Book Review 2017 – Part X

I’ve been a bit slack recently with my book reviews, and with my blog in general. I’ve not stopped reading, I’ve just stopped writing about the books that I’ve been reading. It’s got to the point where the stack of books that I need to review is bigger than the stack of books that I’ve not read yet.

First off then is another cycling adventure book; The Beardless Adventurer by Donna Ashton. A couple in their 40’s decide to cycle across Europe, all the way to the Black Sea. Between them they have very little cycling experience. and Donna has a bike which is too large.

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They both had a romantic view of cycling quiet French country lanes, with the sun shinning and being able to stop in quaint villages to buy fresh bread and cakes. The reality was closed campsites, hilly back roads, rain compounded with various aches and pains.

They persevered and it does end up being a great adventure, and I especially like their ineptness at the beginning because it gives me hope that I can manage the same one day.

Eleven Minute Late by Matthew Engel isn’t a cycling adventure book. Instead, as the title cryptically alludes to, it’s about trains in the UK. I was hoping that it would be a kind of Bill Bryson on trains, and it was, to start with. Matthew buys a two week unlimited travel card and sets off on various journeys, including the longest in the UK which runs from Penzance to Dundee and takes almost 12 hours.

I like reading about obscure routes where trains only run once a week. He also stopped off in Rogart, and small station in the Highlands where me and my wife spent an enjoyable night sleeping in a converted train. Unfortunately the book veered off into the history of the railways, who ran them and ultimately discussed privatisation. Interesting, but not really what I was looking for.

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That Stupid Cycling Jacket

A few months ago I blogged about a very close pass that I was subjected to (read about it here), and how at the time I was wearing my “stupid cycling jacket”, photo below.

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My beautiful wife was understandably a little miffed by my comments, as she had bought me the jacket. The main reason why I feel that it is a “stupid cycling jacket” is because it feels necessary to wear it on my commute. The traffic between Wigan and Leigh is bad. There’s too much of it, too much congestion and no decent cycling infrastructure. During the summer it wasn’t too bad, but now, towards the end of October, it’s getting dark, the schools are back and the weather is starting to get a bit grim. This all adds up to a much more unpleasant commute.

At least I have my “Polite” hi-vis jacket. Truthfully though, it doesn’t really make much of a difference. Drivers who generally give cyclists enough room, continue to give me enough room. The problem is those drivers who don’t understand, don’t think it applies to them, are in a hurry, or simply don’t care. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how visible you. Much like the new signs that have appeared on the roads around Lancaster.

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These signs are supposed to make drivers more aware of cyclists, and to give them (us) at least 1.5m when overtaking. Again, like the cycling jacket, they don’t make the slightest difference with some drivers.

People who read the Telegraph or the Daily Fail believe the rhetoric that cyclists are an epidemic that need to be eradicated. Maybe “1.5m” could be burned into the retinas of fat middle-aged Audi drivers.

As I have said before, cycling is the answer (here) to congestion, air pollution, obesity, and therefore we should be doing everything possible to encourage it.

Le Tour De Bolton

Yesterday me and my beautiful wife took part in the Le Tour De Bolton Sportive, organised by Epic Events. You might think that a bike ride around Bolton might not be too much fun, but it’s not an area that we cycle around very often. In fact, Helen hadn’t previously cycled a single segment over the whole 60 miles. We arrived nice and early so that we could be off first, as we didn’t want to be out too long. H was also worried about the hills, especially The Rake, which is described by Simon Warren in his iconic climbing books thus – catch your breath if you can and turn right into the almost impossible 25% stretch to the top. If that wasn’t enough, we also had to climb Crown Point, Anglezarke and Sheep House Lane, along with a fair number of less spectacular climbs, adding up to over 1600m of climbing.

The route and profile can be found here.

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The start/finish was at a local school and as we set off out through the gates and onto the road I noticed a group of about a dozen cyclists off to one side who joined us as the moment we started. I know that some people like to ride sportives without paying, but at least don’t do it blatantly. Maybe wait a day or two, or even the following week. The event wasn’t that expensive and the organisers have spent many hours putting out all of the directional arrows, so don’t be a complete d*ck. Rant over.

The first few miles were busy with other riders, but fortunately very little traffic, so it was generally plain sailing until we hit The Rake. Although there was one guy riding a TT bike who was a bit wobbly. Not the bike for the course thought I. When we hit The Rake there were plenty of people walking near the bottom. H felt a bit trapped in and put on a burst to get some room, before reaching the very steep section. She didn’t quite manage all the way up without getting off, but made it far higher than many others. With a grin we continued, passing that one guy who hates to be chicked and just had to try to overtake us at any opportunity.

The feed stop was located in Oswaldthistle, and was busy but fully stocked with everything you could want, manned brilliantly by some local cubs and scouts. My brother-in-law was doing Velo Birmingham on the same day, and the first feed station had nothing left when he reached it.

We didn’t stop long, although I had the bright idea to tip my black coffee into my half empty water bottle. Lemon hydro plus coffee – not a good taste. Unfortunately the roads were now starting to get busy with cars and we also had to negotiate a couple of main roads, so it wasn’t until we hit the lower slopes of Anglezarke that we could relax again. Amazingly this was the first time that I had ridden the whole climb, and what a place for the official photographer.

We then turned onto Sheep House Lane for the last big climb of the day, although H nearly missed the turn. The Lane was also very busy with cars and motorbikes, combined with some very narrow sections of road. You can see why Ironman UK has such a fearsome reputation, as this Lane has to be climbed twice. We zipped down into Belmont, avoided a prat in a crap car, and made it back to the finish area with big smiles.

Epic Events put on some great events, including the Howgills Triathlon which I did last month (here), and it’s always good to be able to download the photos for free. We probably wouldn’t do this particular sportive again, but H does want to return to have another crack at The Rake. Finally, even though it wasn’t a race, my fit wife did manage to win her age group.

Book Review 2017 – Part IX

Walking Home from Mongolia is the second book by Rob Lilwall that I’ve read. The first one was reviewed here, where he cycled from Siberia back home to the UK, the long way. I enjoyed it, although there was a little bit too much religion.

In this book he decides to walk from Mongolia to Hong Kong, a distance of 3,000 miles. He asked his old friend Al to join him, but he was busy. Instead he was joined by Leon McCarron, who I reviewed here when he cycled across America.Leon wasn’t just going to walk with Rob, he was going to film it for a TV series.

As expected, they had some problems along the way, and as with Rob’s other adventure they didn’t always see eye to eye. A lack of Visas and extreme cold were other problems, but if I’m completely honest, I didn’t really enjoy this book. It didn’t make me want to go out on an adventure. It also came across that neither man was really enjoying the walk by the end. I think I’ll stick to cycling books.

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I don’t just throw together these reviews randomly. The second book, Thunder and Sunshine is by Al Humphreys, and as you know, Al was Rob’s cycling buddy in Siberia. This is the second book by Al and you can read about the other book here. In this book he continues to write about his cycle ride around the world, mainly up the whole of the Americas. As with book review part VIII (here) there is once again the small problem of there being no roads between Columbia and Panama, although Rob does cycle through much of Columbia, and finds it to be one of the most welcoming countries he visits.

The most intriguing section of the book is the Siberian part, this time from Al’s perspective. I really enjoyed this book, which goes to show that I am definitely more of a cycling person and not a walking type of guy.

Book Review 2017 – Part VIII

I’ve been a bit slack recently with new blogs posts and I haven’t written anything new here. Instead this is a book review that I wrote over a month ago and never got round to typing it up. Two books once again, although very different.

First up is The Longest Road: An Irish Pan-American Cycling Adventure by Ben Cunningham. So many long distance cycling books, it’s almost as if I can’t get enough. This particular book saw a group of Irish cycling novices traverse from Prudhoe Bay in Alaska all the way down to Patagonia. Very different style once again, as these guys had a support vehicle for almost all of the journey, with a large trailer for all of their luggage. Not something that I would consider, but it is one way of doing it. They also liked to drink and party whenever possible. Having their own security through Mexico and parts of South America is probably not warranted, although travelling in such a large group, sometimes up to a dozen of them, would draw attention. Also, it’s got to be expensive.

As with all of the books that I’ve read, they were advised to miss out Columbia, especially as apparently there are no roads between Panama and Columbia. I find that hard to believe. It would be like no roads between England and Scotland and you’d have to go via Ireland. Truly bizarre.

I finished that book while me and the wife were cycle touring around the Highlands of Scotland. One night we stayed in a converted train, which was brilliant. They also had a selection of books, so I left Ben’s book and picked up one about the British Wrestling scene.

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The Wrestling was written a few years ago by Simon Garfield, before the recent resurgence in British Wrestling, so it does dwell on former glories up to the early 90’s when ITV cancelled wrestling from World of Sport.

I will be honest, I was always a big wrestling fan as I was growing up, and if I had more time I would probably continue to watch it every week. Back to the book, and a lot of the names are from the 50’s and 60’s, who I didn’t recognize, but once we hit the 80’s it was totally my era. I was slightly disappointed that my favourite wrestler, Ironfist Clive Myers didn’t get a mention.

It was also sad reading about the demise of British wrestling, especially as this period coincided with the rise of American Sports Entertainment with the WWF, now the WWE. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, but as I said, I was and still am a wrestling fan. It would be good to see a few extra chapters from the last five years; new names and new stars, for example, Gentleman Jack Gallagher, Will Osprey or Neville.

Salford Triathlon – The Swim

Yesterday I blogged about my first triathlon of the year. You can read about it here. A few weeks earlier I completed the swim as part of a work relay.

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I work at Wardell-Armstrong, who have been one of the sponsors of the Salford Triathlon since it’s inception. Because of the sponsorship, the firm is given four free places, and so that as many people as possible can take part all four places are used in the relay event. Knowing that there would be a lack of swimmers I put my name down, even though it is my slowest discipline. It was also only the second time this year that I’ve put on my wetsuit. They shrink in the winter.

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The swim was in Salford Quay, which is probably one of the cleanest places I’ve swam in. The last time I swam there was a 10km, which was definitely a bit long. This time the bouys had been put out in the right places, and with there wasn’t too much agro with the start, which was nice.

I was hoping for about 30 minutes, which was almost exactly what I did, although it was a long run into transition for the handover to my colleague on the bike.

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Once I’d handed over I got myself changed and walked around much of the bike course to cheer on my work colleagues. The problem was that I really wanted to be doing the whole thing, even though I’m a long way off full fitness, which was why later that weekend I entered the Sedbergh Triathlon, and I might even manage another race in September.

My team mates also did really well, as we came in fifth team overall, and fourth men’s team. Next year though, I will definitely do the whole race.

Howgills Triathlon

A couple of weeks ago I took part in a relay triathlon, where I did the swim leg, even though swimming is my weakest discipline. I had a great time but I couldn’t help thinking that I should have been doing the whole thing. My last triathlon was over a year ago, although it was quite long (read about my triple ironman here).

Fortuitously, on my Facebook feed an advert turned up for the Epic Events Howgills Triathlon, starting and finishing in Sedbergh, so only a few miles down the road from Lancaster. It was also a Saturday race, which makes a nice change and gives you enough time to recover for work on Monday. I was off at 11:22, so again, no stupidly early start.

The race was based at Sedbergh school, which was very posh. Registered and bike racked with plenty of time to spare, me and my beautiful wife headed to the pool to watch the earlier waves. The swim was 400m, with three people in each lane and only four lanes, meant that it was not too busy. The funny layout of the pool did mean that we were starting and finishing in the deep end, which some people found difficult to climb out, and then you had to go up a flight of stairs, across the balcony and then down more stairs before a short run to transition.

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One guy in my wave decided that the run to transition was too far to run barefoot. No issues in transition, and I managed to press the correct buttons on the watch I was borrowing. I was using my wife’s Garmin 920 which has a triathlon setting. It all worked well, recording my split times and transition times.

Onto the bike and it was a route that I’ve done many times. Out and back from Sedbergh, towards Kirkby Stephen. The route is mainly uphill on the way out, and as expected it rained. Sedbergh has it’s own micro-climate where it always rains. Coming back there was a pleasant headwind. With the small waves there wasn’t too many people for me to catch, or to be caught by. The bike route was just under 20 miles, which took be almost exactly 1 hour.

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One thing I like about Epic Events is that they post photos on Facebook for free, which is a nice added touch. I had also given my trusty Scott Addict a clean (read about my bikeĀ here).

Once again I had no issues in transition and was soon out on the run. I was using an old pair of trail shoes as the run went up to the top of Winder Fell, although the first mile was on pavements which my feet were not too happy about. The road soon headed up, and suitably cheered on by my wife I continued up on the road. The last mile before the turn around point was off road and steep, with one section very rocky. I continued to run for a while but soon I was walking as the fell continued up and up. The views from the top were amazing, although my lower back was very sore. Apparently this is common when trying to run up steep fells.

I’m not a good feel runner so I was overtaken by quite a few people on the way down, although I overtook most of them once we reached tarmac. My left knee was a little sore from running downhill, but was fine once I was on the last flat mile to the finish. Even though the run was only five and a bit miles, it took me 50 minute. There was almost 400m of climbing.

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There were lots of cheers from complete strangers as I crossed the line. Bottle of water, medal and a hug from the wife. Total time was just over 2 hours and I finished in 30th position out of 100+. Not my best performance, but I’m not fully fit so I was happy to just enjoy the race. My toes were a bit sore from running without socks, but apart from that I didn’t feel too bad for my 54th triathlon.

I probably won’t do the Sedbergh Triathlon again due to the run, but I will definitely do more races from Epic Events, well organised and marshalled, and not too expensive.