviously with a specific answer in mind.

"What are you looking for?" I asked, knowing full well what he would say...

"The Monkey Trail!" they all said at once. Well, as I was sorta going that way anyway it made a lot of sense to show them where it was. So, hello my saturday riding gang of Nathan, Ed, Jim, another Jim, Andy and Rob.

We nailed the Monkey Trail good and proper; it just gets better all the time. We followed another couple of riders who looked like they knew what they were doing to what, it turned out, was The Monkey's Uncle, a trail that Mark Swinnerton had mentioned but only in passing. 

In the wet it was a bit of a test of balls, muscles and bike-handling bravado, crossing slick sticks, ramps, stumps and traversing off-camber, deep black mud patches. In the dry - or possibly adopted and given the Chase Trails all-weather surfacing - it would be fast, technical and still a test of handling skills, rather than 'just staying upright' skills. Lovely. I look forward to riding that one again.

We finished off the day with a spin past the newer sections of 'Follow yer Dad' that we'd done before lunch and skipped over to the Milford end of the Chase for a bash at "Big John" and the other trails in that series. The lads were very pleased and so was I. Despite it not exactly being a training ride anymore, the presence of Ed the racer (mainly a roadie) in the pack meant that there was at least one man to try and keep up with on the climbs. Fat chance! I'll pretend that his bike, not his fitness, was his secret weapon, then I won't feel quite so bad.

Sunday saw a return to the Chase (if you've hired a car for the weekend, you need to use it, right?) and THIS TIME I was determined to put in a proper training ride.

I had also intended to do some trail building work too, but my late waking and the clocks going forward conspired to rob me of that opportunity. There was no way I'd get from Loughborough to Rugely in 10 minutes!

The name of my training ride today was to be "Seven Hills", and there would be no prizes for guessing what it involved...

Hill one was the fire-road link between FTD sections, from the end of the woodwork to the start of section eight. It's not long and not particularly steep, but if you've thrashed the last section you'll pay for it here.

Next up, the second day of riding the new section eight. A lovely piece of track which gives and takes in equal - and unexpected - measure. It flows well enough to give you enough speed for kicker jumps and then takes it back from you with some off-camber twists and unexpected chicanes. It's a 'wits about you' section in it's first half. The second part is a steady switchback climb which reminds you that nothing is for free in cycling; long enough to demand that you pace yourself, with short straights that are - just about - sprintable, yet tight enough on the turns to break your rhythm.

That was hill two.

Respite now as I hit the downhill of Marquis Drive and pile on down to the level crossing, the path ahead a blur of broken tarmac and scattered leaves, mud-spattered glasses and gritty teeth, all at once thrown into braking bumps and cautious coasting as I rounded the cottage at the bottom, it's conifer hedge blinding the fast corner.

Over the Hednesford road now and hill three approaches... Left, up the tight, precipitous and very loose slope by the Motocross field; It's a thrill-a-minute descent (and it scarcely lasts as long) but in the wet it's a pedal-slip-push-slip-grunt of a climb to the shoulder of the hill, and a long pedal-mashing trudge to the gravelly summit.

From there downhill again to the foot of the official downhill area, and one of the toughest reliably rideable climbs on the Chase.

It starts as rocky, wet, sloppy and loose, the outfall apron from a gulley filled with gravel, black soil and downhill runs between (and sometimes over) the trees, steep enough to call a climb, and then it gets going: a loose gravel road becomes a hardpack land-rover trail, steeper and ever more broken until it reaches the edge of the tree cover, where it becomes ridiculously steep and looses any pretence of being a road instead of just a very big pile of gravel.

It always hurts, and today was no exception, but I made it to the top without putting a foot down. It was hill four and it would be the last hill I would 'clean' today.

Hills five, six and seven were chosen for their varying degrees of challenge, all being at least part-rideable (in theory and in the dry... with the right tyres) but all were to get the better of me at some stage today.

I sloped back to the trail centre and discovered, it being an hour later than it felt, that the shop - and the bike wash - was closed...

Thank heavens, then, for my parcel the next day from Bikegoo! All the loveliness of bike wash, de-greaser, fancy lube and new tools meant that the two-wheeled sandpit I'd brought home with me could soon be restored to a shiny, silent, silvery race machine. 

If only they sold stuff that would do the same for the rider. I still don't feel even remotely ready for HONC!

Sunday 20th April

Honc, middle age and some new best friends...

 Well, as I write this, it's almost exactly seven days ago to the hour I was crossing the finish line of HONC, the XC/CX race-that-isn't-a-race (it's on rights of way, so they have to call it a 'reliability ride'), happy with my sub 4-hour performance.

Here come the excuses...

I'd have been quicker if I'd been at the front at the start of the race instead of taking 10 minutes to leave the school car park; I'd overtaken someone - anyone - on my way to the first hill; if I'd been as meticulous in my map reading as I was in preparing my bike and my body for the day... Ah yes, well there's the rub. 

Now, this was supposed to be a bit of a test ride for me in the training/prep schedule for my end-to-end ride: could I ride all day? Could I be comfortable in the saddle in the worst of conditions? Could I prepare for a day's riding from the back of a transit van (as a substitute, and not a very accurate one, for a tent)?

The answer appears to be 'Yes' to most fo those questions, except the bit about coping with the worst conditions. Despite a fortnight of rain on the limestone soil of the Cotswolds, conditions on the day were actually not bad, and even though it rained lightly (I think, I can't really remember as I was trying my best to be more 'reliable' than the other competitors) the sun shone on the final - mercifully downhill - leg of the ride.

No, where I came unstuck was with map reading. Not that I have a problem making sense of maps, far from it, but with my habit of completely ignoring the map in pursuit of headlong speed, and the subsequent detour corrections that mean that I'd have been better off stopping for a quick shufty at the map about a mile or so ago. That is where I lost the most time over everyone else who started at the back of the field like me. I must have overtaken the same half dozen riders four or five times as I detoured, stopped, tracked back, overtook, detoured... and so on, all morning.

Now, whilst this is bad for my racing pride - losing me minutes and possibly a valuable place on the school lawn when I'd finished - at least I was never going to be lost. With 500 other people doing the same loop I'd be able to confer on map details and maybe even concede to reading the detailed route instruction card too.

When your ride is 3200 miles long and you have no-one to follow in the distance, it's another matter. You have to stop and read the map, unless you want to spend all day taking dead-ends and looping around villages which might be your only source of food and water.

So, a lesson or two learned there, I think: Yes, I'm fit and strong and fast, the training has paid off, but I'm disorganised and I don't pay attention. That it has taken me nearly 37 years to realise what I've been told - thanks mum - all my life, is probably part of the problem.

Yes, 37 years.

That's how old I became last friday. The only outward signs of age being that, when my old gang of colleagues and fellow disrespectfuls who I'd been out with on the night before my birthday called it a day at 9pm, I didn't mind too much. Three pints now seems to be about my limit too.

Still, on a much more positive note, I've made some new best friends. Woo-hoo!

Yep, there's Mr Sudocrem, his sidekick Mr Deep Heat, and their mate, Little Miss Savlon. All three are well known to long distance cyclists for reasons that I shouldn't have to go into here.

Training this week has been somewhat disrupted by weather and birthday celebrations, it has to be said.

Tuesday's ride - the first after my post-HONC rest day - was supposed to be a 30 mile quick spin, but the weather and my unreadiness for it conspired to make it half of that. I was soaked through within five miles, having left the house without waterproof overshoes just a few minutes before the heaviest rain in weeks. Oh, and the temperature had plummeted from the relative warmth of the weekend in the teeth of a north-easterly howler. It was closer to freezing that you'd expect for mid April. Within forty minutes, which is how long it normally takes me to go from cold to race-ready toasty, I was unable to feel my feet at all, and my fingerless gloves were sending my hands pretty much the same way. I was also struggling to keep my core temperature up too.

I decided to sack it and head home where I'd have a hot bath and plenty of food, but when I got home I was cold enough to be unable to organise myself so I just sat in the kitchen for a while, feeling confused and annoyed with myself for not having worn the right clothes. Training can be like that sometimes.

Thursday's ride was dry, warm (ok, not really, but the sun was on my back when I set out) and the wind was behind me, so my outward 20 mile leg to Hinkley was over in a flash. I stopped in the market place to inhale the aroma of freshly cooked Ostrich burger arising from one of the stalls on the farmers' market, and realised with a slight sinking feeling that I'd left my wallet at home. So, no Ostrich for me, but at least I could have that end of malt loaf in my back pocket (stub? Heel? What is the last lump of malt loaf called?)

After scrounging some scraps of protien from a friendly but slightly gullible stallholder - a Canadian woman selling organic lamb products raised on a Leicestershire farm; go figure - I decided not to let the wind chill catch up with me, and headed for home. I also decided that as I'd cleared the Canadian out of sausage and burger samples that I should go to the Market in Loughborough when she's next in town and buy some of those lamb and mint bangers. (I owe her, I think. Her face had soured from 'friendly hello' to 'please piss off now and leave me alone' as I'd cheerily chatted to her while demolishing a morning's worth of tasting samples. It took about three minutes to outstay my welcome.)

Homeward, the wind was in my face for 20 miles. It wasn't a very strong wind, no more than 15 miles an hour or so, but as aerodynamics and wind resistance are such a huge factor in bicycle efficiency, I decided that a slow and steady ride home would give me as much exercise as a ride 50% longer under more favourable conditions. I've no idea how scientific this is, but it did take me almost 50% longer to get back than I took getting there, so I may be about right.

Good ride, time to get showered and get a beer. The birthday weekend started here!

Yesterday was suposed to be business as usual and a training day, but I discovered that my rear hub is falling to bits and needs replacement parts, so I ordered them and went to the gym for some -essentailly menaingless but quite rewarding - weight training. I figured that I'd rather do something than nothing, and that even a training effort I didn't need (I already know I'm strong on hills so I don't NEED to do weights; I do need to 'get the miles in') was better than getting stuck in the cold miles from home with a rear hub which wouldn't let me pedal.

Oh, and I was also feeling lazy, but I guess after two nights on the beer (moderately) I was entitled. I guess I am nowhere near a party animal these days but, do you know what? I really don't mind!

Austria, Australians, the Dartmoor Classic and Towelgate 3...

My next big ride was from Passau in Bavaria to Vienna (yeah, in Austria) along the Danube. It wasn't my first choice of riding terrain, being flat all the way (ok, the scenery went up and down, but the route was flat) but it was looking like a good chance to get some long distance training in, doing 40-50 miles a day for 5 days solid.

As it happened, it turned out to be a really good laugh, and I'd have no hesitation in doing it all again. I'm sure there was a training effect too, but monster quantities of beer and meat meant that I actually put on weight while exercising every day.

As this is supposed to be a training diary, I'm not going to rattle on about the fab scenery, the merciless sledging of Australians, the grumpy American ladies or sightseeing in Vienna (although I could bore you with it all...) but you'll be able to see pictures of it all soon, if that interests you. No, I'm going to bore you with how loathsome the heavy-arsed, soft-tyred, slip-geared, back-pedal-braking, foot-wide saddled dogturd of a bike was, and how much I hated that. Even so, it didn't diminish my enjoyment of a week in the sun and the hills and the unstinting hospitality of Germans and Austrians. But boy, did I feel fast the minute I got back onto my own bike... Not that it lasted very long.

My bike has been in bits since the week after I got back from Austria and, what with that, funeral arrangements, and empty wallet, I've had to forego this year's Dartmoor Classic (ladies ride) which is gutting for me, as I'd discovered that I could easily have managed a 'silver medal' time. These factors also conspired to keep me out of Dave's 'Towelgate 3' memorail ride from Oxford to Henley, mostly illegally on the Thames Path. It's a 50 mile pub crawl on bikes in memory of our mate Jonny Wilson who died 2 years ago. 

To have missed one of these rides is disappointing, but to have missed both not only pokes holes in my training, it saddens me and  makes me more determined than ever to get the most out of the 3200...


Not long now...

The countdown has started, and the days now are all titled 'June the somethingth', so I know that  the day of reckoning is just around the corner.

7 days away. 

One week.

Next tuesday, in fact. 

Am I ready? Now there's the million dollar question: Accommodation is booked, I have all my luggage, my kit has been chosen and tested, washed and folded; I have an idea how many calories I'll need to eat every day, and what food I can carry (especially useful on the Scottish leg, where shops could be few and far between). 

I have also got back into a training routine, riding between 45 and 75 miles a day. That hurts so much more than the Austrian adventure, with it's 60-80 km a day and frequent beer stops, all slightly downhill.

So, am I prepared? No, I doubt it. I've done what I can, given the circumstances, but I know I could - and should - have done more. I know the first 3 days will hurt (they're the hilly Devon and Cornwall days) but now I know how much, I'm not unduly worried. I know I'll be tired, but I know I can do the milage and still get up and do more the next day. After all, that's really all it's about, isn't it? Do some miles, do some more... Repeat until you run out of land.

So, what's left to do? Not much.

I really need to get some pics sent off to the photo agencies so that they have an idea of my work and are expecting the pics from my ride when I get back home. Oh, and I expect this site could do with a few too. Ahem.

I'll have a think about which ones might work best here while I make myself a cuppa... 

The Friday before the Tuesday of the ride.

Oh, bloody hell!

One day left. Ok, two, really. Today and tomorrow. After that we're on the road down to Devon and then on to Cornwall. If it's not done today or tomorrow, it's not getting done at all!

So, what's left?

Just a few postcodes for last-minute direction finding, one or two essential bits of kit and the odd bit of 'left-to-chance' camping in the far north of Scotland. I keep looking at the map and at my schedule and convincing myself that, as it'll be August by the time I get there, Wester Ross will somehow be over-run by tourists and I'll be unable to find anywhere to stay. The reality is that, once you stand back from it for a while, it's a tiny, rocky, insect infested scrap of tundra that happens to be part of the British Isles. It's not exactly Brighton or Bournemouth, is it? I think I'll get away with chancing a few nights when I'm past Ullapool.

Having said that, I can't find anywhere with a single room spare in the  Orkneys, so I may have to re-think that part of my trip. Hmmm...

I really can't sleep now. Almost not a wink. I'm not scared, or even particularly apprehensive, yet I'm not exactly excited either. Yes, I'm looking forward to it - I know it'll be an adventure - but I suppose I'm still so caught up in the planning and admin that I'm not seeing the ride itself, just the organsiation.

That won't last long on Tuesday...

Today's 'worry over nothing' task is to pack and organise the bags so that the panniers are both roughly equal in weight, yet having the gear distributed so that essentials are easily accessible and it all unpacks in a logical order, ready for setting camp. I may also test my tent and check/count the pegs.

Yep, I shoulda done that days ago. I should have done everything days ago, but there you have it. No use bleating about it now. I'll also add the itinerary for the ride to one of these pages so you can see where I'm likely to be on a given day. (Sorry, but no live tracking software is available and, even if it was, I don't think I approve of being sattelite tracked on holiday - at least not actively.) 

If you want to know exactly where I'll be, just ask. Email me here and I'll do my best to respond within a day or so or, if you have my phone number, call or text me, and I'll call you back.


Finally, if you're the praying type, I have a list of requests:

Good weather

Considerate motorists

No midges, please (I know, but it's worth a try!)

Reaching my fundraising target. Get people you know to help with this one...

Oh, and wish me luck!