It all started in 2011 - we decided to ride Lands End to John O Groats, since then we've completed a number of 'challenges' raising over £15,000 for various charities.
You can read about our adventures here, and also our on-going efforts to keep on cycling!
I've been busy. A sudden demand for my services has seen me working all hours - evenings and weekends to meet a host of deadlines - this blip has left me struggling to find time to ride. And last weekend was the annual Mercia cycling club reliability trial - probably more apt to call it the torture trial - because unless you've found time to prepare, to train, to get some miles into your legs - it is a just that. Anyway, I haven't done the required preparation, plus my work schedule meant I had an unavoidable alibi to cry off. Gary was all geared up to enter, but then he too cancelled, albeit with a proper excuse, his knee has been causing him some grief - best not to aggravate the situation with the haul up Jackson's Bank.
However I did manage a shortish ride on Sunday - my work got to the point where I needed to create a large document for electronic despatch - the processing involved meant I could either sit there watching the little circle spin round - or walk away; or better yet, ride away!
I set off at a reasonable pace. The day had warmed slightly from a frosty start and I made my way along quiet roads towards Market Bosworth. Winter's shutdown is everywhere evident. The verges cloaked in the rich brown hues of fallen leaves, their tones painted by rain's water-colouring artistry and breeze's drying touch. In places there are small branches wind-ripped from trunks and pavements are peppered with muddied acorns, unattractive to the eye but a veritable larder for many creatures in harsher days that may lie ahead. All around, the dark grey bark of wet twigs is enlivened by the subtle grey-greens of the different lichens they have brought down with them. A sphere the size of a tennis ball a little way into the trees catches my eye. It's an interweaving of very soft, fine filaments that lead up to small cups that are fringed with eyelashes, the whole appearing like a colony of linked space satellites surrounded by a web of protective sensors. What is it? - some sort of nest perhaps? or possibly a funghi of some description?
The small wood is saturated. Ditches gurgle with the sound of running water and only the reckless will venture anywhere near the mires and wetlands. In the hedgerows, long yellow catkins sway as they are brushed by the turbulence of passing traffic. Both fungi and catkins make a bold statement. Others may have shut down for the duration. For us, it's business as usual.
Suddenly there're lots of people around - I pass a large group of ramblers - at least thirty I would guess, all togged up against the elements and making a long procession along the pathless road. There are cyclists too - a small group of six or so pass, heading in the opposite direction, everyone, like me, is wrapped up warm.
As I come back round through Bosworth there's a group of cyclists tucking into food, a kind of picnic situation but more extravagant than you might expect of a group of Sunday riders. They have a vast array on display, sandwiches, samosas, scotch eggs, chicken - It's all laid out on a tablecloth, very civilised. There's been some interesting reports about nutrition in the papers recently. It seems that most of the stuff we have been told, you know, the 'good food, bad food' so called, facts, are wrong. The latest science tells us that beer is great for sports recovery. Vitamin supplements are a waste of time. Eggs are good for us. Orange juice is no better than coca cola. And the list goes on. I'm reading a book by Sean Yates - he would pride himself on riding all day without food or water - at least he didn't need to worry about eating the wrong things. I maintain a healthy diet of micro-brewed beers, salt and vinegar crisps and the occasional chicken madras - once in a while I'll have a go at some vegetables, which makes me feel righteous and of course I ride my bike - and that's about it. I figure if I am suffering from any deficiencies I will know because my gums will bleed and my teeth will fall out, or my legs will bow and snap. After all, Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison not balancing his diet with extra vitamins and he lasted until the age of 95. Then there are all those 112 year olds in Southern France who live on nothing but red wine and cheese.
I get home and straight back to work - not even bothering to change - imagine me at the computer dressed in lycra - there's not a minute to lose, deadlines you understand.
On Saturday the day opened like an advent calendar window, a light sprinkle of frost, bright blue sky and a Robin, bright as a berry, red as a sunset and full of fire and fight. I decided it was too cold for an early ride - and settled into a work project for the morning. By 2.00pm I was ready, the frost had long disappeared and the sun shone strong, enticing me from my hobbit-hole of a studio. I quickly changed and set off, once moving the cold sliced into me but I knew I'd get warmer as the effort increased. There's a magnificent luminance to the landscape today, the clarity is enhanced by the strong sunlight and every tree looks stunning, shining with a brightness as fierce as the Robin's - it is super enhanced 3D, almost unreal. On my way I pause next to a broken section of fence to gaze across the landscape. It's a soggy field of mossy turf with patches of longer sallow scrub. I can here a woodpecker attacking one of the trees in the distance and there's a constant procession of small birds flickering in and out of the hedge. Nearby is all that remains of a pheasant, just the brown, barred wings and a gory stump that was once its body. There are hoof prints where the ground is softest and I wonder if any beasts have escaped through the hole in the fence. When I get back my new magazine has arrived - I subscribed to 'Rouleur' before Christmas - it's long been on my list and I marvel at its production qualities. This is a magazine rarely seen in the shops, it has been created to celebrate the drama and beauty of road racing. It focuses on exquisite photography and writing that attempts to get under the skin of the great riders and theatre of road racing. Here's a few photo's so that you might get the idea
So here we are in the first week of a new year. Here, in the Midlands of England, we have escaped most of the devastating storms that have decimated some areas. We've experienced some rain and wind but generally we've had it easy. It's mild considering the time of year and for that at least I expect we should be thankful.
Last weekend was spent with my youngest daughter who celebrated her 16th birthday - it went well. She wanted a bookcase for her bedroom and a watch - and money of course. And in the evening both daughters came over for a night of movies and food. Crispy Aromatic Duck, Chicken Satay, Mashed potato with bacon bits and peas and Southern fried chicken popcorn. And for desert Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Not exactly fine dining - but that's kids for you.
My Sunday ride out was a toughie - it was cold and windy but I needed to make the effort. The light was bright, a kind of spring half-light, not shadow and not sun, a soft and rather treacherous glimmering from behind threatening cloud. As I made my round my usual 15 mile route I was thankful I'd picked my number 4 gloves. These have the benefit of a double lining; a glove within a glove and the extra insulation was most welcome. There was a continuous dancing of branches as I idled my way round the course, with nothing of benefit in the way of windbreaks as I laboured slowly up to Newton Burgoland and round to Shackerstone, on the verges the thin, speary tussocks of grass flattened by the wind and rain into a kind of brownish mattress. The land is bare and empty and I am surprised by the lack of signs of life. There is no one around - no cyclists, no walkers, barely any road traffic. It is as if everyone else has decided to stay indoors, feet up, in front of the fire.
The return loop is marginally easier, the wind is behind me for a stretch and I enjoy the respite. It is quiet now, the constant whistle and moan of the wind is gone and everything feels good. With wind aid I blast through to Congerstone before turning up the long drag to Barton in the Beans. There is a canal bridge at the bottom of the rise which as a short incline of what feels like 25% - it never gets easier no matter how fit I am or how good I feel. Today it feels steeper than ever and at the apex I'm struggling to turn the cranks. I take it steadily up the rise - it's around three miles to home with most of it uphill.
The last two hundred yards are the best - the prospect of a warm log burner, a cup of tea and hot buttered toast is enough to stimulate a last burst burst of energy.