April Challenge #2 - Ride with my Best Friends in France

Good friends are hard to find and, arguably, harder keep.  This challenge has been about the latter. 

I've been friends with the bloke in the orange shirt for 33 years.  Last year he sold his business and moved to a quiet part of the Dordogne with his wife and dogs.

We waited until they were settled (and had the house live-able) and then decided - now is the time to visit.

It's too easy to procrastinate, to put off visiting friends for a few months which easily drift into years.  None of us know how long we can keep doing that.  

So while we were visiting London, we left our wee dog Maggie with Liz's family, hopped a cheap-ish EasyJet to Bordeaux and here we are.  The photo was taken in PiĆ©gut just before one of their local French cycling club outings.  It's a multi-cultural affair with French, Belgian, Portuguese and British languages circulating through the peloton. 

The temperature topped 35C and it felt fantastic to roll along on almost traffic-free French roads.  It's a far cry from our early cycling days, thrashing around on mountain bikes with my mate in Northumberland and Scotland.  And yes, we do know exactly how lucky we are to have our health, time and just enough money to enjoy it.

Routes for Cyclists Visiting London Area, plus Drop-In Club Rides

Walking into The Dynamo cyclist cafe in Putney early last Sunday morning I saw tow folks sitting at a table, and couldn't resist.

"Is this the right place for a Dirty Weekend?" I asked.  "Er, ride that is".

Within twenty minutes the place was heaving with about forty riders.  We split into three groups, each doing rides of slightly different lengths and speeds but meeting for coffee, then saddled up for the lanes and hills of Surrey.

In my previous post I mentioned I'd ridden Box Hill.  On previous visits to family in Richmond - and we come twice a year - I've rarely ridden outside Richmond Park.  The reason was simple.  I didn't know where to go.

I suspect many cyclists visiting London feel this way, so let me point you towards this page on the Dirty Weekend website which lists routes in North, East, South-east and South-west London.  They link to a page on Strava from which you can download the .gpx file and add it to your Garmin.

Pre-ride faffing and chat
Dirty Weekend has been going two years and is a modern take on a cycling club, modelled on the Rapha Clubhouse principle.  Most people will pay an annual (or monthly) fee to join, then can turn up at all sorts of cycling events all over London each week - hill climbs, time-trials, long rides and more.  They also run rides further afield, to Yorkshire, Mallorca and the Dolomites.

Dynamo - my kind of cafe
Plus they offer some seriously good member discounts.  (I considered joining for a month to get their 50% discount code on a bike box).

One rider told me the 50% reduction on bike servicing paid for his membership, so the rides were effectively free.  There's no "whose turn is it this week", it's all professionally run and members can join a session at the last minute with a few clicks on their smartphone.

Living in Scotland I clearly wasn't going to take an annual membership.

But a nice social ride can be a good day out, so I clicked a few buttons, paid £5 from my PayPal and I was signed up for the Surrey ride.

Afterwards, when we all crowded back into The Dynamo for utterly delicious sourdough pizza and craft beer, things got very social.  A bunch of people I hadn't met until a few hours earlier became new friends, even though I was old enough to be most of their Dads.

When I said I'd be sure to join them on future rides, I really meant it.  I shall.

April Challenge #1 - Ride Box Hill

OK so Box Hill is not a climb of the caliber of Alpe d'Huez or even the Beallach na Ba.

It wasn't even on the tick-list I drew up at the start of the year.

But it is famous.  Especially after the 2012 Olympic Road Race went up it.

And I'm down in Richmond dog-sitting for my brother-in-law - why not?

We come down a couple of times a year, but in the past my triathlon training has been focused on keeping a constant heart rate, so it was easier to stay within the relatively controlled confines of Richmond Park.

I also felt safer.  Traffic here is much busier than where I live in Scotland and I certainly wouldn't tackle it on a Tri-bike.

Now though I'm not training for anything, I'm just enjoying my cycling.  So I've been using the GPS routes provided by Dirty Weekend cycling to explore a little further.  Today that took me on a 60miler that included Box Hill.  The Relive video below gives a good idea of what it was like.

Relive 'Box Hill from Richmond Park'

Duncan Winning RIP

Sadly I couldn't attend the funeral of Duncan Winning OBE yesterday as I'm not in Scotland.

Those attending were asked to take a photograph and write a few words about what it meant to them.

I'm pleased to say Gordon Brown of Skyak Adventures took my contribution which consisted of the photo alongside, a USB stick with video and podcasts of Duncan, and a copy of my book to which he wrote the foreword.

I'd been told family members had been listening to his podcasts so I felt adding the video would be of interest.  I also wrote a few words which I'll reproduce here:

The photograph shows Duncan doing what, in my experience, he enjoyed second best to kayaking - talking about kayaking.

I found him a kind and generous man in both spirit and deed.  He drove boxes (lots of boxes) of our first Sea Kayak with Gordon Brown DVD to the SCA show in Perth on the day of the launch.  The DVD manufacturer, based outside Glasgow, had only just finished making them the day before the show so without Duncan we wouldn't have had any to sell.

He was also kind and generous with his knowledge.  Duncan and I recorded two podcasts in 2007 for my website SeaKayakPodcasts.com and did a television and radio interview for The Adventure Show about The Canoe Boys, a story that interested me greatly.  You'll find the TV feature from 2009 on the enclosed memory stick along with a second feature I edited from 'leftovers' and subsequently used in presentations.


He wrote the foreword to my book about The Scottish Sea Kayak Trail.  When I was contacted by Paul Murton to speak about kayaking for a Grand Tour of Scotland television programme, I politely declined and volunteered Duncan.  "I'm just the monkey", I told Paul, "Duncan's the organ grinder".

Years later we persuaded the BBC to make a full one-hour television programme about The Canoe Boys.  I then had to persuade the Scottish Maritime Museum to allow its apprentices to construct two replicas of an old 'Lochaber' design canoe which we'd pay for.  

It did not surprise me to learn the original canoe had found its way to the museum via Duncan.  

However, I was pleased to discover the team at the museum knew all about me well in advance and that I could be trusted.  

They had checked me out by calling Duncan. I'm delighted to say he vouched for me.  At least, I think he did...

Duncan has a huge legacy.  Most of us leave only fond memories among friends and loved ones.  By contrast Duncan's skill is in the hull and deck shape of almost every modern kayak.  

Decades from now teenagers will 'discover' sea kayaking.  They'll pick a crystal clear day and under a perfect blue sky will paddle out to an island off Scotland's west coast to camp.  There the conversation will turn to the generations who came before.  

One of them will ask, "Did you know we have some Scottish bloke to thank for these kayaks?  What was he called again... oh yeah.  He was called Duncan Winning".  

How To Check What Data Facebook Holds On You

There's an easy way to see what information Facebook has collected.  I'll explain it here, then suggest a couple of strategies to minimise your data down.

I'm not a tech expert, so if I have anything wrong, or you can add to this, please do so in the comments.

Log into Facebook on a computer, and click the wee downward arrow on the right of the blue bar, then select settings.

Under the General Settings page, selected on the left side of the page, there's a link to Download a copy of your Facebook Data.  You'll receive an acknowledgement email then, a while later, an email with a time-limited link to download the data.

Andalucian Cycle Training Camps

When northern Europe is still in the grip winter weather, the lure of warm weather cycling can be irresistible.

It seems like a chance to ride in shorts and get some long days in the saddle early in the season.

Previously we've headed to Lanzarote for open water swimming camps that gave plenty of free time to ride.  Warm weather couldn't be guaranteed in the Canary Islands early February but it was better than most of the northern hemisphere, and certainly better than home.

This year I waited a month and in March went on a cycle training camp in Andalucia, Spain. I wrote about why I went here, but briefly I wanted to see the city of Seville, ride somewhere different to normal, and didn't want to go to Majorca.

March Challenge #1 - Explore Andalucia

I've been visiting Spain for forty years.  During that time I've seen a lot of the country.

I've mountain-biked in Extremadura, climbed hiked and cycled the Pyrenees, ridden the ancient pilgrim route to Santiago, and spent many, many weeks living between Valencia and Alicante where my parents lived and died.

Andalusia had escaped my attention so I decided this was the month to rectify this oversight.

I would combine a cycle training camp with a visit to some of the great Andalusian cities of Granada, Ronda and Seville.

I decided I would not take the training camp too seriously - after all I'm not training for anything - so I could mix the riding with city exploring.  I looked at a few companies offering camps, and decided to go with Andalucian Cycling Experience.  They had great reviews, promptly replied to emails, the dates worked but in truth, the main reason was their location.  From their Montecorto base I could easily reach Ronda and Seville.