A Night At The Opera

This morning I got word from Australia that Sydney Opera House is going to go gold on September 1st

Ride2Cure will be there.

The dates of this journey were picked in order that it could be so. The first week out from Brisbane is full of all the big stuff: the long stages and the biggest climbs. And I’m even prepared to say that if we can get a day ahead of ourselves on the road by the time we catch our first rest day, we might just take the opportunity to stay in Sydney for a second day. If you’d told me five years ago, when I started out on this journey, that I would be stood in front of Sydney Opera House holding aloft a bike with gold handlebars and wearing gold shoes, then I would have suggested men in white coats. But it’s going to happen.

Two weeks ago today, I was at Vanessa’s funeral.

Last Sunday, I was at the launch of the Eileidh Rose Puddles Project in memory of Princess Puddles.

This week last year, I spent the whole week riding five miles a day because my head was all over the place. I remember wondering whether it was worth carrying on with LCFN because the support funding had dried up and all I had left in my locker was raising awareness: but even that was something that I’d been doing for four long years so I seriously contemplating chucking it.

Then we went on holiday and I had time to reflect…. a week is a long time in LCFN: so’s a year.

I remember the drive I had when I got back on the bike. At first it was nothing other than a desire to up the tempo: the first week back was just a 200 mile sighter, something to get me pointed in the right direction again. But crucially, it started a run of 42 days, none of them under 30 miles, and ultimately, it was those 42 days that lit the fuse under the Ride 2 Cure. It was the first time in the entire journey that I’d ever gone 40×30, as daft as it may sound. But in the days when I was bagging mega miles to and from Glasgow, riding 20+ and 1000ft of climbing every twelve hours, I was taking the weekends off for recovery. I haven’t taken weekends off for over two years: the relentless nature of this journey has become an honest reflection on the fight against the disease: days off don’t exist, at least not days when you’re not thinking about it.

And ultimately, my mind is now transitioning from LCFN to R2C, from the unaccustomed reality of blazing hot Scotland to the anticipated reality of not quite so blazing hot Australia (only because it’s winter over there). I frequently let my mind wander and think about the long days that lie ahead. If the PR does a job, then Australia will be like a lone breakaway in the Tour De France, except for the fact that there won’t be a peleton chasing the wee man down. As we pass through each town, it’ll be for Paul to brief the locals on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.

Finding a cure: that’s why we’re doing it. No fluffy wishes; no little treats; this is serious stuff at the sharp end. Our aim is to raise over $100,000 to fund research into new treatments for neuroblastoma. And if we have unfinished business at the end of it, as in ‘what went well, even better if’, then maybe we’ll do it all again in 2019. Because it matters.

But back to this year, and indeed back to this week. I’d forgotten how tired I get when I drive long distance. I get by the drive okay, but it’s the following days that I feel it. Jane was working in Dundee last Friday and I was go to Inverness for the weekend then over to Aberdeen on Sunday for the Puddles Project: so we did a car swap at Perth: and as I’d offered to pick up some helpers in Forres on the way, so my route home was also via Forres rather than straight down the A90. 200 miles on Friday night, 50 miles on the bike on Saturday (more of which in a moment), then almost 400 miles of driving on Sunday. The thing I’ve learned about long distance driving, that works for me, is to take strong coffee, and plenty of it, in the hours before the off: so that was me on Sunday at the Fun Day. There wasn’t even the slightest hint of tiredness on the way back down the road: the problem was I was still wide awake at 1am. Cue two very, very tired days on Monday and Tuesday: falling asleep in the middle of the afternoon is always a giveaway, as is yawning my head off before 9pm.

So back to Saturday and that 50 mile adventure. I mentioned in last week’s blog that I quite fancied paying back the hill out of Fort Augustus for what it did to me twenty years ago. But there’s something curious about cycling: you can sense, within five minutes of leaving the house whether you’re on it today. Or not. Last Saturday I was most certainly not on it. But I didn’t take my bike all that way to mess about doing silly stuff so I looked out all the local climbs on Strava and tried to get my head round something where I wouldn’t disgrace myself. By disgrace, I mean going full on for the King Of The Pensioners then falling short. I chose the 2.2 mile climb out of Dores, at the eastern end of Loch Ness. It’s a climb that just never lets up.

Now at age 65, I know I can’t compete with the big boys, even though I have three or four KOTM’s to my name. My target is to bag King Of The Pensioners, to be number one amongst guys who’ve probably been riding competitively for half my life. As a soloist who takes on the wind every time I go out the door, Strava KOTP’s are my gold medals. And so it proved on Saturday: The over 65 record for that hill up from Dores was 16m14s. I shaved 50 seconds off it, and buried myself in the process. I did ride out to Whitebridge, as previously promised, and even managed to grab another five KOTP’s en route, but my legs were done in. Thursday’s escapade on Arran was still there, lactate on tap.

So on Monday and Tuesday I just went back on the turbo. It’s uncanny but I can tell by the average speed of the gold bike (on the turbo) what sort of nick my legs are in. Monday and Tuesday were both down on what I consider to be acceptable, whereas Wednesday I was totally on it. So yesterday I took the R2C bike out on the road, in full Aussie trim, to do some real damage to the KOTP segments around Stewarton. If I’m going to leave my mark on the routes around my home town, then the time is now: when I get back from Australia, tired, fulfilled and with the winter coming on, there will be no motivation to do any damage on the leaderboard.

So I plotted a two day route: you simply can’t take all the climbs at speed in one day, it has to be thought out strategically: and if I’m honest, I stopped en route and looked at one long segment that’s actually includes two little ones, and I knew that with the wind against, I could only manage one of the three. I went for the last one, the shortest, an absolute brute of a climb, the record for which was held by the guy who had all three in his locker: not anymore. I cleaned him out with something to spare. That tells me that I can go back another day and take the lot in a wonna, and I will.

But I knew that the job was only half done because there are plenty of other climbs round here that I had to save for another day: today. There’s a hill that’s sits out to the west of Stewarton that we just call the Chapeltoun hill: it’s long, if you take it over its entire length back into town, and it has three Strava segments on it. I decided to leave that one till last today, because I looked at it on paper and thought it was still in scope, even with knackered legs from two other attempted Kings in the previous three miles: I cleaned out all three, but perhaps the most telling statistic is that on the final short uphill burst into Stewarton, the gap between first and second is now the same as the gap between second and eighth.

But that wasn’t my favourite gig of the day: that’s a tie between the first one, the 1.5 mile climb out of Stewarton up the Old Glasgow Road to Kingsford, and the longer 1.7 mile leg quite late on between Benslie and Torranyard. 52 seconds now separates first and second on Old Glasgow Road, and 53 seconds is the gap on the Torranyard run. These are huge chunks of time.

But I’m not finished yet: there’s a climb up to Dunlop that I’ve yet to address with my purposeful hat on, and there are a couple of lesser climbs that I also like the look of. I want the lot. By the time I board the plane to Australia, I want the confidence of knowing that five years of thrashing my body, day after day after day, is going to pay dividends…

I think it is: and what’s more, I think that the proudest moment of my sporting life will be the night at the Opera.

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