Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Dig me a plot

 Standing outside the church in Rathgarogue in a pool of my own sick is not how I spend my average Tuesday lunchtime. If I wasn't wearing Lycra or straddling a bike I could just be the local alky. Instead I'm a heaving, wrecked shell of the man I was eight minutes earlier. 

You see, I was trying to beat a record time on a Strava segment. And I'd nearly lost my mind. 

For the uninitiated, Strava is an App where you can record your exercise. I cycle, so I can see the distance, elevation etc. of any spin I go on. And to make it interesting there are segments, point-to-points that pop up, allowing you to try and beat them. The fastest are called KOMs. I like this element and I use it to measure myself against other cyclist's fitness or quite often, to see where my fitness is compared to other times I've ridden that segment. Strava is great because it can liven up training and really challenge you. 

So why did I nearly lose my mind? Segments are often named. And my nemesis just happens to be called 'Dig me a plot'. Not surprisingly it passes two graveyards, has a vast array of elements, conditions and elevations to deal with, is the hardest segment I've ever done, the most rewarding, the scariest, the one that finds your weaknesses. And until this morning I was obsessed. Obsessed because I wasn't the fastest. In fact, I'd given up on it. I'd fired every marginal gain at it in order to find extra seconds. Over the last while I'd had a few shots at it and fallen in love with the toughness of that stretch of road but felt it was beyond me. I reckoned I needed a westerly gale, tubulars, weight loss, no bottles, a skinsuit and luck to get it. I was wrong.

Let me explain why this strip of road drove me crazy. Firstly it starts up a rough, pock-marked, pot-holed hill that is hard to sustain any effort on. It eases a bit but then bites back. Over a false flat at the top it turns into an eyeballs-out screaming-along classics back lane that must be hit at top speed, for here is one of only two rapid sections. So the Amstel Gold climb has been followed by a Ghent-Wevelgem streak that saps any chance of recovery. Turning a tight right and hoping not to get hit by a car you are into a smooth boreen, passing the first graveyard. This road doesn't wait long before starting to rise in increments. At this point, passing the lodge entrance to a stately home, your body breaks down or breaks through. The hill hits hard and digs in, a real Ardennes effort... you either come to a standstill or get a rhythm and battle on. I usually blow halfway up. 

If you survive the hill then you must once more floor it as the road levels and then winds slightly downhill and runs to the second church. For the 90 seconds you are on that section you are ostensibly Flandrian.  You can't see the open fields and shelter belts but they are there. You, only see the next 50 feet. 

It all ends there. The pain, the doubt, the white noise. And I'd grown sick of not being good enough. So today I met Paul, a college student that I've been mentoring over the Winter and we went out there with a plan. He started before me and was waiting patiently at the top of the first climb. Instead of me burning all my matches before halfway I hung on behind my Baracchi Trophy teammate and was delivered onto the second climb with something left in the tank. It wasn't wind, tyre pressure or caffeine. It was teamwork. I never cycled as fast in my life and as I write this I'm paying for my efforts. Vomit is one thing; jelly legs, wheezing lungs and muscular pain another. The relief of just finishing eight minutes of horror is forgotten in the frenzy of hoping you are a (temporary) God and the afterglow of psychosis. It has filled your waking hours for weeks and really isn't healthy. 

But Strava KOMs are not trophies you get to keep. In fact quite the opposite. They become targets. I aimed to beat the fastest time and it stands to reason that will be my fate too. We don't own segments, we just keep them (virtually) polished for the next winner.

 But I learned a valuable lesson today. I am not as good as I thought I was. I threw everything, absolutely everything at it and at some point all my efforts will come to nothing. Cyclists aren't normal anyway but the focus and time needed to achieve even small goals borders on mental illness. And as early as tomorrow I might get that notification that someone has taken my KOM. I can think of a bunch of locals that will wipe the floor with that time. I'm gonna give trying to top leaderboards a break and look over the ditches for a while. When my breathing gets back to normal. 

Monday, February 15, 2021

The day I beat Eddy Merckx. (updated)

 True story.

In 1994 Sean Kelly finally hung up his wheels after one last paycheck and disappeared into the anonymity of life near Carrick on Suir. Or so he thought. Except a whole generation of cyclists had been reared on him. Like babies on SMA, any kid of the eighties grew on Kelly's exploits in France, Spain and of course... Belgium. And there was no way they were going to let him disappear without a celebration. 

Let's not mess around here. Belgium is an absolute bitch to break. If you can read, race and retaliate in any Flandrian bike race you are a GOD.

And he did. Rode the northern classics with cobbles and climbs like they were his local loop.

Yes, he placed in the Tour de France over 3 weeks, won a heap of green jerseys and defeated Spanish combines to win the Vuelta in '88. But in truth every shitty, Belgian-toothpaste race he rode in the '80s struck a chord in every Irish cyclist 'coz there was always shite roads, rain, nasty locals and ridiculous politics. We could relate. But in '94 he'd said goodbye. 

In previous years there had been hamper races,  Christmas spins to showcase local talent and to keep the heart lit through the winter months. On his retirement, a slightly more amped up version was organised. A day of farewell and thanks for the quiet fella who'd carried the love of a nation.

Although it was more than a quarter century ago I remember it like it was this morning. Funny, I remember my club mates being there and the atmosphere. Tension. Expectation. Split into two parts, over a thousand were there just to say hello and thanks but towards the end the minority were there to race. 

Kelly? Sure thing. But there just happened to be a few continental whippets along for the celebration. Fignon, daSilva, Roche and his younger brother Laurence. Hinault, de Vlaemick, Criquilon, Earley and Kimmage. Oh, and Eddy Merckx. So what was I doing there?

 I'd been surviving in Dublin on Koka noodles and KVI bread and was hitting the Dublin mountains on my bike to escape reality as often as possible, coming home beaten by the climbs of the Hell Fire Club, the Sally Gap or Enniskerry. And when I cycled those climbs I was Kelly. If you've seen me cycle you'll know I lack the smooth style of Roche. I am someone fighting my bike. I am Kelly. 

  A whole bunch of us were down from New Ross. My besties and the oldies. And it was all fun and games until a flag dropped on the run back to Carrick. Out of nowhere the speed trebled. Kelly and his peers were up front and gone while the rest of us tried to get on terms. There were crashes and quitters and catastrophes. Bodies everywhere. Yes I did think I would die and yes, it was like that scene in Forrest Gump. Remember? He is ambushed in Vietnam and runs with the wounded while mortars are exploding left, right and centre? Well in Carrick I was Forrest. But I didn't get a Congressional medal of honor, my medal was staying upright. 

I was ok. I was light and ignorant. At one point someone went down hard in front of me and slid along, removing skin. And I'd normally pull over and figure it wasn't worth it. But that day was special. I'd switched off my common sense button. I bunny-hopped the poor fella on the ground, stayed up and got on to the back of the bunch drilling into Carrick. I was part of the group that was last onto the circuit before they pulled over the barricade to close the circuit. Or so I thought. Coming around a kilometre later I noticed the barricade being opened to let a certain Eddy Merckx through!

I cannot remember how many short circuits there was over the 2 bridges but I remember having a short circuit while sparring with Stephen Roches brother every lap. I would climb quicker off the bridge and he would roll faster on the flats. He wasn't long after retirement and I beat him to the finish after a ding-dong, elbow-to-elbow into the last corner. And I beat Merckx. That's not a boast really, he was as beer-barrel-bellied and slovenly then, as I am today. But still it was knees out on the corners and feeling like a pro turning onto the main street every lap. No air in my lungs, out of my mind with fatigue. I loved it. Top gear for 90% of each lap. It hurt real good.

And half a lap ahead the real men were winning. Kelly first of course. And there was an enormous crowd in the square and Kelly was hoisted on Fignon's shoulders I think. Phil Ligget did MC.

But it was the buzz. 1500 cyclists just wanted to thank Kelly. The feeling of goodwill was enormous. The colour, the anticipation. I can't remember what I wore or said or how I just made the cut but I do remember the feeling of relief at making the circuit being short-lived as it just got faster and faster. And the spin home and banter afterwards, feeling part of an event and a sport that was enormous. And only now do I realise that it was the zenith of cycling for me. I never ever felt as alive on a bike as I did that day. Or as a part of something. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

No man is an island.

 I was never a big fan of the poet, John Donne. That's not to say he wasn't a cool dude and all-round magic wordsmith. It just so happened that he was one of those poets that I was force-fed in school and he became a hate figure along with pythagoras and James Prescott Joule. In short I refused to understand them and mentally I fell out with them. 

But this isn't a journey back to my adolescence, the bruises and blackboards. In fact John Donne has only sprung back into my life twice since 1988 when I finally collected enough brain cells to escape secondary school. Donne showed up in a Hemingway novel I read in 1999 and in the Lidl car park yesterday. 

Lidl? Well, it was a quick conversation I had with an old friend. And as we parted, that line of Donne's, 'No man is an island' popped into my brain. Because in this time of Pandemic and uncertainty and media-manipulation I had come to feel isolated. In eight months I, like many others, have lost direction. And before you slam down your device,  I'm well aware that worse things have happened in those months. However, I've lost a little too. Lidl got me thinking. No, not about battery operated drills and cheap bread. About feeling like an island. I cycle on my own. Do the shopping to keep the risk to my family at a minimum. I jump when the doorbell rings. I cross the street or step off the path to avoid people. Nobody has come in for a coffee in damn nearly a year! I've become comfortable with short, distanced chats. As a family we go out of our way to walk alone. 

But this isn't about me. 

I teach spectacular kids and have a lot of fun. But if it took a conversation in a Lidl parking space to help me realise I'm not alone and I'm a useful cog in the world's workings, then how are my students feeling? From my half-century-old perspective I can only begin to imagine. I have no concept of the depth to which mobile phones and social media have devastated the social ability of those I teach. I don't even want to accept that every single time I see teenagers together or alone in the street they are looking at the phone, guided by it like it's a map. Technology has become the focal point. And this is hard for me to take. When I was sixteen a sense of humour, a taste in music, a knowledge of motors or football or a fashion fad defined us. If you couldn't keep a conversation going or tell a story against yourself, then you were dull. 

Now? You have to laugh at what everyone laughs at. The awkward silences are filled by instant internet gratification. A machine provides the laughs, likes and memories. And media makes people scared.

And if you throw a Pandemic, lockdown, homeschooling and isolation into the mix then where are we? At least the students I teach could have the banter when in school. Feel part of something. Have an identity in some way. Now I worry that those formative years will be at best a case of arrested development. Kids trying their best to be assimilated into college or work won't have the natural abilities that come from interaction and socialization. 

I can meet a friend randomly at the supermarket and reconnect. At one point in my life I was connected. But what if you never have? College by internet? Jesus, I'd have jumped ship. No kicking a ball in the field or sneaking out to share a slab of Dutch Gold with the lads as a right of passage? Will the world soon be remote working, remote thinking, socially retarded individuals?

Maybe I'm too juiced up on caffeine, fear and old age. I need to remember that my fifth years make me laugh and relentlessly put me in good mood. They show up to online classes and use that energy that only they have to up the ante every time. They don't know the positive effects they bestow upon me.

And the other thought that plays on my mind; war. The Irish never had a war of their own. Is that a bad thing? I dunno. Always struck me that the further east you go, the quicker people mature. Think about it. All the Baltic states, Russia, those places saw atrocities and barbaric sights that gave the survivors a critical sense of living and getting on with it. To them, life is fleeting, tenuous at best. Maybe this will be the outcome for our present young people? Maybe this is their war? Maybe Covid is a monster reality check that will kick start a whole new mindset? Maybe they won't be a lost generation. Maybe they'll be the first Irish generation that are really alive and switched on and devoid of all our Irish generational baggage?

I can only hope. I think this whole mess will make us stronger, help us switch on. Some of us anyway. 

Maybe I lost sight recently, maybe I'm not an island. Or at least, I hope to always be in sight of the mainland. Maybe if the young make it through it will be a balm for all of us? They might just drag us all ashore. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Urban myth 10

We were having too much fun to notice. The DJ set was sublime for the venue, the crowd was hopping considering it was mid-week at the Ormond, Club UFO. I'd come from work via the pub and I was letting loose, knowing I'd pay for my few hours of physical efforts on the dance floor the next day. 

I wasn't high. Probably half the crowd were the same. Anyone that had a job to go to wouldn't be high in a club on a Wednesday. I was there that night because I worked with one of the DJs, John D. And he had spun up an old-skool storm. I don't have rhythm on a dance floor but I can move to rave 'til the lights are switched off. 

And that was how we didn't notice them. Two near the speakers and two near the toilets. Wearing an Hawaiian shirt uniform. I had a pain in my face from smiling, my mates were giving it large and then the music stopped abruptly just before the bass dropped on a 'toon. There were shouts of disappointment followed by shouts of disbelief followed by fear. In ten seconds we were face down on the floor, hands by our heads. Bass buzzed in my ears still. I remember thinking how stupid the drug squad was to raid a midweek rave with hardly any ecstasy. Big clubs were awash with the stuff at weekends. Nobody I was with had necked a pill except Baz. And that was Aspirin because he had a toothache. I felt relief.

Then I turned to my right. Ed. A sheer look of horror on his face. He was a motorcycle courier from the westside and had been involved in a few dodgy moves around town. I'd seen him at the rave but we weren't hanging out together. I could see he had a right to be horrified. He was gripping a tiny bag, one of those you get the tiny IKEA washers in now. The bag contained 3-4 pills. He was going down for possession, no doubt about it. The guards were going through the crowd, getting everyone to empty pockets. They were getting close. I stared at Ed, feeling sorry for him although not too much because I was pretty sure he'd helped stage a robbery weeks earlier when the wages drop in work was taken at gun point.

He looked to see where the four Magnum P.I.s were in the room. Closer. And with a sleight of hand you wouldn't see in a poker game, he flicked the tiny bag at my head. Now I was going down for possession. Ed's head turned away from me. He had just completely done me over and didn't want to look at me. My peripheral vision told me I had five seconds before the cops would get to me. I covered the bag with my hand, and moved it down by my side  I glanced for that one second to make sure there were no eyes on me. With a twitch that resembled the tiniest frisbee in the world being thrown I skimmed the bag through the air and watched it land between Ed's legs. What had probably taken a couple of seconds felt like an eternity. My heart rate was so high it was as though I'd swallowed every one of those pills.

Ed twitched and moved his legs in panic. His face was turned away from me but I could picture his expression. And because he twitched and spasmed with pure fear, the detectives were on him quickly. Latex-gloved hands found the baggy. Ed was hoisted to his feet. He managed to give me a brutal heel into the ribs as he stood, without the cops noticing but the damage was done. He and two others left in cuffs. 

I helped John D pack up his stuff. Our sullen group discussed the whole episode. I thought about Ed as I nursed my ribs. Couldn't believe he'd do that. But then reality woke me up and I knew he could do worse. 

I freewheeled into work the next morning, called dispatch over the radio as I sipped my coffee outside Bendini and Shaw. As I waited for my first job Ed pulled up on his clapped out Honda, fag in mouth. I glared at him. I put my bike down and started across towards him, red rage guiding me. Another motorbike courier pulled up beside him. I stopped. Ed spoke.

"Ah Jaysus! How's the ribs?" He flicked the fag out into the oncoming traffic and drove away.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Monday motivation

  1. If like me, you have trouble trying to get up and go today or difficulty trying to get your week's training off the start line, then let me throw some ideas at you. $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ But first remember that everyone is in the same boat. 'Tis the season; the one where light is in short supply, the best road is paved with Quality Street, our DNA flips our calorific intake making us consume more than we expend. It is tough. Wine is more welcome than a protein shake, we are cold putting on our gear and the cartoon cloud outside forces the hardiest to re-think their motivation. Maybe some of the following ideas will get you biking before mid-week.$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ Overdress; Yes, the weather is unpredictable, and by that I mean its 11 degrees and you don't need gloves or overshoes. Then you get one biblical shower that turns your breath to fog, fills your shorts with a plunge pool and gives you an ice-cream headache without the vanilla. But think of how you are getting one over on your enemies. Always nicer to remove layers from overheating rather than go home hypothermic.$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ Maintenance and GT-80; So you spend a long time cleaning your bike, to the point where you feel a little agri-spec? Muck has built up in the back yard and pansies are sprouting? Think about what you are doing for the environment. But lubing, oiling and cleaning your steed will keep you moving and make your sessions easier. $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$4 Mind your eyes; You have more lenses than an optician. Fakelys, Lidl and Rudys protect your delicate vision. Dark for the low level sun, yellow for the half-murk of grey days. Clear for a typical winter hotchpotch. Wear them. Your reflection in the coffee shop window will be sexier too.$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ Fuel up; Winter has an appetite. Bring more. A chimp's supply of bananas, more fig rolls than a Jacobs factory, enough gels to lubricate the PTO on a tractor. Better than getting the bonk in the cold and being found days later talking to yourself in a field. Cold and wind need feeding.$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ Buddy up; Winter is the time to catch up and remember those whom you've neglected over the summer because you were too pro to say hello. Slow down and have the banter. Your face should hurt more from laughing than your legs do from cycling. And when you pass other solo cyclists they'll think you are laughing at them. Win/ win! $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ Human bean; Get that coffee inta ya! Coffee is the cyclists thing, like Yorkies for truckers, Jumbo breakfast rolls for builders or doughnuts for the police. An espresso puts lead in your mental and physical pencil. Makes you alert, switches on your electrics, helps you push further. And no, Kenco is not coffee. It is the same to the coffee world as wavin is to hurling. $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ STRAVA. Or some App that gives you focus. Bored doing Winter miles? Check yourself out on STRAVA and beat your time the next day. Even a FitBit will show the 'steps' you have amassed. At worst you can check up on your virtual friends and see who is doing what. At best you can try to beat their time on a segment all Winter. Win or lose, you will get faster.$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ Contact points are important too. Your hands, feet and ass will thank you for a little pampering. Especially with the materials available today. Spend a little above entry level and the pad in your shorts will no longer turn to the consistency of wet toilet paper at the hint of rain. Winter gloves are slim and toasty these days, so banish that image of you with lobster-sized hands unable to remove a banana from your rear pocket. And shoes dry quickly, eliminating the use of your familys fan oven to get you ready for the next ride.$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ And lastly porridge. A huge bowl of the wonderstuff will get you a long way into the day. You might be hitting the road at any time yet your energy levels will be good for hours. Yes, I know it has the texture of horse feed and can be as palatable as a bedsit carpet but it will fuel you well and feed your Goldilocks fetish simultaneously.$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ Any of these ideas help? Good. Lastly, whether you are male or female, a liberal helping of cojones must be added to the above ingredients. Just get out there. Unless you think it is physically dangerous, then going out there will be worth it. On returning, your happy hormones will explode, your sense of belonging in the crazy sport of cycling will increase and you'll draw nods and knowing glances of admiration from your peers. "There's that hardy f**ker." they'll be thinking as you scoot past, "He cycles in the Winter".$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Day release

I was lucky to spend Thursday on a hill a few miles from here, mountain bike in hand. I was out accompanying students as they learned skills and had a scoot around the fire roads. And within a few minutes of checking out the trails I was in my mid twenties again and reliving adventures. ########################################## I got into dirt trails and mud when I lived in Dublin city centre. Strange, right? I picked up a lurid green hacker when I was in 2nd year in college. My Dad had passed and the four walls of UCD were painful. So biking, as always, was the Xanax for me. The funny thing about Dublin is that it has the Phoenix Park. It is huge. It fits a lot in. Of course it has the president's house, although he may find it too big. Of course it has the Zoo, although from what I remember some people living nearby on the North Circular Road should have been in it. In 1979 the park played host to Pope John Paul 2 and a million people. And a stones throw away was the rent-boy enclave of the Khyber Pass. How do I know? Because right in the middle of it was a fantastic mountain bike course that ran over ridges, a stream, down into the magazine fort and up through the woods. It was spectacular and relatively unknown. Mountain biking wasn't big, the park was though, so I could pop over from Rathmines, thrash myself stupid and let off some steam, usually alone unless the rent boys were up in the trees. Some craic. ########################################### Eventually I got better at the sport and drifted in and out of it as I have done with most things in life. I even raced once on that same course in the Phoenix Park. Minus the rent boys. But I got as far as riding two National Championships. And they were night and day. The first one was somewhere in Tipperary I think in '96. I dragged the girlfriend down to it on the bus and she dragged her sister with her. We stayed in a B+B and I got an early night because I was working as a bicycle courier 5 days a week and was knackered. The girlfriend and her sister headed out for a beer and I slept like a lamb... until 3am when she came back and climbed in the window so as not to wake the house. I wouldn't sleep another wink as her elephant-trumpet, drink-induced snoring rattled the window. Next day I flew around for the first hour of the race. It was hot. I remember feeling relieved when we hit the woods as it was cool while I felt like I'd visited Malaysia every time we went out across the open pasture area. My girlfriend was supposed to hand me a bottle half way through but every time I passed the pit she either wasn't there or was looking the wrong way. I remember on the second last lap hitting the woods flying and then I just crumpled. I came out of the woods as dry and useless as a ten day old ham sandwich. I think I was 6th but I'd been 3rd for 80% of the race. I remember being lapped by Robin Seymour on a section that needed ropes and a sherpa. (At least dehydration made me feel that way). As I pushed my bike, he cycled up it like he was out shopping. And had enough breath to encourage me too. Oh yeah and I remember it was a long, quiet bus ride back to the city. They say you should never put the keys to your happiness in someone else's pocket. Wasn't long before I got my keys back. ############################################ A couple of years later,'98, I'm home from Spain, unemployed and cycling every day. And I'm cajoled into riding the nationals in carrigbyrne, where I was last Thursday with the students. I just remember trees and smiling a lot. It was and is a 'challenging' course. If by challenging you mean exhausting/ death-defying and ruthless. You climb a lot and it gets steep, narrow, steeper and then...impossible. You get over the top and hit a downhill path that requires nerves of steel. The main course is of single track and fire road and an eye-watering descent to the bottom to press repeat and do it all again. Enthusiasm, support and being the local boy got me through 2 of the laps but my facial expressions were changing for the worst every time I passed Edno Delaney the photographer at the top. Eventually I stopped smiling and I presume he stopped taking my photo...🤦‍♂️. ####################I said it was ruthless; some awesome dude ahead of me didn't avoid a tree on a tight bend. In my experience you should avoid the trees. Blood and mangled metal followed. He fell and took bark off the tree with his forehead. And the guy behind fell on top of him. My day? I just remember pain. My ass was like mango chutney and my legs just two long cramps from pushing uphill for half of every lap. And having to cycle those miles home. God bless my Mother, I imagine I ate the family's food for the week at one sitting. ########################################### So there I am up that hill again with students and instructors and I had a ball. Why? I guess it's because I wasn't racing. I don't mean because I race like an electrocuted turkey at the best of times. I mean I stopped and had a look around. Had a laugh, enjoyed the trails and challenges without racing them full on. When you race you see a place differently. If you see it at all. Watching the students laughing, skidding, falling off and just 'being' looked a whole lot more fun than what I used to do. Going home splattered with muck was never as much fun. Will I be out there again? Does a bear shi... Well, you know I will!

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Reasons why I still cycle

Why on earth do I love to go cycling? I mean,lets face it, it would be easier to quit, wouldn't it? The odds are stacked, the world has changed, I've put in enough pedal revolutions.... Yes it would be easy. And there's a lot of people and objects that would rather I went away, took up hill-walking or watching Coronation street. There are 1059 bearings that would be relieved. Some are crushed, rusted veterans of horrible winters, others mere victims of my ViseGrip assortment. They lie in the dust of the shed now, corpses... killed by my ignorance. Add egg-shaped wheels, buckled rims that move like drunken fools, or chains that have been worn to the texture of tinfoil by my inability to care for a bicycle. The shed is a graveyard to beaten engineering. My old friend Adrian used to be wide-eyed when I'd wheel my steed into his workspace. Odd-sized bearings,overtightened nuts and perished cables were the starter for him, the main course was often catastrophic. 🤦‍♂️ Yes, my bikes would thank me for consigning them to the shed to chat with the split tyres, bent chainrings and pieces of lurid bar tape with the heady smell of GT80 for company. As regards people, sure it is impossible not to annoy someone on life's journey. Apparently I don't mind falling out with people. I'd imagine there's a queue wishing that I'd go away. That's why I post cycling pics on social media and keep showing up. Why I un-retire a lot. Those I call friends now, after almost 35 years in cycling, are awesome. They understand our fragile place in the firmament. I have friends still with me from the start. And yet some of the best chats and biggest smiles I've had in cycling are in the last few years. 21 year-olds spur me on; 75 year-olds share nuggets of wisdom I'd never have bothered with way back when. I have calmed over the years and know I belong. Cycling hasn't always been a welcoming experience. Relative newbies to the sport that laugh at the old, un-earned respect and omerta are my thing. You don't have to do an apprenticeship to earn respect. I am an oldie but I've always liked a healthy helping of anti-social disregard for entitlement. We all have a bad side to us. Mine is an inability to shut up in the face of ignorance, ego or what surfers call a grommet, someone always mouthing their opinions in your ear. I know sometimes I say the wrong thing but we all do. We can all be hypocrites but realising that we have been is key. I mean, I never take my own advice. And lets not forget life on the road. When I cycled in the '80s fluoro colours were a fashion statement, not a lifeline. Drivers actually respected us; Theres a thought! I now have my lights charged and quiet roads planned for my Sunday spin. I'll still encounter countless headers trying to remind me who is boss even though the fight isn't quite equal. I may be a tad overweight but I'm not a car. So hang on a minute! If I haven't as many friends (and no spare parts) willing to keep me going, let alone safe roads, then why cycle? I suppose I could just scroll Instagram and stare at the impossibly beautiful, unlikely, fit, happy, lucky, wrinkle-free and colourful people. I could Netflix myself into a ball or anaesthesise myself with Merlot until I'd forgotten where I'd come from or where I was supposed to be headed. But that isn't real. Real is real. Ups and downs and the inbetweens. I have a love of the outdoors and the people I find in it. I have a love for the road and what it teaches me. I have a love for nature and my place in it, as I have a love of those that have joined me unconditionally along the way. In fact, I have a lot of love. If you shared that unconditionally over the last 35 years then thank you. I still have the basics drilled into me by those club mates back then to the people I sometimes cycle with today. But nor am I the same person. Life throws us all curve balls but the one thing that has kept me together is that road. My counsellor, my coach, my steadfast friend of 35 wholesome years. I'm not about to give up on it any time soon.