The Grand Tour: Fife and Beyond

Ramblings of an inveterate cyclist

Thursday’s headwind had abated, but it was still there, and very very cold. Having struggled to recover from yesterday’s ride I decided to change my route and headed for Guardbridge on the cycle track and then over to Balmullo onto the A914 for Dairsie of Osnaburgh.  At the roundabout, I turned left onto the A19 for Clayton, rejoining the cycle track at Guardbridge once more. It was a pleasant change and most enjoyable; a leisure cycle, free from hills and around 20 miles. My top speed today was 18.8 mph and my average over the course was 10.4 mph.

Generally, the CTC will do a ride out at the weekend; the distance, normally in the region of 40 – 50 miles.  Our cycle club would have a test ride out each spring to knock us into shape, 100 miles was normal. Audax rides will start at 200 kilometers (120 miles) and that distance has to be covered in a time limit. Under normal circumstances, 20 miles would not even be worthy of a mention. However, my story is all about coming back into cycling after a long lay off and no longer in the prime of life, you have to take baby steps. Keeping yourself fit is the hardest thing to learn, for we are all built differently.

I had been cycling for many years and considered myself a good club rider. I decided to join Audax UK and my first Audax ride was up around Nidderdale.  Not flat, but I had no problems at all, a little dehydrated possibly but I had always found it difficult taking on water, and at that time had no idea about what food worked for me. I had a few 200K Audax rides under my belt when I decided to move up to 300k. 

I remember it was a beautiful summer’s day.  We set off from Newcastle and headed north out into the countryside, crossing the border into Scotland for a few miles then returning back towards Newcastle. About 25 miles from the finish in Newcastle we stopped at a cafe. I could not eat anything but felt I should get some liquid into me so I ordered tea, and when it arrived I put sugar in, although I have not taken sugar in tea since childhood. Hardly had it reached my stomach, when I found myself flying from the cafe and all the contents of my stomach came up in a fountain. I could not hold anything down, even my emergency rations, Jelly Babies. Somehow I managed to get back to the van at Newcastle, out of time to qualify for a finish, but by that time I couldn’t have cared less. I curled up in the passenger seat of the van and pulled a blanket over myself and slept for a couple of hours before heading for home.  Mum would be expecting me at around 8 am. When she saw me she was clearly shocked. I said I was fine. A shower and a couple of hours in bed and I would be right as rain. 

“No,” she insisted,” I’m calling the doctor for an appointment,” and when mum insisted it was better just to do what you were told.

Being Sunday it was an emergency doctor’s appointment. Turned out that the doctor I visited that day just happened to have been the doctor for the British Olympic Team, (sometimes things happen for a reason). He was brilliant at putting me right about taking fluid on board, and telling me how I must eat small quantities of food for the duration of the run. What he also said was that this was a reaction to my body literally eating itself. I still found it difficult to drink lots and lots of water when cycling so supplemented this with sports energy drinks and from then on carried half a dozen small energy bars in the rear pocket of my cycle top.  My favourite turned out to be banana flavoured. I bought that one by the boxful. I never had any problems from then on in, thanks to mum, and that very special doctor.

Strange as it may seem I heard a lady on the car radio one day talking about the making of the stage show Billy. A boy from a mining family who wanted to be a ballet dancer, the story was set in Yorkshire, during the miner’s strike. She said they had around five boys to play the part of Billy, and they had them bouncing around for hours and often they would spew up like fountains.

When I was on the Compostela de Santiago, I came across two Dutch girls by the side of the road. One was sitting down, the other  was most unhappy that her friend would not get up. I stopped and asked if I could help.

 “She won’t walk,” the standing girl said. 

“I can’t walk, I have blisters”  the other retorted. 

 I knew immediately that the girl on the ground was dehydrated and simply spent, the blisters were not the real reason for her not wishing to go on. I went over to my bike and came back with two energy bars and a sports drink. I handed them to the girl who set about them without question. I offered to take her backpack to the next refuge for her.

 “The refuge is only 5 kilometers away,” I told them, “Without the backpack, you will make it”. 

“Take it, take it”, her friend said, without hesitation.

 However the lass was not keen to see all of her belongings go riding off, but in the end, she took her passport and money from the backpack and handed it over. I knew instantly why she was having difficulty when I tried to lift the pack, it must have weighed  around 60 – 70lbs!

When I reached the refuge I told the staff there what had happened and said the girls would be in later. When they finally did make an appearance the staff went into overdrive. They had the girl in a bunk, her blisters were attended to, and food was prepared for them. Six o’clock the following morning I saw them bounce out the door without a care in the world.  I wished them well and reminded them to drink lots of water.    

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