Friday, 18 August 2017

We need new dreams tonight

Have you ever been on a plane, and just as you are getting into the film, the plane lands and you have to get off?

Well, that happened to me this morning, or last night, or sometime in the strange time-zone warp I was in. I may have to go and buy the film on DVD to find out how it ended. And of course this is a metaphor for the trip to the States we've just made.

But telling stories about America never ends.



So much has been, is being, written about America, it's almost impossible to say anything that is either new or prescient. I have hundreds of photos, Museum tickets by the dozen, memories a-plenty. All in a line, waiting for the elevator to take them to be smacked out of the ballpark.

I'll just focus on three things for you. If you are interested in more, come to the slide show...

The flag.

It's everywhere now. 22 years ago, when we last went, I just don't remember it's ubiquity. Is it strident nationalism running amok? Civic pride? Some kind of reclamation of a pride in its overseas adventures? I don't know. And although these pictures are mainly on public sites, the flag seems to be outside at least 30-40% of private houses, and all over many other places.

And the glorification of the military is treading on a thin line between healthy appreciation, and outright glorification.







Food.

No pictures on this one. But people are as massive as the portion sizes. We only ate twice a day, we couldn't keep up with the relentless conveyor belt of high carb, high sugar and grain fare that came with every order.

And on the TV the ad breaks are filled with medical remedies that "you should ask your physician about". Although half of them spent longer talking about the side effects of treatments that most Americans probably will soon not be able to afford, and could be rendered pointless by a good dose of riding a bike.

Friendliness

Almost everyone we met was friendly. OK some of it was commercially-driven, but most wasn't. I particularly enjoyed chatting to people about things I was interested in, they were always happy to chew the fat. Be it about their new President, the Battle of Gettysburg or why the security outside the White House has gone nuts (although not outside the Capitol, which tells a story I think), from ordinary folk, to officialdom, pretty much everyone was nice.



Which kind of makes me wonder why America has become so unpopular. As a nation they really have done more for Liberty than just about anyone. Think about the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, Civil War, the Second World War and (eventually) civil rights, and the ideals they embody, and it adds up to a lot. I know there have been some bumps along the way (and they do try and airbrush a lot of that - like slavery, and the decimation of native American populations and rights), but even that is changing as we saw at the African American Museum.

 



Combine that tradition of freedom, with a bit more of the natural charm, and a bit less of the swagger, maybe some more exercise, and I'd say that might make a recipe for a damn fine nation.

What do you think?

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Nobody knows the way it's going to be

There is a much deeper hue to the blueness of the sky in the Pyrenees. I think it may be something to do with the latitude and the angle of the sun, but it's one of the things I always look forward to about visiting the South of France.

Of course, I have some deep ancestral memories encoded into my DNA, and given my ancestors flight from religious persecution, I retain that sympathy and romantic association for the doomed Cathar cause. Nothing symbolises that better than the ruined stump of a castle that sits just off the Route des Corniches.

 
This was taken two years ago, on my third, and probably worst-performing ride across the Pyrenees from the Atlantic to the Med. I'm not sure this picture captures the blue though. Unfortunately I didn't get time to capture a better picture when I cycled up there last Saturday.
 
Our bodies are wonderful things, and if we look after them, put the right things into them, rest them and test them in the right proportions, they will generally tend to function pretty well. This year I had changed quite a lot in relation to my cycling, with the underlying desire to get more enjoyment from riding, and through that, more enjoyment from life. I had employed the services of a Power meter, which had certainly had an impact, and been a bit more focussed at both the gym and on the road.
 
I'd even had the sense to ride a bit less, not get caught up in churning out the junk miles, and ridden my heavier steel bike for most of this year in order to build a bit more leg strength. I'd been more disciplined with eating, cut out chocolate (mostly) cut down on sugar, lost weight (not much but a bit) been better but not perfect on getting more sleep.
 
Although I'd set myself a few targets on performance, I'd not been too stressy about it, but had nonetheless seen some good progress on power, and some of my targeted hill-climbing was coming along nicely. The weekend before I left for the Pyrenees, I'd done my second best-ever performance in the Dartmoor Classic (missing out on the best by a minute). 

Most of all we had set no huge challenge for our time in France, other than to simply enjoy ourselves, ride some nice climbs, watch the Tour for a day, relax, have a laugh. All in all, I was pretty pleased with myself.

Everybody's on the Run

I hate airports. I'm not very keen on flying, it's the residual parental conditioning my Dad had about death in a plane crash. So I treated myself to some new headphones, ones that cut out all other noise. They worked pretty well too, screening out the stag parties, the duty-free offers, and flooding me with the soothing tones of the Boy from Burnage. After all the preparation, it was finally time to escape to the deep blue skies of the Ariege.



After the flight, it was time to meet up with Monmarduman, and go for a quick spin around the block to Foix, lucky I did as we discovered one of my tyres had deformed in transit. We also discovered a castle!!! Always a bonus, and one that dominates the town and the view from our accommodation and hosts at Cycle Pyrenees in Vernajoul.

A better place to play

The Plateau de Beille has been described as "an invasion of human rights", personally I found it tough and long, but not too bad. Certainly the views are spectacular from said Route des Corniches. And of course the view at the top is always better than the one at the start of the climb. Let's face it, no matter how hard these climbs are, it's much, much better than being at work.


 
 
 
 
Where were you when we were getting high?

Did I mention the Tour de France? The toughest annual sporting event on the planet, synonymous with French culture, a beautiful spectacle and coming to a town near me. Well Stage 13 was wholly in the Ariege, by coincidence too, as our booking had pre-dated the announcement. It would have been rude not to ride the course.

Some nice valley riding heralded a new climb for me, Col de Latrape,  but it was a gentle warm-up before the misty and tougher-than-it looks Col d'Agnes. The Col de Peguere is well-known in these parts, but I'm pleased to say that I was hitting PBs on all of the segments I had done before and feeling particularly joyful about the prospect of the long, sinuous descent into Foix.

A great day.






Whatever you do, whatever you say, yeah I know it's all right

Cycling in France is a hideously joyful experience, that sometimes pushes you to the very edge of bliss. Had it been sunny on this day I might well have died of happiness. We decided to have an easy day, cycle over to a local village called Mirepoix, have a coffee, a baguette, see a church or two, cycle back, watch the highlights.

Which is what we did. But we may have laughed out loud a lot as well....




You can't give me the dreams that are mine anyway

Sometimes you just have to go with the flow. A cycling trip with no cycling? Whatever next? Freedom? Happiness? Relaxing? What do you think this is, a holiday?


Not every day the Tour comes to a town you are in on Bastille Day, so time to soak up the atmosphere, have lunch, watch the racing over the route we did a couple of days before, and, whisper it quietly, enjoy ourselves. The day was all topped off nicely by joining in the village celebrations, warding off questions about Brexit, and preparing for the big day of the week.

The wheels of your life have slowly fallen off

I only took two pictures. The day had been going so, so well. Another PB up to the Route des Corniches, the plan was to ride its entire length before dropping to Ax, up to the Col de Chioula and into the remote areas near Montsegur, the greatest of all Cathar strongholds. The weather was hot but not blistering, forecast was perfect, it was tranquil and we were both at the top of our game.



I don't exactly know what stung my earlobe. A wasp, or a bee, or a hornet most likely. But it was big, noisy and quickly painful.

Within three minutes I knew I was in trouble, within five minutes I could see and feel it. Swellings, hives, hot skin, across all of my body, not just the place I was stung.

I've had allergies in the past, I've even had severe ones, a full-blown anaphylactic shock was how I discovered my nut allergy. My whole thigh once swelled up after a bee sting, but that had taken three days, not three minutes.

I was just pleased that Stuart is both so calm and practical in a crisis, and also a very, very good liar. He told me I looked a bit ropey, but essentially OK, and that helped. The next day he told me I looked like I'd been beaten about the head, but that was in the future.

I won't plague you with the full detail of how we ended up in Luzenac, about 15km from where I was stung, suffice to say it was the most nervous bike ride of my life. The helpful tourist official in the office there, Stuart, the Sapeurs Pompiers and the ED at Foix hospital, combined with anti-histamines and corticosteroids all got my rampant immune system under control, and out of any possible danger. I'm told the adrenaline whilst cycling was helpful too.


Keep on chasing down that rainbow, you'll never know what you might find

The Doctor told me not to ride my bike for a few days, so the big long ride into remote areas was out of the question, but a little café ride? Of course that would be fine. Anyway, it was our last day, and most of the allergy had subsided, just a bit of a rash on my neck, chest...I'm sure it will be fine.

And it was.

We even got the sky. On a lovely rolling day in the foothills to the impressive Grotto at Maz d'Azil.

 


I've got a lot of things to learn

One of which is that it might be a good idea to carry my Epipen with me at all times. But is there more?

A great holiday. Gratitude. The colour blue. Good music is timeless. The importance of calm friends. Most of all, take your blessings where you find them. Know what is important, and what isn't. Usual stuff.

A bientot.



Sunday, 28 May 2017

Never hard enough to wash away the sorrow

It's mid-morning on a Sunday in England, or Britain, or Europe or whatever takes your fancy. I don't care anymore. All is quiet in the Mendip Rouleur household, and despite the knowledge that the last of the holiday sunshine will have gone in a few hours, I'm not disposed to get out of my pyjamas and head for the hills.

I'm not a believer in truth. That is to say, rather like the album title, we all have our own versions, and if something defies descriptive objectivity, it can't be real. A bit like those people that say "you know it when you see it". Idiots. So my truth, and please keep yours to yourself, or blog about it if you must, is that I'm a bit of a wreck this morning.

It's a culmination thing. The good news, on my part, less so for you, is that I'm doing something about it. Or, for today at least, to be precise, I'm doing nothing about it. Rest. A very underused strategy in the training regime. For MAMILs such as myself, it can be hard to fit our over-vaunted cycling ambitions into hectic lives. But rest assured that our lives are comparatively easy, so these things are relative. First world problems and all that.

Do not be fooled by this picture, taken by Steep End Down (whose kindness was unremitting yesterday) of me smiling on our ride in the Welsh hills yesterday.



 Whilst I can look back at the day and say I enjoyed it, I had undoubtedly bitten off more than I could chew. I do look very stylish though, despite the grim weather.

Work is pretty busy at the moment, and my celebrity-charged attendance at a local business awards ceremony, full of sparkling mineral water, and polite and friendly conversation had taken its toll.



That and a last-minute change of plan to actually go to Wales, after a couple of extended commutes on the bike this week, and the inevitable stresses and strains of middle-class, middle-aged life in May's middle England (not Britain, not Europe, not nowhere) meant I was shattered before the first pedal stroke, and exhausted after it.

And I had perversely chosen a steel bike when all about me chose carbon. And they are fitter than me. I was off the back a lot. But just like everyone else, I pressed on.

For that is what we do isn't it? Occasional defiant shows of support, minutes of silence, but ultimately anything for a quiet life.

So time for a rest. Remedies. Gratitude. Mindfulness. Come back refreshed and I hope stronger. Do a lot of things that I know will work, whilst apply my thinking to come up with new ways to tackle some of the issues. And revisit history to ensure I don't repeat the mistakes of the past. Make sure I understand what is different about now, and what is the same as then.

That's how constructive change works, a bit of marginal gain, a bit of transformation. A bit of tried and trusted and a bit of thinking the unthinkable.

When will you learn? This is not about me, it's about you.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

I'm clearing out old cycling kit

Back in 2010 I ventured abroad on a road bike for the first time, completing the Raid Pyrenean in the late Summer. A few weeks after that I rode from Bristol to Land's End to raise funds for the Children's ward of the Bristol Royal Infirmary.

Since then I have done quite a few charity bike rides, I see it as the ideal way to combine things that matter to me - cycling and raising money for charity. But this year I'm taking a break from asking for money from everyone I know, and instead, I'm clearing out some space in my cycling wardrobe. You see, I am a natural hoarder and so it takes a focused effort of will to dispose of anything, let alone cycling kit. But needs must, the new Rapha collection is on its way and it has to hang somewhere.

So I thought it would make a mildly interesting blog post (for me anyway if not for you) to list what is for sale, along with a running commentary about what each piece means to me. And in return, you can contact me and let me know which clothing item you would like, and make the accompanying donation to Children's Hospice South West the charity supported by my employer this year.

If you would like any of these items (which all fit a 5 foot 8, 11 stone male, with shortish legs), please contact me. Although I'm willing to listen to offers for things, particularly if you want to buy multiple items, I'm not going to be negotiating, they are all priced to sell, and it's for charity. So behave accordingly please.

Item 1: A red Endura showerproof jacket. £5

Not that showerproof, but it will keep the chill off on a cool Summer morning before the day has warmed up. I remember one such lovely ascent of the Col du Port out of Massat, just post-dawn with mists in the valley and sunshine breaking through. Later on I'd absolutely boil in the Summer heat. (see my Pyrenees 2010 Facebook album!)




Also has some nice reflectives for the morning commute, and folds into itself for storage in a rear jersey pocket.





Item 2. An Endura Gridlock Mark 1 Rain/commuter jacket. £10

Not worn this one that much, preferring the hi-viz yellow for the mad rush hour that sometimes Bristol can be.  remember taking it to France a few times, it stood me in good stead coming down the Aspin once, although soaked to the skin, it did just about stave off the hypothermia, it was a rainstorm unlike anything you will ever see in the UK.

It's pretty waterproof, reasonably warm, and has underarm vents, lots of reflectives.


Item 3: Assos Mille shorts, red at the front and black at the rear.  £20

In reasonable nick with a fair amount of life left in them, and very, very comfortable, if a slightly naff colour. Not worn since 2012, when I first red the rules. Would suit a more flamboyant character than me.





Item 4. A purple Somerset-branded jersey, full length zip, 3 pockets etc. By Half-baked brand (now defunct so a collector's piece!).  £10

I have tried to like this, but the gender-conditioning is too strong for me. It's a girl's colour. Otherwise fantastic, I wore it in Tenerife, where people didn't know me so wouldn't judge me, but otherwise it very good condition.





Item 5: A pair of Castelli bib shorts (don't know the name, but they cost a lot new, are lightweight so suit Summer riding). £40

These are in excellent condition because I've only worn them once. The Italian size large equates to a small child in the UK, I rode them up the Tourmalet on a hot day, and I swear the circulation was cut off to my feet. I'd love to keep them, but I am too fat.


Item 6: A Castelli lightweight jersey, size large but bizarrely comfortable £40

Also in excellent condition, and originally very expensive, it goes well with the shorts above. But I've taken against it and haven't worn it since 2013. A couple of nicks but otherwise good.

Picture of me in both bits of kit, looking ragged at the top of the Tourmalet that day in 2013.



Item 7: Giordana jersey and shorts, vintage 2011, Good quality in their day, seen a bit of wear but still good for commuting. Priced as a set to sell at £15.

I remember finishing my last Tour of Wessex in this jersey, 2014. Not worn since.




Item 8a : Altura Night vision short-sleeve commuter's jersey. £15

As bright as you could possibly need. Not worn that much and in good condition. Would go as a pair with the next item (£25 for both).




Item 8b : DHB Medium bib-shorts with flouro leg grippers, good quality for their price, £15.



Item 9: Altura flouro long-sleeved fleecy jersey. £20.

Somehow falls in the same territory as a short sleeve jersey, gilet and arm-warmers, so good for Spring and Autumn, or under a coat for Winter.



Item 10: Altura pocket rocket shower proof jacket. £15.

Very useful for heavy sharp, short rain showers, it folds down into a small bag, which is why it's a bit creased. It's a bit too small for me, which is why I have used it on only a handful of occasions, buy very good piece of kit.




Item 11: A Northwave Winter jersey with only two rear pockets. £15

It breaks my heart to sell this. I wore it on my LEJOG in 2009 and it was my first Winter jersey. But it's been in the drawer for over 6 years and I'm never go to wear it again. Still in good condition though, would suit someone who doesn't realise you need three pockets!




 Item 12: A cycling fleece. £10

Very warm. It's from my mountain biking days, and would also suit commuters who care nothing for style.



Item 13: A pair of Flour gloves. Worn a lot. £3


Item 14: A pair of Castelli mitts. £5

For the Summer. Thin but stylish.


Item 15: A pair of DHB long-fingered gloves, suitable for Spring/Autumn. £5

Hardly worn. Would fit someone with quite long fingers. Longer than mine anyway.



Item 16: Unused pair of Assos lightweight socks. £3


Item 17: A pair of waterproof commuter trousers. £15

I didn't know any better. Worn them for walking a few times, but not suitable for road riding these days.



 

 
 And that's it for now. Not that interesting but hope I can get rid of the lot and make a bit of cash for a good cause. If you wish to buy, please email me, or reply to this on Facebook. All stuff will go on first-come, first served basis. At my discretion, and as I said, don't take the mick please, it's for charity.