Trying to get these miles in

Well following my last post about the Fireflies last week, I am delighted to say that I made it to the ‘Grand Depart’ on Friday evening Golden Square, Soho. Most of the riders were there to get ready for the off, and here is a piccie of them approaching the launch party.

The Fireflies are go!

My good friend Colin is pictured at the front with the baritone sax. He led the cyclists into the square playing “Oh when the Saints go marching in”. The cyclists all had yellow balloons attached, with their logo of “For those who suffer we ride”. When they got to the square there was a big celebration with drinks and music. The cyclists all got together and were introduced to the crowd:

A rousing reception for the cyclists

Apparently some of the cyclists were actually already en route. The ride itself starts I believe today as I write this (the 15th June), and some of them decided that 1,000km wasn’t quite enough for them, so they were cycling over to Geneva for the start! The guys who had already started had a message for the masses and their comrades. If you are offended by bad language then look away now. The message was “Lets raise some money and Fuck Cancer”. I don’t think it could be summed up better than that, hence my choosing to repeat it verbatim here. I therefore chose to buy a few commemorative items, like a Fireflies cycling jersey (I shall be wearing it on the Great British Bike Ride for certain) and a drinking bottle. The profits were all going to Leukaemia research, and that was good enough for me. I also sponsored Simon (Colin’s friend) for the ride too, but he doesn’t know it, as I did it anonymously. I remember my couple of anonymous benefactors for Kilimanjaro, and how much it meant to me, so thought I would do it the same way. And he will have no idea that this blog even exists, so I am safe!

So at the weekend it was my turn to try to get some miles in. I should have been doing 60 miles each week so far, but my cycling diary shows that I have done 18, 22, 22, and 58 so far in the four weeks since I started. Not very good really is it? I therefore made sure that I put some time aside to get at least a ride in on both days. On Saturday I did 16, and on Sunday 24, my longest ride so far! So at least that is progress. I need to do 70 miles this week and then after next week it starts ramping up to 120 per week, so I have lots to do.

I bought me some new stuff too, more socks, more mits, a bike rack (helps clean and maintain it more easily) and various other paraphernalia. I am not even counting what this is costing me, I am enjoying it, even if it is hard work – harder than I thought it would be in fact. I am considering trying to do a longish organised ride in July, maybe 50 miles or so, to see if I can do it. It worries me that I may not be up to it, so I shall just wait and see for now.

Oh and I also had a phone call at the weekend from someone I don’t know, who had been put in touch with me by an ex work colleague. He was going to be climbing Kilimanjaro starting today, and asked if I wouldn’t mind answering some questions and giving him some advice. Mind? I was delighted! We spoke for about 40 minutes or so, and I hope I put his mind at rest a bit – he was a bit nervous it has to be said – but I am sure he will be totally fine. He will be on his way by now, but I shall be thinking of him on that most wonderful of places as he has his epic adventure – my very best wishes are with him for a great time.

And so back on the subject of charities, soon it will be my turn to shake the tin for my ride in September. I need to raise at least £300, and so if anyone out there fancies sponsoring me then the link is attached below:

So my apologies for the shameless plug, but it is all for a good cause………….

The Fireflies, for Nick and many many others…..

I am sometimes made to feel very humble in the things that I do and see. I am also (I think) lucky to feel in awe and admiration at the efforts and achievements of certain people. Yesterday I became aware of one of those events, and so I wanted to give them a plug here.

They are called The Fireflies. My longest standing friend on this whole planet, Colin, rang me yesterday and told me about them, and so I thought I would share. They are a (small, just 70) group who ride each year from Geneva to Cannes, over 1,000km. They do so over 19 big peaks, many of them used in the Tour de France. They do them all, and a totally incredible 70,000 feet of ascent, in just 8 days. I take my hat off to them, I really do. Their motto is “For those who suffer we ride”, and they do this in aid of Leukaemia research. That gets me quite inspired.

Their logo is below, this is their 10th anniversary:

They have collectively raised over £800,000 in the 9 years to date, and this year are looking to try to get through the £1m barrier. This is very close to my heart for me, as I had a very good friend of mine die from a form of Leukaemia when he and I were both just 18. That was enormously sad, I remember the funeral like it was yesterday.

Here also are a couple of links to the Fireflies website:

Looks like an incredible feat. Makes me realise that my little ride in September is but a mere drop in the ocean in terms of the difficulty etc.

Tomorrow they are having a ‘Grand Depart’, a launch party in Soho to see them off. They will arrive tomorrow en masse from Hammersmith Hospital, on whose behalf they are raising the funds. Col’s band are playing and he asked me to come down and see them all, I think because he knows what cancer charities mean to me.

He was right. I will be there.

Cycling, Oktoberfest and The Zugspitze!

Pretty random combination of things right there don’t you think? I agree!

So first to a cycling update. I have been cycling! I went out on both Saturday and Sunday around Wallingford in Oxfordshire. My current schedule says that I should be doing 10-15 miles on each of Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, and what with all this being away stuff then I have not been as diligent as I might have been. So inbetween spectatoring at a six-a side under 11s football tournament on Saturday (well done Ed!), and then marshalling at the Thames 10k run on Sunday morning (well done Mel, you were fantastic!), I got a couple of rides in.

I went on both occasions towards Nettlebed and Ewelme and RAF Benson, and did about 12 or 13 miles on both occasions. It was hot on both days, and so pretty hard work for me right now in my current state of unfitness, but rewarding nonetheless. I definitely need to get this thing into a routine, or I am not going to be anywhere near ready for this ride in September. I am already worried about it, especially the first day. 96 miles with about 7,000 ft of ascent is going to kill me, especially when I then I have to get up and do the same thing again for four days running.

So last night (Tuesday) I went out also. My legs were (I am ashamed to say) pretty tight from the weekend (told you I wasn’t match fit yet didn’t I), and I wasn’t even sure how far I would get. As it turned out all went fine, and I had a great ride. I did 16.2 miles in 56 minutes, my best average so far, and so I was quite happy. I know I have a long long way to go with this, but that is the best I can do right now, and so I will keep persevering.

Oh and also I have ordered my nice new shirt for the GBBR – there is a piccie of it below, and we get them as part of our entrance monies. Apparently all 200 riders (hope I am still one of them by them!) will wear them as we ride into Twickenham together on September 4th – should be great!

So where you might ask does the Oktoberfest and the Zugspitze fit into this? And what in fact is the Zugspitze, I hear you say also.

Well, since staying with Heather last week you may know that we are plotting to do a little (!) trek next year, possibly Aconcagua (in our dreams perhaps). Well there was a little gap in this year’s schedule, and I mentioned to her that I had always fancied going to the Oktoberfest in Germany. So Heather said “I’ll come!”, and that was that! The Oktoberfest is of course the world’s largest carnival, with about 8 million attendees. Most people (like me:)) will be there for the beer tents and the sausages, as I will be able to indulge heartily in both as it will be about two weeks post the GBBR.

Here is a little piccie of the inside of an Oktoberfest beer tent to whet my appetite, if no-one elses:

Looks like an awful place, doesn’t it:)

And then whilst planning the Oktoberfest Heather mentioned that her not being a big beer drinker might mean that she didn’t envisage spending three weeks there just drinking beer. I thought that was a bit selfish personally, as I think three weeks of beer drinking is a perfectly normal thing to do, and I may well need someone to carry me out of the beer tent each evening:). So anyway, I agreed, and suggested that we combine said little trip with a little walking too – well it would almost be rude not to, as we will be at the foothills of the Bavarian Alps, an area I absolutely love.

So after a little bit of googling I came across this:

This, ladies and gentlemen is the Zugspitze. The Zugspitze is the highest mountain in Germany, at 2,962 metres (just under 10,000 ft) above sea level. Impressive huh? Apparently you can get up it in about a day and half, and so it is going to have to be done!

So we are off there, subject to sorting out the logistics, towards the end of September. And so it looks like September, with the GBBR at the start, and the Oktoberfest and the Zugspitze at the end, is going to be a busy month, although not so at work. Hmmm, maybe I should book the time off work pretty quickly……….

New Jersey, New York!

I think this post may take some time. I have so much to write about, so will have to just condense it as much as I can I. Reason is I just spent the last weekend in New York, staying actually just over the Hudson in Jersey City, and had the most fabulous weekend imaginable.

Now on the face of it, this may appear to not have much to do with Kilimanjaro, but actually it wouldn’t have happened without it, and moreover the weekend I think has opened up the possibility of an adventure every bit as great as Kilimanjaro itself. That may be blasphemy of course, even though I wrote it, but all will soon be revealed…..

So the weekend (or actually five days in total, taking full advantage and more of the Bank Holiday weekend) was spent with Heather, who those of you who have followed this blog from way back will know I met for the first time doing Kilimanjaro. Having kept in touch via email, Heather invited me to come and see New York, and I couldn’t refuse, so that was that!

I very nearly thought the trip wasn’t going to get off the ground at all, as between BA strikes and volcanic ash clouds I was concerned that the anti-travel gods were conspiring against me, but all was good in the end. I feared on the journey over to Newark from Heathrow however that all was going too smoothly, when the plane got diverted due to storms to Boston. Just my luck! Thankfully this was a brief-ish delay and I was only around four hours late overall.

It was fantastic to see Heather. I think we are pretty like-minded in terms of outlook and sense of humour, and the whole time there was just a blast. I had been to New York City several times before, but not for a few years now. We sort of did the touristy thing, and rode the big red bus and the Empire State Building etc., also taking in a game at Yankee Stadium where the Yankees annihilated the Cleveland Indians 11-2. Oh and we also went to see Mamma Mia on Broadway, which was just off the scale in enjoyment terms for me.

So here are some pictures from my trip:

First was taken on a ferry over from Jersey City to Manhattan.

Heading over the Hudson River to Lower Manhattan

Second is on the Hudson again, looking towards Uptown from the boat – this is very close to where the airliner crashed there last year:

Uptown and the Empire State Building from the river

Third up is quite a poignant sight – this is the new World Trade Centre being built on what has been known as Ground Zero for the last few years. The new building will be 1,776 feet high and is due for completion in 2013.

Construction in progress of the new World Trade Centre.

The next was taken at the entrance to Times Square from the ‘big red bus’ – ahead in the distance is the ball drop which happens on New Year’s Eve each year.

Times Square - too bad if you don't like crowds....

So the tour was great. We saw The Flatiron Building, The New York Stock Exchange, Central Park, 5th Avenue, The Brooklyn Bridge, The United Nations Building, the Chrysler Building, The Statue of Liberty, and Broadway, to name but a few places. It was a great tour, even if the tour guide was probably not the most entertaining or educational I have ever come across, and I am being very very kind to him here, believe me. Oh and I really loved seeing Grand Central Station too, it was the first time there for me. Mamma Mia was brilliant, the first time I had seen it – I love the movie too (should I admit to that?).

Here is a view back over to Jersey City from the Manhattan side:

'The JC' as it is known locally, from the other side of the Hudson

On the Sunday we walked over the Brooklyn Bridge, which was great, and the views were stunning.

Downtown from the Brooklyn Bridge

Then it was on to Yankee Stadium for the game:

Don't think they've seen too many Sunderland shirts in 'The Yankee Tavern' before...

And here is Yankee Stadium from the outside:

The new stadium was completed just last year at a cost of a mere $1.5bn....

And here it is from the inside too:

Not too shabby a place really..

After the game we went up the Empire State Building, where thankfully, despite being threatened with 1 1/2 hour lines, there was actually no queue at all. It was a bit hazy at the top, but the views were fantastic nonetheless:

Uptown and the East River from the Observation deck

And here is looking towards Downtown:

Lower Manhattan, 'the JC' and the Hudson River in the distance, the 'Flatiron' building visible in the centre foreground.

OK, so enough of the touristy photos, you get the drift. Finally a piccie of two other friends I met at the weekend, first up is Louie:

Louie liked my flip-flops so much he started wearing them.

Next up is Rumple. Now Rumple was described to me as being ‘very muscular’. He may alternatively be ‘big-boned’ – what do you think?

I was not surprised my bag was so heavy!

OK, so now on the the very exciting part. Whilst there I was talking to Heather about my bike ride, and saying that whilst I am looking forward (with albeit not a little trepidation so far I might add) to it, I would love to do another adventure, and a ‘proper one’. So to my delight and surprise she said she would gladly do another one with me, and that made me ridiculously happy. Upon exploring this further, it seems we both have hankerings for South America, and the Andes. We discussed things like Machu Pichu, but to me whilst it looks great, I have the impression that it is just a bit over-touristed for my liking.

And so we got onto talking about some serious stuff. I mentioned that a colleague of mine had done Aconcagua. This started some serious googling, as a result of which Heather said that if she ever learned to be able to pronounce it, then she would do it. So after me trying to get her to recite it for about the next three hours I think we got there, and so we may just have a plan! Seriously though, Aconcagua is a monster. It is the highest mountain in the world outside of the Himalayas, and at 22,841 feet, is about 3,500 feet higher than Kili. On top of that you have to carry your own kit, and it takes about 18 days, three of which are all above where we were on Kili, and you need ice-axes and crampons. I think we both looked at the descriptions and got fairly scared, which I suppose is good in that we are not just recklessly stupid 🙂 We also then considered Torres del Paine. Heather has wanted to do this for ages – it looks magnificent and is much shorter (about 7 days), much lower down, and more of (just a) trek. It looks beautiful. Or another possibility is Tupungato, which was done by a colleague of Heather’s and was recommended as a (presumably much safer) alternative to Aconcagua, although it is still a monster at 21,555 feet.

I have no idea where this will lead. I just know that I am excited beyond compare. I will not get too ahead of myself however, and know that there is much to do as far as planning and logistics if it is ever to get off the ground.

But you have to dream don’t you? When you have done Kilimanjaro it leaves you with such a sense of achievement, but also a sense of awe, of passion, of respect, for the mountains and for all of nature itself. I want now to follow on from that and to do more, to have more adventures. If this trip comes off to the Andes then it will be so much of a pinnacle for me that it might top even Kilimanjaro if that is at all possible. That is how much it means. Aconcagua would be the dream, and if it is possible for me, then I want to do it. If not then Tupungatu.

As they say, watch this space…………..

The Lake District 21st-23rd May 2010

So in my previous post you will have noticed that I went to the Lake District the weekend before last. It was great, and so I thought I would put a post up here about it. I went and did Scafell Pike with a few folks from work, and so it might not exactly be Kilimanjaro, but it is the highest mountain in England, so you can only do what you have in front of you right? (OK so I know that that is so not true, but I love the Lake District, so it works for me).

The reason for the trip is that sadly, very sadly in fact, the Three Peaks Challenge is no longer going ahead. Basically it ended up as being quite expensive (it probably works out at about £500 each for a guided trip by the time you have got transport up to Scotland etc too). So my work colleagues decided that this was a bit steep, and we were down to just me to do the trip, and that didn’t pay off at all really. So if anyone is reading this, fancies the trip, and can drum up another 6 or 7 like-minded souls, then I am still up for it…..

So in lieu of the Three Peaks that never was, I decided to ask if anyone fancied a trip to the Lakes instead, and to my absolute surprise and delight, we ended up with nine people. There was a mixture of experiences as far as both camping and walking was concerned, but after a few trips to the local Go Outdoors to sort out a few sleeping bag requirements etc., we duly headed out from work at 3pm on the Friday afternoon, and six hours later were setting up camp at Low Wray campsite on the shores of Windermere.

Not too shabby a place to camp...

Having managed a couple of beers in Ambleside that night after we were all sorted, the next morning we woke to glorious sunshine. In fact the whole weekend the weather was incredible – I think we had 82 deg F on the Saturday and I cannot remember ever seeing weather that glorious up there. In fact it was too hot for walking really, but onwards and upwards we went.

We trekked from the Langdale Valle, and decided to do Scafell Pike from there, via Mickledon, Rosset Gill, Angle Tarn and Ill Crag. The total walk was about 13 miles return. Here we are on the way up Rosset Gill, a fairly sharp pull up to around 1,500 feet:

The climb begins in earnest....

At the top of Rosset Gill it was time to take in some scenery and have a breather. Here is a picture of me and my colleague Alain. He subsequently was to surprise us all at the top by pulling out some Brie, paté, and a bottle of Chardonnay! Some people by now were breathing harder than others, but no names, as it were:)

The hills are alive with the sound of Frenchmen.....

Over the top of Rosset Gill we came to Angle Tarn, which proved a very nice place to cool off. We all went in at least with our feet – lets say the water temperature was ‘bracing’, but very welcome nonetheless.

Angle Tarn with the slopes of Bowfell on the left, and Great End in the distance

The walk from here on was not too hard, but the heat certainly made it tougher than would have normally have been the case. Interestingly also there was still a little bit of snow at higher levels once above about 3,000 feet.

Approaching Ill Crag from Great End, a little bit of snow in evidence

From here it was a steep pull up to the summit of Scafell Pike, but we all made it up there for a very rewarding (if a bit hazy) view from the top:

a right motley crew, especially that guy in the pink T-shirt....

So from the highest point in England, at 3,209 feet, we re-traced our steps back down the way we came. Here is the wikipedia link to Scafell Pike for those not familar with it:

The journey to the top was around 5 1/2 hours, and the reurn was about 2 1/2 – helped by the thought of one of my favourite pubs, the Old Dungeon Ghyll, at the bottom. The ‘ODG’ as it is known, is a bit of a legendary pub amongst walkers in the Lakes, so it would have been a bit rude not to pop in and say hello to the place. I think I first went there when I was about 18, a few years ago now 🙂

Suitably refreshed, everyone headed back to the campsite with weary legs but a great day was had by one and all. It was certanly a testing walk, and great to do this as my first ‘proper’ walk post Kilimanjaro. My legs certainly knew they had been on a walk the next morning, which was nice actually. It was great also to be able to help some of the others to do the mountain, three of the party had never even been to the Lake District before, and so it was just a great thing for us all to do.

On the Sunday we had a long trip back ahead of us, and so the consensus was not to climb any more mountains. We thus went into Grasmere and had a saunter around. I love Grasmere village, it just has a lovely feel about it, despite the omnipresent tourists, of which I suppose I am one, so I can’t really moan too much! I visted my favourite Art studio (Heaton Cooper, I think I have about 10 Heaton Cooper prints in all in my house), and also Sarah Nelson’s Gingerbread Shop – a place where I always make a pilgrimage when I am in the Lakes, basically because it is the most more-ish substance that I know of.

Finally we headed back to Oxfordshire. It was great to have had good company, and to do a wonderful walk in my favourite part of the country. As noted earlier, we went up with nine folks, but there were only 8 of us on the walk itself. One of my colleagues Carl went to meet some ex-colleagues from the US who were there to do the C2C. An excerpt showing his own travels from the weekend, from his own hugely entertaing blog is attached below:

So next time I shall tell you about my trip to New York last weekend. I may have alluded in my last post to the fact that whilst there, the potential for another trip (and a very serious one, involving something even higher than Kilimanjaro) was mooted. I am so excited I can hardly contain it, but I will hold back until then……

The biking preparation is underway, well sort of….

So despite being a bit remiss in updating the blog over the last few weeks, I have at least two excuses:

1. I have been working stupid hours at work.

2. I moved house.

The former is now largely over, and was very necessary due to a big fundraising that the company was doing. It proved very successful, and was very rewarding, but involved rather more midnight oil than I would have liked.

The latter was just as hard work. It is actually the first time that I have moved house on my own. I’m trying to count and think that I have moved house now about a dozen times all told, and it is never easy. It wasn’t all exactly on my own, thanks to Mel (thank you:)) who helped a lot, but I still did the bulk of it, apart from the removal people of course. Oh yes, and Dan and Becca came down for the weekend and did a huge amount too, and then there was Alain from work who helped also. I am sure I did something though…..

Anyway, in between all of this, the biking schedule has finally got underway. The people at The Great British Bike Ride had sent out a suggested training schedule. It starts with doing about 60 miles a week and ends up doing about 200 miles a week. Sort of takes you from ‘zero to hero’ type of thing. You train every other day in the week, and then always consecutively at weekends. I set myself a wall chart telling myself what I had to do and when, and that was three weeks ago now. Trouble is, out of the first fifteen sessions, I think I have made three of them. I have excuses for that too of course:)

So the first weekend I was moving house. The second weekend I was away in The Lake District on a walking weekend, doing Scafell Pike, and this weekend just gone I have been in New York and New Jersey, seeing Heather (of Kilimanjaro fame no less). It is now Wednesday 2nd June as I write this and have just got back. I will post more about both of the latter two weekends separately. Save to say that this weekend just gone was absolutely fantastic. You end up going through quite a lot together when you do something like Kilimanjaro, and some people you invariably get on with better than others. I was blessed, I think, to get on with everyone (as far as I was concerned anyway) really well, but something certainly clicked with Heather. If you are reading this Heather – thank you enormously for a great time and for being the perfect host. Oh and we may just be planning another adventure too, but more of that in another post certainly.

So anyway, out of the first 180 miles I should have biked so far, I think I have managed about 40 tops. That’s bad. I’m away this weekend too, and so that will scupper that one as well. In fact come to think of it since I moved house I have probably slept there about three times in total, thus cutting down the chances to even see my bike, let alone ride it.

I may get round to trying out those nice new twenty billion pound bib shorts soon too. I wonder if they help me go faster?:)