Friday, 26 April 2013

changing lives, from your garage

It's been a wee while since i blogged about my friends in Tucson and the Pascua Yaqui cycling project. Things have been progressing in the way that progress happens which is to say slowly and steadily but in a positive direction. Or at least that's what i thought, until I got an email telling me Lisa had lost 22LBS since January which is far from slow, if she continues at this rate she will have lost an entire James by the end of the year! Gloria is not just exercising but doing so with her whole family. If you point your internet browser of choice over to the Facebook page you can see some of the fantastic progress these guys are making. The idea that these guys lack the motivation to make huge changes in their own situation is simply eradicated by the evidence you'll see there. The only thing lacking are resources. So head over to the facebook page, but read this first. It's worth it with all the rubbish news on the TV lately. Take a break from bombings and bankruptcies and get some of the incredible life changing affects of bikes into your system.

This weightloss is a good thing as very soon it will be the day of the year which, in my opinion, is better than Christmas, NEW LYCRA DAY (please, keep your tightly wrapped package puns to yourself). Thanks to Primal wear the fit kits are on the way and soon the little bundles of joy will be arriving, packaged in those enormous ziplock bags which look really useful until you realize that they have a hole in them to prevent injury prone fools like me from choking themselves.

Sadly not all is going according to plan. A major sponsor has pulled out of the project and we're basically down a couple of dozen bicycles. we have funding to administer the project but we can't absorb the cost of that many shiny new (or even grimy old) bikes. So this is where you come in: you like bikes, you buy bikes because you like bikes. You ride the bikes and then, someone overtakes you on a bike which looks newer, shinier, faster. So you save up and you write a letter to father Christmas and you send it up the chimney and low and behold, the elves get into overtime and a new bike arrives. But you don't want to sell the old bike, it was your baby. You keep it like the hypothetical person for whom songza created the "looking at photos of your ex" playlist (seriously has anyone else seen that?). Like photos of your ex, and your first school photo, and your wedding dress, and that vinyl record player it ends up in a shed or a garage or an attic.

Well, now is the time to don the rubber gloves and that fetching headtorch you keep for such occasions and stride purposefully down to the garden shed. Push past the partially assembled flat pack outdoor dining set and the "only slightly" leaky hosepipe and reclaim that bike. Because I want to give your bike a new life, and use it to help change someone else's. Drop me a comment or a tweet or an email and i'll get you an address to send it to. I''l get you a charity number and you can write it off against taxes, yes, that's right not only do bikes save money, look cool and provide a great source of entertainment they also pay your taxes for you!

I'm going to assemble a crack team of soldiers of fortune, or failing that bike mechanics and we'll turn rust into gold in a storm of alchemy,  degreaser and allen keys then deliver the bikes to our participants in Arizona where they will go on changing lives for years to come as opposed to growing rust.

On the off chance that you don't have a shed/ box full of carbon, rubber and oil. We'd love your money as well. The link is here and donating couldn't be easier. Drop me a line once your pennies are safely squirreled away and i'll even send you a special gift.

Remember the first time you rode a bike? remember the sense of freedom it gave you? this is your chance to share that, along with health and a sense of empowerment with people who through no fault of their own have been deprived of all three. Please help people to become positive role models for their community and to make change in their own lives. I really don't want these guys to be let down again and certainly not on my account. In general and all over the world i have found bike people and 'betes people to be good people and i know i basically exist because of the generosity of people i barely know, but it wouldn't be me if i wasn't throwing myself totally at the sympathy of others. So please help.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Mondays, Metiers and marginal gains

It's Monday morning and the world is sad. On the metro people look at their feet and shuffle along. The cafe seems a little less busy and somehow the sun a little less bright. Monday is when the world gets up to an alarm, makes a unsatisfactory sandwich, puts on an itchy jacket and goes back to work. That is apart from the miniscule part of the world that spent Saturday and Sunday galavanting about in lycra and has allotted to spend Monday recovering from excessive amounts of exercise.

Before you get all angry at me lording it up on Monday morning without a care in my little world please consider that on Friday night (when you were no doubt down at Dino's bar and grille) i was tucked up all on my Tod catching 40 winks in order to be up on Saturday in time for a disappointingly slow bunch ride. On Sunday morning i forewent the temptations of chocolate con churros in order to enjoy the tribulations of 5 hours with 3 sst blocks.

Nonetheless i enjoyed my weekend. the sun shone, Catalonia was beautiful. Sure, at points my lungs hurt and this morning's trip back up the steps to my house was completed at a pretty geriatric speed due to most of my anatomy feeling like it had been beaten with a rod but at no point on Saturday or Sunday did I look the people in the metro do on Monday morning. I simply cannot imagine doing a job i hate 5 days a week and spending the other two days moaning about it. I can't see there being any wage which would convince me otherwise.

At the risk of sounding like a Disney character, it's all too easy not to look around you every day and see how beautiful the world is. The little things which can make your day a little bit better sum together to make your life that little bit happier. But only if you let them (it's those marginal gains again), you could walk right past a beautiful view, a great piece of street art or a conversation waiting to happen. Today i spent 3 hours talking to a 75 year old man. Admittedly that means i got bugger all done at the archive, but i'll have more time at the archive. I might never see him again and through talking to him I learned a lot, when someone who has been alive 300% as long as you is willing to sit down and banter about the quality of coffee in Italy and  Vietnam, the evolution of romance languages from Latin and the cause of the obseity epedemic you owe it yourself to listen. Toni turned out to be a bit of a legend, but i want to write about that later.

I've been thinking a lot today as i went through my rest day things; making soup, cleaning bikes, buying a HUGE jar of honey (which looks like something a brain gets stored in in films) and staging my annual attempt to encourage kombucha to grow in my kitchen ( i have great success with less desirable fungi). Yesterday a guy whom i rode with in the winter of 2011 was struck by a porsche being driven by a driver under the influence of Cocaine. I wanted to write about that and be angry but I decided that wouldn't really solve anything, There are very few people who would argue that the driver wasn't a massive dickhead, i'm not really going to stop anyone coking and driving. If you're the sort of tosser who does that you're not reading this you're too busy snorting enough money to feed a family. So rather than being sad i decided to place my focus on being happy.

It's cliche to day that every day could be our last and i don't think you should live like that (for a start Imagine the chaos it would cause when all the shops sold out of chocolate). To me the thought that your last day should be any more or less enjoyable than any other day reflects badly on your life choices up to that point. You can't make up for a dull life with a great day. Surely we should focus on extracting as much enjoyment and beauty out of every day as we can. I like taking photos and writing things, not to show off how fu**ing awesome my life may or may not be (thanks for that facebook message by the way) but to share with everyone that there's nothing remarkable required to enjoy every day.

Being a bike racer is great, being a historian is wonderful. I get a lot of time to myself and to think but, in both cases it's only good if you can enjoy the process and not focus on the goals. I've smashed myself into enough pieces on bike to know that, if i focus only on winning then i crash, i'll get pretty down. If you can enjoy every kilometer, fly down every descent, appreciate every snippet of birdsong when you roll past and smile every time you catch 3 feet of air off a speedbump then winning doesn't get worse, but the day to day, the metier if you will, becomes a lot better. So go and smile at someone on the metro

Also, if you've enjoyed anything i have written, please take the time to click across to AYUDA and drop a few pennies in the Jar. it's good for your soul and someone else's health

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

riding bikes is fun

Today I did some intervals and, before the last 8k climb home stopped and ate a croissant (yeah i eat gluten, and butter and sugar and i LOVE it) . 

As I hit the base of the climb my intention was to roll up in z3, at the same time an old man in liberty seguros kit (with sleeves removed) hopped on my wheel. Soon he was attacking and I was content to let him go. Then I decided to give chase as my ego dictated I must. I pretty quickly got up to him and decided to leave him a small gap until later in the climb in case he had a cardiac trying to attack me again. As I was considering this I passed a small group of old men, wearing assorted pro kits of every pro team a Catalan rider has been on in the last decade,  they also jumped on my wheel and exhorted me to catch the chap up front. Each of them took a huge pull before pulling off. 200 yards before the summit the last pensioner made a final effort and I put the bike on the big ring, passing mister seguros at the summit. I didn't have the heart to tell them I go up the climb faster alone but seeing these old boys acting out a grand tour drama reminded me how great bike racing is. 

Today the sun is shining and there is beer in my fridge. A farmer gave me two apples on my way home as well!  Happy Tuesday everyone. Go for a ride

Monday, 15 April 2013

cold, cobbles and chips a story from the year that it was always winter, but never Christmas

Bike Racing is, in many ways a spectacle as much as a sport and there is as much ritual as research in the way we go about it. Nowhere is this more true than in the cluster of little nations where monks rely on the grace of god to turn Barley into beer and the population relies on extremely hot oil to turn potatoes into a vessel for mayonnaise.  Having been part of the ritual, on the inside as well as the outside for a good percentage of my sentient life it’s easy to subsume the arcane liturgy into my conception of normality. To assume that everyone KNOWS that you can’t warm up before a kermis even if you would do so vigorously for the same effort in a different place. That below 10 degrees you have to wear legwarmers and that one cannot drink a coffee with milk before a race (but a pastry with butter is fine).

This week I was reinitiated into the ritual of bike racing in the cold. Having spent years chasing the summer around the world I’ve been a stranger to the neckerchief and race number combination for longer than any self-respecting pasty Brit should. I’ve trained a lot in the cold, but it’s different. Racing demands a fluidity and ease of motion that doesn’t allow for bulky jackets and clumsy shoe covers. When you’re hammering into and out of cobbled corners all day there is no place for a beanie instead of a helmet, or a sock around a water bottle full of tea. It’s not that any of these things are necessarily detrimental to performance but they simply wouldn’t be right at a race. They wouldn’t look right, they don’t convey the sense of urgency, style and speed that racing demands. Put simply you’d feel like a bit of a dick, and if you didn’t then everyone else would make sure you soon did!

The ritual of cold weather racing is complicated and lengthly. It starts before you even leave the house. It’s vital to wear a scarf and a hat to give the impression one is in such fine fettle that one is on the bleeding edge of catching the flu at any time. Next, at the sign on, hands must be rubbed, lungs loudly emptied and eye contact made with the other racers. The cold must be remarked upon but then dismissed. It’s an odd paso doble in which we all play both roles, I tell a friend it’s cold, he says it is but that last week was worse, he turns to a teammate and laments the weather.

The next step is to wheel an oversized bag into a schoolroom, barn, garage, stable, sports center or ocassionaly an actual changing room. The door swings open and you’re hit by a burst of nervous chatter and a lung burning cloud of embrocation. Turn a corner and men with tanned legs and brilliant white chests rub orange tinted cream on their knees like braves putting on face paint before they go to war. Opening your huge bag you pick listlessly at your clothes and look around to see what everyone else is wearing. The flemmish delight in wearing less than is sensible, I know this and yet I can’t bring myself to wear legwarmers when everyone else is in shorts. With a resigned shrug I break out the extra hot embrocation, the plastic glove I stole from a petrol station and make ready to cover my legs in orange goop like a good flandrien. I place a towel on the floor (nobody knows why) and lay out my shoes, helmet and sunglasses. I put in the yellow lenses to make the world a happier place and I pull on my shorts after applying a liberal coat of chamois cream, but before the embro (think about it, you’ll work out why) I roll the shorts up and cover my legs in orange goop, it burns where I cut myself shaving but it smells like bike racing. I put on a base layer, then another. Everyone else is doing a jersey, base layer and armwarmers. I want to wear a jacket, at least a vest but I don’t want to have to strip it off and throw it, I only have one of each. If they’re all dressing like this they must know it’s going to warm up. So I put on two jersies, so nobody can tell how cold I feel. I pin my lucky charm onto the first and using my carefully guarded pin stash I crumple my number and pin it to the second, carefully lining up the top of the pocket with the pins.

Then, like everyone else I proceed to don three more layers than I intend to race in for the warm up. I go outside and languidly place my frame card on the number holder behind the rear brake. Lining it up just so, not using the hole that you’re supposed to because everyone knows that you’re not really supposed to use that one, you’re supposed to use the hole someone punched in the number the first time it was used. It places the number vertically, which must be more aero or lucky or something. I wince as I take off my long fingered glove, doing up the butterfly nut with only my thin silk undergloves protecting me from the aggressively intrusive cold air.

It’s time to procrastinate about warming up. I find teammates and the food stash, I carefully select the chocolate and mocha gels. And stash one peanut butter gel, supplies are low and nobody likes the guy who steals all the best chocolates from the tin. I take a bottle of mix and one of water, I place my helmet on top of the car and we roll around the course. The locals fly past, winning the war up for 30 seconds before returning to the car to check how their diamond earrings look. Luckily their mum is always on hand to tell them they look great, at least i assume that's what's happening because nobody else thinks that. 

A brief stop at the cafĂ© to ask the time and a third pee in some poor old lady’s bushes and it’s off to the start. Here we peel off legwarmers and spend minutes undoing any benefit the warm up had done. At the last minute we throw jackets to a helper, or failing that to a friendly looking old lady. If it’s the latter I make sure to show her that it has my wallet in, she’s less likely to steal it once she sees that I only have 25 euros and no cards anyway! Everyone looks at me and expects me to take off my neckwarmer, I try to ignore the stares and get on with breaking the rules.

And then nobody cares because we’re flying into the first corner and despite knowing the first 5k of the course from my practice lap I’m somehow on the bike path trying not to hit a lamppost. My throat is on fire from the cold air and my cheeks hurt. And two hours later I’m still that way, my face feels like cold silly putty and it takes a while to remember how to make it smile when I  fumble my last waffle into my mouth, which seems to generate enormous amounts of phlegm below ten degrees. And it hasn’t got warmer and I’m cursing these bastards in their stupid jersies. I’d have been further up and in the break if I’d been warmer earlier on, or so I tell myself.

And then it’s over and I sit down in the shower. I wash the residue of Flanders’ fields and motorbike exhaust off my legs and they burn from the embrocation (why is it never that warm IN the race?). I inject myself with insulin and I don’t care what anyone thinks and I drink hot chocolate while everyone judges me and forces down a cold coke. I cover myself in every item of clothing which isn’t covered in mud and sweat and slowly, against my better instincts I put on my backpack and my wooly hat (riding to and from a race is strictly a sans casquette activity), I hand over my frame number and take my 5 euros, stuff it into the back pack and pedal to a train station with wet hair and cold hands. And if it’s been a really tough race, I buy some stoofvlees and frites. When I feel like I’m breaking, I might add a westmalle from the nacht winkel.
And by the time I’m eating my frites I remember how fun it was when we hopped up the curb at 40mph, and how good it felt to close a gap that the guy in front couldn’t and I’m warm and I forget how cold it was. And with something approaching a flourish, I grab the newspaper and the train timetable and I work out where I’m going to get cold my embrocation and shivering fix tomorrow. 

Saturday, 6 April 2013

snapshots from the frozen north

mostly written on trains:

Today has been a bit of a scramble so far. A breakfast which was far too casual and included plenty of speculoos. This was followed by two people trying to adjust two bikes in a room built for 1 person and no bikes. Then A long and fruitless search for wifi to find out where the race was and how to get there, rushed packing of clothes into bags and  a scramble across town in our street clothes to get to the cancelled train. A rapid rijstart before the next train. Then  we got on one train then another train, where we occupied the toilet in order to affect a superma like costme change. At some point during this Jordan affected an un superman like arse-emergency in which his arse fell upon the emergency button triggering an alarm. the alarm triggered a half dressed Jordan to flee the toilet fearing he had caused an emergency stop. he hadn't but he did give the queue for the toilet a surprise. After this we arrived at Aalst where we proceeded to get lost, my flemmish was just good enough to get us directions, from someone who had no business giving them. Fortunately we found a car with a Satnav and make it to the race 15 minutes before the start, breathing a sigh of relief, we signed on took our numbers and realized we had no cash to pay. 

Luckily some kindly dutch bloke covered us and we managed to make it to the line in time to slot into the rear of the 278 (yup that's not a typo) rider field full of shivering skinny boys, bearded hardmen and one nutter in a short sleeved skinsuit who had seemingly bathed in embrocation. And then we sat there for 15 minutes shivering more, and wondering what on earth that nutter was doing in short sleeves. 

After a bit of neutral zone nonesense in which at leas two guys fell over due to the sheer muppetry which is Belgian people negotiating corners on bikes. After this we rode around in cricles for a while, always making sure to slow down to 10kph for the corners. At some point i decided it would be a good idea to use the raised pavement to move up and then sidehop back in, It wasn't and the guy i nearly landed on got a bad case of the "weebles" (he wobbled but he didn't fall down) unfortunately he did leave an enormous crevasse of a gap and it couldn't overcome it with a hipsling. But on the plus side i got to mobilise my Flemmish swearing, it's been a while. After rolling a few ronde in the comedy group i pulled up  in time to watch Jordan's crank fall off with 2 laps to go and ride back to the station where we caught a train filled with an entire troupe of girl guides. Instant novelty status ensued. 

Sadly we're back after all the shops are closed and that means frites for dinner. such are the privations of bike racing. 

more manana, in my little bursts of internet connectivity.