TRAT – no backing out now

by The One Left Behind

After a fiendishly late night on Friday finishing the last of the essential emailing, blogging and packing – and watching the final episodes of Battlestar Galactica, the less said about which the better – Iain and I slept badly and got up early. Not as early as he’ll be getting up to ride all week but early enough.

An 8.06 train from Norbiton on Saturday morning took us to Clapham Junction for the train to Watford Junction. Iain carbloaded with last night’s cold Chinese and spent the journey trying to work out what essential item he’d forgotten. However, he had his bike, a cycling top, shorts and shoes, and we figured that those were the only real essentials for the week.

Arriving at Watford, we joined the rest of the support crew and the team members travelling down by van (some were getting the sleeper train to Penzance) for a final team photo. Then it was time to load all the bikes, spare wheels and kit into the van and hit the road. No backing out now Iain! Nothing can save you now…

Keep an eye on Charlotte’s blog from the road – TRAT 2009 blog on the right hand side of this page. She’ll be updating it with pictures, details of where they are on the route, videos and the site also features the Twitter feeds from all the TRAT team who are tweeting.

Hopefully Iain will post this evening after the first day is over. They set off on time (pic on Charlotte’s blog) and are making good progress on the road. Expected in Launceston at lunchtime, and Taunton tonight.

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One!!

I’m an idiot, so I now have some lovely red chafe marks on my legs, even before I start the ride – after the photoshoot yesterday morning I visited Tate Modern with Charlotte then went back to work.

Foolishly, in the interests of getting back to work quickly I put on trousers over my cycling shorts, which were fine at first. They became less comfortable throughout the day – by the time I realised that they were properly painful, it was time to ride home. Oops.

They are still a bit red this morning but not too bad, it just shows how dumb I can be though.

I’m finally all packed (as of two minutes ago). I think. I did rationalise a bit this morning and worked out that I didn’t really need to take five different books with me, when did I think I was going to get the time to read them?

I set off for Watford Junction shortly (with Bryony), where I will meet up with the team for the long drive to Land’s End.

Wish me luck.

PS, I watched the final episode of the final series of Battlestar Galactica last night, the series was fantastic, but the end was very, very bad. I won’t add spoilers but I can’t believe how monumentally lame it was.

Two!

In two days I set off from Land’s End as part of The Race Against Time (TRAT) riding a fast, six day cycle ride to John o’ Groats.

I saw my picture (in armour with bicycle) in the local paper this morning, which was fun. Then Bryony and I made the trip to Trafalgar Square to meet up with most of the team and support crew for a publicity photograph with news presenter Jon Snow. Sadly Mr Snow couldn’t make it but we all got to meet up, many of us for the first time.

Some overzealous rentacops did turn up while we were being photographed and tried to stop us for ‘security reasons’ (what is it with fat blokes and polyester?) which was on the high side of pointless. We were standing in front of one of the fountains in Trafalgar Square, with Nelson’s Column in the background which must be up there as one of the most photographed views in London. What sort of terrorist group dresses up in lycra and rides around on bicycles in a big group – “Britain is the Great Satan and we shall defeat the accursed dogs with our 1337 paceline riding Skillz, see if we don’t!” We should have explained that we were a situationist terrorist group and derided them as the Lackeys of Dada-ism, whatever that means.

What with images of Trafalgar Square already being freely available on Streetview, Google Earth, Flickr and anywhere else you care to name, I can’t see what on earth they thought was the problem (and the reasons changed as we went along I understand – first because it was “for security” (which means fuck all), then because we “didn’t have permission”, which when we moved to take pictures in front of South Africa House (who we *did* have permission from) transformed into “you’re breaking a byelaw”.

I’m quite tired now but looking forward to tomorrow – just got to pack up the last few things tonight and I’m ready. All is well with the bike, the fundraising is still going well (nearly £1,500 now, continued thanks for all your generosity) and there’s not much left to do other than ride the bike.

With all the work in training and fundraising it’s going to be a relief to get out there and just have to cycle – it’s going to be harder for Bryony I reckon, she has done the bulk of the fundraising work and doesn’t get the big payoff of getting out and doing the ride – while the ride is going to be a lot of work, it’s going to feel like the end of the process (apart from the party on 1st August of course!)

Almost on our way. Two days to go…

2008 JoGLE: Part Three

Day Seven: “L’Enfer du Nord”

Day seven was one of those days that should have been relatively easy – leaving Lancaster in the late morning, I was hoping for an easyish run to Altrincham (where I would be staying with Bryony’s sister Beth and her partner Andy).

It was already raining and a little windy – although the rain let up from time to time, it was never long enough to get truly dry before getting soaked again.

I had already expected parts of this ride to not be my favourite, going as it did through some quite built up areas. This was true of Preston and Wigan although there were more clear green bits than I was predicting. Also, any day where you go through a crossroads and the signpost to left and right points to ‘Goosnargh’ and ‘Woodplumpton’ respectively, can’t be all bad.

I stopped between Preston and Wigan on the A49 at a place called Euxton and had a pint – I sat outside (as it was dry at this point) and was chatting to an old boy – he was reminiscing about cycling back when he was in the RAF and was talking about old brands of bike, none of which I can remember. He did talk nostalgically about 531 tubing and I was able to tell him that it’s still popular among some fraternities of cycling. He pottered off after checking the pressure in my front tyre and nodding approvingly. Before he went I asked him if he thought it would be safe to leave my fully laden and unlocked bike outside while I nipped back into the pub to the toilet.

“Oh the kids don’t steal bikes round here” he assured me. He paused for a while in thought then added “They wouldn’t fucking know what to do with them”.

After Wigan I got a bit confused, I was trying to cross the M62 via the B5212 which avoids the alternative busy junctions and was anyway my most logical route – finding it proved less than easy. The 1:125,000 scale maps I had were great for countryside navigation and route planning, less good for negotiating cities. My route plotted on GPS would probably have looked like an ever decreasing circle.

I eventually found my route and crossed the Manchester Ship Canal via the toll bridge on the way to Warburton (bikes go fee, hurrah!). I would have photographed the bridge but it was pouring with rain and I was too tired to stop.

From then on it was a final slog through rain and wind to reach Altrincham. Beth and Andy had done a “Welcome Iain” sign which helped me find their front door in my fuddled state.

They were very kind to a cold and wet cyclist; yet another great dinner followed, then much drinking. Beth was running for the Wilmslow half-marathon that weekend and I hope all the drinking didn’t do in her chances.

I’m Bacchus me. Everywhere I go, people drink more…

Day Eight: “Keeping on, Keeping on”

After a memorable night of music, conversation, food and drink, I awoke to see the welcome sight of blue skies out of the bedroom window.

Sadly they didn’t last. After a late breakfast I started getting the bike ready and noticed that all was not well with the back wheel.

A few days before I had noticed a strange noise (a sort of “pink, pink, pink” sound). I eventually narrowed this down to the rear brake or mudguard stay slightly rubbing against the tyre, the back wheel having picked up a slight buckle somewhere along the way.

A bit of adjustment and all was well. I did thoroughly inspect the tyre at the time and found no problem except some slight wear. I continued on my way and thought nothing of it until the morning of day eight a few days later.

The tyre wear was now becoming a split, with the tyre starting to overhang the wheel, presaging an eventual and dramatic puncture. Not wanting to wait until this happened randomly, I went to a local bike shop and bought a new tyre (Beth was kind enough to drive me there). I replaced the faulty one and re-oiled the chain for the second time this trip – in fact by the time we got back from the bike shop, Andy had the bike up on his bike stand and had the rear wheel off ready for me to replace the tyre.

This was another example of three things about the ride –

1.People were amazingly generous with their time and hospitality along the way.
2.With all the help I had, I certainly can’t declare the ride was unsupported.
3.I really did need the spare tyre I left behind in London all those days ago.

After this problem, I started very late into day eight. By now the weather had changed and had reverted to the rain and wind of the previous day – the wind was stronger and almost directly from the south. This made slow going for most of the day, a shame as I had been looking forward to blasting along on the flat roads through Cheshire.

I rode through Mobberly, aware that I was riding through countryside from Alan Garner stories (sad that I had neither the time, energy or foresight to divert through Alderly Edge), the roads I took overall weren’t bad and I think this would have been a great and restful ride were it not for the challenging headwind and constant rain.

Thinking back,this is the day I remember least, it just being a steady fight against the weather (not really bad enough to term a constant battle but persistent enough to be an overriding feature of the day). At this point I was glad that Bryony had not joined me for this ride as originally planned – this would have been a downright miserable day for her – was hoping we would have an enjoyable ride to share.

I remember some bits, I remember getting lost in Crewe and how pretty either Market Drayton or Newport looked but much of the rest of the day is a wet and windy blur.

My time estimate for completion kept shifting backwards, from originally hoping to be in Shifnal and my parent’s house for 5pm, I eventually reached there for just before 7.30pm.

Not the best day but was good to complete the day (this was almost bang on 666 miles completed. Oddly appropriate).

Was good to see Bryony at the end of the ride (especially after more than a week (the last time I saw her was being waved off in London eight days and more than 600 miles ago) and enjoy a good meal with my parents – had just missed my sister Kathryn sadly by the time I got there.

In the night I could hear rain and wind and hoped it would clear for the ride next day to Hereford that I was to share with Bryony.

Day Nine

The weather had cleared mostly and we set off for Bridgnorth. We were mostly on main roads as far as there then starting heading south-west on minor roads (that rolled a bit but reasonably gently as I recall).

We stopped for an early lunch at a good pub, sitting outside at first but changeable weather drove us indoors. The weather that day was still mostly clear but had sudden intermittent bad spells including a memorable hailstorm, nature’s exfoliant.

I can’t remember what time we left Shifnal but the day seemed to fly past – so by the time we reached Ludlow the castle was closed.

We set off again for Hereford (via back roads south of Mortimer’s Cross via Yarpole (“Yarp!”). At this point we acquired a dog that decided to run along with us for some distance.

After that it was a slog on the A road south (although our back roads route had helped us avoid Hope Under Dinmore and brought us towards Hereford by a better road for our purposes. It was a road I knew reasonably welland we passed places I had ridden through first decades before – passing fruit farms where I had earned cash in school holidays here and there.

The evening was drawing in, as evidenced by sightings of two different barn owls ghosting across our path until finally we re topped the last rise, just before the Roman Road to the north of Hereford (by a suburb with the ridiculous name of Bobblestock). Looking at Hereford from the outside, the cathedral and two main medieval churches are still the tallest buildings in the town and so are still the main landmarks.

We crossed the town and were at my brother’s house, got cleaned up then headed off for more curry (no wonder I didn’t lose weight riding this). I now had a rest day to enjoy before setting off on the final part of my journey. I’m not sure but I think at this point, the ride this day was thelongest Bryony had ever ridden in one go.

Three…

Last night I was quite jittery so had to watch something to take my mind off it all (Clerks II – when you need to take your mind away from grim reality, Kevin Smith is your friend). The enormity of the task ahead was getting to me a bit and it was hard to relax, so the film helped. Tomorrow morning is my last opportunity to deal with any last minute stuff so I need to do all the work tonight to find out if there are indeed any last minute bits and bobs to sort out.

Everything I can get done tonight will help make Friday as relaxed as possible. I’ve got washing to do, new tyres to put on the bike and to swap the spd pedals over for (hopefully) less creaky ones. I’ve got one bit of kit left to find (armwarmers) but other than that I know where everything is I think.

There’s a team photoshoot tomorrow in Trafalgar Square with the news presenter Jon Snow (also president of the Cyclist’s Touring Club (CTC)), my second media tartness of the week. Hopefully the photographer at this one won’t run away so quickly, it will probably help that I won’t be dressed up in armour this time.

Only three days to go now…

Let the Permanom commence!

This blog might have given you the impression that I’m some kind of lean racing snake.

This would have been a very wrong assumption – because, despite all the cycling I do, an addiction for beer, curry (and other food that you can only phone for) means that I’m probably fatter than you would imagine possible for someone contemplating an undertaking like TRAT. I’m a bit of a wobbly lardy bloke at the moment to be honest, which is very bad.

This is kind of worrying on one level but it does mean that for a week or so I really, really, really don’t have to give a stuff about calorie consumption, as a few days from now I will be in the enviable position of not actually being able to take enough calories in to cope with the demands of the riding I’m taking on. “What do you mean this chocolate bar only has 452 calories per 100g? Bring me the chocolate minty lard!”

I’m not recommending this as part of your normal calorie controlled diet.

Four…

Gah! The creaking noise from the bike was back when climbing Broomfield Hill on the way home, so I think it’s the pedals, I’ll swap over a newer set from another bike and try them out tonight – I don’t want that noise for nearly 900 miles driving me nuts. Everything else was good though, so I’m happy overall.

I managed to fit the castors to the bike box last night so it’s now as easy to move as a wobbly shopping trolley, one less task for my return. Why the makers didn’t think we would want them in the first place I don’t know – It’s a Polaris bike-pod and it’s excellent for taking your bike on aircraft or trains as it provides a lot of protection in transit (and you can pad out the bike with all your other bike kit and cut down on other luggage).

All well and good, only it’s not really designed for the car-less. It’s unwieldy when you try and travel with it on foot – it does have a set of wheels at the back (which don’t work very well, forcing you to carry the box at an odd angle) but it doesn’t have a carrying handle or strap, all of which leads me to conclude it’s designed for you to drive to airports. This is all very much from the “There’s a hole in my bucket” school of project planning, as if I drove in the first place, I would probably drive to my fecking destination, with the bike and therefore need neither aircraft or bikebox. Mumble.

Anyways, a bit of castor fettling, a small quantity of blood and copious swearing later, the bike box was now be-castored and ready to take with me to the Marmotte once TRAT is over.

First thing this morning I had a photoshoot from a freelancer on behalf of the local paper (Kingston Guardian). Only I don’t think anyone had warned her I woud be in armour when I answered the door. The paper had very much liked the swordfighting angle and was interested in the the medieval show that my friend Andy and I do (called Medieval Fight Club) – I’ve been trying to offer this as a corporate team building event/summer party in order to try and raise funds (no takers so far, boo! Get in touch if you’re interested).

So it seemed logical to the paper to ask me to be ready, in armour to be photographed on my bike when the photographer got to my house. Only they forgot to tell her.

It was a very fast photoshoot and she couldn’t get out of the house quick enough. I asked her what was the oddest things she had been asked to photograph, “Dead people” she answered as she practically ran towards her car.

The last minute TRAT preparations continue and I’ve got Friday morning off work to deal with any unexpected problems that might crop up.