A Crash Related Ramble

Never do I feel so confident as when I’m going great guns on a bike or tearing down a technical hill side like an ungraceful mountain goat, just about managing to keep my balance. Those moments are blissfully rare insights into a fantasy life which could resemble total self-belief while anxiety remains absent.

Reality does however bite when I dismount my bike or fling of my trail shoes. With this in mind, I hold those blissful moments before with added value. Only now as I relapse through a period of being anxious about those very activities do I realise how significant a role they play in my quality of life.

A wide spectrum of situations will undoubtedly make different individuals anxious and for me personally there are many. Public speaking, meeting strangers, driving in the city and visiting the dentist to name just a few.

Many of my anxieties need to be overcome if I’m serious in the long term about becoming a journalist or to indeed enjoy a good quality of life. And in truth many of them have been overcome several times. But life isn’t that simple unfortunately. So often its a case of one step backwards to make two steps forward and I’ve come to accept that.

Feeling anxious about an activity you’ve held as a remedy to detrimental mental health though? That’s a bit tougher to accept.

For so long riding a bike has been the love hate relationship which I’ve always enjoyed coming back to. I can’t exactly pinpoint my first experience on two wheels, but I can almost create the images in my head of a chubby blonde haired four-year-old on a bike with oversized stabilisers.

Likely pushed along gently by an incredibly patient parent or grandparent until eventually reaching that pleasing moment when I could ride unassisted. Sounds of encouragement coming thick and fast as I wobbled along at a snail’s pace.

Fast forward 20 years and the bowl haircut is gone, replaced by an even more horrendous hair style. This time inflicted by yours truly in a late night cider fuelled haircut session with some full sized scissors and a sink full of damp hair.

On a more serious note, that came last week when my anxiety felt as out of control as my ever growing lockdown mullet. Cutting my hair, however poorly, felt like one of the only things I could control on a visual level.

My legs are also thankfully stronger nowadays and I’m able to propel myself along at a much faster pace, thanks in part to getting rid of the stabilisers. Unfortunately however, in another addition to a comedy of errors I discovered I maybe still needed them.

It had been a surprisingly warm June day after the week previous had proved there isn’t really a Scottish Spring weather wise. It just seems to jump straight from winter to summer. Must be a baptism of fire for those poor calves and lambs.

Anyway, on a pretty depressingly unproductive day last week I decided to brush of the cobwebs, aiming for a wee spin out to Linn O’Dee. I wanted to add a few mild evening miles to the cyclometer. I wanted something, however small, to show for when I lay my head on my pillow later that evening.

I sped up to the Linn O’Dee Bridge, brushing past a father and son with an arrogant greeting as I sped past. I felt like Bradley Wiggins if he had a shit hairdo and no side burns.

I felt so good I decided to extend my ride slightly to the Linn O’Quoich. A car park further down the road heading back east where the tarmac comes to an end.

The road was unsurprisingly devoid of traffic and pedestrians until I glanced a couple leaning on their grey vovlo after reaching the brow of a slight hill. On seeing a potential crowd to my incredible Tour de France cycling skills, I decided my gratification levels needed an unnecessary boost.

As an inconsistent user of Strava and social media in general, I feel like I don’t look for that gratification and justification quite enough. Even if I guiltily concluded recently that this very blog is also seemingly often geared towards lazily gaining those two elements.

And so I hit the accelerator, pummelling my way down the other side of the slight incline, imagining I was time trialling.

Suddenly I wasn’t peddling anymore. There was no saddle beneath my lycra cladded buttocks. I lay sprawled on the tarmac, my long suffering bike slightly mangled beside me as a sat like a startled ugly deer for a split second. I had crashed good and proper.

Regaining some sense quickly, I leapt to my feet praying that the nearby couple hadn’t seen my wee incident. There prayers weren’t answered.

“Are you alright?”, asked the woman as I followed her voice to see the concerned Volvo owners giving me discerning looks from a safe distance. Fuck.

My go to response was nervous humour as I tried to mount my poor bicycle with some urgency. I joked about the number one rule of crashing being to always crash with an audience, before quickly realising my front brakes were jammed.

While fixing it I noticed the blood pouring profusely from my left knee and found some solace in my right knee’s rare avoidance of harm in an accident. I was likely fairly lucky not to break anything. Especially after coming down at some speed.

Instead of the fulfilment I’d hoped I would have felt after my ride, I spent the rest of that evening cleaning my wounds and trying to figure out why I’d so unexpectedly ended up on the tarmac.

Only once previously had I bailed from a road bike. That occasion being seven years ago and occurring in an almost comically controlled and deliberate manner. A swinging tractor’s trailer resulting from a mistimed overtaking attempt forced me to fall into a soft verge in slow motion.

There hadn’t even been any bruises that day and it hadn’t at all discouraged me from going out and doing the same the next day. This time however, was different.

This time there had been no obvious risks. I was sure I hadn’t pulled my brakes and the accident had taken place on a fairly straightforward section of road. Perhaps a pine cone laid by an evil squirrel had been the culprit. Maybe my front brake had jammed before the crash, but this seemed difficult to explain if I hadn’t touched the lever.

A week on and my bruises are now healing well and I’ve realised this crash shouldn’t have really been that big a deal. Yet, I also realised I’m now worrying about my recurring cure for worry. That in itself is worrying!

Forgivable confusion from that last statement aside and I’ve now suitably recovered from my bruising encounter with the tarmac. I’ve left the bike and its buckled wheel alone for the moment and am focusing on the running.

After saying I would, I eventually made it up the mighty Morrone on Tuesday and plan to do the same tomorrow after laying low for the last few days.

Hopefully I’ll be back on the bike soon. Able to banish any nervousness which comes with riding it. Wish me luck!

 

 

Weekly Ramblings

Issue 9 – Wednesday 10th June

The Good

A slightly late Weekly Ramblings comes to you from a fifth week of lockdown spent in a slightly colder and cloudier Braemar. Later this morning I’ll be leaving the village to perform a socially distant visit of my Granny with my brother.

Armed with muffins, I’ll be taking Dad’s diesel Mitsibushi on a proper spin for the first time after embarrassingly being unable to figure out how to pop the fuel cap open earlier last week.

Apparently the car itself is slightly top heavy, meaning I’ll have to take the many corners between here and Ballater with care. This week it was finally given its MOT and is now road ready. I just need to remember it takes unleaded? No, diesel!

This week has also seen less lycra action out with a weetabix fuelled ride over Glenshee on Thursday in unseasonably cold temperatures. That ride definitely doesn’t rank as being one of the more enjoyable ones.

Indeed, neither was it one of my finest moments as I often loudly cursed the existence of a moderate North-Westerly wind all the way home.

As always though, there was a recognisable overriding feeling of achievement after completing a Rule Five ride for the first time in a while. More obviously enjoyable at the  however, has been my strive to find my hill running legs again.

Starting of relatively small, I’ve started going further and finding some more challenging climbs to test myself on. The Morrone Birkwood and forest beyond it has proved a good testing ground, with a multitude of climbs amidst colourful heather providing a strong backdrop to several outings now.

Next week I’ll be targeting a rare attempt at Morrone Hill itself and lets hope the Old Women of Winter doesn’t leave me needing temporary stitches in my knee this time. I’ll also be attempting once again to improve my poor diet habits in the hope of making the load I need to carry with me up the Corbett a bit lighter.

The Bad

In order to avoid making this segment a weekly rant, I’ll try and cut to the chase as quick as possible. As the title of this segment suggests that alone can be difficult for me at times.

On Thursday evening I sent a letter to the MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, Andrew Bowie. Within the short-ish (for me anyway) essay I asked Mr Bowie about his views on: (a) The Black Lives Matter Movement and its significance in his constituency.

(b) What he thought about Donald Trump’s dangerous and perverse reaction to George Floyd’s death and the ongoing protests in his country.

(c) Whether he would be willing to call out cases of institutionalised racism in the House of Commons.

Now there has yet to be a reply, but I want to give my local Westminster representative the benefit of the doubt on this one. Maybe he’s been flooded by similar letters and is replying to them when he can. Maybe my email landed in his spam folder.

I also realise he’s likely been heavily involved in the political response to the Covid-19 outbreak, amongst other localised and national issues. It is therefore unfair to locate Mr Bowie in this week’s bad section purely for his failure to reply to my email.

Although, I would be interested to find out how many of those who have written to their local MPs have received a reply. Perhaps an Instagram poll later in the week will provide a vague idea of their response to those who did put pen to paper.

That being said, I have been slightly irked by the general response amongst Conservative Mps (and others) to the growing movement behind Black Lives Matter. This response from some MPs local to Aberdeenshire seems to be either pretty meagre or actually focused on choosing a different issue of the here and now.

This issue being the violence which has been perceived as marring the UK based protests. Protests which have been largely peaceful, with the tearing down of statutes and defacing of others being widely reported.

At this point let’s be clear. In no way I’m I defending the vandalising of the Cenotaph, an important war memorial to those who bravely fought and died for this country.

Instead, I’d suggest that many who have a political platform and a clear voice aren’t doing enough to back this pivotal movement and the toxic rhetoric and behaviour of those who still base suppression on a person’s skin colour.

Its arguably easier to discuss violence on the streets and protest related social disorder rather than attempting to tackle an ugly racist undercurrent within our society. I just feel this isn’t a time to pick and choose issues.

Some have clearly decided to give more airtime to the unfortunate and indeed, unforgivable incidents where British police officers have been harmed. They seem to have given this issue prominence over the systematic killing of black people at the hands of American police for generations. This to me seems slightly puzzling, if not a tad inconsistent.

The Ugly

My hair is pretty ugly right now, floating between a poor attempt at a surfer dude and a 1980’s lower league footballer. Getting a haircut is definitely one of the items on the post-lockdown priorities list.

A slightly ugly scenario also played out on Tuesday’s run when an oyster catcher became anxious about the threat a bedraggled bandanna sporting runner poised to its nearby nest.

Running down towards the Games Park I was suddenly bombarded by a flood of bird shit. This being accompanied by several rounds of good old fashioned dive bombing.

Although, this was an unnerving run in, my similar experience with a buzzard in a field a few years ago was definitely more intimidating. During that encounter I could feel the bird of prey breathing down my neck as I breathlessly sprinted towards the nearby trees. I will however, consider an alternative route next time for the angry oyster catcher’s benefit.

Hoping that this relatively harmless bird anecdote has distracted you from the slightly politicised section beforehand its time to go and fill up the car. I realise I’ve broken my unwritten rule of not being political on this blog, but I hope you realise these are unprecedented times. Stay safe everyone.

 

Like Riding Through Treacle

It’s always difficult to get out of bed when you can actually hear the rain and wind battering your bedroom windows. Friday morning was no exception to this rule. Awaking early for my planned ride I thought, ‘it’s June, it can’t be that cold outside.’ Spoiler alert: it was pretty cold.

Not only was it unseasonably chilly, but cycling the strong northerly wind forecasted was also an ominous sign. I would be heading northwards back to Braemar after being dropped off in rural Perthshire.

Eventually hauling myself outside and into the car later than planned, my raynaud’s was already starting to kick in. On reaching the summit of Britain’s highest A-road I noticed with some anxiety that the temperature reading was hovering around a balmy 3 °C.

After being dropped off I was soon on my way. The first section of the 30 mile ride was deceptively easy. Me and my sexy lycra were sheltered from the wind with a kindly gradient to boot.

Even the first climb was relatively simple. I started to convince myself that it was going to take no time at all to cycle home as I powered up the incline like a heavy set Nairo Quintana. That being if the Colombian regularly barely digested three soggy Weetabix before a Tour de France stage. This was going to be a piece of piss.

On reaching a less sheltered section of the road this arrogance was deservedly dashed by a strong northerly wind rearing which finally reared its ugly head. I enjoy a cool breeze on a hot June day as much as the next guy. When its cold and I’m trying to ride a bike however, I’m not as much of a fan.

The long and winding road to Spittal of Glenshee ascends and descends repetitively and it was on these small bumps that I realised I should of sorted my lazy lockdown sleep pattern out. For all intent and purpose my legs felt like they were still snoozing.

Passing the remote village across the modern looking McThomas Bridge the ride became tougher still. On the approach to the steep Cairnwell Pass, a section of road known locally as the ‘Slide’ for the direct route it takes to the valley floor, there was now no shelter at all from the incessant headwind.

The road over this hill used to be infamous for being one of the toughest routes in Britain. The now retired Devil’s Elbow included a double hairpin which unsurprisingly  proved a challenge for many motorists before a newer road was completed in the 1960s.

Looking down at the hillside below where this sensational road formerly lay, I grinded away in my smallest ring like a persistent snail, trying to ignore the lactate acid screaming murder in my cold legs.

It was on this pain inducing incline that I began to do some thinking. Not an unusual pastime for me, but not a particular strong point of mine when there is a distraction such as palpable lower leg pain.

I started to draw some clumsy comparisons between life and my sudden realisation at that precise moment there was only one objective which I wanted to achieve. All I wanted to do in that moment was to keep turning the pedals. That was of a crucial importance if I wanted to reach the Ski Centre two kilometres up the road without coming to an anti- climatic halt. 

Keeping it relatively brief, there are two clear trains of thought which entered my head as I traversed the hillside in the rain and wind. The first is that life can be a real grind.

That patience and a persistent effort is likely to be key in achieving personal goals and finding a fulfilling happiness in your lifestyle, even if the process towards succeeding in these areas can be slow.  This can also definitely be discovered in another person’s happiness.

Secondly, I considered how it takes a sustained and often slowly building effort to change your views. To educate yourself or others. To constantly bat away any ignorant or outdated views that you may have held for a while, perhaps years.

As an individual and a wider society we should always aim to make progress. Even if that progress is difficult, painful and slow, perhaps often frustratingly so. There is always progress to be made.

Weaving across the now 10% gradient road I considered this second point especially and thought about how weak the old arguments of ‘how it wasn’t like that in my day’ are. Similar worn-out excuses equating to the mentality that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

Everyone, no matter their age or experiences has the ability to change their views. Everyone should have the ability to arrive at a different less thought out conclusion than they have previously reached. Even a huge amount of patience, humility and effort.

Bike on the bike, it took me all but 17 minutes to reach the summit. My reward? The king of all eye hurting headwinds combined with icy rain. Cycling past the empty chairlifts of the ski centre I could barely keep my eyes open as icy rain blasted my frozen facial features.

Eventually I completed the descent into Braemar and this was where I experienced my highlight of the day, maybe the week. Earlier in the ride I’d been passed by a Co-op lorry and before entering the village I met the same green vehicle again, heading southbound this time.

The driver promptly flashed his lights at me, giving me a heart warming thumbs up as he sped past. This gesture was the perfect remedy to a life which has often recently felt similar to being in a social bubble, sporadically interrupted by a pandemonic social media feed.

During the current events an innocuous glance at my multiple digital feeds presents many voices in favour of positive change. However, many others seem to enjoy disregarding or shutting down the important debate and issues which have almost became all encompassing right now.

Obviously, these negative voices can often drown out the helpful and pragmatic voices of the moment. I guess, perhaps naively, that driver’s simple gesture helped restore some faith on humanity on a visual level. If that makes sense?

Black Lives Matter https://blacklivesmatter.com/

 

Weekly Ramblings Returns

Issue 8 – Tuesday 2 June 2020

Introduction

Its been a long time since I tried to keep a weekly blog and in hindsight its confusing why I didn’t start my ramblings back up earlier in this long-lasting lockdown. Maybe I naively considered the comings and goings of life at home to be uninteresting or maybe there is a more prevalent unwillingness to delve into my personal exploits.

This when there are so pressing matters in the public sphere. In fairness, there are always more pressing matters, but this week’s media and social media coverage is arguably all encompassing in its significance.

Whatever the reason, when writing I did feel anxious about delving into the news of the last several weeks and the one particular story which has rightfully been circulating this past week.

Alternatively, I think the terrifying, but important events of last week should be mentioned on this platform. Unfortunately these most definitely belong in the darkest recesses of The Bad and The Ugly sections of this week’s ramblings.

I want to however, begin on the good which I’ve experienced on a personal level in a world which feels unequally depressing at the moment. I don’t want to avoid the more global societal issues which should involve everyone, but have decided to conclude the following ramblings with them.

The Good

As we pass the 70 day mark of this unprecedented lockdown there are some positives to be found on a personal level.  One of these being that my wild haired and physically stronger stay at home comrade hasn’t yet murdered me as I sleep restlessly.

Indeed, I don’t think its too much of a stretch to boldly my brother and I have almost enjoyed each other’s company, despite the numerous bad habits which he has to put up with.

With the slight easing of restrictions we have manged to kick a ball around in the park this week. This to our neighbours relief as they have had to put up with endless rounds of garden cricket. We’ve also provided good company for each other on cycle runs. I slowly becoming accustomed to the uncomfortable combination of wearing tight Lycra on an incredibly solid saddle.

Taking it in turns to cook meals, I have also managed to avoid food poisoning any of my current housemates. Perhaps even improving on the little cooking skills in my locker before Covid-19 arrived and eating slightly healthier. You quickly realise when eating an orange for a cheeky afternoon snack feels unusual that you’re lazy student induced diet was likely pretty appalling.

My gradual re-introduction into the world of road cycling has also been of benefit to my physical and mental health. Last week’s sunshine and balmy temperatures have been advantageous to achieving 200 kilometres over the seven days, most of these miles being collected in the short ride out to Linn O’Dee.

At a time when the guidance is to stay local the ‘Linn Loop’ is a solid ride which ordinarily takes 40-45 minutes to complete. With a small hill on the return to Braemar I’ve tentatively taken up Strava again in the search for my best time. Frustratingly, I have now equalled my best time twice, one measly second needed to get a personal record. Its motivation to keep plugging away at it I guess.

During lockdown I have also discovered Netflix Party, a tool which has been useful for binge watching Orange is the New Black with my girlfriend while she isolates in Aberdeen. There is some comfort in being able to relay your impressions of the show while watching it together. Although, patchy WiFi and a six-year-old acer laptop can make this is a frustrating process.

A final re-discovery has been in reading and last week I managed to eventually finish Ned Boulting’s On the Road Bike. I found this very readable account of the anecdotes and more outlandish characters of the British cycling scene to be both honest and insightful. Inspiring also to a part-time cyclist with some of the gear and no idea.

My current read is now The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, a book which unsurprisingly can prove complex and heavy reading. The author goes in hard on Facebook and Google, with some of the developments within sharing similarities to an episode of the dark yet brilliant Black Mirror. 

The Bad and the Ugly 

As the aftershocks of the horrific actions of a thoroughly isolated police officer in the United States and the Coronavirus death rate grows, it seems shamefully churlish to complain about my current circumstances.

The United States of America. A country which I think similarly to the UK enjoys seeing itself as exceptional and an effective practitioner of equal human rights. Unless you are living under a rock you have likely seen the evil and horrendous footage of a Minneapolis police officer unashamedly suffocating a unarmed black man.

You could say this has a detrimental on a country which prides itself on personal liberty and human rights. But the man in the White House is more focused on photo opportunities and holding a Bible uncomfortably like someone who claims to be Christian while having very non-christian values.

Personally, I was shocked by my lack of surprise at the video of the original incident. The footage itself was harrowing and shocking in how avoidable the tragic outcome of those 8 minutes, 46 seconds where George Floyd was pinned to the ground by his neck was.

But this is frighteningly not a rare occurrence. Mr Floyd didn’t deserve this. No one deserves this.

As someone who has undoubtedly benefited from white privilege, it is a sharp reminder I need to educate myself on where I’ve benefited from inherent racism. A racism which is likely less distinct than the unnecessary deaths of black men at the hands of merciless police officers or disgusting racial slurs.

Great Britain as a whole, urgently needs to discuss its colonial and imperial past and far from perfect present. This island nation is no beacon of shining light when discussing global inequality. Indeed, Scots who have seemingly enjoyed the tag of being viewed as a more liberal counter-balance to an England arguably struggling to find its identify need to do the same.

A lack of personal action against racism witnessed at school or in other sociable areas is likely linked to an anxious response to potential conflict or confrontation. It is shameful and fallible that it has taken this to spark this thinking process for myself on a personal level. This needs to go further than a shared hashtag on Instagram or a brief moment heart searching thinking.

Finally, the widely shared row of houses analogy which has been used to deligitimise the philosophy of the All Lives Matter movement in comparison to the Black Lives Matter movement is an important one.

If one house on a street of several houses is obviously on fire it makes little sense to aim a fire hose at the neighbouring properties. When it comes to racial inequality, and the in depth effects which this can have on an individual’s lifestyle, my house isn’t on fire. This isn’t about me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Up eh Road

Before setting out on my long-suffering Cannondale bicycle last week I first delved into my inconsistent Strava history. Strava for those unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately out of the loop, is an app which provides a relatively detailed account of how far or fast you have gone on a ride or a run.

According to my run-dominated profile, my lonely steed hadn’t been ridden for at least seven months, which is likely a long time in bike years. So, when considering how to keep my restless legs entertained during lockdown I decided to boldly go where my legs hadn’t been for a while.

The first two ventures on my bike didn’t take me far from home. This was partly due to the lockdown restrictions, but mostly because my runner legs weren’t pleased with this foreign activity. My backside was also displeased at taking an unacquainted battering from a hard road bike saddle.

Pressing on from unfortunate innuendos however, and I want to put a positive spin (see what I did there) on these two 30-mile cycles. Despite some unfortunate gearing issues and the incessant wind which seemingly blows down the two valleys which define Braemar’s environs, I could still ride a bike. That in itself was pleasing.

Next on the agenda was to discover whether yours truly and a mistreated 2014 Cannondale could tackle a good old-fashioned hill. Setting out on another planned local ride to Fraser’s Bridge and around to the Linn of Quoich, I climbed carefully out of the village and towards Glenshee Ski Centre. My unambitious plan was to turn off well before the climb at the top of the valley, taking a U-turn along the rough and bumpy golf course road and back into the village.

After riding for ten minutes into a slight headwind, the crossing over the 18th century crossing over the River Clunie came into sight. I looked up from my unprofessional position on my bike and caught a glimpse of wild lands which lay beyond. It was mild yet dull morning and low cloud enveloped the summits of munros such as Cairn an Tuirc, amongst others which I knew surrounded the nearby ski centre.

The right turn never came, and I could almost hear my brain arguing with my legs. If I wanted an insight into any leftover climbing resolve from last summer this was a primary opportunity. Though in all honesty, the climb up to the popular snow sports destination wasn’t actually that steep. I reckon it must average a 5-6% gradient from the Sean Spittal Bridge and its non-descript layby.

That is where I’d argue the climb begins good and proper for just over two kilometres. This is where you say goodbye to the valley floor and your hopes and dreams. It is a lesser climb from Fraser’s Bridge up until that point and can be a struggle in the prevailing south-westerly which consistently blows down Glen Clunie.

Passing through the barren landscape of very few trees and an occasional uninterested sheep, I finally reached the bottom of the climb. The wind dropped as a shifted down the gears. This was the moment of truth. Could I still climb?

The answer is complicated. Breathlessly slugging my way past the desolate ski centre with its deserted café and chairlifts, I eventually reached the ‘Welcome to Perth & Kinross’ sign (pictured).

The last stretch of the hill had been the most challenging, as I struggled to find a suitable gear on my worn-out chain set. Perhaps its worth pointing out here there often isn’t a correct gear. Climbing in granny gear is still unlikely to be an enjoyable affair for the mere cider guzzling student amateur.

I had however, survived the dreaded climb, also avoiding any serious incident on the steep descent back into the valley. Now I just need to pluck up the courage to tackle the other side as well. But’s that can be for another week…or month.

Race Report – Highland Cross 2019

The word ouch can be used to describe any race which I have previously taken part in. The Lumphanan Detox. Ouch. In fact it could be used in many different contexts in my day to day life.

Going over the handlebars on my bike and hitting my head. Ouch. Having my homework thrown into the bin by my IT teacher in a very public display when I was 15. Not forgiven or forgotten Mrs R. Ouch.

Even my easy run today in the sun was pretty sore at some points. However, there is no other word that so aptly sums up this year’s Highland Cross. It hurt. A lot.

My preparations for my third crossing hadn’t been ideal ( getting the excuses in early). I had struggled to train consistently and was gutted that I had decided to sit out the Edinburgh Marathon in May due to a lack of miles in the legs.

In the weeks leading up to the 50 mile duathalon I’d also struggled with the old foot injury which has occasionaly caused some bother for me since running became a hobby. It was touch and go as to whether I would be on the start line in Morvich, but luckily I recovered in the few days before the event. Phew.

This year the set up was different. Our team was composed of My Mum, Auntie Marie and yours truly. It was an absolute family affair and we were all staying in Inverness on the Friday night before.

As usual I didn’t sleep. The seagulls seemingly circled my Holiday Express room window as I tossed and turned throughout the mild summer solstice night.

I wasn’t however, anywhere near as anxious as I had felt before the Cross during the previous two years. I knew what to expect. I knew it was going to be tough.

The next morning I managed to  bypass the usual sickness which made eating difficult and had some porridge around 6.30am after seeing Mum off. She would be walking the route before hopping on her bike for the last 30 miles. This had been tempting as I stressed about my (lack of) fitness in the seven days previous.

Travelling with Marie and Stuart, who was participating as part of another team, we hopped on a bus at Beauly bound for the West Coast.

The journey lasted around two hours as we arrived near Morvich after travelling through some stunning scenery on the road to Kyle of Lochalsh. The rugged mountains, lochs and glorious sunshine acted as a good distraction from thinking about the pain which was now just around the corner.

At 11:00am a gunshot sent us off in a mad scramble for position during the first few miles of double track before the climbs started in earnest. I took it fairly easy, knowing I didn’t have the endurance to sustain such a fast pace that early on.

The heroics could be saved for the last few miles of the run when I thought it likely I’d have to dig deep. And man did I have to dig deep.

After 15 miles of endulating and challenging running I set foot on the Yellow Brick Road. A section of track which is always a struggle as I carried my tired body over seemingly endless track and then tarmac. I was desperate for the transition point to come into view.

I was desperate to get on my bike as my legs tried to convince me to stop. This Yellow Brick Road may not lead to the Emerald City, but it does provide the 700+ runners and walkers with a certain degree of courage.

Knowing the course relatively well this year was both a bonus and a curse as I found myself getting ahead of myself at some points. This meant some sections felt like a drag, albeit through some stunning Highland scenery. I shouldn’t complain really but the run was tough.

Eventually the transition point came into view as I uttered a celebratory “thank f***”. It sounds weird, but I just needed a seat. Even if that seat would be on an uncompromising bike saddle for nearly 30 miles. I don’t just wear lycra shorts to be fashionable you know.

At the transition point the staff, as always, were amazingly helpful as an older man held my bike as I changed my shoes and put my helmet on. He said some encouraging words as I set off down the twisty descent which begins the second leg of the crossing.

It was on this technical descent that I lost concentration and nearly came off on a nasty corner. That had been the second squeaky bum time moment of the day after I stumbled during the run.

Fortunately I was able to correct before I landed in a ditch at speeds in excess of 30mph. Once again, I’d been lucky.

Carrying on towards Beauly I was able to slipstream for a while before riding away from the competitors I had been working with in a short lived chaingang. My legs started to fail me on the last few short climbs as I struggled to stay focused on completing the last few miles towards the finish line.

My motivation wasn’t to beat my best time as by this point I was pretty sure this was now unattainable. Instead, my main motivation was finishing.

The extra motivation being that my girlfriend had travelled to Beauly especially to see me. Even after  had warned her about the lycra. Ultimately, this kept me going as waves of low blood sugar infused nausea and pain washed over me. Ouch.

As I tentatively rounded the last bend into Beauly my main concern was an unusual one. I knew I’d now finish and hopefully in a decent enough time.

Instead, I was concerned I would throw up the content of my breakfast when I arrived in the square. For this reason I was really hoping Leah wasn’t standing beside the finish line.

Fantastically my wish wasn’t granted and I was welcomed across the line by a beaming Leah who gave me a big hug before I wondered through the crowds to receive my medal. I had survived another year and hadn’t thrown up in front of my girlfriend and the other spectators. Life was good.

A flat coca cola later, and my nausea was gone as I watched Marie finishing in a decent time. Our team had done well as I unfortunately missed Mum coming in.

Mum had also done brilliantly as I met her after the event, interrupting her from a very messy but well deserved chocolate eating session. There must be something good in Granny Helen’s soup.

All in all it was another great crossing and I would love to return next year, perhaps with the same team if they can convince themselves to face the tough challenge which is the Highland Cross. Ouch.

Distance: 48 miles (77 km)

Time: 4:33:07

 

 

 

 

 

Weekly Rambling

Issue 7 – Monday 4 March 2019

The Good

As the days gradually get longer and 2019 continues to speed past at lightening pace, the last days of the month felt very unlike February. With temperatures hitting 16 degrees in the Granite City it felt more like June at times this week.

However, despite the unseasonably warm temperatures us brave Scots carried on like usual, perhaps with a little less moaning. Though, if you want to moan about the relentless double figure heat then worrying about climate change might be a good start. Is that too political? I’ll let you decide.

Anyway, this meant I was able to cycle to uni with a shirt and shorts on, feeling the light breeze ruffle through my hair as I rode up Holburn Street and into the sunset. Well, actually onto Union Street, a danger zone of buses, buses and more buses. But I’ll get onto that a bit later.

The cycling has been mostly good though, being much more preferable to sitting in class drenched in sweat after running the three miles to Garthdee. I’m a runner by the way. No instead I just sit in class drenched in sweat with a bike helmet on my desk now.

I think the problem is I never take it easy, meaning I sweat buckets even when just sitting on a bike saddle for a short time. Swerving in and out of bus lanes and traffic at speed can be a fun but terrifying way of getting to uni cheaper faster and for less than the bus.

I’ve actually found this week I’ve been doing less running which is going in this section of this week’s rambling. Granted I would usually see this as a negative, but I think for a while I’ve been over training with little rest days. I have a big run planned this week when I head up to Braemar on Wednesday so I’ll how that goes.

In other news, there was no rugby so that was good. If you read last week’s rambling you may have the impression I’m a tad fed up of Scottish promise fade painfully away. Lets ignore my rant from last week though.

I think we’ll come good again as there’s nothing which works better than some good old Scottish optimism. The best and one of the perhaps rarest types of optimism in existence. I will admit it was a relief to not worry about the Wales game just yet though.

Attempting to ramble about something else than sport, I dressed up on Friday night as a character from ‘Grease’. You know the one with the leather jacket and the stupid hair? Danny! That one.

That’s right I actually went out shopping for something other than alcohol and food, venturing to TX Max (other stores are available) and putting about half a litre of gel in my hair. It was for a costume party my flat mate was holding and I think I just about pulled off the…Danny…Zuko (I have to keep searching his name) look, so I was pretty pleased with myself.

And don’t worry there was a Sandy there as well, but she didn’t need a man and I’m in pretty good shape already. I’ve only seen the film once but I admit I’ve heard the song a few times. You could say its catchy, but you could also say it hasn’t aged that well. I’d be tempted to say both.

The Bad

I was feeling pretty optimistic this week so there isn’t too much bad to report on. I think that’s the way the penny falls for me sometimes. I often feel the way I view my life at certain moments is often based more on my attitude than things which have actually happened to me. This is of course not always true, but I think is something which is perhaps important for me to remember.

Reminiscing about my time at school often brings back good memories of fun moments had with some great friends that I met there. This week while struggling to get a grasp of certain areas of my coursework I was reminded of some classes which I had on my black list at school.

This was a mental note of classes which I dreaded attending. Being someone who isn’t that technical, IT class was at the very top of this list. I was reminded of this while struggling to understand the Digital Media area my course which involves lots of very technical terms and knowledge of the internet.

I was reminded of a horrible moment when I prepared a piece of work for my IT teacher who after taking it of my desk threw it in the bin, claiming I must have copied it from the internet because I didn’t have the intelligence to write what had been typed up on the sheet of paper. That was low.

However, such memories are now desolate and of course unhelpful. My dream is to become a journalist and that means trying my very best when tackling the coursework. A struggle it may be but this time its only my own negativity and lack of self-belief which is a hurdle. I can definitely become a more technical person. I know its in me somewhere…

The Ugly

Cycling in the city can be dangerous. Very dangerous. I know this sounds like an obvious statement, but for someone who has spent their cycling years on rural back roads like yours truly, Aberdeen’s roads can be quite frightening sometimes.

When I first started riding the three miles to RGU I would take a longer, winding route, cycling down to Duthie Park before using the Deeside Way to take me as close to the university as possible.

Recently I have taken to cycling the faster route, perhaps out of curiosity, laziness, stupidity or a combination of all three. Union Street is seemingly the issue as bendy buses weave in and out of bus lanes, surrounded by a steady flow of traffic.

Before you accuse me of hypocrisy, I realise taking the bus is better for the environment than driving your car to which ever exciting Aberdeen destination you are trying to get to. I just think long bendy buses don’t mix that well with cyclists that’s all.

For me this problem is easily solved as I will just return to cycling the longer way to uni this coming week. I realise that means that last section was a pretty pointless ramble then, which makes it a fitting place to conclude my rambling for this week.

Weekly Rambling

Issue 6 – Monday 25 February 2019

The Good

The last week seems to have gone past very quickly so maybe this will be a slightly shorter weekly update. Here’s hoping it is less of a rambling mess than usual.

So once again the last seven days have been pretty good. Not as good as last week because Scotland were playing rugby, but momentarily forgetting about that, its been a good week.

On Monday I returned from Braemar on the bus and I’m already missing being out in the countryside. It was a pleasant surprise to realise my Monday tutorial had been moved to Tuesday and meant I could spend an extra day up the valley annoying my brother.

Poor old Mags is on reading week. When he hasn’t been reading though, he has likely spent the last week harnessing his skills on Rugby O8, a PlayStation game which he uses to inflict pain on yours truly.

Anyway, it was good to spend an extra day with him, resting my legs after the previous day’s half marathon. Did I mention I like running? Joking aside, the running has been going well this week.

I’ve been taking it fairly easy and that’s actually been quite pleasant, as its provided me with quality thinking time. Don’t worry I’ll have the meaning of life figured out in no time. Perhaps more importantly though, I’ve found my running quite relaxing this past week, which is probably the most important reason why I run.

I also managed to get my bike up and running again by actually buying a decent bike pump. Now, I just need to oil my chain a little more, as I learnt when I dropped it at a busy roundabout.

University has also been going pretty well and is likely to get better for me and my classmates this coming week, as I will be cycling to campus instead of running. This means I will be slightly less of a smelly and sweaty mess when sitting in class.

However, a downside of this is I will have helmet hair which will affect my usually flawlessly maintained hairstyle. A hairstyle maintained through using women’s shampoo followed by a dollop of hair gel which always does very little.

Its also been a week of reflection as on the 19th February last year I travelled to Fiji for two months. Its been quite interesting reflecting on the happy memories that I was so lucky to make on the other side of the world with some wonderful people.

I’ll probably go into more detail about my memories of this time last year in a separate post at some point. I’ll keep you posted.

The Bad

Well apart from the incident at a roundabout and my dreams of starring in a hair gel advert taking a dent, there hasn’t been too much bad in the last week. I don’t like speaking about alcohol too much as I don’t want to admit to being a bit of a party animal.

But I am. Big time. Anyone who bumps into me while I take the Aberdeen nightclubs by storm with the world famous ‘Finn dance’ will back me up on this. Okay maybe not everyone.

Anyway, I’m rambling again. My original point I was going to make is that I’m never touching coke and vodka again. Its taken me two years too long to realise that, like most alcohol, it is horrible and I’m never going near it again… or at least until next week.

Purchasing alcohol is also expensive (I should work for AA) and means I have gone below the amount in my account that I agreed I wouldn’t go below when I started uni. This basically means I need to saddle up and get some Deliveroo deliveries done, while wasting less money on buying sweets and alcohol.

Lastly, I took a bit of fall while running the other day while passing two concerned citizens who watched me just about fall flat on my face. They both reacted in the most Aberdeen way possible. In their heads I knew they were concerned about whether I was hurt. I just couldn’t tell by their expressions or actions.

In all honesty though, I’m technically from Aberdeen (I like being cutting edge and pretending I wasn’t born in the Granite City) and I maybe would have reacted in a similar way.

The fact my lucky green hat* fell over my eyes and momentarily blinded me probably didn’t help, perhaps making the whole scene look slightly slapstick. I wouldn’t have blamed them if they had laughed.

The Ugly 

Being a Scottish rugby fan is hard. Like really hard. After watching Scotland play rugby for the best part of 15 years, I spent Saturday afternoon feeling low.

This was after watching a comedy of the usual errors which were synonymous of the your Frank Hadden’s Scotland. Errors that had seemingly been snuffled out under the tutelage of Cotter and then Townsend.

A 27-10 loss to France at the weekend proved this theory wrong and Scotland seem destined for a worse than average six nations performance. There is still hope of course, but wins against England and Wales look unlikely. Wales coming off the back of a sensational win in Cardiff against an in form England.

However, after the game I was more disappointed but not surprised by the analysis which appeared on the Scottish Rugby section of the BBC Sport website. There is a journalist who I won’t name who seems to savour every Scottish rugby failure.

His article which attempted to promote a non-existent nasty rivalry between Ireland and Scotland before the first round of the Six Nations would have been better placed in a tabloid newspaper than on the BBC website.

Anyway, I’m glad to announce that’s my rant over and apologise that this is another long post. Maybe I need to find another sport to watch. I heard Scotland have a good curling team.

*Because of my lucky hat I remained physically uninjured, although my dignity did take a bit of a knock. 

 

 

 

Away Days – NE England

Having been working (and cycling) away since I came home from my Fijian adventure, I was keen to get away for a while. A change of scene was needed and just about anywhere would do. I had thought about going abroad, but decided to leave that until the end of the month instead – I’ll write about where I went soon!

No instead I decided to stay in the sunny UK, taking my long suffering Dad along with me. He did the driving so he actually kind of took me with him.

Anyway we ended up deciding to go to Northumberland for no good reason whatsoever, apart from having never really been there before. Maybe that is a good reason for going somewhere.

Early on a Tuesday morning we set of on our perilous voyage down the East Coast of Scotland to Englandshire, stopping first just across the border in Berwick-upon-Tweed. I had only ever viewed this town from the window of a London bound train so it was nice to explore the old town walls which had protected the town from the English, the Scots, the English, and then… I could go on. Basically for a period in Berwick’s history it was difficult to figure out which nation the town belonged to.

Picking up a cycle map, I studied some of the local routes, looking for one which would be suitable for me to test my legs on, as we headed towards our campsite for the next two nights. We camped on the outskirts of a small town called Wooler, 13 miles south-west of Berwick.

Taken aback by how quiet the roads seemed, I hopped on my bike as soon as we had set up camp. I soon found myself heading north up traffic free, dusty roads, meeting nothing but the odd combine.

If you know me at all you’ll have realised riding a bike is something I already find immensely fun (mostly!). However, there is something about riding on new unknown roads which adds to this sense of enjoyment. Using my phone as a map I flew down small country lanes and soon realised I was heading back towards the mother nation.

With around an hour’s riding done I decided to make crossing the border into Scotland by bike today’s target, only slightly concerned about the dark clouds forming to the west. Several miles and much (phone) map reading later, I came across a pedestrianised bridge with a plaque reading “ENGLAND” stuck to one of the archways. I had found the border!

On the other side of this picturesque bridge (picture below) across the River Tweed, I was welcomed to Scotland. For some reason it felt more special to be riding across the border which holds much less importance than it once did many years ago.

Changing direction once I was in Scotland, I headed towards Kelso, before swinging south across the border again towards Wooler, using my phone to navigate the peaceful country lanes. Although there were no particularly long climbs, the roads were undualting, with fun to be had on the steep short climbs and the technical descents which followed.

That evening I compared notes with Dad about the local roads. He had gone for a shorter cycle, something which was encouraging as health issues had often meant he couldn’t enjoy exercise as much as he sometimes wanted to. And the next day we dicided to cycle across the causeway to the Holy Island, an island only accessible by roads for 12 hours a day. Spinning across the slippery seaweed soaken tarmac was a somewhat surreal experience as small lakes of water surrounded us.

After crossing we didn’t stay around for too long. A hot drink and a short look around and we set of across the causeway and back to the car. It was a cold day and the clouds looked full of rain. Yesterday I had managed to stay dry but today the heavens opened after we had returned to the campsite.

Sitting in the car I suggested we go to Newcastle or “N,Castle” as locals like to call it. The city seemed a sensible idea when the weather was this vile. Again I had only ever passed through this city on the train and was impressed but what I saw. During a break in the weather we wandered down to the river, where there was bridges galore.

Having enjoyed my first “Nandos” ever (shock horror) and many a “geordie” voice in Newcastle we overheard many more broad accents in the pub that night back in Wooler. That night my mattress deflated so I got up at first light. First priority was water followed by getting my lycra on and hopping on my bike again. It being 6 am the roads were empty, though it was very cold.

It quickly warmed though and I did a similar route to the one two days previous, adding some miles to make it a 50 mile effort. Not a bad mornings work. With the sun on my back and my legs taking me were I needed to go I felt lucky to be alive. Sometimes getting up so early can be of significant benefit and I felt set up for the rest of the day.

It may have been a short trip but it was definetly an enjoyable one and worth it to explore a new place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Daydreaming

Is daydreaming good, bad for you or a little bit of both? This is a question I have been pondering over recently, often when I’m actually daydreaming. Yes, some parts of my life are seemingly similar to the 2010 film “Inception”, though perhaps a little less complex and thrilling. Which is a relief because I’ve seen that film three times now and still don’t understand what’s happening in many parts. Maybe it is more similar to my life than I’m willing to admit.

Anyway, daydreaming has always been an activity which I spend quite a lot of my time participating in, mostly when doing other activities which are arguably monotonous or extremely ordinary. For example, when waiting for a bus, or walking my three crazy dogs. I would imagine daydreaming while doing activities like these is highly regular among the general population, unless your waiting for a bus on Bolivia’s North Yungas Road (“Road of Death”) or scaling Mount Everest with your dogs.

But does being slightly aloof a lot of the time have a negative effect on an individual’s life? Straight of the bat, I’m guilty of drifting off into my own head space at inappropriate times. At school I would miss crucial information being given by teachers and at work I tend to loose focus sometimes. In fairness I wash dishes. Its a job which I’m grateful and very lucky to have, but its not the most stimulating. Anyone who questions why your not enjoying washing dishes for six hours needs to have their head checked. As I said I am grateful to be employed though and it is worth it.

So in an attempt to stimulate myself a bit more at work I daydream. I imagine riding my bike in le Tour de France, overtaking all the pros on the climbs with ease because in my dreams I actually weigh like 55 kg and have a really cool, expensive pair of sunglasses on. Its usually either that or thinking about being back in Fiji sitting under a palm tree, with no concerns or worries. Sometimes I’m thinking darker more serious thoughts, but usually there pretty bright and fluffy.

This sounds pretty harmless doesn’t it? I mean its not like I’m daydreaming about shoplifting, writing left-wing political graffiti all over the walls of the kitchen or verablly offending one of the Queen’s swans (probably with the graffiti). I’m not very hardcore so don’t think I would do anything much worse than that. The issue comes when I’m mid daydream and another human being tries to interact with me.

Now, I like speaking to people. I’m not amazing at it but I enjoy it as I don’t think life would be much fun without interacting with others. However, deafened by the sporadic dishwasher (the machine not the teenager drying the dishes beside me) I’m slow to respond when someone says my name. Seemingly slow processing doesn’t help as my brain seems to go through the stages of response slowly. Almost like its in too high a gear for its actual speed and is grinding painfully and slowly up a steep climb. “Come on brain respond!” I’ll stop the cycling metaphors there.

Some point to daydreaming as being a bad habit because it almost removes an individual from the here and now. Living in the moment is often seen as being a key to happiness for many, but I personally see it in a different way. Yes there are times when you should definitely live in the moment. Times that are special, which can’t just be captured and remembered on social media, and perhaps shouldn’t be (an argument for another day).

There is no point in pretending that life for everyone can’t be painful at times. No matter how good a life you live, there will be moments when you’ll have to pick yourself off the ground and will find it difficult to carry on. Its during these moments in particular, that I like to daydream. I’ll think about happier times in the future or the past, or I’ll just make believe at an attempt at distraction.

So to answer to the question of whether daydreaming is good for you. Well perhaps its a little tricky. Sometimes life is incredibly exciting but in other times it is incredibly banal. Maybe appreciating these duller moments makes the exciting or happier times even better. Though, as someone who isn’t a physiological or even that deep a thinker, I believe daydreaming helps me.

Yes, I’m often unfocused and do way too much overthinking about little things that happen, but I need my own head space. I have no evidence to support this being an activity which is actually helpful to my mind health wise. I did start reading an article about it but then I started daydreaming again. I may not have managed to figure out what is happening in “Inception” but I always know what I’m going to buy from the co-op with my tips after work. Guess I won’t be becoming the first Scottish rider to win the Tour de France anytime soon…