Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Mojo

I had a crash just over two years ago. A driver suddenly turned in front of me from a side road, without stopping, and I crashed into the back of her car.
I ended up with a spine injured in three places, a severely bruised left thigh, an injured left shoulder and a torn right calf muscle, ignoring several other minor injuries.

Needless to say, I was off the bike for a while, and when I started riding again, it was slowly, with plenty of stops. My calf muscle meant I simply couldn't stand up on the pedals at all, and I couldn't pedal hard at all.

This resulted in me cycling far less than before the crash, which in turn affected my fitness. Even when started recovering from my injuries, I was taking it fairly slow. But apparently, not slow enough - on three seperate occasions I re-injured my calf muscle.

As a direct result of all of this, I started driving much more than I used to. At first, I had legitimate reason to do so - I was in agony, but as my injuries started healing, and time went by, I discovered I had lost my mojo for cycling.
On days when the forecast was for perhaps some light rain, I'd find an excuse to drive to work. Windy? Better drive then. And all this was 12 to 18 months after the crash.

The hills on my admittedly very hilly 15 mile each way commute started seeming far bigger and harder than before, and of course, as I was more unfit, I was slower, and commuting took far longer. The harder it became, the less I wanted to cycle. The less I cycled, the harder it became.
I was caught in a vicious circle. Yes, part of that was pure laziness on my side, but I really do believe a combination of physical and mental damage caused by that crash set me back by years. And no, I'm not feeling sorry for myself here, I'm merely stating facts as I see them.

It started getting embarrassing: I used to go for 70+ mile rides most weekends, and colleagues at work got used to me saying that nothing under 70 miles constitutes a long bike ride. In reality, I rarely did over 15 miles. I'd stopped going on club rides, as I simply couldn't keep up. Not even with the slow riders!

As I said, I was losing my mojo, and I knew I had to do something. Naturally, doing something meant cycling more. Even on days where I drove part of the way, and ended up with a far shorter cycle commute, I could try to go faster.

And it started yielding dividends: I'm enjoying cycling more. I've started going on (some) club rides again, and on weekends when I don't go on a club ride, I usually go cycling on my own. Then several months ago I did a 56 mile ride, averaging 14mph over very hilly terrain. Now that's not a very good speed, nor is it a very long ride, but the important bit is I was heading in the right direction again.

I'm getting faster (even though I'm still slow) and I'm going further. Most importantly, when I get back home, I'm not absolutely broken!

Of course, it helps to have some motivation, and mine came in the shape of two all-night bike rides. The first is Darkmoor, which I organise, and which took place on the 21st of July 2018. Darkmoor has a number of serious climbs, and I was nervous about cycling the 90 mile route. My plan was to take it really easy, going at a very slow 11mph average pace. As has become the norm for me now, I had a pub stop at the Skylark, in Clearbrook. From there, I rode with several others at a far faster pace than I originally planned on, and by the time we reached Okehampton, my calf muscle was complaining a bit.

Of course, from Okehampton onwards, there was still around another 50 miles to go, and as the miles went by my calf started hurting more and more. By the time we reached Moretonhampstead, I had to keep stopping to stretch the muscle, which helped for a bit. The faster riders disappeared in the distance, except for Ross and his dad, whose friend was suffering with severe muscle cramps. How he managed to continue was beyond me! Much respect, Kash!

I rode with Raymond, who had casually cycled to the start from Helston, in Cornwall, completed Darkmoor, then cycled home, turning it into a 255 mile ride! He was happy to go at my slow pace, and he didn't mind when I stopped to stretch. After Princetown, I was standing up on the pedals on every descent, dropping my heels as far as they would go, to stretch my calf muscles without stopping. If I didn't do that, I sincerely doubt I would've been able to finish the ride.
I was very happy when we finally rode back into Plymouth, and happier still to sit down for a breakfast. Somehow I'd managed to complete Darkmoor, without being completely broken.

Outdoor art on the Bristol-Bath Rail Path
The next all-night bike ride was the Exmouth Exodus, in August. As per usual, I drove my van to Exmouth. Having seen the forecast, I knew I might get a bit wet during the last 20 miles or so, and I had a towel to dry off, as well as dry, warm clothes waiting for me in the van, as I set off cycling the 11 miles to Exeter. From Exeter, I caught the train to Bristol, and the plan was to then catch another train to Bath, where the ride starts. Old habits die hard, though, and when my train stopped in Bristol, I wheeled my bike out of the station and was riding before I remembered that I was thinking of taking the train to Bath. I wasn't going to turn back, and instead decided to ride the 16 miles to Bath really slowly.

When I arrived in Bath, I was the 2nd cyclist there. The 1st was Raymond, who'd driven to Exmouth, then cycled up to Bath from there. The man is simply unstoppable! Having plenty of time in hand, we went for a pint at the bistro right by the start, followed soon by another. Then we spotted the special offer - a large pizza and a pint for £10, so we ordered one each.

Now I normally do long rides fuelled by energy gels, not normal food, so I had no idea how eating an entire large pizza by myself would affect me. But what's the worst that can happen, eh? Soon enough we set off and it became obvious early on that I'd loaded the previous year's route on my Garmin. D'oh! As a result, I pretty much followed others, mainly Raymond, until the routes converged near Cheddar Gorge.

Having driven down Cheddar Gorge during the daytime for the 1st time ever only some six months ago, I was determined to ride the brakes down there, as all the goats and fallen rocks on the road scared me when I saw it in the bright light of day. However, by this stage I seem to have forgotten about those fears, as I set some personal speed records barreling down the gorge, and soon we were at the 1st food stop in Cheddar.

Coffee, and a large selection of different types of cake was on offer, and we scoffed our fair share, after having donated to to Scout's group who organise the stop, then it was time to hit the road again. I was well happy that up to that stage my calf muscle was holding up just fine, and as we pressed on, the miles flew by. Though my calf muscle wasn't acting up at all, I was nevertheless starting to lag a bit, and I was very glad when we rolled into the 2nd and last food stop at Neroche Hall. I was also quite amused by how Raymond at first simply rode straight past it without stopping, despite all the lights being on and a red flashing bike light on a traffic cone marking the entrance.

The curry dish served up there was bloody delicious, and after washing that down with coffee, I felt like a new man. Shortly after Neroche we hit the biggest climb of the route, and Raymond left me behind. I was taking it easy, and of course I'm not half as fit as he is. Some three miles later, we joined up again at the top, knowing there really was only one more climb worth mentioning along the route: Woodbury Common.

I had set myself two bailout points: Taunton and Honiton. The route passed close(ish) to Taunton and went through Honiton, and I knew I'd be able to catch a train back to Exeter, and from there to Exmouth, should anything go wrong. When we cycled through Honiton I realised that I was confident I could complete the ride without any problem, and I banished any thoughts of bailing out from my mind.

We briefly encountered a group of four riders who were taking the wrong turning, heading onto the dual carriageway, while we continued along the proper route. Several sleepy villages later we came to the Woodbury Common climb, which is far smaller and shorter than I seem to remember? We encountered a very brief and very light shower, but otherwise the rain was holding off. The wind was picking up, though, and by the time we crested the climb, we could feel it had increased in strength by quite a bit. So much so that the descent into Exmouth was actually fairly slow, and in places I'd normally freewheel, I had to pedal. Still, in no time at all we pulled in at the cafe on the beach, for what would be my last ever meal there. Sadly, the cafe is being demolished.

After a big fry-up and some coffee, we said our goodbyes, and I cycled back to my van. By now it was properly raining, with strong winds, so I was glad to get dried off and changed into warm, dry clothes once inside my van. I then slept for three hours before driving home.

Including riding from Exmouth to Exeter, and from Bristol to Bath, plus of course the Exmouth Exodus itself, I had cycled just over 135 miles, without my calf muscle being agony, and without feeling broken.

Yup, I think I have my mojo back!