P1030922-001At the end of my second week of painting corridors in a local school it was great to do some proper fettling last night, something requiring slightly more thought. The only major change I knew I wanted to change on the Marin for the ride was the gearing, something with a lower range for the mountains of Switzerland and northern Italy. A few weeks of scouring ebay and various cycling forums and eventually a barely used MTB crank set turned up for very little money. Perfect.

I’d been putting off making switching the crankset, aware that if it didn’t all go smoothly then I might lose a few days of being able to ride whilst waiting for a solution. Equally, from about ten days before the tour starts I wouldn’t want to make any major changes to the bike. So you end up with an ever smaller window in which to do  the work. Why not touch it within ten days of the start? There’s always potential for uncovering a major headache of a problem, something which would have been fine had it not been pulled around by an amateur mechanic, but that suddenly requires a lot of attention once disturbed. Of course it doesn’t always go to plan, I think Rob had to go and buy a new set of wheels two days before we started LEJOG last summer!

The only thing I was missing for the job was a 14mm socket spanner, so I rode round to my Grandpas house to have a rummage around for one. A short time later and we had found a socket set that he had bought for my Dad when he was about 12 years old, great. It took a bit of grunt to get the old bottom bracket out but other than that things went smoothly, the smell of grease and sounds of Toploader rising as the sun slowly fell in the sky. I find there is a very simple joy to be taken from doing this kind of work on your own machine. Credit should go here to a guy called Ian who has taught me a lot of the bicycle mechanics that I know, something of a cycling shaman to me since I fell in love with the sport in 2009. Also to my friend Ben, we fixed my bike countless times in his basement during my time in Sheffield, the Peak District chews up both rider and bike then spits them out again. I don’t know if they’ll be reading this but I’m still grateful.

17 days to go.

Four Weeks Tomorrow

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I remember when four weeks used to seem like an age. When the six summer holiday extended before you like a huge expanse of time. These days I feel a week could sneak past unnoticed if I so much as sneeze. Just four short weeks and we will be pushing our heavy laden bikes out into the cool air of a south London morning and pointing our noses roughly south east. Left pedal, right pedal, repeat.

The sense of anticipation I feel just thinking about these opening moments of the ride are immense. I’m pretty psyched. I mean, I’m bouncing up and down here. But, as I’ve said four weeks is not so long and there is plenty to be done before we hit that long, beautiful road. Aside from finishing off the route planning, securing panniers, the painting job I’m doing, seeing friends and family and hopefully a trip to the Peak District, there is one thing I’m especially excited to announce.

I’m happy to tell you that Rob and I will be holding an event at the fantastic Look Mum No Hands Café on Old Street on the evening of Saturday August 17th. The best coffee in town, beer, a short talk, legs being waxed; what’s not to like? Check your diaries, hold the date. Full details soon.

In the meantime please take a moment to check out the Support Me page, if you’d like to sponsor me for doing the ride I would be so grateful. And as ever, thank you for reading!

Internet frenzy

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Calm brain.

Disclaimer: This post may contain pseudoscience.

The image above shows how I imagine my brain functioning in a normal situation, for example when planning out my day, with some major simplifications to the process. The second image is how it feels when my brain has been on the internet for a while. I might set out with a clear set of tasks to achieve, answering and sending emails, researching how to repoint the steps up to the house, checking the news – but it doesn’t take long to reach a state of overstimulation. Internet frenzy.

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It’s as if my brain gets excited to the point of being overwhelmed by the sheer number of reading and learning possibilities presented to it. Each one a rabbit to be chased down a hole, thrilling but distracting. Before I know it I’ll end up with so many tabs I can’t even tell what each one is, many totally unconnected, some saved for later and others immediately consumed. Incredibly inefficient, and I wonder if potentially damaging as the brain learns this “pattern” of behaviour. Sure chaos can be fun, but there’s enough of it in the world without it extending to how my mind functions.

The contrast when I’m out cycling, then, is something of a blessing. The wide open spaces, and base line distraction of keeping the pedals turning, give my brain room to breathe. Free of distractions, and free to explore unhindered realms of possibility. It’s the closest I get to pure inspiration. Ideas and phrases seem to spring from nowhere. This was so often my get out of jail free card when I was studying and stuck on a particular assignment. Ditching the books and the library and riding out into the Peak District, seemingly allowing the brain to settle and calm before searching for answers.  I’m not trying to sound like some kind of “new age” shaman for the mind, just demonstrating the contrast I have seen.

I have no idea how well this stands up on a neurological scale, I’m simply trying to portray how it works for me. Certainly regular exercise can do wonders for your mental health as well as physical, so perhaps it is little wonder that it has this effect on my thinking. Believe me; I wouldn’t be coming up with posts just staring at a screen all day. Get outside!