Cyclejen's Blog

The time next week I will mostly be riding a bike
August 13, 2010, 9:28 pm
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This time next week. Just writing that phrase requires considerable thought and gives pause. It’s been enough to make me attempt to write this entry at least three times already. This time next week, what will you be doing? I can only hope that I’ll be somewhere in France, feet on pedals, wheels on the road. The worst will be over – I will have cycled through the Downs, I will have made it to the ferry on time, I will have not thrown up on the ferry, no punctures, no tears, no broken bones. This is what will happen; it is what must. Perhaps you sense a touch of gravity to these words, but now that the out of office message is on my email at work, it means This Is Real. So Real It Deserves Capitals. Even On Words That Have No Good Reason To Have Capitals In Them.

It’s great, I can be all serious and pretend I’m in a Nike advert or something, all Lycra’d up and significant:

What is my motivation? Redefine my limits. Redefine my outlook. I believe in the morning sunlight and the quiet before the day begins anew. I believe in the climb and that all uphill struggles have their reward. I believe in reaching the top of a hill and looking seriously and thoughtfully at the rising sun whilst a camera pans from a close-up of my face out to the golden landscape. I believe in equating getting up at 6am with superiority. I believe that truth is the burn in my legs, the sweat on my back. I believe in the rocking horizon, the rush of air. I believe I have said something profound if it’s soundtracked to Rob Dougan or whoever the 2010 equivalent is. Rob Dougan probably – he makes some really significant music, man. I believe in gratuitous slo-mo. I’d get some cross-promotion in and believe in cycling being the rhythm and my i|Pod being the dance, if it wasn’t dangerous to cycle with headphones. I believe that the road to come is not as far as the one travelled. I believe that the future is what you make it. Revolutions of the heart, mind and spirit. I believe in reinventing the wheel, but not too much, ok? Just do it.

Right, it didn’t work with Orange, but Nike, go on, buy me some sports equipment or something, thanks.

But in all seriousness, I am feeling pretty serious now. It already saddens me to know that in just over a week this will all be over. What will I do after this? It’s not like I can go round on my bike asking people for money. I get the feeling that might be illegal or, at the very least, result in a few kicks in the head. I like my head. It’s served me well enough so far. What will I do? I have a few really nice routes around Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire that I know I will do, and I look forward to doing, just for the sheer hell of it, without thinking about how long it has taken or how fast I am going. I will probably find a way to buy a nicer, shinier bike. I will find other outlets for my writing, because I am pleased to rediscover that I can actually write. But my life has been all about the ride for the last couple of months. It will definitely be weird to no longer have that goal. I may end up pedalling frantically in my sleep or signalling with my right hand every time I want to cross the road. I may have detachment issues about my hi-vis vest and helmet and wear them casually on a night out. This is not good. Flourescent yellow is soooo 2006.

I got some good advice from a colleague regarding the downer I know I will feel when I stop, and that is to keep on cycling. Keep on writing. Do not create a void and there will be nothing to fall into. He should know, he cycled the Andes, for crying out loud. This guy is just one example of the fantastic people who I’ve met and/or got to know better by doing this. Cyclists are a friendly and generous bunch. They’ll wave at you if you pass by them on the road. They’ll offer advice and even bikes. They’ll help you fundraise. They’ll literally push you up some of the steepest hills when you no longer can. Just don’t try to knock them over with your car or drive too close and I promise, you won’t be given the finger. Still, maybe it’s all like a big boy’s club, and they’re nice because I ride. Maybe they won’t let me leave. When I get to Paris I might have a few of my fellow cyclists meet me, not with a ‘well done’, but with ‘WHAT ARE YOU DOING? WHY HAVE YOU STOPPED? LET’S HEAD ON TO BARCELONA YEEWAAAAH!’ Actually that sounds pretty cool. No wait, the Alps. No it doesn’t.


75 miles, cha cha cha
July 26, 2010, 11:33 pm
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Apologies about the title. I really feel I hit my title peak at It’s Snow Good. After that it’s just been downhill all the way. It’s a weight on your shoulders, once you’ve come up with a spectacular title – I kind of understand how Einstein felt after he cracked general relativity. A lot of pressure, let me tell you.  Still, I already know what the title will be for my last blog entry before I do the challenge. I promise you, it’s a real show stopper, worthy of a Pulitzer. Do they do Pulitzers for titles? They really should. The subsequent post, I’m sure, will just be AAAARRRRRGGGHHHH MY LEEGGGGSS! In the meantime you’ll just have to put up with some treading water.

The title is to the point. The point being 75 miles. I don’t think anyone’s ever cycled that far before, in the world, ever. When Neil Armstrong first landed on the moon and said that whole ‘one small step for man’ malarky, he hadn’t reckoned on bikes, otherwise he would have just muttered ‘small fry’ under his breath instead. And the best thing is, I did it with people! 13 people, to be exact. It was all part of a charity bike ride for the British Heart Foundation that was organised by my employer. I signed up as I knew it would be a great opportunity for a doing a trial run. I have to say though, I did find it kind of difficult not to sound like a posturing arsehole when I told the other participants that I would do it, you know, for practice.

Still, it was an interesting day and great to be doing it with real live people. So far on bike rides I’ve been making do with singing and talking to myself. I’m not kidding. Admiring the scenery will only get you so far; after a while, you’re going to have to invent company. Luckily, I’ve managed to avoid being caught by car drivers or, worse, other cyclists babbling on to myself. I’m incredibly glad that no one came close to seeing me breathlessly singing Cyndi Lauper’s version of ‘I’m Gonna be Strong’ whilst attempting a particularly nasty hill. I’m also glad I’ve not yet been responsible for any car crashes caused by car drivers bursting into hysterics at the sight of a sweaty, struggling cyclist flapping her mouth open and closed like a fish drowning in air, and then hearing ‘AND TAKE IT LIKE A MAAAAAAANNNN YEEEAAAHHH!’ in doppler effect as they whizz by.

Thankfully, my parents’ willingness to meet me at various stopping points for mental and physical refreshments has prevented me from becoming a deranged lunatic. Although, after the events on the Dundee-Aberdeen bike ride, I’m now not so sure. In nearly all respects the bike ride was typical of what you would expect. People brought their bikes, we pedalled for a bit, we ate food, we chatted. Some were faster, some were slower, all types invited. Punctures occurred and gears jammed, but all in all we all made the distance in one piece. I have what I hope are real memories of the leisurely pace we took out of Dundee and the burn on my legs as I climbed an incline that stretched for several miles. I remember the sun, the sea and the wind on my face. What makes me doubt the existence of any of this is the mystery of the Man in White.

To give a bit of background, this event was initially promoted by posters dotted around the workplace. A general email was sent out, those who wanted to participate replied, a group of six was formed to represent the Aberdeen contingent and, after fine tuning details over the course of a few emails and going for a few shorter rides together, we were good to go. What none of us knew was that all this time a mysterious entity had been watching from the sidelines. We only became aware of this person when, whilst having lunch at a tea room in the middle of nowhere, one of the Dundee office’s people told us that a man who called himself the head of cleaning services was in the car park after furiously cycling 51 miles from Aberdeen to join us. Apparently, he had turned up at our initial Aberdeen meeting point, only to be told by the security guard that we had already left for Dundee. He then proceeded to the bus station and attempted to get on the Megabus and was naturally denied due to the fact that he had a bike with him and no reservations. With no thought whatsoever of taking the train, he decided his only option was to cycle down to Dundee, in order to take part in the cycle ride back up to Aberdeen.

We waited in anticipation for this man to come into the cafe. Who is the head of cleaning services? Is there a cleaning services department? If so, why haven’t they cleaned my desk for the past two years? The room hushes as in walks a thin, small framed man in his early 40s, dressed in a tight white t shirt and the tightest, whitest shorts I have ever seen. It takes every ounce of effort not to immediately zero in on the (let’s call a spade a spade) genital bulge that’s in plain view. A doctor could take one look at his shorts and immediately determine his sperm count. It makes me think of those plaster of paris figurine kits I used to have when I was a kid, but before they were painted – alabaster white and lumpy. Well, that’s that childhood memory ruined. More astonishingly, this man gives no outward sign at having apparently cycled 51 miles in three and a half hours. He sits, has lunch with us, informs us that he works as a contractor on the night shift and has decided to do the bike ride after seeing the poster. He waits around with us for lunch and then proceeds to zoom off back to Aberdeen, and we never see him again that day.

However, I suspect we may never see him ever again, and I’ll tell you why. Being a contractor, he did not have access to work email. Therefore, he couldn’t have known to even appear in the car park at the time originally organised, let alone an hour later as was subsequently arranged. Furthermore, I cannot think of any way he could have known we were stopping to have lunch at that particular tea room. The car park was hidden back from the road, so he would not have seen the company vans. How did he know we were there? This man has to be some kind of ghost or prophet; I can see no other explanation.

Is he the bike Messiah? After all, when a lady came round with a raffle to raise funds for the tea shop, all he said was “I don’t gamble, but I will donate.” Does his white outfit represent the purity of the true cyclist’s spirit, unencumbered by any worldly constraints? Come to think of it, I’m not even sure he ate any food at the tea rooms. Or perhaps I have succumbed to road loneliness completely and he doesn’t actually exist at all. Perhaps none of the 13 people I rode with exist. Or worse, perhaps I am just a construct in the mind of the Man in White, who has made us all up to save himself from the crushing loneliness of cycling for so far, for so very long. Maybe he’s doing London to Paris and not me. Perhaps you too are constructs in his head to distract him from the lactic burn in his legs as he reaches the peak of a 3000ft climbOH GOD WHO’S TYPING THIS  THING?!

If you are real, Man in White, please get in touch to prove you’re not a figment of my imagination or I of yours. Please explain your apparent telepathic and superhuman cycling abilities. And the shorts, is that just aerodynamics then or what? Finally, Man in White, just in case you really are real, please do not take it personally if  I go to sleep tonight with a knife under my pillow. Amen.

Read all about it
July 26, 2010, 11:22 pm
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So, um, I guess the moral of the story is, is that if you whinge enough you will eventually get what you want? Right?

Click here for the Press and Journal’s article on the bike ride!

The Charity Hierachy
June 28, 2010, 10:31 pm
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So, if you’ve been on my Justgiving page recently, you’ll see that I have reached my initial target of £1300. I am so incredibly chuffed and delighted with every one of you who have donated so far. After all this is over, I shall come to where you live, knock on the door, look you in the eye and give you a big hug. If you live in Australia, all the better – although expenses will have to be paid for by the donor. Of course, what I have just said about hugs is most likely a well-intentioned lie and I hope you’ll see it as such. Just allow it to act as a metaphor for the scope of my gratitude. And a desire for all expenses paid world travel. 1st class.

But you know what? Fundraising is haaaaard. I’m not really the type of person who likes to ask for things. I was once so scared about asking a teacher to go to the toilet I peed myself in class. This is a horrifyingly true story. What can I say, I was very young and the teacher was very scary. She was one of those teachers who seemed to think that anyone asking for the toilet was DEFINITELY-I-DON’T-CARE-WHAT-YOU-SAY asking if they could skive. As if the sole purpose of childhood is to learn how to hold it in while trying to slack off as much as possible (wait a second…). She also once shouted at me and got me to stand up in front of class to repeat the mistake that 10-7 = 2 for the whole class’s amusement. Thankfully, I’m older, wiser, and know that10-7 actually equals 4.

But asking people for things? Nope, still not very good at it. The crazy thing is, is that I work in advertising and my whole job is to convince someone why they should be doing this thing as opposed to the other, and yet there are still days where asking them for their home address feels like I’ve just asked them if they have a history of uncontrollable rectal bleeding. This is why I hoped that, when initially raising money for the CF Trust, if I did something big enough and simply let people know, I wouldn’t have to ask for money, people would just give. This would save the embarrassment of just having to grow a pair. However, I cannot and will not rely only on this softly, softly approach; I’m going to have to up my game now, and there are plans afoot for getting more pennies! Who knows, if you haven’t donated yet, I might just outright ask you for it. Just don’t stand near my feet when I’m doing it and watch out for any suspicious puddles…

Perhaps, in a bid to avoid actually asking people for money, what I really need to be doing is finding ways to make myself more bankable. I was speaking to my sister Suzanne the other day about my attempts to get my story published in the local paper. There tends to be a lot of stories in the paper about charity events, so I really need to find a way to make mine stand out. Cycling from Aberdeen to Banchory and back for charity X? Ha I can do that in my sleep – literally! My boyfriend gets really annoyed! Anyway, I’m cycling 300 MILES! Cycling 300 miles? Ha! I HAVE CF, BABY! And yet, judging from the lack of response from said paper, obviously this is not quite enough. Yes, I have CF, but I’m healthy with it. To get the paper’s and potential donor’s attention, what I really need to do is to get on the transplant list, better yet, be post transplant. With a devoted regime aimed towards decline, I can achieve this, as most people with CF will end up on the lung transplant list at some point. To up the ante further, while in the operating theatre, I could ask them to take a chunk of my liver to help save my pregnant sister, whose life hangs in the balance due to a pretty nasty case of Cholestasis. Let’s chuck in a kidney for a homeless charity for good measure. I can see the headlines now: Local Hero Cycles 300 Miles Hours After Double Lung Transplant While At The Same Time Donating a Kidney to the Homeless and Part of her Liver to her Dying Sister. Now that’s a title that sells papers. So I could do that, sure, but I’ll still find myself bumped by a man who has survived ALL the cancers (even the female ones) and is going on a sponsored bike ride TO THE MOON.

This is the charity hierarchy. For everything you do, there will be people doing less, people doing more, and, apart from feeling a little smug at the people jogging along for the local 5k, it would be grossly unfair to judge yourself by someone else’s achievements – we all have our own goals, our own Everests to conquer. Cycling 300 miles? I recently read about someone who cycled around the world. I’m a slovenly couch potato compared to that jerk. The point really is to get as high up the hierarchy as you can and within your own limits. For some it may be the 5k, for others, the moon. No, the people I really should feel threatened by are the over achieving fundraisers. Just when I think I’m doing well, I’ll discover that some kid has raised £10,000 for Teenage Acne or goddamn Wood Splinters. I shouldn’t get jealous though; I should be calling them up and asking for tips. I’ll just make sure I’ve emptied my bladder first.

Push it to the limit (limmmiiiiiiittt!)
May 27, 2010, 1:17 pm
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Guess what? I cycled to the shops the other day and it was easy. I tackled an incline and did not break a sweat. I can confidently change down gears when nearing traffic lights. I can turn right!

I also still have 40 year old men nonchalantly whizzing by me at 200mph. Damn you, you and your thin tyres and thighs of steel. You and your white hair and white shorts. You are making me feel bad! I swear these guys who cycle past me with such ease probably cycle 300 miles and then stop for breakfast. They’ve probably just cycled in from their daily commute from goddamn Penzance, and then finish that off with a nice, relaxing gym sesh. God. I read a book about people like that once. I think it was called American Psycho. Ah, who am I kidding, these are healthy men, only slightly unbalanced by their desire to ride out middle age. And it’s not their fault that I can’t help but compare my capabilities to that of Lance Armstrong, just because I’ve finally got my seat at the right height and have learnt better pedal technique. Tour de France? Pfft! That’s only like, 2,200 miles. You try the Tour de Londres a Paris. It’s waaay harder.

I understand that sounds a touch bitter. But these are 40 year old men and I’m in the Prime of my Youth (TM). I really should be running circles around them! So here’s where the confession begins. I am very lazy. One of my favourite activities is sleeping. Before this, on Saturday mornings I did not get up and Get Things Done. I slept, and I enjoyed it. I’d watch tv with a bowl of cereal, scrap that, with a PACKET OF CRISPS, and there was nothing anyone could do about it. I would spend evenings surfing the internet and watching episodes of Star Trek and go to bed with feelings of guilt and a promise to do something more productive tomorrow, like start to write that novel or cure CF. Little things.

I won’t deny that the constant need to be doing things, yet lacking the outright self-motivation to do it off the bat, has been part of the reason for signing up for the bike ride. I’ve got to do it now – there’s no turning back. There’s no ‘I can’t be bothered’. Between now and August I will be cycling and that’s that. My only hope is that once I hit the finish line I won’t be finished. Will I carry on cycling once there is no longer a specific reason to do so? Or will I have to promise to cycle to Australia, just to keep up the momentum? Will the bike go rusty in the shed or will I cycle as the weather gets colder, keeping up the pace with the 40 year old men? All I know is that I enjoy cycling – its solitary nature, the rush of wind in my face, the rocking horizon. I won’t be cycling through snow though. I’m not that insane. Oh, I did once when I was at university. I started off in the bright blue and 2 miles later I was a pedaling white blob, a 2 wheeled snowflake. Not recommended!

And yet these men, and let’s face it, they usually are men, would probably see a 2ft snow drift outside their window and, unlike any sane person, would think ‘well, that’s going to add, what? 10 minutes on to my journey – better put on some thermals! A blizzard is not a warning, it’s a challenge! Once I’ve downed this protein shake, I’ll put some Phil Collins on the iPod and I’m good to go! LET’S DO THIS!’

…Yeah. No matter what happens, I’m digging out £1.50 for the bus, thanks.

Cycle Video
May 16, 2010, 10:49 am
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Yes, I’ve been pretty quiet over the past few weeks. Let’s just say that when you need to find a new place to live, quick smart, other things tend to take a back burner. A curious side effect of training is that when looking for new places to live you are no longer just looking for a new home for you and your loved one, but also a place for your two wheeled friend. Sure, the bathroom has a jacuzzi, the bedroom has a walk in wardrobe, the kitchen comes complete with personal chef, gratis, – BUT WHERE DO I KEEP MY BIKE?! Lucky for me, and lucky for you, (because I’m egotistical that way) I have found somewhere to live and the training and blogging now continues – huzzah!

The first blog that I bring to you is truly a multimedia treat – two in fact! The good people at Donside Pictures have very generously donated their time and effort to helping me to bring two videos for your viewing pleasure. A special mention must be made to Michael Cox for filming and editing these films – without him you would have just got an over exposed shaky cam image of me falling off my bike. Off camera.

The first film, ‘Cycle Jen’, offers everything a good training montage should: bikes, bandanas and slow-mo, and comes with a guidance rating of U, although there is some sand related mild peril involved.

The second, ‘Cycle Craig’, offers an insight into those unsung heroes of CF – the partners. I have been going out with my boyfriend Craig for nine years now, and I think filming this video has been quite cathartic for him – especially since we filmed it after a long winter where I really did spend most nights keeping us both up coughing. Thankfully that’s sorted now and we now both look forward to a long, restful night’s sleep. Now, if only we could stop Craig’s snoring… I rate this one for this one 12A for the swearing and excessive salt abuse in food cookery. Do not try this at home!

25 miles
April 28, 2010, 11:06 am
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25 miles. Yeah you read that right! 25 miles. That makes me over a quarter of the way to Optimum Biking Peak Capacity Efficiency. Things learnt so far. My bike seat’s too low, cycling is hard and, try as I might, I don’t have an inbuilt GPS receiver in my head. These are important things to learn, to be sure, and I can’t help but wonder what other golden nuggets of information I will have learnt by the time August comes to pass. Enough knowledge gained through cycling and I could retire to a mountain and people could queue to hear my wisdom. In return for food I could offer them such gems as ‘do not wrap your bike lock around the handlebar post, for, surely as the sun rises in the west, your knees shall knock against the lock’ or ‘cycling up a hill requires effort. When effort cannot be found, change the destination and freewheel to paradise.’ I would wear my cycling helmet and a high visibility jacket at all times and hand out fluorescent wheel spoke rattlers as souvenirs.

Enough delusions of grandeur. As has become painfully apparent, I probably wouldn’t be able to find my way to the mountain in the first place. In the absence of a super dooper mega computer phone (what gives, Orange?), my route planning currently consists of staring intently at Google Maps, learning the route’s rough shape and desperately trying to remember the names of the roads I should be going down. This frees up my mind from pesky thoughts like bike coordination and the Highway Code to concentrate entirely on ‘ok, looking for Springfield Road, Springfield Road, Springhill Road, Binghill Road, oh crap… there it goes. Ok, looking for Bunghill Crescent…’ I’ve recently said that my ultimate ambition is to become the voice of Sat Nav. Perhaps, in the pursuit of this ambition and to better navigate around easily forgotten street names, I should just program myself to repeat ad nauseum ‘at the end of the road, turn right.’ I might get some funny looks from passing motorists but at least then I’d give off the impression that I know where I’m going, which in that case would be an endless loop around the block.

Regardless, my bike ride on Sunday clocked up roughly 25 miles. The plan was to cycle from the Lang Stracht to Crathes and have a cup of tea with my parents at the castle. Yeah, well, best laid plans and all that – I made it to Drumoak. Could I say that I would have made it had I not got hopelessly lost? Could I say that? Could I have done it sooner had I not chosen to cycle down a track fit only for mountain bikers? The wise Jen says perhaps, perhaps. What sequence of events found me frustrated and tired in the middle of nowhere, unwilling to cycle a meter further but knowing that the distance travelled is the distance still to come? I think I was doomed when I chose to push my bike up a 35 degree rocky path rather than cycle it. As I’m pushing it up, a man dressed up to the cycling nines pedals effortlessly past me, and takes the time to actually tell me that I too could have easily cycled it. Go away cycle enthusiast psycho man! Who are you to tell me what I probably could do, you jerk? You in your Lycra and pedal clips – slightly overdoing it for a family friendly track on a Sunday afternoon, don’t you think? This is not the Tour de France! Yeah, so perhaps I was a little distracted and failed to correctly follow the signs for the Deeside track, and ended up cycling onto someone’s farm. Luckily no one was actually there, or, knowing me, rather than admit my mistake to a wary farmer, would have probably just offered a really awkward hello and turned around as if that was the plan all along.

So, GPS in the head please. Then, when I am up that mountain handing out my wisdom and someone wants to know where the souvenir shop is I can tell them: ‘at the end of the road, turn right.’