the year of the blog

the year of the blog

A year has gone full circle.  I’m driving through France looking at the rough agricultural tracks or gravel roads dissecting the vast agricultural lands, running far into the distance again. Kids are in the back of the car watching Disney movies again.  My wife is sitting next to me in the front, probably pretending to be asleep again so I don’t talk to her about cycling through France by Gravel Road.  Again. 

With most of my eyes on the road ahead, out of their corner I watch the gravel roads, farm tracks, dusty pathways dissect the vast agricultural lands of France, (France is not a country that will go hungry), they often disappear over the crest of a curvaceous hill or the sanctuary of an inviting wood.  Each promises an adventure. Each promises their own unique story.

The same old day dreams.  Not much has changed over the last 12 months then.

Except I’ve changed and I think writing this blog has played a part. 

Seeing your thoughts in print has taught me being opinionated is not a nice trait.  It can quickly sound like just having a rant.  Digging in and holding firm on your position can just be pig headed.  For every one of your own opinions there are at least a hundred others? Who’s right?  Who cares?  Unless you’re the President of the United States of America (or a judge in Hawaii) it doesn’t really matter.

Every time I’ve knocked together a post I’ve asked myself: am I being a pig headed ranter?  Hopefully not.  That’s my one rule for my attempts at writing.  I’ve tried to carry this over into my other relations at home, at work and at play.

Having got over the lack of traffic to https://subconsciouscyclist.com/ what do they say?  There are lies, damned lies and statistics.  I resolved that I was getting more than simply hits from hits.  Which was just as well.  From Blog writing I’ve tried to develop different styles of writing and get used to seeing my words alive, out there, sort of in print.  It’s still cringe making to think someone I know may read my thoughts and know what I’m thinking.  I guess that’s a rite of passage for any writer.  Either way it’s more nerve-wracking than descending Col du Glandon at 90kmh.

Thanks for sticking along for the ride the last 12 months.

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on a wind and a prayer

on a wind and a prayer

Mother’s Day is the enemy of all cyclists (that aren’t mothers).

Obviously, all cycling is banned on Mothering Sunday.  Even Christmas Day has more relaxed rules.  I’ve scoured the Velominati for advice on this matter to no avail.  Fathers/sons are on their own when it comes to the protocols of Cycling on Mothers’ Day.

It doesn’t matter how many bunches of flowers purchased, breakfasts in bed made and Sunday lunches cooked all cycling passes remain revoked.  I was facing the bleak prospect of a cycling-less weekend.  Thankfully there’s no such thing as Mothering Saturday and on this technicality, I was successfully able to secure a 2-hour window of ride opportunity.  I had to act fast.

Fortunately, thebicyclemoaningcollective.com’s network of loosely cycling related Whatsapp groups range far and wide and within no time I had a partner in-ride on non-Mothering Saturday Afternoon.

With the sun on our backs and the near gale force winds in our faces we hit out past Hampton Court Palace, up and over Col du Sandown and on towards the Stockbroker Belt.  The wind was fluctuating wildly between head / side / on yer back.  When on the rare occasion, it was the latter we easily lit up 40kmh and some. 

Easily making up for when it was the former and were grinding out 15kmh.  When push (from the wind behind) came to shove (in the face) the average was still good.  This was hard riding, with the Spring sunshine an unexpected friend along for the ride.  Even the time on the clock was looking sweet.

Then Matt O turned left on to a farm track.  Apparently, this is what they do in Belgium – ride carbon Aerobikes on concrete / gravel tracks through farmyards.  No punctures. No problems.  The wind still wasn’t our friend but taking the scenic route had put my “I’ll be 2 hours, I promise” in jeopardy.  We didn’t stop pushing hard but neither did the clock.

70km in 2 hours (plus the 30-minute margin of error that should be applied to all rides), I was relying on another technicality and now relying heavily on my plans for Mothering Sunday coming good.

the name isn’t important

the name isn’t important

We failed. Failure tasted sweet: a bag of M&S Percy Pigs consumed on the floor of the train to London Euston from Milton Keynes Central (with zero guilt).

Royal Leamington Spa was the ambitious destination for our Grand Union Canal based cycling adventure – because it sounded grand – by Sunday lunchtime, somewhere between Tring and Leighton Buzzard we’d settled for Milton Keynes (by then not caring that it sounded crap).

Brentford to Milton Keynes by the Grand Union Canal Towpath.

the canal

115km barely scratched below the surface of the canal and its mystique – I can’t do it justice in just one post.  Nor its humble towpath, the supporting act to the main event of the dead calm canal waters, that transported us from urban to rural, through town and country, through industrial wastelands and into open fields.

There was no need for complicated navigation, minimal turns, few junctions, no competing vehicles or traffic lights, it guided us all the way.  Not quite an autopilot but close, leaving us to enjoy a journey through Autumn’s clear skied, golden leaved explosion of colours; doubled up in sublime reflections in the canal waters.

the riding

Canal towpaths are flat. Easy then? Not exactly. You’re pushing on all the time.  No coasting as the terrain is too rough, no drafting as you need to see the obstacles on the path ahead, no relaxing either as a frozen puzzle or greasy cobble could pitch you into the November-cold canal waters.

Hunger was a constant, gnawing at our stomachs – the result of constant unrelenting calorie burning on the ever-changing surface, morphing through smooth-ish tarmac, squirming gravel, rutted track, smooth mud, sumptuous leaf carpet (hiding tree roots), thick grass.  We all complained that our chamois cream hadn’t lasted the distance. Mine had barely made it to Watford (and I was double-shorting!)  We weren’t in control.  This was the antithesis to road biking.

the bike

The bike did well.  Nothing fell off.  Not even a puncture.  Clearance was an issue at the end.  It’s ‘steel is real’ frame clunked over any terrain the towpath could throw its way. It’s weight probably an advantage as it soaked up and ironed out the unrelenting ruts and bumps, not bucking up and down but ploughing onwards stoically, without drama. What more could I want?

I want a proper adventure bike like the other 2!

the end?

To the contrary, this felt like the start of something new, fathoming out the canal, its history, secrets and ways of life.  France by Gravel Bike may have to wait for Little England by Canal Towpath.