After seven years, this adventure never ceases to amaze. Just when you think you’ve seen it all and experienced everything that could be construed as challenging, up pops something else.
Two weeks ago it was 37,000 feet of climbing in a week, more than double the previous record, which itself goes back a couple of years.
Last week I was knackered courtesy of all them hills and to be honest it was all a bit of a slog. But history tells me that slog gets you places, so on Monday I was fortunate enough to crack 60,000 miles since I first set off on my folding bike nearly 1700 stages ago.
Although it’ll go down in the record books as 60,000 miles in seven years, it’s really only six. I lost two months to a hernia op in 2015, another two months to a nagging thigh injury self inflicted chasing Strava King Of The Pensioners in 2016, and I took nine months off after Australia because I thought I was done with the bike: but Anna Meares convinced me otherwise after I’d been back to Wagga to see Isabella McInerney and her schoolmates just months after the original Ride2Cure visit.
I’m currently 29 stages into the virtual Tour of Iceland, and by the time I’d finished the mountainous north west, which kickstarted that mammoth climbing week a fortnight ago, Jane had bought the guide book. Because we lost our Australia/New Zealand trip to COVID this year, we’ve pencilled in Iceland as wee replacement holiday once it’s deemed safe to visit the middle of nowhere under a midnight sun. It was the Google images what done it, guv. Each day that I’m doing a virtual stage, I try to pick out opportunistic photos from the Google street view camera, and of course, they’re generally spectacular because Iceland is spectacular.
But if I may reiterate what I said at the top of the show, just when you think you’ve seen it all, along comes a stage to kick you in the nuts. I generally set the route for the next stage the night before, just to give me something to keep me awake. Only kidding. But on the odd occasion, I leave the route setting until the very last moment then just jump on the bike. When that happens, you’ve no time to get rattled, so it’s just as well that today was one of those days.
I generally go for distance first. If I don’t feel tired, I want 35 miles plus. Sometimes I’ll go for 40 or 45 because it takes the pressure off the other days in keeping the 200 mile weeks ticking over: this’ll be forty three on the spin. And I also try to start and end each stage at a landmark, be it a road junction or some feature on the map where you can say “I finished there”, as opposed to some clump of heather on an open hillside. And generally speaking, I like to finish at sea level, even if it does mean firing off uphill the next morning. You know the score: whatever goes up, must come down, and there’s nothing to beat a wee descent to the finish when your legs are shot to pieces.
So, back to today…
I set the route after breakfast. MapMyRide, my route setting app of choice because it interfaces easily with the turbo trainer, doesn’t calculate the ascent in Iceland for some reason: it works everywhere else. Every MapMyRide stage on Iceland has come up with zero feet of climbing. So for the climbs, I have to use the Hammerhead Karoo route builder, but it doesn’t create an export file format that the turbo recognises. So I take what is effectively the SatNav from MapMyRide, then plot exactly the same route on the Hammerhead dashboard to get the ascent. With me so far?
Today I was feeling frisky with it being Friday and the Test Match to watch on my phone so I set a 40 mile route. Then I replicated it on the Hammerhead site: 12,500ft of climbing. Excuse me but I’m used to doing that in a week. So I chopped ten miles off the route and set it to finish at the previous sea level finish: 9,200ft. “Hell, I can’t trim it back anymore from there…” So 9,000ft of climbing it was: except that 8,000ft of it was waiting in the wings for the last seven miles of the stage.
This is where it gets interesting. When I checked on Google Maps to get a feel for the ascent, I saw that there are actually two road tunnels through the mountains in those last few miles. Each tunnel is maybe three or four miles in length. But neither MapMyRide nor the Hammerhead dashboard plotted them on the route. So I was left with 8,000ft of climbing in a little over seven miles. The gradient going up maxed out at 42%, while the gradient going down the other side of the second mountain was a yummy 48%.
It’s just as well that the gold Rohloff bike is geared for hills. There comes a point when you’re riding up hills on the turbo that the friction roller seemingly cannae make it any harder. If you were to try and turn a gear from a standing start at 40%, I can tell you right now that it’s feckin hard work. But once you’ve found a gear that works, all you need is something to take your mind off the pain, and for me that’s music, phone Scrabble or the Test Match. Or some combo of the three. The real bonus of climbing hills on the turbo is that it’s your legs that do all the work and not your heart rate. Turbo hills are absolutely not the same, and nowhere near as punishing as the real thing in real life. But as I’m 67 and a half, I’ll take that as a cop out. At the end of the day, 8000ft of climbing is 8000ft of climbing. The Killer Mile down at Mow Cop is a mere 700ft.
I’ve done a thousand miles in Iceland yet it looks like I’m only a quarter of the way round. That’s okay, I can handle that. I really don’t care if I miss the whole summer out on the road: the winter’s where I earn my crust: when virtually every other fucker’s hiding indoors. Less chance of cross contamination and catching the COVID. For now I’m more than happy living the life of a hermit, doing my miles in the back garden, doing the COVID stats, doing some SNOMED-CT research and hitting the supermarket every ten days at 8pm when there’s no other bugger about.
I’m focussed alright. And I was certainly focussed today, so much so that as I was climbing those two mountains, I was sure I had tunnel vision!