My new friend John

Following an unexpected family visit two weeks ago I went on to Bristol to meet up with my cycle buddy John. Like me, he too had signed up for the original supported trip and when that was cancelled he put out a call to see if anyone was still interested in a cycle adventure. As many of my pals would say when I get an idea in my head that’s it and so for me the fact that someone else still wanted to go this was really positive. And that’s where it started…..

Since January John and I have been in regular contact – sharing ideas, discussing options and finding out more about each other. However, with almost 400 miles between us we had not been able to meet. A number of friends thought I was crazy (some still do I think!) for planning a year out with a guy I had never met but as John and I chatted we both agreed that our honesty, shared goals and general chit chat felt so comfortable it was like planning a journey with a old friend. Weird, but true. It just felt right. In fact, such was our confidence that we paid deposits for parts of out trip  – something that originally we had said we would only do after we met.

So, that day came on Friday. John had made the journey to Bristol and we had a weekend of biking, socialising and hanging out.  I acted as tour guide around the city and we finished with pizza and a pint before we went out on a 52 mile ride the following day.

The route was a favourite ride of mine heading south out of the city, over Bristol’s biggest hill (Dundry) and over to Cheddar Gorge. While there were tough hills these bring great views of Bristol, Chew Valley Lake and cycling down into Cheddar itself. It was a beautiful ride though as we were 12 miles from home the weather turned, we were in an exposed area, the sky went very dark and the hail was painful as it hit. Fortunately the airport was close and we headed in for shelter and a hot drink. This was the worst weather I had experienced on the bike this year. While the hail stopped it continued to pour with rain and we set off for home. It’s never great to get caught out in bad weather but it is part of the course and in a funny way it was good to see how we both deal with imperfect conditions…. This won’t be the only time!

I’m pleased to say that while smiles may have decreased momentarily a hot bath, curry and a beer aided recovery and the following day we were out again. It was a fantastic weekend and while it felt comfortable before we met I am now happy to describe John as a friend as well as a cycle buddy. We’re going to be just fine.

Hitting the brakes

In my last post I spoke about the bike I was about to order. I considered the spec emailed through and had arranged to make the order last Tuesday – 6th March.  Sadly a phone call received the evening before changed that and as a result will have a significant effect on the trip. My mother was confirmed with secondary breast cancer. It is not curable and the initial prognosis was devastating. I rushed immediately to the Midlands to join her. While disappointed that it looked like my planning had been in vain that was nothing in comparison with a much greater sense of loss the call initially indicated.

While to date all is not certain the meeting with the consultant last week brought hope and optimism.  The initial news it seems was an absolute worst case and given the next appointment falls after this time you can imagine the massive sense of relief. It really was the toughest week I’ve ever faced but with it has come a number of positives and the chance to look at moving forwards for us both and with wider relationships impacted as a result of conversations prompted by such awful news.

A number of people have often commented on my resilience. I guess that’s part of the attitude required to sign up for a cycle trip like this in the first place. It comes from my mother. Following her consultant appointment on Friday the next day we went on an 8.5 mile walk which she then followed with a traditional barn dance later than evening.

She too had felt upset that my trip may be cancelled and of course depending on appointments in three months time it may still be severely delayed. There simply would be no other option. However, as she strives to continue in a positive mindset I too am continuing to plan. It will change the original route and proposed  time away. I do want to ensure I will quickly be able to get home should I need to.  Missing a Christmas may now be something I really don’t want to do. I am now thinking of doing the trip in two or three stages so I’m not away for 11 months solid. I won’t finalise flights until after the next appointment. You have to be positive. You have to live life. You have to ensure you also spend time to appreciate and value the people you love.

Later this week I’ll be meeting my trip companion. While of course I have much to thank family and friends for their amazing support in the past week (I hope they know this outside from this bike blog!)  I also need to say thank you to a man I have yet to meet for his support and understanding at this difficult time. I always knew this trip would be a emotional journey as well as a physical one but this was beyond the unexpected. I now feel even more confident that I have a travelling partner with the mental ability for such an adventure. This trip will be more than helping each other cover the bike miles.

The bike part 1

When describing the bike in less than 50 words, Robert Penn, in his book, It’s all about the bike notes the following “ a steer-able machine comprising two wheels with pneumatic tyres, mounted in-line on a frame with rotating front forks, propelled by the rider’s feet turning pedals attached by cranks to a chain wheel, and by a loop of chain to sprockets on the rear wheel. It’s very simple”. Really? He does of course then go on to describe each key component as part of his quest to build the perfect bike.

Some people just don’t get why you need multiple wheels…yet I have different bikes for mountain biking (light, smaller wheels), touring (steel frame, bigger wheels), taking on trains (folding, really small wheels) and taking for a shared picnic (two sets of handlebars). Further, given these specialisms I also then have an inexpensive hybrid for locking up round town. Most people would think I’d have it covered. In deed, I had always presumed the real gap in my collection was the absence of a racer.

However, when considering the bike required for this trip I realised I just didn’t have what was needed. The tourer could carry the gear but would not get me through Africa as comfortably as something with suspension. The mountain bike has suspension but could not carry my gear. It was time to look at what was needed. With 20,00km to go I was not doing the ride on a bike with the wrong set up. I will be on this baby for a few hours a day for almost a year.

There are increasingly more touring bikes being made to take road and off-road adventures into account and I started to look at what was available. With adventure cycling going through what seems to a surge in interest more specialist bikes are now available for these types of trips. Given I was based in Edinburgh however means that talking through requirements for this custom build ruled out frame builders based on London. I just didn’t want to do this over the phone.

I have opted then for a Koga Signature. I am able to chat through what I need and make adjustments with a supplier in Edinburgh and despite the usual maintenance and bang it was the bike Beaumont used to break a world record on. I’m still working on my exact requirements. Having just received my first spec layout there are still changes I wish to make – let’s just hope it’s all possible so I can place my order next week. Update to follow……