Saturday, 25 July 2015

First morning update and FAQs

It's quarter past 10 and John has stopped for long enough to eat some pain au chocolat and rest for 15 minutes in a French bus shelter. So far, so familiar: for those of you who didn't follow last year's Transcontinental Race, John spent the first two nights sleeping between shopping carts (trolleys) outside Aldi in France and Switzerland. 

"It's throwing it down," he told me before throwing down the phone, in what will characterize our relationship for the next two weeks. No time for small talk, there are mountains to scale and chafing to cultivate. Since setting off at midnight, he's covered about 130 miles and appears to be still roughly middle of the pack, closing in on Reims in the Ardennes. From the satellite map, he seems to be coasting through farm fields near the foothills. But you don't have to take my word for it! 

Since posting my first update in the wee hours a few of you have already responded, which is fantastic! John's always said the thing that makes the biggest difference in pushing him on are the messages of support, so please, please keep them coming on Twitter, Facebook or by text. 

I'll try to address some FAQs here, but feel free to ask away on John's Facebook - I'll keep an eye on it. 

How can I follow John's progress?

John is tweeting every so often, but the race website has a tracker option that allows anyone to see where racers are (on their own and in relation to each other), and to drill down to look at stats such as average speed, distance covered (which isn't entirely accurate - it seems to lag behind a bit), distance to next waypoint, etc. In the upper right corner of the map you can choose to look at the satellite version, so you can get an idea of the views John could enjoy if they weren't blurring by. 

How can I help? 

As I said, the messages of support make all the difference. Just knowing that people are dropping in to check on his progress really keeps John going. Under race rules, he's not allowed to accept other forms of support (more on this later) - I wasn't even allowed to tell him where he was in proximity to other riders! But you can of course make a little donation to The Alzheimer's Society if you wish. Absolutely no pressure and we are so grateful for those who have already generously donated to this very valuable charity. As much as anything, John is taking on this challenge in memory of his father, Denys, who died in April from complications related to dementia. Denys was a keen cyclist and he and John used to do expeditions (on a slightly smaller scale) together in the Lake District and elsewhere.

Why do some racers seem to be so off course compared to the pack? 

Because they're lost! 

Kidding - it's a legitimate question. Part of the, er, beauty (apparently) of the Transcontinental Race is that racers have to rely entirely on themselves to get from the starting point in Belgium to Istanbul. This means months of planning a route - whatever route they choose - as well as deciding what supplies they can reasonably take with them. So some people may load up a tent, sleeping bag, mini fridge or what-have-you, while others (John included) have not much more than some bug spray and the ubiquitous Lycra (attractive as that vision may be). 

There are four mandatory checkpoints along the way - in the most hideous locations - and riders choose which way they go to hit those. Some might go the most direct route, but have to contend with busy roads, congested cities or time-sucking elevation. Others might go a more circuitous route because it's flatter, quieter or has a dedicated cycle path. 

When does John finish? 

A very good question I've asked him myself, on several occasions. The answers have ranged from "When I'm done" to "I don't know." Far from being frustrating for his family at home, this is a wonderful, liberating way to approach life, and we love it! In fact, I plan to adopt John's way of doing things the next time I go away with friends or travel for work. 

Actually, though, the race finishes two weeks after it started, so that's Aug. 8. John plans to keep going to make it to Istanbul, with the knowledge that if he's not back by mid-August I reserve the right to bill him for my stay at The Savoy. And the childcare. 

Did John complete the Transcontinental Race last year?

Ah, last year's race. Happy memories of relaxing days frolicking at the seaside with my perfectly behaved children and everyone's favorite geriatric dog. John probably could have finished, if I hadn't turned into a belligerent harridan by day 8, utterly losing it when he nonchalantly told me he was having his first beer in a beautiful piazza in Croatia as a woman crooned in the background, and mentioning that when he got to Istanbul he thought he'd catch a flight back to Italy to hit the mountain pass he missed because of a landslide.  

Also, he had a terrible cold. Let's blame it on the cold, instead of the cold-hearted wife.

Last year he cycled about 1300 miles in 8 days, making it to Dubrovnik. I think he picked up some valuable lessons, including pacing himself, not telling me about the amazing bowl of pasta the size of a basketball that he's enjoying beside Lake Como, and remembering to bring me something nice instead of just sending me a bag of smelly laundry without so much as a note. You WILL remember, won't you John?

If you want to see some pictures of last year's race, scroll to the bottom of the Transcontinental Race site's blog:

Trying to cycle 2600 miles within two weeks through mountains in the August heat, with occasional unpredictable snow storms, rabid feral dogs, diseased ticks and crazed bandits isn't really my cup of tea. Why does John want to do such a thing? 

This is the crux of the matter, isn't it? Either he is fleeing a homelife that is worse than all those things combined, or he has a screw loose. He, and almost 200 other weirdo cyclists. Why does he do it? For the glory? For the debilitating saddle sores? For the luxury of spending a night under the stars (streetlights) on concrete in a nondescript Swiss town's Aldi shopping trolley corral, to wake a few hours later and sit on his bike for 200 miles, the majority of it going uphill? 

Your guess is as good as mine. 

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