Do Your Best: Climb Everest

Iceland has crept up on me like a fast melting glacier. The glacier bit is perhaps apt because according to Google Earth, I’ve been knocking about above the snow line intermittently these last few days. When the Virtual Tour left Reykjavik on July 16th, I thought I was in for an exotic coastal repeat of the Virtual Tour of Ireland.

How wrong I was.

Just like the Irish gig, I’m following the coastline clockwise. And just like Ireland, I’m taking every wee road that follows the curvature of the land: except, of course, that in Iceland, a lot of these roads are not really roads at all. They’re red dirt tracks. But that’s not a problem because armed with digital map, I can virtual ride anything.

I’m 15 days into the gig, and this week has come like a bolt from the blue. These are the number of feet of climbing (in thousands of feet) since I rolled off the magic carpet in Reyjkavik: 1.5K, 0.8K, 0.7K, 1.9K, 2.7K, 2.1K, 1.3K, 1.0K, 3.0K, 2.5K, 3.6K. 5.3K, 4.1K, 5.7K, 6.0K, 6.3K.

Since Monday (5 days ago), I’ve climbed almost 28,000 feet. Everest is 29,000. I did not expect, following a coastal route, to be taking on 12% gradients one after the other, 1500ft climbs, one after the other. Climbs where no sooner have you gone over the top than you’re back down at the same elevation where you started the climb half an hour ago. Then you get to do it all over again on the next hill, and the one after that and the one after that.

Ireland took me 40 days. The very best that I think I can do in Iceland is a hundred days. If I’m lucky. Right now I cannae get the long days in cos they’re so feckin hilly!

Thank goodness for the Rohloff Speedhub. When Jane came out to tell me that the bike had a squeak about ten days ago, she wasn’t telling me anything that I didn’t already know. I think the neighbours knew too: they were probably keeping their windows shut. Having failed miserably to find the source, or indeed the wee mouse, I swapped the bike instead. It’s a bit like black box debugging: swap the entire unit out and whack another one in. That soon sorted it. Now Jane comes out to make sure I’m still alive.

The squeaky Oz road bike is configured for speed. The Rohloff is configured for climbing. I got my fat erse up and over the Bealach Na Ba pass to Applecross this time last year just two weeks after getting back on the bike. Fifty odd miles on the day, oodles of thousands of feet of climbing, and I never got out of the saddle once. The Rohloff was set up for these 12% gradients. Just find a gear that works, and turn it. And keep turning it for the next 25 minutes if need be.

397 days on the road in Ride2Cure2. Not missed a single day. The average is a fraction under 35 miles. Brian Lara’s 400 not out against England in 2004 is now right in the crosshairs. After that, it’s blue sky all the way to heaven…

Looking at the satellite images on Google Earth, the north west corner of Iceland is definitely the second hilliest bit. But the middle sticky out bit of the northern coastline, the bit that includes the town of Siglufjorour, looks like it has the ammunition to make this past week look like a playschool picnic. We shall see. Forewarned is forearmed. Or four legs even.

That’s July over. Just three weeks until the seventh anniversary of LCFN. It must have been about now, or at least sometime in this next week or two, that I did a Skype call with Angela Haggerty. I wonder whether Angela still remembers it. I had a simple question: “I’ve had this idea about cycling to and from Glasgow from Stewarton every day to raise money for neuroblastoma research. Do you think it would fly if I asked people to sponsor me at a penny a mile on social media?” I asked Angela because she knew social media a whole lot better than I did: and probably still does. The answer was simple and straight to the point: “There’s only one way to find out…

We live in difficult times. A bit of me is thinking “Every other fecker’s out on the road so why don’t I do that?” Jane was a bit stunned when I pulled the trigger and went offline before that charlatan in number 10 mentioned the L word back in March. But I like to think I’m ahead of the game: and because I’m a creature of habit and prediction, there’s zero chance that I’m battoning up the hatches while there’s still the prospect of a tsunami second wave of COVID-19. I’m staying in the shed and/or the gazebo a while longer yet.

For an auld bloke who should be properly retired, I don’t think I’m doing a bad job. I still vividly remember the Sunday morning that I sat bolt upright in bed and read a predictive blog by a lady called Liz Specht on Twitter. It was early March. She’s a data scientist in public health in California. After reading her prediction about how COVID-19 had the potential to overwhelm the US healthcare system, I shot out of bed and started coding at 9am.

Now, after multiple new ideas (many of which come to me while I’m on the bike) and enhancements to see “what that would look like, if I drilled down further into that bit”, I’ve discovered that the UK government are being lax with the truth. Let me explain…

I only deal in data that I can automate. Unfortunately the devolved Northern Ireland administration does not provide a daily Excel download of their data so I purposefully exclude their numbers. But I do take the daily export for England, Scotland and Wales. And I strive to be ahead of the game. Indeed, what I look for in particular are what you might call quirky things that you won’t hear mentioned on the BBC News. Or if you do, you’re hearing it a week after I told you it was going to happen.

By digging deep into the data and analysing to the nth degree, I’ve discovered that the UK government are potentially under reporting the number of COVID cases in England. To make my life easier as an analyst, I colour code the daily increases in new cases: <10% are white, 10-20% are yellow, 20-30% are orange and anything 30% or above is red. England has 315 local authorities feeding into Public Health England and hence into the government data download. What I noticed was a load of other stuff that wasn’t coloured at all: so I added an extra bit of code and shaded those cells cyan. Those are the local authorities that aren’t included in the daily download.

Without wanting to bore you at this point, let me cut to the quick. The government are focussing (solely) on places that have a high value of new cases/100K of population and those are predominantly the places that they’re reporting on every day. But interestingly, once you’ve been in the top 20, the blazers in Downing Street demand that you keep reporting. Those places are what business leaders call low hanging fruit. However if you’re not in focus, the government are not that interested so your numbers are not included in the daily stats for England. The not interested group accounts for around 50% of all local authorities in England, and that’s a problem. Fortunately however, I have coding skills, analytical street cred and business acumen on my side so I’m able to estimate from prior and post actuals what those gaps would have been, incrementally creeping from one actually reported value to the next. As I said earlier, I like to be ahead of the game. I can detect the emerging hotspots long before Cummings tells Johnson to tell Hancock to get on Twitter and tell folk that they’ve to stay home.

So my life just now is beautifully balanced: climbing mountains round the coast of Iceland, and holding the UK government to account.

Do your best: climb Everest!

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