VecchioJo’s recent Road.cc piece on just riding was a lovely stab at the business of epic, heroic, and sometimes fictional cycling. Similarly, Gavia wrote a magical piece which captures the serendipity of an enjoyable ride.
However, there are days when even rules 5 and 9 of the Velominati are not enough to stimulate us to ride: just riding when the elements are against us can be motivated by the mythology of toughness, a Belgian disregard for muddy and inclement precipitation, gale force winds and painfully low temperatures.
// If you are out riding in bad weather, it means you are a badass. Period. Fair-weather riding is a luxury reserved for Sunday afternoons and wide boulevards. Those who ride in foul weather – be it cold, wet, or inordinately hot – are members of a special club of riders who, on the morning of a big ride, pull back the curtain to check the weather and, upon seeing rain falling from the skies, allow a wry smile to spread across their face. This is a rider who loves the work.
Sometimes, more is needed.
Of course, one can make up ridiculously difficult challenges, and publicly commit effort, time, money and others’ work in such a way as to make backing out almost impossible. Mike Cotty’s recent jaunt across the Alps is an example of such admirably impressive folly (the videos here and here are essential viewing). Such challenges have their history in the development of long-distance organised cycling in France and elsewhere, and since the mid-1970s in the UK a small and dedicated band of organisers and riders have dedicated themselves to finding cruel and unusual goals regulated in accordance with Audax UK or Randonneurs Mondiaux regulations.
My first 200km brevet was the permanent version of the Dorset Coast, finishing in Keith Matthews’ back garden with a cup of tea (20 or so years ago). The first 50km or so, including the famous ferry crossing were done in zero visibility, and I will never forget the sight of Corfe Castle emerging out of the fog like some scene from Macbeth. Last week I completed the North-West Passage, which along with the Dorset Coast is the other of the first two AUK organised 200s. Both of these rides would never have existed if it wasn’t for the need to qualify for future versions of Paris-Brest-Paris (the previous year, 1976, AUK was formed and the first Windsor-Chester-Windsor was run as part of qualification for PBP): a full Super Randonneur series was now going to be required (Audax UK/Minter). The North-West passage is infamous for it’s tricky navigation and use of main roads, which in 1977 probably seemed fine. I don’t mind a bit of A-road, but it is unusual to ride down the A6 in daylight for ‘fun’. It is also renowned for its early season weather. In the UK mid-February can bring almost any kind of inclement weather, and this edition came after some of the worst winter storms we have seen for a while (I was stranded in Leeds without transport just two days earlier).
Without my desire to ride Paris-Brest-Paris in 2015 I would never have got out of bed. In order to pre-qualify I need to complete a BRM Super Randonneur series in 2014, qualify in 2015 with another SR, and gain the necessary experience and endurance fitness to ride 1200km without breaking down either physically or mentally. As I rode the 25km to the start realising that I was already colder and wetter than I had ever been on the bike before it was only the fact that this wasn’t just a ride, and the reward was beyond the moment that spurred me on. For me, cycling is part of a tradition, and however atavistic it my be I want to be part of that tradition of long-distance cycling. This does not mean I have lost the ability to enjoy riding for itself: there were moments of sheer joy and beauty to savour: sunset over Lancashire; the sound of tubular clinchers on tarmac; a welcoming control. However, these experiences would never been available to me without the structure of Audax UK and its embedding within the traditions and regulations of organised long-distance cycling.
Last year I rode for 3 hours in January, having been ill after Christmas, but also because life is, well… busy. 2014 is special though. Amongst many changes I have found the time and motivation to ride, partly driven by the probably foolish intention of completing my first Super Randonneur series: my longest completed brevet thus far is 400km, and only twice, with a ten year gap between rides. Last year I only rode a 200 and a 400, and I did not really prepare sufficiently. A long ride with Emma and Rich in April went some way towards preparation for these but I suffered in both, unhelped by some poor navigation and ridiculous weather.
This year is indeed special. It’s a special anniversary for me and @accidentobizaro and fortuitously linked to the Yorkshire hosting of the Grand Départ of the Tour de France. I also need to prepare myself mentally for next year’s big challenge, the 2015 Paris Brest Paris randonnée, all 1200km of it. Forcing myself to ride more, and to finally risk a 600km ride (weather and health permitting), is all part of something bigger, quite what time will tell. Part of this has been riding more with others, although I still favour solitude. 23 hours and 500km into 2014 feels a good place to be, a base to build on, and I hope the next weeks will be as kind to me. For those of you that have read my other more personal posts on this blog, you will know that cycling is an integral and yet somewhat problematic part of my life, and I hope I may have succeeded in laying to rest some demons in the last few weeks.
I’ll write more on this special year…
A naked body lies beside the side of a desolate highway, close to a road sign, next to the carcass of a kangaroo. 25 cars pass…
I met John Reid, the Australian artist, at a conference in Bavaria in 2001. His ‘paper’ turned from an account of his early work into a live performance of The fishman of SE Australia. The transition between the two halves was disturbingly subtle, and left me, how shall I put it, freaked out.
Just a man talking, and a slide projector showing some photographs of the wilderness, with something in it…
The earlier work (Performance for 25 Passing Vehicles) of his came to mind when I was considering the effect getting into a car has on our relationship with the environment, with people, with wildlife.
So, here it comes: I may need to take a break from cycling for a bit. I have been feeling physically and mentally out of sorts for the last few weeks, and despite some very enjoyable rides the signs are there that I need to change focus: there will certainly be no Festive 500 for me, and I may even eschew the rollers over Christmas. I’ve been here before, and it always amazes me how little riding I did when I was off work with depression – and how little it directly helps my low mood now I am generally better. Cycling has a more background and indirect effect on my health and well-being: prophylactic rather than topical, and like any treatment, dosage needs careful and constant management. There is a constant temptation to increase volume or intensity to fill gaps in life, yet that can lead into a spiral of worsening mood and physical state. It is entirely possible that I’ll feel differently tomorrow or next week, but that’s exactly the point: riding on feel is a reliable way of managing both fitness and psyche once one has learnt to listen to the signs. I am still learning, and it’s a skill I need to remember and practice.
4822 km so far this year, 2539 last year, so a good point to rest!
I recently purchased a waterproof short-sleeved jersey. Rather than go for the ubiquitous Castelli Gabba, I tried a Café du Cycliste Josette: it was reasonably priced and I had the option of trying before buying (thanks to personal service from Victor and Liberty). The jersey has full, waterproof zip, three back pockets covered by a storm flap, longish close-fitting sleeves, and a reflective stripe. It is very light, and has a good cut: the small fits me both with and without a standard jersey underneath. The styling is reservedly ‘fancy’ and the zip an unusual brown, but the ensemble works well together. The jersey isn’t fully waterproof (it’s a good balance between breathability and impermeability), but keeps one warm when wet, is windproof, and if worn with armwarmers and a short-sleeve jersey underneath and vest, toasty enough to keep me happy on rides as cold as 2-3 degrees celsius.
I have only worn the jersey on cold rides so far, but it regulates temperature well, so I am expecting it to function pretty well on wet spring rides. Thumbs up to Côte d’Azur for a versatile and well-designed product.
In 2011 I wrote about my experiences of depression, how they interacted with changes in the volume and intensity of my cycling, and introduced some academic literature on exercise and mental health. I concluded that although cycling can play a role in moderating negative mood, and possibly even treating depressive illnesses, it can also contribute to depressive symptoms. A recent paper on exercise and mental health provides a detailed overview of the literature in this area (many thanks to Simon Lamb for the tip).
I have had my ups and down over the last few years, but, partly due to a change in my work role, and some growing up from my children, I have maintained a fairly positive outlook. Another thing that has changed is the amount of time I have spent cycling. Throughout 2012 I rode more often and tackled some longer rides, but managed to talk myself out of entering a number of brevets and sportives, and more irritatingly, entered two 200km brevets that I failed to start. Fortunately, I convinced myself that I was capable of completing the long on-road version of the Mills Hills Sportive, which was a breakthrough in my conversion from self-sabotage to gung-ho risk-taker (a brief ride report for Mills Hills Sportive)!
I am currently riding about 120km per week, three times my 2011 average. All of a sudden, having completed three challenging longer rides (including my second 400km, only 10 years after the first), I can see myself completing Super Randonneur series in 2014 and 2015, and even Paris Brest Paris…
The causality here is tangled. Am I riding more, and more confidently, because I am happier, or vice-versa? I think this is the wrong question…
Almost all my riding is solo, but I have had some fun in the hills with some lovely people: thanks Emma and Tiffany, and the riders and organisers of the events I have ridden. My partner in crime @accidentobizaro has been incredibly supportive and encouraging, and when we get the chance, our velodates are always worth waiting for, whether on the track or in the Pennine hills we call home.