Yellow fever and the ultimate irony

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.

View from our balcony in the Rocha Brava holiday complex

View from our balcony in the Rocha Brava holiday complex

with trusty steed about to set off on first Algarve cycling expedition

with trusty steed about to set off on first Algarve cycling expedition

After a few wrong turns I ended up at the top of a hill looking across to the top of the one I'd just come dwn

After a few wrong turns I ended up at the top of a hill looking across to the top of the one I’d just come down

The very picturesque Silves on the long ride

The very picturesque Silves on the long ride

and yes, I DID cycle up to the very top of the town

and yes, I DID cycle up to the very top of the town

Ferragudo, the last ride of the week, Two big hills to get up one of which I ended up walking up after I realised I was going the wrong way up a one-way street

Ferragudo, the last ride of the week, Two big hills to get up one of which I ended up walking up after I realised I was going the wrong way up a one-way street

the reward for the calorie burn

the reward for the calorie burn

it's maybe best just not to ask...  ;-)

it’s maybe best just not to ask… 😉

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Re cycle

As an adjunct to yesterday’s post about Duncan Mackenzie Williams, I eventually sourced the photo I had of his bike after the accident, taken after it had been released by the police who had held on to it no doubt for forensic and/or routine evidence reasons.

Duncan has approached both the accident and his recovery with such character and spirit that it is easy to underestimate just how close to meeting the dude with scythe he had been.

Not so when one sees the bike.

Close call indeed

Close call indeed

Strava-igin

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.

It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day…

Okay the promise I made in June to do some serious updating clearly came to naught, as promises often do. That’s life I guess. Or at least it seems to be my life and I am sure I’m not alone.

2012 was a funny ole year – a number of high points and a number of low points, not the least of which is an ongoing worry about employment. Now I am fortunate in that I do a job I actually enjoy (FE college lecturer for those who don’t know already) but the employment situation in FE just now is pretty much at an all-time low and those of who only have part-time temporary status are particularly badly hit. In short, I don’t know from one term block to the next how many hours work per week I will have – or indeed if I will have any at all. It’s a rather precarious existence and I find myself wondering if perhaps it’s time to look elsewhere. Difficulty is, as I’ve said I enjoy this line of work plus I think I might actually be not too bad at it. It would be a tough decision to take any old job and run the risk of hating every minute of it. Hey ho. decisions decisions. Maybe there’s a little corner or green somewhere just waiting to be rubbed…

Cycling features largely in my life just now and it never fails to amaze me how much better I feel about life in general after a good cycle ride. I wonder if my friend who got me interested in cycling will ever know just how much of a life transforming event it was and continues to be. I hope I’ve not let them down as I stumble my way through road rides, cyclocross rides and hopefully soon some track rides. I will never be Victoria Pendleton (though I reckon I am a WAY better dancer than she is) but I do want to be better than I currently am.

Which brings me to the new year’s ambitions. Not resolutions as that conjures up memories of impossible/unrealistic/ just plain daft targets that were abandoned within weeks. This year’s ambitions are to get better at road cycling and cyclocross and the measure will be my stats logs (of course there are stats logs – this is me we’re talkling about), participation in events and a few wee additional personal challenges such as making it up The Rake and then up to the Peel Tower in a not to ridiculously slow time. In fact, I’ll settle for just making it up in the one day. 😉 I have been asked to exhibit at a prestigious bonsai event in March, so that will spur me on to doing greater things with wee trees this year. I have got the collection to a manageable level by concentrating on the better trees and offloading the less good ones. All I need to do now is stop buying the darn things!

So, the new year brings a bit of anxiety job-wise but a few positives to be getting on with.

Not bad for someone who ended the year cycling about dressed as an elf.

Elf and safety gone mad

Elf and safety gone mad

Ladies of the Lake

I had my first ever attempt at a formal cycling event today when I was persuaded by Fiona and Anna Walker to take part in the Lake Classic Wimmin’s APR. Now this is nothing at all to do with repayments of money but it certainly did add interest to my cycling experience. An APR is a pursuit race in which riders chase each other around a circuit route in ability groups, with the slowest starting first. If your group is passed by a chasing group then you either have to keep up or essentially your race is over. Our cicuit was the LAke of Menteith and I, of course, was in the tortoise group and soon enough ended up at the back of it with another two ladies. This was partly brought about after a classic comedy moment when I couldn’t get my leg armers off in the pit lane at the start. I was almost literally riding out the pit lane with one leg stuck out while a marshall held on to a leg warmer in an attempt to remove it. Needless to say we were overtaken by both chasing groups but we decided we would soldier on and use it a learning experience. All in all it was a good day out, in remarkably good weather, and showed me precisely how much I have to improve before I can consider myself even an average cyclist.

“racing” round the Lake of Menteith

Not sure we were meant to stop for a photoshoot

the Walkers Babes

Blasting around Bellingham

I decided to do something a bit different cycle-wise at the weekend. I had heard there was an international bonsai superstar in residence at Willowbog and thought I’d tie in a visit to bow at the feet of the Great One with a nearby cycle event I’d just been made aware of – the Bellingham Blast. This is a two-day event featuring a short family ride on the Sunday around the immediate area, and a longer, 61mile, challenge through Kielder Forest and right around Kielder Water. Part on road but mostly on whin track, the route was a rather good one and it certainly was a challenge. I did some 4000+ feet of climbing (and burned up over 3500 calories) over the constantly undulating route. There were only two negatives: first, the signage was on the poor side especially at the start where the absence of a directional arrow had me going round the route the wrong way (not the first time in my life I’ve been going the wrong way at things!). My annoyance at the bum steer as it were was soon tempered by the fact that I was intercepted by a marshal who was actively looking for me and a couple of other riders who had taken the same wrong direction. To have recognised that riders had not made the first checkpoint within a rsensible timefarme was great proactive marshalling and a far cry from what I had experienced at the Pedal for Scotland event.

The second negative, for me anyway, was the long section of road metal surface which is a particular dislike of mine. I guess this is simply because I am first and foremost a roadie as is quite evident from the fact that I really don’t like bumping and sliding around like those other types of cyclist. 😉 Fortunately it was soon over and I was just glad that my wrong route had meant that I was heading down the largest slope in that section rather than up. I was also very glad I had taken the Surly as it allowed me to make speedier progress over the lakeside trail than I would have done on an MTB.

All in all this was an excellent event and I hope to be able to do it again next year. At least I’ll know which way to go.

lakeside

The way through the woods

Half way up a hillside

The International Bonsai Superstar - the Real Bonsai Eejit with some other bonsai...erm... persons

Pedal for Scotland – some thoughts

As I indicated in my previous post, I found the ride this year a bit strained because of the antics of some idiots. The issue is not the route per se but the simple fact that the significant proportion of that 6000 is what you might term “casual” riders. And within that category there was, to put it bluntly, a large number of total morons. I now find myself saying that I will not ride it in this particular event again. The reason is quite simple: I saw so many examples of idiotic cycling behaviour that I would neither want to be associated with it nor would I risk my own safety.

The event organisers had obviously put thought into the route as it was impeccably routemarked. There was also a sizeable quantity of marshals on hand but what was missing was any indication that the bulk of those marshals were capable of dealing with poor cycling behaviour. It was apparent early on that the bulk of the participants were not regular cyclists and most certainly did not know how to behave on the public road or when cycling in a large group. I repeatedly saw riders overtaking on the inside, weaving in and out of other cyclists at speed, stopping dead in the middle of the road (especially on hills), running red traffic lights and riding on the wrong side of the road even in the face of oncoming traffic. I also saw marshals standing by and doing nothing about it. I believe the event organisers should have recognised that having so many non-regular cyclists on the road at the one time was likely to lead to such behaviour. The main flashpoints should have been identified and stronger marshal presence located at them.

In events like these we rely very much on the support of other roads users. A week previously I had taken part in the Tour Ride in Dumfries, and while admittedly they had significantly fewer riders to deal with, the marshals were superb and highly proactive especially the motorcycle marshals. A similar picture would exist for the other sportives I have ridden this year including the Graeme Obree Classic. What I saw at Pedal for Scotland Challenge route makes me wonder just how much damage we have done to that goodwill. I witnessed a number of close calls and I witnessed altercations between cyclists and motorists. It would be too easy to say that these were not “real cyclists”, but sadly we are all tarred by the same brush and the disgruntled motorist is not going to distinguish between an experienced and road-wise club cyclist and a once-a-summer numpty. I am all for encouraging people into cycling, but there is a massive issue to be addressed in terms of cycling safely on mass rides just as there is a massive issue to be addressed in terms of cycling responsibly. The organisers of Pedal for Scotland must do more to ensure the latter happens as well as the former, and as part of that they should play a major role in ensuring that the participants are aware of their responsibilities. We need all recognise that our war cry of “share the damn road” is, as it were, a two-way street.