The Summer of Love

I would think it a reasonably safe bet that there are few people reading this (or not reading this), that are going to be sorry to see the back of 2020. Clearly we all have a common and not insignificant factor in our level of appreciation for this year (COVID-19) but then I, as I am sure many others do, have other reasons why this year has been a stinker. I’ve never enjoyed New Years Eve as I possess a pessimistic streak that says ‘why celebrate New Year, as the next year might be worse than this one?’. As I am firmly of the opinion that things can’t get worse (not without me becoming totally unhinged), I am actually going to raise several glasses on December 31st. Of course, this will be at home, and perhaps best case in my garden with five others who are happy to freeze off their behind in the name of kissing this crappy year goodbye!

Equally, I am also beginning to be excited about what MIGHT be on the other side of this. Isn’t the view of post immunisation one where the sun shines all day every day, and we sit in large groups in green spaces singing along to live music, while consuming our body weight in alcoholic beverages and burgers… perhaps another ‘summer of love’? I know that’s not everyone’s idea of fun, but equally I’d rather fixate on that, than higher taxes, my arthritis and wondering what will go wrong next as I attempt to become another year older.

Speaking with a friend yesterday, he admitted that given the constraints of this year, and the new world we are entering, he was now working on his bucket list. If you’re not familiar with this, it’s the list of things you simply must do before you cease to occupy space on this planet. His bucket list was very exciting, and I am really pleased for him, though I did start to question why I don’t have one. I am ‘of an age’ where I might have one. There are lots of things that I’d love to do before my time is up, but I simply don’t know which I’d deem critical, and I think I have quite a good list of things I’m thinking of doing anyway, so why put pressure on myself to make them happen? Surely I would then be double disappointed when someone I will never meet chooses to eat bat soup and this means the chances of me completing my list are scuppered? We’ll see… I may have one written down by Sunday evening.

Bucket list items often seem to be those things that are scary, challenging and have more than a hint of danger. While some of my friends may disagree, I am naturally risk averse, and I don’t think of myself as an adrenaline junkie or extreme sports fan. Over a beer, I may be the first to admit that my approach to skiing, and descending on my bicycle could offer that I am a ‘liar, liar pants on fire’, that I have a total disregard for my own life, or blatant over-confidence in my abilities. However, my actions are always underpinned by some level of ‘risk assessment’ (I am risk averse, I promise!), which I believe are largely sound, and hence I am still alive today.

One thing that is integral to my ‘risk assessment’ is ‘worry about what you can control’. Clearly the things we can control are enablers to our ability to deal with the things we can’t. Take speed for instance, and something jumping out in front of you while skiing, cycling, driving, or even running… the faster you go (your control) the harder it is to deal with the deer that has leapt out of the trees in front of you (not your control). We could therefore go everywhere at 4 miles per hour and be very safe indeed. However, I am not sure that this would allow us to achieve very much and missing your train, Coronation Street or ‘last orders’ would carry its own consequences… and it is therefore a balance between risk and reward, and if a situation is not ‘safe’ I am relatively good at keeping a lid on my enthusiasm.

I was lucky to get out to the Swiss Alps in February, not for skiing, just to ‘be’ in the mountains… I loved it! Walking, Apres-Walk (Ski) drinking Feldschloessen lager, and eating Wurst and Rosti was simply a beautiful way to spend 3 much needed days out. Little did I know what I was coming home to and that it would be my last trip (anywhere) for the year! I was supposed to travel to Geneva in August to cycle across the Alps to Nice, on what’s known as The Raid Alps. While the stats would be impressive, achieving them was certainly secondary, and never my motivation. For me the mountains are a very special place, and having seen the Pyrenees from my bike last year, I was particularly excited about riding in the Alps and the prospect of a coffee stop ON MY BIKE in Val D’Isere. It’s a concept that 8 years ago I would have thought was reserved for pro or ‘near-pro’ cyclists , never mind me doing it myself as a relatively average MAMIL.

Riding in the Pyrenees taught me a lot, not least that 2,000m mountain tops in June can be bloody cold, and the contrast in the weather between the valley and the top, particularly when you’re riding a bike, can be volatile and potentially downright dangerous. But moreover it taught me that, and I am sure you’ll be surprised to know, South Lincolnshire and Rutland are, as training grounds go, rubbish preparation for Alpine mountain climbs. Where I ride on a day to day basis, the concept of a long climb is perhaps 2 miles long, and takes a squeeze under 10 minutes, taking Harringworth to Gretton, in Rutland, as an example. In the Alpine world, albeit a revered monster, the Tourmalet was 13 miles long and 2 hours and 6 minutes. It’s not just training for a different event, it is a totally different sport.

The prospect of COVID based lockdowns did give me a new impetus to sort out my indoor training capability. In the end I opted for a Tacx Flux S, direct drive smart trainer. While initially I was somewhat sceptical, I have to be honest the overall Tacx offering is very impressive indeed, and I find their HD video rides actually really enjoyable. I did try Zwift but found it all a little too gimmicky for me. The ‘real feel’ of on road riding is always going to be hard to recreate but it actually works really quite well, automatically adjusting the resistance depending on the terrain, both surface quality and gradient. Clever. What I didn’t realise was the impact this was going to have on my ability to train for climbing! Given how engaging the technology is, riding a 2 hour climb, in the stifling heat of your own front room, is entirely possible (though not necessarily that enjoyable) and it really has had a huge impact on the variables I can measure, demonstrated through a 30% increase in my power output in just 6 months. While at the moment I can’t validate whether the data is backed up by my on road performance, I can’t wait to get out the Alps for the reorganised trip next summer to find out! Though, honestly it’s the coffee in Val D’Isere and the descents I am really looking forward to….

… let’s hope my risk assessments don’t let me down, and I make it to the see the next Summer of Love!

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