A Modern Miracle, I Guess

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Although I am usually a modest sort of chap, not one to boast or brag, I am the very model of the modern miracle of recovery.

For example, in 1988, the doctor said I was lucky to still be able to walk following a bad football tackle.
Well, “tackle” would not really describe it: during a Five-A-Side match, an opponent was about to shoot, so I jumped in to block. He completely missed the ball but connected with my left knee very powerfully. I dropped to the floor of the sports hall, writhing in agony, as everybody else professionally carried on playing.
Needless to say, I was off work for a couple of months as I could not walk properly.
Three months of gentle cycling helped strengthen the knee and I resumed playing footie about eight months later, in 1989, missing most of that seasons’ Sunday football league fixtures.
Yes, looking back, I was quite lucky to still be mobile, but you don’t appreciate it, at the time.

Several minor injuries occurred until, in 2011, my doctor again said I was lucky to be able to walk, never mind run or cycle, due to work-related back injuries that began about 2008; after several sessions treatment by an Osteopath, most of the back pain had gone and I began walking without the aid of the trekking pole that had become something of a trademark.

The back injury returned, for no apparent reason, exactly a year later in April 2012, lasting about a month, this time. It occurred as I was in training for a long distance cycle touring venture, from Santander to Roscoff, a distance of about 750 miles, which isn’t a massive distance to experienced cycle-campers, but this would be my first go.
If I had called it off, I would have let down a friend, and myself, so I persevered, after I recovered enough to walk again.
So, to aid my recovery, I bought myself an exercise bike and built-up my distances and duration incrementally before returning to the road bike.
My endurance and distances grew to about 70miles, and I managed to get my time down from 7hrs to 5hrs, over the last couple of weeks prior to departure. However, in the back of my mind, there was the niggling doubt that my back pain my return if I overdid it.

During the journey, fear of crippling myself and failing to complete the journey, and looking a prick, spurred me on to complete mental and physical goals, busting psychological ghosts and barriers along the way.

Despite suffering THREE punctures on the final day, I completed the journey, boarding the Roscoff to Plymouth ferry with only ten minutes to spare.
Another minor miracle!

Touch wood, despite some back pain returning every so often, I can still walk and cycle, although my running days are over.

Look after your back . . .

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Santander – Roscoff: A Cycling Journey 2012

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1. Prelude and Preparation

“I’m thinking of cycle-camping from Santander to Roscoff, sometime in mid-June,” I said to Paddy, one evening down the pub in February. Paddy had done the 900+miles from John O’Groats to Land’s End the previous summer.

“What distance is it?” Paddy asked.

“About 700miles or 1100-ish kilometers,” I replied.

“I’ll do it, with you,” Paddy said. “It’s probably best if there are a few more, though.”

“Just in case something happens?” I asked.

“Well, yes, but it’s more sociable, too,” Paddy said.

So, there it was, agreed; we would cycle the route, carrying all our kit and caboodle, hopefully with another one or two others. My main problem was that I didn’t have a roadworthy bike; my mountain-bike (pictured below), with the added weight of the luggage etc, would be way too heavy for me on my first journey of this kind. Luckily, Paddy offered to lend me his spare bike; so, problem solved.

1999 Haro Vector V1 V-BAR: With all the luggage etc to be added, and the added rolling resistance from the wide tyres, I decided to ride a lighter bike

Another little problem was getting me fit enough for the challenge. Even though I ran and hashed, albeit less frequently than a few years prior, this was not nearly enough; I needed to do some distance cycling. This was easily solved with some rides into Dartmoor and the South Hams, combining distance and hills; ideal. I steadily built-up my distances so that, by the end of the hot, sunny March, I could cycle out to Totnes and back, a distance of about 45 miles.

All was going well until, in early April, I did my back in while out running with Titchika, the German Shepherd. My back was in so much pain that, even with the prescribed tramadol pain-killers, I couldn’t get out of bed, never mind walk, run or cycle for about three weeks. This was such a huge catastrophe that I constantly considered cancelling the trip. However, as I recovered, I began walking and cycling short distances and, when I fully recovered, I bought a folding exercise bike to supplement my training. My training was coming on again and I made steady distance increases to places such as Tavistock (36 miles), Princetown (41 miles) and Okehampton (70 miles), plus mileage on the exercise bike.

Some people knock exercise bikes for the wrong or zealous reasons, citing that they’d rather be out on the road or that it’s boring and uninspiring. Don’t listen to them; they’re idiots. As there are no downhill sections on exercise bikes, you don’t get any rest; it’s constant pedalling. In fact, I reckon, if you did one hour on an exercise bike, that’s the equivalent of doing between 1.5 – 2 hours on a road bike. So, if, like me, you did two hours on the highest couple of settings on the exercise bike, at an average speed of, say, 20mph, you’ve just done the equivalent of nearly FOUR hours out on the road, plus, if you close the doors and windows on a warm, sunny day, you can get part-acclimatised to the temperatures we expected to confront on the road.

Me 70mile Okehampton ride: At 315metres and 295metres respectively, Black Down and Sourton Down were higher than any hill we planned to encounter in Spain and France

The route would follow the coast along the Bay of Biscay, as much as possible, until we hit Brittany, which we would cross, via Roc Trevezel, to Roscoff on the English channel. I made a route mileage list, without marking evening stop-overs as we didn’t definitely know where we would end-up each evening. Evening meal and breakfast food would be purchased certainly after five pm, probably after 7pm.

I carried in my pannier bags: lightweight sleeping bag, a few spare clothes, some toiletries, towel, phone-charger, waterproofs, cycle lock, maps, camera, emergency and first aid kits, dish, flipflops and some other stuff. In the saddlepack was a spare innertube, repair kit and tools. On Paddy’s advice, I mistakenly brought a rucksack, inside which was my bumbag (fanny pack in Americanese) containing passport, money, the day’s map, Swiss Army knife, snacks, spare glasses, all-in-one spoon, fork and knife. With the benefit of hindsight, because/despite it was only a 20litre rucksack, it was only really of use when carrying food and drink purchased late in the day, but I could have used a gym bag for that.

About 150 Portugal-bound Hog Owners awaiting to board the ferry at Plymouth

So, on Sunday 10th June, with all this preparation, I reckoned that I was quite up for the trip and was pretty confident as we boarded Brittany Ferries’ MV Pont Aven, with about 150 Harley Davidson motorbike owners, in Plymouth for Santander, Spain . . .

Embrace My Fears And Fix The Bike!

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In February this year, I took the decision to cycle-camp from Santander in Spain to Roscoff in France, a distance of 702 miles (1142km) in nine days. The decision to buy or borrow a road-bike is very tempting but, after not-so-careful consideration and thought, I have decided to fire-up the V1 for, what may turn-out be, one last jaunt before buying a road flyer. This was, after all, the very same mountain-bike that had taken me the through lanes and trails in the Yorkshire Dales, the Trough of Bowland in Lancashire, the Lake District, the Peak District, Dartmoor, the South Hams (part of south Devon) and parts of Cornwall. This was the very same mountain-bike that had resided on the roof of the narrowboat, on the canals of Central England, that I had lived aboard and helped me further explore those beautiful areas of countryside in the counties of Leicestershire, Warwickshire, Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire. This bike, if any bike ever did, deserved a good and proper re-birth and, by ‘eck, it was about to get one!

As today, 23rd March 2012, was a beautiful day, I decided to do some stuff to the old mountain bike, a 1999 Haro Vector V1, that I had been promising/threatening to do for weeks (well, it takes me ages to work-up the gumption to do anything remotely technical), in the garden. For the first five or so years, I had kept up with the maintenance of this rather heavy bike, but I had rather neglected it for the last four or five.

A few weeks ago, I had re-fitted the rear derailleur cable, but the list of jobs required is now quite long and all-encompassing:

  1. Bottom bracket clean-up and bearing replacement
  2. Remove and replace bearings to the headset
  3. New brakepads, noodles and cables
  4. Front derailleur cables and positioning reset
  5. Front suspension forks service and replace elastomers
  6. Unseize seatpost and fit new saddle
  7. Fit new pannier rack
  8. Fit new SPD pedals (possibly)
  9. True wheels
  10. General rust blemish (the handlebars resembled a leopard) removal and paint touch-up.

Yes, it is in a bit of a sorry state, but I shall persist, even if it drives me mad (or I give up and get a roady).

Today I decided to remove the old headset bearings and fit new ones; nothing elaborate (or so I thought), the maintenance section of my cycling book calls it a “moderate” task, lasting three-quarters of an hour, at most. I removed the stem top-pin and remove the bars using a 5mm Allen key and dropped the stem through the frame, and began removing the bearings (something that I hadn’t re-greased ONCE since I bought it), placing all the components neatly on the bench as they were removed.

Perhaps I should point out here and now that it is not so much a workbench but more of a seatbench. Ok, it’s a garden seatbench. Anyway, had I disconnected all the cables, I would not have had the problem of all the parts getting knocked off the bench, via the slats and onto the floor, by the wayward handlebars that were still attached by the cables to both the frame and fork. Nnngh! I swore! Titchika, the Alsatian dog, cowered! A time out was called; I had a brew and a Mars bar and reassure Titchika, stroking her head, neck and back, then playing ball on the lawn.

But I still had problems: after I cleaned every part, and Lithium-greased the new bearings, I could not remember which order the parts went back on. Trial and error was now the order of the day and, after several inept attempts, a breakthrough was made! I did it! And it ONLY took me an hour and a half!

Satisfied with my clumsy handy work, I set about cleaning the bike up a bit, utilising ubiquitous wonderspray WD40 (I was out of GT85), a Parktools gearbrush, a scouring pad and some kitchen roll. The bike was ming-ing but I managed to clean most of the muck off and sprayed just about everything with the WD40. It was now a big, green, gleaming dream-machine.

Fired on with my new-found technical competence and self-confidence, I decided it was high-time I fitted that new pannier-rack that had been slouching in the box on-top of a bedroom wardrobe for the last two months. Was there anything that could stop my progress now?.

Well, yes, actually, there was and it was in the form of two rusty seat-stay Allen-bolts, that wouldn’t budge because my 5mm Allen-key was so worn and chamfered. However, I managed to assemble and loosely fit the pannier rack to the frame, except for the two new, rust-free bolts the pannier rack manufacturer provided. Frustrating? Yes, after the work that went before it. But, as Meatloaf once sang, two out of three ain’t bad.

2. Over the following months, it was decided that I’d borrow a friend’s bike for the the Santander – Roscoff trip, but that didn’t stop the Rolling Maintenance Program. I have since, with the assistance of a couple of friends,:

cleaned out the bottom bracket and replace the bearings, which had deteriorated to such an extent that the bearings had disintegrated and the cages/cradles were rusted skeletons of their former selves. The new bearings didn’t last very long as the journals were worn, so I bought and fitted a sealed unit instead, job done;

Removed and replaced headset bearings;

Removed and replaced brakes and brake cables;

Removed and replaced all derailleur cables and reset all gears (constantly on-going as rear derailleur needs fixing or replacing);

Fitted new pannier rack;

De-rusted handlebars (again, ongoing as rust seems to grow at hint of a shower).

I have taken to washing, greasing, lubing and waterproofing the bike, as required, and it has seen some decent extra mileage  this year, the most since about 2001!