Another beautiful day another lovely ride.
Late evening, long winter shadows and a fast smooth road. Perfect
I decided to stop and see if my brakes were rubbing. They were not. This of course was something I already knew and yet, it would have been fantastic had it been the case, for my legs were dead and I was about an hour from home on what was my first long cycle ride for quite some time.
Usually, when choosing a route for a ‘day one’ ride, I tend to make up a new one. I do this for a couple of reasons. First of all it means I do not fall into the trap of trying to ride a familiar route at a pace that I remember from days in the past where I was much fitter – for that makes me feel shit. To avoid this, I choose a new route. This is a cunning plan. It serves to (a) ensure it is a memorable return to the bike, buoyed by enthusiasm and a desire to explore and (b) that the next time I ride the route, I will be happily moving along at a faster, fitter rate, well if all goes to plan that is.
My plan was a proven one and was sound. I had however managed to ruin my plan in several ways. All of which, could easily be described as ‘rookie’ mistakes. I shall list them below.
So there I was, roughly one hour from home and this list was running though my head. I decided there was only one solution.
In order to take my mind of the my rapidly numbing feet, my hunger, my thirst and my lack of knowledge of the route, I decided to employ a tactic used to calm myself when I am freediving.
It works like this. It is all about visualization.
Imagine you are trying to hold your breath, sitting on the sofa at home. (do not do it on the metro because people will think you are a freak).
Try it now. Hold your breath and look at your watch.
At around forty five seconds or so, you’ll start to twitch a bit. You will be willing the seconds to move faster. If you make it past a minute, as the seconds move towards ninety seconds, you will start to stress.
Now try it this way.
Have a rest after the first test.
Now this time when you hold your breath, close your eyes. Do not look at the watch.
Imagine the house you lived in as a kid. Try to visualize the layout. Each room. The kitchen. Your bedroom. The little cupboard with the stickers on it. The bed with the Road Runner cartoon pattern. Your favourite toys. Whatever.
Now think about your high school teacher. The one you had a crush on.
By this time a minute will easily have passed, without stress. It works.
Whilst I was thinking about my art teacher and her lovely blue eyes I had missed the turn off for Barcelona and was now happily moving farther and farther away from home. By the time I had realized my mistake, heading back, into what was now a headwind was not an option. It meant that as a penalty for thinking about Miss Booth, I now had to climb up over the pass that separated the Valley Orientals, from El Maresme. This was a serious downer.
I began the climb.
It is not a hard climb. But when you have zero energy it might as well have been Everest. I began to think about food. If only I had some money.
Eureka ! I remembered that I had placed an ‘emergency’ 20 euro note into my saddle bag. Joy of joys. I was beaming.
I stopped at a petrol station and filled up. I started with a Coke. Some little cakes caught my eye and then an Aquarius (think Gatorade). I finished off with some water for my bottle. Clutching my purchases to my chest I made my way to the counter. Stopping to stare at a cabinet selling what looked like Christmas themed survival knives (WTF?) and car seat covers with patterns of football teams on them. Strange.
I was served by an interesting looking guy that seemed to have several hair styles at once upon his head. He was nodding to a rhythm that only he could hear. He did not look up from the cash register. He had a tattoo on his neck that looked like a dead bird. I wondered if he had some of the Christmas themed survival knives at home.
“What number” he asked.
I looked at him and said nothing.
After a little while he looked at me and then gazed out at the forecourt. It was empty.
I watched as the realization that I was a cyclist dawned upon him.
I handed over my emergency money and left. Leaving him to listen to the music in his head.
Later that evening, whilst soaking in a hot bath I thought about my ride. It was painful but I enjoyed it. I decided to plan my next route and made a mental note to avoid my rookie mistakes.
My next ride would take me onto the roads that Juan Antonia Flecha trains on. I wondered if he ever make rookie mistakes like mine.
Probably not. But you never know.
Still you do have to get lost if you want to find yourself right?
It says Day 109 however for me, today is day 1. The first day in my trip. A trip that involves a focuses on fitness, on being healthy and in leaving behind the bad habits I have picked up over the past year or so.
Watch this space..
I’m excited and I am looking forward to bringing you some interesting articles, photos and videos.
The hunchback society. I imagine a scene where a group of bell ringers, gathered in a smoke filled, subterranean public house, compare their physical defects, whilst consuming vast quantities of beer, triple fermented Belgian ales no doubt. They hold, in their rough, twisted hands, large crusts of bread. Nearby on an old wooden table, stained with years of beer spillage, sits a plate of cold meat, marbled with white fat, it rests in an ever widening pool of darker, gelatinous fat. Their conversation is interrupted for the briefest of moments, whilst they swipe their bread through the darker jellied fat, and quickly place a large chunk of meat into their mouths. A gulp of ale and their banter continues…
…back to reality. I was cycling with members of the Hunchback Society. Instead of Belgian ales I had two water bottles, filled with an isotonic mixture. I carried an energy gel and several fruit bars in my jersey pocket, along with a mini pump, my wallet and my house keys. My hunchback was impressive.
I had met my companions a few days earlier whilst exploring an area near Sitges, south of Barcelona. I was at the foot of the infamous Rat Penat climb when I noticed a cyclist descending. He was dressed in exactly the same Rapha cycling kit that I had received from my team when in the Friendship Tour of Thailand. Rapha kit is as rare as rocking horse s&*t here in Barcelona. The surprise was mutual. The other rider stopped and stared when he saw me. We were mirror images of each other. Both on black bikes, both dressed head to toe in Rapha pro kit. We both laughed about it later on.
It turned out he was one of the owners of a recently opened shop, located in Hospital LLobregat. He invited me to join him for a BBQ. A group of friends were set to watch the Giro d’Italia live. It was, as they say, a ‘no brainer’. The Rat Penat would have to wait for another day.
A couple of days later I was invited by Marcel on a ride out into an area I had not explored. I was keen to join him and the rest of the hunchbacks so decided to meet them both in town.
The route takes you through beautiful scenery, the smell of pine trees and flowers in blossom combine for a fresh outdoor smell that serve to underline the beauty of the place. It is a pleasure to cycle through an area so devoid of traffic.
Sadly my Garmin GPS was not working and I have no detailed route information for you. However, I shall leave you with some photos and will re-ride the route. It is truly beautiful and, I would have to agree, one of the nicest cycle routes that I have taken in Catalunya thus far.
To celebrate I decided to visit the Belgian ale shop in Gracia and buy a nice triple fermented beer. I shall raise my glass to my fellow hunchbacks.
When I was in Thailand I struck up a conversation with a German girl that was soaking up the sunshine on a wooden lounger next to me. When I mentioned that I had been cycling around the island of Koh Samui, she looked at me in shock. I might as well have said I had been sewer diving, naked, without a mask. ‘Why did you do that?” she asked, her mouth agape. “It’s too hard no?,’ she added as if to justify her reaction.
I wondered what to say. ‘Well yes it is hot, and some of the climbs, whilst not long, were quite steep, but it was nice’ – It was all I could come up with. How do you explain your passion to someone that has no comprehension of it? It would be like trying to describe the colour of a sun-set to someone that was blind but I decided to try to explain it.
I racked my brain for an analogy. I asked her if she liked to cook. She nodded her head and casually flicked away a strand of sun-bleached hair that had fallen across her face. I asked her if she cooked to eat, or if she cooked because she enjoyed it.
‘I love to cook she said, for me it is like an escape from the boring routine of life’. I smiled and she smiled straight back, a beautiful smile that said ‘I get it’. She looked out to sea and nodded her head, still smiling. We sat still for a while and watched two young men drag a small boat across the sand bars in the bay. It was peaceful and we both savored the moment.
Cycling transports you, it lifts your mood and allows you to meet new people, to connect with them even if they are not fellow cyclists. Here I was on a beach making a connection through a passion for cooking, for tasting new spices and creating new dishes.
I had a plane to catch and was sorry to have to leave. I shook her hand, glanced out to sea and began to trudge back up the beach towards my hotel. I took one more look back over my shoulder, she was watching me make my way up the beach, she was still smiling and gave a little wave just as the beach bar began to play music. I was so happy yet sad to leave. If I could have delayed my flight I would have but Barcelona beckoned and I had left myself just ten minutes to pack up my bicycle before the taxi was due to arrive.
Roll forward a couple of months.
The memories of Thailand have faded slightly and sit behind the fresher memories that occupy my mind. I have spent the summer travelling, exploring both on motorcycle and by bike. I have widened my ‘map’ of places to cycle, extending further inland towards Vic and South towards Tarragona Whilst on my travels I have made new connections, new friends and have picked up a bug for riding a fixed gear bike. I wondered what grabbed my attention to these sweet, minimalist machines and it hit me one day whilst sipping a coffee. They are pure. No gears, no cables hanging all over the place, indeed there is something truly simple about them and, in a way, they reflect my mantra. Keep it simple. It is something I am striving for in my approach to life and thus, it is no wonder that a ‘fixie’ appeals.
I will keep you abreast of my latest routes. In the meantime I leave you with a collection of photos taken on my travels.
Ride. Share your passion. Connect and make new friends – a simple plan.
‘excuse me meester’ asked the Thai guy, ‘what inside bag’?
‘My bicycle’, I replied.
Clearly not many people took road bikes to Koh Samui.
‘You want smoke? Hash? Pills?’
‘No thanks’, I replied politely.
The guy was persistent. ‘You want DVD’? Girls?
He sold anything.
Hoping to out fox him I said “I would like a Lamborgini please.”
‘You want lamb? I only got pad thai now’. He said.
I laughed and made my way to the taxi queue.
I had booked a hotel in Koh Samui. It was rather appropriately called the ‘Ark’. Which meant I would not have to build one if the torrential rains continued.
I arrived, was shown to my room and decided to grab a beer to celebrate (a) having made it through the Tour of Thailand in one piece and (b) our team mate Sean Smith winning the event.
Curiously the bar was empty. I sat down and choose a chair on a porch over looking the long, gently curving white sandy beach.
‘Sorry sir we demolish bar now.’
‘We remove bar now. We break it’
The Thai guy stood in front of me with a large claw hammer in one hand and what looked like a plastic bucket on his head, which, I think was meant to be a safety helmet
‘Sorry, you mean you are renovating?’
‘No, we remove bar’, ‘ Now you move’ he said, and smiled.
Great. I thought. I check into my hotel and they start to demolish it.
I got up walked down a couple of steps onto the beach, looked left and then right and decided to walk in the direction of some sun beds about fifty meters further down the beach. I could hear some trance music pounding away.
Upon arrival I found what looked like the aftermath of a late night party. People were sprawled out over sun beds in a state of disarray. I wasn’t really ready for this and decided to unpack my bike and go for a ride instead.
I got back to my room to discover the power was off. I stumbled around the pitch black room, located my bike bag and dragged it out onto the terrace.
Mosquitoes. They are the national bird in Thailand and they are ravenous. I built the bike up whilst swatting away at the swarms that were trying to dine on my flesh. And then it started to rain again.
I was going riding, come rain or shine.
Koh Samui is not a large island. The road around it is just over one hundred kilometers in length.
I decided, for no reason, to keep the sea on my left and ride clockwise around it.
It felt good to be cycling again but after five days of racing my legs felt like I’d stolen them from Pinocchio. After an hour or so they magically came to life.
The first climb was short but steep and covered in sand which made standing up impossible.
The descent was covered in sand, which meant a crash was possible.
I was questioning my sanity in choosing to cycle around the island when the first truck, belching out fumes so dense you could have cut them with a knife, overtook me, its tires just inches from my shoulder.
I pulled into a lay by to calm my nerves. It had been a close call. I had almost become a statistic. I decided to take a few photos and relax for a while.
It turned out that my brush with the truck of death was an isolated incident – I had no other problems with blind truck drivers on the island and can recommend circumnavigating Koh Samui by bike if you feel restless.
As I returned to my hotel I came across a white Lamborghini. I stood and stared. Having an Italian super car on the Island of Koh Samui is like being married to Angelina Jolie and declaring yourself celibate.
I found a little restaurant and ordered a Pad Thai, as plainly I wasn’t going to get a Lamborghini. It had already been sold.