Flying Solo

Many times during this journey, I’ve said that “some things are just meant to be”. From meeting Jimmy Harrington after a chance retweet back in 2014, to meeting Jackie Barreau through an even more bizarre set of events on Twitter when England’s Women played a World Cup semi final in 2015, this journey has been littered with events that don’t really make sense in the normal way of things.

But one connection stands head and shoulders above all the rest.

Let me roll the clock back five years to this week in 2015. Even more bizarrely, this even happened on the same day that Jackie Barreau and I connected. We were on holiday in New York and I got a random follow on Twitter from a lady in Los Angeles. I say random, because I don’t have that many followers, six hundredish, and my bio has always showcased the bike ride. Because I’m of curious descent, I always check out who’s just followed me, and if they look interesting, I follow them back.  When I do that, I sometimes follow that up with a wee hello via a DM (Direct Message) to complete the circle.

The lady from LA was Tiff Alkouri, lead singer with the 80’s retro band Fire Tiger, except that Fire Tiger are not an 80’s band, they’re current. And hot. They featured in an LCFN blog story that very week because I was kinda spooked by the way it all came together. Anyway, following on from that, I became Facebook friends with both Tiff and her man James who’s a leading light in the band. That friendship has been ongoing now for five years. I follow the band and they follow my adventures. That’s the way it works.

Now roll the clock forward those five years to this week: five years on from that chance encounter on Twitter.

A  post popped up on my Facebook feed from Fire Tiger, promoting their new album which came out today. Nothing new in that, I guess, because this is their third album. But the post came with a feature track Flying Solo, which had a link to You Tube. This is the link:

Fire Tiger have done some good stuff in the past five years, and both Energy and Green Light feature on my Ride2Cure Lockdown mix that fuels the virtual ride in these COVID times.

But Flying Solo is on a different planet altogether, possibly because it features bagpipes, which adds a whole new dimension to their 80’s rock genre, but more likely because the lyrics tie it to this journey in a way that the band could never have known when they penned the song.

Check these lyrics then ask yourself whether Eileidh Paterson and Bradley Lowery conspired to put this thing together:

They’re flying high

Looking down below

Who, who are the people

Spinning the world

Passers by

Some who I don’t know

Who, who are the people out on their own

Flying solo whoa whoa whoa

Flying solo whoa whoa whoa

Clear as night

And nobody knows

Who, who are the people

Flying solo whoa whoa whoa

Flying solo whoa whoa whoa

Alright

They’re flying solo

Looking down below

I was in bits when I realised the significance of those words. I messaged Tiff and said that this is more than just a great track off the album. I also told her that they should persevere with the pipes because they take their music to a whole new place. The subsequent banter suggests that the band have hit upon something from another dimension altogether.

I love social media. I love the connectivity that it gives you. And I love Fire Tiger.

Eileidh passed away on July 1st 2017.

Bradley passed away on the 7th.

No one will ever be able to convince me that Eileidh and Bradley didn’t somehow conspire to influence Fire Tiger when they wrote that song. It’s the way things have always worked during the time that I’ve been on this journey. Strange things that I will never understand.

Because of the significance of this week, I’ve taken to doing some outrageous things in my virtual world. As I explained last week, it matters not a jot that I’m not out on the road because (a) I’m safe from COVID (b) I’m able to open my mind to not just the improbable but actually the virtually impossible. As Frankie said back in ’85 “The world is my oyster”.

The driving force behind every stage these past twelve months has been Anna Meares. And as every day ticked by, so I realised that it was becoming ever more likely that I was going to be able to deliver a whole calendar year of Ride2Cure2 stages without missing a single day. Sometimes you’ve just got to kid yourself on that that’s what champions do. It’s that ride through a brick wall mentality if you have to. My Ross has it: that’s what made him a World Champion in 2019.

Yes I’m proud of being able to bang out almost 13,000 miles in twelve months, with almost half a million feet of climbing thrown into the mix for good measure. But that didn’t come overnight. I remember the bad times when overuse injuries threatened to derail the early days. Now my body just says “fuck it, on you go, I’ll do my best” and it seems to work.

On Tuesday, Stage 366, the stage that brought the year home, I rode virtual down Mount Everest: 22,000ft of descent in a 50 mile epic cycle. Yes it was made up. Yes it was totally bonkers. But no, there wasn’t any gravity to help me down that mountain. If you want to ride fast down a massive descent, then you have to engage the biggest gear you’ve got and be prepared to endure pain.

On Wednesday, in memory of Eileidh, I virtualled from Carrbridge, scene of many a Caley Thistle Highland March escapade, to Forres over the hill.  I remember driving that road with Joe back in the half term winter of 2016. I was a white road, ungritted and as scary as fuck. But because we had an appointment to visit Princess Puddles, you take these things on. I’ve driven it again since, without the snow, and it’s a road that’s on my bucket list to do for real. Up, down, and as remote as a controller.

With that one in the bag, I thought “Let’s virtual the Lairig Ghru”. Now there’s a bonkers idea. Five miles in, after a wee warm up, there’s a 2000ft fifteen mile climb. That was yesterday’s gig.

And as if that wasn’t enough, I topped it all off today with the infamous Cockbridge to Tomintoul road. It’s only nine miles, but it boasts the record of being closed because of snow more than any other road in Scotland. And it’s usually the first. But nine miles is rubbish in terms of distance so I decided to bolt the descent of Cairn Gorm onto the front end. That turned the stage into a thirty mile 2,300ft gig. Now there’s a leg burner!

COVID-19 has set this journey free. I no longer feel under any obligation to cycle this route or ride that. I recognise only too well that having given up the day job of Glasgow and back post redundancy, I’d become stale. Virtual riding has changed all that. “But don’t you miss being out on the open road?” I hear you ask. “Yes and no”. I’ve been there and done that, and doing the same old routes day after day is mentally very tiring. These days, my imagination is the boundary of my limits. I want to virtual ride down Ben Nevis and I want to virtual ride down K2. Because I can.

And I’ve still got the virtual F1 calendar to complete: Barcelona’s up next then after that it’s Monaco. Bored of being on a turbo, me? Not a chance. And another thing: it’s much more time efficient, which leaves more time for doing research type stuff in my other job, the one I get paid for.

I’m not a pack animal. I have wacky ideas then I turn them into reality. That’s what I do. And like EIleidh and Bradley, and a band in LA, in an extra terrestrial kind of a way, I’m also Flying Solo.

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