Paris Brest Paris – I’m frikkin doing it! #PBP2015

  When I heard about Paris-Brest-Paris way back in 2006, I thought, ah man I’ve got to do that and parked it in the back of my mind. I dont think bucket lists were fashionable back then.

Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) is the oldest bike race, superceeding Paris-Roubaix by five years, kicking off before the turn of the century in 1891. It is iconic in cycling terms and pro teams raced it well into the 50s. There were even races against cars when they were first invented and given the lack of petrol stations back in those days, the bikes won. Actually I not sure why the cars lost. Anyway it’s a ride any discerning cyclist should add to their list. Life is just not complete without a PBP attempt.

Coming in at 1230km (770 miles) of fairly non-stop riding, it’s one you’d want to build up to and I certainly couldn’t have ridden it back in 2007 when it did it’s 4-year flyby and in 2011 I was too busy chewing up my handlebars on the men’s Giro d’Italia course.

This isn’t a pay your money and pitch up gig, you’ve gotta earn your strips. With the small matter of completing a 200, 300, 400 and 600km qualifier, you can tootle off to the start to knock out your PBP in 80, 90 or 84 hours. Chatting to a few folk on the qualifiers I went for the 84hour ride. Leaving towards the end of the event (Monday 5:15), I’m in the second last group, I figured I’d get a full view of the sheer scale of the ride as the riders make their way back after turning around at Brest. With around 6,500 folk starting between 4-8pm on Sunday and 4:50-5:30 on Monday morning it’s bound to be emotional. So 2015 it is and it was pretty close to being another 4 years before I could attempt it.

How I qualified is a bit of a mystery to me. Last year my body fell off the end of the world and it took some persuation to get permision from the health guy to allow me to keep pedalling to work, which was mostly me drafting Boris bikes for a few months just to make it into the office. The shorten version of the saga is that I needed to fatten up, and only when I put on 4kgs could I think of doing anything serious. That took 7 months. So with newly acquired bulk – not ideal for climbing – and my Boris bike speed training, I tootled off to try my hand at the 200km. My longest ride til then had been a slow ride to Brighton on Alfonsina (my 90 year old, 22kg, 2 speed steel slug). Reattaching my legs took 2 weeks after this ride. I made it round the 200km, thanks mostly to being adopted by two lovely gentlemen, a theme I was to find carried through all my qualifiers. Exhausted but happy, I booked the other qualifiers and thought hell YES I’m gonna do this. The 300 was torrid, being sold as a flat ride, it was anything but at 3000m of climbing and taking us back via Maidenhead at 8pm on a Saturday night was slightly hair-raising for an exhausted rider.

The 400km was epic, it was up in Norfolk, the route was stunning, quiet roads especially for the period through the night, hearing owls toot and the misty sunrise punctuated with bird sound were the perfect entrée to a full English breakfast at the finish after 21 hours on the bike. I also got to meet Adrian O’Sullivan who did Transcon the year before and was heading out to do Transam. He’ll be at the startline for PBP too.

All that needed to be done was the 600km and I went for the Bryan Chapman in Wales, an Audax ride which has stood the test of time. Starting in Chepstow heading north to Bangor before returning to Chepstow, 8,500m of climbing stood between start and finish and those extra 4kg were close to being my undoing. I was ecstatic to get round in 37 hours and thus stake my claim to a PBP start place.

After all this effort to qualify it was touch and go as to whether I’d get to the startline… one should ALWAYS check the expiry date of a passport before travelling well in advance and not just the night before. Queue mad rushing about, volcanic emotional flows and plently of oh f..ks. Getting an emergency passport does not extend to disorganised travellers, nor does running around like a headless chicken assist with resting before a big event. My only option was to just head to the ferry and see what happened. I got a bit muddled with my directions and found myself going the wrong way on the M25, in stationery traffic, but thankfully and very sweatily made it just before the cut off time. The lovely English folk waved me on but the French guys nabbed me.  I got told by French border control that I’d have to return to England (the guy was chuckling a bit), when I explained I was riding Paris-Brest-Paris, they asked “per velo?” (by bicycle?) and with that I was let through with a telling off to get a new passport. So there you have it, the French really do love cyclists and actually did have a great sense of humour. So, by the skin of my teeth I am off to do PBP, given the efforts to get to the startline, I will do everything in my powers to nail this one well and good. Wish me tailwinds and tasty calories.

TwiggyArms kayaks the Thames #KayakingTheThames

The Man in the ArenaIt seemed a perfectly reasonable thing to do with the down time between Christmas and New Year. Never mind I didn’t own a kayak, nor that I’d never really kayaked before. Those were arbitrary to the fact that I could end my year with a little adventure, given my track record for the year, it would be good to get a completed adventure under the belt and put the critics to bed once and for all. As Roosevelt’s famous Man in the Arena quote says: “if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly”. It has certainly been a year where I pushed the boat out massively and while in the eyes of some I “failed and blamed everything else but myself”, for me the adventure always starts when the plans fail. Most importantly I had fun, I learnt shed loads, I ditched the critics and found a whole bunch of really awesome, positive folk doing some pretty cool adventures. My kind of folk.

As Brene Brown says: “Its is seductive to stand outside the arena and think… I’m going to go in there and kick some ass when I am bullet proof and when I’m perfect.” So imperfect I went into a kayaking adventure, full steam ahead and don’t mind the icebergs. It took a few misfires but finally sourcing a touring kayak a few days before we left – thanks to Alfie from Moo Canoes for allowing me to use his personal kayak, Roland for all the other kayaking kit and a raid of my old pile of sailing kit – I was all set to head out and give it a crack. I definitely over packed for the adventure, coming in at about twice, ok maybe three times the weight of the boys kayaks. Man I really don’t like being cold and taking spares of everything seemed quite reasonable given the below freezing temperatures and the likelihood of me rolling over into freezing water. As it turned out I used everything I packed and on one occasion seemed to be wearing it all at once while sleeping in a bivvy at -6 degrees.

IMG_7669We kicked off in Lechlade on the afternoon of 27 December, a mere 125 miles of paddling lay ahead so getting in a few hours before darkness descended was a good start. We pulled into the Swan Hotel to thaw out and refuel once it got dark, I’d survived my first “day”, getting in and out the water without going in and managed to haul my kayak up the banking, this didn’t last long and I needed some help eventually. The hotel campsite was across the bridge on an island but they allowed us to camp in the garden, our feet almost hanging over the edge into the Thames. I’d have slept to the relaxing sound of the river were it not for the wood felling sounds emanating from the bivvies near me, silicon earplugs are a godsend. It was a frosty night, waking, as we would in subsequent nights, to a heavy frost settling on the bivvy bags. Camping spots would generally be alongside the river in a farmers field or the garden of a friendly pub. No amenities provided, so thankfully I was supplied with a small trowel for digging holes, this would have been great if the ground wasn’t frozen solid. So onto an early breakfast was our best option.

IMG_0371With the days being short we agreed to wake early and start at the crack of dawn. What we hadn’t accounted for was how freezing it would be and getting things packed up in heavy gloves was a slow process. Add to that a frozen brain, packing up was neither a fast nor a smooth process. Once we got onto the water the sunrise was out of this world, it was impossible to paddle while the sun rose and we would meander along with the flow while taking photos. The boys were ace at updating social media and it gave me a chance to get ahead a little and not hold up the pace.

On most days the end of my gloves would freeze, especially where I would inadvertently dip them in the water due to the lack of any kayaking technique. I would spend the next six days focused on trying to get the boat moving smoothly without veering to one side of the river or the other as the back eddies pulled the boat off course, trying to use more than just my arm muscles to power me forward. I’m not sure my mind thought of anything other than absorbing the incredible views, paddling straight and working out how to rotate my torso to stop my arms falling off. In Reading we were caught by a racing kayaker who invited us to their club house for coffee. His advise was “follow the bubbles” as they indicate where the flow goes. Hell yeah now this is a sport I could definitely take up.

IMG_7868It was not until we paddled through the lower reaches of the Thames that I appreciated just how incredible the upper reaches were. To have an entire river to ourselves with no other traffic on the water, being able to paddle on completely smooth water, to witness the views and reflections of land across glass-like water surface undisturbed by anyone else – simply mindblowing. To be enveloped in silence broken only by the sound of blades breaking the surface of the water. Not a single bit of rubbish or plastic on the river, once we were past Oxford the bushes along the river were strewn with plastic, pockets of rubbish and loads of lost balls. The boys adopted a few, named them Wilson and played chase the ball for a few hours while I escaped uphead claiming the smooth water.

IMG_7881“Lock crushing” was my favourite bit. From day 2 to 5 most of the locks were frozen over and we would race at the ice to break it up before grinding to a halt. What followed was either a boat rocking manoeuvre or cracking a hole with the paddle to pull us through the ice. When my arms died I’d wait for one of the boys to crack a path through and nip in behind them. One of the sections below the lock was also frozen solid, this was a first for us, a walker told us a previous kayaker abandoned and portaged past the ice. We decided we were going to give it a crack. The ice must have been a good half a centimetre thick and where a plate of ice shifted over another it froze together almost instantly. We made it through with team work, at one point I was being shunted from behind to break through the solid sections. This particular section was iced over for a substantial distance after the lock too, once we got past the thick ice, there was patchy, thin ice for a good 500m which was easy enough to paddle through but still make the cool cracking sound which made me laugh out loud at the madness of this adventure. It showed just how cold it was, with one of the guys saying it was the coldest night of the year. I can certainly believe it.

IMG_7837Some of the bridges were pretty spectacular, from wooden bridges such as Tenfoot bridge dating back to the 1800s, to Newbridge, a stone bridge dating back to from c1250 and being the second oldest on the Thames, it’s a stone bridge with low arches making navigation a little tricky for the cabin cruisers. Perhaps my favourite bridge, which my photos don’t do justice to (but you can zoom in on the photo to see the detail), is the red brick Moulsford Railway Bridge built in 1839. As you paddle below it you can see how the bricks are laid in a diagonal direction under the arches, quiet incredible. One last fact on bridges, Maidenhead bridge has the longest span arch of any brick bridge in the world.


IMG_0369The chaps were fab to paddle with, Sean (Conway) is a natural in the outdoors, everything looked so easy for him and his paddling style was a lovely rhythmic pattern, he donned a straw hat for the trip and with his wild hair escaping the brim, at times I felt like I was paddling the Canadian wilderness with some outback dude who didn’t interact with civilisation (of course he’s not like that at all). James (Ketchell) who rowed the Atlantic solo, has arms the size of my thighs, he just pulled himself calmly through the water, making it look effortless. On his row he got hit by the wrong weather and sat stationary for 2 weeks. Knowing he would not have sufficient food stores, I asked about this aspect of running out of food – one of my greatest phobias. Explaining that food is simply not just a fuel source, his comment on food being a motivator or lifting moral was a very interesting observation. Then we had Steven (Lloyd) who pitched up with an inflatable kayak he’d never used before, he pumped it up, hopped in and off we went. Well between Sean’s look and Stephen’s kayak, I could easily have been in a cartoon. They made me laugh so much and I just loved that it didn’t matter what you turned up in or what little experience you had, as long as you went forward in the water that was good enough and given the flow on the river if you couldn’t paddle you eventually end up in London anyway. Thankfully we were all seasoned bivvy baggers, if there’s such a term, as we didn’t have much problem setting up camp, it left us loads of time to warm up in a local pub.

IMG_7775Oxford was possibly our most exciting day. Needing breakfast, Sean suggested a detour via town to grab a bite. The massive bollards blocking the way should have been a good enough warning that kayaking any further was a risk, but there was a small gap with a height restriction sign, which after a little debate lead us to believe it would be fine to carry on. As I passed under a low road bridge, called Quacking Bridge (we found this out later) I suddenly heard this wild rushing water sound and dead ahead was a slews gate. I started back paddling wildly yelling “weir” (does it matter what it’s called in a moment of blind panic). Someone yelled “go left” and we all managed to paddle into a small slipway. Once we got onto dry ground we could see the hazard below the slews gate – a very low double arched bridge which, had we been able to navigate into, given the way the water was rushing up the side of the building, would have required us to lean right back onto the kayaks to clear the arch. Phew! More excitement than I had banked on and thank you TwiggyArms you did me proud. What followed was a massive breakfast and even more massive portage to get back into the canal so we could make our way back into the Thames. We’d paddle along a canal and then swap into the flowing stream to paddle against the flow to access the main tributary and the spot we’d been two hours ago. If you zoom in on the photo you can see the slews gate to the right and our escape route to the left.

Swapping between the canal and the stream James took part in an involuntary swim. Keen to attempt an entry from the bank, we loaded James into his kayak and gave him a push off the bank. Unfortunately the mud was a bit too grippy and the back of the kayak stopped short of the water rolling James elegantly into the freezing water. Luckily he had been shopping in Oxford and had dry clothes to put on, I’m not sure he’d fit into any of my spares.

We had a handful of folk come and find us on route, thanks to Sean’s request to bringing Ale on social media and tracking on his website. A morning’s coffee and croissant stop, a few drop off’s of ale and a surprise of home-made fudge from the lovely Angus Thompson who took some cracking photos (like the one above). Such a nice surprise to see complete strangers waiting with food and warm drinks or a bit of night time antifreeze Ale.

TheAwesomeCrewThe best part was finishing, not only because my arms were about to fall off, quiet literally (I’ve not been able to use them for four days), but because there were a whole heap of folk who came out to meet us at the finish. We decamped to Anna’s folks’ place on the river, ate pizza, drank bubbly and then I discovered Thames Tummy had taken hold. I’d watched James decant the contents of his stomach onto the dock when we finished and it was only when I followed suit in the early hours of the morning that I realised: one should not break off the ears of a Lindt bunny with soaking wet, Thames infused gloves and hand them to a fellow kayaker before devouring the rest of the rabbit with those same gloves.

That aside, it was one cracking adventure and to have survived the cold, the paddling and my first attempt at endurance kayaking. Oh and not to have fallen in. I am one very happy adventure bunny (just don’t make it Lindt for now).

Distance kayaked: 125 miles
Days: 6.5
Happiness level: 10/10
(Some photos credited to Sean Conway: @Conway_Sean)

No use crying over a broken @Garmin 810, or is there? @transconrace

I am delighted with devices which help me navigate, I’m not the best map reader and without a good sense of direction I’d be a little stifled if I needed to rely solely on maps.

Spending weeks researching the best routes, checking if border crossing are rideable and then plotting the routes to save into the Garmin is part of the game plan to try and do well in a TransContinental Race. So to have a device, which you’ve paid a fortune for, prove to be that unreliable just plain sucks.

I’d read on forums that the Garmin’s corrupt for no apparent reason, but I’d never experienced it and thought I had a reliable one. Why would one need to carry a backup device just in case?

Well when you have to knock out 300km to get to your hotel, which is very doable, then trying to navigate off an iPhone using your memory of the route is not conducive to staying competitive in a race or making your hotel for the night.

Couple this with a complete failure of the Tout Terraine’s Plug3, which is a neat little USB port allowing you to charge your devices from the dynamo hub, navigating from an iPhone would mean needing to find somewhere to plug into a power source. Try finding somewhere open late on a Saturday night or a Sunday in France.

These two pieces of equipment were the bits of kit which would allow me to just sit on the saddle and churn out the miles as I needed to. They both worked perfectly well in the US, so why choose now of all times to quit on me?

Are the Trans Race Gods trying to tell me something? They say there is no use crying over spilt milk, but I can tell you it helps to get over the frustration of all the planning gone to waste, the fear of having to announce that you’re quitting another race and this deep down feeling that you’re not strong enough to deal with all life throws you on these races.

Mentally it’s tough going solo, unsupported, especially when your competitors arrive at the start line with a partner. In the back of your mind you keep thinking if something went wrong there are two of them to resolve a problem, perhaps to shift weight load if the going gets tough. It may not happen, but it plays on you mentally. The more you struggle to get your equipment working, the more the mental game kicks in. It’s not a part of racing I’ve ever had to deal with because so much less can go wrong in a normal race. If my Garmin died on the Etape, it would be a bummer, but actually I dont really need it. When it’s so key to getting you from A to B then trusting it becomes a whole different game.

So what next. I hate the idea of being defeated, it means I will probably need to learn to read maps on the fly, will definitely travel with a contingency for navigating perhaps in the form of a backup device and look for a more reliable charging mechanism. The freedom to charge stuff while pedalling is pretty cool.

For my next race, I might just sneak off and do it on the quiet, I can’t possibly face having to tell everyone who is routing and supporting me that I’ve failed again. It’s the hardest part when deciding to quit “What am I going to tell everyone and what will they think of me?” Man it sucks being human sometimes. I bet a Lion doesn’t think the same when it fails to catch dinner, nope it rests a bit and then just gets back out there, using a different strategy until dinner is caught.

So I am going to rest my tired body, my mentally drained brain and my defeated heart. I might even go and lie on a beach somewhere and just look at the empty blue sky for a while.

No one likes a quitter, but a double quitter… @transambikerace

Some times the odds are just stacked right up against you, so rather than beat your head against a wall its best to just say “what did I learn from that” and in my case there were some great lessons to take away with me.

Of all the types of cycling I have done, I can honestly say bike-packing is the toughest, not merely due to the addition weight on the bike, but because there is so much that can go wrong and no one else to sort it out for you. You’re on your own buddy and that’s what excites me about this type of racing.

Everything I rode in was tried and tested, from small things like contact lenses which I’d need to leave in overnight if there was no place to clean my hands to generating my own electricity.

So the last thing I expected was a seat post that gradually slipped down as I pedalled along. This never happened in all my training or test rides and despite tightening the bolt to an inch of it’s life, down it kept on going over the course of a few hours. I’d feel my back start hurting and then know the saddle has dropped too much.

I probably should be more emotional about quitting, but I am not. I know everything I did to prepare was spot on and my body was feeling really happy doing the 300km plus distances. What I can’t fix in an instant is an inflamed tendon caused by the lowering saddle, so it was an easy call to make once all the options to try and ride with the injury had been exhausted.

Failures are just lessons for the next time and despite not getting to the end what I saw of the race blew me away. Every town we went through people were talking about the race, all the other cyclists on route would ask about the race and there’d be updates of how far ahead everyone else was. For an inaugural race with no entry fee, media coverage or big budget sponsor, the number of people following it is just amazing. It is this aspect of the race I feel sad to leave behind.

My favourite moment was cycling into a little town called Prairie City, having found all hotels booked up in the towns before left my only option to find a camp site and even those were few and far between. I threw the tent on the ground and climbed inside to pump it up. A car pulls up and the Dude from the Big Lebowski comes towards me say “are you Peta” – ok he’s wasn’t really the Dude, but he sure looking like it.  A hesitant “A ha” on my part is followed by “if you want to come and take a shower and wash your kit – we live just up the road, you can stay as well.”

Turns out Jimmy and his wife Karen are cyclists who belong to Warm Showers (folk who offer out a warm shower to travellers) and have been following the race. They armed me with a towel, a shower with shampoo and conditioner (heaven) and the offer of a bed.

They had been tracking the race and when a cyclist headed into town they’d run down to the route to chat, offer showers or a bed for the night if needs be. How incredible.

When I pedalled into Prairie City my mind was toiling away on whether to quit or go on. The route was about to head north into an area without many services and getting out of the area would be tough. When Jimmy said they could drop me in Boise (around 170km away with an airport), it seemed the most sensible thing to do. Deep down I knew I was going to struggle to ride the distance injured, so it was best to exit where the signs were pointing.

After struggling on a beach for two weeks in Florida, I will be back at the drawing board planning and training for the Transcon race, excited by what I saw people riding on TransAm and keen to try out some new options.

If there is a laser eye surgeon out there wanting to sponsor my next ride, I could really do without contact lenses on a bike-packing race:)



The Adventure isn’t over till the fat achilles sings @transambikerace

A solo, unsupported bike race means you get to take one set of kit only and crucially it needs to be the right kit. With no following car to support there isn’t an opportunity to swap out anything that you’re carrying. Given it is a bike race, time is miles, so any stopping costs you dearly compared to your competitors.

All my kit is tried and tested, apart from a few niggles on the knees and the back in training which I managed to resolve, I’ve mostly been pain-free. So the last thing I expected was a fat achilles singing “Pain and Suffering” with every turn of the pedal.

Given the very wet winter this season most of my training was with my mountain bike shoes. This was possibly the biggest kit choice I fretted over and chatting to a few long-distance riders we concluded that going with the road shoes would be more suitable for this type of race and I felt comfortable having done London to Bordeaux in the road shoes.

I did a final 220km test ride with the road shoes and the bike with all the kit loaded up and everything felt really good. The cleats needed replacing so this I did prior to leaving and there in lies the problem. I could feel the float adjustment was not exactly the same as the previous cleats but my feet still felt they were riding in the right position.

Despite marking up the handlebars, when I rebuilt the bike they felt out of position too and with the “time is miles” in the back of my mind when I stopped to adjust the handlebars it put pressure on the distances I was targeting. It took a good few hours to get the bike in the right position before I got into a rhythm of knocking out the miles, i was feeling really comfortable on the 310km I did on day one.

It was only on day two I started to notice the Achilles and with my training in sports massage I knew this was not going to end well.

In hindsight, and hindsight is always great in hindsight, I would have stuck to the mountain bike shoes and come out to Astoria a week before to ride the bike and fettle with it to my hearts content.

While I’m gutted not to be able to finish the race, part of the adventure has been putting my kit together and I know for sure this won’t be my last attempt at this kind of race. These races are about experience and take a huge amount of trial and error and I’ve certainly got a lot of both on the TransAm Bike Race.

I’ve loved the whole experience of getting to the start line and oddly enough I felt very chilled the day before, something which is very rare for me.

With a degree in logistical wizardry, I always have a plan A, B, C and D, so plan B is to head to Florida and hang out on the beach with my cousin who I’ve not seen in 20 years. Now as plan B’s go this one seems pretty hunky-dory.



Final weigh in and cheesy grin time @transambikerace

What’s been a year in planning is now finally here and there’s no turning back. A years worth of planning, testing and really tightening the screws on my logistically challenged brain – most normal folk would probably get this done in a third of the time – the bike is loaded up with what I think I might need. This could quite realistically not be everything I need, but hey they have shops in America, it’s not like I’m off to Antarctica.

My main goal, given I weigh a tuppence, was to keep the bike as light as possible. My power to weight ratio is seriously taking a knocking on this style of riding. So here is it, minus the water, which we can add 1kg to the final weigh-in: 16.75kg. My goal was less than 18kg, so over the moon and thus sporting a very cheesy grin, or is it the strain of holding the bike for a photo.

I will blog up my kit when I get back, but just as a taster, on the rig I have:
Tent, sleepingbag and roll mat
A little off-the-bike outfit – one has standards to maintain, includes a pair of fold up flipflops
Warm puffa clothes & thermals
The smallest toiletry bag in the history of woman’s travel
First aid kit and medication
Toolkit for bike fixing
Dynamo & lights, can charge my iPhone and Garmin (well I hope it will)
Cycling kit, one set for the whole way across, hope it’s not too cold
Waterproof stuff for cycling
Radio for getting the low down on local music, yee haa bring on the Country muzak

As Dolly Parton once said: “The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain!” And “I always thought if you see someone without a smile, just give them yours”.

So there you go, chase rainbows with a smile on your face.

Happy and safe cycling to all my fellow TransAm racers, looking forward to meeting you, beating you (hahaha only joking) and eating with you (the most important part of this ride).

Eat, cycle, laugh, sleep, repeat.20140602-153852-56332733.jpg


Hands off – this gals off on an adventure

It seems just yesterday I queued nervously outside the exam room waiting to sit my practical exam to become a sports and remedial massage therapist, yet this year marks a decade of working my fingers to the bone, quite literally, to build a little business I feel really proud to be a part of. Surviving the recession, the explosion of therapists offering “sports massage” despite very little training and the boom of the internet where technology outstrips our ability to keep up.

When I qualified I made a throw away comment, if I made it to 10 years as a sports massage therapist I would take a sabbatical. Little did I know how much in need both my body and my brain would be for just such a break. My style of treatment is to unpick a problem, mainly within the fascia, a rather demanding load on the fingers, but also realising that sometimes those problems have a human attached who may be impeding their own progress. Finding ways to structure a conversation to put a spotlight on those repetitive behaviours that cause some of our underlying issues can be quite challenging, especially within a community of folk who either know it all or are Google Doctors. As I have been known to quote “Stubborn injuries often belong to stubborn owners”.

So for the summer, the only stubborn person I will be dealing with is ME. I’m taking a completely hands off approach, no client treatments, no booking anyone in, in fact I am giving my phone to a lovely little remote PA company who will manage all the bookings for the clinic while I am away and the two wonderful therapists who work with me will pick up my workload.

As for my little adventure, I have something up my sleeve which hopefully will make it a bit more interesting to follow and there’s a fun bit for kids to get involved with too. More on this later, but for now it is a month until I hop onto a plane to go and cycle across American. Solo, unsupported and racing for no prize money, points or trophee, just the Kudos of having done something completely nuts.

Queue: total panic mode.

Not all superheroes wear capes. Mine has a bonce-back button #RideForAReason

Being an adult is much like being a child. Life is much more fun when you have a hero, but unlike childhood hero’s ours are real life folk.

One of the magical features of my real-life hero is the “Bounce-back Button”. I’ve tried to casually look to see if I can see it, but it must be hidden somewhere special. For without this bounce-back button, I can’t possibly see how my hero has survived all that’s been thrown at him.

Our paths crossed on a training ride several years ago, where I was quite literally breathing out of every pore in my body while a knee swept past my ear in rapid fire as I clung on for grim death. His “hello” was greeted with a single grunt and I’m surprised we got beyond my single syllable response, but boy am I glad we did.

I don’t mind that he has no cape, it’s not very aerodynamic and would mostly like get caught up in the massive cogs which drive this machine, for there is no other way to describe this man.

When I did triathlon back in my younger years, I would drop down to about 45kgs, that’s just scraping above 7stone and for my 5ft4 frame, my friends would try and feed me up to put some meat on my bones. So I can’t imagine what it must feel like for a 6ft2 bloke to be a mere 38kgs (just shy of 6 stone).

But deep down in those cogs must be a massive bounce-back button

“Hit me baby one more time” – #CapeArgus2014 220km

Chapman's Peak Cape TownUndoubtedly the world’s most beautiful race, strung out along both coastlines of Cape Town, where Table Mountain serves up a breath taking view to the start of the mountain range running down to the Cape Peninsula. The Cape Argus Cycle race skirts along the eastern side of this range before turning back along some of the most spectacular views on the west coast.

Bays of white sand are lapped at by the blue sea, rugged rock faces rise above and plunge below the road encasing the rider in views so breath taking you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s the reason you’re out of breath and not the fact that the steady climb up Chapman’s Peak is taking its toll. Especially when packed into the racing end of the event with a deadline to make it back before the last group starts on the road.

Double Argus

Essentially that was what a handful of riders were chasing – the opportunity to ride a double lap of the Cape Argus Cycle Tour, a 110km timed ride on closed roads. Attracting the largest number of participants in the world, close to 35,000 start the ride in waves, thus needing over 3.5hrs to send everyone off. This was our deadline to be back at the start to take advantage of the closed roads and the chance to soak up the spectacular views a second time.

Garnering the nickname “Cape of Storms,” there’s a 50/50 chance of good weather on the day, something I was half dreading given we were in the throws of winter back in the UK and melting into the tarmac was not something I was keen on. Thankfully the weather gods delivered a 60km SE wind accompanied by a bearable 26 degree maximum, weather I could just about relate to, but more importantly a wind direction which benefited my race strategy perfectly.

Eddie MerckxAs spur of the moment decisions go, this has to be one of my top contenders. Surfing social media late one Tuesday evening, up pings an invite from a good friend in Cape Town to attend a charity function with Eddie Merckx on the same weekend as the Cape Argus, just 10 days away! “Let me sleep on it” I say without realising that the land of nod was not to be an option until I had investigated the possibility. At 2am I thought what the heck how often do you go to an event where Eddie Merckx is signing jerseys? I could hear Peter Kay’s voice in my head in one of his skits where he was shopping for holidays on TellyText (yes them were the days) “Booked it, packed it, fooked off”. So there I was booked to fly a week later with an entry to the Womans’ Elite Race and a pass to ride a second time.

Race training is not on the plan for this year – long, slow, steady with cake stops about sum up my efforts for this years training to race the 6,800km TransAm Bike Race across America. Fast and hard are about as alien as a Penny Farthing winning the Tour de France. All I needed was to hide in a fast group until the first big climb after which I would have a tailwind all the way to the finish (thus being grateful for the South Easter that was blowing on the day).

I am happy to say, the plan came together and while I was not in contention to place anywhere near the top of the womans’ race, I hammered out an average of 34kph to make it round on “Lap 1” in 3h13 (a PB), thus getting me back to the start-line for Lap 2. I can safely say I did not notice any scenery on Lap 1.

Picking up Amy who was struggling on her own having raced with me on Lap 1, we collected a goodie bag from my sister on route, which included my Contour camera and proceeded to do a two up TT into the headwind out to Cape Point. Amy was pedalling round to where she was staying and we were equally gratefully for being able to work together into the wind and of course to give a wheel to several riders trying to hide from the wind.

Now was the chance to absorb the views and to record some of the route and riders. Panning shots of the scenery as we cruised along the sea front, capturing riders in fancy dress or the sheer numbers going up some of the climbs. I was looking forward to showing off the Cape Argus in all its glory, showing the essence of the ride – where no matter what bike you’re on or what shape you’re in, everyone can ride the Cape Argus. What I hadn’t accounted for was the small blob of food which had adhered to the lens when I put it into my goodie bag.

So not being able to backup my claim to this being the most beautiful race in the world – you’ll just have to get out there and experience it for yourself.

My experience was topped off with ViP hospitality from Tsonga Sun, where I had checked my sister in as a guest and arrived to find her ensconced with all the lovely folk from Hotchillee, quaffing bubbly (as one should) and well and truly adopted as part of the family. Starting with Oxtail ravioli, I moved onto a dinner sized plate of salad before wolfing down a Fillet Mignon with risotto and finished up by punctuating the feeding frenzy with some little cake type things. Of course the heat had dehydrated me somewhat and the Pongratz (a great South African bubbly) did wonders to quench my thirst and numb the soreness in my legs. So a huge thanks to David Bellairs (the incredible organiser) for sorting my last minute, double entry with hospitality and to my wonderful sister Sam, who drops everything to run around making a trip back to the Cape truly worthwhile.

Ride stats:
Lap 1: 3h13
Lap 2: 4h15 (with a tea and cake stop)
Distance: 220km
Placing: 22nd womans’ elite race, 38/5800 woman, 4th in age group.
Total ride time on Garmin: 7h26
Strava QOM: Llandudno to Sea Point

Sam Weller’s day trip to Wochma 200km

20140204-194725.jpgWho Sam Weller is and why Wochma (a town in Estonia) is beyond me, but for my first and certainly not my last double century of the year, it was a corker of a ride.

Given the extreme weather of late and a forecast for lashing rain and howling winds on Saturday and lovely calm dry weather on Sunday, our 200km Audax was scheduled for Saturday – as one would expect.

Turning up to an Audax without mudguards is a bit like getting to work without your trousers – most definitely frowned upon. Peering down at the wheel attachments on the bike revealed a lack of eyelets for mudguards and the clip on ones I own didn’t fit. A last minute dash around Google pinned down a pair of Bontrager blades I could attach with duck-tape, zip ties and the use of the skewers. Bonus.

And a bonus it was given the weather and the amount of topsoil washed onto the roads – “Audaxlocross” more like it. Sadly for Liam, one of our party of three, who turned up mudguardless, made it four hours into the ride before the cold and wet eroded his cheerful demeanour. Looking at the mud strip up his back was licence to complain.

20140204-194809.jpgRiding east from Tewkesbury took us past much of what we would see all day: fields of water, roads of mud. My Garmin routing went Pete-Tong, so I conceded to following blindly with no sense of achieving the true Audax status of navigating off a sheet of paper or knowing where the check-points were. I was happy to just tuck in out the wind.

And wind there was. With my only fully-working set of wheels being a little too deep-sectioned for the wind, it was a day spent wresting with the handlebars and being blown across the Severn Bridge with one leg out – proper Belgian style – to keep me upright on the bike and road-side of the railings.

20140204-194756.jpgOnce over the Severn Bridge we were literally blown all the way home and rolled into the pub a good 10.5 hours after starting. As an opening deposit for 2014, it’s not a bad start. I’m recovered, I’m not sure the bike has – this weather is certainly taking it’s toll.

Thanks to Max and Liam for getting me round and Mark for organising a great ride. At £4.50 you can’t go wrong with an Audax.