Thank You

Thank You

Firstly, may I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous 2016.  Despite the best laid plans, this year has been a little bit crazy and I haven’t had time to write up a single event and have mainly relied on my Facebook page.  So you’ll be thrilled to hear I have decided to give a run-down of 2015 in a single blog!  I am sure this will be too long and self-serving!  However, just before you stop reading, I really really need to offer my most sincere thanks to all of you who have supported or helped, either with donations to Blind Veterans UK or by bullying me to get up hills or complete challenges where I have been close to failure! Thank You!

At the end of 2014, I decided I had pestered folk too much and so was going to scale back my fundraising.  In fact when I failed to get a place in the ballot for Ride London but succumbed to peer pressure to enter (as the poster boy of Blind Veterans UK)

Poster Boy

I took a charity slot but paid the fundraising target myself.  As I took on more events, I did send out the Justgiving link and you were just fab!

So, despite my best intent of not pestering you all, this year we have raised to over £2,400 this year for Blind Veterans UK  

Just giving 2015

which brings the total raised to £13,585! 

Just giving

 

A staggering amount for an old fat bloke on a bike!  I couldn’t have done it without you! 

Thank you! 

 

So that is the key message!  However, if you want to read what I have been up to, in order to provoke such a response and some specific mentions then read on!

However,  this is seriously long – you may want to get yourself a brew  . . .

January

Was a relatively light month with a key highlight being a trip off to Cirque du Soleil.  Nothing to do with cycling but what a fantastic show – if you haven’t been, I wholly recommend it!  At the end of the month I then did my first ‘Tour of Sufferlandria‘. 

Sufferfest is a company that provides high intensity low volume cycle training videos.  These are designed to stretch you to build power on an indoor trainer.  The ToS is a virtual stage race consisting of 1 – 2 hrs high intensity training each night with 12 heavy sessions in 8 days.  This was really tough but nothing compared to what was to come . . .

To add to the fun, the last day also coincided with my first sponsored run in a number of years, supporting Jonathon Scott in his fight against Mouth Cancer . . . Now there, is an inspiring man!  More later!

February

Saw me taking the bike outside in anger for the Wiggle No Excuses ride around Huntingdon.  The day was wet an blustery with a number of mates from Team Branocs and the Royal Engineers Old Boys Cycling Group (REOBCG)  riding together.  Unfortunately, I had foolishly commented about my lack of punctures the day before and after going through 4 tubes and one tyre ended up at the back, escorting a couple of Tail End Charlies.  On the plus side, they likely wouldn’t have finished with my coercion! I did, however, miss the pies!

March

The first half of March was spent in the cycling mecca of Alpe D’Huez skiing with Ben and an old mate Chris Green!  I do tend to collect inspiring friends and Chris is up there with the best, we first met at university and have crossed paths numerous times across at least three continents since.  His mid-life crisis involved signing up for 9 months in Afghanistan, giving up work to become a ski god and writing a book!  Spin Zhira should be published to Kindle in the New Year – It’s a pretty inspiring read.  Anyways, Chris took us under his wing and developed Ben’s skiing exponentially, whilst exposing me as an old fat bloke with knackered knees!  It was, however, a fantastic trip and gave Ben a great role model for his potential career in the forces!

Whilst I was off skiing, I was having my bike serviced at Cycles UK  . . .  It appears Specialized have a pretty thorough exchange service, so when Stu got concerned about some cracks in the paint, it was farewell to ‘Ruby’ and hello to TP (Theseus’ Paradox)

 

 

The end of March was spent doing the ‘Spring Classics Tour’ at Indoor RevolutionIndoor Revolution is a WattBike studio in Braintree run by Dean and Luke.  They do a great job at keeping us fit and motivated in the off season and the Spring Classics was their version of the Tour of Sufferlandria . . . only harder!

April

Seems to have been a reasonably barren month for events with the high spot being the excellent St Georges Day Dinner on the 25th which saw a dozen knights descend on Castle Hedingham resplendent in fake (and in one case real) armour and swords to eat and drink way too much!  Kudos to Andrew Temperton for keeping this fine tradition going!  On the cycling side it was mostly training for the challenges on June

 

May

Was a sad, sombre and somewhat humbling month due to the loss of a couple of great men.

It started well with the frivolities of the Army Navy game, which we attended in REOBCG colours and gathered a few new members

but took a tumble on 15 May when Jonathon Scott finally succumbed to the Cancer he had been fighting all year.  Scotty was an ex Marine, who I met in hospital the prior October when he had had his tongue, throat and Larynx removed due to mouth cancer.  Despite this, he and his fantastic family refused to give in and continued to fight and motivate folk to raise money and awareness.  Team Jonathan had already done one sponsored run in Feb and two days after his death we met up again in Regent’s park for the ‘Superhero run’.

Kate, Ellie, Cameron and William all turned up to cheer us on, together with half a dozen of his ‘Royal’ mates from the Falklands.  It was a great event and humbling to see the family being so strong.  There was even a message from Jonathon urging us to run and have fun!

Special Kudos here to Sarah Smailes (yet another inspiring woman!).  Sarah is Jon’s Physio, and the driving force behind Team Jonathon.  Despite the hideous impact of his cancer, she has never seen a problem, just a solution waiting to happen.  Sarah has continued to celebrate his life and fight to raise funds for and increase awareness of Mouth Cancer and to encourage us to continue running (and you know how I feel about running!!)

A week later we had another kick when we learned that a good friend from Singapore, Nick Tsinonis, had tragically died from a heart attack whilst training in the gym.  This was a huge shock but I was fortunate enough to be able to join Annie (Anne-Lize), ‘Theo’ (Dionysios) and Dino (Constandino) at Nick’s funeral in Singapore the following week.  The sheer number of attendees and depth of feeling showed what a huge impact he had on those around him and was quite humbling. Despite the crap circumstances, it was a privilege to be a part of this and great to witness Dino lift the cup at his rugby final a couple of days later.

 

As a result of the short notice trip to Singapore, I did have to miss the Tour de Sapper (North) but huge thanks to Chris Pattinson for the loan of the bike and Almeric Ong for the guided rides around the heat of Singapore!  What a country to cycle in!

 

June

At the start of June we had Scotty’s funeral.  This was a ‘Royal’ funeral with Honour Guard, Bugler and Colours. This was equal parts laughter and tears, just like all military funerals with tales of mischief and misbehaviour alongside huge respect and love.  Ellie, Jon’s eldest, stole the show with an amazing humbling and brave eulogy, which left the crowd of hardened marines laughing with tears of REspect rolling down their faces!

It never ceases to amaze me how some of the most crap situations can be the most inspiring!  Seeing the impact these great guys have had on those around them and the strength of their families is something else!  Never a sign of giving in, just knuckling down and making the most of a crap hand!

Ride London

Back on the Bike

Two days later I headed to Cardiff for the inaugural ‘Velothon Wales‘  This 120km ride featured a flat and very fast first half, led out by Phil C and his son followed by two significant and eye watering climbs (The Tumble 10 km @10% and Caerphilly Mountain peaking at 26%). This was a great ride and a fitting tribute to Nick and Scotty and made all the better by meeting up with ‘Team Pie’ from the Unite and Bike ride to Paris as well as many members of the REOBCG (Royal Engineers Old Boys cycling group – a virtual cycle group for ex sappers with members across the globe!  I couldn’t wish for a better and more supportive group of mates! – If you’re a Sapper and you cycle ping me for an introduction!) 

 

The next week,I was lucky enough to catch up with the gorgeous Gracie Elvin from OGE and Laura Trott from Team Matrix when stage 2 of The Women’s Tour started in Braintree

The next day, we headed down to the Isle of Sheppey for Chase the Sun. 

After a strong start, our team split in two and the John, Dan and Dave raced off to finish in just over 15 hrs (I just didn’t have the legs to keep up).  Meanwhile, I pootled around and lost some time helping out some folk until I met up with Darren, Matt and Russ, three mates from the Corps (I hadn’t seen Russ and Matt since Bosnia in 1995!)  This created all kinds of problems for our fantastic support team (Mark I, Dave S and Vicki S) as they tried to support two groups up to 100km apart!  However, they did an amazing job and motivated me to push on when things got tough!  Thank you guys!!

Darren and I left Russ and Matt and attempted to make up time which made for a somewhat emotional and knackering ride.  There were three of us in my group but Rob never seemed to take a pull!  It was only at the end, we discovered his longest ride before had been 80 or so km!  Huge kudos for him keeping going!   We ended up riding 350 km and climbing 3000 m but missed the cut off by a country mile! 

High spots include the descent of the Cheddar Gorge in the pitch dark!  Thank gawd the goats weren’t out!  Huge kudos and thanks to Darren for dragging me around and Mark and Dave for their awesome support!  Really wouldn’t have made it without them!  The strava file is here

It was a really hard ride this year and so it took me at least 15 mins before I signed up to do it again in 2016!

July

One of the great things about the forces is the camaraderie and sense of humour!  Darren realised I was crap at hills and so the only option was to book me on as many hilly rides as he could!  The next being just a couple of weeks later as we took on the Wiggle Mendips 100. This featured three significant climbs with Deerleap and Burrington Combe making the Cheddar Gorge seem simple!  I really am crap at hills!  but do kinda like them – Once again – Thank you Darren:)

Strava is here

August

Is generally when you start to ease off after Summer.  However, this year it proved to be a pretty crazy month with four decent events!

I kicked off with the London cycle and Ride London,  These closed road rides take you around the capital and the Surrey Hills.  Once again the REOBCG were out in force and it was amazing how many folk I bumped into that I knew.  It also gave me a chance to join David S on his first official Century!  We did lose a couple of hours due to an unfortunate incident on Leith Hill (RiP buddy) but it was great to ride down the Mall with Dave and meet his family at the end!

I then headed off to North Wales for my first ride with Ed at Cav’s Rise Above sportive.  This was another great ride with a couple of decent lumps including the Horseshoe Pass.  Ed is also a mountain goat but was kind enough to wait at the top of the hills and take picture as I dragged my fat sweaty carcass over the top!  As a result, we were able to get some great pictures of the countryside . . . not to mention some great action shots as I summited the Pass alongside Cav!  (He really is tiny!)

Team Branocs then got back together for  The Only Way sportive in Colchester.  This was a lovely hill free route and Henry’s first Century (and likely last)

23 Aug was Sufferlandria National Day   – and what better way to celebrate a fictional day for a fictional country than 3 hrs on a Watt bike! – Oh and I also had a quick trip to the Oval to watch England win the Ashes

September

After the excesses of August, It seemed to make sense to have an easier month in September. However, that wasn’t how things panned out.  

At the start of September, I got a mail off Team Sky inviting me to join them for a training ride in North Wales before the Tour of Britain!  Apparently I had won this after posting about the Rise Above ride??  Despite having the ABF ride booked for the Sunday I drove up to visit my folks and onto Wales to join them.  The weather was fantastic and they looked after us really well!  We got a load of gizzits (Rapha tops don’t fit me) and spent time with the mechanics and staff before meeting Sir Dave and the team.  After a team brief, where I was announced as the new GC lead, we set out for a ride out with the team, escorted from and back by Sky Jags!   You should have seen Sir Dave’s face when he saw the size of his new GC lead! Needless to say, I didn’t beat Pete Kennaugh on the climb!

That night I drove nearly 300 miles to join Jacqui for the ABF sportive in Bedfordshire!  This was my second catch up with Martin and Rob from Team Pie and a great ride until Rob, channelling his inner Yorkshireman, decided to save his brakes and used mine!  Unfortunately, I am twice his size and he hit the ground hard!  We then spent 2 hrs with the ambulance whilst they sorted him out (you have no idea how painful it is seeing a mate have all his cycling gear cut off!!)  By this time I was firmly the Lanterne Rouge, so swept up the stragglers again and got them back to Five Bells in one piece (Rob was ok, just badly bruised and concussed!)

The next week, my habit of winning stuff continued when I ‘won’ a few places to ride stage 8 of the Tour of Britain.  It was a great ride with Dan and Dave and we also caught up with Team Sky who kindly gave me a pretty cool signed top

My final ride for Sept was the inaugural Tour de Sapper (South) In Weymouth.  Twenty or so of us descended on Weymouth for a couple of evenings swinging the lantern, justified by a ride around Dorset.  Paul had planned a great route with some nice lumps, a circuit to the Bill and racked up the nostalgia with the start and finish at the Bridging Hard!  He even managed to arrange for some stunning weather!  All in all a great weekend, made better still by the singalong at the Black Dog . . . I’m not sure the band knew what had hit them!

I cannot write about Sept without mentioning another of my inspirational mates.  Vicki Bailey has done a number of performances featuring sport and particularly running as a medium.  Last year she performed at the Fringe doing 26 Marathons in 26 days.  This year she topped that with a performance called Running beyond language.  This was a 26.2 HOUR run, in Kuopio in Finland in complete silence!  She really is mad as a fish but a huge inspiration, whenever, things seem a bit tough!

October

I finally finished my (real) cycling exploits in October, with the Tour Ride Worcester.  This 100 mile ride only featured just over 2km of climbing, however, this was concentrated in three or four particularly steep hills.  Once again I over-cooked the start and the packed last few months finally caught up with me so I was running on empty!  Huge thanks again to Darren for dragging me around as it was tough (but then again it wasn’t running, it didn’t last 26.2 hrs and it wasn’t in silence!  so who am I to complain :)

I was also fortunate enough to be invited to a couple of special memorial events in Oct and early Nov.  Firstly, I joined Blind Veterans UK at a memorial service in Westminster Abbey and then parade with the Queens Gurkha Engineers at the Cenotaph in London.  Both were very humbling affairs and provided some fond memories.

November

I said I wound up my ‘real’ cycling events in Oct but the best laid plans failed once more and I had one final challenge to undertake.  I have been doing a lot of training at Indoor Revolution and spend a fair bit of time doing Sufferfest cycling vids.  As mentioned before, these are high intensity, low volume training sessions, aimed at building power.  At the end of Nov, I joined 14 friends and we undertook a quest to become Knights and Dames of Sufferlandria.  This required us to ride 10 of these sessions back to back with just 10 mins to change and feed between each one.  This was pretty tough!  It’s hard enough to ride a bike for that length of time but there is no let up on a Wattbike.  The whole team absolutely nailed it and around 11 hrs later, we all finished and have been anointed as Knights / Dames of Sufferlandria!  

You may call me Capt (Retd) Sir Ian Slack RE BSc(Hons) MInstrRE KOS :)  A mythical knight of a mythical country but a pretty pleased one at that!

Knighthoodcertificate.pages

I do have to mention my family and thank them for their patience!  All these events have taken me away from home a lot and when I have been back, I have spent a lot of time training.  I have tried to spend time with them and have managed a few trips with them from time to time but I am sure I have been a grumpy git and a pain to live with so Thank You; Sally, Tom, Ben & George!  (By the way . . . we need to talk about next year :))

Ben, Sally, George & Tom

Ben, Sally, George & Tom

Having said that, Ben & George have also been pretty busy and have learnt to Kayak in the last 2 months and have just qualified to paddle the Olympic Course!

If you have managed to survive to the end, I am amazed and impressed as this is a pretty major and I’m sure tedious tome!  Once again Thank You for all your support and immense generosity!  Sometimes failing on the best laid plans isn’t all bad and for a non fundraising year, we have raised a huge amount so Thank you!

2,017 km, and 64 hrs more than last year - with over 2,300 km on the Wattbike / Turbo!

2,017 km, and 64 hrs more than last year – with over 2,300 km on the Wattbike / Turbo!

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a safe and prosperous New Year!

Thank you!!

 

Slacky / Ian / Shirley / Shrek . . .

xmas_1

100 Years of Service

Firstly thanks to all of you who have supported my fundraising in the last year!  We raised a a huge amount to support Blind Veterans UK’s work and we are hugely grateful!

100 Logo Final NICK

This year is the 100th anniversary for Blind Veterans UK and so I will continue to raise funds and continue to do what I can to support theirsuperb work!

I have one ridiculous challenge in planning at the moment but am not ready to put that in print yet so in the meantime, I plan to ride Velothon Wales and the Prudential Ride London 100 with some guys from the Royal Engineers Old Boys Cycling Group (REOBCG) for BlinREOBCG Round blackd Veterans UK

The REOBCG is a fantastic virtual cycling club, which has given me huge support and friendship throughout the past year.  I am humbled to have made so many new friends through the club and we have a couple of events throughout the year.  Last year we had Tour de Sapper (North), this year we add Tour de Sapper South and with the Ride London team, we now have a TdS London!

I will post more in due course but if you wish to donate my page is here and if you fancy joining the team – You can do so here

 

 

Just giving donate

Thank you!

I’ll write more soon!

Slacky

Unite and Bike for Heroes

Just under a year ago, I decided to enter this event to commemorate the Centenary of the start of the Great War.  As you will know, if you have followed my blog, I was fortunate enough to serve with the Royal Engineers for a number of years until being medically discharged in 1997. A large number of my friends and colleagues have been impacted by loss in conflict and I have lost several friends and this seemed a fitting tribute to their memories.  I had also recently been bitten by the cycling bug so it was a perfect fit.  I also decided to dedicate the year to raising funds and awareness for Blind Veterans UK and you can read more about their work and my motivations elsewhere in this blog.

I have had a superb year and have achieved a number of firsts (for me) with several highs (and a couple of hiccoughs) and have made many new friends along the way. I have had wonderful support and met many inspirational folk, so was very excited as we approached this ‘final’ event in August.  However, I had not appreciated just how emotional the trip would be and what a superb end to the years fund raising.

And so it began – Stratford Intl to Folkestone – High speed train

The trip to Folkestone by train was unremarkable, as were my first impressions of the town when I arrived.  Folkestone was gearing up for a big centenary parade on the 4th, with Prince Harry in attendance and there were bands rehearsing and police cordoning the front off, so I just had a gentle cycle around whilst waiting for the rest to arrive.

The first evening was a genteel affair, getting our admin packs and getting to know one another.  A few of us met up over a couple of drinks (and a mediocre) meal and friendships started to form

Day 1: Emotional! – Folkestone to Ypres 110 km

(click names for Strava links)

Day 1 Map

 

We left Folkestone early on the 4th August, mostly having been awoken by the seabirds and noise of the preparation for Harry’s visit.  The weather was perfect for the 17 km dash to the ferry in Dover but the group was split up by the slight hill en route to the ferry (a 1km beast, hitting 12% just 5 km into the ride).  Boarding was uneventful and we made our way to the deck for the short trip to France.  Unfortunately, the ferry was delayed by an hour which challenged some of the timings for the first leg.  In Calais we regrouped and set off for Ypres.  The ride was very flat and easy riding across beautiful countryside interrupted by the odd very quiet village (all of which seemed to be closed, a recurring theme for the ride).  The highlight of the ride was the lunch stop where we had our first taste of the superb food laid on by Ashley.  Clearly, this was not going to be a chance to lose weight!  The cross over into Belgium was unremarkable and the onward journey flat and smooth.  Unfortunately, Dave came a cropper due to the somewhat alarming 45 degree level crossings!  Luckily he was able to continue and the bike was ok.  I also nearly wiped out on the cobbles as we entered Ypres.

Rebecca, who was also raising funds for Blind Veterans UK had arranged to lay a wreath for Harry at the Menin Gate as part of the Centenary Last Post ceremony and had very kindly asked me to join her.  We arrived just in time and made our way through the huge crowd, still in sweaty lycra to join the ceremony.  There was a huge crowd, with representatives from the Kiwi Embassy, the Legion Riders and 1st Edgmond Scouts to name but a few.  The ceremony was very solemn and as we marched back from laying the wreath, all I could see was the sea of red eyes as people gave their silent respect.  Afterwards, as we spoke with the other folk paying their respects, the dust did get the better of me, and a few tears were shed.  Later that night, after supper, we returned with Sallyann to light a candle for Lights out across Europe.  When the Menin gate went dark, it got a little dusty again!  This was to be a recurring theme for me throughout the week.  The magnitude of the loss and the sacrifice made by so many is commemorated so well, that it is hard not to be moved!

Plans for an early night, however, were scuppered and I stayed up until the small hours swinging the lantern and chatting about mutual friends with the Kiwi Defence Attaché, Lt Col Mike Beale

Day 2: Humbling! –  Ypres to Arras – 110 km

Day 2 Map

The ride for the second day was slightly more challenging with a couple of decent hills, particularly towards the end.  The weather was great again and the heat did start to tell a little bit.  The route to Arras passed by a number of key memorial sites which we spent time exploring.  I was fortunate enough to catch Stewart and Tracy before they set off to mark the route and they recommended we see the crater at Hill 60.  I didn’t know what to expect but it was a site well worth visiting, being a Sapper, I was able to empathise with the work the Engineers had undertaken to breach the defences and the sheer volume of explosives to create the crater.  The other sites were equally impressive in their own rights, each with their own characters and stories to tell.  Towards the end of the day we climbed a decent hill passed the Loos Memorial to the Vimy Trenches.  Though grown over with time, it did give an indication of what life must have been like for the young soldiers.

We had all watched documentaries and done some research before the ride but seeing the thousands of grave stones,  the ages of those lost, the names on the memorials, the number of countries represented and the number of graves with no names was hugely humbling. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission have done a fantastic job in preserving these sites and they are a fitting tribute to those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.  What was even more alarming was the number of smaller memorials.  Being on bikes, we were able to notice the smaller sites, and dedications in the villages we rode through.  There were times of introspection as we rode but also times when we chatted and learnt more about the stories and challenges of those taking part.

Our stop for the night was in Arras, a lovely town, despite the cobbles and we had a pleasant evening in one of the bars catching up and enjoying just a little too much Leffe.

Day 3 – can’t use Humbling again so will settle for ‘Rule #9 – Badass‘ – Arras to Amiens – 100km

Day 3 Map

This was our shortest days ride.  However, some truly foul weather, some nice hills, some geographic challenges and a lot of time spent at memorials made it quite a long day.  I continued Day 3 bringing up the rear.  I was happy to do so, as I had been suffering with a knee injury before setting off and was happy to spend time at the memorial sites.  The foul weather, and French habit of moving the markers meant there were a couple of navigational issues and a fair number of punctures to help out with.  Adrian, the mechanic following on was kept busy and braved the weather to sort out bikes as we stopped.  I had not seen many Sapper graves on Day 2 but found several at the Arras and Sheffield memorials and spent quite some time paying my REspects and searching out folk from my various home towns.

Unite & Bike A very wet Arras

 

A very wet Arras

The Thiepval Memorial was particularly moving.  Here we met up with a party of Chelsea Pensioners, touring the area.  Rebecca and I spent some time chatting with Jerry and Harry, a couple of Fusiliers and Alex Murray a fellow Sapper who had served in 28 Amph Engineer Squadron.  Despite the damp, the dust got the better of me, unfortunately whilst being filmed by a crew recording the Pensioners journey.  Hopefully that will end up on the cutting room floor!

Once again the ride finished over the cobbles, this time around Amiens and after supper we visited the light show at the Cathedral – Another overwhelming day!

Day 4 – Introspection and punctures Amiens to Compiègne – 102km

Day 4 Map

Day 4 was largely about relocating to Compiègne for the final 130 km push to Paris.  The weather was glorious again and the ride steady with only a couple of hillocks and so lots of time for introspection and unfortunately a lot of punctures!  In addition, my Lake cycling shoes, my pride and joy succumbed to the weather and walking around memorials.  Fortunately, the company were extremely understanding and were able to order a new pair on warrantee.

The key monument was the Australian Cemetery at Villers which surprised with a few points.  It really brought home the sacrifice of troops across the Commonwealth, many of these guys would have travelled for weeks to lose their life in days in the battlefields, they new nothing about.  There were also several graves for children (19 yrs old) who had died after the armistice was signed and finally, we found a grave for an Edwin Slack from my home town’s Regiment. I have since done some research and cannot find a direct relationship but it did still bring about some introspection!

Garmin proved it’s worth again in finding the hotel and we spent the evening eating, drinking and preparing for the ride to Paris.

Day 5 – Euphoria and crashes  – Compiègne to Paris – 135 km

Day 5 Map

Alex, the expedition leader, decided that we should stagger the start on the Friday so as to arrive in Paris as a group.  As back marker, I was in the first group off, so had an early start for once.  The weather was good once more, with mist coming off the fields as we headed out to the Le Wagon de l’Armistice.  This was the site where Marshall Foch took the German surrender on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.  Unfortunately, due to the early start, the centre was closed, and that, combined with the absence of the carriages (destroyed in 1945 by the SS) meant this was quite a short visit and we were soon on our way.

The initial nice weather was replaced by rain during the morning and the crash and puncture count soon started to rise.  However, all the groups made steady progress. Again, we were challenged by markers being removed and so there were a few back tracks.  Mid morning, the faster group led by David caught us up and I took the chance to have a bit of a burn with the speed snakes before lunch, which was great fun but I settled back in with my group for the afternoon.  By this time the winds and rain had started to pick up and there were a couple of nice climbs which tested tired legs.  As we came into the outskirts of Paris, the wet roads took their toll and there were a few more crashes and punctures.  The final 30 km was quite eventful with the city traffic building up but we all met up at the Louvre in more or less one piece.  The finale of the ride was a ride around the wet cobbles of Paris taking in the Champs-Élysées, l’Arc de Triomphe before finishing under the Eiffel Tower with Champagne and photos.

The evening was taken up with a celebratory dinner and beers in the shadow of the Tower. It was a great evening, sharing laughs and stories with the friends we had made during the week.  Even the very mediocre food at the Dinner (vegetarian option, rice, potatoes and beens) couldn’t dampen the mood and I was somewhat humbled (again) to be mentioned by Global Adventures for my back marking, tyre changing, first aid, mechanics and crap singing in the rain skills. Even more humbled when An’ji and Team Seafarers gave me a cup for the same . Thanks guys! It has pride of place in my lounge!

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On the Saturday morning, I took a moment to visit l’arc de Triomphe and lay one final cross before heading to Gare d’Nord for the trip home.

The Riders

 

 

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There were 27 of us taking part in the ride from a wide cross section with many different motivations.  However, over the week, we formed into a strong team and I built huge respect as their stories came through.  I cannot introduce everyone but a few stories come to the fore

Richard was commemorating his Grandfather, Spr George Foster RE who served with 92nd Field Coy RE  and his Grandma who had worked as a munitions worker

Rebecca was doing the ride, in memory of her Great Grandfather, Sgt Harry Hackett Grenadier Guards, who was killed in the war on 22 April 1918. She brought with her a number of pictures and letter he had written, describing life at the front and his experiences during the Christmas Truce.

Peter and Graham (Team Bloke) were searching for and commemorating the memorials of some of 102 soldiers, sailors and airmen from Horcastle, their home town, who died in WW1.  The found and recorded the 27 on our route and will commemorate them at a  WW1 event in September, and;

Arwell, my room mate, and probably most inspiring of all, who was raising funds for SSAFA in recognition of the support he and his family had received whilst caring for his 19 year old stepson Joe who had lost his leg serving with the Welsh Guards in Afghanistan.  A more pleasant, happy and friendly chap, you couldn’t hope to meet, despite the hell he must have suffered through

It was very humbling and a huge honour to be amongst such a stirling group.

The Staff

I couldn’t write a blog without mentioning the team  from Global Adventure Challenges who organised the event.  Quite simply they did a superb job. The accommodation and logistics was pretty much faultless, the route was well thought out, with just enough of a challenge for all capabilities, without destroying those new to riding and the attitude, humour and compassion superb.

Alex led the team and established the water stops.  He had a huge knowledge of the area and gave sound advice to all involved

Alex our Leader

Ashley ferried the luggage around and fed us each lunchtime.  The food was superb, varied and local – No need to take so many supplies next time I go

Ashley the wonder chef

Adrian, the fixer, swept up the rear and stripped out the signage.  I spent a lot of time with Adrian who was superb company and kept ALL the bikes on the road!

 

Unite & Bikefirst picks_86

Stewart and Tracy were the route markers and didn’t see much of the rest of us until Paris.  They were up at the crack of dawn and often back after midnight, laying out the markers.  There were a few occasions where folk got lost but this was generally  due to locals moving signs (why???)  I was fortunate to chat with them most mornings as I tend to get up early and got some great tips and advice off them both

Tracy and Stewart

I would certainly go on another event organised by them – Thanks guys!

***

Finally, I must thank all those who have supported me throughout the year.  I got a huge amount out of the trip to Paris and am glad I was able to do it. However, it means so much more to have been able to raise so many much needed funds for Blind Veterans UK.  I am sure it has been painful for all of you and I hope you do know how much I appreciate your support.  I will probably blog some more and will certainly do a wash up on Finally Seen Sense 2 but Thank You!

That being said, I am still a little short of my somewhat ambitious target so if you have liked what you have read or want to shut me up, there are links to donate on the page :)

Very Many thanks

Stay Safe

Ian / Slacky

xx

WW1 Centenary Cycle

 

A century ago next Monday, Britain entered the First World War. It was to be one of the major turning-points of the 20th century – and the beginning of Blind Veterans UK. The charity was founded in 1915 to support soldiers, sailors and munitions workers blinded in service. Next Monday, I will be embarking on a 5 day WW1 Centenary Cycle to Paris hoping to pay some small tribute to all those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice! I am doing this, because it is something I feel strongly about and also to raise funds and awareness for Blind Veterans UK, a charity close to my heart. I have had fantastic support throughout the year but would make one more appeal for any support you can offer, please donate if you can, to help support this wonderful cause at http://www.justgiving.com/FSS2

Unfortunately, I am struggling a little with a knee injury I have picked up,  However, I will be applying a large dose of Rule 5, not to mention Ice and Brufen.  Over the course of the week, we will visit a number of the memorials and battlefields of Belgium and Northern France:

Day 1: 4 Aug – Folkestone to Ypres. Ride to ferry port at Dover for crossing to Calais. On arrival in Calais, cycle through the battlefields of Northern France to Ypres in Belgium. Cycling distance – approximately 99 km / 61.5 miles.

Day 2: 5 Aug – Ypres to Arras. Cycle to Tyne Cot Cemetery, Zonnebeke, before heading towards Lens and the region of the Somme. En route to Arras, pass by the Island of Ireland Peace Park, the Loos Memorial and the preserved trenches and Canadian Memorial at Vimy Memorial Park. Cycling distance – approximately 109.5 km / 68 miles.

Day 3: 6 Aug – Arras to Amiens. Visit Arras Cemetery and Monument to the Missing, before cycling to Amiens, passing by The Ulster Memorial, The Sheffield Memorial Park, The Thiepval Memorial to the Missing and The Lochnagar mine crater. Cycling distance – approximately 96.5 km / 60 miles.

Day 4: 7 Aug – Amiens to Compiègne. Cycle via Bray-sur-Somme and strategic villages of the Front Line. We pass many WWI cemeteries today, for all nationalities. Some of the main sites are The Villers-Bretonneux Memorial, The Australian Corps Memorial Park and The 58th (London) Division Memorial, Chipilly. Cycling distance – approximately 112.5 km / 70 miles.

Day 5: 8 Aug – Compiègne to Paris. Final day of cycling through forest surrounding Compiègne, stopping en route at the Armistice Memorial Site.

Continue on to Paris,  up the Champs Elysées, round the Arc de Triomphe and finishing our challenge beneath the 420m high Eiffel Tower!  Cycling distance – approximately 106 km / 66 miles.

Day 6; 9 Aug – Free morning to enjoy the sights and sounds of Paris before returning to the UK

If you have friends or relatives at rest in any of the places I will visit, let me know and I will try to pay me respects.

My deepest and heartfelt thanks for your support

Ian xx

 

Blind Vets Ramsholt

 

The Dunwich Dynamo

A week ago, I was settling down for a weekend of admin, collecting Ben from CCF camp and perhaps quick spin out on Sunday and then I saw the post from Viv. . . ‘A few of us are doing an 200km all-night ride from London to Dunwich on Saturday night on the Dunwich Dynamo.’

Since completing Chase the Sun, I have pulled back on cycling for a couple of weeks to spend some time with the family but am conscious I do need to get some miles back in my legs in preparation for the ride to Paris.  I had been planning to give the Dun Run a go but had completely missed the date.

The Dunwich Dynamo (Dun Run) is a 200 km ride from London Fields to the Suffolk coast through the night of the July full moon. The ride (once again it isn’t a race) originated in 1993 and has evolved over the years,  It is an ‘un-supported’ and ‘un-organised’ ride (though Southwark Cycles do arrange coaches and trucks for the return trip) and apparently was part of the inspiration for Chase the Sun.  I had a quick google and realised I could just turn up and ride, so the seed was sewn.

Cider and snags - the food of ChampionsOn the morning of the 12th I realised we had arranged to go to birthday party for one of my mates, which put paid to the plan to head to London.  However, the BBQ was about 30 meters off the route as it passed through Sible Hedingham so all was not lost.  During the course of the day I heard from a couple of friends who were also planning to ride, so made some loose plans.  The party was great, with lovely weather, kids on bouncy castles, fantastic food and the odd cider or six. Unfortunately, as the evening progressed, the sun was replaced by rain and a fierce thunderstorm.  Around 11 despite, some significant questions about my sanity, I donned my lycra and headed off into the storm.

As I left the house, I could see a steady progression of lights, illuminating the road out to Weathersfield, I rode against the flow for a while but as the roads narrowed, I was causing some confusion, so headed back to the Hedingham food stop.  I had read the blogs and articles but it really does need to the be seen to be believed.  There were hundreds of cyclists on all manner of cycles, many adorned with fairy lights and all in excellent humour (apparently there were in the region of 2000 folk start the ride).

By some crazy twist of luck I bumped into Russ, a particularly mad friend, be-decked in blue lights, as were the rest of his club and we had a quick chat, I then got a call off another friend who had missed the stop and instead was having a pint in The Wheatsheaf in Castle Hedingham so I headed over to meet them. There were blinking red lights everywhere, and several locals outside their houses cheering us on.  It was an amazing atmosphere and as I rode to the pub we were met by a (slightly intoxicated) lady dishing out high fives.

My companions for the rest of the night were Ashley Bond, a mate from work and his friends Rich Plochi and Dan Bagshaw and we spent the next few miles getting to know each other.  The roads were awash with cyclists and generally folk were pretty good at calling out obstructions although it is just as well that there was limited other traffic as the roads were full.  We were making pretty good pace as we climbed out of Castle Hedingham and then swept along to Sudbury.  As we left Sudbury, we were drawn by the crowds outside the White Horse, which despite the hour was doing a cracking lycra clad trade, so had a quick pint.  This was to set the scene for the rest of the night.  The ride may have been unsupported but it certainly wasn’t without support!  In most villages, there were folk out in their PJs cheering us on and several pop up restaurants in gardens and greens, and many pubs stayed open til the early hours

I was having a ball, the atmosphere was great and whilst the route was pretty flat, the lack of light did cause some challenges, especially on the descents but  there was a constant trail of lights to show the route.  We did get burnt just outside Monks Eleigh where we ignored my Garmin and followed the lights as the guys were on a bit of a sprint.  As a result we added a 10 km detour to the ride but werent alone

As the ride progress, we passed a number of groups stopped by the roadside and there was a constant stream of banter, there also seemed to be a huge number of punctures but we were incident free.  As the sky lightened we passed the picturesque Needham Market Lake but decided not to stop until tempted by the Scout Troop stop in Peasenhall (I think) where we had bacon butties and mugs of tea before the final push to the finish. The beach at Dunwich was a sight for sore eyes, there were bikes everywhere and folk of all shapes and sizes stripping off lycra for a dip in the sea.

We also witnessed some of the remarkable folk who had completed the ride, there were folk on tandems, BMXs, a chap on the tall bike and two guys who had completed the ride on their Boris bikes (one complete with fairy lights and popcorn nutrition).  However, we we had passed the most remarkable as we neared Yoxford, 9 year old Oscar, who was doing the Dun Run for his third year (albeit, just from Sudbury) – huge REspect Oscar! (I am sure I have him on video but I haven’t edited them yet)

The queue for the breakfast was huge, so we decided to have a swift half whilst waiting for our lift home.  On balance, we should have had a breakfast and perhaps a massage in the teepees on the green as it was a long wait!  The bravado of a morning pint took its toll on Rich and Dan who had a snoozette in the sun.

I am pleased I decided to join the ride at the last minute as I am now really looking forwards to next year.  It seems the two sun chasing events will both be repeated in 2015!  The Dun Run  was great fun and showed the best of the British spirit.  It wasn’t fast or especially hard (see strava) but boy was it fun! I couldn’t believe the numbers involved or the folk coming out to cheer us on and did earn some useful lessons for next year:

  • I am too old to miss a night’s sleep, should probably not go to a party first:)
  • Wear layers or removable sleeves, it got quite hot, quite early! (yeah that’s too serious)
  • There are loads of stops and it is all about the experience, next year, I won’t carry loads gels but will stop and make the most of the experience – there are plenty of chances to race – this one really is, a ride!
  • Take more pictures, the support was amazing, and bizarre!
  • The journey home is a bit of a zoo – next year – cycle back

Finally I couldn’t resist posting the link to this gif. It’s a Strava visualisation showing all the activity over the weekend of the 12th.  I don’t need to point out the Dun Run.  However, was also amused by the lone track heading south from Chester around midnight! (the pic is a link to the gif ;))

dunwich-8

Credit for this goes to The Human Cyclist.  Check out his blog – It’s much better than mine!

Many thanks to Viv for the heads up.  Unfortunately I didn’t see him but a great steer thanks!  Thanks also to Pugsly, Rich and Dan for putting up with an old man on their first Dun Run and Kudos to all who did the full ride.

Here’s looking forwards to next year’s Dun Run – The next ride is on 4th July 2015 – See you in London Fields for the start

 

Unite & Bike

Unite & Bike FSS2

 

I’m getting very excited now as we approach the finale of Finally Seen Sense 2 Wheels.  When I decided to support Blind Veterans UK last October, the first challenge I signed up for was Unite & Bike for Heroes and we are nearly there!

The Challenge will run from 4 – 9 Aug and will be part of the commemorations of the centenary anniversary of the start of WW1.  There is a reasonable amount of cycling but I am most looking forward (if that is the correct phrase) to visiting the various battlefield sites and memorials and being able to offer my respects to those that have made the ultimate sacrifice

The plan is:

Unite& Bike for Heroes route

Unite& Bike for Heroes route

Day 1: 4 Aug – Folkestone to Ypres. Ride to ferry port at Dover for crossing to Calais. On arrival in Calais, cycle through the battlefields of Northern France to Ypres in Belgium. Cycling distance – approximately 99 km / 61.5 miles.

Day 2: 5 Aug – Ypres to Arras. Cycle to Tyne Cot Cemetery, Zonnebeke, before heading towards Lens and the region of the Somme. En route to Arras, pass by the Island of Ireland Peace Park, the Loos Memorial and the preserved trenches and Canadian Memorial at Vimy Memorial Park. Cycling distance – approximately 109.5 km / 68 miles.

Day 3: 6 Aug – Arras to Amiens. Visit Arras Cemetery and Monument to the Missing, before cycling to Amiens, passing by The Ulster Memorial, The Sheffield Memorial Park, The Thiepval Memorial to the Missing and The Lochnagar mine crater. Cycling distance – approximately 96.5 km / 60 miles.

Day 4: 7 Aug – Amiens to Compiègne. Cycle via Bray-sur-Somme and strategic villages of the Front Line. We pass many WWI cemeteries today, for all nationalities. Some of the main sites are The Villers-Bretonneux Memorial, The Australian Corps Memorial Park and The 58th (London) Division Memorial, Chipilly. Cycling distance – approximately 112.5 km / 70 miles.

Day 5: 8 Aug – Compiègne to Paris. Final day of cycling through forest surrounding Compiègne, stopping en route at the Armistice Memorial Site.

Continue on to Paris,  up the Champs Elysées, round the Arc de Triomphe and finishing our challenge beneath the 420m high Eiffel Tower!  Cycling distance – approximately 106 km / 66 miles.

Day 6; 9 Aug – Free morning to enjoy the sights and sounds of Paris before returning to the UK

If you have friends or relatives at rest in any of the places I will visit, let me know and I will try to pay me respects.

Really looking forwards to the experience and hopefully raising funds and support for Blind Veterans UK

Stay safe

Ian

x

Just giving donate

Chase the Sun 2014

Last October, a Sapper friend (Dave C) posted on FB about this crazy ride on the Summer Solstice. I mentioned the idea to some friends at home and as you know have been training ever since.

Chase the Sun is a ride (not a race) across the UK from dawn to dusk, 330 km in under 17 hrs.   The idea was spawned by Ollie Moore in 2008 with two of his mates and it took him 3 yrs to beat the sun. Last year 23 people started but only 6 made it in time, however, this year, there was a huge interest with over 100 people registered to ride. There were two teams from Braintree; Rule #5 consisting of myself, James Crysell, Mark Coull (Coully), Matt Walker and Ben (my Son in support), and the other with Mark Wadford (Wads), Andy and Mark Irving (‘Mark’ (not Penfold) in support) from BRUFC together with Dave and Michael. We had ridden together a few times during training and so decided we would join forces for the race (sorry ride)

As you can see from the rest of the blog, we had done a fair bit of training, with some highs and personal lows. We had done a fair bit of training but the furthest I had ridden was 205km so there was a degree of nerves as we approached the date.

(http://www.braintreeandwithamtimes.co.uk/news/north_essex_news/11278981.Ale_festival_is_hailed_a_roaring_success/)

Photo credit: Braintree and Witham Times

Our last ‘training session’ was a planning session at the Braintree Beer festival, which didn’t end so well but at least we had a plan (and were the poster children of the event). Ben and Mark would wait at a number of checkpoints so we could meet up and collect food and water without having to carry a day’s supplies. Coully and I showed our military heritage with a level of OCD that was beyond scary.

 

The Rule #5 support car was a fair rival for Team Sky with signage, collection tins, spare bikes, wheels, tubes, tyres, food and 40 bananas. It was quite an impressive sight as we headed down to Kent with Rule #25 well and truly covered !

Unfortunately James had to work on the Friday but the rest of us headed down early with all intents of having a warm up ride in the afternoon and to sort our kit out. Unfortunately, no plan survives contact with Chips and Cider and so when James called to see if we needed anything picking up; mischief ensued…

We met James at the hotel where he dished out the supplies we had ordered; more porridge, stodge and Red Cabbage! He was most intrigued by our new found knowledge that Red Cabbage was the new super food with miraculous properties for carb loading when made into a shake. We finally had to tell him we had made it up but by then ‘Le Tour de Chou Rouge’ was born!

We headed off to the pre-brief where we met Ollie and the rest of the teams for the first time! There was an expectant buzz as Ollie explained again it was a ride not a race and handed out our orange id tags. We calmed our nerves with 5% Apple juice and headed back to get some sleep

Start to CP2 White Hart – 20 miles 1hr 15 mins

We awoke around 3 am to get some breakfast after limited sleep due to the heat of the hotel, Matt’s snoring and sleep tourettes! James however, had his ‘best sleep for ages’ in his love nest over the road. We loaded the car and headed to the start for a Sunrise pic, met Wad’s team and set off around 04.45.

Matt’s garmin immediately decided to go kaput and mine invented some spurious directions so we ended up depending on Wads garmin and my laminated route cards (I did mention my OCD didn’t I J) to guide us on our way

 

It was a gorgeous morning and brought back varied memories for ex Sappers Andy and I as we headed through our old stomping grounds in Chatham. There were a few mechanical issues with us passing one poor sod whose seat clamp had snapped! (Somehow he managed to get it fixed and finished the race ahead of us!) Michael struggled with his chain and cleats before finally the bike jammed in the big cog

CP 2- Michael gets a new Bike

CP 2- Michael gets a new Bike

OCD Coully had planned for a 20 mile first RV in case we needed any early assistance. This proved vital as after a 25 minute attempt at repairing Michael’s bike we gave him one of the spare bikes and Ben and Mark headed off to get his repaired at Cadence.

CP2 – CP4 Cadence 48 miles 3hrs 20

Michael’s problems continued as the seat was too low on the spare bike but he struggled through the Kentish hills despite losing chains and cleats. We decided to roll through the first CTS Audax control at Bromley without stopping after 3 hrs (43miles) and pushed on up some decent climbs into Crystal Palace and our first planned C/P at Cadence cycling (48 miles) 3hrs 20. We had made up most of the time lost but spent longer than planned whilst folk had breakfast, changed clothes and took several comfort breaks (perhaps the midnight fish and chips weren’t the best plan J) Despite these delays, we still didn’t manage to get our Coffees which took a ridiculous amount of time!

CP4 – CP5 Somerfields Bagshot 82 miles 6hrs 20

We set off around 20 mins behind schedule with Michael back on his trusted steed and headed across London. This was the most painful part of the ride due to the stop / start traffic and London drivers. The heat was also starting to pick up. We headed across London and through Richmond Park with hundreds of cyclists riding round in circles before following the river through Kingston watching the rowers. The traffic picked up again in Chertsey where we had our first really impatient drivers and then eased off through the narrow cycle routes across Wimbledon Common and out to Chobham Common nature reserve. Despite the traffic we pulled into the Bagshot C/P just 5 mins off schedule. This was to be a recurring theme with good road pace but too long spent at stops

 

CP5 – CP6 Bramley in for Lunch 100miles 7hs 50

CTS_23After an elevenses of tuna / sweetcorn pasta and Costco sausages we headed out of Bagshot on the A30, making good time on the fast road, despite the traffic and some small climbs. Having ticked off my previous homes in Chatham and Bagshot, we then passed The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in Camberley where I had trained as an Officer. Needless to say we didn’t dawdle there and were soon out in the country lanes around Blackwater.

 

The ride became much more scenic with country lanes, historic monuments and randomly a Blind Veterans UK van who was quite impressed with Coully’s and my jerseys.

After 7 hrs 50 mins in the saddle, we reached the lunch stop at Bramley inn where we registered, changed, powdered and drank. The forty bananas had been getting a pounding as had the gels, so it was good to get some decent food, although apparently the hotdog and chips weren’t a great choice.

CP6 – CP7 Pewsey 137 miles 11 hrs 36

Somehow, we assembled to leave dead on schedule but still left 5 or 10 mins late. The long break took its toll and Coully spent 4 miles fighting a bonk until the food reserves kicked in. It’s a huge tribute to his strength that no one noticed him suffering but he came back stronger than ever.

The route started to climb steadily to the highest point outside of the gorge and the midday heat and narrow gravelly lanes made going tough. I started to struggle with the hills a bit (fat guys can’t climb) and Coully held back a bit to lend morale support. There were some decent climbs and the guys waited for me to arrive before we sped down the descents. From the GPS tracks it seems the guys only waited around 15 mins for me in total. However, I’m sure it felt like more. The descents had their fun moments as well with me nearly burning out a tyre when I locked out my wheel avoiding a van and miraculously avoiding a wipe out after overcooking a corner and hitting a load of gravel (apparently creating chaos in my wake). Wads also came face to face with the largest tractor in NATO but somehow managed to avoid coming off.

CTS_13

 

The hills and heat started to take their toll and I had a bad 10 miles. It was certainly a bonk of sorts but more likely a featured some heat stroke as I was talking gibberish and just desperately wanted to go to sleep. Again Coully and James offered support and the moment soon passed.

As we headed down into Peswey the roads started to deteriorate and with 3 miles to push my tyre started to flat out. I managed 4 km gradually getting bumpier and more squirrely until the last 500m when I was on my rims. I ran to the checkpoint, after 11 hrs 36 in the saddle and swapped out the tyre and tube, grabbed a sausage and we headed off. This was not my best leg of the ride J

 

 

CP7 – CP8 Rising Sun Pub 162 miles  – 13 hrs 33

As we left Pewsey we descended to the Plains, passing the Alton Barnes White Horse on the highest hill in Wiltshire (294 m). The lanes got narrower and the terrain flattened out for bit. We were making much better time and things turned a tad surreal, passing a windy miller lookalike on a ladder by a signpost directing passers by and nearly falling off our bikes when Matt got a steam engine to sound it’s horn. Everyone was in pretty good shape at this stage with Matt, Wads and Dave looking pretty bombproof! Michael continued to demonstrate why his nickname is ‘Chaos’ with his attempts to stretch off handsfree whilst on the move. He may not have had a crash but he’s seen several. It got a bit busier as we rode through Devizes but the roads were good. After a short but uneventful stage and 13 hrs 33 on the move we rolled into the Rising Sun Pub when Ben, Mark and Michaela (Wad’s wife) were waiting for us, with cakes and doughnuts from ‘The Blue Egg’. Unfortunately, as we rolled to a stop, Coully forgot to uncleat and fell on his broken back. He was fine but in a lot of pain.

CP8 – CP9 Chilcompton Coop – No Stop 178 miles 14hrs 53

CTS_22As had become the norm, we left the Rising Sun about 15 mins off schedule due to comfort breaks, cakes and a ‘Doughnut’. The first part was flattish but then started the climb up towards the gorge. A couple of navigation challenges cost a bit of time and split the team up. We then started the serious climb with some seriously steep hills around Kilmarsden – up to 25 %. We were caught by a couple of guys as we approached Kilmarseden who were struggling with the heat so Ben supplied them water and the last of our sausages!

Kilmarsden Hill is the fabled Hill of the nursery Rhyme Jack and Jill and was bloody steep. Coully nearly came off descending a hill at 35 mph when his chain came off and James nearly parted company with his gel. By this stage we, and our steeds were covered in energy gels, sticky and very grimy.

 

Ben had decided to follow us along and was blasting us with tracks from ‘The Wanted‘ and providing water replens through the window (not at all required but yet again, it amused me). After my previous challenges, I felt fine but was slower on the hills so I told the racing snakes to head off and I would catch them at the Gorge. We had decided to ride through Chilcompton but I had to stop briefly to say hi to a colleague from work (David Maxwell) and his wife who had turned up with food and drinks. Unfortunately time was tight so we couldn’t stop for long so Thanks and Sorry David!

 

CP9 – End the Pier (Reeds Arms) Burnham on Sea 207 miles

The climb to the top of the gorge wasn’t too bad, it was long with some gravelly roads but only 5 – 8 % – no where near as bad as Kilmarsden. On the way up I caught up with James and Mark (who had waited for me) and we entered the gorge. The initial descent through the trees was tranquil and deceptive – James and I were expecting a dramatic drop off but realised the false flat was in fact the start of the gorge as we gathered speed. We then rounded the corner to the Cheddar Gorge proper – dramatic rock faces and fast switchback roads. As we descended the 16% hills we feathered the brakes but were still hitting 40 mph until we encountered the first goats on the road when we slowed some more. We caught up with Michael who had been left by the others and gathered him up for the descent to Cheddar. The descent made the whole ride and there was lots of fist pumping and hands in the air as we hit Cheddar. As we left Cheddar for the sprint home, Ben left us; unfortunately so did Michael but we eventually found him. We made a good pace for the final 15 miles or so, pushing around 20 – 25 mph for the last few miles until we reached the M5 and realised we still have 3 miles to go. As we rolled into Burnham on Sea, Garmin had a final blip and sent us off the wrong way until we met some other riders who set us straight. We pootled onto the Jetty, just as the Sunset was finishing, about 4 mins too late. However, we were delighted to have made it and had an emotional reunion with the rest of the team who had made Sunset with minutes to spare (and were featured in the local press!). The quickest teams had arrived some three hours earlier and teams continued to arrive after us. I finally switched off my GPS at 16hrs 59mins and 26 secs – so I beat 17 hrs – just!

After the ride

CTS Wads_3

Olly and Team Wads

All the training sites recommend you have protein and carbs within 30 mins of finishing exercise and a proper meal in an hour… We had cider and beer! Ben had checked us in earlier so we stayed at the bar and chatted with the other teams and Ollie for a while before finally wandering off for a kebab and chips after midnight. We got the bikes back to the rooms and finally removed the filth of a day in the saddle and went to bed around 0130, almost 23 hrs after we had gotten up!

 

 

 

 

Stats off Strava

click to see the Strava details

So all in all, I beat 17 hrs and had a superb day out! I did struggle with hills and heat on occasion but really enjoyed the company and the event. I would like to thank all the guys from Braintree that helped achieve this fantastic feat, Ben and Mark for providing such superb support, Michaela for the doughnuts and encouragement, Ollie for setting up the event,  everyone who has donated and of course my family for the time!

Next year event is on the 20th June 2015 . . . I am considering booking my hotels now! Anyone interested?

Thank you!

Afternote:

So what of ‘Le Tour de Chou Rouge’ – Once again Ben excelled himself. Pretty much every shot he took featured the fabled Chou Rouge and alledgedly, some support teams found a little presence in their vehicles. I see a new name for Team Rule #5 in the future!

After After Note – It appears, Red Cabbage shakes are a thing!!!

Vive Le Chou Rouge

CTS_27

 

Chase the Sun is the first of two major cycling events I am undertaking this year to raise funds and awareness for Blind Veterans UK. I am now training for the next major Challenge, the ‘Unite and Bike for Heroes’ ride to Paris as part of the centenary memorial for the start of World War 1. This ride takes place from 4 – 8 Aug 2014.
If you would like to donate, please follow the links:)

Thank You and Stay Safe

Ian x

 

Tour de Sapper 2014

On Fri 6 June, 27 odd (and I mean odd!) bold and true headed to Leeds for the first (annual) Tour de Sapper.  This was the brainchild of Stan ‘Wiggo’ Darbyshire about a year ago and aimed to bring the REOBCG together for a weekend of cycling and ‘banter’.  The Royal Engineers Old Boy’s Cycling Group (REOBCG) is a virtual club for (non serving) Sappers with a passion for all things bike (As Stretch pointed out, Once a Sapper, always a Sapper!).  Whilst some of the group had met before and many had served in the same units; most had not met each other in person and this was the first opportunity to gain critical mass in the same location! Stan had promised us a flat rolling route, endless summer sun and stunning views across Gods own county but some doubt’s were raised about the competitive nature when Ans introduced the tag line of ‘if it’s not from Yorkshire, it’s Sh!te’ On Friday night, the troops assembled to recce the start and have pre-ride briefings in a sunny and bustling Millenium Square before retiring to carb load in the Templar Bar opposite the main accommodation (and next to the largest sex shop in the North East (closed down)).  The Templar Bar is a good old fashioned pub with a wide selection of carb and fruit drinks, TVs showing t’Rugby (no sound) and no blaring music.  Northern Man, couldn’t have been more welcoming despite the influx of jeans and dessies.  This was demonstrated when a few of us went for some food and got chatting to some locals who then had a whip around to buy us beer!  (Being ‘Athletes’ we instead donated this to Dave’s charity).

The following morning we RV’d at the start in varying states of health (some having slept fully clothed and one didn’t make parade) resplendent in bib shorts and a variety of Corps colours with high hopes for good weather.  Bryan Osborne had driven up from Cambridge at 5 am to take photos. It was a great gathering with folk having travelled from Scotland, Wales, Devon and Spain and we were pleased to be joined by some considerably better halves, with Michelle joining us on the ride.   TDS 14 Riders

The Team!

Paul O’Brien, Dave Coulling, Ash Hanby, Steve Matthews, Andy Burkinshaw, Ian Slack, Joe Bickel, Neil Gadd
Nigel Hyde, Mario Reid, Ans Duke, Simon Fox, Michelle, Burns, Dave Bickel, Phil Calladine, Brian Simm, Steve Robinson
Frank O’Meara, Steve Marshall, Jase Lewis, Paul Baxter, Mo Howe, Harvey Howe (Mo’s Bro), Mark Stretch Sulley, Stan Darbyshire
Missing – David McKay, Taff Shilliam partial
WAGs: Margaret DennisSue Simm, Kate Hanby, Wendy Lewis
 Photographer Bryan Osborne  http://www.photofellas.com

  After a group photo, we set off through Leeds.  It was a little stop / start to begin with due to the lights but this passed without issue.  At no stage did Mo fall off his bike because he forgot about his clipless peddles, nor did he crash into Jase Lewis!

The legacy of TDS 14

As we left Leeds, we hit the first cheeky climb to 150 m and the field began to spread out.  We also hit the first of the route markers that guided us through the hills.  Unfortunately, we also saw the last of the sun as the heavens opened.  Ans and I stopped at the roundabout to watch the pride of the Corps come around and take a salute before the racing snakes sped off, leaving the gentlemen enjoying the awful weather and a nice undulating run into Ripon.  The GPS seemed intent on taking us down the A1 but the ex Ripon inmates kept up on track.

We arrived at the Spa Hotel in Ripon just as Sun broke through.  Stan had arranged a Naafi break with cakes, scones and victoria sponge at the wonderful 4 Star hotel soothed by the gentle clack of crocket balls as white (waterproof) suited gentry exercised their summer right of sport.   Amazingly there wasn’t a copy of the sun, a rolly or a euchre deck to be seen, just a little too much flesh as wet clothes were hung to dry and Mario went poncing additional layers.

After suiting up, we set off on the return leg. Ans had arranged a treat for those interested and a splinter group set off to explore Claro Barracks.  There was some excitement as we passed Dog Squadron lines which reached fever pitch at the Plant Park and MGB pallets and I swear I saw Stretch wipe away a tear  as he gazed wistfully at the Guard Room.

There had been some banter about the hills over tea.  However, the second half really picked up the challenge as the hills became more brutal.  A few of us poottled along at the back and had our own little section competition as we fixed snapped chains (Ash, twice) burst tyres and spokes (Steve M) in quite the worst rain I have ever cycled in.  The guys really dug deep, several of them were breaking personal records with every mile they finished and had certainly not experienced Yorkshire hills or weather before.  It was fantastic to see the Sapper spirit shining through with Nigel taking some of the newer riders under his wing and Phil working to fix Ash’s chain.  Once again, Yorkshire hospitality shone through, when a passing car randomly provided a spare chain link to help the repairs. Harvey also showed his shining armour helping Mario free a stuck cleat (bless) and Andy overcome a bout of cramp.

The hills varied from steep or long to long and steep and caused the team to split up further.  Nigel stayed with Stretch, Harvey and Ash and I escorted Mo and Steve.  I think the repeated promises that ‘this is the last one’ started to wear thin.  When I offered to help fix Mo’s seat on a flat bit, it was made very clear that he was stopping for no man (or red light).  Up ahead, there were a couple of issues with Ans finishing the ride with ‘H-Bomb’ stuck in just one gear and Joe the domestique taking and unplanned 10 k sight seeing trip.  Taff Shilliam managed to meet up with Stan and the guys briefly from Ripon before heading back for his shift. As we made our way into Leeds, we came upon Bryan who had waited patiently in the rain for 3 hours to grab another picture.  We also picked up Michelle who was waiting patiently for Andy who has gotten lost.  Unfortunately Andy had made his own way back to the hotel and was well into his second pint.  We finally reached the finish point a couple of hours behind speedsters Dave Coulling and Simon Fox. Mo, Steve M and Harvey had all added tens of kms to their personal bests and Ash Hanby had more than tripled his, on a mountain bike, over hills, in the rain, with a broken chain!

As we headed back to the hotel the rain stopped and the Sun came out! After a quick admin session with certain folk sharing showers with their bikes, we reconvened at the Templar bar in tour shirts (thanks Dave) jeans and dessies to refuel.  Tales were told, successes were toasted and many many carbs reloaded.  All in all the inaugural Tour de Sapper was a huge success and has set a high bar for next year!

A write up wouldn’t be complete without some thanks:

To the stalwart WAGs who joined the event, thank you – it was lovely to meet you all!

To Bryan the Tog – Thank you so much for putting yourself out so much and we look forwards to seeing you in the saddle next year

To all those who joined for the ride, It was a priviledge to meet you all and an honour to be a member of our great club

To Stretch – REOBCG – What more can I say!

To Dave – Thanks for the Polos

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To Stan – What a great idea, fantastic venue and execution – The weather made it all the more infamous – You have created a monster – Thanks!

Great people and a great craic – Roll on TDS 15!   Stay Safe Shirley xx   TDS14 IMS

A Tale of Two Rides

‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness‘  Charles Dickens 1859 – A tale of two cities 

Other wise known as ‘Heaven and Hell’ (Black Sabbath 1980) or Audax v Sportives

It’s getting pretty close to Chase the Sun and training has generally been going well. However, after an aggressive start to the year, the last few weeks have been a challenge, with injury and work interfering with saddle time.

We have a pretty extensive training plan to build up our endurance and fitness with several rides a week and some long rides at weekends (well We thought they were long – but more about that later.)  We have planned most of the rides ourselves but have also looked further afield for a bit of variety but a sportive will set you back around 40 quid, so we were keen to look for more economic options

Johno, a childhood friend of mine has spent the last year ‘encouraging’ me to check out Audax.  To be honest, I hadn’t really bothered but after further recommendations from some Sapper mates, I decided to give it a go

Audax United Kingdom (AUK) is the internationally recognised long-distance cycling association in the UK.  Since 1976 AUK has overseen long distance cycling events in the UK and using a system of timed checkpoints, validates and records every successful ride.  They have a huge calendar of events across the UK covering vast distances and the recommended ride (it’s not a race), the 120 km Wormingford Wyrm on 29th March looked to be an ideal introduction to the world of Audax, not to mention my longest ride to-date

Heaven

Strava link

As the date drew closer, there were a couple of nerves about the unknown world of Audax . . . was there a secret handshake, would we fit in?  However, the night before I got a bit of Facebook encouragement . . . ‘’You’ll love it Ian, They have cake!’

WormingfordWyrm100_6We arrived to find around 80 folk from a variety of clubs in the area unloading a variety of bikes from steel fixies, old school and modern carbon machines.  There was even one tandem.  We went in to register and collect our brevet (validation card) and route card.

The first impression was one of friendliness and family.  There were no cliques and everyone was wandering around chatting about the ride ahead.  Viv (the organiser) introduced us to Mike, an Audax veteran, who I was to spend most of the ride with.  And as promised, there was tea, coffee, juice, biscuits and cake on tap.

At 0900 hrs we set off in glorious sunshine on the ride.  Immediately, the difference to sportives was apparent.  There was no massive sprint from the off, folk were chatting and everyone was just out to enjoy themselves.  People settled into their own pace, we overtook a few of the more casual riders, always with a hearty hale of Good Morning . . .
We all stuck together for the first several miles but then Mark and James got attached to a road WormingfordWyrm100_1train moving at pace and off they shot.  My knees had been playing up for a week or so and I was having a fascinating chat with Mike and Tom (on his fixie), so I decided not to chase.  By coincidence, Mike’s Son, Is a childhood friend of James and also a mad keen cyclist.  Mike has been riding Audax for many years and he explained what they are about.  If he hadn’t been for his lovely supportive nature, I’d have felt pretty inadequate!  These guys are hardcore!  Their calendar list non stop rides from 200 – 600 km and they even extend up to 1600 km… Yup you read that right!  These are not races, they are non-stop rides!  Each ride is timed from departure to finish; there are no allowances for breaks, meals, rest, sleep or mechanical breakdown. So your speed needs to cater for all breaks and rests.  Another feature of Audax rides is the certification of distance covered.  There are therefore some manned checkpoints but also some information checkpoints where you have to complete questions about the route on your brevet.
The route was fantastic, lovely secluded roads, beautiful countryside and great weather.  There were a few hills, however, we all just cracked on at our own pace Wyrmand waited for stragglers at the top. The atmosphere continued at the the 65 km lunch stop. The Maglia Rossa cycle Café in Hawsted wasn’t even finished, but the owners, Matt and Barry had offered to prepare food offsite and open up their building for us.  I have seen less impressive spreads at some parties, with sandwiches, flapjacks and the most fantastic victoria sponge, not to mention oodles of tea. Matt and James were waiting there but wanted to head off with the fast group. I elected to have some cake and follow on at an easier pace!

The second half was a bit more hilly with some serious climbs as we came into Wormingford, made worse by the ford at the bottom, so had stop dead and then climb from scratch. We pulled into the final checkpoint, after 4 hrs on the move and handed in our brevets for checking. True to Audax form, there was an even more impressive spread including hot soup and even more cake.

 

All in all, our introduction to the world of Audax had been great. You couldn’t have wished for a friendlier atmosphere, which belied the fact that these guys are hardcore cyclists. This 120 k ride was a mere warm up for these guys.   James and Matt were in such good form that they decided to make the most of the weather and cycled home covering over 200km apiece.

 

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Unfortunately, the training had finally caught up on me. My knees are shot after a lifetime of running around in boots both on the rugby pitch and in the army.  I have little cartilage left, torn ligaments and arthritis, so I guess it was no surprise that I was due for some physio. However, this didn’t qwell my enthusiasm for Audax rides and we were well reassured that despite the 16.5 hr limit, it was well achievable.

After three weeks of Physio to repair my ITB and no cycling, I was going around the bend with frustration. In preparation for our next challenge, I had a run up to Cambridge to see the venue for the start of the third stage of the Tour De France and despite some brutal cramps, knocked out a 140km ride, my longest ride and felt fine and confident for my next Challenge

 

Hell

Strava link

‘‘We were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way. . .’  Charles Dickens 1859 – A tale of two cities

IMG_4450The Rutland CiCLE is a 175km sportive around Rutland with over 2km of climbing. To make matters worse, I seemed to have wasted the brief introduction to spring and the weather forecast wasn’t good

Mark had to pull out at the last minute, so I drove up with James and Matt. The forecast proved to be correct and we arrived at Rutland water just as the rain broke. I should have seem the omen, when we were rewarded for our early arrival by being directed to park in the overflow car park, or muddy field as it is otherwise known (clearly to save the tarmac carpark for the late arrivals!!!)

We registered and picked up our timing chips, without a hot drink or cake in sight, and exchanged a couple of brief words with the few people who were prepared to speak. All in all, a very different atmosphere to the welcome we had from Audax. Matt did bump into Martin Johnson but didn’t mention it until he burnt us up on one of the hills.

We donned our thermals and waterproofs and set off into the rain and headwinds. There was little conversation, even within our team and after a gentle start we started to hit the hills, gentle at first and then a few short but sharp climbs. After a few km, I realised I had made the schoolboy error of getting a new chain the day before the ride and all was not well, my chain was rubbing noisily and this, combined with the headwinds resulting in me having to peddle down hill to keep up. After a couple of hours the rain eased up and we binned out waterproofs but were then faced with overheating on the climbs.

 

The first food stop at 70 km was well stocked but unfortunately my mechanical skills failed to alleviate the rubbing so we set off again for what we thought was to be the hardest section. The Sun was out by now but we still had to battle headwinds, and I became grumpier as I realised just how much fitness I had lost in my 3 weeks out of the saddle. The hills got steeper and longer with some brutal 25%+ climbs and long dragging 8 % hills. The upside was that there were a couple of long descents but the grumps had gotten to me and I couldn’t help but think that each descent meant an ascent to come. I became quite negative; the atmosphere was completely different to the Audax with limited conversation. Around 25km from the final feed station, there was a somewhat intimidating sign for the Rutland KOM (King of the Mountain), which could only mean one thing.

At the final feed station, I found a mechanic who helped alleviate some of the rubbing and a well needed Porta Loo and so set off in slightly better spirits. I did regain some mojo during the final 70 km, possibly as the Sun had come out or because others were starting to struggle with the hills (apart from Matt who had morphed into a mountain goat!). I was also able to recover on some downhill sections despite the headwinds that seemed to still be in our faces!

The final 70 km also proved to be the hilliest, with over 1200m of climbing and though (with the benefit of hindsight), I started to feel a little better I still proclaimed my loathing of hills, headwinds and rain on video about 25km from the end. I also managed to fall off my bike on one climb, which was so steep that my front wheel was lifting. Fortunately, just after I had passed the photographer (Why oh Why must they station themselves on horrid climbs)

The final ascents into Rutland were quite sapping and tough, with all of us feeling the strain and we finally arrived back at the finish after around 8 hrs in the saddle.

The drive home was quite subdued, completely different to the end of the Audax and all of us were suffering some serious doubts about our ability to complete Chase the Sun in just 7 weeks time!

Amazingly enough I felt fine the next day and started to see some positives, my knees had held out and we had learnt some lessons. The ride was not conducive to teamwork but we do need to sort that out and I clearly need to avoid schoolboy errors around bike maintenance. I still don’t feel especially proud of my performance but it was my longest and hardest ride ever. In fact, we will probably go back and do it again over Summer.

It just goes to show how much mental attitude and teamwork helps performance! We have entered a couple more rides with a 200+km Audax booked for the end of May.

‘Do you think that it will seem long to me . . .?’ Charles Dickens 1859 – A tale of two cities

Yes I bloody do! – Ian Slack 2014

 Stay Safe

Slacky x

 

Just giving donate small

 

 

The ACU visit Braintree

I was somewhat surprised to see a post on the Army Cycling Union (ACU) site on Fri to say they were competing just up the road from me.  It appears that Round 1 of the National XC Series was being held at Codham Park, Braintree.  So after I finished my Audax (post to follow) on Saturday, I grabbed the boys and headed up to have a look.

This is a ‘proper’ mad sport!  The course is 6 or so km long and the guys do 5 – 6 laps depending on their classification.  They are on 29er Mountain Bikes (i.e huge wheels) and are racing up mad inclines, through woods and over the BMX track. They looked absolutely knackered but it was great to see them and to catch up with Tiny (yup, he’s 6’8”) and a couple of the guys.  It was also great to see so many Sappers on the Army team and the ACU take 1st and 2nd by a country mile in race on Saturday, though we didn’t fair quite so well on the Sunday.

If you want to find out more there are full details on the British Cycling site.  I’ve never seen any Cross Country racing before but it was fascinating.  I think I will stick to the road for now though!  Fantastic organisation by BC and well done to the ACU team

REspect!

Some pics from the Sunday:

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