May the wind……..

….be ever at your back!

Fat chance that will happen on a circular route……I headed off to join the club at Wimpole Hall, a noted stately home in Cambridgeshire administered by the National Trust. It has a fine, spacious café that can accommodate a lot of cyclists descending at the same time.

Wimpole Hall

Wimpole Hall

After half an hour of banter and refreshment, I set off with the B group (the second quickest of the three groups) and we headed up the steep hill out of Wimpole and into the 25mph wind. The pace was a bit grim, set by one of the strongest members of the group, and we lost a couple off the back. Another guy was complaining, but managed to keep with the pace…….and a young lad in his teens, with the physique of a climber (ie. zero BMI), climbed the hills as if they weren’t there. He led the way, dragging the rest of us to the top.

89 kms/55 miles

89 kms/55 miles

But there came a moment when I had to peel off to make my own way due west, to get back to my village. And guess which way the wind was blowing? You’ve got…….right into my face. It was cruel…..

But having said all that, you have to remember, a grumbling cyclist is usually a happy cyclist……. :)

Who jumped the lights here?

What will you be doing at 86…..?

Russ-Travers

86 year old Russ Travers

Click here for a short video-clip: ab.co/15Zm7xI

You know you’re a cycling old-timer when…….

1. Your mileometer (near the bottom of the forks) stops working because the little fly wheel has fallenodometer_3151_miles off.

2. Your 40 year old black leather cycling shoes, despite their age and wear, shine from recent polishing, and are kept pinioned to the pedals by toe straps.

3. Someone has a puncture in the group, and you are the only one with a frame-fitting, high pressure pump.

4. While others are sporting the latest in aerodynamic helmets, you fervently eschew pressure and continue to wear that tatty old CTC cap.

Frame pump5. You have ignored all improvements to the gearing set-up of bikes over the years, and continue to reach down to the down-tube to change gears.

6. You’re out with a new group one day and, half way through the ride, you shout out: “Anyone for a drum up?”. Everyone looks at you questioningly…….. Click here for an explanation.

7. That tatty old saddlebag, covered with old cycling pennants and turning a rusty grey colour, has been hanging from the back of your saddle since 19…. And the sandwiches in it are equally old.

8. Somebody (dressed in sleek lycra), but older even than you, rides up behind you and chats for a while, obviously slowing down to your pace. He speaks to you as if you were an old doddery from a nursing home.

9. ….talking of lycra. “What’s that?” you say. “Oh, is it something like that spandex stuff they use in bondage movies?”. You resolutely continue to wear woollen tops and khaki shorts.

10. Joining a new, and younger, group one day, everyone is puzzled when they hear you shouting “Oil up!” and “Oil down!” Click here for explanation.

11. Someone in the group suffers a broken chain. Everyone looks to you for assistance. You open your saddlebag and pull out a large greasy bundle wrapped in an old oil rag. You open it up and, before everyone’s eyes, you display a huge array of tools and spare parts that would service an entire TdeF team. They are glad to have you in the group…….

12. You may appear old and dowdy to some modern roadies, but you’ll catch people admiring the finely painted lugwork of your much loved Curly Hetchins.

13. When asked what you are training for this season, you look vacantly at your questioner and eventually say: “For the

A lightweight camping weekend?

A lightweight camping weekend?

next piece of chocolate cake. What else is there to train for?”.

14. When asked by a keen roadie what your resting heart rate is, you look at him a bit puzzled and say: “Well, I’m alive…..!”

15. A lightweight camping weekend means carrying four full panniers, a large saddlebag and handlebar bag, a stuff sack bungee’d on the back…… and a musette as your ‘buttie bag’.

16. You’ve always hated Lance Armstrong. Not because he doped, but because he virtually pioneered the fashion of wearing black Black-Dot-Sockscycling socks. For you, white socks will always be de rigeur, even when they have gone a dull, nasty grey from years of use.

17. As the decades have passed, your chainrings have progressed from a 53/39 to a 50/34, then to a 44/32/22…….until you realise that you can walk up the hills faster than riding them.

18. Buying bikes has always been a hobby. Selling them has never entered your head. Every time you need to look for a tool or spare part in the garage, you have to pull out 5 or 6 bikes to even reach the shelves…….and then the drama begins when you start looking for the item you need amongst all the junk.maptrap_2_hi

19. When all are sporting the latest electronic gadgetry on their handlebars, you still swear by the full OS map secured by a maptrap.

20. A large group of ‘young guns’ breeze past at more than twice your speed, and you are heard to mutter “No f*#!%*g respect for experience!”

Inconclusively in two minds…….

As I headed off to join the Thursday group this very chilly morning, Jenny asked me if I was going to stay out and have lunch with them.

“I’m still undecided” I said. When she asked me why, I replied “Well, to tell you the truth, I’m undecided………about being undecided”. Hmm……….interesting.

I explain this away by suggesting that the Irish ethnicity in me simply wants to be sure, to be sure…….. :)Kim-Broughton - CopySo, did I stay for lunch? To be sure……I didn’t!  A soup lunch back at home with my wife was too strong a draw……..(do I hear the sound of violins?)

Who were the history-makers?

On a recent four day trip over to the Brecon Beacons in South Wales, we were able to delve beneath the surface of some of the “history makers” of these bonny isles. Like any member of the National Trust or English Heritage, we enjoy learning about our history through the buildings that have been left the nation as an inheritance, invariably by the aristocrats and wealth-makers of bygone ages.

Upton House, Banbury

Upton House, Banbury

The perspective we get is, naturally, as seen through the eyes of the people who had influence……

Cyfarthfa Castle, Merthyr Tydifil (now a museum)

Cyfarthfa Castle, Merthyr Tydifil (now a museum)

……and influence is not just a natural result of birth or connections, but is fundamentally rooted in wealth. The size of your income and bank balance are hugely significant factors in your ability to influence the course of history.

Hanbury Hall, Droitwich

Hanbury Hall, Droitwich

In our thousands, we flock to gape in awe at the fabulous country estates owned by the rich of bygone days. We hear the tales and scandals of how they made their money and, often, how they squandered it.

But how often do we stop to think, and analyse, the ways in which they made their money? So often the misery and squalid living conditions of millions have been the result of their lack of munificence as employers. So often the success of their business ventures had its foundation in human abuse, child labour, inhuman working hours and conditions, low pay, subjugation of strikes, punishment of ring-leaders, eviction of tenants……and the list goes on. In Merthyr Tidfil, in the mid 19th century, average longevity among the poor was only 17.5 years. Why? Living conditions were so appalling that over 40% of children died in early childhood and, those that weren’t eventually killed by avoidable diseases, probably died as a result of some avoidable industrial accident, that could have been prevented by some basic security measures.

For the wealth-creating aristocracy, people were often seen as a replaceable commodity. Life had little value other than its potential to produce wealth for the master. On the altar of productivity, millions were sacrificed.

But on the brighter side, we also soaked up the beauty of the Brecon Beacons covered in their winter garb….

Pen y Fan, the highest of the Beacons

Pen y Fan, the highest of the Beacons

…and enjoyed the heritage trail around one of the UK’s smallest cathedrals…..

Brecon Cathedral

Brecon Cathedral

So you think road cyclists are confused….?

When not doing A to B rides, most road cyclists spend their time going round in circles….sometimes ever-increasing circles, as they get fitter. Confused? Demented? Today I passed another ‘lone wolf’ twice on my circular route…….of course, not a question of lapping him, ‘cos he was going in the opposite direction. On our second encounter, we both acknowledged each other’s pitiful state of confusion………with a smile :)

Distance: 72 kms/45 miles

Time: 2 hrs 56 mins

Average speed: 24.4 kph

Elevation gain: 328 metres

Maximum elevation: 115 metresScreenshot Harrold-Thurleigh loop

You know you’re a modern roadie when…………………

20.    You return from an epic ride to find your GPS didn’t record and it feels like you just wasted your day and energy.

19.    Your gears stopped working… because of a dead battery.

Puncture18.    Your first ride of 2015 was on 2 January. All the achievable Strava KOMs (King of the Mountains) were already taken.

17.    You work out indoors on windy days because your aerodynamic frame and wheels are just too scary outside.

16.    A rest day is when your GPS is turned off.

15.   You can’t train indoors because your computer has a virus.

14.    You’re involved in a crash and you get X-rays… of your bike for insurance purposes. The sore ribs go ignored.

13.   You see someone wearing a tiger-print skinsuit and your first thought is ‘brave’.

12.    A car hits you because they didn’t see your ‘murdered-out’ bike and matching kit. Luckily, you caught the whole thing in HD video.

11.  Your brakes are leaking oil.

10.  Your power meter keeps cutting out – you decide it’s pointless to ride like this.

9.    Distracted by your GPS, you hit the back of a car. (Perhaps using your Garmin while riding is no different to driversMechanical texting?)

8.   It’s wet outside, so you wonder if you should just ride your cyclocross bike on the road today?

7. You get a flat and find neither you nor anyone in your group has a 60/80mm valve tube. You call a cab/your spouse, delete the file off your GPS and pretend the ride never happened.

6. Your heart rate/cadence/speed or power sensor malfunctions and picks up the data of a young-gun riding past. You immediately screen-shot the effort.

5. You can’t operate your bike computer because the touchscreen doesn’t work with the gloves you’re wearing.

4. You have a Gran Fondo coming up, but can’t decide whether to use 50/34, 52/36 or 53/39 gearing on the front. And the rear cassette is a whole other drama!

Mechanical 23. You’re sitting at the lights and go to push off – you shift for a gear but nothing happens. You quickly hear the laughter of your mate riding off and look down to find you’ve been unplugged.

2. Fixing a bottom bracket creak is no longer a matter of reaching for a wrench and grease. It now requires a hammer, a cup remover, a headset press, a new bottom bracket and a whole bunch of Loc-tite.

1. Your crankset tells you not to quit your day job.

Taken from Bikeradar

Lanzarote Day 6 (final day): 72kms

Although the temperatures throughout the week have oscillated between 14-20 degrees C, the wind chill factor has brought it down by at least five degrees. Some days I was wearing both arm and leg warmers, even though the sun was strong enough to burn unprotected skin. Anyway, it saved on the sun lotion….!IMAG1107

This being the final day, I did the unthinkable, and repeated a route from a few days ago. Not too hilly, out against the wind, and back with it. Órzola is a superb place to stop, sitting on a port-side terrace, drinking coffee and watching the ferries come and go to the nearby tiny island of La Graciosa. There I met four other guys, all from Shropshire, sharing a week of cycling together. They were obviously not in training. They were there to have a good time riding their bikes and, probably, having a few beers in the evening. Friendly crowd….one of them gave me a litre of water for my bidon.Screenshot 2

Now that I have succumbed to using a GPS for recording some of my rides, I can now bore you with a few meaningless stats. For someone who only rides bikes for fun and exploration, all of this does little more than satisfy vacant curiosity….but here goes.

ElevationOn the above ride, I achieved the most elevation gain in one ride, 1035 metres, higher than Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England.Ma elevation…and on this ride I climbed to my maximum elevation of just under 600 metres, just outside Haría, in the north of the island.

Max speed

…and my maximum speed coming down from the previous 600 metre summit, touched 64 kph (40 mph) which, with a strong crosswind, was a scary experience…..but exhilarating none the less.

The six days, in total, saw me cover a modest 487 kms/ 302 miles…..but since my goal was only going to be 500kms, I left Lanzarote well satisfied. The trip was not just about the bike. My intention was to explore the island again, visiting caves, museums, wine growers, the ‘mirador’ and Timanfaya. And to allow myself to be distracted by eventualities.

If you have followed my adventures on this short trip, thanks for your company. If you feel inspired to do something similar, look for the opportunity. If you go for just a week, it can be cheaper and much more convenient to hire a bike, as opposed to taking your own. For longer periods of time, you have to weigh up the cost/convenience benefits for yourself. With all this in mind, all you have to do is look for a reasonable package deal that includes accommodation and flights…..and with as little as 5 kilos of hand luggage, you can be fully equipped for the trip (bearing in mind that bike hire can include helmet, pedals of your choice, puncture repair, spare tube, lock…..etc).

Enjoy!

Lanzarote Day 5: 90kms

“The world is a handkerchief!” (El mundo es un panuelo)

….it’s a small world…..a very small world.

Heading up the steep hill out of Costa Teguise, a cyclist flashed past me going downhill, so fast that I nearly missed him.IMAG1119 But in that briefest of glimpses, there was something so familiar about the profile that it prompted me to turn around and chase him down the hill. As we reached the T junction, I looked over and said “Oh, hi Brian! Thought it might be you”. He stopped immediately, dumbfounded: “Frank, this is amazing!”…….we occasionally cycle together in a Northamptonshire group, and our hotels are only a few hundred metres apart in Costa Teguise. He invited me back to his hotel and we sat drinking coffee together.

That same evening, as I was sitting down to my evening meal in the hotel dining room, I noticed a chap (whom I guessed was a cyclist) sitting at a table nearby, we made eye contact, and eventually sat together and shared tales of the road, diet, training programmes, and much more. After about an hour of chat, we eventually got around to introducing ourselves and enquiring about each other’s background. When I told him where I lived IMAG1136and which club I cycled with, he said “You must be Frank Burns then. I’ve read some of your blog”. I was left speechless…..well, only for a few seconds…….until Paul revealed that he was also a member of St Ives CC and, although we had never met, he knew about some of my overseas expeditions. We went on to sit together over several meals, ‘chewing the fat’ and sharing anecdotes. He shared his current thinking about cycling and diet, and revealed that he has ditched the use of carbohydrates altogether (the traditional source of energy for cyclists) and has converted to a high fat diet, which not only changes the metabolism of the body completely, but also forces the body to seek energy in fat reserves, which are much more enduring.

I have yet to be fully convinced about the wisdom of all of this, but the following day he actually completed a very challenging 110 miles/175kms on a single banana and water, and never craved anything else during the whole ride. To say that is impressive is an understatement. I can’t imagine ever going more than 50 miles/80kms without sustenance, and then I would be at my limit.

Other cyclists I met at the hotel included a German triathlete who, at the age of 50, was training hard for his next Ironman; a Belgian, probably in his early 60s, who was on a serious training schedule, going out every day with a group and ploughing the same furrow each morning……always going north into the wind, and coming back with a tailwind. I couldn’t imagine anything more boring, but then he was focused entirely his training statistics.kite_caleta_de_famara_lanzarote

My route today was quite spectacular, but the wind was stronger than ever. Getting out to the Caleta de Fámara, on the north west coast, was very tough, but for the last ten kilometres, I managed to tuck in behind a couple of similarly paced cyclists and ‘sucked on their back wheels’. The strength of the winds along this particular coastline is the very reason that surfing, of every description, is big business. The small village is dominated by watersports shops and restaurants.IMAG1127But, perhaps the most intriguing person I met in my time in the hotel was Alex, from Geneva in Switzerland. He is currently ‘in between jobs’ in the high tech industry, but is also a super-keen kitesurfer. He had come over to the Canaries to scout around for the best kitesurfing beaches. His mission was entirely one of research, jumping from one island to the next, to get a global idea of what was available.

Meeting people like all of the above is, for me, the stuff of life. People with an outward-bound mentality are a constant source of inspiration.Screenshot 1

Lanzarote Day 4: 75kms

A recovery ride?

So, your curiosity has got the better of you? Did this man get back to base yesterday without succumbing to the “efectos laxativos” of the dreaded bar of chocolate? Well, sorry to spoil a good story with the truth….if there were any negative effects, they were felt this morning. I struggled to get out of bed and had little appetite for breakfast. I did a typical retired man’s thing by walking to the kiosk to buy a newspaper, and then spending the next hour reading it. I thought to myself: I should be spending more time like this, in cafés, reading the national press….doing what ‘normal’ people do.

But the road beckoned once again by mid-day. As I headed north, directly into the wind (again), I passed several hand-cyclists, and for a fleeting moment, I envied their low-slung, streamlined posture. Just the trick when the wind is blowing at 25 mph in your face….handcyclist…..but my envy was short-lived, to be replaced by my total admiration at what they were achieving. And these weren’t just leisure cyclists. They were in serious training for something, and they were moving…..

Approaching Órzola, the furthest point of my ride, there were uncharacteristic dunes of white sand sweeping down to the sea,IMAG1114 and I noticed several amateur naturalists, with their expensive cameras, at close quarters with a flower that was growing out of the sand. My curiosity got the better of me. I stopped and asked one of them, a German, what he thought it was. He told me he thought it was a ‘cistanche’, and it was the first time he’d ever seen one. The equivalent of a ‘lifer’ in the birdwatching world?

Cistanche

Cistanche

In Órzola, sitting on a café terrace overlooking the sea, I chatted to the barman in Spanish, and he eventually said to me: “How long have you been living in Lanzarote?” “Oh”, I said “about 4 days”. He looked at me in surprise and said he had thought I was the rich English businessman who lived in Costa Teguise. “You look just like him” he said. I resolve, then, to seek him out in Costa Teguise and give him a surprise. Wonder if he’ll accuse me of impersonating him…..

Turning back towards base, I decided to take an inland route…..which means only one thing on Lanzarote……mountains.

Climb up towards Monte Corona

Climb up towards Monte Corona

But at least the wind was at my back. In fact, after the climbing was done, the route back was a cruise, with the wind in my sails.Orzola

Lanzarote Day 3: 100kms

Volcanoes, superjocks and purgatives

Have you ever felt victimised by the weather? That the wind is blowing simply because you have decided to go out? I know fellow roadies who flatly refuse to go out in a strong wind. People in training, of course (and many cyclists are on Lanzarote) should embrace vicious headwinds, being a great form of resistance training and providing the basic practice of handling such conditions. Crouching down on the drops, lowering my body profile to reduce wind resistance, I head up the hill and against the wind……Timanfaya_National_Park_IMGP1865

My principal objective is to cycle up to the restaurant in the Timanfaya National Parkcats_cocina_montanas_del_fuego_grande_lanzarote

…sample some of the food prepared on the volcanic BBQ (yes, the volcano is active and the heat just a few metres down provides an eternal BBQ)IMAG1099

…and then jump on a tour bus (the only form of transport allowed) for the 45 minute route around the amazing volcanic landscape that was formed during the 6 year eruption 1730-36. It is lunar, it looks totally barren…..but the truth is, that over 200 species of wildlife have established themselves, and many now thrive in the most hostile of environments.

My route back to base was interrupted by my curiosity. I just had to take a detour out to the west coast to take a peak at Club La Santa,Club la Santa the famous elite sports training resort that attracts both elite and amateur athletes, especially in winter. The closer I get to the Club, the more often I am overtaken by groups of young, fit things who show no respect for experience. I occasionally try to jump on the back of a peloton, stay with it for a few kms, but then have give into the anno domini…….peloton

Once at Club La Santa, security eventually lets me through the gates, checks out my passport, tells me to leave my bike in a lock-up, and I head off to the poolside bar for a ridiculously expensive ‘café con leche’, and ogle at the training and leisure facilitiesIMAG1101

…..and admire the style of some of the training….. :)IMAG1102

Too many lithesome Adonises and Venuses for my liking, so I head up the road and look for some affordable sustenance to fuel my ride back to Costa Teguise. I drop by a mini-market, buy myself a 75gr bar of 70% chocolate, that mysteriously claims “no added sugars”. I devour the bar and then (……and only then) I look at the wrapper for the statistics and ingredients, only to read (in tiny print, of course): “Un consumo excesivo puede producir efectos laxativos”. IMAG1118Aarrgh!!! Now I find out……. Now I know the significance of the ‘no added sugars’ reference. I feel my stomach…….I know it’s already beginning to work like an enema……is 75grs “excesivo”? If it is, I’ll be crouching behind a few volcanic rocks before getting back to the hotel…..I reach into my back pocket to assure myself I still have the emergency ‘papel higiénico’. Will he make it…..?

Tune in for the next episode……. :(

Lanzarote Day 2: 70kms

Walter Raleigh, Malvasia and (unbelievably) rain!

Wanting to explore all parts of Lanzarote forced me to commit the ‘mortal sin’ of setting off for the day’s ride with the 25mph wind at my back. Why mortal? Because, although the outward ride would be a ‘breeze’, the journey back to base (Costa Teguise) was going to kill me…..and it did, because added to it was horizontal rain, which drove me to take shelter behind a bushy cactus, known locally as a ‘chumbera’ or ‘tunera’ (prickly pear)…..and that was a veritably prickly experience.

image

But then I was happily waylaid by an excellent museum in the Castillo de San Gabriel, in Arrecife (capital) and not only learned much about the history of the island, but discovered that our famous Sir Walter Raleigh himself had tried to invade Lanzarote, and the islanders had successfully hidden in the huge complex of  volcanic caves. Raleigh sailed off having achieved nothing, because he had been under strict instructions from James I not to harm any of the islanders. I can imagine his frustration….poor chap.

Castillo de San Gabriel

Castillo de San Gabriel

When I got as far south as Puerto Calero, I came across this stunning field of meadow flowers, growing abundantly out of the volcanic ash.

image

….and not just wild flowers, but also a very special vine, that produces the Malvasia grape, and thrives in little dugouts in the volcanic ash, capturing moisture from night time dew for irrigation. Because it rains so little here (except for today, of course), this is an ingenious method of cultivating anything in this lunar landscape.

image

If you haven’t sampled a Malvasia wine, hunt it out. It will be worth the effort, believe me.el-grifo-coleccion-malvasia-seco-lanzarote-spain-10305720

Lanzarote Day 1: 80kms

With the wind in my faceRoad map 2

There’s a well known truism in the world of cycling: if the wind is blowing, it will invariably be in your face. Of course, like most Brits, cyclists too like to engage in the national sport of complaining……
My hire bike was delivered to me at my hotel by Roberto who, surprisingly, turned out to be Italian (married to a Venezuelan and now living in Lanzarote…..now, work that one out)

image

..and that’s why I ended up with an Italian bike with Campag equipment. It took me a few wobbly kms to get used to it, reminding myself that the brakes (as on continental Europe) are set up in reverse (back on the right, front on the left), the gearing not quite the ratios I’m used to (this is a 53/39 on the front, not the compact 50/34 I’m used to……) but hey, who cares, this is only for a week.
I headed into the hilliest part of the island, the north, unprepared for the near gale force winds coming in from the north east. But let’s pretend I’m a real, hardened cyclist……….such eventualities are part of the package of cycling life, aren’t they?
My plan was to ‘cruise’ the 80kms and build in 4 major visits:
…the first at an Aloe Vera museum that had this curious ‘stick woman’ telling me to “keep out!” of places I shouldn’t trespass:wpid-imag1066.jpg

….the second at a fascinating volcanic cave (Jameos del Agua) with a reflective pool, that had me wondering about the science of the refraction of light..IMAG1076

….the third at another cave system (Cueva de los Verdes) which, because of its super acoustic, is used as a concert venue…but back in the 15th century, the natives used this cave to hide from pirates and corsairs, whose primary intent was to capture them and sell them into slavery…Cueva de los Verdes

……and the final stop was to re-visit a ‘mirador’ (cliff top viewing point) which overlooks the tiny neighbouring island of Graciosa

image

Still some 50kms from base, I knew my work was cut out for me to get back to the hotel in Costa Teguise.. A few sharp hills, followed by a prolonged but dramatic switchback ascent,

combined with head and crosswinds, both fighting for priority…..well there’s a story to tell there.
But I knew that, eventually, I had to turn with my back to the wind, and for the last 10kms, it was a cruise.
All’s well that ends well…..which means, I ended with a long-forgotten experience…..a long soak in a hot bath……and before any of you wags dare to ‘guffaw’ at my general lack of hygiene, I’m usually a shower man. :) …..QED.

Lanzarote: the island of volcanoes

My apologies to all those expecting a daily update to my cycling exploits on Lanzarote. Technology hasn’t quite been in my favour, so my intention is to draft my posts each day and upload them as retrospectives when I get back home.
This is my mount for the week,

image

delivered to my hotel, by an Italian called Roberto, and as you might expect, the bike is an Italian job, equipped with Campag. But more of that in a later post.
Needless to say, weather and terrain have been hugely influential on the outcome of each day, and very little has been predictable. After 4 days, this has been a rollercoaster of an experience. But then, we wouldn’t want any other way, would we?

Who is the adventurer?

I am leafing through cycling magazines in an airport outlet, and a nearby voice distracts my attention: “Another cyclist, huh?” I put down the magazine and engaged with David, from near Cambridge, teasing out each other’s background, learning that we are both Lanzarote-bound, and both with the same objective: get in some winter miles where it’s warmer.
He takes his own bike….he’s staying a few months, and it’s worth it. I will hire mine……it’s cheaper than taking my own, as I’m only staying a week. I learn just enough about him to be intrigued…..
I seek him out on the plane, ask him to tell me more about his travels….he’s been retired 20 years and, before his wife and lifelong cycling companion was killed in a road accident 4 years ago, they had cycled the world together: Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, the length of Africa, across Australia and NZ, Malaysia……and much much more. They neither looked for accolades nor fanfares….they were simply adventurers who pursued their passion. And, according to David, his wife was the ‘goer’ and ‘doer’……she motivated him.
I hope to meet up with him and his cycling buddies on the island, share a ride and learn a little more about his journeys. We all need our sources of inspiration…..and I will be in listening mode.

One wheel is enough?

I knew this sort of thing was fast becoming a craze, but to descend from a 5,600 metre summit on a unicycle…….that’s more than a craze….that’s just crazy. Enjoy!

To kill a mockingbird by Harper Lee

Supervising an English literature exam the other day, I noticed that one of the set texts being studied byKill a mockingbird the candidates was To kill a mockingbird by Harper Lee. It was many years since I had read the novel, and after scanning the first few pages, reminding myself of characters such as Scout and Jem, their father Atticus and housekeeper Calpurnia, I knew I had started something that I needed to finish.

What is most startling about the author and her novel is that, not only was this her only published piece of writing, but despite her refusal to promote herself and her book, it has sold nearly 40 million copies worldwide. In fact, when she had published it in 1960, she sincerely hoped that it would die a death….but the reality was, it took on a life of its own.

Although she denied it was autobiographical, there are too many coincidences with her own family history for this to be considered purely fiction. And the character of Atticus was firmly styled on her own father, who had also been a lawyer who had defended two Negroes who faced the death penalty.

The huge impact of the novel lies very much in the character of Atticus, a man who resolutely turns the other cheek, refuses to criticise anyone, and will even sacrifice his own well-being to defend the rights of others, especially the marginalised in society. Atticus has many a lesson to teach all of us.

If you haven’t read To kill a mockingbird, or it is many years since you have opened the covers, go back to it. A piece of fiction with huge moral impact.

Where east meets west…..

IMAG1062Just as the equator separates the north from the south, so the Greenwich Meridian separates the east from the west. The big difference being that the former is a geographical phenomenon dictated by the shape and movement of the earth around the sun. The latter is a man-made phenomenon developed to compliment the already understood notion of latitude…..which, of course, is ‘longitude’. The understanding of both was vital for sailors navigating around the world.

But I’m not a sailor, so what relevance has this to matters cycling? Not a lot, but on my ride out to Barton, near Cambridge, I happened to pass from west to east…….and after my tea and scone with a bunch of mile-eating roadies at Burwash Manor, I crossed back again on my way home. I even got off my bike and stood astride the two time zones, my left leg being a couple of micro-seconds behind my right leg……. People travel from far distant countries to pay a visit to our Greenwich Conservatory to do just that…..stand astride the time line……as they do the equator in countries like Ecuador.meridian-499x359

But there was no evidence of a climate difference between the two time zones. The night before, I reckoned it had rained equally on both sides of the time line, and there was no way I was going to risk riding across this little torrent…….yes, believe me, there is a road beneath this.IMAG1061

Magna Carta

Magna CartaRadio 4 is putting out some fascinating stuff these days. This year being the 8ooth anniversary of King John’s signing of the Magna Carta in 1215, a document that has had major repercussions through the centuries in many countries across the world, it was good to hear that Melvyn Bragg was entrusted with the presentation of its history over four programmes.

Believed to be the foundation stone of most modern democracies today, it was astonishing to discover that the first version of Magna Carta was denounced as unlawful by the Pope within weeks of itsMagna_charta_cum_statutis_angliae_p1 publication, re-establishing the king’s divine right to, not only be the law-maker in his own kingdom, but also to be above the law and immune from prosecution.

The death of King John, however, brought the child King Henry III to the throne, and the rebellious barons once again saw their opportunity to re-establish the principles of Magna Carta, which was finally ratified in 1225.

Though most of the clauses have now lost their relevance in modern democracies, the very principles on which they were based are still pertinent, and have helped lay the foundation of constitutions around the world, most notably that of the United States……to name but one.

A series well worth attention:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04wtchv

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