Saturday, February 20, 2016

Do you wake up proud?

Too much of the time I think is caught up in processes.
Processes of the time to do habitual things.
How often do we challenge ourselves?
There's a new challenge on the way for me.
I'm not sure if I'm ready but even failures are learning experiences.
Disruption does not have to be destructive.
Damaged film photo of falls in Iceland

Friday, January 1, 2016

Out with the old, in with the new.

Ticked two jobs off the list today by making the most of the cold snap and pruning the apple trees then going on and pruning/managing the twisted willow tree. I had feared it was getting too large for the area it was in, and the wind was whipping it about a lot. Turns out that the wind had indeed been busy and one of the larger boughs was split longitudinally.

It makes me smile that we brought it back as a sapling in the back of Michelle's A4 and now it stands the same height as the lamppost. The tree was spurred into three from the base when we put it in and the first of the three spurs was cut off some years ago and was about 2" diameter I remember and I took it off with a tenon saw. Today required hatcheting off small branches, then bow-sawing off larger ones before firing up the chainsaw to take the last main part off, which was 5-6" diameter.

Next up was processing all the wood. I worked progressively and first of all thinned back the canopy branches into wood for pea-poles, wood for kindling and then the thinner canopy twigs. The twigs were then baled up with Michelle's help to dry before being used for either kindling or for fencing/windblocks.

Using a piece of sycamore trunk as a chopping block I was able to go through the small stuff quite quickly with the Granfsors Bruks hatchet. Finally it was a case of firing the chainsaw up and logging the main spur for firewood.

A satisfying day.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Above all else, or Quitting because it just wasn't fun anymore.

First off, it's been a year. So quickly time has gone past.
It's a useful measurement, or a good gap to have in order that what follows has more merit.
The reason being that around a year ago I was looking for a cycling coach to help me get faster and place higher in races. Around that time give or take a few weeks I had just found a coach and was making arrangements for initial physiological testing with them.
I had high expectations of both myself and of the coach.
This isn't going to be a negative diatribe on coaching or individual coaches but more an observation on life and decisions made.
The testing revealed that I wasn't a great performer and that opportunities for huge progression were poor due to my genetic make up, but there was opportunity to build on what I had. Agreements were made and I had myself a coach. I finished the 2014 racing season and lined myself up for the operation in early January to repair my shoulder after the 2013 crash.
From February on everything I did became centered around my training plans. Going to visit friends? Got to take the bike and kit and fit in several hours of riding. Fancy a romantic meal? Got to get a ride in before. Leading a club ride? Got to make sure it's pedalled at my training plan zone.
So it continued. Early indications were good and I was pleased with how I was performing against the plan. Whilst my cycling was improving the rest of the things within my life were becoming shabby. The garden was getting overgrown but I didn't have time or energy to fix it because I was or had been cycling. The house needed repainting but I didn't have the time or energy for it because I was cycling. I was going to see friends but I was back early because I was cycling.
At no point did I remember that I started cycling again to help me deal with my mental anxiety issues.
At no point did I remember that I had written in the front of a book on training that I'd gifted to a good friend; 'remember it's supposed to be fun'.

2015 Battle on the Beach. What should've been a fun event left me feeling disappointed as I felt I had chosen the wrong gear ratio to race in singlespeed thus slipping down the field.
What I should have come away feeling was happy that I was in the top third of the field despite being on the wrongly geared bike, and that the sheer act of riding along the beach and through the woods and dunes with like-minded people was great.

Injuries or illnesses seemed to crop up more regularly. My usual accident-prone self was suffering more with niggles and aches and bugs. I was eating healthily yet was crook a lot more.
I raced a club time trial too soon after having been bed-ridden with Campylobacter and was vomiting as I rode from a mixture of exertion and simply still being too ill. But that didn't matter. What mattered was getting a good time.
When that good time didn't happen, because I was ill and yet too stupid to realise, I was disappointed so I had to train harder. I saw the benefits of being struck with Campy in that I had suddenly lost a lot of weight and was lither than I had been for a very long time.
I could hardly walk the day after that 10 mile TT due to back pain yet I had finished 10th on a course that many disliked yet somehow I had found good. I had actually enjoyed the race.
I started to try little things, little marginal gains, to ease my pains. The oval chainrings were removed to see if a constant effort would help. The handlebars were raised, then lowered then raised again. The aero extensions, the skis, were changed to ease the pain from my broken and pinned wrist and shoulder. I tried several pharmaceuticals to try and ease the pains whilst riding from my suffering body. I can confirm that Valium does not help set a good time in a 10 mile TT. That Codeine makes you actually want to have a sleep, not push your body to the limit of what it is capable of.

In July I had the biggest and best day of my life and it was nothing to do with cycling. I got married. The whole effort brought on a massive focal point of pain into my back and I can't remember it ever being more painful. I was dosed up on Tramadol, Valium, Cocodamol, Gabapentin, enough pills to knock a pachyderm out yet I can remember the whole day and the drugs seemed not to even hit the sides. What saw me through the day was two things; the love and support of those who were there with me both on the day and in the months leading up to it, and the knowledge that I was going to be with the person who I truly loved and cared about so deeply it shocked me. I danced that evening like I had never danced before. There was no pain, there was no talent or style, there was just sheer exuberance and joy. There are also no pictures (that I am sharing).

I stopped being coached during that time and remain un-coached. The drills that I was supposed to be undertaking were too much for me to do without physical repercussions. It was an amicable split and I doubt the coach missed my monthly pay cheque or mixed-feedback forms on the training plans. Whilst it was a little thing to do the impact of it was much bigger. I had control again over what I wanted to do. I still wanted to cycle but the format changed. I had learned from my time with the coach and from the books I had read on training and I could see that likely I wasn't going to live up to my own ambitions. But that it was ok to fail.
I wasn't and I'm not impervious or indestructible. Those injuries accrued over the years are making themselves felt as I age, but I have learned that I can tolerate an awful lot of pain and still carry on. I have learned that I have the mental strength to dig in and go that bit harder when it's needed. I rode, and set a PB, in a 50 mile Time Trial 4 days after breaking my wrist. I didn't get through that just with training. I got through that because of the mental strength knowing my sister was going through much more pain and discomfort than I was due to illness yet was running the longest race that she had ever done. It's those additional things that provide the strength each day to each of us. We're far more capable of actions than we think we are. There are times to be negative and sad and there are times to be elated. If we didn't have the shit times then we'd never know how to celebrate the truly good. Life isn't magnolia.

I saw opportunities to take what I had and grow with it. I bought a mountain bike and went and rode in the hills nearby because it was great fun.


I had chips and a pint afterwards because it was great fun and bloody tasty.
I've redefined my goals. I loved riding time trials when the bike was humming away underneath me and the wind was whistling past my head. When then sounds were of the trispoke front wheel chopping through the air and of the strain of the chain as I pushed against the pedals. That 50 mile Time Trial was the last I am riding for now. I don't know when or if I'll TT again but it won't be next year. That's fine. I'm ok with that. I liked how racing gave me a focus but I didn't like how that focus became all-consuming. I look forward to finding new avenues for my competitive streak which has developed and maybe we can have a pint together some time. I never share chips.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

When I was a lad...

All this were fields. That's how it goes isn't it? It's also one of the first things that came out of my mouth unintentionally when I was in a car with my closest friends heading back into the Fenland village I grew up in; Holbeach.
Where to start? In 1986 our family arrived in Holbeach, a small village in the south of Lincolnshire known as South Holland. The heart of the Fens.
See, says so there.
That's not near Holbeach though, that's between Bourne and Spalding but it sets the scene well. Anyway I was 6 years old and actually back not 20 miles from where I had been born.

A true Lincolnshire Yeller Belly. We moved in 1998 8 miles up the road and I finally left the county and the big skies of the Fens in 2002. There may have been some odd looks from the residents of Holbeach as we drove around that wet Saturday afternoon with me jumping out of the car to snap away at apparently random bits of scenery and landscape.
Best start with the road I lived on then. Damgate, also known as Damgate Road and Nobs Road colloquially. Nobs Road due to the posh nobs who lived there, apparently. Notice the absence of the 'k'. Nob was equivalent to Toff, not cock. At the top of the road there's now a small cul-de-sac with a couple of houses in. When I grew up this wall:
wasn't complete at the left end and we could climb up to the top using the broken bricks as steps. There was a tall mesh fence around the rest of it you see. Many afternoons were spent playing den and climbing the tree, still there. On the last day of sixth form I hate to admit but as I got off the school bus, pissed, at half four I absolutely had to take a slash against the wall, around the corner and out of sight of passersby. All that cider had caught up with me.
But away from poor bladder control.
Whilst being the proud owner of my first mountain bike a great mate and I decided to see how late we could brake and how strongly we could do so on our fine machines. Neither of us can remember why we decided to do this heading towards the wall of the Community Centre
On my final attempt (it's always the final one where shit happens) my front brake cable snapped and I went into and up the wall using my face as a brake. Forks bent, face damaged, pride dented. Back home to have my Dad fit a new set of forks. It was not a proud moment.
A little further down the road is the old railway track
now apparently a Private Road...
It used to be the cut through to ride at the local motocross practice track for me. A long straight road to wind my RM80 big wheel up as I got to feel the greatness of motorcycles with my first bike (£80, bought with paper round tips at 14). Neeeeeeeooooooowww.
After a brief culinary intermission at the Chameli Tandoori
where I had my first ever take away curry as part of a Non-veg Thali and also saw in my 18th birthday with something hotter, allow me to share a brief litany of accidents.
First and second occasions of being hit by a car within 50 yards of each other along Boston road.
First time wasn't my fault as a car pulled out from the car garage into my cycling path. The second time definitely was my fault as I ran across the junction on a green light and got collected by a passing light metallic green Ford Fiesta at 30mph. I only know this was the car as I found out afterwards. I don't have any memory of the accident. Only waking up briefly in the ambulance on the way to hospital and then being in hospital for four days.
Hall hill park where I fell out of a tree after a branch broke underneath me and deposited me on the ground from a decent height and also had my head banged against the top bar of the swings after being pushed with a lot of force, but not enough to loop.
Cutting back through from the park was a case of trying to hold breath as you passed the flour mill
and then making sure you didn't swallow any mosquitos down the cut

I found a C90 down there once.
There's many more stories to tell but a trip which I thought was going to be full of negative emotions was actually full of laughter, piss taking and merriment, rounded off with a pint and some great Lincolnshire sausage and chips. Thanks boys.

Thanks also to Lucy for coming along to visit places that were home to me when you were born. It was good having you there all these years late.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Long time, long thoughts.

Readers who like to come here and look at the pretty photos or the pushbikery (there is a little bit) may want to skip this one as it's going to be a waffle about my achilles heel, or more precisely my anxiety issues.
Let's indulge a little and have a rewind back to 2009/10.
*cue Wayne's World shimmying*

I began to fret about little things; was the cat ok? I kept having to check to make sure he was fine and happy. This would even be needed in the early hours of the morning. I used to be a heavy sleeper but that was changing and I would wake and suddenly need to find Roscoe and make sure he was ok and elicit a purr. Then it got slightly worse still and I began to worry about getting a hangover if I had a beer.

Physical manifestations started with a tight feeling in my abdomen which would leave me feeling sick but I never had any bowel issues although this didn't stop the GP diagnosing IBS and booking me in for a colonoscopy. Of course my anxiety (ah hindsight) immediately went straight to the worse case scenario; I clearly was going to find out that I had bowel cancer.
Again with the benefits of hindsight the cocodamol and anti-spasmodics I was prescribed really didn't help. The painkillers were beginning to spin me out and the Mebeverine would leave me feeling gassy and bloated. Not helping when the cocodamol were bringing on the constipation.

Why was my mind wandering and letting the anxieties develop? Work was with enjoyable people but really wasn't challenging, especially after coming out of being mentally challenged in an under-grad then post-grad environment. I was spending less time able to mentally commit to the job in hand and more time negatively daydreaming. Even down to thinking that colleagues were going next door to chat with the boss and laughing at my work.

I had an horrendous weekend away with friends on the motorbike up on North Wales (The Dragon Rally) where due to the pressures of having to organise 14 people, devise the route and then lead the route as well as not eating well (I'm always hungry) meant that when we got to North Wales I was in bits and had to call NHS direct as I was convinced I was going to die. Friends got me through that night (thanks Al, I still remember you coming to find me after I wasn't in the bunkhouse and you were convinced I'd gone feral and gone off to die under a bush and I'd just nipped for a piss.)

When the appointment for the colonoscopy came up 5 months after my GP visit imagine my surprise when all that was carried out was a sigmoidoscopy. Now I was even more stressed out. Two more months passed until the colonoscopy and that came back clear. No bowel cancer then. No nothing really apart from some wild rice that had escaped the pre-scopy clear out...

As the year came to an end there was a glimmer of hope; I had a counselling assessment. By this time I had dropped in weight from 16 1/2 stone to 14 stone through not really having any appetite and also trying to cut various things out; lactose, gluten, alcohol from my diet.

By the time I saw the counsellor I had decided to do something positive with the weight loss and got the bike I'd bought on cyclescheme out and began riding again. The last time I'd ridden was back in my early 20s and I used to cycle a lot so was expecting to jump back on again and be flying. The reality was that within 400yards I was panting and aching. There was a marker point 2 miles from my house and so I began cycling there and back. It would make me feel sick through exertion and I would have to take a seasickness pill once home on occasion to stop feeling so sick. Most times I went out I would get overtaken by an old fellow on his commute home going up a hill. I could make it halfway up but would then be off and walking. I was determined to make it up the hill (I did eventually).

The counsellor was very good. We talked about the family history of depression and my concerns that I was going to follow that route. After many questions I was told that I wasn't depressed, but was anxious. Whilst no one likes to find out there is something wrong with them, it was a relief to have it quantified.

The counselling carried on and so did the cycling. Soon I was up to 8 miles, then 15 miles. The feeling of achievement was amazing and real. The evenings I went cycling after work I slept so much better. The counselling stopped but the cycling didn't. Along with swimming once a week I was beginning to get fitter. My weight had levelled off at a bit under 14 stone (I've never been that bothered by my weight.) More miles were being ridden and I was determined to do 25 miles. Which I did, and then did more times.

I still couldn't deal with being away though and again I abandoned a Dragon Rally and rode 4 hours  back through the cold February night getting home with only vapours in the tank after every petrol station on the A470 was shut. Of course they were shut as I left the North at 10pm and it was 2am by the time I arrived home. Anyone sensible was asleep.

Still on the cocodamol and likely not doing well with the effects.

2011 also saw a change of employment after taking redundancy from my old job as the place was going to the dogs and a new opportunity had arisen. That first day I can still remember having to fight every urge my body had to run away and instead stay there and do the day. It took a couple of weeks before those feelings had settled, but I was glad I stuck at them and the job. More cycling, swimming and again the more I exercised the better sleep I had and the more I was able to concentrate in work.

Into 2012 and my weight was slowly dropping just down to exercise. It wasn't something I was aiming to achieve but it was noticeable that I kept needing smaller shirts and trousers, as well as smaller shoes! 2012 was a good year and after completing a ride from London to Paris with friends for a holiday I was in good enough form to join a local cycling club. I even treated myself to a new bike, the Burls of Doom! 

2013 was an injury fest with a broken finger, broken bike and knackered AC joint, writing off the car and breaking 3 ribs and cracking my pelvis and finally doing a SLAP lesion, breaking another rib and a segment of my collarbone to round the year out. The kicker here was the medication (again) with me being prescribed Tramadol to deal with the pain from the car crash and continuing that to deal with the pain from the bike crash. 3 1/2 months of Tramadol was not a good place to be and along with massive headaches I was sleeping just an hour and a half a night due to shaking, heart palpitations (MIND has excellent information on panic attacks, if you need to explain to a close one what is going on), being convinced I had a brain bleed (a CT scan and neurologist ruled otherwise) most of which I realised were down to the Tramadol side effects. I began to cut them down and after almost 4 weeks the crazy feelings had dissipated. The only thing remaining was the massive headaches. Another GP appointment and a small dose (10mg) of Amitriptyline was prescribed to relax my nerves and muscles. Within a week the headaches had ceased and I was able to sleep again. I didn't like the morning after grogginess of the Ami though and ended up quartering the tablets and only taking the miniscule amount.

I had been sent to see a counsellor again and this one was different to the previous. The session began with all the history being dragged up, not just from the last time I had been there but from my youth. This wasn't working. These were all mental issues that I had dealt with and put to bed. I told the counsellor this and we moved on. Another appointment was made, which the counsellor then cancelled on the morning. For those of you who have been lucky enough not to have needed counselling there is an agreement that as a patient you won't cancel within 24hours of appointments. I remarked that this clearly didn't apply to counsellors. I was never called back to make another appointment. Which was fine as I had decided that I wasn't going back. I was prescribed twice books on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy but both times I found them to be massively patronising and at such a dumbed down level to not be of use.

I know that it is my head that makes me feel like this, that makes me build worse case scenarios but it's that I struggle with getting beat. I do know as well that physical exertion either through exercise or work helps massively. My anxieties are fear based, fear of something holding me back or preventing me from doing something with my life. To tackle these immediately provokes a lethargy in action from me and I find it a huge effort to do what is needed to resolve the fear. I know that if I stick at it I will beat this but I am my own worst enemy. I still have bad nights; some spices in food set me off as do certain alcoholic drinks but I can get through it. I can talk about what is getting to me with my friends and I can view it with humour; it's always the monkey on my back.  I am open about the issues I have, perhaps too open sometimes but hey my anxiety isn't visible and sometimes I need to explain a little.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Roughstuff Reconnaissance

I've got an itch to organise a decent old-fashioned Roughstuff Ride with the club. I've been slowly piecing together little sections I know of and poring over OS maps to find other bits. Today was a chance to find out how parts of it might join up, and what a glorious day it was.
I don't believe there's such a thing as lost when you've got a map with you, you are momentarily misplaced shall we say. I had the advantage of a decent visible landmark in the form of the Sugarloaf to aim for which was useful as I got a little misplaced by the NCN 42 signs.-
My bike for the day was my usual road bike, still on open tubs and running 39/53 chainrings. I did come to regret not changing to the compact.
From that point on there was some more dithering, sorry, ascertaining direction and after a rude fat lady in her Rover tried to force me off the pavement where I was mapchecking I as away again thinking I'd head off course a little to get a swift half only to find that the pub was shut. Gutted. Oh well, onwards.

The road became a section I knew from motorbike travels and so I was expecting a climb. Even though you know it's coming, it's still a bit of a wrench. This one is worth it though as it puts you at the start of a short off-road descent leading to a ford.
The beginning-
Those rocks are big enough to trouble a road bike so after avoiding going over the bars I walked a short section before hopping back on for the smooth run down to the ford-
and across the ford I went rather than trying to stop on the greasy concrete bed-
Lovely. From there it was just a 20 mile ride home.
Granted it's not going to be a proper roughstuff ride as there will be large sections of road joining it all together, but it will be the road less travelled.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Hiut Denim open day

This time yesterday I'd just ridden through some fabulous countryside in the warming morning and arrived outside an innocuous Unit 2 on an industrial estate just outside the coastal town of Cardigan.
A good number of people milled about outside with the open space behind a roller door enticing and welcoming us. This is the manufacturing home of Hiut Denim. There are many explanations of the brand elsewhere so to me this is the company that makes the best jeans I have found, makes them 110 miles from my house, stands by their products and knows how to make the small be big.
"Come and get a tea or coffee" sounded out from inside the building, and in we went.
The day was a great relaxed affair, we queued for coffee and tea, patiently handed out by whomever was by the machine (thanks Steph) then David ran through what was going to happen. The first of the things was Norman talking about pattern making and how to be efficient at it followed by Claudio (more later) demonstrating the cutting of the denim.

Onto the Grandmasters; the ladies who with great charm had fielded the tens of staring faces and accompanying questions from our attendance. I'm sure there are many synonyms for describing what these ladies do, and how they do it but to be blunt they're bloody good at making jeans. That's Jean by the way, she made my jeans. She's lovely.  Elin (2nd right) provided us with a blow by blow narration of the process and kept us in order

Here is one of the machines which does one of the many processes that go into making the jeans. Amanda is just out of shot here working on sewing the yoke into the jeans. Two things occur on this machine as firstly the denim is folded and then sewn. Amanda has to get things lined up correctly, modulate the speed of the stitch and then snip the free off. All I could focus on was the thread oscillating as I was astounded by the skill involved.
Paul gave us a demonstration on how the jeans were repaired when we, the customers had holed them, torn them or just plain worn them and then it was lunch. Still reeling we descended on the delicious empanadas, falafels and custard tarts. None of which are Cardigan native I believe but frankly I've not tasted a nicer tart or empanada so couldn't care less.
There was limited clearance stock to be purchased if we so wished and I took fancy of a pair of raw organic jeans and decided they'd make nice shorts for summer so planned to cut them off once home. Word of this spread (thanks for dobbing me in, Emma) and Claudio volunteered to do them properly. After a quick measure they were marked up, checked and cut
then I had some shorts. Pictures of my pasty white legs will not be shown, no worry there.
Clare handed out maps and we wandered down to the Theatr Mwldan for some outstanding live music from a 14 year old lass (edit to add, her name is Hana Evans ) followed by David describing the plans ahead for the company. Ladies, your time is coming with stretch denim. Other plans were presented and the ambition of the company is both measured and also bounding.
It was a great pleasure to meet the people who made my jeans, other customers and in total a great quality company with real full vision of making small big. The lure of the pub for discussions was strong, but the lure of the evening road back was stronger.