Daily Updates 4

Day 14 Roubaix

Quote of the day; Paris-Roubaix is the last test of madness that the sport of cycling puts before its participants….A hardship approaching the threshold of cruelty-Jaques Goddet (Former race Director)

I wrote some days back that I had been let with a sense of not having given enough of myself so in cycling terms I set to rectify this by taking my bike for one final set of French Revolutions.

Sitting a 60 minute drive from our campsite is some hallowed ground revered as much as it is feared amongst the cycling fraternity. Known as l’enfer du Nord (The Hell of the North) Roubaix is the end point of the single most brutal one day race in the cycling calendar.

IMAG1467 (3)It is unique in that the route is interspersed with sectors of cobbled farm roads which jar man and machine in jackhammer fashion. By cobbles I mean rocks strewn into a liberaly connected fashion. Once described as looking like miles of cobble stones had been thrown from an aeroplane roughly landing in the same geographical space. These are not lumpy mono blocks, if the Royal mile is Postman Pat the movie the Sectors of Cobble (Pave) are the love children of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Nightmare on Elm street.

Yet we cyclist are drawn to accept their challenge transposing brutality for beauty in our disjointed thought processes. It’s hard to conceptualise this for non cyclists as it isn’t akin to playing at Hampden or Murrayfield as unlike a sports ground which hosts an event the pave are almost a living participant on the day of the race.

I have always loved the conflicting analysis given in a post race interview (1985) by rider Theo Rooy- “It’s bollocks this race!! You’re working like an animal: you don’t have time to pee you wet your pants, your riding in mud, your slipping. It’s a piece of shit”
He was then asked if he would ride the race again and replied “Sure it’s the most beautiful race in the world!!”

IMAG1456 (2)So I arrive and head for the velodrome, the gate is open and I’m not hanging around looking for permission as I get in a lap of the track which has hosted so many pivotal moments of the races history.

My time is limited so I aim to complete a 75 KM figure of 8 which takes in 7 sectors of pave. Sadly the first sector has been tarmaced between last year and this so its a false start. Then I am in the thick of it with 6 sectors split across 25 KM, (list sectors)

IMAG1448 (3)It’s exhilarating, it’s it’s ridiculous, it’s surreal as my fragile carbon fibre pride and joy sings across the crown of the harshest terrain it has ever seen. With the wind (briefly) at my back I execute the advice to ride on the crown, big ring, grind don’t spin and power rather than trying to traversing a safe line. However the wind is not kind (daily forecast notes 35 mile gusts most of which hit me face on) and its at its most challenging as I hit the final 2 sections. This is where the terrain is laughable, it’s like the dodgiest cowboy builder has got away with the craziest heist in which he has persuaded us that as the stones age and deteriorate from awful to horrific condition we should treasure them more!!

As I return to the velodrome I sense something is missing and not in a spiritual manner, it’s much more tangible than that. I started the day with a crown in place of a missing tooth (lost years ago making a football challenge) I end the day without it. It’s a strange juxtaposition as I receive messages from my friends expressing their pleasure that I got to ride the famous pave. The self same conditions that were so challenging that they effectively shook a replacement tooth from my skull!

Merci Roubaix!

0 miles towards total 44 dead miles

Total- 656 miles towards total and 126 dead miles –

782 ridden since leaving Kirkcaldy.

Day 13 Contalmaison remembrance ceremony

Quote of the day; Who doesn’t respect and value his past, is not worth the honour of the present, and has no right to a future- Josef Pidsuski

One of only 6 ceremonies that received permission today, security is tight. Given there is only only 3 miles between ourselves and the dignitaries, politicians and Royal family at the Tiepval commemorations it is understandable. The village is in lockdown, no vehicles allowed in or out and no roadside parking for locals or visitors.

We are up early and have the opportunity to watch from close range Major Tait leading his troops in an address which detailed what was asked of their forebear ears and how they were expected to respond when their commanding officer blew the whistle to signify they were going over the top (almost certainly to perish under enemy fire) the whistle sounds at 7.30 am just as it was 100 years ago. Some time is taken for silent reflection and the soldiers disperse back to barracks looking visible emotional at what they have just experienced.

The independent travellers and group participants arrive at opposite ends of the village. Each traveller having secured a numbered accreditation which must be carried at all times along with passports.

1467400937226The ceremony begins at 9.15 and features, reflections, prayer, anthems, and laying of 30+ wreaths.

The Contalmaison mayor, Major Tait, Jack Alexander, Keith Brown vegans minister, and French minister for State for Veterans and Remembrance – Jean-Marc Todeschini offer context each flavoured with their individual and professional experiences. Friendship, togetherness, respect and the collective emphasis that we commemorate to remember and with such value placed on loss we use this to further motivate our commitment to freedom from oppression and peace for all.

IMAG1442 (3)The wreath laying takes time as so many have travelled, a mix of formal and informal are represented and with great pride we accept the offer from Marshall Bowman to accompany him in laying the Raith Rovers one. My daughter takes the lead and beats her nerves to represent the club she loves in an admirable manner. Her contribution is noted and she is inundated with compliments post ceremony.

IMAG1441 (3)One such compliment promotes conversation with Lorraine whose name is to be pronounced Lorrayne in your best French accent given our location. She is a Hearts fan and told us of her own mark of remembrance. She placed a small cross in amongst the wreaths upon which she had placed a single piece of ribbon representing each of the clubs who had players sign up for the Battalion. We later search for the cross and agree it is as kind of thought as it is beautiful.

There are many other moments which stir the spirit and challenge the tear ducts such as a description that the Queens bugler is present and will play the last post on a bugle which was present at this spot 100 years previously and has not been played since.

I note there is a rifle resting on the Cairn as the addresses start a do it is confirmed that this is in actual fact the one which belonged to George McCrae’s. It remains rested on the Cairn throughout the ceremony. Upon the completion of the ceremony some take the time to pose with this treasure but for me it seemed somewhat undignified to pass the weapon around. For others it was clearly a chance to take a picture which will sharply focus their connection to the Battalion so I offer no criticism solely a difference of thought.

Food is consumed, beer, wine and soft drinks shared as (insert singers name) serenades us with several pieces of music. I am approached by many pie pole offering congratulations, thanks and even some donations. It pleases me greatly that Raith Rovers are held in such high regard in this company and that our actions are seen as an extension of an already strong connection.

On my final wander before setting off I happen upon a French TV reporter looking awestruck as the pipe band surround the Cairn and perform in spirited fashion. The pipes can move me to tears at the best of times and this was especially powerful. I will post video on my return to Fife. I really did feel for the reporter as just when he got his chance on air after many frantic calls, the band called it quits and he was left with an image of 30 or so kilted pals japing en route to the buffet/beer tent.

I had intend to return to join a commemorative meal being held locally that afternoon though once out of the village we are not allowed to return. This is a real pity as I hear from our friend that our actions were highly commended with a stirring round of applause offered by all the pilgrims present.

I feel it will be quite some time before we will fully understand what we have been part of though in the moment it feels that we have been privileged to embark on a challenge which bridged Starks Park and Contalmaison. As a mark of respect to the players and fans of our team left our home town we have simply used a bicycle and a campervan to again draw a line between our home ground and the Contalmaison Cairn.

I would urge any person with the inclination to further explore this link to do so. You will find a wealth of knowledge at hand and a collection of motivated and thoughtful individuals ready to assist. I thank them all for their support and spirit. In addition to those who helped with so many practical and organisational matters relevant to the trip I would also like to add our thanks to Major Tait’s own charges who were kind of action and warm of welcome. We all enjoyed their company and wish them well.

I leave the trip with one key sentiment standing above all others. I have heard the phrase before but when it was repeated today I finally got it; Put simply the young men we honour gave their tomorrow’s so we can have our today. It only took me 738 miles on a bike for it to make sense!

Day 12
Contalmaison

Quote of the day; life is too short, and sometimes brutal, and in the end we have only each other… Nothing else matters.” ― William Donelson

The shortest of rides today but clearly the most important as I will finally arrive at the destination set some months earlier.

A mere 20 miles stand between me and the memorial Cairn and I’m guaranteed a friendly welcome as our friend Ali from forces broadcasting will be on site. Some text messages over the last few days assume my media profile hits new heights as Dave Cowan from STV asks if I would share my thoughts on arrival, a kind offer.

The ride itself starts in great weather as so many days have done yet ends in torrential rain as so many others!! I will in time put up some video clips to show I’m not a drama queen when I parrot words like; torrential, storm and cataclysmic.

wpid-20131027_151647[1]To ensure the usual pattern of route plotting drama is followed I take a google maps over to my phone and hit follow. 7 miles in and I am riding solely on farm tracks with debris of the size and quantity that riding a road bike is not to be recommended. However I have a deadline to meet for the people, who have honoured the task with offers of support. With this in mind it in some ways validates the decision to continue riding when I turn into a field, then another, then another (repeat ad in finitum) only video will represent how ridiculous this is as I familiarise myself with the Somme landscape in an intimate manner.

Unlike meltdowns in earlier stages of the journey I’m taking this in my stride. Then the Garmin 810 lists a prompt which genuinely raises a non cryptic smile on my cynical face “follow paved road to destination”

IMAG1417 (3)Within moments a see a sign, not in the theological sense more geographical CONTALMAISON. Another first is set as I set mobile to selfie and join the 21st century.

My timing is in actual fact perfect as I arrive as Major Tate and his soldiers are leaving barracks to discuss their own preparations for the 1 July ceremony. I welcome their handshakes, warm wishes and congratulations.

IMAG0230 (3)My main observations from today is that at every turn during today’s ride (including mid field) I see designs of war, either craters or memorials. Monuments outnumber hedgerows and signs to sites of mass commemoration outnumber road signs. I understand the sheer volume of life lost over the years of fitting in this area but I’m still grounded by the sites of the final resting places of so many.

Time is taken to walk round several burial sites as the evening comes and it’s humbling to see the care with which these sites are maintained. We discuss the graves which are listed only “A soldier of the Great War”. So many men whose families never had the closure of a landmark for their loved ones.

Contalmaison itself is tiny, no shop, bar or clutch of social gathering points solely some houses, farm land, a church, grave yard and a memorial cairn. The size and lack of grandiose significance again focuses attention on the fact that it was an inch by inch battle that took place here where the smallest outposts were contested to the most bitter of ends.

With the village in lockdown from 8pm we settle down early.
20 miles towards total 0 dead miles

image

Total- 656 miles towards total and 82 dead miles – 738 ridden

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Daily updates 3

 

Day 11
Brighton-Newhaven-Dieppe-Amiens

Quote of the day; “The best rides are the ones where you bite off much more than you can chew, and live through it” – Doug Bradbury

A grand sounding title of locations but less impressive if I make it clear that Brighton to Newhaven is 10 miles and Newhaven to Dieppe is a ferry trip. None the less the most significant change in landmass happens as I move from England to France.

1156062766Brighton was a blast, full of tacky “kiss me quick” kitsch and urban cool as I count more hipsters than hippies on the main thoroughfare. As I mentioned our hotel for the evening worked in the basis of each room having a theme hence we could have been allocated; the safety pin laden punk room, the parkatastic Modrophenia suite or even one which was decorated to match their interpretation of a Rough Trade record store. That was an apt as we left the building early doors to stock up for breakfast the reception room blasting out “Hatful of Hollow” my daughter was inspired and her”Johnny flipping Marr” t shirt was rescued from the travel bag.

The ride to the ferry is nothing to write home about but I am aware such facts make a blog completely redundant. On the doorstop of the port I pull in to a road side food stop a la little chef/ Brewers fayre and my arrival coincides with the England football match. I consider leaving immediately for fear that the game will sour the positivity which has been the theme of my time in my neighbours country. I was overthinking it as despite being a goal down when I leave the discussion I overhear is rational and balanced as the table of lads disect team selection, tactical decisions and I hear not a single slight on the opposition. My positivity remains which pleases me greatly.

Ferry travel is pretty much new to me and this trip falls in to the too long to sit and read a book but too short to get a good sleep territory. The later option is ripped from our grasp by the next door cabin who take the travel time as a chance to work on their improv movement/dance and vocalisation skills. By that I mean they giggle, jump about and see more value in giving renditions of the Frozen soundtrack than sleeping. I’m not happy (there is a well developed theme here I know…) Our neighbours are young woman “nippy wee lassies” whose names sound like the towns I’ve cycled through in the posher ends of London (Theydon Bois, Saffron Waldon, Alexandra Palace, Bromley by Bow) you get the idea. Thankfully the man from the boat nails the nonsense and I have a whole 1 hour 45 power sleep to recharge me for the days cycle.

IMAG1393 (3)Arriving at the port we park up and take stock, it’s 5am and daylight is limited so we top up the ZZZzzzzz’s after watching an hours worth of the port security escorting a constant stream of would be castaways from the car park. I see more of this at the start of the ride when I pass the harbour which is similarly busy.

 

 

 

We have only 2 French language tracks on spotify so listen to both;

Again I use a grabbed Garmin file, this one based on another riders trip to watch stage 3 sprint finish at Amiens a few years earlier. The route of great, busy to start with similar to the Dundee A92 on a Sunday then swapping between country lanes and rural settings in seamless manner.

Cycling abroad comes natural, the change in the designation of road direction is almost natural. I’m lucky to have cycled abroad before and the flow of traffic seems to fit with a cyclists eye line. France has a cycling culture probably only matched by Italy so I expect to be given space and time and that is indeed true. However it’s hugely important to mark out that bar a couple of quite frightening experiences in England my journey has been marked by a massive amount of courtesy and respect from drivers. Of most significance for me has been the space and time allowed by heavy duty full on juggernauts who have patiently waited for clearance to overtake. I’m grateful and have developed a system of holding my hand up flat to ask the driver to hold still as I see oncoming traffic then waving them through furiously when a gap appears. A toot of the horn or a flash of the lights has signified a mutual understanding. Can’t we all just get along on the road? Sometimes with a wee bit of effort we clearly can.

Littered with long steady climbs it’s easy to transfer skills from punchy Scottish hills to my new environment. With much to see it’s something only a cyclist would understand which grabs my attention most. I see a guy riding in full pro-team kit (Cofidis) including retina burning red leg warmers. At first I think he must be paying back a bet then I think maybe he’s a local pro. However given I catch him with ease and pass him on the ascent rather than descent I’m guessing it was a big bet he lost. Maybe something like “If a country with a population of 300,000 reaches the last stages of the European championship I will cycle dressed like a colour blind Star Trek character”

I can’t feel any guilt if the guy stumbles across this blog and feels silly as I fully expect that he will be Google imaging pictures of horse riders sitting side saddle and proclaiming to his mates “that’s how they sit when they ride bikes in Scotland”. Yep, it was a testing shift in the saddle on various levels….

I arrange to meet my crew at Grandcourt for a chat and some lunch given that by then the midway point will have been well broken. With only a few miles left my Garmin crashes for the third time on the trip and 42 miles of data is lost(later recovered) I have the ride recorded in full in a Fly 6 rear facing camera I am trying out so proof of miles is easily available however I’m really angry. I try to unpick why this has such a harsh affect in my headspace and can only come up with the notion that with the end so close I am projecting a whole heap of other issues on to this glitch.

I start to reflect on the trip and the forthcoming days in Contalmaison. I’m asked from home if I’m proud of what I’ve achieved , I’m told it’s a great thing I am doing and that I have completed something significant. However as we are now on the precipice of a ceremony where we commemorate the loss of life given in order to protect and promote freedoms a cycle ride seems silly and even a bit self indulgent. I regroup and think of the funds raised and the positive outcome if even one person takes time to learn about the McCrae’s story by virtue of some web article or newspaper clipping.

Still the need to do more remains and I wonder had I done the ride in fewer days, in fancy dress, in a faster time, on a uni cycle while juggling and reciting poetry would I have been more restful of thought? Probably not as the toughest part of the event has actually been the necessity for me to be focus point on so many social/media platforms as it’s not possible to fundraise and retain anonymity. This has been a far greater pressure than any physical, environmental or mechanical hindrance. One for the team psychologist when I get home as meantime the show goes on…..

By way of adding perfect perspective the day ends with a text from my dad to tell me Rovers have lost our opening friendly 2-0 to Forfar. This is a definite wake up call to think less and soak up what’s going on around me.

Song of the day, since we were on a foreign language vibe;

 

74 miles towards total 0 dead miles

Total- 636 miles towards total and 82 dead miles – 718

I eventually managed to restore Garmin files so here is the proof of ride

 

 

 

Daily updates 2

Day 10
Loughton- Clapham Common-Brighton

Quote of the day; My biggest fear is that when I die my wife will sell my bicycles for what I told her they cost.

Back on the road after some days rest due to the fact that I had built in a couple of  contingency days in case we met with mechanical issue on bike or van.

I won’t be so self absorbed as to talk through more of  my down time from the bike so we start back after a couple of days on a London campsite which was an eye opener and an assault on several senses mainly the eardrums.

The clue to what we would be in for was the fact that the site had a helping of security guards on hand at all times. Quite a change from the sites thus far where the relaxed atmosphere and strong messages that we must respect others as it’s simply the done thing.

Let me provide some context, kids under the age of 6 making full use of the small play park at 6.30am is one thing, their parents howling a cross the field “Alexander is it a pee or a poo you need”(repeatedly) is quite another. I do accept I need to holster my tongue at times but I don’t in any dimension see how this should have been one of them………As I have stated in other posts like all prestige multi-day tour riders I am milking my status as a precious butterfly for all its worth and this isn’t the type of etiquette which promotes my peak stage of well being!

So I feel equally justified in my rant at about a dozen lads exiting the shower block which they had left looking like the beverage park changing rooms after a 20 team rugby tournament. I must do red faced, vein popping rants quite well as rather than the expected “what you going to do about it you old git”(paraphrasing heavily) they took up the massive squeegee thing and 4 minutes later my equilibrium is re-established.

The fact is it was like 2 days at Glastonbury without the bands, well without the good bands. This experience is important as it directly shapes how the night ends after the bike riding.

So first it is across London and I had hoped an invitation I had made to supporters of a London football club with a link to the Somme similar to the clubs of McCrae may have got me some company but no joy. So I man up and head across the city, it’s a ride broken into a number of parts with the idea being the troops can almost play hide and seek as I ride a bit then when they find me we stop for a juice. I plan to do part of the ride by Boris bike to add a bit of local texture to the ride but renege on this idea as it just adds a bit more hassle. Let me doth my cap to all those men and woman of every age who confidently juggle life in the English capital with the bike as their preferred choice of transport. Their confidence is a marked contrast to my complete acceptance of the fact I am a fearty when faced with such volumes of traffic and route confusion. I really, really consider jumping in the van where my team are calmly negotiating the route. This is particularly strong when I am “dropped” by a woman easily in her late 60’s riding a fixie (Chapeau) I make it in one piece and take solace in the van for 5 minutes…an hour later I muster the acceptance that I must get going again.

Song for the day 1

London to Brighton is a well known charity route so I follow the route of the British Heart Foundation ride. I can’t believe how much traffic such a ride has to negotiate to get out of the city. It’s incessant for the first 10 miles which I complete with an average speed of 8mph (auto pause feature seems to have become bugged by the rain) the roads on the route are really poor quality. I persuade myself that my decision not to wear gloves will prepare me if I am able to make it to Roubaix on my one remaining rest day. Given I develop a proper sare blister somewhere near nightingale meadow I’m not sure I am ready for the Hell of the North.

It’s one of those rides when you just can’t be bothered and excuses are easy to find (it’s too windy, the route isn’t clear, the bike’s drive train needs TLC, my shoes are still wet from 2 days ago, I’ve not had time to eat properly, my confidence has been dented by the cross city experience) Truth is I needed to get on with it and simply grind out the miles which I manage though the joy of riding a bike bottomed out today.

s770191Surprisingly the part of the ride which I am grateful to have experienced is a final climb up Ditchling Beacon which is a cracker. I think about pushing myself given its proximity to the end of the day but I just sit in as it was simply brilliant as it ramped up again and again and indeed again. Very limited in terms of vantage points it is just a challenge facing hard tarmac and wondering when the last turn will come. It’s quite impressive sitting at 22 in England’s 100 toughest climbs;
Distance: 0.9 miles / 1.45 km
Height gain: 143m
Average gradient: 9%
Max gradient: 16%
And so I make it to Brighton, a place I have long wished to see ever since sitting aged maybe 10 or 11 watching a movie about; fighting, dancing and many other elements of youth culture with my uncle. I didn’t arrive by Vespa or Lambretta but I did make a conscious choice to ride my Italian bike. No Mods and Rockers on the Pier as I arrive instead it’s a much more cosmopolitan mix of friends, families and folk taking in the sites amidst really strong winds, it is in fact very much like Kirkcaldy prom though a wee bit bigger….

And so I return to the camping critique offered at the beginning of the post as I sit typing in the most kitsch surroundings I have ever sat. I was asked before leaving Clapham Common “do you think we should take a night in a b&b to regroup before France” which I know translates as “please, please, please don’t make us trudge through another muddy field to fill the kettle” I take very little persuading. So we explore options and source an affordable deal on a themed hotel where on arrival we are allocated the Dolly Parton room. Yep, I am sitting typing between two large soft pillows overlooked by such items as a pair of Dolly’s boots (that is not a typo) various Stetsons, a Dolly bust (now, now by bust I mean casting of her head) it’s so silly it’s brilliant. I imagined my arrival in Brighton being a great time to push Quadrophenia as the next chapter of my kids “education” but suddenly find myself searching for a Dolly playlist in Spotify!

Song for the day 2

72 miles towards total 5 dead miles

Total- 562 miles towards total and 82 dead miles – 644

 

My log of each ride

Day 9 St Ives- Cambridge-London (Loughton)

Quote of the day:“When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.”
Sherlock Holmes author, Arthur Conan Doyle

A day of two halves, starting in the most serene manner I spend the first 18 or so miles on a cycle path which runs directly to and then through Cambridge City. The initial path is a shared route with a walk/cycle path running parallel to a guided bus route. This is effectively the bus version of trams with drivers shuttling people back and forth on buffers in a direct, traffic free manner.

I make a point of stopping several times on route for a chat with dog walkers who are making the most of the overcast but very humid weather. The dog breed of choice for those who I see out and about is the South of England is most definitely the bearded schnauzer, 2 from every 3 dogs seem to be this breed.

Cambridge is navigated with haste as the route through the city centre via the University and its outlying buildings is clearly one developed to move students on 2 wheels. I pass the Armani, Boss, Cartier classes as I navigate through what must be several thousand participants in a graduation ceremony. Fair play, I’m sure a degree from Cambridge university dwarves my cycling proficiency test.

Song for the day 1

Today I learned a lot about how I am viewed as an cyclist. I am offered 3 cycling observations by my kid each of which ensures pocket money bonus points will be slim picking this week?

1) She announces she knows which cyclist I look like. Since I told a story the previous night about Scottish cyclist Robert Millar winning a race near our home on the hill out of Thornton in Fife (Peatmans Brae) I inquire if my climbing skills merit such comparison “Nope”. Second guess is based on the fact we have a cat named after my other favourite cyclist. Is it Marco (Pantani) thinking more for the bald heid than cycling talents “Nope”
So I give in and she points out “you ride like Tommy Voekler” French icon and fans favourite, the modern day embodiment of Bernard Hinault’s exclamation that “as long as I breathe I attack” sadly she quickly points out its not my swashbuckling take on each of the daily stages rather it’s my ridiculous facial expressions of; exhaustion, effort and general puffed ootness that mimic the grimaces of Tommy “the gurner” Voeckler (google him and you will get the picture)

2) As I cut through Cambridge I swear a speed camera flashes, a bit worried I ask “Could it have been me?” her retort “doubt it…”

3) I try to follow “the rules” which are a selection of loosely tongue in cheek style guides as to what is PRO when on the road bike. Today I break with what is acceptable as I wear shorts and neoprene overshoes. It is really humid but the roads are wet, it’s a risky look but In my head I look like Fabian Cancellara saving precious seconds by gaining maximum aerodynamic benefits. In reality today’s cycling cynic of the Campervan isn’t having it “nice look Dad, wellies for your bike!!”

Strike 3

The landscape returns to rolling terrain with plentiful short (false flat) style climbs and descents. The descents are taken gingerly as the debris covering the surface gives the feel of a building site entrance rather than rural road.

The second part of the ride becomes quite something as the constant talking point if the trip kicks in…the weather ! I have filmed part of the rides using a Fly6 rear facing camera so will upload brief snippets when back in Fife. This might be the best way to evidence what were conditions akin to a Hollywood blockbuster where the floods arrive and people are forced to do crazy things like talk to each other. On half a dozen occasions I encounter roads closed to traffic (the first one is called “Watery lane’ which amuses me and calms my route finding panic)

Add in as many times when I have to simply cycle through puddles of 2 foot of standing water and it is a wet but rewarding experience to pull in to the campsite in London. The worst of the torrential rain/flooding was in the last 10 miles so I am thankful for small mercies as I cover near 80 miles most of which is positive.

I have a look at the local news as I pay the reception for our pitch and its carnage, the referendum is knocked off top spots as house evacuations, emergency service mayhem and massive housing damage are described in detail. I got away with a good soaking and a cycle which I know we will reference every time someone complains about conditions which are less than favourable.

This ride marks its own way point as riding a bike between the capitals of Scotland and England seems somewhat ridiculous in its own right.

78 miles towards total 0 dead miles

Total- 490 miles towards total and 77 dead miles – 567

Song for the day 2

 

Day 8
Louth to Spalding- St Ives

Quote of the day; Sometimes when we ride we simply have to go out and meet the man with the hammer-Laurent Fignon

Today promised to be flat, decent overhead conditions and was therefore a chance to bag a few miles to build a positive balance. I achieved this in part with 84 miles however the intention had been to chase a century simply because it’s the type of thing a cyclist would do.
There’s a whole host of contradictions in that target as I simply don’t like long distance cycling. Yes, the guy targeting 700+ miles isn’t into cycling huge distances. The truth is I get bored so in that respect to challenge of the RemembeR cycle is one which might reshape my cycling long past the return to Fife.
The main reason why I didn’t hit the 100 mile mark was wholly out of my control. I was committed to honouring an arrangement which had been struck pre departure that we would make sure my daughter got to watch her favourite ever players nation (Northern Ireland) play. I could say damn you Rory McKeown but truth be told I was more than ready to stop by the time we reached St Ives.
Flatlands did indeed abound but with a steady headwind and unsheltered plains I struggled to get any massive improvements in speed. I should not have been even trying as after making decent time a few days back I got a text from a riding friend with a question; “What do you call a solo cyclist on a charity ride who averages 17mph?” I replied; “prepared” as I thought quality was too much. The reply I got was “no, a tube is the answer, get your head up and look a round, you ain’t likely to do this again”
Today I got my head up but the was slim pickings as a nice start and farmers markets transitioned into more of a working mans vibe which was a contrast to earlier days. I have also noticed a marked distinction between North and South as I done some informal polling for the European referendum on the road. Pre Pocklington there was a fair split though since that time 95% of the garden signage has been pro Brexit. Interesting that the “give us our country back” banners have the union flag when there is such a split in the Scottish thinking. What they made of me on my Italian branded bike riding to France with my startling pro-continental neo-pro looks I can only guess!!
The plains did come with large swathes of land signed as “designated nature protection areas” this tickled my funny bone as I thought; who is doing the protecting? I had a vision stuck in my head of Bill Bailly, Bill Oddie and Chris Packham in swat style gear firing potato guns at anyone who dared to break the acceptable code of conduct. Having said that one 7 mile stretch was so dense in population of the Great Crested Grebe that these must be the most sociable wetland bird. Not a rarity as such back home but I was surprised to see such numbers.
On another plain I stop at a road sign which points out the proximity of towns/villages called Boston and New York. I smile again as my first sight in Boston is a restored NY taxi cab and an NYPD car. I wasn’t expecting that!!

84 miles towards total 0 dead miles

Total- 412 miles towards total and 77 dead miles – 489

Song of the day

 

Day 7 Pocklington-Louth

“Life is like riding a bicycle. In order to keep your balance, you must keep moving”  Alberet Einstein, physicist

I knew I was to be facing challenging conditions by virtue of the noise on the camper van roof throughout the night but I had faced rain as a constant on the trip so wasn’t that bothered. Miles need done, skin is waterproof and I have my buddies on hand so I can grab a cuppa if I get too cold.
How wrong I was to be so blasé, the heavens had opened before I left Louth and with severe weather warnings in place a mixture of biblical downpours and a stiff wind made for a first three hours in the bike which I wish never to repeat.
I had chatted with a guy doing the full pannier laden bike round Europe a few days earlier and kept repeating his advice that I should “just accept the road” he reasoned we need it to explore our cycling potential and some days we are the masters though most days it teaches us a lesson. I’m not that existential in my thinking when pushing the pedals but it kinda worked for the first hour as I just got pushed back by the wind to the point where it felt unsafe.
I had a bit of a smile on parts of the road as I climbed another tour of Britain “King of the mountains” section notable for the Tour de France style spray paint applied to the road to encourage the riders. “Go Swifty” “Faster Ian” (Stannard I assume) though my favourite was a trail of painted scribbles exclaiming “Ali, Ali..” I later figured out that this was simply some poor spelling with the French “Allez, Allez..” misquoted.
I try to abait the rain from getting into my boots by swapping insoles, new socks, 2 freezer bags applied over each sock, boots towelled down, neoprene overshoes zipped up and to stop water ingress via the top lip of the boot I use a pair of Castelli gabba arm warmers as makeshift leg warmers. It lasts 15 minutes before I feel like I have been water skiing
I was told pre trip by a long standing cycling veteran of our local scene that I would learn a lot about myself being on the road for so many hours. Fine I thought, can’t do any harm….however what about when you find yourself facing glitch after glitch and your manner treads a very thin line between authoritative and rude?
I say glitches, let me explain, as I ride up to the Humber bridge the Garmin(810) tells me I am off course. I ride back to try and capture the trail again without success, 2 more trips over the Humber bridge and no success…Hull 4 Davie 0.
I catch a break (or so I think) when the trail reappears temporarily, problem is I quickly realise I’m now on the hard shoulder of a motorway slip road. I love cyclocross though this version of shouldering the bike up a grass verge 2 mile long is just silly. I hope that no police car approaches and I get lucky. After taking refuge in the van we try to hatch a new plan. I have the gamin file on the laptop so an emergency action of dumping the route on the Garmin for a fresh install is tried without success. A firm line of travel suggests I should be traversing fields, motorway bridges and flight paths.
This is where the “learning about your character” part returns, what did I learn looking back? Well under such pressure “I’m a bit of a tyrant” this surprises and embarrasses me. Had I been a pro athlete then I’m sure the delicate state of the competitive sportsman would be the cliche used on world of sport when analysing my psyche.
I finally resolve to make my way to another waypoint and seek local help. This adds a dozen miles and causes me problems via the fact that I have left all drink and food in the van and only have a card which I can’t remember the number of and a phone with no battery. By this point I am not “accepting the road” in fact had “the road” possessed a pulse the square goes in the car park is my less than Zenn interpretation of the earlier advice.
I make it to Louth eventually and after regrouping I suggest my compatriots who have also had a tough day managing challenge and dealing with Diva/Davie have a look round the town while I cycle out the day by taking on 10 miles of the following days route. This allows me to gain some confidence that the route is more stable than today.

73 miles towards total 0 dead miles

Total- 328 miles towards total and 77 dead miles – 405

Song of the day

 

Daily updates

 

Day 6  Pocklington-York-Pocklington

“Every time I see an adult on a bicycle I no longer despair for the future of the human race.” ~ H.G. Wells

Up early and good to go, however my team were showing signs of lagging well behind in the “up and at em” stakes so a “team” decision takes us off the bike and into the city of York.

It’s also a chance to get the knee pain from yesterday’s car buzzing looked at. In fact it was a good thing I done so as a tear/tweak/sprain/spasm to the (insert very long latin sounding medical term) gets due attention and some well tidy kinesiology tape is applied to make me look far more pro than I did this morning. I also find myself saying the most cycling specific thing I have ever said as I wonder out loud how the tape will affect my tan lines by the time I hit France! If anything the knee feels stronger as I end the day with a 15 mile loop into town for some errands. Great success.

York is beautiful and welcoming as we manage to only collect 7 flyers for ghost walks during an afternoon stroll. High level competition amongst the guides seeking to tell us the tales of Yorks “belligerent ghouls”. I grew up with a knowledge of the Glasgow “ice cream wars” so top hats off to the far camper battle in this city. Fake pistols drawn from dark capes at 8pm seems to be the agreement.

We spend an extra night in South-Lee caravan site where we are offered a warm welcome. Much of the time is spent people watching as I realise that Caravan folk have a whole set of rituals known only to them and probably passed down from person to person in the recesses of places which sell chemical toilets, barbecues that fold down to the size of postage stamps and awnings ( the big the better)

I’m looked at with scorn by a (visitor/tourist/weirdy beardy/ member of the socks and sandals Union – delete as appropriate) as I inquire about wi-fi as this is apparently some kind of insult to the concept of “getting away from it”. Strikes me as a wee bit of a contradiction as our petit van (Toyota Granvia) is surrounded by caravans double the size of the green room at a Rolling Stones show only with more mod cons.

All jibes aside I do see the attraction of a weekend locked up in a mobile storage unit with your family or mates. It struck me that watching one family disassemble a massive pile of kit looked like the part of the Edinburgh Military tattoo where the soldiers take apart canons and transport them further up the filed to put them back together to sound the winning salute. Is bunch were obviously premiership caravaners as not a cross word was shared. Assembling an IKEA footstool to bring with us had our house at loggerheads triggering a 3 day state of non talking only resolved by intensive peace negotiations.

0 miles towards total 15 dead miles

Total- 255 miles towards total and 92 dead miles – 347

Song for the day

Day 5-Thirsk to Pocklington

Phil Nic’s quote of the day;

“Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime. Teach a man to cycle and he will realize fishing is stupid and boring” – Desmond Tutu

Warm day with a headwind though nothing compared to the Flanders like conditions that seem to dog Fife cyclists all year round.

I leave Thirsk in possession of a pot of chamois cream which is the key thing I left at home. For non cyclists it’s like nappy rash cream for adults. I have been birdwatching on the road and the wee brown warbler the Chiff-chaff would have to be the bird I had most in common with as I reached the end of day 4.

An observation on Thirsk, decent in fact very decent with an outbreak of something called guerrilla knitting making sure that bollards, shop fronts, post boxes etc are covered in kind of tea cosy items which I am told are put out overnight. I assume this is to avoid the “Haberdashery police”

A few tricky and indeed treacherous turning points include a crossing of a dual carriageway which takes 15 minutes and some cyclocross skills as I decide to shoulder the bike and get across in instalments. The route profile is in stark contrast to what I’m told to expect in the York area…”flat lands” is what I’m told to expect and Lumpy Bumpy is what I get!

Today’s route defines the description of “England’s green and pleasant land” it’s stunning as I roll from village to village skating round York which I already know is a gem in the Nations crown. A thought strikes me that rather than confront other nations with football threats England’s travelling fans might be better served taunting the opposition with postcards of the quite stunning topography of their land.

It’s not all playing sailing as I struggle to get in the swing and follow a guy on a mountain bike for 4 miles lacking in the guile, energy or motivation to get by him. Once I do I am followed hard by the guy who seems intent on proving some kind of point by getting by me again. He hadn’t taken account of the fact that I am a cantankerous little git and wasn’t going to allow that to happen. Head down backside in the air and I’m off at the first descent. I recall a comment from keen cyclist Billy Connolly who states he was great passing bus stops at high speed before turning the corner and using his pump to give himself the kiss of life!! (Check out “Wreck on Tour” on you tube for more of the big yins cycling story’s. Funny but not for the kids!)

I then hit a low point as a car tries the most irksome and dangerous manoeuvre a cyclist can experience. Being passed at high speed by someone who must get through before an oncoming vehicle closes the gap is scary. I take second position (near as possible to the kerb) as I hear him coming. I’m then passed by a first then a second car which clips me before a motorbike completes the triad. So tight is the pass that the car on the other side screeches to a halt Sweeney style. The car which pulls up is driven by a ranting loon who starts screaming at me for somehow being culpable. If I had been in primary then the car in theory wouldn’t have got passed but in reality might well have wiped me out. The irony is that ranty man has a “help the heroes” car sticker visible. I think about explaining why I find myself so far from home but the thing is wearing the kit and representing MBT means I need to show more decorum than may well have been merited.

The rest of the ride is cool with cricket on the village green and seemingly every farmstead doing a roaring trade in duck eggs. I see many cyclists en route today and it appears this is because it’s Saturday rather than Friday as I had thought. My main observation is that English cyclists love a bit of cold weather kit. To a man, woman and Kid they all have long sleeve tops, many have 3/4 shorts and I spot a lad in a jersey I have at home which I reserve for days where the temp is below 5 degrees. I guess today I must have looked like Marvin Andrews in reverse as I rock the minimal amount of clothing that decency allows in what is the first day of double digit temps since I set off.

I decide to call it quits at Pocklington to gather my thoughts and restock confidence. Well and truly in the game in terms of mileage an early evening will do no harm especially as I can take the time to wash kit which may well have such “character” that Derek Acorah may well have been able to channel a conversation with it!

Photos and strava data to follow when I reach a wi fi point, England must have a campsite with one somewhere …..

42 miles towards total 9 dead miles

Total- 255 miles towards total and 77 dead miles – 332

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Pics to follow

 

Day 4-Alston to Thirsk

Phil Nic’s quote of the day;

“To me, it doesn’t matter whether it’s raining or the sun is shining or whatever: as long as I’m riding a bike I know I’m the luckiest guy in the world” – Mark Cavendish

We start the day with a morning walk where we try to achieve the impossible as I am told a creature called a red squirrel exists but I am sceptical. I live in what is supposed to be a hotspot for the tufty club and have seen nada. Alston has a boast that it is a refuge for the native squirrel. The campsite owners tells us where we are guaranteed to see them yet nothing.

The ride profile features a sharp incline to start with as Yad Moss extends over 10 miles, all of which are uphill. I see it featured as a King of the Mountain section in last years Tour of Britain and it has a place in one of the 100 toughest cycling climbs books. The reality is a bit underwhelming as its long and steady but lacks the lung busting qualities of Fife’s Brae’s. Up top its bleak and a little unnerving as there is a real sense of being isolated from habitated lodgings.

Once over the top its a breeze as I head to Barnard castle enjoying some long descents through a host of villages all of whom seem to have a fate planned in the next few weeks.
Barnard castle is a place I know having registered for the Etape Pennines in its ornate gardens a few years back. It’s a beautiful place and offers a hospitable stopping point as I load up on sports friendly carbs (Stuff my face with all manner of junk)

With 31 miles covered I am making good time so decide to push through to the next large town which is Thirsk. It’s an extra 41 miles but sometimes the legs just have miles in them and this was the case today though to be fair they with the exception of the first climb I am assisted by a flatter profile that any other day so far.

Some real pro action on route today as a bike mechanical allows my team to break out the spare bike Formula one style to get me on the road again. Pit stop time check around 5 minutes 45 seconds!!

The weather, well it’s getting boring harping on about it so let’s just say it’s been consistent…..

As a footnote let me own up to being a total gonk, of all the things to leave out the kit bag for a 1000+ km ride Chamois cream is not the ideal choice.

 

Pics will follow

Day 3-Langholm to Alston

Phil Nic’s quote if the day;

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”― Albert Einstein

The first day that I have my support crew with me and as we leave Fife it is wet or to be more accurate very wet. The progress made so far strikes me as it takes nearly 3 hours to reach my start point, a point I have reached by pedal power in 2 days.

Good news greets us at Langholm as the wet weather makes way for a deliciously grey, overcast, gloomy sky. Small steps of progress must be acknowledged as I gamble on leaving behind my salopets, Mac, wellies, umbrella and water wings. I hope this will enable better progress as the lilo I have carried for 2 days is anything but aerodynamic.

On the road its hilly, very hilly in fact and at the end of the day I see from the route profile that I will cover the most challenging terrain today and tomorrow.

A glut of signage to capture for the blog today as I jump from county to county and indeed from one country to another as England awaits.

A sign stating “caution cobbles” gives me a wee taste of Roubaix as I traverse Alston high street en route to the stop for the night. Thoughts of Boonen, Cancellara, Hinault and Museuww are quickly put in place as I realise 1 solitary high street has me chewing my handlebars.

The streets are empty for most of the journey through the more populated areas as Wales v England dominates public attention. I find out the score later that night when heading to the van with supplies. My accent catches the attention of the village idiot, well one of the village idiot convention which seems to be in town as I am berated for Scotland’s non participation in the Euro finals. I consider pointing out that I wasn’t actually part of the qualification squad but opt for a comment which points out the SFA were just assisting The Scottish Government to meet emissions targets by keeping the air routes free from the tartan army. It doesn’t hit the mark as I make the mistake of using some words with as many as 3 syllables !

I swear one of them exploded with confusion in a manner best suited to a spinal tap drummer as my kid shouted me over resplendent in her Northern Ireland top. The cross country affection is clearly too much :0)

41 hilly miles towards total 8 dead miles

Total- 141 miles towards total and 68 dead miles – 209

Pics to follow

 

Song for the day

Day 2-Innerleithen to Langholm

Phil Nic’s quote if the day;

“When my legs hurt, I say: “Shut up legs! Do what I tell you to do!” – Jens Voigt

The most testing of days as nothing falls in to place, I am due to be dropped at the place I ended yesterday for a 10am start. Delay number 1 as the transport doesn’t arrive and I make my own way for start 2 hours late.

The ride itself takes in some incredible scenery and a particular riverside passage en route to the Tibetan centre (Samye-Ling) which will remain with me when I reflect on the trip. Weather again plays its part as I seem to be followed by wet rain..you know what I mean the type that’s wet and gets your kit wet.

The bike is flawless, the route is stunning and nature seems to like cyclists. A roe deer shoots of the road as I take a bend, a stoat plays at the side of the road as I exit Traquair, and I spot hares in the fields as I stop to stretch. I’m also struck by the maternal instincts of Ewes who dart across the road to protect their lambs from the weirdly coloured thing riding some kind of horned vehicle (Me)

The meet at 3.30 in order that I can get back to my car as I have a school prize giving I am committed to attend doesn’t appear on time in fact it doesn’t appear at all. So after 45 miles of riding I trudge back in the opposite direction to get back to my transport home. No prize giving, totally shattered and with the camper (which arrived today) needing to be packed it’s a 3am bed stop!!

45 miles towards total 45 dead miles

Total- 100 miles towards total and 60 dead miles – 160

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Pics will follow 

Song for the day

 

Day 1-Starks Park to Innerleithen

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Phil Nic’s quote if the day;

“Ride as much or as little, as long or as short as you feel. But ride” – Eddy Merckx

A morning filming in the company of Ali Gibson of the Armed forces TV service set the tone for my day of media activity. We set our watches for an early afternoon meet at Starks park and along with Ali, the courier sent its finest and Raith TV were on hand to capture the departure for posterity. A huge thanks to Raith Rovers who had a crowd on hand to wish me well with the office staff, directors and club manager and assistant all in attendance. It meant a lot.

In the company of my super domestique AJ Latto we head over the forth road bridge on the wettest, windiest and foggiest day for the past 3 months. The prologue ends at Gilmerton HS with a

kind handshake and a reassurance that my buddy wasn’t going to see me depart solo from the home of football we go our separate ways.

It’s another big moment as I cross my fingers and trigger the first GPX file of the Edinburgh-London audax route. It loads and it works-relief aplenty. Another 30 miles and I call it a day at Innerleithen this is where I start to seriously consider my sanity. I count 15 people on the high street all brandishing brollies, wellies and a warehouse full of Tiso wet weather kit. Not quite finished though as I turn round and start to head back towards Edinburgh to meet my lift back to Fife who is held up at work.

55 miles on from Kirkcaldy then 20 in the wrong direction, a decent days work which would have been easier if I had webbed feet!

Pics  will follow 

Song for the day

 

 

The final countdown……

A week to go and time for a pre ride round up. As I get ready to put away the desert boots and settle in to a pair of Specialized road shoes as my footwear of choice Paul Wellers proclamation of “Direction, Reaction, Creation” seems to capture where things are at…….

Some exciting contact through Raith Rovers put me in touch with Ali Gibson from the Armed Forces TV station who explained that a documentary on the Battalion has developed in some part thanks to discussion she had with Major Tait who has been a challenge ambassador for me. So some of the training has been filmed and a time is set for the camera to capture my departure from Starks Park. The documentary will contain pieces from clubs with connections to the Battalion including time with our own manager who was delighted to be invited to speak about a subject he holds dear to his heart.

Sponsorship is currently just creeping over £1600 and given this was an area where we had no set aspirations I am pleased that so many people have been so generous. It is truly a special thing to see the names of friends, family, colleagues and names of people not yet in my contacts list get behind my efforts. McCraes Battalion Trust wholeheartedly thank you for your kindness.

imageKit- it’s here and it’s awesome, I wouldn’t have got a gig as a catalogue model but this sharp outfit is set to show up any pro-peloton threads as unimaginative and frankly dull!
Adding on to the kit theme my main bike is now the proud owner of a new headset cap provided by Kapz.com. If I have even a moments doubt I simply need to look down and see the message RemembeR staring back at me.

 

 

imageSelling the jerseys- Amongst many kind actions I wish to thank John Greer (Raith Rovers former players association) who has taken a huge amount of time to secure some signed tops from the senior clubs who had players commit to the Battalion. On my return watch out for an online auction including: A Hearts top signed by the team that took them back to Europe, An away Hibs top signed by the cup winning team, A Falkirk top signed by their play off team and with the help of our own Kitman and Rovers fanatic Simon Pollock the Rovers team that gave us such a great season have signed a RemembeR top. Particular thanks to those who helped John out; Brian McLauchlin, Peter Houston, Liam Fox, Lewis Stevenson and Tom Phillips. I know 2 of our ex players are diligently working to fill in the gaps in the teams represented so an update may be needed as teams get back to business in the coming weeks.

The route is now set and again simple kindness has saw key people, share the product of their labours freely. So thanks to the London-Edinburgh-London audax for the use of their route and associated garmin direction files. The big battlefield ride have been free with their mapping of a route from Dieppe to Amiens and I enter France with some confidence. Though distant roads create challenge I have actually never cycled in Edinburgh and I am indebted to my good friend Alex for his company on my first day. As the senior groundsman at Murrayfield his presence adds a rugby connection which is again fitting given McCraes had internationalists amongst their ranks. I also wait on news of a possible meet with Leyton Orient supporters who may be able to ride with me accross London. With such as shared history in elation to their own players sacrifice at the Somme I would love to make that connection.

The final update is that we seem to be set for entry in to Comtalmaison through a ring of steel thrown up for security reasons. The kindness and sense of inclusion which has characterised the actions of Jack Alexander and John Dalgleish has been of great reassurance to us in our preparations.

 

May – last call for fitness

Not so much a training update as a list of factors which have ensured there will be a healthy amount of self doubt and nervous energy when I head off in June.

May was due to be a month of 3-5 day blocks of 40-50 mile rides back to back but…….

The most significant barrier was damage to my calf muscle which meant I could only ride little bursts as and when the pain subsided. Problem is the pain didn’t readily subside so the challenge was to find the source of the pain and to rehab what I had.
Luckily I had the best of advice on tap, Body Motiv8 in Dundee again stepped up and provided the manipulation, stretching, massage and elbow deep rehab required to get me back in the game. It’s a powerful thing when a professional tells you that you will be fine and that pain does not equate with a need to crumple in a heap fearing failure. Quite the opposite follow the advice get a good stretching and massage programme and man up..image

The second aspect was to look at my bike fit, unfortunately I am one of those riders who disintegrates when any aspect of my bike set up changes. I have had 3 years pain free riding due entirely to the guidance I received from PhysioHaus in Newcastle. They were responsible for a fit that changed my relationship with the bike. So I took the decision to revisit given I had pain and that I had been through the following changes; saddle choice had gone from the Selle Smp range back to Specialized Romin and I had changed frame to a far racier geometry than I was riding when I was last there.

A few calls and I was set for a 5 am departure from home to get to their studio for opening time. Was it worth it…..well simply YES. The changes were in some ways minimal; seat up 1cm, setback an additional 2 cm, 5 mm spacer under stem and a recommendation that I consider a 1cm shorter stem if shoulder pain develops. The key change however was the ability to review posture and pedal stroke in real time. The outcome highlighted where I believe my pain was coming from. I have developed a pedal stroke which involved my right foot pointing sharply downwards at all points of e revolution. The diagnosis saw Morgan inform me where and why I had pain before I could share my full story.


Back from the analysis I have put in 150 mile over 3 rides completely pain free. The great benefit for me is that I was visiting people I already had faith in so even though the position still feels counterintuitive I have allowed their knowledge to overtake the scepticism and self doubt I would have developed had I went with another set of fitters.

It’s hard to question the credentials of an outfit who have worked with a whole host of pro teams. I recall John telling me some time back of his experience fitting Jens Voigt who took detailed interest in everything that was done a cross the course of 2 hours and respectfully acknowledged the science behind the recommendations before taking a torque wrench and changing everything back to his starting fit. Like I say some people can ride anything some like me crumble if their little diva needs are not met. I think I am well able to accept being less robust than the Jensie!!

With bike fit sorted and rehab done I am ready, not to the point of facing a challenge well within my capability. More a case of base miles in place and build phase partially complete. It will make for an interesting time on the roads from Kirkcaldy to Contalmaison.

The month of May through the first weekend in June saw me cover;
18 rides
X2 Traineroad. 53
X2 CX. 24
X14 road. 428

Monthly total 505

Total since Committing to the ride in January;image

 

April training

A funny old month as the trip swings between being either “ages away” or “just round the corner” the main change over April has been that the great outdoors has taken over from hours spent on an indoor trainer in the corner of a garage.

What learning did this force upon me?

  •  You can’t watch Netflix when cycling up the hills of Fife
  • The wind slows you down which is just not fair
  • The wind is in your face no matter what direction you cycle which is just not fair
  • Run out of water on the road and you can’t scream through for your kid to come to the rescue
  • Cycling in just your bib shorts because you have overheated is not acceptable outside. In fact it makes you look proper weird and liable for a specialist medical intervention
  • Scottish weather means you need to carry more clothing options than a branch of Tiso.
  • Being chased by a Doberman which has slipped its lead is not the same as your own dogs walking into the garage to mooch for any spare food you have in your back pocket
  • Watching the spring classics while eating crisps does not count as tapering
  • The final realisation is that work and the human need to sleep can only be controlled to a certain point and when the need arises they trump training.

Anyway totals were;
Trainer road sessions 7 transferred mileage 135
Road riding sessions 7 mileage 283. Total 418

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May the Force (GB) be with me…

One of the most time consuming but ultimately rewarding parts of the preparation for the trip has been the decision to try and replicate the Raith Rovers RemembeR kit in cycling format.

The strip was introduced in 2014 marking the McCraes centenary and has remained our away top through to the end of the 2015-16 season. Fitting in many ways that the Battle of the Somme Centenary will herald the end of the kits use though the longevity of the decision to make such a radical change to our traditional colours will endure.

The production of cycling kit is a booming business though the options are very much hindered by the small production run for an event such as this one. The first step was to approach a range of providors who were easily found by virtue of a google search and a trawl of the most used cycling forms such as: Bike radar, cycle chat, road cc, Road cycling uk. In addition discussion with a couple of local cycling clubs and my own local bike shop gave me a list of a dozen to approach.

The response was varied from “couldnt be bothered to reply” through to “we would like to help you but cant/wont” This was far from futile as each response guided me towards new questions and ideas.

A short list of 3-4 companies stood out with price and production times in line with my hopes and expectations. I asked for a draft design and this is where one company stood out. Force GB Company site based in Yorkshire promised:

Free Design & Graphic Service- the highest quality fabrics sourced from suppliers across Europe and a rigorous quality control system.

Design & Construction- Graphics are prepared to incorporate all design features, colours and logos. Once approved the latest digital print equipment is used to ensure pin sharp reproduction of the design. This is then sublimated into the fabric ensuring no washout or fade

Made in the UK- Customer service, design & manufacturing is all under one roof at their factory in West Yorkshire.

Competitive fixed price, No minimum order, Friendly & efficient customer service

The process started with receipt of a base design which on its own was enough to generate positive comments from a host of parties with an interest in the cycle challenge.

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I have no doubt that the professional nature of the design contributed towards the level of interest that sponsors have shown in the kit. The time delay in securing sponsors and providing their logo details has been a test of extreme patience for Graham who has linked all of my communications since i first showed interest. No calling and explaining my idea to a dozen different people, no promises of call backs that didnt happen, no tales of a key person having been “just missed” as I make my umpteenth attempt to discuss the order. 1 person start to finish, excellent.

As sponsors changed and evolved I have chased PDf and EPS logos for more time than I wish to recall. As such we have seen 6 different design production proposals come and go with every one seeming to cause no great inconvenience. This is key as the time has allowed for me to secure support that would not have been there but for the fluid nature of my agreement with Force GB.  We also avoid disaster as the “final” kit draft contains an error that would have brought ridicule to the whole project McCreas….McCraes  spot the difference?  Subtle but vital.

In the midst of kit design the subject of sizing caused me sleepless nights as any cyclist will tell you the variation between a medium/large in one manufacturer and that of another is potentially enoromous. My own cycling kit cupboard has jeseys sized small/medium thorough some premium kit from the manufacturer Castelli which sizes me for some items at an XL- yep 68KG, 5 foot nothing and I weigh in to the oversized “step away from the fish supper” section of their website!!

Vanity isnt the key isssue here its more the case that custom kit doesnt come with a try it and swap it gaurantee. Instead Force GB save the day with a simple try before you order protocol. So I send 1 email and a couple of days later I have a test size medium and a large at my door. Panic abaited I know where i fit on their sizing spectrum and I order with the knowledge that I am not going to be challenging the local dress makers to resize something designed for a 10 year old into an article fit for a grown man to be seen wearing in public. Yep Ive been there before!!

So we finally reach the point of no return and the order is placed. Well I say the point of no return it still didnt stop me chasing Graham 10 days after the design was submitted for production hoping to add one last change. An email which appears to spend a week lost in the emailsphere lands with a kind request for ‘The Neeburs O’ Geordie Munro’ to add their support. The point is that I knew i could ask Force GB without it being a huge drama.

As a result Force GB benefit to as we decide to order some additional kit for my pitstop crew who will be on hand to massage my wearly mind as the trip gets going.

Pics of the kit will be posted when it arrives but meantime here is what we are working with.

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I am keen to add that none of the recommendations on the site have offered any inducement for me to wax lyrical about their provision. The simple intention is to give fair praise to people who have offered support and quality provision.

Etape Loch Ness

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If you happen to be new to cycling or a fledgling sportive rider then I can point you towards this event with security that you will be well looked after and blown away by the scenery once you stop chewing your handle bars on the lengthy king of the mountains section.

The profile is a mix of flat, undulating and challenging terrain based effectively on the principle of you riding a lap of the Loch.

Registration the day before the event is painless though this unavoidable necessity meant I had to forego the Rovers Falkirk game. With no wifi in our Strathpeffer digs I acknowledge my thanks to BBC Alba for their coverage.

A 6.17am start means I am on the road for the ridiculous time of 5.20am wondering if I should have foregone the whole thing and joined the Kilmarnock fans in the hotel bar the night before to seek solace at the bottom of a pint.

Ultimately I’m glad I didn’t, I meet my mate with ease and we talk Rovers for the first 30 miles before he shoots if to try for the best possible KOM time. I hang back for fear of being disqualified as I am riding with my wife’s race number having got my kit ready in the dark. A later check and I got it about right taking an extra 10 minutes just keeps me out of the results for the top 40 female cyclists.

I had 2 excuses planned if caught;
A) I am in the early stages of gender reassignment
B) the full sleeve tattoos, hairy pins and 5 o’clock shadow are commonplace for lady folk where I come from given I live a stones throw from the Bowhill miners club I’m not sure which of the 2 may have been more believable!

I settle in to the last 35 with a group of riders from; Chester Road club, Cog Velo and Kinross cycle club. Feeling decent I have a go at following the wheel in front in earnest and true to the science it sees a similar pain output reflected in a much faster speed. I even put in a Jens Voigt style last 5 mile to help a guy break the 4 hour ride time he was aiming for.

My own ride time justifies the efforts to be there as without hammering it I sneak in with a decent time. Cheers to my pal Alex for the banter and the volunteers for a great day, the ice cream at House if Bruar on the way home was much needed.

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Tour to France- Raith Rovers website

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Raith.net

Pushing pedals for McCrae’s Battalion is the task facing RaithTV’s David Hancock as he takes on a challenge to cycle from Stark’s Park to Contalmaison in France this summer.

July 1st 2016 will see the Centenary commemorations for the Battle of the Somme take place in the French village of Contalmaison. These will mark the contribution made by McCrae’s Battalion which was named the Sporting Battalion as it included football players and supporters of Raith Rovers, Hearts, Hibs, Falkirk, Dunfermline Athletic and East Fife.

David shared that, “having chatted the idea over with Major Tait MBE (Chairman of the McCrae’s Battalion Trust) when I interviewed him for RaithTV in October last year I am now committed to cycle the 670 miles to the French village arriving for the memorial service.”

On behalf of Raith Rovers, Tom Phillips (Director) commented “The Battalion are an important part of Raith Rovers’ history and we have been proud to show our respect through our ‘RemembeR’ away strip for the past few years. This sponsored ride extends our links and it is also exciting to see one of our supporters represent the club in such a positive manner.“

David’s voice will be recognised by many as part of the RaithTV team providing game time commentary and match day manager interviews. Raithrovers.net caught up with Manager Ray McKinnon who added, “We wholeheartedly support David in his efforts and encourage our supporters to donate to the fundraising efforts. It’s a big ask but with good planning, training and support he can definitely do it.“

David’s planning and preparation can be followed at: https://coaltownvelocity.wordpress.com/sponsor-me/

while donations can be made at: https://www.givey.com/mbtcycle

It is with thanks that we acknowledge the sponsors who have helped so much to make the event possible: fosterplus.co.uk, Leslie Bike Shop, the Raith Rovers Community Foundation; Jim McMillan Club, Raith 200 club, Raith Trust, Rovers down south and Raith Rovers supporters club.