Bedgebury Forest – red MTB route…on a CX bike

I’ve been rather busy of late. Following the success of REDJanuary, I needed a bit of a mental boost recently so I’ve been running and cycling every day (bar three) throughout August. As part of that, I’ve signed up to two races: a cyclo-cross league race and a 10K run. I have still not decided if either is a good idea.

The CX race is now only a week away. Essentially (as I understand it) you ride laps of a course for 40 minutes and you win/get points depending on how many laps you complete and your final position relative to others. I’m reasonably confident I’ll be able to finish it; I can definitely cycle for 40 minutes. I’m also pretty certain I’ll be last, and I’m OK with that too.

Anyway, today I found myself in Bedgebury Pinetum with my CX bike and so I decided to tackle the single-track mountain bike red route, figuring it would be good for my stamina. I figured it would also be handy to get some off-road practice in, given that I have a terrible record for staying upright as soon as I leave tarmac.

I did some reading on the Bedgebury course last night. I have been before but it was over a decade ago and a lot has changed in that time. It’s fair to say that the reviews are mixed – although clearly a dedicated group has worked really hard on building a good course for everyone to use. The main complaint seems to be that it’s too easy, not hilly and basically for pussies. Well…miaow.

I didn’t find it easy at all. I fell off in under 5 minutes. I completed the course in probably one of the slowest times ever (just over 1 hr 20 mins). However, at the risk of sounding like someone who is an ‘all about the taking part’ wanker, I wasn’t trying to do it particularly fast. I wanted to practice riding uneven ground and sharp turns. I definitely got my wish. I was cacking myself around some of the bends and descents. I did feel like a proper badass when I rode down some steps (which I only did because I didn’t see them until too late and didn’t have time/room to stop). Some of the obstacles I deliberately didn’t ride and instead picked up my bike to try and truly encapsulate the CX spirit (although sod running with it, did it once, terrible mistake).

I don’t know whether I had a difficult time because I’m not that fit, not a great rider or because I was on a CX bike. It challenged me physically and left me breathing out of my arse for large portions.

Still, it felt like a good training exercise and I would do it again if I find myself over that way. I don’t know if I’ve made myself more nervous for the race as now I’ve got a better idea of what I’m (not) capable of. There were times when I had to pause and just catch my breath for a few minutes and I definitely won’t be able to do that mid-race.

And whoever named the section ‘Cardiac’: bastard.

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10(ish) Reasons Why Iceland Is Wonderful

I haven’t planned this so I don’t know if I’ll manage to get to 10. Here goes.

1. Solitude

This is the big one for me. I am not a people person. People are basically bastards. I hate crowds and busy spaces.

Iceland is a little bigger than the UK in terms of size, but only has the same population as the last town I worked in (about 350,000). It’s fucking fantastic. There’s no bugger there. Reykjavik doesn’t feel busy or overcrowded. After only a short drive out of the city – 5 minutes or so – you can go for ages without seeing anybody else.

God knows what it says about me as a person but there’s something pretty special when you’re looking around you and feeling like you’re the only ones there. I like it.

2. Nature

Iceland is an astonishing country. It’s beautiful. There are mountains everywhere – which you can see whilst immersed in the relative bustle of Reykjavik.

The word ‘awesome’ is vastly overused today. I’m as guilty of it as anyone else. Burgers are not awesome. Iceland’s landscape is awesome.

3. Skálmöld

I’m a big fan of Scandiwegian metal music in general and I was introduced to this Icelandic band a few years ago by a friend. This was the inspiration for this trip – to see Skálmöld playing with the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra at Harpa, Reykjavik’s majestic concert hall.

Wikipedia (therefore definitely true) describes Skálmöld as a Viking folk band. My limited knowledge of the language means they could be singing about drowning kittens in acid, but they’re clearly very talented musicians so I’m OK with that. (I have been told that their lyrics predominantly tell tales from Norse mythology but that wasn’t on Wikipedia so I can’t confirm it.)

The show was excellent, far surpassing both my hopes and expectations.

It’s essentially music to go into battle to. I started listening to the previous live album as our plane began its descent, which has certainly added a dimension I haven’t experienced before.

4. Sagas

Following nicely on from that, Iceland inspires the creative soul.

We visited Reykholt, home of Snorri, writer of many Icelandic sagas back in the years of a long time ago. (I don’t have Internet on the plane, my fact checking is limited and so some of what I say may be well intentioned lies.)

Whilst visiting massive waterfalls and looking up into the mountains, I couldn’t help but think of adventure and all the things that may have happened there.

The sagas are a subject which I know next to fuck all about, but I have Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology on the shelf at home and that seems as good a place to start as any.

I also managed to snap up Vargold with much delight today. It’s a Viking-based comic/graphic novel. I checked before we arrived and was told that the English copies had sold out so this was a real find.

5. Renewable Energy

Iceland is an island which is relatively isolated in comparison to the rest of Europe. However, they make fantastic use of their natural resources. All those waterfalls…harness them for hydro-electric power. Why heat water coming into houses when you can just pipe water that’s been heated by a volcano.

It’s a very ‘green’ country. I don’t think that’s something we’re inherently good at in the UK and it’s always good to see how other countries are doing it.

6. Hot Springs

Like…literally…hot fucking water comes out of the fucking ground and you can go and sit in it.

It’s a bath…heated by volcanic activity underground.

Mind. Blown.

7. People

They’re just…nicer than we are. Crime rates are low. As a nation Iceland is pretty liberal and progressive. They’re friendly. They don’t shit themselves and assume they’re being mugged if someone randomly strikes up a conversation.

So I think I’ve overstretched myself there with 10 reasons why Iceland is wonderful. The fact that I can’t think of three more is a reflection on me, rather than this excellent country.

I’ve been twice now. It takes me away to daydreams of legends, of having a hut in the mountains and using my surroundings to inspire my writing and drawing.

If you get the chance, go.

PS:

8. Northern Lights

Never seen them.

9. Bearnaise sauce

Available so widely that you can even buy it in a service station that barely sells fuck all else.

10. Horses

Delicious.

Oooh oooh oooh…

11. They don’t have McDonald’s

Trust me, it’s a positive. Finally, here’s a country with a city that isn’t a carbon copy of every other capital.

New contender for my most embarrassing moment…ever

Today I went bouldering at my favoured climbing centre. It’s the first time I’ve been for a little while, not for want of trying, but life has got in the way. I spent about 90 minutes bouldering, got very hot and sweaty and was generally very pleased with myself. I’ve talked a bit recently about wanting to get in shape, and this week I’ve achieved my goal of doing three different sports (running, cycling and climbing) which can only be a good thing.

So back to the wall. There I was, climbing up, down, trying, failing, trying again, failing a bit better. All good. I finished with the skin missing from the insides of five of my fingers. Signs of effort. Still good. I went back to my car with the intention of tweeting a triumphant picture of my chalky taped-up hands.

The moment I sat in my car I realised something was wrong. There was a bit of a hole in my (actual, proper, designed-for-purpose) trousers. I investigated further. Turns out that ‘a bit of a hole’ is the understatement of the year. I don’t know how I’d failed to notice it happen, but I was essentially wearing crotchless trousers. The hole ran from front to back, and was the size of, ooh I don’t know, a head. Generally I hate the word, but in this particular scenario ‘gaping’ really was the appropriate description.

I spent a moment assessing the situation. I realised that about halfway through my session I had heard an odd noise but must have assumed it was an errant fart or some such. I’d forgotten about it by the time I got to the top of the wall and gave it no further thought. That meant I’d spent the best part of 45 minutes with an enormous bloody hole in my trousers, in public, in the middle of half term, when the centre was full of children and in fact I’d sent a text to JG commenting that I’d never seen it so busy. Bear in mind that by its very nature, bouldering is an activity that takes place at (head) height and often with legs akimbo.

I realised that I had had some funny looks but I’d put that down to the fact that I only ever see criminally skinny, muscular, attractive people at the climbing wall and that I was probably getting a double-take as I don’t have the typical climber’s form. I guess everyone is not as shallow as I gave them credit for; they were actually doing the appropriate stare at someone who appears to have turned up at a family friendly activity wearing assless chaps. I genuinely don’t know if it would have been better or worse if someone had said something.

With my hands spread across my face, and staring through my fingers in horror, I realised that the shame was due to continue. I’d planned to have a shower when I arrived at work. This meant that I had to get from my car into the locker room (a substantial distance) without exposing myself even further. This was going to be particularly difficult seeing as the hole extended through the entire gusset (not often I have a legitimate use for that excellent word) and was pretty indecent from front and back. I tied my work fleece around my waist, held a bag in front of me and shuffled into work with baby steps.

I intend to spend the rest of the week a) hoping that I don’t end up on some sort of special register and b) purchasing a large sombrero and growing a significant ‘tache so that I won’t be recognised when I return.

.

The epic bicycle ride

Yesterday I set myself a bit of a challenge and decided to go for a bike ride. (On Wednesday I went for probably my first ride in 18 months, did about 12 miles, and was generally very happy and comfortable.) I wanted to do something a bit different so I consulted a book of routes. One of them went right past my house, was rated 2/5 (ie. easy/moderate in terms of hills) and was about 33 miles. The book said that anyone of average fitness could complete the routes in 2 to 3 hours (as you’ll see a little later, hello to below average fitness).

A few miles, maybe a little more, was off road. This is probably the first time that I’ve really got the benefit of having a cyclocross bike (basically a road-type frame with wheel widths about midway between a road and mountain bike). I also managed to break my 100% record of crashing whenever I go off road, which is something of a relief as that was becoming a jinx.

Just over halfway I stopped in a village to sit down, eat my snacks and properly consult the rest of the route. At this point I noted in the description that there were ‘3 appreciable climbs’…and that we hadn’t reached any of them yet. This was particularly troubling as I had personally appreciated quite a number of climbs already and wondered how hilly an incline had to be to get defined as ‘appreciable’.

I was starting to think that I had bitten off more than I could chew. I was also conscious that because I was having to stop and consult the map so often, this was taking a lot longer than initially thought. Unfortunately I was about as far from home as possible and so there wasn’t much I could do as a shortcut. I was struggling to keep my self-talk positive; taking a shortcut felt like failure. I was comforted by the fact that I’d brought some money and if I saw a shop, I would buy some more snacks (I never saw a shop).

I did take a little detour from the defined route and ended up doing just under 30 miles out of the intended 33. Not bad.

I’m pleased. I had a nice time. For the most part I was in the countryside and there were birds and wildlife galore. I saw great views. I met some friendly ponies.

I didn’t give up. There were two hills that I cycled up and got slower and slower. Eventually I got off and walked (for one of them, to keep up the intensity I threw my bike over my shoulder and carried it up). I’ve done very little exercise in recent months so this is all heading in the right direction.

I am suffering a little now, and not even in the parts I expected. I had been drinking water from a pouch with a sucky tube throughout the ride and probably managed about 1.5 litres. I did manage another pint or so when I got in. However, this was apparently not enough and combined with the fact that I had a nice hot bath as soon as I got home probably left me pretty dehydrated. Within an hour I had a pounding headache and I went to bed at about 6pm, skipping dinner as I felt like I was going to chunder everywhere. I’m still trying to shake the last bit of headache off this morning, and coupled with the fact that I’ve drunk so much that I’ve been constantly needing the loo, I’ve had a terrible night’s sleep.

Still, there are a lot of positives. I went out yesterday and for over 3 hours I was exercising and getting fresh air (apart from the bit near the sewage works where I became a record-breaking breath holder). I inhaled loads of flies, including through my eyes. Think of the protein.

Above all, I did something and enjoyed it enough that I’ll do it again (but maybe not quite as far next time).

The day the trolls caught up with me

Just over a year ago, I had one of the worst days ever. What happened isn’t even that bad in the grand old scheme of things; I could definitely write you a list of even shittier things that have gone on within the last year. The point is, the other things that have happened were grade A shite: it’s therefore completely normal to be rocked and have to take some time to deal with it. This one, the big thing, pulled the rug from under my feet. It began with a photograph.

I volunteer with a local youth group for teenagers. It’s a bit like a more formal version of scouts. There’s uniforms. (This is me trying to describe it without basically just handing out the address.) After 6 months, they had a graduation parade to celebrate the end of their initial training. There were photos. Photos went on Facebook.

One of the other leaders was tagged in a photo that a member of his family took. Friends of that family member commented on the photo. Because I am Facebook friends with someone who was tagged in the photo, I could see their comments.

Now, I should say at this stage that it is not my favourite photo. It was one of those snapshots of a group where loads of people are taking pictures from different angles, you think you’re done, start to move off and then people are still taking photos. I think my hands are in my pockets, I’m mid-about-to-stride-off pose, my hair is being grown out of a short style and therefore looks ridiculous when you shove a hat on it and to top it off, I have put on some weight since this uniform was measured for me (and the tailoring is far from flattering). I think they’re the main points; I have no intention of looking at the picture to check.

The first comment I saw on Facebook was about one in the morning when I got home from work. I can’t remember it exactly but I’d been singled out and someone had said, “Bad uniform drills.” I went to bed and cried myself to sleep. When I woke up, I knew I probably shouldn’t look but I couldn’t stop myself. There were now six or seven comments, with laughing faces and the one that will forever stick in my mind, “What a disgrace.” I was absolutely distraught. Anyone looking in at the situation could have been forgiven for thinking someone had died. I suppose in a way, at that moment, something had. Every shred of self-confidence I’d previously clung on to had been annihilated in just a few sentences.

I was angry too. I wanted to shout that I’d spent my whole weekend working, and yet had got up with only a few hours sleep to iron my uniform, polish my boots and go to the parade. I had done the best I could and yet my best made me a disgrace. I stopped myself replying to their comments because I knew that it would become a rant and that I would probably explode in a shower of choice four letter words and concede any moral high ground. One thing I am definitely very good at is swearing, continuously and eloquently. I sent screenshots to a couple of friends, trying to put on a brave face, but also grateful for their outrage on my behalf. JG was an absolute rock when I felt like I would fall to bits at every and any moment.

In my efforts at self-preservation, I deleted the Facebook app. I was still the Facebook admin for the youth group’s page but I asked someone else to monitor it, citing short-term technical difficulties. For a few months I would access Facebook once a week from my browser, go straight to the group page, deal with any business and leave as soon as possible.

I told my friend and manager AA, who was supporting me through some other stuff. She asked me if she could contact the person who had posted the picture (and joined in the mocking) and ask her to delete the comments. I agreed, trusting that, unlike me, she would be able to send a reasonable request that was not peppered with swear words and insults. I didn’t want to know what was said, only if it was gone or not. AA text me later saying that she’d sent a message and the comments were going to be removed. I felt immediate relief. I had no idea what other comments had appeared since I’d last looked or how many other people had joined in.

It took a few days, but eventually I stopped feeling like the world had ended. It took quite a bit of help and gentle persuasion from JG to get me to go back to the group. Even now, whenever I wear that uniform, I am convinced the world is laughing at me.

I’m writing about it because this week, we had another group event. The leaders were in uniform. I got emailed a photo and immediately I am reminded of that terrible day. I should feel pride but all I can see is that my tie is wonky and I look fat. My mind has run away, wondering if everyone else who has received this photo is laughing at me and pointing out the flaws of the disgrace. I’m well aware that this may not have happened. But it could have.

Sometimes I’m glad it happened. I dealt with it and now that’s another thing I know I can cope with. But it’s also left me with scars, mistrustful, paranoid and shrinking. It was a reminder that the world is cruel and not to get too comfortable. I cringe whenever I see nasty comments – mainly about someone’s size or appearance – on the comments sections of public articles.

Just be more kind. To those you know and those you don’t. Remember that on the end of every mean, anonymous comment posted on the internet, there could be someone who is having the worst day ever.

A whistle stop catch up of my nerdy world

It’s been a little while since I last posted. Having had the best part of 3 weeks off work (gallivanting time, not sick) the last week or so has been a bit of a culture shock. It’s amazing how quickly you get out of a routine. I’ve been astonished to find that it’s time to get ready for work when I should be reading/drawing/sleeping/walking/eating*. (*Delete as appropriate.)

As it’s been a whole 6 days (basically a lifetime), here follows a quick round up of what I’ve been up to:

I’ve discovered Twitter. I used to have an account but I never really posted much or followed the right people and so I lost interest pretty quickly. I registered a new account, and shared my previous blog posts with appropriate hashtags, mainly as an experiment to see if I generated more views and followers. I have found that Twitter is a real time-eater for me this time round – I’ll look at one thing, then follow a link elsewhere, check out someone’s tweets and then before you know where you are, half an hour has gone by (and the rest). I’ve started following a lot of comic book writers and artists. Depending on my mood, when I see their work that they’ve shared I will either feeling inspired to crack on, or totally inferior and inspired only to give up.

One morning, I was playing a JRPG (Japanese role playing game) called Persona 4 Golden (P4G) on my PlayStation Vita. I’m not really sure why, given that I have very few Twitter followers, but I shared a photo with a screen grab of my game and a couple of relevant hashtags. It’s hardly viral, but when I had a load of notifications later, I checked back and found this:

This really surprised me. It turns out that (micro-)blogging goes much better when you stop trying too hard (much like my dating history as it happens).

Possibly this has happened because the PS Vita is a little bit…niche nowadays. It’s a great piece of kit, but handheld gaming has gone out the window a lot with the advances in smartphones. It is one extra thing to carry around but I love mine. I’m oddly proud that I’ve wasted over 78 hours of my life pointlessly playing P4G (and it would be much more, given the opportunity). I’ve almost completed it and I’m still undecided as to whether I will get a new game (I’ve thrown it out to the Twitters for suggestions) or just play the whole thing again.

I’ve done some drawing. Having seen the cards that I drew for JG’s birthday, my mum has been bugging me to do something for her (she already owns my only piece of framed artwork, and that’s because she framed it herself). I decided to do a trio of pictures for her birthday based on places that mean something to her in some way.

This is where we’re at so far. I’m really pleased with the castle; less certain about the other one. That said, I really can’t be arsed to do it again, so I think we’ll go with it.

I received Flat Earth Mike’s weekly list of new comic releases and released an audible, “Ha!” that there was nothing I wanted and therefore I’m definitely not addicted. Then I noticed the new Garth Ennis comic, gave up and went to the dark side. Today I went to collect my comics: SIX, which is obviously not going to be a world record, but given that I went in a week ago to collect my subscriptions, I feel that I may be developing a problem. Today I was put in charge of entertaining my in-laws while JG was at work. This meant I arranged a lovely historical trip to a town about 25 minutes away, which totally coincidentally is where the comic book store is. I haven’t read my new issues yet; I’m saving them for Monday when I’ll be home alone and not starting work until the afternoon.

I’ve become a devil-may-care Tamagotchi parent. Tonight my little pixel friend has had to go to bed whilst sleeping in his own poop (you can’t clean up once he’s fallen asleep). This is marginally better than two nights ago when I went out in a rush, forgot to swap him into my other trousers and came home to find that he had gone to sleep hungry and next to a poo on top of more poo. Note to parents: do not leave your child in the wrong trousers.

I think we are now largely up to date so hopefully I can do a new and riveting blog post in the next couple of days.

If you do want to check out my Twitters (I don’t want to ruin it, but it’s an awful lot like my WordPress) I am @ANerdRambling. Someone else is THE Nerd Rambling. Bastard.

Cheers.

I think I have too many hobbies

Hobby (noun):

  1. an activity done regularly in one’s leisure time for pleasure;
  2. a small horse or pony;
  3. some sort of birdy mcbirdface.

Let’s ignore the second two definitions of a hobby, for I possess neither pony nor bird, small or otherwise.

By it’s very meaning (which comes from the dictionary according to Google) a hobby is done regularly. This is something of a contradiction for me. There are activities that I do, that I consider to be hobbies, but I don’t have time to do them regularly.

I’m very much an advocate of doing the things that make you happy, a large part of that being for mental health reasons. We all need to relax, and that doesn’t necessarily have to be done on a sofa. For some, the very definition of relaxing is running for miles on end. Knowing what makes you happy is a large part of battling depression and anxiety (in my very humble opinion) and getting back on your feet post-crisis.

In the last five years or so, I seem to have my finger in so many pies of interest that I’m considering whether I should give some of them up entirely in order to have time to focus more on some of the others. What stops me, is that I feel sad at the thought of not doing certain things – after all, they’re the chosen activities that make me happy.

About ten years ago I lived by myself and if there was one thing I did have, it was time. I don’t know how I filled it, apart from watching films and television. I used to think that if I won the lottery (a tall order seeing as I don’t enter it) I would still work as otherwise I would be bored. I vaguely remember having to write a personal statement/CV at school and really struggling to think of extra-curricular interests that I could list. (Wendy-cat has just arrived; she would like it known that her hobbies are definitely bird related.)

Nowadays, I could never go to work again and still fill every minute of every day.

I would read (comics, novels and popular science books), study, draw, write and illustrate my own comic, go bouldering, explore my beautiful county by bicycle, walk as far as I could up tall things, go to gigs by the metric fuckton and play my guitars at full volume. Some of those things I do whenever I’m not working, some I intend to do but don’t seem to quite fit them in as often as planned and some I haven’t done for a while but still crave. I consider all of the above to be my hobbies. I don’t want to give any of them up forever. (I already gave up my unpromising football career after my sick record at work went through the roof following perpetual concussion, broken and torn bits of body.)

I realise it sounds a bit like I’m moaning: far from it. I’m lucky to have a range of interests to pick and choose from. I just wish I had a bit more time to make the most of them all! (Wendy-cat wishes more birds would fly directly into her mouth so that she can also be more hobby-efficient.)