Day Sixty Seven: Eduardo’s Road To Fitness

It has been said that the kind of panic you experience when you get your head or hand stuck in something is one of the worst kinds of panic.  Having said that I am sure I can think of other situations that would rival either of these.

I was mountain biking and had been taking random left and rights whenever I encountered a new trail.  I was miles from anywhere and was about to tackle what looked like a difficult descent.  I use Time ATAC clipless pedals on my mountain bike – a lovely Nicolai Saturn.  As I approached a tight right hand bend a little warning light went on some where in my oxygen starved brain.

The trail was wet and covered in a mixture of rocks, rain gullies and twisted tree roots that cut across the off-camber bends.  It was a trail that required confidence, good tires and a healthy dose of skill and mental strength.

The ground began to drop away as I made my way around the corner.  Ahead of me lay two deep gullies that had effectively reduced the width of the track to about eight inches.  The only way to ride the twenty-metre section was to keep to the narrow strip of sandstone that ran between the two deep gullies. I was confident that I could ride the eight-inch wide section of trail and began my descent.  The trick is not to focus on the deep gullies either side but to look further down the trail at where you want to go.  In general the bike will end up wherever your eyes place it.  Stare at a big nasty rock off to the left and there is a good chance you will ride straight into it.

Given that it was really steep I was looking quite far ahead trying to anticipate any obstacles that might present themselves.  I never saw the wild pheasant until it shot out from the undergrowth.  For a split second I noticed the lovely reddish hues in its plumage.  I looked over to my left as it darted across the trail and entered a gap in the shrubs.  My eyes were now not looking at where I was meant to be going. I began to veer off to the left and found myself teetering on the edge of the gulley.  I hit the brakes and tried to unclip my left foot from my pedal.  It was stuck.  I must have jammed it with sand when I had stopped earlier to take some photos.  I was now balanced on the edge of a three-foot deep gulley filled with rocks.  I was balanced between blood and tears on one side and a smooth exit on the other.

I have learnt that in situations like these you can either accept falling off or resist.  Sometimes sheer will power can save you from losing a busload of skin.  I wrenched the bars to the right, throwing my weight away from the gulley, let go of the brakes and continued down the gulley. Only when I had made it and was through the gulley section did I begin a long string of random expletives involving pheasants and time pedals.

I am in a position now to put forward the argument that not being able to unclip from ones clipless pedals can indeed rival the panic that arises with getting either a head or hand stuck in something.

I am off to get some WD40 to clean out my pedals just in case I meet a pheasant again when I least expect it.


Day Sixty Six: Eduardo’s Road To Fitness

After a little while I knew something was going on.  People in the street were staring. I would catch them looking at me and they would quickly avert their eyes.  I had left the house in a hurry and so I checked to make sure I was wearing trousers.  I also checked to make sure I was wearing the same shoes on each foot.  Everything seemed fine on the clothing front.  It was pouring with rain.  I was wearing a nice Gore-Tex jacket and my red Campagnolo cap that I had picked up when on a factory visit in 2006.

I decided to try to track what it was people were looking at when the next culprit paused mid-stride to perform an open mouthed stare at me, before dropping their chin and hurrying on their way. An old woman, whose reflexes let her down, stared just long enough for me figure out what her beady eyes were looking at.  She was looking at my head.  How strange I thought.  My funky cap is nice but surely it does not warrant being stared at in the street.

I reached the entrance to my apartment and bent down to put the key in the lock. It was then that I noticed the large drops of crimson splattering onto the marbled floor.  The red dye in the cap had run in the rain.  Red water was pouring onto my shoulders, running off the peak and dripping onto the floor.  It looked like oxygenated arterial blood.  I walked into the lobby and took a look in the mirror.  The effect was magnificent.  I appeared to have suffered a massive cranial trauma.  Indeed most would consider it a miracle that I was able to walk, let alone smile at the people staring at me.  I made a mental note never to wear my Campagnolo cap in the rain again.

Running in the rain can be fun.  I say it can be fun because I have experienced fun whilst being soaked to the skin.  The same has also happened whilst cycling in the rain.  The critical component to having fun in the rain is warmth.  A warm tropical downpour is absolutely glorious.  I have, in the past run fully clothed along a beach in rain that was so hard I could barely see.  I was laughing, shouting with sheer joy.  Some would suspect that I was off my head.  Bonkers. A crazy loon, a nutter. Maybe.  But you need to try it.  It does not work in the cold.  Rain then is a miserable soul destroying thing.  Add some warmth though and it can be invigorating  – in an almost sexy, wet and wild way.

I have had two days off training and am beginning to get a bit irritable.  The cat has woken me up early two days in a row and its life is now in danger.  I woke up again to the sound of traffic driving in the rain.  Not a pleasant sound.

So what do I do? Do I pretend that I am back in England, put on my wet weather gear and go for a mountain bike ride? Do I try my hand at running in the rain? I would if it was warm but it is cold.  A weather front has hit us and brought with it some truly nasty weather.  I have entertained the idea of going to the pool for a swim.  The main pool, whilst heated is not particularly warm.  It takes a couple of lengths of all out thrashing to get warm.  The pool also lacks a diving board, which is a shame.  About a thousand years ago I used to be a competitive diver and spent hours training, perfecting dives of varying degrees of difficulty.  In a way though, it is probably a good thing that the pool lacks a diving board, for I would be tempted to climb up and give it a go, which would probably result in grievous bodily harm, possibly even massive cranial trauma.

I think, instead I shall brave the elements and go for a mountain bike ride, that way if the dye in my clothes run nobody will see me.  For no Spanish cyclist ever rides in the rain.

I leave you with an excellent piece of footage from Mr. Bean where he decides to visit the swimming baths and have a go on the high dive platform.  It had me in stitches.

Day Sixty Five: Eduardo’s Road To Fitness

Over the years I have made it a point to travel light.  It stems from a time when, at the tender age of nineteen I embarked on a two thousand mile bicycle trip. In winter.  This meant packing quite a bit of cold weather gear.  Over the course of two months I cursed the amount of blatantly unnecessary weight that I was carting around.  I promised myself that in future whenever I travelled I would try to pack less than I thought I could make do with.

I was deciding what to pack on a motorcycle touring trip last summer.  I would be wearing a pair of Sidi motorcycle boots and a change of shoes would be appreciated so I packed a pair of flip-flops.  These also provided a bonus of sorts, in that they feature a rather clever bottle opener built into the soles.  I smiled and put them onto the coffee table in front of me.  Upon this table would rest all the items that would fight for their right to go into my rucksack.  The flips flops were guaranteed entry to my bag.

Next onto the table was my mobile phone and charger.  Following that was my passport and my ferry ticket.  After that my laptop and charger took their place upon the table.  I then added my waterproof jacket and trousers.  I stopped and looked at the pile of clothes, books, maps and assorted bits and pieces that were still sitting on the floor next to the table.

In a moment of madness I scooped all of it up and put it away. I decided not to take anything else.  Not even a map. I figured if I couldn’t find my way to Barcelona there was little point in having a map anyway as I’d lack the intellectual capacity to read it in the first place.  How hard can it be to find a large city?

My rucksack was too big and began to flop and wallow, like a boneless chicken. It looked ridiculously empty.  I dug around in the pile of stuff that I had decided not to take and located a book with a stiff cover.  I put it into my bag, propping it up like a piece of scaffolding, using it to give the rucksack at least some semblance of being full.  To make it look better still, I unrolled my waterproof jacket, puffed it up and tried to make it take up more room.  I could have filled my bag with rolled up bits of newspaper to make it look full, but decided against such subversion.

The next morning after my drive down to Plymouth I was sitting at the front of a long queue of motorcycle tourists, about to board the ferry bound for Santander in Northern Spain.

I felt slightly out of place leant up against my sports bike amongst the crowd of BMW touring bikes and large Harley Davidsons.  In front of me on board a massive BMW R1200GS complete with shiny metal panniers, was a chap dressed head to toe in off-road gear.  He looked like a competitor in the Paris Dakar event.  He wore a large scarf around his neck.  It looked like something a Bedouin tribesman would wear.  I wondered if this motorcyclist was indeed Ewan McGregor, however I could not see any film crew and there was not a back up vehicle in sight.  It turned out he was an estate agent from Hull.

The Harley guys were teasing the BMW boys.  The banter went back and forth between the two of them.  The Harley guy, grey haired and pot bellied, pointed a hand at his leather panniers and said “You don’t need those metal panniers mate, what you need is a nice pair of hand stitched leather ones like these, with nice tassels”.

The estate agent from Hull on board his BMW smiled and asked where Mr Harley was going.  He said he was travelling around Northern Spain for three days.

Then they spotted my bag tied with bungee cords to the back of my bike.  They went a bit quiet for a moment.  Then asked me where I was going.

I took a deep breath and said “Barcelona”.  They nearly died laughing.  I think the guy on the BMW coughed up his kidneys and undid his belly button. They had never seen anyone travelling so light.

Fast forward four months. I was in my kitchen, thinking about the last time I had packed my rain jacket into a bag.  I was about to go mountain biking and was being sensible, packing some kit into my CamelBak.  I had enough kit to go touring for weeks.  I had tools and spares.  I could practically have set up a shop fixing bikes.  Indeed I had enough tools and paraphernalia to build the shop first that I would be working out of.

As I crammed a massive multi tool-set into my bag I thought back to my motorcycle trip. As it turned out I never needed the waterproof jacket or trousers and I never read the book. If it weren’t for the fact that I needed my laptop, I could have just taped the flip-flops to the pillion seat and put the phone and charger into my pocket.

I leave you with a classic bit of Mr. Bean footage, courtesy of  YouTube.

PS. I had a lovely mountain bike ride up in the hills and didn’t need any of the stuff I had taken with me. ☺

Day Sixty Four: Eduardo’s Road To Fitness

The Blue Ringed Octopus is beautiful.  It is also one of the most poisonous creatures to inhabit the ocean.  It contains enough poison to kill twenty-six people. It is roughly the size of a golf ball. At present there is no known antidote to its venom. I was thinking about this before I set off on my latest mountain bike route.

When I lived in England I used to ride in a place called Swinley Forest.  A lovely green area, full of trees, interlaced with plenty of tracks and small climbs.  It was safe.  You could take random left and rights all day long without fear of ever getting truly lost.  The park is surrounded on all sides my major arterial roads. Apart from being unfortunate enough to cut through your own arteries, you were pretty safe in Swinley Forest. You could crash, knock yourself senseless and be confident that one of the crowds of mountain bikers would stop and attend to you whilst waiting for the medics to arrive.

The same cannot be said for the area that I now find myself riding in.  It is wild, and although in terms of distance, it is close to the city, the tracks are not heavily populated.  There are not hordes of cyclists riding the same trails.  There are no kids on bikes riding with their parents.  I have not seen any people walking their dogs.  No ramblers.  Take a tumble here and you could end up in a ravine with nothing but rocks for company.  There is a good chance that you would lay there right through winter.  You might be found next spring.  You need to be sensible here.

I packed a spare jacket into my CamelBak.  I took spares, zip ties, a mobile phone and a safety whistle to attract attention should I fall and break a leg. I was riding down a narrow rock strewn gulley, carving my way past jagged pieces of granite, trying to avoid the ever present cactus and their needle-like thorns.  I had set myself a challenge.  I was trying to ride the entire descent without having to unclip and ‘dab’ with a foot.  I had only dabbed once on my previous attempt the day before.  In order to make it, I would have to negotiate a tricky gulley section.  Riding in the gulley istself was not possible.  The only way through involved riding a narrow ridge above the gulley.  It was in many ways a natural section of ‘North Shore’.  Make a mistake and I’d be in the gulley, bent, twisted and bleeding.

I banished all thoughts of death and bodily injury and took in the view.  They trail was absolutely beautiful.  Beautiful yet slightly dangerous.  A bit like the Blue Ringed Octopus.  I now have a name for the trail.  I shall shorten it to ‘BRO’ and hope that it doesn’t bite me anytime soon.

Day Sixty Three: Eduardo’s Road To Fitness

When Christopher Columbus set off on his travels he did so thinking the earth was a lot smaller than it is. A lot smaller.  He based his calculations on those of a chap called Marinus of Tyre. Who, despite being the founder of mathematical geometry was incorrect in putting the landmass of the earth at 225 degrees, leaving only 135 degrees left for water. To make matters worse, Columbus also believed that one degree represented a shorter distance on the earth’s surface than was actually the case. To top it all off, he read maps as if the distances were calculated in Italian miles (1,238 meters) thereby accepting the length of a degree to be 56⅔ miles.  He did this because he based his calculations on the writings of an eighth century astronomer called Alfraganus.  What he did not realize is that Alfraganus was also using the much longer Arabic mile (about 1,830m).

Christopher had therefore packed enough underwear, bread and water to travel 25,255 kilometres at most to circumnavigate the globe and believed the distance from the Canary Islands to Japan was 3,000 Italian miles or 3,700 km. The true circumference of the Earth is about 40,000 km and the distance from the Canary Islands to Japan is 19,600 km.  Clearly then poor old Christopher was in for a bit of a surprise. He would no doubt run out of fresh underwear along with water and food.  His little jaunt across the water was going to turn out to be something of an epic trip.

I was using the rather more up to date mapping tool provided by Google to work out my off road mountain bike route.  It rather cleverly provided me with satellite images of the land, a map showing roads names and, if I so desired, photos taken by people who had travelled to the same area before me.

It was a beautiful ride.  One of those rides that stays with you for a while.  I was riding on new trails, in search of technical descents and flowing tracks through the scrub land.  Dodging between huge out crops of cactus, traversing rocky sections and negotiating a narrow sliver of single-track that wound its way high up along the ridge line, I was for a moment, an explorer.

As I climbed higher the wind picked up, the clouds rolled in and it began to rain.  I stopped to shoot some video before making a quick retreat, picking an exciting trail off the top of the mountain, heading lower for warmer weather and tree cover.

I leave you with a few videos that I shot on my travels.  In the meantime I will set about getting hold of a map that shows relief upon it.  It is the missing piece of data I need to calculate my ride times and ensure that I do not set off on a quick jaunt that ends up being an epic voyage of discovery.

Day Sixty Two: Eduardo’s Road To Fitness

Having battered myself to bits for the previous two days on my road bike, both of which involved running out of food in the last hour and creeping home I decided it was time for some mountain biking.  It was Friday.  It was windy, grey and a light rain was falling.  Excellent mountain biking weather then.

I decided to explore the country park that is near my apartment, to ride a little higher up into the mountains and then join the ridge that I suspected would allow me to head south. I had no idea how hard it would be. It was meant to be a relaxed chill out ride.

After twenty minutes of climbing in the granny ring I had my doubts as to the wisdom of such a ride having come off two hard days on the road bike.  Lactic acid was practically dripping out of my bleeding eyes.  I had a metallic taste in my mouth, my sweat was blinding me and the sock on my left foot was really annoying me.

At the top of the climb I shot a short piece of video.  When I played it back at home it struck me just how very wasted I was when I took it.  The surprise of just how hard that climb had been was etched onto my face.  It’s a pretty crummy video but I’ll put it up anyway.  The descent off the mountain was fun, if a little bit sketchy at times.  I am aware that I am riding alone and that I would have an ice cube’s chance in hell of being found quickly if anything happened. So I ‘exercised a degree of caution’ as they say.

The rest of the ride consisted of me dodging cactus and bashing my left ankle on the crank arm a million times.  I am now the proud owner of an ankle that looks like an egg.  My kids laughed and wanted to poke it.  No sympathy there then.

This week was turning out to be a week of pain and suffering. I am determined to try the road ride again, in an effort to exercise the daemons that have taken root in my mind.  I can’t believe I put myself through that world of pain two days in a row.  I am still eating to recover.  I have one more mountain bike ride to do before I have a rest day.  Then it is exorcism time.  Bring out the holy water.  Grab a rosary.  A holy book.  A shaman.  Anything.  Food would be best though me thinks.

Day Sixty One: Eduardo’s Road To Fitness

My dad used to write lists a lot.  He would then get out a bright yellow marker pen and underline the most important things he had to do.  I think that perhaps I should do the same when it comes to training.  I will definitely put a big yellow line through the word ‘EAT’.

I used to work with a Chinese guy when I lived in Hong Kong who used to say “You can make a mistake once, if you make it twice you are really stupid.”  I was thinking about this as I ran out of food on my road bike ride for the second time in two days.  To make matters worse I was riding exactly the same route as the day before.  I had decided to do this to rid myself of the ghosts associated with 3 hours of pain and suffering.  To be more accurate the first two hours were fine.  It was the last hour that was hell on earth.

There are good times to run out of fuel.  One would be right at the end of a ride, to come home and see a lovely meal had been prepared by your super model partner.  A bad time to run out of fuel would be at the bottom of a climb fifty kilometres from home. With no money. No phone and no choice but to keep riding alone.

The onset of the dreaded ‘bonk’ was so sudden I actually stopped to see if my brakes were rubbing. Unfortunately they were not.  There was to be no easy fix.  It was hot and sunny and I was feeling a bit cold.  On the climb.  Not a good sign.  I zipped up my jersey on the descent and laughed at myself.  What a fool.  I had suffered the day before on the same route and had put it down to not being used to being on my own road bike, having been using my wife’s bike for the past couple of months.  I was wrong.  I had not eaten enough the day before and had started the ride with no reserves. I had two hours worth of food in me and a three hour ride to do.  This would have been fine if I had taken food with me. I had not.

The only way to get through a situation like this is to ride more slowly.  A lot more slowly.  There is enough fat on your body to keep you going for quite a while.  Work too hard though and the body has no choice but to give up on trying to convert fat to energy and makes use of glycogen.  I decided that my glycogen stores were at close to zero so I slowed down to give myself a chance of switching over to using up fat stores.

I am not sure if this is scientifically grounded but I can vouch for how truly awful it feels.  It is not recommended.  The weather conspired against me on the way back.  I was riding into a powerful headwind. I was feeling light-headed.  I slowed down to what felt like a crawl.

I pretended that I was touring on my bike, I tried to forget that I was on a ‘training’ ride.  I sat upright, tried to look at the view, tried to ignore the hunger.  It got worse.  As I cycled along the N11 I decided to look out for food left on street side café tables.  At first I doubted that I would actually scavenge from them however as the ride continued and the wind strengthened I decided I had no option. Unfortunately all the tables were devoid of leftover food.  I struggled on cursing myself.

As I entered Barcelona I spotted a girl riding ahead of me on a folding bike.  It was a funky looking bike ridden by a funky looking girl.  After about five minutes I realized that I was not catching her up.  It dawned on me just how very smashed to bits I was.

When I got home I was too far gone to cook a meal.  I ate whatever was on the kitchen table.  I ate two plain pancakes, leftover from breakfast.  Whilst I was munching them I put two crumpets in the toaster.  I covered these with peanut butter and honey.  Whilst I ate those, I put another two into the toaster.

I looked at the time and realized I had about five minutes left before I had to leave to collect the girls from school.  I made a mental note to make a list and circle the words ‘EAT” in bright yellow marker pen.  Either that or tattoo it onto my forehead.