Around The World In (500 And) 80 Days

I’ve had the title of this blog in my back pocket for the best part of a year. I’ve been sitting on it in the hope that I could marry the miles with the days. Alas, it wasn’t to be. But hey ho, what’s 624 miles between friends when you’ve already been round the rest of the world. OldCo Rangers weren’t even a year old when Jules Verne put pen to paper, and now, a hundred and forty three years later, an old bloke on a bike is close to completing the same trip in virtual reality on two wheels. Ironically, I started in the year of NewCo Rangers birth.

I’ve now been on the road for 578 days and the finish line is tantalisingly close, but absolutely not yet in sight. I thought I was coasting it when we came out of a wild, wet winter before fate struck a double blow so I know not to count my chickens. As I sit here tonight, I have a rescheduled end point (thank you to Eleanor for suggesting it) and a work schedule that just made me up my game for the first time in three months.

Here’s the craic…

The 25,000th mile will be on the Isle of Cumbrae on Sunday 3rd July. Everyone’s welcome, especially my Aussie friends: especially, especially my Aussie friends. By my reckoning, you’ve got six weeks to noise up Rupert Murdoch and borrow his private jet. Free gratis of course. For charity, he can afford it: he could anyway. I would love, absolutely love, my Strayan mob to be over here at the finish line: you’ll just have to get Jimmy back from Brissy before you set off.

I dream.

My first idea for the finish, after Oscar 2 Eileidh was postponed (note I said postponed, not cancelled) was to borrow Knockhill, the car racing circuit up in Fife. But then I looked at the cost. I guess they might have let me have it at a charity rate midweek but for a weekend slot, it was gonna cost hunnerds and hunnerds. There needed to be an alternative that everyone could get to.

Cue Millport.

So here’s the deal. A morning boat over, say tennish, then rattle off as many miles as are left to see 25,000. I’ve had my eye on the schedule since the gig was announced a couple of weeks ago, but what I hadn’t bargained for was a wee training course in Liverpool on Referendum Day: that means the trip south that week will be a four day affair whereas I’d previously budgeted for only two. With the clock ticking down, those are fifty miles that need to be bagged in the meantime to avoid a seventy mile last day (secretly, I quite fancy a massive last day, cos… but I’ll happily settle for loads of folk, both flags and lots of ice cream).

Y’see the key to managing what’s left is load balancing. When you’ve still got forty or fifty days left, and a workload that might just leave you with a massive last day if you don’t apply yersel’ properly in the meantime, you apply yersel’ properly. Discipline has not been a problem these last five hundred and seventy eight days. Just feckin’ do it. No one else is going to. It’s down to you, as in me. So I do.

I’ve upped my game this week: whereas I was previously knocking in 21’s and 22’s, this week has been all about 28’s, 29’s and 30’s. Every day. The long lunch break from work. Thirty years ago I worked at the old Burroughs Machines factory in Cumbernauld (long since gone) and I took two hour lunches every day back then: flexitime. In at half six (am), a ten or fifteen mile run in the hills at lunchtime (Tommy Melly, eat yer heart oot) then a late finish. My current routine is right back to those days. Yesterday I planned to head out at 5am, just like the old days of riding to Glasgow, in order to beat the rain, but it was already here by 4:30am. So I sat tight till it passed. Those few moments, lying in bed, awake and listening to the rain battering down, define the transition from the old LCFN to the new…

Stephen Knox has said many times that I don’t need to be doing this and of course he was right. But while I was working in Glasgow, I had the perfect excuse to ride roughshod over everyday logic. Just do it because that’s how I chose to get to work. And the miles just kept piling up. Yesterday was different: now is different. So long as I get my work done, and deliver the goods to my people in Liverpool, I can basically make up my own hours. So I choose to deliver on all fronts in a way that suits me. Because I’m the guy who takes the knocks and gets tired, I now work on the bike to suit what my body is telling me. Sort of.

There have been two massive differences since I started spinning round the country lanes of Ayrshire. Firstly, because I’m doing less miles in one go, the speed has gone up by a ridiculous amount. Whereas before I was happy just tootling backwards and forwards at a steady 12.5mph, these days, even on the windy days, I’m rarely coming home under fourteen. The trick is to read the wind and plot a route that offers you some amount of cover in the hedgerows as you speed your way around the lanes: in the main, these are single track roads we are talking about. You’d be surprised how much shelter you can get behind a hedge on a road bike. The other big difference is the hills. Whereas before I could reckon on 1100ft of climbing in each direction, I’m now facing anything up up to double that in the same distance as a previous single journey: it’s very, very wearing.

On the job front, I continue to be challenged and satisfied in roughly equal measures: but both of those proportions are huge. I love what I do. Whereas previously I worked in cost estimation through data configuration, I’ve been able to transfer those thought processes and that mindset into configuring wellbeing. Imagine being in a job where your ability to design software means a better quality of life for people. That’s what I do, and it’s the best job I’ve ever had. I’m less than two years from retirement and right now I don’t want this to end. That’s how much I’m enjoying myself.

Now, talking of enjoying yersel’, two of our best supporters are jetting off on holiday as I’m typing this story. And me being me, coming from a land where they can only ever say no, I’ve challenged Anna and Krys to put LCFN on the map in Mexico. Donald Trump might wanna build a wall, but I’m happy to make friends and welcome people from anywhere in the world: after all, I’ve spent enough time riding round it, even if it has been mainly back and forth to Glasgow.

Three of my LCFN followers from Celtic, Jane Maguire, Andy Fisher and Marc Martin, are heading off this long weekend on a 17 mile walk, with hunnerds of other folk, to raise money for the Celtic Foundation: the walk has been planned to visit specific sites to remember Brother Walfrid, Jock Stein, Tommy Burns and Jimmy Johnstone. The banner under which the guys are walking, Health, Equality, Learning and Poverty strikes a chord with me. My old fella rode a pushbike from one side of Birmingham to the other every day for years to get to his work, because after the war, they were poor and didn’t have a car: no one had a car! I am only where I am today because my folks did the best that they could to get me an education. I was never clever, but I always managed to scrape by each hurdle and on to the next. But most of all, I salute these guys for Health and Equality. I’m an Englishman who’s been living in Scotland for near on two thirds of my life, indeed all but two years of my working life. I’ve lived through people at my work telling in in no uncertain terms to fuck off back to where I came from, but I stayed, because there are people out there who are better than that: and three of them are walking for the very same cause on Monday. I do hope that having got the bug for walking for a cause, they’ll stick with it and walk every day for the long term benefit of themselves. It makes such a difference.

For thousands of miles, I dreamt of what it would feel like to be in the home straight. And in the first blog that I’ve written at home for four weeks, courtesy of being on the road, it feels surreal and awkward in equal measures: surreal because there have been times when I never thought that this day would actually come, and awkward because kids are still being diagnosed with neuroblastoma every day. My job is not done. Far from it.

I might be six hundred miles short of a global circumference, but on the geographical anniversary of Verney’s novel, it’s great to be on the cusp of going around the world in (five hundred and) eighty days.

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