I am almost invariably irritated by those Facebook statuses that ask you to repost a statement – usually in the form of a bit of text posted in photograph format – on your own wall regarding what are if not out and out good causes, then at least good intentions. Ignoring the additional factor of poor spelling and grammar in several of them, my irritation is four-fold: first on many occasions these items filter down through people who haven’t actually checked their authenticity and as a result I am regularly asked to repost about it being such and such awareness week when in fact it isn’t. Second, I dislike the almost bullying nature of the way they are written, especially the ones that bleat such statements as: “I bet only 3% of my friends will dare to repost this. I know who you are”. Third, I resent the implication in many of them that I don’t otherwise care, know about or do anything for charities when in fact I do – regularly and extensively. And the fourth factor is simply that I seriously question what good they actually do.
Well after the buzz and great cycling of Texas, I came down to earth with somewhat of a bang on Saturday. Our club had arranged a trip over to Arran – 56 miles round and a fair bit of climbing – and I had suggested that I led a slower group round. So far so good. What I hadn’t anticipated was having probably the worst ride of my cycling life so far, an event which culminated in my “leading£ the slower group from the back. It may have been the journey and the lack of sleep catching up with me, but I struggled up even small hills and often had to pause to gather strength or, as happened on too many occasions to mention, just get off and push. I managed to get sufficient second wind after the lunch stop at Blackwaterfoot to make a decent fist of the second section of the ride, including the hoick up over the Boguile hill. I even managed a decent 20mph sprint at the end into Brodick, but I rather suspect the sight of the cars piling on to the ferry in the distance provided the real spur for that.
You may have noticed that I do tend to poke fun at our wonderful west of Scotland weather – the only weather system that has all four seasons not just across one day but quite often simultaneously. For all we moan, it isn’t that bad. Well okay it is. Or at least it is to the extent that we can’t guarantee that our usually wet/windy/icy/snowy (perm any or all of those to describe it) period between late October and mid-March will be followed by any sort of run of “decent” weather. If we get two consecutive weeks of nice days when the sun shines with no other annoying add-ons like wind, then we’d be claiming it as a heatwave. It would be nice, just every so often, to experience a climate where the yella thing features for most of the year and inclement spells are both short-lived and closely followed by another darn fine spell.
In search of such a thing, even if only for a week, I found myself very readily accepting when my sister asked if we’d like to join them for a week of yellow thing in the sky seeking in the Algarve last May. (yeah, I know; it’s nearly a year later. I’m just getting wistful after several weeks of snow, wind and rain). Himindoors decided he didn’t want to come so I thought I’d plan a week of sunshine cycling while my sis and brother-in-law ate their way through the menus of several restaurants.
And such a wonderful invention is t’internet that I was able to plan and organise to my heart’s content. A swoop of bike hire shops in the Carvoiero area yielded up a nice wee Giant OCR, and a further trawl produced a great set of route cards for rides of varying length in the area.
The OCR was duly delivered the day we arrived and it was a perfect fit. It also featured something I’d never encountered before since us Brits, typically, do things differently: the brakes were the reverse of what we have in the UK – rear brake on the right and front on the left. Just as well the lovely chap who brought the bike over had the good sense (no doubt based on hard experience) to make sure I was aware of this rather vital fact.
I did my first run the next day – a short one of around 20 miles. It should have been longer but I failed to see a road sign and ended up back at the villa somewhat sooner than expected. Over the next few days I did several rides of varying length from 18 miles to 42. It was also at this point that I realised I was a bit overdressed for riding in heat. The next day I discarded the arm warmers, the baselayer vest and took the decision that the rainjacket was de trop irrespective of how light it was – if I was going to get rained on then the heat would dry me out soon enough. The backpack also was dispensed with and what little I needed (mobile phone/money/route cards) went into back pockets. That’s why they were invented after all. 😉 I had brought a saddle bag with me so puncture kits were also taken care of. Voila. Or whatever the Portuguese equivalent is.
The long ride was rather excellent and took in Silves which is very pretty and yielded a nice street cafe for lunch. There then followed a long drag up a fairly big hill to Messines, the reward for which was a six-mile (not an exaggeration) descent on a brand new road surface with little traffic to bother me. The 42 miles took me 3.5hours – a fair bit of which was taking in the scenery. It was also conducted in a temperature of about 25C – something I have never cycled in before – so the sight when I got back to the holiday complex of both the shop with its Gatorade dispenser and the swimming pool was most welcome indeed.
During the week I was very struck by two things: first how little traffic there was in the first place although admittedly it was outwith their main tourist season, and second, how good the little traffic there was around cyclists. I had no “road rage” experiences at all and vehicle drivers all seemed to follow some sort of road code. If only we could bring that attitude over here.
All in all it was a very pleasant experience indeed and one I would dearly like to repeat either in the Algarve or elsewhere with similar heat and great roads.
And the ultimate irony? The week I was away saw the only really nice week of weather back home. Hey ho.
I need a new sports bra. There are no two ways about it. Well actually that isn’t true as one of the reasons I need a new sports bra is precisely because things are tending to go in two ways. At least. There are a further two reasons, since pairs seem appropriate to this, erm, discussion: first, my existing sports bra is suffering from accidental IIWW (inclusion-in-wrong-wash) Syndrome which means it is a lovely shade of battleship grey from top rigging to gunwhales. I am sure those at the top of the current leaderboard of the Daz Doorstep Challenge will be resting more easily in their wash baskets knowing that my undergarment is extremely unlikely to give them a run for their money, with the appropriate irony of that particular expression not being lost on me. But the second (and IMHO the crucial) reason for buying a new sports bra is that it is now too darn BIG for me. Now we’re not at the stage of suggesting that I could get both melons in the one string bag here (and please do remember we’re talking watermelons here and not cantaloupes), but I am at the stage where the level of slipping aboutage inside the garment may in fact give rise to sufficient friction to cause spontaneous combustion. Yes, I know that’s possibly bad science, but hey – the scale of the potential disaster is vast. Titanic, even.
I tell you of this need, dear Reader, mostly as a prelude to relating my experience during my last attempt to purchase a mega-hold, no-bounce sports bra. Having not been able to obtain a suitable one in local sports shops or that well-known sports provider George at ASDA, I eventually sourced one of sufficient dimension through Amazon. (At this point I find myself repeating my previous phrase about ” appropriate irony”, while simultaneously also finding myself wondering why Amazon bras still have two cups.) But the real issue with the whole deal came when the parcel arrived and I duly opened it. The bra was, in fact, several sizes too small having seemingly been made for a flat chested stick insect instead of the more bodaciously-bosomed intended recipient one might expect of a size cough-cough-splutter. But what really got me was the advisory cover letter sent by Amazon in which I was advised that:
“Owing to the size of some items, Amazon may find it necessary to despatch them in multiple parcels.”
Oh don’t titter.
For those who aren’t blessed with the dialect of the chosen, “stravaigin” is a good old Scottish term that means to wander about aimlessly – or as I see in the corridors of Reid Kerr on a daily basis, being a student. I am a great advocate of stravaigin and take every opportunity to do so. My spiritual home of Islay is a top-notch location for a good stravaig being as there are countless beaches and woodlands where to hurry would be an almost criminal act. To give you a flavour of life on Islay, I shall repeat the story of the Ileach who when asked by a Spanish visitor what the equivalent Gaelic term for “manyana” was, replied “Och we haven’t anything with that degree of urgency.” But I digress.
I was alerted early in the new year to a cycling challenge being run by Strava, an online system for recording your cycling and other activities. This event – the January Base Miles Challenge – asked people to try to ride as many miles as possibly in January and record them on the system. Now January is usually a dismal month weather-wise in the west of Scotland with it either being wet and windy or covered in snow and ice. Sometimes it diverges from this norm and is wet & windy AND covered in snow and ice. It is usually a month in which I seriously believe I was a creature that hibernated in a previous incarnation as it just seems like such a damn sensible thing to do. It is with considerable effort that I emerge each morning from under the duvet. A far better thing would be just to crawl in there after Hogmanay and re-emerge sometime around early March, although these days I’d probably have to factor in a pee break in mid-February. But I have digressed again. (Pauses to ponder if one can digress from a digression. Then realises I just did.)
So, after some initial grumbling I decided it might just be the butt-kick I needed to drag me out of my seasonal (mal)adjustment disorder tendencies and make me actually do some cycling wandering about. If I’m honest the initial grumbling phase lasted as long as it took for a clubmate to point out to everybody that of course I’d be doing it as statistics were involved. Not that I want to prove his point, but I signed up to the event in precisely 49.7 seconds at an average speed of 50 words per minute. Thereafter, essentially it was a matter of doing as many miles as possible in the 31 days of January.
Enter Scottish weather stage left.
I was going to say Scottish winter weather but that would imply it gets better in other seasons.
Two things were noticeable early on in the challenge: first, the top of the leaderboard was peppered with participants from sunny climes. Although we were not having a bad winter here in Elderslie, it was frequently wet and windy, and frustratingly it only ever seemed to be nice on work days. I managed to get out on to a real road on 11 occasions only, with the remainder of my 29 rides being done on the trainer. Now if you’ve read a few posts back you’ll know that I am the proud parent of a virtual reality trainer and boy did it justify its existence over the January weeks. I was able to transport myself to the Algarve sunshine and recreate several rides I did last May on holiday. I also borrowed some ride data from a friend’s Garmin and as a result I know have a degree of intimacy with the roads of SC that is unusual for one who has never been there. However, such legitimate cheating allowed me to ride a goodly number of miles (totally accurate as far as distance is concerned and reasonable accuracy on the recreation of slope etc) which I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.
The second thing I noticed was that some of the participants were posting rides of thousands of miles. In fairness, either the posters themselves or the system moderators got rid of the ludicrous claims. The eventual winner (from Adelaide) notched up 3,871.2 miles over 43 rides and looking at his stats, it is perfectly genuine. Even my rubbish ability at Maths can work out that the top three riders averaged 100miles per day, so quite clearly the event favoured those who had a lot of disposable time as well as decent weather. 😉 If only if only.
So how did I do? Well, between real life and vicarious real life, I notched up 753miles – some 200 more than I’ve ever done in a calendar month before. In terms of the rankings, I came 3112th out of 36327 participants, and 146th female out of 2241, so I was in the top tenth in both cases. My clubmate, Drew Thomson managed to top that though (no, not in the gals’ event) to come in in 1372nd place overall with 958 miles. Well done, Drew. Although it was really just a bit of fun, I am quite pleased with myself. I am not sure if it will have done anything fr fitness level or increased speed or power, but it didn’t do any harm either. I just wonder if the people doing 150 miles a day will keep that output level up. I wonder indeed if I can keep up my own output, but to be honest, I’d be happy with half of that total per month if it lets me get to my desired 5000 miles for the year. I’ll give it a damn fine try anyway. So even if it really is a Swedish word meaning “to strive”, I still intend to set the coordinates for a major amount of stravaigin.
One of the other pluses about Himindoors’ current brush with employment despite being the proud owner of a bus pass and a winter fuel allowance is that I am using the time to do some bonding with my dawg. Now Buddy and I are already good pals, but if truth be told he is rather a daddy’s boy. (pauses in case there is a torrent of moaning about being referred to as the dog’s daddy. No? Moves on.) I have no doubt he adores us both equally but as George was the one he was with more when he was a puppy (the dog that is and not George) he tends to tag along with George more than me. I have tended to stay away from the morning walk as it has quite clearly become “boys time” and I have felt like a gooseberry on the few occasions I have “interloped”. We have always enjoyed long walks while on holiday or indeed at other times of day, but the morning walk is almost sacrosanct.
However, with Himself having to get up and out by 8am at the latest, the dog walk has been truncated to a quick 20 minute galumph over the hill and round the wasteground as opposed to his usual daily hour and a bit five miler. With my own hours being fairly well spread out over the week right now, I have had the luxury of a bit of free time to redress the balance and we have ventured forth on most days except those ones where it is too wet, too windy, too icy, too wet, windy and icy to venture anywhere but the back garden. I have even given up some cycling time for this but it’s been fun. A woodland we used to take our previous dogs to has been recently developed with a nice network of cinder paths and Buddy has been making some new friends over there, including a couple of deer which he decided he wouldn’t chase as they were going every bit as fast as the two greyhounds that had just shown him who was the king of the hill as far as speed was concerned. It’s been fun indeed. But I still let them have their boy time at the weekend.
What little snow we had (and we got off lightly in this area) has gone, and it’s business as usual weather-wise – in other words rain and wind. I had planned on joining the Glasgow Spokes group for an MTB ride around Mugdock Park this morning, but at the point where a decision was required the heavens had been depositing a year’s supply of hailstones which were so big it sounded like some sort of demented samba band had taken up residence in our bin enclosure. Not surprisingly I decided to give the ride a miss. Now at this point I hear you ask how I ever get out cycling given that it rains pretty much all year round. Well, the difference is that summer rain is distinguishable from its winter cousin by dint of being several degrees C warmer. Well, that’s the theory anyway. Irrespective of what season it is, the cold rain that falls here has an abrasive quality that should really be marketed as a viable alternative to waxing and defoliation, given that it can remove the top layers from your skin in the time it takes to even think “Brazilian”. And when the wind is added to that, then you get death rain that comes in at you horizontally like a well-aimed and particularly well-sharpened scythe. To add ironic insult to any real or metaphorical injury accruing from such Grimly Reaped precipitation, that headwind you encounter invariably seems to be a headwind irrespective of which way you are facing.
But anyway. By 11.30am I had got bored of looking at the inside of my house and not even the pouting and shouting of Andy Murray could keep me indoors. Fortunately this period of fidgettiness coincided with what passes for a break in the weather around here. The yella thing was glinting through the storm clouds and if one was in any sort of good humour, then the sky beyond them could easily pass for a nice shade of Cerulean. Normally it is all fifty shades of grey at the one time although it is more likely to give you a right good soaking than a right good seeing to. I decided to don my winter clothing (no whips involved) and head out for a real road ride instead of embarking on yet another turbo session. I had hopes of doing the 43 miles that I needed to take me to 600miles in readiness for the last push in my Strava January challenge (that’s another story – report back in later in the week for that grande dénouement). However, 23 miles in the hailstones returned with a vengeance and home I headed, tailwind between my legs.
It did, however, get me to thinking it was about time I charted the layers that are needed for a Scottish cyclist in “normal” winter weather. I shall now do that while I ponder how I actually can move in all this lot.
What is very ironic is that there have been days where I haven’t been wearing significantly fewer layers – in the summer. Maybe I should start just wearing a long black hooded cloak and carrying an hourglass just to get my own back on the weather.