Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Back on the right side of the road

After, what I think I can probably safely say was a well-deserved week in Miami doing absolutely nothing but be at the pool and beach, I've arrived back. For those of you I haven't spoken to directly I must say a big thank you for all the congratulatory comments, texts etc. very, very much appreciated.

Still, i couldn't quite completely relax as my arrival back in Scotland is just in time for my main cycling event of the summer on Saturday - The US trip was really all just about training for this as my teammates (Pete and Dave) were way too close to catching me last year. Once I'm back from it next week I'll post some more of the US pics and, hopefully, some of the videos.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Riding into the blue

Day 77, Stage 53 - Palm Beach Shores to Miami
80 miles in 6hrs 20mins (incl. one bike shop trip and just snacks and
juice stops again)
Total, and final distance - 4,745 miles

"It's not in the bag. It's not in the bag. Focus. You've still got a long day to do."

I forget the exact stats but is it something like 80% of mountaineering accidents that happen on the descent. And what's the other stat about car accidents within a few miles of home. I didn't know the numbers but I sure as hell knew the principle. I would have to focus for five to six hours in the saddle like I never had before.

This wasn't over, not yet it wasn't.

I quickly had 10 miles chalked up. Still 70 to go so not walking distance yet. And I would walk if need be, of that I had no doubt. The road then turned onto the A1A along West Palm Beach and various other lush neighbourhoods. Where, in the space of the next 35 miles or so I saw more folk out cycling than I had all trip combined, easily. Speaking to a few of them (Tony, then Jim & Mike - to whom I'm grateful for the 'tow' - though I did do my share) it turned out that there'd been a few races on that morning. I was loving the double takes that we were getting from the passing racers as Mike, Jim & I sped along in a chain gang with the full set of panniers on my machine.

The cyclocomputer was showing forty one miles. Less than forty to go. "Now that's walking distance" I thought. Barring a crash, I was going to be in Miami tonight. I was relaxing a bit, but so was the rear wheel as another spoke gave up. To ride on or not? I decided to play it safe so tracked down Downtown Bicycles who quickly fixed it and almost cheered me out the door on my way down the road such was their enthusiasm. Thanks folks.

The road then climbed over the 17th Street bridge - one of the less severe climbs of the trip, but positively Matterhornesque in comparison to the 700+ miles I'd seen so far in Florida. A brief, but hairy stint along Highway 1 beside the Fort Lauderdale Airport was the last noteable obstacle before I rejoined the A1A and 'Miami Beach' appeared at the top of the gps screen. 21 straight, flat miles to go. I still couldn't relax, though, but I was almost smiling. The purple line was getting shorter though. I'd been through this 'end-of-stage' feeling over fifty times already this trip this was the same but oh so different.

'91st Street' was the first I noticed. That's when it hit me, I was in Miami. The countdown of streets felt almost as slow as that of the miles into Perry in Sunday during the 189 mile day but it was excitement today. 59th, 45th, 34th. I was anxiously glancing in my mirror looking for that car/truck/bus that could ruin everything. But, thankfully, there was'nt one.

The road took me round one more corner ... I looked up to the glorious sight of the sunshine on my hotel ... I was there, and couldn't quite believe it.

I pulled off the road and just stood there looking in awe at it for several minutes before moving on to cut a tyre-width furrow in the white sands of the Beach as I pushed past the bathers and into the beautifully warm Atlantic water.

The hotel staff were, I think, a bit puzzled as I pulled up outside coated in sweat, salt, sea and sand.

"Hi, I'm checking in"
"Ok sir. If you just bring your bike in here. Where are you riding

I unpacked the bike for the last time, got into my hotel room, sat
down, switched the tv, then I realised, there was no need to find the
Weather Channel.... was over.

Riding into the blue


..have arrived :)

Touching distance

Day 76, Stage 53 - Cocoa Beach to Palm Beach Shores
129 miles in 8hrs 40mins (incl. a nostalgic Subway stop and an awful lot of juice and water stops) Total Distance - 4,665 miles
I was feeling very, very uneasy at the start of this, the penultimate stage. The length of the stage, at some 120+ miles, didn't bother me that much but it was that I was so close that I knew I'd be continually battling with myself not to switch into wind-down mode and, if I did, and then anything went wrong, I'd likely seriously struggle to get myself going again.

The day started fast and early and before long I realised I needed refueling so pulled over to buy my last Subway of the trip. It tasted the same as the others but the nerves meant it didn't sit well. The road continued almost dead-flat for mile after mile and I was soon regreting having called an early end to yesterday's stage, leaving me so much to do today. My mood was lifted, though as I caught site of the arched back of a dolphin swimming in one of the bay inlets.

However, with no iPod, and the roads so flat and straight it was small relief from the nervous tedium. The only other memorable (and I mean memorable in a bad way) sight in the first hundred miles was the first of a new chain of gas station that I hadn't seen before 'Hess'. I'd suggest some corporate rebeanding might be in order.

I rolled on. Only a mechanical can stop me know, I'd been thinking, then I crunched to a halt as the chain strangely entangled, twisting the front gear mech. A quick bit of 'cold-setting' (i.e. kicking it) thankfully got it back into working shape. Next to go, though, was the rear tyre. Not a puncture but as I pulled away from traffic lights I realised that, in stopping at them, a three-inch strip of rubber had delaminated from the tyre. Not drastic but I'd have to glue it back on at the end if the stage in 15 miles (now I knew I'd carried that tube of superglue all the way across the continent for a good reason). Then, a few miles later, the now all-too-familiar sound of a spoke giving up shot through the air. That was three mechanicals in the space of 15 miles. I couldn't get to the end of the stage and off the road quick enough.

In hindsight, though I should have stayed on the bike for a bit longer. I had done reasonably well to have avoided any real motel nightmares all trip, but that was about to change. The thunderclouds were drifting towards me as I'd ridden around for 20 mins trying to find somewhere to stay so, in fear of getting wet I reluctantly decieded this place would do. I'll post a pic once I get the chance (now there), but just take my word for it, it was comically bad (for those of you who lived there, it reminded me of Temple Park Crescent, only worse). Still, I was chuckling as I knew where I'd be staying the next night in Miami and this place provided such a marvellous contrast it was hilarious.

What wasn't hilarious was when I realised that the spare spokes I'd sought out the night before in Cocoa Beach were not the length I'd asked for.

I was way too tired for the excitement of knowing it was the last day tomorrow to keep me awake so I fell asleep on the sofa, with worrying dreams of breaking spokes the next day.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Chasing Shadows

Day 75, Stage 51 - Sanford to Cocoa Beach
70 miles in 4hrs 30mins (just one quick juice stop)
Total distance - 4,536miles
The iPhone has been threatening to crash for about half the trip since the WiFi failed on it about six weeks ago, lost 90% of my songs a week ago, and I'm now just sitting looking at a blank screen - but, hey, as the advert says, apple products are ultra-reliable. Hmmm!

Hence, i'm logged on to some ridiculously expensive terminal here in the Holiday Inn in Cocoa Beach. No pic today I'm afraid as I can't hook the camera up to it.

Anyway, the start this morning was later than planned as I realised I'm still clearly feeling the effects of the two monster days followed by the mosquito night. Still, today was to be a short day as I discovered last night that there was a rocket launch planned this evening from Cape Kennedy (or whichever cape) so i'd decided to only go as far as here then watch the launch in the evening. Things were mercifully cooler as i set out, only the high 80's, and still humid, as I set out in search of the Atlantic coast. Thankfully the wind was as forecast for the first time in three days, giving me a tailwind as I sped along watching with glee as the the gps screen began to fill with blue. At the town of Mims I made what will be the last meaningful turn of the trip onto Highway 1A which I'll be sticking on all the way to Miami. Within the next few hundred yards I then passed Parker Street followed by Nichols Road. Those of you who worked with me in Finance at Lehmans should understand why I was fully expecting to turn the next corner and find Trouble Court. And within a mile or so I was, indeed, stopped by one of the local Sheriffs who was actually only enquiring if I'd seen some dodgy looking some cycling the other way. The look on his face when I told him where I'd ridden from was by far the best so far.

The wind was well and truly behind me but I hadn't really eaten enough so it was a tiring final 30 miles as I tried desperately to stay in the cool shadows of the passing clouds. The only highlight of that stint was passing the office building with the sign outside stating 'Executive Centre of the Church of God'. I was oh so tempted to to knock on the the door and ask to speak to the boss.

I trundled around Cocoa Beach seeking a bike shop where I picked up yet more spare spokes - here's hoping the last of the trip. Then went out to watch the launch which was, err, an underwhelming sight to say the least. Though the noise was much more impressive as it even managed to drown out the chants of 'USA' coming from the hyperactive schoolkids on the beach. Still, it was an experience and I'd rather have seen it than not.

This has, however, left me a rather long 120mile stage tomorrow so signing off for an early start.

A time for reflection? Not quite.

Day 74, Stage 50 - Silver Springs to Sanford
74 miles in 4hrs 55 mins
Total distance - 4,466 miles
Starting on the final 300+ mile leg this morning I had to work very hard to bring my focus back to today's stage, reminding myself I still had 70 miles to do today which would likely take some five hours in +90F humidity. While it may seem like everything is done and dusted, I've still got a lot of work to do.

One thing I thought I'd do though is reflect on some of the more amusing/perplexing signs and quotes I've seem and heard over here.

"100% ethanol-free gas" - actually quite a common sign, generally in the less civilized parts of the world

"Environmentally friendly gun oil" - Huh?!

"5 Hour Energy with zero calories" - Now I'm no scientist but.... Hang on, yes I am.

"Jesus saves. Obama spends." - yeah, the more I think about that one the more it scared me.

Sarah Palin - "She is a woman without a first language" - enough said.

Anyway, I've got the Atlantic Ocean beckoning tomorrow and, all going to plan I should be arriving into Miami around midday local time on Saturday.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Running out of gas

Day 73 - in the pursuit of air conditioning
The inside of the tent was smeared with streaks of blood, my blood mixed with that of the many mosquitos that, at my hands, had had an even worse night than I had. There was no way I could do another night like that so I packed up the tent for the last time and rolled three miles down the road to one of the nearby motels, exhausted. As the weather developed during the day I was glad I was indoors with the early afternoon heat climbing to the high 90's but with the humidity
making it feel nearer 105 on the Weather Channel's 'heat index'. Thankfully the weather broke in the early evening bringing the severe storm warnings flashing up on the tv. I sat inside listening to the downpour cooking the last of my freeze-dried meals, in not the most glamorous of locations as the pic shows.

My attention then switched to my back tyre. Now one thing I failed to mention about the two long days I just did was the malfunctioning back wheel (the one I picked up in Jackson, MS). Having replaced another rear spoke in Destin when I put the tyre back on, try as I might, I
couldn't get it to sit properly on the rim (I tried switching tyres, but it was the rim). As a result it was running somewhat egg-shaped which was severe enough to make it feel like l was getting a small kick in the @rse every time it went round. Now, the wheel circumference is just over 2 metres and I'd just done over 300 miles on it. That makes for around 200,000 kicks in the butt. Uncomfortable and irritating in more ways than one. I'd managed to get this far without any saddle sores (amazing really), but I knew that wouldn't last another four days of @rse-kicking. After an hour of inflation/deflation cycles I finally managed to get it running true. Part of me was immensely relieved.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Slaying the rat

The warm and tranquil green water of the Gulf sea lapping against the dazzlingly white sand on which I lay basked in sun should have made for a serene relaxing afternoon on Saturday in Destin. However, it was gnawing away in my head. Not getting the triple century clocked up into Vicksburg due to the broken hub had been the source of small, but growing irritation, and let's face it, I'd had plenty of time to think about it over the previous few days.

I didn't want the trip just to fade out into the series of mediocre length stages I'd planned. I really wanted to try and put a marker in the sand, to try to see just what I was capable of and where the past two months had got me. I had penciled in four days to get, via Tallahassee, to Silver Springs. But I could do that in three, I thought. Could I do it in two, though? Over three hundred miles in two days? Yeah, I'd take that as a more than adequate marker.

The roads were flat, the wind was forecast to be a 15 mph tailwind, I was rested, massaged and very well fed. It would still be an enormous ask but if you don't try...

Day 71, Stage 48 - Destin to Perry 189 miles in 11hrs 50mins (numerous muffin and juice stops again)

Total distance - 4,267 miles

There was a light breeze pushing me along the early, smooth and quiet miles during which I veered with glee into the mist of the morning sprinklers until mile 10 when my first cycling 'prey' since Albuquerque, 1,500 miles ago turned onto the road a few hundred yards ahead. This guy looked serious, but catchable at a push, which he was after a couple of tough miles. I think he (Steve) felt less surprised and hurt when I explained just how far I'd ridden to get into his
slipstream. We raced along, my legs burning, until I thankfully turned off the highway 98 to take the bridge across the unpronounceable Choctawhatchee Bay (I think I spent about the next 10 miles trying work it out and am still probably wrong).

I turned onto highway 20, the sign read 116 miles to Tallahassee, I was looking at going well beyond that. So then, I switched off.....out of self preservation I had to. A few times during the early miles up to that sign I'd momentarily thought about what I was looking at attempting in day and I actually couldn't quite cope with the scale of it. So, for the next five hours up til I stopped at another garage after 115 miles I put myself in an almost trance, just staring at the road, turning the pedals and not thinking. Take me back to those roads and I'm sure I wouldn't recognize any of them. However, I was snapped out of the trance as I sat looking round the garage. This place looks familiar, I was thinking to myself - an awful lot like the garage where Top Gear had their infamous decorated cars incident. It probably wasn't, but I was dressed in Lycra, was not 'from round there' so wasn't sticking around to investigate.

It was well above 90F, and had been since the early morning. The air was still with the promised tailwind having seemingly wilted in the early morning heat and, try as I might, I couldn't get back into my trance.

70, 60.
50. 47.




Straight, flat, dull roads


'why hasn't it clouded over? It was forecast to cloud over'



9, 7

'why do you do these things to yourself Fraser?'

6.4, 5.1, 4.8, 4, 2, traffic lights, junction

Mo, tel

When I finally collapsed gasping into the room just after 7pm the Weather Channel was showing 89F, but with a heat index (i.e. Humidity adjusted) of 97F, even at that late hour. I literally staggered into the Italian restaurant next door to refuel on a infusion of pasta and celebrate my achievement.

She was polite and very apologetic
'Sorry but we can't sell beer on a Sunday'

'Ah cr@p!


Day 72, Stage 49 - Perry to Silver Springs
125 miles in 8hrs 40mins (muffins & juice again and the first packet of salt & vinegar crisps I've seen all trip - a joyous moment)
Total distance - 4,392 miles
I was tired, but not as much as I expected to be. Thankfully it was to be a shorter day today with a mere 120+ miles and a tailwind forecast again. Yeah, a short day I was telling myself. Nope, I didn't really believe it. The first 40 miles into Cross City were memorable only for my first sight of one of the ferrel pigs you lot in Seattle were warning me about.

Another 20 miles on a converted railway track (see pic) gave me about my only shade of the two days and took me to the halfway point for the day. Here I accidentally purchased my second bottle of diet juice of the whole trip (the first error had been just three hours earlier).

I pressed on, the NW'erly tailwind hadn't arrived and was threatening to turn into a NNE'erly. I was struggling and craving salt so you can only imagine my joy when the tiny garage I stopped in next had a large bag salt & vinegar crisps on the shelf. I instantly opened the bag, scrunched the bag to a pulp, and almost drank the dry salty chips. It was enough to get me to painful last 20 miles to the Silver Springs Campsite.

20 hrs 30 mins in the saddle over two days posting a total of 314 miles. The sand was well and truly marked...and the gnawing had stopped...

...But, little did I know it, the toughest challenge had just begun.

I was showered, the tent was pitched my dinner was cooked and eaten. I was going to sleep, lots. The mosquitoes were out and while they were easily the worst I've experienced, they weren't a patch on a normal midge-filled night in the Highlands of Scotland. They were getting worse so I retreated into the tent, zipped it up, and then torture began. The tent isn't the best for condensation and letting in fresh air but in the 85F saturated air, with my metabolism running a touch below a nuclear furnace, it was absolutely suffocating - I think I know what it's like to be a boil in the bag meal. The sweat was pouring off me and within 15 mins, there was a sizable pool of water collected along the edge of the tent. Opening the zip to let in 'fresh' air, just let in a cloud of bugs to feast off me. For the first time since the first hot day out of Ferndale, California, I was facing something that I wasn't sure I could get through. This was tougher than anything I'd faced all trip. No, seriously!

I poured the water out the tent semi-chuckling at the old sleeping-hand-in-lukewarm-water trick that I knew I was going to play on my self if I wasn't careful. I couldn't take it so I dressed and paced around outside for about an hour waving the mozzies away, then realised I'd stopped sweating. Totally stopped sweating - not good. So I poured litres of water over and into me then tried again to sleep. Melted again. Paced around again, listening to the drone of the small creatures in the forest and the occasional crash and grunt of some of the bigger ones. Then I heard the snort of something that sounded very big - I definitely wasn't sleeping, especially as I'd not taken any real 'bear care' in cooking and storing my food as I'd not realised I was anywhere near their territory. A quick check on the web and I found I was. I'd ditched the bear spray in Arizona so was suddenly very worried. Perhaps a hasty move

The temperature slowly dropped and I finally passed out at 5am before waking before 9am as the sun began to cook me in my little green nylon bubble.

The rat was no more.