How do you measure the strength of your marriage?
Do you have open dialogue, date nights, do you invest in quality time to focus on the positives and how you complete each other?
Personally I have found spending 273 hours and riding over 6,000km with my missus this year has been a good test.
It started in January when Robyn rode her push bike up Mount Buffalo. This was a 20km climb with 1,000m of climbing and could be seen as an achievement, even if it did place her 1467 out of 1492 on the Strava leader board.
For those of you not in the know, Strava is a website that allows you to compare your bike data to others. Don’t join, it’s a pain in the arse. What used to be enjoyable rides, where you just appreciated being out on your bike, become drag races as the red mist descends and you pursue PB’s over a range of different segments. It is an addiction that once you start you can’t give up and I noticed the other day Robyn had that glazed look as she took off up a hill for what looked like no apparent reason, the look of a person with a Strava habit!
A couple of weekends ago Strava was not on our minds as we turned up to Stromlo Forest Park near Canberra at 6.30am to participate in the Fitz Challenge. A sportive of various distances and a challenging ride. We had selected the traditional 165km route with 3,000m of climbing and though there weren’t any real mountains, there were some steep hills with 9-12% gradients. This was the culmination of all those hours on our bikes. It’s fair to say that we had done our homework, in fact we were so prepared we had ridden the bigger climbs twice that year. It really does make me wonder if we have too much time on our hands.
The course was not going to be a surprise, riding in a big group ride would be a first for Robyn. The people who turn up at these events always fascinate me. Predominantly there are a lot of middle aged men of different sizes. There are a few ladies but they are definitely in the minority.
The bike is a great leveller and the styles range from those dressed like professionals in their club outfits, the Rapha poseurs trying to look cool in their overpriced kit (we fit in here and all I can say is it is very comfortable and washes so well!), to those still getting good value out of their cycling kit bought back in the 90’s! This crowd are my personal favourites as they are the hard core of the cycling community, often riding some old steel bike, they are the purists and normally display a large amount of facial hair to go with it (the men and the women).
So after a safety briefing that talked about the perils of going too fast down the hills, telling us that the police would be on the course and that there was an 80kmh speed limit of the Fitz Hill descent, to which he also remarked “good luck with enforcing that”, a gun was fired and we were off.
There is always lots of nervous chatter at the start of these events as the bunch sorts itself out. It’s only when you hit the first hills you get to see the different levels of rider, those who can climb take off and those who are a little underdone start to puff. We were in the last third of the pack, a deliberate effort not to go off too fast and then have to limp home. It was going to be a hot day so we were going to try and pace ourselves.
It was all going very well, then I had a puncture. We had only been on the road for 45 mins so by the time I had fixed it even the slowest riders had passed us. We were now the last pair on the road. Like the seasoned domestique that I am I hit the front and with Robyn tucked in behind and we set off to catch the field. By the time we hit the first real climb of the day we had collected a few back markers and by the top of the climb had found our rhythm.
The big challenge of the ride is Fitz Hill after about 75km. Its steep at a 10.5% avrg for 2.5km and it was getting close to 30oC when we arrived. We knew it was going to be tough and as agreed I took off to see if I could get a PB (damn you Strava) and I would wait for Robyn at the water stop at the top. Half way up people were already off their bikes, having to push them the rest of the way as they couldn’t physically manage it. I got to the top and watched as every shape and size of Lycra clad looney summited. I didn’t expect to see Robyn as soon as I did and as she came towards me I could see that she was literally towing half a dozen very red face blokes behind her. Clearly a little challenged by being out climbed by a woman they were clinging to her back wheel as if their life depended on it. A few even put in a supreme effort to go past her at the top so they were not beaten. As they fell in a heap at the water stop, Robyn just sailed past them and kept going.
And so it was for the rest of the day, starting literally from the back meant that we spent the rest of the day riding through the field. The joy of riding your bike over 6km, 16km or 160km is that you always get to test yourself. All the hours of training were paying off and as we rode beyond the 100km mark Robyn was riding at the same pace as when we started and hovering up the field as we made our way around.
The organisers of these events go to great lengths to tell you it’s not a race and then give you a timing chip and publish your position. Robyn was 253rd out of 479 starters. A great effort and a demonstration of her endurance, strength and her all round ability to ride a bike.
Robyn was rightly pleased with her achievement and the discussion on the way home was around what her next challenge was going to be. I had wondered if she would stop riding her bike with such commitment after this event, it goes to show after 20 years of living with somebody you can still be surprised and delighted.
Robyn’s mum and dad’s farm is at a place called Ungarie, in Bland Shire, NSW, Australia. I love our escapes to the country and had never really registered the Shire’s name until the Bland Shire was recently twined with the towns of Dull (Scotland) and Boring (US).
We are back for a week over the school holidays and with time on our hands we have been following and inspired by all our Northern Hemisphere friends who have been enjoying summer and their bikes. There are people cycling the Tour De France route, others spending their leisure time climbing big mountains and a few new recruits to cycling riding further than they ever had before for very good causes.
It doesn’t matter what they are up to the photos always look fun and inspiring.
Rural NSW, is so different to where I grew up, open spaces, great big skies and normally hot. We do have winter in Australia and it can get cold, yesterday Robyn and I ventured out into it.
Robyn has been training hard over the last 6 months and we are taking every opportunity to put some km into her legs for her big ride in October. It’s amazing how quickly you can adapt, we had ridden our planned 200km route 10 weeks ago when we were last back on the farm. At that time it was a significant achievement for her, this time round it was not quite so daunting.
This part of “The Bush” is relatively flat and uncomplicated. Our route needed us to make a mere 6 turns in 200km of cycling! Not a navigational challenge, but one of mental stamina as you basically just sit on your bike for 8 hours pedalling.
In warmer weather this is quite pleasant, yesterday the Tour De Bland, as Robyn christened it, lived up to its name. The novelty of having a short winter means that I don’t normally mind rugging up in my winter cycling paraphernalia. The reality is that if it starts off cold it will normally warm up and you end up stripping everything off as you get too hot. It can be difficult to plan for this as temperatures can go from just above freezing to 18oC in a couple of hours. You don’t want to be carrying too much gear so you layer well and if anything prepare to be a little cold first thing as compensation for not having to lug it all around for the rest of the day.
Yesterday’s forecast was to start out just above freezing and peak at 16oC. Well they got the temperature for the start right. Greeted by cold dense fog we set off at 7.30am. I felt great waves of nostalgia for all those winters growing up in the UK. Robyn and I pedalled along deserted roads side by side discussing this and our time we lived in Dublin, concluding it was a tad too dry to be what the Irish call a “soft day”.
Having just made this observation the grey mist surrounding us turned into drizzle. Half an hour later and I was secretly questioning if we should just give up and go back. Nostalgia is only good for remembering not re-living.
Cold hands and toes now reminded me of why I moved 10,500 miles in the first place. I had a good look at Robyn, if she was thinking about going home she didn’t show it. So I did what any dutiful domestique has to do, I hit the front, took the pace up a little to try and keep warm and we rode in a grey cacoon for the next 80km.
90km on a flat straight road in a wet mist, staring at my arse demonstrates Robyn’s commitment to the cause. We arrived at Condoblin just after 11am. The local cafe had the fire going so we took up residence in front of it.
It was obvious the temperature was not going to get out of single digits for the day. Everything had warmed up but our toes were still a problem. I concluded we needed oversocks. The $16 we spent on two pairs of Size 12-14 workman’s socks was the best money we have spent on any cycling kit. We squeezed them over our cycling shoes and sat on the floor in the newsagents using a borrowed knife cutting holes for our cleats. The locals were very interested by now and what followed was a quick demonstration of cleat technology to a small collection of the Condo women’s institute before we were waved off into the mist.
Back on the road, now with warm toes, life was getting easier. A tail wind for the next 70km and we flew to our next stop, Tullibigeal.
Tullibigeal has a cafe and seemingly the only spot of sunshine in the whole district. We refuelled and headed for home. No sooner where we back on the bikes and the sun disappeared, the low grey cloud appeared and we made our 5th turn of the day into a headwind.
I had recently noticed that Robyn had made the final transition into a tragic cycling bore when she started to get interested in her cycling data. We had made good time, we were 1.5km per hour faster than last time we rode this route. It may seem insignificant but over 200km ride this adds up to big chunks of time. The headwind was going to threaten this.
Now was Robyn’s chance to learn to draft properly. The idea was for her to sit as close as she could on my back wheel to keep out of the wind while I bought us home. I was to keep the pace up and as an added incentive I wasn’t going to stop if she couldn’t keep up. She could either work hard, hold my wheel and fly home or work hard and pedal into the wind on her own as her average speed plummeted.
What an incentive! Robyn now has no qualms about drafting, she was so close she could see the stitching on my shorts.
A final right turn and the 3km finishing straight had the Tour de Bland nearly completed.
Robyn held my wheel as I gave it everything, then like Mark Cavendish she pulled out and rocketed past the finishing line, doing its best farm gate impression.
Cold, grey, damp and miserable is how I had described the Tour De Bland when we were in Condo. A warm shower, a few beers and all the downsides of the day are being forgotten about. Sometimes the journey itself may not be the most interesting, what you do along the way, who you meet and the final destination make it all worthwhile.
42 is Douglas Adams answer to “The Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything.”
Having just turned another number, which takes me a year further past this milestone, there is no doubt that the older I get the more I find myself pondering what it’s all about?
I have jokingly called running and cycling my midlife crisis, but it’s not the by-product of some deep psychological issue to recapture past glories (I didn’t really do anything for the first 40 years) or because I feel my life lacks something as I am getting older.
It all came about due to a rather indulgent drinking and eating session that went on from December 2009 to March 2010. I ran to compensate for my over indulgence, then like Forest I didn’t stop until I couldn’t run and then I started cycling. I haven’t stopped since.
So I was a little flummoxed the other day when somebody asked me, “What are you training for?” Their rational was that, given my time and commitment to riding my bike, it must be to achieve some goal.
Shortly after I started running I decided that I was going to run certain distances, 1km became 5km, which became a 1/2 marathon which became a marathon. First it was the distance, then it was the times. I have never achieved anything beyond stunningly below average for my times but the motivation has always been to go a little further or faster.
On the bike it was similar. I first rode because I couldn’t run and wanted to keep active. Then the distances increased, plans for longer and more challenging rides were made, which culminated in me riding over some long distances and up some big mountains.
This year I have no plans, apart from getting Robyn ready to ride further and up a few big hills. So why do I spend so much time on my bike?
Well a benefit of investing the time on my bike is that I do get to think things through. So the other day on my Friday ride I was trying to work out what I needed to do to stop myself from behaving like a teenager. See the joys of getting older are that you find yourself with teenage children. Milly is a good kid, she just happens to have the behavioural traits from my side of the family. She has an opinion, wants you to agree with it and likes the last word.
So I had become aware that we were not bringing the best out in each other. I had effectively been arguing with myself on a number of occasions and rather than be the adult, I had very easily degenerated into an older looking version of my 16 year old self. This involved refusing to acknowledge that anybody could possibly be right, and when things didn’t go my way throwing a tantrum and sulking.
I gave myself a ride to work out what to do. My brilliant idea was to challenge Milly to talk to me, to stimulate a conversation, to discuss what she wants. I would afford her the courtesy of listening to her if she could give me a compelling reason to. If she wanted to change my opinion then convince me, present her thoughts in a way that I would want to see her side and we can discuss things like adults.
I have since explained this to her and it has had some impact. She hasn’t adopted the exact approach I may have I hoped but she has embraced our new approach to “dialogue”. The highlight has been her response to long and eloquent speech I made about what she should be doing and how she should be making the most out of the opportunities afforded to her.
“It’s really great that you know so much about what I should be doing Dad, but remind me, when was the last time you were a 13 year old girl?”.
She asked this with a genuine curiosity and with only the faintest hint of sarcasm, in fact done so well I had to concede she did have a point. It’s all in the delivery.
Anyhow back on the bike, having worked out how to bring the best out in Milly (and myself) , one train of thought led into another. What is the compelling reason I spend so much time on my bike?
Well like the answer 42, it’s quite simple – It makes me feel good!
I am fitter and healthier than I have ever been and it helps me appreciate what I have and what’s around me. Maybe the secret is not to think too much about these things, to just find ways of enjoying yourself. That’s as compelling as it needs to be for me.
There is a saying that there are 2 types of cyclists, those that have fallen off and those that haven’t fallen off, yet.
Well after a summer of riding successfully alongside the missus all this changed on Sunday. Too much chat and a touching of wheels and we were both on the deck. We weren’t traveling at warp speed (we can’t) but were going fast enough to make it significant.
I went over the handlebars and Robyn ended up surfing the bitumen on her backside.
So with both of us lying on the road, luckily it was 7am on Sunday morning in a quiet residential area, I was faced with an interesting dilemma. What do you attend to first?
Logic and good manners would dictate check nothing is broken, make sure the missus is alright then worry about the bikes. Well I seemed to bounce up off the road and could stand despite the blood and chunks of bitumen stuck to me, so I knew I was OK.
Robyn was upright, “are you OK?” I asked.
“I think so, what about the bloody bikes?” she answered.
“I don’t know about the bikes, but I think I am OK, thank you very much for asking”, I replied.
At least I had the decency to check on her before the bikes!
Now for those of you that pursue leisure activities to get some time away from the family, you may find it strange that I chose to ride my bike with my missus. Well her response is the very reason that she is a worthy member of any peloton. Not only did she deal with the pain she focused on the most important things, the bikes.
She’s tough my missus and clearly loves her bike. The toughness has something to do with her upbringing on a farm, from what I have observed country girls don’t complain much. The love of her bike is a relatively new thing bought on by seeing what can be achieved when you set out to ride further than ever before, over hills higher than you thought possible and setting PB’s on your regular rides.
I think my missus has the cycling bug.
I have been off my bike for the last 6 weeks.
I did something to my back whilst on tour with Alice’s school band. It can’t be directly attributed to my bike riding, more as a result of neglecting to do anything to strengthen my core (I didn’t even know I had one!). Seemingly a finely tuned athlete like myself should not take his ageing frame for granted and shifting a multitude of brass instruments and a full set of percussion was not what the doctor ordered.
As frustrating as it has been, it has made me realise that I can get a little too focused on my sporting pursuits. As much as I thought I understood what balance and a sustainable training regime looked like, clearly this is my bodies’ way of saying, “Stop it, you are a silly Lycra clad man and I’ve had enough!”
Apparently its nothing structural, just a “mechanical niggle” that won’t go away. Now I have full movement back I am allowed to get back in the saddle. My Physio did point out that I should be happy that I made it around France and it was best for this to happen now rather than last July or to have a major issue later down the track.
He also got excited when I talked of a more balanced program next year and maybe re-introducing some running and asked if I had another marathon in me! (He is a sports physio so his goal is to get you back out there! I hope its not so we end up back here?)
I am considering the last 6 weeks my “Great Escape” from anything too serious and it has been quality time to plan for 2014.
Here is Alice’s School Band playing the theme from The Great Escape. Give it a listen you’ll be impressed, they range in age from 10-12 years old
What do you buy the middle aged man that has everything?
We know you take your cycling seriously, we also know that you want to stand out from the crowd, so how do you inject some fun and style back into your cycling wardrobe?
Have you ever considered wearing a cape? No, not the traditional rain cape but a glamorous “Vanka Velo” cape. The cape that turns you from sad git into instant superhero.
The cape has proven powers of recovery just watch the videos of the founding members of Vanka Velo trialling the cape after a gruiling few days riding through the French Alps
Vanka Velo is a new concept in cycling wear. We don’t take ourselves too seriously, in fact we acknowledge that most of society thinks we are in fact “Vanka’s” . To register your interest for a cape and other products to signify to the rest of the peloton that you are that little bit special, drop us a line…
It’s been a few days since I got back from riding my bike in France and today I make the final journey back from sunny England to Australia.
Being at my mum and dad’s this week has effectively been a half-way house before I re-integrate back into my normal existence.
Prior to my return I have noticed that there are a few habits I have picked up whilst on tour that need to be broken.
Clothing - It is not polite to eat breakfast, and indeed any other meal, just wearing snug fitting shorts. (Unless you are a German on holiday then it is your national costume so perfectly acceptable).
Dining - What’s the rush? Is the food going to run out before you get your fair share? I have discovered this week that if you eat slowly you can actually taste what you are eating. Also there is something to be said for quality over quantity. If you are not burning all that extra fuel then be careful because you’ll be carrying it up the next climb.
Conversation – Read the signs, when the eyes glaze over you have lost your audience. Apparently it is a lot harder for the people who didn’t spend hours on their bike in France to relate to the thrills of the descents, how to grind your way up 20km of mountain, the stunning scenery or the merits of different gear ratios. The normal daily conversations you had living with other bike nuts are not seen as normal in other parts of society.
I’m looking forward to getting home and seeing the family. I know that they will indulge me for at least a few hours.
Then once the presents are handed out, the pictures explained and the clothes packed away I will work my way through the mail, check my diary for next week and finally iron a few shirts to complete my rehabilitation back into society.
I have cycled my way around France and in the process I have ridden over 1,000km and climbed 20,000 meters. All of this and I can still sit down without wincing!
Joining the Tour De Force group, 2 weeks into the overall tour, was a bit like going to a new school. Everybody who is part of it knows the routine and the way things are done. For the newbies working this out and getting the rhythm of tour life was our initial challenge. The fact that the whole thing is so well organised and that the other riders are supportive made it easy to feel that you were part of something a little special.
In all honesty I didn’t really know what I had let myself in for. Without a reference of what an Alp looks like I think I benefited from a little bit of “ignorance is bliss”. It wasn’t until the first evening and we got a briefing of our first days ride, 243km finishing with a climb up Mont Ventoux, that I began to think I may be a little out of my depth.
Even if you were a “lifer”, riding all the stages, or if this was your first stage like me there appeared to be a certain degree of nervousness about riding stage 15.
It was a baptism of fire, a 220km ride in hot weather across a very picturesque France and then the 20km climb. Up until the bottom of the climb I had really enjoyed the day, and then it just got a little silly.
It was hot and very steep. No amount of training around the hills of Sydney could prepare me for this type of climb and it was all I could do to keep the pedals turning. Periodically the body gave up and I would have to stop, slump over the handlebars and started wishing I was elsewhere.
Then some other Lycra clad loony would go past, shout some encouragement and I felt obliged to get back on and try again. This was the process I followed all the way to the top of my first HC climb.
As an added bonus I also got to descend the mountain in a full on thunderstorm. As hard as it was going up, coming down in torrential rain, cramping and wobbling all over the road as I shivered my way down is more memorable. I am sure that having completed one of the slowest ascents, I then followed it up with a prize winning performance for the slowest decent.
Having achieved this I took a degree of confidence into the other days. The body held up and even with some long days riding and some seriously challenging climbing I can honestly say I loved every minute and it was a truly great experience.
If I was to summarise what made the week so great, it would be…
- The scenery and the weather, it was perfect and just made the whole country look stunning
- The organisation of the whole event was great. If you want to feel like a pro and just worry about riding your bike and very little else, this is the event for you. You also get to raise some money for a very good cause
- The people you got to ride with. I met some great people and had lots of laughs. Doing something like this creates a great feeling of camaraderie.
- Riding up some iconic climbs, I can now boast to have ridden up Mont Ventoux, the Col du Glandon, the Cold de la Madeleine and to top it all Alpe-D’Huez, twice in the same day.
- Getting to ride around Paris on Bastille day in a big bunch and with the mates that you have made over the week
All great experiences, if you were to ask me for one memorable moment?
Well it’s a little bit left field.
I could wax lyrically about the stunning vistas, the scary descents or the overall sense of achievement. For me the best moment was on the final climb on stage 20 going up Annecy-Semnoz. This is a steep climb, 10.7km @ 8.5% gradient, and what I shall remember it for is being involved in some of the slowest overtaking manoeuvres in cycling history.
By this stage I was cycling so slowly that it was remarkable that I stayed upright. If we had been on the flat people would have marvelled that you could actually ride a bike that slowly and not fall off.
So there I am doing my thing up the hill and a number of riders came past me. What made it memorable was that they were going only marginally quicker so it took a couple of minutes for them to draw level , nod or grunt some encouragement in my direction, then fix their gaze on the road ahead and it would then be several more minutes for them to pull ahead. It was like I was part of the Tour De France, only doing it frame by frame. All the same drama and intensity just done incredibly slowly.
It was only then that I realised how daft I must have looked. I may have felt a sense of achievement and satisfaction but the reality is if you had driven past me you probably would have wondered why that daft middle aged bloke had nothing better to do with his time.
I was taking on the course of the professionals in my own unprofessional way and this really made me laugh. As I continued to grind the long way to the top, the only rock and roll was me going all over the road as I made it up another bloody big hill in France.
One of the joys or riding a bike is that it gets you outside and allows you to see and experience the countryside in all its glory.
Riding around the South of England over the last week means I have seen a fair bit of a very green England. I have loved riding down single track country lanes that are covered by trees. The weather has been good , the sun has been out and it has been warm enough to just about make a contrast to the Australian winter. I’ve seen genuine village fates, been paced by tractors and have concluded that the drivers of Fiat vans are a little bit madder that your average white van men.
I dropped Edna off today to be taken over to France where the fun and games will really start. Having a week to get over the jet lag and to catch up with friends and family was a good move. My only challenge is making sure that I am not overdong it so that I don’t arrive in France needing a rest rather than feeling up for a few days of challenging cycling.
In addition to getting to ride my bike over some spectacular scenery I can’t think of a better way to experience a little bit of French life. All I have to do is remember to ride in a way that is appropriate for a man of my age, to take the time to look around me and to occasionally get off my bike and enjoy France.
Cycling is a world of brands, from the names of the bikes people ride to the names on the clothes that they wear and the accessories that they carry.
How refreshing was it to find a bike box named after itself and the bloke who makes them. The love of my life is safely packed into my “bikeboxalan” (that is its name!) and is currently being loaded onto the plane for my departure to the UK.
I found it strangely more emotional giving my bike over to the baggage handler than saying goodbye to Robyn. I have justified this by saying that I know Robyn will be OK, we have been separated before, the bike and I haven’t.
Having grown very fond of my bike I think she deserves a name. I know of other blokes who have had their bikes named by their wives, as they felt that the object of their husbands affair needed to be named and shamed. Robyn has yet again demonstrated why she is the right women for me as she has been encouraging me to give it a name (I still don’t know if she is chuckling away behind my back at these indulgences , or if she really has bought into the whole lunacy)
So with more thought and conjecture than naming either of my daughters I have decided to call her “Dame Edna”. I needed something that was suitably Australian, and apart from the obvious, Sheila or Matilda, the only other option was to call her Kylie. The thought of throwing my leg over Kylie at 5am was a little too much for me to handle, I don’t encounter any problems thinking about the name Edna.
So my Cervelo R3 has been christened Dame Edna, the boarding pass has been signed and I wish her well for the flight and a loving reunion at Heathrow.
I am going to attempt to blog a little more regularly during my trip so you can keep upto date with the progress I am making. You can check out the TDF website at www.tourdeforce.org.uk