Type 2 Fun – The First Sportive

It’s after four on Sunday afternoon, but it feels much later with the glowering black clouds cutting the light down.  Driving rain lashes Newbury racecourse, as it has, intermittently, for most of the day.  And it’s chilly, even for the fickle English summer.

The Wiggle Magnificat Sportive is drawing to a close.  Think of it as a mass-participation marathon on wheels, without an elite race in front.  Hundreds of damp, tired cyclists have completed their choice of 44, 85 or 128 mile rides.  They shelter in the cafe and bar, easing their pain with alcohol or warming up with steaming cups of tea.

Maybe a few of the nicer ones among them are sparing a thought for the stragglers still out on the course.

A couple of miles away, two of those stragglers are finally rolling down the last hill towards the finishing line, and carefully negotiating the slippery white paint of the mini-roundabout on the last corner.  One of them is trying, unsuccessfully, to prevent his teeth from chattering as the cold wind cuts through his soaked clothes.  This is me.  The other can’t quite believe that his legs, which stopped working properly over an hour ago, are actually getting him to the finish line.  This is my friend Luke.

Few would argue that this is conventional, Type 1, instant gratification fun.  But we finished.  It wasn’t fast, and it wasn’t pretty in places.  But that really isn’t the point.  We’ve been there, and (literally) got the T-shirts:

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And, at least for me, as a protein-rich dinner and a couple of pints of cider mingled happily in my stomach a few hours later, it retrospectively became so much fun that I signed up to do another one in a couple of weeks.

Luke may take a bit longer to convince.  But I’m sure that, eventually (when he can sit down again without a soft cushion), he’ll agree that it was fun too.

Given our various physical issues and relative lack of preparation (basically, find a sportive training guide online, tear it into tiny pieces, and replace it with a few sporadic short rides, beer, and darts marathons), I reckon we did OK.

85 miles (136km) and 1366m (nearly 4500ft) of climbing in a day is a decent ride by most standards.

In a straight line, the 85 miles would have taken us from Newbury (pretty much in the middle of southern England) to Newport in Wales, or Birmingham in the midlands.  And the climbing was a little more than going from sea level to the summit of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the UK.

For me, it was really about continuing my rehab after the accident.  I was pretty sure I’d be fine with the mileage after touring halfway round the world in the last year (the same Sunday in 2014 saw me rolling off from Greenwich to start my still-unfinished circumnavigation).

But, with my shoulder, back and neck still in pieces, it was a test to see if my body could deal with a whole day on the bike.  It can, which makes me very happy.  I’d struggle to do it for several days in a row, though, so I’ve still got some recovering to do before I get back to touring in a few weeks.

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For Luke (above, climbing one of the countless small hills in a rare non-rainy moment), it was a different sort of challenge.  He only bought his bike a few weeks ago, and his training’s been limited to laps of Richmond Park in London.  Which means that Sunday was his first ever ride over 40 miles, and the first time he’d gone anywhere close to that level of climbing.  Forcing his exhausted legs over the last few hills and miles was a proper result for him.

So, a cycling first for both of us; sportive number one completed.  An achievement, if not quite on the level of what Team Sky just did to the rest of the Tour de France this afternoon (Tuesday).

Was it worth it?  I’d say ‘definitely’.  But then, I’ve made hard riding a bit of a habit over the last year.  Luke might say ‘maybe’.  Or something unprintable.  The countryside was lovely, if damp.  The riding was fairly tough, but not outrageous.  The organisation was excellent.  The weather was shocking, and the course designer was a bit of a sadist, throwing stacks of stinging little climbs into the last few kilometres.  But in the end it was good, if definitely Type 2, fun.

And it hasn’t put Luke off cycling.  He’s talking about putting some bags on his bike and joining me for a couple of days on my UK tour in a few weeks.

Assuming he can bear to sit on a bike again by then, of course…


‘Sno Joke

I’m not sure when I started talking to the bike.  I mean full-on conversations, rather than just the occasional ‘giddy-up’ on a particularly steep hill.

These are not out loud discussions, by the way.  I’m not entirely nuts.

This seems to happen to a lot of long-range tourers.  First you name the bike.  Then its little creaks and foibles give it a personality.  Then you start to think it’s your friend.  Mainly because it doesn’t interrupt or run away when you’re boring it.  Then you start to discuss things with it.  I hope that we don’t get as far as the obvious next step, which I’m fairly sure is illegal in most places.

Anyway, The Beast was pretty convinced that it would snow today.  It seems to have settled into the role of depicting the worst-case-scenario, and then gently suggesting that I might rather stay in bed rather than getting frozen / drowned / roasted / whatever else is bothering its paranoid little head.  So today it was snow.  I ignored its pathetic snivelling, because it’s nearly summer here, and snow would be ridiculous.

To be fair, The Beast did have a few legitimate reasons for concern.  After being stranded in Rotorua for an extra day, I’d set off for Lake Taupo in sunshine, only to spend the rest of the day dodging showers again.  Not too many of them, this time, though, and I made good time initially, despite several sausage roll stops and a long chat with Greg, who I met coming the other way.  Greg is two-and-a-half years into a long and winding round-the-world excursion, and it was nice to chew the fat for a while.  Little did I know that the minutes spent taking to him would cost me an hour hiding under a not especially waterproof tree a few miles out of Taupo, as the showers kicked back in with a vengeance in the afternoon.  Still, once I was dry in town, I had to admit that they made a spectacular sight, scudding across the lake.


I’d earmarked yesterday (Wednesday) as a gentle one.  Just a little trundle down the length of the lake to Turangi, before hitting the big hills today.  And it was a pleasant lakeside ride.  I finally met a pair of cyclists with a trailer who I’d seen from a distance five days before.  They turned out to be a Spanish couple, and the trailer turned out to contain a suspiciously well-behaved toddler.  It certainly put my load into perspective: the guy was riding a bike carrying the same amount of stuff as mine, and towing another 30kgs of trailer and small daughter too – can’t imagine what the hills must be like for him.  Anyway, I made it to Turangi by three, and checked into a hostel.  An hour later, this happened:


And it kept raining continuously until 0730 this morning, when The Beast and I were having our long discussion about snow.  Because as the clouds started to rise a little, there was, maybe, a little smudge of white on the hilltops around town.  I put it down to The Beast’s fevered imagination.  Though it was chilly enough to warrant leg-coverings and full-fingered gloves.  Never have I been happier to be carrying winter gear on this trip.

The climb up to the edge of Mounts Tongariro and Ngauruhoe (the second is by far the more impressive mountain – see below – but the area’s famous for Tongariro; probably just because you can pronounce it) was a toughy, and the reward for reaching the top was a (literally and scientifically) gale-force headwind.  Which was blasting a random selection of hail, sleet, rain or nothing at me, as well as reducing things to a crawl.  Thankfully, I could see most of the showers coming, and I managed to stay reasonably dry until two miles from the end, when I was snuck up on by a mean black cloud, loaded with horizontal rain.  Urgh!


So, was The Beast right about the snow?  Not really; I was always below the snow-line.  Was The Beast right about staying in bed rather than riding today?  Well, that’s trickier.  It wasn’t much fun in places, and I’m not over-enjoying the bitter cold while I’m outdoors (especially after so long in the sun in the US).  But it’s all part of the fun.  And I’m sitting here now, warm and dry, and expecting to over-rule The Beast again tomorrow and get back out on the road again.

Unless it really is snowing, mind you…