The Cycling Challenge!
This is the story of how my previous favourite pastime crashed head long into my fresh, florishing, and worrying wholesome new favourite pastime.
Back in June...
Just 5 hours after leaving a bar at the end of last night I was stood outside a pub. But not just any pub. This, this was the wrong frigging pub. Bugger
This was the first time I'd been on a bike since the days when I drank in the Bull and a load of us regulars would go off on our wheels for cycling pub crawls in the Summer...*drifts off down memory lane to a purer time before mortgages and careers where for people like me*... ah the good ol' days when men drank beer, girls drank vodka and girls that drank vodka liked men that drank beer, and were on bikes.
My head pounding from a session that wasn't supposed to be a session (at least not for me) I gingerly hopped back onto the saddle of my new road bike and started to make the journey from one Railway Pub to another by the same name, only a mile or two further away, in a south easterly direction.
Mark looked annoyingly fresh. For 6:30am.On a Sunday. Git.
And that's how the first warm-up run for The Cycling Challenge went down; after a stage of booze pouring out of my open pores, retching on fresh air like I was a baby in a working mans club during those dark days when smoking inside wasn't payable by pain of death, alcohol switched to sweat and somewhere along the way I even learnt how to use my second cog of gears, till by the end of 32 albeit arduous miles I was buzzing like a battery-filled rabbit purchased from a retailer of explicit repute.
Beside the Thames estuary we breakfasted on vinegar-soaked cockles and smoked mackarel, washed down with tea - I coudn't have been more English at that moment if I'd rolled up on a Penny Farthing, wearing a 3-piece twead suit, whipped my pocket watch out and after stating the time aloud to anyone who'd notice in an accent boardering on the ridiculous I'd then saluted as I pledged my allegience 'to Queen and country!'.
I vowed never to drink before a cycling session again.
This lasted 2 weeks.
But it wasn't my fault.
The Cycling Challenge
- Distance: The equivalent of the London 2012 Olympic Games Road Race = 245km
- Time: 22 days*
Bizarrely the 2nd time I awoke at with a hangover as the sun was climbing for the day and beckoning me to straddle my saddle I actually managed to climb the massive hill in Benfleet without stopping - this incline was so long and steep compared to the rest of a very flat area that you could even see the passengers on that bus route collectively doubting the ability of their carraige to make it to the top in one piece, let alone without stopping.
Graham was patiently waiting at the top with a camera at the ready to imortalise this monumentus occasion, I think he'd packed it along with energy boosters (sweets), a deckchair and the morning's paper which he could read on the roadside whilst sitting in comfort and waiting for me at the many points where he knew he'd have to.
|No danger of me breaking the speed limit.|
I on the other hand, only ever took a bottle of water - which I tactically drank as quickly as possible; so as to shed weight, and my house key. The latter of which I'd have even done without if possible to lighten my load and give me more of an 'edge'.
I'd only met Graham on the first day of The Cycling Challenge (proper), he was part of a mixed group which Mark had gathered in the hope of us gelling into a pack: Glen, Paul, Jude and Dave had formed the remainder of this collective.
Despite us losing Jude just after we left the first town (never to be seen again...well at least not that day anyhow), Dave battling through on a double heavy mountain bike which began to take its toll midway through, Paul coming off his racer on the coastal stretch and breaking a rib in the process - with only half the team nearby, and only 3 of us making it to the final destination, Mark still held out hope that we'd still bond. I loved his optomism.
As with all of my challenges I had to fit in training sessions around work and a personal life which involved a beautiful girlfriend who just happened to live half the country away.
This meant that on one occasion I had to bail out of meeting with the SCG (Sunday Cycle Gang) and instead form a mini breakaway cell with Glen on a Saturday, oddly we still chose to meet at silly o'clock on that morning.
However this very outing can be used as the perfect metaphor for something I'd come to realise in all sports, for we were of an equal-ish ability at the time and hence didn't, I felt, really stretch ourselves to the maximum:
With any sport you'll always find that you'll sit somewhere along the spectrum of say in this case a kid using stabilisers for their first time on wheels and Lance Armstrong at his peak, but the important thing is to learn and appreciate your level, then train with someone who's just slightly better than you - trust me, it'll give you that little bit of determination and grit in your teeth to strive for more, and you'll improve because of it.
A few further solo sessions also highlighted this very point. And the fact that I hadn't really been paying attention to the route we used at all; I got so lost on the second of these that I think I stumbled upon an as yet undiscovered part of Britain which even the supermarkets hadn't heard of and where the natives actually grew their own vegetables whilst living in perfected harmony despite their assorted colours, backgrounds and beliefs (all attributes of the people, not the vegetables)...though bugger knows where it is as I got lost even more just trying to get back to Raleigh.
To be continued...
With special thanks to:
Mark 'Scissors' Smith - SCG Founder, Mod, Styler of the Ginger Baboon
Graham 'Rafa' Hutson - Cycling Purist, Gardener, Lover of Fashion (in a masculine, good way), Writer of fine blogs: http://www.openzedoor.blogspot.com/ & http://www.bigleavessmallgarden.blogspot.com/
Glen: Sailor, Very Sound Fellow
Dave: Survivor on a Mountain Bike
Paul: Top, yet Injured Man.
Jude: Missing In Action
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