The Holy Grail

Because I’ve been secretly dreading the winter, and not looking forward to it for a good few months, I came up with this idea of The 100 Days Of Hell. They start when the clocks go back and stretch well into the new year at about the time I finally get to cycle home in the daylight. It’s the middle of Februaryish.  Cycling into work in the daylight doesn’t happen until April so that’s an eternity away, so far away in fact that it’s right off my radar right now.

So having coined the phrase, the next task to do is to start counting down the days to zero. Days one to five were a skoosh because I was on Juke Box Jury duty and as a result I managed to rest up on days one, four and five. 89 miles from days two and three might sound a lot but in reality all it did was give my legs a rest.

Cue this week.

Everything that has happened this week has been on the back of Vanessa Day at Celtic Park last Saturday. We got to walk out together at half time against my beloved Inverness Caley Thistle and my social media account was going at such a rate for a while that I couldn’t keep up with the traffic. Indeed, by the time Sunday night came around, my SumAll account was reporting that the photo of Vanessa, BRTH et moi had reached 692,000 accounts. Now that’s what I call getting the LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma message out there….

There was such a feelgood factor around the whole weekend that it was hardly surprising that I was still buzzing when I set off on Monday morning. That carried over into both Tuesday and Wednesday as I started to contemplate the impossible…. The Holy Grail.

The Holy Grail first surfaced back in the early summer when the days were long and the weather was warm. It’s simple and it’s challenging: 250 miles in a LifeCycle week.

The first time I tried it was in the middle of June. I kicked off with a 47 and a 54 but 39 on the Wednesday, the result of nothing more than tiredness, cooked my goose. Even a closing 55 was not enough to pull back the deficit and I fell well short on 242. You see what makes this so damned difficult is that despite all the miles, there’s still a day’s work to be done in the middle. It gets tiring.

I tried again a fortnight later when an opening 48/47 laid a good base. But once again tiredness won the day and a Thursday 40 squashed that attempt. That was about the time I declared that I was done chasing the big miles and I eased back to a more regular 210-220. I found I could cope with that, sometimes easily, sometimes not quite so.

And that’s the way it’s remained. Until the aftermath of Celtic Park.

I’d be lying if I said that meeting Vanessa didn’t inspire me. It did. She was one of the reasons I started out on this long road and to share Celtic Park with someone who has beaten neuroblastoma not once but twice was bound to leave a lasting impression. And she’s lucky to have such a wonderful family fighting her corner with her. The Riddles are a top bunch.

So it was with the goodwill of 40,000 Celtic fans still on my mind that I studied the weather forecast for this week. It’s a Sunday night task. Tuesday and Thursday were billed as the dodgy days, with the latter throwing up the prospect of a 30mph headwind, with lashing rain, for the home run. Preceding that, Wednesday was predicted to be bitterly cold morning and night so if this was going to be the week, I could hardly have chosen a more difficult one.

I kicked off with a 47 and followed that with another. And another. A puncture on the way into work on Wednesday was more of an annoyance than an issue so by the time Thursday arrived, I was as well set as I’d been back in June. The schedule for a Holy Grail demands an average of 50 per day and I was 9 down after 3 days. Thursday was going to be a huge day on the back of that: don’t lose any more!

The forecast was dreadful. A howling south easterly from 6am with wall to wall intermittent rain was not a good prospect. And the weather duly delivered. I got a soaking on the way in but the real challenge was waiting on the Fenwick Muir on the way home. There’s a stretch of the road that goes straight, downhill past the dump at Newton Mearns to the motorway bridge carrying the M77.  Downhill…  7mph! Yes, you read that right: seven miles per hour. I toyed with the idea of hanging a right at the Little Loch Fisheries to avoid the worst of the wind but that route is 2 miles shorter and not exactly what I needed. So the Muir it was. It was basically a case of getting the head down, selecting a gear that I could turn without getting blown off the bike, and just doing it. And with wee Oscar, the spotlight that sits second from the right, leading the way, I got a result. Or maybe I should correct that: we did, Oscar and I.

Four 47’s left 62 to do today. I’ve done that several times on a Friday, but never on the back of 188. And not in a strong headwind either. But I got a tweet from one of my best supporters last night that read “it is better to have tried and failed than never tried at all”. And at the end of the day, that tweet got me over the line. There was a lot of clock watching of the speedo as the miles ticked by, and if I’m honest, it wasn’t much fun towards the end. I took a big enough detour on the way home that there came a point where what I still needed to do was the distance to home, plus one mile for insurance. But by then it was downwind so despite all the pain, it was done deal.

It’s only now that it’s done and dusted, that I realise what a coup that was. 250 miles in November, in the dark and everything that goes with it. A hundred of those miles were done on unlit country lanes, loads of them in the rain and a good number around 0C. The millstone than was hanging around my neck has suddenly been transformed into a milestone that says winter cannot win. If we get a foot of snow, I’ll simply take the bus. If we get -6C and black ice, I’ll simply take the bus. I don’t need the big miles anymore. I still have over three years to finish this job if I need it.

So on Monday, I’m planning to cut out all the detours and revert back to the route that got me started almost 15 months ago. I’ll take average miles for the next four months, just like I did all of last winter. I’ve beaten the winter once and I plan on doing it again: and enjoying it, sort of.

There are now only 14,500 miles to go and the Holy Grail is no more. Ya dancer!

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