The Chain

If you’re a follower of F1, you’ll no doubt be familiar with the scenario where one of the donkey teams has a mechanical in practice and/or qually, and is still trying to sort the problem when the rest of the cars are on the grid: you start from the pit lane. They then pit the car after a few laps, but rather than just retire the car, they send it back out to run round at the back of the pack just so they can have some data to play with back at HQ.

That’s been pretty much my week, except I chose not to send the bike out today, more of which later.

I went into this week on the back of a great run of miles: eleven double hundreds in a row and my sights firmly set on ten thousand for the calendar year.

Cue the bloody farmers…

I have never known a hedge cutting season as brutal as this one. I’ve probably got a mental checklist of around twenty routes that I can pick from when I head out the door, mixing and matching, and depending on the weather, and very much the wind direction/speed, I can pretty much choose to go wherever I want. The problem, these last few weeks, is that the farmers have been throttling my routes one by one with their incessant hedge cutting machines, leaving spikey thorns as long as half a centimetre lying all over the road. Half a spiky centimetre is plenty enough to smash its way through a bike tyre. Been there: read the book, seen the film, bought the T shirt, got the video and now they’re releasing a bloody box set.

And as I kept thinking about that F1 theme as the week unfolded, so the lyrics of The Chain were stuck in my head, like a race car on repeat…

“Listen to the wind blow, watch the sun rise

Running in the shadows, damn your love, damn your lies

And if you don’t love me now

You will never love me again

I can still hear you saying you would never break the chain”

Yeah, I know that when Stevie Nicks wrote that song, Fleetwood Mac were in emotional turmoil. But this week, I just felt like twisting those words to fit the love I feel for this bike ride with the contempt I feel for the farmers.

Riding the LCFN bike has always been about the motivation, the commitment, and believe it or not, the fun. But there is no fun riding fifteen miles out of town to find that the wee country lane that you’re on, a designated Sustrans cycle route, is littered with feckin thorns. I’ve had that experience not once, not twice, not three times but FOUR times these last seven days. And I’m sick of it.

So, let’s set the scene: Monday…

Monday was a manic work day (yes, I do get them occasionally, even though I work from home for masel’). My job is my life, apart from family and the bike ride: I can’t explain in words how privileged I feel to be doing something I love, for a (small) team of people who appreciate me for what I can do. The bond between our wee team is as strong as any that I’ve ever worked in, even though we all live and work hundreds of miles away from each other. So I’ll basically do anything for those guys n gals, and especially so when push come to shove. On Monday, well it started on Sunday actually, push came before shove.

If you’ve ever worked in a line of business where you have deadlines that matter (IT software releases are the best example I know), then the lead up to D-day is manic. I had a manic Monday: finished work on Sunday night at 1am (Monday) and was back on the keyboard at 7am. Monday was a straight through development shift that ended twelve hours after it started. Then I thought “right: LCFN: let’s get some miles in the bag”.

Dark, cold and raining: nothing I’d ever any desire to run away from in three years of commuting the Fenwick Muir in winter. So out I went at 8pm. I’d forgotten how much fun it is to be splishing, sploshing and splashing round the country lanes in the pitch black with 800 lumens of searchlight power on the front…

Then I got to Irvine and I thought “is this road extra bumpy or is that the valve in the back wheel I can feel”? I pulled over and sure enough the back tyre was almost pancake like. Feck, feck! Feck, feck and feck! A few expletives passed my lips: and some.

Ten miles from home, raining and I really couldn’t be arsed getting the tyre off and fixing it. For just once in my life, I just wanted picked up. I phoned Jane but her phone went to voicemail. She was, ironically, doing the Monday night football run with the young (Taylor) team to Ross’s place: in Irvine!!! I thought of phoning one of the lads but I knew she’d be in the wee car anyway. So I messaged her instead: and set off to ride slowly home by as quiet a route as I could come up with, as slowly as the incessant bump, bump, bump would allow. A couple of miles along the bike path to Killie, the Skids “Into The Valley” kicked in. That’s my ringtone. It was Jane. She’d picked up my message and offered to be my lifeline. I did indeed get that lift home in the big car just a couple of miles further on. Only twice in 36000 miles have I chucked an LCFN ride: this was one of them.

I thought for all of three nanoseconds about fixing the puncture myself before pure economics kicked in. When you work for yourself, you don’t get paid sick leave, you don’t get paid holidays and you don’t get paid breaks. Basically, if I’m not working, I don’t get paid. Simple as. So I took the expert’s way out: I dropped the bike off at Neil’s shop first thing on Tuesday morning and saved myself an hour of cursing and swearing. Fixing bikes is Neil’s bread and butter: mine is writing computer code: so we both did what we do best and agreed to share the spoils. There were also a couple of wee technical things that I wanted looked at on Goldie too, so knowing that Tuesday was likely to be every bit as manic as Monday, I told him to take his time. And as he’s still got my old road bike in the garage for its 12,000 service, I was effectively without road wheels in any case. I thought fleetingly about taking the MTB up the Windfarm but bottled that one too: just this once, I thought, I’ll work and take the cash.

My ten thousand mile dream let out a wee gasp of air in that moment: spirit effectively broken, reality acknowledged and a timeout accepted. No miles Tuesday through Wednesday. I got Goldie back yesterday and got back in the old routine but that was only to discover that two more of my favoured routes had been farmered. All you can do when you encounter one of those minefields is get off and tiptoe the bike through the bombs. Or carry it.

And that precipitated today, when I really lost it. It’s been a long, long… long time since I decided not to go out because I didn’t fancy it. The weather was rubbish from the off, with intermittent sleet cum snow showers and a top temperature of maybe two or three degrees. The temperature didn’t bother me one iota, because double layers of everything blocks out the cold. No, what was bothering me was those feckin’ thorns being covered in a layer of slush on untreated roads, and me not being able to spot the danger. Limping the bike home under those conditions was not on my to do list: not today, nor any day.

Tomorrow, I will take a rain check (see what I did there?) before I decide what to do. I don’t fancy the main roads on pure safety grounds, but I cannae sit out a second day of what is effectively giving in to the lazy farmers for not clearing their sh*t. I’ll find somewhere to go, even if it’s only twenty miles. Being out is key: two fingers to the tractor boys, two fingers to whatever the weather has in store (a balmy 4C is on the cards by the look of it) and two fingers to cancer, because at the end of the day, this gig is still about the kids and never giving up the fight.

So finally, back to the song…

Chain… keep us together…

(Running in the shadows)

Chain… keep us together…

(Running in the shadows)

Chain… keep us together…

(Running in the shadows)

Chain… keep us together…

(Running in the shadows)

Chain… keep us together…

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