Saturday 6 December 2014

Here it begins....

I took my car for a wash today, having spent the previous weekend driving around trail centres in Wales.  Its probably a pretty lazy thing to do, but once you've factored in the faff of buying a sponge, losing a sponge, buying another sponge and all the other stuff and dragging the hose out the shed, £6 doesn't sound so bad.  So I stood there eating my warm cheese straw purchased from the nearby Tesco's as two lads swarmed over my car cleaning it from top to bottom.  Its sub 3 degrees (or 75F if you're American (I don't understand Fahrenheit)) and its getting pretty dark.  Not great weather to be washing some idiots Land Rover who has gone out of his way to cover it in shit because its fun.  It turns out that the lad doing the majority of the work is my age (35) and travels in from Colchester (a good 80 miles each way) to start work at 8am and finish at 6pm.  Which he does every day.  As in 7 days a week.  He hasn't had a day off for 4 months yet he's cheerful and does a fantastic job of ridding bridleway muck from my car.  Why does he do it?  Because he enjoys his job and he needs to work to pay to live.  

Which makes riding from Flanders to Istanbul for fun look a bit frivolous.  Its not, but it does make me feel pretty lucky to be in the position where I can focus on training and eating properly and resting and I don't have to wash some idiots car in the dark in freezing temperatures.  Perspective I suppose.

So, Hi - I'm Wil, Scorpio and certified bike geek.  I've ridden bikes for as long as I can remember, I've race a number of disciplines (cycle-speedway anyone) over the years and generally love anything with two wheels.  About three years ago I started to lose the love for racing round in circles, then started to lose the love of just riding.  So I stopped.  And got fat.  At the time my job involved driving huge distances and in turn I ended up buggering my back.  I also ate rubbish food, smoked, drank heavily and all the other stuff you shouldn't do.  I now look like I had a hard paper round as a kid.  A hard paper round that went via the chippy, several times.  I didn't enjoy riding because it just reminded me of how unfit I was.  Rides had become a chore, based around training so I stopped doing them.  The problem with that is that once you lose fitness, getting it back is a miserable experience.  Every now and again I'd go out and ride, maybe 30 miles and end up ruined for a few days afterwards.  All in all, not ideal.

About a year ago I changed jobs to one where I didn't have to drive at all. I moved and settled into a routine (I didn't realise how important a routine is for riding bikes well) and started riding again.  A long way off fitness of any sort, just getting miles in.  Riding the MTB, going on longer road rides and eventually riding some of the climbs of the tour in the 'Pair-o-knees' dans la France.  This culminated in me doing my first sort of tour ever (bar a trip round the isle of Harris in Scotland on a 6 inch travel MTB) last year, riding from my mums in Suffolk to my Aunts in Lincoln.  Only 139 miles which I covered in two days but it opened up a whole new type of cycling that I'd never done before.  Touring/Bikepacking/Audax/whatever you want to call it, loading kit up on your bike and just setting off for somewhere is cool.  The route I picked was awful (thanks Garmin!) and it was the hottest two days of the year but I loved it.  Rolling into Wragby where my Aunt lived I felt elated that I'd managed to not only cycle a trip that I'd done hundreds of times in the car with my parents, but that I'd done it in a self sufficient manner.  I'd stopped over night in a travel lodge that had a spare room (handy as I was cooked at the time), carried everything with me that I needed including spare clothes and just felt immensely satisfied with the whole thing.  A different type of satisfaction to racing and getting a decent result, just a very fulfilling thing to do.  

You don't need flash kit to do it, you're not judged on your aero wheels or helmet and it doesn't cost a fortune (it'd have cost a shit ton less if I'd manned up and done the whole lot in one go).  I took my cheapest bike (with wonky rear hub and rubbing brakes) and loved it.  Properly loved it.  If you haven't done it, do - its massively liberating.

Anyway, being a geek that sits at a desk I have a lot of time to a) drink coffee and b) surf the inter web.  Which I do, in equal parts.  About two years ago I started reading about a bloke called Mike Hall.  At the time he'd not long completed a race around the globe self supported (carrying all his own kit, no pre booked stuff) and was doing crazy daily milages that resulted in setting a new record of 92 days.  Thats 92 days to ride around the world, via certain checkpoints.  18,000+ miles on a bike carrying all his gear, around 200 miles a day on average.  Crikey.  His bike was basically a cycle-cross bike with soft bike bags attached to carry his gear (shown below).  Legend.

Inspired by this, I started following various blogs and reading about other ultra distance type events.  I've ridden Dusk til Dawn in Thetford forest multiple times and even taken part in a 24 hour race so these type of mileages seemed crazy - I know what it does to my body when I ask it to ride what I call consider big rides so to cover that distance, day after day seemed almost super-human.

This all culminated in me driving to Brighton one night to listen to Mike and a young chap called Ed Pickup talk about their recent race of the TransAm - a 4000+ mile race across American.  Similar to the RAAM (race across america) but for those without the spare 20k to spend on support, Mike and Ed recounted their immense rides, telling of Bears, sleeping in public toilets and fighting tiredness and fatigued to finish 1st and 3rd respectively.  Nuts.  

I wanted to do this.  I've not done these distances but I know what it feels like to do what I considered a 'big ride' and do it on my own, self supported.  I'm at that age where all blokes look at their ever expanding waistlines and think 'What have I actually achieved'?  I'm in the best possible position to prepare for something 'big' and hammer the training until I'm confident I can pitch up at the start and feel comfortable of not only finishing but also doing a decent ride to boot.  

So, Mike Hall (I'm not a fanboi, honest) organised his own race - the TransContinental.  Starting somewhere in Belgium, there are four checkpoints that have to be visited and a card stamped.  Once done, you head for Istanbul. There's no set route but you have a 15 day cut off, and even if you ride on Motorways, you'll not do less than 2000 odd miles.  And you can't ride on motorways because its dangerous, obviously.  So its a fair bit more than 2000 miles.  

I wanted in.  The entry was due to open at 8pm on friday 9th November, 7 days after my 35 birthday (not sure why thats relevant but go with it).  7.59pm and I'm hitting refresh on the web page like a mad man.  8pm and the website crashed.  Bugger.  Eventually it comes back up and I register my entry.  Following this you then have to complete another form including a few questions around what you think it involves.  This is then submitted and you wait.  I'm not sure of the total number of entries, but there's only around 160 places and there were way more entries than that.  So I wasn't hopeful...

Last weekend sat in a cottage with my brother and several mates, drinking homebrew gin after a big day riding MTB's round trail centres I got the email below...


You made it.

Getting to the starting line they say is half the battle.
Thanks for entering the Transcontinental 2015. This year's race as you may know was well over subscribed but I'm pleased to be able to offer you a place.

Just the last bit to do - please follow the link below and complete the last few entry details and payment before Saturday 6th December, to claim your place.

I'm in.  I'm fucking in!  Total elation, I realise that for the next 8 months this will totally control my life.  A seismic shift in lifestyle will be required, eating properly, recovering properly, planning, planning some more and above all, riding my bike lots.  Then riding it some more.  To say I'm excited (and a bit scared) is an understatement.  
So the purpose of this blog is to convey to you, the masses what a fat under achiever is doing to get himself in the position to be able to race this event.  I'm notoriously good at starting blogs then never posting on them so I'll try to make more of an effort with this.  I want to race it too, not just turn up and make the cut off.  I'll try to not make it a 'Rode 59 miles, it was wet' type affair, but I'm from the north so don't expect any amazing works of non-fiction.
Anyway, I've rambled enough.  There a pizza with my name on it and the first season of House of Cards to watch.  Back in a bit..

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